Recipe: Cranberry persimmon jam (small batch).

I know, I know, you’re probably tired of cooking for the holiday season already and the thought of doing more at this very moment doesn’t exactly inspire or thrill.  But, actually…this recipe pretty much cooks itself and the combination of ingredients is rather festive.  An added bonus: while it’s on the stovetop, your kitchen will smell delightful and afterwards, you’ll have something unique and special to serve up to your guests.

This jam isn’t subtle or summery in flavour – it’s full-on winter celebration, warmly spicy and rich.

Cranberry Persimmon Jam (small batch, yield: just over 2 cups)

12 ounces fresh cranberries, washed well (this year, I was so pleased to find cranberries grown in Canada – straight out of Nova Scotia!)

3 fuyu persimmons, peeled, mashed (a potato masher should do the trick, as will a hand blender)

1 heaping teaspoon ground cardamom

1 piece star anise

juice of 1/2 lime

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

Throw all the ingredients into a large saucepan and stir together.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then immediately turn the heat to low.  You want a consistent low boil – if bits of cranberry and persimmon are festooning the frosty kitchen windows in a pulpy sort of garland and colourful hot fruit dribbles are being catapulted into your Christmas tree as it stands sedately in the living room, you’ve got it on too high.

It will take time to boil this all down – about one hour, more or less.  You don’t have be present the entire time, but you cannot forget about it for too long.  Every once in a while, in between topping up your wine glass and wiping the cranberry-persimmon spatter off the chandelier (because you accidentally had the mixture on too high when you first got started), you will have to stir it.  Just so the sugar doesn’t burn.  Trust me on that one.  Burnt sugar sets off the smoke detector.  And your neighbours really don’t like that when it’s only six in the morning.  But, that’s another recipe from another time….

When the fruit and sugar have cooked down and everything is all jammy and fragrant and you can’t resist taking a bit of a taste, then it’s time to remove it from the heat and pack it into clean mason jars.  Don’t forget to remove the star anise chunk or someone is going to get a tooth-destroying, aggressively licorice-y surprise when they bite down.

Seal and refrigerate the jars when the contents have cooled down and enjoy!  Try to use it all up within three or four days.  That won’t be difficult.

*I think you could substitute a good honey for the sugar without any problems.  I am going to try this next time, and I will update this post if I find that it works.

**I think cinnamon would be lovely with this as well.  I’m also thinking about a whole vanilla bean.  And cardamom pods, versus the ground stuff.  Hmmmm….

***You could definitely process this in a boiling water canner for longer, safe storage.  You could also increase the size of the batch.

****I took a photograph of the jam as it was cooking in the pan, but let’s just say I’m a tad better at shooting landscapes and flowers.  You know what jam looks like.  😉

What are your favourite recipes using cranberries?

 

 

 

June blog fun.

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Whew!  Nine days in, and I can tell this is going to be one busy month…I think I’ve already spent 184.5673 hours of it watering my gardens.  We broke a heat record on Monday and the plants have been practically scratching at my window, begging for a drink.  This, when many parts of the world are suffering from flooding. I hope everyone affected is safe.

I have a bunch of fascinating links to pass along this month – hope you enjoy these!

National Geographic posted their winning images from their 2016 Travel Photographer of the Year contest – these are spectacular!

This slideshow profiling wild tulips from all over the world is truly incredible – move through the link and click the arrow on the right hand side of the first page to get started on the flower photos.  Even if you don’t have time to click on any of the other links I’ve given you today, take a couple of minutes to check this one out – you’ll understand why when you see it.

Considering espaliering your fruit trees?  Think BIGGER.  Trees meet architecture in this photo compilation.  

Canada has been gifted with a gorgeous new tulip in advance of the 150 anniversary of Confederation, to be celebrated next year.  ‘Canada 150’ is red and white, just like our flag.

English artist Rebecca Louise Law exhibited another of her deconstructed flower arrangements in Berlin – what a way to celebrate spring!

Here is a fascinating article about the origin of Canada’s most famous apple, the McIntosh. 

This is a candy terrarium.  Yep, it’s edible.  You won’t believe it, either.

And, finally, some stuff I posted elsewhere over the past few weeks:

What I’ve been reading on The Door is Ajar:

Hugh Howey – Beacon 23

Lemony Snicket – “When Did You See Her Last?”

Ernest Cline – Armada

Kerry Greenwood – Cocaine Blues

Annabel Pitcher – My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece.

And I’ve put up a recipe for a flourless Rhubarb Oatmeal Cake on Grit.com – you can use either fresh or frozen rhubarb for this one.  And then top it off with a big mound of vanilla ice cream.

Vanilla ice cream…the only way to deal with a heat record.  Plus, if you get it served in a cone, you can water the garden while you eat.  Win-win.

(Clipart credit.)

Holiday Plants: Cranberries (and a recipe for Cranberry Fudge!)

Highbush cranberry

V. trilobum – nope, not this one!

Not to be confused with the pictured cranberry, Viburnum trilobum (high bush cranberry), which makes a fantastic jelly but grows on compact shrubs, or the ornamental V. opulus and other Viburnum species and cultivars which are gorgeous but not edible, the cranberry we associate with holiday feasting in Canada and the United States is the totally unrelated Vaccinium macrocarpon.  (The viburnums are actually kin to elderberries and are not true cranberries).  V. macrocarpon is native to North America.  The vines grow in marshy areas, and commercial cranberry fields are flooded during harvest times, to make it easier for growers to gather the fruit.  (I found a good video showing the process here).

Viburnum snowball - 16 June 2012

Nor this one…V. opulus

When British colonists first came to America, the First Nations peoples educated them about the value of “craneberries” (called Sassamanash by the Algonquin and Ibimi by the Wampnanoag), which had been used for centuries for dye and fibre, and for food and medicine.  The colonists quickly recognized that the berries were good for staving off scurvy, so they became a staple on board trading vessels of the time.  The berries also became massively popular as a culinary delight in England, and commanded top dollar as an export. Apparently, cranberries could appease grumpy kings, as well:  in 1677, they were sent to Charles II when he became overly fussy about the colonists minting their own currency.  If only international politics were so manageable nowadays!

In 2007, 79,163 metric tonnes of cranberries were harvested in Canada (primarily from operations in British Columbia and Quebec), which translated to $44.3 million in exports and $17.2 million in imports.  That’s a lot of cranberry sauce!

This recipe for cranberry fudge is a holiday staple at my workplace, as one of our former managers still pops by every Christmas with a huge plate for all of us to share.  Even if you’re totally cratered by sugar at this juncture in the holiday season, bookmark this one for next year’s cookie plates…you’ll love both the taste and how easy it is to make.

Cranberry Fudge

Metric conversion table

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/4 cup corn syrup

1/2 cup icing (powdered) sugar

1/4 cup evaporated milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

6 oz dried cranberries

Prepare an 8″ square pan by lining it with plastic wrap or baking parchment.

Combine chocolate chips and syrup in a microwave-safe bowl.  Microwave on high until melted and smooth.  (Keep checking it so you don’t overheat it.  The wattage varies depending on what model of microwave you have, so I haven’t listed a specific time here).  If you don’t wish to use the microwave, you can do this step in a small saucepan over low heat on the stovetop.

Remove the chocolate and syrup mixture from the heat. Add icing sugar, evaporated milk, and vanilla.  Stir until mixture is shiny.  Add dried cranberries and combine well.  Pour into prepared pan and tap the bottom of the pan gently on the countertop to level the mixture.  Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours.  Cut into small squares and serve.

What are your favourite cranberry recipes? 

Further Reading:  Decking the Halls: The Folklore and Traditions of Christmas Plants by Linda Allen (2000, Willow Creek Press, Wisconsin)

Source: Crop Profile for Cranberry in Canada, prepared by Pesticide Risk Reduction Program, Pest Management Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, September 2007

Recipe: Shrimp with Holy Basil.

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I stuck to my usual veggie and herb staples this year in my beds at the community garden: spinach, potatoes, shallots, garlic, Swiss chard, parsley (both Hamburg and Italian), carrots, and sweet basil.  I couldn’t resist trying something new, however – this year it was holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum, syn. O. sanctum; also called tulsi), the seeds of which I discovered at Harmonic Herbs, an Alberta seed company out of Barrhead.

Holy basil is often confused with Thai basil (O. basilicum var. thyrsiflora), but although they both originate in the same part of the world, they differ in flavour and appearance.  My holy basil plants are very short (about 10″) – I’m sure this is due to my growing conditions, as they are supposed to reach about 2 feet.  The bees are completely gaga over the blooms so I haven’t pinched them off.  This is one fragrant, glorious basil!  I can’t recommend it enough:  the clove-like, peppery oils in the leaves are insanely delicious!

It seems that there is a dearth of recipes using holy basil on the ‘net, so I perused the contents of my fridge’s condiment rack and made something up.  I’m not into wildly spicy food, so this just has a minor kick, to my taste – feel free to alter this as desired.

Shrimp with Holy Basil

Place 2 tbsp olive oil in a large frying pan and heat.  Add:

1 chili pepper, deseeded, destemmed, minced finely

3 cloves garlic, minced

Saute just until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add:

1 large shallot (or 1 small onion)

2 scallions, trimmed, chopped finely

Cook 2 minutes, then add:

1 tbsp oyster sauce

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp fish sauce

1/4 cup chicken stock

Salt and pepper to taste

20 large raw shrimp (I prefer them deveined and peeled)

Cook until the shrimp turns pink.

Add:

20 leaves holy basil, washed and finely chopped

Cook just until the basil is wilted, about 30 seconds.

Remove from heat and serve over hot cooked basmati rice. Serves 2.

(Metric conversion tables here).

Do you grow basil?  What is your favourite kind?  Did you grow any “new-to-you” plants this year?  Are you pleased with how they’ve performed?

Parsnip cake.

We went straight from Zucchinipalooza to Carrotextravaganza around here this fall.  While I had only a modest harvest of carrots from my community garden plot this year, the farm that provides us with our CSA share baskets had a positive bumper crop, and so for quite awhile now, we’ve been pretty much swimming in carrots.  It’s not a bad problem to have – we’ve had various carrot breads, soups (click through to see my purple carrot soup), and a cake with cream cheese filling.  My hubby, the avowed Meatatarian, will actually eat carrots, so we’ll get through the rest of them with little trouble.

The parsnips are another story.

I didn’t grow parsnips this year (nor have I ever – they’re on my list of Crops to Plant One Day in the Nebulous Future).  But our CSA baskets have been FULL of them.  According to the owner of the farm, this is only the second year they’ve grown parsnips, but their success was “amazing.”

Of course, my hubby won’t touch them with a ten foot pole.  He won’t even eat them roasted, glazed with a bit of butter and brown sugar, which is really my favourite way to prepare them.

So I took a cue from the carrot madness we have going on and baked a cake.

Parsnip Cake

3/4 cup butter

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup pure maple syrup (you could use agave syrup if you don’t have maple, but maple tastes best)

3 eggs (if you wish to substitute a flax gel* in place of 1 egg, you could)

2 cups all-purpose flour (you could sub out 1/4 cup of white flour for whole wheat, if you prefer.  I’m also thinking of experimenting with almond meal)

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp cardamom

3 cups parsnips, peeled and grated

1 apple, peeled and chopped finely

Juice of 1 orange

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease two loaf pans and line with parchment.

Melt butter and cool slightly.  Add sugar, maple syrup, and eggs, and mix thoroughly.   Add flour, baking powder, and spices and combine.  Fold in parsnips, apple, and orange juice and stir until evenly distributed throughout the batter.  Pour into prepared loaf pans and bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

(*To “make” an egg out of flax, mix 1 tbsp. ground flaxseed in 3 tbsp. water and let sit until it gels, about 5 minutes).

Handy Conversion Calculator

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And that is how you get someone to eat their parsnips.  😉

Do you grow parsnips in your garden?  More importantly, do you EAT parsnips?  What are your favourite parsnip recipes?

Related posts – Parsnip Cake (From Sewing Room to Potting Shed)

Sprouting fenugreek.

Do you grow your own sprouts?

If I’m not sprouting some kind of seed or another, I’ve usually got a batch or two of microgreens on the go. I don’t have the space to go all out, so the amounts I’m growing are tiny – enough for a couple of sandwiches, perhaps, or to throw into a stir fry at the very end of cooking. I’m constantly resowing and trying new types of crops – it’s like year ’round seed trials on a miniature scale.

I’ve sprouted fenugreek seeds several times before, but I haven’t had a chance to write about them until now (partly because I keep eating them before photographing them – oops!). These guys are super-easy to sprout and pack a spicy-sweet punch that is perfect for so many dishes.

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum, called “methi” in India) is a plant of Mediterranean origin, and is widely grown throughout Asia and Europe. It’s a common staple of Indian cooking, where the fresh or dried leaves and the whole seeds are used in a wide range of dishes. A member of the Fabaceae family, this annual reaches about 60 cm tall and prefers to be grown in fertile, slightly acidic soil. Apparently you have to sow fenugreek directly into the ground or containers, as plants do not like to be transplanted. It seems that many people opt to sprout the seeds or grow them as microgreens, as I do.

If you’ve never sprouted seeds before, there are some great resources online: try the information on this website for the Canadian company Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds. I’ve tried both the tray method and the jar method (and had more success with the latter with most crops), but really, the most important things to remember with sprouting is to always use organic, untreated seed, always rinse seeds with filtered water, and ensure your jars, trays, etc. are spotlessly clean. And, eat your sprouts as soon as possible! Most can only be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days.

(Speaking of eating, fenugreek sprouts are marvellous as an addition to Sweet Potato and Chickpea Hummus…and if you want the recipe for that, please check out my blog post for Grit.com.  YUM!).  🙂

Have you ever grown fenugreek (as a sprout or otherwise)?  What types of sprouts are your favourites to grow? 

Fenugreek sprouts FP

Book review: Sugar snaps and strawberries.

Sugar Snaps and Strawberries:  Simple Solutions for Creating Your Own Small-Space Edible Garden – Andrea Bellamy (2010, Timber Press, Inc., Portland)

This beautifully-photographed tome is a must-have for wannabe small-space urban gardeners:  it’s a comprehensive how-to manual that details all of the necessities for creating an aesthetically-pleasing and highly productive food garden on a balcony, deck, courtyard, driveway, or small yard.  Containers, of course, are the cornerstones of Bellamy’s designs, but she also offers construction plans for raised beds.  All the gardening nuts and bolts are covered:  light, water, soil, amendments, fertilizers, siting, pest control (organically, natch!) and all of the cultural requirements from sowing to pruning to harvest (including a really great section about saving seed and deliniating the terms “heirloom” and “hybrid”).

About one third of the book is devoted to the food plants themselves, with brief, detailed portraits of standby greens, herbs, tomatoes, root veggies and small fruits – and some surprises, such as mushrooms and grains.  I’m a bit astonished that Bellamy has included larger plants such as apples and corn on this list (particularly the latter, about which she writes, “Unfortunately, corn, also known as maize, is not suited to growing in very small places.”   I’m not quite sure it belongs here, especially as she doesn’t mention that it can be grown as shoots, which may be more appropriate given the theme of the book.  In her defense, though, a small yard can support a few corn plants, soooooo).  All in all, however, the plant selections are excellent small-space choices and many of them can be grown even in geographical locations with limited frost-free days.

Written in a easy-going, very accessible manner (and as an aside, I LOVE the fonts and layout!), this is THE primer for small-space gardeners looking to get started on their first food garden…it’s well worth purchasing as a reference tool.

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Bellamy is the creator of the blog Heavy Petal, which can be found here.

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Related posts:  The Book of Little Hostas.

How to Grow Your Food.