Wednesday, June 19, 2013

homegrown: candied angelica stems

When I first read about angelica three years ago, I was intrigued. A plant named for an archangel, harvested near May Day, and candied? Then I saw candied angelica stems mentioned in a favorite children's book that I reread two years ago. I had to try it.

Angelica cannot be candied in the first year; stalks have to be harvested from a two-year-old plant (or older). Angelica also likes a good deal of water, and I had planted my first plant in a sunny spot and failed to water it sufficiently during our unexpectedly warm summer last year. So! This is the first year I've been able to try it! The stems are still drying, so I can't say yet whether it was a success, but they do look translucent, and they are tasty when I bit into one of the wet strips.

How did I make it? First I cut my stems and soaked them in cool water for eight hours. Then I drained them and blanched them in boiling water (with 1/2 tsp of baking soda added per 2 pints of water - the baking soda is supposed to preserve the colour) for 5 minutes. I shocked them in ice water, drained them, and set about the arduous task of peeling the skins and stringy bits from the outside. (Talk about time-consuming!!) Then I made a  simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water), and added the stems and cooked them at a low boil for 3-5 minutes. I turned off the heat, and let the pan cool. I covered it after it was cool (since the angelica is cooked in gradually increasing sugar concentrations, you don't want to cover the pan too early and build up condensation - let all the water evaporate before covering the pan) and put it in the fridge. Two days later, I pulled it out and strained out the angelica stems. I brought the sugar mixture back to a boil for a few minutes (maybe about 3?). I turned off the heat, put the stems back into the syrup (increasing sugar concentration without overcooking the angelica) and let it cool. I covered the pan, and back into the fridge for another 2 days. Two days later, I took it out again, fished out the stems, letting the syrup drain out of them, and brought the reserved syrup back to a full rolling boil. This time, I added the angelica to the syrup and boiled it for 5 minutes. Then I strained out the angelica stems and place them on the rack (as you see above) to dry. Some recipes instruct you to place the stems in a low oven to help them dry, but I am going to try just leaving them out for four days and see if that will accomplish the same effect, as putting them in the oven can lead to overdrying and making the angelica brittle.

How do they taste? They smell like gin - like gin and floral perfume. It's very nice! I bought two new plants this spring and placed them in the back garden, in a shadier spot that is damper. I'm hoping next year they will rise up nice and tall and graceful and I'll have even more stems with which to experiment!

I'll report back on these in a few days, and let you know if they were a success. In the meantime, my Midsommar cooking preparation has begun in earnest: I baked two cakes today, made a strawberry compote, and am pickling beets just now. I'll make the herring tonight before bed and, since I'm debating baking two batches of rye this year, I'll bake one tomorrow.

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