Easter Tastes & Traditions

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Superstreuselkuchen

IN ANCIENT AGRICULTURAL SOCIETIES, EGGS PROVIDED A VITAL SOURCE OF NUTRITION. BY MID-MARCH, FOOD STORES FROM THE PREVIOUS YEAR WOULD HAVE BEEN RUNNING LOW. THE FIRST EGGS OF THE YEAR, LAID BY DOMESTICATED FOWL OR FORAGED FROM THE NESTS OF WILD BIRDS, ADDED MUCH-NEEDED NUTRIENTS TO PEOPLES’ DIET.  …”” read more

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Hedgerow Hues & Meadow Motifs

How to colour your own Easter eggs using natural colourants and motifs: read on

Easter Wells

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

 

Cherry plums versus mirabelles

To blog on or not to bother?

I have decided to carry on bothering.

Because, in recent years, much of what I have assimilated and implemented in the place where I am has come from a very broad band of bloggers.

People who bother to blog. In whatever language. All of them blogging out of conviction and only the very thin minority blogging for remuneration of the financial kind.

I owe much to bloggers and have become convinced of the role (to be) played by alternative media in presenting  another side of any story. Because there are always two sides to every story. Which does not have to mean subscribing to either version but at least they point toward the third version: your opinion/independent thought/questions asked. Call it what you will, it is a real rarity where I am, both in time and place. George Orwell, Aldous Huxley: say no more.

And say no more I shall on this blog because I shall continue to keep politics out of it. Apart from the fact that the production and procurement of food have long since become a political act. Whether you realise it or not.

I digress.

As a promoter of pomology past and present it is time to set the record straight on cherry plums and mirabelles. I know, right up there on top of everyone’s priority list…!

The thing is, I keep hearing (town) folk here banging on about the mirabelles being ripe. In July.

And when I (the foreigner with still slightly accented German who is supposed to be a translator by profession, and not a wannabe fruit farmer – very unGerman, diverging from the trodden path…), presume to tell them that its the cherry plums that are ripe now, in July, I get told: “well, they look like mirabelles”.

Aaah… no.

Cherry Plums (Prunus cerasifera)

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Ripen as early as the beginning of July, occuring in both red and yellow.

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The very first of the stone fruit to blossom in the spring.

 

 

 

Slightly milder than mirabelle plums, their stones are smaller and yellow cherry plums are far more uniform in colour than mirabelles. Cherry plums are great for snacking on or for use in summer fruit salads. They make a very good purée, too (much less acid than some of the later plum varieties) and I also juice them as the basis for mulled beverages in the autumn and winter.

 

Mirabelle Plums (Prunus domestica subsbp. syriaca)

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They ripen only in late August, early September and have distinctive “red cheeks” where the sun catches them.

Somewhat stronger in characteristic flavour than cherry plums, mirabelles are a good preserving fruit (although also great eaten straight from the tree on a later summer’s day), and very popular with schnaps distillers. Which I am not, so my mirabelles end up in bakes and purées – where they are reminiscent of their prunus relative, the apricot (Prunus armeniaca).

Mirabelle Tart (2)

 

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:

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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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Wild Mushrooms

Despite having experienced the driest summer for 40 years this year, we are now enjoying a – late – glut of these wonderful treasures in the orchard:

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parasol mushrooms,

delicious fried in butter or in my autumn favourite:

Wild Mushroom Tart

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