Jam from the Hedgerows – Is Red the New Blackberry!

jarsWhen Summer ends and Autumn arrives with that first slightly surprising chill in the morning air, I take the jam making pan down from the top shelf and get out in the garden and the hedgerows to gather fruit to make my Blackberry and Apple Jam. Every jam maker worth their salt has been eyeing up the hedges for a couple of weeks by this stage in the game to see where the best and ripest fruit is. It is really important to pick the fruit at its best – ideally in the morning on a dry day and after a dry night. And you have to be quick, I remember one year leaving it just a day too late and someone had got there before me and stripped my target Blackberry bushes clean of fruit – I even spotted her making off with multiple Tupperware containers – certainly the stuff that local feuds are made of. So don’t put it off and get your old jam jars ready for the fray.

I prefer to pick and make jam in fairly small batches which is more manageable and means you can harvest the fruit and make your jam in smaller quantities over a couple of weeks. We have been serving this particular jam to guests in our Airbnb shed and it has been going down a treat, so I thought I would share it more widely…

Blackberries that are growing wild make such beautiful, luscious jam, with a jewel like colour and a deep fruity taste and aroma – plummy, sweet and berry laden. That smell when you are cooking the fruit is just gorgeous and perfectly sums up this transition from Summer to Autumn so well. I add cooking apples to my Blackberry jam, the tartness adds to the flavour and the naturally occurring pectin helps to get a good set.

Once I have all the jars filled and sealed. I sometimes have a little bit left over. I confess that its always tempting to just eat it still warm, off a spoon straight from the pan, but what is even better is to make a quick batch of scones and eat the left over jam with them (with or without butter or clotted cream.) And at this point I am going to be very controversial and state quite categorically that I am always a “cream first, jam second” eater of scones.  I know this is the subject of fierce debate but the reason I do this is because frankly, I want and I desire to see and to witness that garnet red jam wobbling on top of a generous dollop of clotted cream before I take my first mouthful. Sure, the potential for oozing and dribbles is greater. But let’s face it there are few pleasurable activities that don’t involve oozing and dribbles in my experience! **

** Well it all went a bit Nigella there readers!

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Recipe – Makes six jars of jam.

  • 1 kg Blackberries
  • 500g Cooking Apples peeled, cored and sliced
  • 1 .5 kg Jam Sugar (I use Jam sugar, which has Pectin added and helps take the guess work out of the setting process)
  • 300ml water
  • Two large thick bottomed saucepans.
  • Six x 500g jam jars with lids – cleaned and dried.
  • Jam thermometer
  • A metal spoon for stirring
  • Old Newspaper
  • A metal or ceramic measuring jug

jam

Method

  1. Place the Blackberries in one saucepan with half the water, and the apples in the second saucepan with the other half of the water.
  2. Pre heat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade
  3. Bring both pans to the boil and then turn down to a slow simmer.
  4. Cook until the apples are a complete mush and the blackberries are well softened, which should take about twenty minutes.
  5. Give both pans a regular stir to stop them catching or scorching.
  6. Place the clean and freshly washed jam jars, without their lids on a baking tray and place in the oven for about 5 minutes.
  7. Spread newspaper over the area where you intend to fill your jam jars – it can get messy.
  8. Place the heated jam jars on the newspaper ready for filling.
  9. When the fruit is ready, take off the heat and add the apples to the blackberries and mix well.
  10. Now add the sugar and stir very well until it is fully dissolved.
  11. Place the pan back on the heat. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring regularly to avoid it sticking or burning.
  12. Use the thermometer to check the temperature and when it reaches the indicated temperature for Jam or 105 degrees centigrade or 220 degrees fahrenheit it is ready – make sure the temperature is taken not just from the centre which may be hotter.
  13. Now carefully remove the pan from the heat and pour the jam into the heated jars or use the jug to fill the jars if the saucepan has no pouring lip.
  14. Fill each jar almost to the top but leave about a matchstick width of space at the top of the jar.
  15. Quickly seal the jars by placing the lids on very tightly. You may need to use a clean tea towel for this as the jars will be hot.
  16. Label with the date and what is in the jar and when cool place them in a dark, cool place to store.
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On the batter again…….

I do love Shrove Tuesday because I seriously love pancakes in all their wonderful forms. Crepes savoury and sweet, fluffy American style, and these gluten free banana and cinnamon pancakes are my latest favourite breakfast. When we were little we would compete for how many pancakes we could eat on pancake day and my Mum would be stationed by the cooker for over an hour during which she must have fried, flipped and served fifty pancakes to satisfy our demands. My brother James held the record for consuming pancakes when I think he managed twelve in one sitting. She always served them simply with a squeeze of orange juice and a sprinkle of caster sugar, rolled up and ready to go.

I have been trying to cut down on wheat this year with mixed success, but these pancakes are great made with gluten free flour and are a real weekend or Valentine’s day breakfast treat. The cinnamon and bananas give them a natural sweetness and they really don’t need additional sugar, but I can’t help adding a small amount of maple syrup on mine. Plus they are very quick and easy to rustle up for hungry small people and of course perfect for anyone with a wheat intolerance or allergy too.

Banana and Cinnamon Pancakes (Gluten Free)

Makes about 16 pancakes, so enough for 4 (or for one greedy little brother)

  • 4 ripe bananas
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 100g gluten free flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 table spoon of vegetable oil
  • A small knob of butter (optional)20180212_084952

To serve:

  • A drizzle of maple syrup or honey
  • A scattering of fresh strawberries or blueberries

You will need:

  • A large frying pan
  • A large mixing bowl
  • Potato masher
  1. Peel and mash the bananas in the mixing bowl with the potato masher
  2. Add the eggs, flour, baking soda and cinnamon and mix well, although it really does not need to be smooth.
  3. Now heat the oil (and the butter if you are using it) in the frying pan and get it good and hot.
  4. Add four or five dollops of the pancake mix to the pan. These are small American style pancakes. They will spread out a little so allow enough room for that.
  5. Cook them on a medium heat for a couple of minutes and make sure they don’t burn. Generally, if there are small bubbles forming on top it is time to turn them over and cook them for another two to three minutes. They should be golden grown.
  6. Serve with toppings of your choice and a big mug of coffee.

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Facing the storm with slow cooked comfort food…

 

Storm Eleanor is fast approaching us here in West Cork and we need something for tea that is warming, comforting and easy. Also, importantly this dish will cope well in the event of a power outage. And it is a really slow meal too, so you will build up an appetite as the beef cooks until it melts and just falls off the bone.20180102_172031

I have bought a large piece of shin of beef with the bone in from Walsh’s Butchers in Skibbereen. The butcher appeared from the back of the shop brandishing a whole leg and kindly cut it to size using the electric band saw to dramatic effect. Shin needs to be cooked low and slow – 5 hours is what we are looking at – so plenty of time to spend battening down hatches, checking on the neighbours, or just reading a book in front of the fire. This cut is tough and sinewy when undercooked but given the right treatment is absolutely delicious and much cheaper than other cuts – and lets face it none of us have any money left in January. Shin of beef will easily stretch to two or three meals and the leftovers are great in a sandwich with lots of horseradish sauce or in a puff pastry topped pie with chestnut mushrooms.

And if the power goes off while this is cooking, it will cope perfectly well with being stuck on top of the wood burner or the camping stove to complete. I serve with mashed potatoes, turnips (swede in England) and carrots with lots of butter and white pepper just like my Mum used to make them and some greens on the side (or good old bread and butter if the power goes). So amid the candles and while you are eating with a head torch on this is the food to give you gastronomic shelter from the storm.20180101_104321

Enough for 4 (and some decent leftovers)

  • 1.5 – 2kg Shin of beef in one piece with the bone left in
  • Whole bulb of garlic cut in half
  • I teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Sea salt and ground black pepper
  • 3 or 4 bay leaves
  • Small bunch of thyme
  • 3 onions or 6 shallots peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4 sticks of celery roughly chopped.
  • 1 large carrot roughly chopped.
  • I pint of good beef stock
  • Half a pint of red wine or one of those huge glasses that they serve in wine bars

You will need a large oven proof casserole that can also go on the hob and a frying pan.

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 140 C.
  2. Rub the joint with the allspice and cumin and season with the salt and pepper.
  3. Heat a tablespoon of oil in the frying pan and get the pan good and hot before browning the meat very well on all sides. Don’t rush this as it will give a great flavour to the final dish.
  4. In the casserole heat the rest of the olive oil and on a medium heat add the chopped vegetables and the herbs and cook until the onions are soft.
  5. When the beef is almost done add the two halves of garlic to the frying pan until they have caramelised well.
  6. Now add the beef and the garlic to the casserole and pour in the red wine. Bring to the boil and let the wine bubble away for a couple of minutes and then add your beef stock.
  7. Put the lid on the casserole and place it in the oven.
  8. Find something to do. A book to read. A DIY job. Tidy the kitchen cupboards. Put the roof back on the shed. This needs to cook for 5 hours and then rest for about an hour, so all that you need to do is sort out the vegetables and either blend the cooking stock (minus the herbs) to make a rich thick gravy, or just serve it as it is spooned over the beef.

 

 

 

Hallowe’en – the last harvest and the turning of the year.

20171031_114409Growing up in 1960s England my memories of this time of year were of Hallowe’en being a much bigger deal for our Irish family than for English families, who tended to focus on Bonfire Night (which for obvious reasons we did not celebrate). From a very early age I can remember my mother lighting candles, my father bringing in bags of nuts and satsumas and apples being bobbed for in icy cold water. A swede lantern would be prepared and would give off a fairly unpleasant sweet smell as it warmed up. Dad might light a fire in the back garden and we would spook each other with ghost stories – and the three of us older girls dressed up as Banshees or witches. There was no Hallowe’en “industry” in those days and I can remember my oldest sister Lise and our great friend Oliver hanging a piece of white, embossed wallpaper cut to the shape of a ghost in the linen cupboard. They lined us all up to open the door and look. When you opened the door, even just a crack the paper moved in the draft and caught the light and I can remember that this was literally terrifying for the five year old me.

I remember my Grandfather, a wonderful teller of ghost stories, speaking of how in the Irish Midlands he would walk the roads and hedges in the weeks before Hallowe’en to collect nuts for his children using a long stick to pull down the highest branches. And in the days before every shop overflowed with spooky Hallowe’en confectionary and plastic junk, the onus was on simply scaring yourself silly and eating nuts that my father would crack from their shells on the table by candlelight.

Years later my own children, nieces and nephews were always visited by a mysterious and strange woman each Hallowe’en. Madam Magdalena was an outrageous and vaguely Eastern European fortune teller who announced her arrival by bashing on the front door with her stick three times each year to the dread and delight of the children.

I never met her myself, as I was of course alway “busy in the kitchen” when she arrived….. and even my own kids weren’t quite sure who she really was!

To me it always feels that Hallowe’en is a really important part of my heritage. And of course the ancient feast of Samhain was a celebration of the turning of the seasons, the end of the old and the promise of the new. A time to reflect on our loved ones who have departed this world and a time to feel close to them. So in collecting and eating that final harvest of apples, nuts and root vegetables on Hallowe’en, we are preparing for the ending of the light but we also demonstrate that darkness and death is just another part of the cycle of life. And by gathering together and playing games and tricks we are learning to say we are not afraid of death.

So in the spirit of the day of course we can move easily from Death to sweet treats for the junior banshees…..and that is precisely what this time of year is all about.

So, I’m just doing a quick and easy treat for this evening that reminds me of those bags of nuts that my Dad and my Grandfather would have shared out each year. But I am adding a crispy, sweet, salty crust for any “trick or treaters” that may come to call. And who knows Madam Magdalena may grace us with her presence and I am reliably informed that she would enjoy these with a large glass of red.

Sea Salt Candied Hazelnuts

  • 150 g Whole Hazelnuts (or other nuts such as pecans, walnuts, almonds or a mixture of)
  • 50g white caster sugar
  • Half a teaspoon of sea salt flakes
  • 1 tablespoon of water
  • A baking sheet lined with non-stick baking parchment.
  • A saucepan
  • An airtight jar if you intend to store them

Method20171031_120123

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees centigrade.
  2. Heat the sugar and the water in the saucepan over a low heat until it is completely dissolved. Then bring it to the boil slowly and without stirring.
  3. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the nuts and gently stir so that they are coated by the syrup.
  4. Now pour the contents of the saucepan on to the baking tray and gently spread them out evenly. Sprinkle them with the salt flakes and pop them in the oven.
  5. These will take about 20 minutes to cook and you need to check them every five minutes and give them a quick stir about to separate the nuts from each other. When they are ready they should be coated with a golden brown sugary crust.
  6. Take them out and let them cool completely.

Serve on their own, or as a crunchy topping for cakes or ice cream. Or save them till the end of a meal with a cup of coffee and a glass of Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur). And maybe raise a glass then to the ancestors and those departed friends and family that we shared this special time of the year with in our youth.

Happy Samhain.

 

 

 

 

Glamping in Ireland 1960s Style and Auntie Lily’s Roast Chicken.

People seem to think that “glamping” is a relatively recent phenomenon. I can assure you that this is not the case. For in 1969, on a sand dune in Portrane, Dublin, my family stayed in a long retired Dublin tram (it would be called vintage these days) for a week one summer. No electricity, water from a pump, distant toilet, primitive cooking facilities, dark and cramped and not so much as a Kath Kidston cushion to brighten the outlook. Yet, we early pioneers of “glamping” suffered so that you could have your feather bed yurts, your champagne filled tipis and your pods with complimentary fire-pit and jacuzzi today. Back then we kept it real!

Well, for us kids it was heaven. We loved going to collect the water from the distant pump in a big bucket. We loved being literally on the beach. We really, really loved going to a chip shop or a burger bar complete with Juke Box for greasy lunches every day. My mother however was less than enamoured with the “arrangements”.

Enter my wonderful Auntie Lily, who tried not to look too appalled at the conditions that her brother’s family were enduring on that wind-blasted sand dune. The next morning we visited her and my Granny in North Dublin. We had been out in the garden that was beautifully tended by Uncle Paud and we each had a sprig of mint from the herb patch near the back wall. Auntie Lily gave my Dad a basket as we left. And the contents of that basket became all too apparent as we drove back to the tram, as the aroma of a freshly roasted chicken filled the warm, crowded car. It has to be one of my favourite food memories and still a much loved food smell. This was real food, cooked simply and well. We were of course completely starving by the time we got home, Mum boiled some lovely new potatoes, and we ate them with the lovely, golden chicken and loads of butter.

I have great affection for roast chicken in the winter with ham and stuffing and roast spuds. But as it gets warmer, I switch to a version that’s a bit lighter and brighter. In the garden right now the summer herbs that I use in this recipe are all abundant and lush and need cutting back and using regularly to keep them going over the summer. This is my version of a classic French inspired roast with summery notes from the tarragon, chives, lemon and parsley. Served with buttery baby new potatoes and new season asparagus this is an easy to put together feast.

Roast Chicken with Lemon, Tarragon, Parsley and Chives

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  • Large bunch of fresh tarragon
  • Large bunch of parsley
  • Large bunch of Chives – I used “garlic chives” which were great for this dish.
  • I un-waxed lemon
  • I bulb of garlic
  • Olive oil
  • 75g Butter
  • Salt and pepper
  • Two sticks of celery
  • Two shallots
  • Large glass of white wine
  • One 1.5 Kg fresh free-range chicken
  • A large roasting dish

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180c degrees.
  2. Take the chicken out of the fridge and bring to room temperature for about half and hour.
  3. Finely chop all the herbs and mix together with the butter, lemon rind, 1 clove of garlic and seasoning as desired. Use a pestle and mortar for this if you have one. Add a small amount of olive oil to loosen the paste up.
  4. Place the celery sticks, whole peeled shallots and half of the bulb of garlic in the roasting dish with the wine and half a glass of water. This will act as a trivet for the chicken and keeps it moist as it half steams and half roasts in the juices.
  5. Now prepare the chicken by easing the skin from the breast with a sharp knife or with your fingers and push half the herb paste in under the skin to ensure perfect basting. Rub the rest of the paste inside the chicken, with the other half of the bulb of garlic and the lemon.
  6. Place the chicken in the Roasting dish on top of the vegetables, brush with olive oil and season well all over.
  7. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes per 500g weight and an additional 20 minutes –  so for 1.5kg that would be one hour and twenty minutes in total. Leave to stand for about 20 – 30 minutes before serving.
  8. These days I use a meat thermometer to check that my roast meat is cooked properly, but if I was on a tram on a sand dune somewhere I would just stick a knife in the thickest part of the leg and if the juices run out clear it is cooked. If not, back in for five minutes and test again. After all, you wouldn’t want to have food poisoning on a beach in Portrane with no access to running water!

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Serve with the earliest little new potatoes, with asparagus or with a green salad for a simple lunch, to be served outdoors on an early summer day. And raise a glass of crisp white wine to my dear Auntie Lily and her wonderful, restorative roast chicken.

 

Respect the Mussels

 

Sunday dinner in the spring and early summer is always a great chance to move away from the traditional Sunday roast and eat whatever takes our fancy. Something that I always associate with summer holidays is a big plate of mussels. It brings back memories of holidays in Brittany, when the kids were young, when they were served with frites, lots of bread and a bottle of cold Muscadet or local cider. I had never tried mussels until I was well into my twenties because they were something that I had only really seen in jars and they never looked very appetising! I also remember when I was about six a friend of my Mum and Dad scraped one off a rock on the beach in Greystones, prised it open and ate it raw. I was traumatised.

So my first taste of mussels was when I was on holiday in Puglia in Southern Italy in about 1991. We ordered the seafood antipasti completely by accident, thinking we had ordered the vegetarian starter. The dishes kept on arriving and as well as prawns, calamari and baby octopus, two different dishes of mussels were placed on the groaning table. Perhaps it was the heat or the exceptionally cheap local red wine, but we devoured the lot without hesitation. There was an earthenware dish of mussels on the half-shell, stuffed with breadcrumbs, parsley and garlic, drizzled with green Puglian olive oil and served sizzling straight out the pizza oven. A second dish was served with a sauce of fresh tomatoes, chilli and onions. Both were just beautiful and cooked till the very fresh mussels were perfectly sweet, plump and tender.

So, since my accidental introduction to mussels, I have regularly cooked them at home and I always think there is something quite festive about them – perhaps because of that association with carefree, sunny holidays. There is something great about a huge bowl of steaming mussels in the centre of the table with everyone digging in, eating with their fingers and mopping up the sauce with bread. Conversation stops and all you can hear is the clatter of shells being chucked into an empty bowl – and the odd slurp.

We are very lucky to have a great supply of very fresh, small, sweet Roaring Water Bay mussels farmed in the clean Atlantic waters of West Cork. I am making Mussels with Cider. It’s my take on the classic Moules Marinieres – but you will never find cream in my sauce – for me it is completely unnecessary and takes away from the simplicity of the dish. Plus, my husband is a founder member of the anti-dairy league when it comes to fishy dishes, so this recipe keeps everyone happy.

Roaring Water Bay Mussels with Cider

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Serves 4 -6

  • 2 kilos of mussels
  • Olive oil
  • A knob of butter
  • 5 finely chopped shallots
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 4 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 cloves of garlic crushed
  • Half a teaspoon of chilli flakes
  • Half a pint of dry cider
  • Juice of a lemon
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chopped fresh parsley to serve

Preparing your Mussels

Mussels cook very quickly – but there is one thing that I think you need to spend a bit of time on if you are going to cook them at home. First thing is to wash and prep them thoroughly. I rinse them in lots and lots of cold water about three times before checking them over for any cracked, open or broken shells, which should be discarded. I then “de-beard” the mussels by running a sharp knife around the edge of the shell and “shaving” off any fibres. I then rinse them again in lots of fresh water and then leave them standing in fresh cold water, ready to be drained in a large colander for cooking.

Making the Sauce

It is really worth taking time to develop a good deep flavour for this sauce, so I tend to start this before washing the mussels. I use a large heavy saucepan, in which I heat the olive oil and butter to fry the finely chopped shallots, the bay and the thyme very gently and very slowly for at least 10 minutes. You are aiming for a golden savoury mush. Add to this the garlic, the chilli flakes and the seasoning and fry for a couple more minutes. Turn the heat up and add the cider. Bring it rapidly to the boil for about three minutes, add the mussels and bring back to the boil. Place a lid on the saucepan and cook for 7 minutes. Just give them a good shake every couple of minutes. When they are cooked, the mussels will open. If any have not opened, they should be discarded.

Using a slotted spoon place the mussels in a large heated dish or bowl and then add the lemon juice to the pan juices and bring once again to the boil. Add the chopped parsley, pour over the mussels and serve.

I serve this with bread, or with fries. A glass of cider or a glass of Muscadet will always help things along. And do remember to put out loads of napkins because it can get messy.

 

Letting the Asparagus Sing….

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Whilst whizzing around Fields Supervalu in Skibbereen to pick up a few supplies for the weekend I couldn’t resist picking up a bunch of local asparagus. Grown organically down the road in Ballydehob, Gra produce a beautiful early Irish Asparagus without chemicals. And yes, it certainly was more expensive, but there’s a very good reason for that. It tastes blooming gorgeous.

We spent a whole day in the garden starting work on the strange looking art installation that will be our outdoor kitchen no less. Expect much speculation in the townland! I finally put my very productive, but now going to seed Kale out of its misery and it was dispatched to the compost heap with due ceremony. The raised beds are ready for French beans, leeks, cavola nero and yet more kale. I have hopefully deterred whatever was nibbling my broad bean seedlings with sharp and spikey bamboo skewers.

By the time we came inside I had pizza dough proving, but wanted a decent but light starter while the pizzas were in the oven. I want the asparagus to speak for itself. I well remember my first taste of asparagus was in a very mediocre Italian restaurant in West London in the 1980s – it was par-boiled, rolled in ham and baked in thick cheesy béchamel sauce. The cheese and the ham were great, but I couldn’t actually taste much of the asparagus. So here is my simple asparagus which lets the asparagus sing. It’s a lovely starter but we also serve it as a side dish for a summer Sunday lunch.

Very Simple Early Asparagus

  • 1 bunch of the earliest and best asparagus you can get your hands on.
  • Good Olive Oil
  • Juice of one lemon
  • Parmesan or other hard, salty mature cheese.
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • A griddle pan (if you don’t have one, use a good heavy frying pan)

Very lightly oil your griddle pan and then heat it till it is just starting to smoke. Put your asparagus in the pan, placing against the line of the griddles for best effect. Depending on how thick your asparagus is, this should take about 2 – 3 minutes each side for some griddle marks to develop and for the asparagus to become tender. Serve on a large plate, dressed liberally with olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper. Grate or shave some flakes of parmesan over the dish and serve.

Growing asparagus always seemed a bit complicated and it takes three years before you actually get a crop. But now I’m not so sure. I’m looking about for a suitable sunny spot in the garden, and who knows maybe I’ll be picking my own in 2020 or 2021.

If you want to give it a try there’s some information about growing your own asparagus via this link.