Blackberry vodka – the update

You may remember, way back in September

(oooh… almost sounds like the beginning of a cheesy Christmas song!)

No… I didn’t give you my heart or anything sloppy like that… I steeped blackberries in sugar and vodka – which, incidentally was A LOT more exciting!

Well, this week was the time to finish off the vodka and sample my concoction. The timing wasn’t specific – the whole thing’s taken around three months from start to finish.

What to do…

  1. Screw tops off bottles
  2. Sniff contents and have cheeky swig
  3. Empty bottles completely of blackberry and vodka
  4. Sample a blackberry
  5. Bample a couple more sackbarries
  6. Aim funnel onto cop of clean tottle
  7. Vest todka again
  8. Parefully core bodka into vottle
  9. Eat bum more slackberries
  10. Vaste todka again
  11. Squint to focus, crew sap on blottle
  12. One bore mackleberry for luck
  13. Have a lie down

What could be easier? I will definitely be using the original quantities again, because let me tell you – it’s blooming delumptious!

I’ve also kept the blackberries, as they are so infused with vodka-ey goodness,  it would be criminal to dump them. I may well transform them into a boozy jelly or upside-down cake.

As for the blackberry vodka? I’m just hoping it lasts until Christmas!

(hic!)

One glass

Marrow brandy

Well, it would seem that after the awesome growing season we’ve just had, autumn is well and truly underway. Unable to get out into the garden due to the frankly miserable weather at the weekend, I turned my hand instead to making marrow brandy.

Now, I’ve been fishing around on the interweb for a while for a bullet proof recipe and different folk seem to make it in different ways. The main process is the same: chop the top off a marrow, scoop out the seeds, pack with sugar and fasten the top on again. This is where it gets a tad complicated. Some add brandy to the sugar, some add yeastand some add nothing at all. Figuring I wasn’t likely to get a potent brew with no brewing process, I decided to add yeast to mine.

Fetching my non-prize winning marrow from the depths of the pantry, I first cut off the top about 3 inches down. Scooping out the seeds proved trickier than I first thought due to the length of the marrow and the size of the opening. Undeterred, I removed all that I physically could, then made the cavity as big as possible by poking the remaining seeds down with a rolling pin. Genius!

I then set about packing the hole with brown sugar. After it was half full I added the juice of an orange and a sachet of wine yeast, then up to the top with more brown sugar. As this thing is hopefully going to ferment its head off I made a small hole through the lid of the marrow and inserted a wine-making airlock. With any luck this will let any yeasty gasses out and avert any unfortunate exploding marrow incidents. It should also keep the whole thing a bit more sealed and sterile and stop any bacteria getting in and sending the insides mouldy. That fitted, the top went back on the marrowand I fastened it with gaffer tape.

I then put the whole thing into an old pair of tights, hung it from the window latch and suspended it over a sweet jar. Apparently when the magic starts to happen, the marrow can get really mushy and hard to handle, so the tights will help support the weight.

Marrow brandy

Marrow brandy

According to form I now leave it alone for about three weeks, and then pierce a hole in the bottom to let the liquid drip out. At that point I should then pack the marrow with even more sugar and seal again for maximum juice extraction.

If all goes to plan I’ll be rewarded with a syrupy liquid that will be the start of my brandy. The liquid then goes into a demijohn with more yeast and water, to be fermented into a heady brew. From all accounts the end result can knock your socks off, so should be enjoyed in moderation.

I wonder if I should include a health warning on the bottles…

Appeared in The Hinckley Times on 17 October 2013

The mystery squash

Sweet dumpling squash

Sweet dumpling squash

Way back at the start of the year, I sowed what I thought were butternut squash seeds. The plants grew healthy and strong, and I had way too many for my garden so happily dished out the excess plants for my friends to grow. As the season went on, the plants snaked  across the veggie plot, and everyone commented on how well their plants were doing.  However, there appeared to be just one teeny problem. As the flowers subsided and the fruits developed, they looked to be anything BUT butternut squashes.

Instead of being smooth, pear-shaped and pale orange, these were like knobbly little pumpkins. What on earth were these mystery vegetables? And how big should they be before you pick them? Were they actually pumpkins? So many unanswered questions…

One thing was certain: I’ve never seen them in any of our local supermarkets.

After an extensive rustle around on the t’interweb, I discovered that what we’d all grown were, in fact something called sweet dumpling squash. Now, I’ve never even heard of these, let alone know what to do with them, but a further dig about revealed that they can be used in exactly the same way as butternut squash. They’re just slightly sweeter and a different shape. Phew!

That cleared up I set about transforming them into a hearty soup.

This one appeared in The Hinckley Times on 3 October 2013

The Hinckley Times 3 October 2013

The Hinckley Times 3 October 2013

Brandy mashed squash

Sweet dumpling squash and cumin on roasting tray

Sweet dumpling squash and cumin on roasting tray

Just a quickie (oooerr Missus!) this morning.

Since I made soup with my sweet dumpling squash, I’ve been looking around for other ways of transforming them into culinary delights. Woman cannot live on soup alone…

Yesterday, I hit upon a beauty – easy and delicious, and it may even make its way onto the Christmas menu. Mashed squash.

  1. Halve the squash, remove the seeds and cut into eighths
  2. Roast at 180 degrees with a sprinkling of cumin seeds for about half an hour
  3. Remove from the oven, allow to cool down slightly and remove the skins
  4. Add a knob of butter and a dash of milk and mash together

And this bit is where the magic happens…

Add a splash of brandy mix well, reheat and serve.

Went down a treat!

This would work well with sweet dumpling or butternut squash.

Berry good ideas for using up fruit

This article appeared in The Hinckley Times on 12 September, and came out of my recent post about Blackberry Jam and Blackberry Vodka

I’ve heard several reports that this year has been a great one for fruit, and on a recent walk out I discovered the proof was indeed in the pudding. Or the crumble. Or the pie really… Blackberries are growing in abundance around our local fields, hedgerows and jitties, so I decided to go foraging.

Learning from experience that a) brambles are lethally prickly and b) I may have to manoeuvre around dog doo, on went the long trousers, long-sleeved top and sensible shoes. Armed with a load of collecting bags, I was prepared for my mission and set off in the direction of the lane.

In no time at all – the branches were literally heaving with fruit – I had myself just over 2 Kilogrammes of lovely plump berries. Wanting to try something a bit different to a crumble, I opted for blackberry vodka and blackberry jam.

Blackberry vodka
You’ll need a 70cl bottle of cheap vodka, a clean, empty wine bottle with a screw top, sugar and blackberries.

Split the vodka between the two bottles, and put about 100g of sugar into each. Then simply plop blackberries into both bottles until they are full and screw on the lids. Put them in a cool dark place and about once a week, turn the bottles (think bell-ringer) so all the contents are well mixed. By Christmas, the berries should have infused into the vodka. Sieve and put the liquid back into just the vodka bottle. Enjoy!

 

Blackberry jam

Blackberry jam

Blackberry jam
The rest of the berries weighed 1.5 kilos and these went into a large cast iron pan. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 8 minutes until the fruit is soft.

Add the same weight of sugar (1.5 kilos), a teaspoon of lemon juice and a sachet of pectin. (Pectin makes the jam set, and blackberries don’t contain much of it naturally).

Bring the whole lot to a rolling boil for about another 10 minutes. The jam has to get to a certain temperature in order to set, and you’ll know when that’s close as the boiling liquid will suddenly look calmer, appear glossier and less frothy. To test if it’s ready, take a tiny bit of the jam and put on a cool plate. It will form a skin if it’s ready: if not, boil for longer, testing at regular intervals.

The jars need to be sterile to store the jam, so these should be washed and rinsed thoroughly. Whist the jam is boiling put the jars and lids on a tray in the oven on a medium heat. When the jam’s ready, funnel it up to the neck of each jar and screw on the lids.

Extreme caution should be deployed at this point, as the jam is approximately the same temperature of the earth’s core, and the jars and lids will be red hot too.

So, for the price of a bottle of pop and a couple of bags of sugar, we will be enjoying blackberries right into the New Year.

The Hinckley Times 12 September 2013

The Hinckley Times 12 September 2013

Sweet dumpling squash and courgette soup

Now I’ve found out that my mystery squash was a sweet dumpling, I thought I’d transform it into a lovely autumn soup.

Sweet dumpling squash

Sweet dumpling squash

Serves 4

You will need:
1 sweet dumpling squash (butternut would work just fine though)
1 medium onion
400g courgette or marrow
1 vegetable stock cube
1/2 litre of water
A spoonful of creme fraiche (or cream)

Salt and pepper to taste

Method

First of all I cut my squash in half and took out all the seeds. I then chopped it up roughly, drizzled with oil and sprinkled some cumin seeds on the top. Into the oven it went on 180 degrees for about 20 minutes.

Sweet dumpling squash and cumin on roasting tray

Sweet dumpling squash and cumin on roasting tray

To be honest, the marrow was an afterthought as I had some lurking around in the fridge that needed to be used up. I chopped it up (about 400g) and added this to the roasting tray. The whole lot went back in the oven for a further 15 minutes.

Sweet dumpling squash and courgette

Sweet dumpling squash and courgette

I use a soup maker, but a large pan with do just fine. Chop up the onion and add it to the pan, and saute gently until translucent. Separate the squash from the skins, and add the squash flesh and marrow to the pan.

Chuck in a crumbled stock cube and half a litre of water, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes.

Blitz until smooth, and stir in a generous dollop of creme fraiche or cream. Add salt and pepper to taste.

And the verdict? Absolutely delicious! Roasting the vegetables with cumin really brought out the flavours and the result was a lovely, warming soup. Next time I might even whack half a chilli in there. I think it can take it…

Four portions of sweet dumpling and courgette soup

Four portions of sweet dumpling and courgette soup

Blackberry jam

Still wanting a recipe to use up that bag full of blackberries?

Look no further…

You will need:
Equal weights of blackberries and white sugar
A sachet of pectin
Pectin is the stuff that sets the jam – blackberries don’t contain much of it naturally
Enough clean, sterilised jars to store the finished product in

Jars
As a rough guide, 1.5 kilos of blackberries, when added to the 1.5 kilos of sugar will make enough jam to fill 6 standard-size jam jars. To sterilise the jars, wash and rinse thoroughly, and put the jars and lids on a tray in the oven at a medium heat. Leave them there whilst you’re making the jam.

Let’s start:
Put the berries into a large, cast iron pan, bring to the boil and simmer for about 8 minutes. The fruit should be soft.

Add the sugar and pectin, bring to the boil again, and let it do a rolling boil for about 10 minutes. Don’t stir.

The jam needs to reach a certain temperature to set – you’ll know when you’re near to that as the boil looks calmer, less frothy and will have less air bubbles. It also takes on a lovely glossy texture.

Test the jam for setting by taking out a small amount and putting it on a plate. If a skin begins to form, it’s ready.

Transfer the jam up to the neck of the hot jars. Exercise extreme caution as the jam will be at about the same temperature as the earth’s core at this point.

Seal the jars and label.

Blackberry jam 2

Blackberry vodka

With the abundance of blackberries around this year, and if you fancy a change from crumble, why not give this a whirl. Started now, it will be ready for Christmas.

You’ll need:
70cl bottle of cheap vodka
one clean empty wine bottle (screw top)
200g sugar
approx 700g blackberries

What to do:
Divide the vodka between the two bottles
Add 100g sugar to each bottle
plop the blackberries up to the top of both

Store in a cool dark place, and about once a week – making sure the lids are on securely – turn the bottles over to mix. Think bell-ringerand you’ll have cracked it.

The next step in the process can be found in Blackberry vodka – the update

Sweet dumpling squash

I thought it was a butternut squash I was growing, but the fruit was nothing like anything I’ve bought in the shops. After a trawl around Google, I discovered it was a sweet dumpling squash, and it should taste very similar to butternut.

Now I’ve found out what my mystery squash is, I suppose I’d better find out what on earth I do with it…

Sweet dumpling squash

Sweet dumpling squash

Fruits & Veggies More Matters : Top 10 Ways to Enjoy Sweet Dumpling Squash : Health Benefits of Fruits & Vegetables.

Tomato and basil soup

My tomatoes are now ripening up well, but due to the wily caterpillars – they’re in the greenhouse, but I’ll be damned if I can find them – nibbling holes in some of them, they’re not quite fit for a salad.

In an effort not to waste them though, I put them to good use in a soup.

Serves 4

You will need:
About 700g assorted tomatoes
1 medium onion
Half a red chilli pepper
1 vegetable stock cube
1 litre of water
A handful of basil
A glug of cream

Salt and pepper to taste

Method
Roughly chop the onion and add to a large pan. Cut the tomatoes in half and add those too. I left the skins on as the soup will be blended anyway.
Add the water, basil, chilli and stock cube, bring to the boil, and simmer for 15 minutes.
Blend until smooth, add the cream and serve.
Add salt and pepper to taste.

The finished product is packed with tomatoey goodness, and really tasty too.

Tomato and basil soup

Tomato and basil soup