Monday, 27 December 2010

Festive fare ~ fruit mince pies, raspberries, pancakes and decorations

In the southern hemisphere the season for raspberries and other delicious berry fruit coincides with Christmas.  Rachel gave us a very welcome gift of a kilo of these just before Christmas and we ate them all in a few short days - which is just as well as once picked their storage life is brief.  But... no chance of making raspberry jam this year!  Thank you Rachel, for this wonderful treat!
A favourite accompaniment to this delectable fresh fruit is a fruit mince pie:

This recipe is a winner. 
  • Dried figs, diced - 3 cups finely diced. (I did weigh what this amounted to and have now lost the piece of paper.  I'll add it in if I find it!)
  • Sultanas, roughly chopped - 1 cup
  • Crystallised ginger, finely chopped - ¼ cup
  • Dark chocolate, roughly chopped - 150 grams.  I used Whittakers Dark Ghana (72 % cocoa!)
  • Apple - 1 - peeled and grated
  • Brown sugar - 3/4 cup
  • Brandy - 1 cup
  • Mix all ingredients together in a bowl.
  • Cover and leave in a cool place for two days, stirring occasionally.
  • The recipe goes on to suggest that the mixture is then sealed into a jar for at least a month before using - completely unrealistic in this house, where it sat in the fridge for a week at the most before being made into pies. 
My apologies to its creator, that the source of this splendid recipe is now lost.
     I can tell you that the pastry recipe below is from Alison Holst's excellent book "Recipes to remember".  Memorable indeed!

Icing sugar pastry:
Full quantity - this makes enough for twelve smallish pies with lids.
  • Butter - 125 grams butter
  • Icing sugar - ¾ cup
  • Flour, plain - 1 cup
  • Cornflour - ½ cup
  • Water to mix.  Start with a quarter of a cup.  If more is needed add in small, careful amounts.
Method - notes:
When making the pastry a very little warmth makes it very melty.  Start with all ingredients as cool as possible and handle sparingly when rolling out and cutting shapes.
Bake the mince pies at 170 to 180 degrees Celsius for 20 to 30 minutes until the edges start to colour.

Half quantity for pastry to make six mince pies with lids:
Correction note: 17th September 2012.  I've just noticed that I had written the measurements below incorrectly, for which I offer apologies.  I've fixed them up now.  If you notice mistakes I'd be pleased to hear of them.
  • Butter - 60 grams
  • Icing sugar - 1/3 cup
  • Flour - ½ cup flour
  • Cornflour - 1/4 cup cornflour
  • water to mix

Rewi has a special fondness for pancakes and insisted on having these for supper on Christmas Eve - with raspberries of course!  I followed his recipe to make them:

1 cup of flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 and 1/4 cups of milk
1 tsp oil
1 egg - separated
    Sift flour and baking powder into a largish bowl.  Separate the egg white from the yolk.  Beat these separately, first the white and then the yolk.  To the beaten egg yolk add the oil and milk, and then combine with the flour.  Lastly add the stiffly beaten egg white.  To make medium sized pancakes I use a soup ladle to dip the mixture into the heated and oiled pan.  A thoroughly heated heavy cast-iron pan works well on a medium heat.  I turn my pancakes by using a spatula.  Cook till golden brown on each side.

    Festive food is especially cheering when served with special tableware in a decorative setting.  In New Zealand decorations which have their origins in the northern hemisphere continue to be popular, hence the Christmas tree pictured above which makes its annual appearance in our sitting room.  I must confess that it's made of plastic and wire which I would normally avoid, but since I found it for sale second hand for three dollars at the local Salvation Army shop I permitted myself to buy it!  Decorated with fairy lights and golden balls it certainly brightens the place up, not that we could be said to need it at the height of summer, but it certainly is festive.

    With Christmas coinciding with the summer rather than winter solstice we don't have the same need for added colour as our northern relations for whom the winter cheer of such festivities must be very welcome.

    In the Northern Hemisphere the red and green traditionally associated with Christmas and mid-winter are associated with holly.  Coming up the steps in Rachel's garden I came across this summery equivalent in her fuschia:

    This glorious bunch of roses from Penelope's garden provided festive delight on our kitchen table, thank you Penelope!  If it were the middle of winter and in the absence of flowers from the garden I might consider a Christmas-style wreathe.

    In fact, I think that celebrating the winter solstice in the dark and chilly depths of June an excellent idea. I think this every Christmas. It would make sense to put it in my brand new diary for next year right now and actually do something about it!  I could even get the tree out again for a winter showing... Nice food, good friends... But what about the berry fruit? Ah! I've thought of that already: I've made syrup for gooseberry as well as red currant fool which is safety stored away in sealed preserving jars and can be got out for the occasion, spoonfuls of summery pleasure!

    Come to think of it, I'd love to see our northern hemisphere counterparts celebrating the summer solstice in red Santa hats and lining up at Santa parades featuring the big man and his reindeer, sleighs covered with fake snow, and so on.  I suppose the fact that many of the locals  here do just this for our Christmas shows we have a well developed sense of the ridiculous, or something very like it!

    Wednesday, 8 December 2010

    Gooseberries and currants ~ all my recipes are here

    Now is the season for gooseberries and currants.  It passes swiftly so if you enjoy these luscious fruits seize the moment. 

    Although I wrote up these recipes last year, they are each in separate articles and I decided they would be easier to refer to in the one place.  For those wishing to go back to those earlier fuller articles you can find the links to them at the foot of this one.  Please note that all details have been updated to reflect my current methods and ratios.

    The only preparation gooseberries require is topping and tailing and a thorough washing - in that order.
         As with any cooking, and especially with the preparation of fruit for preserves, working surfaces and all cooking gear should be very clean.  Although my jars are always put away clean, dry and with their lids on I always wash them carefully again with detergent in very hot water before I use them.
         I would not attempt to make jam or preserves without flock-lined rubber gloves as the sugary syrup is very hot indeed; as I ladle fruit and syrup into the jars while holding them over the pot this is essential.  It could be done so that I didn't have to hold the jars but I find it much the easiest and tidiest method.

    More detailed instructions for doing preserves can be found in my two earlier articles about re-using pop-top jars and preserves.
         Once you've done your preparation as above preserves are fairly quick to make.  You do need to be on the ball though, so I suggest you do them when you're feeling fresh.

    Ratios I use are: 1 kilo of fruit / one third of a kilo of sugar / three cups of water.
    This translates into three parts of fruit to one part of sugar.  Once the fruit has been added to the syrup, the liquid and the fruit in the pot should be at the same level.
         I strongly suggest you cook no more than a kilo at a time as the fruit cooks very quickly and even while you're filling your jars with fruit, what's left in the pot continues to cook rapidly and is likely to turn mushy.  The preserves look best and have the best texture when most of the contents of each jar is of relatively whole fruit.  

    • Heat the water to boiling point, add the sugar and bring it to the boil once more.   
    • Before you add the fruit to the pot make sure you have your jars and lids hot and ready to receive the cooked fruit as it cooks rapidly and once it is time to decant it you won't have a moment to spare.   
    • Add the fruit and move it around gently to ensure it circulates in the pot so that it cooks evenly. 
    • If the fruit you've started off with is green you'll see that it turns slightly yellowy as it softens.  The liquid will increase to some degree.
    • Once the still simmering fruit is adequately cooked, ladle the fruit into jars ensuring that about three quarters of each jar is filled with fruit.  If there is too much syrup in the jar depress the fruit with a spoon to allow excess liquid to run out.  Fill each jar to the brim, quickly check that the rim of your jar is free of any seeds or skin, then get that lid firmly on and you're done! All that's left to be done is to wash your jars and label them.
    • You'll probably have extra syrup left over, which is yummy.
    Yield: I got seven medium sized jars from 2 kilos. 

    Here again more detailed instructions about the making of jam can be found in my two earlier articles about re-using pop-top jars and making jam.
         There is no escaping the fact that making jam is time consuming.  However, once you've spent a few hours getting a batch into jars you'll have a lovely lot which will last you a good long time!
         The batch I've just made worked out wonderfully well and is a big improvement on last years.  This is largely due to improved ratios and a better method.

    Ratios I now use are:
    1 kilo of fruit / 830 grams of sugar / half a cup of water.
    This translates into six parts of fruit to five parts of sugar.
    My big stock pot takes four kilos of fruit for jam making purposes so that's the quantity I cooked. 

    The main difference between the methods for jam and preserves is the amount of sugar used, the very small amount of water required and the length of time it takes for the jam to cook to setting point: by this time it's a complete mush and meant to be.
    • Heat the water in the pan - you'll need enough to cover the bottom of it. 
    • Add a small amount of fruit and stir so that it doesn't catch.  It will release it's juice fairly rapidly.  
    • Continue adding moderate amounts of fruit until it's all in and then bring it to a gentle simmer.  
    • Gradually add the sugar while continuing to stir.  
    • After simmering for a bit the mixture will start to foam and can easily boil over.  The addition of a couple of knobs of butter will settle it down again.  Your potful of fruit will be turning a dark pinkish colour.  
    • Turn up the heat - enough to keep it at a brisk, rolling boil.  It needs to cook at this rate for some time before it is ready to set properly.
    • You may find that some pieces of fruit remain yellow and relatively whole.  I pick mine out and enjoy this as a separate jam or syrup.  
    • All you need to do now is to continue to stir your jam a little and to make sure all your jars and lids are on the ready, nicely hot and so on.  
    • When is the jam sufficiently cooked to set properly?  I'm far from being an expert on this subject.  The most common test is to spoon a little onto a cold plate and let it stand for a few minutes and then to draw a fingertip or a spoon or something across it.  If it has developed a 'skin' which wrinkles as you make a line across it it's ready.  I've never found this method satisfactory.  I put a little on a plate and then see if it holds a finger line after I've made a line through it, as well as watching the pot to see that fruit at a good rolling boil starts to hiss, and to look quite treacly - even though when you ladle it up and pour it back into the pot it seems impossibly liquid!  You'll find your own method that suits you best.    
    Yield: from four kilos of fruit I got 16 smallish jars of jam - good value per kilo!  

    This is a delicious accompaniment to fruit loaf or anything of that sort.

    Ratios I use are:
    Same ratio of fruit to sugar as for preserves, and the same ratio of water to fruit as for jam.
    This translates into: 1 kilo of fruit to a third of a kilo of sugar and half a cup of water
    ie: three parts of fruit to one part of sugar and just enough water to cover the bottom of the pot.
    Last year I used more sugar - in a two to one ratio.  Fruit varies in tartness and tastes also vary so check what suits you.

    • heat water in pot - just enough to cover the bottom of the pot
    • Add fruit gradually, and cook it until it goes completely mushy
    • Push it through a sieve to remove the skins and pips
    • Put back on the heat and add sugar.
    • If wanting to preserve it in jars follow the method as for preserves
    • If wanting to eat forthwith, chill it and then either
      • serve in small portions in festive little glasses topped with whipped cream. 
      • fold a little of the whipped cream through the fool before serving in these same glasses.  Either way it's delicious!

    This is rather like a sorbet and a little goes a long way!  The  light mint flavour makes it wonderfully refreshing.
    • Cook as for preserves using the same method except with an added handful of mint which is cooked with the fruit.  If you already have some preserves, simply reheat a jarful and simmer gently for five or ten minutes with some generous sprigs of mint.
    • Remove the mint once the fruit is cooked
    • Push the remaining fruit through a sieve.  
    • Pour over a dish to a shallow depth and freeze.  
    • Serve by scratching it up with a fork.    

    All of my previously published gooseberry recipes, and the one for red currant fool, can be found by following these links: gooseberry jam, gooseberry preserves, red currant and gooseberry fool, and 'gooseberry-licious.

    See also my later articles:

    More of my articles about jam and preserves as well as other food articles can be found listed together via the link below: