Hedgerow chutney for autumn

October 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

A beautiful sunny autumn day today reminds me that on the last such day back in September I gathered a basketful of hedgerow fruits and made the rather good recipe below. Thanks go to Tastethewildblog.co.uk for this.

The recipe is straightforward and the suggestion of using a mixture of cooking and eating apples is inspired – the cookers thicken the chutney whereas the eaters retain their shape and provide a contrasting texture.

The finished jars of chutney look very handsome on my preserves shelf down in the cellar and one or two lucky people might find a jar in their Christmas stocking.

Recipe for Hedgerow Chutney

Adapted from a recipe found on http://tastethewildblog.co.uk/

Makes 4-5 lbs

2lb mixed hedgerow fruits – e.g Hawthorn haws, rose hips, elderberries, blackberries, rowan berries, sloes
1 pint malt vinegar
2 lbs onions chopped
2 lbs apples peeled and chopped (ideally half eating apples and half Bramleys)
4 oz sultanas
4 oz raisins
1lb Muscovado sugar
1 tsp ground cloves
1 generous pinch chilli flakes
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Place the chopped apples and onions in a bowl, cover and leave overnight.

Next, make the fruit vinegar. Remove any large stalks and leaves from the berries, rinse and dry them and put them into a large pan. Cover with the malt vinegar, heat and simmer for 30 minutes until the berries are losing their colour. Strain off the liquid and discard the fruit. You should have about a pint of deep purple fruity vinegar.

The following day put the apple and onion mixture, the fruit vinegar and all the remaining chutney ingredients into a preserving pan and boil together for about 2 hours, stirring frequently. The chutney is ready when it has reduced considerably and when you draw a wooden spoon across the surface of the chutney, a channel remains for a second or two before filling up with liquid.

Put in sterilised jars and cover or seal. The chutney is best left for a month or so to mellow before eating.

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Week in Wales: the forager’s holy trinity completed

September 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’ve already written about blackberries during our summer holiday on the North Wales coast. It’s the more unusual samphire and chanterelles that completed my foraging threesome.

I was a samphire virgin before setting out on my coastal trek, scissors and waterproof sandals at the ready. I’d wondered about gathering samphire for years but had been thwarted as the plant didn’t seem to appear in my trusty field guide, Marjorie Blamey and Richard and Alastair Fitter’s classic “The wild flowers of Britain and Northern Europe”. You’ll find rock samphire and golden samphire pictured in loving detail but nothing that looks like the samphire we can buy from up-market fishmongers and fashionable restaurants.

A copy of the River Cottage handbook “Edible Seashore” found on the bookshelves of our holiday house solved the mystery. Expert forager and now author John Wright clearly explains that Marsh samphire Salicornia europaea is a species distinct from Rock samphire Crithmum maritimum although both grow on the coast and both are edible. Crucially, the alternative common name for the marsh samphire is glasswort, the common name used in my wildflower field guide.

Enchantingly, it seems that the name glasswort was given to the plant by itinerant glassmakers from Venice who arrived in Britain in the sixteenth century. The ashes of Salicornia europaea can be used for making crystal clear soda based glass as opposed to the greenish glass based on easier to obtain potash. Who’d have thought it? And it seems a waste to burn it when it is so hard to gather and equally good to eat.

I’d identified the tidal salt marshes between Portmadoc and Portmeirion as likely samphire territory but had never seen the plant actually growing there. Up for a challenge, the hunt started at mid-tide on a glorious beach during a rare spell of afternoon sunshine:

Golden sand is all very well but estuarine mud and the resulting sheltered salt marsh are where you’ll find samphire growing. So, it was a long trudge to the rocky point at the end of the beach with the only navigable way round into the next bay being a clamber up and over this rocky slot:

On the other side, the territory looked much more promising:

And sure enough, I soon found the prize I was after. The field guides will all tell you to pick samphire that’s been washed by every tide. There’s no way to be more certain of this than by picking a plant with its roots lapped by avelets of incoming seawater:

And after a whole afternoon enjoying the thrill of the chase, this was what we ended up with for supper that evening:

This would have been just right for a dainty starter for two served asparagus-style (steamed, with plenty of melted butter). However, we were 6 for supper that evening so I served the samphire as a vegetable accompaniment intermingled with squeaky French beans. The two are quite similar in texture with the samphire providing an interesting salty flavour burst every few mouthfuls.

And if all this sounds like too much trouble, you can always pop into Waitrose, £1.99 for 90g of the stuff although airfreighting it in from Israel is hardly an authentic taste of the British seaside.

On to the chanterelles. I was delighted to find this little clutch of sunshine yellow mushrooms brightening up a woodland walk in the rain on the penultimate day f our holiday.

They were nestling in a mossy bank beneath an ancient oak tree, absolutely classic territory for chanterelles. I picked up a useful new tip for identifying chanterelles and distinguishing between the real thing and the disappointing false chanterelle which is that they should have a mild yet distinct smell of apricots.

I know of no better treatment for chanterelles than to fry them briskly in butter, season with salt and pepper and serve them with softly scrambled egg. I’m not sure if it’s complementary tastes or some sort of egg yolk yellow colour association but either way it’s a great partnership and made a suitably celebratory breakfast for our final morning:

Blackberrying

August 14, 2011 § 2 Comments

Nothing to do with electronic devices but the easiest and most rewarding of wild foods for the first-time forager.

These beauties came from the grounds of the house on the North Wales coast where we holidayed last week. For us Mancunians, it’s like Cornwall but without the long car journey. Breathtaking mountain backdrops, glorious sandy beaches, quaint stone cottages – all it lacks is reliable sunshine.

The brambles love it there and there is excellent blackberrying to be had at this time of year if you can find a sunny spot against a dry stone wall where the fruit has had chance to ripen. The best blackberries are always just out of reach – but maybe the scratches and attendant cunning required to hook down the high branches are all part of the appeal, the annual repetition of childhood ritual.

What to do with your precious hard-won haul? If you’ve exhausted the repertoire of pies, crumbles and jellies, here’s an idea for an easy-to-make pudding that lets the flavour of the blackberries shine through. It’s a blackberry clafoutis, the simple French baked pudding from the Limousin region usually made with cherries. This version, which I’ve adapted from Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” replaces cherries with blackberries.

The house where we stay when we come to this part of Wales is a rambling manor house remodelled in the last century by Clough Williams-Ellis, architect of nearby Portmeirion. Cooking here is a pleasure as the house is blessed with a cool slate shelved pantry and well-equipped kitchen with cupboards packed with Portmeirion pottery. But you don’t need a well-equipped kitchen to make this pudding -it’s quick and easy and the proportions are forgiving so it’s perfect to make when your’re staying in a holiday house or cottage.

The berries are macerated in delicious Crème de Mûre, French blackberry liqueur, and the resulting juices are added to the batter mixture along with some blanched almonds which enrich the pudding and the subtle almond flavour works well with the blackberries.

The tip in the recipe for pouring a layer of batter into the baking dish and gently letting this cook to provide a base so that the fruit can’t all sink to the bottom really does work:

Adding the macerated blackberry juices to the mixture turns the batter an appealing but shade of pink:

But don’t worry, despite starting off as pink, the baked clafoutis will puff up and become crusty and golden brown just as the recipe promises.

Dust with icing sugar or sprinkle with caster sugar and serve with chilled pouring cream. Dig in and enjoy your the fruits of your blackberrying.

Recipe for clafoutis

Adapted from Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”. I give first of all the basic recipe with cherries, then variants with liqueur, almonds and blackberries. The version I cooked last week combined all 3 ie I substituted blackberries for cherries, macerated the blackberries in liqueur and added almonds to the batter as well.

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients

For the batter

½ pint milk
2oz granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
2 and ½ oz sifted flour

For the fruit

¾ lb stoned black cherries
2 oz granulated sugar

Place the ingredients for the batter in the jar of a liquidiser or food processor in the order listed. Cover and blend at top speed for 1 minute. If you don’t have a liquidiser, break the eggs into a well in the flour and sugar and gradually incorporate them into the batter with a whisk, adding milk as you go.

Pour a ¼ inch layer of batter into a 3 to 4 pint capacity shallow ovenproof baking dish. Place over a moderate heat or hot oven until the batter has set. Remove from the heat. Spread the cherries over the batter and sprinkle on the sugar.

Pour over the rest of the batter and smooth the surface with the back of a spoon.
Place in the middle of an oven preheated to 160 degrees C fan; 350 degrees F and bake for about an hour. The clafoutis is ready when it is puffed and brown and when a knife plunged into the centre comes out clean.

Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve hot or warm.

Variant 1 – cherries marinated in kirsch

Additional ingredients

1/8 pint kirsch
2 oz granulated sugar

Let the cherries stand in the kirsch and sugar for one hour. Substitute the liquid that results for some of the milk and all of the sugar in the master recipe.

Variant 2 – with almonds – “À la Bourdaloue”

Additional ingredients

3 oz blanched almonds

Add the almonds to the liquidizer and puree along with the other ingredients. If you don’t have access to a liquidiser, add ground almonds to the flour instead and proceed with the well mixing method as described in the master recipe above.

Variant 3 – Blackberry

Substitute 12oz stemmed and washed blackberries for the cherries.

Increase the flour from 2 and 1/2 oz to 3 and 1/2 oz as the berries are juicier than the cherries.

Just as a footnote, if you fancy having a go at the classic Limousin version of clafoutis with cherries then I can recommend the Oxo Good Grips cherry-stoning device which I picked up on Amazon.co.uk for £7.99. This gadget really is the business and the boys couldn’t get there hands on it once they realised they could fire cherry stones at one another…

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