Tag Archives: Preserves

A Whole Lot of Rosie

Wild rose petal cordial

Entente Cordiale

At the same time as we collected all the elderflower, we were also delighted to find some wild roses. The most common of these is the dog rose, but they have mostly gone over in the more accessible places. I did manage to get a photo, but couldn’t reach the  blooms, as they were on a steep slope, and behind a lot of brambles.

Wild Dog Rose

Dog Rose

Luckily, we also came across a load of what I think is most likely to be prickly rose, or rosa acicularis. This is a really beautiful rose, with abundant, dark pink flowers. They also have a lot of thin thorns on them. I was so excited to find them that I forgot to take pictures, but I’ll try to go back soon to get some. When the sunshine comes back. If the sunshine comes back.

The good news is that all rose petals are edible. The more highly scented, the better they will taste. As well as some basic foraging rules please be careful that the roses that you use have not been sprayed with any pesticides, which can be an issue if you are foraging in a park. Another word of caution; if you are allergic to bee stings, like I am, please check each flower before you pick the petals. Bees love roses, and will spend a lot of time feeding from each one. I very nearly picked one up with some petals, but it warned me by buzzing angrily, and I quickly dropped the petals. Bees are quite polite really, and will warn you before they sting.

You could dry the petals, and use them in cakes and jelly, or even brush them in egg white and dip them in caster sugar to crystallise them and then use them as a cake decoration.

Rose petals with & without claw

The white claw (L) is bitter and must be removed

When you use rose petals, you need to remove the claw, or the part where by which the petal is joined t the rest of the flower. This is bitter and can taint your produce. I usually just snip them off with scissors.

The first thing that I made was a cordial. This recipe is inspired by one that Sandie made at Herb and Wild Food Recipes. Sandie intended to make a jam, but actually made a syrup with dog roses. I used the same technique to prepare the roses, and then made a cordial as I would normally. This is a great blog, full of wild food recipes, so please do go and have a look.

It has also taken on the dark pink of the rose. I have had it as a refreshing drink, but I’m also going to try this in a syllabub, and maybe to cook some gooseberries in. If you have any suggestions for ways to try this cordial, I’d love to hear them in the comments.

Recipe: Rose Cordial

Ingredients

2 large handfuls of rose petals (claws removed as above)

Juice of a lemon

500 ml water

300 g sugar

Method

Sterilise a 500 ml bottle and the lid. You can do this in a number of ways. I find it trickier to get bottles clean in the dishwasher, as I would do for jam jars. You can wash them in hot soapy water, using a bottle brush to get into the nooks and crannies. I give them a good soak in the steriliser I use for brewing before I rinse, and put in them in a w arm oven (150°C). If you have a pressure cooker, you can also hold it in steam.

In a saucepan, add the lemon juice to the flower petals and the water. Simmer for 15 minutes.

Strain through muslin, and return the liquid to the saucepan. As you would expect, I didn’t throw out the rose petals. I have a great recipe for them to come. You can refrigerate or freeze them, if you want to use them later.

Add the sugar to the rose-water, and heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Allow to simmer for five minutes, then hot-fill the sterile bottle.

Keep this little jewel in the fridge.

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A Spoonful of Elderflower Sugar

Preparing to infuse sugar

This Will Help the Medicine Go Down

I have been frantically trying to preserve a lot of elderflowers. Last weekend, the Big Guy and I went out picking elderflowers and rose petals.

I greedily decided to try a second champagne recipe, and went off picking without really reading how much I would need. The recipe I chose to use required far less than I had imagined, so I had a lot leftover.  Of course, not being one to waste them, I have lots of recipes to share in the next few days. I’m waiting for some of them to finish brewing.

However, if you are going to be able to take advantage of these this year, you can still find some flower bracts now, but we are definitely coming towards the end of their display, at least here in the Netherlands. Go out and get some, and keep them in the fridge for some of the elderflower recipes to follow.

The simplest thing to do to preserve the flavour of these short-lived but beautiful flowers is to infuse sugar with them, in a similar way to the vanilla sugar that makes the use of high quality vanilla beans worthwhile.

The elderflower sugar keeps well and is a lovely reminder of the early summer when the flowers are in full bloom. You can use it in cakes, biscuits and many other things, and I will be experimenting with some baking in the coming weeks. If you only have enough elderflowers for one more thing, this is the stepping-stone recipe you should probably make.

And this is how you do it:

Get a large glass jar with a lid. The amount of flower bracts that you will need will be determined by the size of the jar.

Pick through elderflower heads, and remove any brown flowers or bits. Remove the flowers from their stalks. This is easily done, by gripping the stalk between your thumb and forefinger, and pushing them down to the flowers. They will pop off with very little pressure.

You need to keep as much of the pollen as possible, because that is where the flavour is, so try to get the blooms in the jar as you strip them from the stalks.

Keep going until you have filled about a quarter of the jar. Top up the rest with the sugar, give it a stir and leave it to infuse for at least 3-4 days.

Sieve out the flowers before use.

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Respect Your Elders

Elderflower cordial

Extending the seasons

It is that glorious time of the year when lots of delicious produce is in season. In the garden broad beans, the last of the asparagus, courgettes, the very first tomatoes (if you can grow them under glass); and in the hedgerow you will find nettles, dock, sorrel, mallow, and many other delicious treats. It is also your shortish window for the elderflower.

Gathering Elderflowers

Harvest Festival!

The elder has been used and revered for centuries. It has provided stakes, shelter, medicine, fuel and food to animals and man since prehistoric times. There is a lot of folklore and superstition around the elder, and in some places people would leave offerings for the Elder Mother before they picked from the tree.

Harvested elderflowers

An Exuberance of Elderflowers

In early summer, hedgerows froth with white elder flowers at hedge height, and moon daisies at their feet. It is a time of great potential, and great recipes. Although, it is also important to remember that the potential of this tree is not just about summer, but that there are also good things to be had at all stages of fruiting, as well as the berries being a valuable food supply for many bird species, who will be laying down reserves for the coming winter.

Luckily, the elder is ubiquitous in most parts of Europe, and they seed themselves easily, even in places where there is no tradition of a hedgerow (such as the Netherlands). As long as you don’t take all of the blooms from a single tree or shrub, there will be plenty left throughout mid-May to mid-June to allow for your own use of elderberries and for the birds, as well as allowing the tree to reproduce.

This year, I have also learned some other tricks from wise women on Twitter about uses for this wonderful tree.  Cally from Country Gate mentioned that elder leaves make a good pesticide against aphids. I have been plagued by them this year, seemingly more so than in previous years. She says to simmer 500 g of elder leaves in 3.5 l of water (use an old saucepan if you can for this), and replace any water lost as steam. Strain, and bottle. This concoction should keep for 3 months, and is great for aphids.

Elder buds

Bud of Delights

Liz from Forage also mentioned that the buds of elderflowers are delicious in salads and omelettes, and lend a smoky flavour to a dish. I picked a couple of elderflower brackets in bud to test this, and they are really very good in an omelette aux fines herbes. Although it is probably a little late in the year to get the buds now, I am definitely going to play a little more with this next year.

When picking the flowers, try to go in the morning, on a sunny day, when the pollen levels will be at their highest. Try to pick fresh, white brackets with no brown patches or blemishes, as these have the best taste. Elderflowers will keep for a couple of days, but they start to go brown quickly, and will deposit pollen and nectar, which is essential for the flavour, so it is best to try to use them on the day that they are picked.

This is my recipe for elderflower cordial. I originally cut it from a reader’s letter to the Guardian, years ago. Unfortunately, I don’t have that cutting anymore, so I don’t know the name of the person who sent it in. As you will see, the recipe is basically based around the number four, so once you get the amounts, then you will understand why I have misplaced the clipping.

Elderflower cordial is a great way to preserve the delicate taste of summer, and is the basis of many things, from refreshing drinks and summery cocktails, to use with other fruits and in many desserts.

I’m going to be writing about some of my elderflower cordial recipes in the coming months, but I’d really love to hear how you use it in your recipes, in the the comments.

Steeping elderflower cordial

Steeping to Success

Recipe: Elderflower Cordial

Ingredients

40 elderflower bracts

4 pints boiling water

4 lb (1.8 kg) sugar

2 lemons, sliced

4 tsp citric acid.

Method

I often only have raw cane sugar in the house, which makes the cordial slightly darker than you may be used to – it still tastes delicious, but most people use white sugar.

You can get citric acid from home-brew shops and possibly the chemist (in the UK). If you cannot find citric acid, then add the juice of another lemon. If you use this method, I would recommend freezing the cordial once bottled, to make sure that your cordial does not go mouldy.

Method

Steep the blooms in the boiling water in a large, non-corrosive container.

Add the sugar, lemons and citric acid, and stir until the sugar has all dissolved.

Cover with a tea towel, and leave in a place that you will walk past daily. Leave for four days at room temperature, stirring well twice a day.

Sterilise some bottles, and a funnel. You can use new ones, or old oil, vodka or screw-top wine bottles will also be fine. I find that bottles are much less likely to get thoroughly clean in a dish washer, so I clean mine by hand with a long bottle brush, then I sterilise them with campden tablets, which are also available from home-brew suppliers. This recipe makes a little over 4 l, so you will need an appropriate number, plus one for luck.

Strain the elderflower through muslin, then bottle and seal tightly.

This should keep for up to a year. Once it is opened, store the bottle in the fridge.

Then pour yourself a nice tall glass of diluted cordial, add mint and some ice, and think about what recipes you could use the cordial in.

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Oh My, Darling Clementine Marmalade

Clementine Maramalade

The Business at Breakfast

Marmalade is pretty British, as far as preserves go. Even then, there is controversy as to whether you should have the zest chunky or fine, and some people even think that you should have no zest at all. They are entitled to their opinion, although I think that is really just a citrus jelly!

I find that it is not until you leave a country that you start to miss the things that you used to take for granted. Marmalade is one of those things, and I enjoy making preserves. However, I have not been able to find reasonably priced marmalade, and neither have I been able to find Seville oranges here either. Seville oranges are much sharper than their normal edible counterpart, and thus make the perfect balance of sweet and sharp that is required in most good preserves. They are also only in season for a short time, December to early February, so most marmalade production happens in the early part of the year, when it is too cold for planting, but the festivities over Christmas are out of the way.

Having resigned myself to the fact that I cannot make traditional orange marmalade, I am currently embarking on a series of experimental marmalades including lime, lemon, and grapefruit.

Heather at Breakfast by the Sea suggested that I try clementine marmalade. If you haven’t already seen it, I really recommend you have a look at her blog, it has great recipes and some really beautiful photography.

I hadn’t thought of clementines, but they are a better replacement for Seville oranges, if you want a sharp, but still distinctly orangey flavoured marmalade. This one is the perfect trial marmalade for a recipe that I am developing, which I hope to blog about later.

I found some lovely clementines on our local market with the glossy leaves still attached. This appeals in the waste-reduction geek in me, because citrus leaves make a really tasty tea. Give them a good wash, and then steep them in boiling water. Add a bit of cinnamon stick if you want to, it will be just as good.

As with many of my preserves, I used Pam Corbin’s Preserves book. I used the cut fruit method for marmalade, but amended the amounts slightly, for what I thought was suitable for the clementines.

Medium Cut Peel for Marmalade

Not as Fine as I Would Like

Recipe: Clementine Marmalade

Ingredients

1.5 kg clementines

3 l water

200 ml lemon juice

2 kg sugar

5 tbsp cointreau.

I probably took this a little too far while trying to get this batch to set, and it had gone from beautifully bright and orangey to having a more caramel flavour. If I had pushed it any further, I would definitely have burnt it. To compensate, and inject a little more orange, I stirred through the Cointreau after the jam was off the heat, but while it was setting before potting up. You can also leave the Cointreau out, if you prefer.

Having done a little reading up, it seems that clementines catch a little easier than Seville oranges. This being the case, you need to watch it like a hawk as it approaches the setting point. I would even take the unusual step of advocating stirring at this point, so that parts of the marmalade cannot catch and burn. As always, the setting point is reached when the jam reaches 104.5°C, or when it wrinkles when you perform the fridge test.

You need to leave it in the pan to set a little, so that the zesty bits don’t all sink to the bottom of the jars when you pot them up. Pot the hot jam into hot, sterile jars and seal immediately. Lovely, tasty orange marmalade. Really great on toast for breakfast. Thanks for the suggestion, Heather.

I left a layer on the bottom, in case I did catch any of it. This will feature in another recipe later on. Well, you didn’t  think I would throw it out, did you?

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Swedish Starters

Inlagd Sill

Swedish sill

So, the Sunday after the Mince Pie and Mulled Wine party saw me once again cooking for friends. This time, it was an international Christmas Dinner, at which we had guests from Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and the USA. However, the dinner itself was an amalgam of British and Swedish traditions, so I guess we had the best of both.

Traditionally, Swedes are pescatarian in nature, particularly when it comes to starters. I am sure that you have heard of the notorious Surströmming, which is the fermented variety, reputedly so smelly that you have to eat it outside. I have never had the pleasure, myself, so I am unable to report what it is like.

They also love all manner of fish eggs from actual caviar, through Löjrom (from the Vendace, or Cisco), to the particularly nasty Kalles Kaviar, which is about as far from caviar as you can get, and is available in an Ikea near you, you lucky people. Can you tell that I am not a fan of fish eggs?

Much more acceptable is their unfermented ways with herring, or sill as it is known. A really traditional starter, especially at Christmas is inlagd sill. You can also get this in various form from Ikea, but it is much, much nicer to make your own. It is basically herring that has been stored in a sweet pickling solution. I made the traditional version, but you can also make it with dill or mustard within the solution, and the Swede in your life would still be happy.

As with most fish dishes, they like to serve this with sour cream and finely chopped red onion. You can choose if you would like to have this with waxy potatoes, cooked with dill in the same way that Brits add mint to the boiling water; or with wholemeal toast or knäckebröd (a hard bread like Ryvita). We used up the last of the pink fir apple potatoes from our garden.

Recipe: Soused Herring

Ingredients

8 herring fillets (I had to cheat and buy Maatjes Herring, because there was no raw herring to be had when I needed it, I gave the fillets a good rinse, and we were good to go)

100 ml ättiksprit (strong pickling vinegar) or cider vinegar

160 g sugar

2 red onions

4 carrots

2 bay leaves

15 peppercorns

Method

Cut one onion in half, and slice thinly. Slice up 2 of the carrots as well.

In a non-reactive saucepan (e.g. ceramic, stainless steel, preserving pan), put the sugar, chopped onion and carrots, bay, peppercorns and the vinegar. Bring to the boil, then set aside to allow it to cool completely.

When it is completely cold, strain it off, reserving the vinegar to use on the herring. Don’t throw away the vegetables, they are really tasty. One of our guests doesn’t eat fish, so we gave him some of these on top of a toasted goat cheese. I have to admit that I scarfed up all the carrots from the sieve, as they were so good. The rest I had as a pickle with the bubble and squeak I made with the Christmas Dinner leftovers.

Chop each herring fillet into 3-4 pieces, depending on the size. Chop the remaining onion and carrots as before. In a sterilised jar, layer the fish pieces, the onion and the carrot, then pour over the vinegar. Seal the jar, and leave for 24 hours or the flavour to develop.

This method of pickling will keep the herring for about 3 weeks. Please keep it in the fridge once opened.

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Sing A Song of Six Quince

Quinces

A bit like large, hairy pears

The quince is an odd fruit. Part of the rose family, with a hard, fuzzy fruit that is easy to overlook if you don’t know what it is. It is often possible to forage the quince, as they do occur in the odd hedgerow, and a few lucky people grow them, or know someone else that does.

This is another of those things that I really hope to find out and about. The flowers are really beautiful, so they are often planted in municipal areas. I have heard rumour of one in a local park, although I have not found it myself. You also have to be pretty quick if you are to get there before the parakeets that live wild here.

However, I have found them on my local market. A basket full caught my eye, and I felt a rush of excitement, as I hurried closer to see whether or not I was in luck, or if they were just large conference pears. Luckily for me, my first glance was right, and I went home happily clutching a bag full of kweepeers, as they are called here.

I have cooked with them before, having baked them in a similar way to apples, but I have always wanted to try my hand at making membrillo. I first had some on a holiday to Barcelona, where it is served with sharp manchego cheese, and its sweetness and texture really are the perfect foil for this cheese. I have also used it with pâté on crackers, where it finds another worthy partnership.

I looked around for a good recipe, and Nigel Slater had a good one on the BBC site. When I read this, my first thought was that I could maximise the quince output by making jelly too. This appeals to the tight-fisted food waste geek in me – I really hate throwing stuff away, so any recipe where I can save scraps or cooking liquor to make something else out of is off to a good start already!

The quince might be an odd-looking fruit, but its perfume  is quite something. As I peeled and cored them, as per the instructions, my kitchen was filled with a gorgeous smell, very similar to ripe raspberries. As they cook, you get hints of their rosaceous origins as well.

One thing that cooked quince is famed for is its beautiful deep red colour, so imagine the panic I had when I cooked the fruit when they were still a pale off white colour, and the cooking liquor was pretty beige.

Part cooked quince

Taste the rainbow?

A while ago, I had promised a friend a session in nostalgia and jam making, so she headed round after work, and we got down to make the jelly. The first lot I made was with the cooking liquor that was drained from the fruit. Since the membrillo recipe says to peel and core the quinces, and this contains a good deal of pectin, this is also perfect for jelly. I boiled these up in some more water, and re-used the vanilla pod in it too. The strained liquor made yet more jelly.

Making jelly is really a question of proportion. For every 600 ml of liquid, you need 400 g of sugar. You can play around with this proportion a little, and I have reduced the amount of sugar for some fruits. However, the quince is a relatively unknown quantity for me, so I stuck with the tried and tested ratio.

We boiled it up to a nice rolling boil, and let it cook off for 10 minutes. These days I have taken the guess-work out of jam making by investing in a sugar thermometer. When the thermometer reaches 104.5°C, you know that you are done. I still like to check, since the first time I used a thermometer, the jelly I was making turned out a bit runny, because I had taken it off the heat the second it reached temperature. Also, it was good to show my friend the low tech way of seeing if your jam has reached setting point.

The Fridge Test is the old-fashioned way to ensure the setting point is reached. You put a plate in the fridge to cool. Drop a little jam on the plate and leave for a minute. If the jam wrinkles when you run your finger through it, then it has reached setting point. If it doesn’t wrinkle, stick the plate back in the fridge, leave the jam to cook, and try again in a few minutes.

When you have reached the setting point, take the jam off the heat and pour into hot, sterilised jars. Fill  them almost to the top, cover with waxed paper discs (wax side down) and seal with a hot, sterilised airtight lid.

As you can see from the picture, my worry that the final product would be beige was unfounded. They don’t tell you this in the recipes, but the quince does not take on its customary red until quite near the end of  the cooking process.

Quince Jelly

Not beige

Today I made the membrillo, as per the recipe. This too takes its time to reach the right colour, but when it does, it is a really thick paste, and has a grainy texture. I poured it into a roasting tin, but you could also use a swiss roll tin if you like it thinner.

I baked it in a low oven, but I should note that it still wasn’t entirely set, so I put it back in on low for a while.

Membrillo

The membrillo paste before it went in the oven

I cut this into two. The one half I have wrapped in greaseproof paper, and foil, and I will keep it somewhere cool and dark until it is required. The other half, I shall cut into squares, sprinkle in caster sugar and serve as a sweet at my upcoming party.

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Treasure Chestnuts

Sweet Chestnut jam

The sweetest of chestnuts

I really love sweet chestnuts. Seasonal, run-up-to-christmas, eat-with-game, things-that-help-make-sprouts-bearable, isn’t-it-brilliant-when-you-find-a-tree-of-them-in-a-park-(though-really-infrequent-in-a-country-with-few-hedgerows), lovely chestnuts. I like to find them in the wild for all to take advantage of, I like to cook with them, I like to thicken soups with them, I have never eaten them in marron glacé form, but I expect they are also lovely.

I haven’t found any in any great quantity while foraging over here. You might be much luckier than I am, or just get them at your local market. I bought some very cheap ones, but the reason why they were so cheap was that they were a little past their best, and a number contained insect larvae (probably moths), which is the same as if I had foraged them anyway! I had to go and get some slightly less cheap ones from my local greengrocer’s. Still, it was nice to watch the jays pick through the discarded ones this morning, as I made the jam.

Serve peeled chestnuts at a party, and people think that you have gone to a lot of trouble for them. And the fact is, they would be  right too. I always go into it thinking that it will be a quick job, and always forget how fiddly the damn things are.

Today, I spent a good few hours peeling chestnuts. I suspect this is because I am a little bit too anally retentive about removing the skin from all the folds of the nut.  I also spent a considerable time online trying to find ways to speed up the process. I did come across this video from the people at badgerset.  I think this method has a lot of potential, but it will take practice to recognise how long is enough boiling time. For the record, I found that my chestnuts needed much longer in the boiling water to allow the skin to detach. I guess I need more practice. And possibly a decent pair of pliers. One brilliant thing about this method, is that you get to see the ones that have insect larvae in before you eat them.

After I had done all that peeling, I made Melissa’s Chestnut Jam, from the River Cottage Preserves book, by Pam Corbin. I have had my eye on this jam for a little while, not least because Pam recommends them to be eaten with meringue. I usually have a glut of egg whites around, due to my fondness for egg-based sauces and real custard (As a Brit who loves her puddings, vla does not really cut it for me). We are having are christmas minced pie and mulled wine party soon, so I will make the meringues for these, and I will serve them with this jam. I also gave a jar to my friend, for her recent birthday. She has been hankering for egg-free chocolate mousse for a little while, so I hope this jam will be a fitting accompaniment for the one that I made her.

A few things to note about this jam. Firstly, do not try to blend too many chestnuts at a time – they quickly clog up the food processor, and take quite a lot of mixing in to avoid lumps. I didn’t manage it. It would probably be easier to blend them all together at once, with a little cooking liquor,  in a bowl, using a stick blender. I am a little gadget-averse, and won’t buy one on the grounds that I have a food processor, so why have two things to do the same job? Seems my tight attitude has not paid off in this case. I also used to  whip meringues by hand, until one time I broke my collarbone, so had to ask the Big Guy to whip them for a party we had. The next day, he came home with an electric whisk, saying that it would have saved him a couple of hours of his life, that he will never see again.

The chestnuts and the cooking liquor form quite a thick paste. Being much more used to fruit jams, I was very worried that this would not be liquid enough to form a jam. I was wrong, when it is added to the sugar syrup, it quickly liquefies. Do not be tempted to add more than the recommended 100 ml of the cooking liquor to the chestnuts when blending them.

My top tip for this jam is not to cook it if you have children or animals in the vicinity. Pam mentions that it sputters, but not how much, and it is very, very sticky. I have spent ages trying to remove it from the splashback, random bits of kitchen work top and my utensils pot. I also recommend wearing a long-sleeved top when you cook this. Those little splashes hurt.

The jam also sets quite quickly off the heat, so probably keep it on the lowest simmer when you fill the jars, so that the rest remains liquid enough to pour into the rest of them.

It is very nice, and not too sweet, although I think I will up the amount of brandy in the next batch I try. So, try it with meringues, chocolate mousse, or even on toast with some chocolate spread, if you are feeling lazy.

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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas?

Pear and Ginger Mincemeat

Yup, looks like Christmas to me

Now, don’t get me wrong, I can’t stand the commercial run up to Christmas, which seems to start in about July in some places. I think that all the Christmas stuff should start in December, so that we don’t all get Christmas fatigue by the time schools start back. However, there are a few things that you need to get ready in advance, and homemade mincemeat is one of them, as it needs time to develop and for the flavours to meld.

At a small food fair last weekend, we picked up a bumper load of pears for next to nothing. I poached some, while they were still firm, but there were too many to eat like this, or to have as a fruit on their own. We also had cakes, compote and so on, but what I really wanted to make with them was the Pear and Ginger Mincemeat that I had seen in Pam Corbin’s Preserves book.

I have been making my own mincemeat for a few years now, if only to prove that I can. Here in the Netherlands, it becomes necessary if you don’t want to add it t o the list of Stuff Visitors Have To Bring You. Our list is long enough, with English mustard, Pimms, Salad Cream, veggie suet and so on. The Big Guy also asks for Brown Sauce, despite being Swedish. I think he has assimilated.

This mincemeat ticks a load of boxes for me, since I love pears, I really love ginger, and we regularly host a Mince Pie and Mulled Wine each Christmas, and you can’t have that without sweet mincemeat.

I made a couple of amendments to Pam’s recipe. I have not yet seen cooking apples in the Netherlands, so I only used eaters, but I took half of them and stewed them until they were quite liquid. I think it needs to have some more liquid contents, as this mincemeat does not use suet (which I always substitute with vegetable suet, so that any veggie or vegan friends can also have some), so the stewing will prevent you having dry mince pies.

Secondly, instead of all of the sultanas and raisins she suggests, I added half sultanas and half dried cranberries. There is something great about dried cranberries, and they are traditional Christmas fare, albeit not in the sweet courses!

I also made my own candied peel – much nicer than the tacky shop bought stuff.

I cannot recommend enough trying this version for yourself. Just look how great it looks, and the smell is something else. I could not resist trying a teaspoon, and trust me, this is the best mincemeat ever, even before the flavours have had time to meld and develop.

Sweet, Sweet Mincemeat

Smells amazing, looks pretty, tastes delicious - sweet, sweet mincemeat

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Candied Camera

Homemade Candied Peel

Candied Peel – the nice kind

Loads of people object to candied peel. I think this is possibly because they have only had the sticky, cheap, pre-made stuff. After all, many of those people don’t object to zest in a lot of other recipes, so what makes it so different when it has a sugar coating?

To get around this, I make my own. It has the advantage of allowing you to put your favourite citrus fruits in, and to play around a little with the proportions. Any citrus will do, but the commercially available ones are more often mostly lemon, I think. A better balance of lemon and orange, or experimenting with grapefruit, blood oranges, or even the more unusual citrus fruit, such as pomelos should also help turn even the most ardent haters of this little treat.

I made some with orange and lemon, because I like it, and I had quite a few that I was going to use for something else.

Recipe: Candied Peel

Ingredients

Citrus fruits of your choice. Try to get unwaxed if possible.

200 g sugar per 3 fruit

Method

Thoroughly wash and scrub the fruits.

Slice the ends off each fruit, then cut off the peel in wide strips. I find it very easy to do this with a vegetable peeler, but a knife is also fine. This is one recipe where you want to retain the pith, which will help the peel stay juicy.

Put each kind of peel in a separate saucepan, and cover with cold water. Boil the peels until they are soft to the point of a knife. The time this takes for each will vary greatly, which is why it is important to do them in separate pans. This can take up to an hour or even more for some of the tougher peels, whereas something like a clementine will take less than 15 minutes. Do not let the peels dry out, so if you need to, top up with the water from a freshly boiled kettle. Drain all the peels as soon as they are soft.

Boiling Peel

Cooking Peel

Make a sugar syrup by dissolving  200 g sugar per 100 ml of water, and multiplying up accordingly. Bring it up to the boil, and carefully add the drained peels. It is important that it covers the peels, so add more syrup if you need to.

Let the peel simmer in the syrup over a low heat, stirring occasionally. When the peel has absorbed almost all of the syrup, then it is done. Towards the end, don’t take your eyes off this, because it can burn, and then tastes really bitter and unpleasant. Err on the side of a bit more syrup in the pan,rather than too little.

Grease a baking sheet or tray, and line it with greaseproof paper. Put the peel on the sheet to dry out. Be careful, they will have scaldingly hot sugar syrup on them. Leave them in a warm place to dry oven the next 3-4 days, and turn them over when you remember them.

They will store well in an airtight container. Cut them into smaller pieces when you need to use them in baking, or as decoration for desserts. You will find that the sugar coating will mostly fall off.

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