RHUBARB AND ANGELICA CORDIALIZED
Friday April 23rd 2010, 1:54 pm

freshly picked angelica and a bundle of rhubarb

Month four Tigress’s can jam canning challenge and the chosen ingredient is herbs. This is a funny one, as herbs are a flavouring and sidekick rather than a main player ingredient so thinking cap required. Ingredient wise, this is where everybody needs good neighbours. Helen and Steve a few doors one side have a thriving patch of rhubarb but noone in the house enjoys rhubarb enough to make use of it. As explained in my last post (just yesterday) Jane’s garden, a few doors down on the other side, has angelica growing so can provide the herbal element needed to meet the can jam criteria. So both my ingredients couldn’t be more local, more seasonal or more freely available. Angelica can be used to offset the tartness of fruits such as currants, gooseberries and rhubarb so it is an ideal pairing.

rhubarb and angelica cordial canned and ready to keep

With the sun at last making an appearance and the need to get to grips with horticultural tasks, naturally my thoughts have turned to the need for cordial as a suitable refreshment whilst I work. I started looking for inspiration and found it in Fancy Pantry by Helen Witty. I’m liking the look and feel of this book, published in the US in 1986, found a while ago on Amazon. It is full of recipes for stocking your pantry, including some preserves, pickles and relishes, and for me, someone in the UK not so familiar with canning, it includes reassuring processing information where relevant. Since it arrived in the post I have spent many hours enjoying this book and there in the ’sippin’ substances’ chapter a recipe for rhubarb nectar caught my eye and seemed a good starting point for my April Can Jam project. Cordials are really easy to make, like the first process of jelly making without the worry of achieving a set at the end.

the rhubarb and angelica is strained through muslin

I am really pleased with the result. I used the angelica leaves and at my first attempt layered them with the rhubarb to let the flavours infuse. I didn’t feel that the angelica made its presence felt strongly enough so have devised another method to make an angelica syrup which is then added to the rhubarb. I’m going to be making lots more of this cordial, with and without the herbal note, as the resulting drink is supremely versatile and quite delicious. Simply serve as a refreshing drink diluted with still or fizzy water or as part of a more grown up cocktail, such as a pink gin fizz, made by mixing equal measures with gin over ice and topped up with soda and a sprig of mint. There is plenty of room for experimentation, you just have to watch that nothing you add overpowers the exquisite rhubarb flavour. The cordial is also a fabulous colour.

RHUBARB AND ANGELICA CORDIAL

Makes approx 1.7 litres (3 pints)

100g (3 1/2 oz) angelica fresh leaves
450g (1 lb) caster sugar
2kg (4 lbs) rhubarb
1.2ltrs (2 pints) water

Wash and drain the angelica and shake dry, then chop roughly and place in a dish in layers with half of the sugar sprinkled in between and over top to cover. Leave for 24 hours until the sugar has turned to syrup. Put into a pan and heat gently, stirring to be sure all the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil then remove from the heat, pour back in the dish and leave overnight. Return to the pan, bring to a simmer and cook gently until the leaves begin to look transparent, which should only take 5 minutes or so. Pour through a sieve to leave a clear syrup. This method should extract as much of the angelica flavour as possible. Cut the macerating time down as required if you are in a hurry.
Wash and drain the rhubarb, removing leaves and trimming the ends. Cut thicker stalks in half down the middle then chop into 1cm sized pieces. Place in a pan with the water, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 10 - 15 minutes until cooked through. Pour into a suspended jelly bag and leave overnight to drip through, catching the juice in a jug.
Prepare the canning bath and sterilised bottles. Place the rhubarb juice, angelica syrup and remaining sugar in a pan and heat gently, stirring all the time until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to the boil then remove from the heat, pour into your hot bottles, leaving the required headroom for your bottle type (mine shown in the picture looks like it has a bit too much headroom! I’ll do better next time) seal and process for 10 minutes. Leave till cold and label. For more info about how to hot water process, refer to the guide here.

a tumbler of rhubarb and angelica cordial

After candying the small quantity of angelica stems I had and using some of the leaves to make my rhubarb and angelica cordial, I still had some leaves left over. Hating the thought of wasting them I decided to make a second cordial. As the intention was to ‘can’ the cordial and I was worried whether it would be acidic enough to safely do this way, it seemed like a good idea to make it following a similar method you might use when making elderflower cordial. For this you include some lemon juice as well as a small amount of citric acid to help its keeping qualities. I have a stock of citric acid, bought a while back at my local chemist. I know some people find it difficult to get hold of but it can be found at home brew shops and on ebay as well if your pharmacy is unable to supply.
I wasn’t at first sure whether the lemon and citric acid rather overpowered the more subtle angelica flavour but I’ve just drunk a glass diluted down with sparkling mineral water and the flavour came through in a lovely distinctive way which sets it apart from the elderflower version.

ANGELICA CORDIAL

Makes approx 1.7 litres (3 pints)

1.2 litres (2 pts) water
900g (1 lb) caster sugar
200g (8 oz) angelica leaves, chopped
3 tsp citric acid
juice and zest of 2 lemons

Make a sugar syrup with the sugar and water by heating them together in a pan, stirring until all the sugar is dissolved and bringing to the boil. Remove from heat and add the citric acid. Put the angelica, lemon juice and zest in a bowl and pour the syrup over them. Cover the bowl and leave for 24 hours to macerate and infuse.
Strain through muslin and collect the liquid in a pan. If you are planning to can the cordial so it can be stored, prepare the canning bath and sterilise the bottles. Bring the cordial just to the boil then remove from the heat, pour into your hot bottles, leaving the required headroom for your bottle type, seal and process for 10 minutes. Remove from water bath and leave till cold then label. For more info about how to hot water process, refer to the guide here. This cordial will keep for several weeks unprocessed in the fridge but will store for up to a year unopened after processing.

freshly picked angelica and a bundle of rhubarb



AN OBSESSION WITH ANGELICA
Thursday April 22nd 2010, 6:12 pm

angelica plants for sale

I first came across angelica, the herb, when I looked round my neighbours garden a few years ago. Jane and Les Hales’s garden is very special, so special in fact that it is open to the public a couple of days a year as part of the National Garden Scheme. Jane has planted angelica in several parts of the garden and uses this tall stately plant to form screens against the house. I was instantly impressed by the plants towering stature and amazing flowerheads that look so graphic and beautiful against blue sky.
Jane usually has a few seedlings for sale at her open days. Apparently once you manage to get angelica to grow, this biennial seeds itself freely, so restocking the plant is not an issue. I have tried growing it since then. The first two years, our wet summers encouraged the slugs to decimate my young plants, so even my best efforts came to nothing. This year is looking slightly brighter, and I already have a plant doing well on my allotment and a few more small seedlings that I am cherishing a little longer before planting them out to fend for themselves.

angelica grows into a huge plant and makes a good screen

I had a vague recollection of candied angelica from my childhood, a strikingly vibrant green confectionery used to decorate trifles, a small strip pushed into the cream top layer either side of a bright red glace cherry, and can just about recall it having a rather exquisite and unusual flavour, but that was as far as my knowledge went. I certainly had no inkling that it came from a herbal or vegetable source. This of course set me off on a quest to find out more about the culinary merit of this impressive herb and I vowed to have a go at candying my own angelica to try and rediscover the distinctive flavour remembered as a kid.
All parts of the plant are aromatic and edible. The stems are the bits you candy to make confectionery, the leaves are used for flavouring many liqueurs such as chartreuse as well as in the preparation of bitters, and with juniper berries to flavour gin, the root is blended with wormwood and other herbs to make absinthe and the seeds impart a muscat-like flavour to wine and are used in the preparation of vermouth. All impressive stuff.
Stems for candying or crystallizing need to be young. It is no good waiting too long to harvest them as by June - July time they will be far too stringy and tough to work with. You will know by now that being prepared well enough ahead is not my strongest point, but this year, for once, no doubt prompted by Tigress’s can jam canning challenge I am taking part in, which has chosen herbs for our April ingredient, I have gotten round to acquiring a handful of stems and a nice bunch of leaves from Jane which she very kindly cut for me. The plan, to use angelica as my canjam ingredient (post to follow this one), but also to candy some stems at the same time.

angelica seed heads

What is interesting is the point at which the angelica turns from a herby savoury scent and flavour to a sweet unctious syrupy one. The stems need first to be boiled and scraped, which is a bit fiddly, before layering them with sugar to begin the transformation. As I had very few stems to play with, I used some of the thicker leaf stalks as well. Apart from the peeling process, it was merely a matter of 5 or 10 minutes of activity followed by a day or so of leaving well alone, so it is hardly taxing. As soon as a syrup started to form, the angelica took on the magical taste I remembered and I felt as though I had captured the essence of this wonderous herb. It is worth having a go, even if you only candy angelica once in your life. The basic recipe I followed comes from Bee Nilson’s Herb Cookery, published in 1974. She is one of my favourite cookery writers for allsorts of reasons. Scale the recipe down if you don’t have enough stems.

candying angelica stems

HOW TO CRYSTALLIZE ANGELICA

1/2kg (1lb) angelica stems

Wash the stems and cut into 8-15cm (3-6in) lengths. Boil them in enough water to cover until the stems are tender. For young stems this should only take about 10 minutes. Drain well, rinse with cold water and drain again. Scrape the outer skin from each piece. I found it easiest to slit down the side of each hollow tub and lay them flat on the surface. The skin comes off really easily but you need a lightness of touch so what remains isn’t damaged. Place them in a shallow dish.

1/2kg (1lb) caster sugar

Sprinkle the sugar evenly over the stems. Cover the dish and leave it for 2 days by which time the sugar will have dissolved and become syrupy.

250ml (1/2pt) water

Put the angelica, sugar syrup and water in a pan and heat whilst stirring until the syrup boils. Simmer gently until nearly all the syrup is absorbed and the angelica is clear. Add more water if the syrup has all gone but the stems aren’t looking transparent. Drain the angelica and leave till cool enough to handle, then roll them in more caster sugar to coat them generously. Spread the pieces on a wire cooling rack and finish drying them in a warm place or a very cool oven. When cold wrap the angelica in waxed paper to store.

candied angelica stems

This year, Ramblers, Jane and Les Hale’s garden at Aylburton Common in the Forest of Dean, is open as part of the National Garden Scheme on two Sundays; 2nd May and 13th June 2-6 pm, and also by special appointment during May and June only. You can find more information on the National Garden Scheme website here.

angelica seed heads on sunny afternoon in July