Category Archives: Recipes

Strawberry Time on PEI

Fresh PEI Strawberry Jam on Tea Biscuits

There is nothing quite like the scent of newly picked strawberries straight from the field!  It’s a hallmark of Summer, particularly in climates with short growing seasons such as that on PEI.  Some years, we are lucky to get a couple of weeks out of the “strawberry season” but, this year, weather conditions have permitted it to be extended to about a month.

Fresh From the Field PEI Strawberries

I remember when I was growing up, the early morning take-offs to the nearby U-pick berry field so we would be in the line-up for its 6:00am opening for fear of not being in time to get the best “pickings” of berries.  Out would come the big, huge plastic bowls, hats, and bug spray and off to the field we’d go to get berries for eating, for jamming and, of course, “to put away” which meant crushing and freezing them for uses throughout the year.  There was no such thing as imported strawberries in the Winter from other countries as there is today….although I’ll argue those don’t have the flavour our local ones do!  Indeed, there would always be the “reviews” as to the quality of the berries – “they were so large, they had no flavour”, “they were so small, they were “poor” this year and not worth picking”, or “they had too hard a core in the center” – and, of course, the weather was never quite right for their growing no matter the conditions!  It seemed there was no “perfect” berry!  Yet, people picked pounds and pounds and buckets of them every year.  Going to the berry field was somewhat of a social event because that’s where everybody in nearby communities congregated in early July to get those berries!

I don’t freeze a lot of berries and take up freezer space with them but I do purée some for specific recipes I know I am likely to make throughout the year.  I freeze them in recipe-specific proportions and label them with the recipe name.  I like to make strawberry jam – sometimes I think more for the wonderful scent in the kitchen when it is cooking than for the need to have several bottles of jam available – although that’s a nice side benefit!  When I make my jams, I use smaller bottles – i.e., the 1-cup and ½-cup sizes.  These are ideal sizes for sharing and gift-giving and, let’s face it, who minds getting a treat of homemade jam.  Even if you make your own, isn’t it always nice to taste another cook’s jam?

I like strawberry jam on toast, scones, as a dollop on warm custard and, yes, even in my dark fruitcake that I make in the Fall.  But, one of the most marvelous ways to enjoy strawberry jam is on fresh homemade biscuits still warm from the oven.  For some reason, the flavour of strawberry jam always seems more true when the jam is served on a plain tea biscuit along with a nice cup of freshly brewed tea.  Perhaps this is why, of all the varieties of jams available, strawberry is typically the quintessential variety found on traditional afternoon tea tables.

 

Strawberry Jam Ingredients

The recipe I used to make strawberry jam this year comes from Anna Olson of the food network. This recipe does not make a large batch of jam – it yields approximately 6 cups.  It is a fairly sweet jam and I think the amount of sugar could be reduced by ½ cup to 3½ cups (instead of 4 cups the recipe calls for).  However, degree of jam sweetness is one of personal preference and much depends on the variety of strawberries being used and how much natural sugar the berries already contain.  This is not a super-thick jam and it does not use pectin.  I found I had to boil it longer than the recipe directions said.  In fact, I boiled it near an hour to get it thick enough for my liking.  The flavour is really good and authentic.  One thing I do is use a potato masher to crush up some, but not all, of the berries because I like some chunks of berries in my jam but not so many that it makes it difficult to spread.

Preparing Ingredients for Strawberry Jam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making Strawberry Jam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bottles of PEI Strawberry Jam

One of my favourite pastimes is to relax and enjoy an afternoon tea.  No better way than with a cuppa, fresh tea biscuits, and newly made strawberry jam.  It’s a great way to enjoy the fruits of jam-making labour!

Fresh Strawberry Jam on Tea Biscuits

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Ruby Red Rhubarb

Rhubarb Marmalade on Fresh Biscuits

Over the years, many Island homes, particularly those in the country (including mine) have had (and many still do) a rhubarb patch. The tiny shoots of the perennial rhubarb plants poking through the earth are always considered a harbinger of Spring and a welcome one at that. After many long Winter months in Northeastern Canada, it’s always good to see this sign of life in the corner of the garden. In fact, some local groups on PEI host fund-raising “Rhubarb Socials” each June at which they serve desserts made with rhubarb so it appears the lowly rhubarb has gained some social status!

Rhubarb Signifies Spring

A number of years ago, I suggested planting a rhubarb crown (rhizomes) in the corner of our cottage garden. The idea was not met with grand enthusiasm but, nonetheless, I went to the garden center and landed home with two rhubarb crowns which did get planted (I knew they would once they were onsite!). Well, now that rhubarb is just the greatest thing ever planted! It grew alright – in fact, we now have more of a rhubarb “bush” than a patch! Some stalks are about 18” tall. Local supermarkets are currently selling rhubarb for $3.99/lb (Cdn $). In fact, I saw some at a local farm stand last Saturday where they were selling for $4.95 and they were not overly fresh either. Sometimes, we take for granted the value of what we have in our backyard gardens. In fact, in Spring 2011, I planted two rhubarb crowns in the backyard of my suburban home. I’m pleased to say they are doing very well – long, strong stalks (ribs) with huge triangular-shaped leaves. I can’t remove any stalks from these plants this year but, next year, I can harvest one-third of the produce and, the following year, as much as is available since the rhubarb will be well established by then.

In PEI, we harvest rhubarb from early-mid May until mid-June. Harvest when stalks are long and still slender as thicker stalks tend to be older and, therefore, tougher and more stringy. To harvest, grasp the rhubarb stalk down close to its root base and give it a good tug to pull it out of the ground. Immediately cut off and discard the bottom whitish part of each stalk. The early Spring stalks are the most tender and yield greater juiciness.

If you are buying rhubarb at a farm market or grocery store, look for stalks that look dry, have crispness to them and are not limp, soft, wilted, or showing signs of turning brown at the ends.

Rhubarb is available in many varieties and shades of color that range from green to stalks that are red-green speckled or graduated in color from red to green, to deep crimson red. When purchasing a rhubarb crown for your garden or when buying rhubarb stalks, I recommend looking for varieties that have a deep red color. They will have the most flavour and give the richest pink color to recipes. Stalks that are primarily green are less flavourful and do not add appealing color to culinary dishes. As a rough, general guideline, 1 pound of raw rhubarb will yield approximately 4 cups chopped.

There has long been a debate over whether rhubarb is a fruit or a vegetable. It is often referred to as the “pie plant” because one of the most common and recognizable uses of it is in rhubarb pie and we tend to think of dessert pies as being made with fruit, not vegetables. Rhubarb is generally considered to be a vegetable notwithstanding that, in 1947, a New York court decided that, since it was primarily used as fruit in the US, rhubarb would be considered a fruit for the purposes of regulations and duties. So, while rhubarb is often treated as a fruit in many culinary dishes, botanically and by general consensus, it appears to be more accepted as a vegetable.

Regardless whether it is a fruit or a vegetable (we’ll leave that to botanists and other scientists to make the definitive call on that), it is a very versatile ingredient in many recipes. From jams, marmalades, sauces, chutneys, and drinks to pies, tortes, puddings, muffins, and ice cream, there are an endless number of recipes in which to use rhubarb. While I don’t fancy it raw, it is not uncommon to find our young glasscutter hopping off the mower to head over to our rhubarb patch to grab a rhubarb stalk to snack on! Guess he must like the sour, tart taste better than I do!

Rhubarb freezes very well and we freeze a number of bags each Spring. Chopped and frozen in recipe-specific portions and labelled accordingly, rhubarb is then available to us year-round to use in our favourite recipes.

From a nutritional standpoint, rhubarb is a source of Vitamin C, calcium, potassium, and dietary fibre. Because rhubarb largely consists of water (one source claims it is 95% water), it has no cholesterol, fat, or sodium. However, because rhubarb is so tart, it needs sweetening so, adding other ingredients such as sugar, or combining it with fruits such as strawberries, apples, etc., will obviously alter the cholesterol, fat, and/or sodium content of the dish you make using rhubarb.

I have a multitude of favourite rhubarb recipes but one of my all-time favourites is this Rhubarb Marmalade (recipe follows). Combined with three citrus fruits, it has a tart, fresh taste and, best of all, it is the first of my jamming and preserving processes of the season. I use this rich-colored and flavourful marmalade on toast, biscuits, scones, and I particularly like a dollop of it on a warm cream custard.

Time to bring out the jam pots and bottles and capture some of this Springtime goodness before the rhubarb gets too old and tough to use. If you do try this recipe, please be sure to leave me a comment about your impressions of it.

Jamming and preserving season is officially underway!

Rhubarb Marmalade

 

Rhubarb Marmalade

Ingredients:

8 cups rhubarb, thinly sliced into pieces between 1/8″ and 1/4″ thick)
4¼ cups sugar
1 large orange (or 1½ small oranges)
½ pink grapefruit
½ small lemon

Method:

Chop rhubarb into thin slices. Set aside.

Wash the orange, grapefruit, and lemon well.

Peel orange, grapefruit, and lemon.  Chop the pulp, remove and discard any seeds, and place pulp in bowl.  Scrape the pith from the fruit peelings and discard.  Chop the peel into small pieces.  Set aside.

In a large pot, place the rhubarb and sugar.  Add the citrus pulp and peel. Bring to a boil over medium high temperature, stirring to prevent scorching.  Immediately lower the temperature and cook, uncovered, at a slow gentle boil until mixture thickens and reaches a sustained temperature of 217°F on a candy thermometer (see Note 1 below for alternative testing method).  Stir mixture regularly to prevent scorching. Be patient, this can take an hour or so.

Rhubarb Marmalade Ingredients
Rhubarb Marmalade Ingredients

While the marmalade is cooking, fill a large pot of water, about ¾ full.  Place 7 half-pint jars, upright, into the water.  Ensure the jars are fully submerged, each jar filled with water, and that the water is at least an inch over the tops of the jars.  Cover, bring to a boil, and boil for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and leave the jars in the hot water while the marmalade finishes cooking.

Meanwhile, fill the canner about one-third to one-half full of water. Cover and bring to a boil to have it ready for the filled jars.

When the marmalade is cooked, use a jar lifter to remove the hot jars from the water.  Using a canning funnel, pour marmalade into sterilized jars, leaving about ¼” headroom in each jar.  Wipe the jar rims with a clean cloth. Seal jars with heated lids and fingertip-tightened ring bands.

Place jars in hot water bath wire basket, ensuring jars do not touch each other or fall over. Carefully lower basket into canner of hot water. Ensure the water level is at least 1” above the tops of jars, adding more boiling water as necessary. Cover with canner lid. Increase the heat to return the water to a rolling boil then decrease the heat to just keep the water at a rolling boil but not boiling over. Process half-pint jars in the hot water bath for 10 minutes, adjusting time for altitude. Start timing the processing from the point where a full rolling boil is reached after basket of jars has been added to the canner. At the end of the processing time, turn off heat and remove canner lid. Wait 4-5 minutes, until the water stops boiling then, using a jar lifter, carefully remove the jars, one at a time, and transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. Listen for the “pop” or “ping” sound as the bottles seal over the next few minutes or hours. The lids of properly sealed jars will curve downward. Let jars rest, undisturbed, on wire rack for 12 hours. Store in cool, dark place. Refrigerate marmalade once opened.

Boiling the Marmalade
Boiling the Marmalade

Yield:  Apx. 7 half-pint jars

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NOTE 1: If you don’t have a candy thermometer, place 2-3 freezer-safe saucers in freezer. To test for doneness of the marmalade, place a small amount of marmalade on chilled saucer and swirl saucer around. Let marmalade sit, untouched, for about a minute, then gently push your finger through the marmalade.  If the marmalade holds its shape (i.e., does not immediately run back together after the finger has been removed from the marmalade), it is set and ready to bottle.  If not, continue to cook mixture, repeating the “chill” test about every 3 minutes or so (always removing the pot from the heat while conducting the chill test) until the marmalade passes the “chill” test.  Do not overcook as it will result in a very thick marmalade, dark in color.

Note 2: After jars have completely cooled, if there are any on which the lids have not curved downward, refrigerate them and use within one month.

Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.  There are lots of ways to connect with “the Bistro” through social media:

Join My Island Bistro Kitchen on Facebook
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Find the Bistro on Pinterest at “Island Bistro Kitchen”
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Smelts – A Prince Edward Island Winter Meal

Growing up in PEI, it was customary in our home to always have at least one “feed” of smelts  sometime during the winter.

Smelts are a winter catch and, therefore, a winter meal in many households on PEI.  Sport fishers set up camp on the frozen waterways around the Island.  By setting up camp, I mean they haul little buildings, locally referred to as “smelt shacks” out onto the ice.  It is from the ‘comfort’ of these tiny rustic shelters that they fish for smelts, typically using spears or nets, to catch the tiny fish below the ice surface.  These fish are tiny, in general, measuring about 5 ”- 7” long. Continue reading Smelts – A Prince Edward Island Winter Meal