I love Alexanders – smyrnium olusatrum. They are one of my favourite spring foragables. Driving around the countryside here on the Isle of Wight they suddenly pop up, lining the streets of parts of the Island from early March. We use the thin stems for a sautéed snack or side, the thicker stems for candying, make a syrup for drinks and cocktails, eat the florets steamed like you would broccoli, or pickled in vinegar. Later in the year we collect the seeds to use with pepper too. I know people use the roots and leaves too, but we haven’t gone that far yet. Continue reading “Candied Alexander Stems”
I’m on a bit of a Magnolia Flower binge at the moment – it’s understandable, they’re only buds for a short time and our weather is so changeable right now, you’ve got to ‘gather your
rosebuds magnolias while you may’! Today’s foodie choice is magnolia flower pickle, which means we can enjoy them well into the year.
There are many different types of magnolia trees, and while all magnolias are considered edible, not all of them have been tested, so people can be a bit weary of trying newer species. The most common edible magnolias are Magnolia coco, grandiflora, enudata, mhypoleuca, kobus, liliflora, mexicana, pterocarpa, and oulangeana. Continue reading “Magnolia Flower Pickle”
I’m always really excited when I find a fig tree – like something in me forgets that I live in England now, and I’ve yet to pick a ripe fig from a tree – even here in the very South of England.
Fortunately a South African friend of mine invited me round to her house last year, and out of her cupboard she brought a jar of green fig preserve, reminding me how, back home, we used to deal with the figs before the birds could get to them.
This is one of many recipes – in reading up on it, I realise that it’s also something the Turkish do, so who knows how it made it’s way into the South African diet – to me it’s definitely a South African staple, so here’s the recipe, should you too have access to a big fig tree that never bears fruit. You’ll never look back.
Two things: it’s a bit fiddly to get the figs to the point of ready, but well worth the effort. Also, I don’t tend to add the spices in the boil. I add them to jars when they’re ready to be bottled up – this means I might have a fig and cardamom, a fig and cinnamon or a fig and clove, slightly different flavours, which keeps it fun and exciting.
Sometimes the figs we find are really big – too big to fit into gifting or ‘single portion’ (aka, enough for one meal) jars. If that’s the case, halve or quarter the figs before adding them to the sugar syrup. It doesn’t look as pretty in the jar, but in reality, when you pull them out to eat on your crackers you would rarely eat a whole one on a single cracker anyway.
- 1kg unripe figs
- 1kg sugar
- 1.250 ml (also 1.25kg!) water
- Spices (cloves, cinnamon stick or cardamom all work well)
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Bring a pot of water to boil - just enough to cover the figs. Add the figs and boil for ten minutes. Empty out and refill the pot, bringing the figs to boil and boiling for another ten minutes. This is important, as it's what makes them lose the bitter/unripe taste.
- Drain and leave to cool.
- Once cool enough to touch, squeeze the figs - there may may be some white liquid that drains out. If there's still a lot of white juice, boil again for ten more minutes, then squeeze again. It seems fiddly, but is well worth it!
- In a clean pot, bring the 1.250ml water to boil and add sugar. Once the sugar is dissolved, add the squeezed figs. They will resume their original shape during this process, unless of course, you've cut them.
- Add the spices of choice* and boil figs in the sugar syrup for about 25 minutes. Add the lemon juice and boil 5 minutes more.
- Pour into sterilised jars, making sure the syrup covers the figs. *I tend to leave out the spices in the previous step and add different spices into the jars at this point so that I have different spice varieties. Close while hot to create a vacuum seal.
- Keep in a cool dark place, and transfer to the fridge once opened as it's actually best cold, served with goats cheese and parma ham - or just goats cheese if you're veggie.
Over the summer our local supermarket was selling off a bunch of live chilli plants, and even though I really don’t like chilli – except in hot chocolate – I love the splashes of red against the deep green leaves and I love the brightness it introduces to my kitchen. The plant itself is one of those that gives more the more you take from it, so we’ve had a healthy harvest of chillies over the last few months, and I’ve been giving them away to anyone who’d have them. I did decide to keep a few though, because I wanted to give one of my chilli-loving friends a little gift of chilli salt.
We use Himalayan pink salt which I tend to bulk buy as it lasts forever, and we use salt for some non-food purposes that make good gifting ideas too, and I can crush it as we need it. I also wasn’t sure how dry the chilli gets itself just by lying on the windowsill, so I popped them in the dehydrator for a few hours till the chillies were properly dry. (They crackle when you snap them.)
I also put the chillies into the Thermomix® (food processor) first so they can be chopped up before I add the salt because I didn’t want the crystals to be broken down too fine.
Just one note here – when you’re blending this up in your food processor, make sure to cover any airholes (in a safe manner). If the air fills up with chilli salt, it’s not a whole lot of fun on your nose or throat or eyes!
I’ve decorated empty herb and spice and other jar lids with washi tape to make it prettier and as these will go into a festive food hamper, I’ve done them in Christmassy colours.
- 300g Coarse Himalayan Salt
- 20- 25 small chillies, dried
- In a food processor chop the dried chillies till they are as fine as you'd like them
- (Thermomix®: PUT THE MC IN PLACE, 10 seconds/speed 5)
- Add the coarse pink salt and mix again. Don't make it too fine.
- (Thermomix®: MC still in, 10 seconds/speed 5)
- Use a funnel or similar to pour into dry containers and keep sealed.
Lavender Sugar is one of those things I’ve always looked at and loved the idea of, but never really known what to do with. I’ve always liked crystallised lavender – it’s both pretty and tasty – but aside from medicinal or household use, I’ve never really known how to actually use lavender in food. Partly due to its strong flavour and partly due to its very floral flavour, it’s something you have to use with care, but should definitely use! Making lavender sugar couldn’t really be simpler – the two ingredients are in the name, after all. If you don’t have a food processor you can just mix the two and stir, but I like making the sugar just a little finer, so it’s not so crunchy. Be careful though – I don’t like making it icing sugar either! Just a finely granulated sugar is perfect.
Leave the lavender for a week or so, allowing the flavours to infuse thoroughly into the sugar. You can make Lavender Sugar ahead as a hostess gift, Christmas gifts, wedding favours and other gifting opportunities, and even include a recipe card or two with the jar. It’s a cheap and beautiful gift to make!
Make the Lavender Sugar two weeks before you’re going to gift it, and make sure to leave instructions to use withing 9 -12 months, so aside from drying out, I can’t image the lavender would go bad!
Recipe for Lavender Sugar
- 2 tsp lavender flowers
- 1kg white sugar
- Use a fork or your hands to remove the flowers from the stalk
- Add them to the food processor
- Add the sugar and blend together - depending on your food processor, adjust your speed to make sure you don't end up with icing sugar.
- In the Thermomix®, hit the Turbo button 2 - 3 times quickly.
- Decant the sugar into jars, and seal tightly.
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One of the recipes in this month’s Degustabox was a Chia Mocha, to go with the chia seed samples from The Chia Co. Even though I’m not normally a fan of textured liquids – I don’t even like lumps in my soup – I was keen to try this recipe, because I have a whole pot of chia seeds I don’t really know what to do with! I bought them because I know chia seeds are supposed to be very good for you, then couldn’t figure out what to do with them as I’m not overly keen on either chia jam or chia porridge – too lumpy for me! This recipe was quite surprising though, and is perfect for lovers of coffee with chocolate, or chocolate with coffee – whichever you see a mocha as!
If you don’t give this a good whizz in a food processor, the end result is a lumpy sort of drink – like bubble tea, but really really small bubbles. It’s drinkable if you don’t dislike the texture.
If you do mix it enough to break down the chia, you’ll end up with a thicker, smoother drink.
This Chia Mocha is easily adaptable. I changed it to coffee for one, since I am drinking it alone. I just halved the original recipe’s ingredients. I also made it in the Thermomix®, but you can use any food processor. I think it would be simple enough to adjust to your tastes. For example if making it again, I’d probably use regular cows milk instead of coconut milk as I prefer a whiter, lighter coffee. If you’re used to black coffee or nut milks, this will be perfectly fine for you!
The chia seeds will cause the drink to thicken up a bit, making a comforting, but invigorating and filling drink.
Here’s the original recipe from Degustabox and below is my adapted to a single serving version.
- 1 cup/250ml/250g prepared coffee (instant or filtered, as you prefer)
- 80ml/80g coconut milk
- 1 teaspoon cacao powder or cocoa
- 1 teaspoon chia seeds
- 1 tsp coconut oil
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon honey or other sweetener (I used Natvia)
- Add the all the ingredients to the Thermomix®
- Put the MC in place
- Mix 100C/Speed 5/ 4 Minutes
- Make sure the MC is still in place, then Speed 7/30 seconds
- Pour and enjoy
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Foraging is a fantastic activity, but it’s hard work, so you want to utilise every scrap to best effect in whichever way you can.
Once I’ve made a syrup from the berries I’ve harvested, I’m loathed to throw them out. Some say you can put them in an ‘adult pie’ or ice cream, but that doesn’t always work – blackberries, for example, are white as snow by the time the flavour’s been sucked out of them, or there’s simply nothing left of them. Other fruits, however, like rose hips, hawthorns and elderberries, have enough left in them to make something else out of. Like second-use tea bags, they’re not the ultimate flavour, but they may just work out okay.
I have a bundle of 100ml jars specifically for this purpose – when I’ve made a syrup, I pop the pulp into the jar and top it with vinegar – if it doesn’t work out, I’ve lost about 50ml vinegar. If it does work out… I have a delicious new fruit vinegar to enjoy.
Some fruits – like elderberries or fresh blackberries – will pretty immediately change the colour of the vinegar, but I’d still suggest leaving it for a few days – although I have also done it about a year down the line, having forgotten about it! Others – like hawthorn – may take about a day to change the colour of the vinegar, but it’ll come.
To start, you’ll need equal parts fruit to vinegar, so lets say 600g fruit to 600ml apple cider vinegar. Now, I don’t normally set out to make vinegar, but rather use leftover bits of fruit or used pulp to make the vinegar, so you can be flexible with the amounts. I tend to use what I have, cover it with vinegar, and hope for the best!
That makes the next bit a little more tricky – or a good opportunity to practice maths and fractions!
After at least four days of soaking in the vinegar, strain out the fruit and pour the vinegar into a pot on a medium heat. For every 600ml liquid you need about 300g sugar – add less or more, depending on how sweet or how thick you want the vinegar. Add the sugar and stir till it is all dissolved. Leave to simmer for 15-25 minutes (adjusting depending on how much you’ve started with – the longer it boils the thicker it will be) without a lid on, which will reduce the liquid into a thick and delicious vinegar for dressings or dipping. If it’s not thick enough, simmer a little longer, but do bear in mind that as the vinegar cools, it’ll thicken too.
True balsamic improves with age. If you’re disciplined and have the space, use 3/4 of your vinegar now, but put aside a small jar of each batch in the back of the cupboard somewhere. I discovered a forgotten blackberry balsamic in the back of a cupboard when we moved house – it was about five years old, thick, sweet and incredible!
- 600g fruit
- 600ml white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
- 300g sugar
- In a glass jar, add fruit and cover with vinegar. Leave for at least four days, shaking whenever you pass by it.
- When it's taken on good colour, strain out the fruit and pour the vinegar into a pot on a medium heat.
- Add the sugar and stir till it is all dissolved.
- Leave to simmer for 20 - 25 minutes without a lid on, which will reduce the liquid into a thick and delicious vinegar for dressings or dipping.
- In a glass jar, add fruit and cover with vinegar. Leave for four days, shaking whenever you pass by it.
- After four days, strain out the fruit and pour the vinegar into the Thermomix®.
- Add the sugar 15 mins/ Varoma/speed 1/ NO MC