The elderflower season is up on us, a little late this year as the weather has been rubbish in France and the UK but the grand bushes/trees in our garden planted as pushed in twigs a few years ago are in their perfumed glory.
I have posted about Elderflowers before so you you want to know more about this lovely little shrub check out my post here.
The cooking window for the flowers is quite short, the trees have to be in flower! Dry, preferably in sun to encourage the aroma and picked midday or early afternoon when they are the most perfumed.
A basket of Elderflowers
I used the flowers in a variety of ways to make;
- Elderflower Cordial
- Elderflower Vinegar
- Elderflower Sorbet
- Elderflower Pannacotta
All the recipes are simple in there execution hence the rather impressive list.
So in descending order
It’s been a few years since I made Elderflower Champagne as I have preferred to make this cordial. It’s far more versatile than champagne as it can be drunk diluted to taste, added to a Gin and Tonic, used to flavour desserts or simply drizzled over ice cream. I posted a link to the recipe an old post, but here it is in all it’s glory.
- 1.5 litres water
- 1 kilo of white sugar
- 25 Elderflower heads
- Juice and zest of 4 lemons
- 55 grams citric acid – Finding citric acid can be a little problematic, traditionally stocked at chemists but many don’t stock it now. Try home brew shops (cheapest), Lakelands or other specialist cook shops.
Snip the flowers off the stalks using a pair of scissors. Bring the water to the boil and add the sugar, stir until the sugar is dissolved. Take the water off the boil and add the flowers, lemon juice, lemon zest and citric acid. Leave to steep overnight then strain through boiled or ironed muslim into sterilised bottles. Label and store in a dark place.
The muslim is boiled or ironed to sterilise the cloth, to sterilise the bottles pop into a low oven for 15 minutes of put them through a dishwasher wash cycle.
The cordial keeps very well at least a year.
Elderflower vinegar is an embarrassingly simple recipe that helps you to transform a light salad dressing into a breath of summer, something very welcome in the winter. The vinegar can also be drunk as a cordial by diluting with water and adding sugar to taste.
To make cram a wide bottomed jar with as many elderflowers as possible (snipped from there stalks with scissors), add enough white wine or cider vinegar to cover (about 750ml – 1 litre) leave to steep in a dark place for 3 weeks. Filter through muslim or a clean tea towel bottle and use as required. Keeps for ages.
Another simple recipe that doesn’t require an ice cream making machine. Truth be told it is pretty sweet a small glass is very nice but you won’t be wanting a bowl!
- 750 grams sugar
- 1 litre water
- 15 heads of Elderflower
- Zest and juice of 2 lemons.
Boil the water and add the sugar, stir until the sugar has dissolved. Take the water of the boil and add the elderflowers (snipped of the stalks) the lemon juice and zest. Leave to steep over night in a non-reactive bowl or container.
The following day strain through muslim or a clean tea towel add the contents to an ice cream maker and follow the manufactures instructions, alternatively add the liquid to a freezer proof bowl freeze until crystals start to form, stir and repeat until the sorbet is set.
And finally……..Elderflower Pannacotta which is very nice indeed. TV chefs go on about this, getting the set, getting the wobble etc but truth be told Pannacotta is cream jelly. Don’t go mad on the gelatine and unlike the TV programmes give yourself more than a couple of hours between making it and eating it.
You can make this Pannacotta with your home made cordial but if available I prefer to use fresh flowers as I think the final result is more frag
Bottles of Cordial
Ingredients for 4 servings
- 3 sheets of gelatin
- 150 ml whole milk
- 300ml double cream
- 20 elderflowers
- 75g caster sugar
- A slug of gin
Soak the gelatin in warm water. Snip the flowers from the stalks and put into a pan with the milk and cream, bring gently to the boil and simmer for ten minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, squeeze the water out of the softened gelatine and add to the pan with a good slug of gin, stir until the gelatine is dissolved.
Sieve the mixture through muslim or a clean tea towel into the a suitable large or individual moulds. Leave to cool then chill in a fridge until set (about 4 hours). That’s it, you can turn out the pannacotta onto a serving plate if you like, you’ll need to dip the mould into hot water or serve in glasses, teacups or whatever. It’s great served with summer fruits.
That’s it lots of ideas, the best thing about cooking with Elderflower is that it is great to do with kids, I gathered and made the pannacotta with Oscar my 6 year old nephew, we had a blast and when we finished Oscar took me to the pub for a cheeky half, Oscar had pop
I now have my first pop-up restaurant under my belt and getting ready for the next. It’s on June 8th at the No84 Café and Eatery in Gravesend if you are interested.
I had a huge sense of achievement after the first. It was a sell-out. I managed to feed 32 people who all had a great night (with the help of my formidable team: front of house posse, Jim and Sarah, sous chef, Adam and Eileen and Ted for loads of help both pre and post and for being such enthusiastic diners on the night). Big thanks to all xx
The basic premise of the No84 Occasional Supper Club is that people eat good food, from local and trusted producers/suppliers. Diners eat communally -the tables are laid out in a large horseshoe – and each night features a different guest speaker.
On June 8th, the theme is ‘Wild about Kent’ and features local produce with elements of wild food. I am very excited that ‘Fergus the Forager’ (aka Fergus Brennan) has agreed to be our guest speaker. Check out his website.
But now the difficult bit, deciding on the menu and making it work. Anyone with any experience of cooking for a crowd will tell you that simply scaling up a recipe meant for 2 to serve 32 doesn’t necessarily work. I am also restricted by the café kitchen itself. I love the café, I love its ethos, I love the people who run it and work there but it is a café and not a restaurant. No fancy equipment, in fact quite the opposite – a large oven but only two small induction hobs and that’s about it. Saturday is also their busiest day so we can’t get in and cracking until at least 5pm, later even. So the menu has to take account of all of these factors.
I have decided on the ‘amuse bouche’ and turn back to Heston Blumenthal for inspiration. It will be basically crudités with a big but (as opposed to a big butt which was on last month’s menu!). I want to create sharing plates of a Kentish vegetable garden. Heston suggests oven drying black olives and then chopping them finely to create soil. I will then ‘plant’ a range of tiny seasonal vegetables in the soil ready to be picked and dipped. I had a great chat with a local farmer on Sunday. Once he had got his head round the idea he was dead up for it and we have agreed a range of tiny veg that he’ll have ready for me a couple of days beforehand.
For the starter I am using a local goat’s cheese and Kent beetroot as the basis of the dish. I had a practice on Sunday. See my efforts below.
The component parts are goats cheese mousse, beetroot and raspberry puree, beetroot crisps, balsamic jelly cubes, leaves with a walnut dressing. It wasn’t quite right, it needs tweaking. The balsamic jelly cubes will be too expensive to make and didn’t add enough to justify their inclusion. I’ll go for a balsamic reduction instead and drizzle over. I need to do another batch of crisps and keep them in an airtight tin to make sure they stay crisp for a few hours and I’d like the salad leaves to include a few wild ones. Dandelion leaves come to mind and perhaps a few wild flowers as a garnish.
I’m almost halfway there, second half to follow.
If you read my last post you will know that I’ve been very virtuous and walking each day but it also gives me an excuse to look out for fruity autumn treasures and surely there is no doubt that the damson is a real gem.
I love damsons and I chanced upon the most glorious stash two weeks ago so armed with two carrier bags, Jim and I made our way back on Saturday. Within 20 minutes or so we had picked just shy of 7lbs. They were at the perfect stage of ripeness and it was tempting to gorge on them but no doubt that would have had disastrous consequences and anyway I had other things in mind.
Like the rest of the nation (except Jim, who incidentally doesn’t like Strictly either, but that’s an ongoing argument between the two of us!) I am hooked on the fabulous Great British Bake Off and was inspired to make something I had never made before – Queen of Puddings – no, it isn’t a moniker for the majestic Mary Berry although it should be.
A quick Google search soon bought up the recipe used on the show a couple of weeks ago, which version is of course, attributed to the great Mrs Berry herself. It comprises a bottom layer of baked custard, a thin layer of homemade jam using summer fruits and a meringue topping. Since I had damsons galore, I decided I would make a few changes to the recipe.
First off, the bulk of the damsons were destined for jelly rather than jam…you try stoning 3lbs worth of damsons…far easier to push the whole lot through a sieve and the end result is just so wonderfully deep purple, red and well, jammy. So on that basis, I thought I would make a damson and apple compote for the middle layer instead. That decided, it needed a further twist to really elevate it into autumn, so I decided to fold roasted, chopped hazelnuts into the meringue, sprinkling a good portion on top. Hazelnut meringues are very popular in France where you regularly see them piled high in boulangerie windows. That sorted, all that remained was to give it a go.
And the results? There were five of us for Sunday lunch and the fight for seconds almost caused a revolution. I can honestly say that I have never seen a queen made such short work of, since Marie Antoinette suggested cake!
For the custard:
600ml/1 pint full-fat milk
25g/1oz butter, plus extra for greasing the dish
1 lemon, zest finely grated
50g/2oz caster sugar
3 free-range eggs, yolks only
75g/3oz fresh white breadcrumbs
For the compote:
1 medium sized cooking apple, peeled and cored
4-5 tablespoons of castor sugar (or to taste)
For the meringue:
175g/6oz caster sugar
3 free-range eggs, whites only
50g/2oz chopped roasted hazelnuts (plus a few for sprinkling on top)
• Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3 and grease a 1.4 litre/2½ pint shallow ovenproof dish (one that will fit into a roasting tin) with butter.
• For the custard base, very gently warm the milk in a small saucepan. Add the butter, lemon zest and the 50g/2oz of sugar, stir until dissolved.
• Lightly whisk the egg yolks in a bowl. Slowly pour the warm milk into the eggs, while whisking.
• Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the base of the buttered dish and pour over the custard. Leave to stand for about 15 minutes, so the breadcrumbs absorb the liquid.
• Carefully transfer the dish to a roasting tin and fill the tin halfway with hot water. Bake the custard in the preheated oven for about 25-30 minutes until the custard has set. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool a little.
• Meanwhile, put the damsons into a pan and warm over a gentle heat. Once they’ve softened and released their juice, remove the stones. (I removed them from the heat, let them cool slightly and simply fished them out). Add the chopped apple and stir gently until it resembles a soft compote although retaining some ‘body’ .
• Add the sugar and cook for a further three minutes.
• Whisk the egg whites using an electric hand whisk on full speed until stiff peaks form when the whisk is removed. Add the remaining 175g/6oz sugar a teaspoon at a time, still whisking on maximum speed until the mixture is stiff and shiny. Fold in the toasted chopped hazelnuts. Transfer the meringue mixture to a piping bag. (I didn’t pipe and it was still fine).
• Spread 4-5 tablespoons of compote over the set custard, then pipe the meringue on top. (or spoon making some lovely peaks). Sprinkle with the remaining hazelnuts.
• Lower the oven temperature to 150C/300F/Gas 2 and return the pudding to the oven (not in the roasting tin with water) for about 25-30 minutes until the meringue is pale golden all over and crisp. Serve warm.
Hello, Sandra here again for a guest spot. It’s been ages since I blogged and a lot has happened in the meantime. One major change is that Jim and I are now spending lots of time in Kent, it does have some drawbacks (e.g it’s not France!) but we are lucky enough to be on the very edge of some beautiful countryside and I’ve been going out walking every day (mostly) spotting lots of lovely free bounty as I go.
A couple of weeks ago, taking full advantage of some late summer sunshine,I went out armed with a backpack, secateurs, gloves and my Mum and her friend, Cherrill (left). We were a sociable little group of three but it’s quite amazing how many people stop on those windy country lanes, to ask what you’re picking. Some are just intrigued; others have foraging tales to share. We spent a very pleasant couple of hours.
Messing about in the kitchen is one of my favourite things so two days later, I treated myself as it also happened to be my birthday, and set about transforming my harvest into yummy things to eat and drink. Mum helped me strip elderberries, prick sloes and chop rosehips all jobs which can be tedious and time consuming but we chatted and she told me tales of jam making in her mother’s kitchen (I know it’s now starting to sound very sugary but on this occasion I’m not going to apologise, it was my birthday after all!)
For me, one of the pleasures of cooking is the anticipation, reading recipes and planning. There are some great food blogs out there (including yours of course, Colin.) Whilst searching for recipes I found myself wandering along the Folsom Way down by the American River where one such happy blogger found his elderberries. Now I have never been there but I could just imagine it. And then of course Johnny Cash popped into my head to provide the soundtrack to my little adventure. Who ever knew how exciting foraging could be!
Several hours later I had sloes steeping in gin, elderberry cordial, rosehip syrup and four blackberry and apple pies, one to eat straightway, the rest for the freezer.
The recipe for sloe gin is dead easy and can be found at
The only thing I would say, is double the amounts given; it is so delicious and makes fab Christmas presents – if you can bear to give it away. Most people drink sloe gin as a liqueur but I like mine as an aperitif, long, with tonic and ice.
Blackberry and apple pie, you’ll have your own favourite recipe so I won’t go into one here only to say that I add an egg to my shortcrust pastry to make it that bit richer and I favour the deep-fill option. It looks so impressive and you get so much more of those lovely autumn fruits.
Elderberry cordial….hmmm. It’s the first time I’ve made it and I have to say I’m not convinced. So far I’ve only tried it as a soft drink, I haven’t yet got round to drizzling over pancakes or the like but I am disappointed, particularly as the elderflower is one of my absolute favourites. The jury is out on that one.
Rose bush laden with hips
Finally to the rosehips. For the recipe I turned to Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and although I made it slightly differently to him, the end results are amazing. The syrup looks beautiful and has the most amazing subtle but distinctive flowery/fruity taste. I’m planning on jealously guarding the syrup until December when I shall transform it into a sorbet – literally just pour the syrup into an ice cream maker and churn – and we’ll savour it between courses on Christmas Day.
Rosehip Syrup Recipe
1 Kg Rosehips
1 Kg Castor Sugar
Wash and chop the rosehips (after battling with a knife and chopping board, I threw mine into a food processor and pulsed until they were randomly chopped, much easier).
Bring 2 litres of water to boil in a large pan, throw in the rosehips and bring back to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for an hour. Strain the rosehips through muslin or a clean cloth, squeezing out as much flavour as you can. Reserve the liquid.
Transfer the rosehip pulp back to the pan with another litre of water and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse overnight. Strain the rosehips as above. Add the liquid to your reserved amount and discard the pulp.
Bring the liquid to the boil and continue boiling until it has reduced by half. Add the sugar, stir until dissolved and boil hard for 5 minutes. Bottle into sterilised jars or bottles.
Coming up soon: Damsons and Retro Puds!
Long time no post, I am impressed by my capacity to prevaricate, but I have been a busy boy on the cooking front just not go round to doing any posts. So after a bit of a break here we go!
The hunting season started a couple of weeks ago, the sight of slightly overweight middle aged men dressed in green or dodgy camouflage gear trundling around the French countryside taking pot shots at the wild life through a glaze of Eau De Vie will be a common sight for the next few months.
Not to be out done I thought I get into a bit of hunting myself and managed to search out my quarry of Girolle or Summer Chanterelle mushrooms, a lovely prized mushroom that is available potentially from late summer until the first frosts. A picture of my booty is in this post, there’s about 1.5 kilos in that first find, and I’ve found another couple of kilo’s in other sorties. The weather has been hot and dry until recently so it hasn’t been the best hunting weather, but recent rains may have encouraged another flush, I will have to go and look!
Girolle or Summer Chanterelle
Chanterelles are rich in flavour, with a distinctive taste and aroma which is earthy with a hint of apricot. The summer chanterelle is perhaps the most sought-after and flavourful chanterelle, and many chefs and foodies will place it on the same short list of gourmet fungi as truffles and morels. It therefore tends to command a high price in both restaurants and shops, currently chanterelles are selling for about 20 Euros a kilo, picking your own is definitely a good idea.
Chanterelles grow symbiotically with trees and will show in groups or even in troops of hundreds of fruiting bodies (if you are very very lucky). The have a couple of looky likies but nothing that cannot be identified with a bit of care. The symbiotic relationship with trees means that it is impossible to grow a chanterelle commercially; therefore the mushroom is strictly seasonal and generally expensive. Chanterelles will flush after some rain and prefer moist mossy places, so ground near water, ditches or lower lying land are good place to look.
Chanterelles keep well, a week easily in a fridge and are easily dried or preserved in oil or brine, but my preferred method is open freezing, it is quick easy and personally I think hold the flavour better than other methods.
Some hunting trophies
Chanterelles in general go well with eggs, chicken, pork, and fish in general nothing too strongly flavoured such as a beef stew as their delicate taste will be overwhelmed. Cooking chanterelles requires a little care; they hold a fair bit of water and can be a bit tough if they are not properly cooked through. The best and easiest methods in my opinion is to dry sauté them then add to a dish as necessary but a range of other methods are successful as long as the chanterelle has 10 minutes or so to cook out, it’s not an ingredient well suited to a quick stir fry.
The best way of cooking Chanterelles is the way you prefer but it is worth knowing that most of the flavour compounds are soluble in fat, making them good mushrooms to sauté in butter, oil or cream. They also contain smaller amounts of water- and alcohol-soluble flavourings, which lend the mushrooms well to recipes involving wine or other alcohols, hence the classic vodka flavoured with Chanterelles.
Given that I had a relatively larger amount of mushrooms available, what should I cook to celebrate? Well a nice simple soup, indulgent in the amount of Chanterelles required but simple enough to ensure the delicately flavoured mushroom can be enjoyed at its best.
- 1 Large Cep mushrooms fresh or dried
- 400 gms Chanterelles
- 1 Onion finely chopped
- 20 gms salted butter
- 0.5 litres of chicken or vegetable stock.
- 200 ml Creme fraiche
Reconstitute the dried cep if using by soaking in warm water/stock for 20 minutes. Roughly chop the cep and chanterelles. Gently suate the mushrooms and onions with the butter for a few minutes. Add the stock and simmer for 15 minutes.Add salt and pepper to taste and add the creme fraiche and continue to simmer for 5 minutes. Liquidise the ingredients , check the seasoning and serve hot.
That’s it, I don’t think it could be easier if you tried, I made a double quantity, little treats for the oncoming cold weather hmmm.
My good friend and neighbour in the Touraine, The Frugal Gourmet, has invited me to make the occasional guest contribution to his blog. We share a passion for yummy food and frequently swap notes, recipes, meals, produce etc. It’s a great honour, thank you Colin.
In the spirit of the blog and its frugal focus what better than an aperitif which is local to the area, and features, as a principle ingredient, free food!
L’epine is an aperitif and as far as I am aware is unique to the Touraine-Poitou. Mention it to any of the locals and they will invariably start swooning with pleasure at the mere thought of it. Once a respectable period of reverential praise has been heaped upon the unsurpassed qualities of drinking l’epine the conversation will move swiftly to the recipe. This year, assisted by my husband, Jim and a French friend keen to share his knowledge and enthusiasm I decided to make my own.
The principle ingredients are universally agreed: cheap wine, eau de vie, sugar and l’epine (known to us as blackthorn). Also undisputed is when to pick the blackthorn. There are only about 2 or 3 weeks in May, when the stems of the blackthorn smell and taste of almonds and it is this which gives L’epine its unique, almost marzipan – like taste. Locations where the blackthorn grows are jealously guarded and it’s a race to get there first and bag the best pickings.
And this is where agreement ends, after that the variations are endless. You can use either white, red or rose wine – they all give quite different results. We conducted a survey of some French friends each of whom was adamant that their preference was the right one. The quantity of sugar varies depending on taste and that’s before we even start with the eau de vie. Then there is the number of days you leave it to infuse, the length of time maturing in the bottle……..
For the uninitiated, eau de vie is a clear brandy made with fruits, most commonly pear, plum, cherry or raspberry. It translates quite literally into ‘water of life’ the same linguistic origins as whisky. Historically every French household had the right to distil the fruits grown themselves up to a maximum of 10 litres. Unsurprisingly it was a huge cottage industry.
In 1952 the government of the day (who either wanted to preserve the livers of the nation or to make money from tax revenues, whichever version you choose to believe), changed the law. The right to make eau de vie no longer passed from father to son. Anyone with an existing right, passed it to their widow (if she survived her husband) after which the right died with her. A quick mathematical calculation then, anyone still making eau de vie today has to be aged 77 or older, assuming they were 18 and legally able to make it in 1952. Hmmm, that doesn’t quite tally with my experience but I’m saying nothing more, except that local lore suggests that a good number of octogenarians who were happily making eau de vie in 1952 are still alive and kicking today, their descendants never needing to register a death.
We could have course have bought eau de vie in the supermarket but it was much more fun to visit a jolly (and very, very, very, very old, at least 130 year old) farmer who was more than happy to let us sample his wares before we settled on the pear flavour. 1.25 litres in a plastic water bottle for a bargain 10 Euro’s.
This is how I made mine.
500g of blackthorn picked from the hedgerows near our house
5L White wine (I used Muscadet from a box)
1L Eau de Vie de Poire
- Mix the eau de vie with the sugar in a large, clean plastic bucket until the sugar dissolves.
- Add the wine and stir thoroughly
- Add the blackthorn and mix again
- Cover with a clean tea towel and leave in a cool airy place
- Stir once a day for 15 days
- Taste every so often and add a bit more sugar if you want it sweeter
- Strain through muslin and bottle
- Store in a cool, dark place
- Leave for as long as you can (I shall probably open the first bottle at Christmas)
l’epine gathered from the verge-side
you need a lot of l’epine!
l’eping (blackthorne shoots)
See you again soon,
My garden has a Chestnut tree only a small one, a teenager really but it fruits and each year the size and quantity of the nut increases. Like many Brits I quite like the idea of the Chestnut but don’t really know what to do with it.
Up till now my experience of eating Chestnuts has been confined to roast Chestnut which lets face it are tedious long before you get to the bottom of the bag and here in France the Gateau Paris-Brest and some sublime Chestnut ice cream served with Chestnut liqueur from the Restaurant Agnes Sorrel in Genille.
My experience of going beyond the roast chestnut in France confirmed that this was a culinary treasure that I needed to get to grips with. In addition I have a tree and provided I can beat the squirrels and wild boar plenty more are available in in the surrounding countryside. Once again gourmet and frugal.
Chestnut Soup Ingredients
But what to do? Well lets start gently so I turned to my Essence cookbook and decided to make Chestnut soup.
I like soups, particularly in winter and I had already made Essence’s Pea and Coconut soup which was absolutely lovely so I was very happy to test drive a different recipe.
Core to the soup was 500gms of shelled Chestnuts. Well that’s when I remembered why I hadn’t used Chestnuts before! 45 minutes and some knackered finger nails I finally had 500gms of Chestnuts, of course the problem was compounded by the fact that my juvenile tree was producing undersize nuts.
Once I had my Chestnut flesh I could get on with it, I’m not going to give the recipe, if you want that you will have to buy the book, but some key components are the white of leeks, onion and the sweating of ingredients in duck fat which helps to add depth and complexity to the flavour of the soup, as does the addition of smoked bacon, cognac, milk and some herbs. The whole mixture is further enriched by whisking in a good pat of butter. At this point the girls started muttering about diets.
But the finished article was luverrly, rich (of course), smooth, velvety and full of flavour. If you are worried about diet, cholesterol or some such have a small bowl, it was noticeable however that everyone had seconds including the girls! Must have got something right.
I think I will cook it again over the Christmas period but I plan to con some one else in to shelling the bloody Chestnuts. As a recipe I think it is near perfect for what it is, but next time I might reduce the butter and I think I will top the whole thing of with a roasted Hazelnut foam. I’ll mention how it went in a future post.
Readers of this blog are aware that I have more than a passing interest in Mushrooms.
BBC Radio 4 has somewhat out of season recently broadcast a couple of interesting short programmes about mushrooms. I thought I would share the links with you, but if you want to listen you may have to be quick.
The first link is to Joy of Ceps a short programme by Alan Bennell of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh who succinctly reveals all.
The second is from a regular programme called Open Country the edition from the 20th November 2010 on New Forest Mushrooms gives more detail and a different perspective from The Joy of Ceps. The broadcast has Richard Uridge joins mycologist, John Wright, to hear about his lifelong passion for wild mushrooms and joins him on a forage in the forest to find out how to know what to look for when picking fungi.
It is the popularity of TV chefs and cooking shows that Forestry Commission Keeper, Howard Taylor, thinks has increased the public’s passion for fungi. He joins Richard to explain the importance of the relationship that fungi have with other trees and plants in the forest and the dangers of over-picking the many wild mushrooms that grow there. As well as the obvious dangers of picking poisonous fungi, Howard’s remit as a Keeper is also to protect the landscape of the New Forest and the rise in numbers of wild mushroom pickers may lead to an upsetting of the delicate balance of the Forest.
Mushroom season has arrived and is now about to depart so I recently went hunting with my old friend Mrs McNeil and her Mum.
Cep Mushroom - L. Boletus Edulis
I have always had an interest in Mushrooms and have collected mushrooms since my late teens. When I had finished growing up in my late 20′s I even began to collect Mushrooms for culinary purposes. Something that I now do throughout the year. The highlight of the mushroom year is of course the Autumn and my principal target is the noble Cep or L. Boletus Edulis and other family members, around here that is commonly the Bay Bolete or L. Boletus Badius.
I’m very luck as my home is next to the Foret de Brouard a massive private forest owned by the Comte or some other noble titled person from St Aignan. Strictly speaking mushroom picking is not allowed but as I live next door and because I couldn’t give a damn whether a member of the aristocracy allows me to do something or not, I pick a modest amount anyway.
This year Mrs McNeil and my self where out and about quite late so we only caught the tail end of the season. I was pleased to go out with Mrs McNeil it is something that we agreed to do last season, she lacks confidence in recognising edible species but by targeting just a couple of gastronomic treats it was easy to demonstrate the distinct features of each mushroom.
In the space of a pleasant hour or so we managed to find a basket full and returned to chez nous.
The remaining decisions where what do we do with our prize? It didn’t take long to agree a lunch of wild mushroom risotto.
A basket of Ceps and Bays
I thought about posting a wild mushroom risotto recipe as part of this post but honestly,
I can not see the point there’s a wealth of decent Risotto recipes on the net, a decent one can be found here. But my tips for success are;
- Keep stirring.
- Use good quality stock
- A frugal approach is to use a Gran Padano cheese rather than Parmesan, tastes great and most people can not tell the difference.
- Use Carnoli rice rather than Arborio, Carnoli rice has a better taste but you have to watch it closely the doneness window is very small.
Perhaps you have your own tips, if so let me know as, I’m truth be told, I’m a bit of a beginner when it comes to making Risotto.
The rest we dried, simple enough to slice and to string up in the boiler room, a week later voila a supply of dried Ceps, tasty and frugal all year through and just as importantly I got to spend a lovely day with some close friends
Home Dried Ceps
I have been making Bread recently something that I do fairly regularly, but usually I cheat a bit because I use a bread machine to knead the dough which I then finish by hand. Unfortunately my machine recently died of old age
I have always enjoyed making bread and by following a few basic principles you can generally produce something superior to most bought breads.
I think my enjoyment of bread making and cooking was inspired at least in part by my mother who was an excellent cook capable of making something out of nothing and to have people coming back for more. I think her cooking and therefore bread making was driven by financial necessity (flour was cheaper than bread) but also I think she enjoyed her cooking and then the enthusiasm which her five children would devour her efforts.
My brother Paul became the cook/baker under her guidance as he displayed some active interest and he had the lightness of touch necessary for baking. Mum would often get him to do the pastry if she was making pies, and eventually Paul went on to a successful career as a chef in the army. I however tended to confine my activities to consumption, Mum was a dab hand at making egg custard tarts eventually she learnt to make two, one for me and one for everyone else! Comfort food from my childhood.
The baker’s in Nouan Les Fontaines one of our nearest villages is excellent and traditional, correct is how it would be described in France and we have a regular bread order that is normally short of our weekly needs, the rest is usually made up by what we make ourselves.
Given that I was going to have to make at least some of my daily bread by hand I thought I would finally get round to making some sourdough bread something I have wanted to do but never got round too. Sourdough baking is of course the most traditional form of bread making and produces an excellent loaf with a full slightly sour flavour created by the more acidic wild yeasts compared to a commercial bread yeast. Wild yeasts are present all around us, in the air, in the flour, everywhere. The yeasts are complex and varied and contribute to making a full flavoured bread, quite different to the greyhound pure breed nature of commercial bread yeast. Sourdough bread also has excellent keeping qualities as the higher acid content resists mould growth. On the down side it does require more care and attention, the starter needs regular nurturing and the proving process is much slower requiring the starter, the creation of a ‘sponge’ and a longer rising time.
The use of sourdough is still very common in traditional French bakers, the English began to use specialist bread yeast back in Victorian times but the French stayed with their ale/beer based yeasts, using a bread making process identical to today’s sourdough method, the sponge is termed the levain and any good quality bakers will still produce a ‘Pain Campagne’ using the old process.
In this post I won’t give the recipe for sourdough bread but you can find one here I will however offer my observations and comments on the process.
Making the Starter
Making the starter is very simple combining a 100gms of wholemeal flour and some water and refreshing daily. Apparently it takes a few days, it took me a week, lots of interesting smells but not a lot frothy working. Then overnight the mix burst into life overflowing it’s small bowl.
The starter working quietly
Making the sponge
The making the sponge is pretty easy apart from organising and motivating myself to get it done late at night
The sponge working hard
Making and Kneading the Dough
The mix is sticker than a conventional dough but will produce a softer crumb, however kneading is a messier business as you knead the dough firms up, but at the start its a sticky business. Having a scraper handy to get the dough of the table helped to restrict the amount of additional flour required when kneading.
Kneading requires a firm hand, but not an aggressive one, the objective is to stretch the dough not to just push it around the table, the photo below illustrates my point.
Giving it a good stretch
Knock back and more patience.
Into the Oven
A few things here. Slash the loaves, not to deep but enough to let them spring forth.
The oven needs to be hot, not mark 7 etc but the top of the dial. Pop a tray of boiling water into the oven 5 minutes before the dough, put the dough in and spray with a water bottle and repeat again a couple of times at 5 minute intervals. Professional bakers use steam ovens and you are trying to create a similar environment, the steam slows the creation of the crust and therefore enables a bigger rise.
After 10 minutes turn the oven down to hot – medium hot until done. Leave for at least 20 minutes as the bread will continue to cook.
Sounds like a lot of work but really it isn’t, mostly it’s waiting for nature to take it’s course with short bursts of activity.
Sourdough bread making is (as I have already said) probably the most traditional form of baking, in older times the starter would be split and a part would be given to a newly married daughter for bread making in her new home (I’m sure a few sons got some as well!). My mother didn’t have a sourdough starter but she did pass on a love of cooking and food, a love probably passed to her by her own mother and now shared by my brothers and sister, traditional food can be about attitudes as much as recipes.