BLOOD ORANGE AND PINK RHUBARB
Sunday February 02nd 2014, 2:52 pm

blood oranges

I haven’t posted on my blog for ages, so long in fact that I’ve forgotten how. This morning I found myself eating marmalade straight from the jar with a spoon and savouring the flavours; a fresh citrus hit with a tangy aftertaste. I could smell the light scent of cardamon from the jar, but should it perhaps be stronger in the syrup? Savouring and ruminating. The overall result was a good one creating an instinctive response to down another spoonful. So it seemed a fitting time to share the recipe. I have deemed this preserve a success and love the idea that others will enjoy it too.

Last week my quest for new season citrus gave the perfect excuse, in case one were needed, to treck off to Monmouth to see what Munday & Jones, my favourite local greengrocers, had to offer. They did not disappoint with a crate of blood oranges and some super perky looking early Yorkshire rhubarb on sale, the colours of which were enough to instantly lift my heart, but then I am after all a fruit geek.

blood orange, rhubarb and cardamon marmalade

I decided to make a marmalade that is a variation on a previous recipe from 2011, pink grapefruit, rhubarb and cardamon marmalade, simply substituting blood oranges for the ruby grapefruit. Yorkshire rhubarb doesn’t come cheap, so this is a good recipe to make a small amount go a longer way. It also meant I had a few sticks left over to make an upside down polenta cake as well.

As I mentioned, I am still undecided whether the cardamon could do to have a bit more impact. I freshly ground the spice in a pestle and mortar, placing it pods and all in a muslin bag to macerate with the rhubarb. Perhaps the cardamon I have could be fresher, who knows? I might buy some new for next time I make this marmalade. But still, too much cardamon would not be good either. It is always a very exacting thing when using spices and herbs in preserves, but better to underdo than over. Of course the ideal is to get it bang on!

blood orange, rhubarb and cardamon marmalade

BLOOD ORANGE, RHUBARB AND CARDAMON MARMALADE

Makes approx 1.3kg (3lbs)

0.4Kg (1lb) rhubarb
1kg (2.2lbs) sugar
juice of 1 lemon
seeds from 14 cardamom pods, crushed
800g (1.75 lb ) blood oranges

Rinse the rhubarb stems and chop into 1cm (1/2 in) evenly sized pieces, slicing thicker stems lengthwise to make the pieces uniform. Place them in a bowl with the sugar and lemon juice. Tie the crushed cardamom seeds, pods and all, in a piece of muslin and push them inbetween the rhubarb, then cover with baking paper or clingfilm and leave overnight or for up to 24 hours, so the juices ooze out of the rhubarb and turn the sugar to syrup.
Wash the blood oranges and remove the peel with a sharp knife or potato peeler, leaving as much of the pith on the fruit as possible. Finely cut the peel into shreds. Squeeze the fruits, collecting the juice and tie the remaining pulp, pith and pips together in a muslin bundle. Place the shreds, juice and bundle in a pan, add 1.4ltr (2 1/2pt) water and simmer for 2 - 2 1/2 hours until the peel is cooked through and tender. Remove the muslin bundle and, when cool enough to handle, squeeze the juice from it back into the pan, then discard. Pour the peel through a sieve and collect and measure the liquid, adding more water if necessary to make it up to 1ltr (1 3/4 pts).
Prepare the jars and canner if you plan to hot water process the marmalade, otherwise, make sure your jars and lids are clean and place them in a warm oven to heat and sterilise. Place the cooked shreds, cooking liquid and the contents of the rhubarb bowl in a preserving pan and bring slowly to the boil, stirring to make sure all the sugar is dissolved. Bring to a rolling boil and cook on a high heat until setting point is reached, that is when a small blob of the syrup on a cold plate quickly forms a skin when you run your finger across the surface. It took me 20-25 minutes for the marmalade to reach setting point at a fast rolling boil, showing 104C (220F) on a thermometer. Remove the cardamom bundle.
Fill the jars, leaving the appropriate amount of headroom for canning, and seal. Hot water process for 10 minutes, then remove from the canner, leave till cold and test that the lids are sealed. Label and store. Alternatively, without canning, top jars with sterilised lids or use traditional wax paper circles and cellophane with elastic bands to seal. This marmalade should store safely without canning, but hot water processing will make doubly sure that your jam will keep and store without a hitch.



Defrosting the Freezer - so Baked Cranberries
Wednesday August 14th 2013, 7:32 pm

baked cranberries with orange and cardamon

Yes it has been a while since I last posted, so long in fact that I have forgotten how. But that doesn’t mean I’ve been idle. For anyone who doesn’t know already, I do post regularly on facebook so do feel free to like my page and then you can follow what I am up to.

The other day it became imperative that I defrost the freezer. I don’t like my freezer particularly as it is a dumping ground for things I tend to forget about, all the while it is costing money to run. But it does offer a convenient and practical option now and again and I daresay for some foods it is the best way to preserve them. I fill the freezer up with stuff as it is effortless to do so but I prefer bottles on shelves to a forgotten freezer-full, out of sight out of mind. The other day I realised the freezer was defrosting of its own accord, demanding some attention, so I gave it a good clear out, defrosted it, washed it down with bicarb then switched it on all ready to start the process again. There were luckily few casualties, I took the opportunity to edit down the contents, but 2 bags of cranberries, put away last Christmas (or could it have been the year before!) and some redcurrants from last summer had started to thaw so needed using up.

With an abundance of freshly picked summer fruits in urgent need of preserving, these blasts from the past were something I could do without, but there was no way I wanted them to go to waste either. The redcurrants went into a traubleskucha redcurrant cake courtesy of nadel & gabel. The cake was a big success; a light sponge base with a layer of tart redcurrants topped with a macaroon lid that cracked and splintered as the fork went in. I’ll be making that one again and perhaps will add some vanilla or almond extract to the sponge next time too. So highly recommended and you may still find some currants for sale, my local supermarket has them right now.

So that left the cranberries. In the UK, fresh cranberries are only for sale for 2 minutes round Christmas time. Last year Sainsburys sold Kent grown cranberries but only in selected Kent stores. Otherwise they are always imported. I’m sure I’ve seen them all year round for sale at the farm shop down the road that sells frozen fruits loose from big tubs, that you can buy by weight by the scoopful. I haven’t had cranberries enough to really develop a love for them .. till now anyway.

For inspiration I decided to refer back to one of my all time favourite books, an American book I have mentioned before, Fancy Pantry by Helen Witty (1986) and her recipe for baked cranberries with orange and cardamon is a triumph. You can eat it like jam or a compote, it is somewhere between the two, and it is the easiest preserve you will ever make, requiring no bringing to setting point. The flavour is fresh and amazing and even though it is out of season, I am wolfing it down and planning the next batch. Eat it as an accompaniment to savoury dishes too, in the same style as a traditional cranberry sauce. It isn’t overly sweet, it’s just right. The sugar content is not high enough to make a preserve that will keep, so best store in the fridge, if it lasts that long, or do what I do and water process (can / bottle) it so it will keep on the shelf for a year or more.

baked cranberries with orange and cardamon

BAKED CRANBERRIES WITH ORANGE AND CARDAMON

Makes approx 5 x 250g (half pint) jars

600g (1lb 5oz) cranberries
1 large seedless orange
500g (1lb 2oz) white sugar
1/8 tsp ground cardamon (seeds removed from pods and freshly ground)
60ml (4 Tbsp) water

Pre-heat the oven to 175C /350F /Mk4. Spread the cranberries in a ovenproof glass dish (I used 2 square Pyrex baking dishes). Remove the peel from the orange and pull away and discard the pith from inside and any surrounding the flesh. Chop the orange and peel roughly and blitz it in a blender or food processor to make a pulpy puree.

Pour the puree, sugar, cardamon and water over the cranberries and mix everything together. Cover the dish with foil and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Lower the temperature to 160C / 325F / Mk3, remove the foil and bake for a further 50-60 minutes, turning the mixture over with a spoon every 10-15 minutes. The cranberries will look slightly translucent and be surrounded by syrup.

Spoon the hot preserve into hot sterilised jars and seal, or alternatively process them in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove from water bath and leave till cold before testing the seals.

Landlove magazine feature

I’ve got 6 pages in Landlove magazine this month. The magazine isn’t available online so until it is off the newstands, you will have to buy a copy to read it. I’m really pleased with the feature and I think it captures the spirit of what preserving is all about for me.



FIRST DUCK EGG - A GOOD EXCUSE FOR A CAKE
Sunday March 17th 2013, 7:29 pm

prune sour cream coffee cake

At the end of last year four rescue ducks arrived, 2 runner ducks and 2 call ducks. They have joined our merry flock of chickens, sort of, as they all seem to rub along together but the ducks live their lives in a different way. The ducks are quite ditsy and get in a flap about things, giving the impression they are total air heads and they walk everywhere in a line, in order of height, tallest leading. They are muckier and muddier than chickens and dredge up water so it doesn’t stay clean for long. But they are very cute and the first time one of them jumped into a bucket and bobbed around on the surface of the water, was a very sweet sight. They do have a little pond made out of a babies paddling pool in the shape of an apple. The other morning I found an egg on the floor of their house, our first duck egg, and there has been an egg waiting first thing, each day since. Its seems like a good reason to bake a cake to celebrate.

prune sour cream coffee cake written on end papers in vintage book

My first thought was a prune sour cream coffee cake, which is a real favourite of mine. I came across the recipe printed on the side of a box of prunes, when learning to bake in the 70s. I copied the recipe by hand onto the end papers of my first cookery book, Traditional British Cooking for Pleasure by Gladys Mann, and every now and again get the book off the shelf and bake the cake again. To begin with, as a complete novice, I didn’t have a clue how to translate the ingredients, as it was an American recipe, written in cup measures and called for a tube pan. It took some years to work out what a tube pan is, what a cup of butter looks like and why a cake called a coffee cake has no coffee in it. I suppose I’m just more cosmopolitan these days. Consequently I’ve had many a disaster bumbling along and following the recipe but it still became a favourite as the flavour of the cake is so good. So here is the recipe with my conversion to metric. It is also a good reason to use a vintage enamel bundt tin that takes up far too much house space and needs to occasionally earn it’s keep.

our first duck eggs

PRUNE SOUR CREAM COFFEE CAKE

250g (1 1/2 cups) ready to eat prunes
100g (1/2 cup) walnuts, roughly chopped
75g (1/2 cup) soft brown sugar
1 tsp grated lemon rind
275g (2 cups) plain flour, sifted
1 tsp each of baking powder and baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp cinnamon, ground
225g (1 cup) butter, unsalted
200g (1 cup) sugar
2 large eggs
225ml (1 cup) sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

Grease a large bundt tin and pre heat the oven to 180C, 350F, Mk 4. Chop the prunes into smallish pieces and place in a bowl, add the walnuts, brown sugar, lemon rind and 2 tbsp of the flour and stir together to combine and coat the prunes. Sift together the remaining flour, baking powder, soda, salt and cinnamon. Cream the butter and sugar till light and fluffy then add the eggs one at a time. Slowly beat in the flour mixture, alternating with the sour cream and vanilla extract. Fold in the prunes. Turn the mixture into the bundt pan and bake for 55-65 minutes until a skewer when pushed into the centre comes out clean and the top feels set. Cool on a cake rack. Turn out and dust with icing sugar.

vintage enamel bundt tin



Just Mad About Canning
Wednesday February 13th 2013, 10:38 pm

shelves laden with comestibles

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.

corner of my sitting room with comestibles

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.

shelves laden with comestibles

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 :
Squashed Strawberries
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.



Rhubarb Ketchup

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.



forced rhubarb and a crate of quince

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.

apple syrup with vanilla

* 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.
Be prepared to be surprised by just how wonderful the flavours of preserved foods can be.

JAR MEAL (PROVISIONAL) MENU
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.

bottled morello cherries



FORAGING FOR BLACKBERRIES
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

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.



CURDS AND WHA-HAAAAY
Thursday August 16th 2012, 11:14 pm

fresh eggs in a vintage French wire basket

Last year I wrote of my hopes for an eggy future with the imminent arrival of chickens. What a difference a year (and a bit) makes. Since then the flock’s population has risen from five to twenty five (today’s tally) and I can’t imagine what life was like without them. The first thing I look for nowadays in a recipe is how many eggs are called for. Although the number of eggs collected each day fluctuates, it is still an ongoing challenge to use them up. When I can, I make a concerted effort to blitz the egg mountain and a rare glimpse of the bottom of the egg bowl is a victorious sight. Now when I bake I sometimes add an extra egg just for the heck of it, just cos I can, just cos another one bites the dust. The yolks are a glorious orange that enriches and colours anything they are added to.

the subtle palette of fresh eggs

For baking they come into their own, but eggs aren’t so useful for preserving. I do pickle batches of petit bantam eggs as my neighbours like them and it takes care of a nice clutch, a dozen, or more eggs in one fell swoop. Fruit curds are considered to be preserves even though they generally keep for a much shorter time than jam does. Making them also uses up eggs. Curds keep for anything from a few weeks to a few months if stored unopened in the fridge and they can be frozen if you wish to keep them for 6 months or so. Once opened you should use them up within a week or two. I prefer to preserve fruit puree, which can be bottled and stored on the pantry shelf or frozen. Then the fruit is ready and waiting for making small batches of curd just when it is needed.

Curd is delicious though, so well worth making. Imbued with fruity custardy loveliness, it’s just perfect for sandwiching a sponge cake, dolloping on meringues or filling a pastry case. I’ve been eating apricot curd slathered on sourdough bread and it’s delicious. No need for any butter between as the curd has a fair amount of that included already. In the same way as making custard, fruit curd needs to be constantly stirred in a bowl set over simmering water, to cook it through gradually, as a too high direct heat will result in a horrible curdled mess. As you stir, the ingredients emulsify and the mixture becomes smooth and thickens. As it cools in the jars, it will thicken a bit more. Luscious.

rose blushed apricots from France

APRICOT CURD

Makes approximately 700g ( 1 1/4lb)

450g (1 lb) fresh apricots
3 large eggs, beaten
zest and juice of a lemon
70g (2 1/2oz) butter
200g (7 oz) caster sugar

Stone and quarter the apricots. There is no need to peel them. Place in a pan with 2Tbsp water and simmer gently for around 10 minutes until the fruit is soft. Leave to cool then push through a sieve or use a food mill to make a smooth puree. It should make approx. 300g (10 oz) of puree.

Place the puree in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water, add the eggs straining them through a sieve, then add all the remaining ingredients. Cook gently stirring continuously with a wooden spoon until everything is combined and the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon. This should take about 30 minutes to achieve.

Pour the curd into small hot sterilised jars, covering the surface of each with a waxed paper circle, then seal and leave till cold. Refrigerate until needed.

apricot curd



SUMMER THROUGH ROSE TINTED SPECTACLES
Tuesday July 10th 2012, 6:37 pm

pink currants Gloire de Sablon

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.

pink currant jam

PINKCURRANT JAM

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

making marmalade using mixed citrus fruits

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.

leaving peel and pulp to soak overnight to boost the pectin

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.

making marmalade using mixed citrus fruits

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.



HOW TO MAKE BUTTER
Sunday January 08th 2012, 4:19 pm

making butter, buttermilk is the bi-product

I was visiting my Mum in hospital over Christmas and suddenly became aware that I was talking about the price of potatoes. I wisely stopped short of telling how I had bought 2 bags of organic spuds on special offer for just £2 the previous day! Once I realised the mundane nature of my conversation, it struck me as so absurd I was stricken with a bout of hysteria that left me unable to speak for 10 minutes or so, no doubt to the relief of the other family members present.
You see, I find frugality and penny pinching totally dull. Having said that, whereas 6 years ago I wouldn’t have been able to tell you the price of butter, times have changed. I’m now a dab hand at rustling up a feast using ingredients from the ‘reduced for quick sale’ bin at the supermarket and can sniff out a bargain a mile off these days. There seems to be an assumption that preserving is part of a ‘make do and mend’ mindset but for me it is far from that. It is primarily about the quality of the food we eat, taking notice of and making use of what is often right there on our doorstep, respecting those ingredients and reducing waste in the process. At the same time, by following the seasons through ingredients it certainly reminds me to savour the seasons, so time doesn’t simply pass by in a heartbeat.

making butter, add salt or leave unsalted

I’ve been wanting to make my own butter for ages. Having read quite a bit about it, it was a matter of finding the raw ingredient, to have a go. Last June my wonderful canning chum Tigress wrote here about making enough butter to see her through the year, freezing the butter and bi-product buttermilk. Much respect Tigress, who having driven to Vermont to collect the cream, then hand churned it one Mason jar at a time!
Nothing quite so romantic or arduous for me, I was just waiting for the cream to appear at the supermarket on special offer, then my trusty vintage Kenwood Chef would do the hard work for me. With Netherend Dairy just down the road producing butter that is highly appreciated in foodie circles, there is hardly much point in making my own unless the cream comes at a bargain price. Seemingly, once Christmas is out of the way, the supermarkets have plenty of excess cream going cheap, ridiculously cheap. To make butter you need normal double or whipping cream, not the UHT longlife stuff. I bought up plenty last week and have been pleasantly surprised by how much butter it has turned into, much more than I’d expected. Being short of freezer space I now have the problem of where to put it!

making butter, buttermilk is the bi-product

HOW TO MAKE BUTTER

900ml (32 fl oz) double cream produced 468g (1 lb) butter and 285ml (1/2 pt) buttermilk

Using a Kenwood Chef or other stand mixer fitted with paddle or ‘K’ beater, beat the cream on a medium speed for approximately 10 minutes, keeping a keen eye on it towards the end. The cream will thicken then begin to stiffen, then in an instant the butter and buttermilk separate. At that moment you need to be ready to turn the mixer off, otherwise the buttermilk sloshes all over the place.
Pour into a sieve, collecting the buttermilk in a bowl underneath. The butter needs to be washed in water to remove any other buttermilk trapped inside it. Some people use their hands to mash the butter under a running tap, others use a potato masher. Whichever method you choose, the water needs to run clear as any buttermilk remaining will encourage the butter to go rancid quicker.
Once all the buttermilk is away you can press the butter into a bowl or give it a good wacking with butter pats, which leave lovely traditional ridge patterns on the surface. If you wish to add salt then this is the time to work it through the butter so it is evenly distributed. The butter can be wrapped in waxed paper or placed in sealed storage boxes before freezing. The buttermilk can be used for baking and I have frozen some in smaller cup-sized containers so they are handy sized for when I want to make scones, soda bread or my blueberry buttermilk and almond cake - yum!

making butter, buttermilk is the bi-product

This apricot vanilla buttermilk scone recipe is another great way of using both butter and buttermilk. I love making these for breakfast as they aren’t too sweet and are soft enough to be eaten without any extra butter spread on them. You can of course add a dollop of jam if you really have too and serve them for tea later in the day.

APRICOT VANILLA BUTTERMILK SCONES

Makes approx 10 small, 5cm (2in) diameter scones

60g (2oz) dried apricots, soak in boiling water for an hour or more, drain then pat dry with kitchen towel before chopping into small chunks
225g (8oz) self-raising flour
pinch of salt
75g (3oz) butter
30g (1oz) caster sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
4-6 Tbsp buttermilk, plus a bit more if needed and to brush the tops
Flaked almonds

Pre heat the oven to 220C (425F) Mk7

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Cut the butter into pieces and rub into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and dried apricots. Mix the vanilla extract into the buttermilk and add it to the flour mixture, working quickly with a fork to form a dough which is soft but not sticky. Bring the mixture together and with floured hands press it onto a floured surface so it is about 2.5cm (1 in) thick.
Cut out scones and place on a greased baking tray. Push the dough offcuts together again and cut the last scone or 2 from that, so none goes to waste. Brush the tops with buttermilk and sprinkle with flaked almonds. Bake for 15-20 minutes until they are risen and starting to be tinged golden. Remove from oven and eat them warm. They are lovely split and toasted later on too.

apricot buttermilk scones



MY CHRISTMAS PIE FOR VEGETARIANS
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.

MUSHROOM PIE

Makes 1 large or 2 small pies

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

FILLING
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.

** CREAM SAUCE
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