What is it with pears? Bite into a pear from the tree and its like a rock. But, take it inside, keep it warm, and in time it transforms into a luscious, soft, juicy eating experience. Not too much time, mind, or it will turn into a brown mushy mess.
Pears are lovely cooked. I discovered some sweet Winter Nelis pears at the Otago Farmers Market. This late season variety of pear is the perfect shape and size for my proposed poached pear recipe, a deliciously simple dessert.
Winter Nelis…she may be an ugly sister in the pear family with her russet skin and dumpy appearance, but her sweet buttery flesh and reputation as an excellent cooker made me choose her over the more elegant pears on show.
One of the treasurers of the Otago Farmers Market are the orchardists that get up absurdly early on a Saturday morning to travel 2-3 hours to offer market goers in the city of Dunedin the sweet fruits produced by their Central Otago sunshine.
One vendor I make a point of visiting up on the railway platform is Stan Randle from Harwarden orchard. Stan runs a 12 hectare orchard at Earnscleugh Road, near Alexandra, and offers spray free fruit.
He often has other produce for sale from his 12 hectare property and I spied a selection of honey for sale.
Chatting to Stan, he proudly told me that his “Three Maidens” clover honey is named after his three grand daughters, Tyla, Brie and Shelby. How lucky they are, not only to have the honey named after them, but to be given the experience and benefits of their grand parents growing food in a natural way.
Honey Poached Pears
2 cups water
1 cup white dry wine
8 Tbsp of honey
4 Tbsp quince jelly
piece of lemon peel shaved with vegetable peeler
Juice of a lemon – first to cover freshly peeled pears to stop browning and then remainder added to poaching liquid
Optional: you can add a cinnamon stick or a piece of ginger as an additional flavouring. As I used quince jelly along with the honey I wanted the quince flavour to shine through so didn’t add other flavourings, but you can be brave and experiment.
If using a stronger flavoured honey than the clover honey, I suggest perhaps using less honey and add a little sugar. Brown sugar helps to make a rich colour to your poaching liquid. I have used Creme de Cassis (black currant liqueur) to create a darker red liquid.
Choose a pot that will fit the number of pears you want to poach. It’s best to create a snug fit in the pot, as the more pears the less poaching liquid you’ll need. I managed to cook ten small Winter Nelis pears.
Assemble the poaching liquid of water, wine, honey/jelly, and the lemon zest.
Place the poaching liquid on the stove and heat to a simmer. Put the peeled pears into a bowl that has the juice of a lemon and make sure the skinned pear is coated with lemon juice.
Now gently place the whole pears into the pot of poaching liquid with the aid of a slotted spoon. The liquid should cover the pears – add extra water if required. I usually drain in any remaining lemon juice into the liquid as well.
To keep the pears submerged cover the pot with a sheet of baking paper and weigh down with a smaller sized pot lid or plate. I find the pot lid is easier to get out than a plate because of the lid handle.
If you don’t weigh down the pears they will naturally bob up to the top and their tops could discolour.
Use a fork or skewer to test if cooked. If easily pierced then they are cooked. With a slotted spoon take out the pears leaving the poaching liquid in the pot.
Turn up the heat to make the syrup thicker by reducing the water content with a rolling boil. The liquid doesn’t have to be that thick but try to reduce to a syrup consistency.
These pears can simply be enjoyed with a good ice cream or cream.
One of my favourite winter desserts are poached pears served with a warm slice of rich gingerbread.
I served Stan’s Winter Nelis pears with almond biscuits and a dollop of organic Mascarpone cheese. Made by Italian artisan cheese makers from Auckland, Il Casaro, the mascarpone and their fresh Mozzarella were two treats I brought to share with our friends from the South.
When I asked if I could take his photo for my blog posting, Stan told me about his favourite blog, Stone Soup from Australia. I checked it out and I agree blogger Jules Clancy has created a great read. There are lots of quick and healthy cooking ideas and it’s worth checking out.
With Christmas just a couple of months away (yes hard to believe but it is) its time for me to think about what edible gift I could make for family and friends. A simple recipe I discovered transforms ordinary olives in brine into big flavoured olives by roasting in oil and other flavours.
Roasted Olives with Rosemary, Garlic and Orange
Makes enough to fill a 6 cup jar.
1 kg olives in brine (don’t use pitted olives but you can use any variety you like)
1 bulb of garlic – broken into cloves, with the skins left on
3 stalks of rosemary
Generous pinch of ground black pepper
about 500ml or 2 cups of extra virgin olive oil
Peel and juice of 2 oranges, peel cut into strips
First step is to rinse the brine off the olives and put into a large saucepan. I used a large wok shaped pot.
Next add the garlic, orange peel cut into strips, and rosemary.
Add the olive oil, pepper and bring up to a very gentle simmer and simmer for about ten minutes.
Now add the freshly squeezed orange juice.
Simmer again and continue to cook until the garlic is soft. The olives are supposed to be done when they start to wrinkle – about another 20 minutes.
As I chose larger kalamata olives it took about an hour and they still weren’t wrinkled, but the orange and garlic was certainly soft so it was time for bottling.
The jars need to be sterilised. The olives made a smaller jar to give away as a gift and a large preserving jar with the olives that I put in the fridge to bring out over the Christmas period. They will keep for a couple of months.
It could be the perfect value added gift to make this Christmas because after enjoying the olives the remaining flavoured oil can be used in salad dressings or drizzled over bruschetta.
Traditional English muffins are small yeast breads; flattish circles with a gritty surface, torn apart rather than cut and usually toasted. But perhaps they should be Traditional American muffins - not English muffins.
To tear apart it's best to first cut a small slit with a knife then use your fingers to gently tear in half. That rough surface makes craters for butter to soak in.
It's true muffins were adapted from the United Kingdom griddle-baked breads like the crumpet and bannock, but the English muffin we recognise today was first made in the USA and exported back to Britain.
This mix makes plenty of muffins in one hit and some can be frozen for another day.
In my August posting Moofins - Nana's Bran Muffins, I revealed today's cake-like muffins were adapted from the original yeasted muffin cooked on the stove top. This sparked my interest to make a home made version of the Traditional English muffin and coincided with finding"The Bread Bible" by American bread baker Beth Hensperger in a second hand bookshop. I now had a good recipe to follow...
Traditional English Muffins
(Makes 12 -15, 9-10 cm or 3-4 inch muffins)
¼ cup warm water
1 tbsp active dry yeast
pinch of sugar
4-4½ cups of high grade flour
2 tsp salt
1 large egg at room temperature
1¼ cups warm milk*
2 tbsp butter melted
½ cup currants (optional)
¼ cup of semolina or cornmeal for sprinkling when rolling out
*for those of you who are fermenters producing milk kefir, I replaced 1 cup of the milk with kefir but didn't heat it as it can easily separate. I did heat ¼ cup of milk with the melted butter to ensure the mix was warm. The idea of heating is to ensure the environment is warm for the yeast to activate quickly. I did take the kefir out of the fridge to come up to room temperature before using.
Pour the warm water into a small bowl. Sprinkle the yeast on top with a pinch of sugar, stir and leave in a warm place until bubbles appear - about 10 minutes.
Get the yeast to start to react before adding flour. You can see the small bubbles appearing on the surface and this indicates activity.
In a large bowl place 2 cups of the flour and 2 tsp of salt and form a well in the centre of the flour. Break in the egg, add milk (or kefir), butter and yeast mixture and beat until creamy, for about 2 minutes.
Add all the liquid ingredients before mixing.
Beth used a whisk for this first process but I used a wooden spoon. (This part can be processed with a cake mixer).
Currants are optional but they are one of my favourite dried fruits as they add a tang as well as a sweet hit. Experiment with other spices too. I thought next time I might use dried barberries that will deliver more tang than sweet.
Add the remaining flour, half a cup at a time along with the currants (if using) and mix with a wooden spoon until a soft dough forms that just clears the side of the bowl.
The dough will be rather sticky but at this point just add a tablespoon of flour at a time. Remember the softer the dough, the lighter the muffin.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and springy - at least 3 minutes. (If using a cake mixer switch to a dough attachment to knead for 2-3 minutes making sure the dough springs back when pressed - you may wish to do the final kneading by hand.)
When a dough has been kneaded enough it has a silken appearance.
Wash clean the bowl and add some olive oil in the base. Turn the dough once over to cover with oil and cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot for the dough to double in size. This may take 1½ hours.
You can see here the work the yeast has done rising the dough - before and after shot.
Once the dough has risen, first step is to preheat an electric frypan or the oven with a pizza stone to 180°C. If you want to be authentic then heat a griddle or cast iron pan on the stove top to a medium heat. The pan will be hot enough when you land a drop of water in the pan and it sizzles and dances across the surface.
Lightly sprinkle the work surface with the semolina or cornmeal. This will prevent the soft dough from sticking and will give that distinctive grainy coating to the muffin. Gently deflate the dough and roll out to about 1.5 cm or ½ inch depth. Sprinkle the top as well to prevent the rolling pin sticking to the dough.
I experimented with a couple of biscuit cutters and a preserving jar lid to cut out the muffins. I quite like the scalloped edges of the larger biscuit cutter.
All the trimmings put together and roll out again. Cover the made muffins with a cloth or if its really warm in the kitchen put them in the fridge until ready to go on the skillet or oven to avoid them getting too puffy. Beth didn't suggest the pizza stone - it was something I thought may work as the griddle or girdle in Wales was originally stone.
In a cast iron pan on the stove top you need to cook them for about 10 minutes each side but keep an eagle eye on them to avoid too much browning. I wanted to avoid the muffins being doughy on the inside so after the first couple on the stove top I put the rest into the oven on the pizza stone.
Muffins in the oven on my red ceramic pizza stone.
I didn't spray the stone with oil but I did the pan where I finished them off to give them that brown crust. It may be a cheats way but I did ensure the interior of the muffin was cooked without the exterior being too crusty.
This is the first one cooked completely on the stove top. It's a little too crusty I think.
The early American settlers didn't have the luxury of using an oven when they began making this bread. I'm sure they got very good at ensuring the griddle was not too hot so that the muffins cooked through without burning on the outside. Today we are so often time poor, so baking that takes too long doesn't get made. Using a pizza stone in the oven and finishing off on the top I think is the best compromise.
Muffins baked on a pizza stone and then browned on the stove top.
The muffins once cooked should be cooled on a wire rack before pulling apart and eating fresh or toasting.
Best served straight from the toaster and buttered. The currants are optional but having them there adds little hits of sweetness without having the bread sweet. I also served the muffin with a poached egg and it was a delicious combination.
It takes a little effort to make these muffins but I was very pleased with the final outcome. They are easy and are far better than the shop bought versions. I have enough muffins to freeze for another time or to give away as an edible gift.
I now call them Traditional Muffins not English Muffins, plus I have a feeling making these delightful breads will be an ongoing tradition in the Hayden household.
On a warm spring day, there is nothing better than a simple salad for lunch that you have just picked and put together in the garden. Eating outside somehow makes everything taste better.
I did this recently with my friend Sinead at our community garden as a practical way of helping her identify weeds and flowers she could add to her salads. Using weeds and flowers will make salad greens go further, will produce a salad with more eye appeal, and will deliver plant diversity to your table. Even if you need to buy the basic salad green, additional vital minerals and micro-nutrients (as well as flavours and textures) can be added by collecting weeds and garden flowers to add to your salad.
Sinead working her plot at Sanctuary Community Garden.
I selected curly endive as my base salad green but you can also use lettuce or baby spinach. In Auckland we can have lettuce ready at this time of the year but in the south, in early spring, I would rely on other not so well known salad greens that can take cooler growing conditions like curly endive, miner's lettuce or corn salad.
Miners lettuce is in the same family as purslane.
Miner's lettuce Claytonia perfoliata is also called winter purslane as the leaves have the same slightly succulent texture as purslane. Miners lettuce got it's name because early gold miners would plant it wherever they set up camp. Mineers lettuce would provide them with much needed vitamin C at a time of year when there were little other fresh greens available. It's a plant that's wild at heart, grows quickly and will easily self sow. While not a perennial, as such, it is a good addition to a perennial kitchen garden because if allowed to seed, it will pop up every winter.
Kings Seeds have the seeds of Corn Salad Verte de Cambrai which is a traditional French variety. In France corn salad is one of most popular salad greens. The variety I am growing above is also from Kings Seeds but is a larger leafed variety called Dutch Large Seeded 3190 in the organic seed range.
Corn salad Valerianella locusta (also called lambs lettuce or Mâche) is another winter early spring salad green that is mild flavoured like lettuce. It forms a small rosette, and you can harvest the whole plant or simply pick off leaves allowing more to grow. This year I have grown them really well in a pot, doing better than those in the garden, probably because they don't have to compete with larger plants so it's a good option for apartment dwellers.
Once the green salad base of curly endive and corn salad has been gathered, we collect and identify weed additions for the salad; chickweed, creeping speedwell, nipplewort and dead nettle. These spring weeds I have identified in my previous posting Mahuru Goddess of Spring Weed Saladsin September.
Scrambling speedwell with its tiny blue flowers is an edible weed pictured growing in and around calendula.
I then collected a number of spring flowers to add colour and extra flavour to our salad. Where to start when considering what flowers to use?
Rocket flowers are tiny but when you look at them close up they are rather beautiful with their purple veining on the white petal. So all is not lost when you see your rocket beginning to flower.
It's important to correctly identify anything you eat, but you are pretty safe to use any vegetable plant that has gone to flower. Rocket goes to flower very quickly and the peppery flowers are good to eat. Broccoli, kale, mustards and mizuna all produce little four leaved yellow flowers that can add colour and a mustardy flavour of varying degrees. In my garden plot I have pretty pink blooms of a radish that hadn't been harvested so we added these to our salad mix.
These delicate pink flowers carry the flavour of a radish with them. Leave some to turn into seed pods because these are really good in salads.
The other group that are usually pretty safe are herbs. The flowers often have a more intense flavour than the herb foliage.
Whenever I set up a garden calendula are the first flowers I plant because they flower almost year round.
Calendula officinalis is a herb I use in both salads and cooked dishes nearly year round. It's a great little flower to have growing in your garden. It's a perennial but is often treated as an annual and if let to seed will self sow readily. The flowers can be bright yellow or orange and have a yellow centre or a black centre. I pull off the petals to add a rich yellow to the green salad. Using Calendula petals does more than just add colour, there are nutritional and medicinal benefits for the digestive tract, liver and gall bladder.
Borage is also known as Starflower due to the five pointed petals in a star shape. They certainly aren't star gazers, as they tend to hang their heads down. If it's a sunny day you can hear where the borage is by the buzz of the bees.
Blue is an intense colour that is noticeable in a salad of green. The blue herb Borage, Borago officinalis , with its bright blue star shaped flowers is a real favourite of mine, as well as with the bees in the garden. It's supposed to be a good companion plant for legumes, strawberries and tomatoes although don't interplant as borage does get quite large and gangly as it gets older. It's best planted at the end of a row or in a corner near the plants you want it to companion. If transplanting get the seedlings into the ground when small as they don't easily move due to their taproot. Best to scatter some seeds in the area you want them to grow and if you let them seed then there will always be borage.
To use the flowers gently pinch the cone of black anthers in the flower centre, where the bee is, and with the other hand gently pull away the hairy back off the bloom. It takes a little time but the effect is worth it.
Borage is often used in ice blocks to decorate summer drinks. Borage has medicinal qualities and has been used since ancient times to dispel melancholy and to induce euphoria...and we can all do with that from time to time.
I noticed a rosemary flowering so picked a few of the blue blooms to add to our salad.
Chervil, like coriander, will remain longer without going to seed if it is grown with the help of some shading from a taller crop. We've had trouble establishing it in our community garden because of the heat and dryness. We have found a safe place for it under the lemon verbena tree and hope it will self sow and spread.
We collected from the herb garden a few sprigs of my favourite salad herb, chervil. This delicate herb is a good one to get growing in your garden. It's in the same family as parsley but has a more delicate flavour with a faint taste of liquorice or aniseed. It has good digestive properties but its not always easy to grow. Chervil quickly runs to seed, especially if transplanted because of its tap root so it's best to sow seeds directly. Once it's found it's happy place, it will self sow.
When young the poisonous plant hemlock could be confused with chervil, but hemlock has purple spots on its stems and the best check is to crush the leaves and smell before picking - chervil smells of aniseed balls and hemlock of mouse pee.
"Each fertilised flower produces a seed capsule which opens by three valves to expel and disseminate numerous seeds. Small, white appendages to the seed, so-called elaiosomes, also aid distribution. Ants love these appendages, which are rich in fat, and drag the seeds to their nests. There they separate the nourishing appendage from the seed, which is then thrown out of the nest again".Dr Hauschka Skincare, Germany
Heartsease Viola tricolour is a wild flower herb that has been bred to create the pansies and violas in flower gardens. Heartsease is the bearer of a host of other common names: heart's delight, tickle-my-fancy, Jack-jump-up-and-kiss-me, come-and-cuddle-me, three faces in a hood, love-in-idleness and kiss-her-in-the-buttery, to name a few. All these old names indicate what this plant was traditionally used for - to ease complaints of the heart and as a love potion. The flowers were also made into a cordial to help children with coughs and to repair skin conditions.
I did find it difficult to establish from seed but it's growing really well scrambling over rocks at the front of my garden plot. It's really an annual but it's now in its second year and blooming it's heart out. I have noticed ants around these rocks so I'm hoping they will help to establish new heartsease.
The flowers are soft and of little flavour but they are a show stopper on the plate...and then there's that intriguing notion of it's love potion power.
Abutilon is a large shrub that is most commonly seen as yellow or orange flowers. We have two particularly stunning red examples at the gardens and both taste good.
Abutilon is in the mallow family with common names velvet leaf or Indian mallow and needs a subtropical or tropical climate. In southern regions an alternative could be day lilies Hemerocallis as they are also edible and have a similar taste to abutilon. Abutilon tastes even sweeter than a courgette or pumpkin flower. It's velvet soft texture makes this flower easy to eat.
The lovely Violet was my Mum's favourite flower so I always have a soft spot for it. Shame really to eat something that does such a good job perfuming the air.
Violet Viola odorata's sweet flower matches it's sweet perfume. They are particularly lovely placed on desserts but I also like them included in a salad. You can eat the leaves with two leaves having as much vitamin C as an orange. The flowers heated in sugar and water will extract a floral scented syrup to use in desserts.
Back at our garden table I processed my collection cutting up plant leaves into bite sized pieces, and discarding tough stems. I then tossed through the dressing I had brought in a container made from orange juice, lemon, oil and seasoning and cut up an orange to add a little sweetness to the salad. Last touch is to mix through the calendula petals and place the other flowers on top to create a pretty salad.
The spring salad complete with flowers, herbs, weeds and salad greens.
I came to the gardens with a good bread from a bakery made from spelt flour and Sinead contributed some cheese. We had enough food to share our lunch with three other community gardeners.
To make it a total garden experience I made a pot of fresh herbal tea with rosemary and lemon balm.
Lemon Balm is a calming and Rosemary is good for the memory when made into a tea.
At lunch I was asked if forget-me-nots Myosotis scorpioides were edible. I didn't have the answer then but have since discovered they too are in the borage family, and yes the little blue flowers are edible.
Forget-me-nots flower in early spring and often found in woodland situations.
You may not yet have borage growing, but I bet there will some forget-me-nots popping up in your garden this spring.