Feijoa skin syrup (and 9 other ways with feijoas)

I’m just about asleep when I hear it the first time. It’s a dull, definite thud, just outside the back door. There’s no wind and no traffic noise, just the moreporks saying good night to each other. Then it happens again. Thud. Thud. Thud. I freeze in alarm. “Did you hear that?” I hiss. “Mmmm, he says sleepily. “It’ll be a cat or something. Don’t worry about it.” I’m not convinced, but I’m not getting up to look either. I put my head under the duvet and go to sleep.

The next morning I’m standing in the kitchen drinking a cup of tea and it happens again. Thud. Thud. I look out the window. There’s no cat. Then I see them, half a dozen green fruit that have landed heavily on the deck. The feijoas have arrived.

About six years ago we planted five feijoa trees along a north-facing fenceline in our garden. One of them snapped in two during a gale, but the others have soldiered on. In December, they’re covered in beautiful red flowers, like early Christmas decorations. I’ve neglected ours terribly in the last year (it’s hard to care for your garden from the other side of the world) but this autumn we’ve had the biggest crop ever. The first fruits started dropping in at the beginning of April and we’re still collecting dozens every day. A fruit bowl isn’t big enough – we’re currently using a 5kg apple box that never seems to empty, no matter how many I eat. I’ve long since lost the piece of paper on which I wrote down what varieties of trees we planted (possibly a Mammoth, a Eureka, a Bambino and an Apollo?) but some fruit are giant, others are doll-sized.

Since this year’s harvest has coincided with quarantine, I’ve become obsessed with trying to find ways to use them up. Discovering Kristina Jensen’s incredible Chunky Monkey Feijoa Chutney was a revelation. This is an extremely low-stress, low-energy pickle. There’s no peeling, making it a genius way to use up all the little feijoas that are a pain to peel.

This Feijoa, Ginger and Coconut Crumble Shortcake recipe I created for Be Well magazine in the NZ Herald – and ironically had to buy feijoas to make it (when they were $16.99 a kilo back in mid-March!) – has been hugely popular, with lots of people sending me photos of their version.

My latest experiment has been making Feijoa Skin Syrup. Syrups are a big thing in France, with shelves and shelves of all manner of fruity versions in supermarkets. Some are organic, artisanal ones with hand-drawn labels and pretty glass bottles, others come in 2-litre tins and taste suspiciously of factory-generated ‘fruit flavours’. I don’t like fruit juices or fizzy drinks, but last year I became quite partial to a slosh of sirop au citron in a glass of soda water. This one is even better, not least because it’s zero-waste.

Feijoa Skin Syrup

This is as simple as it gets. If you’ve got access to oranges or lemons, add a squeeze of juice and some finely pared rind instead of the lemon verbena. Feijoa skins can be frozen for this recipe. Makes about 500ml.

  • 3 cups feijoa skins
  • 2-3 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • A handful of lemon verbena leaves

Put everything in a small pot set over medium heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then leave to simmer very gently for about 25 minutes (or until the whole house is perfumed). Remove from the heat and leave to cool, then pour through a sieve into sterilised glass bottles. To serve, pour a splash of syrup into a glass and top up with ice and soda (or a splash of vodka or gin). Store syrup in the fridge.

Want more ways to use up your feijoas? Try these:

Chocolate pikelets with spiced honey butter

You may well feel that life is too fraught at the moment to even consider making your own hot cross buns (you might feel like that all the time, in which case you have my sympathies). Even if you do like a bit of baking therapy, your plans might be stymied by a lack of yeast, or flour, or energy to do anything other than get through the day. I know the feeling. But in case you feel like making something, here’s an Easter-ish breakfast treat that uses basic ingredients, doesn’t require you to nurture a living thing and takes very little time to make. 

Chocolate pikelets with spiced honey butter

A note on substitutions for these straitened times: using butter gives these a better flavour, but using oil is fine if butter’s in short supply. Use any sugar (white, caster, brown) – but don’t pack brown sugar into the cup. Use any milk and any flour – omit the baking powder if you’ve only got self-raising, use a little less if you’re using wholemeal (and be aware the pikelets will be a bit sturdier). If you don’t have honey, use golden syrup in the butter (I had to do this for the photo – it was still delicious). 

Makes about 20 pikelets, serves 3-6 depending on greed, hunger, boredom etc

Preparation time: 10 mins

Cooking time: 10 minutes

  • 1 tablespoon melted butter or oil
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ – ¾ cup milk
  • 3 Tbsp cocoa
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 cup plain flour

For the spiced butter:

  • ½ cup (125g) soft butter
  • 2-3 generous Tbsp honey 
  • 1-2 tsp cinnamon

Whisk together the butter, sugar, egg, vanilla and ½ cup milk. Sift over the dry ingredients and stir together until just combined (don’t over-mix or the pikelets will be tough). Add a litte more milk if the mixture is very thick.

Set a large heavy frying pan over medium heat. Grease with a little butter or oil.

Drop dessertspoons full of the mixture into the pan (hold the spoon vertically to make the pikelets round). Cook until bubbles appear and pop on the top, then gently flip over and cook for another couple of minutes. Remove to a plate lined with a teatowel or a cooling rack.

To make the spiced butter, beat the butter and honey together until smooth and fluffy. Beat in the cinnamon. 

To serve, pile the pikelets on a serving plate and accompany with the butter. Any leftover pikelets can be frozen and reheated in a toaster. Any leftover butter is great on hot cross buns or toast.

If you fancy a few more Easter cooking projects, you might like to try these Pretend Hot Cross Buns (gluten-free) or these Homemade Marshmallow Easter Eggs (also gluten-free and dairy-free).

Hope you have a happy Easter, wherever you are. Don’t go anywhere, will you?

How to make fridge pickles

If you’re an organised person, you’ve probably spent the last month pickling and bottling your summer harvest. (If reports of queues outside New Zealand supermarkets were anything to go by yesterday, then you probably spent yesterday panic-buying hand sanitiser and disinfectant.) Not me, on either count. As in most parts of my life, I’m the cricket who sang all summer and then realised they should have been storing stuff away for winter. I mean, you should see my Kiwisaver.

The good news is that you can have your fun – and your pickles – without all the hassle you might think is involved in such a task. Once you learn how to make fridge pickles, you’ll be every bit as smug as one of those people who does everything in advance.

How to make fridge pickles

To make a basic cold pickle brine, use a 1:1 ratio of water to vinegar, plus salt, sugar and flavourings (whole spices, garlic, chillies) to taste. Use your favourite kind of vinegar – I think white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar are best. Here’s a sample pickling brew to give you an idea:

  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ cup white wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp sugar

Put everything in a small pot set over medium heat. Stir well until the mixture is hot and the salt and sugar are dissolved. Add the spices/flavourings of your choice – about 1 tsp whole seeds to a cup of brine. Taste it to make sure you like the flavour – adjust the salt and sugar accordingly.
Pack whatever washed (and/or peeled) vegetables you want to pickle in a sterilised jar (cleanliness is even better than godliness when it comes to pickling – wash jars in hot soapy water, rinse well and heat in a 120C oven for 20 minutes. Soak lids in boiling water for 10 minutes, then dry thoroughly with a clean tea towel). I recommend the following, either separately or in a mixture:

  • Carrots – slice them into long strips, lengthways
  • Cucumbers – slice them into long strips, lengthways
  • Chillies – keep them whole
  • Radishes – slice them into discs or batons
  • Zucchini –  slice them into discs or batons

Make sure the vegetables take up all the room in the jar – but leave about a 2cm gap at the top. Pour over the brine to cover the vegetables, making sure there are no air bubbles (tap the jar on the bench to pop them, or poke around with a skewer). Seal tightly and store in the fridge until you’re ready to eat. These pickles can be eaten after 48 hours – and you’re best to consume them within two months.

Thanks to Amber Sturtz (of Taco Addicts fame) for an excellent pickling tutorial at a recent Welly Hospo Wahine event.

What do you do with your food waste?

Meet my latest ally in the war against food waste: Chipie, aka Goaty McGoat Face. Handsome, isn’t he?

A goat eats food waste in France

Goaty and his two allies have been an unexpected bonus of my current (temporary) home in rural southwest France. I’ve never been terribly fond of goats, but I’m warming to these three every day. They’re becoming increasingly keen on me too, mostly because I’ve become the bringer of unexpected treats. I used to think goats would eat anything, but these ones are quite discerning (they are French, after all). They don’t fancy egg shells very much, are a bit sniffy about orange peel and look askance at onion skins. However, they LOVE leftover rice or pasta, adore stale bread and are quite partial to apple cores. I think they might be my spirit animals.

Food waste is a major issue in France, as it is in much of the world. The UN estimates that about one-third of all the food produced in the world is thrown away or wasted. People in industrialised countries waste around 222 million tonnes of food every year – which is about the same amount of food as produced in sub-Saharan Africa. To me, this is appalling.

In 2016, France was hailed as a world leader in reducing food waste after it passed legislation that required large supermarkets donate unsold food to charities. This is a good start in a country where industrial food production is an art form and one that many other countries could emulate. I fear that the real problem is that commercial food production has changed the way people eat so much that food is no longer valued in any way. How do you expect people to respect what they eat when they’re being urged to ‘buy one get one free’ at every turn? At that price, it doesn’t matter if the item goes off or you don’t eat it, does it? Then again, most things that are offered in this way are so denatured that they’ll probably never go off anyway. But I digress.

Even if you eschew commercially produced food there will be food waste of some sort. Sure, you can make radish leaf pesto and find 101 uses for a stale baguette (this is a life skill that I am particularly proud of, especially now), but what about vegetable peelings, three-day-old leftover rice and tomato stalks? At the moment, this is where the goats come in. Unfortunately, I won’t be in a position to take them with me when I return to New Zealand later in the year, but I do have a few other ideas.

Thanks to The Very Green Gardener, my Wellington garden is home to a worm farm that deals with the bulk of our food waste. Worms aren’t as cute as goats and they’re also a bit fussy (they don’t like citrus, onion skins or meat). But boy, they are certainly efficient! If you want to know what true smugness is, feed your worms the peelings or ends of vegetables that you grew yourself, nurtured by vermicast and worm wee that your own worms produced. Worm farms are ideal for people who fear that a compost bin will turn into a rat hotel (that’s me) or those with not much space. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

The most obvious thing we can all do starts well before the food turns into ‘waste’. I feel anxious when I read reports claiming that people no longer have the interest or skills to cook because I believe they are losing connection with the natural world, with social heritage and with what should be a basic human skill. If you can’t feed yourself or those around you, what hope do you have? Being able to cook means being able to liberate yourself from Big Food and shrinkwrapped food that bares little or no resemblance to anything natural. Being able to cook means knowing how to shop so you’re not wasting money or time. Being able to cook means you can stretch not much into dinner.

The photo above is a case in point. It’s not fancy – an onion, some lardons and a ripped-up stale baguette fried in a splash of olive oil, tossed with some spaghetti and a handful of ‘haricots beurres’ (along with a splash of the pasta cooking water) – but it was fast, delicious and cost about 3 Euros to make. The goats ate the bean ends and the onion skin will hopefully break down to nourish the earth. It’s not much, but it’s a start.

Sweetcorn now in stock

One of the most endearing scenes in the movie Big (where Tom Hanks plays a little boy magicked into a man’s body) is when he picks up an ear of baby corn and eats it, typewriter-style, at a fancy event. Of course, baby corn usually tastes of nothing but tin, but at least you don’t have the problem of what to do with the cobs afterwards.

If you’re getting through a heap of sweetcorn this summier, let me introduce you to an excellent kitchen hack: you can turn those nibbled cobs into the sweetest, most flavoursome stock ever. It doesn’t make them fit into your worm farm any easier, but at least you’re extracting maximum value first.

SWEETCORN STOCK

Gather as many cobs as you have – ideally 4-6 – and put them in a large pot with half an onion, a well-washed carrot and a stick of celery. Cover with cold water. Cover the pot and set over medium heat. Let it come to the boil, then simmer gently for 40 minutes. Cool and strain into suitable containers with lids. Refrigerate and use within five days, or freeze for up to three months. And if you’re wondering what to do with sweetcorn stock, the following recipe should do the trick nicely.

SWEETCORN AND KUMARA CHOWDER

Save this for a rainy day (there’s bound to be one along soon!)

2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, finely diced
½ teaspoon flaky sea salt
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon chipotle in adobo sauce (roughly 1 chipotle, with a bit of sauce around it)
3 ears sweetcorn, kernels shaved
1 medium kumara, peeled, diced
2½ cups sweetcorn or other vegetable stock
⅓ cup creme fraiche, plus a little more for garnishing if desired

Melt the butter in a large saucepan set over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is beginning to soften. Add the salt, turmeric and chipotle. Add the corn kernels and kumara. Stir well, then add the stock. Bring to a gentle simmer, then cover and cook for 10-15 minutes, until the kumara is soft.

Remove from the heat and puree, either using a stick blender, a food mill or a food processor. Return to the saucepan and taste for seasoning – add more salt if needed. If the soup seems very thick, add a little boiling water. Stir through the creme fraiche and reheat gently. Serve hot, garnished with a little extra creme fraiche and a drizzle of chipotle sauce.