22/06/2012

Pyramidal Orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis)




While out walking a couple of weeks ago I spied these orchids on a banking next to a road side.







They had a very faint vanilla type fragrance and were lovely. They were just growing in one small square in a shady spot under some trees. I didn't know what type of orchid they were so set about trying to identify them with my field guide and on the web.

They are a wild orchid called Pyramidal Orchid, the name coming from the shape of the flower head.
It was very interesting to discover that their tubers (two small attached bulbs) along with the tubers from different species of wild orchid have been ground into flour in the past to make a hot beverage ( and still are in Turkey). The name of the flour is salep (sahlep) and also the name of  the beverage. Sahlep means fox and  is similar to the arabic word which means "foxes testicles". So I presume that  the tubers  look like them.

 It was even adopted under the name of Saloop in England and was very popular in the 17th and 18th centuries. It  and also a drink made from sassafras was sold from barrows on the streets of London.

In Turkey Salep flour is also used to make a type of ice-cream which is "stretchy" and can even be stretched into a skipping rope. Unfortunately due to the popularity of salep, wild orchids are becoming very rare in Turkey, but it is possible to find ready-made preparations containing other ingredients. Salep is still thought to be nourishing, soothing, warming and aphrodisiac by it's users. True salep is becoming more and more expensive.

Since taking this photo the banking full of wild orchids has been cut.  I hope to see them again next year.

Further reading(and pictures)
http://www.anissas.com/blog1/?p=2334
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3126047.stm
 http://www.humanflowerproject.com/index.php/weblog/heres_to_salep/
http://hollychase.com/orchid-aphrodisiac/


20/06/2012

Pomegranate Flower Craft (Punica granatum)






 One of my favourite flowers/blossoms at present is the pomegranate. There are lots of bushes/small trees closeby. I think they were originally planted at an abandonned house and have reseeded. Every year there seems to be a new one. They look like they should have a heavy, exotic scent, but infact they have almost none.











The buds are very decorative and look great dried and made into decorations/
pot-pourri etc.
Don't gather too many as there will be less fruit on the tree.
Pomegranate flower tea is popular in the Midde-East.






Recently, on pinterest, I saw a picture of some poppy prints from this Italian blog;
http://vogliounamelablu.blogspot.it/2010/06/timbri-e-papaveri.html?m=1
 They were very simple and cute. I thought I would try with the  receptacles of the pomegranate flower as I found some plain note-cards and my daughter  needed to send some thankyou notes. I also tried with some poppies, but didn't get on too well as they were too dry and fragile. The older pomegranate flowers worked better, however, the fresh ones snapped very easily when applying pressure.



Empty  seed pods first. I didn't!



















17/06/2012

Apricots in Marsala Syrup (Prunus armeniaca)




After my experiments with wild cherry plums I turned my attention to the apricot trees, which are also extremely weighed down this year. They are just becoming perfectly ripe, but still hard. I love apricots, they are my favourite summer fruit.







I realise that most of my recipes involve alcohol,
 but I'm presently facinated by the possibility of preserving seasonal aromas and tastes in liqueurs, syrups etc. They also make great gifts, which everyone seems to be very happy with. I personally prefer home-made gifts and hand-made cards to expensive store bought stuff.




This recipe is another one that took my fancy from  in my 70's "fruit in jars" cook book.

Ingredients
1 and a half kg apricots (not soft)
300g sugar
200g filtered water
250ml dry marsala
1 small lemon (zest without pith and juice)
1 or 2 cloves (crushed)
a pinch of cinammon
(The original recipe is for double this quantity)

Wash and dry the apricots.
Cut them in half and remove the stones.
Heat the sugar and water until the sugar has melted.
Remove from heat and add the lemon zest and juice, cloves, cinammon and marsala. Allow to cool.
Place the apricots in jars. I used two 1 kilo jars, but you could use smaller or bigger, depending on the quantity. Press them down a little, use a wooden spoon to gently push the first ones down.(I didn't and the ones at the bottom are floating, while the top ones are jam-packed).

Fill the jars with the marsala syrup, leaving a space of at least
 1 cm from the top border.
Close the jars quite tightly, place in tall pan, cover with water and sterilise for 10 minutes.
(I'm pretty new to canning and I haven't got any special equipment. I used my tallest pasta pan and placed a few sheets of folded newspaper in the bottom of the pan and between the jars to protect them).
Boil for 10 minutes after the water begins boiling and then allow the jars to cool in the water. Use new lids and check they are secure after sterilisation. (No click).
The recipe didn't state how long to wait before using or how long they will last. I think at least a month will improve the flavour and they should keep for a year.
Serve with greek yoghurt, panna cotta or crème fraiche.
Filter and bottle left over syrup to drink as a liqueur, use in cocktails or spice up desserts.



Apricots in Marsala Syrup on Punk  
Domestics

14/06/2012

Wild cherry plums in acquavite (prunus cerasifera)

Wild and not so wild...... In a corner of a park area near my home there are lots of fruit trees which were planted about 10 years ago. They were planted by the local council, a tree for every child born in the borough. They aren't treated and are pretty much left to their own devices. Every now and then the council prunes them, but not often. There are cherries,  apricots and cherry plums and pomegranates. This year there are bumper crops and the  weight of the fruit is dragging  down the branches.


The wild cherry plum trees have gone beserk, their sweeping branches are literally touching the ground. Today I kindly decided to relieve one of the branches.



     Usually I just eat the small plums (rusticani in Italian) off the trees. Today I tried something different.


  I recently bought a recipe book in a second-hand shop. The title is  "Frutta Sottovetro" by Angelo Sorzio which literally translates as "fruit under glass"
(in jars). It was printed in 1973. There are some very unusual recipes. This recipe is actually for small yellow plums, but I'm sure it will work well with my cherry plums.





Wild Cherry plums in acquavite 
(with vanilla, lemon and mint)

1 kg cherry or small plums ( ripe but not soft)
3 spoons sugar
acquavite (nearly 1 litre-enough to cover fruit)
half a vanilla pod
zest of lemon (no white pith)
3 spoons black tea (I used 2 vanilla tea bags)
1 spoon dried mint ( I used 3 sprigs of fresh mint)
half litre filtered water for infusion


Choose fruit without blemishes and wash and dry them. Make a strong infusion of tea and mint and when it's tepid immerse the plums.
 Leave them to absorb the aromas  for half a day.

Dry the plums  and prick them with a sterile needle (5 or 6 times).

 





Place them in a sealable jar (the recipe stated ceramic or terracotta, but I only had glass)  with the lemon zest and pieces of vanilla. Sprinkle over a few spoonfuls of sugar.( I used 3 spoonfuls).








Seal and put the jar in a dark place for at least 20 days.

The recipe didn't state how long they will keep for, but as they are so tasty I shouldn't think they will be here for long. When they are finished filter and bottle the acquavite(grappa).
BECAREFUL when eating them. I greedily popped one in my mouth  and there was such a lovely taste explosion that it literally shot down my throat before I knew what was happening. I hope the stone will exit soon. That'll teach me for not waiting.

Obviously they are not for kids!

12/06/2012

Poppy Liqueur (Papaver rhoeas)




The poppies have been around for a while now, since April infact. I love their vibrant, lipstick colour.
In English they are known as field poppies, corn poppies or Flanders poppies. In Italian they  are called rosolaccio or papavero and have various regional names. They are sedative, expectorant and good for calming coughs.




Poppies are famous for the First World War and Opium.
 Who doesn't know the famous, moving WWI poem "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae. It's studied in school here. In the UK Rememberance Day is still known as "Poppy Day".
When I found a recipe for "an alcoholic poppy infusion", however, my first thoughts were  about opium poppies!!!
I was pleased to discover that the opium producing species  is actually a different type of poppy.
The field poppy grows wild on disturbed ground, it likes loosely packed soil and often grows in corn fields and along the edges of fields.


I found this recipe in "L'enciclopedia della cucina Italiana published by La Republica newspaper".
7,2dl 90° alcohol
860g sugar
50g poppy petals
20g cinnamon
9,5dl water.
As I want to try a smaller quantity I have adapted the recipe. It also seems too sweet for my taste and I don't get on well with the dl measurements.



Poppy Liqueur (Adapted Recipe)

20-25g poppy petals (fresh weight)
280ml alcohol (95°)
half a stick of cinnamon
300g sugar
350ml filtered water

Place petals to dry on asorbant paper in a dark,dry place.(Try not to let them touch). This is the most time consuming part of the recipe.




When they are dry they weigh next to nothing.














Place the dried petals in a clean, dry sealable jar.
Don't pack them too tight. Add the cinnamon and alcohol.
Screw on the top (sterilised).
Leave in a dark place for 2 weeks, shaking every now and then.


After 2 weeks, heat the water gently and melt the sugar. Allow to cool and add to the petals/alcohol.
 (I'll have to change to a bigger jar).
Leave for 2 more weeks.
Filter and bottle.





Wait at least a month before serving, preferably two or three. Serve a  small glass as a nightcap to promote a relaxed slumber.



Sweet Dreams....


Further reading
www.eattheweeds.com/corn-poppy/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poppy
http://www.kew.org/plants-fungi/Papaver-rhoeas.htm
http://www.fcs.okstate.edu/cnep/ask/answers/poppyseeds.htm
(about poppy seeds causing false positive drug testing)

Poppy Liqueur on Punk Domestics

09/06/2012

Saint John's Wort Oil (Hypericum perforatum)


There is suddenly lots of St John's Wort (Iperico or Erba di San Giovanni in Italian) growing here, especially along roadsides and on the edges of fields. St John's Wort has a rich history and has been used since ancient times. It's common name comes from the fact that it usually blooms on or just before  the 24th of June (The feast/birthday of John the Baptist).The Latin " Perforatum" means punctured, due to the fact that the leaves are covered in tiny holes (actually glands).



In Italy St John is San Giovanni. The 24th of June is traditionally the day in Italy for picking St John's Wort to make St John's Oil and also to pick immature black walnuts to make a  liqueur called "Nocino".

 However it seems the seasons are changing because the flowers are now blooming and if you wait to gather your walnuts until this date in this region of italy you will find the walnuts very difficult to cut.


St John's Wort has been used and is still used for treating depression and as a skin oil to help heal burns/sunburn , skin problems  and cuts.It was also used to ward off evil spirits, witches and to keep the devil away










St John's Wort Oil

Gather the top part of the flowers on a sunny day. Let the flowers dry on a tea towel overnight (freshwilting). Chop the plant into small pieces and lightly fill  a clean/sterilised jar.(About 20 g. Don't pack the flowers too tight).

Cover the flowers with Olive Oil. Push the plant material down.
Top up with more oil if the level goes  under the plant material in the next few days .
Place a piece of clingfilm on the jar and screw down the lid.
Place in the sun (or warm place) for two weeks. Shake gently every now and then.



The oil will turn deep red.
After two weeks filter out the plant material and place new flowers for another two weeks.
Filter with muslim/gauze and bottle, if possible in dark glass bottles. It should keep at least  for a couple of years.
Use on irritated skin, mild burns and sunburn.
 I also find it great for muscular pain  (frozen necks/shoulder/lower back ache) and nerve related (sciatica) pain.
Don't use it  just before going out in the sun as it  has been linked to photosensitisation (when taken internally, but better to be safe than sorry).

02/06/2012

Heart of Lavender



I have two lavender bushes in my garden. This year they are spectacular (all the rain that we have had).
Every year I have intentions to pick some lavender just before it flowers to dry and use as decoration/perfumer. Usually I miss the time slot and the flowers are open. When drying lavender it's better to pick before they open  as it lasts much longer. You can still dry it later, but the flowers fall quite quickly.






 I like to tie it into bunches with raffia or a ribbon or sometimes make a lavender wand. This year I made a heart. It was quite easy.



Choose some lavander sprigs just before they are about to open, if you can. Leave the stalks as long as possible.











Remove any flowers or leaves on the stalk.












Take two bunches of about 10 lavender stalks and line-up the flower heads and cut them to the longest possible length(keeping them all more or less the same).









Take a soft,  green lavender stalk and use it to tie the two bunches together.











Turn the lavender over and twist into heart shape.  Plait lightly to stop the stalks from folding.





Tie the end with another soft lavender stalk. I left the flower head hanging down.












Do the same on the other side and tie together.
Add another stalk to hang the heart.
(Tip, Wear gloves to protect your hands.
 I never do and I have cracked thumbs)