Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Sloe Gin

Last week's wild fruit horde was sweeter than ever for the simple reason that we brought home a huge amount of that acrid berry, the sloe.

Sloes are only really good for one thing and that is plonked in a jar or a bottle with a load of sugar and alcohol. In the raw form a bitten sloe can make even the most beautiful of faces turn inwards and cause children to run screaming. However, a long soak in sugar and booze and the true qualities show, permeating gin or vodka with unique floral flavour and smells making the risk of a nasty cut from its spiky home in the blackthorn bush all worthwhile.

I now wait patiently as the sloes sit in a demijohn in the garage doing what they do best. 3 months should do it but if you can resist it, the longer the marinade the better the flavour and a more intense, purple colour.

Sloe Gin
(Multiply the ingredients depending on your pickings)

1kg sloes
500g caster sugar
2 litres gin

1 - Wash and pick your sloes. Now the bit that causes debate. Do you spend an age pricking each berry to allow the juices to flow or do you freeze then thaw allowing the skin to burst naturally? It is up to you, but I bashed mine in a pestle and mortar and will sieve carefully when it comes to bottling.
2 - Pile into a sterilised demijohn or large clean bottles. Pour in the sugar and gin, seal tightly, shake well and place in a cool dark place. Give it a shake every week.
3 - After a minimum of 3 months, pour through a muslin cloth into clean sterilised bottles and it is ready to drink, however the longer you leave it the better it will get.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Wild Fruit Jam

A day of plundering this weekend, and what a plunder it turned out to be. We sneaked over to our 'secret' sloe berry location anticipating disappointment after last year's wash out. And there before our eyes were bush after bush of the acrid berry that somehow transforms gin into liquid gold and, quite possibly, my favourite drink.

After plucking several kilos of sloes, the trip home became bonus time as we came across damsons aplenty. A quick shake of the branches and it rained wild plums onto our heads. Nature has more than made up for last year's harvest drought.

It helps to have a few little ones in tow when it comes to gathering fruit. Make sure they have some protective gloves on and away you go. With elderberries and brambles being thrown into the mix too, we eventually came home with more fruit than you can, erm, shake a tree at.

The sloe gin can wait until next week but the other wild fruit went into the pot for some loose jam ready for the yoghurt and muesli, porridge, hot muffins and one or two cakes and scones. There is something uniquely satisfying having made something almost for free and that pleasure doubles when you can have fun with your friends and family during the process. Happy days...

Wild Fruit Jam

Makes one large jar

1kg of wild fruit such as damsons, brambles, elderberries and sloes
200g caster sugar

1 - Put a couple of clean jars with the lids off onto a hot oven and heat through for 10 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave in.
2 - Put the fruit and sugar into a pan and bring to the boil. Give it a stir then fast boil for 10 minutes.
3 - Take out your hot jars then push the jam through a sieve into the jam jars. Put on the lids and once cool, refrigerate. The jam should keep for 4 weeks.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Peanut and Beef Curry

The use of nuts in stews, casseroles and curries may seem unusual to some. However in West Africa, curries made using the peanut are common staple food.

I've used the likes of ground almonds in an Indian curry to thicken it but I was a little sceptical about using peanuts. But the result was nothing short of fabulous.

It is so easy to make. Whiz the main ingredients up in a blender to make a paste, fry it is a little oil with a few spices, add tomatoes, water and your choice of meat or vegetable then let it cook out. Thick, sweet, hot and the unmistakable hit of roasted peanut. The use of peanut butter is of course completely unauthentic and optional, but a tablespoon of the stuff seems to make everything more smooth and creamy.

You can serve this with just plain old rice but why not do as the Africans do? Boil your rice then form balls the size of golf balls using spoons or asbestos hands. You can do the same with left over rice too. Make them whilst they are cold then steam for 5 minutes until piping hot right through.

Peanut and Beef Curry

Feeds 4

1 onion, peeled
2 piece of thumbsize ginger, peeled
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1 red pepper, deseeded
1 red chilli, seeded or deseeded depending on how hot you like it
2 tbsp peanut or sunflower oil
3 large handfuls of peanuts
1 tbsp coriander seeds
3 cloves
1 Cinnamon stick
A little nutmeg
750g braising beef, chopped into large chunks
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato puree
300ml water
1 tbsp peanut butter (optional)
Salt and pepper


1 - Put the onion, ginger, garlic, pepper and chilli into a blender and blitz to a puree. Pre-heat the oven to 160C/GM3.
2 - In a large dry frying pan, add the peanuts, coriander seeds and cloves and put onto the hob. Cook through for 5 minutes until fragrant, watching carefully that they are not burning. Bash to a rough powder in a pestle and mortar or use a plastic bag and rolling pin.
3 - Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the paste and cook for 10 minutes, stirring all of the time until slightly coloured. Stir in the spices including the cinnamon stick and cook for a further 2 minutes.
4 - Add the beef and heat through for 2 minutes until covered in the spice mixture thoroughly.
5 - Add the tomato puree, tomatoes and water. Grate in a little nutmeg. Bring to the boil then transfer to a casserole dish. Place in the oven for 2 hours, checking on the hour that it isn't cooking dry.
6 - Once cooked, remove the cinnamon stick, stir through the optional peanut butter and taste for seasoning. Serve with rice balls and warm flatbreads.