Tag Archives: autumn foods

The Edible Hedgerow

I went a little foraging escapade last week to see what wild food I could find in Chorlton Meadows, one of my favourite places in Manchester. The hunter-gatherer is not quite dead. Today’s aim was to find some fruit for some nice hedgerow jelly; something you don’t find in the shops, no siree. I wonder how many people do this anymore? It’s shocking that there are tiny punnets of blackberries in the supermarket selling for 3 or 4 pounds when you can get them free from the brambles!

The first thing you need to find if you want to make a good hedgerow jelly is some crab apples. There’s an area of the meadows called Hardy’s Farm and I knew that there was plenty of apple trees around there so I headed straight for it. The poor summer we’ve had – very wet and warm – has been the perfect environment for moulds and other fungi, they had managed to infect every tree I came across except for one! Some trees didn’t even have fruit or flowers on them. A sad, sad state of affairs. It is a little early for apples though, so perhaps they’ll get their act together.

Some of the few crab apples that weren’t diseased

Crab apples, or any windfall apples really, make up 50 percent of the jelly because apples provide the pectin that sets jelly once it is cooked.

The great thing about these jellies is that you can use berries that are normally far too sour and astringent in their unsweetened form. I found several species though many of them were not quite ripe.

The rowans were laden with berries

Two of the best examples of this were the two most bountiful species: hawthorn and rowan. These are very common trees found in hedgerows, forests, scrubland and gardens.

The brilliant red berries seemed to glow against the rather miserable grey backdrop of the rain and clouds – especially the rowanberries. If you look closely at them, you can see that they are just tiny apples themselves.

Rowanberries are simply tiny apples!

(to be botanically correct: apples are just large berries)

There was also a few ripe rosehips, so I grabbed some of those too. The other species I found were no way near ripe enough or in high enough numbers: sloes (the wild ancestor to damsons), blackberries, elderberries and some wild plums.

Some rather unripe blackberries and hips

Hedgerow Jelly

Once you have collected your fruit you can now get making your jelly – and don’t worry if crab apples are the only thing you found because they make a delicious pink-tinged tart jelly themselves. (Notice that I have suddenly gone metric, there’s a reason for this, but that’ll have to wait for another post. I shall endeavour to add Imperial measures though.)

1 kg (2 lbs) crab apples

1 kg (2 lbs) wild berries

1.2 litres (2 pints) water

granulated sugar

Wash your fruit – you don’t want hedgerow and earwig jelly. Roughly chop your apples; don’t core or peel them, it is the core and peel that contain the most of the precious pectin.

As for the berries, I give them a quick blitz in the food processor. Place the fruit in a large heavy-based stock pot. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer until the fruit is mushy.

In order to achieve a nice clear jelly, you need to strain the juice through cloth – I use muslin and a proper jelly stand for this, but it’s perfectly fine to use a large sheet of muslin, cheesecloth or even an old pillowcase. Scald your material in boiling water to sterilise it. Put the jelly bag on its frame with a bowl beneath it to catch the drips. Pour in the mushy fruit and juice and allow it to drip through in its own time overnight. If you don’t have a jelly bag, you can tie a bundle of cloth to the handle of a cupboard above a bowl.

The next day, measure how much juice you have – it should be between 1 and 1.2 litres – and pour it into your stockpot or preserving pan (I am saving up for one of those). For every 600 ml (1 UK pint) of juice you have, you’ll need 450 g (1 pound) of sugar. Add this to the pan and turn on the heat to medium, stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar is completely dissolved, then turn the heat to maximum. Boil the fruity syrup until setting point is reached: this is easy to judge if you have a thermometer, because pectin sets at 104.5⁰C.This should take about 10 or 15 minutes. If you don’t have one then, turn the heat off and place a drop of the jelly on a freezing-cold plate. Let it set, then push it with your nail. If it wrinkles, then it is ready. If it doesn’t, put the heat on again for 10 minutes and try again.

Once setting point is reached, skim away the skum and pour into sterilised jars. The way I do this is I put the jars and lids on a clean baking tray in the oven for 30 minutes at 120⁰C.

Variation: Mulled cider jelly. Use 2 kg of crab apples, and add a 500 ml bottle of dry or sweet cider along with 700 ml of water, along with a cinnamon stick, some cloves, a star anise and a piece of nutmeg. When it comes to the point where you add the sugar, use 100 g less as the cider lends a lot of sweetness itself.

Mulled cider jelly

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Filed under Britain, cooking, food, Recipes

Yorkshire Parkin

God, I love Yorkshire parkin. If you are not familiar with it, it’s a strongly-spiced sticky gingerbread-cum-cake flavoured with treacle and dark brown sugar that is traditionally eaten on Guy Fawkes Night (the fifth of November, aka Bonfire Night) and for me, it is what makes that day complete. It seems like it should be a recipe that has always been, but the earliest mention of it I can find from a primary source in my research is from 1842; a certain Richard Oastler wrote a letter to Sir Thomas Thornhill (who would later become the High Sherrif of Suffolk and a Tory MP) telling him that  he’d recieved one on the 1st day of March from Mrs John Leach of Huddersfield.  The recipe does go back a little further than that though; most likely created some time during the Industrial Revolution by working-class folk as oats and treacle were important elements of the diet in those times. The word parkin was a popular surname in Yorkshire and means Peter. There are other parkins – such as Lancashire parkin – but it doesn’t contain oats and is not, in my very biased opinion, as good because of it.

Making this cake, really brought memories of Bonfire Night as a child growing up in Yorkshire and I must admit, I did have a massive pang of homesickness. Fireworks and bonfires are all well and good, but for me it is always about the food.

This cake has to be eaten to be believed; it will instantly make you feel a million times better if you are feeling down, now that the clocks have gone back. It has to be eaten with a piping hot cup of tea in one hand, preferable in front of a roaring bonfire. Failing that, a roaring fire inside with the dog.

The ingredients are very important here – any non-Brits may not be aware of two of the key ingedients: black treacle and golden syrup. Black treacle is essentially molasses so you can easily substitute there. However, many recipes that ask for golden syrup suggest using corn syrup as an alternative. Please, please, please do not do that. They are incomparable, find a shop with a British ‘aisle’ and get the real thing. Accept no substitute. The history of Lyle’s Golden Syrup is an interesting one and I shall tackle that in another post soon, along with some more golden syrup-based recipes. The recipe calls for weights of treacle and syrup – the best way to do this without creating a nighmarish sticky mess of a kitchen, is to place your saucepan onto the weighing scales, tare them, and then add the syrup and treacle directly.

One last thing… almost as important as the ingredients, is the aging of the parkin. No matter how tempting it may be, do not eat the parkin on the day you have made it. It needs to be kept in an airtight box or tin for at least three days. The cake needs a bit of time for the flavours and stickiness to develop.

Ingredients:

8 0z butter

4 oz soft dark sugar

2 0z black treacle (or molasses)

7 oz golden syrup

5 oz medium oatmeal (often sold sold as quick-oats)

7 oz self-raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

4 tsp ground ginger

2 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp mixed spice

2 large egg, beaten

2 tbs milk

Preheat the oven to 140⁰C (275⁰F) and lightly grease a square 7 x 7 inch cake tin. In a saucepan, melt together the butter, brown sugar, black treacle and golden syrup. It is important to do this on a medium-low heat, you don’t the sugars to boil, just to meld together.

Whilst they are melding, stir all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and when the syrup mixture is ready, tip it in. Use a wooden spoon to beat the wet ingredients into the dry. Now incorporate the eggs – do this bit-by-bit, or you run the risk of curdling the mixture. Lastly, slacken the mixture with the milk and pour the whole lot into your cake tin.

Cook for 1 hour and 30 minutes and cool it in the tin. Once cool, keep the parkin in an air-tight cake tin or tub and keep for at least three days before cutting into squares.

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Filed under Biscuits, cake, food, history, Recipes, Teatime

Remember remember the fifth of November…

Remember, remember the fifth of November,

Gunpowder, Treason and Plot.

We see no reason

Why Gunpowder Treason

Should ever be forgot.

On the fifth day of November 1605, after an anonymous tip-off, a man was found in the House of Lords keeping watch over 36 barrels of explosives. That man was of course Guy Fawkes, the most famous of the thirteen Catholic conspirators who attempted to assassinate King James I of England and VI of Scotland.

King James I of England & VI of Scotland

They were not doing out of sheer spite, you understand, in fact they had pretty good reason to do it. James was a Protestant, as was Elizabeth I before him. Henry VIII, Elizabeth’s father, after becoming sick of being told what to do by the Roman Catholic Church, essentially created Protestantism so he could do anything – or anyone – he liked. This made him the Head of the Church rather than the Pope – something that still exists to this day. In fact, it will be this year – 2011 – where a long-time law will eventually be dropped allowing members of the royal family to marry Roman Catholics. Anyway to be Catholic was to be hated – you had no few rights and any public servant or member of the Church Office had to swear an allegiance to the Church of England. Several attempts to assassinate the monarch previously had been unsuccessful, but the Gunpowder Plot was the closest anyone had ever got to getting the job done.

A contemporary depiction of some of the conspirators

Guy Fawkes is the third from the right

Guy Fawkes may be the best known of the conspirators, but he was certainly not the ringleader – that was a man called Robert Catesby. No, Fawkes was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and because he was caught red-handed, it was he that was made an example of. Even though he was caught and arrested, he only confessed to the full crimes after three days of torture. Eights of the conspirators were caught and hung, drawn and quartered.

Fawkes’s signature before torture…

…and after.

Of course anyone who was a Protestant celebrated this fact and it soon became customary to build bonfires on the fifth of November and in its early days it was used as another excuse to persecute any Catholics that may be living in your neighbourhood. However, the decades and centuries passed, and for most people Guy Fawkes Night is simply a great British custom where we get to huddle round a big bonfire, set off our fireworks – and most important of all – eat some food.

British celebrations always have feasts, or at least certain foods, associated with them and Bonfire Night is no exception. It may not have a very long list, but they are some of the most delicious foods. I think it is because it is associated with cosiness – big coats, big scarves and big hunks of cake and toffee, all washed down with a big mug of tea.

One of the most exciting things for me as a child was baking potatoes in the bonfire. The potatoes were wrapped in aluminium foil and gingerly placed in the white-hot embers with the use of a stick and left there for an hour or so to cook before being fished out and eaten greedily with lots of melted butter. There is no better baked potato than a bonfire-baked potato let me tell you. If you are having a bonfire, give them a go, you will not be disappointed.

This time of year is the best for cakes and toffees – they are commonly heavily flavoured with black treacle and spices, all very provocative and medieval-feeling. The four that spring to mind are Yorkshire parkin, bonfire toffee, cinder toffee and toffee apples. It is these autumn and winter foods that I love the most, and miss the most. I am hunting down the ingredients to make some of these myself whilst I am here in the USA – the recipes will follow of course.

One last thing: if you are having a bonfire, don’t forget to check it before you light it, just in case a little hedgehog has made its little hibernation home in there. Roasted hedgehog should certainly not be on the menu…

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Filed under food, history, Seventeenth Century