Latvian Hare Trio, Part 3: Hare Cheese, Onion Jam, Cornichons

This curious dish — which has very little to do with actual cheese — was actually what first motivated me to start my Latvian Hare Trio. The final result may look like a traditional pâté, but the preparation is quite different. Lesley Chamberlain’s Food and Cooking of Russia and Pokhlebkin’s Cookbook of the Soviet Peoples both contain fairly similar instructions: take a hare, roast it, braise it, grind it, then cook an omelette, grind it, and mix everything together with mushrooms and butter before baking in a dish, optionally wrapped in pastry.

I found that the result of this procedure had an unpleasantly dry mouthfeel, so I made several changes to improve it. In particular, cooking the leg meat as a confit was a big improvement, and it made little sense to use the precious hare loins. I also got rid of the bizarre ground omelette and used raw eggs to bind the forcemeat like a normal person. Finally, the onion jam and cornichons bring welcome touches of sweetness and acidity.

Latvian Hare Cheese

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Blueberry Preserves

I’ve already posted a blueberry jam here a while back, but this recipe, adapted from Blue Ribbon Preserves, is also worth your time. And if you like picking your own berries, this is a great way to showcase the result of your efforts. (I picked mine at Fishkill Farms last summer.)

Although I’m usually against the American obsession of putting cinnamon in nearly every dessert, the spice happens to pair very well with blueberries, as long as the dosage remains very subtle: you should barely be able to taste that something’s been added.

The same applies to the amount of vodka. We’re not making blueberry liqueur; the goal is just to make the end result taste more complex, without being able to taste the alcohol.

Blueberry Preserves

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Armenian Brandied Apricot Preserves

Related to my recent trip to Armenia, here’s a recipe for apricot preserves with a Caucasian twist. As you can see from the picture above, apricots are plentiful in Armenia. Why not combine them with some local brandy and honey? Young Armenian brandies may lack the subtlety to be enjoyed as digestifs, but they offer a robust flavor that can stand the heat of cooking applications. I’ve already mentioned the famous Yerevan Brandy Company here, and their 5-star (which means 5-year old) Ararat brandy is perfect for the kitchen — you can even find it in some U.S. liquor stores. For the honey, choose something light and mild, such as acacia honey.

This recipe is adapted from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, which covers all the aspects of canning in over 400 recipes. Try the preserves with an almond croissant!

Armenian brandied apricot preserves
Yields 1 pint

24 oz pitted apricots, quartered
6 oz sugar
1 1/2 oz light honey
2 tsp lemon juice
6 g powdered pectin
3 oz Armenian brandy (such as 5-star Ararat)

  • Toss the apricots, sugar, honey and lemon juice in a saucepan, and let rest for 45 minutes.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, then gently boil for 25 minutes, stirring regularly.
  • Mix the pectin with the brandy, add to the saucepan, and boil for 3 minutes. Skim off the foam and let cool for 5 minutes.
  • Transfer to a sterilized pint jar, seal and process in a 200 F water bath for 15 minutes.

Georgian Adventures, Part 2

Our trip to Kakheti started with an abandoned mountain road that our questionable map had identified as the shortest path to Telavi, the administrative center of the region. Despite lack of road signs, the fences blocking access, and the police officers mounting guard, we had now crossed the Gombori Pass, and drove through the village of Kobadze, where stands one of the very last statues of Comrade Stalin:

We spent two days visiting the wineries and other attractions of the region. I’ll certainly tell you more about Georgian wine in a future post, but for now I’d like to share some pictures of the roadside food stands that we passed during the trip. You will see these food stands wherever you travel in the Caucasus, but in Kakheti, they essentially focus on produce and wine.

Let’s begin with the churchkhelas, those walnut rolls I’ve already talked about here:

Notice the ones on the far left, covered with powdery sugar: these are the ones that have matured for a few months, whereas the others were freshly made.

Most of the stands are attended by locals selling the small outputs of their gardens, plus a few bottles of homemade wine and grape brandy (called chacha):

Sometimes that production is limited to one product. Here we have the cucumber dude:

And here, the peach specialists:

Another classic is to load your fruits in the trunk, back seats and roof rack of your old Lada and drive to town to sell them:

And here’s a preserves recipe to use all those peaches and chacha. You can multiply the proportions by the number of pint jars you plan to make.

Raisin, chacha and peach preserves
Yields 1 pint

1 1/2 oz golden raisins
1 oz chacha (or other grape brandy)
12 oz peeled and pitted ripe peaches
1 tsp lemon juice
5 g powdered pectin
8 oz sugar
1/4 tsp butter

  • Soak the golden raisins in the chacha for a couple hours.
  • Crush the peaches into chunks, add to a saucepan with the lemon juice, sprinkle in the pectin and bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly.
  • Add the sugar progressively, bring back to a boil, and boil for 1 minute. Let cool for 5 minutes.
  • Transfer to a sterilized pint jar, seal and place in a 200 F water bath for 15 minutes, with water level just below the lid.
  • Let cool for 30 minutes, refrigerate upside-down for 30 minutes, then flip.