Preserving Summer

Elderflower1

Nothing reminds me more of summer than the heady scent of elderflowers. Elderflowers in our garden have been slow to bloom this year for obvious reasons but they are out in their full glory at the moment. I’ve been preserving that smell in jellies for the last few years so that I can smell summer on my toast on a cold November morning. I didn’t realise how much I would love jam and jelly making, especially when some of the ingredients comes from the hedgerows and the garden. There is nothing like having a cupboard full of your own various jars from different times of the year.

One very easy preserve to make is an apple jelly. This sweetly tart jelly is beautiful as an accompaniment to pork dishes. My own favourite is a plain crab apple jelly which I love with grilled chorizo off the barbeque. But I also use the following Bramley apple recipe as a base for the elderflower jelly as well as other jellies such as mint, rosemary or even chilli.

You will need a jelly bag or a DIY version of one, which is what I use because every year I find myself, yet again, without the real thing. I use a large colander lined with muslin as my substitute.

There are a few rules to jelly making.  If you are someone who can’t resist squeezing the juices out of the jelly bag, be prepared to get a cloudy jelly. I find if I let gravity work its magic overnight on the jelly bag, I always get a beautiful sparkling clear jelly. The only rules with picking elderflowers are to pick them on a warm dry day, never when it’s wet. Make sure the scent is good as trees differ. You will soon know a very well scented one and that will be your tree every year.  Make sure to pick heads on which there are flowers just beginning to open with plenty of buds that are still closed. And of course, remember to leave some on the tree for elderberry picking!

Bramley Apple and Elderflower Jelly

Makes 6-7lbs (about 3kg)

  • 2.4kg (5 ½ lb.) Bramley apples
  • 2.6 litres (4 ½ pints) water
  • 6-8 heads of elderflower (gently washed in water)
  • 2 unwaxed lemons
  • Sugar

What to do:

  1. Wash the apples and cut into rough chunks. Do not remove skin or core. Make sure to remove any bruised pieces. Put the apples into a large saucepan with the water and the thinly pared zest of the lemons. Add the elderflowers and push under the water.
  2. Cook for about 30 minutes till the apples are reduced to a pulp.
  3. Add the pulp to a scalded jelly bag (or your DIY muslin version) and allow all the liquid to drip through into the collecting container usually overnight.
  4. Measure the volume of the resulting liquid into a saucepan.
  5. To sterilise your jars: place clean glass jars into a moderate oven at 180⁰C/350⁰F/gas 4 for 10 minutes.
  6. For every 600ml of juice allow 450g of sugar. Heat the sugar in a low oven. This helps to dissolve the sugar quickly but is not a necessary step.
  7. Squeeze the lemons and strain the juice into the juice.
  8. Bring the juice to the boil and add the warm sugar. Turn down the heat and stir gently until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat again and boil for about 10 minutes without stirring. The jelly should reach setting point in this time.
  9. Skim off any scum that may have formed on the jelly using a slotted spoon.
  10. Test that the setting point has been reached by pouring a teaspoon of the jelly onto a very cold plate – I place one in the freezer. The jelly should crinkle on the cold surface.
  11. The jelly should be potted immediately into sterilised jars.

Elderflower2

 

 

Published in the Western People – 06th July 2014

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Planting parsley on Good Friday

StuffedRackPorkApricot2

According to tradition, parsley should only be planted on one day: Good Friday. If planted on any other day, the planter would risk an almost certain dire end as parsley was once associated with death and the devil. The ancient Greeks feared the herb more than most and one day, in a particular battle, some clever Celt sent a donkey out adorned head to hoof with the green stuff and the Greek soldiers turned and fled!

Fortunately, parsley’s bad reputation faded over the years and it has since been rightly prized for its flavour as well as its many health benefits.  Recent studies show that parsley is one of the richest sources of a compound called apigenin, a cancer cell killing flavonoid that is found in many plants, of which dried parsley is the cream of the crop. Of course, parsley is also full of iron, vitamins K, A, C and B complex as well as what we are all lacking, magnesium.  I try to use it as much as I can and my favourite way of using it is in stuffing.

Everyone likes good stuffing. I’ve seen it on family state occasions such as Christmas and Easter when there is a large gathering and the vegans or vegetarians in the family find out that all the stuffing has dairy or sausage meat and there is none that’s suitable for them. There is nothing worse than violent vegans! I speak from experience.

In Europe, lamb as the main feature for Easter dinner goes back earlier than Easter, to the first Passover of the Jewish tradition when the sacrificial lamb was eaten. As Hebrews converted to Christianity they brought these traditions with them and as the Christians often refer to Jesus as the ‘Lamb of God’, the traditions merged. In the United States however, ham is the traditional Easter staple. Traditionally meat was slaughtered in autumn, and the fresh pork that wasn’t consumed in the cold winter before lent was cured in spring. This type of curing used hard salt and took time and the first hams were ready just in time for Easter.

The recipe below is for a simple sage and onion stuffing. It can be embellished with different herbs or vegetables depending on what you need it for. If stuffing a duck, you can add a diced fennel bulb or finely chopped sticks of celery. Rosemary or mint can be added instead of sage for lamb. For Easter Sunday we usually have a stuffed rack of Pork for dinner. We stuff it with this stuffing as well as dried apricots that we pre-soak  in some good apple juice.  It’s a colourful as well as very tasty combination.

StuffedRackPorkApricot

The recipe below makes enough stuffing for 1 large chicken or a 3lb rack of pork. You may want to make some extra as it will never be wasted. If you are not keen on tying your own joint, remember that you can bring your own stuffing into your butcher and they can stuff your joint for you.  Leave out the butter in the following recipe if you have any vegans in the house!

 

You will need:

A little butter and a little oil

1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped

12-18 fresh sage leaves OR 1 level tablespoon of dried sage

1 large bunch of parsley, chopped OR if using dried, 2 good handfuls

Half a small stale white loaf, blitzed into breadcrumbs

Sea salt and black pepper

 

What to do:

Melt the butter and oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the onion and sage. Sauté gently until the onion is soft and translucent but not browned. Add the chopped parsley and take off the heat. Add the breadcrumb, season well and stir. Leave to cool.

If using the dried apricots in the rack of pork, pre-soak in apple juice for at least 1 hour until plump. Add a row of apricots into the stuffing cavity and fill it with the cooled bread mixture. Tie the joint at intervals, or better still, get your butcher to do it for you!

Enjoy, and happy Easter!

 

This article was published in The Western People on 30th March 2015

Salsa Verde or Green Herb Sauce

Salsa Verde, or herb-y green-y sauce-y, as our girls call it, is a wonderfully herbaceous gooey sauce that has the most verdant green colour imaginable. When you blitz it in the blender, you turn a whole massive pile of ingredients into a few tablespoons of sauce, which you instinctively feel a little disappointed with, in terms of volume. But then you taste it… and you realise that a little goes a long way. We have used this sauce with most meats and poultry. We love to use it with lamb and one of our favourite recipes is Rosemary and Garlic Griddle Lamb, but we also use it often as a topping on grilled chicken fillets. The following recipe is the initial guideline you need to make your own original version of Salsa Verde.

Serves 4

Garlic: 1 small clove

Flat-leaf parsley: A good big handful with the coarse stalks removed

Basil: 15 to 20 leaves

Tarragon: Leaves from 3 to 4 sprigs

Anchovy fillets: 4 to 5 fillets

Capers: About 1 teaspoon

Mustard (Dijon or English): About 1 teaspoon

Sugar: A pinch

Lemon juice or vinegar: A few drops

Extra virgin olive oil: 2 to 3 tablespoons

Freshly ground black pepper

Add all these ingredients to a food processor, and pulse to a saucy consistency.

Alternatively, if you don’t have the use of a food processor, finely chop the garlic on a large chopping board. Then add the herbs, anchovies, and capers and chop all together until fine in texture. Add to a mixing bowl, and mix in the mustard, sugar, lemon juice or vinegar, and freshly ground black pepper, and when initially mixed, add enough olive oil to give a glossy saucy consistency. As soon as the sauce is complete, taste and tweak to your own liking.

This sauce is best made just before serving, but what’s leftover, if any, will keep for a few days in the fridge, covered or in a jar.

Salsa Verde on Rosemary and Garlic Griddle Lamb Bap

Photographs courtesy of Sarah Ní Shúilleabhain 2012.