Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Pine Cone Jam - what it is and how to use it

[It's pine cone jam season again! This is my post about making the jam, from spring 2019.]

Russians like it. Eastern Europeans like it. Turks seem to like it. Pine cone jam (sometimes the resulting syrup is referred to as pine honey) is considered treat and medicine. Used for coughs. The Italians call the honey mugolio, and you can buy it for a fortune, if you are lucky. Apparently the name is derived from the pine used - Pinus mugo.

The flavor is tartly sweet, resinous, and the "honey" is like molasses licked from a spoon in a pine forest.

And it's hard to imagine that the hard little cones become soft and chewable after cooking, but they do.

A traditional Caucasian and Russian way to enjoy them is as a medicinal spoonful stirred into hot black tea. I like them dotted sparingly on crunchy toast atop labneh. The candied cones or their honey are also good roasted with carrots and other root vegetables, stirred into the pan juices to pour over pan-seared pork chops, or duck breast (perhaps deglazed with some bourbon or fruity vinegar), or for dessert, mixed with the first strawberries. 

There is always ice cream! 

To make pine syrup gin or vodka, add a quarter cup of the syrup with cones to 2 cups of the liquor. Leave for a day, shaking now and then, until the syrup has dissolved. Strain and bottle. It makes noteworthy seasonal cocktails.

The pine cones I collect are mostly from exotic Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergii), popular in  local seashore landscape and park plantings because of their salt-tolerance. Native pitch pine (Pinus rigida) occurs, too (its little cones are very sharp and rough on the fingers). 

You want immature, small cones, green inside.

While you work, it helps to have rubbing alcohol handy: Your fingers get very sticky, and the alcohol is very effective at dissolving the resin. For clean up after cooking, use rubbing alcohol, again, or mineral oil, to dissolve the very tenacious resin residue on the edges of your pot and any implements you use. 

Looking for recipes and a frame of reference for quantities, I searched my (new) old Russian cookbooks, but came up with nothing. Online was one helpful recipe that claimed Georgian heritage. I found bottles of pricey mugolio. 

So I experimented with five different batches [the first year I made the jam, in 2019]. For the first three I boiled the cones in water (to remove some resin), then another three times in syrup, in the tradition of Russian varenye, where entire fruits are cooked and cooled - important -  multiple times in syrup. 

I also boiled four and five times, and for the final batch made the jam without the water bath, and using honey instead of sugar. That last version was much more resinous when cool, above! It all got stuck. I liked them all, but four seems the magic number, to me. 

The point is that the jam needs to come to a boil often enough for the green cones to be pleasantly chewable, so the number of boil-cools will vary, depending on big your baby pine cones are. Do not skip the cooling. It's time-consuming, but will result in delicious pine cones, rather than hard nuggets.

Pine Cone Jam

For three 1-cup capacity jars of pine cone jam you need:

8 oz (about 2.25 cups) finger-nail-sized immature pine cones

8.5 cups water

2 cups sugar

If the baby cones still have a piece of stem attached, remove it. Left on it will become very tough during the cooking process. 

Place the pine cones in a pot, cover with 6 cups of water and bring to a boil. Cook at a gentle boil for 5 minutes. Turn the heat off. A layer of resin will collect on the surface like a little oil slick - carefully scoop his layer off, and discard. Then drain the pine cones (and do yourself a favor: do not dump their water through a strainer - the remaining resin will clog the fine mesh unless you later boil the strainer!). 

Once all the water is poured off, add the 2 cups of sugar and remaining 2.5 cups of water to the pot with the boiled cones. Stir. Return to the stove and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat so that the liquid simmers. For this first time, cook at a simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off heat and cool completely

When the mixture is cool, bring to a boil again, for 1 minute. Turn off and cool (it it cooks too long you will lose too much moisture). 

Bring to a 1-minute boil for a third time, turn off the heat, then cool again. One more time (fourth boil): bring to a boil and allow to cool. 

Now test a cone. Is it chewable? 

If it is you can stop, and bottle the cones with their 'honey' in sterile jars. Or repeat the boil-cool steps until they have softened more.


Forage, Harvest, Feast - A Wild-Inspired Cuisine

Monday, February 15, 2021

Kale gnudi with mugwort brown butter

These tender dumplings, fragrant with lemon zest and sweet with heaps of slightly charred kale, are dressed with nutty brown butter and crisp spring mugwort. They are rustic and deeply delicious.

Why gnudi? Because of their high ricotta content, luscious gnudi are much softer (er, less rubbery?) than flour-rich gnocchi. And while blackened kale is uniquely sweet you can use any leafy green as a base (but blanched and squeezed dry - the meaty kale is neither blanched nor squeezed), bearing in mind that many leaves, like spinach, lose more volume than kale when cooked.

(See Variations below, for those weights and other spice and herb options.)

Tips: Use as little flour as you can get away with in the dusting process – it forms the lightest of skins, and that is all you need. The gnudi can be made a day ahead and kept cold (covered) in the fridge. Also, gnudi cook fast and do not like to be kept waiting once ready, so have the brown butter ready to go the minute they are all plated.

Gnudi: Makes about 36

1 lb washed kale
15 oz ricotta
½ cup Panko breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon microplaned lemon zest
½ cup microplaned parmesan
¼ teaspoon salt plus a large pinch
Black pepper to taste
1 large egg
Flour for dusting, about ½ cup or less

Mugwort Brown Butter:

4 tablespoons butter
20 tender mugwort tips or single leaves

To serve:

¼ cup microplaned parmesan
2 teaspoons urfa biber (or black pepper)


1. Substitute 1.5 lbs spinach, garlic mustard, nettles, radish or turnip tops for the kale. Blanch in boiling water, shock in cold and squeeze very dry before puréeing.
2. Substitute ¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg for the lemon zest
3. For the sauce: Substitute fresh or dried summer savory or sage for the mugwort.

For the gnudi: Fill a large, lidded pot with an inch of water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Pile the kale leaves in and cover. Steam until they lose volume and start to soften. Turn them once or twice. Continue cooking over high heat as they lose their vivid color. As the water dries up their sugars begin to darken the bottom of the pot. Turn a couple of times so more of the leaves blacken slightly at the edges and turn a little crisp. The blackening makes them sweet. When they threaten to really stick to the pot, turn them out into a strainer set over a bowl to cool.

Transfer the kale to a food processor and pulse until very smooth. Turn the purée into a mixing bowl and add all the other gnudi ingredients except the flour. Mix well. Taste for seasoning (unless you are worried about raw eggs and Salmonella). Add more salt or pepper. If you have the time, place the bowl in the fridge to chill the mixture for 30 minutes – it just makes it easier to handle.

Sprinkle flour evenly on a work surface. Using a spoon, scoop portions of the mixture onto the flour: I use a dessertspoonful to make gnudi about 1 ½ inches long. Shape the scooped mixture into a small log between your palms, denting the top to hold some warm butter, later. Lightly dip each side in flour. Place on a lightly floured plate while you make the rest. When one plate is full keep it chilled in the fridge while you work on the second batch.

Chill the shaped gnudi for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours.

To cook: Bring a large pot of water to the boil. (While it is heating start the brown butter sauce.) When the water is boiling drop the gnudi in gently one at a time, working in batches if necessary. They are done when they bob to the surface (they remind me of the barrels in Jaws). Use a perforated spoon to scoop each one out at once, resting the spoon briefly on a clean kitchen towel to absorb dripping water, before transferring to a warm waiting platter or individual plates. When they are all done, top quickly with a flurry of extra microplaned parmesan, black pepper or urfa biber, and the waiting, hot brown butter.

For the brown butter: Make this while the gnudi-water is coming to a boil. Melt the butter in a pan over medium high heat. When it foams add the mugwort leaves. Cook, tilting the pan so the butter runs over the leaves, until the butter begins to turn brown. Turn the heat off at once. Just before serving, heat the butter again briefly and spoon at once over the plated gnocchi.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Rusk recipe

Rusk - Marie Viljoen

I grew up with these rusks, and adapted this recipe from my mom's, which uses self-raising flour - an ingredient close to non-existent in the US. If you do have self raising flour, just skip the baking powder listed in my recipe.

The sweet clover (Melilotus species) is optional - I collect it every summer to dry and use through the year.

Makes 22 whole rusks, 44 halves 

2 cups milk
1 cup sugar 
2 lbs flour 
9 teaspoons baking powder (that is not a typo - nine teaspoons)
2 teaspoons dried yellow sweet clover 
2 teaspoons cream of tartar 
1½ teaspoons salt 
½ lb (2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter 

Preheat oven to 400’F.

Heat the milk in a saucepan and add the sugar, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Allow to cool until tepid.

Butter or line a large baking sheet (or two).

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, sweet clover, cream of tartar, and salt. Grate in the cold butter, toss with the flour, and rub between your fingertips until it resembles small crumbs. Pour the milk into the dry ingredients and mix well but briefly (overworking will make the rusks tough). 

When it is mixed, use your dominant hand (or a spoon) to remove chunks from the soft dough (approx. 4 inches x 2 ½ inches, or about 3¼ oz weight, for biscuit-sized rusks). Shape gently and briefly into casual oblong shapes. Jagged edges are fine. Place them in rows on the baking sheet with about a half-inch between them.

Bake for about 20 - 23 minutes. They should not be brown - more blonde. Remove and while still warm gently break each rusk apart using forks, or slice gently apart with a bread knife. When the oven is cooler dry them completely for about 6 hours at 200'F or lower. They are ready when they are shatteringly dry.

Monday, November 23, 2020

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.)

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Persimmon loaf

This is an inviting autumnal loaf that I developed for persimmons. It is fragrant with dried ginger and spicebush - if you don't have spicebush, substitute 1 teaspoon microplaned or finely chopped orange zest

Any ripe persimmon can be used, including the small native American fruit (Diospyros virginiana). If you are using those, or the large, pointy Asian Hachiyas, they should be gelatinously ripe. If not they will taste furry and tannic and ruin the bake. And the native 'simmons and Hachiyas often have seeds, so work them through a food mill or remove by hand. 

Fat-bottomed Fuyus (shown above) are ripe when firm, but mash up their pulp so that it is smooth, for this recipe. You can do this by kneading the flesh hard through the skin, using your thumbs, then scooping it out, or in a food processor. A few small, remaining chunks are OK.

Like native American pawpaws (Asimina triloba), persimmon pulp is dense and the baking time is quite long, as a result.

Makes 1 large loaf ( 5 ½" x 10 ½" pan)

1 ½ cups ripe persimmon pulp
1 ¼ cups sugar
½  cup melted unsalted butter
3 large eggs
¼ cup plain yogurt
1 Tablespoon ground spicebush
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt (this is not a typo)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda

Optional topping

1 Tablespoon Fir Sugar* (or mix sugar with ginger, or a pinch of cloves)

* See Forage, Harvest, Feast for Fir Sugar (and to learn about spicebush!).

Preheat the oven to 350'F/180’C.

Butter a loaf pan 5 ½" x 10 ½" pan (or use two small loaf pans, or even muffin trays, but reduce the baking time to about 50 and 25 minutes, respectively).

In a large bowl, combine the persimmon pulp, sugar, melted butter, eggs, yogurt, spices, and salt. Beat them together until smooth. Add the flour, baking powder, and baking soda and stir these into the wet mixture with a spoon, using as few motions as possible. Transfer the batter to the buttered pan, sprinkle the sugar topping across the batter (if using), and slide into the oven.

Bake for 70 minutes, or until a skewer or toothpick inserted fully into the thickest part come out clean. Gently tip the loaf from the baking pan and allow to cool on a wire rack before slicing.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Moist chocolate cake with oil

I had a serious craving for chocolate cake recently. I wanted one that was moist and dark, but also one where I didn't have to cream a lot of chilly butter with sugar. (I hate my Cuisineart 5-speed electric beater; it has no real slow setting and just tosses dry ingredients right out of the bowl - any recommendations?). I didn't feel like fluffing butter by hand, either. I was feeling lazy.

This chocolate oil cake version is derived from one on the Hershey's website. I modified it heavily: Less sugar, less salt, more flour, much lower baking time, and of course, the wild ingredients.

The result is a cake that is rich, dark, and delectably moist. It is both simple and outstanding. 

Photo: Irene Khin, Saffron 59 Catering

It's also easy to carry on picnics, presliced, and easily shared. 

Baked serviceberries add a hint of marzipan to the cake. And if you use the mahlab variation, instead, the flavor will be harder to define - more like marzipan and bitter almonds, but wonderful with chocolate.

I have only used a 12-cup bundt pan for the cake. You will have to adjust the baking time if you are using one regular baking pan (more baking time) or two pans for a layer cake (less baking time).

Tip: mixing cocoa with flour for dusting the pan means you won't have a weird white coating when you turn out your nice, dark cake.

Chocolate Cake

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup avocado oil (substitute other vegetable oil)
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup serviceberries (or small blueberries)


1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons cocoa
2 tablespoons flour for pan


Instead of the fruit, add 1 teaspoon mahlab

Preheat the oven to 350'F.

For the pan: Butter the bundt pan and dust it well with a mixture of the flour and cocoa mixture. Shake any excess out.

For the cake: In a large bowl combine the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. (If using mahlab, add it now.)

In another bowl beat together the eggs, milk and avocado oil.

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry, mixing well. Add the boiling water. Mix until the batter is smooth (it will be very thin, don't panic).

Pour half the batter into the prepared pan, scatter the serviceberries evenly across it, and pour in the rest.

Bake for 35 - 40 minutes until the surface of the cake springs back to the touch, or an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and allow to rest in the pan on a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Then invert carefully and allow to continue cooling on a rack.

Tuck in!

Friday, February 14, 2020

Grenadilla Mousse

Whenever I visit Cape Town in summer I can't resist the grenadillas (passion fruit). Abundant, cheap, and tropically complex. There seems no reason why they should not be as abundant and affordable in the United States - but perversely they cost a fortune (a dollar or more, each). Grow your own if you live in a mild climate!

This tartly sweet, creamy mousse belongs on a dessert cart straight from the middle of the last century. It is old school and delicious.

I love to make this mousse perfectly smooth, but you could also leave the seeds in it, in which case skip the food processing part.

Use a single jelly mould for a large mousse, or individual moulds if you're being fancy and giving everyone their own.

Serves 8 - 10

20 grenadillas (yield is about 1 3/4 cups juice), chilled
3 1/2 teaspoons powdered gelatine
3 tablespoons boiling water
750 ml (3 cups) whipping cream, chilled
150 grams (5.29 oz) sugar

Halve the grenadillas and scoop the pulp into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse for about 15 seconds to separate the pulp from the seeds. Place a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl and strain the pulp through the sieve, extracting as much juice as possible. Discard the seeds.

Pour about a quarter of the juice into a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatine onto it, swooshing the juice around to cover and soak the granules. Stir to make sure there are no lumps. Add the 3 tablespoons of boiling water and stir again. When the mixture is perfectly smooth, whisk the gelatine-juice back into the rest of the juice.

In a large bowl whisk the cream until it thickens slightly. Add the sugar to the cream and continue whisking until the cream holds soft peaks.

Pour the grenadilla juice into the whipped cream, then fold rapidly using a spatula to blend the mixture well. When no bright yellow juice remains at the bottom of the bowl, pour it into your jelly mould/s (or a round bowl). Cover, and transfer to the fridge. Chill until it is set (about three hours, minimum).

To unmold, dip the mold for about 8 seconds in extremely hot water (too long and the outer layers will melt). Invert onto a flat serving dish and shake hard. You should hear a satisfying plop. If you don't, try running a hot knife around the edges of the mousse, and repeat. Chill until needed.

Serve with freshly cut grenadillas arranged around the edges of the pale mousse.

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.