Comfort me with apples

This has been a brilliant year for apples. Everywhere I go in Liverpool I have found trees dripping with apples. I have been given bushels of them by generous friends and even my cat Csardas got in on the act, bringing me an apple from next door’s tree. I do love an apple. I totally subscribe to the “one a day, keeps the doctor away” maxim and consume at least one every day. I love their variety – from the sharp almost wince making tang of a Granny Smith to the rough skinned but juicy Russet to the sweet Royal Gala. Aside from the so called dessert apples, we also have the wonderful Bramley – tart but flavoursome, with flesh that turns into a glorious fluffy puree when cooked; and the crab apple – wild fruit that makes clear apple jelly perfect for adding spices or herbs to .

I always make apple chutney – a spicy condiment with chilli, cloves and turmeric that goes fabulously with cheese. I also make apple jellies, taking immense satisfaction from the resultant clear viscosity, ranging in shade from pale gold to dark red depending on the skin of the apple used. What I haven’t done hitherto though is made much jam using apples, other than pairing them with brambles for the classic autumn jam. I’ve been ruminating on uses for apples – turnovers, tarte tatins, crumbles, pies – all of which involve the addition of sugar, spices such as cloves and cinnamon or caramel. Why not take those flavour profiles and make a jam? It’s not a new idea, there are various apple jam recipes available but I wanted to make an Apple Pie Jam – partly because I’ve been playing with traditional dessert flavours in jams and curds recently – rhubarb custard curd, black forest gateau jam, peach melba jam etc.

Bit of research yielded the following recipe from www.nutmegsseven.co.uk, which I’ve slightly tweaked to suit my own taste buds. Apple Pie Jam. It’s a thing you NEED in your life.

Apple Pie Jam (makes approximately 11 x 190g jars):

1.5 kg cooking apples (weighed after peeling and coring), half finely diced, half finely sliced
1 cinnamon sticks
6 cloves
1 tsp allspice
1kg granulated sugar
325g dark muscovado sugar
Juice of 1 lemons
275g stoned dates, roughly chopped

Put the peeled apples (add the lemon juice as you chop them to prevent them browning too much) in a large pan with the cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice, dates, sugar and two tea cups of water. Slowly heat until the sugar starts to melt and the apples release their juice. Increase the heat, stirring regularly to prevent the sugar catching on the bottom of the pan and burning. Put a small plate in the freezer.

Bring to the boil and boil until the apples have softened and the liquid has started to turn golden and reduce and the dates have begun to dissolve (you will still have some chunks of apple left through) – about 15-20 minutes. Continue to simmer for another 20 to 30 minutes but keep stirring regularly to stop it burning on the bottom – be careful and wear oven gloves for this and use a long handled spoon, as it can bubble up suddenly and scald you.

To test for a set, spoon a small amount of jam onto the cold plate from the freezer and run your finger down the middle – if it wrinkles and parts cleanly, then it’s ready. If not, continue to boil for a little while longer.

Decant into sterilised jars, (I pour just boiled water from the kettle into jars then dry them upside down in the oven at 120C for half an hour), and seal while warm to create a vacuum.

Allow to cool before labelling. Absolutely delicious on hot crumpets and also rather nice stirred into plain yogurt over porridge.

Rhubarb, rhubarb

So wittering on Twitter in my usual fashion and I got into conversation with Grown With Love. In case you’ve not heard of them, @GrownWithLove is the twitter tag for Barfoots – a sustainable farm business based in the South of England http://www.barfoots.com/products-services/grown-with-love/
Anyway, upshot of the conversation was that they very kindly offered to send me some rhubarb. Now I don’t know about you but I LOVE rhubarb – something about those sharp, pinky green stems really works for me. And of course now is the time to eat the homegrown stuff.

picture of rhubarb

Rhubarb from Grown With Love

Rhubarb is in fact a vegetable, but like the tomato (strictly speaking a fruit that is eaten as a savoury) it is treated in the opposite way ie as a sweet item. It matches beautifully with ginger, cardamom and vanilla spices; and likes orange, almonds and strawberries. Of course, you can keep things simple and just gently poach the rhubarb with a little water and sugar to taste, which will make a lovely rhubarb compote perfect for swirling into plain yogurt.

I like to make rhubarb jam – this year I’ve mixed it with cardamom to create a gorgeous pale pink, orange spiced jam that goes rather well with a scone. Wash 1 kilo of rhubarb and slice into 1/2 inch chunks. Put in pan with a splash of water – literally just enough to stop the fruit from sticking to the pan base as it heats. Crack open 6 cardamom pods in a mortar and pestle and give them a good bashing to smash up the seeds and husk. Add to the rhubarb and let it simmer on a gentle heat until the rhubarb releases all its juices and becomes soft strands. Add 650g granulated sugar and the juice of 1 lemon. Bring to a rapid boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and cook until the jam is thickened and drips off the spoon in big flakes – or use the wrinkle test – dollop a spoonful on a chilled saucer (taking jam off the heat while you check for the set or you’ll wind up with toffee) and let it cool, then push with your finger to “wrinkle” the surface – if that happens, the jam is ready, if it’s still runny, cook a little longer. This jam doesn’t set particularly hard but you want to spoon it not drink it…

I wanted to try something else though, I toyed with the idea of a rhubarb cake but hey, I always make cake. Then I thought about almonds. More specifically, a rhubarb frangipane tart, maybe with a little splash of Amaretto? See where I’m going with this? Patisserie is not my forte – I can make it taste good, but glamorous fiddling about with precision decoration isn’t me. So excuse the pictures of the tart – others will make it look far better but I can assure you it tasted very very nice indeed.

Rhubarb Frangipane Tart

Pastry Case:

(Shop bought pastry gives me indigestion – so I make my own but feel free to use a good ready made sweet crust pastry – no judging here!)

175g plain flour

25g icing sugar

125g unsalted butter, chilled and diced

1 egg yolk

2 tablespoons cold water

Frangipane Filling

3 tablespoons rhubarb jam (or use raspberry or strawberry)

400g roasted rhubarb – wash and chop into 1 inch pieces and roast in 180C oven for 15 to 20 minutes until tender.

3 eggs

1 egg yolk

110g caster sugar

110g unsalted butter, melted

110g ground almonds

2 tablespoons of Amaretto (optional but NICE)

Handful of flaked almonds.

Make pastry by sifting together flour and icing sugar. Rub in cold butter with fingertips or using a food processor until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Mix egg yolk with cold water and add to the flour/ butter mix to bring it together into a soft dough. Handle gently! Shape into a flat disc and chill for half an hour. Roll out the pastry and use to line a 23 cm loose bottomed tart tin. Prick the base with a fork and put back in fridge to chill and firm up for another half hour. Preheat oven to 200C/ 400F or GM6.  Line pastry with baking parchment and fill with dried beans or scrunched up foil. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the parchment and cook for a further 3 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Turn oven down to 180C/ 350F/ GM4

Ready for the oven!

Ready for the oven!

Make filling by mixing  eggs and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add Amaretto if using and the melted butter. Mix well then fold in the ground almonds.  Spread jam over the cooled pastry base, and top with the rhubarb pieces. Spoon over the frangipane topping and smooth.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes.  Remove from oven, sprinkle over the almonds and return to the oven to bake for another 10 minutes until the filling is golden brown and just set – it should wobble a little.

Serve with ice cream

Served with ice cream

 

 

Serve with lashings of cream or vanilla ice cream.

Thanks again Grown With Love!

Wild about Spring

IMG_1428March is leaving us like a lion – wind, driving rain and the occasional frost. But the light has changed, dawn comes earlier with a blackbird’s song, and in the gardens and woods the greenery is spreading. Sometimes this time is known as the hungry gap, the stored winter vegetables are coming to their end and the seedlings of the new season are yet to sprout. Now is the time to go foraging, in search of fresh wild spring greens to add zing and flavour to meals. My favourite is wild garlic – the richly scented green leaves made into a pesto with hazelnuts and extra virgin rapeseed oil.

An “English” PestoIMG_1414

50g wild garlic – just cut the leaves, leave the bulbs for the next year.
50g watercress or young spinach
100g hazelnuts
Extra virgin rapeseed oil – I use Borderfields which has a lovely nutty taste to complement the hazelnuts.
salt to taste

Use a food processor – pack in the nuts & greens, set it going and begin to drizzle the oil in until you have a thick spoonable paste. Season to taste and pack into clean sterilised jars. Top with more oil to keep it fresh and seal. Keep in the fridge.

Uses:

Toss a couple of teaspoons of pesto through hot gnocchi, and add a handful of fresh spinach or watercress and a grating of Parmesan.

Mix a teaspoon of the pesto with creme fraiche and use to dress a piece of grilled salmon as a quick sauce.

Try with roasted lamb – use it as a rub before putting in the oven.

Mix with mashed potatoes and serve alongside a piece of gammon.

Use on bruschetta with a little feta or goats cheese crumbled over.

Marvellous Marmalade

 

picture of mansion house

Dalemain Mansion

Took a little road trip this weekend to the Dalemain Marmalade Awards in Cumbria (www.dalemainmarmaladeawards.co.uk). Established in 2006, these awards were set up by Jane Hasell-McCosh to promote the making and enjoyment of that now very British tradition of turning all kinds of citrus fruit into marmalade. Nine years on and what started as a small but quirky event has grown into an international festival, attracting entries from all over the world. This year over 2000 jars of marmalade made their way to Dalemain Mansion, where they were sorted into categories  e.g “Marmalade with interesting additions…” and separated into home-made, artisan and bed & breakfast/hotel makers.
jars of marmalade

Marmalade display

Judged by a plethora of respected foodies including Dan Lepard, Pam Corbin & Ivan Day, the entries  are tasted “blind” with no indication beyond the ingredients and name of the product on the jar to ensure absolute impartiality.

I have to confess, I had a specific reason for attending these awards as I had entered three jars in the artisan categories – whiskey marmalade, Seville marmalade with gin & plain Seville marmalade. It was my first time of entering, and it was more  in expectation of getting advice on my products (all entries get given tasting notes by the judges) then actually getting anywhere in the competition.  I was incredibly chuffed to be given a GOLD award for my Seville Marmalade, medium cut.

certificate

Gold Award Certificate

Grab Your Spoon's Seville Marmalade

Recipe:

Simple Seville Orange Marmalade:

1.5 kilos Seville oranges, washed.

2.2 litres (4 pints) water

2.5 kilos sugar

Whole Sevilles in the pan

Whole Sevilles in the pan

Put the oranges in a large saucepan and add the water. Simmer gently for 2 – 3 hours until the peel is very soft.

Remove the fruit, but DON’T throw the water away.

Let fruit cool til you can handle comfortably.

Cut the fruit in half and scoop the pips into a small saucepan, add 300ml of water and bring this to a simmer for 10 minutes. Leave to cool and then strain through a sieve into the reserved water from earlier. Squeeze as much liquid from the sieve as you can.

Meantime chop the peel to suit – thick or thin!

Put this fruit back into the large pan with the water and sugar. Stir well over a low heat until the sugar has all dissolved.

Turn the heat up and bring to a fast boil for 10 minutes, then pull off the heat and test for a set – either: dip a clean wooden spoon into the pan, remove it and holding above the pan, twirl the spoon to cool it then let the marmalade ‘fall’ off the spoon. If the drops run together and form flakes that hang onto the edge of the spoon, a set has been reached; or:

The "wrinkle"

The “wrinkle”

chill a saucer in the fridge, put a teaspoon of marmalade on the cold saucer and let it cool for 1 minute. Push the surface and if it ‘wrinkle’, it has reached setting point.

If the marmalade hasn’t yet set, put back on the heat and cook for another 5 minutes and try the set again. Repeat as necessary but do make sure you take the pan off the heat each time you test the set or you’ll end up with toffee!

Let it sit a little, remove any “scum” (or froth really), by adding a small pat of butter and stirring to disperse the air bubbles. Letting it sit for 5 minutes or so before potting it also helps the peel to suspend in the jelly rather than sinking to the bottom.

Ladle into sterilized jars (fill jars with just boiled water, rinse out and leave upside to dry in a warm oven), and seal. Leave to cool before labeling.

This recipes makes about 9  x 340g jars or 18 190g jars.

Jars of marmalade cooling

Jars of marmalade cooling

Marmalade Month

paper bag of seville oranges

Seville Oranges from Riverford Organics

January in Britain. Grey skies. Freezing temperatures. No money post Christmas spending. 5 weeks til payday. So far, so grim. But wait, there’s an orange glow on the horizon, bringing colour and scent to our kitchens. Yes, January is also the time of the glorious but short Seville orange season. Now is the time to get out your biggest pan and indulge in a spot of marmalade making.

Beloved by Paddington Bear, dreamt about by British expats and eaten from John O Groat’s to Land’s End, marmalade is a wonderful addition to your morning toast. Of course, it’s as British as curry, which is to say, we nicked it from somewhere else and made it ours. In this case, the Portuguese  delicacy “marmelada” travelled to England via France in the 16th century,  referring to a fruit paste made with  quinces, sugar and boiled until thickened. No-one is quite sure when ‘marmalade’ began to refer to a citrus fruit based confection but a recipe for a “Marmelet of Oranges” is found in the household book of Madam Eliza Cholmondeley circa 1677.  (Source: A Comprehensive History of Marmalade from the World Marmalade Awards)

For me, the joy of marmalade making is the endless permutations on a theme. Each year I make a “standard” batch and then make a further two batches, experimenting with other flavours, different sugars and thickness of peel. Marmalade happily sits with ginger, whisky, Grand Marnier, rum, treacle, and even chilli. This year I am playing with ginger, using ginger wine and chunks of stem ginger to add a little warmth to my basic marmalade recipe.

Marmalade is not just for toast, use it to glaze a ham, add to a bread and butter pudding for an extra citrus kick, bake a marmalade cake or, a particular favourite, make a marmalade martini….

I got my Sevilles from Ave Maria Farm www.huertaavemaria.com via Riverford Organics www.riverford.co.uk but I’ve also now seen them in some of the bigger supermarkets.

Simple Seville Orange Marmalade:

1.5 kilos Seville oranges, washed.

2.2 litres (4 pints) water

2.5 kilos sugar

Whole Sevilles in the pan

Whole Sevilles in the pan

Put the oranges in a large saucepan and add the water. Simmer gently for 2 – 3 hours until the peel is very soft.

Remove the fruit, but DON’T throw the water away.

Let fruit cool til you can handle comfortably.

Cut the fruit in half and scoop the pips into a small saucepan, add 300ml of water and bring this to a simmer for 10 minutes. Leave to cool and then strain through a sieve into the reserved water from earlier. Squeeze as much liquid from the sieve as you can.

Chopped peel

Chopped peel

Meantime chop the peel to suit – thick or thin!

Put this fruit back into the large pan with the water and sugar. Stir well over a low heat until the sugar has all dissolved.

Turn the heat up and bring to a fast boil for 10 minutes, then pull off the heat and test for a set – either: dip a clean wooden spoon into the pan, remove it and holding above the pan, twirl the spoon to cool it then let the marmalade ‘fall’ off the spoon. If the drops run together and form flakes that hang onto the edge of the spoon, a set has been reached; or:

The "wrinkle"

The “wrinkle”

chill a saucer in the fridge, put a teaspoon of marmalade on the cold saucer and let it cool for 1 minute. Push the surface and if it ‘wrinkle’, it has reached setting point.

If the marmalade hasn’t yet set, put back on the heat and cook for another 5 minutes and try the set again. Repeat as necessary but do make sure you take the pan off the heat each time you test the set or you’ll end up with toffee!

Let it sit a little, remove any “scum” (or froth really), by adding a small pat of butter and stirring to disperse the air bubbles. Letting it sit for 5 minutes or so before potting it also helps the peel to suspend in the jelly rather than sinking to the bottom.

Ladle into sterilized jars (fill jars with just boiled water, rinse out and leave upside to dry in a warm oven), and seal. Leave to cool before labeling.

This recipes makes about 9  x 340g jars or 18 190g jars.

Jars of marmalade cooling

               Jars of marmalade cooling

 

Grab Your Spoon’s Marmalade Martini

Well, and why not?!

2 shots marmalade vodka (Chase Vodka www.chasedistillery.co.uk make one, but you can use plain vodka or gin if that’s what you have!)

1 shot Cointreau or Triple sec

juice from 1 tangerine or half an orange

1 dessertspoon of Seville marmalade

2 tablespoons of double cream

Mix or shake in a cocktail shaker filled with ice cubes. Strain into a glass and grate orange zest over the top.

Creative Cranberries

Cranberries have long been used in Scandinavian and American winter cooking, with many Brits joining the berry party after Delia featured them in several recipes in her Winter Collection book. At this time of year, there are both frozen and fresh cranberries available on the shelves of most supermarkets, yet I frequently see the fresh ones marked down in the bargain section.  I picked up  four bags  of fresh cranberries recently for 25p each! This led me on to some experimentation – I make curds throughout the year, including using seasonal fruits like strawberries and blackberries, so why not a cranberry version?

Cranberry Curd

450g cranberries

115g unsalted butter

450g caster sugar

4 large eggs

Put the cranberries and 150ml of water in a saucepan and cook on a low heat until they have popped and become tender.  Use a stick blender to process into a puree. Sieve into a large microwavable bowl. Add the butter and sugar and microwave on full power for about 2 minutes until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved.

Whisk eggs together and add to the cranberry mixture. Continue cooking in the microwave in 1 minute bursts, stirring each time, and reducing the length of time to 30 seconds as the mixture thickens. Once it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon

jar of cranberry curd

Cranberry curd

(and you can draw a finger through it, leaving a channel), sieve again to remove any cooked egg bits and put into jars – this will make about 900g – so will fill 4 or so small jars.

 

 

 

I made the gloriously pink curd and then it seemed a shame not to use it in a cake, so I adapted the meringue cake found in Nigella Lawson’s Feast to create a festive version.

Cranberry Meringue Cake

125g very soft unsalted butter

4 large eggs (separated)

300g  caster sugar (plus 1 teaspoon)

100g plain flour

25g cornflour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

100 dried cranberries

4 teaspoons milk

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

150 ml double cream (or whipping cream)

150g cranberry curd (see above recipe)

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6/200°C/400ºF. Line and butter two 21cm 8 inch sandwich tins.

Mix the egg yolks, 100g of the sugar, the butter, flour, cornflour, baking powder, bicarb, and dried cranberries in a processor. Add the milk and process again. Divide the mixture between the prepared tins. It looks like it won’t be enough mixture, but spread it out as evenly as possible.

Whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar until peaks form and then slowly whisk in 200g sugar. Divide the whisked whites between the two sponge-filled tins, pouring or, more accurately, spreading the meringue straight on top of the cake batter. Smooth one flat with a metal spatula, and with the back of a spoon, peak the other and sprinkle 1 teaspoon sugar over the peaks. Put the tins into the oven for 20-25 minutes.

With a cake-tester, pierce the cake that has the flat meringue topping to check it’s cooked all through. (It will have risen now but will fall back flattish later.) No sponge mixture should stick to the tester. Remove both cakes to a wire rack and let cool completely in the tins.

Unmould the flat-topped one on to a cake stand or plate, meringue side down. Whisk

picture of cake

Cranberry Meringue Cake

the double cream until thick but not stiff and set aside. Spread the flat sponge surface of the first, waiting, cake with the cranberry curd and than spatula over the cream and top with the remaining cake, peaked meringue uppermost. Dust with icing sugar.

 

 

 

And finally, I’m including the very simple recipe I use for a cranberry sauce – which is lovely with turkey, cold meats, pates and creamy cheeses.

Cranberry Sauce

450g cranberries

110g sugar

300ml red wine

125ml port

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

zest and juice of a large orange

Put all the ingredients in a large pan and bring to a very gentle simmer. Stir well, and leave to cook very gently for about an hour on a low heat without a lid on the pan. Stir occasionally.  You will end up with a thick cranberry sauce that can be left to cool and then put in a covered bowl until needed.

 

 

Found fruit – Apples in the city

 

It never ceases to amaze me how much fruit goes unpicked and unused across the city. Leftover remnants of orchards abound in Liverpool, a legacy of the city’s more prosperous past.  Many a large Victorian or Georgian house has long disappeared, leaving only the ghost of a garden behind, which has either been incorporated into a new housing estate or forms the edge of a new road system. Driving round Liverpool I find crab trees in pub car parks and on the edge of Otterspool’s new houses; I spot apple trees on Menlove Avenue and along the edges of golf course boundaries. Plum trees poke above the fenced off industrial areas in Garston. All are laden with fruit, left unpicked to eventually fall and rot in the grass below.  I often head out for a forage, coming back with kilos of apples to use in jellies and chutneys, always of course leaving some behind for others and wildlife to munch on.

At the end of September I had occasion to visit Wavertree, where I stumbled upon a trio of apple trees, merrily shedding their harvest into a car park, where their beautiful red fruit was being driven over by cars and mashed into an unusable pulp.  I picked up 3 kilos of apples from the ground in about 10 minutes and took them home. They were such a beautiful red, I photographed them and then prepared to use them for an apple jelly base. Cutting one open I was amazed to discover that the flesh of the apple was also red, not something I had seen before. Diligent research via twitter, facebook and google suggested that these apples were a variety of orange pippin, possibly crossed with a crab apple. Tasting them, the flesh was juicy, tart and firm.

car park apples

car park apples

 

Red red red!

Red red red!

I was contacted by Paul Quigley from Norton Priory, a museum and garden in nearby Runcorn (http://nortonpriory.org/).  Their 18thC walled garden contains an orchard of local heritage apples as well as the National Collection of Quinces. Paul was interested in the apples I had found, as he helps to identify and collect old varieties of apples once grown more extensively in the North West.  I had kept back a few of the apples, as I had thought to send them to Brogdale (www.brogdale.org/), which keeps the National Fruit  Collection, with over 4000 varieties of British heritage fruits. Norton was much closer! Paul kindly swapped a bag of quinces, medlars and apples for my “found” treasures, and I wait to hear if they will be definitively identified and perhaps propagated for the future.

And the rest of the apples? I turned them into the most beautiful jewel like jelly, with cider and mulled spices.  Something to serve with the King of English Cheese, Colston Basset’s  creamy hand ladled Stilton this Christmas. A much better end than squashed in the road!

Mulled apple cider jelly

Mulled apple cider jelly

Apple Jelly:

Roughly chop your apples, cores and all. Put into a heavy based pan and just cover the fruit with cold water. Add 1 halved lemon and bring to the boil then turn down and simmer gently for about an hour, until the apples have become a soft pulp.  Pour the apple pulp and liquid into a jelly bag suspended over a large bowl (Lakeland do a good, foldable and adjustable one) to drip through the juices for 24 hrs. Don’t be tempted to squeeze the bag dry, it will make your end jelly cloudy rather than lusciously sparkling.

Once all the liquid has dripped through, measure the amount of liquid into a pan and add 1lb of sugar to each pint of apple liquor. Stir well to dissolve.  At this point I also added a 500ml bottle of Welsh Cider, 1 tsp of ground cinnamon, 1 tsp of ground ginger, 1 tsp of allspice and a ½ tsp of ground cloves.  (I also added some extra sugar to compensate for the additional cider liquid – half ratio this time). Bring to a rolling boil and let the liquid simmer until setting point is reached – either forming a skin you can wrinkle with your finger when you put a spoonful on a cold saucer or use a sugar thermometer and let it reach around 106C. If a slight scum forms, add a little butter to dissolve it.

Pour into sterilized jars and seal, leave to set before storing somewhere cool before use.

Have a very berry autumn

I love autumn. Love the crisp mornings and smoky dusks. Love the usually fine weather during the day. Love the colours changing and the nights drawing in. Most of all, though, I love the feast that Nature provides for us in the form of berries, nuts, fungi and other fruit. For the second day running, I’ve been out for a walk and come back clutching just under a kilo of fresh blackberries.  In case you imagine me madly juggling purple handfuls, I am the sort of person who goes out for a walk with a couple of freezer bags stashed in my pocket for exactly this purpose. I know…. Seamus Heaney describes the joy of blackberrying beautifully in his poem, Blackberry Picking

“Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. ”

patch   Close up 1

This year, the abundance of berries is positively overwhelming. I live in a suburb of South Liverpool, not quite the Italian smallholding of my dreams, yet I can locate kilos of blackberries within a 10minute walk. The glory of the blackberry haul is a reason to be grateful for the moratorium on tidying up the edges of parks and cemeteries due to budget cuts. Good for us. Good for wildlife too.  If you are out blackberrying this week, remember the forager’s rule: don’t pick it all, leave plenty for others, including wildlife to enjoy.

I turned my first kilo of blackberries into blackberry curd – a variation on a theme first explored this year using the lovely strawberries from Claremont Farm (see Strawberry Delight post). I plan to ask my neighbours (nicely) for a few of their apples, and make my favourite ever crumble – Apple and Blackberry with the rest.

Recipes below:

blackb curd

Blackberry Curd

400g blackberries, rinsed in cold water to remove any occupants and well drained

Juice and zest of 1 orange

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

500g caster sugar

200g unsalted butter

300ml of beaten free range eggs (about 5)

First whizz the blackberries in a food processor to make a puree.  Add the juice and zest of the citrus fruits. In a microwavable bowl, combine the butter, sugar and blackberry mix. Heat in the microwave on full for 2 to 3 minutes until the butter has melted. Stir well and then pour in the beaten eggs. Microwave again on high, in bursts of 1 minute, stirring each time, until the mixture coats the back of a spoon (you should be able to run your finger down and leave a line). Pour the mixture through a sieve to remove the blackberry seeds, and any bits of cooked egg that may have sneaked through. Pot into hot sterilized jars and store in the fridge once cool. Use to top homemade scones, swirl into Greek style yogurt, fill a cake or just spoon onto toast.

 

Apple and Blackberry Crumble

400g blackberries, rinsed and drained

3 large cooking apples, peeled and sliced

175g demerara sugar

Topping:

175g cold unsalted butter

100g demerara sugar

100g plain flour

125g rolled or jumbo oats

Preheat oven to 200C/180C fan/400F/ GM6

Toss the apple slices, blackberries and 175g of sugar together into a large pie or lasagne dish.

Cut butter into small chunks and then use the tip of your fingers to rub it into the  topping mix of flour, oats and sugar until it all resembles breadcrumbs. Sprinkle this over the fruit in an even layer and bake for 45 minutes until the top is brown and the fruit is beginning to bubble through.

Let it cool for a few minutes, then serve with thick cream, custard or vanilla ice cream.

Courgette Glut!

photophoto

Judging by the generosity of friends lately, courgettes (zucchini) have done rather well in this summer of heat and rain.  I’ve been given fat green, almost marrow ones; slim dark mini ones; acid bright yellow ones and squat round striped ones. Now I’m not one to turn down free produce, ever, but there’s a limit to how much ratatouille a girl can eat so I’ve been searching out alternative recipes to make the most of this August bounty.

First up is the ever-reliable Lime & Courgette Cake, courtesy of Nigella Lawson. Found in her How to be a Domestic Goddess book, this is a recipe I renamed Lime Surprise cake, inviting tasters (especially children) to guess the surprise ingredient. Very few ever did, and all loved the cake, proving to me yet again that sometimes you can smuggle greens into people who might otherwise avoid them…

Lime Surprise Cake

Ingredients:

  • 250g courgettes (2-3)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 125ml vegetable oil
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 225g self raising flour
  • ½  tsp bicarbonate soda
  • ½ tsp baking powder

filling

lime curd, if shop bought, add juice of a lime to sharpen. If you can’t get lime curd, use lemon and add the juice of lime.

icing

  • 200g cream cheese
  • 100g icing sugar
  • juice of 1 lime

Preheat oven to 180C/ GM4. Grease and line 21cm cake tin x 2.

Wipe courgettes but don’t peel them. Coarsely grate them and put into a sieve over the sink to allow excess water to drain.

Whisk eggs, oil & sugar together until creamy. Sieve in the flour, bicarb & baking powder and continue to beat until well combined. Fold in the grated courgettes.  Pour mixture into the cake tins and bake for 30 minutes until slightly browned and firm to touch. Leave to cool in the tin for 5 -10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack.

To make the icing – beat the cream cheese until smooth, then add the icing sugar, sieved, and finally the lime juice to taste.

Assemble cake – put one half on a plate, spread the top with lime curd. Put on the top cake and cover with the cream cheese icing. Put in the fridge to firm up before serving.

Note: when unable to get or be bothered to make lime curd, I’ve made this cake in one tin (leave for 45 to 50 mins to bake) and covered it with the cream cheese icing and the zest of a lime – bit like a carrot cake.

Last year I was given buckets of green tomatoes, which I turned into chutney and also jars of pickles. I thought I’d try the same principle with the courgettes. The River Cottage has a fab recipe called Glutney – designed to be adjusted to whatever ingredient you have the most of. http://www.wasteawarenesswales.org.uk/reduce/hfwrecipe.html

Crunchy Courgette Pickles

  • 500g courgettes
  • 3 shallots, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp non-iodised salt

For the pickling liquid

  • 500ml white vinegar
  • 140g golden caster sugar
  • ½  tsp juniper berries
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • ½  tsp dried chilli
  • 1 finely chopped gariic clove
  • 1 dsp chopped dill
  • 1 dsp chopped thyme

Thinly slice the courgettes using a sharp knife, mandolin or slicing blade on a food processor. Put in a bowl with the shallots and sprinkle over the salt. Cover with ice-cold water, stir to dissolve the salt and leave for 1 hr. Drain the courgettes thoroughly and pat dry using kitchen paper or tea towels. If they stay too wet, the water will dilute the pickling solution.

Meanwhile, put the pickling ingredients into a pan and bring to a simmer. Bubble for 3 mins, making sure the sugar has dissolved, then leave to cool until warm but not hot. Add the courgettes and stir. Scoop the mixture into 2 x 500ml sterilised jars. Seal and leave for a few days in the fridge. Kept chilled, these will keep for a couple of months. Rather nice on a burger….

Using Nature’s Bounty – Elderflower Cordial.

Meant to post this a couple of weeks ago, but the late Spring does mean that even in July, there are still elderflowers to be foraged, especially in urban areas. Make the most of the gorgeous summer mornings and go out early to collect 25 blossom heads. Choose creamy white ones, not the dark yellow ones that, ahem, have a slight scent of tomcat… they’ve gone over and won’t give you the delicate flavour you want.

Elderflowers growing

Elderflowers growing

Get your flowers home, and set aside whilst you make the syrup. Measure out 900g caster sugar into a large pan. Add the grated zest of 3 lemons and 1.7 litres of boiling water. Put on a low heat and stir to dissolve the sugar, then bring to the boil and take off the heat. Meanwhile, give your elderflower heads a quick shake to dislodge any passengers, snap off the thick main stalk (the thinner green stalks can be left on), and dip quickly in a bowl of clean cold water to remove any dust. Put the flowers in a large bowl, and add 50g of citric acid (available online, and from some supermarkets). If you haven’t got access to citric acid, squeeze the juice of 3 lemons over the flowers. Pour over the hot sugar syrup, give it a good stir, cover with clingfilm and leave the whole lot to steep for at least 24 hours, stirring occasionally. Makes the house smell heavenly!

Elderflowers steeping

Elderflowers steeping

Give the liquid a quick taste – you may want to add a little more lemon or sugar to taste – but it is meant to be diluted, so don’t fret if it seems too sweet. Strain through muslin or a fine sieve and bottle in clean, sterilized bottles. Label and admire.

A fine use for Elderflower cordial, is to add a dash to your gin and tonic, makes a rather delicious summer cocktail….

End result

End result