Blackthorn flowers make Gin!
The Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa ) is found in many hedgerows and across the countryside but most importantly in the many hedgerows on the Chewton Glen Estate and recently Estate Manger Darren Venables tweeted a wonderful picture capturing the moment of this years flowering. It was beautiful. My mind heart skipped a beat. Its such an exciting time when nature starts to let you in to her little secrets and plans. And so the Blackthorn moments of glory is upon us before even his leaves appear giving this shrub a little glamour in the bare hedgerows. A perfectly formed elegant flower as white and as soft as a cloud on a beautiful blue day.
The flower is so delicate its almost a shame to pick the beauty from the bush. But crystallised they are perfect for cake decorations or simply served in a light salad.
When the leaves arrive they too can used, to be infused for making a tea. However most people tend to pick from this wonderful gift of nature when the year is almost over and the frost have given these particular berries a little coating to ensure they are perfect for your making your gin. Yes its the sloe bush, that many people can and do use in lots of recipes. However most people I know only ever make gin from them. (and why not). Yet they make a wonderful inclusion to a hedgerow jelly and a fantastic addition to an ice cream especially if they have been used to make gin first!
But before all of those recipes try this one. They would look great on a chocolate cake. Simple, perfect elegant.
An easy Recipe for crystallising flowers:
Ingredients Edible Flowers
- An egg white that has been stired with a folk but not beaten.
- Caster sugar
- Equipment a model paint brush ( the type yo get with an air-fix model)
- If you have picked the flowers yourself be sure to check for little flies bugs etc.
- Dip your paint brush n the egg white and carry fully paint the petals.
- Dust with the caster sugar and leave to dry on parchment paper for a few hours.
- Keeps for about a week.
Even the box is perfect.
As you know I am a fan of this particular farm in Spain their love and passion for growing organic oranges spreads across from Spain to our shores and into our kitchens like rays of the sun. You can buy these beauties from River Ford Organics, or Waitrose and a few independent retailers. This week on BBC radio Solent I talk about the farm marmalade making and here is the recipe the wonderful farmers send with their beautiful orange:
Ingredients: 1 kilo of Ava Marie Seville Oranges.
2.5 kilos of sugar.
- Weight the empty pan and note it down (for stage 12)
- Wash the oranges and lemon dry.
- cut out the pips, saving them in a cup.
- Cut the peel of the oranges and lemon into shreds.
- Place the fruit into a stainless steel container.
- Weight it and or every half of kilo of fruit add 1.5 litres of water.
- From this measured water,take out a drop to cover the pips in the cup. If the measured water reaches 3 litres, remove 1/4 of litre.
- Leave to soak over night.
- The Following morning place the pips and the gelatine in a muslin sack and tie it to the handle of the pot, where you are going to cook the marmalade.
- Squeeze the bag thoroughly and make sure it stays in the water with the peels.
- Boil everything for approximately one hour until the peels are soft. ( make sure its a soft boil and cover with a lid or make a foil lid so that the liquid does not evaporate too much.)
- Remove from the heat and weight the pan. Take away the weight of the pan and for each kilo of fruit add 1 kilo of sugar.
- Slowly sir in the sugar until it has dissolved. Once it has dissolved slowly bring it to a rolling boil (stir continuously)
- Cook for about half an hour to a maximum of 45 minutes.
- take the pan off the heat when you are checking for setting point. To check for setting point you will need to remove a small amount from the pan and place on drop onto your plate that in the fridge. once it has cooled on the plate you can do the wrinkle check, pushing the marmalade with your finger and it will wrinkle.
- Once you are satisfied with the set, pour into clean sterilised jars, lid and leave to cool.
Useful information and tips:
To sterilise jars wash and place in an oven for 10 mins. leave in the oven until required.
When cooking marmalade, you will feel it thicken when you stir the marmalade with your wooden spoon, the more you cook marmalade the earlier it will be to recognise the texture change whilst cooking. Just before she sets it starts to shimmer and glow turning silky.
I look out of the windows and the skies are still dark from the night, the clouds are racing in from the west, broken one looks like a pearl diver, searching into the bright patches of blue from the east. But the grey is catching up, and as I watch the sunrise quickens highlighting the horizon, the blue is now engulfed by the grey, the warming colours of the sun shines behind each shade giving edge lines as if I had drawn them with a charole pencil. Will the east wins over the west? and blue and pink sky fill the day? but the wind is stronger and the blue is slowly dismissed as the clouds take advantage of the head wind.
I stare and listen to the wind I can hear the seagulls I look into the deeping sky and marvole at its beautify, gulls litter the skyline standing out like cut out silhouettes, they coast on the thermals as they take advantage of the wind.
The sycamore at the end of the garden towers and I watch crows perch and shout out their ownership of the tree. I scan my garden and the children’s climbing and swing frames are like skeletons that are rarely played with now, but I hold on them, so to recall last summers moments as if its an insurance, that if frames stay I will not forgot the days. Each swing, bars fills my heart with their young giggles, but soon the frames will have to be re-homed as time moves and the very fact my lovelies are too big for them to play on them.
The whole garden looks cold, wind swept and lonely, or perhaps its my guilt of not really doing much with her this winter using the excuse that its too wet to walk on the grass. Its to wet to mess with her for fear of doing her damage. When really its my lack of time that has kept me away from the her.
I turn and the cherry tree is in need of a pruning and so are the other fruit tress, but dare not, as I see buds! This mild winter, has confused nature as it has confused me, what to do? I wait, and I watch I’m sure nature will let me know the right time. I pop out into the green house, I tidy and plan, I dream and image of what delights of the spring.
The day is here and I am now on my second coffee pot, and while I watch the world awake on the social internet marvelling at attention to nature and photos of morning everywhere and just how we the love of the Earth. I return to my cooking books looking for inspired post Christmas treats, it is Saturday after all, and as I read into one, my attention is held by “a Summers day biscuit” recipe with rose and almond two of my favourite things. I return to prune the roses, but with within minutes I am back in the kitchen. Its started to rain!
I need some comfort today and I don’t mean a Casserole, although an cassoulet would be nice for lunch. I dive into my cupboard bring out the rose infused sugar I made last summer so now I am going to make these biscuits and enjoy then when the children finally rise out of bed! Bring moments back of last summer into today.
The Book Nigel Slaters a year of good eating:
Find the recipe look no further than on pg 206 of Nigel Slaters a year of good eating. I will substitute the caster sugar in the almond filling for rose sugar and for the decoration.
I post the photos of the delight later on naked jam facebook page.
I’ve always had an instinct and natural urge for foraging, that has continued to push me outside.
As no matter where you are, no matter the time of year there always something to find to eat!. Foraging has always played a big part in my life but now it’s also instrumental to my work. Apart from the free food there are other benefits too. Exercise and this time of year leaf kicking is a great way to feel young! I am sure that I did once hear on radio 4 that there is something fundamental and beneficial about the bacteria on the leafs. That it is good for us to breathe in when kicking up the leaves during autumn, unfortunately I can’t remember all the details!
So on a bright afternoon, after the fog had cleared, I was off to forage for jam in the ground of the Chewton Glen, I take my usual route through the cut, across the road and then into the small woodland. I just can’t help but kick up the leaves, it’s then I notice them, little furry green husks, spiky balls and they are holding their very own crown jewels beautiful little brown chestnuts!
I’ve found treasure! wow o wow, I had almost forgotten about these little beauties I’ve been so busy with hedgerow fruits recently, just how could I forget about the season’s best tasting nut! So without a thought for rose hips I was down on damp ground picking through the leaves and gathering chestnuts.
So while my jeans were gathering mud as I rustled in the leaves, the moment begins to rekindles memories, and as always my memories always seem to start in the our family kitchen with my mum. I would watch her put together some wonderful recipes and I wish now I take a pen to paper and written them all down. But the smell of these chestnuts takes me to her kitchen, while after foraging for those angry spiky furry balls, we would pick out the nuts, and that distinct aromas of burnt ambers, almost earthy yes the chestnuts were roasting. Or we store the beauties for use later in the Christmas stuffing.
But what else did she do apart from the stuffing ? I hold still, kneeing on the wet ground trying hard to bring back “Christmas past”, I laugh! All I think of is the exploding chestnuts in the rayburn ( I haven’t forgotten to pierce the chestnuts since!)
I giggle and while I’m thinking, I get a message from Darren Venables, the wonderful head gardener from the Chewton Glen, he suggests a roast chestnut party just, what I was thinking! but hey what about a Jam? There is plenty here.
It’s not that we won’t have a party, however being a little obsessed with jam, I just can’t help but think about making a jam, it’s in my bones.
I dig deep and finally remember this recipe something that I made some many moons ago. So without rambling on! here’s the recipe:
– 1 kg of chestnuts
– 650g of vanilla sugar (can use granulated sugar if you wish)
– one vanilla pod (optional depends how much your sugar tastes of vanilla )
– Juice of a lemon
(check last blogs for sterilising jars etc)
- Chestnuts have two skins so first your need to peel the outer skin it’s a little difficult and your need a sharp knife and insert it at the top of the nut and carefully peel away the first layer.
- Then pop them into a large pan of boiled water and simmer for about 10-15 minutes, then remove the chestnuts a little at a time and peel the second layer of skin.
- Once you have skinned all the nuts it can take some time. (I promise if I find a faster way or a tool to do this with I’ll let you know)
- Now the messy bit press the chestnuts though a sieve to remove the husky bits. (this is the non technical bit and other jam makers hate this bit. if you add equal amounts of sugar to the nuts as you would in jam then your get a rather sweet jam nothing wrong with it).
- However I like more of a chestnut taste so asto be more versatile so like to use less sugar.
- Add the rest of the ingredients and cook for about 20-30mins and bring to a rolling boil check for the set (softer than fruit jams) and pot in sterilised jars.
This is great in a chestnut bellini and of course on pancakes it’s heaven
Its pairs very well with whiskey so great for a cake! (or even in a whiskey)
For me the Autumn arrives like the dew, heavy and light all at the same time. My wardrobe reflects the cold morning and I dance in the long shadows whilst marveling at the cobwebs and the fading colors of the lavender in the herb garden.
Knowing another season has grown into the year and soon it will lead into the winter for which seems to to as beautiful and as short lived as the spring. Where I will look forward to bright Oranges from Ave Maria Farm in Spain with anticipation of that of a child at Christmas.
In the meantime I pull out my old poetry book and read Blackberry picking by Seamus Heaney, a poet who could capture a the moment of the everyday and highlight the magic in the undervalued and neglected moments of time passing. This particular poem not only touches my pleasure to read and indulge in poetry for not nothing more than self enjoyment but he turns my head and I look back as if it were this afternoon that I was out picking blackberries before tea, managing with simple words to hold my childhood memory of foraging almost as perfect as my mum’s apple and blackberry pie recipe, it’s as if he was there. So before you collect the bounty of the Autumn and make wonderful Christmas gifts and recreate your own childhood memories of picking blackberries. Have a read of just one of his wonderful poems.
Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.
by Seamus Heaney
Source: Death of a Naturalist (1966).