Candied Alexanders Stems
This recipe is based on an old English one for angelica, a cultivated plant closely related to wild Alexanders. Like its cousin, Alexanders has a mild anise flavour. Candying is a way of preserving using a sugar syrup: the cooked, peeled Alexanders stems are steeped until they become saturated. Use thick, juicy stems from lower down the plant later on in the season.
Candied angelica is not seen much nowadays, but the older ones among us might remember it as the little vivid green diamonds that were once used to decorate cakes, usually placed on either side of a glacé cherry. Without chemical colourings, the Alexanders stems turn a lovely translucent amber. Cut them into pieces for decoration, add them to cakes and cookies as you would candied peel, or simply serve as a sweet treat to nibble with a cup of tea.
- 500g thick, juicy Alexanders stems
- About 200g caster sugar
- Cut away and discard the leaf joints from the Alexanders stems, then trim the straight pieces of stem into roughly 10cm lengths. Put them in a pan with 1.2 litres of water and bring to the boil. Simmer the stems for about 15 minutes until tender inside – test with a small, sharp knife, remembering that the outer skin of the hollow stems will stay quite tough and resistant when the inside are cooked, and that the very thick stalks will take a bit longer. Lift the stems from the pan using a slotted spoon, reserving the cooking water.
- When the stems are cool enough to handle, use a vegetable peeler to pare away the fibrous outer skin of the stems until you reach the pale, tender interior. Weigh the stems, then measure out the same weight of sugar.
- Add the sugar to the pan of cooking water and, without stirring, bring the liquid up to the boil and immediately turn off the heat. Put the Alexanders stems in a heatproof dish and pour over the syrup. Allow to cool then cover the bowl, and leave to steep overnight.
- The next day, drain off the syrup into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes to reduce slightly, then pour the hot syrup over the Alexanders and leave to steep overnight as before.
- Repeat this process for another 2 days, then drain the Alexanders stems from the syrup (letting any syrup run out from inside them), then lay them on a on wire rack. Leave them to air dry for about 24 hours – make sure they are completely dry before you put them into an airtight jar. They should keep for several months if stored in a cool, dry place.
Recipe and photos by Otherwise for Wild Food UK