Sunday, 17 July 2011

What to do with raspberries (part 2)

Once again, I started this a while ago, when there was still a plentiful supply of fruit coming from the garden. Ten days later, I've finally completed it, but the fruit is gone...

Two bottles of raspberry vinegar (for recipe see part 1); on the right, last year's, made from white wine vinegar, now mature; on the left, white balsamic vinegar just beginning to take on the fruit's colour and aroma.

The raspberry glut continues, so I've been searching out more ways of dealing with them. I have started freezing the best ones, in order to prevent them mouldering around my kitchen (at one point, I had a good dozen bowls and colanders full of soft fruit, and it was getting difficult to prevent some going off), and I've made more jam, but there are other ways of preserving their deliciousness...

On July 4th, my friends had a small barbecue. It was the best weather - mostly sunny, really warm (for round here - low 20s), and mild right into the night. As an American was present, I decided to make a red, white, and blue dessert. Originally, I was going to try pavlova, but I had a lot to do, and wasn't inclined to spend several hours on it. The next best thing was Eton mess - incorporating homegrown strawberries and raspberries. I consulted a few recipes online, and adapted them to what I had in. First I whipped double cream with a good drizzle of honey and a dash of vanilla extract. Into this I crumbled shop-bought meringues. Then I took a bowlful each of raspberries and strawberries. half of these were puréed with a hand blender with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, the passed through a sieve to make a coulis. The final dessert was assembled by stirring the intact fruit (the strawberries were chopped), with a punnet of blueberries, through the cream-meringue mixture, then drizzling the coulis over the top.

The reason I had the cream was a recipe I found in Rick Stein's French Odyssey cookbook for raspberry parfait. Sadly, I never got round to making it. However, for the record, it's a frozen dessert made by whisking eggs yolks and sugar syrup, then adding whipped vanilla cream, crushed raspberries, and freezing in ramekins. They are served topped with fresh raspberries and icing sugar.

Now for something experimental. I developed a love for pomegranate molasses over the winter. I'd never tried it, so when I visited a great Middle Eastern/Turkish/Greek/everything food store in south London in November, I had to get some. It's not cheap, but it goes a long way. It's almost transcendentally intense - sweet and sour together. I like it as it is, but drizzled over roast meat, stirred through cous cous, or added to sparkling wine, it's just as good. I want to make my own sometime, although pomegranates are criminally expensive (as is their juice). However, for now, I'm trying raspberry molasses. I could find no recipes for this online, so I went with instinct. I had a colander of raspberries that were on the turn, so I crushed them, then strained them through muslin with boiling water. I poured the juice into a pan, and added a little white sugar. This was brought to the boil, then simmered very gently, and allowed to reduce until syrupy. I didn't want it to be too sweet, so I kept tasting, to make sure it was balanced (citric acid is useful here, in case you do add too much sugar). The idea was partly to make something unusual, and partly inspired by how quickly the strawberry syrup I made a few weeks ago went mouldy (the liquid under the surface is still fine). A "molasses", being that much more concentrated, will, in theory, keep indefinitely. As for uses, I'm hoping it will work wherever the more usual version is recommended!

A extension of the fruit syrup in the last post on raspberries is the alcoholic version: raspberry liqueur. Essentially, this is a syrup or cordial combined with a spirit. It can keep much longer than the non-alcoholic version, depending on strength. The simplest method is to make a syrup and then combine it with brandy, vodka, or rum. However, I would recommend making the syrup more concentrated, with higher sugar and acidity levels (adjusting with citric acid), in order to counterbalance the alcoholic "burn". Another way of making them is to layer the fruit with sugar in a large jar, topping up with the spirit of your choice. However, it's much harder to balance the flavour, as it takes up to several weeks for the sugar to dissolve, and the fruit juices to seep into the liquor. The method I'm using this time is more complicated than either of these, and based loosely on the recipe for Chambord, a proprietary "black raspberry" liqueur (there are a couple of species of fruit called black raspberries, but I'm not aware of which, if any, is used for this - it has always sounded rather like something dreamed up by their marketing department, especially given neither type of raspberry is native to Europe, yet the liqueur claims 17th century ancestry). The Wikipedia article outlines the method, but it basically involves steeping the fruit in brandy and then pressing. I have started the process, with the addition of a little sugar. The fruit will be left for a couple of weeks, then passed through a sieve, and strained through muslin, before adjusting for taste. This leads to a much stronger liqueur than the first method above, since no water is added to the mix.

Raspberries soaking in brandy. The bits will be strained out before final bottling.

Flavoured spirits were rare a couple of decades ago, but you can buy dozens of kinds nowadays - mostly vodka. It's still worth making your own, however, since you can produce flavours that are unavailable, it works out cheaper (in general), and they tend to taste fresher and less confected (at least to me). Vodka is a clean, neutral base, perfect for any fresh fruit, vanilla, or more exotic things like chilli, ginger, or horseradish. Rum and brandy work with most fruits too, and also spices and dried fruit like raisins and sultanas. Gin is usually paired with the autumn hedgerow fruits damsons and sloes, although summer fruits might be worth a try too. In all these cases, the method is the same: either pour out some of the spirit from its original bottle (assuming it doesn't have one of those pesky plastic contraptions that restrict the flow) and fill with your flavouring of choice, topping up if necessary. Alternatively, place your flavouring into a wide-mouthed jar, and fill up with the spirit. Leave in a cool, dark place for a couple of weeks or several months, shaking regularly. Either strain and return to the bottle, or use as is, although it will need straining before use in cocktails or with a mixer. It goes without saying your flavoured spirit will take on the colour of whatever you've soaked in it - rather than remaining colourless like the commercial versions. If you've made raspberry vodka, try a raspberry martini: shake 2 measures (50ml) raspberry vodka with 1 measure each of sugar syrup (or raspberry syrup, or honey) and either lemon or lime juice. Strain into a chilled martini glass. A measure of fresh raspberry purée would work in this too. Or try a raspberry Collins: stir 2 measures raspberry vodka (or gin), and 1 each of syrup and lemon juice, with ice in a tall glass, and top up with soda water.

(For another cocktail using raspberries, see this previous post).

A raspberry martini - very intense! (Apologies for the use of flash)

No doubt there are plenty of other things you can do with these delicious fruits, but I think that will do for this year.


Sally said...

I read your description of having a dozen bowls of raspberries to think what to do with - and thought that's a whole new take on having to keep all your plates spinning!!
I read this blog post with my mouth unashamedly watering.
Great ideas to try - I hadn't thought of whipping honey and vanilla into cream - YUM!
And I like all the ideas for fruit and alcohol. I hadn't thought through how different spirits are teamed with different season fruit. But you are right - gin is autumnal - maybe it's that mellow mists and fruitfulness thing - I always think of gin as being a bit of a melancholy drink!
The molasses sounds great - both the raspberry - and buying the pomegranate one. Some really inspiring ideas - thank you!

Scyrene said...

I'm glad you like them! Actually, I think of straight gin as a summer drink - in cocktails or with tonic - but sloes and damsons are definitely a fixture of the autumn. Although you can buy the flavoured stuff year round now...