CRAB APPLES, SLOES AND JELLY APPLES
Tuesday October 26th 2010, 5:00 pm
There’s still a way to go, but gradually I am conquering the mountain of fruits that inhabits my kitchen. Apples and grapes are still turning up by, what seems like, the shed load but the foraged fruits are becoming less plentiful and day by day more jars are filled and shelf space becomes more scarce. The pantry is now looking well stocked up for the winter and it makes the arduous jobs carried out along the way, fade to a distant memory. Like when I pitted cherries until three in the morning or spent over three hours shelling enough cob nuts to fill the tweeniest jar. Bramble scarred and nettle stung hands are at last healing after all the hedgerow foraging for rosehips and sloes. Why do they always grow surrounded by a duvet of nettles as well as having their own built in barbed protection for extra measure? There is still lots to do but at the same time it feels as if the big preserving season is starting to wind down.
Everything made more recently has become more than one thing; canning apple juice produced a jelly bag full of apple pulp that in turn became apple butter; grapes juiced to make chilli jam likewise transformed into grape butter. Apple and damsons cooked and pureed earlier for cheese stretched to make an additional 3 pots of curd and the remainder, two sheets of fruit leather. The other day I had a fundamental thought - Note to self, remember to eat all this stuff!
Sloe gin is maturing nicely and will be ready to drink by Christmas. Still with a colander full of sloes and a good amount of wild crab apples to use up it seems the ideal opportunity to rustle up a jelly and with a plentiful supply of vanilla pods, left over stock from my recently closed emporium, I decided to add them into the mix at the same time. I reckoned that to be an adequate combination of ingredients for my jelly until a handful of japonica fruits, eight small rock hard unyielding specimens, caught my eye, so they might as well join the party as well.
Japonica are the fruit of the ornamental garden shrub Chaenomeles Japonica and are similar to a quince. They are best used for making jelly and are sometimes referred to as jelly apples. I underestimated just what an impact these few fruits would have on this jelly. As soon as they started to cook in with the other ingredients, my house was filled with that fabulous perfumed quince scent. I added them as an afterthought but even with so few fruits they brought a lovely character along, in a ‘less is more’ way. I’m sure this jelly will taste fab without japonica as well, please feel encouraged to make things up as you go along with the ingredients you have to hand. All three main ingredients are high in pectin, the stuff that helps jam to set, so are perfect for a jelly. The end result has a beautiful colour flecked through with vanilla seeds and tastes heavenly. The quantities stated below are the amounts I had at my disposal and are given as a guide. My recommendation is to use approximately twice as many crab apples as sloes and calculate the amount of sugar based on the amount of juice this produces.
CRAB APPLE, SLOE AND JAPONICA JELLY WITH VANILLA
Makes approx 2.2Kg (5 lbs)
775g (1 3/4lbs) sloes, rinsed and drained
1275g (2 3/4lbs) crab apples, rinsed, drained and roughly chopped
a handful of japonica, approx 8 fruits (optional), rinsed drained and cut into quarters
1 vanilla pod
Place the fruits in a large pan. Add enough water to barely cover and heat to a simmer. Cook for approximately 30 minutes, until the fruit is cooked through, mashing the fruit with the back of a wooden spoon and giving it a stir now and again. Remove from the heat and pour into a jelly bag suspended over a bowl to collect the juice. Leave overnight to drip through.
Next day measure the juice and pour it into a jam pan. (Rather than waste the fruit pulp from the jelly bag, you can push it through a sieve or food mill to make a puree then use to make a fruit butter.) For every 600ml (2 1/2cups) juice, add 450g (1lb) sugar. Split the vanilla pod lengthways and scrape out the sticky seeds inside with the sharp point of a knife. Add the pod and the seeds to the pan.
Place clean jam jars and lids in the oven to sterilise for 20 minutes at 100C (225F) or alternatively prepare a water bath and jars if you intend to can your jelly. Stir over a low heat to dissolve the sugar, then turn up the heat and bring to a rolling boil, maintaining until setting point is reached (this took me 20 minutes). To test for this, a blob of syrup on a cold plate will form a skin that wrinkles as you draw your finger across the surface. Remove the vanilla pod then pour into hot jars and seal. Alternatively hot water process for 10 minutes. Refer to previous posts and link for more canning information if you are new to this. Leave till completely cold and set then remember to label.
The crab apple and sloe images are from a set of 50 cards of flowering trees and shrubs produced and given away with Will’s cigarettes in 1924.
Finally, a book recommendation: a recent find and now a favourite, Fruits of the Hedgerow and Unusual Garden Fruits by Charlotte Popescu (published 2005, Cavalier Paperbacks) is a really useful and charming book that I have spent many hours reading through for inspiration and it’s a snip on Amazon.
BLACK CHILLI JAM - WHOAH!
Sunday October 17th 2010, 9:58 am
Month ten Tigress’s can jam canning challenge and for October the ingredient chosen by Kaela at Local Kitchen is chili peppers and all things capsicum. I admit, when the October ingredient was revealed, I wasn’t a gal who could tell a jalepeno from a habanero, but another month, another brilliant opportunity to explore and find out what chillis are all about and to recognise what’s hot and what’s not. As luck will have it, I didn’t have to go very far from home to do my research as growing chillis and peppers seems to be a very popular thing these days, so several friends right on my doorstep have provided the raw materials. With a greenhouse or polytunnel at your disposal, capsicums are a seemingly easy crop to cultivate. You can also grow chillis as potted plants on a windowsill.
As is always the way each month, I read every recipe I could find for inspiration. With its orangy-red transparency flecked through with tiny pieces of red pepper, chilli jam holds a dazzling attraction for me, but as Morgy, next door, had given me a big bowl full of black grapes, from the vine that scrambles over the front of his rustic shed abode, I decided to use them to form the main carrying jelly for my hotter ingredients. If you haven’t got a supply of fresh grapes you could extract the juice from apples instead or I imagine that bought grape juice would work too.
The other main ingredients came for free as well; sweet red peppers plus a purple one from my friend Shelley’s greenhouse, cayenne chilli peppers grown in the Taurus market garden. Cayenne peppers are only moderately hot, you could tell this as some little creature had been eating them in the greenhouse, chewing away at the stem end and leaving the pointy ends intact. I guess this to be a mouse called Miguel, wearing a sombrero and playing maracas. It goes to show that one end of the chilli is hotter than the other and that mice round here are made of stern stuff.
So, after extracting the black juice from the grapes this jam was starting to take a different course from the norm. I remember ‘experiencing’ a sculpture once at Tate Modern by Anish Kapoor. It wasn’t a particularly amazing looking piece, just a box painted black and slightly taller than a person. As you stepped up to a line drawn on the floor and looked within, it suddenly felt as if you were about to fall into a void or abyss and the feeling was so strong and unexpected that it made you recoil and say ‘whoah’ out loud. Anyway, that’s what this chilli jam is like, a sticky homage to that Anish Kapoor work, a jam so black when you peer into its dense glossy richness you have to hang on in case you fall through into an alternative jammy universe.
It’s not so hot it blows your socks off, but you can add more heat if you know that’s what you want. I’ve been eating it on bread with cream cheese and it’s really good. I knew immediately that it would be ideal for adding to meat stock to make a fruity gravy with a chilli kick. This is a strange instinctive feeling to have as a non meat eater of many years standing, so I have given jars away to a couple of carnivore friends to try. I’ve already had a request for 6 more jars
BLACK GRAPE CHILLI JAM
Makes approx 6 250g (1/4 pint) jars
2Kg (4.4 lbs) black grapes, whole with stems removed
350ml (1 1/2 cups) white wine vinegar
juice of 1 lemon (50ml / 1/4 cup)
1 clove of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
300g (0.6 lbs) (approx 5) sweet red peppers, de-seeded and roughly chopped
100g (0.2 lbs) (approx 5) cayenne chilli peppers, de-seeded and roughly chopped
1 tsp salt
1Kg ( 2.2 lbs) sugar
1/4-1/2 tsp of dried chilli flakes
Place the grapes in a pan and heat gently till the juice begins to flow. Once there is plenty of juice surrounding the fruit simmer for 20 minutes, stirring from time to time to make sure it doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan and squashing the fruit with the back of the spoon. Pour the grapes into a jelly bag suspended over a bowl and collect the juice that drips through, leaving it to drip overnight. The next day measure the juice collected. (You can also put the pulp that remains in the jelly bag through a food mill and use the de-seeded grape flesh you collect to add to another preserve.) I collected 700ml (3 cups) of juice but if your amount is different to this adjust the other ingredients accordingly.
Prepare the water bath, jars and seals ready for canning. For more info about how to hot water process, refer to the guide here. Put the peppers, chillis and garlic clove in a food processor with half of the vinegar and blitz it thoroughly to a smooth sauce consistency. Pour into a preserving pan along with the grape juice, lemon juice, salt, remaining vinegar and chilli flakes. (Another way to adjust the heat would be to include some of the fresh seeds from the chilli peppers instead of using dried flakes.) Bring to a simmer and cook through for 10 minutes then remove from the heat to cool slightly.
Add the sugar and stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is completely dissolved, then up the heat and bring to a rolling boil until it reaches setting point and a small dollop on a cold plate quickly forms a skin when you push your finger over the surface (it took me about 20 minutes). Turn off the heat and leave for 10 minutes, then stir to distribute the chilli peppers evenly through the jam. Pour into hot sterilised jars, seal and process for 10 minutes. Remove from the water bath and leave till completely cold before testing the seals and labelling.
As this is a jam with good acidity and sugar levels, it should keep well without processing so long as you follow the usual guidelines regarding care taken sterilising jars. If you do can it you are making doubly certain that your jam will be preserved safely for a year or even longer.
A FRUIT CHEESE ON THE WILD SIDE
Thursday October 14th 2010, 11:59 pm
On many afternoons recently, I’ve taken an hour or so out, to go for a walk foraging for ingredients. Some days this gives me a headache, as foraging can be a very intense activity and the level of ‘looking’ becomes a bit over the top. It is a brilliant way of discovering things though, when you look that hard you see things you would otherwise miss and find things you didn’t know where there. Foraging is not without its dangers however. I am forever getting my hair tangled in trees, ripping my legs through brambles and wacking my head on low branches when intently focused on something just out of arms reach. It is just too tantalising to go away from the path when you think there might be something to be found ‘off piste’. The other day I came across some windfall wild crab apples that required that I crouch down and crawl on all fours under low lying branches to gather them up to take home. Going forward wasn’t such a problem but backing out with my basket full and a camera round my neck wasn’t quite so easy.
A couple of weeks earlier I’d been to harvest wild damsons, from a place in the forest I’d found the year before so I already had plenty of damsons at home waiting for the jam kettle. One by one, as you clock another crop, you are able to add them to your own personal ordinance survey map of fruits and berries.
I love damsons anyway and the idea of mixing them with the crab apples, both wild fruits together, harvested on my doorstep, seemed a perfect pairing. Damsons can be quite a pain to stone and wild damsons being smaller means there’s even more stones to contend with. Making a fruit cheese is the perfect solution, as both fruits can be cooked with very little in the way of preparation and then be forced through a food mill to leave just the fruit puree and dispense with peel and pips, cores and stones. Though it does require considerable patience I like using a food mill, but last year I found a vintage attachment for my Kenwood Chef on eBay that does the same thing, so now I’m all automated.
Membrillo, made from quince, is probably the most popular fruit cheese, served with the cheese board at the end of a meal, but damsons and crab apples have a particularly appealing Englishness about them. Fruit cheeses are cooked down until they are really thick and will set solid as they cool. This means they can be turned out and served in slices as opposed to dolloped from a spoon. They need to be contained in jars or pots with slightly sloping sides that are wider at the top so they turn out easily. There are small glass jam jars around made for this purpose but I’m really lucky that Martin, in the pottery at Taurus Crafts made me some special hand-thrown stoneware jam pots, inspired by some vintage French ones I own. It is advised that in order to make it easy to turn out the cheese, you lightly oil the ‘moulds’ using ground nut oil or some glycerine if you just happen to have some handy.
CRAB APPLE AND WILD DAMSON CHEESE
Rinse and drain the crab apples. Chop them roughly and place in a pan. Add enough water to just cover the fruit, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes, till cooked through. Remove from the heat, leave to cool then push through a fine seive or food mill over a bowl to remove the skins, cores and pips and leave a smooth puree.
Rinse and drain the damsons, place in a pan and add just enough water to barely cover the fruit. Bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes, till cooked through and the fruit has burst. Remove from the heat, leave to cool, then push through a sieve or process with a food mill to remove the skins and stones and leave a smooth damson puree.
I combined 800g (1.75lbs) damson puree with 400g (14oz) apple puree, so two thirds damsons to one third apple, but you can change the ratio to suit yourself and the quantities you have available. To every 600g (1.3lbs) fruit add 450g (1lb) sugar. Place the fruit and sugar in a pan and stir over a low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Turn up the heat and bring to the boil then simmer, stirring from time to time to be sure it doesn’t catch and burn on the bottom of the pan. Continue to cook until the mixture thickens considerably and when you pull the spoon across the centre it draws a line. This may take and hour or even longer to achieve and it is best to be patient and keep the heat really low under the pan. Pour the mixture into hot sterilised jars that are lightly oiled, cover with greaseproof waxed circles and seal. Leave till set and cold.
FORAGING FOR ROSE HIPS
Tuesday October 12th 2010, 12:32 am
This is such a great time of year to go out foraging. I’m getting so used to collecting my ingredients for free, I can hardly imagine buying any from now on. As well as berries and fruits gathered from the hedgerows when out walking, the house is full of an abundance of other free stuff people have given me that requires attention; apples, pears, grapes, green tomatoes, cucumbers, quinces, all set to become jams, pickles, jellies and fruit butters. It is sometimes quite a facing to deal with it all but the opportunity to stock the pantry is just to good to pass up, so I feel compelled to endeavour to work my way through all these luscious ingredients before they disappear for another year.
It is amazing how much produce is out there going begging and often people with a plentiful supply of fruit have neither the time or inclination to do anything with it so are all too happy to give it away to someone who will make use of it. The more you let it be known that you are there to take these ingredients off others hands, the more stuff seems to turn up. Hence my kitchen smells of apples and quinces and I don’t have an empty basket or colander in the place.
Cordials and syrups are perfect comestibles to make yourself and this is when canning makes such sense. Whilst jams and pickles often have enough acidity, sugar and cooking time to ensure they’ve a good chance of staying safe enough to eat for months on end without water processing them (at least by European standards anyway), cordials must be either frozen or canned to help them keep for longer than a few weeks in the fridge. Smart delis and farm shops sell all sorts of cordials but they are really easy to make yourself. It is the pasturisation part that is the big mystery for most people.
Rosehip syrup is an old traditional recipe, known for being high in vitamin C, so therefore particularly good for you. It does of course contain sugar and is cooked for a while which must surely reduce the amount of vitamin C, but hey, it tastes really good. According to Wild Food by Roger Phillips, rose hips contain four times as much vitamin C as blackcurrant juice and twenty times as much as oranges, so even with a reduction from processing they appear to be stuffed full of goodness. It isn’t always so easy to find a plentiful supply of rosehips all in one go, in which case gather them whenever you see them and keep them in a container in the freezer until you have accrued enough. It is said that rosehips are best after a frost anyway but I find they’ve usually gone over by then so best not take the chance and miss them altogether. Making them into cordial thankfully helps avoid the fiddly and arduous job of removing the seeds from each hip, one by one, as they all come out in the jelly bag. The seeds are what impish schoolboys once used as itching powder in the good old days. I wouldn’t want them down the back of my liberty bodice.
HOW TO MAKE ROSEHIP SYRUP
Makes 1.5ltrs ( 2 1/2 pints)
1Kg (2 lbs) rosehips
2.5ltrs (4 1/2pts) water
450g (1lb) sugar
Wash and drain the rosehips and remove stems and stalks with scissors. Blitz them in a food processor, or put through a mincer, to help smash them up. Put half the water in a pan and bring to the boil, then add the rosehips bring back to the boil and remove from the heat. Leave to macerate for 20 minutes.
Pour into a jelly bag suspended over a bowl to collect the drips and leave for an hour or so. Boil the remaining water and add the pulp from the jelly bag, bringing back to the boil and removing from the heat exactly as before. Leave to macerate for 20 minutes then pour into the jelly bag, collecting the liquid that drains through and adding it to the first amount collected.
Prepare the water bath, jars and seals or bottles ready for canning. For more info about how to hot water process, refer to the guide here.
Pour the combined juice into a pan and boil it until reduced to approximately 900ml (1 1/2 pints). Add the sugar and stir over a low heat until dissolved. Turn up the heat and boil for 5 minutes. Pour into sterilised bottles, seal and process for 5 minutes. Leave till cold before testing the seals, label and store.