Tuesday May 12th 2015, 12:16 pm

Dutch baby pancake

Keeping chickens does make me appreciate any recipe that includes eggs, and the more the merrier. I especially collect recipes that will help me conquer the mountain of eggs that regularly accumulates in my house and as first impressions are so important, find myself going straight to the egg count when reading a new recipe.

Too many eggs is always a good excuse to make a dutch baby pancake, not that excuses are needed. As well as an over-abundance of eggs, there might be no bread in the house for toast and there are always jars of preserves and compotes need emptying. A dutch baby is perfect for a late breakfast / brunch type of thing at the weekend or great at any time when a pudding is called for. If you have never experienced a dutch baby, it is basically somewhere between a big fluffed up Yorkshire pudding and a gooey egg custard, crisp along the edges but soft and luscious in the centre. I like to make mine in a cast iron skillet that goes straight from oven to table, but you can make individual ones in a Yorkshire pudding tin if you like, just adjust the cooking time and keep an eye on them.

The pancake puffs up and every time you make one you get a slightly different wild and wonderful result The down side is it will then quickly deflate, still looking pretty good but not such a show stopper. This provides an ‘ooooo’ factor to the proceedings and does require everyone to be ready at the table, to really appreciate the full experience.

I most often add my homemade vanilla essence and pop open a jar of compote to go with; nectarine and blueberry compote being my absolute favourite, then really push the boat out by serving with cream, the thicker the better! Alternatively you could add some lemon juice and zest to the batter. Maple syrup, caramelised apples …. well I wont go on, but you can serve the pancake with all manner of accompaniments, all equally delicious.


Serves 4-6

100g plain flour
3 large eggs
200ml milk
1tsp vanilla essence
50g sugar
pinch salt
50g unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 230C 450F Mk8 and place a 30cm (12in) skillet on a central shelf with plenty of room above for the pancake to puff up.
Place all of the ingredients except the butter in a blender and blend until everything is combined to make a batter. You can prepare the batter in advance if you want and keep overnight in the fridge.
Remove the skillet from the oven and quickly add the butter, which will melt and bubble immediately. To keep it good and hot, I usually place the skillet on a hot hob whilst doing this. Pour in the batter and immediately place back in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, until the pancake has puffed up nicely and the edges are looking golden brown. Serve immediately.

Dutch baby pancake


Tuesday October 02nd 2012, 12:39 pm

a colander full of foraged blackberries

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.

blackberries growing in the hedgerow

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.

rose attar scented leaf geranium

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.

Friday December 23rd 2011, 11:57 am

mushroom and hazelnut pie

I just remembered this partially prepared blog post from a few months ago and thought it appropriate to finish it. At the time I was gathering mushrooms from the field by my house and it had reminded me of my favourite mushroom pie recipe that I have made many many times. The recipe comes from a book from 1972, Cookbook For The New Age, Earth Water Fire Air by Barbara Freidlander. When given to me, I’d just decided to become vegetarian, had married at a ridiculously young age and was starting out learning about life and food and cooking. I have made this pie and variations of it on so many occasions and it has been served as part of Christmas lunch many times as well, which is why I’m publishing it now, in case you are looking for some last-minute inspiration.

mushroom and hazelnut pie

I’m not so pleased with my pictures here but it is the recipe that is important on this occasion. The book is American so is written in cups and pounds, which at the time was very peculiar and exciting for me to translate. I’m going to copy it as is and for the sake of speed have no intentions of adding the metric conversion this time round, but hope you’ll get the gist and feel inspired anyway. More often than not I’ve used hazelnuts in place of the cashews and usually toast them lightly first.


Makes 1 large or 2 small pies

2 cup pastry flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 pound butter
1/4 cup cold milk

1 pound mushrooms, sliced
5 celery stalks, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 cup unsalted cashew nuts, chopped
pinch of thyme
salt and pepper to taste
4Tbsp butter
Cream sauce **

Make the pastry in the usual way (rub the butter into the flour and salt then add the milk and bring it together to form a ball). Leave in fridge to chill whilst the filling is prepared.
Saute the first 6 filling ingredients together in 4Tbsp butter, cover and cook until the mushrooms are tender. If there seems to be lots of liquid from the mushrooms, cook for a while without the lid to help it evaporate.
Meanwhile in another pan make the cream sauce** Combine the sauce and mushroom mixture and blend well. Check the seasoning and adjust at this point. Preheat oven to 400F 200C Mk6.
Cut the pastry dough into 2 pieces, one slightly smaller for the pie lid than the other for the base. Roll out the pastry on a floured board for the base and line a greased pie tin. Pour/spoon in the filling. Roll out the pastry lid, cut a few slits in the centre, brush the base edges with milk or water and lay the lid in place sealing the edges. Brush the top with milk or beaten egg to glaze. Place in the oven, reduce the temperature to 350F 180C Mk4 and bake for 40-45 minutes till nicely golden.

2Tbsp butter
2Tbsp flour
1/2 cup milk
salt and pepper
freshly grated nutmeg

Melt the butter in a pan over low heat, add the flour and stir to form a roux. Gradually add the milk, stirring between each addition to make a smooth sauce. Let it cook for a few minutes then season. For the pie the sauce can be quite thick as the mushroom mixture will make it thinner.

Field mushrooms

Happy Holiday
Saturday December 17th 2011, 9:41 am

Christmas wreath fashioned from garden cuttings

Apologies for my long absence. I’ve been reassessing how I allocate my time! That and my Mum being ill has given me a lot to think about. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy though. Once you have been following the seasons with ingredients, watching, anticipating, harvesting, canning and preserving for a while, it becomes second nature, the way that you live and a direct and real connection to the food you eat. I’ve become particularly aware of this by being displaced due to my Mum being ill. I have by necessity been spending time away from my home and my patch, the place I have been observing and making use of so intensely for the last few years. It just meant I’ve had to find new connections in a city I left 30 years ago.
Yesterday it was time to rustle up my Christmas wreath. The wreath base has been used on previous occasions and is a favourite; washed and weathered, looseley twisted vine that comes already wrapped with some tatty raffia from a previous incarnation, perfect. I wanted my wreath to be a celebration of what nature has handed me in 2011 and would have searched for a few remaining sloes on branches or scavenged some crab apples of a neighbours tree, but I didn’t want it to turn into a performance. So I just went around the garden looking and snipping and then very simply pushed stems through between the twisted vine base. I used some lengths of straggling clematis that the cold had turned dark crimson, some plump orange-red rosehips, sprigs of bay; the fresh growth tips of bay trees branches, hypericum with black fruits set amongst stunning red tinted leaves and finally some unripe blackberries that found themselves double-crossed by deceiving weather conditions. You don’t need much for it to work. My tip if you are new to this sort of thing and want to have a go, is to use your foliage in 3’s, to give a loosley structured and organic result odd numbers work best.
I hope that you enjoy the holiday season ahead, whatever it means to you and look forward to starting afresh in 2012. In such uncertain times one thing shouts out to me loud and clear – CANNING IS THE WAY TO GO! Just saying. Have a good one.

Thursday August 04th 2011, 4:04 pm

Blaisdon plums ripening on the tree

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.

Blaisdon plums picked and ready for jammin'

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.

plums, sugar and lavender macerating for jam

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!


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.

Blaisdon plum and lavender jam

Saturday May 21st 2011, 2:03 pm

free range eggs of all sizes

There is much excitement close to home, as me and next door are about to collaborate on our first chicken keeping venture. We have placed our order for 5 orpingtons; 2 lavenders, 2 buffs and a lavender cockerel, and will be taking delivery in a couple of weeks time. We can’t expect any eggs from them until around November time but most importantly – the names have been chosen. As I’ve never kept chickens before I’ve begun to swat up on them. I do know people who keep chickens, so suspect it isn’t too difficult and can already see which way this new interest is likely to go as even at this early stage we have started to discuss other breeds we might like and what colours of eggs they will hopefully produce.
In the meantime, I bought my first book on the subject; Hens in the Garden Eggs in the Kitchen by Charlotte Popescu. I’ve collected several other books of hers and can really recommend them. As well as chicken keeping, she writes about other subjects close to my heart, from wild fruits and apples to vegetable gardening and bee keeping. They are all small paperback books packed with useful information and recipes presented in a very simple and modest way.
In my new hen book she gives this really useful guidance about the freshness of eggs, particularly relevant to those people who know exactly when their eggs are laid. If you are buying shop bought you’ll just have to guess I’m afraid.

Your eggs need to be as fresh as possible if you want fried or poached eggs. For boiled eggs that you wish to peel, it is best to use eggs that are about a week old as the shell and skin are really difficult to peel off on fresh eggs. ….
If you are scrambling your eggs or making an omelette, eggs can be up to a week old. For baked dishes, eggs can be older than a week. If you want to separate the yolks and the whites to make meringues, eggs are best a few days old as the whites whisk up better if not too fresh.

Pickled eggs have never interested me until I came across a recipe for Pickled Huevos Haminados in another lucky find, The Mediterrannean Pantry by Aglaia Kremezi, published 1994. As soon as I read the recipe I knew I had to make it, though haven’t done so yet. I’m actually growing the red onions at the moment, which is, I suppose, beyond the call of duty. I have found the recipe online here if you fancy having a go and beating me too it. I’ll be tempted to serve a pickled egg with some asparagus spears pickled earlier.

This week I’ve been trying to make some room in the freezer before the berry season kicks off. I’m not a big fan of freezing as mine works on an ‘out of sight out of mind’ principle. I tend to forget what’s in there, all the while those ingredients are racking up additional running costs! (This year I’ll be canning fruit in jars as much as I possible.) I used a tub of blackberry puree, picked and prepared last August, and rustled up 4 pots of blackberry curd, which is a delicious way of using up eggs. A spoonful or two of fruit curd swirled through some Greek yoghurt is fabulous, or you can use it as the filling in a simple sponge cake or dollop on meringues (making use of even more eggs).
Oh yes, I’ve got eggs on the brain and this is only the beginning.

a stoneware bowl of free range eggs

Tuesday October 26th 2010, 5:00 pm

Wills cigarette card from 1924 of crab apple

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!

Wills cigarette card from 1924 of sloes

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.

ornamental japonica


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.

crab apple, sloe and japonica jelly

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.

Thursday October 14th 2010, 11:59 pm

wild crab apples on the woodland floor

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.

foraging for wild damsons in the Forest of Dean

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 in stoneware pots


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.

serve this country cheese preserve with cheese and biscuits

Tuesday October 12th 2010, 12:32 am

a basket of rosehips

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.

close up of rosehips

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.


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.

rosehip syrup

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

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