Dolce Far Niente

demijohnAre you making your own Cider? Have you joined the discussion about the right type of yeast yet, whether to wash, to dance around it during a full moon or sing to it naked?

We hadn’t. Our Cider-making experiment failed thanks to our blissful ignorance. We hadn’t even thought of an airlock, I admit in shame. Ah, expert advisers told us dismissively, you’ll get nothing but vinegar!

And vinegar we got. Beautiful, aromatic, golden, delicious home-made cider vinegar. We are now making our own cider vinegar in the third year, and a few litres see us through the entire year. That wouldn’t happen if it was delicious cider, would it?

Here’s how:

Don’t wash or peel the apples to include the natural yeast which sits on the skin, just mechanically remove dirt, blemishes and anything which moves or wiggles. Press juice into a large pot. Leave standing open for a few hours to attract more natural yeasts, then put the lid on loosely, keep it at low room temperature away from direct sunlight, and do nothing.

White spots appear on the surface after a few days. Do nothing.

The surface develops a skin with more white spots, and eventually bubbles begin to form. Do nothing. Do nothing until the process is finished. After 7 to 10 days the bubbles stop. The yeast turned the sugars into alcohol, which oxidised into acid: the vinegar emerges!

Filter it through a muslin into a large bottle, canister or demijohn. Be careful not to close it tightly because the fermentation may not have completely finished after all. We put it on the shelf for a couple of weeks, then filter it through a coffee paper filter into pasteurised bottles and use it through the year.

It couldn’t be easier to make and fills me with pride and joy every day when I use our own vinegar.

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Acrobats’ Advice

img_20160710_184605Early apple varieties are now beginning to ripen and the pears aren’t far behind, just looking for a little more time and sunshine.

While trees planted with our orchard trail do not yet bear a lot of fruit this year, more mature trees in the area carry a substantial amount of the delicious and versatile fruit. Good news for foragers on two or more legs!

It is however sad to see that some human foragers apply unnecessary force and rather shortsightedly use destructive methods when picking fruit. Some branches are torn and twisted, broken off and some trees left damaged and vulnerable to infections. Apart from lasting damage to trees, we also witnessed an eager forager falling from a tree. The young man got away without apparent lasting damage, but we were sure this was a close call.

The rule for picking fruit is quite simple: if it doesn’t want to come off very easily with a small twist or light pull, then it does not yet want to come off and is not yet ready for picking. There should never be a need for force, but you might want to bring a pole, a walking stick or a telescopic fruit picker to extend your arm’s reach without dangerous acrobatics.

Please use care and consideration for private land, nature, the law, other foragers and the very tree you are harvesting when foraging so that everyone can enjoy these resources in years to come. Oh, and take good care of yourself 🙂

Blackberry Season

blackberry-jam-and-ginYou will have noticed what an excellent Blackberry year we have, with an abundance of lush, soft, sweet and surprisingly large fruit. Many of us have been busy making jam, juice and flavoured gin over the past weeks.

Here are some Blackberry Muffins, the perfect way to start a Sunday. This takes 10 minutes to prepare and 15 to bake, so it is easy to make in time for breakfast:

100 g white wheat flour, 80 g soft butter, 75 g sugar, 80 ml whole milk at room temperature. One free range egg yolk, seeds from half a vanilla pod or half a teaspoon of vanilla essence, and one generous teaspoon of baking powder.

Put butter and sugar into a bowl, using the hand mixer on low gear to mix thoroughly. Add egg, vanilla, milk and baking soda, then gradually add the flour into the mix. Mix until smooth. You’ll find the mix will be fairly runny, maybe like a thick yogurt. Perfect!

Gently fold in one or two handful of Blackberries or Raspberries. Fill muffin cups to approximately two thirds. We prefer non-sticking silicone or paper cups, but you can of course get the old muffin tray out for the occasion.

Bake at 180 C (350 F) for 10..15 minutes. Use a wooden stick or visual judgement to determine when they are ready.

You’ll find that the Blackberries are very easy pickings along the canal towpath or in the Hanwell Meadows. The plants do a good job at defending themselves and growing back, but please be mindful and avoid damage to plants and surroundings when foraging.

Something Fishy

dsc_1753Apple season is still going strong! Even though our very own Hanwell & Norwood Green Orchard Trail apple has been taken weeks ago, the local gardens and markets are still full of the good stuff.

In culinary terms, most people will think of apply jelly, juice, compote, pie, cake and crumble. Oh yes, and cider.

Allow me to to point out that apples make the perfect partner with oily fish.

A salad of pickled herring with red onions, fennel, dill, apple and soured cream is a delight. Kippers (Smoked herring) or smoked mackerel go well with apples, pink grapefruit, fennel, soft-boiled quail eggs and a spoon of mayonnaise or salad cream. A poached mackerel combines well with a sharp grated apple and a little soured cream.

Coming to think of it, I think the humble apple is one of the most versatile home-grown cooking ingredients we have available, probably ranking second right after the egg.

Elderberry Two-in-One

elderberry-double-trickSome of you were inspired to make Elderflower Cordial back in June, but I reckon you’ve left some flowers behind, didn’t you?

Why leave the fruit to the pigeons now?

Here’s the perfect double-trick for foraging enthusiasts: Elderberry Jelly and Elderberry Gin!

It’s a two-in-one trick. First, pick Elderberries off the tree, then wash, removes anything which moves and remove the stalks. Then pulp them in a juicer or blitz and separate juice from husks with an overnight muslin job.

Make Elderberry Jelly from the juice with Jam Sugar, following standard jam making practise (or following instructions on the Jam Sugar pack). Note it is normal that Elderberry Jelly will not set stiff, it will stay at the consistency of thick honey.

Then take the husks, add a large tablespoon of sugar or two. Put into a large jar, remove the air with Gin, seal, put in the back off the shelf and forget until around Christmas (then filter through a muslin and enjoy responsibly).

Always when foraging please forage considerably with consideration for your own health, the environment and private ownership. Only take what you are certain is yours to take and good for human consumption, leave it unless 100% certain.

Ouch Ouch Ouch

DSC_0221Thigh prickin’ finger lickin’ Blackberry pickin’ time is here!

And there’s more to come given the good weather being forecast for the coming week, with access newly cleared in some locations.

Blackberry Jam, Blackberry Cordial and Blackberry Gin. Blackberry Wine, and Blackberry Custard Cake. Blackberry ‘n’ Yogurt, Hot Blackberry with Vanilla Ice Cream. Blackberry Sorbet, Blackberry Ice Cream. Blackberry with Duck Breast, with Salat, with Goats Cheese, or on a Blackberry Crepe.

What are you making?

(As always, please forage with care and consideration for your own health, the environment, and private land. Forage considerably, but with consideration!)

Cherry Bread Pudding

DSCN2336This isn’t a bread pudding as you might know it. It is translated from my German home dialect, pfälzisch, and is really called Kärscheplotzer but trust me, Cherry Bread Pudding is close enough.

We eat it hot or cold, as pudding, sometimes with vanilla ice cream or custard, mostly just so. We eat it for breakfast, elevenses or for afternoon tea. Back in my German home region (die Pfalz), this is traditionally eaten with a garden vegetable soup for Saturday lunch. It’s delicious at any time, in any form, and right now is the perfect time. The cherries are beginning to ripen and the shops are full of them, if not your own cherry trees!

To make a generous portion for four, you need

1 stale loaf of crusty white sourdough bread or ciabatta, 400 g
80 g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod or equivalent amount of vanilla essence
3 happy free range eggs
1 pint whole milk
Butter, Cinnamon
Plenty of fresh cherries, preferably pitted. Dark sweet or Morello cherries will be fine.

Cut the bread into chunky pieces. Make sure to include the crust!

If the bread is fresh, spread it out on a baking tray and pop it into the oven at 70 C (150 F) for 45 minutes.

Mix the sugar, vanilla seeds or essence, a pinch of cinnamon, eggs and milk in a mixing bowl. Add the dried bread chunks and let soak for one or two hours (longer if the bread is bone dry). Gently turn this over occasionally but try to preserve the chunkiness.

Butter a suitable sized Pyrex or similar baking dish, about 50 mm (2”) deep. The batter mix should now be very wet without much running liquid left. Discard most surplus liquid if necessary, then add the cherries.

Pour the mix into the baking dish. Add a few small butter shavings on top. Optionally, sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar, then bake at 210 C (410 F) for half an hour. It’s ready when the surface colours and gets nice dark golden edges around the crusty bread pieces.

Let it cool down a little, then enjoy.

Hunters And Gatherers

DSC_0183Locally grown soft fruit is not quite ready yet, and cherries, apples, plums and pears are a long way away. But here’s something you can forage for around the perimeter of most orchards or back gardens right now:

Elderflower Cordial

250 g fresh and ripe Elderflower
1 l water
1 kg sugar
1 unwaxed lemon
1 tblsp citric acid or lemon juice

Mix sugar and water, bring it to the boil. Let it cool down a little, then add the finely sliced lemons, additional lemon juice or citric acid to taste. Now add the unwashed flowers, stir, then cover and let rest in a cool place for 2..3 days.

Now filter the liquid through a muslin cloth and discard the solids. Bring the syrup to the boil, reduce to the desired thickness, then transfer into sterilised bottles.

As always, please forage with care and consideration for private property and the environment.

Out With The Old

DSC_0217Buying locally grown fruit is difficult at this time of the year. Apples and pears are mostly sold, soft fruit and early cherries will need another few weeks.

So, do you bite the bullet and purchase fruit from far away? May I suggest going through the larder and deep freezer instead?

We still have plenty of frozen and preserved apple and pear compote, frozen soft fruit and a fair amount of jam and juice, certainly enough to see us through the next few weeks.

All this need eating up to avoid spoilage, waste, and to free those jars and containers for this year’s harvest.

Yoghurt or vanilla ice cream with melted raspberries?
French sweet crepes or savoury potato fritters with apple compote?
Cheesecake with blackberry jam topping?
Muffins with a surprise apple jelly filling?

Bring it on!

Happy Holidays

winter-apple xmas-appleHappy Holidays from everyone at Hanwell and Norwood Green Orchard Trail!

May your apples grow into heart-and-bone warming mulled cider, may your dried berries make a delicious pie, may your apples and pears enrich the stuffing, and may your sloe berries mature into a wonderful sloe gin!

While you enjoy your produce and the festivities, please remember our upcoming activities in January:

Clearing Day, Saturday 9-January-2016, 10:00-15:30

Planting Day, Saturday 30-January-2016, 10:00-15:30

We are also preparing a Winter Pruning Workshop with Ealing Council park rangers, possibly Sunday 17-January. Details are yet to be confirmed.

Watch this site and your email inbox for details of planned events right after New Year. Until then:

We wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays whichever your faith, and a fruity New Year!