Saturday, 9 July 2016

How Can Olive without You?

Olea europaea

olives on my tree
I spent more than 40 years wanting to like olives and it is only since I have grown and begun to process my own that I have truly begun to appreciate their particular appeal. We planted four trees in 3 varieties over four years ago and this year was the first harvest of more than one olive. The exponential potential of future harvests has me almost afraid of how many olives we can look forward to.
Once processed olives can be rather high in sodium which can cause pause for anyone watching their blood pressure. On the up side they are high in vitamins A and E, have some vitamin K. They are high in healthy monounsaturated oleic fat, omega 6 fatty acid and some omega 3. They add some dietary copper, iron and calcium as well as small amount of magnesium, selenium and zinc. The real nutritional power house is in the vast array of amino acid and antioxidants.

Olive Traditions and Mythology


olive branch
Athena, Goddess of justice and wisdom and protector of arts and literature had the olive tree as one of her most recognised symbols. 

Poseidon, God of the seas and Zeus' brother, coveted earthly kingdoms and so claimed the possession of Attica, driving his trident into the Athenian Acropolis which became a well of salt water. Later, Athena came to town and took it in a very peaceful way calling Cecrops, first King of Athens, as a witness. Athena made an olive tree spring from just next to the well. Poseidon, in anger, challenged the goddess, but Zeus intervened and ordered the formation of a divine tribunal to decide which of the two Gods should be enshrined in the city. Thus, the tribunal formed by the Olympic deities, after listening to the testimony of Cecrops decided to side with Athena. It was determined that it was she who had the right to own the land because she had given the city the greatest gift: the first olive tree. Thenceforth, the city adopted the name of Athens and the olive tree planted by Athena was revered for centuries in the Acropolis symbolising the victory. In Greece the olive tree symbolises peace and prosperity, as well as resurrection and hope. This was demonstrated by the events after the burning of Athens by the Persian King Xerxes in the V century BC. Xerxes burned the entire Acropolis city, within which was the centenary of olive trees of Athena, which was also burned. However, when the Athenians entered the scorched city, the olive tree had already grown a branch, symbolising the rapid recuperation and renovation of the Athenians in the face of adversity.

An olive branch was often given as a mark of atonement in many stories including the tales of

Orestes and Thesus and crowns of olive branches became traditional for warriors, magistrates, priests, athletes and winners at games and competitions.

As a symbol for protection and fertility it was often conspicuous at the door and in the home and farm.


Preparing Olives for pickling

leaching out the bitterness

Slit each olive with a knife or pit them.Put in a large vessel, cover with water and weight them down so they have air excluded. Change water daily for 2 weeks.

Drain and rinse well then make up a brine solution of 10% salt in water and weight the olives down in that for 2 weeks.

Estimate the amount of pickling liquid required by filling preserving jar(s) with olives and then to the top with water. Drain reserving the water and measuring. Adjust the pickling liquid with some to spare.

pickled olives

Olives, a more traditional pickle

Pickling solution:

700ml 10% brine solution
(630ml water +70gm salt)
70ml white wine vinegar
(additional vinegar if you like a strong flavour pickle)

Add herbs and spices to taste. Be creative.
(here I used 3 birds eye chillies and fresh bay leaves)

Bring the brine and vinegar to a simmer. Fill the sterilised jars with olives and herbs and spices. Pour the pickling liquid to cover and seal. Turn upside down any pop tops and allow to cool before storing for 4 weeks.

Olives, a cheat version on a frugal budget

perfectly pickled
Pickling solution:
500ml reserved jalapeno pickling liquid
200ml flat lemonade

400ml white balsamic vinegar
1/2 tspn each peppercorns, 

dill seed & fennel seed
1 dried Kashmiri chilli

1 fresh bay leaf

Bring the reserved pickle, lemonade and vinegar to a simmer. Fill the sterilised jars with olives and herbs and spices. Pour the pickling liquid to cover and seal. Turn upside down any pop tops and allow to cool before storing for 4 weeks.

Olive Tapenade 

Tapenade with sage flowers
200g whole black olives, pitted
3 tbsp pickled nasturtium pods (or capers)

2 anchovies, roughly chopped
1 fat clove of garlic, crushed
2 tspn fresh thyme, chopped
Juice of ½ lemon

5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Put in a food processor the capers, anchovies, garlic and thyme, and whizz to a rough puree. Squeeze in the lemon juice and, with the motor still running, add the oil in a steady drizzle.

Taste, and add pepper and more lemon juice if necessary.

Serve on small toasts or croutons, as a dip or stir through pasta

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Nasturtium please!

Tropaeolum majus

nasturtium flower
These cheerful, sunny, herbaceous garden inhabitants are underestimated in their charm and culinary value. The ease with which they grow and self propagate as well as their sweet and pepper flavours make them a must in so many ways.

A native of South America it's natural antibiotic properties were used to treat urinary tract infections and the Meso-Americans valued them for their aide to kidney health. Their use to prevent scurvy also points to them being high in vitamin C, in fact they contain approximately 92mg/100gm.

Some other uses that may be of health benefit is as a tea of the buds. Rubbed on the skin it may improve surface circulation and even promote hair regrowth as well as treat excessively oily skin as is mildly astringent.

A poultice of nasturtium leaves and buds may be useful in treating minor cuts, abrasions and mild acne due to it's antibiotic, antiseptic, and antifungal properties.

Nasturtiums also supply small amounts of vitamin D.

Nasturtiums also contain lutein and zaexanthin, compounds that can help protect your eyes from age-related disorders.

Nasturtiums help deter aphids, squash bugs, white flies, cucumber beetles and a host of other pests. Plant them along side veggies such as tomatoes, cabbage, radishes and cucumbers as they are great garden companions.


Brined Nasturtium "vine" leaves

nasturtium leaves
20 large nasturtium leaves
1 cup water
2 tbsp rock salt

Trim the stem close to the leaf and place slightly of centre on top of each other in a row and roll tightly into a cigar and place in a clean sterilised jar with as little gap at the top as possible.

Bring the water and salt to a simmer, turn off and fill the jar and seal. Place the jar on it's lid to cool.

Brine the leaves for a week before using.

Nasturtium Dolmades

nasturtium dolmades

20 brined nasturtium leaves
1 cup cooked quinoa
1 tbsn chia
tbsp water
2 green onions, finely sliced
4 sprigs fennel frond, finely chopped
1 tbsp coriander, finely chopped
1/2 tspn dried mint
1/2 tspn lemon rind, finely chopped
salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
juice 1 lemon, some pulp

Soak the chia in the water for an hour, mix with the quinoa, green onion, herbs and seasoning
place 1/2-2/3 tspn of mix on each leaf and roll neatly and tightly.

Place the rolls in a pan large enough to have one layer and cover with oil and juice mix. 

Poach on a very low heat for 15 minutes.

Serve warm with Greek yoghurt or keep cold in the poaching liquid for a week in the fridge.

Stuffed Nasturtium Leaves

stuffed nasturtium leaves

20 Nasturtium leaves
1/2 cup chicken mince
1/2 cup brown rice, cooked
1 tspn chia seed
4 fresh sage leaves
50 gm feta, finely crumbled
1 tbsp lemon rind, finely shredded
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup roasted tomato sauce or passata

Mix the chicken, rice, chia, sage, feta and rind well and season.
Place a small teaspoon on mix on the central star of each leaf and wrap and roll tightly. Lay open edge down in a greased oven proof dish that has a lid. Layer until all leaves are done.

Mix the tomato and stock, season and pour over the nasturtium rolls until covered. place the lid and slow cook in a moderate oven for half an hour. remove lid and allow the sauce to thicken.

Serve as a side, on croutons with a drizzle of olive oil or as a snack


fakers - faux capers
(Pickled Nasturtium Pods - Faux Capers)

1/2 a cup of nasturtium buds & pods, washed and dried
250ml rice wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 clove garlic
10 peppercorns
1 bay leaf

Put the vinegar, salt, garlic, bay and peppercorns into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for two minutes, then remove from the heat. Fill a small sterilised jar with the pods and buds then pour the pickling liquid over the buds and pods until the jar is full. Put a lid on the jar and leave for a couple of weeks in a cool place. The buds and pods will be ready to eat when they have sunk to the bottom of the jar. You can keep adding new buds and pods to the liquid.

Use the buds in dressings and salad creams. Use the pods in any recipe that calls for capers.

Green curry paste ingredients

Green Curry Paste

Curry pastes are a "to taste" kind of creation for me and my green curries are a blend of what is in my garden at that time as well as what I have preserved from past harvests.

Adding green nasturtium pods was a natural progression with their sweet peppery flavour.

This is just one of the combinations I have played with to great effect. Don't be shy to try your own.

Nasturtium Flower

add nasturtium to salads

Any green, garden or leafy salad will be lifted to another level of wow with the inclusion of nasturtium flowers
garnish with Nasturtium

Use Nasturtium flowers to add vibrant garnish to any meal

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Whisky a Go Go with a Whisky a No Go

Whiskey Club Adventures

First four deliveries
from The Whisky Club
With membership comes privilege and a whisky club offers the chance to imbibe choice, well aged single malts and premium batches of amazing whiskies from around the world. Our first two whiskies sat on a tasty scale of 8-9/10 and are being enjoyed. The first a 12 year old single malt from Glenfarclas is for me the better tipple with a very balanced savoury fire. The 15 year old Glenfiddich had a bit too much fire for me, but a wonderful mouth feel and flavour. I have to admit I would expect nothing less from historic and revered distilleries of Scotland.

The last offer was a French Whiskey and our curiosity was peaked. Nothing could have been further from enjoyable. Rumoured to have up-front notes of citrus and apple, soon joined by salted butter, rich oak and sea breeze the Armorik from Breton  promised much, but I found it to have a heady nose and brief promising fore notes that are rudely dismissed by a metho inferno up into the sinuses that was nothing less than olfactory rape. Oh the horror! What does one do with an undrinkable whiskey? well ... cook with it of course and hope that the metho character is cooked off.

After living with this bottled travesty for a week I gave in and keeping it's nose quality in mind I thought ... beef ...


Beef and Whiskey Pie

beef and whisky pie

1kg chuck steak, cubed
2 chorizti sausage, cubed
1 tbsp of olive oil
3 small brown onions, diced
1/2 cup leek, diced
5 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 large shot whisky
1 tbsp horseradish, grated
1 tspn seeded mustard
1/2 tspn Vegemite
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 cup of water
1/4 cup wholemeal spelt flour
1 batch of wholemeal spelt suet pastry
5 large potatoes, cut into pieces and steamed until tender
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp soured cream
large pinch salt

Fry off the choritzo releasing some of the fat, add the oil and the beef and fry, stirring, until the meat has browned.
Add the onion, leek, garlic, horseradish and mustard and sauté until the onions are translucent.
Add the Vegemite, Worcestershire, water and whisky and stir, cover and lower the temperature and simmer gently until the meat is tender, at least an hour. Check and stir occasionally to ensure that it doesn't cook dry and catch on the bottom of the pan.
Whilst you wait for the meat to tenderise, mash the potatoes with the butter and soured cream until well creamed.
Roll out the pastry to fit a pie plate, butter the pie plate and gently ease the pastry into place and shape. Place some baking paper on the pastry and fill with baking beans and bake until lightly browned. Remove and allow to cool,
beef and whisky pie
Take the meat mix off the heat and blend in the flour quickly. Return to the heat and cook the flour so that you have a thick gravy. Add some water if it gets too thick. Allow the meat to cook slightly.
Remove the baking beans and paper from your pie case and fill with your meat mixture allowing it to heap up in the middle if you have plenty. Just be careful you don't have more gravy than pie case and have an overflow issue.
Gently add the potato mash on top of the meat also allowing a heaping in the middle and use a fork to rough up the potato surface a bit.
Place your pie in a moderate oven and bake until the potato gets little brown crispy rough bits on top and the pie is heated all the way through.

Slow baked lamb in whisky and tomato relish

Slow Baked Lamb in Whisky and Tomato Relish

1 leg of lamb
3 sprigs rosemary
1 large jigger Whisky
1/2 cup tomato relish
(I had the benefit of a splendid home made relish made by the gorgeous Cherie of Tasmania)
2 pinches Murray River Salt
2 splashes olive oil

Pull half the rosemary off the bottom of each sprig and place the sprigs on a splash of olive oil in a heavy base roasting pan.
Place your leg of lamb on the rosemary and with a sharp pointed knife stab holes into the lamb into which the reserved rosemary leaves are to be inserted. You can add slivers of garlic if you wish.
Pour the Whisky making sure it dribbles into the rosemaried holes.
Pour the relish over the rosemary studded leg and season with salt and the other splash of olive oil.
Cover with a roaster lid or foil to seal in the flavour and moisture.
Place in a preheated low oven, about 150degC, for at least  hours. Remove the lid/foil for the last 1/2 hour.
Allow to rest before carving and serve with baked vegetables and some greens.

Rice Pudding with Whisky Ginger

1 cup short grain rice, rinsed
4 cups milk
1/4 tspn salt
1 vanilla pod, split
4 tbsp brown sugar
1 clove
1 stick cinnamon
10cm2 banana leaf (approx)
2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup crystallised ginger, chopped
1 large jigger whisky
1 cup cream
1/2 tspn brown sugar, extra

Soak the ginger in the whisky and set aside.
Place the rice, milk, salt, vanilla bean, clove, cinnamon, banana leaf and brown sugar in a pan and bring to a simmer stirring often and for 30 minutes or until the rice is soft and creamy.
Stir the butter into the pudding dish into dessert bowls. Drizzle some whisky from the soaked ginger.
Whip the cream with the extra sugar until soft peaks are achieved and dollop unto the pudding.
Top the dessert with whiskey soaked ginger and the whisky syrup.

Whisky Devilled Kidneys

Whiskey devilled kidneys

4 lambs kidneys
1/4 cup milk
3 bacon short cut rashers, finely sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red chilli, finely sliced
2 green onions, sliced
1 tbsp whisky
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp cream
2 tbsp basil finely sliced
pinch salt
freshly ground pepper to taste

Peal any skin off the kidneys then slice off the core. Soak the kidney slices in the milk for at least an hour.
Heat the oil in a heavy based pan and fry the bacon and chilli lightly. Drain the kidneys, slice and fry with the bacon.
When the kidney slices have coloured add the green onion, whiskey and Worcestershire sauce and stir until the sauce begins to bubble off some of the alcohol.
Season and add the basil and cream the stir until the sauce thickens slightly.
Serve with rice

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Going Bananas for the Herb

Musa acuminata

Despite our southern Australian location, we may consider ourselves in an exceedingly temperate zone. The narrow valley protects us from southerly blasts and the sea and bay insulate us from the most dramatic changes in temperature. This is an extraordinary blessing for growing food and allows us the diversity that includes bananas. Of course the most tropical varieties wouldn't do well at all so we have Lady Finger bananas that can and do thrive in cooler climates.

Banana pup
After a kind offer of several banana pups came from neighbour we managed to get 3 viable plants to thrive in a narrow sheltered warm spot that faced north. Perhaps not the most accessible for the gardener but most conducive for the plants to have best conditions between a fence and a shed. Over the past 3 years we have had these primary plants throw many pups, but no flowers or fruit to date so I did my internet search google thing and decided that these pups could be an over growth problem or a source of flavour, nutrition and variety in our menu.

A vegetable is born!

Notably the tallest herb it has become a weed in many environments. Before we eat this herbaceous weed we should be wary of allergy to latex and strangely enough birch as the same allergens are present.

Banana shoots are about two-thirds water, but have a good amount of protein and fat plus minerals and vitamins. They are a good source of fiber which can help with regularity as well as satiation for those wishing to reduce hunger. There is also a beneficial amount of potassium, phosphorus, B6 and calcium. B6 is indicated for helping in the production of insulin and hemoglobin. Eating banana shoot once a week may help with high blood pressure and also help maintain fluid balance within the body. It is also known to be a diuretic and helps with kidney function and there is popular belief that eating banana shoot is very good for kidney stones.

Small banana leaf
from a banana pup

Oxidised banana shoot
Banana leaves are generally not eaten, but used as platters and wraps for cooking. The benefit of using banana leaves is that while steaming food in them some of the polyphenols are imparted to the food. Polyphenols are potent antioxidants that have been shown to have anti cancer and anti inflammatory effects that can lower the risk of several chronic diseases and overall mortality.

It is best practice to get fresh shoots that are about 3-4 months old and have not produced a flower and are still tender. To prepare the banana shoot you remove the darker green outer layers and only use the tender pale stem inside. It is possible to store a banana shoot in the fridge for a day or two, but the quality will not last and it will become tough and bitter.

The banana shoot's cut part will oxidise very quickly and turn black so best to slice and/or dice as soon as possible and place swiftly into a salted lemon or lime water bath to retain it's colour. The salt will draw out some of the bitterness as well as help preserve the fresh colour.


Fragrant Quinoa  & Rice

Fragrant Quinoa  & Rice
1 cup short grain rice
1 cup white quinoa
4 cups of water
1/4 tspn salt
1 small banana leaf
6 garlic chives, cut into 5 cm lengths
1 stem lemon grass, cut into 5cm lengths
1 calendula flower, petals only
1 length kitchen twine

Bruise the lemon grass and the central vein of the banana leaf. Place the lemon grass and chives across the thick end of the banana leaf and roll into a tight roll then secure with the twine. Place the rice, quinoa, water and salt into rice cooker with the banana bouquet garni and calendula petals and steam according to your rice cooker's instruction.

Fragrant Rice

fragrant rice

2 cup long grain rice
1/4 tspn salt
1 5cm lengths banana shoot
5 lemon grass blades (top of the lemon grass stem)
1 calendula flower, petals only

Make a small wreath of the lemongrass by twining around a single loop of leaf and knotting. Bruise the banana shoots and place all ingredients into a rice steamer and cook according to your cookers instructions.

Banana Pup Sambal

banana pup sambal

1 tablespoon ghee
1 foot banana shoot, diced and soaked in salted lemon water
3 garlic cloves, diced
1 inch ginger root, finely diced
1 onion, finely diced
2 teaspoons sambal oelek (chili paste)
3 inches lemon grass finely sliced
1/2 teaspoon rock salt
1 tablespoon fried

Smash the lemon grass, ginger, fried shallot and salt with mortar and pestle until a paste forms. Fry the spice paste just made in the ghee with the onion, banana shoot, garlic and sambal oelek until everything is tender.

Use as a flavour base with meat, fish or vegetables

Sliced banana shoot
in salted lime water

Beef and Banana Pup Curry

1kg of chuck steak, cubed
1 tbsp coconut oil
2 brown onions, sliced into thin wedges
3 garlic cloves, finely diced
3 tbsp Thai red curry paste (yes I cheated)
1 tspn sambal oelek (chili paste)
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/3 cup blackberry nightshade berries

12 inches banana shoot, sliced
Beef and Banana Pup Curry
2 cans coconut cream

Brown the steak in the coconut oil, add the onions, garlic, tomatoes, blackberry nightshade berries and the sliced banana pup drained with 3 tablespoons of red curry paste (yes I cheated). add 2 cans coconut cream and a teaspoon of sambal oelek and allow to simmer until beef and banana pup slices are tender. 

Serve with fragrant rice.

Sang Choi Bao - Shēngcài bāo

500gm minced meat
(I made my own lamb mince, chicken, pork or beef are all great)
1 tbsp coconut oil
Sang Choi Bao - Shēngcài bāo
2 cloves garlic, minced
2cm ginger, finely diced
5cm lemon grass, finely diced
1 small red chilli, finely diced
4 shiitake, finely diced
(soaked dried or fresh)
15cm banana shoot, finely diced
(kept in salted lime water to prevent oxidisation)
1 small carrot, julienne
3 green onions, finely sliced
1/4 cup coriander, chopped
2 sprigs mint, finely sliced
2 tbsp tahini
2 tbsp oyster sauce
(I used the shiitake soaking water)
2 tbsp catsup manis
1/2 lime, juiced
1 tspn sesame oil
1 tspn wholemeal spelt flour
1/4 cup peanuts, lightly toasted and chopped
lettuce leaves to serve

Heat the oil and stir-fry the mince, garlic, ginger, lemon grass, chilli, carrot, drained banana shoot and shiitake until the mince is cooked.
Add green onion, coriander and mint.
Blend the sauces, tahini, lime juice and sesame oil with the flour and add to the stir-fry and stir until thickened and well combined.
Serve the mince mixture topped with peanuts with a side of lettuce leaves to use as wraps.

Rice Pudding with Whisky Ginger using banana leaf in the fragrant sweet rice pudding

Banana stem is high in fiber and can aid in the treatment of ulcers or an acidic stomach. Like the fruit, Banana stem is very high in potassium and vitamin B6, which together benefit the muscles and the body’s production of hemoglobin and insulin. In Ayurvedic practice, Banana stem is used to aid in weight-loss, and is also said to be beneficial to overall health. It is also said to have cooling properties, which are beneficial in hot environments. Banana stem is also a diuretic and can help prevent kidney stones - See more at:
Banana stem is high in fiber and can aid in the treatment of ulcers or an acidic stomach. Like the fruit, Banana stem is very high in potassium and vitamin B6, which together benefit the muscles and the body’s production of hemoglobin and insulin. In Ayurvedic practice, Banana stem is used to aid in weight-loss, and is also said to be beneficial to overall health. It is also said to have cooling properties, which are beneficial in hot environments. Banana stem is also a diuretic and can help prevent kidney stones. - See more at:
Banana stem is high in fiber and can aid in the treatment of ulcers or an acidic stomach. Like the fruit, Banana stem is very high in potassium and vitamin B6, which together benefit the muscles and the body’s production of hemoglobin and insulin. In Ayurvedic practice, Banana stem is used to aid in weight-loss, and is also said to be beneficial to overall health. It is also said to have cooling properties, which are beneficial in hot environments. Banana stem is also a diuretic and can help prevent kidney stones. - See more at:
Banana stem is high in fiber and can aid in the treatment of ulcers or an acidic stomach. Like the fruit, Banana stem is very high in potassium and vitamin B6, which together benefit the muscles and the body’s production of hemoglobin and insulin. In Ayurvedic practice, Banana stem is used to aid in weight-loss, and is also said to be beneficial to overall health. It is also said to have cooling properties, which are beneficial in hot environments. Banana stem is also a diuretic and can help prevent kidney stones. - See more at:
Banana stem is high in fiber and can aid in the treatment of ulcers or an acidic stomach. Like the fruit, Banana stem is very high in potassium and vitamin B6, which together benefit the muscles and the body’s production of hemoglobin and insulin. In Ayurvedic practice, Banana stem is used to aid in weight-loss, and is also said to be beneficial to overall health. It is also said to have cooling properties, which are beneficial in hot environments. Banana stem is also a diuretic and can help prevent kidney stones. - See more at:

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Haws ... Cheaper in the Country

Hawthorn Berry (Crateagus monogyna)

Hawthorn berries
Hawthorn are abundant in the hinterland and highlands around my coastal idyll. Our frequent trips up to the Capital Territory have proved that our colonials loved their hedgerows and culturally familiar plantings and their transplants of their familiars to our sun burnt land are oft lost to the culinary traditions of modern Australian cuisine. I had to make many a google trip into the secrets of rural British Isles and European self sufficiency to find adaptable recipes and uses and what fun it was going from roadside forage to table.


Royal Hobart Botanical Gardens
Hawthorn is widely regarded in Europe as a safe and effective treatment and used to promote the health of the circulatory system, treat angina, the early stages of heart disease, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, myocarditis, arteriosclerosis, cardiac arrhythmia, for strengthening blood vessels, vascular insufficiency and blood clots, restoring the heart muscle wall, lowering cholesterol and has been found to strengthen the heart. Hawthorn is used in nervous conditions like insomnia, and in digestive issues like diarrhea and to aid digestion.

Hawthorn in Richmond, Tasmania
Its use in the treatment of hepatitis in modern Chinese medicine is supported by the demonstration of hepatoprotective activity in animal studies

Although generally considered safe hawthorn can cause nausea, stomach upset, fatigue, sweating, headache, dizziness, palpitations, nosebleeds, insomnia and agitation in high doses.

Hawthorne berries are loaded with vitamin C along with lots of the B vitamins which includes vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, and B12.  They additionally include some calcium and a variety of bioflavonoids and antioxidents.


Myths and Symbolism

Hawthorn berries on the left
with their close cousin Rosehip
on the right
Hawthorn bears both Pagan and Christian symbolism, for it is said that the thorn crown of Christ was made of Hawthorn. Biblically it may be claimed that the Holy Spirit has a certain peculiar affinity with thorn trees as the Bible mentions its apparition in the burning bush, which is thought to have been a thorn.

In British Christian mythology it is said that the Glastonbury Hawthorn was derived from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea, an uncle of Jesus who brought the grail cup to Britain after the he had died on the cross. His intention was to find a place where the grail could be buried and the new church could be founded. When he arrived in Glastonbury and set eyes on the Holy Isle of Apples he struck his staff into the ground at Wearyall Hill, where it at once burst into flower. Joseph of Arimathea took this as a sign and founded the first Christian Church of England in Glastonbury. Today, various descendents of that original miraculous walking stick have been transplanted as cuttings and decorate various Christian sites around the town. To this day, these special trees flower not once but twice a year. Once at the time when it is right and proper for all Hawthorn trees to burst into flower, in May, and once at Christmas, the purported birthday of Christ.

Hawthorn's symbolism is that of protection, but also as a gateway to this other world of magical beings. Thus, in folk medicine it was primarily used to protect against all manner of evil spirits and demons that were apt to give you a sudden fright. To ward them off, amulets of hawthorn were carved and hung above doors or worn for protection.

The goddess-witches, Nimue, had her great victory over Merlin when she snared him eternally in the thorny branches of a hawthorn.

Like few other trees Hawthorn is also associated with the old Beltain rites of 'fetching the May' into the village to bestow fertility and plenty and to celebrate the return of the green life-force. Hawthorn was deemed particularly suitable since it flowers abundantly from the beginning of May. It seems as if the entire tree is completely covered in blossom, even though the leaves are already out at this time. The white dainty, typical 5-petaled 'rose-type' flowers exude a peculiar smell that is often described as reminiscent of rotting meat, (Hawthorn is fertilized by bugs that are attracted by the smell of carrion) a smell that was long associated with the Black Death. As a result Hawthorn flowers, despite being much loved, were never welcome into the home. Others, however, associate its scent with the perfume of sexuality, which would also fit its orgiastic symbolism as a tree to signify the joys of Beltane celebrations.

Having a hawthorn in your care could gift you with the blessing of the fae or fair folk, but cutting one down could cause you ill luck forever more. It was additionally believed that if one were to hang a sprig of hawthorn in the barn, this would cause cows to give better milk. A hawthorn sprig in the rafters of a home helped to keep ghosts and evil spirits at bay.

In Arabic erotic literature, hawthorn is regarded as an aphrodisiac because the flowers presumably smell like aroused women. The hawthorn was sacred to Hymen or Hymenaeus, the Greek God of the marriage chamber and to the Greek Goddess Maia (Roman Flora). For this reason boughs were long used for luck and protection in Greek and Roman households and were symbolic of hope well into the Christian era.

In Teutonic ritual it was used for funeral pyres because smoke of the hawthorn bore souls into the afterlife. The Hawthorn's association with death gave rise to many frightful superstitions about this tree.


Hawthorn Berry Jelly

Hawthorn Berry Jelly
as part of a cheese plate

1kg haws 
3 cups cider
1.5 cup of water

place all three in a pan and bring to a slow simmer. Mash  the haws every half hour until the mix is very mashed and the liquid has a high red colour.
strain through muslin until it no longer runs then press in a cheese press until every drip has dropped, I left it over night.

3 cups haw concentrate (above) 
1.5 cups raw sugar
juice of 1.5 lemons (I used 2 because they were a bit mean)

silicon molds

Hawthorn Berry Jelly
perfect with blue cheeses
Simmer gently for as many hours as it takes to get the gel to gel in the usual jam method then another hour-ish to get it to be able to be cut.
olive oil spray the molds and pour carefully being careful of sugar burns.

Place in the fridge to set.

Serve with cheeses, cold meats and game.

If you have poultry give them the pressings ... 

Apple, hawberry and rosehip cider

25 litres first ferment
5kg foraged wild apples, juiced pulp retained
1/2 kg hawberries,
juiced pulp retained
1/2 kg rosehips,
juiced pulp retained
2 kg rich brown sugar
10gm champagne yeast

Place all juice and pulp into a large pan and bring to the boil for 15 minutes to kill off wild yeasts. Decant into a fermentation vessel for 30 litres. While the juice and pulp is still hot the brown sugar is stirred in until dissolved. When the mix is room temperature and water added to make up to 25 litres, the yeast is added, the unit sealed and a vapour lock put in the bung. 

The vapour lock will bubble to release gases and this is evidence that fermentation is taking place. Allow the ferment to continue until the bubbles are less than a hour apart.
first decant
2nd ferment

Pour the young cider through a large sieve with muslin liner to catch the wort and as much sediment as possible. return the cider to the fermenting vessel and stir in another 1kg of brown sugar, seal and replace the vapour lock and an added ferment period will follow. When the bubbles again reduce to less than one bubble per hour decant the cider into 5 litre glass carbo

uys with 5 tablespoons of sugar each and bung and vapour lock. Alternatively you can bottle into long necks or stubbies ... 

Chill at least 2 hours prior to drinking an drinking can start in approximately 4 weeks. be warned this is a hard cider and a hydrometer calculation will need to be done to establish the alcohol content. Drinking and driving is not recommended.

Apple, Hawberry and Rosehip cider
Excellent as the cooking liqueur for pulled pork or as an alternative for half the stock in boulengier potatoes.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Get Figgy With It

Black Genoa Fig nearly ripe on the tree


(Ficus carica)

To me there is something incredibly sensuous about figs with their sweet secret flowering and fruiting so delicately hidden within.

Figs could be characterised as one of the healthiest foods on the planet! Although considered a fruit, the fig is actually a flower that is inverted into itself. The seeds are drupes, or the real fruit. Figs are the only fruit to fully ripen and semi-dry on the tree. There are three types of figs: white, black, and red and the exterior color of the fruit varies from pale green, gold, brown to dark purple. The whole fig is edible and can be eaten fresh or dried. It should be noted that the skin of figs contains more fiber, phytochemicals, and antioxidant activity than the pulp, with antioxidant capacity proportional to the content of anthocyanins. Darker fig varieties usually have a greater content of polyphenols than lighter-colored varieties. The fig leaves are also very beneficial and they are widely used for medicinal purposes. The milk of the figs and leaves are used in healing skin problems like warts.

Figs are very low in Saturated Fat, Cholesterol and Sodium. They are also a good source of dietary fiber and they naturally fight constipation. The fig's soluble fiber helps control blood sugar levels and lowers cholesterol by binding it in the digestive tract. Figs may also curtail appetite and improve weight-loss efforts. It should be noted that the skin of figs contains more fiber than the pulp.

Figs provide beneficial calcium, Iron which is required for red blood cell formation as well for cellular oxidation. Thus, they are very beneficial for people suffering from anemia and are highly recommended to be consumed during pregnancy, when the need for iron, and calcium, is increased, copper which is required in the production of red blood cells, magnesium, potassium which is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure. It also helps your body absorb iron, which makes it beneficial for preventing and treating iron deficiency. They are also a source of manganese, selenium and zinc.

Figs are good sources of vitamins A, C and K. They also have good levels of B-complex group of vitamins such as niacin, pyridoxine, folates, and pantothenic acid. These vitamins function as co-factors for metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

Figs contain a high proportion of water and natural sugar so they are very beneficial for recovering from exhaustion. In addition, the sugar in figs stimulates the brain and enhances memory, which makes them a great choice for students. They also contain chlorogenic acid which helps in lowering blood sugar levels and controls blood-glucose levels in type-II diabetes mellitus (Adult onset) condition.

Figs are a rich source of pigment anti-oxidants that contribute immensely in optimum health and wellness. The coumarin and benzaldehyde in figs may prove effective at shrinking tumours and are being researched for cancer fighting abilities. A proteolytic enzyme, known as ficin, primarily contained in the stem of the fruit, helps to break down tissue and is very beneficial for digestive disorders. Psoralens, a chemical that occurs naturally in figs has been used for thousands of years to treat skin pigmentation diseases and acne and it is also a skin sensitiser that promotes tanning in the sun, sun sensitive persons may wish to avoid burning.

Because of its high alkalinity, it has been mentioned as beneficial to persons wishing to quit smoking and may have a soothing effect on inflammation of the bronchial passages.

Fig History, culture and mythology


It is said that figs originated in South Arabia and were brought to Mediterranean over 2900BC. The fig tree appears in some images of the Garden of Eden. After eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve covered their nakedness with leaves that are usually said to be from the fig tree, and Islamic tradition mentions two forbidden trees in Eden—a fig tree and an olive tree. Mohammed's followers called it the "Tree of Heaven". The ancient Hebrews looked upon the fig tree as a symbol of peace and plenty.

In Greek mythology, figs are associated with Dionysus whose name means “friend of the fig,” and this is not an innocent reference in the least. The fact that the fig’s appearance was similar to that of testicles certainly didn’t go unnoticed by the Greeks, and in fact the words for “figs” and “testicles” were the same. Part of the yearly festival to Dionysus included carving a giant phallus from the wood of a fig tree and carrying it around town. Figs were sacred to Dionysus (Bacchus to the Romans) who is the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness, fertility, theatre and religious ecstasy. The old Romans sacrificed the milky sap of the wild fig tree to Juno, and some central African tribes built huts for the spirits of their ancestors in the shape of the sacred fig trees. Figs also get a mention in association with Priapus, a satyr who symbolized sexual desire.

According to Greek mythology, the fig tree got its name from Sykeus (Syko [σύκο] in Greek means fig), the son of Gaia (Earth). In the war of the Titans, Sykeus was one of the giants who waged war on the gods and when he was pursued by Zeus, he hid with his mother, the Earth, and was transformed into the first fig tree.

Another Greek myth credits the goddess Demeter as introducing the "fruit of autumn" to humans.
After her daughter was kidnapped by Hades, Greek goddess Demeter wandered the land looking for her. During her travels, she stayed at the house of a man in Attica, in Southern Greece. He welcomed her into his home and treated her kindly, and she thanked him for his hospitality by giving him the first fig tree.Fig trees thrived in the fertile lands around Attica and Athens

Since antiquity, figs symbolised abundance, and they have been greatly valued, both for their nutritional and medicinal properties. Mithridates, the Greek king of Pontus (120-63 B.C.), heralded figs as an antidote for all ailments and instructed his physicians to consider its uses as a medicine. Pliny of Rome (62-113 A.D.) quoted "Figs are restorative. The best food that can be eaten by those who are brought low by long sickness and are on the way to recovery. They increase the strength of young people, preserve the elderly in better health and make them look younger with fewer wrinkles".

The early Greeks so highly prized figs that it was considered an honor to bestow the foliage and fruit. In the original Olympic games, winning athletes were crowned with fig wreaths and given figs to eat in order to improve their strength and speed.

The fig tree has a sacred meaning for Buddhists. According to Buddhist legend, the founder of the religion, Siddhartha Gautama or the Buddha, achieved enlightenment one day in 528 B . C . while sitting under a bo tree, a kind of fig tree. The bo or bodhi tree remains a symbol of enlightenment.

In India, The Bengali fig tree is considered sacred and its fruits are widely used in Ayurveda for its healing qualities.


Fig Salsa

Fig Salsa

1 fig, diced
2 sprigs mint, finely shredded

1 spear asparagus, finely sliced
2 green chilies, finely diced
1 tbsp borage and violets, halved
1 tspn olive oil
1 tspn lemon juice
salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

mix together and allow the flavours to develop for half an hour

Fig, blackberry nightshade and mint salsa shared here

Baked Figs

Baked Figs

figs halved
raspberries, as many as you have halves
ricotta, as many teaspoons as you have halves
honey to drizzle

place the fig halves on a baking tray, place a teaspoon of ricotta on each half and top with a raspberry. Drizzle with honey and bake until tender.

Serve as a dessert bite or with thickened cream

Fig and Feta Salad

Fig and feta salad

4 figs, sliced into wedges
120 gm feta, cubed and slightly crumbled
1/2 tablespoon black cherry vinegar (or naturally flavoured vinegar of your choice)
1/2 tablespoon chili oil
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
(extra pepper brings out the fruits sweetness trust me)

Mix the oils and vinegar and whisk to emulsify

place the fig slices and feta in a bowl and season with pepper then pour in the
vinaigrette and mix gently, but well. allow to chill and flavours blend.
Serve as a side.

Blackberry nightshade, Fig and Feta salad shared here

Fig and Rosehip Port

Fresh hips gathered from wild dog roses growing on the side of most country roads are used in this recipe. Alternatively, dried rosehips can be used, being available from most brewing shops.
Figs have a very strong flavour and so must be used in great moderation. Both rosehips and figs are rich in vitamins and minerals and so add to the great popularity of this sherry-type wine. Serve it as an aperitif.
Dried rosehips, diced figs & lemon zest

Yield: 6 bottle

2.3 litres fresh (or 225grams dried) Rosehips
225 grams raisins
115 grams dried figs, chopped
1 lemon
4 litres water
5 ml pectic enzyme
15 ml citric acid
Sherry wine yeast & nutrient
1.35 kg light brown sugar

A nice thick rolling boil
Sterilise all your equipment as needed and begin your records. Trim the rosehips, rinse them in cold waters, crush them or process fresh hips through a juicer reserving both the juice and the waste. Wash and chop the raisins. Thinly pare the lemon rind avoiding the bitter pith, express and strain the juice and set aside.

Place the crushed rosehips, lemon rind, figs and the water in a suitable container and heat to 176 degrees Celsius.

Maintain the temperature for 15 minutes.

Cover the pan and allow to cool. Strain the liquor onto the raisins and add the expressed and strained lemon juice, the pectic enzyme, citric acid and the activated sherry yeast and nutrient. Ferment on the raisin pulp for five days.
Fig and Rosehip Port
Strain out, press and discard the raisins. Stir in one-third of the sugar and continue the fermentation in the chosen container loosely covered. Stir in the remainder of the sugar in two equal amounts at weekly intervals and leave to ferment out.

When fermentation has finished siphon the clearing wine off its sediment into a sterilised storage jar leaving a good head space.
Plug the container with a vapour lock and mature for 18 months, racking when sediment has been thrown and the wine is bright. Bottle, seal, label and enjoy.