Angelica is in some ways an old fashioned herb, scarcely used now. That's a shame because it's one of the most fragrant and enticing flavours I have ever worked with, especially when, as here, you grow it yourself. You can use the young leaves from the plant in salads, although the larger ones can be bitter. You can also add the stems to stewed rhubarb or wrap fish in the leaves or braise them as you would spinach. Angelica is one of the botanicals used in making gin, something I learnt to do recently when doing a gin making class at the Bump Caves with mixologist Max Chater. But I decided to do the classic thing with Angelica; candy the stems.
While preparing the stems, the whole house was filled with the most extraordinary smells: liquorice, clove and a touch of celery, which it resembles. Above all, the delicious odour is reminiscent of Benedictine and Chartreuse liqueurs.
Home candied Angelica
1. Pick the angelica and soak it in a half a sink of cold water with a couple of tablespoons of salt to get rid of any insects.
2. Remove the leaves from the stems. Cut the stems into 4 inch/7cm sections.
3. Soak the stems in hot water in a pan for a few hours.
4. This is the most time consuming bit: strip off the outsides of the stems, the 'cellophane' skin. This is fiddly but I find if you stick something on Netflix on your iPad, then the time passes quite enjoyably. I also slit the stems in half, lengthways so that you can spread out the 'tube' of the stem.
5. Estimate how much water you need to cover the stems, depending on how much angelica you have picked. I used about 300ml (1.5 cups) of water.
6. Make a 1:1 sugar syrup. That is, the same amount of caster sugar as water, in this case 300g. Make this in a medium pan and bring to the boil.
7. If possible lay out your stems in a wide pyrex dish or other dish, in a single layer. Cover with the sugar syrup.
8. Leave to soak for a day. (If you have an Aga it's very easy to candy things. Just leave the dish on the Aga for 2 or 3 days and the sugar syrup will gradually shrink to nothing. The angelica candies itself).
9. Drain out the sugar syrup into a small saucepan and bring it to a boil again . Then pour this concentrated syrup over the angelica stems again. Leave for another few hours to macerate.
10. Repeat once more.
11. Then the syrup should be absorbed but any left over, keep it for drinks or for pouring over icecream. Lay out the stems on a drying rack. You can after a few hours, dust them with caster sugar.
12. Bake a cake, maybe a pound cake, using your home candied angelica. I'm going to experiment with tutti frutti style icecream or a panettone.
Zia Mays and I will be exhibiting and selling books, seeds, plants and some home made candied Angelica in a stall at the Royal Horticultural Fair on March 1st. These events are called, appropriately, Secret garden Sundays. Hope to see you there.