More delicious things to do with blackcurrants

14 Aug

Blackcurrants.

When you have a glut of them you REALLY have a glut of them.

I have a couple of wee blackcurrant bushes which are ignored for most of the year and this year were surrounded by chest high grass, nettles and dock leaves. I was sure there would be nothing to harvest. But of course I was wrong. Deliciously wrong.

I cropped the whole branches, placed them in my wicker trug and carried them upstairs to our terrace one evening, and spent a gentle hour picking the fruit, topping and tailing it ready for cooking. The swallows were swooping and swooshing around our heads, sometimes below us, sometimes so close we could feel the rush of air as they changed course just before their wings brushed our faces. It’s a glorious way to spend a summer evening, and the memory of it keeps me warm through the winter.

The blackcurrants this year were destined to be drinks, one alcoholic and one not.

My Mum has made blackcurrant cordial for years and I feel that in my late 40s perhaps it is time for me to give it a go. I have no children to turn their noses up at it, as it isn’t their usual brand (I always wished we had REAL Ribena when I was a child, not this wannabe pretender. Little did I know how lucky I was).

So, I searched for the perfect blackcurrant cordial recipe and settled for one by Henry Dimbleby, who started the Leon chain of fabulous eateries. I have four Leon books, but of course found this recipe online on the Guardian website. You can read the original here if you want to.  The recipe is pretty simple, but does include the addition of citric acid, which is a natural preservative, but also adds a zesty acidic zing to the juice. Citric acid is a natural compound, found in citrus fruit (of course!) but these days it is mass-produced as a chemical compound, and is more commonly known as E330 on food labels.

Blackcurrant cordial

  • 500g blackcurrants, topped and tailed
  • 275g sugar
  • 250ml water
  • 1/2 tsp citric acid
  1. Put the blackcurrants, sugar and water into a heavy-based pan, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 5 minutes
  2. Get your potato masher out and bash the fruity smoosh, breaking up as much of the fruit as you can
  3. Add the citric acid and boil for another 2 minutes
  4. Place a muslin cloth in a sieve (preferably a plastic one) and pour the fruity mixture into the sieve and leave to drip through .Don’t bother squishing it with a spoon or anything. Just leave it. Go pour yourself a gin and tonic, you probably deserve one
  5. Once it’s stopped dripping (I left mine overnight) throw out the detritus in the muslin cloth; keep the muslin and wash it, ready for another day.
  6. Decant the thick silky juice into a clean bottle and label it up, so you know this is the BC cordial and not the hooch. You don’t want to get that wrong, trust me!
  7. Dilute with water or sparkling water fora  refreshing summery drink. Or with prosecco if it’s cocktail hour already, which it must be somewhere.

But I also wanted to make a blackcurrant liqueur. And wouldn’t you know, there was a handy recipe in this month’s Good Food magazine.  Well, the recipe was for a Bramble liqueur, but it can be adapted for blackcurrants when I have a glut of blackcurrants and the brambles aren’t ripe yet.

So here you go:

Blackcurrant hooch (or boozy ‘bena)

  • 600g blackcurrants, topped and tailed (you could use frozen if that is all you can get hold of)
  • a bottle of good red wine
  • 500g sugar
  • some vodka or gin (the original recipe I now notice only asked for a large glass of vodka/gin but I poured in ahem a whole bottle)
  1. Put the currants into a large plastic or glass bowl and pour over the wine. Get that trusty potato masher out again and crush the fruit as much as you can. Cover the bowl with a tea towel (this keeps it dark-ish and keeps out all the flies we are plagued with this summer) and leave for a few days. Give it another smoosh with the potato masher every 24 hours or so.
  2. Pour the mixture through a plastic sieve lined with a piece of muslin.
  3. Tip the juice into a heavy-based pan and add the sugar. Actually it probably doesn’t really matter if your pan isn’t a heavy-based one – don’t avoid making this hooch just for the sake of an expensive pan.
  4. Heat up slowly, stirring occasionally. Once the sugar has dissolved bring toa boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
  5. Leave to cool and then pour in the vodka or gin. As much as you think is appropriate. I suspect my version with the large volume of vodka is not entirely appropriate, but we’ll see.
  6. Use a small jug, or a funnel and pour into clean dry bottles.
  7. Seal and label.
  8. It’s ready for drinking straight away, or you can put a ribbon round it and feel proud that you’ve made some Christmas presents already.

My blackcurrant ripple ice-cream recipe is here if this isn’t what tickles your sweet fancy today.

Delicious and easy marmalade-y sausages

20 Jul

I like sausages. And I now like marmalade. For most of my life only one of those sentences has been true. I’m glad that they both are now.

So, since I like marmalade, it seems sensible to start using it in recipes. And I’ve started easy peasy. What could be easier than sausages?

My local butcher is worth visiting. He is a good old-fashioned Scottish butcher, with lots of bacon and steak pies and haggis and black pudding. And all other lovely meaty things. I’d intended to make Scotch Eggs this weekend with our glut of lovely fresh eggs from my ladies. But somehow that didn’t happen. So, this evening there were sausages to be eaten. We dug up some potatoes from the veg bed, to go with the sausages.

Marmalade sausages

Oven: Gas Mark 6

  • half a dozen small-ish pork sausages (or a couple of big ones)
  • 2 big spoonfuls of marmalade
  • 1 spoonful of tomato ketchup
  • 1 spoonful, or a big slug, of sunflower oil, or rapeseed, or vegetable oil, whatever you have to hand
  1. Mix together all the ingredients, apart from the sausages.
  2. Roll the sausages in the marmaladey mixture to entirely cover them up
  3. Pop each smothered sausage onto an oven tray, preferably one of those ones which has a ‘well’ for all the juices to run into
  4. Put them in the pre-heated oven, and leave for about 25 mins

Serve with new potatoes, savoy cabbage and onion gravy. There, how easy was that?

Oh, and if you feel like making your own marmalade too, try this: Tasty orange ginger marmalade.

Image

Wordless Wednesday

28 May
Nance & Bella

Nance & Bella

Perfect salad for when you have the best tomatoes

28 May

You already know that I love buying and cooking and eating local food. So when Clyde Valley Tomatoes were back at my local farmer’s market earlier this month, I knew we’d be eating tomatoes all week!

I wanted to make a salad which would showcase the varieties of tomatoes.

Spring haul from farmer's market

Spring haul from farmer’s market

On the drive home I thought of a salad I used to make many years ago: fattoush. And then another tomato and stale bread salad: panzanella. I hadn’t made either for years, and started hankering for that melding of flavours and textures. Yes, these tomatoes were destined to become one big dish of delicious salad. Served with cold meats for lunch.

Panzanella

  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced and left in a bowl of ice cold salted water for an hour
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 yellow pepper
  • a punnet or two of ripe tomatoes from Clyde Valley Tomatoes. Or perhaps about 8 medium tomatoes – if you’re using wee ones, feel free to double the quantities
  • 200g stale(ish) sourdough bread
  • 4 TBsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 TBsp capers
  • 2 anchovies, finely chopped
  • 6 TBsp extra virgin olive oil
  • small bunch of fresh basil
  1. Cut the peppers into big flattish pieces and pop them under a grill skin side up so the skin blackens. Alternatively use a toasting fork (who has such a thing these days?) and burn the skin over a gas hob, or chuck them in a hot oven. Or use a blow torch. You’ll know how you like to do it. Once the skin is black, put the pieces of pepper into a bowl and cover with cling film for 20 minutes or so.
  2. Cut the tomatoes into large chunks and place in a colander over a bowl. Sprinkle some salt over them and leave to drain while you prepare everything else
  3. Cut (or tear) the bread into chunks, about the same size as your tomato chunks and put them into a salad bowl and drizzle with vinegar
  4. Drain the onion and add it to the salad bowl
  5. Add the capers
  6. By now your peppers might be ready for peeling, so peel off the black skin, or as much of it as you can and cut the pieces of naked pepper into strips. Put them in the bowl
  7. Press down on the tomatoes and squeeze out lots of juice, then put the tomato flesh into the salad bowl
  8. Add the chopped anchovies and olive oil to the tomato juice and whisk
  9. Add salt and pepper to taste
  10. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss. Pick off some basil leaves and tear them onto the salad
  11. Leave for 15 minutes or so at room temperature – or outside in the sunshine
  12. Serve as one of those lunches where the table is covered with bowls and plates and ashets of this and that tasty treats.

Of course you could skimp some of the steps or tweak the recipe as you go:

  • If you don’t soak the onion right at the beginning, it will taste too harsh (for my taste buds). You might prefer to use red onion, or spring onions
  • Don’t bother pouring the vinegar over the bread. I think you’ll regret missing out that step though!
  • Add garlic. In fact most recipes include garlic. I just forgot to add is when I made it and enjoyed the garlic-free breath, and how the other flavours all sung out at me
  • Add cucumber, celery, chilli, crisp lettuce
  • Omit the anchovies if you’re feeding vegetarians. Obviously!

Basically make this your own panzanella – so long as you have the very best tomatoes and some good quality bread, you’ll make something delicious.

No pictures though, we ate it too quickly!

 

Rhubarb marmalade

30 Apr
Rhubarb marmalade

Rhubarb marmalade

I love my local farm shop. Let me give it a shout out.. it’s at Overton Farm in the Clyde Valley. Given the choice between spending a wee bit more per item at the farm shop, or spending a whole lot more in total (because I go off-list and end up buying things I don’t really need at the supermarket) I now always choose the farm shop. This means I more regularly run out of stuff like dry cat food, or domestos, but that’s ok. We have a car, and most things can wait till the weekend.

The farmshop isn’t exclusively local, so year round it’s possible to get those things that were seasonal treats in my childhood – peppers, mangoes, and even pears. But I like seasonal, and I have an urge to put things in jars when they are in season. Some time soon I am going to write a list of all the things I have in jars, so that I’m more likely to use them… they live in a drawer in a filing cabinet in a cupboard under the stairs. Yup, not really in an obvious place so I see a jar of, say spiced damsons, and think ‘that will go perfectly with the smoked mackerel I’ve just bought impulsively at the supermarket because we needed dishwasher tabs’. In fact I might just do that later this afternoon – I have the day off, and had planned to garden, but it’s grizzly grey weather and I’m something of a fairweather gardener, shaming though it is to admit that.

Anyway, back to seasonal and local and all that jazz. My seasonal treat at the farmshop on Saturday was a big bunch of rhubarb. I LOVE rhubarb; it’s that tart sharpness that just zings for me.

Thane Prince is one of my go to writers for any sort of a preserve. She currently can be seen in the BBC’s Great Allotment Challenge programme, but honestly I wouldn’t recommend that as your first experience of her. Watching someone, anyone, spooning out 10 globs of chutney from a jar and then tasting it, and diluting ten lots of cordial in water and sipping it is not my idea of good TV, no matter how lovely she may be, or how erudite her comments and criticisms are. Please BBC, try harder.

But of course she has a lovely recipe for Rhubarb Marmalade, with or without ginger. And that is what I settled on. Fortuitously I had just the right quantities of everything: rhubarb, sugar, oranges, pectin. And ginger. Why would I make it without ginger?

Rhubarb marmalade

From Thane Prince’s Jellies, Jams and Chutneys.

  • 1kg rhubarb, washed and cut into even 1cm wee chunks
  • 800g sugar
  • 2 large oranges
  • 125g liquid pectin
  • about 3cm fresh root ginger, grated. You do have a ginger grater don’t you?
  1. Get prepared. Put a large plate into the fridge, so you can check for a set when the time comes
  2. Clean your jars in hot water, and pop them in a low oven to sterilise them
  3. Zest your oranges, and then juice them
  4. Put the rhubarb, sugar, orange zest and juice into a heavy non-reactive pot. Bring the mixture slowly to the boil and then simmer over a low heat for 5-8 minutes. The rhubarb should be soft and the sugar dissolved.
  5. Turn off the heat for a minute. Add the pectin. Stir gently so it’s all mixed in and then turn the heat back up. Bring to a good boil and cook for a further 2 minutes before testing if it’s set. At this stage my marmalade was still incredibly runny and it took a further 25 minutes before it started looking properly jammy and was anything near a set. And then of course it went just too far and my marmalade is just slightly more solid than I would like – I like it still squelchy.
  6. Once the marmalade has reached setting point, ladle it into the hot sterilised jars, seal and label.

You do know how to test for a set don’t you? I wouldn’t recommend using a sugar thermometer for this recipe – when my marmalade had reached setting point it was still far off the ‘jam’ stage on my thermometer, which is no doubt to do with the levels of pectin in the mix. Anyway, I test for a set by dropping a wee gob of the hot marmalade onto a cold plate (yes, that one you put in the fridge right at the beginning); leave it a wee second or two, and then push it with your finger. If it wrinkles it’s ready (or even over-ready); if it is just liquid and runs back into a puddle it needs more boiling.

So, why would anyone spend their Sunday afternoon making Rhubarb Marmalade? Easy… just try it, still warm on hot buttered toast. You will forget that anything else exists, and you’ll wish that you could do this every afternoon, and if you’re feeling special match it with a wee glass of fizz. My accompaniment was a perfect cup of Earl Grey tea, out of a fine china tea cup. Deliciousness.

 

An Easter Chicken

21 Apr
Easter chookie chook

Easter chookie chook

 

I’ve always rather liked Easter. I’m not religious, although I flirted with some happy clappy Christianity in my teens. I think I was more interested in the group of people who were mostly stranger than me than I was in the actual theology. But somehow, I’ve always liked the Easter break. I suspect it’s Spring that I like. And an unexpected long weekend. With Easter zipping about the year, depending what the moon is up to, it always seems to catch me unawares, so suddenly I’m faced with a long weekend. And the prospect of going to Galloway to see my parents. And sunshine. And lambs, and bright lime green leaves shining in the sun, proving that nature rocks.

Last year my chickens laid lots of eggs for Easter. Good chickens. This year the haul wasn’t so good. First of all one of my chickens died a couple of weeks ago. Thankfully it was while I was away so I didn’t have to deal with her wee dead body myself – I’m not very good with dead things. And then two of my reliable wee broon hens started moulting so they aren’t doing much in the way of laying. And then Mabel, big blousy Mabel, got broody again. So all she does is sit fatly in her stall, thinking (presumably) that if she stays there for a long enough an egg will miraculously appear, closely followed by a scritch and a scratch and the arrival out of said egg of a cute wee chicken. This seems highly unlikely given Mabel’s form (and more importantly the fact we have no cockerel).

So, the eggs we have are big and yolky and delicious, but there aren’t so many of them these days.

Never mind. When you give eggs to your father at Easter time it seems appropriate that they come with their own hand-knitted egg cosy. You know, just in case they get cold on the journey. So, I knitted Dad a chicken. I rather like her and may make some more. I also might tell you all how if you’re really interested (so do leave a message if you want to know how easy peasy this is to do… or even if you want me to make one for you one day… but you don’t get to choose which day, it would have to be a surprise, when the chookie muse takes me).

 

2013 in review

5 Jan

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog and I thought I’d share it with you… read on, if you’re interested.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,200 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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