Archive for Preserving Food

Cherry Cordial: Packed with Vitamins and Anti-Oxidants

I posted up how to make raspberry and blackcurrant cordial; but am going to experiment this year with a new one-cherry cordial. I have a lot of cherries I put in the freezer, as I read somewhere that if frozen whole with stems intact, they will defrost just like fresh cherries to eat. They do actually, although you need to eat them pretty quickly as they do go mushy after a day. Anyway I have lots left and so this year I think I am going to use them up by converting them to syrup giving them another 2 year life span, as well as using more fresh ones when they come into season. I have just ordered my muslin to strain through, very reasonably priced on Amazon so once that arrives I shall give it a whirl, following the raspberry syrup method.

Looking around though I did find that cherries are packed with goodies to keep us healthy [which is why I froze so many last year], and I am now considering and consulting/negotiating with Granddad about possibly planting some of our own wild cherry trees. Here is the low down on how good they are for us. I always bear in mind these nasty flu viruses and like to have something handy to boost the immune system that is natural and nice from about September onwards here in the UK. Does it work? Well 3 years ago I was staying with my son and his girlfriend; when my son went down with the so-called swine flu. He and his girlfriend were wiped out with it, very very poorly; and I did not get the slightest hint of it. They were prescribed Tamiflu. I was with them before their symptoms and during the flu itself. Luck? Or my boosted Vit C and especially Vit D? I think its worth doing anyway!

  • Cherries are pigment rich fruits. These pigments, in fact, are polyphenolic flavonoid compounds known as anthocyanin glycosides. Anthocyanins are red, purple or blue pigments found in many fruits and vegetables, especially concentrated in their skin, known to have powerful anti-oxidant properties.
  • Scientific studies have shown that anthocyanins in the cherries are found to act like anti-inflammatory agents by blocking the actions of cyclooxygenase-1, and 2 enzymes. Thus, consumption of cherries has potential health effects against chronic painful episodes such as gout arthritis, fibromyalgia (painful muscle condition) and sports injuries.
  • Research studies also suggest that anti-oxidant compounds in tart cherries help the human body to fight against cancers, aging and neurological diseases, and pre-diabetes condition.
  • Cherry fruits are very rich in stable anti-oxidant melatonin. Melatonin can cross the blood-brain barrier easily and produces soothing effects on the brain neurons, calming down nervous system irritability, which helps relieve neurosis, insomnia and headache conditions.
  • Further, they are also mild source of zinc, moderate sources of iron, potassium, and manganese and good source of copper. Potassium is a heart-healthy mineral; an important component of cell and body fluids that regulate heart rate and blood pressure.
  • The fruits, especially tart cherries are exceptionally rich in health promoting flavonoid poly phenolic anti-oxidants such as lutein, zea-xanthin and beta carotene. These compounds act as protective scavengers against harmful free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging, cancers and various disease processes.
  • Anti-inflammatory property of cherries has been found effective in reducing heart-disease risk factors by scavenging action against free radicals.
  • Acerola or West Indian cherry has exceptionally very high levels of vitamin-C (1677.6 mg per 100 g or 2796 % of RDA) and vitamin-A (767 IU per 100 g).

Cherries

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A Polish Secret : Raspberry Cordial

I once worked with a lovely Polish lady called Maya. She grew up and lived in Poland under what was then the Russian state control, and her story of growing up and living in that system was fascinating. Many things that we take for granted with our supermarket and shop cultures today were unavailable to them then, and one particular thing she told me about stuck with me.

She was a great advocate of raspberry syrup, which they made themselves as a home-made medicine for a fantastic range of ailments. It was probably THE thing to have at all times at home in the  family”medicine chest”. I know that it is still renowned by the Polish because even the local supermarkets like Tesco here stock it on their Polish foods shelves. But it is easy to make and quite fun too and has a shelf life of two years, so below I shall put the recipe. You will need bottles with proper stoppers to seal it, these can be bought in various sizes from mail order companies supplying home cookware. Here in the UK I use a company called Lakeland for pretty much all my requirements. Of course being glass, they are reusable. I know that raspberry leaves are also used in traditional medicines but since my knowledge of this is very limited, I do intend to cover that here. Any search of the internet will soon yield results if that interests you. The raspberry syrup can be diluted for a refreshing drink, as can the blackcurrant which I also will give details for. We all know how high the vitamin C content in blackcurrant is. Later in the year [Autumn], I will give detail as to how to make rosehip syrup, so high in Vitamin C that children during the war were given days of school where they were expected to harvest rosehips for the nation’s health. Now they still grow in the hedgerows and are a much unused and under-valued free commodity.  Certainly as a child we were given a spoonful of rosehip syrup daily as our vitamin C boost [along with cod liver oil and malt extract before going to school]. I have made rosehip syrup for the past few years as I believe it, combined with vitamin D to be a very effective barrier to these horrid flu’s that pass round the world. Who knows…but its served me well so far anyway!

Before you start always remember that you bottles must be sterilised before use, either a quick cycle in the dishwasher or a hot wash and dry them in a low oven will do it. [Same is true for jam jars, preserving jars…]

Raspberry Syrup.

Raspberry syrup

You will need:

1 kg raspberries

75 ml water

Preserving or granulated sugar.

Put the raspberries and water in your bowl and mash well. Set over a pan of boiling water for 1 hour, mashing occasionally.

Pour into a sterilized jelly bag and leave for a few hours until the dripping has ceased. Squeeze the bag and then filter the juice through a double layer of muslin.

Measure your juice and allow 400 grams of sugar for every 500 ml of juice. Now put juice and sugar into pan and boil stirring until all the sugar is dissolved. Skim off any froth and boil hard for 4-5 minutes. Do not overcook though as mixture will start to set!

Pour into hot sterilized bottle and cork, or place stopper in. Leave to cool and cover cork with wax if you wish.

This amount will give about 750 ml of syrup. It can be diluted to drink, or poured over ice cream, and deserts.

Blackcurrant Syrup.

Blackcurrant syrup

You will need:

1 kg ripe blackcurrants

Preserving or granulated sugar.

Puree the blackcurrants in a food processor or liquidiser. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and leave for 24 hours.

Pour the puree into sterilised jelly bag and leave for a few hours until dripping ceases. Squeeze the bag, then filter juice through double layer of muslin.

Measure juice and add 400 grams sugar for every 500 grams of juice. Stir well until sugar has dissolved.

Pour juice into sterilised bottles, filling them to within 5 cm of the top. Cork. Wrap in cloth and stand on metal rack at base of large lidded pan. Pour in enough water to cover cork by 2.5 cm. Cover, bring to the boil and allow to boil for 25 minutes if using a 500 ml bottle. Remove from pan with tongs, leave to cool completely. Wax if desired.

As the blackcurrant syrup requires heat processing, it may pay you to make up several batches of this at same time, so they can all be popped into hot bath at same time for processing.

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For Like Minded Squirrells

At this time of the year I am getting into preserving, and this year intend to do more what we call  bottling in the UK, and the Americans call Canning. I have just done some bottled apricots. Bottling is an amazing method of preservation which does not rely on using electricity for storage as a freezer does. I think this is one of its strongest points, I certainly feel we all need to become more aware of the fragility of the systems such as electricity that we take for granted. Another bonus is the beauty of those bottles of different colours and contents stacked up on our shelves and the feeling that we can feed our families a variety of foods throughout the year and in emergencies. Since the glass jars used for preserving are reusable it is an environmentally friendly way of being a squirrel! For like-minded squirrels, this book which I have detailed below looks like a dream. I have just pre-ordered it, it is due to be released 1st July. I have given you the UK link, to find it on American Amazon, just copy and paste the title and put it in search on your own Amazon. Cant wait for mine to come through!
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From the author of “The Homestyle Amish Kitchen Cookbook” comes a great new collection of recipes, hints, and Plain wisdom for everyone who loves the idea of preserving fresh, wholesome foods. Whether instructing a beginning canner or helping a seasoned cook hone her skills, certified Master Food Preserver Georgia Varozza shows people how to get the very best out of their food. Here, readers will find: a short history of canning; lists of all the tools and supplies needed to get started; basic instructions for safe canning; recipes for canning fruit, vegetables, meat, soups, sauces, and more; and guidelines for adapting recipes to fit personal tastes. With its expert advice and warm tones, “The Amish Canning Cookbook” will become a beloved companion to those who love the tradition, frugality, and homestyle flavor of Amish cooking!
Amish Preserving Book

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Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup

This one is delicious, I am making some as we speak. Strangely, when cooked, it tastes just like tomato? Hey ho! I always cook my soups in the slow cooker on low, mainly because it is so easy, takes up so little space and can just bubble away. I use the large oval slow cooker, and just fill with mixture of peeled and chopped sweet potato, unpeeled and chopped carrot and a little peeled and chopped onion. I then add black pepper, a little salt and 3 pints of vegetable stock to fill to brim. I  cook this soup on low for around 6-8 hours, check that all veg are tender…then leave to cool and then liquidise. And there you have it. I make all my soups using the same principle, so made celery, potato and onion a couple of days ago, and will be making parsnip, celery and onion in a couple of days time. If you have a vegetable that does not thicken itself add potato to the ingredients mix. I also add cream cheese at the liquidising stage for some soups, especially broccoli or celery or leek. And try adding a cheese like stilton to celery for a really special taste!

Soups are very cheap to make, and release their energy slowly so are good for us all keeping us “fuller” for longer as well as containing so many vitamins, minerals and trace elements which are vital for health. If one is on a strict tight budget,  [who is not these days!] porridge in the morning, soup at lunch and a main meal later can reduce costs hugely whilst still eating good nutritious foods. And talking of that budget, fish is a fast to prepare/cook protein packed food and is very much cheaper than meat, whilst again, containing so much that is good for us. I always say that fish is my fast food, as most of it does not take more than 10-15 minutes to cook.

I will put up some recipe ideas for fish shortly; and in the meantime do experiment with soups if you have not done so before…tasty!

Sweet Potato

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What To Do With Left Over Bread

One of the aspects of wartime cookery and living on rations was that they really got a handle on ‘waste not want not’. And although we are not living on imposed rations now, there are lots of good reasons why we too still should not waste. During the wartime years, added to the fact that food was strictly rationed, people knew that lots of the food had to be brought in by sea, and that each time those merchant seamen sailed they were risking their lives to bring it in. Also, although the nation needed feeding, the seamen were also needed to maintain the military needs. So people had a social responsibility about their own tiny contribution to that by not wasting what food they had. It could be argued that we too have a social responsibility as more and more of our food is grown, shipped and flown in from abroad. We are asked to think about our planet now, the carbon footprints of our food, how far it has travelled to us and how much energy is used in its production, harvesting and transportation to us. Wastage then is still something which we need to consider carefully, with an eye on not just our own generation, but generations to come.  It is estimated that in the UK, each family wastes around £400 worth of food each year. That is made up of buying things which we then do not eat, as well as not really having a handle on left overs or things left over or beginning to get past their best, such as fruit, veg and bread.

If all our bills are going up and up, and our wages/income are either staying the same, or reducing then we have to admit that £400 a year is a rather handy boost, gained without too much pain by just being slightly more attentive to our buying, and our usage of food. If we were handed £400 in our hands, we would all be very pleased! Well, we can actually gift that to ourselves, and the taxman will not even get his hands on it! Bonus!!

So to start things off, here are a couple of things to do with bread which is going stale, I dont mean growing green mold…! I mean just a few days old and not as palatable or soft as it was!

Fairy /Melba Toast.

Cut wafer thin slices of bread and bake in a moderate oven until crisp and golden brown. Store in an airtight tin. This will keep for months and can be used like buscuits. Great with pate.

Summer Pudding.

Here is an old recipe and it is really tasty.

225g mixed fruits like blackcurrants, redcurrants, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries

150 ml water

40-50g sugar

150g stale bread cut into slices 5mm to 1cm thick

Stwe the fruit with the sugar [or honey] in water until tender. Cut a round of bread to fit bottom of pudding basin 570ml size [1 pint]. Line the sides of the basin with fingers of bread cut slightly wider at one end than the other. Fit the fingers together so that no basin shows. Half fill the lined basin with stewed fruit. Cover with scraps of bread. Add remaining fruit and cover with a layer of bread. Pour over the rest of the juice and cover with a weighted plate or saucer. Leave for at least two hours to cool and set. Turn out carefully. Serve with cream, ice-cream, creme fraiche, natural yoghurt or just as it is.

Summer Pudding

Croutons

Cut or dice slices of bread into 1-2cm square pieces. Put bread on baking tray and drizzle lightly with oil, then toss well with your hands.

Spread out in single layer and bake at 180 degrees C fan oven for 8-10 minutes. Store in airtight container. Use different flavoured oils for different tastes. Great with soup.

Croutons

And last but by no means least…my favourite cook, Nigel Slater showing us a yummy new take on an old favourite, Bread and Butter Pudding made with coconut milk.

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Slow Cookers and Hayboxes: Modern and Ancient

If I had to choose just one piece of equipment in my kitchen to save…yes it would be hard to choose, but for sheer flexibility, making my life easier and great results time after time, it would have to be my slow cooker. I am a number one fan of slow cookers. They are economical with electricity, you can leave them to simmer away quietly whilst you go out and live your life, and they will welcome you home with my version of “fast food”, something hale and hearty but something you have not had to slave away in the kitchen for hours over! I am also convinced that my slow cooker saves me large amounts of money. I can bulk cook in it and freeze several meals from one “cooking”; I always make all my soups in them and home-made soup is way superior to anything you can buy, plus way cheaper…I cook my Christmas puddings in them, I know it will make cheaper cuts of meat succulent and tasty, and in fact they remind me of the function of the low cool oven in the AGA of my childhood.  There are numerous recipe books out there for slow cookers. For those not familiar with a slow cooker, there are many types available. I do like the models which have temperature adjustment dial so you can choose, low, automatic or high. I usually cook everything on low anyway, but for some recipes, you may have to start on high and then switch to low for example. If you are buying one for the first time, get the biggest one to save money and really make it work for you.

Slow Cooker

The Slow cooker is actually the modern-day version of the haybox. Hayboxes used to be used quite regularly, and are still used as a primary method of cooking in many parts of the world.

 The concept of the haybox is the same as the slow cooker really but  you got the food up to boiling point first and then transferred it to the haybox where it would continue to cook to perfection slowly for hours in its insulated place. Hayboxes are easy to make, and easy to use. I think it is perhaps a really handy skill to know, because if your electricity went out for a long period of time…how would you cook?  We are told that a major solar flare could take our power grids out for a length of time, so better to know this now than have to worry at the time! To make a haybox…you can do it with cardboard, but my haybox is a wooden chest. It sits in my hallway, no-one would think anything of it being anything other than a wooden chest, and it is handy for when I want or need it. So get yourself a wooden chest.

Wooden Box

Line it with hay quite thick. Then add hay all round the sides. The idea is that you nestle your pot in the middle of the hay ‘nest and then put lots of hay on top as well, then shut lid. Like this.

Haybox

Saves on electricity whilst we have it, and is how to cook when you don’t have it! Without electricity you would have to heat your food up on a fire. Then once it is piping hot, transfer to haybox and voila! Trial and error on timings, but pretty similar to a slow cooker. My great grandmother had another use for her haybox. She used to make one up with a stone hot water bottle in it, and take it with her on the train, to keep her feet warm, in the days before railway carriages were heated! My mother now aged 86 says she was fascinated by this as a child! I think I would be too. Anyway-build yourself a haybox for emergencies, and definitely have a go with slow cookers, they can save you a fortune and produce lovely food to come home to after a long day at work, out, or whatever. Will post up a few favourite recipes over the next day or two. Here is Great Granny Edith Maria Scott who liked to keep her feet warm!

Edith Maria Scott

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The Elephant In The Room

A virus gene that could be poisonous to humans has been missed when GM food crops have been assessed for safety.

GM crops such as corn and soya, which are being grown around the world for both human and farm animal consumption, include the gene.

A new study by the EU’s official food watchdog, the European Food Safety Authority(EFSA), has revealed that the international approval process for GM crops failed to identify the gene. As a result, watchdogs have not investigated its impact on human health and the plants themselves when assessing whether they were safe. The findings are particularly powerful because the work was carried out by independent experts, rather than GM critics.

It was led by Nancy Podevin, who was employed by EFSA, and Patrick du Jardin, of the Plant Biology Unit at the University of Liege in Belgium.

They discovered that 54 of the 86 GM plants approved for commercial growing and food in the US, including corn and soya, contain the viral gene, which is known as ‘Gene VI’. In this country, these crops are typically fed to farm animals producing meat, milk and eggs. Significantly, the EFSA researchers concluded that the presence of segments of Gene VI ‘might result in unintended phenotypic changes’. Such changes include the creation of proteins that are toxic to humans. They could also trigger changes in the plants themselves, making them more vulnerable to pests.

Critics say the revelations make clear that the GM approvals process, which has been in place for 20 years, is fatally flawed.

They argue the only correct response is to recall all of the crops and food products involved. Director of the campaigning group, GM Freeze, Pete Riley, said the discovery of the gene, ‘totally undermines claims that GM technology is safe, precise and predictable’. He said: ‘This is a clear warning the GM is not sufficiently understood to be considered safe. ‘Authorisation for these crops must be suspended immediately, and they should be withdrawn from sale, until a full and extended review of their safety has been carried out.’

Typically, GM crops are modified in the laboratory to give them resistance to being sprayed with powerful weed killers such as Monsanto’s Round-up. This means that, in theory, fields can be doused with the chemical, so wiping out the weeds and allowing the food plants to thrive.

The modification process involves inserting genes into the plants using a technique that allows them to piggyback on viruses that are commonly found in the soil and plants. It has been assumed that virus genes are not present in the plant once it is grown in the field and reaches consumers, however it is now clear that this is not the case. A review of the EFSA research in Independent Science News said the presence of the viral gene appears to have been missed by biotech companies, universities and government regulators. ‘This situation represents a complete and catastrophic system failure,’ it said. ‘There are clear indications that this viral gene might not be safe for human consumption. It also may disturb the normal functioning of crops, including their natural pest resistance. ‘A reasonable concern is that the protein produced by Gene VI might be a human toxin. This is a question that can only be answered by future experiments.’

Biotech supporters argue that there is no evidence from countries such as the USA that eating GM food causes any harm.

However, the reality is that no health monitoring has taken place to establish this. The findings will embarrass the government and the food and farming Secretary, Owen Patterson, who has embarked on a pro-GM propaganda exercise designed to win over sceptical consumers.

Mr Patterson recently rejected public concerns as ‘humbug’ and ‘complete nonsense’. Policy director at the Soil Association, Peter Melchett said: ‘For years, GM companies have made a deliberate and chilling effort to stop independent scientists from looking at their products.

‘This is what happens when there is a complete absence of independent scrutiny of their GM crops.’ Biotech firms are represented by the Agricultural Biotechnology Council(ABC).

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In response to the above this is what the chairman Dr Julian Little said:

Its chairman, Dr Julian Little, said the EFSA study was one small part of a strict and complex scrutiny process. He said: ‘Over the past 25 years, the European Commission has funded more than 130 research projects involving 500 independent research groups which have found no higher risks to the environment or food chain from GM crops than from conventional plants and organisms. ‘Furthermore, nearly three trillion meals containing GM ingredients have been eaten without a single substantiated case of ill-health. The combination of these two facts can give consumers a huge amount of confidence in the safety of GM crops.’

My answer to his comment would be:

Sometimes changes caused within human systems can take many years to develop and create illness. Smoking and drinking for example does not tend to kill one immediately, but over a period of years, during which time mutations have occurs slowly, it can do. I would suggest that we may not know the outcome of GM until perhaps 50-70 years have passed and perhaps by that time it may be too late to turn back.

The companies dismissal and bullying tactics of people’s concerns and arrogance towards farmers and food growers is shown in court cases and well documented. We have no idea what GM can mean for the diversity of crops that have taken thousands of years to evolve naturally. There is no way of containing GM crops and separating them from non GMO crops, as court cases prove. And I am always wary when hugely wealthy and powerful corporate interests use their muscle to intimidate and silence intelligent debate and scientific research. Their attitudes are not acceptable and not conducive to further research and debate in democratic processes. The very fact that these are being rushed in; and that debate and research is stifled suggests that GM companies do not hold full confidence that effects will not be forthcoming and thus feels unable to be totally open with the public consumers.

Farmers were told that by the GM companies, there would be a decreased need for pesticides. This has proven not to be the case, and indeed, ever more pesticides are required. This too has a knock on effect on human health, and is now suspected in contributing towards the decline of bee colonies around the world.  GM also carries the killer gene which makes it impossible for farmers to practise saving their seeds to sow again the following year, a practise which has been carried out by farmers for thousands of years. This means that farmers in some of the poorest countries in the world are no longer able to reserve seed and sow the next year, thus impelling them to buy seed from the companies at whatever price those companies decide to charge.

I would suggest that we are only know beginning to understand the vastly complex interactions of all life, and that we are still way too ignorant to be messing about with what we do not as yet fully understand. And that it is way to early to be assertive that there are no ill effects to human health.

A report in a daily newspaper recently suggested that even if we choose organic products over others, our food chains are now so tainted that it is almost impossible to know that we are being GM free in our consumption. If we eat at restaurants, buy any prepackaged food, or processed foods then we are very likely to be consuming GM unwittingly. And this is certainly true, as it is impossible for us to know what goes into some foods, jellies, biscuits, yoghurt, cooking oils… Coming from farming I know that the bees do not keep within the confines of a GM crop. They fly around, they also stop at non GM plants…and their little wings and feet also pollinate them…the sprays of the GM drift on the wind across the field to the next door field…the GM fed animal will also end up in meat by products…

So this is the elephant in the room really, and nanotechnology is another one just as big. And to Owen Patterson, I would say “why are our concerns regarding our own health and the health of our children and grandchildren…humbug and complete nonsense?

Elephant

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