As days become shorter and rain keeps falling during the night, it seems a good time to review some seasonal recipes. I had to smile last week when chef, Nigel Slater, went to his local green grocer to buy blackberries as part of his “Simple Cookery” series. I don’t understand people who are fit and healthy buying blackberries from a shop when they are freely available from hedgerows. Even in the largest city, no-one is too far away from a canal or other open space where such fruit should abound.
Over the past month we’ve spent many hours picking blackberries and last weekend even the rosehips were finally ripe. I’ve discovered that blackberries cooked with sugar and cinnamon with a little water make the most wonderful sauce to add to natural yoghurt or eaten with other fruit and covered in cream. I’ve also made a hedgerow jelly using mainly blackberries.
Put whatever hedgerow fruits you have gathered and washed into a large saucepan and just cover with water. (I had picked elderberries, blackberries, apples and sloes. I chopped the apples into quarters/small chunks leaving the peel and pips.) Add a couple of sticks of cinnamon or cassia bark broken up or 2 tsps powdered cinnamon plus half a grated nutmeg.
Bring the fruit to the boil and simmer for half an hour until everything is very soft. Mash everything with a potato masher, then pour everything into a muslin strainer or jelly bag and leave to strain overnight. If you want a really clear jelly, don’t squeeze the bag but if you’re not bothered about having something cloudy (and because the jelly is going to be purple anyway), then squeeze the last drops of juice out and measure the volume.
Wash the saucepan and return the liquid into the pan. For every pint of liquid add 1lb sugar. Heat the mixture slowly until the sugar dissolves then bring it to a rolling boil for ten minutes or until the jelly has set. (Drop a tablespoon of hot jelly onto a pyrex saucer and put it in the freezer. Take another sample after 5 more minutes. If the first sample has a skin on it when you press the back of your forefinger nail through it, it has set. If it hasn’t, keep repeating every five minutes until it does.)
I had 2pints of liquid and it made 6 1/2lb jars of very tasty jelly.
I’ve also been adding blackberries to elderberry syrup and was interested to learn that one of the US Herb suppliers adds fresh blackberries to their St John’s wort tinctures macerated in grain alcohol and water to improve flavour and increase anti-oxidant levels.
One of my apprentices recently sent me some autumn recipes which I shall be trying out soon. I may use some of the elderberries frozen from last year to make this recipe for Elderberry Balsamic Vinegar from Eat Weeds. If you don’t already know the Eat Weeds website, it has some very interesting recipes including one for hawthorn jelly. I also like the sound of the BoxingDay chutney recipe which is available on Kirstie’s Homemade Christmas site from Chanel 4.
After our busy weekend at the farm, the last four days have been spent processing all the herbs I picked or dug. Solomons Seal Root is macerating in a jar of Overproof Rum (£24 from Tesco’s, ouch!). Dandelion roots are either tincturing or making Jim Macdonald’s bitter with cardamom and orange peel while the remainder dry in the cupboard. Photos from the weekend can be found on Facebook
All the aerial plant parts (marshmallow, ashwagandha, white horehound, New England Aster, chamomile and Calendula) are drying, along with some rosehips. The wild bergamot went into a tincture. This morning it was the turn of the ashwagandha roots to be vigorously scrubbed and are now air drying on the patio table in the warm wind and sunshine. The large bag of nettle roots, horseradish and the single Himalayan poke root are still waiting their turn which will probably come tomorrow.
I’ve also discovered another favourite soup recipe I thought I would share – very simple, hearty and frugal. es, it can take 2 days to cook, but it costs very little and tastes wonderful!
Pea and Ham Soup (for vegetarian and vegans, omit the ham)
1 pkt of green or yellow split peas
2 bay leaves
2 sticks of celery
(Or 1 carrot, 2 parsnips and half a celeriac root)
4 ozs of chopped ham
Tip the packet of split peas into a large bowl and cover with lots of water. (I usually fill a mixing bowl to the brim.) Leave to soak overnight. The next day, peel and chop the onions and sauté in a large saucepan (at least 5 pints) until soft. Peel and chop all the vegetables and add to the onions along with the bay leaves and strained split peas. Cover with around 3-4 pints of cold water. Season. Bring to the boil and either simmer for about 1hr until the split peas are soft or pour contents of saucepan into a cookpot and cook on high for one hour or so then on low for several hours until peas are soft. (Don’t remove lid from cookpot/slow cooker during cooking or you will increase the time by an hour or so.) Remove bay leaves. Return soup to the large saucepan and whizz using your favourite utensil until smooth. Add your diced ham and bring back to the boil. Serve with fresh bread. (Feeds 8-10 people).
The original recipe for this soup comes from the Good Housekeeping Cookbook. They use a smoked ham bone to make stock before you add the vegetables, but I haven’t been able to obtain a ham bone yet and if you did this, you couldn’t offer it to any non-carnivores.
Autumn is a busy time, but I’m looking forward to snuggling up with my many potions when winter comes.