Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Spiced Quince Brandy

With a scent at once floral and of exotic fruits, the Quince is more akin to the Guava it seems than to any fruit of local cultivation.  Originating in South West Asia, it grows readily in our climate and was once a popular element of the English diet.  In the last years this most regal of fruits is enjoying a revival.  When asked to describe it, for it has not quite entered the domains of common parlance, I often find myself sketching medieval still-lifes: think on a painting thus, against a dark 'ground, a hare hanging long, a goose splayed over a table, to its side a bowl of shapely, knobbly yellow fruit, no, not pears… Indeed it is often a surprise that a fruit of such stoic mien have such delicate flavour.

Still Life with Quince

I desired thus to try capture these heady scents redolent of Carribean dusks, of Medieval banquets, in a bottle.  The Quince can however be prepared in many manners (more to follow on this subject): besides Membrillo, a Hispanic Quince Paste, it can be made into jellies, popped in crumbles and compotes, baked and stewed, or at best served with meats, whether stuffed in Pheasant, as I did here or popped in a casserole or Tagine.  It is very good with Lamb, and I have a little plan to cook it soon with Mutton.

The difficulty with the Quince is that it is a hard fruit, demanding a lot of preparation, and its dreamy flavours are hard to extract.  I was determined to try it in an alcoholic infusion, but long deliberated over which alcohol to infuse and how best to capture those scents.  There was talk of Gin, Vodka, of grating, stewing, mashing the fruit.  Eventually I decided on a Spiced Brandy, wanting to make a warming winter drink to keep me company by the fireside.  With two months ‘til Christmas, I sensed this the apt time for infusion – it will toast in the festivities of Christmas Day!

I eventually decided to try one batch cooked and one raw, so see which gave the best flavours. 

Stewed Spiced Quince Brandy

Chop four small Quince into chunks.   Place in pan with a dash of water and (if possible) some of Drove Orchards Quince Juice (quite the essence of Quince).   Bring to the boil then simmer gently over several hours until the Quince has turned deep pink.  

Top up with liquid as necessary, there should be just enough to stop it from drying.  You could add the Sugar and Spices to the pan when cooking.  I, however, added them later.  Spoon half of the Quince into each of 500ml wide-necked bottles, add Spices of choice (Cinnamon, Allspice, Cloves, Star Anise, Nutmeg etc) and two level tablespoons of Sugar per bottle.  Don’t go too overtop on the spices, as they will be in the alcohol for a long time and only the tiniest amount will give flavour.  Fill to the brim with Brandy, close.  Store in a cool dark place, shaking occasionally.  Serve on awakening Christmas Day.

Raw Spiced Quince Brandy
Wash and slice one very large Quince thinly and layer in 1 litre Kilner Jar with Cinnamon, Cloves, Star Anise, Allspice, and three level tablespoons of Demarara Sugar.  Cover with Brandy.  Leave to infuse until Christmas morn’.

This Recipe can be altered by varying the Alcohol, the amount of Sugar, the Spices used…. For some ideas see the Recipes on this blog for: Bullace Gin; Sloe Gin; Gooseberry and Whitecurrant Gin; Elderflower and Gooseberry Vodka; Blackberry WhiskyCherry Vodka

Monday, 24 October 2011

Got a Rabbit ... Lapin aux choux

Joy that is the coming of winter, lengthy, frosty nights spent hunkered down by the fire.  Autumn, ‘midst forays for wood, mulching of the garden or hanging heavy curtains has obliged late night fireside feasts…and this weekend it was themed: Rabbit.

For a mere fistful of coins, P & S Butchers in Holt – one reputed for its panoply of wild bird and beast – handed over a large Wild Rabbit, skinned, gutted and jointed and with that a slip of Pork Belly…

Unsure of how then to cook the creature, Amelia pronouncing Rabbit Satay to be quite the best manner in which to eat a rabbit, I shied once again from the fusional towards the provincial. Keen to use Cabbage and in my thoughts the eternal Pot au Feu, staple of the French home, I came across a recipe for Partridge in Elizabeth David’s French Country Cooking: Perdrix au choux, which proved the source of inspiration.

The recipe reads thus:

Brown the birds in Bacon fat; blanch the cabbages in boiling water for 7 or 8 minutes; drain them carefully, cut out the stalks and the hard inner part.  Cut the cabbages in fine slices and put a layer at the bottom of a large earthenwear pot; on top put the bacon, cut in large slices, the carrots, the sausages and the partridges; season with salt, pepper, a few juniper berries, 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, 2 lumps of sugar, nutmeg and a little grated lemon peel.
Cover with the rest of the cabbage, moisten with stock to half way up the cabbage, cover the casserole and cook in a very slow oven for 4 or 5 hours.

Cabbage layer topped with veg, bacon etc

My rabbit variation went thus:

Briefly sauté chunks of Pork Belly with Shallots in pan.  Remove.  Deglaze with Red Wine.  Brown rabbit.  Remove.  Sauté slices of Apple, Sage Leaves and whole cloves of Garlic in same pan, adding butter.  Meanwhile blanch Cabbage, retaining water, and chop as above.  Layer half the Cabbage in bottom of coverable oven dish.  Then layer on Pork, Shallots, Apples, Sage, Garlic, Rosemary, Thyme ,half Carrots, followed by Rabbit. Cover the lot with remaining Cabbage.  Mix 50ml Balsamic Vinegar, 50ml Cider Vinegar, 50ml Apple Juice/Cider, 50ml Red Wine, Pour over dish, topping to half way with Cabbage Water, season with Black Pepper.

Cook covered at 150C for about 3 hours, topping up with liquid and basting as necessary.

...and browned Rabbit

...finally, smothered with cabbage.

The ultimate in rustic fireside feasting, a near emulation of Russian peasantdom in its quintessential rurality.  Served as it was with a touch of Wholegrain Mustard, the Rabbit was delicious, if a touch dry, the vegetables a dream.   Perhaps placing the Rabbit lower in the pan, stacking it more and even stuffing the Saddle with fruit and veg that it remain moist, or as it is again a lean meat, enrobing it in Bacon as we did the Pheasant, would keep it tender.  On Sunday we cooked it for a further two hours, by which time the vegetables were of a sweetness near’ caramel, the rabbit meat falling from the bones, served with baked potatoes and a jus made of the Rabbit juices, Rosemary, Garlic, Red Wine…

The following day:
Luncheon of Pasta and Rabbit - serve, terribly continental, with the jus, the remaining veg and rabbit on a bowl of  hot pasta.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Apple Wine... Elderflower Champagne; Wine; Gooseberry Whitecurrant Gin - thoughts on.

A bright morning, the fire lit at dawn, a walk and breakfasted, bread in the oven… ode to the joys of country living! Those, the contented glug of the Apple Wine fermenting in the background.

To celebrate today, a post on the various brews in the cottage… A morn’ dram of Elderflower Champagne, of same Wine and a rather more adult Gin.

Apple Wine

First though, the Apple Wine recipe, spawned by my unwillingness to press any more Apples – the recipe is made by chopping and cooking, rather than juicing the fruit. This recipe is adapted from CJJ Berry’s First Steps in Winemaking, shared and dejargoned by DIY sommelier extraordinaire Carl Legge.  The process I have used is the following, it is surely amateur and rudimentary… I shall write more thoughts on bottling and tasting.

I chose to use Russets, and a few Pears.  The Egremont Russet has a creamy sweet and nutty flavour, and I envisage it a delicate and deep wine.

Wash and cut up 2.75 kilos of Apples, skin and all. (Windfalls are fine)  Simmer 20 mins in 5 litres water.  Strain onto 1 kilo of Sugar in Fermenting Bucket.  When lukewarm add rind and juice of 2 Lemons, 1 tsp Marmite, ½ Mug of strong cold Tea, 200g Sultanas, ½ Sachet of winemakers Yeast. 

Cover bucket with Muslin.  Leave to ferment as such, at room temperature, for two-four days until fermentation is less vigorous.  Strain and bottle in airlocked Demijohns.  After about a month rack off into clean jars.  Mature for six months before bottling.

Elderflower Champagne

This year’s batch of Elderflower Champagne has proved a joyful brew, brimming with that floral giddiness that is the drink’s renown.  Light, sweet, sparkling, I find it best drunk young, cold on a Summer’s day.  For a winter variation, add a drop of Hedgerow Syrup giving a stunning aperitif à la Kir Royale.

The inevitable difficulty with home made Champagne is the gaseousness.  This Summer, once-again-rearranging-the-shed, a loud and near terrifying bang proved to be a bottle exploding and in the process smashing two more bottles.  Each has their own remedy to prevent the explosion.  Some say use magnums, others to tie the tops with string or wire, a third, and this is the way I have since managed it, is by occasionally releasing the pressure by part unscrewing the lids.


Elderflower Wine

Bottling the Wine with Syphon

You might remember I also put some of my Champagne in a Demijohn under airlock to make a Wine.  This I racked off and bottled about a month ago.  It has produced a lovely, if slightly sharp, dry, pale coloured Wine.  I did worry it had perhaps gone off, a thin white layer had formed on the top of the liquid, but a process of tasting and troubleshooting with Carl Legge, showed me it was indeed the hoped for Wine… and tasting it today I am indeed charmed… it is the stuff of late Summer nights, of Bacchanalia, for what inebriation more profound than that of wine brewed of flowers plucked from one’s own lands.


Gooseberry and Whitecurrant Gin

Lastly, I bottled the Gooseberry and Whitecurrant Gin, ever redolent with the summer flavours of the fruits it is in comparison a very sweet concoction… on ice a Summer’s eve, or, for my palate, best with a bitter tonic to balance out the sweetness.  The tendency in alcoholic infusions is to add a tonne of sugar – with Sloe Gin and the like this produces a warming wintry brew, not unlike Port.  However with the lighter, more floral variations I would be tempted on another occasion to use less sugar to produce a drink that is somewhat drier.  I believe the sugar is unnecessary in the process of preserving and simply serves to make the drink palatable.

When bottling fruit alcohols the tipsy fruits can be collected for desserts, cakes, jams.  These I used as an addition to this Apple and Olive Oil Cake, shared by the artiste of Apple Cakes Carla Tomasi.

Carla's Apple and Olive Oil Cake with Tipsy Fruits

Off this afternoon to gather the ingredients for a spiced Quince Brandy.  Set to infuse now it should be ready to drink on Christmas day…

Friday, 21 October 2011

A Pheasant - Roadkill roast wi' Autumn Fruits

The roads again amok with Pheasants and the like, driving in the country at this time of year is akin to running the gauntlet, obliging severe and intrepid manoeuvring to avoid the creatures.  Last week however, I hit one.  And, as etiquette prevails, fast wrung its neck.  Unwilling to not eat a bird I had unwittingly killed, I took it home.

Sometime, and yet I haven’t the courage this morning, I shall write a treatise detailing my views on wild and reared meat… Here instead, let me simply say, I had never before eaten roadkill pheasant. 

I hung the hen pheasant in the shed for three days.  On Sunday, returned to the cottage and, as dark fell, put a pot of Lentils on the stove, plucked the bird.  I was lucky to have hit it in the neck/head region as the body was undamaged, the bird clean.

Plucking a Pheasant

On Preparing a Pheasant:
Remove all the feathers, pulling in the direction they grow so as not to tear the skin.  Then take off the Feet and the Head, discard, leaving the Neck intact.  Next remove as much length as possible of the Neck – this is a tasty piece of meat ideal for a stock, a stew or soup.  The Crop where the Pheasant momentarily holds its food (often corn) can be slipped out, the Windpipe likewise extracted from the neck end of the Pheasant.  Any yellow lumps of gathered fat should also be removed as these are not pleasant to eat.  The base of the Pheasant is then slit open.  Plunge a hand in and drag out the insides, of this the edible parts are: the Heart, the Liver, the outer layer of the Gizzard. The Gizzard is a delicious Muscle, which to be eaten has to be peeled off the inner part of the muscle where food is ground.   On one occasion, having gutted and spatchcocked a dozen Pheasant for a New Year’s party, I gathered all the Gizzards and prepared them in a Goose Fat Confit as the French might Gésiers de Canard.  These would then be served hot on Salad leaves with Croutes and Goat’s Cheese for a Provençal feel.

Prepared, the Pheasant was stuffed with chopped Apples, Onion, and Quince.  A knob of Butter, some Garlic Cloves, a bunch of Thyme.  Pheasant is a lean meat with very little of its own protective/ cooking fat, so it was covered in Bacon.  A sudden moment of inspiration led us to fill the tray with chunks of Pumpkin, Swede, Marrow, Parsnip, and more Fruit.  The lot was doused in Apple Juice, more Butter, Salt and Pepper and loads of Rosemary.  Put in the oven about 200C for roughly 30 mins, then 150C for 20 or so until cooked. Rested for ten before serving.

Despite the chaotic end to its life, the bird was beautifully tender, no doubt the Fruit and layers of Bacon kept it thus.  Served on a bed of Puy Lentils with the apple-juice-roasted fruits and veg, the meal was a joy, part medieval banquet part reminiscent of the provincial food of French Wayside Inns.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Cider Pressing in Suffolk

Charmed as one might be to receive a jovial invitation to a Cider-Making Weekend, a glance between the lines and we’ll find the invite actually reads: come slog away at the squeezing of m’ apples that I might stock up the cellar.  But, the fellow an artiste of the home-made brew, the place a haven, the weather bursting with sunshine… I trundled to the depths of Suffolk county for a weekend spent mastering the art of Wild Cider Making.

Wild Cider is the traditional brew, which harnesses the natural yeasts from the air and the fruit and thus ferments.  We were fortunate to be in the hands of a man whose system is quite perfected… the method being as follows:
The Apples, a muddle of sweet eaters, washed with a jet wash are then bashed, sliced using spades to facilitate the next steps.
These are thrown into a Mill, which further pulps the apples.

A traditional pressing method squeezes the juice from the Apples.

The juice is collected in a bucket.

A Second Pressing was attempted, packing the pulp from the first into this most beautiful of presses, gleaned from Italy.  One would imagine this second pressing, much like that of Olives produces the more refined juice?  There was some debate however about the reaction between the apples and the steel, our host wary of the contraption, whether indeed this will produce a pleasant drink remains to be told…

'tis a gentleman's sport this, requiring the mere squeezing of a lever...

...the juice flows

The Juice is filtered, then left to ferment in Airlocked Fermenting Bottles until the blossom is again on the apple trees.  All being well the wild yeasts will ferment the natural sugars producing Cider. This will then be racked off into bottles and provide Cider-enough to keep mine host and friends in liquor until the following year’s batch is brewed…


While I'm on the subject, tomorrow I shall tell of the distilling of Cider to make a Calvados worthy of late nights and sweet dreams...