Tag Archives: preserving

Just Jammin’

Yes, I’m finally back! Not quite 10 months since my last past, but that is still one looooong blogging hiatus. And it is all down to me trying to get to grips with parenthood. I’ve discovered that I’m better at this whole lark than I ever thought I would be. But what happened to my time? I somewhat naively imagined that I would have at least some time to indulge my hobbies in between trips to the playground, making wholesome baby food, and becoming an expert of the best children’s programming that Cbeebies has to offer. Well, that was just pie in the sky! In fact, I don’t think I’ve even managed to read a whole novel in the last six months. And no, reading That’s not my bunny/reindeer/cow/dinosaur twice each day doesn’t count.

That said, things are now finally getting back to something that looks a bit more like normal, even if I have had to completely accept that our lives have also changed completely and forever, and that we’re really adjusting to the “new normal”. This also means that I am sometimes able to get back into the kitchen and cook and bake for pleasure, rather than to meet the demands of a hungry little mouth who wants meatballs right now. Of course there is always the threat that a little someone will wake up, so I won’t be tackling projects that require a good four or five hours to complete, so that’s most of the Great British Bake-Off technical challenges off limits for the next couple of years. Hey ho…

Today I thought I would ease back in with something simple and delicious – some lovely raspberry jam that I recently made. It would be wonderful to tell you that the fruit was picked just moments before making the jam from a row of plants at the end of my garden, but I am not that fortunate. The garden revamp is on the cards for next year, and I will be putting in some fruit bushes and trees. In the meantime I did the next best thing for use city folk. We headed to a pick-our-own farm outside London (Crockford Bridge Farm if you’re keen to do the same). And yes, you’ve spotted that I combined fruit picking with a kid-friendly day out.

Luckily for us (if not the local children) most of the schools had gone back after the summer holiday when we got there, so we were able to enjoy bucolic scenes of fields and blue skies all to ourselves. We worked our way through plump blackberries, the last strawberries of summer, more courgettes than I’ve ever seen and rows of enticing ruby raspberries.

raspberries

All of this took me back to childhood summers spent picking raspberries in rural Perthshire. And the irony was not lost on me that I was now paying for the privilege of picking fruit, rather than being paid to pick it!

But it was still a glorious day out, and our two little helpers even managed to resist eating more than one or two berries before we got them weighed and coughed up the cash. And the fact that my lad and his little friend fell fast asleep almost instantly on the way home thanks to all that fresh air? Priceless!

So once I was home with this fruit, I had to think about what I was going to do with it. Some got eaten straight away, but for most of the raspberries, they just had to go into some jam. I had been thinking about this all along, as I had made sure to include a few slightly under-ripe berries to get enough pectin in the jam to ensure a good set.

Raspberry jam is one of my absolute favourites. The flavour is sweet and tart, fruity and fragrant. It is also really so simple to make, so great for a preserving novice, and easy to get a good set without too much trouble. When you get into jams and marmalades, you will obsess about the setting point – is it ready? Do I need to boil it for longer? Did I make a mistake using normal sugar rather than jam sugar? But these are usually non-issues if you are using raspberries!

raspberryjam2
Some recipes suggest mashing up the fruit and letting it sit overnight, but I find that you don’t need to wait that long. Throw the fruit and sugar in a pan, mash it up and let it sit for 20 minutes or so. The sugar will start to dissolve in the fruit and draw out the juice. Then it is a simple case of bringing the lot to a boil, adding some lemon juice at the right moment, and that’s more or less it. Then in no time you can be enjoying colourful, fragrant and deliciously tart raspberry jam on scones, toast or even swirled through natural yoghurt.

raspberryjam1
To make raspberry jam (makes 3 x 450g jars)

• 750g raspberries
• 750g granulated white sugar
small knob of unsalted butter, size of a hazelnut (optional)
• juice of 1 lemon

1. Pick through the berries to make sure there is no spoiled fruit or insects lurking in there. Put the raspberries and sugar in a heavy saucepan. Roughly mash until the fruit and sugar are mixed, then cover and leave to sit for 20 minutes.

 2. Place the pan over a medium heat until it comes to a boil. Add the lemon juice and butter if using(*), and cook on a rolling boil for 5 minutes. After this, start to check for a set (**).

3. When you have a set, remove the jam from the heat and leave to sit for 10 minutes (it will thicken slightly – this helps to ensure the pips are evenly distributed in the jam and don’t sink). Decant the hot jam into sterilised jam jars(***), seal and leave to cool.

(*) Butter in jam? I find this helps to reduce the amount of scum that forms on top of the jam during cooking – and sometimes the scum will vanish completely when the jam is left to cool before being put into jars!

(**) How to check for a set? Use a thermometer and check the jam has reached 106°C (223°F). Or drop some jam on a chilled plate – allow to cool for a moment. Push with your finger – it should wrinkle. If you don’t get a wrinkle, boil the jam for 2 more minutes then test again. I actually do both tests – I use the electronic thermometer, then drop some jam on a plate, because this is what my mum did and I like doing it!

(***) How to sterilise jam jars? Wash in hot, soapy water, and then rinse very well – do not dry them. Now place up-side down on the shelf of a cold oven, and heat to 100°C / 210°F for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven using gloves, allow to cool slightly (they should still be warm) and fill with the hot jam. You can leave the jars in the oven with the heat turned off until you need them, as this keeps the glass warm, and warm glass is much less likely to crack when you add warm jam (science, eh?). Remember to sterilise the lids by washing in hot, soapy water, then rinsing well and then boiling them in a pot of hot water for a few minutes

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Slices of Quince

In Edward Lear’s famous poem The Owl and the Pussycat the protagonists chose to dine on mince and slices of quince. Whether or not this was a delicious combination (and as the owner/servant of two cats, I doubt that the quince was the highlight of that meal for the feline), there are better things to do with quince. Like today’s little idea – take those slices of quince, but skip the mince and steep them in alcohol, add a little sugar, and then leave the fruit to infuse the mixture. Incredibly simple!

quincevodka

Quince really is one of the strangest of fruits. They are nigh on impossible to eat when raw (but there are some varieties out there which will ripen into something soft and sweet), but cook the things and they change completely. The flesh will turn from yellowish-white to a pretty pink colour and you will be rewarded with rich, aromatic fruit. The simplest option is to poach some quince and enjoy with yoghurt, or add a slice or two to an apple pie for flavour. It’s also very happy in jams and jellies, or can be transformed into Spanish membrillo for the cheeseboard.

The particular quince that I got hold of was a handsome golden specimen. It had that distinctive aromatic quality to it, but it was, as expected, rock-hard. I bought mine at Borough Market, at what seemed to be an eye-popping price. I remembered seeing them at many of the Turkish shops in Stoke Newington, where they seemed to be cheap as chips. Ah well, we all pay for convenience, and I was not prepared to journey half-way across London on a weekend when various tube lines were suspended just to buy a quince. I just sat in the train on the way back home thinking to myself: This had better be worth it…

As for making this concoction, it’s really a breeze. However, this is something that will be hanging around the house for the next couple of months, and I was keen to check out the options to make it and have something that would look pretty. Things like damson or sloe gin look quite attractive as the fruit either floats (damsons) or sinks (sloes) in the steeping alcohol, the colour developing day by day. For quince, there seemed to be two main techniques. One suggested peeling the quince, then chopping it, mixing with sugar and leaving the lot for a month, then using the resulting syrup as the base for the liqueur. While this might have worked, this sounded like a bit of a faff, and I know that quince goes rather brown rather quickly…a jar of anonymous “brown” on the shelf was not too appealing. Another suggested just grating the whole quince – skin, pips and all – and then infusing that with vodka, plus a little sugar. This seemed more like it, but having grated quince in the past, it tends to be rather unattractive (mushy, tendency to go brown). And so, I had a brainwave. Rather than grating, I just sliced the quince very thinly, taking a few slices at a time and dropping them into the bottle and covering with alcohol. This stopped the quince going brown, and the resulting mixture also looked rather attractive.

So, I have added another jar to my collection of winter drinks. While I should say that I don’t know how this will be until I try it, I must confess that I did sneak an early taste after three days, and the flavour is coming along nicely. It is not too sweet as the proportion of sugar is fairly low, but the aromatic and honey-like quince flavour is developing.

To make quince vodka:

• 1 large quince (normally 400-500g)
• caster sugar (half the weight of the quince)
• 500ml vodka

1. Wash a 1 litre glass jar in hot, soapy water. Rinse well, and dry in the oven at around 100 degrees for 15 minutes. Leave to cool.

2. Slice the quince thinly. After cutting 4-5 slices, drop into the jar, and cover with vodka. Repeat until all the quince is sliced and the fruit is covered. Add as much of the sugar as you can, and then seal the jar (if you can’t add all the sugar, don’t worry – you can add more when the liqueur is ready in a few months).

3. Store the jars in a cool, dark place (the back of a cupboard is ideal). Shake the jars gently each morning and each evening for a week until the sugar is dissolved, then shake them twice per week for the next three weeks. Store for around three months. When ready, strain the liquer decant into a sterile bottle. At this point, you can add a little more sugar if needed.

Worth making? As with all of these “steep fruit in alcohol” recipes, only time will tell…but first indications are rather tasty!

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Spiced Pear Liqueur

I’ve managed to get myself a new hobby. It started oh-so-innocently when I made a batch of sloe gin two years ago with berries that I got hold of from the local park. The result? Quite simply stunning. It is just so ridiculously easy to leave fruit soaking in some sort of spirit, and come back months later to something magical.

Roll forward two years, and now I have not only two jars of sloe gin maturing in the cupboard, but various other concoctions steeping at the back of a cupboard. I promise that these will appear over time, but today’s little feature is one that I am particularly looking forward to.

First off, I have to ’fess up to the fact that this is a complete lift-and-shift from a recent cookbook acquisition of mine, the fantastic Salt Sugar Smoke by Diana Henry. If you’re into preserving things at home, this is definitely a book for you! It has wonderful photography that takes you through the world of jams and jellies, pickles, smoking, salt preserving and how to make a range of fruit liqueurs.

This autumnal recipe in particular really caught my eye – you just take a whole pear, pop it into a large jar, add a few spices and some orange peel, and leave the lot to steep for a few months.

pear_liquer

Now, I was a little unsure about this “whole pear” approach (surely I should be slicing the thing to get all the flavour out?) but sure enough after a few days, the pear skin splits and I’m imagining all the flavour mixing with the spirit. The mixture has already taken on a slightly orange hue, but the hard part is waiting for nature to take its course. The pear and spices need to sit for a month before the sugar goes in, and then the whole lot needs to site for another four months to mature. All this means that some time in February 2014 I should be able to enjoy this liqueur. That, or I might just sneak the stuff out from the cellar in time for Christmas….we’ll just have to wait and see how patient I can be!

To make spiced pear liqueur (from Diana Henry’s “Salt Sugar Smoke”)

• 1 ripe pear (an aromatic variety, like Williams)
• 1 cinnamon stick
• ½ whole nutmeg
• 1 piece orange zest (no white pith)
• 800ml vodka
• 225g white sugar

1. Pop the pear (unpeeled) into a large jar with the cinnamon, nutmeg and orange zest. Add the vodka. Seal the jar, and leave on a kitchen window for a month. Admire it from time to time as the alcohol takes on the colours (and hopefully flavours) of the fruit and spices.

2. Add the sugar and re-seal the jar. Shake lightly, then store somewhere dark. Shake every day for a week until the sugar is dissolved. Leave for at least four months before tasting.

3. Drink!

Worth making? We’ll find out in a few months…

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Rose Jam

Some challenges are just too tempting to resist.

At the back of my garden, I have a wall full of roses – three bushes which cover the space with large, dark red blooms with a lovely heady fragrance. As roses feature in a lot of Middle Eastern cuisine, this set me thinking: could I make something with them?

A few moments online suggested something very easy to try would be to make rose jam (or more precisely, rose jelly). The idea is pretty simple – just steep the roses in hot water to extract their colour and perfume, them mix the strained liquid with pectin-rich sugar and briefly boil. So rose jam it would be.

rose_jam

In working out how to make this jam, I found there were two approaches. One involved just using the rose petals and leaving it at that, while others suggest adding a few drops of rose extract at the end of the cooking process to enhance the flavour. Well, this second option seemed to me to be a little like cheating – the only reason to make rose jam in the first place is to capture their perfume, so if you’re getting that perfume from a bottle, then you might as well just boil up a sugar-pectin mixture, and throw in some flavour and not bother with the real thing. Needless to say, I opted for the “natural” approach and hoped for the best.

The first part of making rose jam is both interesting and alarming. You pop the petals into a large saucepan with hot water, then watch them wilt down and turn quite pale as their colour seeps into the water. At this point, the colour of the water can be quite surprising – either a murky brown colour is you use pale petals, while dark red petals turn the liquid almost blue. You have the scent of the roses, but the colour just is not what you would imagine. However, there is an all-natural trick which helps fix things. A simple dash of lemon juice does something to the murky rose water, and it changes, in my case from dark blue to a rich red, just like wine.

This recipe is easy, and while it is very sweet, it does have the colour and scent of roses. It’s not one to spread on fruitcake or gingerbread where the flavour would be lost. You want to serve alongside something simple, like scones with cream, so that the delicate taste is not overpowered by something else. That, or get more adventurous, and use it when making baklava, on yoghurt or in various desserts that might suggest warm evenings in Persian rose fields.

If you’re going to make this, just be sure to use natural flowers – ideally from the garden or somewhere wild, where you can be sure that they have not been sprayed with any chemical nasties. Sadly this means you will probably need to avoid the spectacular roses you can buy in your local florist. Just pop those into a vase and admire them!

To make rose jam (makes around 4 pots):

• 1 litre rose petals, lightly packed
• 1 litre boiling water
• 1 lemon, juice only
• 1 kg preserving sugar

1. Put the rose petals into a saucepan. Pour on the boiling water, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for around 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave to steep for another 20 minutes.

2. Add the lemon juice to the liquid, which should change the colour to pink or red. Filter the liquid into a large pot and add the sugar.

3. Put the pot onto a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil, then simmer until you reach the setting point.

4. Once the jam is ready to bottle, leave to cool slightly, then spoon into prepared, sterilised bottles.

Worth making? If your garden has only three roses, don’t bother, and just enjoy them in their natural form. However, this is a lovely way to use roses if you have dozens and dozens of them, and helps to make summer last just that little bit longer.

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