Category Archives: Preserves

Chasing my tail

Broad beans and rapeseed

Here I am again, chasing my tail trying to get my garden ship-shape and ready for summer, despite the fact that we’re less than a week away from the longest day. Whatever happened to those, long, balmy evenings and sun-blessed days? It’s hardly June-like here, with torrential rain one day and dismal murk the next. My tomato plants, planted in their final positions outdoors a few weeks ago, have sulked since moving outside and it’s hard to believe they’ll be healthy, fruiting plants in a few short months… I delayed planting my French and runner beans at the start of the month due to the high winds and cold temperatures, but they’ve gone in now and will have to fend for themselves, along with the courgettes, squashes and sweetcorn.

Broad beans and basil

On the plus side, my broad beans are fantastic this year, now starting to reach harvesting size (typically just before I go on holiday!). I picked my first crop of tender baby beans this week to steam with asparagus and mint as an accompaniment to my friend’s delicious Shetland lamb chops. So good. I picked so many that I was able to give half away and still have enough to toss in the first pesto sauce of the season with pasta, caramelised onions and toasted pine nuts the following night.

Broad bean pasta

Strawberries too are coming thick and fast – little sign of slug damage yet, so perhaps those nematodes are getting to work at last. A shame that they aren’t having the same effect on my salad bed, where I’m still struggling to get lettuce past the germination stage before they’re munched off in their prime! In desperation, I’ve resorted to sowing some in a seed tray at home for planting out when they are a little more established….

I finally managed to finish planting up my new oak barrels at home this week – must be an all-time record for me to fill my summer containers so late in June! The old and disintegrating barrels in situ were well past their sell-by date – but as they made the move down from Scotland with us some 13 years ago and we’d had them in the Scottish garden for a good few years beforehand, I don’t suppose they owe me anything! It was quite a job emptying and refilling five full-sized half-barrels, so hardly surprising that it took me so long. Now filled with my giant tuberous begonias, fibrous begonias, lobelia and double petunias, I’m hoping for a spectacular display once they get going – slugs and snails permitting!

New barrel near gate

One final job I’ve been keen to do before the holiday season is upon us is to make my elderflower cordial. There’s an elder bush just down the road from where I live that’s absolutely laden with blossom this year – but I’d rather pick my elderflowers from a hedgerow away from road fumes if at all possible, so I’ve been holding on and dodging the showers, waiting for the perfect moment to harvest. Success at last one day this week, on a blustery dog walk down near my local reservoir: steeped overnight in their sugar and lemon solution, they are now bottled as the quintessential elderflower cordial, perfect for Hugo cocktails with Prosecco and lemon, as a refreshing long drink with sparkling water, or added to panna cotta or gooseberry compote for a certain je ne sais quoi… I wouldn’t be without it.

Elderflower Cordial – makes 2-3 (750ml) bottles

Elderflower cordial
20 or so heads of elderflower
2 pints boiling water
3lb granulated sugar
juice and grated zest of 2 lemons
1 tbsp citric acid

Pour the boiling water onto the sugar in a large preserving pan and stir over a medium heat until dissolved. Add the lemon juice, grated zest, citric acid and elderflowers (stripped of any chunky green stems, but left as heads). Cover with a tea towel and leave for 24 hours. Strain through a sieve lined with muslin into a large jug and pour through a funnel into sterilised bottles.
Keeps for several months in a dark place – refrigerate once opened.

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More Alchemy in the Kitchen

Fruit glut July 2015

I’ve said before that I love the alchemy of converting piles of fresh fruit and vegetables into jams and chutneys. There’s something very special about a well-stocked store cupboard, harvesting nature’s bounty for the cold winter months ahead. If the produce in question is free from your own garden or allotment (or a neighbour’s, as in the case of my jostaberries), or better still from the hedgerow, that’s even better. I always try to make at least one batch of elderflower cordial a year, as it’s so much better than shop-bought, and this year I was tempted to experiment with my own blackcurrant cordial too, when the blackcurrants reached glut proportions during my week away! Redcurrant jelly is another favourite as it makes the most sublime sauce to accompany lamb, and recently I’ve tried jostaberry jam for the first time, using up the surplus from my neighbour’s monster bush. This hybrid of blackcurrants and gooseberries is deliciously tangy, but a devil to top and tail. Gooseberries are at least large and dry, so can be topped and tailed quite easily in front of the television, blackcurrants usually only need to be destalked as the flower “tails” are quite unobtrusive, but these berries have noticeable tops and tails – you can only really leave them on if you intend to sieve the jam. It took me 40 minutes to top and tail 3lb of fruit for this jam – not ideal, but hopefully the results will be worth it! I find it best to top and tail them in a bowl of water as they are also very juicy so you need to do it with your fingertips, rather than a knife as you would with gooseberries. Tempted? It’s really very simple. Here’s how:

 Jostaberry Jam

Jostaberries3lb jostaberries

3lb granulated sugar

1 pint water

Top and tail the jostaberries as described above, then cook with 1 pint water in a large preserving pan for about half an hour or until soft. Add the sugar over a gentle heat and stir until dissolved. Bring to the boil and cook vigorously for about 5 to 7 minutes until setting point is reached.

I find the best test is to hold your wooden spoon over the pan and when the drips run together to form a bigger drop that breaks off sharply, the jam will be done. Otherwise, have a saucer in the freezer and place a little of the jam on the saucer, cool slightly, then push with your finger: the surface should wrinkle. You will need to take the jam off the heat while you do this test to stop the jam overcooking.

When set, pour the jam into prepared jars (washed and sterilised in the oven on a low heat), cover with waxed circles and lids, then label when cool.

Jelly is slightly more fiddly than jam, but probably requires less hands-on time and is just as satisfying. You will need a jelly bag and stand, but the resulting jelly will be so much better than anything you can buy in the shops. I love to use it in a ridiculously simple Redcurrant, Orange & Mint Sauce from Delia’s original Complete Cookery Course: just mix a couple of tablespoons of home-made jelly with the grated rind of one orange and a handful of finely chopped mint. Allow to stand and serve with roast lamb – sublime! Also goes well with curry made from any leftover lamb the next day, rather than the more traditional mango chutney.

 Red & Whitecurrant Jelly

Red and whitecurrants in preserving pan3lb red and whitecurrants (or just use all redcurrants)

1 pint water

Sugar (see recipe)

Put the fruit, stalks and all, into a large preserving pan with the water and cook for ½ to ¾ hour until really soft. Strain overnight through the jelly bag attached to a jelly stand into a large jug placed beneath. Do not be tempted to squeeze or poke the fruit as otherwise the jelly will be cloudy.

Measure the extract the next morning and allow 1lb sugar to every 1 pint of extract. Return to the preserving pan and stir over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved. Then boil rapidly for 8-10 minutes until a set is achieved (see above). Skim off any froth, then pour into jars, seal and label as above.

Jelly bag Bubbling jam panRed and whitecurrant jellyThe third in my trio of midsummer preserves is blackcurrant cordial. Having put numerous bags in the freezer, made a divine sorbet, a summer pudding and countless other desserts, I thought I’d give this a go. What a revelation! Pure, fresh-tasting cordial, so much nicer than the branded varieties, and of course, you merely need a splash with fizzy water (or sparkling wine!) for a delicious long summer drink or Kir Royal. I tried this last year without the citric acid, but it didn’t keep very long, even in the fridge. This year, I’ve added citric acid, and whilst I’m sure it won’t hang around for long, I think it will keep as long as I need it.

Blackcurrant Cordial

500g blackcurrants
275g sugar
250ml water
½ tsp citric acid

In a heavy-based pan, simmer the sugar, blackcurrants and water gently for 5 minutes. Using a potato masher, break up the fruit to release as much juice as possible. Add the citric acid and simmer for another 2 minutes. Strain the mix through a jelly bag overnight, without squeezing and pour the resulting liquid into a sterilised bottle and keep in the fridge.

If, like me, you have so many blackcurrants that you decide to increase the proportions, please make sure that your jelly bag can take the weight…. Mine was so overloaded that it slipped off the stand, splashing cordial around the kitchen! Fortunately, not too much was lost as it landed in the bowl beneath, but I was very glad I’d had the forethought to cover the kitchen table with newspaper before starting!

Blackcurrant cordial