May 29, 2015
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 – 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 – 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.
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
March 3, 2015
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.
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.
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
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
January 25, 2015
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.
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.
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 large, lightly floured piece of parchment paper. Evenly spread it with pesto, leaving 1 inch free all around.
6. 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 as described. Place the second circle on top of the first and spread it with pesto as described. Place the last 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.
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.
9. Generously brush the entire surface with olive oil. Gently transfer the flower with the parchment to the hot baking stone. 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