Saturday 27 September 2008

The Time for Pumpkins

October is almost upon us, and that's the time for pumpkins. As a fruit, pumpkins are a member of the Cucurbitaceae family of plants (which also includes gourds) and are probably native to North America (the oldest known seeds having been found in Mexico). Indeed, the only squash known to be native to Eurasia is the green Chinese squash and it's this that's referred to in Roman and Medieval recipes (for example, Alexandrine Squash or Gourdes in Potage [Squash Stew]).

Not only are pumpkins and squashes very versatile in cooking, they're also the Halloween vegetable par excellence, whether you're using them for making a Jack O'Lantern or for preparing Hallowe'en dishes. So, here are a few classic pumpkin dishes for you to try.

Most of these recipes call for cooked pumpkin purée. You can, of course, buy tinned pumpkin but it's very easy to make pumpkin purée. Simply peel your pumpkin, remove the seeds and dice the flesh. Either boil or place in a steamer and cook for about 20 minutes, or until tender. Drain in a colander over the sink and allow the excess moisture to drain out for 10 minutes. After this time press gently with the back of a spoon to remove more moisture. Depending on how fine a purée you need you can either mash the pumpkin with a fork or you can press it through a fine-meshed sieve with the back of a spoon. Use this purée anywhere that calls for tinned or prepared pumpkin. You can even freeze the mixture as it keeps well. If making this for pumpkin pie then you can pre-spice the mixture by adding 2 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice Blend to every 200g (1 cup) of pumpkin purée.

Now for the recipes:

Pumpkin Pie

enough sweet shortcrust pie dough for a 22cm pie dish (about 250g)
200g pumpkin purée
150g sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice Blend (or 1/2 tsp ground ginger, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ground cloves)
3 eggs, slightly beaten
250ml single cream

In a bowl, beat together the pumpkin, sugar, salt and spices. Mix until smooth then add the eggs and beat to combine. Finally add the cream and beat to mix.

Turn the pastry onto a lightly-floured work surface and roll out until large enough to cover the base of a 22cm diameter deep pie dish. Line the dish with the pastry and trim the edges. Pour the pumpkin mixture into the dish then transfer to an oven pre-heated to 210°C. Bake for about 10 minutes then reduce the heat to 170°C and bake for a further 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the centre of the pie emerges cleanly.

Allow to cool on a wire rack and serve either warm or cold.

Spiced Pumpkin Fudge

150g butter
600g sugar
160ml evaporated milk
100g cooked pumpkin, drained and mashed

1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
300g butterscotch chips
210g Marshmallow Creme
120g toasted mixed nuts, chopped

1 tsp vanilla extract

In a heavy-based saucepan combine the butter, sugar, evaporated milk, pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Continue to boil until the mixture reaches 115°C, as measured on a confectioner's thermometer (the Soft Ball stage).

Take off the heat then stir-in the butterscotch chips until melted before adding the marshmallow creme. Finally stir-in the nuts and vanilla. Pour into a buttered 30 x 22cm pan and allow to cool completely then cut into squares. Wrap in waxed paper and store in an air-tight jar.

These recipes are reproduced, with permission, from the Celtnet Pumpkin and Squash recipes collection and the Halloween Recipes Collection (which also has a history of Hallowe'en and recipes from the Iron Age to the present).

Thursday 25 September 2008

Jams and Jellies for Preserving

With Autum's riches properly upon us now is the time to buy sugar and to begin making proper use of this season's fruit.

Making jams and jellies is an excellent way of preserving fruit for the winter and, depending on the type of jam you make you also have excellent bases for jam-based cakes, puddings and sauces.

In essence, preserving fruit in this manner allows you to keep the essence of the fruit whilst making it suitable for storage at room temperature for considerable lengths of time. The essence of these preserving methods is this: where a jam is made with whole fruit (including skins and seeds) and a jelly is made solely from the juice strained from the fruit. Both are cooked with sugar and use natural (or added) pectin as the gelling agent. They are boiled until they reached the 'setting point' (when a spoonful of the jam or jelly, when placed on a cold plate forms a skin when pushed with a fingernail).

For a jam or a jelly to set you typically need 60% sugar and about 0.2 to 0.5% pectin. And it's the boiling process that concentrates the sugars added to the jam and the natural sugars in the fruit down to this level. Of these components, pectin is probably the most important. Many will want to add pectin to their jams and jellies to ensure setting, whether this is by use of 'jelling sugars' that contain pectin as an additive, or by the addition of additional pectin.

However, the important thing to remember is that many fruit contain natural pectin; with apples, quinces, plums, gooseberries and oranges (or other citrus fruit) containing the most. Apples and apricots typically contain 1% pectin, with crab apples containing up to 3% pectin. Oranges vary between 0.5% and 3.5%, with the zest containing most pectin. Soft fruit like cherries, grapes, strawberries and blackberries contain little pectin and either have to be concentrated down or need to be mixed with apples and other fruit to achieve the setting or gelling point. It should be noted, however that seeds often contain lots of pectin which is why grape jellies are always made with grape seeds and why plum seeds are often added in a muslin bag to plum jams. You can also add citrus peel to other jams to add more pectin to them.

One interesting thing is that carrots can contain up to 1.5% pectin so you can add a muslin bag of grated carrot to a fruit jam or jelly to help them set. The same is true of rhubarb which also contains about 1.2% pectin.

This is illustrated with a classic Elderberry Jam recipe (elderberries being the fruit of the wild Elder tree:

Elderberry Jam
(This recipe is adapted from: Elderberry Jam Recipe)

2.7kg sugar
1.8kg elderberries
1.8l water

Wash the elderberries, removing them from their stalks with the tines of a fork. Place the fruit in a heavy-bottomed saucepan along with the water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, mashing the fruit against the side of the pan with a wooden spoon until the fruit is tender.

Add the sugar to the saucepan, heat through, stirring until completely dissolved. Bring to a boil and cook rapidly for about 15 minutes. Test for setting by placing a plate in the fridge. Spoon a little of the jam onto the plate, allow to cook then move it with your fingernail. If a crinkly skin forms then the jam is ready. If not continue boiling for 5 minutes more and test again.

Skim the surface then ladle into sterilized jars that have been warmed in an oven set to 100°C for 10 minutes. Allow 1cm of head space then secure the lid, allow to cool and store.

To show you the difference if you are making a jelly, the following recipe is for an Elderberry Jelly

Elderberry Jelly Recipe
(This recipe is adapted from: Elderberry Jelly Recipe)

1.8kg elderberries
600ml water
75g sugar per 100ml liquid


Wash and trim the elderberries then place in a heavy-bottomed saucepan along with the water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, mashing the fruit against the side of the pan with a wooden spoon.

Pour into a jelly bag or a sieve lined with several layers of muslin and allow to drain into a bowl (do not be tempted to squeeze the bag as this will only make the jelly cloudy.

The following morning discard the fruit (I tend to freeze them to make pies later) then measure the volume of the liquid and add 75g sugar per 100ml of fluid.

Place the juice and the sugar in a saucepan, heat through then add the sugar, stirring until completely dissolved. Bring to a boil and cook rapidly for about 15 minutes. Test for setting by placing a plate in the fridge. Spoon a little of the jelly onto the plate, allow to cook then move it with your fingernail. If a crinkly skin forms then the jelly is ready. If not continue boiling for 5 minutes more and test again.

Skim the surface then ladle into sterilized jars that have been warmed in an oven set to 100°C for 5 minutes. Allow 1cm of head space then secure the lid, allow to cool and store.

Please note that these recipes come from the Celtnet Recipes for Jams and Jellies collection, which is part of the Sauces, Jams and Preserves Recipes section of the Celtnet website.

Saturday 20 September 2008

French Toast with Wild Berries

Now is definitely the time to make the most of this season's wild fruit and this recipe marries a classic sweet bread French toast with a medley of wild fruit to produce a sumptuous and decadent breakfast.

Sweet French Toast with Wild Berries

3 large whole eggs
100ml whole milk
60g golden caster sugar
3 tsp ground cinnamon
4 slices brioche or sweet cake (eg Madeira Cake or Banana Bread)
1 wilding apple, peeled, quartered and cored
4 plums, halved and pitted
70g mixed berries (blackberries, elderberries, wild raspberries etc)
1 heaped tbsp butter
1 (generous) tbsp brandy

Whisk together the eggs, milk, half the sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon in a bowl. Pour into a large, shallow, dish (it should be large enough for the bread to fit comfortable and allow some space for movement). Add the brioche (or cake) and allow to sit in the egg mixture for about 2 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the remaining sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Cut each apple quarter into thirds and toss these pieces, along with the plum halves, in the sugar and cinnamon mixture. When the fruit are well coated melt half the butter in a non-stick frying pan, add the fruit pieces and cook for 1 minute then add the mixed berries. Continue cooking until the apple pieces are browned all over on medium heat.

Melt the remaining butter in a separate pan then drain the brioche slightly and place in the pan. Fry for about 2 or 3 minutes on each side, or until lightly browned then transfer to warmed serving plates.

Pour the brandy over the apples in the pan, carefully light the alcohol to burn it off (its safer to use a taper to ignite the vapours). Then, as soon as the flames have subsided, spoon the apples over the brioche. Pour any of the fruit and brandy sauce over the top and serve hot.

This recipe comes courtesy of the Celtnet Wild Food recipes and Celtnet Breakfast recipes pages.

For all the wild food recipes on this blog, see the wild food recipes page.

Monday 15 September 2008

Time for Haws (Hawthorn Berries)

Haws are the bright red fruit of the hawthorn tree and they're just coming into season right now. Many people just walk past these bright red berries, thinking them only fit for birds. But the truth is that they can be very tasty and you can make a whole range of foods from them, ranging from pies through jams to sauces. They're also extremely high in vitamin C and well worth collecting. They also freeze well and will keep until needed.

This past weekend I saw that haws were just coming into their own and the first truly ripe ones were not available. I will collect lots over the next few weeks, but the weekend's bounty allowed me to collect some fresh fruit and mix these with fresh wild blackberries and a few late season wild raspberries to make a very delicious winter fruit crumble, detailed below:

Haw, Wild Balckberry and Wild Raspberry Oatmeal Crumble


For the Fruit:
250g ripe haws, washed and drained
30g brown sugar
6 tbsp water

200g wild blackberries, washed and drained
100g wild raspberries, washed and drained
30g brown sugar
4 tbsp water
squeeze of lemon
1 tsp cornflour (cornstarch)

For the Crumble:
60g plain flour
30g coarse oatmeal
60g brown sugar
60g butter

Combine the haws, brown sugar and water in a pan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer then cover and cook gently for 25 minutes until the haws have burst and are soft. Take off the heat, allow to cool until you can handle then pass through a fine-meshed sieve. Press the pulp down with the back of a spoon to extract as much haw juice as possible.

In a clean pan combine the haw juice, blackberries, wild raspberries, brown sugar, water and lemon juice. Bring this mixture just to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cook gently until the mixture has thickened and the fruit are just soft (but still firm), about 8 minutes' cooking time.

Turn the fruit into the base of an oven-proof dish and scatter the cornflour over the top. Meanwhile, mix together the flour and oatmeal then cube the butter and add to this mixture. Rub the butter into the flour and oatmeal mix with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in the brown sugar then, using your hands, sprinkle the topping evenly over the fruit. Tamp the oatmeal crumble mix down slightly then transfer to an oven pre-heated to 200°C. Bake for between 25 and 30 minutes, or until the fruit is hot and bubbling and the top of the dish is a nice golden brown in colour.

Serve hot with milk, cream, ice cream or custard.

If you would like more ideas for recipes using haws as a main ingredient, why not visit the Celtnet haw recipes pages. You can also find more information about hawthorn berries and the use of haws as a wild food on the Celtnet Recipes Hawthorn information page with recipes.

For all the wild food recipes on this blog, see the wild food recipes page.

Wednesday 3 September 2008

Last of the Summer Blackberries

Last time I went picking the last of the season's ash keys and the first of this season's elderberries. However, I've been very remiss in picking that hedgerow staple, the one wild food that almost everyone recognizes — the blackberry.

This year has been pretty poor for blackberries, the wet summer and lack of sunlight has led to an underwhelming crop. However, yesterday I did make my way out of the house and managed to spend two pleasant hours dodging showers and picking blackberries.

There is something very relaxing about blackberry picking (despite being stung by nettles and scratched). Maybe it's because it takes me back to my childhood, picking blackberries with my grandmother. Admittedly, this season's foray wasn't exactly as productive as the time I spend with my grandmother. But I did managed to get a big bowl full of the fruit. Enough for two roly polies or two large crumbles (recipe below).

I also found a stand of wild raspberries (basically garden raspberries that have gone wild and survived) and within the next few days I will be adding this to my list of plants in my Guide to Wild Foods. There were even fruit on the vines... and, like the good forager I am, I harvested them!

I also noted that the dog rose hips are maturing and reddening, hawthorn berries are softening as are rowan berries. So, for the next month or so I will have a new fruit to harvest every week. So, expect weekly reports of what I gather as well as recipes for how to use them here.

Today's recipe is for a classic blackberry crumble:

Blackberry Crumble

650g blackberries
80g golden granulated sugar
150g wholemeal flour
150g plain flour
150g butter
80g demerara sugar
2 tbsp butter

Wash and pick over your blackberries then place in the bottom of a pie or baking dish and sprinkle the golden granulated sugar over the top. Set aside for about 20 minutes for the sugar to dissolve into the fruit.

In the meantime sift the flours together into a bowl then cut the butter into fine cubes. Add to the flour mixture and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Now stir-in the demerara sugar and combine well before spooning the mixture over the top of the fruit, ensuring it's completely covered. Press down gently with your fingers to tamp down the crumble mix then dot the butter over the surface.

Transfer to an oven pre-heated to 190°C and bake for about 40 minutes, or until the blackberries are bubbling and the surface of the crumble is golden. Allow to cool for a few minutes then serve hot with custard.

These aren't the only blackberry recipes I have. If you want many more ideas for how to use blackberries see my List of Blackberry Recipes page.

You can find more information about blackberries and hundreds of blackberry recipes on the Celtnet Blakbery Wild Food information and Recipes page.

For all the wild food recipes on this blog, see the wild food recipes page.
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