Autumn vegetables

Four cool ingredients from the last month.
From the top -

- Beach rosehips (Rosa rugosa) from the autumn, previously frozen, and smelling of kiwi, banana and tomato. Nothing like roses.

- Cauliflower - One of the best things there is, in my world. To be pot roasted with hay and birch bark

- A potato variety I can’t remember the name of, but included because of it’s jazzy purple streaks.

- One of the many varieties of kale around at the moment - this one is biodynamic ‘seaweed’ kale from Brambletye Farm in East Sussex

South London Quinces

Two varieties of quince grown in the gardens of houses within half a mile of each other in South East London. Both are intensely sweet-smelling, the small one with a bright and almost citrussy note and the big scarred one with en ever-so-slight whiff of fermentation, which makes it smell something more like sea buckthorn. The fluff on the big quince must have quite a bit of yeast trapped in it, more so than the smooth one, and I will scrape it off this and a few others to start a quince mead.

Two varieties of quince grown in the gardens of houses within half a mile of each other in South East London. Both are intensely sweet-smelling, the small one with a bright and almost citrussy note and the big scarred one with en ever-so-slight whiff of fermentation, which makes it smell something more like sea buckthorn. The fluff on the big quince must have quite a bit of yeast trapped in it, more so than the smooth one, and I will scrape it off this and a few others to start a quince mead.

Grains Grains Grains (I)

Spelt grains 
 Soaked in water for two days then dried a bit and fried in salted butter until they begin to burn. They are perfectly crunchy without being tough, hugely savoury and the darker grains have a similar taste to, and role as the intermittent burnt bits in popcorn, which is one of my all-time favourite ultra-specific niche flavours. 
 It takes a very short amount of time to devour a bowl. The time management of this snack could be improved

Spelt grains

Soaked in water for two days then dried a bit and fried in salted butter until they begin to burn. They are perfectly crunchy without being tough, hugely savoury and the darker grains have a similar taste to, and role as the intermittent burnt bits in popcorn, which is one of my all-time favourite ultra-specific niche flavours.

It takes a very short amount of time to devour a bowl. The time management of this snack could be improved

New Dawn Trader

Tres Hombres image from New Dawn Traders

Cultures going on a voyage

Here are two of the three jars of starter cultures that I gave to Dr. Lucy Gilliam to take aboard the Tres Hombres, a 32 metre brigantine which set sail yesterday from Holland on a seven month voyage trace the Atlantic trade routes. The project New Dawn Trader has been following this route since 2009, hoping to explore the possibilities and ramifications of trading by sail power, all the while operating and living as sustainably as possible. 

Lucy will share the duty of cooking for the 20-strong crew from a tiny galley kitchen. I gave her three starters. The first is a sourdough culture, started in february with the yeast from two bottles of Kernel IPA and with the subsequent addition of wild yeast. The second jar contains a kombucha starter, born in Denmark aboard the good ship Nordic Food Lab with birch sap and a starter, and fed on Pu’er tea and raw cane sugar since April. The third jar (not pictured) is a ginger bug started in July.

The ship’s route takes her first to Norway, then over Scotland and Ireland before turning south for Lisbon. She will then cross the Atlantic to Brazil, and head north to the Caribbean then back east, and home,  via the Azores.

The project is still seeking funding for various activities, you can see what and how to contribute on IndieGoGo. Follow them on Twitter here, and you can read Lucy’s blog here.

Beetroot/Wood

Yellow Beetroots

1. Beets in a pressure cooker with bay, butter, mulberry vinegar, ground ginger, water and toasted hogweed seeds. Cooked at 15psi for 45 minutes

2. Cherrywood sheets soaking in homemade mulberry vinegar.

3. After being roasted at 180°C for an hour on infused wood sheets and brushed with rendered roasted oxtail fat.

5. Wood beets Mk. 1

Fermenting Vine Leaves

Grape vine leaves  (Vitis vinifera - cultivar unknown)  
 At  Blanch & Shock , we have been experimenting with leaves from fruit trees recently, most notably fig leaves, which we have been making into tinctures and infusions. I picked some vineleaves from between the lethal tendrils of razorwire at  Edible Eastside  in Birmingham, thinking about the use of the leaves in   Sarma  ( or  Dolma,  depending where you are) in which leaves are stuffed with rice and/or meat and boiled or steamed. I wasn’t planning on stuffing them necessarily, just seeing whether they could be encouraged to express a good flavour. It being the middle of summer, the leaves were quite dry and tough, and I wanted to avoid boiling them for hours as tradition dictated. Instead I left them submerged in a 5% salt brine with a sprig of bay for five weeks, hoping they would soften somewhat. After five weeks, they smelled good - lactic and vegetal and a little bitter, but were still tough and sort of crinkly. So they went into white wine vinegar, with the later addition of some Greek Yoghurt whey. In this solution they now sit, stubbornly refusing to become soft, but tasting great.  
 Tannins have the effect of keeping lactically-fermented pickles crisp, and  this blog post  contains some more information about their role in fermentation. Given the large amount of tannins in leaves, and later in the grapes that will follow, it could be that these leaves will never get soft enough to be served as they are, but could possibly still be wrapped around a stuffing and steamed or boiled. Incidentally the pickling brine, especially since the addition of vinegar and whey, has become kind of delicious, reminiscent of the taste of  dolma.  It may well find itself forming the basis of a new pickling brine for something else.

Grape vine leaves (Vitis vinifera - cultivar unknown)

At Blanch & Shock, we have been experimenting with leaves from fruit trees recently, most notably fig leaves, which we have been making into tinctures and infusions. I picked some vineleaves from between the lethal tendrils of razorwire at Edible Eastside in Birmingham, thinking about the use of the leaves in Sarma (or Dolma, depending where you are) in which leaves are stuffed with rice and/or meat and boiled or steamed. I wasn’t planning on stuffing them necessarily, just seeing whether they could be encouraged to express a good flavour. It being the middle of summer, the leaves were quite dry and tough, and I wanted to avoid boiling them for hours as tradition dictated. Instead I left them submerged in a 5% salt brine with a sprig of bay for five weeks, hoping they would soften somewhat. After five weeks, they smelled good - lactic and vegetal and a little bitter, but were still tough and sort of crinkly. So they went into white wine vinegar, with the later addition of some Greek Yoghurt whey. In this solution they now sit, stubbornly refusing to become soft, but tasting great. 

Tannins have the effect of keeping lactically-fermented pickles crisp, and this blog post contains some more information about their role in fermentation. Given the large amount of tannins in leaves, and later in the grapes that will follow, it could be that these leaves will never get soft enough to be served as they are, but could possibly still be wrapped around a stuffing and steamed or boiled. Incidentally the pickling brine, especially since the addition of vinegar and whey, has become kind of delicious, reminiscent of the taste of dolma. It may well find itself forming the basis of a new pickling brine for something else.

Corn Cob Charcoal

Sweetcorn

English-grown sweetcorn seems to have a very brief season, given our normal weather, but this summer’s sun has brought forth an abundance, and with this abundance comes a lot of potential waste. 

Inspired by Dan Barber of Blue Hill in New York, who makes charcoal from all sorts of things that would end up thrown away (bones, lobster shells &c.) I decided that the cobs from all the sweetcorn should become fuel for future fires. Wrapping each cob in tin foil to prevent them from oxidising and disappearing, I baked them for about five hours at 200C.

I didn’t go far enough, as the slight amber colour in the picture shows, but they smell awesome when heated up again and I plan to grill over them if they can hold at an appreciable heat.

The husks are another useful product. In Mexican tamales, they are used to wrap masa dough tamales before steaming, but dried, they make an awesome smoking fuel. I’ve ground them to use in a Smoking Gun to smoke raw sweetcorn, and they make a great amber-coloured sweet smelling stock in the pressure cooker.

Josh's Apple Tree

Stunted apple

21 years ago, when I was ten years old, I planted a pip from an Cox apple bought from Safeway supermarket. My father, who has planted over 5000 trees in his life, prophesied doom - these apples, he said, are designed for eating, not growing and have been altered by scientists. They will not amount to much. Ever deaf to hyperbolic warning, I persisted, germinating the seed and leaving it with my dad to reluctantly nurture. 

I visit the tree, labelled with a shiny black plaque “Malus - Joshua’s apple” and planted amongst twenty or so apple, pear and hawthorn trees, a few times a year. For seventeen years, the tree grew bolshily up inside the protective tube, never causing the tube the slightest bit of strain and producing but a handful of sickly, wrinkled leaves. Then, in it’s eighteenth year, long after it’s fate had been accepted and we had moved on, it crept over the edge of the tube, with a pathetic sort of flourish, blinking in the light that would eventually accelerate it’s growth.

After this minor, if long-awaited triumph, the tree blossomed, at least in the context of it’s stunted existence, and has been producing healthier looking leaves, spreading it’s canopy to escape the competition from the ‘normal’ trees around it and in year nineteen produced a crabapple, no bigger than a fifty pence piece. I hadn’t the heart to eat it - it had been nineteen years in the making and would have probably been unpalatably sour and astringent. 

This year, there are two apples, slightly bigger than before, and the top of the tree stands at nearly 5’6”, still 7 inches shorter than me, standing as proud testament to the perseverance of a tiny seed from an apple produced intensively to supply a huge supermarket chain with high-yield, fast grown and gas-ripened fruit

Figs

Figs, and their leaves

After Blanch & Shock's recent forays into making tinctures, in particular a wicked fig leaf tincture made by Mike Knowlden, I picked some leaves from a tree in my brother’s garden in Gloucestershire. Having recently bemoaned the power of the British climate to fully ripen figs, I was surprised and amazed to find hundreds of the fruits, fully ripe, of which some were probably the best I have ever tasted. Since they wouldn’t travel well, I ate as many as I could, and contented myself with a bag full of leaves. Since the freakily sunny weather is over, and I am statistically unlikely to find as good a fig from this tree again, I will concentrate on using leaves for the incredible aroma they possess.

Kombucha Mats

Kombucha SCOBY mats

(S)ymbiotic (C)olony (O)f (B)acteria and (Y)east,

Mat - a polysaccharide biofilm matrix formed by the colony.

Both scobys come from the same source, a Birch Sap Mother from Nordic Food Lab. They are just over three months old. They have started to outgrow their jars, and so I have been sending pieces to other people who can nurture them and start their own kombucha obsessions.

The third image shows how the structure formed, layer by layer, over the last three months - generally speaking, a new feeding produces a new mat on the surface of the liquid which eventually joins up with the layers below, sometimes compacting into a homogenous mass. The furthest right round disk in the top image was around 1.5” thick before I sliced it horizontally.

These kombuchas have been fed on Pu’er tea, sucrose and honey. Sadly the ethereal, barely-there aroma of birch sap has vanished into the proverbial ether, but while the flavour exhibits nothing of it’s origins, its complexity is ever-increasing. I am using them as bases for all the other kombuchas I’m looking after, including bottles of strawberry, elderflower, gooseberry, lingonberry and cherry.

Lavender Tincture

Lavender 
 I left four sprigs of lavender in rectified spirit (79% ABV) for five days. Somehow the purple flowers resulted in a bright green infusion and then turned brown. It smells strongly of lavender, despite looking like something completely different

Lavender

I left four sprigs of lavender in rectified spirit (79% ABV) for five days. Somehow the purple flowers resulted in a bright green infusion and then turned brown. It smells strongly of lavender, despite looking like something completely different

Onion Flower

Allium flowers

The white flower is on the top of a metre-long onion stalk, picked at Edible Eastside in Birmingham. It’s destined for yoghurt whey brine in which it will pickle and lacto-ferment.

The pink flower is from a equally long, but less fat garlic stalk, for sale at La Fromagerie in Marylebone. I didn’t buy it.

Green Elderberries

Green Elderberries

I climbed the elder tree in the back yard on three separate missions, armed with a deformed coat hanger, to harvest green elderberries. I have just over a kilo, which are vacuum packed with Maldon salt (5% by weight) - as they ferment they will detoxify, lose their bright colour, and start looking a lot like capers. After a couple of weeks, I’ll pack them into jars with spirit vinegar, infused with the elderflowers from the same tree, which I bottled about 6 weeks ago.

Gooseberry drink

Gooseberry Drink  500g     Slightly knackered gooseberries 15g        Green tea, steeped for half an hour in 200g tepid water 75g       Ginger/Turmeric root ‘bug’ (live starter)              A branch of Douglas Fir tree, dried 10g       Powdered sugar 60g      Organic cane sugar 1g         Wine yeast SN19 10g       Pine shoot infused honey  Cook the gooseberries, the powdered sugar, the pine shoot honey and the douglas fir in a vacuum sealed bag at 41°C (105.8°F) for four hours, squeezing the fruit inside the bag after two hours. Leave to infuse for twelve hours. Crush the fruit over a sieve and collect the gooey gooseberry concentrate. Simmer the skins, seeds, and fir needles in 250g water for half an hour. Cool and strain.   In a clean bowl, whisk together the gooseberry goo and stock, the cane sugar, the ginger and turmeric bug, the wine yeast and the cold-brewed tea. Add to a clean glass bottle. Add a cap of double layered cheesecloth held on with rubber bands.  Stick on a shelf, and wait for a while (time TBC)   

Gooseberry Drink

500g     Slightly knackered gooseberries
15g        Green tea, steeped for half an hour in 200g tepid water
75g       Ginger/Turmeric root ‘bug’ (live starter)
             A branch of Douglas Fir tree, dried
10g       Powdered sugar
60g      Organic cane sugar
1g         Wine yeast SN19
10g       Pine shoot infused honey

Cook the gooseberries, the powdered sugar, the pine shoot honey and the douglas fir in a vacuum sealed bag at 41°C (105.8°F) for four hours, squeezing the fruit inside the bag after two hours. Leave to infuse for twelve hours. Crush the fruit over a sieve and collect the gooey gooseberry concentrate. Simmer the skins, seeds, and fir needles in 250g water for half an hour. Cool and strain. 

In a clean bowl, whisk together the gooseberry goo and stock, the cane sugar, the ginger and turmeric bug, the wine yeast and the cold-brewed tea. Add to a clean glass bottle. Add a cap of double layered cheesecloth held on with rubber bands.

Stick on a shelf, and wait for a while (time TBC)

 

Hot Stuff

Gadgets 
 For the last year, I have been using a blowtorch to char wood, meringues, marshmallows, and anything else that could benefit from an extremely quick blast of intense heat (theoretically up to about 1970 °C (3578  °F)     , assuming no heat loss). While this can be extremely useful, it means effectively spraying propellant onto food, and hoping that it combusts efficiently. Butane, although less evil smelling than horrible farty propane, still has a chemical whiff about it, and I hereby renounce it as a way to blast food.  
  The alternative ? A heat gun, which plugs into the wall and produces a thin jet of super-hot air.   Happening to walk by Maplins during their clearance sale, I picked this 2000W model for 15 pounds. It’s for stripping paint, bending plastics and defrosting frozen water pipes. It has two heat settings, 300  °  C and 600  °  C   - both respectable cooking temperatures. As is often the case, buying tools marketed for construction is way cheaper than buying products designed for chefs (my laser pointed temperature probe cost £15 bought from a DIY supplier and would have cost me at least double from a kitchen equipment store).  
  Although I have no specific plans for it, I’m sure it won’t be long before I find something that would usefully take a hefty punch of combustion-less dry heat.

Gadgets

For the last year, I have been using a blowtorch to char wood, meringues, marshmallows, and anything else that could benefit from an extremely quick blast of intense heat (theoretically up to about 1970°C (3578°F) , assuming no heat loss). While this can be extremely useful, it means effectively spraying propellant onto food, and hoping that it combusts efficiently. Butane, although less evil smelling than horrible farty propane, still has a chemical whiff about it, and I hereby renounce it as a way to blast food.

The alternative ? A heat gun, which plugs into the wall and produces a thin jet of super-hot air. Happening to walk by Maplins during their clearance sale, I picked this 2000W model for 15 pounds. It’s for stripping paint, bending plastics and defrosting frozen water pipes. It has two heat settings, 300°C and 600°C - both respectable cooking temperatures. As is often the case, buying tools marketed for construction is way cheaper than buying products designed for chefs (my laser pointed temperature probe cost £15 bought from a DIY supplier and would have cost me at least double from a kitchen equipment store).

Although I have no specific plans for it, I’m sure it won’t be long before I find something that would usefully take a hefty punch of combustion-less dry heat.