Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Old Fashioned Raisin Bars

It has been 11 - gasp - 11 years since I first posted this recipe. Because they are so good, I thought it was time to revisit these deliciously moist, spiced cookies. They satisfy every craving, and they taste of the holidays. They were my favorite childhood cookie.

You need:

5 1/2 oz (160 g) raisins or currants
1 cup (250 ml)  water
1/2 cup  (125 ml) vegetable oil
7 oz (200 g) sugar
1 lightly beaten large egg
 8 oz (220 g) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice*
1/4 teaspoon cloves*
2 1/2 oz (70 g) toasted, chopped pecans (I also use walnuts)

* Forager's alternative: skip the allspice and the cloves (keep the cinnamon) and use 2 teaspoons of ground spicebush (Lindera benzoin), instead.

Preheat the oven to 375'F (190'C). Butter a 9 1/2 x 12-inch jelly roll sheet.

Combine the raisins or currants with the water in a small saucepan  and heat to boiling point. Remove from the heat and stir in the oil. Cool to lukewarm. Stir in the sugar and the egg (if it is still too hot the egg will scramble).

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl and pour in the wet ingredients. Stir. Add the nuts.

At this point my mother's handwritten recipe says, "Pour into a greased Swiss roll tin." This is sweet. Why did we call them Swiss rolls? But we were fed freshly-made Swiss rolls, sugary on the outside, stuffed with apricot jam, for a special dessert. Those were in the days of sit-down lunches. Father in suit, home from chambers, children in school uniforms, home from school. Doris Day singing in the kitchen. Milk to drink, from a jug on the table. Milk.

It was white South Africa. Where the late 70's looked a lot like the American 50's.

Don't worry, it all fell apart, later. Not just the country - the illusion of the family idyll. We were both broken.

Back to the cookies!

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 12-15 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.

Loosen the edges and flip the sheet of cookies over onto a wire rack to cool.

When cool, frost with confectioners sugar mixed with lemon juice. This is important - the tartness provides a beautiful edge. After this icing has set, slice into squares.

Try not to eat them all at once. They are good for everything. Stress, sadness, loss, or an excess of anything.

And brilliant for breakfast with a cup of strong coffee.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Thai Lime Marmalade

My trees' bounty of Thai limes this year made marmalade possible. It is delicious and set to perfection.

Not everyone grows or has access to Thai limes and they do have a unique flavor and fragrance. But this recipe will work for other sour citrus.

You can use any amount of fruit, as long as you stick to the formula below. It's a lot of sugar in the finished marmalade but it is by no means overwhelming - the lime's pith is bitter and needs balance. If you want to use less, begin with half the amount I recommend, stir to dissolve in the lime mixture (before boiling), then taste. If you like it, it will still set, but I think you may stick to my plan! For orange marmalade I’d suggest the same weight of sugar as the fruit's weight. And for grapefruit their weight plus half.

Note: If you do not soak citrus slices before cooking them with sugar the skin can turn hard. Soak the fruit.

Thai Lime Marmalade Formula:

Limes or lemons, weighed, then also measured out in cups after being sliced
Double the cup-amount of water
Double the fruit's weight in sugar

These were my amounts based on my indoor harvest:

13.3 oz (2 ¾ cups, sliced) Thai limes, sliced very thinly
5 ½ cups water
26.6 oz sugar

If you are using your own amount of fruit proceed as follows:

Weigh your limes, and make note of the weight. Slice the fruit very thinly, and pick out any seeds. Measure the fruit in cups. Place the sliced fruit and any escaped juice in a bowl with double the cup-amount of water. Leave to soak 24 hours.

Place the fruit and the soaking water (full of valuable pectin) in a pot large enough that the liquid comes no more than two-thirds of the way up, or it will boil over, later. Bring to a boil for a minute. Turn off the heat and allow to cool completely (this is still helping to soften the skin).

When the mixture is cool again stir in double the fruit’s weight of sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Insert a sugar thermometer. Keep at a furious boil until the temperature reaches 220’F. Do not be tempted to give up at 118’F, or 119’F. The last few degrees seem to take forever. Be patient.

At 220'F turn the heat off immediately.

If you do not have a thermometer use the spoon test:

Dip a large wooden or metal spoon into the bubbling liquid and then hold it up sideways so the liquid tips out and the length of the spoon is parallel to the pot below. Droplets will at first just rush thinly from the middle of the spoon. As setting point approaches they slow down and when setting point is reached two to three drops form in a more sluggish row along the bottom of the spoon. When they meet in the middle you snatch that pot off the heat.

Off the heat the bubbles will subside. If any white foam or scum is on the surface scoop it off gently. Ladle the hot marmalade into sterilized jars. You can fill all the way but as it sets some of the fruit may rise and set towards the top with bottom just jelly. It still sets perfectly and tastes wonderful. But if you want to distribute the fruit more evenly, fill the jars in three stages, with about 5 minutes between each stage. This way the lower layers will set earlier, trapping their fruit. Don’t wait too long to complete the stages or the marmalade will set in the pan!

Secure the lids tightly.

Enjoy your toast!

'Long Nights' - a dark winter cocktail

Give the darkness its due. The sneak killer ingredient in this luscious cocktail is pomegranate molasses (a staple in my kitchen), which provides both color and the warm base note without being cloying.

‘Long Nights’

Makes 1 drink:

2 ounces bourbon
1 ounce dry sherry
1 ounce Spicebush Cranberry Fizz
1 ounce pomegranate molasses

Combine all the ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake, strain, and pour.

Applejack cocktail

Here is a winter-brown cocktail, the color of fallen oak leaves. It is delicious. I call it 'Dear George'. This is an easy mixed drink to make in quantity for a holiday party - instead of shaking, stir with ice.

Do you know applejack? It is an American brandy distilled from cider, and aged in old bourbon barrels. George Washington liked it, and probably made it.

For the Cranberry Spicebush Fizz (in the tall carafe, behind the drink), follow that link. Plan to make it one week before it is required.

Makes 1 drink:

2 ½ ounces applejack
2 ounces Spicebush Cranberry Fizz
5 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake, and pour.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Spicebush Cranberry Ferment - A Holiday Mixer

This aromatically tart and sweet ferment has a strong spicebush presence.

Spicebush is the fruit of Lindera benzoin, native in the Northeast and also east of the Rockies. It grows naturally in the understory or on the edges of woodlands. The flavor and scent are reminiscent of orange zest, to me. I use spicebush more than any other wild flavor in my kitchen (consult Forage, Harvest, Feast to learn more).

I pair this cranberry-spicebush mixer (and this recipe is not in my book) with applejack, bourbon, whisky, dark rum, or Tequila reposado or añejo, and Lillet. Also sparkling wine (just a dash before topping with bubbly). It has a great affinity for apple ciders and apple syrups, citrus, ginger, and Earl Grey tea. Think hot toddies and low-alcohol mocktails, too: Mixed 50-50 with sparkling water it makes a zero octane drink.

And use it to deglaze a roasted carrot, duck or pork pan. It loves yams and pumpkin. And tropical fruit salads.

Compared with most of the flowers and fruits I use in fermenting, cranberries ferment slowly. I used to think it was because they were too well washed, so were rinsed of microbes. But it is probably because cranberries contain antimicrobial properties, which inhibit fermentation.  So I add some unpeeled apple slices to my mixture to help the yeasts along.

Start one week before you need it.

12 ounces cranberries, lightly crushed
½ an apple, cut up (cored but not peeled)
1 cup sugar
¼ cup freshly ground spicebush berries*
5 cups water

* Substitution: If you have fresh spicebush twigs from your own tree or a wild one, scratch them up to release more scent, then tie them in a bundle that fits in your jar. The bundle's cinched waist should be about a half-inch in diameter, for enough flavor to seep into the infusion.

Place the fruit in a clean jar. Add the spicebush and sugar, and top with water. Stir well (or screw the lid on and shake). To ferment, either leave the lid on loosely, or cover the jar with cheesecloth or a paper towel secured with elastic or string. Stir daily. Small bubbles rising are a sign of fermentation. It could take several days. After the bubbles have been active for at least a couple of days (and up to seven, but each ferment is different) I strain the fruit from the liquid twice: through a double mesh strain and a double folded, damp cheesecloth. The spicebush can clog up the straining, so use fresh or rinsed cheesecloth if the liquid stops passing through. Bottle the strained, amber liquid and keep in the refrigerator until needed.

If fermentation didn't take place (too cold, perhaps), don't worry - the flavor will still be very good. Give it a taste.

If you have not foraged your own spicebush fruit, buy dried spicebush (sold as Appalachian Allspice) for $3 per ounce or $27 per pound at Integration Acres. The quality is excellent.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Quick Cranberry Syrup

Unlike the cold-extract syrup I make that takes days to yield (a very compelling) juice, this syrup is fast - ready in 30 minutes. All you need to make this versatile mixer is a bag of cranberries, water, and sugar.

12 ounces of cranberries
2 cups of water
1 cup of sugar

Combine the fruit, sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower to a simmer for 25 minutes.

Strain through a fine mesh sieve. When a little cooler, bottle. The cranberry syrup keeps well for a month in the fridge.

(I use the strained, leftover fruit to make a fruit leather, spread out on a silpat mat after cooking it down for another hour on very low heat.)

Cranberry Cocktails - 'Winter Cabin'

Cranberry syrup infuses this vivid drink with color and the sweet earthiness characteristic of this cold-season fruit. It is made for crisp weather. In early winter I use our own aromatic Thai limes, right off our trees, overwintering in the bedroom.

If you are not used to working with fluid ounces, 1 fl oz = 2 tablespoons! But as long as you keep the recipe's ratio's accurate, you can wing it by using 'parts' rather than ounces. This is such a good drink that it is useful for a crowd, in which case go for cups as your base measure and stir well with ice in a tall jug before pouring.

‘Winter Cabin’
Makes 1 drink

For the rim:

1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon lime zest

Place the juice and sugar in two separate saucers. Mix the zest into the sugar. Dip the rim of the cocktail glass into the lime juice and then gently into the zested mixture. Allow to sit for a few minutes before pouring the cocktail.

For the cocktail:

2 1/2  ounces white rum*
1 ounce Cranberry Syrup
1/2 ounce Chartreuse
1 ounce lime juice

Shake all the ingredients with ice. Strain, and pour.

* Or substitute vodka, gin or silver Tequila. Different, but good.

Cranberry Syrup Recipe - Fermented

Cranberry syrup is a beautiful and delicious seasonal addition to hard or soft mixed drinks (as well as salad dressings and pan juices.)

A Japanese friend taught me this simple technique for unripe ume (Prunus mume) - it yields ume juice or syrup, a delicacy in Japan. In my book Forage, Harvest, Feast you will see the method used for serviceberries (Amelanchier species) and black chokeberries (Aronia melanocarpa). It takes time, but the flavor is refined and becomes complex with time, as it begins to ferment.

Cranberries ferment more slowly than many fruits as they have antimicrobial properties (and it is microbes that digest sugar and cause fermentation).

You can use any amount of fruit as long as the sugar is the same weight. Increase the quantities for larger festivities! Cranberries are quite dry compared with most fruits, so expect a modest but concentrated yield. After about a week you will have enough for your cocktails, but leave longer for full extraction.

Cold Extraction Cranberry Syrup
Yield: 1/3 cup syrup

Start one week before you need to mix some drinks:

6 ounces cranberries, crushed or chopped
6 ounces sugar

Place the crushed (or chopped) fruit in a clean jar. Add the sugar. Close the jar and shake well. Loosen the jar's lid. Leave at room temperature until the syrup is extracted.* This will begin after a few days.

Strain off the syrup as you need it, leaving the rest with the fruit in the jar. The syrup with fruit remains good for many months.

* Do not seal the jar tightly as some fermentation will create carbon dioxide, which needs to escape.

The leftover, sweet fruit can be your own, homemade craisins. Simply strain them from any remaining syrup, spread them out onto parchment and leave to dry. In low humidity they will dry over 4 - 7 days. You can also use the lowest setting on your oven: keep it on for 30 minutes, turn it off for an hour. On for 30 minutes, off for an hour. Repeat until they are chewy and craisin-ish.


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