Using up Boozy Fruit from Hedgerow Liquor

I have spent much of the Summer and Autumn setting copious quantities of fruit to stew in vast amounts of various alcohols.  I have made Wild Cherry Ratafia, Haw Brandy and Raspberrycello.  Damson Gin, Sloe Vodka and Blackberry Whisky.  Not to mention the Raspberry & Apple Gin, Creme de Mure, Elderberry Liquor, Currant Shrub, Beech Leaf Noyau and the inevitable Sloe Gin among many others.  Indeed, I may I have made mention of my alcofrolicking before.

Inevitably all this alcohol means the fruit is well preserved when the time comes to drain it off (arguably it has imparted all its flavour and is fit only for the bin.  I am not sure about composting things once sugar or alcohol has been involved but no doubt any gardeners among you could tell me?).  However, somehow this does not seem right.  Carl Legge suggests a wonderful trilogy of recipes for sloes which uses the same batch each time so clearly sloes, at least, still have plenty to offer.  I currently have a batch of Sloe and Rosehip wine and Vodka on the go following Carl’s advice and am looking forward to the final part of the trilogy when I get to make the jam.  So far it’s all, er, hopeful?  The wine looks pretty:

but I’m not so sure about the vodka or its potential for jam:

but I shall persevere.

Covering damsons or sloes in melted chocolate (with some citrus zest and christmas spices for variety) is another lovely way to use boozy fruits up.  The hit of whatever alcohol has been used for soaking makes these a very special after dinner treat.

Today, though, I decided to experiment with my tried and tested Christmas cake recipe.  On Friday, I had bottled a batch of Plum Brandy and a some Plum Rum, and what with plums featuring quite strongly in Christmas cooking folklore, I decided these fruits would make a welcome addition to the cake mix.  I simply stoned and weighed the plums, then substituted them for a mix of the other dried fruits.  As these plums had all come from our summer boating trips, I decided to add to the foraged nature of cake by using my chestnut flour in place of the ground almonds.  The result is a light coloured, densely fruity cake that I will feed with Plum Brandy between now and Christmas.  Having made some little ones for hampers, the Captain and I sampled one and I have to say it tastes delicious!

Hedgerow Christmas Cake

2kg Dried Fruit + boozy fruit, chopped & stoned – I used: 500g brandy & rum plums; 400g currants; 400g sultanas; 300g raisins; 225g glacé cherries; 175g mixed peel.

100g Chestnut Flour (use ground almonds instead as alternative)

grated zest of 2 lemons

grated zest of 1 orange

400g softened butter

400g dark soft brown sugar

6 eggs

4 1/2 tbsp plum brandy (or other hedgerow brandy/rum to match boozy fruit)

2 tbsp black treacle

100g self-raising flour

375g plain flour

1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 1/4 tsp mixed spice

1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Grease and double line a 9 inch deep square cake tin.  Pre-heat oven to 150c/Gas 2.  Combine fruit in mixing bowl and stir in chestnut flour with citrus zest.  In another mixing bowl cream together the butter, sugar and treacle with an electric hand whisk until light and fluffy.  Sift the flours and spices together in a third bowl.  Beat the eggs into the creamed mixture following each addition with two tablespoons of spiced flour.  Mix in the plum brandy and then fold in the remaining flour.  Add the fruit mixture and stir to combine.  Spoon into the prepared tin, spreading out evenly.  Cut out double thickness strips of brown paper to surround the outside of the tin and tie in place with string to prevent the outside edge of the cake becoming too hard during baking.  Place just the below the centre of the oven and bake for approximately 5 hours until a skewer, inserted into the centre, comes out clean.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool in tin for ten minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.  Keep wrapped in lining paper then further wrap in foil and store in an air tight tin for up to two months.  Each week, peel back the layers and feed with a couple of tablespoons of plum brandy (or your chosen hedgerow brandy/rum) drizzled over the surface).

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Scavenging and Apple & Rosehip Jam

Back onto ‘proper’ canals at last! We are now cruising the Calder & Hebble which is quite beautiful so far. I have missed the narrow waterways with their overhanging trees and abundant verges. They seem positively snug compared to the vast openness of the Trent, the Stainforth & Keadby and the Aire & Calder. Those canals offered slim pickings in the way of foraging. In fact, they were bleak, barren landscapes. But then, perhaps just as well. The Captain would not have thanked me if I had wanted to stop on some of those stretches. I suspect he would have refused.

Now that we are on the Calder & Hebble, I am once more finding masses. No matter that the 17 year old refuses to call it foraging. As soon as he realised I would not be using roadkill, he lost interest and now refers to it as scavenging. He also prods things suspiciously or asks to see the packets *sigh*

Anyway. Since getting back into the foraging groove, I’ve found pears, damsons, elderberries, haws, blackberries and rosehips. I was particularly delighted with the pears which are a little under ripe but that should make them all the better for bottling. I shouldn’t sell the previous canals short. I did manage to find some apples and rosehips while on the Aire & Calder. It seemed only right to deal with them first.

I simmered and mashed the rosehips yesterday (by hand this time, we remain inverterless), and set them to drip overnight. Today I turned them into Apple and Rosehip Jam. I added the cider to the water to cook the apples in because I had some to hand. However, it would work as well, maybe better, with just water.

Apple and Rosehip Jam

850g Rosehips

1l water

850g apples, peeled, cored and chopped

100ml cider + 100ml water

800g sugar

Juice of half a lemon

Bring rosehips in the water to the boil and simmer until soft. Mash using a potato masher in the pan. Strain through scalded muslin overnight. Cook apples in 100ml of water and 100ml of cider until soft. Add the rosehip juice, sugar and lemon juice and heat gently until sugar dissolved. Boil for about 15-20 mins till setting point reached. Pour into warm sterilised jars and seal.

Massacre in the Galley

You would not believe that multiple homicides had not been committed in my kitchen today.  Really, you wouldn’t.  I have been playing with blackberries.  And elderberries.  And, oh my, the red staining!

The Captain was quite pleased.  You see, I am not known as a tidy cook.  Despite my name.  That will not make sense unless you know me, but no matter.  However, on the boat, I have no option but to clear up as I go along.  The kitchen is simply too small to do otherwise.  Today I have spent what feels like all day, all day I tell you, washing up.  I could easily have been swabbing down after the homicide squad have finished.  Who could have believed that the elderberry, such a small thing, could contain so much juice?  It went everywhere.  I found it on my clothes.  Predictable.  On my arms.  Unsurprising.  My feet.  A little concerning.  Up the walls.  More worrying.  Down the outsides of the boat.  Just bizarre.  But the culinary magic that I have conjured with these berries is a wonder to behold!

Today I had the whole day to cook.  The weather decided to join in.  We cruised along the Trent in sweltering sunshine, all the windows open, melting in the heat.  Not the best day to make jam possibly.  I looked like I had been steamed alive by lunchtime.  Oh.  Wait.  That would be because I was doing my best to replicate those conditions.  The Captain had told me on Monday, that I would have no foraging opportunities during the day as all the locks were manned an it is a tad harder to jump ship on a river.  Especially a rather large one.  Consequently, I foraged like a mad thing yesterday to stockpile ingredients.

The results of all this sweaty laborious effort are:

Rosehip and Bramble Jelly

Blackberry Chutney

Elderberry Pickle

Pontack (elderberry) Sauce

Also, but not yet pictured, Blackberry Vodka, Blackberry Liqueur and Elderberry Balsamic Vinegar.  It has been a long hot sticky day with lots of red.  Everywhere.  But the tastings, the aromas and the meals to come have made and will make it worth it.

Meanwhile, I shall leave you with my recipe for Blackberry Chutney.  I conflated several recipes and ended up with something entirely different.  If you would like any of the others, do let me know.  Enjoy.

Blackberry Chutney

500g blackberries

150g sugar

2 red onions, finely chopped

juice and zest of 1 lemon

3cm fat piece root ginger

2 tbsp Dijon mustard

150mls white wine vinegar

Put all the ingredients except the vinegar into a large pan.  Stir over gentle heat until blackberries burst and juices start to run.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add vinegar and bring mixture to the boil.  Simmer very gently for as long as possible until thick – about 45mins to an hour.  Spoon into sterilised jars and seal.

Trent & Mersey Towpath Jam

Saturday night we moored at Armitage, just north of the toilet factory. I love that place. The way the toilet bowls are all lined up along the back fence. The way scintillating conversation vanishes down the pan as lavatorial puns abound and we hurry past with no time to loos. Sorry. Had to be done.

Flushed with success (ok, I’ll stop now) over my dewberry moment on Sunday, I was not expecting more. Indeed, I was happy with my lot. I would have been quite content to let the Dewberry Jelly drip overnight and jam it this morning. But this is August the hedgerows are teeming. During the course of the day I had the opportunity to effect my Standing on the Roof of your Narrowboat gathering method for some wild plums which were perfectly ripe.

We ate probably more than we should have done and the rest I set aside for jam and Rumtopf. Then there were the enormous rosehips of the Japanese Rose. If Carlsberg made rosehips, then they would definitely make them like this. Obviously I found dewberries and blackberries. But what most surprised was that the elderberries were beginning to ripen. I found enough inky black ones to throw into my jam.

I needed apples too but our Bramley apple tree had shaken its branches before we left home and I had gathered a bagful of windfalls to bring with me.  As jams go, it is very tasty.  Particularly as by making it two parts the boat was filled with the scent of rosehips, apples and plums one day, then blackberries and elderberries the next.  Divine.

Trent & Mersey Towpath Jam

225g Japanese Rosehips

450g Wild Plums

900g Windfall Apples / Crab Apples

300g Blackberries & Elderberries

450g Sugar

Wash fruit.  Put rosehips, plums and chopped apples (skins & cores) into a preserving pan.  Add water to cover (about 1.2 litres) and cook slowly until the fruit is tender.  Strain in a scalded jelly bag overnight.  Return strained liquid to pan with blackberries & elderberries.  Add sugar and heat gently stirring all the time until sugar has dissolved.  Bring to a fast boil and boil until setting point is reached – about 10 to 15 mins.  Pour into sterilised jars and seal.

Foraging Heaven or Netherwich (Droitwich) Basin

We arrived in Netherwich Basin, situated in the centre of Droitwich, yesterday soon after lunch.

The Captain had been itching to try out the newly opened Droitwich canal since he first heard about it and was a tad narked that we could not get there for the grand opening at the weekend.  Travelling in the opposite direction were a steady stream of boaters that he recognised from his blog.  The general impression seemed to be positive.  A bit of tweaking required here and there, but basically a wonderful new addition to the waterways.

Well, all this boaty talk was all very well and I was interested to a point.  But I could only muster enthusiasm for a short while before my attention wandered to the hedgerows.  Along the new stretch, there were no hedgerows yet to speak of.  Give it time.  I fully expect them to be abundant with exciting species soon enough.  I am confident because once under the low, make that very low, M5 bridge (actually we had 3″s to spare) we joined old Droitwich Barge Canal there were many exciting things to see.  Most thrilling were the wild plum trees which seem to line this stretch.

However, these were nothing compared to the delights waiting in the Basin.  Having moored on the new pontoons we took a walk into the town for a look around.  I was armed with my foraging basket and the Captain with his camera.  I had already scouted out a Wild Cherry Tree and some more Japanese Rosehips so went prepared.

To my delight and astonishment, we discovered a mini grove of Cherry Plum Trees growing wild!  The fruit was perfectly ripe, with both yellow and red available, and they pretty much fell into my basket.

I was enraptured.  We also found a bank of ripe brambles which seems ridiculously early but to pass them by on that pretext would have been rude.

Carrying my goods back to the boat was not easy (but look how pretty they were!).

Nor was dealing with all the fruit.  But breakfasting this morning on newly baked bread, butter and very fresh wild cherry plum jam was extremely delicious.

It is also very satisfying knowing that I picked enough fruit for eight jars of yellow Cherry Plum Jam, seven jars of Red Cherry Plum Jam, two large jars of Cherry Plum Gin, I large jar of Wild Cherry Brandy and 1 medium jar of Bramble Whisky.

This evening we are moored in Worcester.  Tomorrow, we shall be back in Droitwich and I shall make a return to the Cherry Plum Trees as I have plans to make some Plum ‘beena :o)

Fuel for Tardebigge

After yesterday’s phenomenal catch, I was very glad of the stretch of cruising afforded us this morning. We had moored with friends in Central Birmingham and set off from here heading towards Tardebigge. First though, there were the three tunnels: Wast Hill, Shortwood and Tardebigge, and about four hours of lock free boating.

I took up my usual perch at the pointy end, and set to with a chopping board, sharp knife and two bowls. My Rosehip Bread called for the hips to be de-seeded which turned into a messy, marathon task. It also involved a fair bit of nipping in and out of the boat as when we entered the tunnels I could not see a thing. Given that freezing the hips had turned the softer ones to a mushy state I am not convinced it was such a good idea, as removing the seeds did not prove easy. Next time, I shall make this without freezing the hips first to compare. If it does prove to be as time-consuming and messy for you, all I can say is that the end result is so worthwhile so do persevere.

I had just managed to get the loaf into the oven when we arrived at Tardebigge Top Lock, which was pretty much perfect timing.

The end result gave more of a fruit loaf than a soda bread, but it was absolutely delicious slathered with butter. Thoroughly recommended. Will definitely be making this again.

Rosehip Bread

100ml orange juice

140ml water

100g raisins

100g seeded & chopped wild rosehips

30g melted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg, beaten

300g plain flour

200g granulated sugar

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

75g pine nuts or sunflower seeds or some such thing

Preheat oven to 170c/Gas 3. In a large bowl mix together the orange juice, water, raisins, rosehips, butter, vanilla and egg. Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl. Stir in sugar and salt and then fold into wet ingredients. Finally stir through pine nuts. Spoon batter into a well greased 2lb loaf tin. Bake for 50 – 60 mins. Loaf should sound hollow when tapped on bottom when done. Cool on rack. Serve in buttered slices.