CANNING FOR BEGINNERS WORKSHOP AND MEAL
Tuesday February 26th 2013, 5:12 pm
Our London canning event is now just days away. There are a few tickets still remaining so you still have the opportunity to learn about canning and bottling, how to stock your own pantry and then make fabulous meals inspired by your glorious comestibles.
To book your ticket, follow the link here. I will be bringing along an assortment of my own preserves, pickles and relishes so we can enjoy matching flavours and coming up with the perfect combinations. Kerstin and I will be preparing a banquet from jars. I would love you to be as inspired by food in jars as I am.
More information about canning and the event in my last blog post here.
Just Mad About Canning
Wednesday February 13th 2013, 10:38 pm
I’ve been a keen jam maker for donkeys years. Since I was 20, it’s been rare that a summer has passed by without a batch of strawberry or damson jam reaching setting point in my little kitchen. I love the tradition and never tire of celebrating the berry season each year. A few years ago I started **canning and learnt of a life beyond … jam.
Jam is lovely, and all that, and I’m still jam making with avengeance, but once you know how to can or bottle stuff in jars, it opens up another preserving dimension altogether. I now ‘put up’ all kinds of compotes, purees, pie fillings, cordials, syrups and ketchups. Sometimes I preserve fruit without any added sugar at all so my beautiful jarred comestibles become potential ingredients ready to turn into dishes, desserts and baked goods later down the line. More recently I’ve begun pressure canning vegetable soup and pulses made with homegrown vegetables from the plot.
**Canning or bottling enables produce in jars to be processed in such a way that the contents will become sterilised and so keep for a year or more safely unopened. The process involves immersing the filled jars in a boiling water bath or heating them under pressure using a special pressure canner. The correct technique called for depends on the acidity or alkalinity of the ingredients.
At first my ambition was to fill the shelves. A well stocked pantry or store cupboard is a thing of beauty with a real feelgood factor and the added advantage a ready supply of comestibles means you wont starve. So I filled the shelves with colourful and flavour-filled jars in tidy ordered rows till there was hardly room to fit more, all very satisfying. Then I realised the turnaround, opening jars and using up the contents, was the next vital part of the job. The scraping sound as the spoon scoops the last morsels from the sides of the jar has become music to my ears. Oh yes, an empty jar offers another opportunity, to be refilled with something even more delicious. And so the cycle continues. I’m on a voyage of discovery to find the preserves I adore and can’t get enough of. I don’t want anything nondescript taking up valuable shelf space in my house.
Learning how to can or bottle produce has totally changed my approach to how I source ingredients, store food and cook it. Making use of mainly homegrown or locally grown produce means naturally following the seasons and going with the flow. I feel it allows me to appreciate more living in the moment. I just love that.
Bottling fruit was once a common activity in the UK, especially during wartimes until freezing food became the easier option. Once every household had a freezer, bottling was seen as to much of a faff, all but one of the companies in the UK making the necessary equipment died a death and only a handful of diehard allotmenteers and make do and menders managed to keep the craft alive. I too own a freezer and it is filled to busting with stuff I generally forget about. I have realised that if I freeze some homegrown veg, all the while it languishes in the freezer it is clocking up additional cost. It is an expense most of us are quite prepared to accept, but with utility bills rapidly on the rise, these considerations become more relevant. Those bargain beans will have cost a fair bit more by the time I use them, that’s if I remember to use them at all of course. Alternatively, the joy of jars on shelves means once bottled the food doesn’t cost a penny more or require defrosting either. Pop open the jar and it’s ready to go. It is surely time to revive this culinary craft and give a big tick for sustainability.
But apart from all the practical reasons to love canning, the flavours are the biggest plus. I was brought up to think that preserved foods were second rate and nowhere near as tasty as fresh. What I have experienced first hand confounds these ideas. By following correct practice and keeping cooking times safe but to a minimum, you can capture the most intense and delicious flavours in a jar, capture the absolute essence of those ingredients.
These Are few of My Favourite Things :
With months of rain over the summer, 2012 was a difficult one for growing fruit and veg here in the UK. For a couple of weeks in July a freak strawberry glut meant strawberries were on sale at a bargain price, juicy, flavourful local strawberries. I bought loads and bottled them. They have been my favourite and most useful preserve of the year and they’ve been eaten with yogurt, rice pudding, cake … just about anything. Now down to my last couple of jars and hoping such good fortune is to be found this summer for a repeat performance. Canning means you can make the most of bargain-priced ingredients when they come your way.
I gave my recipe for rhubarb ketchup a couple of years ago and it has been a big hit with everyone who has tried it. I like to add it to my vegetarian cottage pie. I grow rhubarb anyway, so is generally in plentiful supply and I try to make enough ketchup to see me through the year. This is a good one for people with savoury tastes too.
Quince Blood Orange Cordial
Stocking up with cordials is when canning makes such sense. You can make combinations you will never see for sale anywhere and quince blood orange and coriander definitely fits that category. (For this fabulous recipe see my top-notch canning chum Shae’s blog - Hitchhiking to Heaven) Can be given added sparkle or served flat, scope is endless for a non-alcoholic tipple or as part of more potent cocktails.
Straight Bottled Morellos
Though the canning cycle naturally runs over 12 months, some people like to stock up for longer in case next year their tomato crop is destroyed by blight or unpredictable spring weather ruins the quince harvest that should rightfully follow. Most produce if bottled and stored correctly will stay good for a year or two. I’ve got a couple of jars of morello cherries bottled in 2011, still delicious and destined to become clafoutis. Fingers crossed the local cherry harvest is bountiful this summer so I can stock up again.
* I CAN SHOW YOU HOW TO CAN *
It is always so much easier to have someone who knows what they are doing to show you the ropes. Kerstin Rodgers (aka Ms Marmite Lover) has invited me to run a special canning class on 3rd March 2013 starting at 2pm, as part of The Secret Garden Club at her The Underground Restaurant, in North London, followed by a special supper focusing on food from jars.
At Canning for Beginners, you will learn all you need to know to get started; Which ingredients call for what approach, a basic sequence to follow every time you prepare your jars, how to water process high acid ingredients and a brief introduction to pressure canning for low acid ingredients and what you need to consider to keep your canning safe.
We will cover the best jars to use, how they work and what tools and equipment you will need and I will be advising on the best sources for specialist bits and pieces that are harder to find.
After bottling some fruit compote to take home, there will be a meal based around preserved ingredients.
JAR MEAL (PROVISIONAL) MENU
Be prepared to be surprised by just how wonderful the flavours of preserved foods can be.
Soup in a jar
Selection of Cheeses and individual hand pies with an abundance of pickles and relishes to go with and sample. The pickles and relishes to include jarred garlic scapes, black grape chilli jam, pickled golden beetroot with onion, rhubarb ketchup, pickled greengages, etc.
Little Cardamon or almond puddings baked in vintage French jars served with pear vanilla compote or roasted rhubarb and clotted cream.
Damson mincemeat and Bramley apple jalousie served with ginger syrup cream.
You will leave with a goody bag to take home containing a preserving jar, a pair of jar lifters and a list of useful resources as well as my suggested reading list so you feel ready to go off and stock your own pantry with wonderful things.
The event is by ticket only and there are limited places available. To reserve you place book here.
FORAGING FOR BLACKBERRIES
Tuesday October 02nd 2012, 12:39 pm
For the last few years, the apple harvest in my area has been abundant and neighbours growing orchard fruits have been hard pressed to give away their surplus crops. Boxes and bags filled with bramleys and Blenheim orange apples, stacked up by garden gates with hand-written ‘apples for free’ signs are not an uncommon sight September- October time, and as an obsessive preserver I’ve been ready and waiting to take full advantage. But after this year’s early burst of spring followed by what seemed like months of summer rain, the 2012 harvest is set to be on a much more modest scale.
Apple and pear trees usually heaving are either bare or noticeably sparse. One neighbour, with her own orchard, told me, the bees just weren’t around at the right moment to pollinate the blossom. Thankfully there is always some crop or other that has benefited from another’s struggles and this year the blackberries in the hedgerows seem plumper and more plentiful than I’ve ever seen them before. The early foraged blackberries, usually containing more pectin, make the best jam with good setting power, whilst the later ones are more useful for cordials and chutneys. By mixing them with some of the few apples around, I’ve managed to eek out the best of both worlds. The two wild apple trees near to home still carry a few fruits that need using up.
Blackberry and apple jam is a classic that works equally brilliantly for breakfast, spooned onto scones or, as the purists serving suggestion, on bread and butter. I prefer to leave the blackberries whole and love their texture, but you can put the fruit through a food mill or sieve to make a smoother seedless jam more to your liking. I acquired a rose attar scented pelargonium earlier in the year to pair with blackcurrants, so here’s another opportunity to break off a few leaves and add them to the pot. It just adds the extra element required to make this simplest of jams into something exceptional.
BLACKBERRY, APPLE, ROSE GERANIUM JAM
Makes approx. 1.2Kg (2 1/2 lbs) of jam
500g (1 lb) tart apples, bramleys or wild apples will do fine, peeled cored and roughly chopped
300ml (10 fl oz) water or apple juice
500g (1 lb) blackberries
juice of 1 lemon
750g (1 3/4 lbs)sugar
4 – 6 rose rose attar geranium leaves (optional)
Cook the apples with the water or apple juice until the fruit begins to break up and becomes soft. Add the blackberries and lemon juice and simmer for a further 10-15 minutes. If you prefer a seedless jam, allow the fruit to cool then run it through a food mill or push through a sieve and continue with pureed fruit.
Add the geranium leaves tied together in a bundle and the sugar to the fruit and stir over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved, bring to a simmer then remove from the heat and leave for the flavours to macerate for several hours or overnight.
If you plan to can (water process) your jam, prepare the water bath and jars and place jar seals in a pan of hot water on the hob. Using a preserving pan, bring everything to a rolling boil and maintain the heat until it reaches setting point and a blob of syrup readily forms a skin as it cools on a cold plate. It only took me 5 minutes to reach a set with my jam. Fish out the geranium leaves and discard them. Pour the jam into hot sterilised jars and seal. If you are canning your jam, process for 5 minutes then remove from the canner.
SUMMER THROUGH ROSE TINTED SPECTACLES
Tuesday July 10th 2012, 6:37 pm
For anyone reading this in sunnier climes, in the UK it has rained and rained and rained. Other countries have their rainy seasons but our monsoon season always comes as a complete surprise. Even the most determined gardeners have had their endeavours thwarted by perpetual rain. Food producers have lost their crops on flooded land. God forbid, we’re all set for a scarcity of potato crisps in the months ahead! Whatever happens, food is bound to cost us more.
I’d been waiting for a dry sunny day to go and harvest the fruit on my allotment. Despite my lack of horticultural effort this year, I have been rewarded with a fair amount of produce. The berries would no doubt have benefited from a bit more sun, or any sun, but a few days ago I was still able to pick strawberries, raspberries, white, pink, red and black currants, gooseberries and even a handful of alpine strawberries. The currants were tedious to pick and the red ones turned mouldy in an instant, before I had time to get them in the pan. So sad as they are such a glorious fruit. There are still more white currants to harvest as patience got the better of me after stripping 5 bushes. This is my first year of any kind of crop as the bushes were planted just a few years ago.
The pink currants are particularly beautiful and as this is my first opportunity to preserve them I was curious to see whether their marvellous colour would follow through in a jam. They are a variety called Gloire de Sablon. I made the simplest jam with them, just berries, sugar and water, pushed through a food mill to remove the seeds, but not dripped in a jelly bag which would have given a clearer result. The jam has the look of a jelly but with just a tad more texture, a bright tangy flavour and will be eaten with relish on toast for breakfast. All currants contain plenty of pectin, the stuff you need to help jam set, so achieving a firm set shouldn’t be a problem.
Makes approx 750g (3 x 1/2 pint jars)
550g (1 1/4lbs) pink currants
500g (1lb) sugar
300ml (1/2 pt) water
Place all the ingredients in a pan and bring slowly to a simmer, stirring all the time until the sugar has dissolved. Simmer for 5-10 minutes until the currants are cooked and burst. Take the pan off the heat, pour the contents into a bowl and leave covered overnight.
Next day push the currants and syrup through a sieve or food mill, collecting the juice and puree in a bowl underneath. Prepare your jars by sterilising them and their lids in a warm oven for 15 minutes or alternatively prepare a water bath, preserving jars and seals, if you plan to process (can) your jam.
Place the puree and syrup in a preserving pan, bring to a rolling boil and maintain to setting point, which should only take around 5-10 minutes. Skim to remove any froth from the edges of the pan, then pour into hot jars and seal. Alternatively, pour into hot preserving jars, seal and water process for 5 minutes. Remove from the water bath and leave to cool for 24 hours before testing the seals.
A MARMALADE MAKERS BLUEPRINT
Tuesday March 13th 2012, 11:04 pm
The big citrus preserving fest is just about over now. The Seville oranges have finished for the year and though there is always some citrus fruit available to buy all year round, with a plentiful supply of rhubarb just around the corner, I’ve had quite enough of the colour orange and am ready to don my rose tinted spectacles. Actually I haven’t made too much marmalade this year for one reason or another, but full of the usual good intentions still managed to buy the fruit anyway.
So time to clear the decks. That bowl of kumquats that I searched so earnestly to find, that pomelo that has sat patiently in the kitchen for the last few weeks and the handful of ruby oranges that I had almost forgotten were there, all need using up pronto. And then there are unwaxed lemons, 2 limes with peel starting to yellow and 3 bog-standard oranges that somehow got mixed in with the blood oranges at the fruit and veg shop. Oh, and a few bitter Seville oranges too. So to celebrate the last of the citrus why not use the whole lot in one fell swoop.
In some ways a recipe for this fruit-medley marmalade isn’t necessarily that useful to anyone else as the chances of you having the same mixture of fruits may be unlikely and the idea of going out with a shopping list for this exact combination fruitless. But knowing some basic principles for making marmalade is useful and can encourage everyone to use what they have as well as give you confidence to do your own thing if you fear stepping outside of the box. If that all sounds too much like hard work, by all means follow the recipe to the letter or sample a marmalade made earlier; pink grapefruit, rhubarb and cardamon marmalade or gooseberry and lime marmalade or perhaps lemon, fig and lavender marmalade, which is a good one for making just about any time during the year.
I love marmalade with a tart edge to it rather than being too sweet, so using bitter oranges suits me down to the ground. There is a difference between a bitter marmalade and a BITTER marmalade, the latter caused by the inclusion of the fruit’s pith. An overpowering unpleasant bitterness somehow coats the inside of your mouth and stays with you for ages after you’ve eaten your toast! I also love peel in my marmalade, lots of peel. Without it marmalade would simply be jelly! Hand cutting peel can be a tedious part of the process and it is hard to get a really fine even cut. For me this is all part of the ceremony of marmalade making, though luckily I don’t make huge batches. I do have a special bean shredding attachment for my Kenwood Chef which can do the job neatly, easily and quickly, though rarely use it, but if you intend to make marmalade big time it might be worth finding something similar to streamline the job.
The peel needs to be really well cooked first, seemingly overcooked, as it candies and hardens once it is boiled in the sugar syrup. Jane Hasell-McCosh, who founded and organises the annual Marmalade festival at her home, Dalemain Mansion, Nr Penrith, told me that undercooked peel is the most common reason for entries being marked down. The peel should first be cooked until when pressed between finger and thumb it disintegrates, and that can take between 1-2 hours of slow cooking to achieve. Of course, if you like a chewier texture, cook it for less time but don’t expect any rosettes for your efforts.
Different kinds of citrus fruits contain varying amounts of pectin, the stuff that helps jam to set, so you do need to do whatever you can to make the most of what pectin there is. Tying pips and pith into a bundle with muslin and soaking them with the peel in the water or juice overnight helps to extract the available pectin. I have never found it necessary to add extra pectin to my marmalade.
Use your own combination of citrus fruits. You could include grapefruits, mandarins and sweet oranges as alternatives. Roughly match the total weights shown in the recipe but don’t get too hung up on matching measurements exactly.
MIXED CITRUS MARMALADE
Makes approx 1.25Kg (4 x 1/2 pint jars and a bit)
Fruit with combined weight approx 1240g (2 3/4lbs):
kumquats (325g / 12oz)
1 pomelo (465g / 1lb)
3 Seville oranges (325g / 12oz)
1 lemon (125g / 4 oz)
300ml (1/2 pt) mixed citrus fruit juice (I used blood oranges and limes, close to past their prime but still full of juice)
1.2ltrs (2 1/4 pts) water
approx. 800g (1 3/4lbs) sugar
Wash and scrub all the fruit and drain in a colander. Cut the kumquats lengthways into quarters and remove and collect the pips. Remove the peel from the pomelo, Seville oranges and lemon. Pull away the thick pith from the pomelo and any from the oranges and lemon that comes away easily and discard it, then roughly chop the flesh from the fruits, collecting it together with any juice and the kumquat pips. Finely chop the peel into shreds. This made approximately 360g (12oz) chopped peel and 750g (1 1/2lbs) pips and flesh. Wrap the pips and flesh into a bundle with muslin tied securely with string.
Place the peel, muslin bundle, juice and water in a bowl and leave to soak for 12-24 hours. Put everything from the bowl into a pan with a lid, bring to a simmer and cook gently until the peel is soft, which may take 1 - 2 hours. Remove the muslin bag, collecting any liquid that drips from it. Separate the peel from the juice by pouring through a sieve over a bowl, then measure and weigh them both separately.
At this stage it made 700ml (1 1/4pts) juice and 480g (1lb) cooked peel. To calculate how much sugar I needed I made two calculations; one for the amount of juice and one for the weight of the peel then added them together. I choose a classic sugar to juice ratio as used for making a jelly of 400g (14oz) sugar to every 600ml (1 pint) juice = 460g (1lb), plus 70% sugar to weight of peel = 336g (12oz). 460g (1lb) + 336g (12oz) = 796g Rounded up to 800g (1 3/4lbs).
Prepare clean jars and lids by sterilising them in a low oven, keeping them warm till needed. If you plan to can (water process) your marmalade, prepare the water bath and jars and place jar seals in a pan of hot water on the hob.
Place the peel, juice and sugar in a preserving pan and stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved, then turn up the heat and bring to a rolling boil until the marmalade reaches setting point (a blob of the syrup on a plate quickly forms a skin that wrinkles when you push a finger over it). This took me about 10 minutes to achieve. Skim if necessary and allow the marmalade to cool for 5-10 minutes then stir to distribute the peel. Pour the marmalade into hot jars and seal. If you are canning your jam, process for 5 minutes then remove from the canner. Leave till cold, then test the seals. Don’t forget to label and date your marmalade.
FESTIVE JAM FROM FAR FLUNG PLACES
Monday December 19th 2011, 9:57 am
I prefer to use the ingredients I find on my doorstep, but sometimes occasion decrees it’s time to push the boat out. I’d love to find homegrown cranberries but have never seen them for sale on my travels, though Sainsburys are selling Kent grown cranberries this year, but only available in that area. So for my special Christmas jam, my cranberries are from the US, dried apricots from Turkey and pineapple from Costa Rica. I hope all you locavores will forgive me! For some of you lucky enough, these ingredients will be on your doorstep.
I saw mention of this combination in an old book of mine and thought it worth exploring. In that recipe the pineapple came in a tin and for my first experiment I used a tin of crushed pineapple in natural juice. Having noticed fresh pineapples not much different in price to tinned, I decided to use fresh for my second batch. Both work well with perhaps the fresh having just that added zing you might expect. The final flourish - apricot brandy, just makes this fabulous jam extra special, befitting the season.
The fruits cook down to a ‘feltly’ consistency, which from my experience means you need to watch it doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan and burn. So don’t leave the bubbling jam kettle for even a minute or your jam may be spoilt. My recipe calls for relatively little sugar. This does mean that it is advisable to store the preserve in the fridge or the ideal alternative, do like I do and can it. That way it will store for a year or even longer. Serve on toast, scones or with your celebration meal as a relish. I’m off to make some more.
CRANBERRY, APRICOT AND PINEAPPLE JAM
Makes 1.3Kg (5 x 1/2pt jars)
1 med size pineapple, approx 1100g (2 1/2lbs) in weight or a 432g (15oz) tin crushed pineapple in juice
150g (5oz) dried apricots
300g (1x 12oz pack) fresh cranberries, rinsed and drained
450g (1lb) sugar
apricot brandy (optional)
Prepare the pineapple; slice off the top and base and pare away the skin. Chop down through the centre lengthways and cut into 4, then remove the woody core. Slice the flesh into chunks then pulse in a food processor to give a fine texture. Pour into a sieve over a bowl and collect the juice that drips through. With my 1100g pineapple, this gave me 280g (10oz) pulp and 200ml (7 fl oz) of juice. (You don’t need to be spot on here just aim for approximately that amount.) Chop the apricots into small even pieces and place in a bowl with 200ml (7 fl oz) of boiling water plus the pineapple juice and leave to soak for several hours or overnight.
If you plan to can (water process) your jam, prepare the water bath and jars and place jar seals in a pan of hot water on the hob. Alternatively, prepare clean jars by sterilising them in a low oven, keeping them warm till needed. Place the cranberries, apricots, crushed pineapple and soaking juices in a preserving pan. Add another 200ml (7 fl oz) water and cook gently for approximately 20 minutes, until the cranberries have started to pop and the mixture combines and takes on a ruby glow. Remove from heat for 5 minutes then add the sugar. Stir over a gentle heat until completely dissolved, then up the heat and bring to a rolling boil, taking great care that it doesn’t burn. It only takes 5-10 minutes before you can see the texture is thickened and a small blob on a cold plate will hold its shape. Turn off the heat. Leave for 5 minutes then stir in 3-5 Tbsp apricot brandy.
Pour into prepared hot jars leaving 0.5cm (1/4in) headroom, tap jars on worktop to de-bubble, clean rims and seal, then process for 10 minutes. Remove jars from water bath and leave until completely cold before testing the seals. Alternatively, pot the hot jam into clean hot jars and seal then store in the fridge when cold.
BLAISDON PLUM & LAVENDER JAM
Thursday August 04th 2011, 4:04 pm
Just drove up the road to my house and the road side is lined with windfall plums, like a guard of honor greeting me back home. The plum thing round here is just about to kick off and I want to be ready to make the most of this abundant harvest. It’s on the doorstep and comes for free. I have written about Blaisdons, our local plum variety before and last year bottled them, see here . I also bottled squashed plums very simply, stoned and cooked in a light syrup. They were delicious and kept me in dessert for several months with custard, yogurt or cake. I need more of them alright, the larder needs to be well-stocked to take me through the winter.
So to ease my way into the season I thought I’d start with a jam. I generally find plum jam quite uninspiring and one dimensional, so this jam called for the addition of careful thought to really make it sing. As I said on Facebook yesterday, good jam does not come from throwing everything in a pan and boiling like billio. That’s just stewing fruit and you end up with jars of sweet pink mush that somehow remain in the larder for years and that you are unable to ever get rid of. I want to make jam that is so fantastic that you quickly run out and vow you’ll make more next year. I like to macerate the fruit to draw out the juice and the fresh flavours and this method suits my way of life really well. It means you can begin to process your newly picked fruit at it’s freshest without having to get the jars and all the other paraphernalia ready. It gives you a day or two’s grace to get your head round the task in hand. You do need lots of bowls and in my kitchen and sitting room table-top space is often at a premium as bowls of fruit covered with cling film wait their turn, all topped and labeled with post it notes.
I mentioned in my last post that using lavender as a flavouring requires a light touch. It needs to be just present so it’s hard to put your finger on just what the flavouring is, to really work. This jam is delicious and is a brilliant colour too. The cooking time is kept to a minimum without too much sugar, so the plums have a tart edge to them, which any good jam should have in my opinion. I used lavender recently harvested from the garden, so though dry is also very fresh. Blaisdon plums are a cling-stone plum, so you either remove the stones after cooking them, filching them out one by one, or you cut the flesh from the stone. Some of my plums were windfalls so I needed to cut off any bruised and manky bits, so the second method, though time consuming, worked well in this instance. I have no doubt that as the season progresses, stone filching will become tedious. Right now I’m just loving the thrill of anticipation. Blaisdons - bring them on!
BLAISDON PLUM & LAVENDER JAM
Makes 1.125 kg (2lbs 4oz)
1.2Kg ( 2lb 8oz) plums or 1kg (2lb 4oz) when stoned
750g ( 1lb 12oz) sugar
juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp dried lavender
Chop the plums into quarters and remove the stones. Place the fruit in a bowl layered with the sugar, add the lemon juice and push the lavender, tied in a piece of muslin, down into the fruit. Cover and leave overnight to macerate.
Next day, pour the contents of the bowl into a pan and heat it through stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Bring to a simmer then remove from the heat, pour back into the bowl, push a piece of greaseproof paper down onto the surface of the bowl’s contents, then cover and leave to macerate for anything between 3 - 24 hours, whatever fits into your schedule.
If you plan to can or water process your jam, prepare your jars and seals, otherwise make sure your jam jars and lids are clean and hot by placing them in a warm oven for 20 minutes. Remove the lavender bundle, then with a slotted spoon remove the plum pieces from the syrup. There is no need to be too painstaking about this, it just means that your finished jam will have some nice chunks of plum flesh instead of it all being cooked into an homogenised mass!
Place the remaining syrup in a preserving pan, heat to boiling then maintain at a rolling boil until it reaches setting point. This took me about 10 minutes to achieve. Add the plum pieces and bring back to the boil and check for setting point again. Pour the jam into hot jars and seal. If you are canning your jam, process for 10 minutes then remove from the canner. Leave till cold, then test the seals. Label and date your jam.
SHOW ME THE WAY TO A MORELLO
Thursday July 28th 2011, 12:43 am
It is cherry time again and the pitter is at the ready. Last year it was put to good use as I removed the stones from an abundance of fruit going well into the night. This year I’m unlikely to be so lucky … or unlucky depending how you look at it. The cherry harvest is nowhere near as lush as it was in 2010, but that’s OK. I like my canning years to have distinctive differences, so each year I have new ingredients to find and explore.
I’ve still got some jars of canned morello cherries in the larder as so many were put away last summer and the joy of canning means you can store enough to see you through more than one season, if you do it right. Morellos are a sour cherry, for culinary use only, that I have never found for sale. The ones I preserved in a light syrup were, on first tasting, fairly undistinguished and plain - no big deal. That is until you add a splash of kirsch and pour on some cream, and then they become something totally exquisite. I have served them that simply on many occasions since last summer and opened a jar to make the filling of a black forest brownie cake more than once. So this year my cherry canning is set to be on a modest scale.
Cherry clafoutis is another traditional pudding that uses sour cherries and works well with fresh or bottled fruit. This isn’t time to skimp on filling - it should be well packed with fruit with all the gaps adjoining melded with custardy batter. There is some debate as to whether you should leave the stones in the fruit or remove them. As the stones imbue a slight almondy flavour to the pudding, many people say they are essential. I prefer to serve and eat food without the hassle of filching out stones as I go, so add a splash of amaretto or kirsch to complete the flavours. A clafoutis is so easy to make and needs to be eaten whilst still warm from the oven, though having said that, I have eaten leftovers for breakfast the next day, and very nice it was too. Any syrup remaining can be drunk like cordial with sparkling water added.
Serves 6 (generously)
100g (1/2 cup) caster sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
40g (1/3rd cup) plain flour
200ml (1 cup) milk
450g (16oz) fresh cherries, pitted or whole
(or 400g (14oz) if using bottled/canned , well drained)
kirsch or amaretto
some icing sugar (optional)
Butter a 25cm diameter earthenware or enamel dish. Pre-heat the oven to 200C (400F, Mk 6).
If you are using a mixer, just throw the first 6 ingredients together and beat together to form a smooth batter. Working by hand, whisk eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt together, then add the flour followed by the milk to make a smooth batter.
Pour half into the prepared dish, spread the cherries over the batter and splash with a few teaspoonfuls of your chosen liqueur. Pour the rest of the batter over the fruit. Bake for 40-45 minutes until the top is lightly golden and the custard centre is beginning to set. Leave to cool for a while so the custard sets further. Serve warm dredged with icing sugar and another drizzle of liqueur if you like.
SUNSHINE AND SUMMER BERRIES
Wednesday June 08th 2011, 7:30 pm
I’m so glad I made a concerted effort to get the preserving garden allotment sorted out earlier in the season. I’ve been distracted for the last few weeks so the plot has been neglected and there’s now much weeding to be done to make it all neat and tidy again. But sometimes a break is necessary if only to accept that to some degree, what will be will be. Now comes the payoff. The berries are ripening and my longed for supply of strawberries has become a reality.
The other day I picked my first substantial batch and there should be several more punnets full to come in the next few weeks. The bulk of my plants are Cambridge Favourite, which I chose as a classic jam making variety. Planted autumn 2009, there was no fruit to speak of last year and the plants sent out lots of runners, some of which I encouraged to root and establish. The plan was that this year would be the first season to expect any fruit and I’m not disappointed.
The rule of strawberry picking is to chose a warm dry day for it and, of course, to eat as many berries, warmed by the sun, as you can, right there and then. These berries are just so sweet and packed with flavour. When picked that warmth quickly ‘cooks’ them and they lose their polished look in moments once they are detached from the plant, so you need to get them cooled fast. Even after my seasonal binge there were still 3 kilos of fruit to take home to preserve.
I plan to make jam with subsequent pickings but for this first load I wanted to can compote and syrup, using my harvest as fresh as possible to capture this exceptional flavour. Strawberries aren’t highly rated for bottling as they overcook fast but making compotes to eat out of season to serve with yogurt or vanilla cheesecake or a simple sponge cake with cream …. well, that does it for me. This is were canning makes such sense. Jam is usually overladen with sugar and jam makers often complain that they have far too much of it to consume, but compote can contain much less sugar, so the flavour of the fruit shines through and by water processing it, you can then stock the pantry with jars that will keep throughout the year ahead.
With canning generally, it is important to use jars that are a size that suits how many people you feed. I like to use smallish jars so once opened I know none will go to waste. My next door neighbours brought me these Le Parfait Familia Wiss 350ml jars back from France recently so they looked to be just perfect for the job. I canned the left-over syrup in a 250ml sized Weck flask and there is another half flask, in the fridge for using up now.
The berries need to be macerated with sugar overnight so their lovely juice is drawn out, turning the sugar to syrup at the same time. I wasn’t sure how much syrup the berries would produce but there was enough left over to bottle on its own. This syrup is just fab stirred through Greek yogurt and I’ll be churning some vanilla ice cream soon to make another perfect partnership. The compote will go with just about anything.
STRAIGHT-LACED STRAWBERRY COMPOTE
Makes 6 x 350ml (7 x 1/2 pint) jars compote, plus approx 375ml (3/4 pt) strawberry syrup
3Kg (6 1/2lbs) strawberries
350g (12oz) sugar (adjust to your taste)
2 vanilla pods
1Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Rinse and drain the fruit if you must! As I knew exactly where my fruit came from and that it had been mulched with straw to keep the berries clean and off the soil, I didn’t wash the fruit … so you choose! Remove the stalks and halve the largest berries then place in a large glass or ceramic bowl, sprinkling the sugar in layers between the fruit as you go. Split the vanilla pods and scrape out the sticky seeds then bury the pods and stir the seeds in amongst the berries. Cover the bowl with cling film or a plate and leave in a cool place or the fridge overnight.
Prepare the water bath, jars and lids for canning*. Pour the fruit, sugar, vanilla and any juice into a preserving pan. Warm it through stirring until all the sugar is dissolved. Add the balsamic vinegar then bring all to a simmer and cook through for 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or sieve remove the berries and vanilla pods from the syrup into a warm bowl. This way the softened berries will still be surrounded by syrup. (Some fruit pulp will remain in the syrup. If you want to make a smoother syrup from your left-overs then pass it through a sieve.) Cut each vanilla pod into 3 then using a jam funnel, pack the strawberries into the jars, to come just below the headroom line for the type of jars you are using. Push a piece of vanilla pod down the side of each jar so it shows against the glass. Top up with hot syrup from the pan if necessary, so the berries are submerged.
De-bubble the fruit around the sides of the jar using a narrow spatula or chop stick to release any trapped air bubbles, wipe the jar rims clean and seal. Water process for 10 minutes then remove from the water bath and leave till cold. Check the seals and label your jars ready to store. If any of your seals fail, use the compote as if fresh*.
For the remaining syrup in the pan, bring to a brisk boil for 5 minutes till the syrup is slightly thickened or to your liking. Pour into hot jars to the headroom line appropriate for your type of jar (Weck flasks can be filled almost to the top), tap the jar on the counter to release any trapped air bubbles, wipe rims and seal. Process for 10 minutes then remove from water bath and leave till cold before testing seals are fixed.
*If you don’t intend to water process the compote and syrup it should keep, if refrigerated, for about a week.
Monday May 09th 2011, 9:18 am
The asparagus season is in full swing. 14 of the 15 crowns planted in my newly prepared asparagus bed have started to appear, sending up very fine spears that then become frothy graceful ferns. They must be left alone for the time being to build up energy and form good sound crowns for the years ahead and I must be patient. I’m hoping the 15th crown is OK and wonder if I could have planted it upside down, and if I did, will it find its way right way up in time?
The other day I came across some bargain priced asparagus at the supermarket that had reached its sell by date, so was going cheap, half price in fact. Recognising a bargain when I see one, I bought up the lot so I could do some pickling. Since the Canjam last year, when other canners participating produced pickled asparagus, I’ve been wanting to experience this preserve first hand, but with this prized vegetable never exactly in abundant supply and always required for immediate scoffing, I couldn’t envisage when the opportunity to pickle some would arise. So watch what you wish for, here was my golden opportunity and I grabbed it with both hands.
I am now the proud owner of 5 x 500ml (1 pint) jars of pickled asparagus. I canned 3 to start with then had the idea to add the last of some wild garlic flowers, picked that day, so canned a couple more jars. I have no intention of sampling these pickles until the memory of the fresh English stuff is a distant memory, as this is not intended as a replacement for what is available in season right this minute. Some pickled spears, served with hard-boiled eggs, a handful of salad leaves and a wedge of homemade bread and butter will be a simple lunch to look forward too in 6 months time.
Fitting the spears into the jars is a wasteful business as they do need to be trimmed especially short to fit. I made asparagus soup with the stem cut-offs, so none went to waste, but shorter dumpier spears to start with makes the task less painful. There is no way I would have wanted to do this if I’d paid top wack for my ingredients.
I used 2 x 200g bundles of fresh asparagus spears to fill each 500ml (1 pint) jar, but it will depend how long the stems are and how much stem you’ll need to chop off so they fit into the jars. Allow a few more spears so they can be packed tightly into the jars and cut them so they fit snuggly and sit below the level of vinegar headspace when packed upright in the jars.
For each 500ml (1 pint) jar allow:
400g (1/2 lb) asparagus spears
120ml (1/2 cup) white wine vinegar
120ml (1/2 cup) water
1 tsp dill seed
1/4 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp sea salt
1 small shallot, finely sliced
1/2 clove garlic, sliced
6 fresh wild garlic flowers (optional)
*Prepare the canning bath and keep your empty jars submerged in there until they are needed. Prepare lids in another pan of simmering water. Blanch the asparagus spears fleetingly in boiling water for 60 seconds, then drain them and cool immediately with cold water, so they don’t cook any further. Mix the vinegar and water in a pan and bring to a simmer.
Place the salt and spices in each jar, then pack the asparagus spears upright (or you can do them pointing down if you like!) in the jars, adding the shreds of shallot and garlic, and the wild garlic flowerheads in amongst them as you go. Pour in the vinegar/water to cover the asparagus, leaving the headroom necessary for your type of jar. De-bubble, to release any trapped air pockets surrounding the spears, using a chop stick or thin spatula. Wipe the jar rims clean and seal. Process for 10 minutes, then remove from the canner and leave until cold before testing the seals.
*Once canned like this your pickled asparagus will keep for a year or even longer. Pickling can be done successfully without hot water processing so long as the acidity of the vinegar / water used is high enough. Canning removes the guesswork!