September is a good time to be making fruit mince. Not only will you feel really good because you have started planning for Christmas (!) but you will be rewarded with a much better product when you come to use it in a few months time.
Growing up we always called fruit mince mincemeat, but in recent years it seems that fruit mince has taken over as the preferred name, probably to avoid confusion. Fruit mince did originally contain diced or finely chopped meat, often beef. Very early recipes included a mixture of meat and fruit and vinegar or wine which was then used as a pie filling.
My 1888 edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management includes a number of mincemeat recipes. This American Recipe for Mincemeat includes boiled beef tongue as well as beef suet. By this stage distilled spirits such as brandy had replaced the vinegar or wine as the preserving liquid and sugar was added to make it more of a sweet dish than a savoury one.
It probably wasn’t until the mid twentieth century that mincemeat was used to describe a mixture that didn’t include meat, although it invariably still included suet.
Fruit Mince is very simple to make – it really is a matter of chopping, grating and mixing and then leaving it to mature and mellow. By the time you use it in December the dried fruit will be plump from the alcohol and juice from the apples and citrus fruits, the liquid will by syrupy and the alcohol will have lost its sharpness and instead will be smooth and luscious. Hopefully after your Christmas cooking you will have some left over because it really is good to use all year round.
- 250g raisins (I generally chop these in half so that they are about the same size as the sultanas.)*
- 250g sultanas (You could choose to chop these as well so that all of the dried fruit is about currant size, but I prefer it chunkier)
- 250g currants
- 250g dried cranberries
- 200g mixed peel (lots of people don’t like mixed peel, so feel free to leave it out)
- 125g slivered almonds
- 600g Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and coarsely grated
- 1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely grated
- 250g frozen butter, grated (you can use suet instead of the butter. If you do you will probably need to order it in advance from your butcher)
- Zest and juice of 1 orange
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 500g dark brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 3/4 cup brandy
- 1/4 cup dry sherry (you could use all brandy or whiskey instead if you prefer)
Mix the dried fruit and grated butter in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and mix until well combined. Leave the fruit mince to stand in a covered bowl for two days, stirring it frequently. Transfer the fruit mince to sterilised jars and store it in a cool, dry and dark place. Leave for at least one month before using, but it will only improve with age. If you live in a particularly humid place, where Christmas coincides with Summer you might want to consider storing your fruit mince in the fridge.
Fruit Mince ready for Bottling
* Throughout her book, Mrs Beeton provides snippets of information that would be useful to someone keeping house. In relation to raisins she says:
Raisins are grapes, prepared by suffering them to remain on the vine until they are perfectly ripe, and then drying them in the sun or by the heat of an oven. All the kinds of raisins have much the same virtues; they are nutritive and balsamic, but they are very subject to fermentation with juices of any kind; and hence when eaten immoderately, they often bring on colics.
This time last year Michael and I were in Italy. We landed in Milan and spent the next ten days meandering our way to Orvietto in Umbria via Bolongna and Siena. It was from Orvietto that we were starting our 12 day walk to the coast and the island of Giglio. The weather was warm and dry (except for a overnight storm in Bolsena that bought down centuries old trees, but we happened to sleep through), the walking was perfect, the accommodation varied (farms, converted palaces, small family run hotels) and the food magnificent. Each day we walked about 20-25 kilometres, traversing old pilgrim routes, etruscan walkways and through small villages and towns. We picked fresh figs and walnuts from the trees on the side of the roads and I lamented the fact that I couldn’t bring home the rose hips and elderflowers that were growing wild and seemingly unnoticed by anyone. We ate some great food – nettle and ricotta ravioli, cauliflower carpaccio with poached egg, stuffed cuttlefish, wild boar and rabbit, faro in all sorts of guises, fresh truffles and porcini mushrooms and of course good wine to accompany it all.
For a cake lover like myself, one of the best things about eating in Italy was that it was possible to eat cake for nearly every meal, including breakfast. At various places that we stayed I managed to gather a collection of recipes for cakes suitable for breakfast. These invariably included citrus, almond meal or ricotta. I was reminded of these cakes today when I was looking for something to make for Father’s Day lunch that would use up the ricotta I had in the fridge and preferably some of the many lemons I also have. This lemon ricotta cake is moist and dense but at the same time quite light and it’s not overly sweet. You could quite easily substitute the lemon for orange.
I can’t quite bring myself to eat cake for breakfast when I’m at home so we had this for lunch with some macerated strawberries and a dollop of whipped cream but when you see the ingredients and realise that there isn’t anything that is really too bad for you, you might be tempted to have it for breakfast.
Lemon Ricotta Cake
- 450g ricotta
- 3 large eggs, separated (a lovely customer at the markets gave me a dozen duck eggs on Saturday which are perfect for this cake. Duck eggs are higher in protein than chicken eggs meaning that cakes tend to rise more – and why they are highly sought after for making a sponge cake. They also tend to be bigger than chicken eggs which may need to be taken into account, but for a recipe such as this it doesn’t make much difference)
- 100g caster sugar
- 250g almond meal
- zest of 3 lemons
- juice of 1 lemon
- seeds from 1 vanilla pod
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees. Line a round springform tin with baking paper (about a 23cm one).
Put the ricotta, egg yolks, lemon zest, juice and vanilla in a food processor and whizz until it is mixed and smooth. Add the sugar and almond meal and mix again until well combined. In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites until stiff and then fold the whites through the ricotta mixture. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 50-60 minutes. If the top looks to be getting too brown, cover with alfoil. The texture of this cake is similar to a baked cheese cake, so you will be able to tell that it is cooked when it is set, rather than testing with a skewer.
Serve with strawberries or other berries and store any left overs in the fridge.
The calendar hasn’t even flipped over to September yet, but already you can feel the warmth in the air. I’m certainly not complaining – I’m more than ready for a bit of hot weather.
As well as purchasing some of the usual fare this Saturday, it is also the perfect opportunity to get something special for Dad as Father’s Day is on 2 September. I have made some delicious Cheese Pots and some Mushroom Pate. There are also some Oatmeal Biscuits and Oat and Seed Crispbreads which are perfect with the cheese pots and the pate but are also great with other cheeses. I’ve also made some quince paste which goes well on a cheese board. If Dad has a sweet tooth try the Italian Marble Cake – spices and a hint of rum.
Cheese Pots with Oat and Seed Crispbreads
If you would like to order something to make sure you don’t miss out leave me a message.
This Week’s Cakes
- Banana and Date
- Apple, Orange & Cardamom
- Ginger Syrup
- Italian Marble
- Coffee Streusel
- Coconut & Apple (Gluten Free)
- Raspberry & Coconut Slice (Gluten Free)
This Week’s Tarts
- Onion, Walnut & Blue Cheese
- Pea, Mint & Goats Cheese
- Olive & Roast Tomato
- Vegetable Rolls
- Lentil Shepherds Pie
- Baked Ricotta Stuffed Eggplant Rolls
- Salted Caramel Meringue
- Prune & Port
There will also be plain, cheese and chive and wholemeal walnut and date scones.
Apparently the Greeks were to first to think of boiling grain in water and drinking it. But really it was the British who bought barley water to the world. Robinsons Barley Water is perhaps the best known brand, possibly as it has had a long association with Wimbeldon. Barley water was also thought to be good for invalids as it provided some nutrition and hydration to those who had lost their appetite. There are all sorts of other claims associated with barley water from reducing wrinkles to soothing an inflamed stomach. I can’t substantiate any of these claims – I just drink it because I like it.
Barley water would originally have been intended to be drunk as it was made but making it as a cordial concentrate means that it keeps for much longer and you can dilute it as you go.We don’t drink a lot of soft drink at home. I hate the fizz and so tend to drink cordial instead. Before anyone goes mad about the amount of sugar in cordial we’re not talking about litres a day and not only that but homemade cordial has no colours or artificial additives to make it glaringly bright or to keep it shelf stable for ever and a day. I store the cordial I make in the fridge – the humid Brisbane weather isn’t particularly conducive to leaving cordials and the like on the pantry shelf and the colour isn’t florescent yellow, green or red. A glass or two each day won’t hurt.
Despite the title, the cordial I made todayis actually a lemon and lime one as I had quite a bit of both. I like my citrus things to have a good citrusy flavour and a real tang so if you like it a little mellower you may need to adjust the quantities of zest a bit.
Lemon (and Lime) Barley Cordial
- 500g pearl barley (I find this in the supermarket down the soup and tinned vegetable aisle)
- 3 litres water
- 10 cups sugar (I used a combination of white and raw sugar this time. Raw sugar adds a nice malty flavour but the browner colouring might be a bit off putting)
- zest and juice of 6-8 lemons (depending on size and your preference for zest. You can also use a combination of other citrus)
- 75g citric acid (from the baking aisle of the supermarket)
Add the pearl barley and the water to a large saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer with the lid on for 40 minutes.
Combine the lemon zest and juice, the sugar and citric acid before adding the hot barley water
Put the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Drain the barley retaining the water and pour over the sugar and lemon. Stir and cover and let sit for 24 hours. Strain and bottle. Store in the fridge for several weeks. To serve dilute with water or mineral water to taste.
This makes quite a thick concentrate so you won’t need to use a lot.
You know that spring is knocking on the door when the new season asparagus hits the markets. All through winter you see asparagus on the supermarket and green grocers shelves from Peru and the Philippines, but despite the fact that I love asparagus I refuse to be tempted. One of the joys of eating locally and seasonally is the anticipation of new season produce. Well known American chef Mario Batali was quite right when he said:
“You know when you get your first asparagus, or your first acorn squash, or your first really good tomato of the season, those are the moments that define the cook’s year. I get more excited by that than anything else.”
So now I have two bunches of the finest asparagus just waiting to be eaten. Contemplating how to eat it has been the hardest – a simple quick pan fry, or steamed and served with a poached egg. In the end I decided to bake it as the oven was already on roasting the freshly dug kipfler potatoes tossed in new garlic and rosemary from the garden. A baking tray lined with baking paper, a drizzle of olive oil and a grind of pepper, ten minutes in a 180 degree oven and they’re ready.
I finished them off with a sprinkle of sea salt, a crumble of feta cheese and a few bits of preserved lemon.
We also had some pan fried brussels sprouts and cauliflower, simply seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper and steamed baby carrots. In the end the veggies were the stars of the meal and the pork belly almost an after thought.
This is the last winter market for the year – it won’t be long before we’re not complaining about the cold weather when we’re setting up but rather looking for inventive ways to keep the sun off the produce. Already it’s lighter earlier and the first wave of shoppers are hitting the markets well and truly by 6am. You don’t have to be there that early to make sure you get the pick of the produce. If you’re planning a more leisurely start to your Saturday let me know what you would like me to put aside for you and that way you’re guaranteed not to miss out.
This Week’s Cakes:
- Cider, Apple & Fig
- Pear & Cardamon
- Banana & Peanut Butter
- Zucchini & Sweet Potato
- Pumpkin Chai (gluten free)
- Plum & Polenta (gluten free)
- Cheese, Olive & Herb (savoury)
This Week’s Tarts:
- Chilli Bean and Cornbread (gluten free)
- Curried Vegetable
- Onion & Smoked Cheddar
- Fennel, Kale & Goats Cheese
- Chickpea Rolls
- Salted Caramel Meringue
- Spiced Pumpkin
- White Chocolate & Lime
I really like dessert. I’m one of those people who always looks at the dessert menu first before deciding what to order. At home we have abandoned modern dietary thinking that dessert should be a sometimes treat and more often than not we eat dessert. And I’m not talking about a bowl of ice cream sort of dessert – that to me isn’t real dessert. Nor am I talking about elaborate special occasion desserts just good, simple, tasty desserts that nicely round off the evening meal. Golden syrup dumplings, Apple Brown Betty, rice pudding (also great for breakfast!), that sort of thing. We don’t of course eat these things in the middle of summer (except perhaps rice pudding – it’s good all year round) so winter is a great time to make the most of puddingy type desserts. One dessert that we have frequently, probably at least once a fortnight is a crumble of some description. It’s relatively quick and easy to make and the variations are endless depending on what’s in season. Recently we have had pear and chocolate crumble, a tropical crumble made with pineapple and passionfruit, apple and passionfruit and most recently apple and strawberry.
Writing a recipe for crumble is a little difficult as I make it up as I go along and there really isn’t too much that can go wrong. You can adapt it to what you have in the fruit bowl and the pantry. I like a lot of a fruit and a medium amount of crumble but you can adjust this to your preferences. And I like a crumble that has a bit of body so I tend to use wholemeal flour, at least in part and I generally add oats, sometimes some coconut or some nuts. This is my stab at a recipe for the Apple and Strawberry Crumble I made.
Apple & Strawberry Crumble
- 5 apples, peeled, cored and cut into slices
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 250g strawberries, hulled and cut into half
- 1/2 cup wholemeal plain flour
- 1/4 cup self raising flour
- 100g butter
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/3 cup shredded coconut
Place the apple slices into a saucepan with the 2 tablespoons of sugar and about 1 tablespoon of water. Cook over a medium heat until apples are soft. Remove from the heat and stir through the strawberries (as a much softer fruit the strawberries will cook enough just in the oven). Transfer to an oven dish. Preheat oven to 180 degrees.
To make the crumble, add the flours to a bowl and rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in brown sugar and coconut and sprinkle over the top of the fruit. Pat down a little, but not too firmly. Put the dish on a baking tray covered in foil (the juice from the fruit invariably dribbles over the bowl and this makes the oven much easier to clean). Place in the oven and cook for 20-30 minutes or until the crumble is golden and the fruit juices are bubbling slightly. Serve with ice cream or custard.