Archives for posts with tag: preserving

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Through all these years fermenting vegetables, I have often wondered why there is so little a tradition of this kind of food preservation in Britain.  Perhaps the prevalence of beer meant the availability of malt vinegar for vinegar pickling? Perhaps the relatively mild winters meant there was less of a hunger gap than in the colder climes eastward? Maybe the early entrance of rural workers into a wage economy meant the earlier loss of food traditions? Might there be foodways left to be discovered? I’d like to believe this but I don’t have an answer.

I scour old cookbooks and find not much– perhaps an occasional mention of making fizzy drinks with “yeast” (which of course could so easily be wild rather than derived from baking and wine making)  — elderflower champagne, for example, or bottled drinks of burdock and dandelion, or nettle.  But these are sugar ferments, and different from preserving in brine with bioactive bacteria– i.e. sauerkraut, kimchi, cucumber pickles. Somewhere in Hannah Glasse I once read a reference to wedges of cabbage in salt brine– but that didn’t feel like a common cultural practice.

It was a thrill when I learned about Beetroot Stout, a delicious, nourishing, medicinal vegetable-based cocktail.  When I queried Glyn Hughes of the incredible site The Foods of England Project, he responded  that the only thing  that came to mind for him was  Potato Cheese (to England– only hypothetically– via Germany):

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http://www.foodsofengland.co.uk/potatocheese.htm/ Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette – Thursday 19 July 1855

The immediate association was with Kishk, a Middle Eastern cultured milk and bulgur wheat ferment, which I’d read about in Sandor Katz’s books Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation. Two summers ago I tried to make Kishik (the names vary through different regions and translations, also “Kashk”) following the method in The Gaza Kitchen.  My disks turned mouldy. I reckon the relatively chilly, damp air of a Welsh summer just wasn’t dry enough to let the ferment dessicate quickly enough to beat the rot. From this experience I believe having the artificial heat from a kitchen radiator in the winter helped the experiment this time to succeed.

POTATO CHEESE a la The Foods of England Project

I boiled and mashed a potato, and added several tablespoons of milk kefir.

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Here’s a close-up of the early days:

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I woke up on Day 3 to find the surface of the ferment blooming in this beautiful, vermiculated Geotrichum Candidum, tentatively identified by my Instagram friend Claudia of Urban Cheese Craft. Because this fungus is common in cheese making, I thought of it as a good thing.  Hmmmmm.

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…Though when I peeled it back, and realised it was just a surface feature, I worried a bit that it would slow the evaporation underneath in a project in which drying-out was the ultimate goal (unlike with cheese making proper)…. because I was emulating Kishk … but I realise in retrospect had we eaten this “cultured potato” at this point, it would have been more of a cheese-like substitute…17106008_10212313072201723_1065488006_o.jpg

So with a bit of trepidation, unsure of myself, I stirred it all together (rather than remove the surface) and left the bowl near the radiator, and under a tea towel.:

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On Day 11 the potato mixture felt dry enough to form patties, or disks, and I wrapped them gently in absorbent cloth, but let them air a bit too.

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And nothing untoward was happening….

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And by day 14 they felt fully hardened and I felt the Potato Cheese experiment to be successful….  A ferment on a carbohydrate with the goal to extend a milky cheesy perfume into the time of year with less milk and cheese…17092799_10212313009800163_117850163_o-1.jpg

So now I have my savoury fermented potato “Potato Cheese,” — smells cheesy in a good way — and I feel ready to experiment. I can only think of it as a substitute for Parmesan– maybe grate it over a dish where I might use a hard Italian cheese, or perhaps throw it into a soup such as Minestrone for that little extra thickening or umami sensation. I’m thinking, because it smells reminiscent of Nutritional Yeast, to search through vegan recipes to understand how that ingredient is really used. How would YOU use it? Am most interested in reader suggestion…. And truly interested in anyone’s comments or observations about any part of the process…

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I’m feeling happy for the emergence on the food scene of Olia Hercules. I saw this film a while back and felt really thrilled to be learning from someone so deeply rooted in her own food traditions (and she’s deliberate on that plural) yet gifted with such a light and beautiful cook’s touch. That Ukrainian Green Borsht of hers is of course a much more vivacious cousin to my prosaic Schav.

Today in the Guardian is an excerpt from her new book Mamushka. I want it! Want want want! Because I know I’m going to be bowled over with inspiration, just as I was simply from reading about the way she uses fermented herbs in her lovely and simple soup.  Make sure to check out the link.

Her version uses dill, parsley, sorrel, celery, and spring onions. Read the rest of this entry »

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This is my fifteenth autumn in the UK, and the fourteenth time I’ve taken part in an annual ritual of chutney making with all the abundance of fruit, much of it “windfall” (on the ground, fallen from the tree) and pretty much always part of a seasonal glut that demands quick attention.  I mean chutney not as a raw accompaniment or cooked decoration on a plate, but a vinegary, quite sugared preserve of a jam or compote that is processed and jarred for eating with cheeses and meats and, of course, for sharing with family and friends.

And I’ve been lacto-fermenting vegetables for about ten years I reckon; much of this natural, healthy and no-cook food tradition has made me question the value of preserving fruit and veg in jams and chutneys.   Whereas ferments add health and nutrients, jams and chutneys involve cooking the life out of living food, and adding so much sugar– at least in the typical British style that we know them.   And they use so much energy, unless I were cooking on a wood-burning stove like an Aga or Rayburn that was on anyway for home-heating (in which case that wouldn’t be the most energy efficient way to heat a home).  And anyway my stove is electric (induction to reveal all). Read the rest of this entry »

Hello to you!  Am in busy desperate preserving mode– so much to do, race against time and the forces of overripening, but wanted to share a few random things.

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I’ve made a really nice blackberry jam and threw in actually quite a number of very very soft pears.  (I mushed them through a strainer first, and retained the skins/seeds etc for a scrap vinegar.) Then added a cinnamon stick too.  Decided to strain through a sieve so the jam wouldn’t have that bramble grit of the teeny seeds.  The jam is wonderful, glad to have done this. I put the seeds from the sieve  in water with water kefir grains and have a really lovely bubbly drink happening– didn’t even bother with the whole first and second ferment thing.  Blackberry Pear Soda Pop, pictured above……

Read the rest of this entry »

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Rhubarb– an avatar of springtime, tart, glorious, friendly.

I happened upon this recipe for a wonderful Rhubarb Compote  with it’s suggestion to roast the rhubarb for better shape retention, and the inclusion of a link to a Rhubarb – Rose Petal Jam. Heavenly.

But on my countertop — me whose husband did once affectionately suggest I name this blog Kitchen Counter Clutter for all my space-occupying experiments– sat a jar of Rosehip Syrup, the hips suspended since September in a sugar syrup.   It needed using up.   The syrup had never developed the intensity I’d wished for, and next autumn I will wait until frost softens the hard shells and perhaps do some simmering– the old fashioned way. But, there was a nevertheless a lovely perfume to it, and a slight bite despite its sweetness.

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So I strained out the hips, added a little wild Blackberry Apple Vinegar (I’d read Jamie Oliver somewhere adding a dash of balsamic vinegar to his rhubarb) to dilute the sugar crystals on the bottom, and poured the syrup over the stalks. And into a medium oven it all went, maybe for 20 minutes.

Indeed they did stay stalkier, less mushed. And were wonderful with the homemade, vanilla-flecked custard and crumbled shortbread biscuits.  Really good. And the juice on the bottom of the roasting pan— mmmmm— rhubarb infused rosehip syrup.  Just decadent with the last of the custard clinging to the bottom of the pan.

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In past years I’ve made jams I call Tutti-Frutti for their mix of rhubarb with orange, apple, strawberries (classic), raspberries– whatever is around.  And I love Deborah Madisons use of orange juice and cloves in her stewed rhubarb in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, and that’s become a fall-back combo for me.  Lots of people love ginger, fresh and powdered, paired with rhubarb (perhaps oddly, I don’t).  Maybe it’s wonderful with all bright and spicy flavours.   Now I’m thinking…. hibiscus tea! Also everyone’s hedgerow jams that linger in the cupboard– maybe my friend’s Crabapple Jelly, maybe black currant preserves…  Would all be wonderful in compotes and tarts.  Want to explore.

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I’ve lost the stained photocopy of my fool-proof marmalade recipe.

And I’d just bought a bag of organic, discounted end-of-the-line Seville Oranges, and some Blood Oranges, which to me are sweet-bitter-tart red-juice heaven.  So I needed to proceed without that perfect recipe– perfect in proportion, and in technique, and see what I can remember….

I remember:

the best thing is to save the pips/seeds and soak them in water for as long as possible, for a natural pectin.

from experience, many recipes call for too much water, which you end up wasting time and energy boiling off.

reading somewhere that old time peeps stuck in other fruits available (apples, for example), and a carrot now and then…

So that’s what I’ll do then: Divide my giant pan of orange peels and make four batches:

Orange  (Seville and Blood) and Beetroot Marmalade; Orange and Parsnip Marmalade; Orange and Carrot Marmalade, Orange and Beetroot and Parsnip and Carrot Marmalade.

The idea is to augment this essentially exotic (though traditional) preserve with a little bit of a local/seasonal ethos– and feel good about the vegetable content.

When I make jams, I’ve always been successful with the Joy of Cooking proportions done in volume measurements (the American way, vs. weight).  The recipe for jam from berries says 4 cups fruit to 3 cups sugar.  Wary of white sugar, I always try to reduce amounts, aware nonetheless that jam is after all a fruit and sugar preserve, and needs the sugar to gel and not go mouldy.   So with my Blackberry Jam, for instance, I’ll usually go for a very generous 4 cups to a very very scant 3 cups, and sometimes reduce further.  This will still taste super sweet to me.

Doing it this way, you can work with the amount of fruit and vegetable you happen to have, either more or less than a recipe might specify.  I’ve put over-ripe bananas in marmalade, soft apples…

I halved the oranges, as in the picture above, and squeezed the pips /seeds out into a sieve, retaining the juice.  The skins I cut into fine shreds.  The pips/ seeds soaked overnight in water, and indeed that water became gelatinous in texture, almost like flax seeds when soaked– so one can see why they are a great thickener.  I strained out the seeds and added the “pectin-water.”  And a little more water felt right.

And then I divided that lot of orange shreds, and to each lot added a cup or two of grated veg, measuring then the full bulk and adding sugar in the 4 to 3 ratio above.

(Next time I might cut the vegetables in fine, julienned slivers, for a slight “candied” effect.  When I thought to do this, I’d already committed myself to grating, which has a bulkier effect.)

Then simmer, for ages, until the orange is soft.  Add water if you feel you will need more “syrup.”  Test the jam’s readiness by placing a spoonful on a small plate in the fridge and if when cool it’s the texture you like, it’s ready.  Then place in hot hot hot jars, with a small round of parchment paper on top in case mould does want to grow, and put the lid on promptly.  That’s your marmalade.*

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The photos don’t show the colours subtly enough– the really red one is the beetroot, the lightest one, the parsnip, and the medium dark one, the carrot.  They all taste very subtly different.

I am crazy for the bitter back taste of marmalade.  I reckon these preserves would be wonderful to make little Christmas tartlets with as well, with walnuts I’m imagining.

On the theme of vegetable jams, here are some nice recipes from the ever interesting kitchens of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

In December I made a lovely carrot jam, remembering Jane Grigson remembering Mrs. Beeton (recipe can be found on this site) — Jane Grigson in the wonderful book Good Things sticks in an almond I think, and talks about carrots being a war-time subsitute for apricots.  The colour is gorgeous.  I decided to up the almond idea by adding almond extract, and would do this again.  I look forward to making jam tarts with this carrot jam.

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*Postscript, 16 May 2014.  I’ve been reading about Beet Jam, and came across this explanation why alkaline vegetables are not really shelf stable.  No one I’d encountered before was worried, but I feel dutibound, as a worrywort myself, to mention that Eugenia, below, recommends these as refrigerator jams vs. long term preserves.

 

New Lives for Your Christmas Tree, and Pine and Juniper Needles in General

The link above is a wonderful resource– great ideas for infusing oils, vinegars, fats, booze, spices, teas, syrups, and more.   Our Christmas tree happens to be plastic, something my husband found in a skip and eagerly rescued, and we’re all attached to setting it up and taking it down every year.   But we miss the scent and the naturalness and sacredness of a real tree.  So many things to do with conifer needles.  Looking forward to exploring the writings on this link in general.

Here’s another, if you are a high-end meat-eater, roast your lamb on a Christmas tree branch:

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2013/jan/03/how-to-cook-chump-lamb-roasted-with-christmas-tree-recipe

Japonica Quince (Chaenomeles)

I love love LOVE the red flowers and climbing geometric branching of this ornamental plant, and never quite realised the fruits were edible until a friend Sheila, knowing my predilections, offered me the crop from her back garden. Her mother made jelly with these back in the day, and maybe I’d want to too?

I am a keen learner and experimenter, though was slightly daunted by the thought of time required, and am ever aware that these kind of activities represent a  luxury of time and energy– even if I am staying up too late and slightly cursing myself all the while.

I did happen to have some larger proper quince, and with my friend Emily did a comparison– Japonica more astringent, a lemon perfume to the orange fragrance of the Quince.   Japonica reminded Emily, and I could somehow agree, of those old-fashioned candies, violet and lilac  — an echo of a perfume…  hard to define except in dreamlike reference to something else…

Thank you to EdibleThings http://ediblethings.net/2013/01/04/jam-and-japonica/ to whom Google led me, for leading me to the Wikipedia definition of Bletting which as a concept has so many metaphors and so much resonance in many aspects of fruit gathering and harvesting .http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bletting  Where there was “rot” in the fruit there was fragrance — these japonicas are so much about the smell.  And the colour– an incredible yellow after simmered then pureed through the food mill.

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I’d also been really amazed at how easy it was to collect the seeds.

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I had read that quince seeds are a traditional mucilaginous remedy for sore throats and chesty coughs, and was hoping the same to be true of these wonderful cousins,.    http://mypersiankitchen.com/quince-seeds-persians-remedy-to-soar-throat-and-cough/    As with apple seeds, one would need A LOT, like a cup at a time, for toxic effect, so worry not with a teaspoon of seeds soaked for a tea– at least I, worry wort queen, would not worry.

What I did with all that pulp: 5 jars of a preserve, not sure what to call it, maybe Japonica Butter —  for each cup, three-quarters a cup of sugar, Cinnamon and Ginger, Nutmeg and Cloves to give a medieval feel and to hear in my heart Maddy Prior singing Of All the Birds (can’t find a link), a wonderful song from a long-gone Steeleye Span record.  I mixed a little with some yoghurt, and I think it will be wonderful as a compote, also maybe as a filling for a gingerbread cake, or on a scone, or as Christmas gifts.  Maybe in a tart or crumble, cobbler or Japonica Quince Betty.

And the pulp strained from the “butter”– well–  I mixed it with water, kept it in an  open top jar for a few days, stirring all the while to let it ferment and keep it simultaneously aerobic, and it’s becoming an ever more acidic wild vinegar (see the post below on making scrap vinegars)– a really beautiful, perfumy vinegar, like no other smell I’ve smelled– maybe like a hyacinth dancing a citrus rhumba.

On the subject of Japonica perfume: a friend told me back in the day a famed use for these garden fruits was as a room freshener, on the mantle or kitchen table.  Let it blet just a little, then — inhale –an incredible, intoxicating fragrance. This is something that might have been familiar to some grandmothers’ grandmother…

So the fruit of Ornamental Japonica– now I know.   Perfumy, bright, historical, astringent, beautiful, laborious, fanciful, foragable from gardens urban and suburban.

POSTSCRIPT 4 Dec 2013:   My friend and “Horticultural Tutor” Emma Maxwell was keen that I understand the following:

True  Quince (Cydonia oblonga) Quince, Cydonia oblonga, is the sole member of the genus Cydonia in the family Rosaceae (which also contains apples and pears).Flowering quinces of eastern Asia in the genus Chaenomeles, also in the family Rosaceae.

So I guess these are clues to research whether all those seeds I lovingly saved are useful or not in therapeutic teas.  Or useful simply to plant for a new shrub?

A Rainbow of Sauerkraut

Two years ago around now I was writing this piece on how to make sauerkraut. I think sometime soon it may be put up on their website, but here it is, transcribed in this blog, for now. I’ve done a little re-editing with the gift of hindsight and experience. I wanted to make sauerkraut seem easy, which it is really. And the idea was, you could really play with cabbage, with colour, with spices and flavours, thus I called it:

How to Make a Rainbow of Sauerkrauts
Permaculture Magazine No 70 Winter 2011

Lacto-fermenting is preserving through an alchemy of salt and vegetables and time – in it’s simplest form, creating a salty brine to encourage beneficial bacteria to protect food from spoilage, transform flavours and augment nutrition and culinary possibility. So much of traditional British preserving requires such intensive boiling and processing that much flavour and goodness is lost. “Pickling” by natural fermentation keeps raw food crunchy and fresh, makes lots of nutrients even more accessible to the human body, and will give you stores of living, enzymatic, “probiotic” food to eat during the dark winter.

This is an ancient technique, low carbon (no heat to cook, no definitive need to refrigerate, though it’s good to thoroughly clean vessels), delicious, a way to get more veg into your diet, and exciting: once you have restored the power of sour to your plate, you will want more and more. I truly can’t eat hummus without sauerkraut anymore, and love pickled veg as a final ingredient in my soups. Salads come alive with the addition of whatever preserves you happen to have on hand. You are gifted with an incredible freedom with what you have available and need to use up. And our modern repertoire includes such a wide range of exciting inspirations, including healing herbs and spices which gain potency in fermented brine.

Method
Take your glut of cabbages. Shred, finely or roughly. Mix with spices. Add ginger, leeks, onions, garlic, chilli, or chopped seaweed, grated beetroot, apple– in whatever combination you like. Toss purple cabbage in with with the white to make it pink. Think about cumin, caraway, fennel, dill seeds. Curry powder perhaps? Follow your fancy. Be creative. Experiment. I’ve been foraging for nettle seeds– they went into a kraut with the hope for a little extra vitality. Or keep it simple. The plainest of sauerkraut, undressed, is wonderful too.

A good general rule of thumb: cultured cabbage requires one tablespoon of unrefined, mineral-rich sea salt for each head of cabbage. Place the shredded cabbage in a bowl, knock with your fist to break down cellular walls, add the salt, and toss. Add a little extra water, if you wish. As time passes the cabbage will release natural juices which become the brine in which your souring cabbage – your sauerkraut – develops. Stuff firmly into a jar or crock, leaving only a little space at the top.

The most important thing is regularly pushing down the vegetables beneath the brine. This is what allows the eponymous lactobacilli to thrive anaerobically– without oxygen. The bacteria that spoil and rot food need air. Sometimes it can feel like a battle in which it’s our job to support the Goodies versus the Baddies.

Keep a room temperature for roughly a week, remembering to keep poking down any errant veg underneath the surface of the brine, or using a weight if necessary. Once the process has begun, refrigeration or chilling in the coolest part of your home is appropriate. Under snow would be ideal! Eat all along the life cycle of your kraut, and experience different tastes as they “mature.”

The hardest part about lacto-fermenting is finding enough large glass jars or ceramic crocks for all you endeavours. I spy the pickled egg jar at the chip shop….

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I had loads more elderberries that I’d picked on that abundantly fruiting hedge.

Pontack Sauce, writes Richard Mabey in Food for Free,  is “a relic from those days when every retired miltary gentlman carried his patent sauce as an indispensable part of his luggage. Pontack’s was a famous restaurant … which was no doubt on these gentlemen’s town circuit, and from there this recipe was taken back to the country seats and adjusted to the owners idiosyncrasies.”

I’ve made some, barely adjusting to any of my own likely idiosyncrasies– just followed RM’s instructions below,  using a half bottle of neglected red wine instead of vinegar or claret.

“Pour one pint of boiling vinegar (or claret)  over one pint of elderberries in a stone jar or casserole dish. Cover, and allow to stand overnight in an oven at very low heat. Next day, pour off the liquid put in a saucepan with a teaspoon of salt, a blade of mace, 40 peppercorns, 12 cloves, a finely chopped onion and a little ginger.  Boil for ten minutes then bottle securely with the spices….  The Sauce was reputedly meant to be kept for seven years before use. ”

I love it:  not to be used before, rather than only good until…

Will it last this long with us?  Maybe!  RM writes that it’s delicious with liver, which I can imagine, while everyone else around the web talks about game.  We don’t really eat liver or game so often– sometimes rabbit (cheap and local) or pheasant.  Maybe this Pontack Sauce will occasion an Occasion.

A fingertip dipped in the sauce and licked suggests a hint of bitterness that gives complexity to a British style sauce, which usually are sweet and fruity, sometimes a little sour.   This feels different, so I understand why it might be in the category of the old-style ketchups and sauces like Worcestershire and anchovy-based condiments.  Somewhere I read Pontack Sauce is a wonderful base for gravies.  Seven years from now: my little boy might have a moustache, my daughter, moved away, and at some family meal we’ll all sit together and ponder where we were, seven years ago.  Seven years hence, these are my hugest wishes of today:

There will have been a moratorium on all new fossil fuel development, and any use of fossil energy will be galvanised to a renewable energy future.  Government and civil society will be benevolently oriented to a socially-just adaptation to the challenges a changing climate is wreaking, with rich countries taking responsibility for the damage our technological history has brought the rest of the world.  There’s been an incredible techno-fix that sinks Greenhouse gasses somewhere safe  (I’m allowed to want this– this is MY fantasy!).  We’re all about community and happiness and health, and everyone has enough to eat, and water, and clean air, and all species of bees have recovered in number.  My hollyhocks have spread everywhere around the garden.   I’ve gotten on top of those piles of paper.   All the yoga balancing poses are really easy for me.  The Pontack Sauce is more delicious than today I ever would have imagined.

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