Preserving the sunshine

It’s funny how quickly your view about the weather can change. Last year I would have said that anything below zero Celsius was too cold for me to venture out for long and a good reason to jump into the car for the school run (ok, I pretty much drove all of the time, no matter what the temperature was). This year, having survived temperatures of -20, ice on the inside of the windows and about 2 feet of snow for well over a month, I’m saying things like ‘It’s really warmed up’ when its anything near 0!

The warmer weather has already got me thinking ahead to Spring and Summer and making sure that we make the most of the sunshine and all that it brings. I’m looking at planting a lot more this year. Vegetables, fruit and flowers and I’m planning to do a whole lot of preserving.

When we lived in England, I made a lot of hedgerow jams, windfall chutneys and jellies out of whatever I could get my hands on. I’ve always enjoyed preserving and was sad to leave all of my preserving books behind, not to mention my jam pans. I knew though that my preserving journey would continue in Canada. I looked forward to canning, pickling, drying and last Summer didn’t disappoint.

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When I posted this picture a few weeks ago on Instagram of some fruit leather I had made, Lynda (sultanabun) and Christine (Winwickmum) was asked if I would write up the recipe, which I’m more than happy to now, although it’s not really a recipe at all.

I’ve made fruit leather before and always used the same principles for pretty much any fruit. The fruit leather above is plum but I have made apple and blackberry before too.

To start, I chop up the fruit, remove any cores or stones and put it in a big pan with minimal water. Really juicy fruit doesn’t need any water at all.

 Heat it up and when it’s just softened, so not for long at all,  remove it from the heat and puree the mix with a handblender. At this point the mixture can be sieved to remove little seeds or any skins but I didn’t sieve this plum mixture. At this point I taste for sweetness and add sugar to taste along with a squeeze of lemon. Return to the heat for about 5mins. (I have read that you should use honey and not sugar as the sugar can cause the fruit leather to be brittle but I’ve not found that to be a problem).

The mixture is then poured into shallow trays lined with cling film (microwave safe) or silicone sheets. You don’t want to make it too deep otherwise it takes ages to dry out. If you have an oven that has a light you can leave the trays in the oven with the light on. If not, on its lowest setting with the door slightly open. Or you can dry the fruit leather in the sun (if you are lucky to have some). I left mine in the oven on 110F (43C). You do not want to cook the leather so I check mine regularly and rotate the trays if I see one side is drying faster than the other. Basically the leather is ready when you can touch it and it is no longer sticky, about 8 hours later.

Once its cooled completely, peel off the cling film and cut the leather into strips and lay on parchment paper and roll. I made a lot of fruit leather last summer so I froze whole sheets rolled up and this seems to have worked fine.

There are lots of recipes online for fruit leather. Some use spices or honey or both, try whatever you fancy. I’d love to hear what you make if you have a go.

I didn’t just make fruit leather last year. There was also this

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and this

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and pickled walnuts, cherry rum and a lot of dried fruit (grapes, cherries, plums).

This year we will definitely be making a lot more pickles and juices as well as more of the above. Roll on Summer!

x

 

 

 

Tasty Christmas treats

As much of the crochet I have done since my last post has been made for other people and I would prefer that they be surprised when they open their gifts, I can’t show you what I have been hooking. I can however share my edible Christmas makes.

Since having my two little boys, I have been rubbish in the kitchen and have only just recently started to make some of my old favourites. Christmas makes me prioritise taking time in the kitchen, something I should do all year long but fail miserably at. Who can resist the spicy aromas associated with Christmas and the sweet treats that feel truly indulgent?

I used to make my own Christmas cake using Delia Smith’s fruit cake recipe but when I discovered that no one else in my house actually likes Christmas cake it did feel a bit excessive making it just for myself. Also I really only ate Christmas cake with cheese so I felt even more guilty.

Then a couple of years ago whilst my parents were living in Trinidad, I heard about black cake (rum cake) and looked for a recipe to try. I was lucky enough to visit Trinidad on two occasions, but never actually tried black cake when I was there so had no idea what was an authentic recipe or not. So I just chose the one I liked the look of and the one my mum tells me is nothing like any black cake she ever had (that’s a compliment, right?).

What appealed about the recipe, which you can find here on TriniGormet.com, was the amount of alcohol the fruit is soaked in prior to baking the cake. For 3lbs of fruit it recommends 1 bottle of cherry brandy and 1 bottle of rum and/or 1 bottle of Bailey’s. Yes, 3 bottles! What also drew me to this recipe was the use of Angostura bitters (made in Trinidad and a childhood favourite of mine, I always felt so sophisticated drinking lemonade with a few drops of Angostura) and nutmeg. Whilst in Trinidad I had walked through the cathedral like nutmeg groves and collected nutmeg that had fallen. If you’ve never seen what nutmeg looks like whilst growing, look it up. The nutmeg is encased in a hard shell which has a lacy covering of mace, all enclosed¬†by a protective fruit. I still have a jar of nutmeg, a spice once considered as valuable as gold, sadly not anymore.

It is fair to say that the soaking fruit doesn’t look anything special.

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The baked result is much more appealing.

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This is being fed with rum on a daily basis. It won’t be iced as it has a dense, pudding-like texture and we eat it with copious amounts of clotted cream (not very traditional in Trinidad apparently). I can’t wait for Christmas Day evening when we eat this.

Something I haven’t been able to stop eating is another Christmas treat that I was introduced to through my¬† parents’ travels. My mum and dad used to live in Iran (so did I but I was too young to remember any of it) and one of the foods they always speak about from there is chocolate covered orange peel. My mum used to make this when I was little and when I had a kitchen of my own I asked her for the recipe, which I never wrote down and started to make up myself each year.

There are recipes on the net and the one that is similar to my method is the River Cottage Candied Orange Sticks one. I don’t use glycerine and it turns out just fine. I love laying the sticky pieces of peel out to dry.

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They look better when they have been given their dark chocolate coating.

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They also make a lovely gift or nibble to take to a party.

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I am just about to dip my second batch of these and I imagine I will need to make more before Christmas day as they disappear quickly.

If you can’t indulge at Christmas, when can you? Enjoy.

x