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Posts Tagged ‘preserving’

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There really is no such thing. Even when a friend has kindly given me 3kg of apples, and I have all the jars, vinegar, sugar and raisins to make chutney right here in my cupboards, the actual process of preserving always takes so much longer than I think it will. Even with the aid of my apple master, an ingenious contraption that peels, cores and slices even the tiniest of apples with a few twirls of the handle, I got a bit fed up after 2kg and endless jars of chutney.

So I used some of the remaining apples with rosehips to make a jelly, which meant only rough chopping and no peeling or coring.

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Even this took longer than expected, with the picking of the hips, boiling, overnight straining and then boiling again with sugar. As much of a faff as this all is, the resulting jars of chutney, jams and jellies is more than worth it. Just- not quick.

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I have been trying to tick on with the advent calendar decorations, aiming at one per calendar per evening- that is to say, six per evening. So far: hearts, robins, pears, Christmas puds and mittens.

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Also now part of my autumn routine is the making of rosehip syrup, the subject of one of my first ever posts, and this year bramley lemon curd.

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Still on the preserving list is pepper jelly (South Devon Chilli Farm to provide rather than my local hedgerow!), pontak sauce (daily checks on elder berries: still green and hard), apple chutney, hedgerow jelly, blackberry and apple gin, and haw brandy. It is now that those empty jars, rattling around under the sink and in the shed so annoyingly all year round, tumbling out at a sideways glance, seem too thin on the ground, and things like nylon sieves, sticky label remover and muslins are high on the shopping list. As the light lengthens, the swallows depart and the long sleeves are dug out from under the piles of summer clothing, it’s lovely to think of all these fruity, summer flavours on hot toast in front of the fire. As Nigella Lawson so truthfully writes in her baking cookbook, “I’ve often thought that bad weather has its compensations, most of them culinary.”

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Last year was our first summer here and I was astonished at the sudden appearance of wild raspberry canes, popping out from brown, dead, snow-crushed nowhere in springtime. We watched as they flowered briefly and then started noticing the red berries as we drove past, resolving to return on foot with a basket or two. I made many sojourns out with Otis on my back and Sol on his balance bike, freezing the handful here and there that we picked. I made jelly with the resulting kilo and a bit, which converted into three precious jars. Last week, my visiting mum and I went out and in one session, picked the same weight as I managed for the whole of last year!

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I boiled up the berries immediately this time, strained them overnight in a muslin bag (‘like a bloodied pendulum,’ according to my mother)  and made the jelly the next morning. I used jam sugar, but not the one with added pectin, as that resulted in a very firm set previously. I haven’t cracked open a jar, but my mum took one back to my grandmother to enjoy on some of her scones, and am reliably informed of a good set and tasty jelly!

The thing about seasons, and seasonal living, is that you quickly become a creature of habit. Winter brings soups, gathering in logs as quickly as possible for the fire, and the smell of an unhappy clutch as I struggle to emerge from a snowy parking spot; then comes the time for a handful of wild garlic in an omelette; daffodils pop up; the trees start their soft, pure green growth that makes them look fresh and new; elders start blooming and I resolve to make elderflower champagne (scared of the explosions, next year, I promise); and the raspberries, in the same wind and snow-ravaged spot, grow completely unaided by human hand. As Sol and I picked by the roadside, a woman in her seventies pulled up her car and told us of how she had picked these same raspberry bushes with her children. It was a lovely moment: cyclical, seasonal, round and round.

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Autumn

In the blogs I read regularly, this this the current theme. It’s true that in the city as well as the country, autumn can’t help but be noticeable. Whereas summer can pass by largely unnoticed some years, and winter can just be a coolish, wet blur with Christmas in the middle, the colours of autumn and the presence of leaves underfoot is instantly recognisable. Piles of crunchy leaves in city parks and the country sights of combine harvesters and nature’s bounty make me feel all cosy and excited. I want to curl up in my mustard coloured tights, Brora cashmere cardigan in this season’s colour and sip tea from a hand thrown pottery mug whilst staring at the flames. (Ha. Ha. On many levels. Although I can manage the mug.)

I also feel Preserving Guilt. There are rosehips everywhere, elderberries bounce at me from their road-side branches, the brambles must be somewhere, and Oli even found blueberries with his school children recently. Pam ‘The Jam’ Corbin’s excellent book for River Cottage extols the joy of making every sort of jam, jelly, bottled fruit and berry liquor under the sun. Particularly tempting is Bachelor’s Jam, basically a big earthenware pot with a lid into which you pour copious quantities of rum, fruit and sugar, adding more fruit as time goes on. Then you guzzle it at Christmas time. I am very much on the lookout for my large earthenware pot with close fitting lid, although I’m not quite sure what I’m looking for. So Bachelor’s Jam for Christmas 2013, perhaps.

But my inner drive to preserve all this autumnal bounty for the stark, dark months ahead lead us to the Pitmedden Apple festival. 80% down on their harvest this year, due to late frost damaging blossom and wet weather preventing pollination by the bees, we were limited to buying three bags only. But alongside the contents of a wheelbarrow of apples (plus ramekin for donations) which I came across last weekend in my sister’s neck of the woods, I felt the drive to preserve increase. So it was that I began chopping at 8pm and fell into bed, quite high on the pungent fumes of vinegar, at midnight. Fool. But a fool with chutney. 17 jars of it.  So now you all know what you’re getting for Christmas.

Here is the recipe, not Pam’s but from some kind hearted person from the mists of the internet:

Apple Chutney

Makes about 8 jars

1.8kg apples, peeled, cored and chopped

4 medium onions, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 lemon, juice only

1 tablespoon mustard seeds

900ml cider vinegar

450g raisins

1 tablespoon ground ginger

2 teaspoons salt

900g soft brown sugar

3 teaspoons chilli flakes (optional)

Method:

Bring apples, onions, garlic, lemon juice, mustard seeds and 590ml vinegar to the boil.

Simmer for 1 hour.

Add raisins, ginger, salt, sugar, chilli flakes, and rest of vinegar.

Simmer until thick (about 45 mins- 1 hour)

Pour into warm, sterilised jars and seal.

Devour with cheese, in sandwiches, stirred into soups, curries, on cheese on toast, with ham… endless.

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This was the subject of one of my very first posts two years ago! And that time has rolled round again, when the countryside comes to life with berries, mushrooms and all manner of wild goodies. As we’ve moved away from all those unwanted apple trees at Home Farm, and been so negligent on the veg patch this year -indeed it hasn’t been a good growing year- I’m turning to the hedgerow for my preserving fix. This jaunt, by the way, took place last week, before the crazy wind and rain set in!

Raspberry jelly shelved and my eye on the ripening brambles, I drive past two wild roses every day which have dozens of bright little red hips on them, flashing me like stop lights. I was again reminded the other night by an episode of Wartime Farm (This is an excellent BBC programme in which a historian and two archaeologists live and work in a time period. Part history lesson, part adventure, their enthusiasm is infectious and their knowledge impressive. Plus, I like the clothes. Especially Ruth’s shoes which I have deduced are  these ones.)

So the boys and I ambled down (it’s almost always down when you live atop a hill, and ambling back up is often the tough bit), basket in hand, and I picked as many rosehips as a grumbling Otis would allow.

He really only likes the sling if he’s kept moving. If he’s stationary he wants to get out and shuffle about the roadside. Which is not great: the ditches are like blooming ice crevasses. But we picked 500g of teeny wee fruits and a bit of magimix chopping, boiling, straining and syrup-ing later, I have three and a half bottles, plus two from an earlier harvest. The second lot is much darker, I think due to the riper hips and a stick of cinnamon. Yum. Plus it has required no digging, manuring, weeding, guilty negligence or faffing around. Nature did it all!

I love it on porridge, and Sol used to, but now declares it “too strong, mummy.” (More for mummy then.)

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I freely admit to loving cake. Not many people dislike cake and really those that do… bit odd. Or more probably just lying. As mentioned previously, I enjoy baking, and have done since I was little and allowed to lick the spoon. But really, as fun and satisfying  the baking bit is, it is secondary to the scoffing. Nothing like a cup of tea and a fresh scone. My grandmother’s scones are rectangular, quite small affairs. You need more than one: no bad thing. So when a Tesco voucher dropped onto the doormat and a friend recommended The River Cottage Cake handbook, by Pam Corbin, I needed no further incentive.

One in their series of handbooks, starting with Mushrooms, incorporating such delights as Hedgerows and the excellent Bread, it is small, of lovely print quality and, quite enticingly, pink. So far I’ve tried savoury muffins, a coconut and chocolate (Bounty!) cake, and gingerbread men. Well, penguins and teddies actually. All of the recipes worked well and there are loads more to try; I considered the challenge of a cake a day but have regrettably decided against it for fear of breaking the bathroom scales.

Also in the kitchen at the moment is ongoing rosehip syrup making. The dog rose fruits are all ripening at different times, so I seem to be picking, mulching and boiling up constantly! It’s so nice on porridge though and it’d be great to have enough jars for the winter, it’s meant to be really high in vitamin C. And, er, sugar. Yumm.

 

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