Category Archives: Fruit

Wassail!

Wassail

Wassail! Wassail! all over the town,

Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown;

Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree;

With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee.

A Gloucestershire Wassail, dating to the Middle Ages.

Yesterday was the 6th of January, the final feast day of Christmas, the day of epiphany, Twelfth Night. Down in the counties of South-West and South-East England a very old and special ceremony takes place in the apple orchards; the Wassail was a way to celebrate the end of Christmas and to bless the trees so that they will bear plenty of fruit for the cider. It was a time of celebration and merry-making. All of this happened at dusk, a magical time of day, where the world faeries and spirits overlapped with the world of Man. In different parts of England, the day upon which the Wassail occurs changes: some celebrate it on the 5th of January (the Eve of Epiphany), and others on the 17th of January (this is day Twelfth Night would occur before the Introduction of the Gregorian Calendar, “Old Twelfthy Night”, as it was called).

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A blurry, dusky Levenshulme Community Choir leading our Wassail

For the Wassail ceremony a Wassail King and Queen are nominated who lead the other revellers a merry dance around the trees. In the largest trees, the Queen is lifted into the boughs so she can spear pieces of toast that have been soaked in Wassail punch (I’ll get to that in a moment or two) as an offering to the tree spirits of the orchard. As folk dance about the trees, other run around banging pots and pans to drive out the evil spirits.

Wassailing predates the Battle of Hastings and is thought to have its origins in Ancient Rome, where people would make sacrifices to the Pomona, the Roman Goddess of Fruits. The word Wassail originates from the Anglo-Saxon waes-hael, meaning “to your health” and the word is used just as we would use Cheers! today. Below is one telling of its origins by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his 1135 book History of the Kings of Britain:

While Vortigern was being entertained at a royal banquet, the girl Renwein came out of an inner room carrying a golden goblet full of wine. She walked up to the King, curtsied low, and said “Lavert King, was hail!” When he saw the girl’s face, Vortigern was greatly struck by her beauty and was filled with desire for her. He asked his interpreter what it was that the girl had said and what he ought to reply to her. “She called you Lord King and did you honour by drinking your health. What you should reply is ‘drinc hail.'” Vortigern immediately said the words “drinc hail” and ordered Renwein to drink. Then he took the goblet from her hand, kissed her and drank in his turn. From that day to this, the tradition has endured in Britain that the one who drinks first at a banquet says “was hail” and he who drinks next says “drinc hail.”

I was lucky enough to go to a Wassail in Levenshulme in Manchester, which is not in the south of England, but the north. In Levenshulme there is a lovely community orchard, and it should be blessed just like any other. It was a great evening and really interesting to see just a glimpse of old England. If you have apple – or any fruit – trees, they why not have a Wassail. Indeed anything that needed blessing could wassailed like other crops like barley and livestock. Of course you’ll need to make some wassail to drink…

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Spiking the trees with toast offerings

The drink wassail is essentially a hot mulled cider or ale, sweetened with sugar and made aromatic with spices and made much boozier with sherry, brandy or sack (a sweet, fortified ale similar in taste to sherry) and sometimes thickened with eggs. An essential ingredient in the wassail drink is roasted apples, which would quickly burst and fall apart, giving wassail its alternative name ‘lamb’s wool’. Also floating on the surface would be plenty of toast.

The hot wassail is poured into a large carved wooden bowl and it is passed around the crowd so that everyone can take a good mouthful, raise it above their head and shout “Wassail!”. It is because of this celebration, we “raise a toast” when having drinks.

Two Wassail Recipes

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Here’s a recipe dating from 1722 that appears in the excellent book Food in England by Dorothy Squires:

Take 1 lb. of brown sugar, 1 pint of hot beer, a grated nutmeg, and a large lump of preserved ginger root cut up. Add 4 glasses of sherry, and stir well. When cold, dilute with 5 pints of cold beer, spread suspicion of yeast on to hot slices of toasted bread, and let it stand covered for several hours. Bottle off and seal down, and in a few days it should be bursting the corks, when it should be poured out into the wassail bowl, and served with hot, roasted apples floating in it.

I liked that it is diluted with beer! What brew it must have been.

Below is my rather pared down recipe for wassail:

Ingredients:

4 to 6 apples

3 litres of good cider

6 cinnamon sticks

dark rum, to taste

soft dark brown sugar, to taste

around 500ml of water

toast (optional)

Prepare the apples; cut around them a circle halfway down, this stops them bursting when cooking, place on a tray and bake in a moderate oven until they have begun to collapse, around 30 minutes. Whilst you wait for the oven to do its job, pour the cider into a large pan with the cinnamon stick, at least 3 generous tablespoons of sugar and 250ml of rum and half of the water. Bring to a simmer and add more sugar and rum, and dilute accordingly with more water. Lastly, for tradition’s sake, atop with slices of toast.

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Fruit Curds Revisited

 

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By recent request, I have written another post on fruit curds. I have come up with several more recipes since I wrote the original post and they all originate from a common source; a single recipe that pops up in River Cottage Handbook No.2: Preserves by Pam ‘the Jam’ Corbin. This is a truly excellent book (as are all the RC Handbooks), that deserves a post of its own as part of my rather irregular Favourite Cookbooks series.

Anyway, this recipe is the best I’ve come across, it is for lemon and Bramley apple curd – and it is ripe for modification. Apple purée is used, giving a great texture, making a light nicely-set curd that needs less sugar than your typical lemon curd. Below is the original recipe that I have only very slightly tweaked, and then there is a few more: blood orange, spiced orange and pink grapefruit.

Lemon and Bramley Apple Curd

This recipe makes around 1200ml of curd.

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500g Bramley apple curd, peeled, cored and chopped

150ml water

Zest and juice of 2 lemons

125g butter, cubed

350-400g granulated sugar

5 medium eggs

Put the apples and water in a small saucepan, cover and simmer until the apples break down into a purée. When cooked, put them into a large glass mixing bowl with all of the remaining ingredients except the eggs. Mix together – the heat of apples will dissolve the sugar and begin to melt the butter – and place the bowl atop a pan of briskly simmering water, making sure the water doesn’t touch the base of the bowl.

Whisk the eggs well and pass them through a sieve straight into the mixture, stirring them in well. Keep an eye on things and stir the curd frequently until it thickens; it doesn’t require constant stirring, but don’t be going off and dusting the sills. If you want to be scientific about it, eggs thicken at around 80⁰C, but temperatures of 75⁰C and above will thicken the curd sufficiently. Taste and add more sugar if liked – remembering that cold curd will taste much less sweet than hot curd.

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Pot in sterilised jars (25 minutes in a 125⁰C oven does the trick), cool and refrigerate. The curd will keep for 5 weeks.

Some variations

You can pretty much use any fruit juice you like, but you always need a little bit of lemon to add bite as well as to take advantage of its flavour enhancing properties.

Blood orange curd: as above but use the juice and zest of one lemon and two blood oranges.

Spiced orange curd: use the juice and zest of two lemons and two oranges, along with half a teaspoon of mixed spice. When the curd has thickened, add two teaspoons of orange flower water.

Pink grapefruit curd: use the juice and zest one lemon and two pink grapefruits.

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The Original (Quince) Marmalade

As I mentioned in my previous post about Seville oranges that the original marmalade was in fact made from quinces and not oranges, I thought I would give you a recipe that I have recently used for the stall. It’s a recipe that appears in Eliza Acton’s 1845 book Modern Cookery. It’s an easy recipe that would be a good one to start with if you have never made a sweet preserve as you don’t need to mess about with sugar thermometers and setting points. One of the great things about making preserves with quinces is the glorious colour they go. A relatively brief boil transforms them from a pale apple-yellow to a vibrant orange-coral.

The tricky thing is getting your hands on some quinces they are available from October, but I have recently seen some organic ones in the Manchester organic grocers Unicorn. If your local greengrocer doesn’t have them on their shelves, it is worth asking if they can get them. My grocer was very happy to get me a full tray for just a tenner, so I was very pleased with that.

I have recently found another slightly more complicated version of this recipe but I have not tried it – we’ll have to wait for next autumn for that one!

Eliza Acton’s Quince Marmalade

2kg (4 1/2 lbs) quinces

water

granulated sugar

Wash and scrub any fluff of the quinces, then peel and core them. Place them in a large pan and pour over enough water to almost cover. Turn up the heat and when it begins to boil, turn heat down to a simmer and stew 35-45 minutes until the fruit is soft. Strain and pass fruit through a mouli-legumes.

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Put the pulp back in the pan with the strained juice and add 280g sugar for every 500ml juice or, 1 ½ lbs sugar for every pint of juice). Stir and dissolve under low heat then, simmer until it resembles ‘thick porridge’ and begins to leave the side of the pan when you stir it.

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Pour the marmalade into sterilised pots. It is very good as a jam on toast, with cheese or as an accompaniment to hot or cold meats.

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Seville Oranges and Seville Orange Marmalade

The weather outside may be miserable and the evenings still long, but luckily there is a little fleeting  sunny surprise popping up in grocers around the country that can perk us up no end; at least if you know where to find them. It is Seville orange season and a small window of just a few weeks is all we have to cook with this delicious fruit.

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The Seville orange is very bitter and is only really grown in Spain for us British to make our Oxford marmalade. What a treat home-made marmalade is; oranges, water and sugar that is all that are needed to produce such a delightful, very British preserve. If you have never made your own, have a go before they are all disappear again.

Like all citrus fruits, the Seville orange comes originally from China. It was imported on trade routes via Italy, to the Mediterranean countries of Europe. All of these original orange trees were bitter in flavour like the Seville. In the first half of the 17th century, sweet orange trees were delivered to the Portuguese coast by ship. These sweet oranges quickly superseded the bitter ones, that is for that small area of Spain that still grows them.

The flowers of Seville oranges are also used to make orange flower water, another of my favourite ingredients.

Seville and game painting

Rabbit with Red Legged Partridge and Seville Orange by Jean-Baptiste Chardin 1728-29

Below is a recipe for  Seville orange marmalade, but it is useful to know that the zest and juice of these oranges go very well with game and some shellfish such as scallops as the above painting shows.

 

Seville Orange Marmalade

Oddly enough, marmalade was not made from Seville or any other orange at first, but quince (a knobbly cousin of apples and pears). It did come from Spain though, in fact the Spanish word for quince is marmalada. Every day’s a school day.

This recipe is Jane Grigson’s and it is a good strong bittersweet ‘Oxford’ style marmalade.

Ingredients

3 ¼ litres water

1 ½ (3 lb) Seville Oranges

3 kg (6 lb) granulated sugar

Give your oranges a good scrub and place them in a preserving pan or large stockpot with the water. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 1 ½ hours until the oranges are tender.

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Take them out with a slotted spoon. They will probably collapse in on themselves, but don’t worry about that. Let them cool a little, then halve them and scoop out their innards. Tie up the scooped-out pulp in a piece of muslin. If you want a soft set, just put the bag of pulp straight into the pan, if you want it well set, give it a good squeeze to get as much pectin out of the pith and into the liquor as possible (I’m a soft set man).

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Next, shred the peel, you can be as careful as you want, and you can cut them as thick as you want. You can do this by hand or in the food processor by blitzing them using the pulse setting – be careful though, you don’t want a load of slurry. I’m usually dead against using food processors for this sort of thing, but I quite like the irregular pieces you get with this method. Tip them into the pan along with the sugar. Over a medium heat, stir until the sugar dissolves.

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Now you need to be brave and bring it to a full rolling boil for at least 15 minutes , you need it very hot so that the marmalade can set. You have several options to test for a set, but I use a combination of a sugar thermometer and the wrinkle test. Pectin – a chemical that essentially glues plant cell walls together – will set to a gel at 105⁰C (221⁰F), so a thermometer is crucial if you want to know if you are getting close. It can take a while because water needs to evaporate to get five degrees above boiling point. Keep a close eye on it and when it gets close do the wrinkle test. For this test put a side plate in your freezer a little while before you want to make your marmalade, and when you’ve achieved 105⁰C (221⁰F), turn off the heat and spoon out a little of it onto your cold plate. Return it to the freezer for a couple of minutes. Push the jelly; if it wrinkles up, your pectin is set. If not, boil up again and retest after 10 minutes.

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When ready, turn off the heat and allow it to cool for 15 minutes – this important step will stop your peel from floating to the top in a single layer – then pot into sterilized jars (bake them and their lids for 25 minutes at 125⁰C or 250⁰F).

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Jane Grigson’s Orange Mincemeat

It’s just occurred to me that I haven’t put on a Christmas recipe and it is only just over two weeks until the special day. This month has flown by at a scarily quick pace.

Luckily two weeks is just enough time to make this delicious orange flavoured mincemeat. Last year I gave you Mrs Beeton’s recipe, but this one comes from the wonderful Jane Grigson. It is very moist and because of the brandy, orange juice and orange liqueur. It is also vegetarian if you want it to be; the suet can be the vegetable-based sort, or you can leave it out altogether. Give it a go.

Jane Grigson

Jane Grigson

It is extremely easy to make: there is no cooking required so all you need to be able to do is chop, grate, mix and weigh. When you pot the mincemeat, it is very important you sterilise your jars. To do this first wash them in soapy water, then rinse and allow them to dry. Place the jars on a tray, with their lids sat beside them, facing upwards and pop them in the oven for 30 minutes at around 130⁰C. Let them cool a little before potting. If this seems a lot to make in one go, you can easily reduce the amounts as you see fit.

Click here for the recipe I use for making mince pies.

 

Ingredients

250 g (8 oz) chopped candied peel

1 kg (2 lb) peeled, cored and grated apples

500 g (1 lb) suet (fresh or packed is fine, but fresh is best)

500 g (1 lb) currants

500 g (1 lb) raisins

500 g (1 lb) sultanas

500 g (1 lb) soft dark brown sugar

1 freshly grated nutmeg

125 g (4 oz) slivered almonds

Juice and zest of 2 oranges

4 tbs brandy

6-8 tbs orange liqueur

 

Mix all the ingredients together in a huge mixing bowl, then pot into sterilised jars. Store somewhere dark and cool, but not the fridge! Leave the mincemeat to mature for at least together before using it.

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Fruit curd

I love fruit curds, they might be my favourite of all the preserves, sweet or savoury. In fact I’m not even sure if a curd is a true preserve or not; it isn’t chock-full of sugar like a fruit jam, plus there are eggs and butter in there too; the eggs technically make it a kind of custard. These ingredients mean that fruit curd doesn’t keep for very long, maybe two months in all. That said, they rarely last that long.

Looking in the recipe books, the earliest mention of the term lemon curd I have found goes back to 1844 in The Lady’s Own Cookery Book by the splendidly named Lady Charlotte Campbell Bury. The recipe is rather different though because the lemon curd is literally that; lemon acidulating cream to form curds which could then be separated from the whey through some cheesecloth.

You can go further back to find recipes for lemon curd, though it is called lemon cheese, and it seemed to generally be used for lemon cheese cakes which are what I would call nowadays lemon curd tarts. When you look in the books, the old recipes give the instruction to rasp the lemons’ skins “well with sugar” to extract the zest and aromatic oils. This seems rather a curious thing to do; perhaps the zester or fine-grater hadn’t been invented, or maybe it was terribly difficult to lay one’s hands upon such a thing. It all makes perfect sense in the end though because the sugar in the larder wasn’t granulated in a bag like we get it now, but was a solid, long, tapering palisade – a sugar loaf. You could simply crack a piece off and rub it against your lemons to get all the flavour out of that pesky zest. I have found these instructions for recipes as recent as 1974 (Jane Grigson, English Food), if you to attempt it buy those posh sugar lumps that are all irregularly shaped, normal ones will just crumble.

 A 19th century sugar loaf and tongs

Curds can be used for so many things: cakes, tarts, pies, steamed puddings, American muffins, as a pancake topping or filling, or at its best on hot toast. Though I have always thought lemon curd ripple ice cream would be good.

Curds don’t just come in lemon yellow of course, you can make one from any fruit that the juice can be easily squeezed from: orange, grapefruit, passion fruit and pineapple are all ones I have spotted at one time or another.

Here’s my recipe for lime curd. Have a go at making it; it’s very easy to make because it’s difficult to curdle the eggs as they are stabilised somewhat by the acid and egg whites. It is wonderfully tart and not too sweet. Honestly, you’ll never go back to the bought stuff.

Lime Curd

This recipe makes around 1 UK pint (that’s 20 fl oz for any non-Brits). If you think things might be too sharp, add an extra egg and a couple of ounces of butter.

Ingredients

the zest and juice of 5 limes

5 oz salted butter

8 oz sugar cut into small cubes

4 large eggs

Set a mixing bowl over a simmering saucepan of water and add the lime zest and juice, butter and sugar.

Let it warm up, the sugar dissolve and the butter melt. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl and strain through sieve into the juice. Stir with a wooden spoon until the eggs have amalgamated and  thicken – this will take at least five minutes. When very thick, take off the heat but keep stirring for a minute or two as the eggs may carry on cooking if left in contact with the still hot bowl’s inner surface.

Pot into sterilised jars and allow to cool. Unless you have a nice cool larder, I would store them in the fridge, especially once opened.

Also see this other post with more curd recipes…

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The Rhubarb Triangle

It is just about the end of the short British forced rhubarb season, and it is always a treat to see it nestled, glowing pink in a crate at the marketstalls, and it is always sad to see it disappear, as I think it is one of the most wonderful vegetables.

In Britain, the long thin bright pink stalks are grown in an area called the Rhubarb Triangle, also known as the Wakefield triangle, a nine mile square area of land contained by Leeds, Morley and Wakefield in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Here, the rhubarb is grown in large, heated, low-ceilinged sheds in complete darkness. Because the plants want sunlight, they are forced stretch and grow long and thin in the vain hope of catching some of the Sun’s rays. Hence it is called forced rhubarb. It is also called Champagne rhubarb by some. The rhubarb never gets to attain the green colour like normal field or garden rhubarb has; I think the biological term is chlorosed. It also never gets the chance to develop the very astringent sourness too, but it does still has the wonderful rhubarb flavour. The plants grow so quickly in their desperation to find light that you can actually hear them pop and crack as they stretch and grow. I imagine that it is pretty scary in those dark, dank sheds harvesting the rhubarb by candlelight.

So what is special about West Yorkshire when it comes to growing rhubarb? Apparently, it is the unique mix of soil and climate. I know that that might sound rather trite, but I think in this case it might actually be true; Wakefield is the only place in the UK where one can successfully grow liquorice and the reason for that is because of its soil. Yorkshire-produced Forced Rhubarb has been given Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status by the European Commission’s Protected Food Name scheme, just like Stilton Cheese, and famously not like Cornish pasties. That said the forced rhubarb I got was from Mexico.

It wasn’t until the discovery that rhubarb could be forced in the 1840s that the vegetable caught on as a ‘fruit’ in crumbles, pies &c. (it isn’t a true fruit as there are no seeds). Before then, like many plants, it was grown for medicinal purposes. It was such a revered drug for treating gut, lung and liver disorders that it was worth thrice the price of opium! It was first introduced into Europe by Marco Polo from Asia during the thirteenth century, and was first grown in Britain in the mid-seventeenth century.

Okay, that’s enough waffle, it is recipe time. Rhubarb is great for desserts and jams, and it is also great with fish, particularly oily fish. There are many recipes that I could add to the post, but the best has to be…

Rhubarb Crumble

This is my favourite way of eating rhubarb: tart fruit, sweet crunchy topping and loads of proper custard (link here for a recipe for that). I like to include some ginger in my crumble, they are a classic combination. Here I use it twice, ground ginger in the topping, and preserved ginger in with the gently stewed fruit. Orange zest and juice also work well as an alternative.

Ingredients

10 sticks of rhubarb, forced if possible

2 knobs of preserved ginger, chopped, plus one tbs of the syrup

4 tbs caster sugar

4 oz butter

4 oz Demerara sugar, or half caster sugar and half soft dark brown sugar

6 oz plain flour

2 oz oats

1 tsp ground ginger

Slice the rhubarb sticks into one inch lengths. If buying forced rhubarb, there should be no need for peeling, but older, field grown sticks might need it. Place the rhubarb and caster sugar in a saucepan with the ginger and syrup, plus a couple of tablespoons of water. Cover, and simmer gently until the rhubarb is tender, about 10 minutes. Try not to stir the rhubarb too much, as it easily breaks up. If there is a lot of liquid, take the lid off and let it simmer away a little. Add more sugar if necessary; field-grown rhubarb may need more. Cool.

Meanwhile, make the crumble topping by rubbing the butter into the flour, using fingers, mixer or processor. Stir in the flour, oats and ginger.

Pour the rhubarb into a pie dish, or baking dish and pile on the crumble topping. I like loads of topping, but if there is too much for you, freeze the remainder for future crumbles.

Bake at 160⁰C for 45 minutes. Serve with custard, cream or vanilla (or even better, ginger) ice cream.

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