Sunday 2 November 2008

Cooking with Sea-buckthorn

I have been cooking with sea-buckthorn in one way or another for many years. However, recent reports of sea-buckthorn berries as a 'superfood' and their use on TV cooking shows have cast this winter berry into the forefront of many's minds.

In fact I wasn't planning to write anything on sea-buckthorn berries for quite a few weeks, but a trip to visit my parents yesterday (they live on the coast) brought this berry to mind. The sea-buckthorn plant is a thorny shrub that likes sandy soils, survives in salty environments but needs un-shaded spots. As a result they tend to grow along the coastline, though many are also used as hedging plants in gardens.

There are distinct male and female plants that flower in March and the fruit of the female plant mature in September. However, the fruit tend to stay on the plant throughout the winter and, typically, they can be picked right through to December. This is why I was planning on posting about this plant much later in the year. However, on yesterday's visit to my parents I spotted a beautiful plant stuffed full of berries.

Now, the traditional way of picking the fruit is to cut the whole fruit-bearing branch away then to freeze it for a few weeks and to strip the frozen berries away with a knife. This harms the plant and it may not bear fruit again for 2 years. As a result, I tend to pick by hand. This, admittedly, can be a tricky process because of the thorns (if you've ever picked sloes you will know what I mean). But it can be done and though you might prick yourself quite a few times you do much less damage to the plant.

The berries are both tart and bitter. Much of the bitterness can be eliminated by freezing the fruit for a week or more. The bitterness is also reduced by cooking and, like all bitter foods, you can add a little salt to counteract the bitterness (salt is the opposite of bitter in terms of cooking).

Sea-buckthorn berries are very rich in vitamins C and vitamin A (hence the yellow to orange colour) they also contain lots of essential oils and make an excellent winter storage food. Indeed, in Northern Europe the fruit are often dried and ground to a powder (seeds and all) to use as a condiment or spice.

We tend to under-use and under-value this plant (indeed, there is an old wives' tale that it's poisonous [entirely untrue]) but in Scandinavia and Russia it's highly prized for its berries. One of the most versatile uses is to make sea-buckthorn berry syrup, which can be used to flavour a whole range of other foods:

Sea-buckthorn Berry Syrup

1kg sea-buckthorn berries
2 tsp salt
500g sugar (or to taste)
200ml water

Pick over the berries, wash thoroughly then dry and freeze for at least 7 days (this reduces the bitterness). After a week, add the berries to a pan along with the salt (this also counteracts the bitterness). Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for about 20 minutes or until the fruit are soft. Mash the fruit then strain through a double layer of cloth. Wring the cloth to extract as much juice as possible.

Return the juice to a pan, add 350g sugar and bring to a simmer. Taste and adjust for sweetness (I like mine quite tart) then reduce until the mixture syrupy. Transfer to a bottle and store in the refrigerator.

(This recipe reproduced, with thanks from the Celtnet Sea-buckthorn berry syrup recipe page.)

As well as being used wherever you would use a flavoured syrup this syrup can also be used as the basis for cakes and other foods, as in the cheesecake recipe, below:

Sea-buckthorn Cheesecake

80g rich tea biscuits
80g digestive biscuits
60g butter, melted
2 tbsp brown sugar
250g ricotta cheese
250g mascarpone cheese
3 tbsp sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
300ml Sea-buckthorn Berry Syrup
fresh sea-buckthorn berries, to garnish

Crumble the biscuits then combine in a bowl with the butter and brown sugar. Pack into the base of a springform cake tin (about 25cm diameter) spreading the mixture part way up the side of the tin.

Meanwhile, cream together the cheeses and eggs in a bowl then stir-in the sugar and vanilla extract. Pour the cheese mix over the biscuit base then transfer to an oven pre-heated to 180°C and bake for about 30 minutes. Turn off the oven and allow the cake to cool completely in the oven.

When the cake is completely cold carefully warm-up the sea-buckthorn berry syrup and pour over the top of the cheesecake. Garnish with raw sea-buckthorn berries then place in the refrigerator to chill over night before serving.

(This recipe reproduced, with permission, from the following Sea-buckthorn Syrup Cheesecake Recipe.)

Like many wild fruit, sea-buckthorn berries can also be used to make a tasty jam or jelly which is an excellent breakfast spread. Follow the following link for a whole range of Sea-buckthorn Berry Recipes.

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

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank for sharing your post iam looking forward for your next post.
Chef Course

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