Spring syrup lineup

May 29, 2015

Sweet Woodruff Syrup

There is something magic about making your own syrup from things in the garden in the springtime. You start with a handful of leaves or blossoms (free of any chemicals!), a few cups of water and sugar, and end up with a taste so intense that you do not need more than a sip to flavor a non-alcoholic drink or a cocktail. A bottle will last well into the summer, and it keeps even longer if you seal the bottles by processing them in a boiling water bath.

Our house is a soda-free zone so a glass of ice-cold seltzer water with syrup is a real sugar boost. When we come back inside after hours of gardening, sweaty and exhausted, there is nothing more refreshing.

Over the years I have tinkered with different syrups. Some I make every year. Each has its own unique taste, and I really cannot tell which one I like best.

Citric acid is added for preservation to prevent mold. If I only make a small amount because I know we will use it within a couple of weeks, I often omit the citric acid.

Here are the syrups in chronological order of the harvest time (click on the link to get to the recipe):

Dandelion Blossom Syrup – The syrup with the most robust, “greenest” flavor, even if you use only the petals and none of the green parts, which I have resorted to after several trials.

Sweet Woodruff Syrup – The leaves of this shade-loving herb, which is more known as a groundcover than as an edible in the United States, makes syrup that tastes a bit like vanilla.

Lilac Syrup – The most flowery-tasting of the syrups.

Fir Tip Syrup

Fir Tip Syrup – The pine-y taste and smell gives away where this is coming from. In my native Germany it is used as a cold remedy but we like it so much that we drink it no matter what.

Elderflower syrup

Elderflower Syrup – Every year I debate with myself how many elderflowers I should sacrifice for the syrup because I also want the berries in September. Elderflower Syrup is used to make the trendy German cocktail Hugo.

Hugo

Lemon Balm Syrup – This is also used to make Hugo. Because lemon balm grows so abundantly all summer it is the least ephemeral of the raw materials, it can still be made later inthe summer but the leaves should be harvested before they bloom.

 

Photos by Ted Rosen

 

 

Jewels from the freezer

March 3, 2015

Gooseberry Tart

Last weekend we ate a portion of our crown jewels. That’s how I refer to the three quart-size bags of gooseberries that I put in the freezer last summer.

Stashed away between more humble freezer residents like Swiss chard, zucchini soup and blueberries, the gooseberries are my most prized frozen possession for a number of reasons.

First, the three gooseberries shrubs in my garden do not yield that much any more, about one pound each (I should maybe consider renewing them). Picking the gooseberries is difficult and painful. Even with gloves and long sleeves I always end up with bloody scratches on my arms and hands. The gooseberries are small and removing the blossom ends is time-consuming. And every year it’s a mad race against the critters that often get to the gooseberries before I can.

So why do all of this? Because I love gooseberries. I grew up with them in Germany and a summer without gooseberries is just not a real summer.

I had been pondering for a while what to do with the gooseberries in the freezer. I wanted to save them for a special occasion. Until a few weeks ago, using a whole bag of gooseberries for a gooseberry tart seemed a frivolous splurge. Then it occurred to me that in four months, if – and gardening is always a big if – we do not have a late frost during the bloom that decimates the harvest, and if the raccoons leave the gooseberries alone (the row of shiny CDs dangling from a wire taut above the shrubs worked great as a deterrent last year) there will be a new harvest of gooseberries.

So I made a Gooseberry Tart last weekend. Now I am down to two bags. I will use the second bag some time soon – for Gooseberry Relish, Gooseberry Chutney or Gooseberry Soup. The very last bag however I won’t touch until I have secured the 2015 gooseberries.

I just do not wish to jinx it.

Gooseberries

 

Gooseberry Tart with Almond Crust

The crust recipe is adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison.

Sprinkling some farina over the crust is a trick used in German baking to absorb the liquid from the fruit and prevent the crust from getting soggy.

Gooseberries are very tart. We like it that way but if you prefer it sweeter, add more sugar when you assemble the tart.

Crust:

½ cup whole unpeeled almonds

¾ cup pastry flour

¼ teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons light brown sugar

5 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into cubes

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 to 2 tablespoons ice water

Filling:

½ cup water

½ cup sugar plus 1 to 2 tablespoons for sprinkling

1¼ pound frozen gooseberries

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

2 tablespoons farina

1. For the crust, grind the almonds in the food processor to a fine meal. Add the flour, salt, sugar and butter and process to a crumbly consistency. Add the vanilla extract and 1 to 2 tablespoons ice water, just enough so that the dough holds together in a ball. Put the dough in a container with a lid or in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.

2. For the filling bring the water and ½ cup sugar to a boil in a small saucepan. Tilt the pan back and forth to help the sugar dissolve, do not stir. Add the frozen gooseberries and cook over low heat for 5 minutes until they are no longer hard. Do not overcook them, as they fall apart easily.

3. Gently place the gooseberries into a fine colander or a sieve set over a bowl to catch the syrup. Let the gooseberries drain for 5 minutes, then strain the syrup back into the saucepan. Add the ginger and cook, uncovered, until reduced to a thick consistency. Set aside.

4. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch tart pan, preferably one with a removable bottom. Roll out the dough between two pieces of wax paper to a 11-inch circle and fit it into the prepared pan. Trim the extra dough with a knife. Place the pan in the freezer for 10 minutes.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

6. Sprinkle the farina over the chilled crust. Place the drained gooseberries on top in a single layer. If they are very tart and you like it sweeter, sprinkle them with 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar.

7. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Drizzle with the reserved syrup and bake for 10 minutes more.

8. Let cool before removing the rim, then carefully run a knife around the rim to loosen the crust.

Makes 8 servings

Photos by Ted Rosen

 

 

 

Pesto Flower baked

It looks like my childhood heroine Mary Poppins needs to reconsider. No more than six teaspoons added sugar per day for women and nine teaspoons per day for men – that’s what the American Heart Association recommends. Until I read this I thought our added sugar intake was on the moderate side. We do not drink any sodas or soft drinks, nor do we add sugar to tea or coffee. I pay attention to the sugar content when I buy cereal and other processed foods. We do not eat candy and a piece of chocolate only once in a blue moon. Most of the baked goods and sweets we eat are homemade, and I reduce the sugar amount in any given recipe by at least one-third. Still, I concluded that we still eat much more sugar than we should.

Let’s face it, two tablespoons sugar per day for me means to give up or cut back to a tiny amount all the things I love and make with produce from my garden or from local orchards: jams and jellies, fruit pies, crumbles, apple sauce, my favorite cantaloupe sorbet and so much more. I am not willing to do that. You only live once!

But there is definitely room for improvement. One way of cutting down sugar intake is turning sweet recipes into savory ones (without, of course, loading those with fat, otherwise there will be nothing gained).

When I recently saw a video for a Nutella Brioche Flower I was itching to try that technique. Nutella was out of the question – I had plenty of it as a kid and rarely crave it as an adult. Plus I wanted to use homemade goodies in jars or from the freezer.

First I thought I should make the pastry with a fruit filling but then I asked myself whether it has to be sweet at all.

I ended up with whole-wheat yeast dough and homemade pesto, using my Pesto Knots recipe as a basis.

Shaping the flower needs practice. Mine looked a bit wilted but that was OK. I am sure I will get better at it next time, just as I am confident I will find more ways to cut down on sugar without giving up the sweet life.

Pesto Flower ready to bake

Pesto Flower

½ cup + 2 tablespoons warm water, more as needed

1 1/8 teaspoon active dry yeast

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ teaspoon salt

8½ ounces cups white whole wheat flour (or half whole wheat and half bread flour)

½ cup pesto

Extra-virgin olive oil for brushing

1. Mix the water with the yeast and let stand for a few minutes until it starts to foam.

2. In a large bowl mix the olive oil, salt, flour, and the yeast mixture. Knead to a smooth dough using your hands or the dough hook of an electric mixer. The dough should be slightly tacky; add more water a teaspoon at a time as needed.

3. Cover and let rise for 2 hours.

4. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. If you have a baking stone, place it on the medium rack of the oven.

Cutting circles

5. Roll out half of the dough on a floured surface to a 10×20-inch rectangle. Using a 9-inch cake pan, cut out two 9-inch circles with a pastry wheel. Gently lift the circles and place them aside on a lightly floured baking sheet. Add the dough scraps to the remaining dough and knead until smooth. Add a few teaspoons of water if the dough seems dry. Roll out the second half of the dough and cut out two more dough circles.

Spreading with pesto

6. Place the first circle on a lightly floured pizza paddle or a cake lifter. Evenly spread it with pesto, leaving 1 inch free all around. Repeat this with the second and third circle. Place the fourth circle on top and leave it plain.

7. Place a small jar in the center. Using a small knife, mark 16 equal wedges as if you were cutting a cake. Cut the wedges all the way through with a pastry wheel.

Twisting

8. Hold two of the wedges next to each other in each of your hands. Twist them twice in opposite directions. Pinch the ends together to seal.

Brushing with olive oil

9. Brush the entire surface with olive oil. Gently transfer to the hot baking stone and bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer to a baking rack to cool.

Makes 8 servings

Photos by Ted Rosen

Laszlo and crabapples

Laszlo’s munching explorations has had me in stitches more than once this summer. When I trimmed and bundled garlic, the puppy was sitting underneath the patio table chewing on leaves and stalks that fell down. I did not realize that a big fat garlic clove had dropped down as well, until my husband, who was lying down with a headache and cuddled with Laszlo for comfort, wondered about the puppy’s intense garlic smell, which made him feel even worse.

Walks are a rare occurrence for us in spring and summer when there is too much outdoor work to do. But now most of it is done, and our 4-month-old puppy gives us a pressing reason to go for a long stroll on our grounds every day.

And every walk with Laszlo has its excitements. We have to stop him when he pesters his 14-year-old mate Woody too much (for that purpose, we usually go equipped with a spray bottle of water), and that he does not munch on anything that could harm him.

Laszlo with stick

Milkweed, which grows wild in big patches on our property, has been a favorite of his since the beginning. In the fall, the seed pods are filled with fluff and he still eats them. The seed threads fly right and left out of his mouth as he chases away from us because he understands that he should not eat them.

Our daily walks with Laszlo have led to two discoveries: that we have a native crabapple tree growing in a briar patch, the only tree of its kind we have ever found on our property; and that the fruit of the autumn olive, aka autumn berries, are absolutely delicious.

Crabapples

My husband had planted the fast-growing autumn olives many years ago as a wind break, not knowing how invasive they are. He was in the best company – the U.S. Soil Conservation Service also widely distributed and planted the shrub.

Autumn olives had spread all over our property. Last fall, we made it a weekend project to pull as many as we could. I had always wondered about the bright red berries. I read up about them and learned that the berries are indeed edible, actually more than merely edible – extremely nutritious too. The tricky thing about harvesting them, I also learned, is to pick the berries when they are fully ripe yet before the birds eat them all.

On our daily walk I kept an eye on the berries because this year, I wanted to try them. When I tasted a berry a couple of days ago, it seemed just right, tart but fruity. So yesterday I went picking, or better, I removed a few branches loaded with berries from the shrub and stripped it. Of course Laszlo had to stick his nose in the bowl, and I had to make sure that he did not get hurt by the thorns of the branches.

Laszlo and autumn berries

Picking autumn berries

Autumn berries contain a high amount of lycopene, a photonutrient that can prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease: 40 to 50 mg per 100 g, compared to 3 mg per 100 g in fresh raw tomato. And indeed, when I processed the autumn berries, the color and consistency reminded me a lot of tomatoes.

Yet the similarities end right here. The pulp is delicious, although the taste is hard to describe: like a blend of cranberry, raspberry and pomegranate. The sauce tastes great straight from the jar, but I can also imagine it with vanilla ice cream, rice pudding, panna cotta or pancakes.

Without Laszlo, I would have certainly missed the moment to harvest those berries.

Autumn berry sauce

Autumn Berry Sauce

Not at all sure what the yield would be I picked about three pounds and got a little less than 2.5 pounds of pulp out of it, which made three pints of sauce. This is more than we can eat soon, and I know in the depth of winter we will appreciate this super fruity treat, so I processed two of the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

3 pounds autumn berries

2 cups raw organic cane sugar, as needed

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon natural orange extract

1. Cook the berries over low to medium heat until they start to release their juice, stirring often. Bring to a boil and cook until mushy. Cool slightly, then pass through a food mill with a fine plate. Weigh the pulp and add one third of the amount in sugar.

2. Rinse the pot and return the pulp to the pot. Add the sugar and cook over low to medium heat until fully dissolved. Taste for sweetness and add more sugar if desired. Fill in sterilized jars and refrigerate, or process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Makes 3 pint jars

Autumn berry fruit leather

Autumn Berry Fruit Leather

1½ pounds autum berry pulp (prepared as described in step 1 above, but omit the sugar)

½ cup honey

1. Warm the pulp in a saucepan over low heat. Add the honey and stir until fully dissolved.

2. Line two jelly roll sheets with parchment paper (I used a large and a small sheet; if using two large ones, you won’t fill the second sheet entirely). Pour the puree onto the sheets and distribute it evenly by tilting the sheets, or using a dinner knife or a spatula.

3. Place the sheets on the first and third or second and fourth rack of the oven to allow for ample air circulation. Set the oven at the lowest possible temperature, 140 to 170 degrees F, and dry for 10 to 12 hours, until the fruit leather is still tacky but when you touch it, no fruit pulp sticks to your finger. Turn off the oven and let it sit for several hours, or better overnight, with the oven door closed.

4. The next day, gently peel off the parchment paper. If you cannot remove it at once, do it in pieces. Place a piece of wax paper large enough to hold the fruit leather on a clean dry work surface. Place the fruit leather on top and roll it up with the wax paper from the long side. Do not roll it too tightly or it may crack.

5. Place the roll on a large cutting board. With a finely serrated knife make a deep cut into the roll every ¾ inch or so,  then cut the roll into pieces using a chef’s knife. Store the fruit leather in an airtight container and refrigerate. It keeps for up to 5 months.

Photos by Ted Rosen

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