Meadow magic in a jar

Meadow in May
The merry month of May
and the meadows are alive with the sight of magic…
Infusing meadow herbs in honey is one of the best ways of harnessing their powers.
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Really easy and so much more appealing than anything you can get from the pharmacy!

Ribwort plantain in May

Ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata): a member of the Plantago family, one with a long tradition as “first aid plants”, ribwort plantain has a proven track record in treating catarrh, coughs, bronchitis and asthma. Now is the time to “harvest” it, while the leaves are fresh and green and before it goes into full blossom.

Yarrow in May

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): with an established reputation for the treatment of digestive ailments, yarrow is also said to intensify the effect of the other herbs it is used with

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Elderflower (Sambucus niagra): is a diaphoretic, meaning it has the capacity to induce increased perspiration i.e. it helps you to sweat it out, whatever it is that ails you, not least fever and colds…

Snip or tear your freshly-picked herbs (ribwort plantain leaves, yarrow fronds and elderflower blossom) into 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).

Pour in the honey (ideally local and not pasteurised) – enough to completely cover the herbs and more – seal and leave to stand at room temperature for four weeks, turning the jar occasionally.

At the end of the four weeks, strain the honey into a clean jar, discarding the herbs, and use as required, either in herbal teas or direct from the jar, to combat coughs and colds.

Preserved lemons and Garlic Mustard Pesto

Remember those Preserved Lemons from back in February?

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Well, its May and that means its time to get them out of the cellar – the lemons are now well and truly preserved in their lemony brine and one of the things I love using them for at this time of the year is

Garlic Mustard Pesto

(alternative nut-free version here)

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Preparation time: about 10 minutes

Cooking time: none

Serves: 4

Garlic mustard (also known as

Jack by the Hedge,

or alternatively use wild garlic)      50g of leaves (and blossoms if in flower)

Lemon (organic)                           1 (or 1 to 2 teaspoons of preserved lemon brine, according to taste)

Whole almonds, toasted               50g

Olive oil                                         150ml                                        

Honey (or sugar)                           approx. 1 tsp

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Remove the garlic mustard leaves from the stalks, rinse and place in a liquidizer together with the toasted almonds.

2. Halve the lemon and squeeze out the juice.

3. Add the olive oil to the garlic mustard leaves and whizz together in the liquidizer.

4. Season with lemon juice (or brine), honey (or sugar), salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, whizzing thoroughly to produce a pesto-like consistency.

Garlic Mustard PestoPreserved Lemons are also great in Garlic and Tomato Butter

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May Wine

Woodruff (Galium Odoratum, or Waldmeister in German)

has a long tradition here in Germany as the main ingredient for Maibowle, or May Wine, still a popular feature of May Day celebrations.

Its strong sweet scent comes from the fragrant organic chemical compound coumarin, the fragrance growing stronger as the plant wilts after picking. The coumarin content apparently increases once the plant starts to flower and, as too much coumarin can cause (instead of cure) headaches, the recommendation is that you pick your woodruff just before it goes into flower …

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You will find the recipe for May Wine as featured in a delightful little cookery book I translated a couple of years ago below:

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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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May Wine

Serves 8

2 bunches of sweet woodruff

50 g honey or sugar

2 bottles of white wine, chilled

500 ml of light red wine, chilled

Wash the woodruff and pat dry. Tie the stems into a bunch and leave to dry overnight in a well-aired place.

Combine the honey or sugar with ½ a bottle of wine. Suspend the bunch of woodruff upside down in the wine, making sure that the ends of the stems do not come into contact with the wine. Cover and leave to draw for 30 minutes.

Remove the bunch of woodruff and pour the base wine mixture into a jug or large bowl. Add the rest of the red and white wine and serve immediately.

Agnes’ tip: oh how we enjoyed drinking this light, aromatic May wine! Sparkling wine is not something we know yet and so, instead, we simply added a light red wine to the base mixture, even though this did not make the punch sparkle, of course. For special occasions I sprinkle a few fresh wild strawberry or redcurrant leaves, as well as tarragon, sage or mint over the punch. That looks pretty and adds extra aroma.

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

Scones

I served so many scones at our recent “cream teas in the orchard” event that they filled the entire picnic basket:P1150954 (2)

Scones are about technique rather than recipe: the secret to success is to handle the dough as little as possible. Do not knead like bread – combine the ingredients until just mixed and then stop handling the dough.

 The other important tip is one I gathered from Frances Bissell in her brilliant book The Floral Baker: “put the scones close together on the baking sheet to encourage them to rise well and evenly” (page 31, The Floral Baker). Doing this also ensures soft, fluffy edges to your scones.

 If you are going to use a pastry cutter to stamp out your scones make sure it is a sharp one; a blunt one will give you hard, squashed-down edges to your scones. I have dispensed with stamping out scones altogether and use the “sliced sausage” method described in the recipe below.

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Prep. Time: about 10 minutes

Cooking time: about 15 to 20 minutes

Makes 6 to 8 scones

Plain flour                                            225g

Baking powder                                     2 tsp

Pinch of salt

Butter, chilled and diced                         50g

Sugar                                                 1 Tbsp

Buttermilk (or yoghurt mixed with water) 150 ml

1) Preheat the oven to 200°C.

2) Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and rub the butter in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

3) Stir in the sugar and make a hollow in the centre. Pour in enough buttermilk to produce a soft but not sticky dough.

4) Place on a floured work surface and roll the dough into a “sausage” about 20 cm in length.

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5) Using a sharp knife, slice the dough into rounds and place these next to one another on a lined baking sheet.

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6) Bake in the preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes until well-risen and golden in colour.

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Made in the Orchard: Cherry Plum Blossom Syrup

My season of floral flavours continues: cherry plum blossom with its intensely sweet fragrance, picked in muted spring morning sunshine with much buzzing of busy bees who clearly love the blossoms as much as I do, captured in a bottle (or in a thermal flask first…) – on site in the orchard.

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Most of my harvesting of whatever sort takes place by bicycle and to ensure maximum cherry plum blossom freshness I prepared my simple syrup

(sugar to water 1:1, in this case 300 ml water to 300 g sugar for about 3 good handfuls of cherry plum blossoms stripped from the twigs)

before setting out, poured it boiling hot into the thermos flask and took it with me to the orchard. I left the syrup – lid off – to cool down to lukewarm while I picked the blossoms (strip them off the twigs into a bowl and leave the blossoms to stand a while to give the bugs a chance to crawl away – give them a helping hand out of the bowl to spend things up).

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 Once bug-free, I tipped the blossoms (within half an hour of picking) into the now lukewarm syrup, lid on and left it in my bike basket.

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 Twenty four hours later it I opened the flask: an intense floral almond essence was my reward!

Strained

(through a sieve lined with a disposable, bio-degradable cloth nappy liner that never got used – honestly – they make brilliant filters!)

into bottles to be savoured.

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And what am I going to do with it?

 Anything that would otherwise require almond essence for starters… first up is going to be Bakewell Tart with cherry plum jam and cherry plum blossom syrup…

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Season of Frosts and Flowery Flavours

There they are – the first of the dandelions bursting into blossom here in southern Germany…

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… heralding the start of my Flowery Flavours Season – first up is Dandelion Syrup

… think golden-yellow syrup with caramel overtones and you’re there…

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… and here is a whiff of what’s next on the list:

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… which means we are wanting the frosts to come to an end now 🙂

Hedgerow hues and meadow motifs for Easter

One of the most charming Easter traditions here in Franconia: decorating the wells and fountains with brighly coloured Easter Eggs …

Edible eggs in bright colours are also to be found throughout Germany at this time of year but the bought versions are just too garish and – frankly – suspect (how old are the eggs???) for my tastes …

It was Mini-Kraut’s idea that we boil and colour our own and my idea to use natural motifs and colourants…

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The boiled eggs are rinsed in a vinegar/water (50/50) solution once cold enough to handle (makes the shells more porous so that they absorb more colour) and, together with their motifs, are wrapped in old tights and left to steep in the colouring infusions overnight.

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The results:

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Happy Easter from the orchard!

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Making way for spring: Membrillo Chutney

My favourite equinox of the year is upon us here in the northern hemisphere!

 And so I have been rationalising the last of the autumn to make way for the spring:

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Membrillo, or quince paste:

I made masses of it last autumn and so still had loads left (yes, it does keep that long…)

 But what I did not make enough of last year was

Quince Chutney

– golden, garlicky and quintessentially delicious…

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So to get me through to the next quince crop I took the stored membrillo,

cooked it up with glühwein – the last half a litre,

as well as root ginger, much garlic, red wine vinegar and a dose of sea salt.

The result:

 Membrillo Chutney

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It is so good I shall be making it as part of my quince chutney programme this coming autumn.

And then I shall share my recipe with you too.

 But for now: spring is here with a host of green and yellow flavours all of its own!

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Pretty Prunings and Plum Preserves

Hermann the German is nearly done with the winter pruning of our many fruit trees and so I have been harvesting the cuttings: bring them into the balmy indoors in a vase of water and you will be rewarded with your very own spring display.

Here: plum tree prunings in (forced) flower:

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 The rest of the prunings are added to our dead wood hedge – home to loads of grateful little creatures – the blackbirds and little robin redbreast being just two of them:

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And while waiting for this year’s blossoms to get blossoming in earnest I have been delving into the jars of bottled wild plums from last year’s harvest still gracing the cellar…

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and turning them into

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wild plum and apple jelly with vanilla

 wild plum conserve in meadowsweet syrup

Meadowsweet Syrup

Round about July I will remind you again why picking those wild plums really is worth the effort!

Citrus and spice and all things nice…

Lemon Curd

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Received this week as a gift from one of my faithful blog followers here in Franconia… What a lovely – and delicious – surprise, just like Mum used to make it (takes me right back here: memory’s myth land) and it pairs up really well with Hazelnut Crispbreads.

Thank you so much Karin!

 And the citrus hasn’t stopped there: I am currently working my way through a treasure of a cookbook received as a gift last autumn:

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Preserving, by Emma Macdonald

of The Bay Tree fame, published by Nourish Books 2014

The photography is classy, the recipes (both classic and contemporary) truly inspirational.

 (And just for the record: apart from owning the book, I have no connection whatsoever to either the author or affiliates…)

 A tale of kitchen table talent, here’s where you can read up on the story behind the book: http://www.crumbsmag.com/from-the-mag/686_form-follows-function

 And here’s where you can see what I have been testing and tasting this week:

 Orange & Cardamom Marmelade

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Lemon and Lavender Marmelade

(the recipe calls for lavender flowers and lavender essence – I had a couple of bottles of lavender syrup left over from the summer so worked those into the recipe instead…)

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Assessment: top marks awarded by both Hermann the German and Mini-Kraut – one of the most stringent juries out there..

 P.S. the book also contains a recipe for Lemon Curd…