Posts Tagged ‘homemade’

Prunelle = sloe liqueur = sloe gin

10 October 2021

It took me some time to realise that ‘sloe gin’ is in fact ‘prunelle.’ For a long while, I imagined a dry gin gently infused with sloes, not the sweet liqueur digestif that the French simply call ‘prunelle,’ leaving out the ‘liqueur de’.

In France, this is the common way to name most fruit alcohols — brandy or liqueur. Toward the end of a protracted meal, spirits are retrieved from hidden cabinets. ‘De la poire, de la framboise’ (pear, raspberry) … the definite article denotes not a fruit but a bottle of. Indefinite ‘une‘ poire is a fruit. De ‘la‘ poire is the eau de vie, the brandy. The same is true of prunelle (sloe). De la prunelle is the sweet liqueur made from alcohol steeped with sugar and sloes. In France, the spirit used is a generic clear fruit alcohol destined for preserving, sold in supermarkets. In England, as I now understand, it is usually gin. The process is the same.

Sloes are the fruit of blackthorn (prunus spinosa), a tree that is ubiquitous in most of the UK, and last spring, in riotous frothy clouds of white petals, blackthorn was blooming everywhere. It was impossible not to notice. This boded well for the sloe harvest. Unfortunately this year I haven’t manage to pick any (yet) so I bought a bag. It’s less fun, but guarantees that we will have at least one bottle of prunelle for the winter.

I started making sloe liqueur fairly recently. Previously, I had relied on my friend. She never arrived anywhere without a bottle (or two or three) of her mother’s production. It was time to take up the mantle. So, a few years ago, flush from a generous harvest foraged around parks and hedgerows, I tested a number of recipes. Not so surprisingly, I’ve settled for one that is much less sweet. I think it’s perfect.

Prunelle = sloe liqueur recipe
Some recipes suggest waiting for the first frost before picking sloes, or freezing the fruit for 24 hours in order to mimic this. I have tried it and found no difference in taste.

300g sloes
100g sugar (can be increased to 150g sugar for something much sweeter)
450ml clear fruit alcohol, gin, or vodka

Remove any leaves and twigs attached and rinse the sloes in cold water.

Place the sloes in a well washed (or preferably sterilised) bottle or jar that can hold at least 75ml. Add the sugar and the alcohol. Mix thoroughly.

Invert the bottle occasionally in the first week or so to make sure the sugar hasn’t settled at the bottom. Wait a couple of months before serving.

‘Save the plums’ jam

6 October 2020

October 6th. Reliably, like every year in early October, there is a bowl full of old plums in my kitchen. They are already at varying degrees of bruised, shrivelled, and slightly alcoholic. They’ve been there for a week. I don’t think it’s intentional, but always during the last shimmer of plum season I buy lots, and only ever manage to save them in the nick of time, with jam.

I cut up the plums yesterday, mixed them with just under half their weight in sugar, added the juice of one lemon, and let them macerate overnight in the fridge, stirring once or twice as the sugar tends to slide to the bottom.

Now to figure out whether to add anything. I usually turn to ginger or bay leaf with plums, but today I am wondering — cardamom?

Save the plums’ jam

1kg plums
850g light brown sugar
Juice from 1 lemon
Optional: 6 pounded cardamom pods / one or two bay leaves / finely cut ginger

Wash and pit the plums. In a bowl, mix together the plums, sugar, lemon juice, and the spices or herbs if using. Cover and leave to macerate overnight in the fridge. Stir once or twice as the sugar will sink to the bottom.

The next day, transfer the mixture to a heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring to a boil, and cook at a lively simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring regularly.

Meanwhile, in another pan half-filled with water, bring to a boil and sterilize 3 or 4 jars for 5 minutes.

Once the simmer slows down and the jam is ready, scoop the jam into the jars and close the lid immediately.

[ => To check that the jam is setting, place a spoonful in a saucepan in the fridge for a few minutes and check that the liquid is starting to run thick.]

Wait a few weeks, if possible, before using.

Earlier ‘save-the-plums’ jam ventures:

Greengage plum jam with lemon and bay leaf
Damson and Victoria plum jam with lemon and ginger
Plum jam with candied ginger

Edible gifts | Christine Ferber’s Christmas jam

29 November 2018

In her book Mes Confitures, Christine Ferber writes that her Christmas jam pays tribute to the tradition of berawecka, a fruit bread traditional in Alsace and neighboring German speaking countries during the holidays. It gives pride of place to the dried pears of the region and includes a plethora of other dried and candied fruits, nuts, and spices.

Indeed, this jam has no fewer than 21 ingredients! A fact that would ordinarily have me fleeing it like the plague. But in some instances, particularly around Christmas, my disposition mellows and I might find myself uncharacteristically drawn to somewhat tedious, day-long cooking challenges.

The reward, of course, is an unusual gift that unfurls in every bite, layer after layer, one fragrance after another, and which will hopefully, in an explosion of taste, convey all the affection (and time!) folded lovingly into each little jar.

Christine Ferber’s Christmas jam
Warning: this jam not only has 21 ingredients, it also takes 2 days to make!

1.7 kg quinces
1.7 kg (170 cl) water
1 kg caster sugar
200 g dried pears, very finely sliced
200 g dried figs
100 g dates
100 g prunes
200 g dried apricots
100 g raisins
50 g candied lemon peel
50 g candied orange peel
Juice from 1 untreated orange
3-4 pinches finely grated zest from an untreated orange
Juice from 2 untreated lemons
3-4 pinches finely grated zest from an untreated lemon
Pinch ground cinnamon
Pinch ground cardamon
5 g aniseed
150 g shelled walnuts
150 g blanched almonds

Wipe the quinces to remove all fuzz. Rince the fruit with water, remove the stalk and flower, and cut into quarters (do not peel or core the quince).

Place the quince quarters into a large (jam) pan and cover with 1.7 kg (170 cl) water.

Bring to a boil and simmer gently for an hour, stirring the quince around occasionally. Strain through a fine mesh sieve to gather 1.3 kg of juice.

Slice the dried pears very thinly and let them soak in the quince juice overnight.

The next day, pit and cut all the dried fruit as thinly as possible: figs, dates, prunes, and apricots. Finely dice the candied lemon and orange peel. Finely cut the angelica if using. Chop the walnuts and almonds.

Pour the quince juice and marinated pears back into the jam pan (or large heavy-bottomed saucepan). Add the sugar, and all the dried fruits (figs, dates, prunes, apricots, raisins), candied fruits (lemon and orange and angelica), citrus juices and zests, and spices.

Bring the jam to a boil, stirring continuously. Skim any foam that comes to the surface. Leave at a lively boil for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring continuously and skimming if necessary. **Do not overcook! 5 to 10 minutes is sufficient. My batch was a bit too thick, I will be wary next time.** Add the walnuts and almonds and cook for another 5 minutes. Check that the jam is setting (place a spoonful of juice in the fridge and, once cold, check that the juice has ‘gelled’).

Sterilize the jars for 5 minutes in a pan of boiling water. Fill the jars immediately and seal tightly.

Nettle soup aka ‘Stone Soup’

14 September 2018

I think of it as stone soup.

During our summer holidays in Brittany, nettle soup is always top of the list of meals we look forward to making. Still, the intent usually lies dormant until a fateful evening when we are caught off-guard with no dinner plan. There are always nettles about: in the bits of garden that haven’t been mowed, in the field at the bottom of the drive where a solitary horse used to live. The horse is long gone, the field remains ‘le champ du cheval.’ Armed with wellies, gloves, scissors, and a basket, it won’t take longer than ten minutes to gather dinner.

According to the folk tale Stone Soup, with just a soup kettle, water, a stone as decoy, and some craft, a clever traveller fools one mean farmer (or, depending on the version of the story, the inhabitants of a whole village) into relinquishing vegetables, one at a time, little by little, in order to make that initial ‘stone soup’ — a stone in a pot of water — taste better and better.

In my fairy-tale summer, the nettles are the stone, the nothing. Like that stone, they’ll need a bit of a boost in terms of depth and unctuousness. An allium of some sort, a couple of potatoes, a zucchini — all of which weren’t donated by villagers but are the neglected, long-term squatters of the vegetable crates in the cellar.

And in reality, nettle soup is the very opposite of stone soup. It has, it is true, sprung from nothing. But unlike the stone — ultimately discarded — the nettles are the very essence and raison d’être of the meal.

Nettle soup
Since the main idea of the soup is its fortuity, the ingredients and quantities are just indications. But the nettles must remain the focus, they should not be overpowered by the other vegetables.

A big bag of young nettle leaves
Butter
1 or 2 small onions or shallots, finely chopped
A few garlic cloves
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
Some chicken stock if available
Depending on season and availability, a few of the following:
Leeks, zucchini (courgettes), carrots, fennel, etc (all of which need to be washed well or peeled and cut into slices)
Crème fraîche to serve

With a pair of gloves to avoid getting stung, pick fresh young nettle stems (in season in spring and summer) especially the most tender part close to the tip.

(Still protected by gloves) pick the leaves off the stems and wash thoroughly in a large bowl of cold water. Drain and set aside.

In a large soup pot, melt a few tablespoons of butter. Add the chopped onions (or shallots). Sweat for a few minutes until translucent but not yet turning in color. Add a couple of garlic cloves and cook for a minute longer.

If using leeks, add to the onions and garlic now. Cook for about 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the potatoes and any other vegetables and immediately cover well with water or/and chicken stock (there should be enough liquid to account for the nettle leaves later). Bring to a slow simmer and cook for about 15 minutes until the vegetables are tender.

Add the nettle leaves and cook for just a few minutes, until they are wilted and soft but still bright green! (Add a little boiling water or stock to cover the leaves if necessary.)

Remove from the heat and purée the soup until unctuous using a hand mixer or, in batches, in a food processor.

Finally, a game-changing tip from my peripatetic sister — inspired by the Egyptian soup molokhia: Just before serving, smash or finely chop a couple cloves of garlic and cook in a puddle of butter in a corner of a skillet. Remove just as it turns golden and stir into the soup immediately before serving.

Garnish with crème fraîche if desired.

Fig leaf wine apéritif

1 September 2018

Some people will consider this the first weekend of autumn, but, succomb as I may to those plums and first apples, I am holding on firmly to summer for a few more weeks if I can.

I prepared this fig leaf apéritif about a week ago. As it only takes a few days to infuse, now is still the time to make a bottle for those last late summer evenings. There won’t be much of a thematic clash, September is fig season after all.

This recipe is particularly exciting for those of us who live in the North, as it just uses fig leaves. For all optimistic boreal gardeners and green city dwellers (many London gardens have a fig tree stretching its branches above the fence within reach of the sidewalk…), who monitor those trees with anxiety and trepidation, monitoring the evolution of each fruit, this is the solution.

Even if the figs never ripen there is a path straight to Provence with this apéritif.

The recipe comes from Thom Eagle via Diana Henry about two years ago. It bears repeating every year.

Fig leaf wine

10 fig leaves
One bottle (75 cl) dry white wine
160 g sugar
One giant glug of vodka

Crumple the fig leaves and place them in a clean jar with the white wine, sugar, and vodka. Stir or shake well, and leave to infuse for 3 to 5 days.

Strain out the leaves and pour into a bottle with a tight lid.

Serve over ice.


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