Archive for September, 2012

September 27, 2012

Rustic Italian Grape Cake -Recipe

by Ciaran Burke


24 pots of jam have been made from our haul of grapes, also nearly four liters of grape cordial Hanna made a delicious cake from an Italian recipe replacing sweet wine with white port. YUM!



  • 225ml dessert white port wine
  • 200g light muscovado sugar
  • 100g softened butter
  • 3 eggs
  • zest 1 orange
  • zest 1 lemon
  • 175ml extra-virgin olive oil
  • 225g plain flour , plus 1 tbsp for dusting
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 175g grapes , halved and seeded
  • 4-5 tbsp demerara sugar

  1. Pour the wine into a pan. Bring to the boil and keep simmering until reduced down to 85ml – will take some 5-10 mins. Leave to cool.
  2. Heat oven to 180C.
  3. Beat together the sugar and butter. Add the eggs, one at a time. Then stir in the zests.
  4. Mix baking powder and flours.
  5. Mix together the cooled wine and olive oil and pour some into the cake mix. Stir well, then fold in about third of the flour mixture. Keep alternating between adding the liquid and flour until everything has been mixed in.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the oiled and floured baking tin, smooth the surface with a spoon.
  7. Scatter the halved grapes over the top. Sprinkle with demerera sugar.
  8. Bake for about 50 mins or untilwell baked.
Enjoy! I certainly did…
September 27, 2012

Fruit of the vine- a gift of grapes means lots of grape jam

by Ciaran Burke

I got the call on Sunday morning,” I have friend of a friend who has a grape vine…”. The vine grower now lives in France, but the vine in question grows in Sligo. Nobody wanted the grapes, the caller thought of me, “would I like the grapes?”  Yes, definitely. We arranged to meet on Tuesday morning, we were told there were lots to pick, but were not sure how much that was. So we packed a couple of buckets and off we went to Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo, a short drove from our home.

We arrived at the vacant house, a west wind blew damp and fresh, the garden overgrown, the grass long and weeds invading the driveway. We followed our friend Mary to the tunnel, a stunning sight greeted us. The vine had started to wander, side shoots stretched out like tentacles, reaching into the air, looking for something to grab. The main body of the vine was supported on a homemade support sytem of wood and steel, winding stems looked ancient, older than their years. They twisted along the suports from the far end of the tunnel. Almost the entire length of the structure was filled by its fruitful presence. The large leaves tried to hide its bounty from our view. We gently eased back foliage to see the large clusters of grapes revealed. We got busy with out scissors, our buckets soon overflowed, luckily I had a crate in the car, the harvesting could continue.

Grape vines are easy to grow, the west of Ireland climate does not provide good ripening conditions, a protected structure such as a greenhouse or plastic tunnel over comes the disadvantage of our location. Each end of the tunnel had plastic netteing for doors allowing good ventilation, essential for vines so as to reduce the incidence of powdery mildew, which can be menace for Vitis vinifera.

So what to do with all these grapes? First of all jam. We have also made cordial and my wife Hanna baked a delicious rustic Italian grape cake. All the recipes are on their way, but first the jam!

Grape Jam Recipe

Grape jam takes a little work to prepare. The work involves removing the pulp from the grape and separating the skins. Then the pulp is cooked and sieved to remove the stones. While the pulp is cooking you blend the skins with a food processor or hand blender. The skins are then added to the sieved pulp, then cooked slowly for about 30 minutes. Then add sugar and boil like mad for about another 30 minutes until the jam is setting. A good set can be achieved without the addition of pectin. I try to limit the sugar quantities to a minimum, partly for healthiness but I also prefer the jam to taste of grapes and not be too sweet.


  • 4kg of grapes
  • 500ml of water
  • tbsp of lemon juice
  • 1.5kg of sugar


  1. Remove the skins. This is easy, just squeeze the fruit so that the inner pulp and seed ejects from the opening where the fruit was attached to the bunch. Put the skins in a separate bowl. Two people doing a 2 kilos took about 30 minutes
  2. Put the pulp containing seeds to cook, when they start to boil reduce heat to simmer for about 10 minutes
  3. Meanwhile chop up the skins using hand blender or food processor
  4. Sieve the grape flesh to remove the seeds, a coarse sieve will do, I used a colander with small holes
  5. Retutn the grapes to the saucepan and add the puled skins. Add the lemon juice and water and bring to boil
  6. Reduce the heat to simmer the fruit for 30 minutes, cooking slowly releases the pectin
  7. Slowly add the sugar and then turn up the heat
  8. The jam will boil heavily and keep the temp up high. It took about 30 minutes for the jam to start thickening.
  9. When it is starting to set, fill the jam into sterilized jars.

This amount made 13 8oz jars. When making jam stir the fruit occasionally to make sure it does not stick to the sauce pan, never leave it alone as it is sure to boil over and burn as soon as you turn your back.

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September 23, 2012

Dock Seed Wafers – Finally a reason to have dock leaves in the garden

by Ciaran Burke

Dock seed wafers and nasturtium flowers

Rub them on a nettle sting. Apart from that what are dock leaves good for? Well, for a long time I have struggled to find a reason to allow a dock leaf to exist in the garden. Rumex obtusifolius the broadleaf dock is a deep rooted perennial, a thick tap root that is almost impossible to dig from the ground without it breaking. Any portion that remains in the soil will regrow, causing annoyance for most gardeners. Their large oval leaves with wavy edges are not pretty, coarse and rugged, the flowers greenish brown on a ribbed stem that reaches 60-90cm (24 – 36in) high. The flowers each form a pod which turns a dark reddish brown. The wind shakes them free and into the soil they fall, a new dock leaf will grow.

Dock seeds on plant

It is the seeds that have given the dock leaves in our garden a reprieve. Easily rubbed from the stems they can be ground up to make a fine flour. Mixed with spelt or heat flour they can produce a tasty mix, a crispy cracker to enjoy with cheese or pickled cucumber.

Dock seeds in hand

Harvest the dock seeds when they are dark brown. Make sure they are dry, best to collect them when the weather is dry.

We first placed the seeds in a coffee grinder and then ground them finer using a pestle and mortar.

Dock seeds ground to a flour

Dock Seed Crackers- Recipe


  • 100ml dock seed flour
  • 100ml whole meal spelt flour
  • 1 – 2 teaspoon of mixed hedgerow spice:
  • 1/3 hogweed seeds
  • 1/3 wild carrot seeds
  • 1/3 lovage seeds
  • Water


Mix ingredients to a dough that is not sticky.

  1. Sprinkle some flour on a wooden or glass surface, and then roll the pastty very thin.
  2. Place on a baking tray, which has been rubbed with some oil
  3. Cut into squares.
  4. Bake in an pre-heated oven at 170 degrees Celcius for 12 minutes or until crisp.

Cutting the pastry into squares

Dock wafers ready for the oven

A stack of dock seed wafers

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September 23, 2012

Aronia Jam

by Ciaran Burke

We walked under the spruce trees, passed the twisted hawthorn and down the slope. The long grass brushed our knees, the mild damp autumn evening surrounded us and calmed our senses. The small river trickled over rocks, a soundtrack to soothe as we walked in to the lower part of the garden.

Here trees and shrubs grow in the grass, eventually we will have a woodland where ornamental species mingle with productive plants bearing fruit, berries and nuts. The weather has been so consistently wet I have not been able to cut the grass in this area of the garden since June. The area even flooded a few times when the stream over flowed, then that whole part of the garden looked like the river Shannon. As a consequence, the lower garden is a bit of a wilderness. Despite the wet conditions many of the trees species have grown well. Plants that grow here are tough. Birch trees are happy, willows are ecstatic. The alders, Alnus glutinosa, which we planted in the sucking, wet ground a few years ago have rocketed skyward, their branches provide shelter and their roots fix nitrogen to enrich the soil. Hazels are thriving where there is better drainage close to the stream and Parottis persica ‘Vanessa’ will soon turn gold and crimson with autumn tints.

Betula albosinensis ‘Fascination’ in our “wilderness”.

We picked our way through the grass, plucked some leaves of sorrel to munch and taste their sour flavour. A bush with large clusters of shining black berries drew our attention, Aronia melaoncarpa. Here in our wilderness, it has grown and triumphed. 1.5 metres high, so far, it will in time grow higher. A close relative of the wider grown genus, Cotoneaster, Aronias have a similar display of small white flowers in May.

Aronia melanocarpa fruits

Now in Autumn it gives us its best, the green leaves start to turn a rich red before fading to orange and gold before they fall. Hanging from the stems are juicy black fruits, the size of grapes. It is a plant of beauty and strong constitution. No weeding has been done around it, no fertilizing, no pruning. In wet acid soil it has thrived, and it has been fruitful. It also is growing in shade for most of the day, not until  late afternoon when the sun has moved past the tall spruce trees does the plant receive direct sun rays.

Leaves of Aronia melanocarpa showing the first signs of autumn coloration.

There are other species of Aronia and hybrids too.  Aronia arbutifolia is a smaller leaved plants with small red edible fruits and fiery red autumn foliage. Aronia ‘Viking’ is vigorous with dark purple edible fruits and good autumn colour. We also have another plant of Aronia in our garden with dark fruits that are smaller that A. melanocarpa with a different taste, I think it is A. x prunifolia.

Aronia melanocarpa

I was surprised by how well our plant of A. melanocarpa had grown, and by how beautiful it looked, my mind turned to jam. I mean, I thought about making jam! The berries make a lovely jam.

Beside our tunnel I have a number of plants of Aronia melanocarpa and A. ‘Viking” which I had propagated from cuttings. As soon as I give the long grass and rushes a strimming, I will definitely plant more Aronia bushes.

Aronia fruit



  • 1Kg of ripe aronia berries (A. melaoncarpa or hybris, not A. arbutifolia).
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 350g sugar
  • 2 large cooking apples.


  1. Put the aronia berries in a saucepan with a little water and juice of a lemon. Cook on a low heat, simmering until they are soft, this takes longer than blackcurrants or blackberries, 35 – 40 minutes.
  2. Chop up the apple into pieces, do not skin and cook in a separate saucepan with a little water until it reduces to a soft mushy pulp. Press the pulp through a sieve to remove the skin pieces and set a side.

    Cooking apples sliced and in the sauce pan


  3. When the aronia berries have softened stir in the sugar a little at a time. Then add the apple pulp.

    Transfer the apple pulp into the jam once the jam fruit has softened.

  4. Turn up the heat and boil the jam, it should be raging, a roiling boil which will splatter like mad, be careful, it is very hot.
  5. After about fifteen minutes then jam should be thickening and ready for potting.

Filling jars and Storing

  1. Transfer the jam into sterilized jars. I put washed and dried jars with lids removed into a cold oven and then turn the heat to 140 degrees Celcius. Leave them in the oven for 10 – 15 minutes. I put the lids in too.

    Jam jars washed and dried, In the oven for sterilizing.

  2. Fill the jars while jam is till hot, I use a jam funnel. Put lids on straight away and screw tight. This will cause a vacuum to develop as the jam cools, you will hear lids pop after a while. When the jam has cools, label with date and store jars in a cool, dark dry place. Well prepared jam can last for a year.

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September 22, 2012

Kitero’s arrival and the cabbage that was loved

by Ciaran Burke

Amelie walked with her dad, or rather she ran ahead and he followed. Fueled by the curiosity and enthusiasm that only a young child can possess, running along the grass path and past the stone-walls she entered the vegetable patch. Calendula flowers made her exclaim, then she saw the heads of cabbage, firm pale green globes cradled by large firm leaves. It was love at first sight, she bent down to hug the cabbage and then the lucky brassica received a kiss to its crown. Her Dad laughed, she giggled with delight, then she buzzed off to chase a white butterfly.

Calendula flowers

Snail eating some oat meal. Oats or bran is ideal for cleaning their digestive systems. The process takes about five to seven days.

Our visitors, a lively family, a lovely family, came to eat snails. Our petit gris, collected from the garden and reared in the shed, fed with bran to purge their digestive sytems. The kids preferred to eat Hanna’s delicious almond ring biscuits but us adults enjoyed l’escargot, the snails cooked in a white wine and tarragon sauce. Before they left, Amelie and her brother Gael brought us a gift, a new resident for our garden, Kitero.

Hanna’s almond rings baked according to her granny’s recipe from Finland. they proved to be a much bigger hit with the kids than my snails!

Kitero came from Knock. He arrived in a box and dressed in a fine red Kimono. His socks filled with sand and a beaming smile on his round green face. His hat and gloves on, ready for the cold, because Kitero is always on duty, in all weather, Kitero our scarecrow.

Kitero watches over our cabbage

We made him a home, he sits happily on the wooden edge of a raised bed, where he watches over our cabbages, including the kissed one. Kitero’s job is an important one, wood pidgeons love cabbages even more than Amelie. Where as she was happy to place a gentle kiss and give a firm hug, pidgeons would rather eat their leaves.

The feathered ones are not the only winged visitors to like our cabbage. Cabbage white butterflies, flutter around them looking for places to lay their eggs. When they do, usually on the underside of the leaves, caterpillars will soon emerge, hungry ones that will munch holes in the leaves. Unfortunately Kitero does not scare caterpillars, actually I am not sure if he would scare a bird, he looks too friendly. When I find groups of yellow eggs on any brassica leaves, including the relatives of cabbage such as Brussels Sprouts and Kale, I squash them. Those that I miss emerge as larvae, they get squashed. Some people do not like to squash them, instead they favour re-location of the pests, but I have no qualms about delivering a deadly squueze to a few caterpillars that I find on my cabbage leaves.

Caterpillars on brussel sprouts- Pieris brassicae, the larva stage of cabbage white butterfly

Cabbage is a widely grown vegetable and it likes the cool climate of the west of Ireland. It is hardy and reliable. Easy to grow in well prepared soil. Many people turn up their noses at cabbage, perhaps too many childhood dinners of over cooked and mushy leaves. I went through a phase of rejection but I have a renewed love of the green globes. Not that I have kissed a cabbage lately, nor given one a hug, but cooked with love to produce a tender dish kissed with the flavour of caraway and honey, cabbage is a vegetable I readily embrace again.

Sautéd Cabbage with Caraway Seed and Honey – Recipe


  • Half cup of finely chopped onion
  • 4 cups of chopped cabbage
  • One tea spoon of caraway seeds
  • Table spoon of honey
  • Oil for frying


  1. Sauté the onion in oil until soft
  2. Add the caraway seeds and stir for a couple of minutes
  3. Add the chopped cabbage and stirfry until the cabbage becomes tender but not soft (ten minutes)
  4. Stir in the honey and serve

Serves four as side dishes. One variation that an American visitor shared with us a while ago is to use dried chillis instead of caraway, both recipes are delicious! If you have tired of boiled cabbage this could make you fall in love with cabbage again!

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