Tag Archives: spices

Ruby’s red cabbage

My paternal grandmother Ruby died when I was just four and I retain only a few flashes of memory. I remember a family Christmas when she sewed matching polka dot dresses with pretty shirred fronts for my cousin Alexandra & me, and some visits to my grandparents’ cottage in Suffolk.

Yet Ruby is a strongly characterised figure that lives on in our family. Above all, her cooking has kept her memory alive.

Ruby was famous among family, friends and neighbours as being an adventurous and accomplished cook in a time when the word “foodie” hadn’t been invented. She kept meticulous boxes and folders of recipes, either snipped from newspapers or pencilled onto index cards. My grandfather lovingly kept every scrap she left behind when she passed away, and I’m blessed to be able to sift through her collection. Grandma’s words are a window to a different time and reading them connects me to a lady I wish I could have known better.

I often assume my passion for food comes from the Persian side of my family but actually Ruby, a good Lancashire lass, shared the same appetite for preparing and sharing large family feasts.

Ruby’s red cabbage is the best braised cabbage I’ve ever had; I have converted many brassica haters with this and am often asked for the recipe.

The method is very simple, adaptable and forgiving – the dish can be left for ages on a low heat on the hob, which makes life much easier if you are preparing this as part of a big roast.

Ruby’s red cabbage

• Thick slice of butter
• Olive oil
• 1 red or white onion, diced
• a large cooking apple, diced
• 2 garlic cloves, crushed
• 2 inch/ thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped
• 1 head red cabbage, shredded finely
• 4 tbsps dark brown sugar
• 4 tbsps red wine vinegar (or balsamic)
• 1 star anise
• 1 stick of cinnamon
• 3-4 cloves
• 1 bay leaf
• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large saucepan, melt the butter in a dribble of olive oil. Sweat onion, garlic, and ginger over a med-high heat for a few minutes.

Add the apple and red cabbage to the pot. Stir around and cook for a few minutes until they are glossy and have softened slightly.

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Add the sugar and vinegar, tuck in the herbs and bay leaf, put the lid on, turn the heat down low and leave it!

Cook for at least 60-90 mins, longer if possible. Check every now and then to make sure it’s softening nicely and whether it needs a stir – you may need to add a touch of water if it’s too dry. Taste to check the balance of sweet/sour and add more sugar/vinegar if needed.

Season well with salt and pepper.

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For me, a Christmas or Boxing Day meal is incomplete without Ruby’s red cabbage – and at other times of year, one of my favourite meals is this with roast pork & crackling and dauphinoise potatoes.

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Bramley apple chutney

The name of this blog is a pretty big clue that I’m a Salman Rushdie fan.

The phrase “swallower of lives” is borrowed from the sublime Midnight’s Children, a novel which also coined the phrase “chutnification”, which can be interpreted as a metaphor for preserving memories in the same way that you preserve fruit and vegetables as chutney.

With chutney, the lengthy steeping with acid and aromatics will inevitably affect the flavour and texture. In the same way, memories mature, mellow and morph over time too.

My parents had just harvested a bumper crop from their bramley apple tree and one of the best ways to enjoy something good for as long as possible is to make chutney.

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The toughest bit of the process was tripling the quantities to account for the ridiculous amount of apples.

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Otherwise it was just lots of chopping and chucking everyone into a big pot.

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We actually ended up using two, we had so much.

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Making chutney is a lovely way to get in the mood for colder months and long cosy evenings indoors.

We used this recipe as a guide, adapted for the vast quantities:

675g onions, chopped
2.7 kg apples, cored and chopped
330g sultanas, raisins or chopped dates
45g ground coriander
45g paprika
45g mixed spice
45g salt
1kg granulated sugar
1,275 ml pints malt vinegar

Put all the ingredients into a large saucepan and bring to the boil until the sugar dissolves. Simmer for two hours, stirring from time to time to stop the chutney sticking to the pan.
When it is very thick and you can draw a wooden spoon across the base of the pan so that it leaves a channel behind it that does not immediately fill with liquid, the chutney is ready.
Turn into sterilised jars, seal and cool.

I didn’t have enough mixed spice so I added a little extra cinnamon. It’s a sharp, spicy, lip-smacking chutney to have with cheese boards, cold meats, sandwiches. It’s even better if you leave it in a cupboard for a few weeks before eating.

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If any of the jars last until then, they also make great Christmas presents.