Welcome to my kitchen. The place I feel the most inspired and comfortable in. This is the place that wakes me up on early weekday mornings with hot coffee, the place where time stops on weekends when breakfast can easily stretch into lunchtime, the place where we sit down together for dinners and to celebrate birthdays, where we teach Bertrand not to burn his fingers and that cars do not go on the table. I have mentioned before that the best conversations usually seem to happen in the kitchen. Somehow everyone always ends up behind the table with a cup of coffee and something to eat. I think it's the comfort factor that makes everyone feel inevitably more relaxed. Specially during autumn and winter months when what the Scandinavians call hygge is very much needed. Creating an ambiance of warmth and cosiness is exactly what I want. And the kitchen plays a big part in that.
Something that I love to do before winter arrives and that puts me in the mood for colder days to come is making preserves. I don't really do jams or juices but I have a couple of recipes that I have either grown up with or picked up along the way and around this time of the year, before the days get even shorter and colder, I find myself in a squirrel - like gathering and tucking away mode. I think it has to come from childhood, as most things do, the cellar of our summer house was always filled with big jars of different preserves. Mostly apple juice and apple compote, and it seemed to never empty. I don't make a huge patch like that, after all, there is only four of us and the youngest is still on milk only. But I find it very comforting, both making preserves and knowing that there are jars filled and tucked away, ready to be opened whenever needed. Here are recipes for four winter treats that have become staples in our home. Some that I have grown up with and a couple of new favourites. First off, plums with lavender. This is a tangy and aromatic combination, perfect to be topped on pancakes, scones, yogurt or ice cream. Then there's my grandmother's pickled pumpkins. A very classical Estonian winter side salad. There hasn't been a Christmas without these on the table, although she makes them all year round. For warming up after a stroll in the freezing cold there is my golden warmer, my take on Grog. And last, mulled pomegranate juice. Pomegranate has that wine-like quality of deep rich flavour which makes it perfect for using it with spices.
Plums with lavender
1.5kg red plums
150g brown sugar
1 tablespoon dried lavender
Halve the plums and remove the stones. Over medium heat, mix the plums with sugar and lavender. Lower the heat after 5-10 minutes and let it sizzle under cover for about 30 more minutes with occasionally stirring. Once ready, pour the jam-like mixture into sterilised jars.
1 kg pumpkin
1 l water
4 tablespoons of white vinegar (30%)
3 cinnamon sticks
10 dried clove
Clean and chop the pumpkin. Pour the cold water mixed with vinegar in a pot and leave the chopped pumpkin to soak overnight in the liquid. Next day, add sugar, cinnamon and cloves and bring everything to a simmer, dont boil. Let it simmer for about 30-40 minutes, keep an eye on it and stir on occasions until the pumpkin becomes translucent. Pour the pumpkin with the liquid in the sterilised jars. Add 1 cinnamon stick per jar but don't add the cloves.
Golden warmer (my take on Grog)
75cl pure apple juice (100% juice)
A big splosh of Calvados (not very precise, I know, it really depends how strong you want your drink)
1 tablespoon of honey
1 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
At the bottom of a dry pot over medium heat warm up the star anise and cinnamon sticks. Then add all the rest of the ingredients and bring to a simmer, don't boil. Take off the heat and serve right away or store it in a sterilised bottle.
Mulled pomegranate juice
75cl pure pomegranate juice (100% juice)
2 cinnamon sticks
1 star anise
1 tablespoon of dried cranberries
At the bottom of a dry pot over medium heat warm up the spices. Then add the juice and let it come to a simmer. Turn of the heat but keep it on the stove for a minute or two and add the cranberries. Serve right away or store it in a sterilised bottle.