Thursday, June 21, 2012

Concerning Citrus

Growing up in Sri Lanka I didn't have much truck with citrus fruit other than limes - lime pickle an invariable part of a Sri Lankan's upbringing, lime juice squeezed onto papaw, lime sodas, lime as an essential component of sambols (pol sambol and katta sambol being favourites), lime sharpening prawn curries, and candied lime (and orange) peel in the Sri Lankan Christmas cake. With the variety of tropical fruit in our garden, the neighbours' gardens and the streets I lived and played in, oranges and mandarins didn't measure up, not even as something exotic.

When we came to Australia in the 1960's that fruit profile changed. My first few months were a summer spent on an orchard in Arcadia at that time on the outskirts of Sydney (how apposite that name was I didn't realise until encountering it in books of Greek myths and legends). There was a plenitude of apples and oranges and my brothers and I were allowed to pick what we liked from the home paddock and provident overhangs thereinto. But even here it was to under-ripe apples I was draw more, continuing my craving for the sourer end of the fruit spectrum. Orange juice would appear unsought and under appreciated at the breakfast table and a mandarin or two would be tucked into my lunch box. Sunnyboys, on the other hand, the pyramidal packaged frozen orange tuck shop treats, were irresistible, and orange fizzy drinks, but then neither of these had any but a passing acquaintance with orange juice.

So it continued into my adult years. I don't recall the last time I actually bought oranges. I don't drink orange juice unless someone else has bought it and it happens to be staring at me when I open the fridge door. I buy blood oranges in season because one should more than because I want them. Lemons and limes on the other hand have always had their place in my cooking.

But the citrus cohort wasn't finished tyring to lure me in. When I moved into my present house there already were a mandarin and a lime tree, neither of which had been doing much for want of any attention. I was excited by the prospect of harvesting my own limes, and taken with the idea of re-invigorating the mandarin, not being one to have a fruit tree in the yard and get no benefit from it (though I have yet to encourage a very old established mango in the front to do anything). I took to caring for them as per information available on line, for example that from Gardening Australia which I always find helpful at just my level of need-to-know, and they have rewarded me for several seasons now, each time with just that much more, larger and juicier fruit.

For my 50th birthday I asked those gift-giving inclined to give me fruit trees and thereby acquired a kumquat and a lemonade tree. These too have taken a liking to the garden and me and produce in abundance in season. Being no resigned to having citrus in my live,when we came to plant out our nature strip rather than succumb to the Council's plan to replace the cracked concrete of the street's footpath with buffalo grass, I planted two lemon trees which are yet in their infancy and have tentatively flowered but gone no further.

All of this of course means that suddenly I have more citrus than I have ever wanted or can consume while they are in season. This has set me on the path of finding ways to conserve what I don't consume, and that extends to the peels.

The first step was simple. I recalled my father feeding the skins of lemons he had juiced to the family lime pickle jar, which by this stage was more a lemon pickle as a consequence. Having inherited said jar is seemed only sensible to keep up the practice. When there was no room left in the heirloom I struck out on my own.

Simple Lime Pickle Base
Take some fresh limes and quarter them. Rub salt into them and leave them to dry out in the sun until the skin goes a yellow to dark tan. The salt draws the moisture out of the limes and wrinkles them up. Bottle these up with enough vinegar  to cover them, you can add some fresh or dried red chillies too. Leave for a couple of months, till the limes get soft again and have absorbed some of the vinegar. Now they are ready to use.

This is also a great way to recycle lemon and lime peels post squeezing. Save them up in a bag or other container in the freezer until you have a heap of them and then proceed as above.

The kumquat tree was the next to demand attention. I go two ways on these. My sister-in-law introduced me to eating them whole raw, skin and all. But I still  get way more than I could snack on. an snack on so I've turned to pickling them. Once ready I serve them as a relish with roasted and barbecued meats, and indulge myself with a bowl of vanilla ice cream topped with a generous spoonful of the pickled fruit.

Kumquat Pickle
Ingredients675 g kumquats
50 g preserving sugar 175 ml white wine vinegar 2 x cinnamon sticks, each about 5cm long.6 whole cloves 
MethodPut the cumquats in a saucepan over a low heat. Cover with water, add the sugar and simmer for 20 minutes.

Remove the cumquats and divide them equally between sterile preserving jars.

Add the white wine vinegar, cinnamon sticks and cloves to the sugar syrup, turn the heat up to high and boil for 20 minutes. Skim off any scum that appears on the surface.

Strain the syrup into the preserving jars (use a funnel if you have one). Screw the lids on tightly. Store the pickle for one month before eating.

The huge globes of the lemonade tree presented one obvious solution - lemonade, or at least lemon cordial that could be mixed with either still or sparkling water. This recipe from Matthew Evans has never failed in preparation or enjoyment.

Lemon Syrup

2 lemons well-scrubbed
350gs caster sugar
2 cups boiling water
25g tartaric acid

Finely grate the lemon rind. Juice the lemons, keeping the squeezed halves.

Put the rind, the juice, the squeezed halves and the caster sugar into a bowl.Pour over the boiling water and stir well to dissolve the sugar. Leave it to cool overnight, in the fridge if it's a warm night.

The next day, take out the squeezed lemon halves, stir in the tartaric acid and pour into sterilized bottles.

Keep stored in the fridge till you want to use it. Shake it well before mixing with still or sparkling water.

Finally, this year, even the lemonade tree has produced more than I can make syrup from. In desperation I turned my thoughts to other big citrus fruits and their possibilities. This led me back to candying citrus, and I am looking forward this year to using my own candied peel in my Christmas Cake - that is if it avoids being tossed into cookies and muffins my niece Casey bakes on a regular basis.

 Candied Peel


450g peels  all pulp removed
Pinch of salt
700g sugar
1.5lt (6 cups) water

Wash the peels.  Put them in a pot with plenty of water and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil and simmer till the peels are translucent (about 1 hours should do it). Drain and rinse them.

Heat the sugar and the 1.5 litres of water till it boils, put in the peels, turn the heat to a simmer and let cook for 20 minutes. Turn the heat off and let the peel stand in the sugar syrup.

Next day, bring the peels and sugar syrup to the boil and again simmer for 20 minutes. Repeat this on four more days.

On the next day, remove the peels from the syrup and drain them on a wire rack for 8 hours. Store them in a jar or takeaway food container in the fridge and use as you like. 

You can use the syrup as a dressing on a fresh fruit salad or pour it over ice cream or jelly.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Bread pudding

Sitting down at morning tea today to tuck into bread pudding from Black Star Pastry in Newtown, Sydney, (see image below) I thought a short note to celebrate this simple but satisfying pud was due in on this blog.

Here's bits of the delightful entry on bread puddings from The Oxford Companion to Food (edited by the much missed Alan Davidson):

Bread puddings an important category...It is safe to assume that from the very distant past cooks have sometimes turned stale bread into a sweet pudding, if only by soaking it in milk, sweetening it by one means or another, and baking the result. The addition of some fat, preferably in the form of butter, and something like currants is all that is needed to move this frugal dish into the category of treats, and this is what has ensured its survival in the repertoire, even of cooks who never have stale bread on their hands...this same dish can also be made with something more exotic than plain bread, for example, brioche, pannetone, slices of plain cake etc., and can be enlivened by judicious spicing or by reinforcing the currants with plumper sultanas and mixed peel. But such elaborations must be kept under strict control, so that what is essentially a simple pudding does not lost its character under the weight of sophisticated additions.

I love his insistence on not elaborating the dish so much as to lose its simplicity. Certainly my mother, whose cooking skills focused on desserts and casseroles (one day I shall do a blog on macaroni and tuna casserole), kept hers simple, drawing no doubt on those of her youth produced by her mother and her mother's mother in the tradition of Sri Lankan Burgher women and as codified in Hilda Deutrom's Ceylon Daily News Cookery Book, first published in 1929 and never out of print since. Here is Hilda's recipe:

Bread and butter pudding
slices of bread and butter
sugar to taste
2 oz sultanas
1 pint milk
2 03 3 eggs
vanilla or almond flavouring

Butter a pie-dish, put in a layer of thin bread and butter, sprinkle sugar and sultanas, then another layer of bread and butter, sugar and sultanas, and so on until the dish is about half full. Beat up the eggs, add the milk, a little sugar or flavouring, mix well together and pour over the bread in the pie-dish. Allow the pudding to stand for about one hour until the bread is thoroughly soaked, press down the top slices so that they may get soaked too. Put into a moderate oven and bake for about 40 minutes or until nicely browned.

Mum used to use sliced white bread, crusts and all, and sultanas with a little vanilla for flavouring. She baked it in a deep, oblong, clear sided pyrex dish and I was always fascinated by the view of the brown crusted sides studded here and there with dark brown/black sultanas. We would have it hot when it was first made but there was always enough left over for a cold slice the following days. It was usually dressed with golden syrup, an elaboration that I am sure Davidson would not object to. When I make it these days I dress it with kitul, a palm sugar syrup that is a staple in a Sri Lankan cupboard.

My friend Margaret makes her bread pudding with brioche and cream. Black Star's bread base is a secret - well I could ask Chris but it's better to have some mystery to it (I suspect it is brioche). It's baked in small square cups (sort of like very mini popcorn containers) and comes with a serve of pouring cream flavoured with vanilla seeds. Again, I think these stay nicely within Davidson's prescription for simplicity.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Banh mi thit

I write today in praise of the banh mi thit, the Vietnamese pork roll, and particularly that from the Marrickville Pork Roll shop on the corner of Illawarra Rd and Marrickville Road, Marrickville, NSW Australia. I had driven past it several times of late, or at least I had driven past what I had supposed from the long line that leaked from it each time I passed was an ATM until I looked up and noticed the bright red sign advertising it as a purveyor of said rolls. I had been missing them since the shop that sold excellent rolls outside of Newtown Station had closed to make way for refurbishment of said station. So I was excited to think that the rolls from this hole-in-the-wall take out joint - no really, it is as hole in the wall as maybe two ATMs - were so prized that no matter what time of day or what day of the week I passed there was always a line up.

But perhaps you know not of what I speak. Here from Wikipedia is as clear a description as any:

Bánh mì or bánh mỳ (English pronunciation: /ˈbʌn ˌmiː/Vietnamese pronunciation: [ɓǎɲ mî]) is a Vietnamese term for all kinds of bread. Bread, or more specifically the baguette, was introduced by the French during its colonial period. The bread most commonly found in Vietnam is single serve and resembles a torpedo, therefore the term bánh mì is synonymous with this type of bread. The bánh mì is usually more airy than its western counterpart, so as a result, has a thinner crust.
The sandwich made from bánh mì include meat and soy fillings such as steamed, pan-roasted or oven-roasted seasoned pork belly, Vietnamese sausage, grilled pork, grilled pork patties, spreadable pork liver pâté, pork floss, grilled chicken, chicken floss, canned sardines in tomato sauce, soft pork meatballs in tomato sauce, head cheese, fried eggs, and tofu. Accompanying vegetables include fresh cucumber slices, cilantro and pickled carrots and daikon in shredded form. Spicy chili sauce is normally found in bánh mì sold by vendors in Vietnam. In western countries, especially the U.S., the chili sauce has been replaced with sliced jalapeños, a type of chili pepper that is not grown and consumed in Vietnam. In southern Vietnam, homemade mayonnaise is commonly added to the sandwich. Laughing Cow cheese is also a popular filling in Vietnam.

The Marrickville shop offers four varieties of pork roll - the basic roll with pate, three varieties of sliced pressed pork and strips of barbecue pork, with grated carrot, slices of onion, thin lengths of cucumber, a mess of coriander, Vietnamese mint, tomato slices, slices of fresh ripe red chili, a thickish fish sauce, all in exploding out of a crunchy crusted torpedo bun; a version which promises pork skin, another that prioritises barbecue pork, and one with pork meatballs - of a size here that is confronting but alluring. I had the basic and it fully met my expectations. The delight of eating these rolls is both the complex mix of textures/mouth feel and flavours you get with each munch and the mess the practised and unwary alike make as flakes of crust shower bodices. laps and any eating surface while pate oozes out the ends and juices/sauces dribble down chins and fingers. It's one of those foods you have to eat leaning over and back somewhat - there's no way you and the roll can remain upright and remain clean. I ate mine in my car, sitting in the driver's seat, the plastic bag and paper bag it came in spread on the passenger seat to catch the drips and splodge. It was a rainy day so the car steamed up and I felt a kind of guilt as I hunched over shielded by the misted windows.