Category Archives: Preserving

Beetroot

Hello there everyone. Here’s just a quick post to prove that I am not dead, but still alive and kicking! I have had such a crazy couple of months getting this business of the ground whilst working at the University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University. Phewee! There’s no rest for the wicked as they say (and if it is true then I must be extremely wicked indeed).

Anne Swan BeetrootAnn Swan’s beautiful vegetable art

 

One vegetable that ranks very highly in my favourite foods is the humble beetroot; it would certainly be in my Top 10. Jane Grigson wrote a fantastic book called Good Things in which each chapter focusses on her favourite ingredients. If I were to write my own version, beetroot would be included. It’s that mixture of sweetness and earthiness that you can’t really get from anything else. Some people shudder at the thought of it as a vegetable in its own right – too much overcooked purple mush at school has not done it any favours – and only really eat it as a pickle.

It is actually a very versatile vegetable; you can boil it, roast it, pickle it, and by virtue of its sweetness, use it as a cake ingredient that surpasses the carrot.

Beetroot has been cultivated for centuries and its ancestor is the sea beet Beta marinama a rather common plant found around the coasts of Eurasia, especially along the Mediterranean Sea. It is from this plant we get today’s red beet (plus several other varieties like the golden beetroot) as well as sugar beet and the less well-known mangel-wurzel or mangold. The latter is used mostly as animal fodder, though it has been a food crop for people too in the past (for those of you that remember it, the scarecrow Wurzel Gummidge had a head made from mangel-wurzel). The history of sugar beet is very interesting and deserves a post all to its own. Oddly enough, the beet plant wasn’t cultivated for its sweet tap roots at first, but its leafy greens. Indeed, our Swiss chard is also of the same species as beetroot and sugar beet. Eating the root didn’t catch on until the 16th century.

There is loads of beetroot hanging around at the moment and it should be reasonably cheap in the greengrocer’s shop this time of year, so you should jump at the chance to having a go at preserving them. I got a huge batch from Manchester Veg People.

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I have already provided a recipe for curried beetroot chutney, but I thought I’d give you the recipe I use to pickle beetroot as well. I first came across it in Good Things (1932) by Florence White, who mentions that the recipe must be very old, though she mentions neither when it was written or by whom. I did find an almost identical recipe as I was flicking through a copy of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861; which can be read online; see this link here).

It is the inclusion of an infusion of black peppercorns and allspice that really makes this pickle special. You’ll never go back to buying jars of it ever again! It’s important to remember to not peel the beetroots before you cook them, otherwise their wonderful colour will be lost to the cooking water.

 

Pickled Beetroot

2 kg (4 ½ lbs) beetroot

1 ¼ litres (2 pints) cider vinegar

15 g (½ oz) peppercorns

15 g (½ oz) allspice berries

Top and tail but do not peel the beetroot, then simmer them in plain water for around 30 minutes until tender. Very large ones may take over an hour to cook. Meanwhile, boil up the vinegar with the spices and simmer for 10 minutes then strain. Let the beetroots and vinegar cool completely before peeling and slicing the beetroots.

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Put into sterilised jars and cover with the strained, cooled vinegar. In two weeks they’ll be ready to enjoy.

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Know Your Onions

It is an exciting time for those that grow their own onions because onion season is in mid-flow. It was probably a while ago that the onions themselves were picked, but they generally grow through a short period of drying before they are used in the kitchen or put into storage over the wintertime.

I’ve never grown them myself, but I feel that when it comes to cooking and eating onions, I really know my, er, onions. (Funny saying that; there is one theory that it was invented by etymologists working on the Oxford English Dictionary who coined it in great admiration of one of the best and most knowledgeable grammarians of the day, a certain C T Onions. How I wish it were true, but it seems that is actually American. Oh well.)

I love onions and they are one of the most loved vegetables, they are certainly the most used vegetable in the world – there is not a single cuisine I can think of that doesn’t use them. In Western cookery, onions make up one of the trinity of stock vegetables alongside carrots and celery; and there are countless recipes that begin with slicing or chopping an onion before browning in butter or oil. They are a universal seasoner of foods, a ubiquitous seasoning that is not always detectable, but if it were to be omitted you would miss them.

And I do, for I recently found out that I have an onion ‘intolerance’, or at least my alimentary canal does. Finding a replacement has been tricky, but I have recently adopted using the finely sliced green parts of a leek along with a clove of garlic. It is strange that I essentially turn myself inside out after eating a cheese and onion sandwich and yet I can happily tuck into the remainder of the onion family: garlic, leeks and chives and not suffer even the mildest discomfort. Anyway, you don’t want to know about all that – I sound like an old woman!

Allium, the Onions

There are around 500 species of plant that belong to the Genus Allium, and botanically speaking they are all members of the lily family, though only a score are important as foods worldwide, and even fewer that are important to the British, though the onion, garlic and leek were all eaten in Ancient Egypt and even appear in the Old Testament of The Bible.

Below is a lovely illustration from the wonderful book Food in England by Dorothy Hartley showing the ‘Most Common or Garden Onions’. Chives and leeks have been omitted as they are suitably different to be considered standalone vegetables/herbs. There are familiar and unfamiliar onions here, and some that have been omitted, like mild white onions. Two that I have never sampled are the Welsh Holtzers and the strange Egyptian, or tree, onion.

I am going to stick to the familiar brown onion that we all know and love in this post. At the foot of the above drawing it is mentioned that onions, bread and cheese ‘are spoken together as Field Fare in our earliest manuscripts’. These three food items would have been bagged up or kept in the pocket of a ploughman or other farm worker for much-needed sustenance throughout the long working day. The original ploughman’s lunch that dates to not too long after the first century when onions were first introduced to Britain by the Romans.

Two Onion Recipes

So many recipes use onions, but so few of them show them off as the star of the show and we forget that onions can be served as vegetables in their own right. Here are two recipes that I think do them justice.

Baked Onions, or Orbs of Joy

This is a very old recipe that has recently been given a second wind by Fergus Henderson the great ‘nose to tail’ chef at St John in London. Looking at his recipe and one written in 1954 by Dorothy Hartley, there is only one difference and that is the type of onion used – a stoic brown onion or a prettier red onion. Use whichever you grow or prefer. Serve with roast game, chicken, goose or beef, using the appropriate stock.

Ingredients

butter

one good-sized onion per person

chicken, beef or vegetable stock

salt and pepper

Smear some healthy knobs of butter on the bottom of a deep ovenproof dish. Peel your onions, cut off the rooty part and sit them in the dish. Pour in enough hot stock almost to cover. Season the tops with salt and pepper. Bake uncovered in a moderate oven, around 160⁰C, until the onions are tender within and caramelised without. Test their doneness with a skewer. If you only have a little stock, cover the dish and only remove it toward the end of the cooking time so they can ‘brown becomingly’.

Onion Marmalade

I imagined that onion marmalade had been around for ages but only seems to date back to the latter half of the last century. Who knew? This is a recipe of my own concoction and is a top-seller on my stall. There are plenty of dark sweet flavours as well as tart vinegar. I use cider or wine vinegar as well as Balsamic vinegar in mine. Feel free to alter the ratio of the two to your own liking. It makes about 1 litre (2 pints) of marmalade. Have it in a cheese sandwich, with bangers and mash, or with some nice potted chicken livers.

Ingredients

2 kg (4.5 lbs) onions, halved and thinly sliced

5 tbs olive oil

100 g (4 oz) granulated sugar

100 g (4oz) soft dark brown sugar

1 tbs chopped thyme leaves

4 bay leaves

1 ½ tsp salt and ½ tsp ground black pepper

250 ml (9 fl oz)  cider or wine vinegar (red or white)

50 ml (2 fl oz) balsamic vinegar

Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Turn up the heat and add the onion. Using a wooden spoon, coat the onions well in the oil. Add the sugars, thyme, salt and pepper, then turn heat down to medium and mix until the sugars have dissolve. Simmer uncovered for at least 50 minutes on a medium-low heat, until the onions have become deliciously brown and mushy. Take your time, be as slow as possible. If you don’t have 50 minutes or more to spare, wait for a time you do!

Pour in the vinegars and simmer for a further 30 minutes until the liquids have reduced to about one-quarter and are good and syrupy. Let the marmalade cool for 10 minutes then jar as normal.

 

 

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Curried Beetroot Chutney

A while ago, I discovered a recipe for a 19th century British curry (see here for the original post). The recipe required me to prepare both a curry powder and a curry paste. It made a very good, strongly spiced curry, but ever since the jars have been sat in my fridge. I thought there must be something else I can do with these concoctions. After a little thought I came up with this chutney idea and it works very well: the earthy beetroot is very sweet which offsets the spices very well. I thought of beetroot because I often panfry beetroot in olive oil with cumin seeds and always thought the combination delicious. Because beetroot is so sweet and quite a lot of sugar is required for the syrup, I include a quantity of carrot, otherwise I think the sweetness and beetroot flavour may make it a little too rich.

It is delicious with cold meats or cheese and is also a great alternative to mango chutney as a condiment for a curry.

The recipes for the curry powder and curry paste needed for the pickle can be found here.

Ingredients

3 tbs flavourless cooking oil such as sunflower, canola, groundnut &c.

2 tsp cumin seeds

1 tbs 19th century curry powder

1 tbs 19th century curry paste

2 lbs beetroot, peeled and diced

1 lb carrots peeled and diced

1 med onion, chopped

2 tart apples, peeled, cored and grated

1 ¼ UK pints red wine vinegar

1 ½ lbs sugar

1 ½ tsp salt

Heat the oil in a stockpot or large saucepan – you need it quite hot, don’t be scared, the hotter the better. Toss in the cumin seeds and fry in the hot oil for around 30 seconds, then add the curry powder and paste. Stir and fry for around 2 minutes then add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a steady boil, then make sure the sugar has dissolved before letting it simmer away for around 90 minutes until the beetroot is tender and the vinegar and sugar have formed a thick syrup.

Pot into sterilised jars. The chutney can be eaten as soon as it is cool, but it is best to leave it for a couple of weeks to develop its flavour.

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Potted Chicken Livers

Now I know you’re thinking that I am dressing up something French as British by saying ‘potted chicken livers’ instead of pâté but the British have been potting meats like beef, game and salmon, and also liver, for a long time now. Potting helps preserve meat if covered with an airtight layer of clarified butter and kept in a cool place. I am going to write a post very soon on potting meats as well as some other methods of meat preservation soon; the point of this post was for me to write a little diatribe about how the word pâté has the same roots as pot so I could feel a little smug and say that I was right. You know like those people who say raspberry coulis, when they just mean sauce. It turns out that I was a little wrong: my French is worse than pidgin and I just assumed the two words had the same root. I am blaming Elizabeth David for this gaff: she talks of potted chicken livers as though that’s what everyone calls them down her way.

Pot or pâté? Ms David knew which side of her toast was buttered

So as it turns out that the word pâté has the same roots as the words pastry and pasta, coming from Greek words meaning ‘small particles and fine textures’ according Harold McGee in his tome On Food and Cooking. So potted livers have a fine texture as they are a mixture of butter and liver, and pastry is made up of particles of flour and butter. Actually, pâté started life more as a chopped assemblage of meats, rather than the refined smoothness we think of today. Oddly enough pâté and pie eventually became interchangeable words in medieval times because chopped meat was often cooked in pastry on both sides of the English Channel. As I have said before, the food histories of Britain and France blend so much there is sometimes no point in trying to discern between the two.

Anyway, I have chuntered on enough now so I shall give you two recipes for potted chicken livers. First, a couple of mentions on preparation and storage: in this recipe the livers are fried in butter until pink, about 4 or 5 minutes on a high heat. It is very important that they should be cooked through and only slightly pink, not just seared and bloody and rare. I don’t want you coming down with Campylobacter or some other nasty food poisoning microbe. The other thing is to cover your potted livers with a good layer of clarified butter along with a lid or a covering of cling film, especially if being kept in a cold larder. The butter isn’t necessary if you are keeping them in the fridge, but they should be covered with something; butter is best though as it stops the livers from oxidising and turning from rich brown to muddy gray (oxidising is harmless, they’re still good to eat).

To make clarified butter, slowly melt some butter in a saucepan over a low heat. Skim off any froth or foam with a spoon and then decant the butter into a jug making sure none of the butter solids get poured out with it.

Potted chicken livers with brandy and peppercorns

This is the classic recipe for potted chicken livers, though I find that there is never enough brandy. I use quite a lot compared to many recipes because I like to be able to taste it; brandy is very rich and it can be a bit too much, especially with all that liver and butter too. To counteract this is I add a good dose of piquant pickled green peppercorns which are available at delicatessen’s shops or online. You can of course omit the peppercorns and reduce the amount of brandy if you’d rather.

Ingredients

8 oz chicken livers

6 oz butter

2 to 4 tbs brandy

3 tsp rinsed and drained pickled green peppercorns

salt and black pepper

clarified butter (optional)

Pick over the chicken livers, removing any large pieces of gristle, carefully removing any little green bile ducts that may be left on them. Get a frying pan nice and hot and add 2 ounces of the butter. When the butter stops foaming, add the livers and fry for a total of 4 or 5 minutes, turning them half-way through.

The idea is for the livers to be cooked, but still a little pink, so cut inside one to check after 4 minutes of frying. Tip the livers and butter into a blender or food processor and return the pan to the heat whilst you deglaze it with the brandy. Tip the brandy and burnt bits into the blender along with the rest of the butter and blitz until the required smoothness (I like mine very smooth). Mix in the peppercorns and the seasoning before potting in one large earthenware pot of several smaller ones. Pour over the clarified butter to form an airtight seal.

Potted chicken livers with gin, rosemary and thyme

My attempt at a recipe rather more Scottish in its flavours, which I think works very well. These livers are much more savoury and less rich than in the recipe above: a good shot of gin provides a subtle aromatic bitter hit of juniper, and the fresh herbs mellow it nicely.

The method is exactly the same as the above except 2 teaspoons each of finely chopped rosemary and thyme are fried along with the livers. Of course exchange the brandy for the gin and omit the pickled peppercorns.

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Rillettes

A brief hop over the English Channel to France for this post…

I have a great love of potted meats – not the awful ones you get in those little glass jars on the supermarket shelves, but the proper job. Making them is easy and satisfying, but you can’t go too long flicking through the cook books and history books without eventually having to give a huge nod to French cuisine. Pâtés are of course well known and popular, but don’t forget the classic rillettes. They’ve been around for at least six hundred years, yet of recent times they have fallen out of favour in Britain, though they were very popular in Victorian and Edwardian Britain – the heyday for savouries such as these:

Rillettes: A French savoury meat preparation, used for hors-d’oeuvres and savouries

Charles Herman, Culinary Encyclopaedia 1898

See? I told you.

Rillettes are a classic, similar to a pâté in that you spread them on toast and eat them with some nice cornichons, but it is made in rather a different way; long slow cooking with plenty of fat is needed and, rather than being pulverised, they are stripped and potted along with their juices. They are subtly flavoured – the glory comes from the slowly cooked meat and the mild herbs. If I were to be a ponce, then I would say they are sublime. However I am not, so I shan’t.

Any kind of meat, or even fish, can be used to make rillettes but the classics are pork, duck, rabbit and goose. The best rillettes come from Tours and Reins.

 Rillettes de Porc (Potted Pork)

Here’s the recipe I have tried out a couple of times now for rillettes de porc. I can’t wait to get back to England and try some rabbit rillettes (wild rabbits are a rarity in America). There is little variation in any recipe you see, whether found online today or in an eighteenth century cookbook.

Technically you can use any cut of meat as long as it has plenty of fat. I have been using pork belly, but neck would be okay, and for the less squeamish amongst you, the head.

Ingredients

2 lbs pork belly (weight after removal of rind and bones)

2 tbs salt

1 lb back fat

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

3 or 4 sprigs of thyme

2 bay leaves

Freshly ground black pepper

Freshly ground nutmeg

Around 10 fl oz water

Cut the pork belly into strips around 1 ½ inches wide, place them in a bowl and rub in the salt. Cover and leave for around 8 hours. Cut the back fat into cubes and place it, along with the pork belly, in an ovenproof casserole or similar. Tuck the herbs and garlic under the meat in the centre and sprinkle over a good seasoning of pepper and a little nutmeg then pour over the water. Cover with a tight-fitting lid or foil and bake in a very low oven, 140⁰C (290⁰F), for 4 hours.

Remove the foil and take out the bay leaves, garlic and thyme – they have imparted their flavours. Place a sieve over a good-sized bowl and toss the contents of the pan into the sieve so it can drain.

rillettes before

Next – and this the good bit – grab two forks and start stripping the meat and fat into shreds.

rillettes after

If it is easier, do this in a separate bowl. Pot lightly into jars, ramekins or earthenware pots and cover with the salty-fatty juices. Keep covered in a cool place, failing that the fridge.

Serve with thin toast and pickles.

It is very important that the rillettes are spreadable, so if they are kept in the fridge, make sure you let them get to room temperature before eating them.

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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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