Cider: the answer to a pending pear glut

My best pear tree produces a prodigious amount of fruit, but every year there are only a few days separating perfect pears from ones that are completely rotten from the inside outwards. I have never discovered what it is that causes this sudden transformation, but I didn’t want to take the risk that they would all be wasted by the time I returned from a fortnight’s holiday. I needed to make something that used many kilos of pears but wouldn’t require freezer space.Image

This is my first attempt at “Perry” or Pear Cider, so it’s possible that my next blog may be about what to do with 15 litres of cider vinegar, and the perils of stray yeasts!

I downloaded the recipe from cider-making.co.uk which told me I would “need the usual homebrew equipment such as a fermenter (the plastic barrel we make beer and wine in), airlock, syphon etc. and a good cider yeast.”

This last ingredient was a bit of a problem as our homebrew box only contained some out of date larger yeast and a couple of packets of champagne yeast. My husband, aka “the vintner”, was certain champagne yeast would be fine, but we rang the excellent homebrew shop in Santa Maria on the off chance they stocked cider yeast. They didn’t, but, with a bit of prompting, they confirmed that wine yeast should work. The other ingredients of campden tablets, yeast nutrient and pectolase we already had from making pomegranate and grape wines.

After an hour or so of pear washing, quartering, and putting them through the kitchen juicer, we measured the start gravity with the hydrometer and discovered it was perfect. This was lucky as I’d forgotten to buy sugar and the shops were no longer open.

We put in the crushed campden tablets and left it overnight before adding the yeast solution, nutrient and pectolase this afternoon. It’s now “glurping” away in the downstairs bathroom and in a few weeks we should be able to rack it off and bottle it … that’s the theory anyway, although we have had a few spectacular homebrew failures in the past.

If the remaining pears are still healthy when we return they can be peeled, chopped and frozen for use in cakes and crumbles, or made into pear mincemeat and bottled. This is a real treat, full of flavour but without the heaviness of traditional mincemeat. See the recipe on allrecipes.co.uk it works brilliantly … and I’ve just noticed it contains 225ml of cider vinegar!

The recipe we used for the Pear Cider was:

“20kg of pears (juiced or crushed and pressed to produce about 10 litres of juice.

Adjust with water to get a start gravity of 1045 – 1060 (check with your hydrometer)

Add 3 crushed campden tablets.

5-10 grams of diammonium phosphate (yeast nutrient)

Pectalase (a sachet is usually for 25 litres so adjust accordingly)

Cider yeast (a sachet is usually for 25 litres so adjust accordingly)

“Leave to ferment for a few weeks. Final gravity is often a bit higher than for apple cider due to unfermentable sugars present in pears so expect something like 1010. Rack off and discard most bottom sediment, bottle with priming sugar (a heaped teaspoon per 500ml bottle). Leave bottles for 3 days, then transfer to a cool place for clearing.”

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Holiday hurry!

I always seem to go away at just the time the garden is producing a glut that I need to keep on top of. The current one is plums and I have to leave tomorrow morning! I can’t freeze a load of plum cakes as I don’t have sufficient space, so I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I came across this recipe for frozen plum yoghurt and I am now a total convert. It’s the perfect recipe if you are in a whirling dervish state as you can halt at stage one or two with no ill effects on the final product.Image

Plum Iced Yoghurt: Roughly chop the flesh off 650g of plums and freeze on a tray (this is stage one and you can do the rest when you come back from holiday if you wish). Put the frozen plums in a food processor with 200g natural yoghurt, 200g vanilla sugar and a generous tablespoon of any fruity liqueur (it stops it from freezing so hard). Wizz and freeze. Yum!

 

Praying for clement weather …

After all the wind we have endured my tomato plants are looking far less bountiful than they usually do at this time of year. Only the cherry tomatoes are making a valiant effort to thrive against the elements. However, I’m not anywhere near “glut stage” yet, but in the hope that things will suddenly improve I thought I’d post my three favourite cherry tomato recipes for using up all the extra bowlfuls I’m willing to arrive.Image

Cherry tomato and couscous salad

300g couscous, 300ml boiling vegetable stock, several handfuls of cherry tomatoes, 2 avocados peeled and cut into chunks tossed in the juice of half a lemon, 100g stoned black olives, a handful of chopped nuts, 150g chopped feta cheese, ground black pepper.

Mix the couscous and stock and leave to cool. Gently mix in the rest of the ingredients and enjoy.

Cherry tomato and cinnamon jam

I don’t have much of a sweet tooth but of all the jams I make for the family this is my personal favourite. Take 400g of cherry tomatoes, 200g sugar, 2 sticks of cinnamon.

Wash and dry the tomatoes before halving them. Put them in a saucepan with the sugar and cinnamon. Stir and leave to ooze together for 30 minutes. Gently bring the mixture to the boil. Cook for 10 minutes. Remove the tomatoes with a slotted spoon. Boil the syrup hard for 5 minutes until it has thickened. Put the tomatoes back in and cook gently until it is thick. Pour into warmed jars and seal.

Cherry tomato and chilli chutney

500g cherry tomatoes, 1 red onion diced, half tsp salt, 1 clove of garlic crushed, 1 red chilli chopped, half a cup of sugar, half a cup of red wine vinegar, black pepper.

Gently fry the onion, salt and garlic. Add the tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, chilli and pepper. Bring to the boil. Cook until the mixture looks jammy. Put into warmed clean jars and seal.

Once sealed both the jam and chutney are quite happy in your store cupboard for a year.

Pesto Paradise

Finally it’s warm enough for basil seeds to germinate outside. With the first glimpse of their little green heads, every spare pot in the house has been filled with compost and pressed into action – to say we love pesto could be an understatement.

For me, the smell of basil brings a smile, it’s an aroma that conjures up everything that’s relaxed about summer.Image

Anyway, to get down to the business of growing it: in my book, the classic large-leafed basil is the only way to go, however, if you have a passion for a more aniseed flavour buy the slightly crinkly-leaved variety. One seed packet can easily provide sufficient for pesto and salad usage throughout the summer, plus 20-30 packets of frozen pesto stacked in the freezer so that pesto-addicts need never go without.

Fill your pots with compost and sprinkle the seeds over the surface before covering with a thin layer of compost and gently firming down. Keep the compost moist, but not drenched, until you see a haze of green shoots. When the plants have produced their first crop of large leaves, pinch out the top shoot to encourage them to expand sideways and stop them from going into their seed-producing stage too quickly. As with lettuce, the trick is to keep harvesting the leaves as you need them, letting the plant rest and produce some more while you harvest off other pots.

I thought this was what everybody did until a friend of mine asked to take some basil home with him at the end of a barbecue.

“Sure,” I said, beginning to turn to go into the house for a bowl. Before my jaw even had time to hit the floor, he had snapped off four or five plants – he was a chef, not a gardener! Guillotined basil doesn’t live, but had the plants just had their leaves removed they would have continued to produce for one or two months more. While I may not talk to my plants – at least not when anyone’s within earshot – I do advocate being kind to them, it keeps them alive!

Try to remember to water your plants a couple of hours before you intend to pick leaves, then they are nice and plump, bursting with flavour and at their best for eating.

Personally I don’t like too much oil in my food which is why I always freeze pesto rather than keep it in oil in jars. Small bags take up very little space and make an easy instant meal with a bit of pasta and salad. If you are unfreezing your home-produced pesto in the microwave, do watch it carefully as it unfreezes very quickly and isn’t nearly as good if it’s “cooked”.

To make one bag (enough for about 400g of pasta)  I put a clove of garlic, small handful of pine nuts (or since they’ve become so expensive, almonds), and some ground black pepper in a small food processor. Top this with basil leaves until they’re at the top of the container without being pressed down. Place 3 or 4 chunky slices of parmesan on top of the leaves and drizzle with a little olive oil. If the mixture is too rough add some more olive oil until it is the consistency you like. Either use it immediately, or scoop it into a small freezing bag and keep for later. For variation, pop in a few dried tomatoes to the mix, it makes the flavour even “warmer”.

Lemon cake, with plenty of zest!

Lemon cake, with plenty of zest!

If you don’t want to waste your lemon zest when you freeze cubes of lemon juice, here’s a lovely recipe that uses lots of it. You can either use this cake mix for muffins, or to make two 18cm sandwich sponges (put lemon curd or chocolate filling in the middle), or as a lemon tea loaf (boil 5tbsp of lemon juice with 25g of sugar until it is slightly thickened and use as a glaze on the top).
Basic lemon sponge recipe: 200g self raising flour, 1 tsp baking powder, half a tsp of salt, 220g sugar, 120g butter (softened), 2 tbsp of grated lemon rind, 3 eggs, 100ml milk.
Method: Grease your tins and heat the oven to 180ºC. Mix all the ingredients together and bake until a knife comes out clean (the timing will depend on whether you are doing muffins or cakes so keep an eye on things). If using a lemon glaze, prick the cake or muffins with a fork and then apply the glaze liberally so it sinks into the sponge. Leave the sponge to cool in the tin before turning out.

Mint with pasta – great until basil comes along

Mint with pasta - great until basil comes along

It’s still a little too early for mounds of lush green basil and my store of frozen bags of last year’s pesto is now very thin. However, mint is in abundance and can make a wonderfully refreshing pasta sauce in the interim. Boil about 350g of pasta according to packet instructions. Take a large handful of fresh mint sprigs, strip the leaves into a food processor, add 3 or 4 good lumps of parmesan, a tub of creme fraiche and a good grind of black pepper. Wizz it all together and then add a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water to loosen the mix. Add either a couple of handfuls of peas, or some asparagus to the pasta a couple of minutes before the end of cooking time, or add some cherry tomatoes directly to the sauce. When the pasta and veg are cooked, stir in the mint sauce and eat!

All herbs are perfect for the mini-gardener who only has space for a few pots on a terrace, and good herb pots make a greater impact on your cooking than anything else. Try to keep herbs together that like the same conditions, for example put mint, parsley and chives in one pot and keep it in an area of partial shade, while putting oregano, thyme, marjoram and basil in areas with plenty of sunshine.

The annual “nispero” glut

ImageIn April and early May loquats, or “nísperos” as they’re called in Spanish, are in abundance. For the first couple of weeks after they become ripe enough to eat, kids and adults in my house make a daily pilgrimage to the terrace the loquat trees are on, returning 10 minutes later wiping the juice from their chins, but eventually the novelty wanes and usually there’s still half a tree heavy with fruit.

I have a bit of a phobia about waste. Any fruit that has already been attacked by insects either goes to the hens or the compost heap, but the rest has to be used.

The obvious favourite is to make jam. The loquat’s stones are perfect for jam-making so there is no need to buy artificial pectin. Furthermore, it’s a good substitute for apricot or peach jam which is frequently used for glazing cakes and sweets.

Loquat Jam: 1kg loquats, seeds removed but not peeled; 200ml water; finely grated rind and juice of 2 lemons; 1kg sugar.

Wash the fruit, remove the stones and wrap them in a piece of white cotton, tie the material to make a bag and suspend the bag in the pan. Chop the fruit to the size you like if you do not wish to use a blender on the jam. Simmer the fruit in the water until soft (about 20 minutes). Blend if you wish. Add the juice, rind and sugar. Boil rapidly until a little of the mix forms a “skin” on a cold saucer.  Warm your clean jars in the oven. Pour the jam into the jars and seal. I always use button-top jars from pasta sauces etc. which can be reused many times. Any jar where the button hasn’t sunk in hard needs to be kept in the fridge and used first. If the jar is correctly sealed, the jam can be kept in the store cupboard for a year.

However, there’s a limit to the amount of jam I can use so here are a couple of other ways of disposing of a nispero glut.Image

Loquat Upside-down Cake: 25 loquats; 2 eggs; 125ml natural yoghurt; 100ml milk; 250g butter; 250g self-raising flour; 100g brown sugar; 100g white sugar; 2tsp baking powder; 2 tsp vanilla extract; half tsp salt.

Heat the oven to 200ºC. Line a 22cm cake tin with baking paper or a cake liner. Melt half the butter with the brown sugar in a small pan. Cook for 2 minutes. Pour into the lined cake tin. Wash the loquats, cut them in half and remove the stones. Arrange them cut side down over the sugar/butter mixture. (I like to remove the skins to make the cake extra gunky, but you don’t have to). Mix the flour, white sugar, baking powder, salt, yoghurt, other half of the butter, milk, eggs and vanilla essence. Whip well. Pour the mixture gently over the loquats and bake for about 50 minutes until a knife comes out clean. Cool and then gently turn upside down onto a plate and remove the baking paper. Scrumptious hot, warm or cold.Image

Tropical Loquat Crumble:  1kg loquats; 100g sugar; 1 tbsp lemon juice. For the crumble: 50g plain flour; half tsp ground ginger; 75g rolled oats; 50g desiccated coconut; 25g ground almonds; 50g brown sugar; 75g melted butter.

Wash, halve and de-stone the loquats. Put them in a pan with the lemon juice and sugar. Cover and simmer gently for 25 minutes. Mix all the dry ingredients for the crumble and then stir in the melted butter. Spread the fruit in an ovenproof dish, top with the crumble and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes until the top is slightly browned.

If your family is unable to face another loquat by the end of the month, prepare the fruit as if you were making a crumble. Cool. Then place in plastic bags and freeze for use in pies and crumbles later in the year.