Along the Grapevine


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Rhubarb Chutney

I have been making rhubarb chutney as long as I have been cooking. It is more than an condiment for Indian dishes – it can be added to sauces, meatloaves, dressings, dips and sandwiches. It is simple and quick to make, and takes care of all that surplus, if that is a problem, in a way that will preserve it for the months to come. I have not made it the same twice – the choice of spices is endless and it is worth trying different combinations. Starting with rhubarb, sugar and vinegar, just add whichever spices you fancy. Make it as spicy or sweet as you wish, and just follow your nose (the olfactory part that is).

The problem with my rhubarb is that it is not of the ‘pretty’ variety. The middle is green, and although it tastes as good as any, it makes the chutney brown. In this recipe, I attempted to make an appealing red colour, so I offer a few tips to achieve this, as well as a method to prevent overcooking the rhubarb which I think also detracts from its appearance.

In order to do this, I used forced rhubarb, a method I described in an earlier post. This is not necessary, but it did make a difference in the colour. Below is a picture of my freshly picked forced rhubarb. It really is a bit sweeter and more delicate than the grown-in-the light variety.

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I also made a rhubarb custard pie with some of it, just to highlight the beautiful colour.

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To reduce the cooking time of the rhubarb and prevent it from collapsing into a stringy sauce, I cooked all the other ingredients first and added the rhubarb just for the last few minutes.

I processed half the jars in boiling water for ten minutes, and this also had an effect on the colour, so if you want a really pink product, it’s best to seal in jars and store them in the freezer. I also used a red vinegar, namely one in which I infused red choke cherries, but I’m not sure this made a significant difference.

Rhubarb Chutney

Ingredients

6 cups rhubarb, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces

2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups cider or red vinegar

1 onion

3 red chili peppers

1 tbsp fresh grated ginger

1 stick cinnamon

3 tsp minced garlic

1 tsp fennel

1 tsp salt

1 cup raisins (or other dried fruit)

Method

Mix the sugar and rhubarb and allow to stand overnight or about 12 hours. Strain the syrup from the rhubarb and mix it with all the other ingredients. Cover the mixture with a tight fitting lid, bring it to a boil and simmer for about 1 hour. Remove the cinnamon stick and add the rhubarb. Continue to cook for a further 20 minutes or until the rhubarb is just soft but not disintegrating.

Makes 1.5 litres.

DSC03387.JPGLinked to Fiesta Friday #172

Dandelion Flower Syrup on Punk Domestics

Other rhubarb recipes: Rhubarb Ice Cream;  Crabapple, Rhubarb and Ginger Jam;  Sumac and Rhubarb Soup;  Rhubarb and Berry Crisp;  Spruce Tip Panna Cotta with Rhubarb Sauce;   Wild Berry Tarts with Rhubarb Curd;  Rhubarb Crabapple Ketchup


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Dandelion Flower Syrup

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With all the rain we have been having lately the fields are greener and more lush than ever – and that means the dandelions are at their absolute best. When I first started this blog four years ago this month, I had only a few ideas on how to use them in cooking, but in that time I have found they are a lot more versatile than I had imagined. I have been using the roots, buds and leaves, but today I decided to share a recipe I devised using the flowers. I am very pleased with the results, and more so because it is such an easy method for making a delicious floral syrup. A few minutes of picking the flowers and little else, as there is no need to separate petals or do any more than wash them.

Using 4 cups of flowers, I let them stand with 2 cups of sugar overnight or up to 24 hours. This will extract quite a bit of liquid from them just sitting there as you can see in the pictures below.

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At this point, I added 1 cup of water and heated the mixture to a boil, allowing it to boil for about 1 minute. I then strained off the liquid through two layers of cheesecloth into a sterilized jar and ended up with almost three cups of syrup.

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The consistency is like that of maple syrup, the flavour sweet and floral. It can be used as any syrup would be, as a sweetener for drinks, fruit salads, baking, glazes, etc.  A new and original recipe using this syrup will follow within a few days.

 


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Fiddleheads – Dehydrated

Here is a method for preserving fiddleheads that will allow you to enjoy them any time of year just as if they were freshly picked.

I wrote about foraging fiddleheads (the young sprouts of the ostrich fern) in a post last year. Fortunately, this is another great year for them and I was able to pick even more than usual. It is one of those seasonal treats you generally enjoy fresh. Only if you have gathered way more than you can consume immediately do you worry about how to preserve them. Freezing is not really an option as it changes the texture too much. I have not tried pickling or fermenting them as I expect again the texture might not be so appetizing. So I resorted to dehydrating them, and with great success.DSC00651

First, they have to be cooked, boiled in water for about ten minutes, otherwise they are not easy to digest. After boiling and draining them, use all you can as is, in a stir fry, omelette or whatever. Any excess, dehydrate at 125 degrees F (52 C) for about three hours. They will look diminished and wizened and be very crisp. Store them in a cool dark place in a sealed container. To use for cooking, simply rehydrate them with hot water. In about two minutes they will regain their size, texture, colour and flavour. Even the tiny stems! Drain them and use them as you would fresh ones.DSC03067

In the aforementioned post of last year, I used fresh ones to make fried pakoras. This year I tried baking instead of frying them. Preparing them in the same way to cook, then placing the coated fiddleheads on a parchment lined cookie sheet and baking them in a hot oven (500 degrees F) for ten minutes gives a softer, less crisp pakora. Either way, they are delicious.DSC03066

Fiddleheads - Dehydrated on Punk Domestics


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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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Cured Duck Egg Yolks Sweet or Savoury

I have been wanting to cure some duck eggs but had a long wait. Duck eggs are not commonly available in this area except when the ducks feel like laying. Finally it is the season, and I acquired a nice pile of them from a dear neighbour who owns some lovely Muscovy ducks. muscovy ducks

Any kind of eggs can be cured, but either goose or duck have a much bigger yolk ratio so they are better suited for this purpose. It is worth noting that this larger yolk is the reason for the bonus nutritional value of duck eggs – more micro nutrients, more protein and omega-3s. Here is a duck’s egg next to a chicken’s egg. Not difficult to tell which is which. DSC02248

Of course, duck eggs can be prepared the same as chicken eggs, and we have been enjoying them in many ways, not least in baking. Curing the yolks (the whites got used in blueberry buckwheat pancakes) makes a great cheese substitute. They also absorb any flavour they are cured in, so you can use your imagination and available ingredients to this end. I used spruce salt. You will need about 1/3 cup of coarse salt for each yolk. Just make sure there is enough to cover the bottom, sides and top of the yolks. Put half the salt in a suitably sized dish, gently place the egg yolk on the salt and cover with the rest of the salt. Place in the refrigerator for two days. DSC02249 DSC02251

Remove the yolk gently from the salt, brushing off any excess. Place the yolk on some cheesecloth, pull the cloth together at the top and tie with a string. Hang in a cool, dark place for another five days. At this point, the yolk should feel firm, but not hard, when squeezed gently. Grate it and use it as a garnish for salads, soups or pasta. I was inspired to make a sweet version by Forager Chef who in his post on curing eggs in truffle salt suggested sugar should also work. The method is the same, except you use sugar instead of salt, and again a flavour added to the curing process. I used lavender. I also followed his method and timing for curing.

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DSC02269At the end of the curing time, the yolks were equally firm and had the same texture, so I concluded the sugar method worked as well as the common salt method. I will be posting recipes using both eggs, so stay tuned

Cured Duck Egg Yolks Sweet or Sour on Punk Domestics


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The Greatest Scapes

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In this part of the world it is scape season, and they are commonly found in markets, CSA boxes and if you grow hard neck garlic, in your own garden. They are the long shoots that bear the flower, and this should be removed from the plant when it appears and before the flower starts to open in order for the garlic to grow big and healthy.

My scapes are not quite there yet, but I did get an entire bushel from a kind neighbour who had a bit of a windfall. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I accepted them happily and then set to work.

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Scapes are a wonderful addition to the pantry in the winter. Milder than garlic, they can be added to just about any savoury dish. My usual routine is to make scape pesto, but this would have been a monumental task and required more nuts than I have. Also, I wanted to do things a bit differently this year. Considering convenience, space and of course taste, I came up with three ways to preserve them.

Freezing: Very simple, but a bit bulky, so I packed just a few bags. To freeze them, first remove the long bit on top of the flour. Chop the scapes into roughly 3 inch pieces which will make packing the bags easier. I then steamed them for about three minutes, just enough to heat them right through and kill any bacteria. Run under cold water and when cool, pack them tightly in bags and squeeze out as much air as you can.

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Drying: After removing the long bit again, chop into fine strips. I used the slicing bade of a food processor for this. Place in the dehydrator at 125 F or 52 C for about eight hours, or until they are thoroughly dried and crisp. Place in a jar and store in a cool dark cupboard.

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Fermenting: Remove the long bit and the flower. Put the flowers aside to be used later. One recipe for these follows, but they can be used to flavour soups, salads, sauces or whatever. They should not be fermented with the stalks as they are softer and will not hold up to the amount of fermentation required for the tougher stalks. I sliced the stalks as for the drying method so that they would be easier to spoon out, but if you want them larger or even whole, that is an option. Pack in a clean mason jar, pour brine over them (2 Tbsp salt dissolved in 1 litre of non-chlorinated water). To prevent them from coming into contact with air, I placed a few grape leaves on top and weighted them down. I used marbles. Place a clean cloth on top to prevent any foreign matter (like flies) getting in. They will take about five days to be ready to eat, but check periodically that none of the scapes have risen to the surface. With the grape leaves and the marbles, this is not likely to happen. The first few days, you will notice some bubbles coming to the surface. This is normal. When it subsides, after about five days, taste and see if it is fermenty enough for you. If so, cover and place in the fridge or other cool place. If you want it a little stronger, leave a day or two more. Remember that fermentation will continue as it ages but at a slower pace, so you should open the jar about once a week to allow any gas to escape.

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Scape flower butter: With the half cup of flowers I had left over from my fermented batch, I mixed them with an equal amount of butter, 2 Tbsp of olive oil and salt to taste. This all blended together made a delicious garlicky spread.

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The Greatest Scapes on Punk Domestics

Now I have enough scapes in different guises so that I can make pesto or whatever I like over the coming months, not to mention the scapes in my own garden I will have to contend with at a later date. Scapes anyone?

This time last year I posted: Plantain and Scape Pesto


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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!