Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Sorting out the Dried Fruit and Nuts

Unlike a lot of people I actually keep in a lot of baking stuff and dried fruit and nuts, (including ground almonds), chestnuts in tins or just tins of puree ( I digress  - not dried I know but still useful components) of differing descriptions as I bake, make my own mincemeat, use in breads and tea breads as well as fruit cakes.  I keep a check on the fruit and because it is expensive I try and get the best out of the fruit before it dries out and is of little use in baking or of utilising in preserving.  I tend to buy my fruit anyway when it is on offer.  I am a bit tight and buy as cheaply as I can but primarily I go for quality.  It pays with dried fruit.  

I keep dried cranberries, golden raisins (available from Asian stores), mixed fruit, cherries (of different colours) raisins, currants, apricots, dried mango, pineapple,mixed peel, dried cherries, dried coconut, dried coconut slices, flaked almonds, apple slices, prunes, sultanas and mixed exotic fruits for use in Christmas ice cream, Figs, dates, preserved ginger in syrup and dried and sugared. 

 I use the ginger in both formats when I do a home made stir fry as well and as a digestive served on its own in crystal bowls on the table after Christmas dinner or after a meal - I have a real thing about ginger.. I also pop preserved ginger (the sugared ginger which normally comes in cubes into a jar with some green ginger wine let it soak for a little while and top up the jar if necessary with more green ginger wine (the ginger soaks up the wine) and then use as an alcoholic sauce over ginger or vanilla home made ice cream.  

The same can be done with dried cherries and brandy.   

Exotic luxuries can be made from dried fruit such as Pan de Higo to accompany the cheese board which is basically dried figs with extra flavourings such as fennel seed and sesame seed processed down to a paste and either turned into a small cake pan and left to dry a little before either serving in wedges or turning into little tiny balls. This can be used at any time of the year although predominantly I use it around Christmas.   Panforte, Fig Cake, all cost an arm and a leg to buy but are relatively easy to make at home.  I also use dried fruit in home made muesli and granola.

I therefore at this time of year start preparing bits and bobs to get that little extra time and use out of the fruit during the course of the year  Sometimes I do this by adding alcohol such as brandy to some raisins, which plumps them up and I then store them in a jar and then dribbling all over vanilla ice cream or adding some of the contents to home made ice cream. Making mincemeat, and making chutneys.

You quite simply do not have to waste dried fruit there is always a use for it whether that be exotic or quite simple fare if you catch it in time.  The trick is to catch it in time. 

But predominantly in the past the housewife has made use of the dried fruit by turning it into chutneys which can be used throughout the year in stews and casseroles as well as with the plain cheese sarnie.

Basically look at your dried fruit store -  I tend to be a little over-zealous on this as where I store my fruit is a pantry - but what is known as a dry pantry - even though it is a reasonable size it does not get cold and because of that factor I tend to keep a closer eye on the  said pantry.  Fruit  which appears to be a little over-dry and starting to sugar can if you get it in the early stages be washed in warm water and reconstituted a little before turning it into mincemeat or chutney - but if it has gone too far .......   

Years ago when I first started cooking the instructions were that before you used dried fruit of any description you always washed it, now that does not happen so much in practice but when I make my Christmas cake my dried fruit is decanted into a large basin or jar and steeped in a little alcohol for about a week before I make my cake - only a little but it does help with the flavour of the cake and in plumping up the fruitl.  You can also use wine instead of spirit.

Chutneys will last at least two years on the shelf and often longer - so turning it into something else really does extend the shelf life.  As I have said before - I buy the ingredients and then turn them into something else. 

Some of you may think its a little early for doing things such as this and maybe it is but for me dried fruit has a shelf life in its dried form but not a season so if you have some fruit that needs using up then do it there and then and then you have the product for the rest of the year and for Christmas to come and some potential pressies for friends in the longer term.

I shall post some recipes later on.



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