Sunday, 30 September 2018

Buckwheat pancakes filled with autumn

Buckwheat pancakes with apple and raisin compote - add walnuts if you like

 One of the joys of taking on an allotment plot is the things you find not only on other plots but in the unworked spaces around them.  I’ve written before about the walnut tree, discovered thanks to the unearthing of a squirrel's larder, but it remains one of my favourite finds.   Clearly a young tree, untamed by any human hand, once again this spring I watched soft buds emerge from grey branches that, through winter, looked and felt iron-hard and unyielding.  Within a few weeks the lower branches began to drape into the surrounding long grass like the elegant arms of a dancer reaching for the ground.  The beauty of the tree is not only in its looks.  Those low-hanging branches make for easy harvest of its fruits.  Around the end of June, when the outer casings were a smooth, bright green and still releasing a resinous aroma.  I harvested just enough young walnuts to fill a large Kilner jar.  *Quartered, they showed themselves to be at the perfect stage - the inner sweet nut soft and not quite formed.  They relaxed in a bath of cheap vodka, some sugar, lemon peel and a few spices for six weeks on my balcony.  Passed through muslin, the deep brown liquor now sits in the deepest recess of my larder, not to be touched before Christmas arrives.  Then a rich vanilla ice cream will be calling for an anointment of luscious, sticky, bitter **Walnut Liqueur

Green (unripe) Walnuts

The walnut tree seems so quintessentially English, yet it’s a non-native tree.  Brought by the Romans, the tree Juglans regia is here at its most northerly reach.  The common name of 'English Walnut' for the tree is used here to distinguish it from the American 'Black Walnut' but it originated in China and south-east Europe.  Our recent warmer summers have seen the trees fruiting better than ever.  This week I took another bagful of walnuts from the tree.  Their casing now a softer, rougher green but not yet peeled back exposing the hard, brown under-layer we are more familiar with.  These are at the 'wet' stage.  Peeling back their green jackets and cracking them open now reveals a fully formed, slightly tacky nut.  We will eat some over the next couple of weeks, enjoying their sweet, almost milky taste which pairs so well with salty sheep's milk cheeses.  If there are any left I will dry them for storing by leaving the husk-less nuts spread in a single layer in a warm, dry place for two weeks.

Wet Walnuts

I promise, while I've been doing this squirrelling-away, I've made sure to leave plenty of walnuts for the birds, and the squirrels.

Here's one of the dishes I'll be using the dried nuts in:

Buckwheat pancakes with apples, raisins & walnuts
(pancake mixture makes around 12 x 20cm thin pancakes)

For the pancakes:
120g buckwheat flour
50g plain flour
pinch of salt
1 medium egg
175ml full cream milk + 175ml water
30g melted butter

For the filling:
About 500g of warm apple compote and a handful of raisins
(peeled and chopped apples cooked down with a knob of butter and sugar to taste depending on the type of apples, then add the raisins while the apple is still hot)
a handful of shelled walnuts, roughly chopped

Combine the flours and salt.  Make a well in the centre and add the egg and a little milk then start to draw in the dry ingredients to the wet, adding more of the milk and water gradually until you have a smooth batter.  Add the melted butter and mix in.
Lightly butter a 20cm heavy-based frying pan and heat to medium-hot.  Keep the heat at this level throughout.  Pour in enough pancake mixture to quickly swirl it around the pan and lightly coat it and cook until the underside is lightly browned. This is a sacrificial one as the first pancake is always poor so discard it.  Add just a little butter before cooking each pancake.  Pour about 2-3 tablespoons of batter into the pan and quickly swirl it around the pan to coat it thinly.  Brown lightly and turn the pancake to lightly brown the other side.  Repeat the process and when each pancake is light browned on both sides add it to a plate and keep warm in a low oven until you have used up all the mixture.

Spoon some of the warm apple and raisin compote onto each pancake and add some of the chopped walnuts folding the pancakes over.  Serve with cream.

*Always wear gloves when handling walnuts that have their green outer casings intact as the tannins are highly staining.

**David Lebovitz has a recipe on his website for Liqueur de Noix.  In Italy it is known as Nocino and my go-to recipe can be found in Kitty Travers's brilliant book on the subject of ice cream, La Grotta Ices.