preserving summer

2016/11/16 deej 0

There’s something really deeply satisfying about picking and preparing – and preserving – your own food. Everything from jam and chutney to wine, cider, mead or beer, to vinegars, pickles, cheeses, yoghurt, jerky, .. So many delicious things. Preserving food isn’t just good fun, though; it’s an important means of extending the season of seasonal foods without adding millions of food miles by eating imported foods from who knows where. It’s a link to our cultural and gastronomic history, to foods our grandparents would have enjoyed and the cultures which those foods came from. And it’s a way of recalling the best parts of summer when the chilly, grey winter weather gets you down a bit – which is funny, given the unseasonally wet, stormy, cool weather we’re having at the moment.

 

I love every food preservation technique I’ve tried or eaten the results of. I’ve dehydrated things, and pickled things, I’ve made cheese and yoghurt from fresh milk, and I’ve preserved fruit in syrup. Today’s little google rabbit-hole has been jam-making. It’s a little too early for stone fruit still, although the early nectarines are in the shops and I can see them ripening in the orchards through the Swan Valley. It’s much too early for figs. But figs are today’s topic, mainly because I just ate a caramelised fig yoghurt and remembered how much I love that flavour. And our fig trees are just putting out their new leaves for summer, so I’m thinking wistfully of the futuer in which they are covered in delicious, jammy fruit.

 

Caramelised fig things have a slight burnt-sugar bitterness to them which balances the sticky sweetness of the fig, and brings out the deeper, fortified wine, golden afternoon sunshine notes from the fruit. One of my favourite applications of it is in Maggie Beer’s Burnt Fig, Honeycomb & Caramel Icecream, which is amazing. The key to the icecream, which is otherwise a honey and caramel flavoured custard icecream, pleasant but nothing special, is the Burnt Fig Jam (or, in fact, burnt fig syrup for the icecream). That burnt fig jam is pretty good, but it’s a little strong for me; I want the caramelised flavour without quite so much of the burnt flavour.

 

Maggie Beer’s burnt fig jam is made, according to her website, by reducing the figs with no water, then adding sugar and cooking until ‘burnt’, then adding some lemon juice to sharpen the flavour. The burnt fig syrup for the icecream contains figs, sugar, lemon juice, and a brown sugar syrup made with brown sugar, water, and verjuice. Amounts aren’t mentioned, unfortunately. Most fig jam recipes call for 1 part sugar to 2 parts figs by weight (actually anywhere from 300g – 750g sugar per kg of figs, but generally 500g to 1 kg). The method varies widely. I’ve never made fig jam myself, although I’ve made some very successful jams using citrus, berries, and guavas (not all together).

 

Nonetheless and undaunted, I am currently fascinated by the subject. So here’s my research-based thought experiment: caramelised fig jam. To be tested as soon as fig season arrives.

 

Caramelised Fig Jam

1 kg fresh, ripe figs

250g demerara or rapadura sugar (basically dark brown, mollases tasting sugar)

250g honey

juice of 1 -2 lemons (or to taste)

(optional) 1 Tbsp verjuice

(optional) 1 – 2 tsp spices or herbs – e.g. cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, star anise, black pepper, rosemary, lemon or orange rind, lemon thyme, sliced red chillis, ..

 

  • Roughly chop the figs. Stir together the chopped figs and the brown sugar, and refrigerate overnight.
  • Place the figs, sugar, and any liquid which has been released from the figs overnight into a heavy bottomed saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat until the figs are soft and cooked through, and the sugar is completely dissolved. Mash the figs gently to break them up further.
  • Stir in the honey, and any spices if you’re using them. Whole spices are better than ground, so half a star anise, or a small cinnamon quill is preferable to the equivalent in dried, ground spice. Either way works, though.
  • Bring to the boil, then cook over a very low heat for 45 minutes, or until thickened and sticky. Make sure to stir often.
  • Add verjuice and lemon juice; taste and adjust to your preferred level of tartness. Remove any whole spices or herbs.
  • Continue to cook until the jam is thick and sticky, and begins to stick to the bottom of the saucepan. You should be able to judge the degree of caramelisation (or burning) by smell. Be careful not to overdo it.
  • Cool slightly and seal in sterilised jars. Store in the fridge once completely cool.

 

Inspiration came from these sources:

 

And for those interested in the forest gardening side of things, the varieties of fig we currently have in the ground are:

  • White Genoa – Hardy in cooler weather; also known as Lattarula or Lemon due to the lemony flavour of ripe fruit. The fruit are large and very sweet, with yellowish green or chartreuse skin and rich amber pulp.  Good fro eating fresh, drying, or making jam.
  • Brown Turkey – Large fruit with green skin overlaid with brown, pink juicy flesh, and a sweet rich flavour. This is a great all-round fig, good for eating fresh or drying, cooking with or making into jam.
  • Esperance Heritage – A lesser known variety, this is listed in several rare fruit catalogues and it is still sold commercially by a few nurseries – but there are no descriptions of it online.

 

I also plan to put in:

  • Blue Provence – A rare fig, once grown more widely in Australia, Blue Provence fruit have a blue-violet skin and blue-purple tinged pulp with red seeds. The fruit are soft and sweet, and with than many anthocyanins (the purple-red colour found in berries and pomegranates), they’re full of antioxidants too.
  • Panache – Also called the Tiger fig, this unusual fruit is variegated (striped!) green on yellow. The flesh is strawberry pink, and delicious without being overly sweet, meaning that this is a good fig to eat fresh or use in salads.
  • Preston’s Prolific – This is a very high quality fig, with large, greenish-brownor purple fruit. The flesh is cream coloured, while the pulp is amber and sweet. 
  • White Adriatic – An Italian variety with thin yellowish-green skin and red flesh which has been likened to strawberry jam. Excellent flavour eaten fresh, and good for drying. A friend of mine has a tree, and we’ve dried fruit form it before – the dried fruit is a fantastic snack, not quite as sweet as dried figs often are.

 

And possibly some others. Probably. We’ll see.

 

Feast like a Viking

2016/10/08 deej 1

This evening we’re off to a Viking-themed pot luck feast – the idea here is that everyone who goes takes a dish, and each dish forms one course of a massive degustation style dinner. We’ve been to a few of these dinners, each with a different theme, and they’re an enormous amount of fun. The food is always amazing, and so plentiful that we all waddle out at the end of the night swearing to be better about taking tiny portions of each dish next time.

 

The idea for this iteration is reasonably authentic Viking style food. So, being me, I went off to do some research. I came up with several ideas and recipes, including

  • poached salmon (apparently the Vikings boiled their meat rather than braising, roasting or grilling it for the most part, and also ate a lot of fish),
  • baked apples stuffed with honey and hazelnuts (all apparently authentic ingredients commonly available to and used by the Vikings),
  • Viking style root vegetables in honey and butter (a mix of carrots, turnips, swedes, parsnips, beets, and cabbage, with the root vegetables par-boiled first, then the whole lot fried in a great deal of butter with honey drizzled over – apparently an authentic recipe from an old recipe book), and
  • fresh curds with berries in honey (it seems that the Vikings didn’t view milk as something to consume fresh but rather as a raw ingredient used to make cultured milk drinks like skyr, yoghurt, curds and fresh cheeses, and aged cheeses – and all these products were eaten frequently by most people. Berries were widely available in the summer, and honey was also commonly used).

 

After much indecision, we’re taking curds and berries (aka deconstructed cheesecake), as well as some home-brewed mead. I thought I’d share the recipes, in case anyone else felt like experiencing some Viking treats.

 

curds with raspberries in honeyFresh curds, served with honey and summer berries

Topping

  • 500g berries (we used raspberries and strawberries, but you can use any combination of raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, boysenberries, currants, etc.)
  • 1/2 cup honey, warmed until it’s liquid enough to pour
  • 1/2 cup fruit liqueur (we used home-made, gin-based strawberry and apricot liqueur, but you can use any clear liqueur flavoured with berries or stone fruit, or just use vodka or gin)

 

Make the topping: Combine the berries, honey, and alcohol. Stir well, and leave to steep for at least 3 hours. If possible, allow to steep overnight.

 

Note: We used a home-made strawberry liqueur, made by infusing sliced fresh strawberries in a 50/50 combination of gin and apricot schnapps for a month. We then used the alcohol soaked strawberries in the topping, along with half a kg of frozen raspberries.

 

Curds

  • 700 ml full cream milk
  • 50 ml apple cider vinegar
  • 1 kg fresh yoghurt (we used a combination of sheeps milk and goats milk yoghurt, but any will do)
  • 1 – 3 Tbsps sugar or honey, or to taste (honey is more authentic)
  • 1/4 tsp salt

 

Make some fresh ricotta cheese: Heat the milk just to boiling point, until it starts to form bubbles. Stir in the vinegar, which will cause the milk to curdle. Line a colander or sieve with a clean tea towel or with cheesecloth, place over a bowl (or the sink if you don’t have a use for the whey), and pour the curdled milk into the lined colander. Leave to drain for 5 minutes.

 

Make the curds: Combine the yoghurt, sugar, salt, and the drained ricotta in a bowl. Pour the whole lot into the lined colander, and allow to drain for at least 3 hours, or as long as overnight, until it reaches your desired consistency. You may have to empty out the whey from the bowl under the colander a few times as the curds drain.

 

Serve the curds topped with the berry mixture. Scatter with chopped hazelnuts if desired.

 

Apple Melomel

  • Combine 2 Tbs honey with 1 cup water. Boil hard for 2 minutes, then cool to room temperature.
  • Hydrate your chosen yeast (champagne yeast, cider yeast, or a specific mead yeast are best; we used baking yeast for this experiment because it’s what we had) in the room temperature honey-water.
  • Combine: 1 L honey (about 1.5 kg), 1 L fresh apple juice, and 3 L water. Bring to a boil, and skim off the scum and foam which rise to the surface.
  • Add 1/4 cup organic raisins, and simmer gently until the raisins are hydrated and soft.
  • Mash the raisins to release the juices.
  • Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature, then strain into a fermentation vessel. Add the hydrated yeast.
  • Ferment. The mead we take with us tonight will only have been fermenting for 2 days, but we’ll leave some to continue fermenting until it’s done, and then age it for a couple’ve months to see what we get.

so many eggs

2016/09/22 deej 0

The other great thing about spring is that the chickens have all finished (or mostly finished) moulting, and have started laying again. We’re getting 4 – 10 eggs a day. So today was an egg-using-up day.

 

(On that note, if anyone is interested in putting in a regular egg order, please contact us. We don’t have an endless supply, but we definitely have more than we can use. Note that our chooks are not free range, because we don’t have the ability to protect them from foxes if they’re out and about, but they do have very swish and spacious coops and runs, and get spoiled rotten with treats and fresh grass as well as their regular food. We keep mostly Transyvanian Naked Necks and Wyandottes, with a few miscellaneous other pretty-feathered floofs as well.)

 

Using up eggs isn’t a chore. I’ve always liked eggs and I love baking, so.. scrambled eggs on toast for lunch, hard-boiled eggs to have as morning tea treats tomorrow, and my new favourite tea-time treat / dessert: clafoutis. I can’t claim to be entirely authentic on this, since I made up the recipe based on having made it once before, years ago, and having a broad general idea of what the dish is mean to look & taste like, but it’s pretty nice.

 

Clafoutis is almost a baked sweet custard; it’s an egg-heavy, custard-like batter baked with fruit in it (traditionally cherries), kindof like a sweet quiche but less omelettey. It gets a crunchy, sort of cakey crust, but the inside is.. well, it’s a French recipe, so I’m sure you can imagine. Made with sour cherries, fresh peaches, or blackberries it is entirely amazing. (I may have to get the planned sour cherry trees in soon, and some berry brambles.)

 

Batter:

4 eggs

1/3 – 1/2 cup sugar, to taste (use more less sugar if using sweeter fruit)

1 Tbsp olive oil

about 1/2 – 2/3 cup milk

1 tsp baking powder

a scant 1/2 cup plain flour

2 cups of fruit, chopped or sliced (or whole if using berries)

 

Beat all those ingredients except the fruit together into a smooth batter. You may need to use a whisk. The consistency should be similar to pancake batter.

 

Pour the batter over your chosen fruit (I used caramelised chopped apple, but any fruit will do) in a cake pan or pie plate. Bake at 180 degrees C for 25 min, or until completely set. Serve warm (although cold is still pretty good).

 

If you want to use caramelised apples as per my experiment this afternoon, roughly chop your 2 cups of apple (about 4 – 5 small apples), then pan fry with 2 Tbs butter, 1 Tbs cumquat & lime jelly (yeah, I made that too – replace it with marmalade for the closest approximation), 1/2 tsp cinnamon, and 1 – 2 tsp brown sugar. Cook the apple until the jam and butter have melted and dissolved the sugar, the whole lot is bubbling and smelling of delicious appley caramel, and the apple is almost cooked.

 

Drinking yoghurt and cultured milk products

2016/09/09 deej 0

A few years ago (quite a few, actually) I went travelling through Europe. Some of the trip I did with a dear friend of mine, some I did on my own. One of the things I discovered was drinking yoghurt.

 

Now, drinking yoghurt (i.e. yoghurt which is thicker than milk, but thin enough to drink like a smoothie) used ot be not uncommon in South Africa when I was little, but it’s almost unheard of in Australia to the best of my knowledge. I remembered liking it as a child, so I tried some in the Netherlands, and in Italy. It exceeded my expectations in every way. My cherry-flavoured (but not too sweet) yoghurt drink became a daily thing while I could get it, and I’ve missed it ever since. I like eating regular yoghurt, but there’s something about fruit-flavoured drinking yoghurt on a  hot summer day that is just very appealing to me.

 

I tried making yoghurt and just fermenting it less long, to get a thinner consistency. Did not work out well.

 

I tried making smoothies with yoghurt, fresh milk, and fruit. Those are pretty good, but not what I was after.

 

So I did some research, only mildly hindered by the fact that while I was enjoying my cherry yoghurt drink in foreign climes I couldn’t read the local language so I had no idea what it was called (brand name or generic term), or what was in it. I came up with a variety of alternative cultured milk products which are described as being yoghurt-like, and traditional to various parts of northern Europe. All are heirloom cultures, meaning that they’ve been maintained as live ecosystems over the years, and you can continue to use a sample form one batch to make more basically forever (many store-bought yoghurts only contain a few species, and without the support of their mutualist ecosystem partners will fail and die – and stop producing yoghurt – after a few batches, requiring a new starter).

 

For my birthday this year, my very on-the-ball mother acquired for me a selection of starter cultures. Today I’ve put three of them (viili, filmjolk, and langfil) in to ferment, to see how they go. I would have done the other two cultures as well, but I don’t have enough milk in the house to do that many batches, so the piima and the buttermilk will have to wait for next time. I’ll report back in the comments on the results of the fil mjolk, langfil, and viili experiments.

 

For anyone wanting to carry out the experiment themselves, this is what I did:

  • Start with some full-cream dairy milk. It can be whatever milk you like – goat, sheep, camel – but I used regular cow’s milk from the supermarket. Avoid UHT milk if possible. If you can get non-homogenised milk, that’s better as well, but go with what you can get.
  • Heat some of the milk (300 – 500 ml per culture type) up to almost boiling (about 60 – 80 degrees C, the scalding point or point where small bubbles start to form on the surface but before you reach a rolling boil). Be careful not to burn it. Once the right temperature is reached, turn off the heat and cover the milk; wait for it to cool to just below body temperature (about 25 degrees C if you have a thermometer, or luke-warm if you’re going by touch).
  • Stir your starter (about 1 tsp of dried or freeze-dried starter, or 1 – 2 Tbs of active cultured milk product) into the luke-warm milk. Pour into your cleaned and sterilised container (either a small thermos or a glass jar – sterilise with boiling water) and put the lid on. If using a glass jar, wrap a towel or tea towel around it for insulation.
  • Leave it alone for 12 – 24 hours, depending on the ambient temperature (less time if it’s warmer). The ideal temperature is 20 – 25 degrees C; if it’s warmer, the fermentation will happen faster and the result may be grainy. If it’s too cold, you might need to put your culture in a warm spot, like on top of the fridge or in the oven with the light on to keep it form getting too cold. During this fermentation period try not to move or knock the container. After 12 – 24 hours check the result. If it hasn’t started to change consistency and set or firm up, leave it for another 12 – 24 hours & repeat. (Making regular yoghurt I’ve had batches that fermented fully overnight, and batches which took a week to firm up, so give it some time.)
  • Once the yoghurt (or whatever) starts to firm up or change consistency, place the container in the fridge for 12 – 24 hours before eating. Remember to save some for the next batch.

 

All the cultures I’m using are mesophilic, which means they ferment at room temperature (around 20 – 25 degrees C). Standard yoghurt is thermophilic, meaning that it likes warmer temperatures to ferment properly. That’s why you use a yoghurt maker for regular yoghurt, and mix the starter in when the milk is around 30 – 37 degrees C.

 

FYI, the cultures I’m trialling are these:

  • Piima is a Scandinavian yoghurt which is known to have the thinnest consistency of the mesophilic (room temperature) yoghurts, similar to buttermilk. It is sometimes described as having the consistency of honey. It also has a mild, slightly nutty or cheese-like flavour. When used to ferment cream, it makes a good sauce for vegetables. Apparently it originates from natural (wild) cultures found in the milk of Scandinavian cows which have eaten the butterwort plant. It contain the following probiotic species: Streptococcus lactis var. bollandicus and Streptococcus taette. ; note that Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis. used to be known as Streptococcus lactis.
  • Cultured Buttermilk (as opposed to the liquid left after churning butter from cream, which is also called buttermilk) has a fascinating history. It can be consumed as a beverage (sometimes sweetened, but also sometimes as a savoury tomato-juice style beverage with salt and pepper and no sweeteners), but is more often used in baking and cooking. In baking, the acidity is used to activate sodium bicarbonate as a raising agent, or increase the activity of baking powder (which is itself sodium bicarbonate with an acid added to activate it when wetted). It can be used in marinades, where the acidity helps tenderise meats, or in sauces and salad dressings where the sour flavour works well. According to Wikipedia, the probiotics in cultured buttermilk are: Lactococcus lactis (Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis, Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris, Lactococcus lactis biovar. diacetylactis and Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. cremoris); note that Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis. used to be known as Streptococcus lactis.
  • Viili is thought thought to originate in Sweden, although it is consumed throughout Scandianvia under various names. It has a viscous consistency like thick honey, and forms strands and trails the way sugar syrup does. The flavour is reported to be mildly sour, almost faintly sweet by comparison to other cultured dairy foods. Contains the following probiotic species: Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris, Lactococcus lactis* biovar. diacetylactis, Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. cremoris and Geotrichum candidum; note that Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis. used to be known as Streptococcus lactis.
  • Langfil is a variant form of fil mjolk which has a ‘long and elastic texture’, a little like viili, due to the presence of yeasts and bacteria which form polysaccharides during fermentation. It can be thicker than regular fil mjolk, but the flavour should be very similar – sour and tangy. It’s sometimes eaten with ground ginger. In addition to the probiotics found in fil mjolk, it contains Lactococcus lactis var. longi.

 

There are some good comparisons of the probiotics in each culture online.

June 29: Peach Palm (Pejibayes)

2016/06/29 deej 0

peach palm with fruitThe peach palm or pejibaye (Bactris gasipeas) is native to the lowland tropics of South and Central America. It was domesticated during the pre-Columbian era by the indigenous peoples of the Americas, and both the fruit and seeds have been used as food since then.

 

The texture of the fruit, raw or cooked, has been compared to a firm sweet potato, and the flavour is similar to squash, buttery potato, or roasted chestnut. Undamaged, raw fruits will keep well, gradually dehydrating, in a low humidity environment with good airflow. Bruised or damaged fruits, however, will ferment in only a few days. Cooked fruit will keep for 5 – 6 days. The fruit can be dried and ground as meal or flour, which can be used as a replacement for cornmeal, or stored as dried chips. It can also be pressed to produce an edible oil.

 

peach palm fruitRaw peach palm fruit contains calcium oxalate crystals, which can be irritating to the mouth and digestive system, so the fruit should be cooked before being consumed. Traditionally, the fruit is often slow cooked for three to five hours in salted water before being eaten, but half an hour or slightly less in a pressure cooker, oven or microwave will dissolve the calcium oxalate crystals, making the fruit safe to eat.

 

Cooked fruit may be deep-fried or roasted and eaten as a snack, or may be used as a stuffing for poultry. It can also be mixed with cornmeal or flour, milk and eggs, and fried to form griddle cakes or pancakes.

 


 

Peach Palm Fritters

 

*Note, as I don’t (yet) have access to any peach palm fruit, I haven’t tested this recipe. I’d love to hear what people think of it, though!

 

¼ cup wholemeal flour

¼ teaspoon baking powder

300 – 400g peach palm fruit, cooked, skinned and de-seeded

1 cup milk

2 eggs

(optional) chopped onion, corn kernels, chopped bacon, chopped herbs

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

Instructions

  • Mash the peach palm fruit to a fine puree.
  • Combine all ingredients. Mix to form a loose batter.
  • Add olive oil or butter to a pan and set over medium heat. Drop teaspoonsful of batter into the hot pan and cook until golden brown on both sides.

 


 

Images sourced form Wikimedia Commons:

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