Along the Grapevine


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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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Sumac Recipes

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Since I posted my first recipe for sumac in the early summer, I have had time to figure out other ways in which to use this lemony goodness. The sumac I refer to is the Staghorn Sumac. Unlike the sumac with white flowers, it is not poisonous. However, try a little at first, as some people may have allergies to it.

First, I made dried sumac powder. I have been buying this for years from Middle Eastern and Asian shops, and always wondered if I could duplicate it with our own sumac.  So that is one puzzle solved. I generally use it in place of lemon in spicy curries, tagine, soups etc, but always parsimoniously because it is hard to find. Now I can use it with abandon.

To make the powder, simply pick or scrape off the berries, and place them on a cookie sheet in a 175 F oven until they feel completely dry.  This will take probably 4 to 6 hours, depending on how much space they have. I prefer to err on the side of too long, and keep an eye on them. Then put them in a food processor or blender and chop them up as finely as possible, and pass them through a sieve.

Dried sumac

My next project was sumac molasses. Not really molasses, but I wanted to replace my pomegranate molasses with something made from local ingredients. I used 6 cups of firmly packed fresh sumac berries, covered them in water and pressed them tightly down so that I would need the minimum amount of water. I simmered them covered for about half an hour to an hour. I strained off the liquid and added it to 1 cup of brown sugar, then simmered it until all the sugar was dissolved.

The purpose for this ‘molasses’ was for use in some Middle Eastern recipes, and in particular a Persian recipe called Fesenjun. I was first introduced to this by my father when he returned from working in Iran, and I later learned to make different versions of it myself. It is simply a sauce made of walnuts and pomegranate juice (or molasses) cooked with duck, chicken, and I believe other meats.

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I used a whole chicken because that is what I had to work with, but pieces or fillets would work just as well. Just adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Fesenjun

1 chicken

oil for frying

2 onions, diced

1 cup walnuts, coarsely ground

1 cup sumac molasses

salt and pepper to taste

Brown the chicken on all sides in some oil in a roasting pan. Remove the chicken, pour out any excess oil except a little to which you add the onions. Fry until soft and add the walnuts. Fry for another two minutes. Add the sumac and salt and pepper. Return the chicken to the pot, cover, and place in a preheated oven at 325 F. It took about two hours, and the last half hour I removed the lid.

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Traditionally this is served with rice, but I had potatoes, pickled plums and mixed steamed greens from the garden. I am pleased to report that the sumac molasses worked very well with this recipe. All the ingredients, except the walnuts, were locally grown, but I hope soon to gather some local black walnuts which will make this a truly Ontario, albeit Persian-inspired, dish.

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