Thursday, October 30, 2008

Trick or treacle toffee?

Here is a recipe for the Brit delight, Treacle Toffee, which could in the US be called molasses toffee, but as I love the word treacle so much then treacle it will remain...the word treacle sounds like the sound treacle makes when you stick a spoon in a jar of it and then pull the spoon out....that's a treacle sound! 

Treacle toffee is well known in Blighty for Bonfire/Guy Fawkes night which is coming up soon on November make it for Hallowe'en (or All Hallow's Eve or Samhain or...) or next Wednesday! I am not a big fan of treacle/molasses generally, it reminds me of licorice which makes my face crinkle, but there's something about treacle toffee that I really like and I can't quite say what it is, probably the addition of butter, what isn't improved by THAT!!! In Britain I think the best treacle toffee is made by Thornton's , where they have huge trays of it with little hammers to break it up ready for your edification. (Thornton's also do a bazzin' Apricot Parfait...dark chocolate with apricot cream and crystallized-apricot-bits centres!! YUMMY!!!)

I have taken my recipe from the book you see above, 'Farmhouse Kitchen II' which is a treasure trove of good old fashioned British stick-to-your-ribs recipes, I can ALWAYS find something in there I want to make but I do have to admit this recipe is not going to be an exact one as either I don't have the candy-making thing down or my candy thermometer is totally out of whack...regardless here we go with an imprecise recipe!!


8oz (in weight) molasses/treacle
8oz brown sugar (I'm sure you can use white if that is all you have!)
2oz butter
2 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar...does anyone know what the vinegar does?...I've used it in recipes for meringues and I don't know what it's purpose is....
I added a 1/2 teaspoon salt for that nice counterpoint and...
1 teaspoon vanilla essence/extract
1.Lump all the ingredients into a heavy bottomed stainless steel saucepan and gradually warm it up to a slow boil, continue boiling gently for about 10 minutes and stir occasionally to prevent sticking and a truly grim burning smell.

2. Raise the heat slowly until a rolling boil is here comes the imprecision...the recipe book said to take the temp to 284F but no way was my black sludge getting that hot, I KNOW it would have burnt so I watched the boiling until I could see that mixture getting thicker, stirring all the while to prevent sticking, and occasionally I dripped some of the liquid on a cool surface, in my case the stove top, and when it cooled quickly and could be picked up cleanly from the surface and squashed between my figures without sticking to them and feeling like some warm candle wax I, yes I, decided to take the sludge off the boil, stirred and cooled it til the bubbles subsided then poured it into a VERY well buttered 9" square metal container, at it's hottest the sludge reached about 225f on MY candy thermometer but don't go by that!!

3. Let the candy/sweets cool 'til the surface was setting and then pulled a sharp knife across the surface to mark it for breaking when the toffee was completely set.

When cold I removed said Treacle Toffee from the container and broke, somewhat unevenly I might add, along the marked lines and then wrapped some in small rectangles of unbleached greaseproof paper ready for the hoards of children who will not show at our house tomorrow evening because we live at the end of a quiet road where no-one ever comes!!! Maybe I'll take some into town tomorrow for the progeny of my deserving friends...assuming, of course, that it doesn't all get eaten by ghouls in the night!!

Happy Hallowe'en and November 5th all!!!

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Cider colours, cider apples, cider press and cider cake!

SO...from top to bottom we have the field across the road from my house in all it's burnished cider and marmalade colours, apples on the knarled old tree in the back yard, a cider press courtesy of Farmer's Fare, a roasting apple on a stick and cider cake...a quiet, humble little thing...subtle and demure. James and I went down to Rockport to see apples being ground into pulp which was then mercilessly squeezed in the cider press and the resulting delicious nectar was drunk with great relish. I came home and looked in my trusty old cookbooks and found a recipe for Cider Cake in "Traditional Irish Food" Gaelic the cake is Ciste ceirlise. I promptly made the cake and here is the recipe...with my own added twist, a play on Britain's favourite Sticky Toffee Pudding.
CIDER CAKE: (I should note here for the Brits reading cider in the U.S. means freshly pressed UNalcoholic apple juice, for the Americans when the Brits and Irish say cider they mean HARD cider...I decided to be contrary to both and I used frozen concentrated apple juice in the cake for extra flavour)
8oz unbleached flour
pinch of salt
goodly pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4oz butter ( I always use salted butter but you may use unsalted if you so desire!)
4oz fine brown sugar
2 eggs beaten because they have misbehaved in some way
1/4 pint cider (I made up this amount with TWICE the concentrate that the directions said on the frozen concentrate conatiner)
6 tBsps frozen apple juice
2 1/2oz sugar
1 1/2oz butter (again I use salted...I like that salt tang)
2 tBsps fresh cream
1. Mix dry ingredients together well
2. Cream butter and sugar til very light and fluffy
3. Add beaten eggs bit by bit to prevent curdling
4. Fold in half the flour mix
5. Add the extra strength apple juice, if you only have apple juice you could boil it down for extra flavour.
6. Fold in the remaining flour
7. Spoon mix into a greased and floured 7" shallow cake tin and bake at 325F for about 45 minutes. Leave in cake tin for the next bit!!!
8. TOPPING: Melt brown sugar, butter, cream and frozen apple juice together in a pan....let bubble gently for about 5 minutes until mixture thickens.
9. Light broiler (grill)...pour topping deliciousness over the cake still in the pan and broil until bubbling but NOT burnt, when the cake cools it has a nice crisp top with apple 'goo' round the edges
10. Let cake cool before eating...this cake keeps well, more so if you make it with hard cider which you are welcome to do!!
" An apple-mill and press had been erected on the spot, to which some men were bringing fruit from divers points in mawn-baskets (deep, round, coverless two handled wicker baskets) while others were grinding them, and others wringing down the pomace, whose sweet juice gushed forth into tubs and pails......The outskirts of the town were just now abounding with apple-gatherings. They stood in the yards in carts, baskets and loose heaps; and the blue stagnant air of autumn which hung over everything was heavy with a sweet cidery smell. Cakes of pomace (the solid remains of the pressing) lay against the walls in the yellow sun, where they were drying to be used as fuel"
I LOVE the idea of using the pomace as fuel...I bet that would smell good burning in a wood stove!!!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Belfast Maine 4th Annual Poetry and Art Festival!!


by Janet Shea

It is a thirteenth-century beguinage,
a community of holy women--mothers, aunts,
ancestral sisters--tending the sick.
Mary of Oignies, Juliana, Marguerite
shuttle trays of soft food, medicinal tea,
warm milk to the many suffering
souls to be cared for: Old women, children
on cots, restless babies in cribs.
Every so often a sister stops to rest, leans
against the banister or door jamb. Mary
of Oignies, weakened by the marks of stigmata,
wipes the back of her hand across her forehead,
swipes a bleeding palm down the sides of her apron.
Local friars, arrayed in hooded burlap,
sit on the porch with neighborhood
men in plaid shirts, caps swinging between their knees
all awaiting instructions from the women. The men
were summoned to ward off encroaching disaster,
invasion, a possible flood. Already their boots
are slick with mud. Already the wind howls, rain
pelts the roof, fir trees like old bones creak
in the woods out back.
Bonded in time and place, tired of waiting,
the men convene in the cellar. They hammer,
check beams and joists, sandbag the foundation, trace
strategic escape routes on a torn and crinkled
map, vigilant for marauders, heretics, petty thieves.
Later, in my grandmother's Victorian, a labyrinth
of hallways and stairs, sisters . . . Patricia,
Virginia, Mary Louise . . . gather at Grammy's
oak table for supper. Overhead, mothers and aunts,
in rooms pungent with the aroma of lavender
and oil-of-wintergreen, settle in bed, side
rails secured, night lights aglow, the Sacred
Heart of Jesus, consoling on the wall. Nearby
children and babies breathe easy, exhaling
in sleep a fragrance of warm milk and honey.
The winds out back coo like a covey of doves,
the rain a soft patter on glass.
After supper the eldest cousin retreats
to the pantry, a sudden tumble of disarray.
She puzzles among the monochromatic cache
of mother vessels, dried up and cracked,
chooses a familiar blue bowl, its vanilla
rim chipped, and fills it with pudding.
"I enter the circle of holy ones,"
she whispers, returning to the table,
the ancient vessel steady in her hands.
Sisters and cousins, we welcome her with song,
remember in silence the women before us.
We tell stories, pass the bowl of abundance,
feast in the mounds of meringue.
White peaks
whipped firm,
but not stiff.

Above is a poem by my good and
delicious friend, Janet Shea, (not a rellie!) which I illustrated with the painting you see at the top of this posting. I decided to make the painting into a shrine to the Sacred Everyday (Sacra Quotidianus) and took some pictorial elements from Janet lovely poem to celebrate this concept. Janet and I decided to call ourselves 'The Two Sheas' and I was so proud to have the painting hung in a gallery here in Belfast with Janet reading the poem aloud to a breathless audience....that was for the very first Belfast Poetry and Art Festival in 2005. With the tireless efforts of Elizabeth Garber, our first Poet Laureate in Belfast and a wordsmith whose poems have been featured not once but thrice on the Garrison Keillor early morning radio spot on NPR, along with the efforts of many other local poets and artists this Festival is now in it's fourth check out the website (see info in righthand column and click there to link to their site) for a listing of venues where this year's poetry will be read and art seen.
The two Angel pictures are from the Belfast Graveyard and I thought they were appropriate to combine with this particular posting. For info on Beguinage click on the title of the poem.
Thank you Janet, you little sweetpea!!!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Welsh cakes...again, not what are they??

To be honest they are the stuff of legend...honeeest...they are the 'cakes' King Alfred burned, silly man!!!...actually I burned a couple myself so maybe he wasn't so silly!!! They are cakes in the same way a pancake is a cake, to me they taste like fried cookies (biscuits to the Brits reading)...they are sweet and cakey, simple and filling. I can eat them hot with or without butter and find them just as delicious cold when they really do have the sense of cookie about them.

The recipe I used is from an old copy of British Country Living and it has served me very well over the's a great way to start your Thankies Day.

8oz unbleached white flour
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg ( I like just nutmeg, a highly underappreciated little spice, but traditionally one would do 1/2 tsp of mixed spice (?), is that allspice? and 1/2 teaspoon of mace)
4oz cold grated butter, makes it easier to blend into the flour (again in the recipe it asks for 2oz butter and 2oz of white fat but I don't have any lard and don't like hydrogenated I went for 4oz butter and they were just fine!)
3oz sugar...I use fine brown sugar because I like the flavour of brown but you can use white and King Alfred probably used white sugar...or did he...does anyone know what colour the sugar would have been then...maybe they didn't have white sugar in the 14Century...or whenever he lived, I am making an uneducated guess here!)
3oz dried currants
1 egg beaten...oops I left this out of the ingredients photo, with a tsp of vanilla extract stirred in
Approx. 1 tablespoon of milk.
1. Sift flour, salt and spices together in a bowl.
2. Rub the grated butter in until it resembles breadcrumbs.
3. Stir in the sugar and dried fruit.
4. Add the beaten egg with a fork.. and just enough of the milk to form a soft should be a bit sticky.
5. Roll out the dough to 1/4" thickness and cut into rounds, or simple shapes. I got too clever for my clogs and used a star cutter and what with the currants they don't keep their shape well, although I still think they look nicely rustic. You may if you so desire omit the currants as I know so may people out there have fear of dried fruit pertaining to nightmare fruit cakes!...I think the recipe should come out just as well and then you can be more fancy with your cutters!
6. Heat up your frying pan, preferably a cast iron one, or griddle if you have one to medium heat. Grease with a little butter...remember they have a lot of butter already in them, and try ONE Welsh Cake to get the feel of the pan and heat, just like you would do with a pancake....the first one of which you usually throw away until your get your hand and the pan 'in'...if you know what I mean.
7. Cook the Welsh Cakes in small batches...don't crowd the pan, you want to make it easy to turn them over, and cook a few minutes each side until nicely browned but still soft in the middle.
8. Get them out of the pan, cut in half horizontally and put a nice pat of butter in there if you so desire. Maple syrup would be a nice addition if you want to gild the lily and do actually make them for Thankies.
9. Repeat process multiple times because once you start eating these little treasures, chances are you won't be able to stop.
Off you pop and warm up that big lumbering cast iron frying pan!!! Autumn is just the right time for Welsh Cakes...with, of course, a spot of tea...they do go better with tea than coffee.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

More colour...this time from Mother Nature.

As you can see the pictures really speak for themselves! Fall is at full gallop here in Maine and the colours are near peak, I will take more photos as the colour develops and post them here for those of you not lucky enough to see this show in it's true glory. These photos were all taken within half a mile of my house...aren't I lucky!!! In order from top to bottom they are: 'traffic light' maple leaves, Blueberry Hill vista looking towards Blue Hill, a view looking up Blueberry Hill, a field by the house, bees (and their knees) at work on the asters (also known as Michaelmas Daisies...Michaelmas Day being September 29th, oops we missed it, and should properly be named the day of Saint Michael and All Angels, apparently it should be celebrated with a goose for dinner, I assume this means the eating of a goose for dinner and not a goose sitting at the table BUT I DIGRESS........), and lovely pink pee gee hydrangea flowers which will turn pale brown but can be cut and kept all year at that point. Happy Autumn!!