The King’s Candles

… or Verbascum, and sometimes mullein, as this genus (Verbascum, of which there are some 350 species…) is known in English.

I do think, though, that the German Königskerze does for more justice to this plant which becomes truly regal when it flowers in July:

14_07_2013 Königskerzen

Favouring dry, sandy soils in the sun (and therefore often to be found flourishing on wasteland), the Königskerze is not only regal, it has a tradition of healing dating back to Hippocrates. The plant has distinct emollient, demulcent and astringent properties and, while Hippocrates reccommended it for the external treatment of wounds, the Königskerze went on to develop a tradition of treating coughs, colds and respiratory complaints.

The flowers have robust, fleshy petals making them difficult to dry and so one of the best and easiest ways of extracting their healing properties is to use them to make an infused honey in readiness for the onset of autumn and winter:

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1) You need to pick the flowers on a dry day, either in the morning or in the evening, not in the heat of the day, and only pick the blossoms fully open. You need to use the blossoms immediately (they will wilt and start to turn brown within hours otherwise) so make sure you have a sterilised jar (I fill the jar with boiling water direct from the kettle and leave it to stand for at least 5 minutes before using) and the honey with you.

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2) Place your blossoms directly into your sterilised jar, enough to fill the jar, pour in the honey, seal and rotate the jar a good couple of times to make sure all of the blossoms are covered in a coating of honey.

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3) Leave to infuse at room temperature for about 2 weeks. At the end of the infusing, strain the honey into a clean, sterilised jar for storage and/or immediate use either directly as a teaspoonful of honey medicine for ailing children, or to sweeten herbal teas.

Elderflowers and Strawberries

One of the most summery flavour combinations there is!

And one of the simplest ways to enjoy this combination throughout the summer months is to make yourself some Elderflower-Infused Honey

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now, while the elderflowers are in blossom –

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and drizzle it over your strawberries at will.

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Do it, you will be glad you did!

P.S. Works well with all summer berries 🙂

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Rhubarb and Rosemary Tiramisu

Edibles for the landscape: packing up a basket of edibles for a sunny Saturday in the orchard. On the dessert menu:

Rhubarb and Rosemary Tiramisu

I use the term tiramisu very loosely here as there is no coffee and no Marsala in this recipe, just lots of spring time flavours, quick and easy to transport in jars too:

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Double cream                   600 ml

Mascarpone                      250 g

Wild plum

blossom essence*          approx. 2 tsp

Caster sugar                      3 tbsp or to taste

Sponge fingers or

stale sponge cake           175 g

Rhubarb                              250 g

Honey for roasting

the rhubarb**                  2 tbsp or to taste

Rosemary blossoms      a handful – picked fresh on the day you are going to serve, otherwise they tend to turn brown overnight

  1. Wash and finely chop your rhubarb. Place in an ovenproof dish, drizzle with honey and slow roast, covered, at about 150°C until soft but not completely mushy. Leave to cool.
  2. Break the sponge fingers/sponge cake into bite-sized pieces and place half the amount in your serving dish(es) as a first layer.
  3. Drizzle about one teaspoon of plum blossom or almond essence over the sponge pieces.
  4. Place the cream, marscapone and sugar in a large bowl and beat together until thoroughly mixed.
  5. Place a layer of the cream mixture over the sponge, then a layer of rhubarb, then the rest of the sponge pieces. Drizzle the next teaspoon of plum blossom or almond essence over the sponge pieces. Finish off with a cream layer, topped with dabs of the remaining rhubarb.
  6. Place the tiramisu in the fridge to chill, ideally overnight.
  7. Sprinkle with fresh rosemary blossoms shortly before serving (they will keep their colour for a good few hours before serving but overnight is too long).

*Wild plum blossom season is now over in these parts so the recipe for wild plum blossom essence will follow next spring, almond essence will suffice in the meantime!

** I used Elderflower-Infused Honey (infused last summer) and can strongly recommend it. Follow the link and do yourself a favour once the elderflower blossom puts in an appearance in a few weeks from now.

 

Cherry Plum Blossom Sugar

Last year was Cherry Plum Blossom Syrup,

 

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this year it’s Cherry Plum Blossom Sugar:

  • pick your blossoms (no leaves) directly into a jar half full of sugar. Try to choose an overcast but warm day to do this otherwise you will have little black bugs wanting to be part of your plum blossom sugar – they do crawl out of the jar again on their own after a while if you do happen on a sunny day but they tend to not be there when it is overcast.
  • fill your jar – generously – with blossoms, put the lid on and leave for 24 hours – in a warm place ideally.
  • then spread your fragrant, sugary blossoms out on a flat surface to dry for about 12 hours (not longer otherwise you will start to lose the fragrance).
  • sieve the sugary blossoms through a sieve or colander fine enough to catch the green receptacles from the blossoms, letting the now dried petals through with the sugar. It is best to use a pestle or similar to crush the sugar lumps as you go along.
  • store your fragrant cherry plum blossom in an airtight jar and use for fragrant sprinkles (cakes, desserts) and flavourings (milkshakes, smoothies, ice cream, yoghurts)…

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Meadowsweet Gingerade

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Known as meadwort in the 14th century,

meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)

has been used since Chaucer’s day for flavouring wine and beer…

and it makes a fine gingerade in this day and age too.

In my recipe for Meadowsweet Syrup,

just replace the lemons with as much fresh ginger as your taste dicates to make a really refreshing gingerade awash with meadowsweet’s honey, hay and almond aromas

(approx. 2 cm of root ginger, finely chopped, will give you a gentle gingerade, add more fresh ginger if you want more of a gingery kick).

Meadowsweet Syrup

Wild Strawberries (Fragaria vesca)

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These little nuggets of flavour and colour (also known as the woodland strawberry, or Walderdbeere here in Germany, the Alpine strawberry, the European strawberry of fraise des bois to use the French name) are the strawberries indigenous to Europe – the rest are derived from 18th century imports from the Americas.

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Seldom if ever available commercially now, they used to be a welcome sight at the markets of old but between me, Hermann the German, Mini-Kraut and the many meadow creatures at home in our orchard I am never left with more than about a handful of wild strawberries – still enough to make these quick and easy cream cheese tartlets though:

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I make the pastry shells out of

Almond Pastry

225g plain flour

pinch of salt

110 g butter

140 g ground almonds, blanched

45 g sugar

beaten egg

  1. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

2. Add the ground almonds.Stir in the sugar and add enough beaten egg (probably one whole egg) to just bind the mixture together. Knead lightly. Chill before use.

I then roll it out, stamp into circles and drape these over the inverted hollows of an upside down muffin tin to bake at 200°C for about 10 minutes.

These quantities make about 18 pastry cases.

The cream cheese filling comprises

500 g cream cheese

250 g icing sugar (or to taste)

few drops of vanilla essence (to taste)

beaten together.

Once they have cooled completely, fill the almond pastry cases with about two teaspoons of cream cheese filling each, dot them with your harvest of wild strawberries, dust with icing sugar… and put the kettle on!

I personally don’t like my strawberries baked – only fresh will do for me, but if you do go in for baked strawberries and happen to have access to about half a kilo of wild strawberries then this is for you, taken from a delightful little cookbook translated by yours truly a couple of years ago (details below):

Wild Strawberry Tart

 

Makes 12 pieces

For the pastry:

100 g chilled butter

200 g flour + extra for the work surface

50 g sugar

1 egg

Butter for greasing

For the filling:

Approx. 500 g wild strawberries of small strawberries

3-4 tbsp sugar

4 cl light dessert wine (e.g. Malvasier, Vin Santo, Madeira)

To make the pastry, cut the butter into pieces and quickly combine with the flour, sugar and egg yolk to form a smooth dough. Press the dough ball flat, wrap in cling wrap and leave to rest in a cool place for 30 minutes.

Grease a pie dish (28 cm ø). Roll the pastry out thinly on a floured work surface and then line the pie dish. Prick the base with a fork and again leave to rest in a cool place for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 180 °C (fan oven 160 °C). Back the pastry in the centre of the oven for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, carefully wash and hull the strawberries and then pat dry. Remove the pastry base from the oven and layer the strawberries close together over the base. Sprinkle with sugar and bake in the centre of the hot oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, drizzle with the dessert wine and bake again for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before removing from the pie dish. Serve either warm or cold, ideally with freshly whipped cream.

Agnes’ tip: strawberry season at last! At the market this morning there was a farmer’s wife with a basket of freshly picked wild strawberries on offer. I snapped them up at once of course and I am going to use them right away to bake this lovely tart. Washing the little berries does mean rather a lot of work but the result is simply heavenly. We are not yet familiar with large strawberries, unfortunately. These plants were only to come to Europe from Chile at the beginning of the 18th century. I actually prefer the small wild strawberries with their tempting flavour anyway. By the way, the little red berries are said to be a symbol of desire. I’ll mention that to Albrecht, perhaps he will then paint a few…

Taken from:

Dürer’s Little Cookbook
Yesterday’s recipes for today’s food lovers
Compiled by Petra Teetz, Translated by Katherine Taylor, Published by ars vivendi verlag
Original edition © 2009 English edition © 2013 www.arsvivendi.com

Considered the greatest painter of the Northern Renaissance, Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) came from Nuremburg where the Albrecht-Dürer-Haus remains as a museum and memorial to the man and his times.

This little cookbook takes a look behind the scenes in the Dürer household with seasonal recipes of the kind that would have been known to Albrecht Dürer’s wife Agnes, adapted for easy cooking in the modern kitchen, a number of them having since become set features of Franconian culinary tradition: Schäufele (Roast Pork Shoulder), Krumme Krapfen (Crooked Fritters) and Storks’ Nests… Accompanied by interesting details about life at that time: what foodstuffs where available to the Nuremburg housewife in around 1500, what were the different meals served during the course of the year, and what were table manners like?

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Rose petal syrup

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The dog roses –

or hedge roses (Heckenrosen) as they are called in German –

are out and so it is time to make rose petal syrup.

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This is essentially a rose petal infusion turned into a sugar syrup, with a wonderful rose aroma.

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And it is really easy:

You need an equal quantity of sugar to water i.e. 500 ml of water, 500 g of sugar and between 50 and 100 g of rose petals – plucked from a sustainable, pollutant-free source.

Infuse your petals in the boiling water for at least 3 hours, strain and place the infused water in a saucepan. Add the sugar, dissolve over a medium heat, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved, leave to cool, bottle and enjoy!

Handy gathering tip: if, like me, you come across a plethora of petals to pluck when out and about, then set off prepared with a thermos flask of boiling water on board. Fill your flask not quite full so as to leave space for the petals.

Pick all your petals, gathering them in a cloth bag or basket, for example, until you have enough and then push them all into the flask of hot water. Screw the lid back on and leave them to infuse while you continue with your hiking or biking. Strain when you get home and use the strained liquid to make your syrup. You will need to leave them to infuse for at least 3 hours, but mine were in the flask for 6 hours before I got home to make the syrup with perfect results.

Be sure to pick just the petals, leaving the rest of the flower behind – that way those that have already been pollinated will still go on to form rose hips…

And what to do with this wonderful rose syrup: summer-up a glass of sparkling wine, drizzle over ice cream, yoghurt, waffles, pancakes and cakes… use in desserts and toppings – the list is a long one!

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Elderflower-Infused Honey

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Elderflower season is upon us!

And THE quickest and easiest way to capture the elderflower’s delicate floral fragrance is to use the blossoms

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to make a floral version of herb-infused honey:

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1) You need to pick the flowers on a dry day, either in the morning or in the evening, not in the heat of the day, and only pick flower heads with the blossoms fully open. You need to use the blossoms immediately (within 3 to 4 hours of picking) otherwise they tend to develop a less fragrant aroma. Pick over the flowers to remove any beetles, bugs and brown bits. Also remove any leaves and cut off as much off the stalks as you can.

2) Prepare a sterilised jar (I fill the jar with boiling water direct from the kettle and leave it to stand for at least 5 minutes before using) large enough to accommodate the blossoms and the honey.

3) Place your prepared blossoms in your sterilised jar, pour in the honey right up to the top, seal and leave to infuse at room temperature for anything up to 4 weeks if you want a more intense elderflower honey. The honey will have taken on an elderflower nuance within a day or two though, so it’s up to you how long you can wait!

4) At the end of the infusing, strain the honey into a clean jar for storage and/or immediate use …and turn the honeyed blossoms into Elderflower Pancakes:

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More Meadow Magic

Northern hemisphere meadow magic in May:P1160148                            This is ribwort plantain in flower: not only a healing herb, its blossoms are

truly fairy-like and meadow-magical, don’t you think?.

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If you catch the buds before they go into flower, though,

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they make an interesting addition to a salad or an omlettte.

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Sautéed lightly in a little olive oil and/or butter, the buds add a nutty-mushroomy flavour dimension to light spring-time meals.

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