July 15, 2014

Lazy summer afternoon//Raspberry Jam with Rose Geranium


This article I recently wrote for Crumbs felt very suiting following a lazy summer afternoon spent picking raspberries. The recipe is super straight forward and takes very few ingredients.
 

There are few more delightful starts to the day than a spread of good raspberry jam on buttered toast, but like strawberries, raspberries also have some inherent dairy notes which make them especially delicious with cream, yoghurt and soft cheeses.

Just recently I was reminded of an effortlessly simple dessert I ate in Provence, where juicy tart raspberries were set on a glass plate with a scattering of delicate rose geranium flowers and raw sugar.  A bowl of thick crème fraiche made it complete. The whole effect was quite lovely and I wondered if the same magic could be created in a jam.


Raspberries have a sweet sour taste yet a fruity, floral, leafy flavour. When ripe, they have an intense perfumed quality that hints at rose. Most rose is used in the form of rosewater but often has a cloying sweetness, reminiscent of your grandma’s floral talcum powder. It needs balancing with sharp, acidic ingredients to temper its floral muskiness so it can be tricky to calculate the right amount. I prefer to use the rose scented leaves of the geranium plant ‘Attar of Roses,’ as the flowers do not hold well in a jam.


The flavour of the raspberries intensifies when macerated and cooked, while the rose geranium leaves add a subtle floral layer. It makes a perfect standing-up-at-the-counter snack served with discs of crispbread, big enough for snapping (I like Peter’s Yard) and Westcombe Dairy fresh Italian-style creamy ricotta, which I buy from The Fine Cheese Company.

Raspberry Jam with Rose Geranium via Crumbs 
(Fills 3 x 225g jars)

INGREDIENTS
700g raspberries
500g unrefined cane sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
5 or 6 rose geranium leaves

METHOD
- Pick over the raspberries. Omit rinsing them so that they will keep their fragrance.
- In a preserving pan, combine the raspberries, sugar, and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer and pour into a ceramic bowl. Cover with a tea towel or a sheet of parchment paper and leave overnight at room temperature.
- The next day, place a saucer with a couple of metal teaspoons in a flat place in your freezer for testing later.
- Rinse the rose geranium leaves under cold water and pat them dry between two clean kitchen towels. Set them aside while you make the jam.
- Transfer the raspberry mixture to a preserving pan and bring to a boil, skimming off any scum that rises.  Cook on a medium to high heat for 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently, to prevent the jam from sticking. The mixture should appear glossy, the texture more unified, and the colour darkened.
- To test, turn off the heat and remove one of the teaspoons from the freezer. Carefully take a sample of the jam, replacing the spoon back to the freezer for 3-5 minutes. Touch the underside of the spoon. It should be neither warm nor cold; if still warm, return it to the freezer for another minute. Tilt the spoon vertically to see how quickly the jam runs. If it runs slowly onto the saucer, and if it has thickened to a spreadable consistency, it is done. If it runs quickly or appears watery, cook for another 2-3 minutes, stirring, and test again as necessary.
- When you are satisfied with the set, rub the rose geranium leaves briefly between your fingers to release their oil. Swirl them into the jam and leave to infuse for a minute or two. Taste carefully and either remove the leaves with tongs or leave for another minute or two, keeping in mind the rose geranium flavour will be slightly milder once the jam has cooled.
- Pot in warm, dry sterilised jars, and seal. Stored in a cool place, the jam keeps for 3 months; refrigerate once opened.


July 09, 2014

Summer forever and ever


When I was young, staying at my great-grandmother's house in Wiltshire became a summer tradition for us. On arrival, my brother and I would inspect the house and rambling garden, verifying that everything was just as we remembered it. Much of our time there was spent making dens in the garden from old deck chairs and faded sheets, catching butterflies in the flowerbeds, running through the sprinkler, or eating gooseberries and raw rhubarb dipped in sugar on the backyard step. Sometimes if the weather was decent, we took a trip to the seaside to break in our sun hats, build sandcastles with vast moats (gran with her skirt tucked into her knickers) eat paste sandwiches and generally wear ourselves out so well that we were in bed before the light was gone.


  
Gran lived in a substantial stone built 1940s semi with dark wooden floors and a sweeping, curved staircase. The house smelled of stew and dumplings or plum jam; sometimes a combination of the two. On the first morning, before breakfast, she made fudge which we ate, still warm, straight from the greaseproof paper. Since the garden was always abundant with fruit, I would often help make a batch of jam, standing on an old wooden chair so I could reach the counter. Gran would fetch my wooden spoon (well worn and stained from last summers' blackcurrant jam) from its usual place; hanging from a hook in the larder. Sweet treats seemed to infiltrate most everyday events. We all went to bed and woke up hungry, despite our double helping of summer pudding the night before. 


On the last night, gran would pop down to the local pub to buy a bottle of stout for her and a bottle of pop for us, before settling in front of the piano for a sing-song until our voices turned hoarse.


Gran's house felt unchanged until the last few years of her life when others helped care for her. The legacy of her preserve making continues to evolve. This particular recipe pays homage to the gooseberry and blackcurrant she so favoured in a jam. The jostaberry is a hybrid of the two fruits, and oddly, one does not overshadow the other. I feel sure gran would approve of this sharp and fruity jam, served alongside a wedge of 'billy stink' and washed down with a glass of stout.

Jostaberry Jam
Fills 6 x 225g (8oz) jars

If you can't find jostaberries, feel free to substitute with an equal mix of blackcurrants and gooseberries. Don't be tempted to skip putting the fruit through a mouli or nylon sieve as the real joy of this jam is in its smooth texture and concentrated flavour.

Ingredients
1kg (2lb 4oz) jostaberries, topped and tailed
750g (1lb 12oz) unrefined cane sugar
Juice of 1 lemon

Method
Rinse the jostaberries in cold water, drain them, and put into a preserving pan or large heavy based saucepan with the sugar and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer, then pour into a ceramic bowl. Cover the fruit with a clean tea towel and leave to macerate at room temperature overnight.

Next day, put the mixture through a mouli (fine disc) or rub through a nylon sieve to separate the skins and seeds. Transfer the puree to a preserving pan and bring to the boil. Continue to cook on a high heat for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid any sticking or scorching. Check the set*. Ladle the jam into warm jars immediately and seal. This keeps for 6 months; refrigerate once opened. 

* for more on how to check the set click here








July 02, 2014

Honey: A Personal Exploration



I am not what one would describe as an obvious candidate for keeping bees. As a child, I was never that interested in flying insects; the closest I got to any hint of interest was netting butterflies with my brother at our local park - but that's a whole other story.

My fascination with bees started when planning my fruit plot. Or I should say it naturally evolved, as you can't think about fruit without thinking about the pollinators. My knowledge of honey bees at that point was minimal; I knew they produced a delicious product and I'd read enough in the press to know how essential they are to the environment, but I hadn't explored it any further than that.


So I enrolled on a beginner's beekeeping course at the local BKA, which covered all the fundamentals; from the history and life span of the honey bee to how you get the honey in the jar. Sunday afternoons were spent at the apiary, suited and booted, with the hives opened for inspection and brownie points for who could spot the queen first. What struck me most profoundly was the worker bees and the way in which they labour together for the good of the colony. The whole business of 'keeping house' is efficiency at its very best. The first half of a worker bees short life doesn't begin as a forager. Her initial duties are to maintain the hive and its occupants; cleaning, tidying, feeding, tending, building, repairing, and guarding. When the time comes to exchange the darkness of the hive for bright sunshine, she has to unravel the code of her sisters'  waggle dance before she flies off in search of nectar. 

On returning to the hive, she unloads her bulging stocks of pollen from the panniers on her legs, before disgorging her carefully stored nectar from her croup. She passes it into the care of one of her sisters who sucks the nectar up and disgorges it for a second time, but this time it is subtly altered. She flattens the droplet with her forelegs and fans it with her wings to hasten evaporation. The process is repeated by countless other workers, changing the complex sugars into simpler ones until the nectar finally turns to honey. So exhausting is her quest that she will eventually drop dead from exhaustion, often in less than a month. All her life's work will amount to just a few drops of honey. Lessons I'm sure can be taken from that.


Honey direct from the hive is delicious. There are all sorts of fancy ways to extract honey, but I prefer to keep things simple by cutting the comb from the frames and crushing them in a large stainless steel pan with the end of a rolling pin, (no fancy gadgets here) before pouring the mixture through a sieve. This does mean you may get the odd bee leg or bit of wing, but its the real deal - unfiltered, untreated and totally raw.  If it seems unfair to take all of the sisters' hard-earned honey, know that early on I negotiated a deal; if they would allow me to take off the early flow (when nature is abundant with foraging fodder) then I would leave them the late summer flow to store over winter when they would most need it. They seem happy with this arrangement. Or that is how I would like to see it.

June 30, 2014

French Tomato Jam



My love affair with tomato jam, eating and making it, began six years ago with a visit to a marche agricole in the heart of Provence. A simple wooden table laid out with an assortment of confitures caught my eye, in particular, a small cellophane covered jar. The neatly written label 'Confiture de Tomates Vertes' sounded intriguing, but its jelly baby green contents dotted with pale yellow, almost translucent seeds, was mesmerising. The agriculteurs femme who had made it, told me it was a traditional recipe handed down in her family, often cooked and rested over several days. Naively, I assumed it was more akin to a relish but she wagged her finger, 'Non, it's a confiture. To eat with brioche.' And so we did. It was delicious and the memory of it has stayed with me ever since.


Tomato jam is a curious thing; sweet when you're expecting salty, savoury when you're expecting sweet. I have a penchant for sweet and savoury pairings, so I like to spread it on hot toast topped with a fried egg; letting the velvety yolk ooze into the rich, sweet jam. Its vivid, complex flavour works equally well with cheeses or as an accompaniment to savoury tarts. Or, for a certain je ne sais quoi, do as the French do and eat it for breakfast with sweet bread.



French Tomato Jam
Fills 3 x 225g (8oz) jars 

Be sure to source really good tomatoes, thin-skinned, and flavourful. My version uses deeply red cocktail tomatoes (I buy mine from The Tomato Stall) but you could also use plum. If you don't have the patience to skin the tomatoes you can leave the skins on, though this will give a more rustic, chunkier texture to the jam.

Ingredients
1.25kg vine tomatoes
325g cane sugar
2 fl oz fresh lemon juice
1/8 tsp flaky salt
1/4 tsp blade mace

Method
Remove the vines and stems from the tomatoes and place them in a large heatproof bowl. Cover with boiling water and leave for a few minutes. Pierce the tomatoes  with a sharp knife and the skins should start to come away from the flesh. When this happens, drain in a colander and leave until cool enough to handle. Remove the skins and cut the flesh into quarters. Put the quarters into a large non-reactive bowl and pour over the sugar. Add the lemon juice and combine well, with your hands, until all of the tomatoes are coated with the sugar. Cover with a clean tea towel or cling film and leave overnight at room temperature. 

Next day, place a saucer with a couple of metal teaspoons in a flat place in your freezer for testing the jam later.

Transfer the tomato mixture to a preserving pan or a large heavy-based saucepan. Put the mace into a spice ball or piece of muslin secured with a knot and add to the mixture with the salt. Heat gently over a moderate heat for 5-10 minutes until the sugar dissolves.

Bring to the boil, skimming off any scum that rises. Reduce to a moderate heat and cook until much reduced and thickened (about 30 minutes), stirring frequently, to prevent the jam from sticking. The mixture should appear glossy, the texture more unified, and the colour darkened.

To test, turn off the heat and remove one of the teaspoons from the freezer. Carefully take a sample of the jam, replacing the spoon back to the freezer for 3-5 minutes. Touch the underside of the spoon. It should be neither warm nor cold; if still warm, return it to the freezer for another minute. Tilt the spoon vertically to see how quickly the jam runs; if it runs slowly onto the saucer, and if it has thickened to a spreadable consistency, it is done. If it runs quickly or appears watery, cook for another few minutes, stirring, and test again as necessary.


Pot in warm, dry sterilised jars, and seal. Stored in a cool place, this keeps for three months; refrigerate once opened.

April 06, 2014

The happiest of marmalade marriages

Nothing reminds me more of summer more than a beautiful sun ripened tomato. So when I clocked these beauties on a grey drizzly morning at the farmers market I absolutely couldn't resist. Displayed in a simple bowl on my kitchen table, they looked beautiful, but it wasn't long before I decided what to do with them.

 

I was going to make tomato marmalade.

Tomatoes... marmalade? Yep that's right, its not a typo. I recognise this is probably not music to the ears of any marmalade purists out there, but let me tell you it really works. Tomatoes are both sweet and sour, which make them a fantastic choice for a marmalade, and when paired with citrus it lifts the flavour to a whole other level. Try to imagine a beautiful tomato salad without a lemon & oil vinagrette and you'll understand that tomatoes and citrus happen to love each other. And when you combine those flavours with the sweet, earthy undertones of saffron, it's a perfect triad for the happiest of marmalade marriages.


The key to making this marmalade really sing is in the quality of the tomatoes. I try not to get too annoyed when I hear people talk about using up gluts of fruit or damaged fruit for preserve making. It has long been my belief that like any fine wine you have to start with fruit at the peak of its ripeness to expect a good vintage. It's the same principle with preserve making; you're aim is to capture the flavour of the season in a jar. You won't get that flavour from bruised or damaged fruit that's past its best. Give it to the compost heap instead.

Draw breath. Rant over. 

So, what you are looking for are deeply coloured and firm tomatoes, with a little give. Give them a sniff. If their missing that sweet, woody smell, leave them behind. Check also for wrinkles; a sign of age. In my marmalade I used a mix of speciality tomatoes in a variety of colours, but you could choose a red flavourful tomato like cocktail or plum instead. I encourage you not to skip the overnight maceration step; it really is important because it it draws out all the lovely flavours of the tomatoes and citrus.

There are all sorts of ways you can enjoy tomato marmalade. It makes a perfect partner for crackers, rye bread, or sour dough, especially when paired with a soft goat or ewes cheese. Bring on the summer!

Tomato Marmalade
Fills 5-6 x 225g (8oz) jars

1.25kg mixed vine tomatoes
625g unrefined cane sugar
250g Valencia or Navel oranges
250g unwaxed lemons
2fl oz fresh lemon juice
large pinch of saffron

First, prepare the oranges and lemons : cut in half crosswise, each half cut lengthwise into quarters and sliced crosswise medium-thin. Place the slices in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and cook for 1 minute, and then drain, discarding the liquid. Return the slices to the saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes, or until the fruit is very tender.

While the citrus is cooking, prepare the tomatoes. Remove the vines and stalks from the tomatoes and cut into medium pieces. Put them into a large non reactive bowl with the sugar, lemon juice, and saffron. When the citrus are cooked, drain, and add to the tomato mixture. Stir well to combine. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, place a saucer with a couple of metal teaspoon in a flat place in your freezer for testing the marmalade later.

Remove the tomato mixture from the refrigerator and transfer it to an preserving pan or large heavy-bottomed saucepan. 

Gently heat for 5-10 minutes until the sugar dissolves. Increase heat and cook at a lively boil until thickened (about 15-20 minutes), skimming off any scum that rises. Reduce the heat, stirring frequently, to prevent the marmalade from sticking. Cook for a further 5-10 minutes, stirring continually, until no longer watery. The mixture should appear glossy, the texture more unified, and the colour darkened. 

To test, turn off the heat and remove one of the teaspoons from the freezer. Carefully take a sample of the marmalade, replacing the spoon back to the freezer for 3-5 minutes. Touch the underside of the spoon. It should be neither warm nor cold; if still warm, return it to the freezer for another minute. Tilt the spoon vertically to see how quickly the marmalade runs; if it runs slowly onto the saucer, and if it has thickened to a spreadable consistency, it is done. If it runs quickly or appears watery, cook for another few minutes, stirring, and test again as needed.

Pot in warm, dry sterilized jars, and seal. Store in a cool place and refrigerate once opened.


 





March 29, 2014

'No Gin' & Tonic

Don't misunderstand me here. There are definitely those gin o'clock days when a non-alcoholic aperitif really won't do. But there are also times when we should abstain. When I was in the shower the other morning (where I often have my best thoughts) I started thinking about the flavour of gin and whether it could be imitated in some way. For me its often the taste I'm after. So how do I trick my taste buds into believing I'm having the real thing...
 
enter Angelica.


Angelica is one of the ingredients to give gin its flavour.  Most of us probably remember the bright green candied stems commonly used to decorate cakes and puddings, but the seeds and root have been used to flavour spirits like Chartreuse and vermouths for centuries. Sadly, I've never been able to buy Angelica fresh anywhere so unless you know someone who grows it,  I would say its a worthy addition to any herb garden. And quite a beautiful one.


It is not difficult to grow. It prefers a little shade and if well placed, can grow into an enormous plant, reaching eight feet tall, with huge leaves and round umbels of fragrant yellowish-green flowers. Happily, it is also a vital food source for early bees and hoverflies and birds like to eat its seeds in Autumn. I grow mine in an old tin bath to restrict its size and it seems perfectly happy, requiring no special treatment. If you are thinking about growing it, be sure to get this particular species. There are other ornamental angelicas sold in garden centres, but they can be mildly toxic, which is not what you're after.


Once you've got your hands on some angelica, the rest is easy peasy. First, you make a simple syrup by combining equal parts of sugar and water (I used 2 cups) in a small saucepan. Warm over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved completely. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Pour into a glass jar and add 1oz of freshly gathered Angelica stem, chopped into short lengths, and the zest of 1 lemon. Seal and leave in the fridge for a couple of days, giving it a shake every now and then. The flavour will intensify the longer you leave it. I tasted mine after two days and the flavour was good. When you are happy with the strength of flavour, strain through fine muslin and pour the syrup into a glass bottle or jar with a lid. It's that simple. Feel free to switch the sugar for honey or raw sugars, but be aware that these will flavour your syrup and turn it a golden brown colour.
 

 'No Gin' & Tonic 
  
1 part Angelica syrup
3 parts tonic water (I love Fever Tree)
generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice (or to taste)

Stir thoroughly and serve in a tumbler with plenty of ice, a slice of lemon and Angelica leaves.

Close your eyes and prepare to be fooled.



March 24, 2014

Jam & Gin at The Ethicurean




The Ethicurean is a hidden gem. Situated below an overgrown Georgian estate, housed in two unassuming glasshouses within the exquisite Barley Wood Walled Garden, it's the perfect size - not too big, not too small with a menu to match - lunch, afternoon tea, cocktails and dinner.


Throughout the day, there's great coffee and all manner of drinks and sips to be had; outdoor space to enjoy, all overlooking the generous walled garden well-stocked with espaliers of greengages and apricots, neat vegetable beds and fragrant herbs.

Staying true to the name, the Ethicureans; Jack, Iain, Matthew and Paula are purveyors of entirely seasonal, local and ethical British produce and have co-wrote the most beautiful cookbook I've seen in years. So when last year I was asked to supply seasonal preserves to serve with their afternoon teas, I jumped at the opportunity. Working with like-minded people who are passionate about the provenance of food and who cook with the seasons is always inspiring and motivating.


The Ethicurean's brilliance and reputation is founded on a 'sense of place' - the idea of looking at food as having its own story or narrative - rooted in the landscape, its history and the community who grow food locally upon it. These strong links also exist between  the kitchen and the bar; where drinks complement individual dishes and reflect the area. Their 'Old Fashioned Cocktail' is made up of a burnt oak cider brandy, with chipotle, vanilla and toffee apple syrup - which is a product from the kitchen - so it's also a drink with its roots in Somerset. 

Intrigued by this whole idea, I asked Jack - resident mixologist and restaurant manager - if he would create a cocktail using one of my seasonal preserves. Happily he agreed and came up with this recipe aptly named 'Rheum with a View,' using one of my rhubarb jams.



The resulting cocktail, tinted peachy pink, has a flavour not too boozy, a balance of bitter and sweet with subtle overtones of rose and cardamom. Jack used Sipsmith Gin as the base, which complemented the other flavours perfectly. A wonderful pre dinner cocktail to while away some time in the garden as the days begin to lengthen.


'Rheum with a View'
created by Jack Adair Bevan

50ml Sipsmith Gin
1 tbsp Rhubarb, Rose & Cardamom jam (see recipe below)
egg white of 1 free range egg
dash of Angostura bitters

Shake all the ingredients in a boston shaker. Add ice and shake again. Strain ito a chilled coupe and serve with raw rhubarb and sugar.  

Rhubarb, Rose & Cardamom Jam
Fills 3-4 x 225g (8oz) jars
  
1 kg early pink rhubarb (trimmed weight)
500g cane sugar
juice of 1 lemon
100ml freshly pressed apple juice
crushed seeds from 5 cardamom pods
3 small rose geranium leaves

Day 1: Trim the rhubarb and cut into 4-5cm lengths. Put into a large bowl and pour the sugar over it. Add the apple and lemon juice. Combine well, with your hands, until all of the rhubarb pieces are coated with the sugar. Cover with a clean tea towel or cling film and leave overnight at room temperature. The juices from the rhubarb will be drawn out.

Day 2: Place a saucer with a couple of metal teaspoons in a flat place in your freezer for testing the jam later. Transfer the rhubarb mixture to a preserving pan or a large heavy-based saucepan. Gently rub the geranium leaves to release their oil and place in a spice ball or piece of muslin knotted securely. Add to the macerated rhubarb with the crushed cardamom. Gently heat for 5-10 minutes until the sugar dissolves.

Increase heat and cook at a lively boil until thickened (about 15-20 minutes), skimming off any scum that rises. Reduce the heat, stirring frequently, to prevent the jam from sticking. Cook for a further 5-10 minutes, stirring continually, until no longer watery. The mixture should appear glossy, the texture more unified, and the colour darkened. Remove the spice ball or muslin containing the rose geranium.

To test, turn off the heat and remove one of the teaspoons from the freezer. Carefully take a sample of the jam, replacing the spoon back to the freezer for 3-5 minutes. Touch the underside of the spoon. It should be neither warm nor cold; if still warm, return it to the freezer for another minute. Tilt the spoon vertically to see how quickly the jam runs; if it runs slowly onto the saucer, and if it has thickened to a spreadable consistency, it is done. If it runs quickly or appears watery, cook for another few minutes, stirring, and test again as needed. This jam, while spreadable, has a relatively loose texture.

Pot in warm, dry sterilized jars, and seal. Store in a cool place and refrigerate once opened.