Tuesday July 20th 2010, 9:56 am
Month seven Tigress’s can jam canning challenge and for July the choice of ingredients was mine, and I choose cucurbits. I began by making a jam to use up some Galia melons I’d bought to photograph, along with some frozen plums that needed using from the freezer before this years harvest requires the space. Anyhow, that’s another story, jam wasn’t what I wanted from the July canjam. The best thing about taking part in this global canning event is the stretch, the discovering anew. I was wanting to do some pickling.
I am a pickle novice, having never been drawn to them, through lack of positive experiences. Pickles for me have been onions served with cheese, English ploughmans-lunch style, Branston pickle, a manufactured brown sweet gloopy relish that has its moments in a cheese butty (sandwich), and pickled beetroot, that was once the only way you ever found this root veg and that comes with a powerful acetic hit. I do have one recollection of my friend Mary eating pickled umeboshi plums to ward off sea sickness when island hopping in Greece, they seemed pretty disgusting but did work. Later in life the pickled ginger with sushi element crept into my middle class lifestyle. That’s it, the full extent of my pickling life …. so far.
I’ve read loads of recipes and am intrigued by what is called in the US ‘Bread and Butter’ pickle. It obviously doesn’t mean these are included as ingredients but does it mean that it is meant to be eaten on bread and butter? I assumed this to be so until a google search ‘what does bread and butter pickle mean?’ pointed out another alternative. Something that is your ‘bread and butter’ is your main form of income, so bread and butter pickle could be the breadwinner of the pantry, your stalwart pickle, a good all rounder that you can’t do without. Anymore ideas, please let me know. I ended up making up a recipe based on the many I’d read. I think my summer squash pickle is more or less a bread and butter pickle, made with summer squash instead of cucumbers.
Luckily, this week in the Taurus market garden, the first summer squashes are ready to harvest. Some Early Prolific straightneck squashes provided the perfect starting point for my foray into pickling. This yellow squash is lovely eaten raw and has an excellent flavour. I decided to go for colour, adding plump purple scallions and orange sweet peppers into the mix. As often happens, the colours change during preparation, in particular the purple onions lost their hue, but I still ended up with a beautifully coloured pickle with a summery vibe.
If you, like me, have never really tried pickles, MAKE THIS ONE!!!! It is just fantastic. I only made it 2 days ago and even without the usual month mellowing off period, it tastes amazing. I haven’t a clue what you serve it with, but straight from the jar with a fork is working for me. This was just what I needed to turn me into a pickle fiend.
SUMMER SQUASH PICKLE
Makes 6 x 500ml (1pint) jars
1.5Kg ( 3 1/4lbs) summer squash courgettes or small zucchini
400g (14 oz) onions
300g (11oz) sweet peppers, 2-3 peppers
200g (7 oz) salt
1 ltr (1 3/4 pint) white wine vinegar
250ml (1/2 pt) water
450g (1lb) sugar
1 1/2 tsp celery seed
2 Tbsp mustard seed
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp turmeric
6 small dried red chillies
1 tsp black peppercorns
Top and tail the squash and cut into uniform sized slices, so they are about .5cm (1/4 in) thick. Slice the onions and deseed and slice the peppers. Place all the vegetables in a glass bowl and sprinkle with the salt, turning them all over so the salt is evenly distributed. Cover the bowl and leave for 12-24 hours. Drain off the liquid that is drawn from the veg, rinsing and draining thoroughly several times to remove as much salt as possible, finally leaving to drain.
Prepare the water bath, jars and seals ready for canning. For more info about how to hot water process, refer to the guide here. Place the vinegar, water, sugar and spices in a pan and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer for 5 minutes then add the vegetables. Bring back to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Pack the vegetables into hot sterilised jars, filling them to leave required headroom, then top up with the vinegar, distributing the seeds evenly amongst the jars. Seal and process the jars for 10 minutes. Pickles always improve on keeping for at least a month before opening, if you can wait that long.
Pickles have a high acid content so can often be made without hot water processing (canning) them. If you can them you are making doubly certain that they will be preserved safely for a year or more.
GOT MY HEAD STUCK IN A RUMTOPF
Tuesday July 13th 2010, 9:57 pm
Tigress got the ball rolling back in June when she wrote about her plans to start a rumtopf using her new-fandagly fermenting crock. I don’t think I’m the only one she inspired to rumtopf-along with her, but first I needed a suitable jar. The only pots I’ve seen for making rumtopf have always struck me as hideous; big bulbous lumpy jars illustrated with fruits and the word ‘rumtopf’ etched on the front, the recipe is right there on the jar. A fermenting crock would be a very cool to use, but as they are hard to find and when found cost in the region of £80, one of them was way out of my league. I kept my eye on Ebay and eventually found a jar that I could live with. You can make do with a tall clip-top preserving jar instead if you like but I’m enjoying making my rumtopf in its own purpose designed container.
So the jar eventually arrived and it is definitely vintage 70’s. I peered inside and caught a glorious wiff. The jar was not only vintage but had been used before. I knew this as the lightly crazed inside had soaked up previous alcohol and fruit flavours. It smelt fabulous, fruity spirit with a hint of lovage! I couldn’t stop sniffing and shoving my head further inside to soak up the aroma. The jar is about head size, you could effortlessly slip your head inside whilst becoming mesmerised by this magical scent and the desire for more, but slipping it out again may not have been quite so easy. I stopped short of ending up in casualty with a rumtopf on my head. That would have been ridiculous but, come to think of it, would have ensured a mention in the Forest Review.
So what is a rumtopf? It is a way of preserving fruit in alcohol. You start it June – July time, add different fruits in layers as they come into season, throughout the summer and autumn, along with some sugar and enough rum or brandy to keep it submerged, and when it is full, about 6 – 8 weeks before Christmas, you then leave it till ready to devour at Christmas time. The contents can be decanted into kilner jars to give as gifts, the fruit can be eaten with cream or ice cream and the alcohol, which I understand is deceivingly dangerous, can be drunk as a liqueur or added to sparkling wine.
Most fruits are suitable with just a few exceptions; melon is too watery, the skins of blueberries and gooseberries go hard, bananas turn to mush, citrus fruits and rhubarb are a no-no. Traditionally you start with the first strawberries of the year, any amount between 250g – 750g plus half its weight in sugar. Remove the stalks and leave the fruit and sugar in a glass dish to marinate overnight and help release the juices before decanting it into the rumtopf jar. Pour rum or brandy over it until it is completely submerged, then find a plate or saucer that will fit inside the jar and push it under the alcohol so that the fruit can’t bob up to the top. I have read that the alcohol should be at least 54% proof and as spirits on general sale are usually around the 40% mark I had to seek out some overproof stuff. Asda sells an overproof white rum at 63%, so I mixed it, two thirds overproof to one third normal dark rum to get somewhere near the 54%, make the rum go further and give it a darker colour. I think this may be a mere detail and am sure that most people don’t go to so much trouble.
You continue to add more fruity layers as they appear; raspberries, cherries, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, apricots and blackberries. Use any amount of fruit you have, adding half its weight in sugar each time and making sure to add more alcohol when needed to keep it covered. Cover the top of the jar with clingfilm and put the lid on top of that then leave it in a cool place out of the way to do its thing. If using a clear glass preserving jar, keep in a dark place as well. I’m up to my third layer of fruit so far but just can’t stop myself having a sniff everytime I walk by the jar.
FIRST HOMEGROWN RASPBERRIES
Saturday July 10th 2010, 2:05 pm
The raspberries I planted last year are suddenly heavy with fruit. I picked almost a kilo the other day and I’m feeling really pleased. Not that I can take much credit for this, raspberries are such an easy fruit to grow. Apart from planting them in the first place, banging a few poles along the row and stretching wires across them to provide some support to tie the canes too, this fruit hasn’t called out for much attention. Raspberries are really a weed as they send out their runners all over the place. I’ve allowed wild strawberries to make ground cover underneath the raspberries and the runners just grow up through this dense strawberry leaf carpet. Both seemingly grow effortlessly so I feel no compunction as regards thinning it all out now and again, it will grow back before you know it. In the autumn some of these runners are destined for the allotment, so I’ll have even more fruit in the years to come. This is all part of the bigger picture, to create the jammin equivalent of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, aka Gloria’s Glorious Jam Emporium.
Raspberries smell amazing as they cook and fill the whole house with a wonderful fragrance. I decided to use them to make the raspberry and peach jam from my book, Fruits of the Earth as it is one of my favourites. The jams I prefer usually fit into the tart, robust flavours category, but this jam isn’t quite like that, but gentler and especially fragrant and summery. This is also one of the rare exceptions when I have to buy in an ingredient that hasn’t been grown nearby. I don’t yet have access to any local peaches or nectarines so must, for the time being, content myself with sourcing the best ones I can find anywhere I can find them. At least by making a special visit to Adam Scotts in Coleford, the only independent fruit and veg shop in the forest, I shouldn’t feel bad about buying fruit from further afield. It is such a great shop and I often go there to photograph the display out front. They do sell locally sourced produce when they can.
Recently they have been selling flat peaches, which seem to have become all the rage; they must be if they’ve reached Coleford already. Apart from these peaches looking fabulous, they taste great and seem to be RIPE when you buy them, ripe but still firm, amazing! A far cry from those rock hard supermarket peaches. When you bite into a flat peach, their flesh is white and it is almost enough of a treat to just stick your head in the bag when you get home and draw in their high peachy scent. These were the best peaches at their peak on the day, so I chose them. The best thing about harvesting your own fruit is getting it straight into the jam kettle, without a moment to lose, so none of the freshness is lost.
The recipe starts by heating the raspberries to release the juice, then you push it through a sieve or food mill to collect the puree. The raspberry pulp and seeds I collected is now macerating in a Kilner jar of white wine vinegar, where it will stay for the next month or so. The resulting raspberry vinegar will be delicious for summer salad dressings, so nothing wasted. In the few days since I picked the last raspberries, another batch have ripened. I haven’t netted any of my fruit bushes. Luckily, with so much fruit around, the birds are being kind for once.
RASPBERRY & PEACH JAM
Makes 1.6Kg (3lb 8oz)
700g (1lb 9oz) raspberries
700g (1lb 9oz) ripe peaches
1Kg (2lb 4oz) sugar
juice of 2 large lemons
Place the raspberries in a pan over gentle heat to release their juice and mash with the back of a spoon. Once they are soft and juicy, push through a sieve or process with a food mill using a fine mesh, collecting the puree. (As mentioned above, you can use the seeds and pulp that remain in the sieve to make raspberry vinegar.) Place the puree and 500g (1lb 2 oz) sugar and the juice of 1 lemon in a pan, bring to a simmer, stirring all the while until the sugar has dissolved, then pour into a glass bowl, cover and leave overnight in the fridge.
Skin the peaches by placing them one by one in boiling water for a minute or 2, then into cold water. The skins should slip off the fruit easily with the help of a sharp knife. Halve and remove the stones then chop the peaches into pieces, keeping them quite chunky. Place peaches with remaining sugar and lemon juice in a pan and heat gently to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour into a glass bowl, cover and leave over night.
The next day, simply combine the raspberries and peaches in a preserving pan, heat and boil rapidly until setting point is reached. (This should only take 10-15 minutes.) Leave to cool for 5 minutes then stir to distribute the peach pieces, before pouring into hot sterilised jars and seal.
By all means miss out the ‘leaving fruits, sugar and lemon in glass bowls overnight’ part if you wish to speed up the process. This method of preparing jams in stages sometimes improves flavours. Also, though this recipe will make a jam that keeps well, to be especially careful and improve keeping time, by all means follow the usual canning procedures by using suitable preserving jars and hot water processing for 10 minutes if you are into canning.
CHERRY PICKING IN JULY
Saturday July 03rd 2010, 4:44 pm
I grew up in a Lancashire mill town, in a brick built terraced house with a flag-stoned back yard. Apart from a short period when Uncle Tom and Aunty Nora owned a market garden, when I was about seven years old, I never saw first hand how fruit and vegetables grew. I can recollect a few occasions when cherries were in season and my Dad would buy a brown paper bagful from the greengrocer. Dad liked cherries. These bright polished berries were a thing of beauty. An essential part of this rarely played out ritual was to sort them into singles, joined pairs to hang over your ears like pretend fruity earings, and bunches of three or even four to balance on your head, Carmen Miranda Style. Then they were wolfed down with great delight and the stones and stalks discarded. As I’d never seen them growing on the tree I hadn’t the slightest inkling that this fruit could be British.
As I grew older I thought that France was the big cherry capital of the world as there was something about French style; cherry motifs stencilled on crockery and embroidered on cute shelf edgings that gave them assumed ownership. I’ve got an old Habitat catalogue from the 70’s which includes a feature on making cherry jam, tapping into that Elizabeth David influenced generation, when discovering all things French was the thing. It has only been relatively recently that I’ve realised we have a rich tradition of cherry growing here in the UK, albeit a dwindling one.
According to Food Lovers Britain, who are behind CherryAid, a campaign to save the British Cherry, in the last 50 years Britain has lost 90% of its cherry orchards. Most of the cherries available to us are now imported. The campaign aims to encourage us to celebrate the British cherry, ask for British grown fruit where we can and plant a cherry tree, hopefully choosing an old-English variety.
A week or two ago, my rhubarb man (see my last but one blog post) gave me a big colanderful of sweet cherries from his tree. It had been a race to harvest them before the birds nabbed them all. An abundant crop is necessary to guarantee that after the birds get their fill there’s still some left for us humans. My haul meant there were handfuls to eat fresh but I wanted to preserve some as well so decided to pickle them.
I looked up ‘Cerises Au Vinaigre’ in Jane Grigsons Fruit Book, always a reliable reference book for these things, and also found ‘Spiced Cherries’ in The Perfect Pickle Book by David Mabey and David Collison. Pickling cherries is simplicity itself, you just make a sweetish, spicy vinegary syrup, pour it over the prepared fruit packed into a jar and wait for a month or two before eating. Both these recipes worked in this way, give or take a sprig of thyme here and a few juniper berries there. Easy as anything.
Then fellow CanJammer Leena posted her Chinese Five Spice Pickled Cherries for the June Tigress’ Can Jam, and the recipe is so simple I decided I’d give it a go instead. As is often the way with preserving, preparing the fruit can be the most time consuming part of the procedure; sorting the perfect fruit from the blemished, removing stalks and stones, topping and tailing. Readying my cherries was no exception. Years ago I’d bought my Dad a cherry pitter when he mentioned to me he was having trouble finding one and I’d bought another one for myself at the same time. I knew one day it would come in handy and twenty years later it at last had it’s first outing. You can dispense with pitting them altogether if you prefer.
So I pickled my cherries and canned them as well (just because I’m into canning), though the canning part may not be entirely necessary in this instance. You are supposed to leave the pickles to mature for at least a month but I opened a jar after only a week and they are heavenly. I’m now desperate to pickle more and stock the larder for when fresh cherries are just a vague memory of seasons past. I’m like a super sleuth on the trail for more cherries, sweet or sour. The CherryAid campaign is encouraging everyone to cook something during the British cherry season using British cherries, so do have a go at some pickled cherries. They aren’t too sweet or sour but just enough of both and even the syruppy juice is delicious drunk as a cordial. I can eat them straight from the jar but they do make a perfect pairing with goats cheese. If you have sour cherries they will have a bit more bite to work alongside stronger flavours.
I’m planning to plant at least one cherry tree this coming winter, now that this fruit has become my new best friend and I need my own supply.
CherryAid is holding a cherry themed FoodLovers Market in Soho, central London on Saturday 17th July (National Cherry Day).
CUCURBITS… I BEG YOUR PARDON?… CUCURBITS
Thursday July 01st 2010, 11:03 pm
Each month when the Tigress’s can jam canning challenge ingredient has been announced, I’ve been relieved that it wasn’t up to me to choose. Being the only Brit taking part, it seemed such a massive responsibility to come up with a seasonal ingredient that would somehow accommodate all canjammers, travel half way around the world and fit into everyones canning calendar. Then the other day Tigress emailed me to say it was my shot and for a moment I was filled with dread. I say a moment, and it really was just a moment, as if by divine suggestion, the word ‘cucurbits’ fell from the sky and landed right on my head. The Tigress’ Can Jam ingredient for July is cucurbits, but it’s cucurbits with a proviso (see below).
In case you aren’t familiar with the term cucurbits, it refers to Cucurbitaceae, a plant family commonly known as melons and gourds, including crops like cucumbers, squashes (including pumpkins), loofahs, melons and watermelons…. So what’s the proviso? First let’s dispense with the loofahs! (too chewy), secondly, pumpkins and winter squashes, they’re out. It is most likely too early for them anyways but also they are troublesome ingredients to deal with for hot water processing and I aint taking responsibility for that.
So that leaves cucumbers, a traditional pickling favourite and one I want to learn lots about from you experts over in the US. (By the way, as far as I’m concerned, bread and butter pickle should actually contain what it says on the jar. Likewise ‘coffee cake’ Anyhow, I digress…) Summer squashes such as courgettes and marrows… ha… gotcha! Of course this is yet another strange difference in the language we share. To all you canjammers in the US, small zucchini and zucchini. I have Sarah at Toronto Tasting Notes to thank for help translating here. And finally, to bring a luscious sweetness to the proceedings, melons of all types.
I’m hoping this group of ingredients is specific enough to make sense as well as being wide enough to cater for everyone. I am finding that Tigress’ Can Jam is giving me the opportunity to try new ingredients I’ve never worked with before, as well as making me approach familiar ingredients in new ways or ways I hadn’t got round to trying. I think these cucurbits offer scope for all manner of pickles, chutneys, relishes and jams and I can’t wait to see what everyone comes up with, as six months in, the canning done so far has been a total revelation. As previously mentioned, I want to learn how to can my cucumbers like I’m in that Little House on the Praire. Marrows, zucchini to most of you, I’ve always considered a waste of everybodies time, but I’m now ready to reconsider. There are endless recipes for marrow chutneys and jams and as this vegetable is effortless to grow, I really think it is time to learn to love this clod-hopping monster of a gourd.
Courgettes, or small zucchini, are one of those glut kitchen ingredients that there are never enough uses for to reduce the surplus mountain, so it will be fabulous if some of you could come up with some essential recipes that the rest of us can’t live without.
And then there are the melons…. they fill me with such romantic notions; from the pickled watermelon rinds I’ve read of and dreamed about tasting, the spicy syruppy concoctions that might be sweet and sour at the same time, and finally, French inspired preserves, combining melon with lemon, or ginger, or raspberries, or peaches, that transport you to a village in Provence. Are you getting the gist?
I hope you feel inspired to go off and make cucurbits your own. I can’t wait to see what you come up with. If you need to refer to Tigress’ canning guide you will find it here. All recipes must be posted between friday july 16 and friday july 23rd, with friday july 23rd at midnight being the cut off point. Tigress has allowed two extra days at the beginning this month so if you are so inclined and you can get your post up on the earlier days, please do! as it will help her to get a head start on the round-up. (Bravo Tigress for all your work).