Make Your Own Glacè Cherries

how to make glace cherries

Eight years ago I planted a sour cherry tree, actually, I planted three sour cherry trees, a Richmorency a North Star and a Montmorency. I didn’t plant any sweet cherry trees like normal people – just sour ones. Someone told me they were high in something that was beneficial. They are apparently good for helping you sleep and have strong anti-inflammatory properties.

richmorency sour cherry tree

All I know is that they grew prolifically, cropped heavily early each summer and tasted terrible. A couple of years ago I cut out the Montmorency and North Star because, like all aspiring home orchardists, I planted everything far too close together and after all, these trees were only feeding the birds.

sour cherry

I’m not sure why I kept the one tree, probably because it was a nice shape. Anyway, this summer it had a spectacular crop – just too spectacular to let the birds eat – so for the first time I decided to do something with them. Sour cherries are a culinary fruit. They are prized in North America for cherry pie and cherry jam, but I had something else in mind for them. Sour needs sweet and I wanted to have a crack at the age-old culinary art of glacè fruit.

My sour little fruit needed all the sugar they could get and with a bit of research I established that to glacè is to basically replace all the moisture in the fruit with a sugar syrup. It is a gradual process, undertaken over a series of days. By soaking the fruit in an ever-increasingly strong bath of sugar syrup, you firm and extract the juice from the flesh without losing the flavor, drying or crystallising it. If you do it right you are left with a perfectly preserved plump specimen – a bit like taxidermy for fruit.

homemade glace cherries

This method of preserving dates back centuries and enabled summer fruits to be stored for use at special occasions throughout the year. The technique, also known as candied fruits, was used for lemons, oranges, and even roses as well as cherries.

At this time of year, in particular, the glacè cherry gets a good workout in the kitchen. It is literally the cherry on top and inside our panforte, stollen, cassata, panettone and of course, the traditional Christmas cake. But if you take a look at the ingredients list of your average glacè cherry these days you’ll find an impressive array of preservatives and coloring that take it a fair way away from a piece of fruit steeped in sugar. In fact, I think the glacè cherries I found lurking in my spice cupboard from last Christmas could probably survive a nuclear winter.

In our current anti-sugar food climate glacè fruit is possibly not the most popular subject to be writing about but I’m sure the medicinal values of my sour cherries will balance things out – a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down right?

Glace Cherries Homemade

Now I don’t expect many people to do this at home, but I was so impressed with the results I have to share the method with you. We did a taste test at the end between the store bought ones and the homemade ones and the homemade ones won by a country mile. They were bursting with flavor while the store bought ones tasted like vanilla essence coated in vegetable oil.

Two Tips:

  1. Do a reasonable quantity – you don’t want to go to all that trouble for a small jar of finished glacè cherries.
  2. Try and source sour cherries that are ripe but still firm fleshed. You don’t want over-ripe, or very sweet fruit to start with.

how to make glace cherries

1-kilo cherries

400 g sugar (and more to strengthen the syrup each day)

  • Remove the stalks and wash the cherries in cold water. Remove the stones with a cherry pitter.
  • Put the cherries in a saucepan and pour enough boiling water over to cover them and cook for 2 minutes, just to soften the skins.
  • Drain through a colander, reserving the cooking water and rinse the cherries straight away under cold water in the colander until the fruit has cooled. This stops them softening.
  • Add the sugar to the cooking water and bring it to the boil, stirring so the sugar dissolves.
  • Put the cherries in a large flat pan, pour the sugar mixture over them and leave for 24  hours.

Day 2

  • Drain the cherries, measure the syrup and add 50 g of sugar for every pint of syrup. Heat the syrup to dissolve the sugar. Pour over the fruit in the tray and leave for 24 hours.

Day 3 – 7

  • Repeat Day 2- adding 70 g of sugar for every pint of syrup.

Day 8

  • Drain the cherries, measure the syrup, add 40 g of sugar for every 100 ml of syrup.
  • Bring the syrup to a boil to dissolve the sugar then add the cherries and boil for 2 minutes, return to the tray for 24 hours.

Day 9

  • Repeat Day 8

Day 10

  • Heat the syrup gently to release the fruit then drain the cherries from the syrup. Keep the syrup for use in cordials, desserts, cocktails or just drizzle it over ice cream or spoon a little through yogurt.
  • Lay the cherries on a sheet of baking paper and dry them in a warm airy place until they are no longer sticky (change the paper and turn as required) OR if you have a food dehydrator place the cherries on the mesh tray and dry for several hours on the lowest temperature setting, checking them regularly. You don’t want to overdry them or dry them too quickly. If they start wrinkling stop the dehydrator and air dry them.
  • There is probably enough sugar in them to store them in a jar on a cool shelf, but I’ve put my jars in the fridge to be on the safe side.

glace cherries - how to make

 

 

Festive Fare – 30 Minute Mustard Pickle & Best Ever Spicy Nuts!

spicy nut recipe

Hi, Jess here this week – sharing some festive fare! We like nibbly things here at Country Trading – lets face it, who doesn’t? We’re also big fans of making and receiving homemade gifts. Putting the two together makes for a tasty Christmas! We are all busy at this time of year, so it is nice to have a few things up your sleeve that don’t take long to make, taste great and make great gifts.

I remember a couple of years ago I decided to make mustard pickle to give out at Christmas. Being the good kiwi girl that I am, I reached straight for the Edmonds book. It had me chopping up bags of veggies, making a brine, soaking them overnight and then the next day, bottling them. It took forever and by the time I put it in jars, I was pretty much over it. Also, it was the saltiest thing you have ever tasted so was totally inedible, even for my husband, who loves salt!

30 minute mustard pickle

I mentioned my tale of woe to my Dad (who is an excellent pickle maker) expecting him to be able to give me some ancient wisdom on where I went wrong. Instead, he said “Why didn’t you make MY mustard pickle recipe? It only takes 30 minutes and is really tasty” Why indeed? Perhaps because I didn’t actually HAVE his recipe! Once he gave it to me I was eager to give it a go and true to his word, it is a delicious pickle that is ready to bottle in under 30 mins.

My Dad sometimes makes this to take home to our big family Christmas celebrations and with him having seven sisters who all have partners and kids, that’s a lot of people! We can devour the lot in one sitting – it’s perfect with cheese, crackers and cold meats.

30 minute pickle recipe

In Heather’s household, Andrew likes to make a Spicy Nut blend that are always a hit! They are fiery and moreish, keep well in jars and are another great thing to have on hand during the silly season for emergency gifts or emergency snack attacks! You can use any mixture of spices and any mixture of nuts so it can really suit any taste!

In Geraldine’s family, Christmas was most commonly spent outdoors, tramping their way through the silly season. Christmas dinner was usually cooked in the D.O.C hut or on the campfire and she can remember it always being a treat making the packet of powdered Continental cheesecake mix up for Christmas pudding!

Dad’s Mustard Pickle

Preparation Time 15 mins
Cooking time 10 mins
Makes 6-8 Jars.

You can chop the vegetables as finely as you like to take it from something that spreads nicely on sandwiches to practically a vegetable side dish. You can use white or malt vinegar to make it, white will give you a milder flavour and a yellower pickle.

Ingredients:

1 Cucumber
1 Small Cauliflower
300g Onions

Thickener:
1T Mustard Powder
1C Sugar
2t Salt
600ml Vinegar
2t Tumeric
1/2t Curry powder
6T Plain Flour.

Directions:

  1. Chop vegetables into small cubes then place in a large pot with enough water to cover.
  2. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes then drain.
  3. Blend the thickener ingredients together then add to the drained vegetables.
  4. Bring back to the boil and simmer for another 5 minutes until thickened
  5. Bottle in Sterilised jars and seal.

 

Spicy Nuts

This recipe is based around peanuts (which are nice and cheap). The egg white loosens the glucose syrup so it coats the nuts easily.

Ingredients:

1T Glucose syrup (tried honey but it burns)
1 egg white (maybe two depending on the size of the eggs)
500g blanched peanuts. (skins would burn)
500g of other mixed nuts to make up to about a kilo in total. Break up brazil nuts into smaller pieces. I usually add a few hazels, cashews, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. The seeds seem to add a nice sweetness.
Spices to taste. Create a hot curry mix or chilli to keep the kids out. A total of around 4 teaspoons (less if using cayenne). You don’t actually need spices at all if you prefer them plain. Our favourite mix is 1 t coriander, 1 t cumin, 1/2 t cayenne, 1 t curry powder.
Salt to taste

Instructions:

  1. Mix the glucose and egg white in a large bowl till slightly frothy.
  2. Add spices and mix.
  3. Add all the nuts and mix till coated well. It’s best to keep adding nuts till the coating stops pooling at the bottom as it works better if there isn’t a lot of liquid left over.
  4. Place baking paper on probably 3 trays. Use a slotted spoon to spread the nuts on the trays thinly, one nut deep, gaps are OK. Sprinkle with some salt if preferred.
  5. Place in an oven at 140°C for up to 30 minutes taking care not to let them change colour. This process is just drying them so I often turn the oven off at 20 minutes and leave them in there till cool. Store in air tight containers and they keep OK for a couple of weeks.

Mutton Dressed up as Ham

air drying macon

camp oven roast

When it comes to festive feasting, I’ll admit mutton is not high on most folks lists of foodie treats. No mutton will take pride of place in the Cuisine Christmas issue. Master Chef won’t set a mutton challenge and you won’t see adverts to “Order your Christmas Mutton Now” in your local butchers this month. In fact outside the pet food aisle, you will be hard pressed to find anywhere selling mutton.

What a crime in a country that is built on a solid foundation of mutton roasts (and gravy). Why has mutton fallen from our tables and into our pet bowls? Ask most New Zealanders about mutton and they will either look at you blankly or tell you that it is tired, old, greasy meat and they’d rather have prawns or a chicken kebab. But you know, if you’d told me beards and homebrew, sorry – craft beer, were cool a couple of years ago, I’d have sent you off for your cardy and slippers. So don’t rule out mutton. It is made of tough stuff (literally).

some of our breeding ewes

For the last decade I’ve kept a small flock of 30 or so sheep and in that time I’ve come to understand and appreciate mutton. In that time, I’ve also become mutton although my husband tells me I’m still a two tooth in his eyes (not lamb then, hey ho).

Lamb is usually slaughtered at around 6 months old or less, whereas mutton has seen at least two summers and is in its third year of life or more before meeting its maker. The meat has had time to develop a rich flavour and texture that is infinitely more interesting than bland lamb. Good mutton is meat with character, from animals in the prime of their life. I can identify with that. Perhaps I’ll get a T-Shirt “Mutton and Proud” or “Mutton Dressed up as Nothing”.

And I’m not alone in my mutton love. Many foodies favour mutton to lamb. In his excellent book “River Cottage Meat”, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall states, “mutton is to lamb what beef is to veal” which sums it up perfectly. In the taste stakes there is no comparison between a 3 year old whether mutton (castrated ram) and new season lamb.

Eating lamb is actually a relatively new practice. Until we fell in love with wearing polyester and nylon, no farmer would dream of killing sheep in their infancy and deprive themselves years of good income from the wool of a living animal. But when demand for wool decreased, the quicker the meat could be sold the more profitable it was for the farmer. And so we started eating lamb.

mutton ham

The rise of lamb and demise of mutton matches the rise in the pace of western life and the demise of that balance that we’re now off busy looking for. Downing tools to cook a joint of meat for 5 hours, roast veggies and make gravy became a rarity rather than a ritual and sadly there are few 2-minute mutton recipes. But just like beards and beer, all things come around again and mutton, for a number of reasons, is a meat on the up and up.

An increasing number of us value a bit of slow – be it slow farmed, slow grown, slow aged or slow cooked. Slow food is the new fast food. We also attach a bit more value to “free” these days too – free range, cruelty-free and preservative free. And finally fat is back. Who hasn’t sat next to some paleo/primal fat eating convert recently extolling the virtues of good fats from grass fed meat? (They’d put mutton fat in their coffee given half a chance).

Anyway, mutton ticks all these boxes and author Bob Kennard agrees with me. Bob ran an organic meat business in Wales, together with his wife, for over 20 years. His excellent book, “Much Ado About Mutton” is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the history and development of one of our great meats around the world. I shared some emails with Bob about his book, mutton, and recipes and I got the distinct impression from him that there is a slow but steady revival of interest in mutton in the UK, spearheaded by direct farm sales, traditional butchers, and farmers markets.

mutton ham

One of the things we corresponded about in particular was cured mutton in the form of mutton hams and macon (mutton bacon). Mutton ham was quite common in New Zealand before we had cheap imported pork for cured hams and bacon. I remember mutton ham, cut thick in a sandwich with Mums piccalilli and fresh white bread and butter. Bob mentioned a recipe for macon he had come across in the George Orwell diaries from 1940 which made for interesting reading – seems they didn’t have cheap Danish pork then either.

Not being short of good mutton, I decided to make a mutton ham. At just over 8lbs, my leg of mutton needed just over 3 weeks of curing, allowing for 3 days curing per pound of meat. Once done, I boiled it up like a cooked ham and it was similar to a good pickled pork or piece of beef silver-side. It wasn’t rosy pink because I didn’t use the nitrates – just sugar and salt – but the flavour was excellent and it got the “make again” seal of approval from everyone who ate it. The two photos above show the results and the full recipe is in Bob’s book.  But I wasn’t done yet.

air drying macon

While the mutton ham effort was encouraging, I was more interested in exploring macon. I’ve been curing bacon from belly pork for some years now without the use of nitrates. But it is really hard to find free range pork here and I think you can’t be half ethical about these things. Why make preservative free bacon from factory farmed pork?

Encouraged by Bob and George, I had a crack at macon using the sheep equivalent of pork belly – mutton flaps. While pork belly is revered, mutton flaps are feared and are possibly the most unfashionable part of an already unfashionable animal. But they are just misunderstood and mistreated. A badly cooked mutton flap is like trying to chew roast innertube spread with grease. Well cooked, they will see-off the best pork belly. I love them sliced and basted with mustard and oil then roasted for a crispy snack with a cold beer – I think that was another River Cottage recipe.

MY MACON RECIPE

I’ve made this a couple of times now and it astounds me how good it tastes and how simple it is. The first time I made it I cured and smoked it and it was gorgeous. The second time I just cured it and it was still very fine,  but if you have a smoker I’d definitely recommend smoking it.

Home Cured Mutton

  • Take a piece of mutton flap. Trim it of any scraggly pieces and pat it dry with paper towels. For the cure mix together soft brown sugar and salt in a ratio of 70% sugar to 30% salt. I use more salt when curing pork bacon but the mutton doesn’t seem to need as much salt.
  • Make enough cure to generously rub into the meat. You don’t need to bury it in cure but you want enough to make sure every part of the meat has a good coating. Rub it on and into all the cut edges thoroughly on all sides.
  • Place the meat in a large clean plastic container with a lid and put it in the fridge. Turn it every day and rub the liquid that accumulates over the meat. If it is a thin piece of meat it will be cured in 2 days. If it is thicker leave it another couple of days. Mutton flaps won’t take longer than 4 days max.
  • Rinse the cure off. Air dry the meat in a cool place for a few hours. I hung mine in our porch on a cool windy night and it was dry the next morning (much to the horror of passing vegetarians who enquired after my husband’s health).
  • Then either hot smoke it for a couple of hours and set it in the fridge before slicing it, or slice it straight away. Slice it to your preference – thick like pancetta or thin like streaky rashers. Bag it and freeze it. Remember there are no nitrate preservatives in my recipe so you don’t want it hanging around at room temperature.

Cook it slowly on a low heat because there is no watery rot to come out of this. If you cook it fast the sugar burns before the meat is cooked. Next on  my mutton bucket list is a longer air-dried mutton ham rather than a boiled one. I’m going to call it prosmiutto! Anyone with me?

macon mutton bacon

Ps. Did you know mutton was known as Colonial Goose in early New Zealand?  So there you go – it was festive fare once. We’re  not having mutton for Christmas this year, but that’s because I’ve got a proper goose which will be a story for another day.

Best Dressed – Top 5 Summer Salad Dressings

classic ranch dressing recipe

Summer salad season is here and to help you make the best dressed salads on the block, we’re sharing our top 5 all time favourite salad dressings. There is one for every type of salad you might like to make – and some of them even double as dips, marinades and sauces! And lets face it, salad goes down much better with a tasty dressing.

Our star cast of salad dressings includes:

  1. Creamy Mayonnaise
  2. Thai Dressing
  3. French Vinaigrette
  4. Ranch Dressing
  5. Green Dressing

The green dressing is a wonderful new take on green goddess dressing that is like a green smoothie for your salad. We know you’ll love them as much as we do. The classic French vinaigrette is our most used dressing and we’re giving you the magic “oil to vinegar” ratio and an easy way to remember it – no one wants to look up a recipe for vinaigrette right?

And now is the perfect time of the year to be using them. A couple of these in the fridge and all you have to do is grab some fresh greens from the garden, fling something on the BBQ and you’ve got dinner.dill mayo recipe-01

We’ve also given you oodles of variations so instead of our top 5 salad dressings you’re actually getting around 10 or 12 different dressings and uses for them. And if your gardens are anything like ours, the salad greens are hoofing away right now. Heading into holiday season we’re getting dressed up at every turn so why not our salads?

green dressing

If your diary is filling up with festive holiday BBQ’s and parties, then a jar of one of these dressings also makes an easy and appreciated gift for the host. Make a double batch, one for you and one to give. Print them out the recipe to go with it!  Happy holidays and salad munching.  Here are the recipes:

Country Trading – Thai Dressing

This versatile dressing gives an Asian flavour to any salad. Use it on noodle salads with fresh coriander and chopped peanuts to serve. Add some diced fresh red chilli if you like a little heat. It also makes an excellent dipping sauce for Thai fish cakes, tempura battered veges or prawns. When the limes are ripe in late winter, make a large jar of it. It keeps in the fridge for a long time.

  • ½ teaspoon palm sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • ½ teaspoon soy sauce

Whisk together all ingredients and toss through salad before serving.  Great with grated carrot salad.

 

Country Trading – Green Dressing

This great dressing is so full of green it has to be good for you. It is like a green smoothie for your salad! And it is good for more than just salads – try it on new baby potatoes, tossed through pasta or as a dip for vege sticks. Substitute a ripe avocado for the cucumber if you want to make it creamier.

  • ½ cup roughly chopped parsley – flat leaf is best
  • ½ cup roughly chopped green herbs – chives, basil, mint, chervil are favourites.
  • ½ cup white wine or cider vinegar
  • 2 gherkins
  • 2 cloves of fresh garlic
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • ½ cucumber
  • 4 leaves of silver beet or 1 cup of rocket
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Whizz all the herbs and veges in a food processor until blended then add the salt and oil and blend until smooth. This will keep for 1 week in the fridge.

 

Country Trading – Mayonnaise

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 cups rice bran or grape seed oil – Substitute ½ a cup of good olive oil for more flavor.

 

Whizz all the ingredients, except the oil, together. Add the oil in slowly and keep the food processor running until the mayo thickens. This will keep for 2 week in the fridge and can be used as the base for a lot different dressings.

  • Add chopped dill and a shot of wasabi or horseradish for an accompaniment to smoked fish.
  • Add chopped capers, gherkins, anchovy and parsley for a quick tartare sauce.
  • Add squished roasted garlic for a quick aioli.

 

Country Trading – Classic Vinaigrette

Sometimes all you need is a simple dressing. The classic salad dressing is a French vinaigrette and knowing how to make it is a great asset to your dressing arsenal. The ratio is 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil and whisk well. I prefer a more bitey, less oily mix and I remember it as 1 – 2 – 3 – I part vinegar, 2 parts oil and 3 minutes to make.

It is so simple that the quality of the oil and the vinegar shout out so don’t go cheap on either of them. If you’ve made some nice herb vinegars this is the dressing to show them off. I made a blueberry and basil vinegar last summer that makes a beautiful vinaigrette. Also a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a pinch of sea salt and a grind of black pepper is a nice mixture with loads of green herbs for a potato or pasta salad. But straight up, this is the dressing to use for any bowl of fresh washed salad leaves.

 

Country Trading – Ranch Dressing

Where would your Caesar salad be without a classic ranch dressing? Crumble blue cheese through this and use it on pear, walnut, fennel, apple, celery salads. Ranch is a thin dressing – use less buttermilk to make a thicker version. When you make your own butter, buttermilk is always to hand.

1 cup fresh buttermilk (culture is great for an extra tang)
2 cups thick mayonnaise
1 tablespoon cream
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 teaspoons chopped fresh green herbs (tarragon, parsley, dill, chives)
½ teaspoon prepared Dijon mustard
½ clove fresh garlic, finely chopped

Whisk buttermilk, mayonnaise and cream together in a bowl until well combined. Blend in remaining ingredients and adjust seasonings to taste. Keep in the fridge in a glass jar and use within 7 days.

summer salad dressing recipes

How to Make Greek Yogurt & Best Ever Pastry Recipe

How to Make Greek Yogurt

Hands up who buys Greek yogurt at the supermarket? You’re not alone. We can’t get enough of the thick, creamy tangy stuff can we. But what if I told you that most of those pots on the supermarket shelf aren’t the real deal.

Many brands of Greek yogurt contain gums, stabilisers and sweeteners to thicken, extend shelf life and create product that tastes more like a pudding than a yogurt. True Greek yogurt is delicious and so easy to make you won’t buy it again once you’ve made your own.

Make a batch of yogurt, (if you don’t know how, buy our ridiculously cheap book called “How to Make Yogurt”), cool it completely, then strain it through a double layer of cheesecloth for an hour and voila you have Greek yogurt the way it is made in Greece. True Greek yogurt is simply strained to remove some of they whey, which is why it is thick. Check after an hour, and if it is thick enough for you, stir it into a jar and add a swirl of honey or leave it as is.

Straining out the whey like this doesn’t just make the yogurt thicker, it increases the protein and reduces the lactose. Because of this concentrated protein hit, Greek yogurt is less likely to split during cooking, (if you’re careful with it), and makes a great cream replacement. The strained whey is full of minerals and live cultures and can be used like buttermilk in baking and smoothies.

Greek yogurt also makes the best pastry in the world. Big claim I know, but my friend Rose introduced me to this recipe recently and I’m completely won over by it.

best ever pastry recipe

Best Pastry Recipe Ever (sorry flaky, filo and sweet short crust – you have been out-rolled)

  • 200 g Butter (you know any recipe that starts with that much butter is going to be good – you could probably use a little less)
  • 200 g Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Sea salt
  • 375 g Self-raising flour
  1. Cut the butter into small cubes and bring up to room temperature.
  2. Beat it in a large bool with an electric egg beater until it is fluffy.
  3. Add the yogurt and salt and mix to combine.
  4. Add 3/4 of the flour and mix with your hands until it forms a dough.
  5. Add handfuls of flour until it stops sticking to your hands.
  6. Rest in the fridge for at least 40 mins before using.

Rose used the pastry to make Tiropitakia – a little Greek meze dish of Feta cheese parcels. The pastry has a lovely soft consistency from the yogurt and it keeps for at least a week in the fridge.  I’ve used it for topping pies, empanadas and flat discs for pastry pizza pie creations. It is very tasty and forgiving.

I’ve also made it with wholemeal flour and a batch with 50/50 sr flour and buckwheat flour which was nice.

Enjoy.

Are you worried about lactose? Do you know why?

Lactose in Cheese

I’ve noticed a fashionable trend to regard dairy and lactose as something of a food nasty, a bit like gluten is regarded these days. And if you’re unfortunate enough to have an allergic reaction to it I’d imagine you would agree. But is it really as bad as the food marketers are making it out to be?

Are all these dairy and lactose free products that are popping up better for us? Or just more processed food being foisted onto unsuspecting consumers by marketers looking for a new angle? Lactose free ice-cream, cheese, even milk. After 6 years of having this conversation with customers who want to make dairy free yogurt and cheeses I thought I’d share what I’ve learnt about the issue.

Lactose is a natural sugar found in milk, just like fructose is a natural sugar found in fruit. Some people have trouble digesting it and some people don’t. Lactose intolerance is different than having an allergy to dairy – being lactose intolerant means you have trouble digesting lactose – you don’t have an allergic reaction. If you have an allergic reaction to dairy you’ll know about it.

The folks that say we shouldn’t be eating dairy foods claim they’re only intended for infant mammals. But a lot of the adult population have the ability to digest dairy – we have the lactase enzyme in our intestines which is the same enzyme calves and lambs have to help them digest milk. If you are lactose intolerant your body doesn’t produce enough of this lactase enzyme to digest the lactose and you get stomach cramps, gas and diarrhea after eating lactose. Many people who are lactose intolerant can have small amounts of lactose without these severe effects.

The scientists seem divided on whether lactose intolerance is genetic or cultural. For a while they thought populations from certain geographies that historically ate a lot of dairy, such as Europe and India, had lower rates of lactose intolerance and cultures without a history of high dairy consumption, had higher rates of intolerance.

Now they’ve got our DNA nutted out, some of them think it’s more about genetics than geography. It also seems to be something that can change in an individual over time. Some folks say that drinking raw milk is the solution for the lactose intolerant but recent research by Stanford University Med School doesn’t back up this claim.

lactose free cheese

Aside from digestion, which is valid, the other reasons recently cited for not eating dairy range from cancer and cholesterol to fat and calcium absorption and try as I might I honestly can’t make head nor tail of any of them. Dairy is a natural food that a lot of us are designed to eat. It has a lot of vitamins, minerals, fats and proteins that our bodies can make good use of. I do have more sympathy for an objection to dairy goods on the basis of the environmental damage and animal welfare of modern dairy farming practices rather than on any health related basis. Dairy products from well managed, organic grass fed herds are infinitely better for the animals, the planet and you than dairy from factory farmed, grain fed animals.

So how should you approach dairy in your diet?  Well if you think you are lactose intolerant there are tests available – get yourself properly diagnosed. Don’t just jump straight to coconut yogurt and soy milk at the first sign of a tummy upset. And here is the actual lactose content of different dairy goods. It could help you make a more informed choice before eliminating dairy altogether from your diet.

  • Whey & Whey Powder – high levels of lactose
  • Pasteurised Whole Milk – 5%
  • Soft Cheeses, Sour Cream, Cottage Cheese, Cream Cheese – 3%
  • Natural Yogurt and Milk Keffir – 2%
  • Butter – 1%
  • Clarified Butter – 0%
  • Hard Aged Cheeses – 0%

I always giggle at the “lactose free cheese” being sold in supermarkets now. Great marketing but the reality is that most of the lactose present in milk is in the whey. Whey is largely discarded during cheese making. As the cheese dries and matures it loses more lactose – so the older and harder the cheese, the less lactose it is likely to contain.

Beware the marketers ploys and read the fine print. If you have been diagnosed as lactose intolerant, avoid whey and whey powder products, try good hard cheese, clarified butter and small amounts of natural Greek probiotic yogurt before you discard dairy from your diet altogether. Go for natural unprocessed dairy goods – processed cheeses and yogurts with “milk solids” added back in as bulking agents will have higher lactose content than the list above.

Maybe dairy and lactose aren’t the enemies they are being made out to be? Maybe we should just avoid overly processed dairy foods and eat a good balanced diet from all the food groups, in as natural a state as possible? There’s a thought.

Growing and Cooking with Elderberries

how to grow elderberry

There is nothing new under the sun and when it comes to the elder, never a truer word was spoken. Hippocrates mentioned its purgative qualities over 2000 years ago and through the centuries the flowers, leaves, bark and berries of the elder have all been used by herbalists and cooks for their varying properties.

The showy fragrant flowers of the elder are currently back in fashion, popping up as a flavouring in more artisan products than you can shake a stick at. These days you can wash down your elder flower ice-cream with an elder flower cider while sniffing wafts from your elder flower scented soy wax candle. But they are most commonly used at home for making cordials and homemade champagne; bursting forth in spring, bringing the otherwise nondescript elder trees out of hiding across the countryside.

This is when that other recently trendy pastime known as “foraging” takes place and roadside elder trees get denuded of any flower heads within arms reach. If you are lucky enough to find a tree laden to the ground with elder flowers you will probably find a very large ditch between you and it – explaining why it still has flowers. Roadside foraging is all well and good, but I’ve never been a fan because of all the exhaust fumes the poor old plant has endured and also because of the prodigious ability for local councils to drench roadside foliage with herbicide each spring. Finding a friendly farmer was always another option as elder trees can often be found around old cow bales and in hawthorn hedges.

Elderberry Growing-01

But old cow bales and hawthorn hedges are also on the endangered list and growing your own elder tree is a more straightforward option to ensure your supply of flowers and berries. The elder is a medium-sized deciduous tree that grows prodigiously. It can be pruned heavily to keep it in check if size is an issue. I probably shouldn’t tell you they’re easy to propagate from cuttings, seeing as we sell elder trees, but they are.  Take cuttings from elder trees in winter and put them closely together in a pot of damp sand. Come spring they will sprout away and you can prick them out into pots to grow on before planting out the following spring.

how to grow elderberry trees

Pick elder flowers by snipping the whole flower head from the tree. A gentle shake before putting them in your basket helps dislodge insects. I don’t wash them as I don’t want to lose the precious pollen – another reason to make sure you harvest them from a clean, spray-free tree. The flowers infuse jams with their floral fragrance. Gooseberries are ripe at the same time and make a wonderful jam combination. Nicola Galloway from Home Grown Kitchen steeped elder flowers in a jar of honey last year, which I thought a lovely idea.

I’ve also dried elder flowers by snipping the blossoms onto trays in the dehydrator and have found the dried flowers keep very well in a glass jar. They are great for flavouring fermented sodas and wine vinegar, for use in dressings. A handful of dried flowers steeped in a simple sugar syrup also makes a lovely elder flower concentrate. A bottle of this in the fridge keeps forever and makes an instant cordial with a squeeze of lemon or lime and a summery addition to a glass of bubbles.

elderflower syrup

There are several varieties of elder you can plant. Elderberry Adam is known for its fruiting qualities, producing large bracts of showy blossoms which ripen into heavy heads of berries late summer. Elderberry Purple Guincho has deep purple foliage and blossoms with a sweet purple tinge.  The Golden Elderberry has a showy yellow foliage and creamy white blossoms. These two colourful varieties are not as vigorous as the green leafed elderberry so they make a good choice for a small space. I also have a delicate lacy leafed elderberry which I haven’t formed an opinion on yet.

buy elderberry plants nz

Although the flowers often steal the show, I am more of a fan of the berries – if I can beat the birds to them. A good bit of advice is not to plant an elder near your clothes line. Let’s just say the purgative properties work as well on the birds as they do on humans and on the stain-o-meter, elder berries are off the chart. When I was a student I used to make a mean elderberry wine with berries “foraged” from Otago beaches and the carpet in one student flat bears testament to the permanence of pigment from an over-zealous fermenting bucket of elderberries.

The berries of the elder ripen in mid summer but they look ripe a lot sooner than they are, due to their intense dark colour. You know elderberries are ripe and ready to pick when the large bracts of berries droop their heads and the stalks start to lose their vigour. Even when they are ripe, elderberries still need to be cooked. Raw elderberries, stalks and leaves contain a toxin that is neutralised by cooking. The good news is that they taste terrible raw, so you are going to want to cook them anyway.

how to grow elderberry

The cooked berries have a lovely rich smokey flavour that lends itself to all sorts of culinary marriages. The sweetness of apple works beautifully with elderberry in jams and jellies and these creations are wonderful with pork or chicken dishes to flavor gravy or serve with cold meats.

Spices like cinnamon and star anise also partner really well with elderberry in a syrup that makes an excellent tonic for what ails you. In particular the treatment of colds, inflammation and those infamous purgatory qualities are all delivered by a good shot of elderberry syrup.

Preparing the berries is best done by running a sink of cold water and giving them a good wash to remove dust and bird poo, then hold the stem of each bunch and run a kitchen fork through it to strip off the berries then discard the stalks. I don’t like using the stalks as they give the cooked berries a stalky bitter flavour.

growing elderflowers

I adapted my fruit cordial recipe to make the elderberry syrup, adding whole cinnamon and cloves for spice – it has proven a bit medicinal for some palates, so adjust the sweetness to suit. A spoonful of sugar does make the medicine go down after all.

Recipe for Old Fashioned Gingerbeer Bug

homemade ginger beer bug recipe

Who remembers these? Blipping away merrily on the kitchen bench. Old fashioned ginger beer bugs are something many of us remember from our childhood. You can google any number of recipes for making ginger beer at home these days. Most of them seem to involve yeast and be ready to drink pretty much immediately but that is not the ginger beer I remember from my childhood.

Ginger beer as my folks used to make it involved a mysterious “bug” that sat on the kitchen bench and needed to be fed every day. It blipped away sending up little lava explosions of ginger every now and then that could entertain a bored child for quite some time. The liquid got drained off it once a week and mixed with sugar, water and lemon juice and then into glass bottles and capped with a cruel looking clampy thing that secured beer bottle tops to the glass bottles.

homemade ginger beer bug

The bottles went into wooden crates, then into a cool place under the house, through the trap-door in the wardrobe floor, in the bedroom that my sister and I shared. Dad would go and fish out a few bottles as required and it was the best ginger beer you ever tasted. Dry and spicy and the perfect drink to quench a summer thirst.

Except summer under the house wasn’t quite as cool as you’d think and one night the ginger beer went off like BOMBS, me and my sister were petrified and the remaining bottles were “gingerly” removed by Dad. And that was the end of my childhood memories of ginger beer. But then a few years ago – 8 to be precise – my sister and I decided to have a stall together to make use of the mass of lemons both of us had. Thinking about what to sell we hit upon the idea to sell the recipe and all the ingredients to make the lovely ginger beer of our childhood memories. And so the Old Fashioned Ginger Beer Bug Kit was born.

ginger beer bugs

We measured our ingredients, downsized the recipe to fit in a preserving jar and did some trial runs. The taste was a trip down memory lane and unsurprisingly the debut of this product at the Ngatimoti fair in early 2008 was a runaway success. Country Trading Co. was founded later the same year and the Old Fashioned Ginger Beer Bug was one of the founding products we sold.

The rest as they say is history and in the following eight years we sold literally thousands of these little jars of nostalgia. We sold that many of them that I often wondered if spice traders in NZ wondered why the demand for ground ginger suddenly spiked. But all good things come to an end and earlier this year we decided to retire the Ginger Beer Bug. We were finding it harder to get the old recycled glass jars the kit came in and even harder to get them delivered by the courier without breaking them.

But its been on my mind to liberate the recipe for everyone to enjoy for some time. We had a lot of joy from it and I hope you will too. So here it is folks – the Country Trading Co. Old Fashioned Ginger Beer Bug recipe.  Share it around, bottle it in plastic soft drink bottles – they are food safe and safer than glass – and store it somewhere cool :).

Click here for the short recipe and download the next one with step by step photos as well.

Click here for step by step recipe with photos.

Enjoy.