Monday 27 October 2008

Cooking with Chillies

Chillies, also known as chilis, chilé and ají are the fruit of members of the Capsicum genus of flowering plants (all members of the Solanaceae (deadly nightshade) family of plants and range from sweet bell peppers (no heat) to the Naga chilli (currently the world's hottest).

They all originate in the Americas, where they have been cultivated for at least 7500 and they were probably probably an essential component of the Mesoamarican diet (which relied on maize and beans as a staple) as the high vitamin C content of red peppers increases the uptake of non red blood cell iron in diets containing little or no meat. For this very reason they are a crucial component of the West African diet today.

Christopher Columbus encountered them on his first voyage to the Carribean in 1492 and though he did not bring any back on that voyage (they were taken to Spain on his second voyage) he does wirte of a 'pepper' that the natives called Ají which was better in taste and nature that ordinary peppers. However, it was the Portuguese who, in 1498 took the chilli pepper (most notably the piri-piri chilli) back to Portugal and the Cape Verde islands. But as they sought to exploit their foothold in the Americas they brought chillies to West Africa and African slaves to Brazil. Chillies, most notably, the piri-piri did so well in West Africa that they became wild and naturalized and now the piri-piri grows wild in West Africa (which is why, even to this day it's often mistaken as an African native). Between 1498 and 1549 the chilli spread eastwards both over the silk route and through Portuguese conquests in India, the Spice Islands, China and finally Japan so that by 1549 the chilli was known as far as Japan. See this article on the history of the spread of chillies to learn more about how chillies moved across the Old World.

Of course, what's amazing about chillies is that, when dried, they have pure 'heat' but no bitterness and only very little flavour. As a result they can be used to enhance a dish without affecting it's flavour in any way. The actual 'heat' effect of chillies is created by the chemical, capsacin. These are hydrophobic (water-hating) chemicals and this is why they tend to bury themselves into the surfaces of the palate and the mouth causing irritation (the burning sensation; indeed the chemical is produced by the plants to deter predation by animals). This is also why drinking water is ineffective as a way of eliminating the burning sensation. The capsaicinoids do not dissolve in water and are simply spread by it. However, foods rich in fat such as milk and yoghurt will eliminate the chemical (this is why yoghurt is served with many Indian dishes).

As a fruit, there are five species of chillies: Capsicum annuum, the largest group which contains sweet bell peppers as well as Jalapeño chillies, Thai birdseye chillies and cayenne peppers; Capsicum frutescens which includes African birds-eye chillies and Tabasco chillies; Capsicum chinense, which includes some of the hottest chillies, Scotch bonnet chillies and habanero chillies; Capsicum baccatum, which contains some of the rarer but more flavoursome chillies such as the ají 'hot lemon' and Capsicum pubescens which contains chillies such as the rocoto.

he 'heat' of foods is measured by special units, called Scoville units. Bell peppers rank at zero Scoville units, jalapeños at 3,000–6,000 Scoville units, and habaneros at 300,000 Scoville units. The current official Guinness Book of Records record for the highest Scoville rating for a chilli pepper goes to the Red Savina Habanero, measuring 577,000 units. Reports of a hotter pepper have circulated for many years, though and a recent report was made of a pepper from India called the Naga Jolokia measuring at 855,000 Scoville units but the validity of this claim is disputed. However, in April 2006 a report of the Naga Dorset pepper, a variety of the Naga Jolokia pepper cultivated exclusively by the Peppers by Post company in Dorset, England who claimed their pepper measured 923,000 SHU [note that pure capsaicin rates at 15,000,000 Scoville units].

In the fruit itself, it's only the stem end of he fruit that contains the glands to produce capsaicin. This chemical then flows down the membranes inside the fruit and into the seeds. This is why removing the seeds and membranes as well as the stem effectively reduces the heat of the fruit. (To learn more about chillies see this chilli spice page.)

Of course, the real point of chillies is to use them in cooking, whether you use the raw fruit or use prepared chilli powders such as cayenne pepper, paprika or hot chilli powder. Or you can use dried chillies (chillies dry well and retain their heat, which is one reason that, globally, they became a desirable spice).

One of the hottest chilli dishes I know is the West African 'pepper soup' and below is a recipe for this very fiery stew:

Pepper Soup with Chicken

20 Scotch Bonnet chillies
4 ripe tomatoes
Juice of 1 lime
200ml chicken stock (or 1 chicken stock cube in 200ml water)
450g chicken thighs
2 onions, roughly sliced
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
vegetable oil
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped


First take five of the chillies and pound to a paste in a pestle and mortar. Then roughly chop the tomatoes and add these to the pestle and mortar and pound in.

Add about 60ml vegetable oil into a large stock pot, then add the chicken and fry until golden brown on all sides. At this point add the remaining chillies, onions and garlic and fry for about 5 minutes. Add the chilli and tomato paste, season with the salt and pepper then add the lime juice, 200ml of chicken stock and 1.5l water. Bring to the boil, reduce to a slow simmer, cover and cook for 45 minutes.

The soup can be served as it is (the guest would mash the chillies with the back of a spoon before eating) or, alternatively mash the chillies with a fork and then serve in soup bowls.

(This recipe, reproduced, with thanks from the Celtnet Chicken Pepper Soup Recipe page.

For a collection of several hundred chilli recipes from all corners of the globe check out the Celtnet Chilli Recipes pages.

If you truly like chillies then here is a link to an article (with recipes) for the word's three hottest chillies.

Saturday 25 October 2008

Cooking with Shaggy Ink Caps

I have to admit that this was an accidental rather than a planned forage. I'm no expert mycologist, but I do know the commoner fungi when I see them, so I can hardy describe my surprise that, when I was walking home last night, I saw a cluster of Shaggy Ink Caps (Coprinus comatus) next to the path just outside a local park. Now, I know that these mushrooms do grow in and around towns, but it was still a surprise to see them.

There was a cluster of half a dozen, all with closed caps and with the stems just showing (as in the picture). I was only 20 minutes from home and I could cook them almost immediately, so I picked the lot. I should note here that shaggy ink caps contain enzymes that liquefy them. It's this liquefaction that, when the caps open, leads to them dripping black 'ink' from the outer edges of the cap. This ink being the mushroom's method of spreading its spores.

The problem is that, even in young specimens, the enzymes get to work as soon as you pick the mushrooms. Taking the stems intact helps delay the process, but if you pick shaggy ink caps you need to be able to eat them within an hour. But these are a delicate and flavoursome mushroom, well worth collecting. If you do collect them, here are a few recipes for you:

Poached Shaggy Ink Caps


12 young shaggy ink caps
1 garlic clove, grated
100ml milk
salt and black pepper, to taste


Combine the milk, garlic and mushrooms in a pan. Season to taste, bring to a simmer, then poach the mushrooms gently for 5 minutes. Remove from the poaching liquid with a slotted spoon and serve immediately.

(This recipe reproduced, with thanks, from the Celtnet Poached Shaggy Ink Caps recipe page.)

Oatmeal Shaggy Ink Caps

6 shaggy ink caps, halved
1 egg, well beaten
salt and black pepper, to taste
plain flour
fine oatmeal

Whisk the egg with 1 tbsp water in a shallow bowl then season the oatmeal and place on a plate. Dip the mushrooms in the flour and then in the egg mixture then dip in the oatmeal and ensure that it's completely coated.

Melt the butter in a frying pan and place the mushrooms in the pan, gill side down. Fry for about 3 minutes, then turn the mushrooms over and cook on the other side until golden. Serve immediately.

Check out this page for many more shaggy ink cap recipes.

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

Wednesday 22 October 2008

Baking Christmas Cakes

Yes, I know it's not yet the end of October, but the truth is that a number of Christmas cakes (especially fruit cakes) need several weeks to mature properly and I'll be starting my own Christmas baking next week. As a result I'm presenting here the recipe for my family's traditional rich Christmas cake (which is also used for wedding).

Traditional Rich Fruit Christmas Cake

420g sultanas
270g raisins
270g currants
120g chopped prunes
120ml brandy or Madeira
360g butter
300g dark brown sugar
300g plain flour
120g ground almonds
pinch of salt
1 tsp mixed spice
5 eggs, well beaten
grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
juice of 1 lemongrated rind of 1 orange


The night before mix all the fruit, the wine and the lemon juice and allow to marinate. The following day cream together the butter and sugar until soft and very fluffy. Sieve all the dry ingredients together and beat the eggs well. Gradually add the flour mix and the eggs alternately into the butter and sugar mix. Beat well after each additon.

When done gradually add the fruit to the mix and beat well so that they are completely integrated.

When ready spoon the mixture into two 1kg loaf pans (or a large square or round tin) that have been well greased and lined with greaseproof paper. Place in the centre of an oven pre-heated to 150°C and cook for an hour. Cover the top with greaseproof paper, reduce the heat to 140°C and cook for a further four hours, or until the cake is done and a skewer inserted into the centre emerges clean. Allow to cool completely, cover in greaseproof paper and foil then place in an air-tight tin to mature for at least 4 weeks before decorating (preferrably more).

This recipe is adapted from the Traditional Rich Fruit Christmas cake recipe page.

Other traditional Christmas cakes include:

Scottish Black Bun
Christmas Cake (Dark Fruitcake)
Dundee Cake
Dresdner Stollen
Icelandic Layer Cake
King Cake (Twelfth Night Cake)
Mincemeat Christmas Cake (a last minute Christmas cake that does not need ageing)
Old-fashioned Yule Cake
Scottish Christmas Bun
Trinidadian Black Cake
Twelfth Night Cake
Yeasty Christmas Cake

Few of the cakes listed above would be complete without a layer of traditional marzipan and a coating of Glacé Icing Recipe.

These recipes and links are brought to you by the Celtnet Christmas Recipes collection.

Monday 20 October 2008

Cooking with Sweet Chestnuts

Sweet chestnuts are one of the glories of late Autumn, one of those wild foods that you really should go out of your way to forage. In much of Europe, sweet chestnuts are a very versatile food, turned into flours, pastes, sauces and even beer. Indeed, the use of chestnuts dates from Roman times (as the recipe given below shows). Just be sure, when picking, that you select edible Sweet Chestnuts (Castanea sativa) and not the toxic Horse Chestnut (sweet chestnuts have lots of needle-like spines on the outer casing and there are three tear-drop nuts inside).

Remove the outer casing and you will have the brow nuts. The outer casing is inedible, but can be easily removed if you cut a cross in the top of the nut then blanch in boiling water for about 5 minutes. Remove the brown case and rub off the inner peel and you will have the white flesh of the nut itself. These blanched nuts will freeze very well and will last you easily through the Winter and spring. You can also turn sweet chestnuts into flour by drying the sweet chestnuts and then grinding in to flour (you can also buy sweet chestnut flour).

Lenticulam de castaneis
(Roman Lentils and Chestnuts)


600ml beef stock
225g sweet chestnuts, cleaned
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
pinch of asafoetida
1 tsp rosemary, chopped
1 tbsp mint, chopped
dash of bitters (optional, mimics the flavour of rue seed)
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
200g cooked lentils (see above)
salt, to taste
freshly-ground black pepper
extra-virgin olive oil


Combine the spices in a mortar and pound into a powder then add the herbs and bruise. Mix in the red wine, honey and bitters and stir to form a paste.

Clean and wash the chestnuts then add to a pan along with the stock and the spice mixture. Bring to a simmer and cook until the chestnuts are tender and almost all the liquid has been absorbed (about 40 minutes). Puree the mixture (either with a pestle and mortar or in a blender) then return to the pot along with the lentils. Add 120ml water and allow to heat through.

Season with salt, transfer to a serving bowl and grind some black pepper over the top. Garnish with olive oil and serve.

This recipe is reproduced, with thanks from the Celtnet Roman Lentils and Chestnuts Recipe, part of that site's Ancient Roman Recipes collection.

Below is a cake recipe using sweet chestnut flour.

Chestnut Flour Cake Recipe

400g sweet chestnut flour (either buy or make your own by grinding sweet chestnuts)
30g pine nuts
30g raisins
4 tbsp sugar
pinch of salt
6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
generous knob of butter
7 tbsp breadcrumbs (about)

Place the raisins in a large bowl, cover with warm water and soak for 20 minutes then drain and squeeze out the excess moisture.

Combine the chestnut flour, sugar and salt in a bowl then add 4 tbsp olive oil to moisten and mix to combine. Now add just enough warm water to bring the mixture together as a soft batter.

Grease a cake pan with butter then sprinkle the breadcrumbs over to cover. Pour in the swet chestnut batter then arrange the pine nuts and raisins on top. Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the top then place the cake in an oven pre-heated to 180°C. Bake for about 1 hour, or until the top of the cake is golden and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake emerges cleanly.

This recipe is reproduced, with thanks, from the Celtnet Chestnut Flour Cake Recipe.

For more sweet chestnut recipes please visit the Celtnet Sweet Chestnut Recipes, which is part of the Celtnet Wild Foods Recipes site.

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

Saturday 18 October 2008

Beginning the Run-up to Christmas

I know it's only the middle of October, but some of the recipe tasks for Christmas need to start now. There's just time, if you're quick, to make a short mead brew for the festivities. To that end, here's a festive orange-flavoured mead for you to make yourselves:

Orange Melomel Mead

This is a 'short' (quick to make) mead that takes 10 weeks to mature, so it's just possible to make it now for Christmas (or your New Year festivities at the least).

1.8kg orange blossom honey
frinely-pared zest of 4 oranges (exclude all pith or the mead will be bitter)
500ml freshly-squeezed orange juice
4l unchlorinated water
1 packet yeast (Yeast (Epernay II is good but champagne yeast would also work))

Combine the honey and water in a large pot and cook over medium heat, stirring continuously, until the honey has dissolved (do not allow the mixture to boil). Skim and scum that rises to the surface and continue cooking until all the honey has gone into solution (typically about 30 minutes).

Transfer to your fermenting bucket and allow to cool to room temperature before pitching (adding) the yeast. Allow to ferment for 2 weeks then open the bucket and add the orange peel and juice.

Transfer the liquid and peel to a demijohn or carbuoy then make up to 5l with more water. Fit a bung and a fermentation lock and leave to ferment in a warm, dark, place for 30 days (or until the bubbling slows to 1 bubble every 10-15 seconds).

At this point strain the mead into bottles and if you want a sparkling mead add a small pinch of champagne yeast and a small pinch of icing sugar to each bottle. For a flat mead exclude this process.

Cork securely then lay the bottles down in a cool place and allow to mature for at least 4 weeks.

(This recipe is reproduced, with thanks, from the Celtnet Orange Melomel Mead recipe page). If you have not made mead before, then here is a step-by-step guide to making a basic mead. Also, here is a guide to the equipment you will need in the mead-making process.)

These recipes are brought to you by the Celtnet Mead Brewing Pages and the Celtnet Christmas Recipes collection.

Thursday 16 October 2008

Hunting for Wilding Apples

I am a big fan of apples for eating, but not such a great fan of apples for cooking and that's probably because my tastes tend towards tart rather than sour. Which is why I'm well known for buying cooking apples for eating (Bramleys are a special favourite).

Even then, as a forager, I am not one to give-up the opportunity for free food. So yesterday I went along the local canal hunting for 'wilding apples'. Wildings are apple trees that have grown from seeds or cores thrown into a hedge or roadside verge.

Apples are unusual in that they require cross-pollination to be fertilized and for the apples to grow. As a result the seeds of an apple contain the characteristics of both parents. This is why an apple grown from seed will never be true to the original tree that bore it. Indeed, this is why apple trees need to be propagated from cuttings and why you need to match apple trees for cross-pollination when planting.

Any apple tree that grows from seeds will therefor have completely different flavour and texture profiles from the parents and you will not know what that tree's fruit is like until you bite into it.

That's why hunting for wilding apples can be very exciting. Of course, whilst looking for wildings I was also on the look-out for crabapples that I will use in stews and for making jams and preserves through the winter.

I eventually found half a dozen trees, tow of which were obviously Cox's crosses and made good eating. These apples have been laid down to keep over the winter. Another was a big surprise. It seems to be a golden delicious cross with a slightly floury interior but much tarter than the usual golden delicious and again I collected these and will keep for the winter.

The next was a green and red apple that was much tarter somewhere between a dessert apple and a cooking apple. Again I collected these, but I'm not certain what to do with them yet! But maybe I'll keep for a few weeks and make toffee apples.

I also found one that was far too sweet for my taste and I didn't bother with this one.

So, with these apples ready to be stored and with some recipe ideas already in mind, here are some recipes for you:

Toffee Apples

225g demerara sugar
110ml water
1/2 tsp vinegar
2 tbsp golden syrup
25g butter
6 apples (either dessert or tart apples, depending on preference)
6 wooden skewers


Combine the sugar and water in a pan and set over moderate heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until all the sugar has dissolved then add the vinegar, syrup and butter. Stir to combine then bring the mixture to a boil. Allow to cook (do not stir at all), until the mixture reaches the soft crack stage (140°C, as measured by a confectioner's thermometer) — typically this will take about 10 minutes.

Pierce each apple with a wooden stick or skewer and make certain it's firmly embedded in the fruit. When the toffee is ready, dip each apple in turn in the hot mixture. Rotate the apple slowly so that the entire apple is coated (you may want to set the first apple aside and coat all the others then repeat the coating process so you get a nice layer of toffee). When ready, set the apples upright on a lightly-oiled baking tray or on greaseproof paper for the toffee to harden.

If desired, they can be wrapped in cellophane and will keep for a few days.

(This recipe is reproduced, with permission from the following toffee apples/candy apples recipe.)

Next is a rather unusual soup using wilding apples:

Wilding Apple Soup Recipe

30g butter
16 tart wilding apples, cored and chopped (or any tart apples)
1.2l water
1/2 tbsp freshly-grated lemon zest
3cm length of cinnamon
50ml Brich sap syrup (or Maple syrup)
1 tbsp arrowroot
1 tbsp lemon juice
60ml white wine

60ml sour cream


Melt the butter in a pan and use to gently fry the apples until just browned. Add the water, lemon zest, cinnamon and syrup. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes, or until the apples are tender.

Take off the heat, remove the cinnamon the allow to cool before puréeing in a blender, until smooth. Return the soup to the pan and warm though. Take 100ml of the soup and stir-in the arrowroot to form a smooth slurry. Add this back to the soup and cook until thickened. Add the lemon juice and wine, allow to heat through and serve in warmed soup bowls, garnished with a spoonful of sour cream.

This recipe is adapted from the following recipe for Wilding Apple Soup.

For more wilding apple recipes see this collection of Recipes for Wilding Apples.

One rather interesting discovery was a stand of ornamental crabapples trees of the 'Adams' cultivar. These have bright red fruit about 3cm in length and they make excellent eating. But they do seem to rot very quickly, so if you see some, pick and eat! Of course I also made my way to my favourite crabapple tree and collected what I could from there. Crabapples are very versatile and form the basis for a variety of food.

If you would like a list of crabapple based recipes then follow this link: List of Crab apple Recipes.

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

Tuesday 14 October 2008

Cooking with Hazelnuts

Yesterday I realized that the hazelnuts on a local tree were ripe and ready for picking and it was a case of collecting them before the local children got to them. As a result there's an update on this blog about within a week of my last post. I know that my aim here is to post about a new wild food every week, but sometimes you have to pick wild foods when they're available rather than when you would like to do so. So here's an unexpected update on hazelnuts and the hazel tree.

Because I now have the hazelnuts and they're green (some I will set aside to dry) here are some of my favourite recipes for green hazelnuts or cobnuts. But, before I go to the recipes here's a brief introduction to hazelnuts:

People have been eating hazelnuts for millennia and we have evidence for large scale hazelnut collection and preparation from 7000 years ago. If you would like to explore what our ancestors may have made with these hazelnuts, check out these ancient hazelnut recipes.

These days, in the main, it's the common hazel, Corylus avellana that's most commonly grown. But development of the wild stock in orchards and gardens has led to a whole range of cultivars and in Britain one of the commonest is the Cobnut or Kentish Cob, originally developed around 1830 and which is now by far the commonest variety. It has a large shell and nut and is noted by remaining green in the shell for a long time after being picked, which makes it excellent for transportation. Another common variety of hazelnut is the filbert Corylus maxima which is native to southeastern Europe and southwestern Asia and most commonly comes from Turkey.

In the recipes below any of these hazel varieties can be used.

We'll start with one of my favourite recipes, a green hazelnut pesto:

Cobnut Pesto

120g cobnuts (shelled weight), lightly toasted
100ml extra-virgin olive oil
100g mint (leaves and tender stems)
2 garlic cloves
salt and black pepper, to taste

Simply combine all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until a smooth purŽe is formed. Transfer to a jar and store in the refrigerator (for a slightly richer flavour you can add 50g freshly-grated Parmesan cheese. This pesto makes an excellent crust for lamb chops and also goes well with rich fish such as mackerel, herring or tuna.

(this recipe is adapted, with permission, from the following cobnut or hazelnut posto recipe.)

Hazelnut Halva

This is an adaptation of the classic Middle Eastern dessert/candy that uses hazelnuts rather than the more typical pine nuts or almonds in the mixture.

280g sugar
100ml water
150g blanched hazelnuts, toasted
340g tahini (sesame seed paste)

Begin by laying the blanched hazelnuts on a baking tray and toast in an oven pre-heated to 180°C until lightly coloured. Take out of the oven and immediately transfer to a bowl and when cool chop each one in half with a sarp knife.

Beat the tahini in a large bowl until smooth then set aside. In the meantime, combine the sugar and water in a pan and bring to a boil. Continue boiling until the mixture reaches 125°C (between the Hard Ball stage and the Soft Crack stage). Add the hazelnuts at this stage and stir to combine.

Take the pan off the heat and gradually beat the syrup mixture into the tahini, whisking constantly. Continue beating briskly until the mixture begins to set then press the mixture into the base of an oiled cake tin lined with greaseproof paper. Place in the refrigerator and leave to set for 24 hours.

Remove from the refrigerator, take out of the tin and cut into squares with a sharp knife whilst still cold.

(This recipe is reproduced, with permission from the original Hazelnut Halva/Halwa Recipe.)

For many more hazlenut and cobnut recipes check out the Celtnet Cobnut and Hazelnut recipes collection, which is a part of a much larger collection of nut-based recipes.

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

Monday 13 October 2008

Cooking with Rowan Berries

This is this week's entry in my attempt to find a new autumn wild food every week and this time it's rowan berries (for a list of autumn fruit and when they are ready, along with links to recipes using them see this List of Autumn fruit and recipes).

Rowan berries are everywhere in late autumn and the bright red berries tend to stand out in scarlet bunches from the parent tree. These are the fruit of the Rowan tree, Sorbus aucuparia a member of the Rosaceae (rose) family of plants.

Many believe that rowan berries are poisonous and that's why they're not often picked. In a sense this is right as raw rowan berries contain parasorbic acid that can cause stomach upsets and liver damage. However, if frozen (and most especially if cooked) the parasorbic acid is converted into inert parasorbic acid (this is what makes rowan berries bitter) and they are safe to eat. This is probably the origin of the folkloric practice of not picking rowan berries until after the first frost. But these days you can pick them as soon as they are ripe and then freeze them for 2 weeks. This both makes them sweeter and renders them safer. But if you're cooking them for any period of time they will be safe anyway.

Rowan berries have a tartness and a sweetness that makes them excellent for making jellies and they also have a natural affinity for game meats, so rowan jelly is often used in game sauces.

Below are a few rowan recipes for your to try yourselves. Rowan berries tend to contain little pectin. As a result I tend to add a few crab apples to my jelly to ensure setting.

Rowan Jelly

1.3g rowan berries
3 crab apples, chopped
1.5l water
sugar (75g per 100ml of liquid)


Pick the rowan berries, remove any stalks then dry and freeze over night to help destroy the parasorbic acid in the fruit. The following day thaw the fruit. Wash the whole crab apples, removing any bruised parts and place the fruit in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, adding just enough water to cover them. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer and cook for some 25 minutes, until tender. Strain the jelly through a bag or muslin cloth (this will take up to 5 hours) but do not squeeze, otherwise the jelly will become cloudy.

Measure the volume of liquid you have and add 75g of sugar per 100ml of liquid. Add the sugar in an ovenproof bowl and place in the centre of an oven pre-heated to 170°C and bake for about 10 minutes.

Return the juice back to a clean heavy-bottomed pan and add the sugar, stirring until fully dissolved. Bring to the boil and cook rapidly for about 15 minutes, until the setting point is reached. Test for setting by placing a teaspoon of the mixture on a place cooled in the fridge. Allow to cool for a minute and then if a skin forms when you push the mixture with your fingernail it's ready to pot. If you don't get a skin continue boiling for a further ten minutes and test again.

Skim the surface when ready, allow to cool for about 7–8 minutes before potting. Then spoon into warmed, sterilized jars using a ladle.

Now you have your rowan berry jelly, you can make a red wine game sauce with it:

Rowan Berry Sauce

3 tbsp fat from game meat roasting (use duck fat or butter at a pinch)
2 tbsp flour
100ml water
150ml red wine
2 tbsp rowan berry jelly

Add the fat to a pan over medium heat. Sprinkle the flour over the top then stir into the fat to form a smooth roux and cook for 1 minute, stirring continually. Combine the red wine and cold water then slowly add the liquid to the roux mixture, stirring all the while to ensue you have a smooth sauce.

Bring the mix to a boil then stir in the rowan jelly. Continue cooking and stirring until the jelly has dissolved and the sauce has thickened. Serve hot with game.

This recipe is reproduced, with permission, from the Celtnet Rowan Berry and Red Wine Game Sauce recipe.

There is more information about Rowan Berries and plenty of Rowan Berry recipes on the Celtnet Rowan Berry Wild Food information and Recipes page.

For more rowan berry recipes, including pies, jams, jellies and sauces look at the Rowan Berry Recipe collection.

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

Monday 6 October 2008

Rose Hips for Food

In my quest to find and collect a new wild food each and every weekend in September and October I've come to a little bit of an Impasse. So far I've had blackberries (link), elderberries (link), ash keys and haws.

The past few weeks have been so wet that I've not had much of an opportunity. But yesterday was a very fine day. However, guelder roses aren't quite ripe yet and the same is true of rowan berries.

That really only leaves rose hips. Now, I've nibbled on these in passing several times in the past and I really like the taste. But they do strike me as being just a bit of a faff to prepare, as you have to remove each and every seed.

But, needs must... and as there was nothing else to pick (at least not properly) I decided to harvest the rose hips instead (of course I picked more elderberries and haws as well). Admittedly it's still a little early for the rose hips to be fully ripe (the dog rose ones at least), but the wild Rosa rugosa hips were nice and dark and there were quite a few bushes growing on waste ground so I harvested those and will pick the dog rose Rosa canina hips later this month.

Having picked the rose hips I needed to find things to do with them and it's only when searching the web that I found out just how versatile this food could be. So here are a couple of recipes that I've been able to try out for myself.

First we'll start with a classic method of air drying rose hips for later use:

Dried Rose Hips

600g rose hips

Like many late autumn fruit it's best to pick rose hips after the first frost when they are fully ripe. Snap off the tails of the hips as close to the fruit as possible then spread the hips out on a clean surface (I tend to spread newspaper on a table and spread them out there). Allow to dry partially (when the skins begin to wrinkle) then split the hips and remove all the seeds with a small spoon or a pointed knife (be certain to remove all the seeds, as these can catch in the throat).

Return the hips to your drying surface and allow to dry our completely (they must be completely dry, or they will not store) then either freeze in bags (they will keep indefinitely) or place in a clean jar and store in the refrigerator (they will keep for several months).

As well as being used as replacement for fruit you can add these to trail mixes, eat them as snacks or use as toppings for salads. Rose hips are very high in vitamin C and make an excellent winter supplement.

Of course, one of the classic ways of using rose hips is to make rose hip soup. There are classic recipes for this from Sweden (Nyponsoppa) and Germany (Hagebuttem Soup) but the recipe given below is a classic British recipe:

Rose Hip Soup

1l rose hip purée (or rose hip juice)
3 tbsp honey
3 tbsp freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1 tbsp cornflour
2 tbsp water
6 tbsp Greek-style yoghurt

Combine the rose hip purée, honey and lemon juice in a pan. Bring to a simmer then whisk together the cornflour and water to a slurry. Add to the soup and whisk to combine. Continue cooking until the soup thickens then ladle into warmed soup bowls, garnish with a spoonful of yoghurt and serve.

(This recipe is reproduced, with thanks, from the Celtnet British Recipes collection.)

If you want many more rose hip recipes then check out the Rose hips recipes collecton.

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

Friday 3 October 2008

Recipes for Occasions

With Halloween just around the corner I want to talk to your about various occasions. For the next three months we have Halloween, Thanksgiving (Bonfire Night if you're in the UK) and Christmas (or the Winter Solstice) and of course New Year all just around the corner.

Now is the time for thinking about Halloween (and you can learn much more about the Origins, History, traditions and Recipes of Halloween).

Contrary to popular belief, Halloween is not an American festival. It actually has its roots deep in the Celtic past but it was made into a Christian festival in the 9th century when the day became merged with All Saints' Day (All Hallows Day in Old English, and the night before was All Hallows' Eve which became truncated to Hallowe'en and Halloween). As a result there are traditions and recipes associated with Halloween right across the British Isles and here are links to some traditional recipes from England:

soul cakes
toffee apples
Apple Tart with Herb Bennet
Apple Pie

In Ireland, Halloween was traditionally a day of abstinence and no meat was eaten. As a result recipes featuring potatoes were the mainstay. A good example being Northern Ireland's Champ, the recipe for which is given below:

Champ Recipe

900g potatoes, peeled and halved
240ml milk
1 bunch spring onions, finely sliced
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
60g butter
1/4 tsp freshly-ground black pepper, or to taste


Add the potatoes to a pan and just cover with water. Bring to a boil and allow to cook until tender (about 20 minutes). Drain in a colander then return to the pan and cook for a few minutes so the potatoes have a chance to drain.

Meanwhile add the milk and spring onions to a pan and heat gently until just warm. Take the potatoes off the heat and mash with the butter, salt and black pepper until smooth. Stir-in the milk mixture and beat until evenly combined. Season with black pepper and serve in warmed bowls. This also makes an excellent accompaniment to good quality sausages.

Below you will find links to other traditional Irish Halloween recipes.

boxty pancakes
potato farls
apple and potato fadge
barm brack

You might also be interested to know that the Jack O'Lantern, the practice of carving lanterns from vegetables and illuminating them with candles is also a an Irish tradition (though swedes and turnips were used instead of pumpkins [which originate from the Americas]).

These days, however it's the pumpkin that's most closely related with Halloween and no Halloween meal is complete without a pumpkin recipe or two. In fact, the pumpkin is very versatile and can be used for a whole host of both sweet and savoury dishes. Though the dish everyone immediately thinks of is the 'Pumpkin Pie'. Here, however is a slight twist on that classic recipe:

Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie Recipe

enough sweet shortcrust pastry for a 22cm pie dish (about 250g)
250g cream cheese, at room temperature
50g sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
generous pinch of salt
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice blend
300g cooked pumpkin purée (steam the pumpkin until tender, drain in a colander and mash or purée)
100g sugar
2 eggs, beaten
250ml evaporated milk


First prepare the cheese mix. Add the cream cheese to a bowl and beat until creamy then add the 50g sugar and vanilla extract. Beat until light and fluffy then add the egg.

Roll out the pastry until large enough to cover the base of a deep 22cm pie dish. Trim any excess then spread the cheese mixture in the base of the pastry shell.

Combine the pumpkin, remaining sugar, salt and spices. Blend until smooth then add the eggs and evaporated milk. Mix until smooth then pour the mixture into the pie shell. Place in an oven pre-heated to 180°C and bake for about 60 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and the filling has stet. Allow to cool completely before cutting into wedges and serving.

(This recipe was adapted from the Celtnet Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie Recipe page.

For more pumpkin-associated recipes from all across the globe check out this list of pumpkin-based recipes.

These recipes are brought to you with the Celtnet Recipes for Special Occasions recipes.


In this post I'm also going to bring your attention to a new website by a colleague of mine: Foodmad Recipes and she promises to bring you new and surprising recipes from across the globe.
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