Along the Grapevine


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Cranberry and Sea Buckthorn Sauce

A delicious variation of the classic cranberry sauce, this recipe combines beautifully the tart fruity flavour of sea buckthorn with cranberries.

This Thanksgiving weekend in Canada I have been hearing lots of discussion on the topic of traditional dishes for this celebration. Among the things I have learned, cranberry sauce is a must, but few people actually like it. I suspect they are talking of the tinned variety, in which case the disdain is well earned, but cranberry sauce is arguably the easiest part of the menu, and making it with fresh berries is about as easy as boiling water. I usually just mix it with a little sugar or honey and water, and if available orange juice instead of water and some orange zest. It goes well not just with the turkey and dressing, but with any vegetarian alternative, with crackers and cheese, and best of all in sandwiches.

This year I decided to add some of my own garden produce – namely sea buckthorn which is now ripe and ready to be picked. If you are not familiar with this berry, please refer to this post. Although this berry is not native to here, it is making its way into markets as its nutritional benefits and sharp flavour are becoming recognized.DSC01282The best way to extract the juice from these berries is to cook them in a pot with a little water for a few minutes, then strain them. The less water you use, the better, but be sure to use enough the pot doesn’t boil dry.

For my cranberry sauce, I used 4 cups of fresh (or frozen) cranberries, 1/2 cup honey (or sugar) and 1 cup of strained sea buckthorn juice. Heat to a gentle boil until the berries start to pop and are all soft. Add more sugar or honey to  taste if you want a sweeter sauce.

DSC03235.JPGDon’t worry if it looks a little runny – it will thicken as it cools. Store any leftovers in a covered jar in the fridge where it will keep for at least 2 weeks. This recipe may even be the biggest hit of your festive dinner this year.

Linked to: Fiesta Friday #140, Hostess at Heart and Fabulous Fare Sisters.


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Apples are from Kazakhstan, and so are crabapples

Thank you to Kazakhstan for giving us this delicious fruit. I had not used crabapples much until now – except in jelly – but have recently found so many uses for it, not sure how I managed without it. I promised over a month ago that I would report back on my crabapple liqueur, and in that time have been experimenting with the few crabapples I have been able to harvest from our own tree and few others. So this will be my wrap up on this subject for this season.

Among the reasons I have enjoyed cooking with these is their flavour, colour and versatility. They are substantial, not too watery, keep well, and seem resistant to pests and fungi. Besides, they are one of the prettiest fruit trees in all seasons. The fruit does not drop easily, and many varieties hold their fruit throughout the winter, providing a feeding place for birds. No need for bird feeders with these in your garden.

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Crabapple liqueur

The liqueur, which was just a mixture of fresh, whole, crabapples, sugar and vodka, left to stand for a month with frequent stirrings (and tastings). I have now bottled it, and started a similar process with wild cranberries and another with wild grapes.

From the jam, or ‘dulce de manzana silvestre” I made, I have used it in a variety of recipes, some of which I will outline here.

Dipping Sauce:  Mix about 1/2 cup of dulce with 2 Tbsp. vinegar, a teaspoon each of dried onion and chili flakes, 1 tsp of sumac powder or juice of 1/2 lemon, salt and pepper to taste. This can be used as a condiment or as a dipping sauce

Substitue for any citrus fruit in baking. Just mix a spoonful with water of the required liquid amount, for cakes etc.

Fillings for cookies, cakes or doughnuts.

Savoury sauce: The rich apple flavour goes particularly well with pork. After browning the meat, deglaze the pan with stock or wine, add seasonings and a spoonful of crabapple preserve, pour it over the meat. I did it with a pork hock, cooked in a slow cooker, but it would go with chops or roast too.

Soup:  I added a good dollop to a squash soup.

If you have any other ideas to add to these, I would welcome hearing about them. I plan to continue to experiment.


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Wild Cranberries

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The highbush cranberry (viburnum trilobum) is a fruit I only recently discovered, and happily so. It not only provides beautiful, easy pickable fruit, it is also a good landscaping plant, with white flowers in the spring, and burgundy leaves in the fall. The berries begin as orange and turn to bright translucent red when they are ripe. They are best after frost, and stay on the vine well into winter, unless animals and birds get desperate enough to eat them.

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Their survival is probably due to their bitter taste. Although they resemble cranberries in colour and flavour, they are actually a member of the honeysuckle family. They can be used much the same as cranberries, and if you like the strong flavour of cranberries, you are likely to appreciate these.

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There has recently been much written on them on the internet. I will just say that, as with any new plant, you should approach it with some caution, and make sure you don’t have any reaction to it before consuming a large amount.

Like cranberries, they make good sauces and jellies, particularly for festive occasions such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. I have so far made three recipes with these, and frozen some for later use. After they are removed from the stems and rinsed, they can be frozen as is.

Dried Wild Cranberries

Sprinkle the berries liberally with cane sugar. Place on parchment in a pan and put them in a 200 degree F oven for three to four hours, until they are dry but still soft (like raisins). They are good on their own, or used in baking, with cereal, or wherever you like to use dried fruit.

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They have one flat, soft, heart-shaped seed in them, but they are chewy and do not interfere with the enjoyment of them.

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Wild Cranberry Liqueur

Place berries with roughly an equal weight of white sugar in a non-metal receptacle with a tight fitting lid. Pour vodka over the fruit to cover. Stir it once a day until the sugar dissolves, and allow to age for one month. Strain and bottle.

Wild Cranberry Sauce

Mix berries in a saucepan with 1/2 the same volume of sugar. I used two cups of berries and 1 cup sugar. Gently heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Continue cooking until the sauce is a good consistency and the berries are well cooked. They take considerably longer than cranberries. You may add a little citrus zest or any spices you like, but no liquid, as this will only extend the cooking time and result in overcooking of the fruit.


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Crab Apple Preserve

Crab apples are one of the easiest fruits to preserve with more pectin than most – it is even recommended as an addition to some jams and jellies to help them set. I thought I would try a preserve which, in South America, is often made with quince, guava or sweet potato, known as ‘dulce de’ whatever. So I will call this dulce de manzana silvestre.

If not cooked quite long enough, you will get a rich, dark jam. Cook it a little longer, and it will set into a firm paste, which can be sliced or cut into squares – the former is served with fresh cheese and the latter eaten as a candy. But I find it has other uses too. I blended it in water and used it instead of orange juice in a pumpkin cake recipe, which added a subtle aroma. It could also be used like tamarind in savoury dishes. It would  be excellent as a condiment, particularly for a Thanksgiving turkey dinner, or with pork or game. Again, I think I didn’t make enough of it to experiment as much as I’d like, but still hoping to find some more apples.

I used the small ones from my tree in the garden, but any crab apples would work well.

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Dulce de manzana silvestre

1 lb. crab apples

2 cups water

1 cup sugar

Cook the crab apples in water until they are very soft. This takes about an hour, but don’t rush them. The mushier, the better.

Strain the fruit, pressing out as much fruit as you can, much as you would making apple sauce. Return the juice to a pan, add the sugar and cook on a low heat until it looks dark and is about 1/3 the volume you started with.

I put mine in a jar because I didn’t expect it to set as much as it did. Had I known, I would have used a square, non-metallic cake pan and cut it into squares.

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Wild Grape Ketchup

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The wild grapes are finally beginning to ripen in our area, so I am now able to work on some recipes which were the ‘raisin’ d’etre for this blog. The birds have already taken many, so I picked what I could should they disappear soon. I am not sure of the exact variety of the ones I picked. These ones, as you can see are very small, about the size of a blueberry. I hope to find some larger ones for other recipes, but these small ones are excellent for this one.

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I started making grape ketchup a few years ago, as finding myself with a good supply of wild grapes, and not wanting to make either wine or jelly, I decided if there was not such a thing as grape ketchup, there should be. Sure enough, I was not the first to think of it, and there are plenty of recipes out there. However, most use cultivated grapes, which are larger and sweeter, but do not have the strong flavour or the nutrients of the wild variety. Also, I do not add water, which reduces the cooking time – good for me and the quality of the end product. Most any grape would work with this recipe, but I would recommend a fairly sour variety with a thick skin, which will add enough pectin to the mixture for it to thicken nicely.

It is good not only as a condiment but as a marinade for game and poultry, and I expect would go very well with lamb and pork too.

Apart from the picking, the ketchup is really very simple. Just wash the grapes and pick the berries off the stems, discarding any green ones. Place them in a pan, heat and simmer for about five minutes. Juice will begin to form at the bottom of the pan, but to help them along, use a potato masher to get as much juice out as possible.

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Then, strain the mixture through a food mill or sieve, measure, and return the juice to the pan.

For every cup of puree:

1/2 cup brown sugar (or more to taste)

1/2 cup wine vinegar

1/2 tsp. pepper

1 tsp. allspice

Simmer the mixture until it is the right consistency, a little over an hour. I test it by cooling a small spoonful. I make it less dense than a commercial ketchup, but about as thick as a creamy yogourt. I do not process the jars – just freeze them.

This is a fairly tart ketchup as I prefer it, but it could stand probably up to double the amount of sugar. You can easily add more as it cooks and taste it.

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I left a small amount in the bottom of a pan, and as a first use i deglazed it, added venison meatballs I had in the freezer and some quartered fresh plums. From that I deem the ketchup recipe a success.

One experiment often leads to another. Left with a pile of grape seeds, which are supposed to be highly nutritious and, I have noticed, are sold in granular form in health food stores, I decided to dry them and see what I could do. I rinsed and drained them, removing some of the skin that rose to the top, but certainly did not get it all. I then put the dripping seeds in the oven at 275 for about an hour, and as they were getting too hot and the water had mostly evaporated, I spread them out in the sun for another couple of hours. I don’t leave anything in the sun too long, for fear of botulism, but by that time they were sufficiently dry. I ground them in the coffee grinder – and then on to my next experiment.

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I mixed a large spoonful in some hot water. It was a creamy pinkish colour but the seeds at the bottom were not very appetizing. Next experiment was to simmer the same amount in a small pot of hot water for about an hour and strain. The colour was browner, but the taste was equally good and no junk at the bottom. All in all, a pleasant surprise as experiments go, and for anyone who wants to get all the goodness out of the grapes, might be worth trying.