Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Raspberry Jam and Christmas

When we women in the Mackay family decided to de-commercialise Christmas and make home made gifts my Mum was stuck on just what to give my brothers.  Then she remembered how much they loved her raspberry jam so out came the retired preserving pan.  She made them a six pack each and my brothers would be slightly dissappointed if their gift every year wasn't raspberry jam.

Photographs of raspberry jam production by Lynn Dunn, beside  the southern Christmas Tree,
the Pohutakawa, no doubt grown in their Ribbonwood Nursery, Dunedin.
My cousin Lynn makes the same delicious, pure raspberry red, runny jam that Mum used to make.  When we lived in Dunedin she would deliver us a jar every Christmas.

My Mum Claire and Lynn's Mum Coline were  first cousins and life long friends so naturally they visited each other whenever they could.  Lynn and sister Heather were our city cousins and we their country cousins.  They would enjoy the freedom of life on the farm and we would love the experience of city life.  

From left to righty:  Heather, Me holding my brother Jamie, Lynn and my sister Kerry
in the backyard at our farm in Riversdale.
While I watched my mother make lots of raspberry jam, I have not actually made the jam myself.  To let us all into the secret of how to make a good raspberry jam I have enlisted the help of Lynn who lives in Dunedin.

"I always like to make this jam at Christmas time as the new season's berries are just becoming available. We often take a drive out to McArthurs on the Taieri Plain to buy their delicious local raspberries. It's a good excuse too, to pick up a fresh fruit icecream - another of our family traditions!

It's such an easy jam to make as it only requires a short cooking time and is self-setting - no setting agents needed. Fresh raspberries seem to deliver a better flavour and a glossier appearance.
This traditional recipe simply uses equal weights of berries and sugar.     
The fruit is cooked on a low heat for a few minutes until the berry structure has started to break down. The heat is then turned up and the sugar added slowly while maintaining a good boil.

After 3 or 4 minutes I test the consistency by putting a bit onto a cold saucer and then remove from the heat as soon as it forms a slight skin. 

We prefer the jam to be a bit runny and not too stiff.

Pour into sterilised jars and seal. It takes a couple of days to set fully."
Thank you Lynn.

I can remember the excitement when the local store called to say the raspberry order had arrived from Central Otago.  Mum would get the raspberries in a large tin pail. We knew that night we would be eating lots of raspberries sprinkled with icing sugar and accompanied by a scoop of vanilla ice cream.   Some of the raspberries would go into the freezer but the rest was used to make the year's supply of raspberry jam.  I don't remember what happened to the tin pails but I'd like to think they were returned to the growers as it was a time before throw away packaging.

Coline (left) and Claire (right)  the best of friends
and its thanks to our dear Mums that gifts of  raspberry jam have
 become a tradition at Christmas 

I am more of a marmalade and jelly maker from fruit I get for next to nothing or for free.  Lynn tells me that for 2 kilos of raspberries costing $18.50 she can make 10 jars of raspberry jam.

 If you haven't the desire to make your own jam or don't have a jam maker in the family, then the next best thing is to buy a good quality jam.  My favourites are Butlers Berries Raspberry and Redcurrant jam from Waimate, South Canterbury and Te Horo Raspberry jam from Otaki just north of Wellington. 

Humidity is not at all kind to jam makers. You need a clear sunny day.  I am inspired by Lynn's raspberry jam recipe to give it a go while in sunny Hawkes Bay over the Christmas break.  Close to good supplies of fresh raspberries and the clear air will be perfect for making jam.

Sadly, jam has far too much sugar to be a health food.  But you can eat as many fresh raspberries as you like... in fact gorge yourself on raspberries to lose weight (minus the cream mind).  There are many health benefits of this low calorie highly nutritious fruit.   Native Americans recognised the importance of berry fruit in their diet and used raspberries to remove tartar from their teeth.   

Raspberry can relieve morning sickness and if the tea is regularly consumed an easier labour could be on the cards.  If a baby is on the way in your circle of friends and family, I would recommend Artemis Pregnancy Tea that contains raspberry leaf and other herbs good for pregnancy. Sandra Claire from Artemis learnt the secrets of the beneficial plants from a Catholic nun who looked after young pregnant women in the Swiss mountains.  In Switzerland she tells me every pregnant woman gets a free prescription of this herbal tea to build uterine strength.

The only problem with raspberries is that they don't keep as long as other berries.  How to Store Raspberries gives you some really good tips on how to make them last which could be helpful for those buying berries ahead of time for Christmas Day.
Berries collected from my sister Kerry's garden
set against one of her many nativity scenes around the cottage

For my readers in the southern hemisphere here's wishing you all a very merry berry Christmas.
And for those in the northern hemisphere, perhaps you can recall the flavour of summer berries through a jar of raspberry jam.  Merry Christmas and happy holidays wherever you may be.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

A Farewell Dinner to a Villa on River Road

Some of you will have experienced an emotional good-bye to a home that you have loved, that holds the memories of your children growing up and the pain of renovation.  Usually the move is made easier by the thought of another family taking over the house to create a new set of memories.  How much harder it is to have to leave knowing that a demolition squad will erase that house forever.

In Christchurch this is just what our dear friends Jan and Wal have had to face.  A month ago Peter and I spent a special weekend in celebration of a fine old lady sitting on the banks of the Avon on River Road.  It was to be her farewell weekend.

Jan is a wonderful cook who will mark any occasion with a special meal.  Wal is the modern day hunter and gatherer, sourcing the fish, meats, vegetables and wine. On this occasion the gathering included a whole duck and a whole Moki.  What a wonderful team they are.   How many couples do you know that catered their own wedding?  Well Jan and Wal did.

A long table was set up in a spacious elegant room that reminds us of the style and craftmanship that went into quality villas after the turn of last century.  The most stunning feature is the ornate plaster ceiling with sunflowers.

Outside the real flowers on show were Sweet Peas. While Jan has given up gardening around the River Road property, the sweet peas were the one flower she grew and picked. I don't know of anyone who doesn't love these dainty, sweet perfumed pea flowers that herald the approach of summer.

While out smelling the sweet peas, another delicious smell took my attention.  Wal was smoking the fish that was to be the entree for our special dinner.  

As Wal is a keen fisherman, he finds it worthwhile to invest in a good stainless steel smoker.  Trout and salmon are the usual guests in the smoker but today he went to his favourite fish monger and purchased a whole Moki.

The architect of the meal is Jan who could have had a career in a commercial kitchen. She's not just a good cook, she's strategic and organised. Jan plans a menu that can be prepared ahead of time.  When the guests arrive she has everything ready resulting in minimal time away from guests.   And I don't know how she does it, but she manages to have a cleared bench at the time of serving a meal.

Wal's smoked fish was presented on a large platter with water biscuits as the entree - simple and delicious.

Smoked Moki - simple and delicious!
The main course also appeared to be a simple dish ... but looks are deceptive.

Jan took four evenings after work to produce a dish called Cassoulet featuring a whole duck cooked three ways, beans, lamb and sausage.

Mark Bittman who writes for the New York Times describes this dish beautifully and gives you the recipe if you want to give it go. How to Conquer the Cassoulet   It involves boning the duck to remove the breasts, making a stock out of the carcass and keeping the duck fat to produce a Duck Confit.
Next you cook the lamb and beans, followed by the sausage and seared duck breasts Whole Duck Cassoulet.

Dinner guest Matt is giving the Cassoulet the smell test - verdict...
smells fantastic!

The final touch requires heating up cassoulet, covering with breadcrumbs and parsley, then bake in the oven until golden brown.

Jan served the cassoulet with a big pile of fresh asparagus and a crusty bread baton from the superb bakery on Victoria Street called Vics.
Jan used baby green lima beans in the cassoulet.

I wanted to taste the sauce first so I dipped the bread into the juice and what a rich flavour I was rewarded with.

Cassoulet comes from France. It's humble origin as a traditional peasant bean stew has been claimed by different cities in the south west.  While other traditional dishes have disappeared, Cassoulet has an almost iconic status in France.   Each region, city or home has it's own particular recipe ... but they all contain beans, meat and usually a duck confit.  Chefs debate the importance of keeping to the traditional Cassoulet versus making a version that better suits the current time, i.e. lighter, and less time consuming.

Carcassonne chef Jean-Claude Rodriguez writes "Cassoulet lives on, because it requires patience, respect, and it requires a lot of love.”

Yes all of us around that table that night knew just how well loved we were ...but wait there was more.  A large wooden board made from the top of a wine barrel was brought to the table carrying dessert.

Jackie's Rustic Semolina Lemon and Rosemary cake in the foreground.

Jan has an appreciation of good cakes and is an excellent cake maker.  She is famous in our household for her Simnel Cake (a dark fruitcake with marsipan running through the centre like a rich vein of gold.)

On this occasion she decided to outsource the dessert and asked Jackie who was well qualified for the task. Jackie used to own and bake for her local cafe until the earthquakes destroyed their building and business.

A great way of presenting crackers or biscuits on a platter - a layer of kitchen
paper and brown paper tied up with twine.
The presentation was as lovely as the selection of edibles.   There were two cakes with home made Mascarpone, three cheeses with walnut oatcakes and a bowl of dried figs marinated in orange syrup.

Rustic Semolina Lemon and Rosemary Cake

The  lemon cake was truly delicious - lemony with a great texture.  Both Jan and I thought it worthwhile to hunt out the recipe.   It's Italian in origin and they sometimes slice it and have with coffee for breakfast.    
This cake would also be delicious with lemon curd 

My first attempt at making this cake was a bit of a disaster due to a combination of my oven "Mr Ferocious" and a limited time frame.  So, second time round, I thought I would halve the recipe and put it into a tin that would cook the centre before it burns on the outside.  I have given the ingredients for the loaf sized cake, but if you want to make an impressive small but tall cake like the one Jackie created in the picture above, just double the mix below.

1/2 cup Semolina
1 cup plain flour
1/4 cup coarsely ground cornmeal (I used polenta)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp of baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
grated zest of one lemon
3 Tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp finely chopped Rosemary
1/2 cup olive oil
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp lemon extract (I used 1tsp Lemoncello liqueur but I think the lemon extract would make it more lemony like Jackie's cake)
1/2 cup thick Greek yoghurt

Preheat the oven to 175C.

Line and grease a large loaf tin.
Put the three flours together with baking powder, soda and salt in one bowl.

In a mixer or bowl mix together the sugar lemon zest and rosemary.

Add the oil to the sugar and mix on medium speed.
 Add the eggs one at a time, then the extract or lemon liquor and lemon juice, and beat until well mixed.

With a metal spoon, fold in half the flour mixture into the eggs, then half the yogurt until mixed.

Then add the rest of the flour mixture and yogurt and mix just until blended.

Pour the batter into the loaf tin, and spread evenly with the back of a spoon, then bake for about 1 hour, or until a cake tester comes out clean.
 Cool the cake for 10 minutes, then carefully run a knife around the pan and turn it over onto a plate.
 Cool to room temperature before slicing.

 I presented the cake as a dessert with marinated strawberries, lemon curd and mascarpone with Lemoncello liqueur.

The heart of the city of Christchurch has been flattened but there are early signs of the city's revival.  It's heartening to see some of the cleared land that once housed businesses being given over to wildflower plantings.  This is organised by Greening the Rubble Trust - a group a of people wanting to create a better place for the people of Christchurch now. 

In other regions of New Zealand we can all too easily forget the plight of the people of Christchurch.  A visit to that city is a big reminder and you leave feeling an admiration for the spirit and courage of it's people.

Signs of a community working together with a
Community garden on Fitzgerald Avenue
Our weekend's final stop was a visit to Pomeroys Historic Brewery on Kilmore Street for a taste of boutique brewery beers from the south.  Pomeroys has managed to stay operating after the earthquakes and it's an important meeting place for locals.  

Peter giving a toast to Wal (centre) and Jan( right).

Jan and Wal have now moved into their new home across the river where land is stable.  It's not as grand as the well loved villa on River Road but it has what both of them want - a safe and cosy home in a welcoming local community.

One thing I know for sure is that no matter where Jan and Wal are living we will be treated to great  company, good craic and wonderful new food experiences around their dining table.