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Yummy Stuff

jam jar & label

Posh Jam

My chance to play Earth Mother &  planet saver, resurrecting traditional recipes & adding the odd innovation.   Hoping to get some of my own pictures up here before too long.

3 July 2011:  My first unwaged weekend, I went strawberry picking, first thing in the morning.  Big change here since I’d last had time for such an outing.  All under cover & all above waist height.  No bending at all.  Treated myself to a Maslin Pan.  So two batches;

12 July:  picked a bag of blackberries without really trying.  Not really enough to get the jam pan out, so made Blackberry Vinegar.  Boiled  up some white wine vinegar & cider vinegar to reduce it a bit.  Incuded some star anise & gave it time to cool a bit before pouring it over the blackberries.  I’ll leave this loosely covered for a couple of weeks, then strain it off  & discard the berries.  This is developing such a gorgeous colour & the aroma gently scents the kitchen.  This has got to be full of vitamin C.  The book says its good as a salad dressing, or diluted into a drink.  I fancy it with some lemonade.  Or maybe some hot apple juice as the evenings draw in.  I found a really good book on preserving in the library, by Oded Schwartz.  Knows his stuff & includes a shelf life with all his recipes.  Very useful, so I found a copy on Amazon. 17 July:Three-Fruit Marmalade is delicious too – seville oranges, pink grapefruit, lemons, honey replacing some sugar & a little star anise.  Star anise is rapidly becoming a favourite spice – a little warming, without overwhelming.  The burst of flavour compared to some big brands is a major hit.  Chopping the zest by hand is very fiddly, but the end result is well worth it. Then the Rhubarb,  Ginger & Honey Jam.  So warming, this would be perfect on crumpets in front of the fire, on one of these winter evenings when it gets dark so early,  you want to close the curtains soon after lunch.  Not sure it will last that long though.  This was so good, I was practically talking the rhubabrb into regrowing, so I could make a second batch.  Do you put manure on your rhubarb?  We put custard on ours. 7 August: Mary & I picked loads of blackberries at the allotment – couldn’t bear them going to waste & still plenty left for the birds.  Mum says she knew the blackberries were ready by the stains the birds leave.  She feeds them at least once a day & for her pains, leaves the washing out for the sortest possible time at this point in the year.   WE addd some rather small apples to the bounty & were given some yellow plums.  So this evening is

And so to bed , the perfumes waft gently upstairs.  Delicious.

12 August – Foraging Friday – An amazingly successful day – in so many ways.  Set off from home with plenty of bags and filled one with easy blackberries – easy to reach and no stingers – before I was off the estate.  Down past Ensor’s’ Pool which is an SSI.  Picking blackberries and logging signs that elderberries, rosehips and sloes will all be ready in the next few weeks.  

 Looks like the best sloes are going to be well above head height.  I guess it’s down to the flails they use on hedgerows now.  Must be that the sloes develop on second-year growth. 

Watched a young grey squirrel as it aught sight of me – skipping further and higher as I walked on.  Not sure this chap will last long – his route drew my eye to the drey in the top branches.  He can’t afford the same tactic with predators. 

I have a secret to keep

After skirting the pool and following the footpath along a field of maize, I come out on the estate track and more rich pickings, but soon get distracted again by the sound of young buzzards mewling.  I walk on as noiselessly as I can, quartering the sky looking for them, without success.  Only to realise it’s coming from the copse I’m about to pass.  Can’t resist standing still to try to pinpoint the noise and that’s when their calling amplifies and I catch a glimpse of huge wings as a parent bird flies in with a meal.  That shut them up. 

What a privilege.  I knew there were buzzards on the Arbury Estate, as they often circle over the allotments picking up thermals.  The estate breed pheasants  and have shooting parties, and I guess they’ll be none too pleased to host a buzzard family, so that’s as close to a location as you’re going to get from me. 

Pre-Malty Smell

This next field is wheat and they’ve started combining.  Not sure whether it’s lunch that’s caused the break, or the drizzle I’m trying to ignore, but  a few minutes after I spot them, two tractors and the huge combine start up and move my way.  Not a problem, they’ve already done the outside strip near me, and the footpath keeps me out of the crop, so with each driver waving as he passes, I’m confident I’m welcome here, although the size of the John Deere combine looms for a few moments. 

Another stop to breathe in: there’s still spilt grain on the ground and the air is rich with the pre-malty smell of newly harvested wheat.  The colour contrasts jump out like something from a Monet – greyish weathered wheat ears still standing short but stiff, and fluffy lines of golden straw undulating round the field.     

Juicy Bonus

damsons on tree


The squirrels have beaten me to the hazel nuts, even though we wouldn’t consider them ripe, but the next stretch brings an unexpected juicy bonus – damsons.  This is a tree with an identity crisis – not big and juicy enough to be plums, not small and tart enough to be sloes.  Still, very welcome, and I’m only just in time – there’s a halo of ripe, fallen fruit around the base of the tree.  The Lake District has a Damson Day every year, to celebrate the blossom. 

 My luck holds – I move on to a second tree, and another, and another.  All the time, fruit on the ground and plenty out of reach, so the wildlife’s still looked-after. 

Along by the stream and into the horse paddock – cautiously.  Several times in the past, a horse has been a worry here – taking an interest and one time, having a bite of my jacket and rearing up.  And I thought it wanted to be friendly.  There’s a clear footpath between two kissing gates and as I go through the first, an irresistible cluster of blackberries beckons.  Round, full, symmetrical beads of jet, not too ripe, with just a hint of candy-floss sweetness.  Three horses are at the far end of the paddock, and even better, they’re behind an electric fence, so the blackberries are mine. 

Except that the electric fence is incomplete and the horses just trot around it, clearly interested in their visitor.  So I walk briskly towards the kissing gate before they can cut me off.  The largest horse speeds up and so do I, waving my walking pole and trying to raise my voice without becoming high-pitched.  It gives me a few seconds grace – he stands off long enough for me to fumble the gate open behind my back.  As I make sure the latch catches behind me, his nostrils are over the gate.  Fortunately he doesn’t try any athletics. 

The Bounty

2 kilos of juice-dripping blackberries and 3 kilos of damsons.  Must try another route soon, because I’d hoped for some crab apples to make jellies with.  Thing is, I think there’s a housing estate where we used to find them. 

 I start a batch of blackberry and apple jam in the slow cooker.  I’m hoping I can adapt several recipes to the slow-cooker, so I don’t need to stand over the pan stirring.  When it’s ready to set, I plan to add a little of last year’s sloe gin to perk it up.  Meanwhile, the chopped apple forms bright red fluffy clouds as it cooks in the jewel-coloured blackberry juice.  This batch also has some sugar replaced by creamy light honey made from oil seed rape honey. 

 Still deciding what to make with the damsons.  They do make a lovely Christmas drink, steeped in sweetened gin, but there’s enough sloes coming on to make sloe gin for the family instead.  Damson jam’s a front-runner, although a nice sauce would be good if the bottles arrive in time.  Or even a chutney, rich and dark for the Boxing Day turkey.  Still pondering, with the blackberry-scented air drifting upstairs to the study. 

Sunday 14 Aug 2011:  Damson Honey Jam simmering in the Maslin pan, claret-rich.  Doesn’t need anything to enhance the flavour – I want to preserve enough of the tartness to be tangy & leave it just a little soft, to spread itself imperceptibly onto soft, crusty white bread with salted butter. 

Kev & Jude on the allotment invited me to pick the rest of their lad’s redcurrants – they had all they needed.  there’s something about redcurrantts on the bush that makes it almost a shame to pick them – drooping miniature clusters of rubies, growing & glowing in the sunlight.  A pleasure to pick – no thorns or nettles guard these berries & the luxury of sitting down to pick some.  I briefly support each spray in my palm.  So ripe that  the juice tricles between my fingers & tries to make rivulets on my forearm, before I give in to temptation & lick the trails back to my wrist. 

In the evening, I use a fork to pull the berries off their sprays & bounce them stickily into casseroles.  These go in the oven to encourage the juice to flow, then into the jelly bag overnight.  Tomorrow, I will warm the juice with  sugar to make piquant redcurrant jelly – perfect in small jars for steaming pink lamb, or even Christmas turkey – hot or cold, a memory of a glowing summer Sunday, bottled for the darker days. 

Monday 15 August:  delivery from JamJarShop arrived just tin time.  Hexagonal 8oz jars just right for Redcurrant Jelly.  I retrieve the juice from the fridge & pour it into the Maslin pan –  gushing like nourishment for a parched vampire.   The finished jelly lets a little light through as a claret radiance.  Scraping the pan out afterwards, I’m not sure I want to wait for a roast to accompany the jelly.  Although it  – deliberately – has a sharpness to it, I would enjoy the contrast of this on a scone.  The colour on a plain scone, with butter or cream shining through the ruby would look good too.

29 August:  bronze, bronze wine … started off redcurrant wine the colour of rubies & still had juice to spare, so combined it with some golden plums.  The Italians make a fine brunello – I’m hoping this will compare.

The airing cupboard is now hoarding apple wine from last year – still to clear; last year’s Victoria plum wine – went too dry, so had yeast nutrient & sugar added for a second ferment; this year’s golden plum wine, redcurrant wine, & now the redcurrant & golden plum brunello.

The redcurrant wine went a bit mad first thing, so as I was going out, I put it in the bath in case it overflowed – keep the cleaning up easy.  If you’ve made wine before you’ll know about the airlock in the top of the demijohn.  Allows the carbon dioxide produced by the yeast to escape, without allowing airborne bacteria & fungus in to spoil the brew.  The carbon dioxide has to bubble up through water in the airlock – something that has intrigued all my cats in their time.  Came home & thought that there was someone  making a noise upstairs.  Well, after making plenty of noise myself & “remembering out loud” that I had to fetch something from my car – I’m old enough to think thta discretion is the better part of valour – I braved the stairs.

Only to find that the over-enthusiastic gurgling of the airlock was being amplified by the bath & anyway, the cat was sitting guard.    So I still haven’t found a use for the steak hammer.

21 October 2011 – Dates are not the only fruit:  going to the national honey show for the first time next week & entering some classes too.  I gather its fairly big.  AS well as the competition classes, there are workshops & lectures & also a sales hall, where I can buy all manner of esoteric & useful equipment & treatments .  I’m entering three classes & only just realising how much work I’ve made for myself.  I won’t be entering straight honey, as my bees bring back lots of oilseed rape nectar & getting that really clear & runny can damage some of the more volatile elements of the honey.  I’d rather keep all the beneficial components, even if it is not amber-clear.  So instead of a single jar or two of honey, I’m going for a display of 6-10 products containing honey and/or beeswax.  So far I have set aside Three-fruit marmalade, Rhubarb & ginger jam with honey,  Rosehip Syrup with Honey, Lavender honey salt scrub,   honey lipbalm, beeswax & carnauba polish.  I’m hoping the honey mustard has matured enough by then too.

The up-side is that I’ve been motivated to develop new products for the business, but it hasn’t stopped there.  I’m hoping to make time to make up a batch of my deep moisturising hand cream with beeswax.  Managed to find a source of pollen to add, as this is something I’m still reluctant to harvest from my bees.  In the summer, they need loads – its their source of protein – especially important for building healthy bees.

But what’s this about dates, you must be asking by now?  Well, I entered two other classes too.  One is to bake a date & honey loaf according to the recipe provided.  The first trial baked too fast in my fan oven.  A bit dark & not very well risen.  But I soldiered on & ate it over a few days.

So, invested in new baking powder, in case the trusty pot is a bit stale & not making enough fluffy bubbles in the mixture.  Also, instead of the energetic elbow grease, I beat the egg in the blender for extra fluffiness.  Baked the second at a lower temperature too & the colour came out OK, but still not very well risen.  But I masterfully got it down – with lashings of butter & posts of tea.

Can’t add extra baking powder, that would be diverting from the recipe, so, for version 3, it’s another visit to town for a smaller loaf tin – the mixture will come up further if it’s got less room to do it in.  This one looked really promising.  Popped it into the oven, then up to the study.  I should have almost an hour  on the PC whilst it bakes.  But no, long before it should be ready, a smell of burning wafts up the stairs.  Galvanised into action, I’ve galloped down, thrust hands into oven gloves & opened the oven door.  To be met first by the glasses steaming up – the usual oven door trick – then a greyer waft of cremated cake.  The new loaf tin was that much smaller, it partly fitted between the rungs of the oven shelf & as soon as my back was turned, it had leaned over a little.  As the mixture rose beautifully, some of it had tipped out  & had cooked itself in the drip tray on the oven bottom.  what was left in the tin had also cooked early & lopsided.  So I’m currenly wading through version 3 (part) with afternoon tea, supper, breakfast.

At least I know the smaller loaf tin is on the right track, so yesterday afternoon  I started off version 4 with another wise wrinkle, I thought: the baking powder needs dissolving in the water that the dates have soaked in.  The water went onto the dates boiling hot & needed cooling.  What if I haven’t been cooling it enough & too many bubbles from the baking powder are being ‘used up’ before they have a chance to expand & fluff up in the oven?  I’ll leave it to get really cool.  Only to come back & find that its nearly all absorbed into the dates & not enough left to dissolve the baking powder in.  So, perhaps my 15 ml measure is not a big enough ‘tablespoon’.  I sneak a little extra water in, to compensate.  Number 4 has risen well after its hour, but when I fetch it out of the oven, is still too moist in the middle.  & I’m due out.  So back into the oven, which I switch off.  Get back to find that even now, this one is a bit on the moist side.  And they’re backing up.

I still have some of v3 (part) left & there’s now all of v4.  Do I want to try a v5 before going for the final on Tuesday?  Not unless I can get enough people round for a tea party or two.  I also have coconut honey biscuits & wheatmeal honey biscuits to go with them – that’s the third competition I’ve entered.  Six biscuits or cookies to my recipe.  Here’s how that’s going:

Beehive Cookie recipe from Honey cookbook:  this is the one with the coconut & chopped dates (again) & walnuts in .   A whole 16 oz of yummy coconut.  It promises 30 biscuits, so Ishould be able to find 6 good looking ones.  I  follow the recipe religiously, but it’s too dry a mix.  The only moisture in the recipe is egg with a little vanilla essence, so I add another egg & a llitle more vanilla.  Still too dry – is should be dropping off the spoon onto the baking tray, but this isn’t even sticking together.  So another egg.  This is getting out of hand, so I decide to scoop up mini lumps & mould them together on the tray.  At least there’s an excuse for some finger-licking.    Still, coconut, walnut, & date fall out of their heaps so you can’t see where one ‘biscuit’ ends & another starts.  Well, in the interests of hygiene, I scrape it off the fingers with a spoon, but at that time, coconut, walnut & date were all favourites of mine.

Into the oven & sure enough, inside the prescribed 10-12 mins, the coconut is browning, but I catch them before they burn.  They still look fairly delicate, so I leave them to cool down.  Not that it made a lot of difference.  The bottoms held fast to the bottom of the pan & the gentlest attempt to loosen had the littleheaps falling appart.  I’m ashamed to say, I took some of these visiting.  They did (& still do,  if you want some because I’ve had enough beehive cookie breakfasts) taste really yummy, but all fall apart, so it’s not a civilised treat to eat & risks making a mess with every mouthfull.

I’ve decided that the recipe has been translated from one measuring system to another & a big error has crept in, but I still need 6 biscuits or cookies for this competeition class & rather than numerous experiments, decide to go for another recipe.  On the internet.  After being offered any number of ready-baked products, I find Honey wholemeal cookies, so into town for wholemeal flour.

Oh, and this recipe has vanilla sugar in it, so its back online to find a QUICK recipe for vanilla sugar.  The traditional one using real vanilla pods needs a couple of weeks, but I can do this.  I’ve got until Wednesday.  The morning  I drive to  Weybridge with my entries.  So no pressure then.  and this one works.

They shape up OK on the baking tray (40 of them this time) cook in the right amont of time, and taste – OK.  Just OK.  Not special.  Some of these I inflict on the Doodle craft group, for a second, third, fourth etc opinion:  add cinnamon, no not cinnamon, mixed spice, or ginger.  Or, as the recipe suggests, replace some of the wholemeal flour with porridge oats.  Which shall I try first?  They may take less than 15 mins to bake, but after mixing, need an hour in the fridge to rest before shaping.    and I don’t have that big an oven, or that many baking trays to set up a production line.  Anyone want some honey something biscuits?  Right now, steak or sausage seem very attractive .   Ted & Peggy next door often share their spare produce with me, so when I saw their gift hanging over the fence – a couple of home-grown cucumbers, quick as a fox, replaced them with a bag of honey cookies

update Friday 21/10 evening:  honey oat cookies still just OK.  Find a recipe for honey drizzle icing – drizzling doesn’t have to be accurate, but still turning out blobby.  Still have lots of icing left, so try adding a little yellow colouring & drizzle in the opposite direction.  Still blobby.  TRy drizzling petal patterns.  Still blobby, still OK.    I have a cunning plan:  take these to Napton Craft Fair to hand out sa freebies.  Much apreciated.

Saturday’s cookies:  start the mixture off first thing, then leave it in fridge rather longer than the instructions.  This one has a little mixed spice & a pinch of ginger.  Plus some sunflower seeds & oats.  Before baking, decorate the tops of some with sunflower seeds & some with oats.  Still just OK.  Took some to Mike & Judy, but still running out of storage boxes.  Maybe I should slip into an Easter bunny suit & go round in the early hours leaving them on doorsteps.  Running out of time & plain flour, but still got ideas.

Mon 26/10/11:  Chocolate-covered candied peel – making this for Sarah & Dan & this is a real success.  trimmed orange peel simmered  & stirred for hours in a syrup, then drained & half-coated in dark chocolate.  the contrast of the smooth chocolate & the tangy crunch of the peel.  A real taste explosion.

Wed 28/11 – Preparing for National honey Show:  date loaf in the oven by 7.00 am, biscuit mix resting by 7.30.  these are 5th batches, so building up speed here.

tuesday 8 November – Kitchen smells like Christmas again.

Five Christmas cakes

Christmas puddings

Last week I made 4 Christmas puddings & 5 Christmas cakes.  Not for stock, these, just family & friends.  On the Friday I gave the cakes their first feed & Doodle craft group could still catch the brandy scent that evening.  Hope there’ll be time for another couple of feeds before the almond paste goes on.

In the meantime, I have been making ready for the Christmas Craft Fair on Friday.  Rich mincemeat.  Starting with a Delia Smith recipe, but leaving out her signature cranberries & adding dried apricots, chopped prunes, & glace cherries.  After  the almonds, I got the first sweet fruity buzz chopping the candied peel.

Rich Mincemeat

Just out of the oven

Used whole peel from Julian Graves & chopped it myself.  makes a more flavourful & softer taste than the ready-chopped.  Also has more types of peel in there.  Plus, I like that the chunks won’t all be exactly the same size.  Same goes for other home-cho[pped ingredients – apricots, prunes, apple, carrot.  Yes, carrot.  traditional in my puddings too.  So each mouthful comes out of the jar slightly differently.

Next into the bowl:  lemon zest, what a zing – oily & sharp, then the more fruity orange zest.  I have a  hand-held zester with a small reservoir & when I open it up, the zests sit inside in layers.  tiny frizzles of colour & flavour.  Next, I use the wooden lemon reamer to add the juice to the bowl – this makes enough acidy liquid to add grated apple to.  But not before I grind the cloves, so the apple pieces get a little coating of the clove.  Only right & proper, I couldn’t make an apple pie without adding cloves.  All sorts of memories now: sweet apple-y clove mix reminds me of fragrant clove sweets  – and also the traditional dentist moutwash. I chopped the apricots & prunes at the same time, so the sharpness of the apricots blended with the syrupy prune. adding to the big bowl with juicy Julian Graves raisins, sultanas, currants, then chopped in the glace cherries.

Realise I’m leaving out a whole dimension here.  although happy to use the Moulinex, I’m still getting close up to the ingredients: juicing the fruits so it trickles through my fingers &    finds the invisible cuts; the cloying sweetness on the cherries sticking them to the knife.   grated in some fresh ginger – more juice than you would imagine & i try not to waste a bit.

not finished yet though:  I mix some darkest toffee-like molasses sugar with a slightly paler brown sugar in  a separate bowl, pressing the lumps against the edge of the bowl to break them up.  Now the spices & another slight adjustment of the original recipe:  kept the original cinnamon & grated a goodly chunk of whole ricepuddingy nutmeg; reduce mixed spice & added some allspice & ground cloves.  Stop to breathe before adding the suet – vegetable, so should be suitable for vegetarians.

this is now covered in a clean ironed teatowel & will sit in the kitchen glistening & aromatising all night.  Then in the morning, into an ovenproof bowl & three hours in the oven, so that the suet coats the fresh ingredients.  when it’s cool enough, I’ll add the brandy & pot up, adding a little more brandy before sealing.  then a difficult bit – leave it alone for at least 2 weeks to mature.  Hoping to make sugar mice tomorrow.

9 November  – anyone want to buy 3 deaf mice?  They don’t come out of their moulds very well & most seem to leave their ears behind.  so I have 7 complete mice & 21 deaf or otherwise diverse mice.

14 Monday November: Aroma Cacophony – set up another batch of Rich Mincemeat, as it was so popular at the Craft Fair on 12 November – thanks to everyone who came by.


tray of medlars bletting on the windowsill

Next, the first batch of medlars are bletted.  Mmm.  Medlars.  Related to roses, grow on a huge tree.  Look like a cross between a small coxes oranage pipin & a huge rosehip.  Needed my apple picking pole AND the ladder to get them, but it was a beasutiful sky-blue day, so real glad of the excuse to be outdoors.  Probably came over with the Romans.  Tend not to ripen naturally here, so they come off the tree in November & get sat around to blet.  Basically, go rotten.  Only instead of going rotten, they develop a fragrant flowery scent.  And I have 7 trays of them sitting around the house.

I’ve a few traditional recipes for this rarity.  Most go back to times when it was very common to have sweet & savoury things together.  I’m starting off with Medlar Jelly, which is reccommended with cheese.  I fancy a lovely tangy Wensleydale with mine.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  So, kitchen still harbouring & developing the mincemeat flavours & I’ve started on the medlars.  Halving them & throwing them in the Maslin pan with apples, lemons , limes & some water.  Then as they boil for an hour or so, I need to watch that they don’t catch on the bottom of the pan.  Fragrant & flowery & delicate, plus the exotic & somehow musky hints of the limes.   I get a slightly ruddy mud after a while & this all goes into the jelly bag to drip overnight.

In between, I rack off last year’s apple wine.  Tastes quite strong, but won’t clear, so I’m taking it off its lees into a clean demijohn.  Something I picked up at the National Honey Show – apple mead can be a devil to clear, so those in the know put pectolase in when they start it off.  I’ve tried some in the last-year batch & it seems to be too late to do any good, but I’ll certainly try it in the next batch.

The Maslin pan’s empty, so I decide to set off a batch of apple wine.  Still a couple of bags of apples left & I’m really pleased how well they are keeping.  The apples are going to be boiled to kill off any wild yeasts, and then strained – when the jelly stand is free – so they only need chopping up roughly & go in the pan with peel, cores, the lot.  Apples bubbling away without sugar – a tart & fruity flavour.  Anyone passing will have a clue – the extractor whirrs it out when I go to the bin.

And to round off the day in the kitchen, I feed the Christmas cakes with brandy again & treat myslf to the drop left in the littl jug.  Remember to put brandy on the shopping list.  oh, and foil, and greaseproof.

Tuesday 15 November: & still full of flavour.   Up early –  the mincemeat goes in the oven for three hours.  Then, pour the medlar juice back into the Maslin pan with sugar,set it  to boil to setting point.  Empty the medlar pulp on the compost & put up a new jelly bag for the apple wine pulp to drain through.  In between stirring the medlar jelly & sterilising the jars, The apple wine juice goes into a demijohn with yeast & nutrient & the pectolase.  Then into the window to add its yeasty scents to the kitchen.

Before I jar up the mincemeat, I add a few tablespoons of brandy to the mixture & give it a good stir, releasing the spiciness some more.  Then half a teaspoonful of brandy into the top of each jar – as a preservative you understand.

Time to jar up the Medlar Jelly & this can go into small 4oz jars, as you’ll only want a little at a time.  Most delicate & exotic.  I hope Southam apreciates it – that’s Friday evening.

Oh, and the oven’s still warm, so I bung in a turkey leg sitting on a bed of rosemary.  Herby & savoury.

WEdnesday16 November: Spicy Apple Butter – The first batch has been very popular, so time for another.  SArah first recommended this, having tried in in America, where they base fwhole estivals on it.  Only the best bits of the apples, boiled to  pulp, then pureed.  While it’s bubbling away, I ground the cloves – with the marble pestle & mortar this time.  These are still fairly new – there’s enogh oil in them to almost turn it to a paste.  Something we seem to have mostly got out of the habit of using, cloves.  Not sure why, antiseptic, anti-fungal, anti-inflamatory.  Good for toothache & stomach.   What’s to not like?

Anyway,  the puree is mixed with cinnamon, allspice, clove, & brown & white sugar.  The it goes into the oven for the best part of an hour to bake, before being potted up.  I can see this drooling off a thick doorstep of buttered toast.  Or into yoghurt, porridge, rice pudding.

30 November – Limoncello & whisky liquers – Limoncello is one of Sarah’s favourites, and I found a recipe at the Jamjarshop web site, so this just got started off – rind of lemons to marinade in vodka for a fortnight with much inspection & shaking.  The colour is almost fluorescent & somehow matches the scent of the pungent zest & almost surgical vodka.

We went to the Good Food Show & tried a cinnamon whisky liqueur, so  decided to experiment with spices for this.  Added cinnamon sticks & star anise to blended whisky – sorry, not risking the Bushmills on this yet.   this will also get the shaking up with the Limoncello  – and sloe gin.

set up a Friendship cake starter– something I’ve wanted to do for a while now.  Based on a traditional  Amish sourdough, to keep yeast alive in the community without fridges etc.  so this yeasty floury milky batter needs stirring several times a day, feeding every 5 days, & sharing out every 10 days.  If you’re not sure if you’re cut out to keep a pet, start small with a friendsip cake.

Then you give away 4 portions as batter to grateful friends & make the fifth portion into a  rather tasty cake with apple, dried fruit, nuts etc.  Stand back & watch how far up the faces the gratefulness goes!  there’s more than one novel been written about the life of a friendship cake through a community.

Friendship Cake

Based on an Amish tradition to keep yeast alive in the community.

Day 1: when you get the starter, put it into a big bowl and cover with a clean tea towel.  Leave unrefrigerated.

Days 2 and 3:  Stir 2 or three times a day.

Day 4: feed the starter with 200 ml milk, 200 g self-raising flour, 250 g sugar and stir well.

Days 5-8:  stir two or three times a day.

Day 9:  feed as day 4.  Divide into 5 equal amounts.  Give 4 parts away.   With recipe.  Keep one part for yourself.

Day 10:  add these ingredients to your portion:

150 g SR flour

2 tspn cinnamon

100 g raisins or chopped nuts

200 ml sunflower oil

3 eggs

½ tsp. baking powder

2 grated apples

Mix well then put in a greased loaf tin and bake at 1700 for around 40 mins.

When you get a starter back, you might want to experiment with other additions, like lemon zest, grated carrot, ginger …

Christmas 2010 cake decorated with Mary

Christmas 2010 cake decorated with Mary


Five Christmas Cakes Dec 2011

December 2011 – The Christmas cakes:the first one leaves home on 18 December & they’ve each had three brandy feeds, so each time they come out its tipsy kitchen time.  Gorgeous.  Made up almond paste  on December 2nd to give it a week to dry a little.  Used my own redcurrant jelly to persuade it to stick to the cake.  A week later, on goes the icing.  This time, its vodka to help the icing stick to the  almond paste.  I make moulding icing with some glucose & it never goes completely hard, which we like.  Its also good to mould into any shape imperfections in the cake & almond icing.  In the past, we’ve gone to town with decorating cakes to tell a story & involving any kids we could.  This always meant that we stuck to the kitchen floor after. This year with five cakes & no helpers, I’ve kept it a bit simpler.

Christmas 2006

Christmas Cake 2006 with help from Marie & the girls

Tried using some of the icing to make sugar mice with the moulds from Hilda, but they go a bit fragile as they harden & don’t come out of the moulds very well.  Anyone for three deaf mice?

December 14 – Limoncello, stage 2:  time to remove the lemon rind from the vodka.  Then, make up a sugar syrup & add it with lemon juice to the fragrant vodka.  definitely a sinus-clearing winner – sippers, not gulpers.  Went down very well – more later.  The whisky liqueur is good – I like it & it slides down a treat, but the star anise has come through stronger than the cinnamon, so I’m starting off another batch without the star anise.

December 15 – Honey Hearts (Honning hjerter):  The Observer Food Monthly had a Nordic Baking article that has gone into my Christmas recipes bag in the loft – after I tried the Honey Hearts.  Any excuse to get the Christmas Cookie cutters out.  I’m looking forward to getting even more into this in future years.  Many years ago, I used to make marzipan petit fours, peppermint creams, turkish delight – all manner of treats for Christmas.  I think I’d like to provide a “Christmas Present” like the scene in Dickens’ Christmas Carol.

December 18 – Candied Peel & More: I wrote about making the first batch of candied peel in October & it went down very well, so I’m branching out for Christmas.  The first batch of orange peel caught on the bottom of the saucepan, so scrub out & start again.  Anyone have a recipe for peeled oranges?  Each batch took the peel only from 4 oranges.  Next year I think I’ll try whole fruit  slices.

Tried a litle lemon peel but that really is quite sharp and a little goes a long way,  but nothing lost – this was the peel from the lemons needed to juice up the limoncello.

Moving on to fresh ginger.  With ginger a digestive & warmer, you might be able to persuade yourself that this is good for you.    Started the syrup off & chopped up the peeled ginger.  Decided that the chunks of ginger need to be fairly small as its pretty potent & I want the syrup to penetrate.  They seem to be ending up around half a centimetre on two edges & nearer a centimetre in the third dimension.  Bubbling them up in the syrup was different to the orange & lemon peel – far too soon, the sugar started to crystalise out, but this time I’m being extra vigilant & not trying to wrap presents at the same time.

So as well as cristallised ginger chunks, I also have ginger sugar.  Not sure whether to keep as a treat, or to reserve for cooking, sprinkling on porridege, apple crumble …

The candied peel & ginger got to rest on greaseproof overnight to firm up & dry off a little, then half-dipped into rich dark melted chocolate.  and left again to set –  real temptation – before going into Christmassy cellophane bags.  The sooner they’re sealed, the longer they’ll last.  After trying the ginger though, I think another time, I’ll leave it a little chunkier.

7  January – Post Christmas Liqueurs update:  we found that as well as making a good after-dinner sipper,  limoncello works well in fresh fruit salad , and in lemonade.  Then imagine that lemonade used with advocat to make a creamy Snowball.   The whisky liqueur also works well on its own – warming  in the long evenings with the curtains drawn – but it was also in demand as a comforter for cold-sufferers.  Used as a base for a hot toddy, with a little hot water & honey added.  This includes a centuries-old combination of honey & cinnamon  – recommended for sore throats, upset stomachs – well almost anything before we started relying heavily on antibiotics & manufactured drugs.

I may have put a little more sugar in the sloe gin this year, because it slips down so smoothly, you don’t notice how fast it’s going.  One of our Christmas traditions (going back at least 4 years) is to have hot spicy berry cordial  – our favourite here – when we get back from an invigorating (shattering?) yomp in the hills.  Sloe Gin provides just the right berry hit with the added warmth.  Especially if you have time for a reviving catnap.

6 February 2012:  Made a couple of batches of marmalade & planning to send some to the World Marmalade Awards later this month at Dalemain Mansion near Penrith.  So far, I have lemon & ginger marmalade with home made limoncello, & three-fruit marmalade with honey & home-made whiskey liqueur.  Very tangy.  Still to do interesting labels. & get them wrapped safely though.

14 February:

3 varieties of marmalade

World Marmalade entries waiting to be packaged

 latest batch of marmalade is lemon-n-lime with limoncello.  Probably the simplest so far, and my preferred recipe.  I can still recall the musky fragrance from the limes.  This time, I used scissors to cut the peel, but it still took an age.

Judy saved me polystyrene  for packaging – the thought of opening a damaged & sticky parcel kept me working on this until after midnight and now they’re on their way.  Used a stanley knife to chop the polystyrene to fit & the tiny nodules went everywhere.  The lounge & I both ended up coated, as the beads weighing hardly anything first wafted with every air movement, then picked up electrostatic charge & became more stubborn.  So eventually, they ended up in almost every room.  I left that job until the morning & my trusty Dyson.  Best vacuum I’ve ever had & I don’t usually get passionate about domestic tools or chores.

3 April 2012 – my cheesemaking career begins:  I’m starting off my starter culture.  I have a small sachet of powder – the starter culture & a litre of milk to make the mother culture.  The milk was taken up to 90 degrees C & is now in a bath of cold water.  This is to bring it down to 20 C as fast as possible – without Tinker taking an interest.  Then it goes in the thermos flask for 24 hours to breed.  That flask never did get a lot of use at work – never seemed the right time, but now …  All this flicking of the wrist to move the “mercury” back down the thermometer – I’ve still got the knack & I remember the original instructions:  stand away from the furniture, you don’t want to take the head off the thermometer.  Not so important now it’s not real mercury in them, but still a useful check.

Much back & forth to stir the milk, change the water, retest the temperature, and then I nearly missed it, diverted to recipe-hunting.  After 24 hours, I should have bred my mother culture.  100ml of mother culture goes in the first batch of cheese & 9 similar portions go into the freezer for further cheesemaking.  Then comes the ultimate recycling: when there’s only one batch of mother culture left, it goes back in the flask with another litre of milk, to make a new mother culture.

So this time tomorrow, I could be starting off my first batch of cheese.  Endless possibilities.  Thinking Feta – if I can find “cheese salt”.  Plenty of conflicting recipes – some use a culture & some not.  Others suggest if you can’t get goats’ milk, add lipase.  Then if you do use goats’ milk, add calcium chloride.   Or maybe mozzarella – I wonder if Twycross has any waterbuffalos?

Wednesday 4 April – the compromise:  Its been snowing earlier, & there’s still a wet blustery wind blowing – just right for indoor games, so I nipped out to Sainsbury for some milk.  4.5l milk – yup, a gallon in old money, to reap about a pound of cheese.  Struck lucky, because they had some whole milk reduced –  just coming to the end of it’s sell-by date, perfect for cheesemaking.  Just not a gallon of it.  Then I spotted the full-price goatsmilk.  Well, I find some goatsmilk cheese a bit goaty, but goat is right for this Feta.  So, I compromised: 2l goatsmilk, 2.2l whole cowsmilk.  Thought I might need to top this up but, the pan I plan to use would be a tight fit for a full gallon, so this worked just right.

I started the milk warming before checking the mother culture started yesterday & all was well:  when I opened the flask, there it sits looking and smelling like tart yoghurt – perfect.  So back to the pan, warming to 86F with a thermometer measuring centigrade. By the time I found that I needed 30C, the milk was already above that.  OK, am learning & annotating the books as I go.  Fortunately, I got a phone call, so I wasn’t standing over a pot watching for it to drop in temp.

In went 100 ml of mother culture & I’m free for an hour whilst that starts to work.  Now, while I’m waiting for my 100 ml pots to arrive, what do I put the 900 ml of mother culture into?  And will it be OK in the fridge for a day or two?  anyone any ideas?

Next stage: in goes the rennet, stir,  & then more waiting.  Then out with the pallette knife – last used to decorate Christmas cakes – to cut the curd.  then more waiting before 20 whole minutes stirring.  At last, the curds  are sweet & soft  & edible.  They get ladled into a collander lined with  – yes – cheesecloth, & hung for several more hours to drain.  Now, its nearly midnight & I have pints of whey which are reccomended for all sorts of health benefits – any takers?

Thursday morning: I have a bag-shaped curd, starting to lose a little of the original sweetness &  develop the cheese sharpness.  Magical to watch the inch-thick slices fold away from the knife on their way to becoming one-inch cubes.  At least, the bits that weren’t bag-shaped are  cubes.  they have a slightly clumpy look of a wensleydale, but nothing like as hard.  And, of course, milk-white.   Now sprinkled with flakes of sea-salt & maturing in the fridge until Monday or Tuesday.

Saturday 14 April 2012- To try the feta cheese, I made a modified Salade Niçoise:  my feta instead of tuna & my Jerusalem Artichokes instead of new potatoes.  good choice:  the feta was characteristically salty, but not too salty & no salt grains to see or feel on the tongue.  Very creamy & filling & still much moister than a traditional feta.  Melting on the tongue & almost spreadable, it became a dressing in the mouth.  There’s still some left – I think I need to split it & store some in the traditional brine solution, to see how the texture is affected.



1. Sarah Wallis - October 25, 2011

Have you not seen Caledar Girls – if its a really special occasion get it from M & S

dawnshifter - October 25, 2011


2. Sarah Wallis - January 17, 2012

BTW the whisky liquer is gone and was fantastic to the end. The cough is also almost gone – although it has lasted slightly longer than the liquer!

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