Veg-ing out

wpid-20140730_200027-1.jpgI have flirted with vegetarianism on and off for about thirty years, particularly when I lived alone – which I have done, not unhappily, on and off, until I finally settled down with Tom.   One of the first, if not the first, recipe book I bought, was the A – Z of Vegetarian Cooking in South Africa.  And two of our favourite quiche fillings (leek & onion, and spinach & feta) are based on recipes from this book.  I do confess that I work very hard at not thinking about the journey that meat must take to reach my kitchen.

Consequently, entertaining friends who are vegetarian is fun! Well, I think so, anyway.  For some, it’s a challenge, so I thought I’d share with you what I did when our neighbours joined us for a long overdue dinner, a few weeks ago.

It was a Friday evening and Fridays are my day in the kitchen, preparing for the market.  This particular Friday, I was really in the mode, so it was in for a penny, in for a pound.  The broccoli was ready to pick and we had ripe gooseberries, so there were two ready ingredients.

That said, it was cold and miserable and had the makings of becoming even more so, and what is more warming than cottage pie, I thought.   So, instead of the beef mince, I used beautiful green lentils, soaked and cooked, that were added to sautéd onions and mushrooms.  This was seasoned with chopped garlic, some tomato paste, a twig of fresh rosemary and a good glug of red wine.  A lesson I learned, and which I had forgotten, was that it’s really easy to let this mixture dry out – watch it and add water and/or vegetable stock so that it stays nice and moist as the flavours develop.  Transferred to an oven proof dish, this was topped with a potato and butternut mash, dotted with knobs of butter and baked in the oven for about 20 minutes to half an hour.  The butter is what gives you the crispy, caremelised crust on the cottage pie which was served with a garden salad.

100_2974 100_3150So, we started our dinner with broccoli soup, made with the first picking, and discovered to my delight, that not only does Ant enjoy soup,  but particularly loves creamy ones.

For dessert, we had a gooseberry tart with jam I had made earlier in the day.

No meal is complete without wine.  We don’t really do the wine-pairing thing.  Although we do take the menu into consideration, we choose what we like, and what we think our guests will like.  As usual, we chose beautiful wines from our valley:  Tanagra‘s Heavenly Chaos (isn’t that a wonderful name for a wine?), a lovely red blend, which is beautifully different every year, and Springfield’s Life from Stone, one of my favourite Sauvignon Blanc wines.

Pat and Ant, it was fun – we’ll do it again! 100_3151

Glorious Gooseberries

In Afrikaans, they are called “appelliefies”, and the direct translation is “little apple loves”.

Cape Gooseberries are endemic and we haven’t planted any in our garden.  They just grow, and are one of the many gifts we receive from our garden.

As a small child, not long after we moved from East London, we would travel from Grahamstown to visit farmer friends for the Gonubie Agricultural Show. And, along with my memories of Dad judging the flower arrangements, my always bidding for the largest egg at the end of the show, watching the gymkhana, and the convoy of cars,  draped with beautiful women (or so they seemed to me) over their bonnets, I remember Auntie Molly’s gooseberry jam.

100_2980These were the memories I associated with gooseberries, until more recently.  I was reminded, by a school friend, that my mother used to make a gooseberry fridge tart, and only when Karen recounted her story, did I realise why I had forgotten:  it was really sour and I didn’t like it.  Nor did Karen;  and it’s her one abiding memory of my mother and a weekend she spent with our family in Grahamstown!

Gooseberries are tart – full of beta carotine and Vitamin C – and they are delicious fresh and in a jam.  With our first gooseberries, I added them to salads and we also had them for breakfast, with yoghurt.

As with most things, one can have too much: even with one gooseberry bush, the berries began to come thick and fast, so spurred on by a fellow villager, I thought I’d have a go at jam.

Making jam with berries is different from making marmalade (more of that, soon) because they don’t need much cooking, and in the case of gooseberries, because they are not just full of vitamin C, they’re also full of pectin.  This means that it’s easy to over-cook your jam and end up with jars of something that’s rock hard, and definitely not jam.  The added challenge of this jam-making session was that I didn’t have –

 

a) a recipe for Cape Gooseberry jam (Mum’s Good Housekeeping recipe book doesn’t talk about Cape Gooseberries, but it does give the basics of making different types of jams and preserves);  and

b) with just one bush, I had a really small quantity of gooseberries to play with.

GoodHousekeepingCookery

This was a test of my ability to work out ratios (which, for someone who did not do Mathematics beyond year 9 at school, is quite hectic) as well as culinary skills:  until this, the closest I had got to making jam, was marmalade!

 

100_2987So, this is what I learned:  equal quantities of fruit and sugar.  Put these in a pot of an appropriate size and then add a two thirds of the base quantity of water (remember that 100g = 100ml of water), and then cook as you would any jam.  Bring to the boil reduce the heat and simmer until setting point is reached (watch carefully – with a small quantity, that happens more quickly).

To test whether setting point is reached, put a little of the mixture on to a cold, china/ceramic plate and put it into the fridge for about 10 minutes.  If, when you take it out, and you skim your finger across the top, it wrinkles, your jam is ready.

Allow the jam to stand for 10 to 15 minutes and then bottle in sterilized jars and enjoy!

Of course, gooseberry jam can also be turned into a wonderful gooseberry tart – a desert nowhere near as sour as the dessert my mother dished up for our family and poor Karen in the late 1970’s!

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