Irn bru sorbet for Burns night

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Irn bru may be one of those things you have to enjoy as a child – like marmite – to really develop a taste for it. Happily for me, I did, and in the right circumstances there’s little better than a cold, rusty orange, sweet, fizzy glass of it. It’s impossible to describe the taste. When I was growing up, the adverts told us it was “made from girders”, and that remains a good enough explanation for me.

I volunteered to help my niece (the macaroon niece) with a Burns supper she was working on. We chatted about mini macaroons and deep fried mars bars as the ideal follow up to the obligatory haggis, neeps and tatties, and then it came to me: irn bru sorbet! Perfectly combining the roles of palate cleanser and sugar hit, it seems like the obvious missing link between main course and dessert. No Burns supper need be deprived of this Scottish equivalent of the trou Normande ever again. It wouldn’t do any harm to add a slug of vodka to it, either.

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Recipe
This recipe is an adaptation of the wonderful Robin Weir’s (much more sophisticated) cider sorbet recipe. His brilliant book with Caroline Weir, Ice Creams, Sorbets and Gelati is my definitive guide to frozen desserts.

Ingredients
300ml cold water
200g sugar
600ml irn bru, chilled
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 egg white

Method
Dissolve the sugar in the cold water, stirring until there are no grains left. Measure out the chilled irn bru and combine with the sugar syrups lemon juice. Refrigerate, if it isn’t completely cold. Start the ice cream machine, and pour in the bright orange liquid. After about 10 minutes, when the mixture is beginning to freeze, take your egg white, very lightly break it up with a fork (don’t make it frothy), and add it to the mixture in the machine.

Continue churning until the sorbet is a light and fluffy snow. You will be amazed at how strongly it smells of irn bru! The sorbet gets paler and paler as it churns, ending up a pretty pale orange. If you want to retain the aggressive rusty hue of the original ‘bru, you could add some food colouring, but I don’t think this is essential.

Serve immediately. If keeping for later, pour straight into a clean plastic container, cover the surface with greaseproof or waxed paper, seal with a lid, and freeze. Depending how hard it is when fully frozen, allow to soften slightly in the fridge for 10-20 minutes before serving from the freezer.

Charles Fourier’s sweet tooth: Aigre de cèdre

ifourir001p1I’m spending most of my time at the moment studying, thinking about, and trying to write about Charles Fourier, the great early nineteenth century utopian theorist. Most people who have heard of him are aware of at least a few of his wilder ideas, many of which are directly related to either food or sex, and all of which depend on dramatic global climate change during which, amongst other things, the sea will apparently turn into a lemonade-like liquid. It’s the food that really interests me, in particular Fourier’s obsession with sweet things. Food is a key component in his social order, and is used to explain and promote his theory of passionate attraction. There isn’t room in my PhD for any recipes (more’s the pity), but I’ve decided it’s important to my understanding of the man and his work to know a lot more about his taste in food. If I’m going to procrastinate in the kitchen, let it be in the name of Charles Fourier!

I’m using as my starting point a gastronomic dictionary from 1839 by the comte de Courchamps: Néo-physiologie du goût, par ordre alphabétique; ou, Dictionnaire générale de la Cuisine Française. I chose it as it seems highly representative of its time and, along with very short recipes laid out in a logical alphabetical fashion, it gives some good social context, too.

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Citrus medica, photograph courtesy of wikipedia

In the case of aigre de cèdre, I discovered several interesting things. First, most people (and actually most dictionaries that list it at all) simply translate it as ‘lemonade’. I was always suspicious of this, and now here’s the evidence. Aigre de cèdre is, in fact, a non-alcoholic julep-like drink, predominately made of citrus – but it isn’t lemonade at all. It’s made of citrons (citrus medica, not the citron that is the French word for our standard lemon) and other exotic citrus fruits, but it contains no lemon. Even more exciting, it seems to have become fashionable in the 1830s, while le tout Paris was going crazy over some historical reminiscences from the mid 1600s (a bit like us drinking cocktails and wearing long strings of pearls to watch the Great Gatsby – or is that just me?). Of course, even in the 1830s things just weren’t what they used to be – the poor old consumers were apparently fobbed off with inferior ingredients, and there was no real hope of recapturing this glorious taste of the past.

Why do I find this trivial but excruciating detail exciting? Well, besides telling us he had great taste (it sounds absolutely delicious), it might tell us something else about how Fourier’s mind was working. Perhaps his longing for aigre de cèdre, already archaic in his own time, gives us another little hint about just how far away from the 1830s he really wanted all of us to get. It’s a tiny, subtle piece of evidence that emphasises the fact that he wasn’t inventing a future with no traces of the past.

Here’s the original text from the dictionary, with my translation below. I’d be delighted to hear any comments or corrections. And if anyone knows how much a sectier was, do please tell!

Aigredecedre

CITRON SOURS.  Citron sours, or citron-sour, is an ancient julep thirst quencher, which has had time to go out of fashion since the reign of Louis XIII, and which the Memoirs of Advisor Tallemand-des-Réaux* has just put back into great favour in Paris, where all the new novels, literary reviews and many daily newspapers speak often of fruit hydromel, egged ale and royal sour citron. According to the Treasury of Recipes for the Sickbed, work of the good and charitable madame Fouquet, mother of the superintendant, this must have been a sort of orangeade sharpened with lime, sweetened with clean Narbonne honey, with white mulberry juice, and then gently flavoured with red citron peel [Citrus medica], which one can substitute with the zest of a Chinese bitter orange [Poncirus trifoliata] or a bergamot orange [Citrus bergamia]. One sees in the writings of the time that cardinal Richelieu made a big fuss of sour citron and he consumed it in the [2 months of the] dog days of summer and in the equinoctal periods, at least seven or eight sectiers** a day.
As for the one that the Paris newspapers recommend to us and which is causing such a stir on the rue Saint-Honoré (at no. 341), we think that it is not scrupulously made with authentic juices, nor even with their fresh peels, but more likely with some tartric solution and a mediocre essential oil analogous to citron. This is what gives an epyreumatic [burnt] after-taste, and this is what deprives this estimable and very pleasant drink of some of its good diuretic or sedative qualities.

* the Histoires of Gédéon Tallemant des Réaux (1619-1692)
** a unit of measurement, but I haven’t yet found out what

Wet walnuts

IMG_1107It is almost midsummer, the magic date around which green or wet walnuts (from the walnut tree Juglans regia) must be picked. If you want to pickle or preserve them, or soak them in wine to make vin de noix (or walnut vinegar, depending on how it goes), you’ll need them to be soft enough to cut into pieces or pierce. By late June or July, it is more likely that the shells will be beginning to harden inside the green outer shell making this much more difficult. When they are in their perfect state, you’ll be able to get a needle or a knife through them relatively easily, and inside you’ll see the nut, translucently gelatinous at this stage, just beginning to form inside the bright white pith.

Last June, we were lucky enough to be in a friend’s house in the Provencal hills. Every country road seemed to be lined with walnut trees groaning with fat green fruit, so we set to work, picking enough to try three experiments based on classic wet-walnut recipes from different parts of Europe: French vin de noix; English pickled walnuts; and Greek walnut spoon sweets (γλυκό καρύδι). It seemed important to include something Greek. Caryatids – the woman-shaped pillars seen holding up many a Greek temple – are the nymphs of Carya, who was turned into a walnut tree (karya in Greek) by Dionysus, thwarted in his love for her by her sisters (it could have been much worse: he turned her sisters into stones). The changeable walnut, delicious and varied, seems to me the perfect nut to remind us of Dionysus, master of disguise and lord of pleasure and misrule.

One thing to remember if trying any recipe with green walnuts: WEAR GLOVES. Picking them won’t stain your hands, but as soon as you start to bruise or scrape them in any way their juice will invisibly penetrate your skin and nails tattooing them dark brown or black. It doesn’t wash off. It will take weeks for it to gradually wear off as your skin replaces itself. It will also stain porous work surfaces, so cover those too. You have been warned…

Vin de Noix (Walnut Wine)

Make this delicious drink in late June or early July, when the walnuts are green and still soft enough to pierce, and start to enjoy it in September when it has macerated for long enough. Remember to wear gloves: the walnuts will stain your hands and surfaces at all stages.

Ingredients/Equipment

Walnuts after maceration, with decanter and glass of vin de noix.

2.5 litres red wine
0.5 litres eau de vie (or any high-proof alcohol: vodka, run, tequila, brandy)
12 large or 15 small green walnuts450g sugar, white or demerara
1 vanilla pod
2 or 3 walnut leaves

Large wide-necked jars with a capacity of up to 4 litres
Rubber gloves

Method

Put on the gloves. Depending on the width of the necks of your bottles and the size of your walnuts, pierce them all the way through with a thick needle or chop them into quarters. Divide them equally between the jars and add the sugar, the wine, the eau de vie, the vanilla pod, and the walnut leaves if using.

Seal the jars, shake well, and store in a dark cool place for 40-60 days. Shake the jars occasionally during this time.

When you are ready to taste, strain the vin de noix into a clean bottle or decanter. Many people suggest straining all of it on the 60th day, but I have kept it for a year in its soaking state and it remains delicious. Serve in place of a dessert wine with cake-based puddings, or mixed with a little soda or lemonade as an unusual aperitif.

Cutting the nuts and filling the jars.

Adding sugar.

Smaller quantity of alcohol.

Fill with red wine.