Saturday July 10th 2010, 2:05 pm

freshly picked raspberries from the garden

The raspberries I planted last year are suddenly heavy with fruit. I picked almost a kilo the other day and I’m feeling really pleased. Not that I can take much credit for this, raspberries are such an easy fruit to grow. Apart from planting them in the first place, banging a few poles along the row and stretching wires across them to provide some support to tie the canes too, this fruit hasn’t called out for much attention. Raspberries are really a weed as they send out their runners all over the place. I’ve allowed wild strawberries to make ground cover underneath the raspberries and the runners just grow up through this dense strawberry leaf carpet. Both seemingly grow effortlessly so I feel no compunction as regards thinning it all out now and again, it will grow back before you know it. In the autumn some of these runners are destined for the allotment, so I’ll have even more fruit in the years to come. This is all part of the bigger picture, to create the jammin equivalent of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, aka Gloria’s Glorious Jam Emporium.
Raspberries smell amazing as they cook and fill the whole house with a wonderful fragrance. I decided to use them to make the raspberry and peach jam from my book, Fruits of the Earth as it is one of my favourites. The jams I prefer usually fit into the tart, robust flavours category, but this jam isn’t quite like that, but gentler and especially fragrant and summery. This is also one of the rare exceptions when I have to buy in an ingredient that hasn’t been grown nearby. I don’t yet have access to any local peaches or nectarines so must, for the time being, content myself with sourcing the best ones I can find anywhere I can find them. At least by making a special visit to Adam Scotts in Coleford, the only independent fruit and veg shop in the forest, I shouldn’t feel bad about buying fruit from further afield. It is such a great shop and I often go there to photograph the display out front. They do sell locally sourced produce when they can.

flat peaches also called donut peaches

Recently they have been selling flat peaches, which seem to have become all the rage; they must be if they’ve reached Coleford already. Apart from these peaches looking fabulous, they taste great and seem to be RIPE when you buy them, ripe but still firm, amazing! A far cry from those rock hard supermarket peaches. When you bite into a flat peach, their flesh is white and it is almost enough of a treat to just stick your head in the bag when you get home and draw in their high peachy scent. These were the best peaches at their peak on the day, so I chose them. The best thing about harvesting your own fruit is getting it straight into the jam kettle, without a moment to lose, so none of the freshness is lost.
The recipe starts by heating the raspberries to release the juice, then you push it through a sieve or food mill to collect the puree. The raspberry pulp and seeds I collected is now macerating in a Kilner jar of white wine vinegar, where it will stay for the next month or so. The resulting raspberry vinegar will be delicious for summer salad dressings, so nothing wasted. In the few days since I picked the last raspberries, another batch have ripened. I haven’t netted any of my fruit bushes. Luckily, with so much fruit around, the birds are being kind for once.

raspberry and peach jam, the essence of summer preserving


Makes 1.6Kg (3lb 8oz)

700g (1lb 9oz) raspberries
700g (1lb 9oz) ripe peaches
1Kg (2lb 4oz) sugar
juice of 2 large lemons

Place the raspberries in a pan over gentle heat to release their juice and mash with the back of a spoon. Once they are soft and juicy, push through a sieve or process with a food mill using a fine mesh, collecting the puree. (As mentioned above, you can use the seeds and pulp that remain in the sieve to make raspberry vinegar.) Place the puree and 500g (1lb 2 oz) sugar and the juice of 1 lemon in a pan, bring to a simmer, stirring all the while until the sugar has dissolved, then pour into a glass bowl, cover and leave overnight in the fridge.
Skin the peaches by placing them one by one in boiling water for a minute or 2, then into cold water. The skins should slip off the fruit easily with the help of a sharp knife. Halve and remove the stones then chop the peaches into pieces, keeping them quite chunky. Place peaches with remaining sugar and lemon juice in a pan and heat gently to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour into a glass bowl, cover and leave over night.
The next day, simply combine the raspberries and peaches in a preserving pan, heat and boil rapidly until setting point is reached. (This should only take 10-15 minutes.) Leave to cool for 5 minutes then stir to distribute the peach pieces, before pouring into hot sterilised jars and seal.
By all means miss out the ‘leaving fruits, sugar and lemon in glass bowls overnight’ part if you wish to speed up the process. This method of preparing jams in stages sometimes improves flavours. Also, though this recipe will make a jam that keeps well, to be especially careful and improve keeping time, by all means follow the usual canning procedures by using suitable preserving jars and hot water processing for 10 minutes if you are into canning.

Sunday August 23rd 2009, 9:31 pm

wild damsons

Greengages have always been a mystery to me, my only experience of them being when I was at primary school and for a fleeting moment you could get Penny Arrows in greengage flavour. For anyone unfamiliar with this retro confection, it was a strap of flavoured toffee available from the ‘penny tray’ in the sweet shop on the way home. Plain toffee was the regular flavour but they introduced others from time to time for short runs. I could just about cope with butterscotch, or even banana flavoured Penny Arrows but greengage was a step too far, quite weird and highly scented. That was my first taste of what I thought was the flavour of greengage and it very nearly scarred me for life.
The other day, Irene, my neighbour, asked me if I could take some greengages off her hands, as she wasn’t able to use all the ones she had been given. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity and promptly received a small bag full of washed and sorted fruit. With the Aylburton village horticultural show now only a week away I’ve been busy all week trying to cook up what will hopefully be a prize winner for the show.
These greengages, apparently a wild cultivar, were very small and round, each fruit no bigger than 3cm in diameter and there was 650g of fruit. I decided to add just vanilla and sugar. I sniffed the fruits to see if they bore any resemblance to the Penny Arrows of my youth and thankfully they didn’t. This wasn’t a lot of fruit to play with and I could have done with using a smaller pan than my preserving pan, as the bubbling syrup almost burnt during the rolling boil stage, so the recipe that follows has been doubled up to a more manageable quantity.
Cooked greengages are rather odd, the flesh an unattractive shade of slimy yellowish green and the skins go brown as they cook. Wanting the jam to have a good appearance for the village show, I made the decision to put the cooked fruit through my trusty and much loved food mill to give a better looking result. Jam made this way does still have some texture but the overall appearance is even and foamy. It makes a jam that is very easy to eat but you can leave the stones and skins in if you prefer for a more textured whole fruit in syrup finish.
I have to say, the finished product is absolutely wow, still slightly tart, zingy, sherberty and packed with flavour. I don’t know whether larger cultivated fruits would make a jam quite this fabulous, I’m on the look out for some to compare. If you can find the fruit, do give this recipe a go.

Wild Greengage & Vanilla Jam Makes approx 1.3Kg (3 lbs)
1.3Kg greengages
2 vanilla pods
approximately 800g sugar

Choose ripe to slightly underripe fruit, washed and sorted and place in a pan with the vanilla pods and 3 tablespoons of water. Cook gently to start the juices flowing, adding more water if necessary to stop the fruit catching on the bottom of the pan. Simmer gently until the fruit is cooked through and juicy, approximately 10 – 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover the pan and set aside in a cool place for between 12-24 hours.
The fruits will have split during cooking. With clean, washed hands fish around amongst the fruit and remove all the stones and the vanilla pods. Force the fruit through a food mill or a sieve so the skins are left in the food mill and you end up with a bowl of funny looking puree! Weigh it. You should have approximately 870g. You can match this amount with sugar but I prefer to use less, so I used 85-90% sugar to fruit = 780g sugar. Put the sugar in a bowl in the oven to warm along with the clean dry jars.
Split the vanilla pods and scrape out the seeds. Place them and the pods back in the puree and warm through before adding the sugar. Keep stirring until the sugar has completely dissolved, then turn up the heat and boil until the jam reaches setting point, keeping an eye on it to be sure it doesn’t burn. (Test a splodge of jam on a cold plate or use a jam thermometer for this. Refer to my book if you haven’t done this before.) It only took about 5 minutes to boil the syrup to a softish set, so do watch that you don’t cook too fiercely or the jam will burn. If you cook it on further you will be able to achieve a thicker set more like a fruit butter or cheese. Take care removing the pods then pour into jars and seal. Label when cold.

Sunday August 16th 2009, 12:31 pm

an old jam jar

If you find an empty jam jar exciting, you are a very lucky person indeed. It surely means that you can appreciate the simple things in life that make just living a rich experience. Well that’s my theory anyway.
A recent editorial in the Telegraph for The Laundry showed an image of the vintage French Jam jars that I stock in the shop. When you get a bit of publicity like that you realise that you are not alone in your appreciation of the glass jar, as lots of people got in contact keen to get hold of some. (By the way, I sold the ones I had really fast but more are on their way from my French jar hunter, so I’ll be in touch again very soon.)
I’ve been working on how I want my own range of preserves to look, that I intend to sell here at The Laundry. The range will be called Glut Kitchen and I’ve been looking for the right jars and lids to use as well as thinking about the feel that I want the branding to create. This is all before any jam gets made. Once you start thinking in this way you realise the limitations. It isn’t a matter of finding the loveliest jar you can, as you can bet your life it will be far to expensive and impractical to use, making the end price for a jar of jam way over the top.
I thought you might like to see this vintage jar I recently acquired. It isn’t French this time, it’s British. Yes once upon a time we made such things and did a great job of it. Not only does it have a nice faceted pattern around the sides but it says ‘Wye Valley Preserves’ around the rim. The jars I choose for my own range wont be anything like as fancy as this and I doubt that in years to come someone will be waxing lyrical about an old Glut Kitchen jar, but fingers crossed they will remember the taste of the jam it contained.

vintage french jam jars at The Laundry