PLUMS EVERY WAY YOU TURN
Thursday September 16th 2010, 10:52 pm

picking blaisdon plums

Month nine Tigress’s can jam canning challenge and for September the ingredient chosen by Kate at the Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking is stone fruits. It couldn’t have been a better choice for me than this, as where I live is plum country. We even have our own local variety, the Blaisdon plum, that grows just about everywhere and apart from the occasional year when a late frost might have nipped an abundant harvest in the bud, we are usually all drowning in plums by the end of August. As well as Blaisdon trees growing in peoples gardens they grow along hedgerows and overhang onto public footpaths. In the lane that leads up to my house I can count at least 10 trees. The big problem is that not all the fruit will be within arms reach and most will be impossible to harvest no matter how resourceful and well equipped you might be.

a basket of blaisdon plums

Blaisdons were once a popular variety grown for the jam making trade but became less useful once freezing fruit opened up the market, enabling manufacturers to go further afield and shop around on price. I read somewhere of someone locally with a small orchard of Blaisdons where a railway line once ran along the bottom of the garden, so the freshly picked fruit was loaded straight onto the train that then chugged its way directly to the factory, collecting fruit from others along the way.
Stephen, who lives next door but one from me, has a Blaisdon tree that very conveniently overhangs a raised decking platform in his garden. He said I could help myself to his crop, and so of course I did. This meant my September ingredient has not only been plentiful but also absolutely free. As well as these purple plums I picked some lovely acid yellow ones that grow in the field behind the house. I haven’t a clue what kind they are. And then there are the damsons… I’m not even going to include them here, suffice to say I’ve picked basket loads.

foraging for yellow plums

As is always the way when dealing with a glut, you have to act fast and be ready for processing. It is a mad dash to get everything tucked in and put away before the fruit flies decide to set up camp in your kitchen. I wanted to save as many plums as possible to use as ingredients later, so some have been cooked and stoned then packed into containers in the freezer. The freezer has its uses but it fills up fast and I suspect costs an outlandish amount to run. Frozen ingredients can rack up considerable additional hidden costs making my free plums not quite such a great deal. I now prefer to can as much produce as possible. Once in the jar and processed, the fruit is ready-to-go whenever required with no thawing time, you simply pop the seal and run with it.
One of my favourite discoveries since my canning journey began is bottling fruit compotes. These ready-made desserts are then instantly available and the processing means you can use less sugar. This month, as well as plums done and dusted every conceivable way, whole, squashed and pureed, specially for the Can Jam I’ve made a plum compote and filled my favourite vintage 70′s Kilner jars. I love the look of them and think it’s about time Ravenhead Kilner had the imagination to reissue them. Don’t they know bottling is back!

plum and blueberry compote with calvados syrup canned

PLUM & BLUEBERRY COMPOTE IN CALVADOS SYRUP
Adapted from a recipe in my favourite book Fancy Pantry (1986) by Helen Witty

For each 1litre (1 quart) jar you will need:
850g (1 3/4lbs) whole plums
125g (1 cup) blueberries, rinsed and drained
3 Tbsp calvados or other good brandy

For the syrup:
275g (1 1/2 cups) sugar
0.5ltr (2 cups) water

Prepare the water bath, jars and seals ready for canning. For more info about how to hot water process, refer to the guide here.
Make the syrup by combining the sugar and water in a pan and stir to dissolve the sugar over a medium heat. Once dissolved turn up the heat and bring to the boil, then simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Pierce each plum 2 or 3 times with a skewer or tooth pick then gently poach half of the plums for a jar at a time in the simmering syrup for about 3 minutes.
Gently lift the plums out of the syrup and pack them into a hot jar so it is filled to just below half way. Place the blueberries on top, allowing them to fall down into the gaps between the plums and the inside of the jar in a decorative way. Poach the other half of the plums in the same way then fill the jar with them, packing them to leave the appropriate amount of headroom for your type of jar. Pour 3 Tbsp calvados over the plums then top up with syrup.
De-bubble the sides using a small spatula or chopstick, wipe jar rims clean, before sealing and placing in the hot water bath. Process for 25 minutes, remove from the bath, then leave till cold before testing the seals. Label and store.
Scale down for 500ml (1/2pt) jars and process for 20 minutes.

a colander full of plums



THE BIG AUTUMN BLANKET WASHATHON
Wednesday September 01st 2010, 5:46 pm

piles of blankets - it's time to wash them

Today is a gloriously sunny day but it doesn’t fool me. We’ve already had a few nippy evenings, sent to prepare us for autumn ahead. Hopefully, we’re due a good September weatherwise but Autumn’s coming whether we like it or not. So as well as lots of canning projects over the next 2 months to stock up the store cupboard (more plums, damsons, apples as well as pears, quinces and all the hedgerow berries to look forward too), I’m also trying to get a few other jobs done to make life warm and cosy. I really must replace the fire bricks in the Rayburn soon, it’s no good leaving it till the weather has already taken a turn for the worse. There is a box of them beside the Rayburn, been there since last year. And I need to get the chimneys swept.

piles of blankets - it's time to wash them

I intended laundering all my blankets in the spring, but didn’t get around to it, so today resolved to make a start. I love blankets and as you can see, once they are collected together, I have quite a few. Vintage Welsh blankets are my favourites, the weaves and colours are just wonderful. So first I piled all the blankets up so I can work my way through them, washing them one by one, restoring them, to their pristine glory ready for colder months ahead. I have 5 cats so my house consists of lots of cat beds, in fact it is lots of cat beds all joined together. The blankets collect fur as well as dirty wet paw marks.

piles of blankets - it's time to wash them

I have on occasions washed blankets in the washing machine with sometimes good, sometimes disastrous results. I’m not prepared to chance it with any of my precious blankets. They are all pure wool and some feel more robust than others. If your blankets say on the label to wash in the machine, then you’ll be fine. Don’t think any of mine have labels so common sense is the best approach. Once wet, they become big heavy unwieldy things to handle so you do need a bit of muscle and a cup of tea and a biscuit (or a prize winning scone perhaps!) every now and again.

how to wash a blanket in the bath

HOW TO WASH A BLANKET
Give your blanket a good shake out doors. If like mine, they have animal hairs on them, it is a good idea to run the hoover over the hairy bits, holding it taught as the suction of the nozzle removes the excess. If your blanket has any stains, these will need to be dealt with as appropriate for its type. A good old fashioned bar of soap rubbed into the stained area will sort out most stains, but dried blood or grease marks may require a product designed specifically for that job. Don’t rub the area with too much gusto otherwise it could felt the surface of the wool.
If your blanket is too large to fit in the sink use the bath. Fill the sink or bath with plenty of lukewarm water, so the blanket can move about in it, and add some soap flakes, Woolite or Stergene to give a good lather. Lower the blanket into the water and agitate it gently, working around the blanket but not rubbing it excessively. Remove the plug and allow the water to drain away and try and gently squeeze out as much excess water from the blanket as you can. This is where you need muscles. A washing up bowl or bucket is also useful here, as you can lift the blanket into it while you rinse out the sink or bath and refill with clean warm water for the first rinse. It is really important that wool blankets are not subjected to sharp changes in temperature to prevent felting, so try to keep the water at a similar lukewarm temperature throughout.
Rinse the blanket a couple of times in clean water until the water stays clean and shows no sign of suds. You can add fabric conditioner to the final rinse if you wish. Lift the blanket and squeeze as much water as you can from it. If you have a washing machine robust enough to take the wet blanket you can then spin it in the machine. If the blanket is too heavy for your machine you will need to fold the blanket, place it flat on a large towel and then roll the towel up so it soaks up the excess liquid from the blanket.

blanket drying on a washing line

Hang the damp blanket on a washing line out in the fresh air and use plenty of clothes pegs to hold it straight and taut. Pull the blanket into shape so warp and weft threads run straight, giving any tight edges a gentle tug and stroke out any creases. A gentle breeze on a warm day is the ideal scenario so your blanket will dry quickly and be in great shape. If you have the time, move the blanket part way through its drying time and re-peg, that way you wont end up with a crease where it is folded over the line and it will prevent the pegs from making indented marks on the fabric. Your blanket should now be clean and soft as well as smelling as fresh as a daisy.
So that’s one blanket sorted. Only another 15 to go!

piles of blankets - it's time to wash them