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
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.
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
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.
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, 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 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.
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.
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.