FIRST DUCK EGG - A GOOD EXCUSE FOR A CAKE
Sunday March 17th 2013, 7:29 pm
At the end of last year four rescue ducks arrived, 2 runner ducks and 2 call ducks. They have joined our merry flock of chickens, sort of, as they all seem to rub along together but the ducks live their lives in a different way. The ducks are quite ditsy and get in a flap about things, giving the impression they are total air heads and they walk everywhere in a line, in order of height, tallest leading. They are muckier and muddier than chickens and dredge up water so it doesn’t stay clean for long. But they are very cute and the first time one of them jumped into a bucket and bobbed around on the surface of the water, was a very sweet sight. They do have a little pond made out of a babies paddling pool in the shape of an apple. The other morning I found an egg on the floor of their house, our first duck egg, and there has been an egg waiting first thing, each day since. Its seems like a good reason to bake a cake to celebrate.
My first thought was a prune sour cream coffee cake, which is a real favourite of mine. I came across the recipe printed on the side of a box of prunes, when learning to bake in the 70s. I copied the recipe by hand onto the end papers of my first cookery book, Traditional British Cooking for Pleasure by Gladys Mann, and every now and again get the book off the shelf and bake the cake again. To begin with, as a complete novice, I didn’t have a clue how to translate the ingredients, as it was an American recipe, written in cup measures and called for a tube pan. It took some years to work out what a tube pan is, what a cup of butter looks like and why a cake called a coffee cake has no coffee in it. I suppose I’m just more cosmopolitan these days. Consequently I’ve had many a disaster bumbling along and following the recipe but it still became a favourite as the flavour of the cake is so good. So here is the recipe with my conversion to metric. It is also a good reason to use a vintage enamel bundt tin that takes up far too much house space and needs to occasionally earn it’s keep.
PRUNE SOUR CREAM COFFEE CAKE
250g (1 1/2 cups) ready to eat prunes
100g (1/2 cup) walnuts, roughly chopped
75g (1/2 cup) soft brown sugar
1 tsp grated lemon rind
275g (2 cups) plain flour, sifted
1 tsp each of baking powder and baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp cinnamon, ground
225g (1 cup) butter, unsalted
200g (1 cup) sugar
2 large eggs
225ml (1 cup) sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
Grease a large bundt tin and pre heat the oven to 180C, 350F, Mk 4. Chop the prunes into smallish pieces and place in a bowl, add the walnuts, brown sugar, lemon rind and 2 tbsp of the flour and stir together to combine and coat the prunes. Sift together the remaining flour, baking powder, soda, salt and cinnamon. Cream the butter and sugar till light and fluffy then add the eggs one at a time. Slowly beat in the flour mixture, alternating with the sour cream and vanilla extract. Fold in the prunes. Turn the mixture into the bundt pan and bake for 55-65 minutes until a skewer when pushed into the centre comes out clean and the top feels set. Cool on a cake rack. Turn out and dust with icing sugar.
Just Mad About Canning
Wednesday February 13th 2013, 10:38 pm
I’ve been a keen jam maker for donkeys years. Since I was 20, it’s been rare that a summer has passed by without a batch of strawberry or damson jam reaching setting point in my little kitchen. I love the tradition and never tire of celebrating the berry season each year. A few years ago I started **canning and learnt of a life beyond … jam.
Jam is lovely, and all that, and I’m still jam making with avengeance, but once you know how to can or bottle stuff in jars, it opens up another preserving dimension altogether. I now ‘put up’ all kinds of compotes, purees, pie fillings, cordials, syrups and ketchups. Sometimes I preserve fruit without any added sugar at all so my beautiful jarred comestibles become potential ingredients ready to turn into dishes, desserts and baked goods later down the line. More recently I’ve begun pressure canning vegetable soup and pulses made with homegrown vegetables from the plot.
**Canning or bottling enables produce in jars to be processed in such a way that the contents will become sterilised and so keep for a year or more safely unopened. The process involves immersing the filled jars in a boiling water bath or heating them under pressure using a special pressure canner. The correct technique called for depends on the acidity or alkalinity of the ingredients.
At first my ambition was to fill the shelves. A well stocked pantry or store cupboard is a thing of beauty with a real feelgood factor and the added advantage a ready supply of comestibles means you wont starve. So I filled the shelves with colourful and flavour-filled jars in tidy ordered rows till there was hardly room to fit more, all very satisfying. Then I realised the turnaround, opening jars and using up the contents, was the next vital part of the job. The scraping sound as the spoon scoops the last morsels from the sides of the jar has become music to my ears. Oh yes, an empty jar offers another opportunity, to be refilled with something even more delicious. And so the cycle continues. I’m on a voyage of discovery to find the preserves I adore and can’t get enough of. I don’t want anything nondescript taking up valuable shelf space in my house.
Learning how to can or bottle produce has totally changed my approach to how I source ingredients, store food and cook it. Making use of mainly homegrown or locally grown produce means naturally following the seasons and going with the flow. I feel it allows me to appreciate more living in the moment. I just love that.
Bottling fruit was once a common activity in the UK, especially during wartimes until freezing food became the easier option. Once every household had a freezer, bottling was seen as to much of a faff, all but one of the companies in the UK making the necessary equipment died a death and only a handful of diehard allotmenteers and make do and menders managed to keep the craft alive. I too own a freezer and it is filled to busting with stuff I generally forget about. I have realised that if I freeze some homegrown veg, all the while it languishes in the freezer it is clocking up additional cost. It is an expense most of us are quite prepared to accept, but with utility bills rapidly on the rise, these considerations become more relevant. Those bargain beans will have cost a fair bit more by the time I use them, that’s if I remember to use them at all of course. Alternatively, the joy of jars on shelves means once bottled the food doesn’t cost a penny more or require defrosting either. Pop open the jar and it’s ready to go. It is surely time to revive this culinary craft and give a big tick for sustainability.
But apart from all the practical reasons to love canning, the flavours are the biggest plus. I was brought up to think that preserved foods were second rate and nowhere near as tasty as fresh. What I have experienced first hand confounds these ideas. By following correct practice and keeping cooking times safe but to a minimum, you can capture the most intense and delicious flavours in a jar, capture the absolute essence of those ingredients.
These Are few of My Favourite Things :
With months of rain over the summer, 2012 was a difficult one for growing fruit and veg here in the UK. For a couple of weeks in July a freak strawberry glut meant strawberries were on sale at a bargain price, juicy, flavourful local strawberries. I bought loads and bottled them. They have been my favourite and most useful preserve of the year and they’ve been eaten with yogurt, rice pudding, cake … just about anything. Now down to my last couple of jars and hoping such good fortune is to be found this summer for a repeat performance. Canning means you can make the most of bargain-priced ingredients when they come your way.
I gave my recipe for rhubarb ketchup a couple of years ago and it has been a big hit with everyone who has tried it. I like to add it to my vegetarian cottage pie. I grow rhubarb anyway, so is generally in plentiful supply and I try to make enough ketchup to see me through the year. This is a good one for people with savoury tastes too.
Quince Blood Orange Cordial
Stocking up with cordials is when canning makes such sense. You can make combinations you will never see for sale anywhere and quince blood orange and coriander definitely fits that category. (For this fabulous recipe see my top-notch canning chum Shae’s blog - Hitchhiking to Heaven) Can be given added sparkle or served flat, scope is endless for a non-alcoholic tipple or as part of more potent cocktails.
Straight Bottled Morellos
Though the canning cycle naturally runs over 12 months, some people like to stock up for longer in case next year their tomato crop is destroyed by blight or unpredictable spring weather ruins the quince harvest that should rightfully follow. Most produce if bottled and stored correctly will stay good for a year or two. I’ve got a couple of jars of morello cherries bottled in 2011, still delicious and destined to become clafoutis. Fingers crossed the local cherry harvest is bountiful this summer so I can stock up again.
* I CAN SHOW YOU HOW TO CAN *
It is always so much easier to have someone who knows what they are doing to show you the ropes. Kerstin Rodgers (aka Ms Marmite Lover) has invited me to run a special canning class on 3rd March 2013 starting at 2pm, as part of The Secret Garden Club at her The Underground Restaurant, in North London, followed by a special supper focusing on food from jars.
At Canning for Beginners, you will learn all you need to know to get started; Which ingredients call for what approach, a basic sequence to follow every time you prepare your jars, how to water process high acid ingredients and a brief introduction to pressure canning for low acid ingredients and what you need to consider to keep your canning safe.
We will cover the best jars to use, how they work and what tools and equipment you will need and I will be advising on the best sources for specialist bits and pieces that are harder to find.
After bottling some fruit compote to take home, there will be a meal based around preserved ingredients.
JAR MEAL (PROVISIONAL) MENU
Be prepared to be surprised by just how wonderful the flavours of preserved foods can be.
Soup in a jar
Selection of Cheeses and individual hand pies with an abundance of pickles and relishes to go with and sample. The pickles and relishes to include jarred garlic scapes, black grape chilli jam, pickled golden beetroot with onion, rhubarb ketchup, pickled greengages, etc.
Little Cardamon or almond puddings baked in vintage French jars served with pear vanilla compote or roasted rhubarb and clotted cream.
Damson mincemeat and Bramley apple jalousie served with ginger syrup cream.
You will leave with a goody bag to take home containing a preserving jar, a pair of jar lifters and a list of useful resources as well as my suggested reading list so you feel ready to go off and stock your own pantry with wonderful things.
The event is by ticket only and there are limited places available. To reserve you place book here.
FORAGING FOR BLACKBERRIES
Tuesday October 02nd 2012, 12:39 pm
For the last few years, the apple harvest in my area has been abundant and neighbours growing orchard fruits have been hard pressed to give away their surplus crops. Boxes and bags filled with bramleys and Blenheim orange apples, stacked up by garden gates with hand-written ‘apples for free’ signs are not an uncommon sight September- October time, and as an obsessive preserver I’ve been ready and waiting to take full advantage. But after this year’s early burst of spring followed by what seemed like months of summer rain, the 2012 harvest is set to be on a much more modest scale.
Apple and pear trees usually heaving are either bare or noticeably sparse. One neighbour, with her own orchard, told me, the bees just weren’t around at the right moment to pollinate the blossom. Thankfully there is always some crop or other that has benefited from another’s struggles and this year the blackberries in the hedgerows seem plumper and more plentiful than I’ve ever seen them before. The early foraged blackberries, usually containing more pectin, make the best jam with good setting power, whilst the later ones are more useful for cordials and chutneys. By mixing them with some of the few apples around, I’ve managed to eek out the best of both worlds. The two wild apple trees near to home still carry a few fruits that need using up.
Blackberry and apple jam is a classic that works equally brilliantly for breakfast, spooned onto scones or, as the purists serving suggestion, on bread and butter. I prefer to leave the blackberries whole and love their texture, but you can put the fruit through a food mill or sieve to make a smoother seedless jam more to your liking. I acquired a rose attar scented pelargonium earlier in the year to pair with blackcurrants, so here’s another opportunity to break off a few leaves and add them to the pot. It just adds the extra element required to make this simplest of jams into something exceptional.
BLACKBERRY, APPLE, ROSE GERANIUM JAM
Makes approx. 1.2Kg (2 1/2 lbs) of jam
500g (1 lb) tart apples, bramleys or wild apples will do fine, peeled cored and roughly chopped
300ml (10 fl oz) water or apple juice
500g (1 lb) blackberries
juice of 1 lemon
750g (1 3/4 lbs)sugar
4 – 6 rose rose attar geranium leaves (optional)
Cook the apples with the water or apple juice until the fruit begins to break up and becomes soft. Add the blackberries and lemon juice and simmer for a further 10-15 minutes. If you prefer a seedless jam, allow the fruit to cool then run it through a food mill or push through a sieve and continue with pureed fruit.
Add the geranium leaves tied together in a bundle and the sugar to the fruit and stir over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved, bring to a simmer then remove from the heat and leave for the flavours to macerate for several hours or overnight.
If you plan to can (water process) your jam, prepare the water bath and jars and place jar seals in a pan of hot water on the hob. Using a preserving pan, bring everything to a rolling boil and maintain the heat until it reaches setting point and a blob of syrup readily forms a skin as it cools on a cold plate. It only took me 5 minutes to reach a set with my jam. Fish out the geranium leaves and discard them. Pour the jam into hot sterilised jars and seal. If you are canning your jam, process for 5 minutes then remove from the canner.
CURDS AND WHA-HAAAAY
Thursday August 16th 2012, 11:14 pm
Last year I wrote of my hopes for an eggy future with the imminent arrival of chickens. What a difference a year (and a bit) makes. Since then the flock’s population has risen from five to twenty five (today’s tally) and I can’t imagine what life was like without them. The first thing I look for nowadays in a recipe is how many eggs are called for. Although the number of eggs collected each day fluctuates, it is still an ongoing challenge to use them up. When I can, I make a concerted effort to blitz the egg mountain and a rare glimpse of the bottom of the egg bowl is a victorious sight. Now when I bake I sometimes add an extra egg just for the heck of it, just cos I can, just cos another one bites the dust. The yolks are a glorious orange that enriches and colours anything they are added to.
For baking they come into their own, but eggs aren’t so useful for preserving. I do pickle batches of petit bantam eggs as my neighbours like them and it takes care of a nice clutch, a dozen, or more eggs in one fell swoop. Fruit curds are considered to be preserves even though they generally keep for a much shorter time than jam does. Making them also uses up eggs. Curds keep for anything from a few weeks to a few months if stored unopened in the fridge and they can be frozen if you wish to keep them for 6 months or so. Once opened you should use them up within a week or two. I prefer to preserve fruit puree, which can be bottled and stored on the pantry shelf or frozen. Then the fruit is ready and waiting for making small batches of curd just when it is needed.
Curd is delicious though, so well worth making. Imbued with fruity custardy loveliness, it’s just perfect for sandwiching a sponge cake, dolloping on meringues or filling a pastry case. I’ve been eating apricot curd slathered on sourdough bread and it’s delicious. No need for any butter between as the curd has a fair amount of that included already. In the same way as making custard, fruit curd needs to be constantly stirred in a bowl set over simmering water, to cook it through gradually, as a too high direct heat will result in a horrible curdled mess. As you stir, the ingredients emulsify and the mixture becomes smooth and thickens. As it cools in the jars, it will thicken a bit more. Luscious.
Makes approximately 700g ( 1 1/4lb)
450g (1 lb) fresh apricots
3 large eggs, beaten
zest and juice of a lemon
70g (2 1/2oz) butter
200g (7 oz) caster sugar
Stone and quarter the apricots. There is no need to peel them. Place in a pan with 2Tbsp water and simmer gently for around 10 minutes until the fruit is soft. Leave to cool then push through a sieve or use a food mill to make a smooth puree. It should make approx. 300g (10 oz) of puree.
Place the puree in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water, add the eggs straining them through a sieve, then add all the remaining ingredients. Cook gently stirring continuously with a wooden spoon until everything is combined and the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon. This should take about 30 minutes to achieve.
Pour the curd into small hot sterilised jars, covering the surface of each with a waxed paper circle, then seal and leave till cold. Refrigerate until needed.
SUMMER THROUGH ROSE TINTED SPECTACLES
Tuesday July 10th 2012, 6:37 pm
For anyone reading this in sunnier climes, in the UK it has rained and rained and rained. Other countries have their rainy seasons but our monsoon season always comes as a complete surprise. Even the most determined gardeners have had their endeavours thwarted by perpetual rain. Food producers have lost their crops on flooded land. God forbid, we’re all set for a scarcity of potato crisps in the months ahead! Whatever happens, food is bound to cost us more.
I’d been waiting for a dry sunny day to go and harvest the fruit on my allotment. Despite my lack of horticultural effort this year, I have been rewarded with a fair amount of produce. The berries would no doubt have benefited from a bit more sun, or any sun, but a few days ago I was still able to pick strawberries, raspberries, white, pink, red and black currants, gooseberries and even a handful of alpine strawberries. The currants were tedious to pick and the red ones turned mouldy in an instant, before I had time to get them in the pan. So sad as they are such a glorious fruit. There are still more white currants to harvest as patience got the better of me after stripping 5 bushes. This is my first year of any kind of crop as the bushes were planted just a few years ago.
The pink currants are particularly beautiful and as this is my first opportunity to preserve them I was curious to see whether their marvellous colour would follow through in a jam. They are a variety called Gloire de Sablon. I made the simplest jam with them, just berries, sugar and water, pushed through a food mill to remove the seeds, but not dripped in a jelly bag which would have given a clearer result. The jam has the look of a jelly but with just a tad more texture, a bright tangy flavour and will be eaten with relish on toast for breakfast. All currants contain plenty of pectin, the stuff you need to help jam set, so achieving a firm set shouldn’t be a problem.
Makes approx 750g (3 x 1/2 pint jars)
550g (1 1/4lbs) pink currants
500g (1lb) sugar
300ml (1/2 pt) water
Place all the ingredients in a pan and bring slowly to a simmer, stirring all the time until the sugar has dissolved. Simmer for 5-10 minutes until the currants are cooked and burst. Take the pan off the heat, pour the contents into a bowl and leave covered overnight.
Next day push the currants and syrup through a sieve or food mill, collecting the juice and puree in a bowl underneath. Prepare your jars by sterilising them and their lids in a warm oven for 15 minutes or alternatively prepare a water bath, preserving jars and seals, if you plan to process (can) your jam.
Place the puree and syrup in a preserving pan, bring to a rolling boil and maintain to setting point, which should only take around 5-10 minutes. Skim to remove any froth from the edges of the pan, then pour into hot jars and seal. Alternatively, pour into hot preserving jars, seal and water process for 5 minutes. Remove from the water bath and leave to cool for 24 hours before testing the seals.
A MARMALADE MAKERS BLUEPRINT
Tuesday March 13th 2012, 11:04 pm
The big citrus preserving fest is just about over now. The Seville oranges have finished for the year and though there is always some citrus fruit available to buy all year round, with a plentiful supply of rhubarb just around the corner, I’ve had quite enough of the colour orange and am ready to don my rose tinted spectacles. Actually I haven’t made too much marmalade this year for one reason or another, but full of the usual good intentions still managed to buy the fruit anyway.
So time to clear the decks. That bowl of kumquats that I searched so earnestly to find, that pomelo that has sat patiently in the kitchen for the last few weeks and the handful of ruby oranges that I had almost forgotten were there, all need using up pronto. And then there are unwaxed lemons, 2 limes with peel starting to yellow and 3 bog-standard oranges that somehow got mixed in with the blood oranges at the fruit and veg shop. Oh, and a few bitter Seville oranges too. So to celebrate the last of the citrus why not use the whole lot in one fell swoop.
In some ways a recipe for this fruit-medley marmalade isn’t necessarily that useful to anyone else as the chances of you having the same mixture of fruits may be unlikely and the idea of going out with a shopping list for this exact combination fruitless. But knowing some basic principles for making marmalade is useful and can encourage everyone to use what they have as well as give you confidence to do your own thing if you fear stepping outside of the box. If that all sounds too much like hard work, by all means follow the recipe to the letter or sample a marmalade made earlier; pink grapefruit, rhubarb and cardamon marmalade or gooseberry and lime marmalade or perhaps lemon, fig and lavender marmalade, which is a good one for making just about any time during the year.
I love marmalade with a tart edge to it rather than being too sweet, so using bitter oranges suits me down to the ground. There is a difference between a bitter marmalade and a BITTER marmalade, the latter caused by the inclusion of the fruit’s pith. An overpowering unpleasant bitterness somehow coats the inside of your mouth and stays with you for ages after you’ve eaten your toast! I also love peel in my marmalade, lots of peel. Without it marmalade would simply be jelly! Hand cutting peel can be a tedious part of the process and it is hard to get a really fine even cut. For me this is all part of the ceremony of marmalade making, though luckily I don’t make huge batches. I do have a special bean shredding attachment for my Kenwood Chef which can do the job neatly, easily and quickly, though rarely use it, but if you intend to make marmalade big time it might be worth finding something similar to streamline the job.
The peel needs to be really well cooked first, seemingly overcooked, as it candies and hardens once it is boiled in the sugar syrup. Jane Hasell-McCosh, who founded and organises the annual Marmalade festival at her home, Dalemain Mansion, Nr Penrith, told me that undercooked peel is the most common reason for entries being marked down. The peel should first be cooked until when pressed between finger and thumb it disintegrates, and that can take between 1-2 hours of slow cooking to achieve. Of course, if you like a chewier texture, cook it for less time but don’t expect any rosettes for your efforts.
Different kinds of citrus fruits contain varying amounts of pectin, the stuff that helps jam to set, so you do need to do whatever you can to make the most of what pectin there is. Tying pips and pith into a bundle with muslin and soaking them with the peel in the water or juice overnight helps to extract the available pectin. I have never found it necessary to add extra pectin to my marmalade.
Use your own combination of citrus fruits. You could include grapefruits, mandarins and sweet oranges as alternatives. Roughly match the total weights shown in the recipe but don’t get too hung up on matching measurements exactly.
MIXED CITRUS MARMALADE
Makes approx 1.25Kg (4 x 1/2 pint jars and a bit)
Fruit with combined weight approx 1240g (2 3/4lbs):
kumquats (325g / 12oz)
1 pomelo (465g / 1lb)
3 Seville oranges (325g / 12oz)
1 lemon (125g / 4 oz)
300ml (1/2 pt) mixed citrus fruit juice (I used blood oranges and limes, close to past their prime but still full of juice)
1.2ltrs (2 1/4 pts) water
approx. 800g (1 3/4lbs) sugar
Wash and scrub all the fruit and drain in a colander. Cut the kumquats lengthways into quarters and remove and collect the pips. Remove the peel from the pomelo, Seville oranges and lemon. Pull away the thick pith from the pomelo and any from the oranges and lemon that comes away easily and discard it, then roughly chop the flesh from the fruits, collecting it together with any juice and the kumquat pips. Finely chop the peel into shreds. This made approximately 360g (12oz) chopped peel and 750g (1 1/2lbs) pips and flesh. Wrap the pips and flesh into a bundle with muslin tied securely with string.
Place the peel, muslin bundle, juice and water in a bowl and leave to soak for 12-24 hours. Put everything from the bowl into a pan with a lid, bring to a simmer and cook gently until the peel is soft, which may take 1 - 2 hours. Remove the muslin bag, collecting any liquid that drips from it. Separate the peel from the juice by pouring through a sieve over a bowl, then measure and weigh them both separately.
At this stage it made 700ml (1 1/4pts) juice and 480g (1lb) cooked peel. To calculate how much sugar I needed I made two calculations; one for the amount of juice and one for the weight of the peel then added them together. I choose a classic sugar to juice ratio as used for making a jelly of 400g (14oz) sugar to every 600ml (1 pint) juice = 460g (1lb), plus 70% sugar to weight of peel = 336g (12oz). 460g (1lb) + 336g (12oz) = 796g Rounded up to 800g (1 3/4lbs).
Prepare clean jars and lids by sterilising them in a low oven, keeping them warm till needed. If you plan to can (water process) your marmalade, prepare the water bath and jars and place jar seals in a pan of hot water on the hob.
Place the peel, juice and sugar in a preserving pan and stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved, then turn up the heat and bring to a rolling boil until the marmalade reaches setting point (a blob of the syrup on a plate quickly forms a skin that wrinkles when you push a finger over it). This took me about 10 minutes to achieve. Skim if necessary and allow the marmalade to cool for 5-10 minutes then stir to distribute the peel. Pour the marmalade into hot jars and seal. If you are canning your jam, process for 5 minutes then remove from the canner. Leave till cold, then test the seals. Don’t forget to label and date your marmalade.
HOW TO MAKE BUTTER
Sunday January 08th 2012, 4:19 pm
I was visiting my Mum in hospital over Christmas and suddenly became aware that I was talking about the price of potatoes. I wisely stopped short of telling how I had bought 2 bags of organic spuds on special offer for just £2 the previous day! Once I realised the mundane nature of my conversation, it struck me as so absurd I was stricken with a bout of hysteria that left me unable to speak for 10 minutes or so, no doubt to the relief of the other family members present.
You see, I find frugality and penny pinching totally dull. Having said that, whereas 6 years ago I wouldn’t have been able to tell you the price of butter, times have changed. I’m now a dab hand at rustling up a feast using ingredients from the ‘reduced for quick sale’ bin at the supermarket and can sniff out a bargain a mile off these days. There seems to be an assumption that preserving is part of a ‘make do and mend’ mindset but for me it is far from that. It is primarily about the quality of the food we eat, taking notice of and making use of what is often right there on our doorstep, respecting those ingredients and reducing waste in the process. At the same time, by following the seasons through ingredients it certainly reminds me to savour the seasons, so time doesn’t simply pass by in a heartbeat.
I’ve been wanting to make my own butter for ages. Having read quite a bit about it, it was a matter of finding the raw ingredient, to have a go. Last June my wonderful canning chum Tigress wrote here about making enough butter to see her through the year, freezing the butter and bi-product buttermilk. Much respect Tigress, who having driven to Vermont to collect the cream, then hand churned it one Mason jar at a time!
Nothing quite so romantic or arduous for me, I was just waiting for the cream to appear at the supermarket on special offer, then my trusty vintage Kenwood Chef would do the hard work for me. With Netherend Dairy just down the road producing butter that is highly appreciated in foodie circles, there is hardly much point in making my own unless the cream comes at a bargain price. Seemingly, once Christmas is out of the way, the supermarkets have plenty of excess cream going cheap, ridiculously cheap. To make butter you need normal double or whipping cream, not the UHT longlife stuff. I bought up plenty last week and have been pleasantly surprised by how much butter it has turned into, much more than I’d expected. Being short of freezer space I now have the problem of where to put it!
HOW TO MAKE BUTTER
900ml (32 fl oz) double cream produced 468g (1 lb) butter and 285ml (1/2 pt) buttermilk
Using a Kenwood Chef or other stand mixer fitted with paddle or ‘K’ beater, beat the cream on a medium speed for approximately 10 minutes, keeping a keen eye on it towards the end. The cream will thicken then begin to stiffen, then in an instant the butter and buttermilk separate. At that moment you need to be ready to turn the mixer off, otherwise the buttermilk sloshes all over the place.
Pour into a sieve, collecting the buttermilk in a bowl underneath. The butter needs to be washed in water to remove any other buttermilk trapped inside it. Some people use their hands to mash the butter under a running tap, others use a potato masher. Whichever method you choose, the water needs to run clear as any buttermilk remaining will encourage the butter to go rancid quicker.
Once all the buttermilk is away you can press the butter into a bowl or give it a good wacking with butter pats, which leave lovely traditional ridge patterns on the surface. If you wish to add salt then this is the time to work it through the butter so it is evenly distributed. The butter can be wrapped in waxed paper or placed in sealed storage boxes before freezing. The buttermilk can be used for baking and I have frozen some in smaller cup-sized containers so they are handy sized for when I want to make scones, soda bread or my blueberry buttermilk and almond cake - yum!
This apricot vanilla buttermilk scone recipe is another great way of using both butter and buttermilk. I love making these for breakfast as they aren’t too sweet and are soft enough to be eaten without any extra butter spread on them. You can of course add a dollop of jam if you really have too and serve them for tea later in the day.
APRICOT VANILLA BUTTERMILK SCONES
Makes approx 10 small, 5cm (2in) diameter scones
60g (2oz) dried apricots, soak in boiling water for an hour or more, drain then pat dry with kitchen towel before chopping into small chunks
225g (8oz) self-raising flour
pinch of salt
75g (3oz) butter
30g (1oz) caster sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
4-6 Tbsp buttermilk, plus a bit more if needed and to brush the tops
Pre heat the oven to 220C (425F) Mk7
Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Cut the butter into pieces and rub into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and dried apricots. Mix the vanilla extract into the buttermilk and add it to the flour mixture, working quickly with a fork to form a dough which is soft but not sticky. Bring the mixture together and with floured hands press it onto a floured surface so it is about 2.5cm (1 in) thick.
Cut out scones and place on a greased baking tray. Push the dough offcuts together again and cut the last scone or 2 from that, so none goes to waste. Brush the tops with buttermilk and sprinkle with flaked almonds. Bake for 15-20 minutes until they are risen and starting to be tinged golden. Remove from oven and eat them warm. They are lovely split and toasted later on too.
MY CHRISTMAS PIE FOR VEGETARIANS
Friday December 23rd 2011, 11:57 am
I just remembered this partially prepared blog post from a few months ago and thought it appropriate to finish it. At the time I was gathering mushrooms from the field by my house and it had reminded me of my favourite mushroom pie recipe that I have made many many times. The recipe comes from a book from 1972, Cookbook For The New Age, Earth Water Fire Air by Barbara Freidlander. When given to me, I’d just decided to become vegetarian, had married at a ridiculously young age and was starting out learning about life and food and cooking. I have made this pie and variations of it on so many occasions and it has been served as part of Christmas lunch many times as well, which is why I’m publishing it now, in case you are looking for some last-minute inspiration.
I’m not so pleased with my pictures here but it is the recipe that is important on this occasion. The book is American so is written in cups and pounds, which at the time was very peculiar and exciting for me to translate. I’m going to copy it as is and for the sake of speed have no intentions of adding the metric conversion this time round, but hope you’ll get the gist and feel inspired anyway. More often than not I’ve used hazelnuts in place of the cashews and usually toast them lightly first.
Makes 1 large or 2 small pies
2 cup pastry flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 pound butter
1/4 cup cold milk
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
5 celery stalks, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 cup unsalted cashew nuts, chopped
pinch of thyme
salt and pepper to taste
Cream sauce **
Make the pastry in the usual way (rub the butter into the flour and salt then add the milk and bring it together to form a ball). Leave in fridge to chill whilst the filling is prepared.
Saute the first 6 filling ingredients together in 4Tbsp butter, cover and cook until the mushrooms are tender. If there seems to be lots of liquid from the mushrooms, cook for a while without the lid to help it evaporate.
Meanwhile in another pan make the cream sauce** Combine the sauce and mushroom mixture and blend well. Check the seasoning and adjust at this point. Preheat oven to 400F 200C Mk6.
Cut the pastry dough into 2 pieces, one slightly smaller for the pie lid than the other for the base. Roll out the pastry on a floured board for the base and line a greased pie tin. Pour/spoon in the filling. Roll out the pastry lid, cut a few slits in the centre, brush the base edges with milk or water and lay the lid in place sealing the edges. Brush the top with milk or beaten egg to glaze. Place in the oven, reduce the temperature to 350F 180C Mk4 and bake for 40-45 minutes till nicely golden.
** CREAM SAUCE
1/2 cup milk
salt and pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
Melt the butter in a pan over low heat, add the flour and stir to form a roux. Gradually add the milk, stirring between each addition to make a smooth sauce. Let it cook for a few minutes then season. For the pie the sauce can be quite thick as the mushroom mixture will make it thinner.
FESTIVE JAM FROM FAR FLUNG PLACES
Monday December 19th 2011, 9:57 am
I prefer to use the ingredients I find on my doorstep, but sometimes occasion decrees it’s time to push the boat out. I’d love to find homegrown cranberries but have never seen them for sale on my travels, though Sainsburys are selling Kent grown cranberries this year, but only available in that area. So for my special Christmas jam, my cranberries are from the US, dried apricots from Turkey and pineapple from Costa Rica. I hope all you locavores will forgive me! For some of you lucky enough, these ingredients will be on your doorstep.
I saw mention of this combination in an old book of mine and thought it worth exploring. In that recipe the pineapple came in a tin and for my first experiment I used a tin of crushed pineapple in natural juice. Having noticed fresh pineapples not much different in price to tinned, I decided to use fresh for my second batch. Both work well with perhaps the fresh having just that added zing you might expect. The final flourish - apricot brandy, just makes this fabulous jam extra special, befitting the season.
The fruits cook down to a ‘feltly’ consistency, which from my experience means you need to watch it doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan and burn. So don’t leave the bubbling jam kettle for even a minute or your jam may be spoilt. My recipe calls for relatively little sugar. This does mean that it is advisable to store the preserve in the fridge or the ideal alternative, do like I do and can it. That way it will store for a year or even longer. Serve on toast, scones or with your celebration meal as a relish. I’m off to make some more.
CRANBERRY, APRICOT AND PINEAPPLE JAM
Makes 1.3Kg (5 x 1/2pt jars)
1 med size pineapple, approx 1100g (2 1/2lbs) in weight or a 432g (15oz) tin crushed pineapple in juice
150g (5oz) dried apricots
300g (1x 12oz pack) fresh cranberries, rinsed and drained
450g (1lb) sugar
apricot brandy (optional)
Prepare the pineapple; slice off the top and base and pare away the skin. Chop down through the centre lengthways and cut into 4, then remove the woody core. Slice the flesh into chunks then pulse in a food processor to give a fine texture. Pour into a sieve over a bowl and collect the juice that drips through. With my 1100g pineapple, this gave me 280g (10oz) pulp and 200ml (7 fl oz) of juice. (You don’t need to be spot on here just aim for approximately that amount.) Chop the apricots into small even pieces and place in a bowl with 200ml (7 fl oz) of boiling water plus the pineapple juice and leave to soak for several hours or overnight.
If you plan to can (water process) your jam, prepare the water bath and jars and place jar seals in a pan of hot water on the hob. Alternatively, prepare clean jars by sterilising them in a low oven, keeping them warm till needed. Place the cranberries, apricots, crushed pineapple and soaking juices in a preserving pan. Add another 200ml (7 fl oz) water and cook gently for approximately 20 minutes, until the cranberries have started to pop and the mixture combines and takes on a ruby glow. Remove from heat for 5 minutes then add the sugar. Stir over a gentle heat until completely dissolved, then up the heat and bring to a rolling boil, taking great care that it doesn’t burn. It only takes 5-10 minutes before you can see the texture is thickened and a small blob on a cold plate will hold its shape. Turn off the heat. Leave for 5 minutes then stir in 3-5 Tbsp apricot brandy.
Pour into prepared hot jars leaving 0.5cm (1/4in) headroom, tap jars on worktop to de-bubble, clean rims and seal, then process for 10 minutes. Remove jars from water bath and leave until completely cold before testing the seals. Alternatively, pot the hot jam into clean hot jars and seal then store in the fridge when cold.
BLAISDON PLUM & LAVENDER JAM
Thursday August 04th 2011, 4:04 pm
Just drove up the road to my house and the road side is lined with windfall plums, like a guard of honor greeting me back home. The plum thing round here is just about to kick off and I want to be ready to make the most of this abundant harvest. It’s on the doorstep and comes for free. I have written about Blaisdons, our local plum variety before and last year bottled them, see here . I also bottled squashed plums very simply, stoned and cooked in a light syrup. They were delicious and kept me in dessert for several months with custard, yogurt or cake. I need more of them alright, the larder needs to be well-stocked to take me through the winter.
So to ease my way into the season I thought I’d start with a jam. I generally find plum jam quite uninspiring and one dimensional, so this jam called for the addition of careful thought to really make it sing. As I said on Facebook yesterday, good jam does not come from throwing everything in a pan and boiling like billio. That’s just stewing fruit and you end up with jars of sweet pink mush that somehow remain in the larder for years and that you are unable to ever get rid of. I want to make jam that is so fantastic that you quickly run out and vow you’ll make more next year. I like to macerate the fruit to draw out the juice and the fresh flavours and this method suits my way of life really well. It means you can begin to process your newly picked fruit at it’s freshest without having to get the jars and all the other paraphernalia ready. It gives you a day or two’s grace to get your head round the task in hand. You do need lots of bowls and in my kitchen and sitting room table-top space is often at a premium as bowls of fruit covered with cling film wait their turn, all topped and labeled with post it notes.
I mentioned in my last post that using lavender as a flavouring requires a light touch. It needs to be just present so it’s hard to put your finger on just what the flavouring is, to really work. This jam is delicious and is a brilliant colour too. The cooking time is kept to a minimum without too much sugar, so the plums have a tart edge to them, which any good jam should have in my opinion. I used lavender recently harvested from the garden, so though dry is also very fresh. Blaisdon plums are a cling-stone plum, so you either remove the stones after cooking them, filching them out one by one, or you cut the flesh from the stone. Some of my plums were windfalls so I needed to cut off any bruised and manky bits, so the second method, though time consuming, worked well in this instance. I have no doubt that as the season progresses, stone filching will become tedious. Right now I’m just loving the thrill of anticipation. Blaisdons - bring them on!
BLAISDON PLUM & LAVENDER JAM
Makes 1.125 kg (2lbs 4oz)
1.2Kg ( 2lb 8oz) plums or 1kg (2lb 4oz) when stoned
750g ( 1lb 12oz) sugar
juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp dried lavender
Chop the plums into quarters and remove the stones. Place the fruit in a bowl layered with the sugar, add the lemon juice and push the lavender, tied in a piece of muslin, down into the fruit. Cover and leave overnight to macerate.
Next day, pour the contents of the bowl into a pan and heat it through stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Bring to a simmer then remove from the heat, pour back into the bowl, push a piece of greaseproof paper down onto the surface of the bowl’s contents, then cover and leave to macerate for anything between 3 - 24 hours, whatever fits into your schedule.
If you plan to can or water process your jam, prepare your jars and seals, otherwise make sure your jam jars and lids are clean and hot by placing them in a warm oven for 20 minutes. Remove the lavender bundle, then with a slotted spoon remove the plum pieces from the syrup. There is no need to be too painstaking about this, it just means that your finished jam will have some nice chunks of plum flesh instead of it all being cooked into an homogenised mass!
Place the remaining syrup in a preserving pan, heat to boiling then maintain at a rolling boil until it reaches setting point. This took me about 10 minutes to achieve. Add the plum pieces and bring back to the boil and check for setting point again. Pour the jam into hot jars and seal. If you are canning your jam, process for 10 minutes then remove from the canner. Leave till cold, then test the seals. Label and date your jam.