Sunday, June 27, 2010

Loosey Goosey

Well as I have mentioned before it is berry and fresh veg time of the year. So we have been enjoying lots, probably too much, of all this food. We have just had some guests over from Australia as well, who got the chance to eat some of the fresh things we have, and pass comment.

Of late we have probably been eating about 2kg of cherries a week. The funny thing to a non-Polish person is that there really isn't just cherries. They have two, maybe four, maybe more depending on who you ask, types of cherries. The most obvious distinction, and one that is acknowledged by all Poles, is that there are early and late cherries. The early are not really considered as important as the late. The early cherries can tend to be less flavoursome as they are full of the spring and early summer rains. Of these you really get two varieties which are the standard red and the lighter almost white. Funnily enough the red seems to come to the market first. The later and darker red cherries are the best for jams and preserves and may be why they are more loved by the Poles as a whole. As an Australian, I am just happy to be buying them for 10PLN, 2.4Euro, 3.4AUD, 3USD, or 2GBP. Especially when I think back to Christmas time in Australia and how the price would regularly be over $20, I am just in heaven. I just came up with a little brain wave... we might try and grow a bonzai cherry tree.... I am sure it can be done!

So apart from swimming in red fruits, cherries, strawberries and the most amazing raspberries, I have found a berry that I previously really didn't know anything about, the Agrest. Nothing more ,of course, than when my father said to me as a child "Stop being a gooseberry", when I would follow my sister and her friends around, funny also that my father would pronounce it goozberry rather than gooseberry too. Of course to my Polish friends that phrase is something my Dad would say when he meant stop being the third wheel, the extra unwanted person. From this I always thought of Gooseberries as being unwanted and kind of sad fruits. That was until we bought some at the market. We bought a punnet which is about half a kilo and brought them home, some were green, some were a little red and some totally red. I tried them in each form. I must admit after trying the red one first and moving to the green I thought maybe there was a reason that gooseberries should be left alone.
They do certainly look like something I would want to eat.

I started to do a little net surfing about my new purchase and came to realise that these little oval berries are actually very high in pectin, the one thing that the old Strawberry jam I made lacked. So I thought, hey, let's have a crack at making some jam! I went and bought another half a kilo of only green berries and got to it. First things first of course...... a recipe!
Gooseberry Jam
Seemed an easy and very straight forward one. So I started. First of all is to top and tail them removing the hard stalks, which is easy, but rather time consuming. Now while you have time and remember, put a plate into the freezer. Just a normal ceramic one, and also throw your cleaned jars into the oven at 140 or so for anything over 40 minutes to keep them sterile.

1. To every 450g prepared fruit use 300ml water. The riper the fruit, the less water you will need. Put the fruit and water into a large, heavy-based saucepan. Bring to the boil, then simmer gently until the skins are soft – they will not soften after the sugar has been added. Mine were half and half so I went in the middle with weights and water.

They kind of look like marbles in water here.

2. Use 450g-550g granulated sugar per 450g of fruit – use the larger amount for under-ripe fruit. Add the sugar and stir over a low heat until it has dissolved completely. If you boil the jam before it has dissolved, it may crystallise during storage.

Even though I only had about 35-40% red or reddening fruit, I still ended up with a really dark jam.
Bring the jam to a rapid but steady boil and boil until it reaches a temperature of between 105°C and 110°C.

Do the 'wrinkle test' to see if you have reached setting point. It should happen after about 15 minutes or so of boiling, and your jam should by now have become slightly more viscous and clear. Have a saucer ready in the freezer. Take the pan off the heat, spoon a little jam onto the plate and leave until completely cold. Then push it across the plate with your forefinger. It should wrinkle up if it's ready. If it only slightly wrinkles, bring back to the boil and boil for a few more minutes.

When you take the scum off, just keep it on the side. There is nothing wrong with it, it is just not as "pretty" as the other jam. But it still tastes darned good on fresh bread with butter!
Discard any scum from the top of the jam and pour it into the prepared jars, using a jam funnel. Cover the surface of the jam with waxed discs, wax-side down, and either quickly cover each jar with a dampened round of cellophane and rubber band or leave to go cold before covering with cellophane or a screw-top lid. Sealing the jars well will prevent the build up of condensation under the lid, which could lead to mould
I like to put the jars upside down to make sure the seals are fine. Funny thing with a pectin rich thing like gooseberry jam is that the jam doesn't want to come back down again! Oh well, probably it will form a better seal against mould this way!

This jam still came out a little sweeter than I had hoped, I really wanted something with some tart. I might try again with just green fruit later in the summer. Or maybe still, the next exciting chapter will be blueberries, just coming into the market now at 20PLN a kilo! It is a steal, I feel like I am robbing them at that price!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Junky Jam and Ogre like Ogoreki

Cottage industry, how great you would be..... if only the neighbours would move out and we could convert you all into gardens!

One must ask children and birds how cherries and strawberries taste.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe-German Playwright, Poet, Novelist & Dramatist, 1749-1832.

So it is that time of year, yes the greatest time when the fruit is plentiful and tasty but the most important factor is that it is cheap. The Strawbs will be coming to an end soon, whilst at the moment the most common sight in our neighbourhood on the street corners isn't kebab stalls, isn't flower sellers but little men with piles of Truskawka in little cane baskets. One of the quaint things about Poland is that they call a local market a "bazaar". It always makes me think of Turkey and piles of spices, insence burning and little men running around with tea!

But our market is a beautiful place where you can buy some big granny undies, double yolk eggs, dried herbs from a sweet talking old man, fresh herbs, smoked smallgoods, milk, pretty much anything with the exception of live animals, unless you count the gold fish man.....

So this day we bought a whole bunch of beautiful strawberries. They are really great at this time of the year. Not just great but going for about 4PLN/kg ($AUD1.4, GBP0.83, $US1.21). Which is a great bargain for freshly picked and bursting with flavour fruit. So we grabbed about 2 kg's and brought them home with the expectation of munching away on them for the weekend. But when we opened our selection, we realised quickly that they were mostly really good fruit, with few exceptions. This got me to thinking about making jam as I had heard that the best fruit should be used for jam. So off I trotted onto the internet to locate some information. I stumbled across numerous sites with great information. The BBC website even had a video of how to make strawberry jam. Also I came across a great website from Australia, a little bit preachy at times, but a really nice place full of passion and desire to make living at home real living and of course a place where they made their own way of making jam. Me being a scientist, male and know-it-all decided to follow both recipes, otherwise known as having a recipe but not following it.
So here are the steps:
1) Buy fantastic strawberries
2) Core them and remove anything that looks even a little squishy.
3) add equal part of castor sugar to equal part of strawberry and mix, then leave to sit for a while. In my eagerness it was only about 1.5 hours but should be better overnight.
4) The strawberries will now release their delightful juices and so whack all this into a big pot (I mean big!), if you can a heavy bottom is best. Heat on low to melt sugar, once that graininess has gone when you stir it then you can turn the heat up.
5) The reason I said big pot is that it starts what is called a rolling boil, very pretty and very effective, but mine decided to roll over the side. So keep an eye on it, and turn it back a touch if it gets too excited.
6) While it was boiling away, I decided to use some of our home grown mint, berry icecream, and the "scum" or bubbles that are on the top of the jam for a little snack.Product placement anyone? I tell you what, this was the best tasting dessert I have had in a long time, and was so beautifully contructed by a company called "The Hand of Mart".
7) Once it had boiled for a whole half of a football game (Australia 0- Germany 4!) I decided to bottle it, but first I was sneaky and crushed some of the strawbs with a potato masher as I had some really big ones in there that I hadn't cut. I washed, added boiling water, rinsed it, put in the oven for 40 minutes at 140C to kill off bugs. Then filled the jars. The jam itself came out a little runny, I probably should have boiled it longer or as the Mother of Mart, Ela, said I should have used pectin jam. Either way it seriously is one of the greatest jams I have eaten. I am not normally a big jam fan, but I have found myself eating it almost every day for breakfast for a week!

Ok, while I was being the jam king Marty was working hard on another recipe. A more traditional one. One called Ogorki Malosolne, which translates roughly as slightly salted pickles or gherkins if you are English.
Don't they just look good swimming in the sink.
What is that guy looking so happy for?
Oh! I see, he is getting excited about getting into the action!
So after cleaning up those little cucumbers, you should get your earthen ware pot ready. Start by lining it with horseradish leaves, dill, pepper corns, horsradish (root) and garlic.
This was our first time with this recipe, and we decided to slice our garlic. Which was a little silly as the pickles/gherkins became super garlicky. So in future they will stay whole instead.
Then you add your buffed and shined cucumbers in layers with following with alternate layers of the afforementioned greenery.
Keep doing this till the pot is filled, or you have run out of produce!
Then mix salt into warm water and stir till it dissolves, roughly two 2 tblspns to 2L (subtle hint: this is where they get their name from). Then you pour this into the pot and put a weight in there to hold down everything to stop it floating. We used just a small bowl full of the salty water. It worked a treat. We left them for 24 hours and started to munch. For this style of gherkin/pickle they should stay crunchy as it makes them much nicer.

Overall it was a really great fun weekend as we bottled the nettle beer too, which is now sitting away in the pantry and working on getting some great flavour and bubbles... I hope! :)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Nettle Beer awwwwway we go.

As I mentioned last blog post, I am always sitting at home thinking about the things I have done in recent times, the things I would like to do in the upcoming times and the things that I would like to do right at that moment. I think I am slowly driving Marta insane with my ideas for goats cheese, ginger beer, fruit wines, anything! If you can name it and make at home I have talked about it.

So, due to me aforementioned affliction, I like to flick through numerous websites. Including, but not exclusively limited to, the really inspiring guys at
Blagger (Nik runs a great concept there), Channel 4 Food, I miss watching Landline in Australia, and then there was the TV show the River Cottage from the UK with Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall. The latter is where I got the recipe for the nettle beer after trying some in Prague at the beginning of the month last month and being excited. So here it is:

Nettle Beer


"We love nettles at River Cottage, turning them into everything from soup to gnocchi and tagliatelle and, yes, beer."


  • 6l water
  • A small carrier bag of nettle tops, washed
  • Juice of 1 lemon, strained
  • Juice of 1 orange, strained
  • 750g caster sugar
  • 30g cream of tartar
  • 5g yeast

Method: How to make nettle ale

1. Bring the water to the boil in a large pan.

2. Add nettles, stir, then remove the pan from the heat and leave to infuse for at least an hour until it is at blood temperature.

3. Carefully - you might want to enlist a helper at this point - strain the nettle liquid through a colander lined with a large piece of unbleached muslin into a large brewing bucket or pan. Once the liquid has filtered through, squeeze the muslin to get the maximum amount of liquid into the bucket.

4. Gradually add the sugar, stirring constantly to ensure it is thoroughly dissolved, then add the cream of tartar, and lemon and orange juice.

5. Finally, once the mixture is tepid, stir in the yeast. Cover and leave for 2-3 days in a warm place, until it’s obviously fermenting.

6. Remove any scum which has risen to the top in fermentation and siphon the beer into sterilised bottles and seal with corks.

7. Leave for at least a couple more days or up to a month before drinking.

What I did:

Picked Large bag of nettles tips (in photographic display)

This guy certainly doesn't look trustworthy, with a face like that and gloved hands and scissors....

Here are the nettle tips

Now they are gone! Where are they?

I think we have found the cause here a major force in weed destruction.

He certainly looks happy with his find, something ready to consume, no doubt!

The proud nettle hunter!

Supporting Sokolka's finest fresh produce.

Then there was a few hours delay between picking them and getting them home. Once home at about 10 at night I started to work. Boiled nettles up in two pots, with 5L of water (4 in one 1 in the other) Then tipped the smaller into the larger pot to sit overnight to get some flavour out of the nettles.

Reboiled the next day to allow the death of any bugs and removed the foamy scum at top

Added juice of 4 lemons (one as per recipe and 3 as I had no crème of Tartar available)

Juice of one large Orange

750g of Caster sugar (certainly seemed a lot!)

Added a little extra water (about 1L to cool down hot mixture)

Then added yeast and allowed to start a little.

Poured all into Demijohn and waited about a week.

So then I was getting excited and started to make preparations. I wanted to bottle it, so sterilised as many as possible, and also brewed up some priming sugar liquid (to make it fizzy), I needed to rack the good part of the beer off so as to separate it from the dead yeast. This was relatively easy as I have 2 demijohns. So I could sterilise one and putthe good clear beer into the other.

The beer smelled more like wine, and quite a lot like Champagne. The taste is a little tart but still not horrible.
I had just about finished bottling, when I realised something, I went back to my calculations and realised I had made double the priming solution!

Some people would think this to be a good thing, but to me exploding bottles and lots of fizz in my beer isn't really what I am looking forward to. So it went all back into the demijohn to ferment a little more to reduce the available sugar. I did keep one bottle out though, it is one in a soft drink container, I have since been slightly letting out the extra CO2 each day. I will probably try it after a week or so.
Then along came a beautiful Saturday, and I thought it was about time to bottle. So we now have 13 bottles of Nettle beer, sitting in the pantry aging and hopefully not exploding.
I did add a small amount of sugar, about a quarter of a teaspoon, to the bottles to give it a little fizz. Fingers crossed now!

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