Along the Grapevine


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Crabapple Squares

DSC02649I consider myself very fortunate  to have a crabapple tree growing in our front lawn, just steps away from our verandah. In the spring it produces showy pink blossoms, and the tiny red apples that appear in summer last well into the winter, although I only pick them before the first hard frost. The rest are for the birds – literally! The other day the tree was visited by some grey jays (aka whiskey jacks) which may soon be Canada’s new national bird emblem, and some winters bohemian wax wings pay us a visit. If the seedlings I transplanted survive this winter, I hope to have a few more of this magnificent tree in the future.

With the last harvest I picked some to make a jam – something so obvious but have never done before. It is really the same as the preserve I made before, but cooked for less time and, as a result, a little softer. Because crabapples have so much pectin, there is no need to add anything more than sugar and water – the jam kind of makes itself.

The first step is to cook the fruit in enough water to cover them plus an inch. Cover and simmer until the apples are really soft. Strain them through a food mill or press them through a sieve. To this liquid I used an equal volume of sugar, in this case two cups of juice and two cups of organic sugar. I then cooked it until it reached the ‘wrinkle’ stage, which is when a little is poured on a plate and tilted, the jelly wrinkles. Otherwise, 235 degrees F on a candy thermometer.DSC03295.JPGThis jelly is thicker than most, perfect for using as a filling. I also use it to add to dressing, marinades and sauces. This time I chose to make something resembling date squares but substituting them for the more exotic dates. DSC03297.JPG

Instead of using sugar for the oat mixture, I used a small amount of regular apple jelly, but any fruit jelly, honey or maple syrup would also work well.

Crabapple Squares

Ingredients

3/4 cup butter (or lard or coconut oil). I used equal parts of all of them.

1/4 cup fruit jelly or alternative sweetener, such as honey or syrup

1 cup flour

2 cups large flake oats

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp baking powder

a pinch of salt

crabapple jam

Method

Soften the butter and stir in the sweetener. Add the dry ingredients and mix well. Put half the mixture into and 8 inch square pan or equivalent. Spread the jam evenly, then cover with the remaining oat mixture and pat lightly to flatten. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 30 minutes, or until the top is nicely toasted. Allow to cool before cutting.

I invite you to drop in at this week’s  Fiesta Friday which I am co-hosting with one of my favourite food bloggers, Julianna from Foodie on Board. If you would like to share one of your own recipes, just follow these guidelines and join the party!DSC03300.JPG


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Peony Jelly

Here is a way to preserve the exquisite colour and scent of your peonies – a flower which graces our gardens for an all too short period in the early summer. Serve it with your favourite buttered scone, as a garnish to fruit salad or just about any other dessert. 

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Freshly picked peonies

I have recently been experimenting with floral flavours from my garden as they appear – just the edible ones of which there are more than you would think. The easiest way to use them is often mixing them half and half with sugar, grinding them and allowing them to dry to be used as a sweetener. Jellies, perhaps the most obvious use, are a little more challenging. Pectin and some form or acid are necessary to get the desired consistency are necessary, but working out the ideal proportions and cooking time have proved to be a little challenging, leaving me at times with something either too thin or too thick. Also, not all pectins are made equal, so even when following a recipe the results can be disappointing.

Peony Jelly on Punk Domestics

For my first effort, I used a combination of white and red flowers – being careful to pick the ones with the best scent. I also used liquid pectin which might have been the reason that I needed a suspiciously large amount (2 packages) and long period of cooking. The result was satisfactory, the colour and flavour were better than I had hoped for, but the recipe was just too complicated and required too much cooking to share. So a second effort was called for.

This time I chose them for the colour – mostly red and some pink. I used powdered pectin, Certo pectin crystals to be exact. The cooking time was reduced by about one third and the consistency was perfect. While the white ones did give a beautiful reddish amber colour, the red and pink produced a stunning ruby colour, so if colour matters, go for the red as long as they have a good strong scent. This picture shows the difference of colour, although in photographs the contrast is not so pronounced.

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Second batch on left

Peony Jelly

Ingredients
4 cups peony petals, tightly packed
4 cups boiling water
1/2 lemon
1/2 package certo pectin crystals
2 cups sugar

Method: Put the petals in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Use a plate on top to press them down and make sure they are all covered in water. Leave to infuse for 6 hours. Strain them through a cloth and ring tightly to get all the liquid out. Discard the petals. Pour this liquid (I had 2 cups) into a pot, add the strained juice of the half lemon, the pectin and 2 cups of sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 20 minutes, until it reaches 215 degrees F or 104 C if you have a thermometer. Otherwise you can put a small spoonful on a chilled dish and and when it cools it should set. Also, it is ready when the bubbling becomes so vigorous it does not subside when you put a spoon in it.

Pour it into sterilised jars and let cool. This recipe made 6 1/4 pint jars

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Petals after soaking for 6 hours in water

There are so many ways to use floral jellies. One of my favourites is to use it to sweeten tea while sometimes with fresh buttered bread or biscuits alongside tea is preferred. It also works well as a garnish.

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Fruit and granola topped with plain yogurt and jelly

Linked to: Fiesta Friday #124, Love in the Kitchen and Spades, Spatulas and Spoons.


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Sea Buckthorn Jelly

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My seabuckthorn plants are flourishing, and the three female plants are producing far more berries than I can pick. They are also reproducing at an almost alarming rate, although the lawn mower has unwittingly taken care of some of the shoots coming from, I believe, the male plant. Their rate of growth is encouraging, and I expect some of the seeds will find their way into neighbouring properties, so foraging sea buckthorn in this area might become a reality before long.

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I have written about this remarkable shrub in an earlier post, but since then have learned some practical tips about how to harvest them. They are difficult to pick. They are indeed thorny, and the small berries are soft with a very thin skin, so as soon as you apply a little pressure when picking, they tend to collapse and squirt you with sticky juice. However, if a few branches are snipped off and put in the freezer for a day, they can then be removed from the branches quite easily. As the plants need some good pruning anyway, this is the perfect time to do it.

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If you find them in a local market, this is the way they will be displayed – thick clusters still on the branches.

The delicate leaves can also be removed to make a delicious tisane.

Seabuckthorn Jelly on Punk Domestics

As for the berries, I decided to make a jelly which would be an easy way to preserve them, and presumably a useful addition to my pantry. I used only one cup of berries, and did not worry too much if some of the woody bits attached to the base were still attached as it would all be strained after the first cooking.

To make the jelly, I covered the berries with water and cooked them until soft – about ten minutes. I strained them, added a little hot water to the pulp and strained them again.

For two cups of strained juice, I added three cups of organic sugar. This I brought to a boil and then simmered until it reached a temperature of 235 degrees F or 120 C. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, you will know it is ready when it reaches the soft ball stage.

 

Pour into a jar and let cool. The amount of sugar in this means that it will keep for a few weeks, so I didn’t worry about processing it. I didn’t even remove the foam from the top because it too is just as tasty!

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The flavour of the sour raw berries is not appreciated by everyone, perhaps because it is so unfamiliar, but once cooked with sugar it has a fruity caramel taste. It makes a wonderful spread, but can also be used in baking, desserts, as a glaze or a sweetener for drinks. In short, anywhere you might use honey.

Linked to Fiesta Friday #94


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Apple and Goldenrod Jelly

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This is the last of my series of three goldenrod recipes. The stuff is still blooming everywhere I look, and it is tempting to keep picking, but I’ll just settle for lots of ‘tea’ to help ward off allergies for the rest of the season. There are just too many other fun things out there to experiment with, and time is running out as the days and mostly nights get markedly colder.

This jelly is very simple really – just apple jelly using goldenrod tea in place of water. Simple as it is, the flavour is distinctively herbal and delicious variation.

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You could follow any apple jelly recipe such as this one and use the goldenrod tea as liquid. For mine, I had three pounds of tart apples picked from a local tree. I covered it with the goldenrod liquid, cooked it until the apples were good and soft. Then I strained it through a jelly bag (or several layers of cheesecloth) overnight and discarded the pulp. For four cups of liquid, I added three of sugar and one-half package of pectin. Because the apples already have pectin, I didn’t need much, but the pectin meant I could get away with using less sugar.

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I cooked the apple, goldenrod and sugar until it came to a full boil and the sugar was dissolved, added the pectin and cooked a further minute, then bottled. I didn’t use the canning process for it because I’m not sure if there was enough sugar or acid content, so I just froze the extra. I prefer to have a less sweet jelly even if it does mean having to store it in the freezer.

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I was hoping for a golden colour to match the flavour, but am otherwise happy with this unusual and very seasonal recipe. Here I served it on an English muffin with semi-clotted cream, but I’ll save that for another post when I have perfected the process.

Linked to Fiesta Friday #86.

Related Links: Goldenrod Tea; Goldenrod Highball


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Chokecherry Jelly

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I spotted a few chockecherry (prunus virginiana) trees in the spring near our house with their early white blossoms and determined then that this year I would watch for the berries to appear later in the year. This is the now the height of the season, but you have to be fast as the birds are fond of them, and have a distinct advantage over us in harvesting them.

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The berries start out red, but should not be picked until they have turned very dark – almost black and starting to shrivel. The flavour is that of a cherry, but somewhat more astringent, and this astringency decreases with age, and again with cooking. They are much smaller than regular cherries, and have a higher proportion of seed to fruit, but they are so easy to pick so you can still get lots of pulp from them.

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To identify them, look for oval leaves with serrated edges. The leaf is dark with a lighter underside. The berries hang in cluster off reddish stems. They are popular not only with birds but also caterpillars. If you have these trees on your property, you should check for tent caterpillars and remove them.

The fruit is high in antioxidants and has many uses. Jams, jellies, syrups and wine are the most common, but they can also be dried, seeds and all, and ground into a flour. This is one of the ingredients of pemican, but I’m sure in modern-day cooking we can find other uses.

As I was only able to collect a small amount of berries and have never used them before, I decided to make a simple jelly. I had two cups of berries.

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I covered them with water in a pan and simmered them until soft. Then I strained them through a food mill. I returned the pulp to the pan, added more water to cover and repeated cooking and straining process.

I ended up with 2 cups of juice, to which I added 2 cups of sugar. After bringing it to a full rolling boil, I added one 57 gram package of Certo pectin and allowed to boil 2 more minutes, then poured into 6 sterilized 100 ml. jars with a little to spare. DSC02553

Chokecherry Jelly on Punk Domestics

Serving it on fresh scones with clotted or whipped cream or plain yogurt is just one of the ways this rich jelly can be enjoyed.

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Bear with me!

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I forage mostly within the confines of our property, except for the odd sortie beyond, usually for plants growing in wetlands. Lately I have gone a few feet beyond our property to a vacant, unused field next door for which I have been given permission to trespass. However, another has recently moved in – one who is a much more serious forager than I and who does not understand that foraging should be done sustainably and with consideration for others. I hope this new tenant does not stay too long, but am reassured that at least by winter he will have lumbered off to hibernate.

I have not seen him, although his relatives have been spotted only a few hundred metres from our house. I had seen his tracks around my favourite raspberry bushes, but wrongly assumed it was from a deer or raccoon. I shan’t be competing with him for these berries – and if I do I will take my trusty bear horn.

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An intrepid houseguest did get uncomfortably close to him, and warned me not to venture much beyond our driveway. I’m not arguing.

Nonetheless, the berries this year are better than I have seen them since we moved here, so I take what I can and where I can. I have enough to make several delicious recipes, beginning with one for pectin-free black raspberry jam.

As this recipe is lower in sugar and acid than most jams, I am not recommending it for canning. In a well sealed container it will last a couple of weeks in the fridge or can be frozen.

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I started by mashing the berries in a pot with a potato masher to extract all the juice I could. For each cup of berries I added one cup of organic sugar plus 1 Tbsp of crabapple paste or dulce de manzana silvestre. This helps thicken it with its natural pectin. A quince paste would work just as well.

Bring to a boil for five minutes and simmer for a further fifteen minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking. That’s it! Pour into clean jars and seal. The mixture will thicken when cool. It is excellent as a jam, tart filling or topping for ice cream.


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Honeysuckle Syrup

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I am still learning my way around our property. Last year I discovered for the first time a huge honeysuckle bush, and as I went to visit it recently I discovered four more. I took this as a sign that I should continue to experiment with floral recipes.

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I wasn’t very optimistic, as sweet smelling flowers often have a bitter taste with little of the sweetness associated with the scent. However, I was encouraged by as post by the Green Lizard on making lilac jelly and decided to harvest some of the honeysuckle blossoms. My experiment was not a total success, but I believe I know where I made the mistake. Nonetheless the thin jelly got renamed a syrup, and it is every bit as useful and delicious as a jelly. Sometimes I love my mistakes.

Here’s where I went wrong. I decided to make my own pectin from some dried crabapples. Crabapples are full of pectin and by simply boiling them in water and straining the liquid which can be canned the same as any preserve, you have a perfect ingredient for making jams and jellies all season long. I figured dried crabapples would work just as well. My mistake I believe was not to boil them long enough. When I tested for the pectin content after only a few minutes, I noticed it was a bit weak, but thought it would do. Not quite.

To test if your pectin mixture is ready, just add a spoonful of the liquid into a small amount of rubbing alcohol. Then wait a minute or two, and if you can scoop some of the juice onto a fork and not have it all run off, then it is ready.  I did detect a gelled effect, but only slightly, so there was my mistake.

To make the jelly (or in this case syrup) you will need a lot of petals – not necessarily honeysuckle but any edible flower you want to use – at least two quarts. Pick flowers which are opened but fresh looking, and remove the calyx.

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Cover the petals with water and simmer for about 10 minutes, then cool and refrigerate a few hours or preferably overnight to extract as much of the flavour as possible. Strain and mix 4 parts liquid with five parts sugar, the juice of half a lemon and 1 cup crabapple pectin. Bring it all to a boil and simmer for about five minutes. A small amount of the jelly should set when poured onto a chilled saucer. Skim any foam off and pour into sterilized mason jars. I found the heat of the syrup poured into freshly sterilized jars (by setting them in boiled water for 10 minutes) was sufficient to seal them. I tightened the lids and set them upside down until cool.

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Two things I discovered: the unappealing colour of the cooked blossoms transformed as soon as I added the pectin mixture, and even more so after the addition of sugar;  the flavour was very honey-like, and there was no trace of the bitterness found in the fresh flower. Although it was not as thick as a jelly should be, it was like a good quality liquid honey and can be used in similar ways.

I have already found several uses for this tasty syrup:

Add a spoonful to a cup of your favourite tea. I never take sugar in my tea, but this gives a wonderful floral bouquet without too much sweetness;

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Pour some over a milk dessert, such as rice pudding;

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Serve with waffles or pancakes;

Mix with soda water for a cool drink with ice cubes.

Here’s hoping we have a good crabapple season this year, and that last week’s frost hasn’t nipped them in the bud!