Saturday August 23rd 2008, 5:33 pm

Aylburton Village Horticultural Show 2008

Today the village horticultural show took place. I was up at the crack of dawn doing research online to find out how my preserves needed to be presented for exhibiting, making labels and polishing my jam jars with white spirit. As it turned out the village show is slightly more relaxed than that and there wasn’t really any need for such a precise approach.
It was a good turn out. Runner beans seemed a popular category, a sure sign that they will grow no matter what the climate throws our way.

A magnificent truss of tomatoes

The biggest vegetable categories always hold a certain fascination with huge whopper marrows, a ginormous cabbage and a truss of tomatoes that would hardly fit on the table.

The giant marrow

I entered in three categories. The last one was really an afterthought based on my having noticed last year which categories had few entries, so cutting down the odds, or should I say making winning something of a dead cert. Lo and behold I won a first for my scented leaf geranium which only had one other plant to compete with.

Show shallots

My damson chutney won a second and my crab-apple jelly came third but competition was fierce in the jam and chutney categories.

crab-apple jelly exhibit

I was thrilled to come home with a first, second and third rosette and it is lovely to take part in such a special village event. The lady that won first for her blueberry and vanilla jam said it was only the second time she had taken part and last year she won a first as well. She obviously has the magic touch, sticky fingers you could say, so I have found out where she lives and intend to find out what her secret is. I have exactly a year to work on this!

prize winning tomatoes

More pictures from the show here.

Wednesday August 20th 2008, 10:31 am

red crab apples

With the village produce show looming, the weather has done noone any favours. I was sure that this year I could improve on my last years, first-time-ever entry of 3 courgettes, but with not a single one ready to pick my prospects seem gloomy.
Jam and chutney are my only hope. In fact with a dresser laden down with the stuff my biggest problem could be narrowing down which to enter. There is only one category for jam and marmalade and another category for chutney. I’m presuming that you can only enter once in each category, though someone did tell me that they enter several time in categories under other family members names. My household could be the only one with jam-making cats in that case. Tiddles Nicol’s entry of seville orange marmalade could be a bit of a give away!
Anyway, my challenges for the next few days includes making some crab apple jelly. My new friend Deborah kindly allowed me to pick some lovely red crab apples from the tree in her garden (does anyone know what this variety is?) and I have 2 bags full waiting to be made into this lucious amber gel. I’ll let you know how I get on.

red crab apples on the tree


Sunday August 03rd 2008, 8:11 am

punnets full of summer fruits

Everyone has food stuffs or flavours that they aren’t particularly fond of. Sometimes we decide early on that we don’t like something when in actual fact we just haven’t eaten it prepared in the right way. That’s what I’m like with blackcurrants. I think my mind was made up after drinking Ribena in my youth and without ever having tasted them freshly picked. My neighbours blackcurrant bushes are heaving with fruit right now and noone seems interested in using it up, so not keen to see a crop go to waste I have decided to harvest the berries (I do have permission!) and find ways of using them that might change my mind.
As I am in jam-making mode I thought I’d start with a preserve and am really thrilled with the result. Blackcurrants are a great fruit to work with as they have a distinctive flavour with a tart kick, quite similar to damsons, which I really love. The recipe that follows is somewhere between a jelly and a jam; it is without the bits, as the skins and seeds are pureed out, but doesn’t need straining through a muslin bag as required to make clear jelly. The resulting jam has more body and texture than a jelly. Rather than the fruit being boiled to smitherines, the cooking time is minimal and so ends up absolutely bursting with flavour. This jam has a lower sugar content than usual which gives a lovely softish set and as the skin of the currants are removed there is no need to cook them first by boiling the fruit in water. It has just the right sharpness to make it ideal as the filling for a chocolate cake and is fab slathered on sourdough toast. This jam has turned me into a blackcurrant enthusiast, it’s that good.

1 Kg blackcurrants, leaves and stalks removed
800g granulated sugar
1 lemon

Choose ripe or slightly under ripe fruit. Rinse the fruit if you must but make sure to drain off the excess water by patting dry with kitchen towel. Place the blackcurrants, sugar and juice of the lemon in a preserving pan. Gradually bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar then remove from the heat. Pour into a glass or ceramic bowl and cover with greaseproof paper pushed down onto the surface of the fruity syrup. Leave in the refrigerator overnight. (I went away for a couple of days at this stage with no adverse effects!)
Put the fruit and syrup through a food mill fitted with a fine disk or push through a sieve held over the preserving pan to remove the skins and seeds. Bring the resulting puree to the boil, stirring occasionally, and cook at a fast boil until it reaches setting point (it only took me 5 minutes). Skim if required and pour into hot clean jars, filling right up to the top and seal, preferably with screw top lids. Cool the jars upside down.

A punnet of blackcurrants