Showing posts with label jam. Show all posts
Showing posts with label jam. Show all posts

27 Oct 2019

In a pickle - Make the most of the best from the autumn edible garden

Books about preserving food laid out on a wooden surface.

Ah, autumn! A time to clear and mulch beds, think about what to grow next year, sow seeds for micro leaves, plant bulbs and get creative in the kitchen. Busy, busy. Possibly even busier than spring as autumn feels more urgent, especially with harvests to deal with and winter creeping closer.

This year I've had some good harvests but what to do with the surplus?  When I thought I couldn't possibly eat another fresh courgette/tomato/bean/apple, it was time to get out the preserving books and kilner jars - waste not, want not as it's said.

I've harvested large bowls of tomatoes, achocha, beetroot, apples, quinces - but almost anything can be stored for winter use by pickling, drying, bottling, freezing or cooking.

What's the point, you may ask, with so much food available from the shops or farmer's markets? The point is that I (or you) have grown it myself. I know the soil the food's been grown in, I know that it's organic and no pesticides have been used, I know that I've harvested at the perfect time for flavours to be fully and naturally developed. And I'm also storing memories and hope. So this post is about preserving the best of what I've grown this year.

21 Nov 2015

How to preserve an abundance of Achocha

If you grow achocha (or cucumbers), you'll know how many small fruits you get in the autumn. Here's two quick and easy preserves to deal with the glut, with a printable pdf for your recipe file.

So what do you do when nature has decided to dump your entire achocha harvest in your lap (metaphorically speaking) all at once?  You can either eat small green porcupine peppers for the next two weeks at every meal - a task fit to stretch anyone's culinary creativity - or you can turn to the preserving books on your (or the local library's) shelves.  I opted to preserve most and cook a few.

As a keen forager (when I have time) and grower, I have several excellent preserving books. Although there's a wealth of advice on the internet, I prefer the tried and tested methods that have made it into print. This time I looked through Piers Warren's How to Store your Garden Produce (reviewed here)  and, newly gifted to my collection, The National Trust book of Jams and Preserves. This is an extremely handsome book that has inspired a wealth of ideas for next year's garden produce.

I had to really think about which recipes I could use; after all, achocha is not your usual allotment fare. Botanically speaking, achocha (Cyclanthera) are classified as a subtribe of curcubits, the same family as pumpkins, squash, courgettes, gourds, melons, cucumbers and, yes, even loofahs. Having said that, they're not fleshy like pumpkins and the mature fruits don't have the watery flesh of melons and cucumbers. For cooking purposes, achocha can be used like a diminutive cousin of the sweet green pepper. However, the pepper preserving recipes I found seemed to be aimed at chilli peppers so in the end I decided I'd be safe treating the fruits as cucumbers.  Whew, decision reached.

You might at this stage wonder why I didn't consider freezing them. Well, apparently extreme cold breaks down the cell membranes so they turn to unpleasant mush on defrosting.  My chosen recipes of cucumber achocha jam and sweet cucumber achocha pickle sounded much nicer. I don't usually eat pickle but I dislike wasting food and had the pickle ingredients in the cupboard; also I was intrigued by the thought of cucumber jam. Hmm, savoury jam? A bit odd but I thought I'd give it a go and it turned out to be surprisingly delicious. The author, Piers Warren, suggests the option of adding a good pinch of ground ginger to the jam at simmering stage which I did - along with a pinch of cinnamon for good measure and the finely grated zest as well as the required juice of a lemon.

I've yet to try the pickle.  Apparently the original recipe will go nicely with fish and chips. Again, I got creative with the recipe by adding in yellow peppers, chillies and mustard seeds to my sliced up achocha and shallots - it should give quite a pop of flavour!

A printable pdf of my jam and pickle recipes can be found here; could be useful for those who've decided to give the seeds a go next year. I'm thinking now of growing achocha fruits specifically for making this jam next year - it's delicious on bread with cheese.

9 Aug 2015

Pause for thought

I don't like jam.

I had that thought yesterday morning while trying to sort out some Morello cherry jam that hadn't set properly. All the jam I made tasted overwhelmingly sweet (even with sticking religiously to the recipe) and I want to taste the fruit, not the sugar.  So, I asked myself, why am I growing sour cherries? Why not sweet cherries? And then I started to rethink the garden, as you do.

I thought about what I really enjoy in the garden. More apples and plums would be good, some more everyday herbs, room to grow in the ground and less in pots - and more flowers, lots more flowers. Every year it's the flowers that excite me (as much as the veg!) and with that in mind, I'm getting my seed box out today to sow some biennials for next year. Meanwhile, having separated the jam fruit from the oversweet syrup, I added it to recently picked raspberries and redcurrants; yesterday's experiment is now a nice compote of fruit, sweetened with elderflower cordial and sugar to taste.

That still leaves me with the sour cherry trees to sort. Sour cherries are my best fruit crop and I dislike wasting anything I've grown. A plan is needed, one to gradually replace one of the Morello trees with a sweet cherry. And perhaps I could find someone locally who would want the crop next year. This year my two trees produced nearly 3 kg of fruit. Not much, but definitely too much to waste.

A rethink was also on my mind last week as I tidied the garden with the help of my gardening neighbour, Karen, in readiness for the Camden in Bloom judges. I kept asking myself why on earth I'd entered the competition; surely this little patch wasn't up to the mark for judging.  Moreover, how could I make it better?  However, Karen kept me on track and plants were repotted, pots were mulched, pavements were weeded, paths swept, trees and shrubs pruned lightly, flowers deadheaded, strawberries tidied, bare patches weeded or replanted and, just as it was getting dark and despite both being doggone tired, all was topped off with a good long watering to ensure the garden looked fresh and perky on the day.

A couple of jobs were left for the following morning. A 9 a.m. start was planned as I'd been told the judges would arrive at 11. Just after 9 a.m., Karen buzzed my door and whispered, "They're here!". Blimey! The judging appointment had been rescheduled.  They'd met Karen on the way to the garden with her tool bag and assumed she was me.  It was only after some minutes of chatting about the garden that she realised their mistake and hurried back to get me.  Karen tells me that the judges reaction on seeing the garden was really good, words like 'wow', 'amazing' were apparently used. Of course, I'm chuffed to bits about that.  Hopefully my green oasis made its mark.  And never mind if there was still work to be done - a garden is never finished and it showed that this garden is a real work in progress.  Chris Collins, who used to be the Blue Peter gardener, was a judge; it was really nice to chat to him as I value his opinion, given that he's properly experienced in these things. And the photographer clicked away for almost an hour (worse than me!).  I won't now hear how I got on until end of August or early September and life has settled down once more.

The garden has been on my mind though.  My shady border at the north end of the garden had just had all the foxgloves cut down so is looking a bit sparse with just a couple of heucheras, some sweet woodruff and some ferns. Some winter planting is needed together with a nearby water butt so that I can lessen the impact of dry shade.  A new water butt (aka green wheelie bin) was kindly donated by the recycling centre the next day and will be filled when the hosepipes come out next time.

The veg garden will have to be rethought again.  A couple of the original raised beds have rotted away from their posts and will be removed when the veg is cleared.  A new system for containing the soil will have to be found - some untreated railway sleepers would be nice but I suspect I'll be begging some scaffolding planks instead.  It will be a good time to rethink the layout and perhaps move a few of the herbs as I've learned that parsley prefers to grow in light shade.

And I want more flowers.  I always want more flowers at this time of year - not for picking but just for looking at. Wonderful autumn perennials are elsewhere coming into their own now - salvias, grasses, heleniums, eryngiums - and I long for that burst of colour here.  Thinking cap on.  Seed catalogues out. Onwards, ever onwards.

31 Aug 2014

Edible urban: Foraging / preserving the taste of summer

City fruit. There's a surprising amount of it about on trees and shrubs in the street, parks, gardens and abandoned areas, just waiting to be turned into jams, jellies, sauces, chutneys and wine. Living near Hampstead Heath, I can also add woodlands and hedgerows to that list.  Autumn abundance seems to have arrived early this year; masses of rowan berries, rose hips and haws are ripening in the streets. Large juicy blackberries lurked (past tense, the children have surprisingly long arms!) just out of reach on the nearby railway line and I was almost caught on the hop with elderberries.

I love the slightly exotic look of elderberries: red stems and glossy black fruits, they are the Morticia Adams of the hedgerow. Toxic (as in severe tummy upset) when raw but delicious and edible when cooked into cordials, jams and wine. I was after a few to make some elderberry cordial. I swear the berries weren't ripe a couple of weeks ago but suddenly I was seeing stems stripped bare. Time to start picking if I wanted some!

Last Sunday's weather was good but forecast to change within the next 24 hours so, tucking a couple of carrier bags into my pockets and my camera over my shoulder, I headed off towards the heath hedgerows.  There weren't that many elderberries to be had (I had about 300g of berries after de-stemming and picking out the green ones) but I found a long row of blackthorn bushes covered with sloes, loads of bramble berries and the motherlode of rose hips. Perfect for a Hedgerow Jelly.

The rule for hedgerow jelly is to gather only-just-ripe fruit on a dry day. Make the jam straightaway or freeze the fruit until needed. Use any mix of the fruit you find (sloes, hips, haws, bullaces, damsons, berries) and match it 50:50 with sharp apples (cooking or crab apples).  Soft fruit usually have low levels of pectin and acid, apples have high levels so the apples are needed to ensure a good set.

Back at home my gathered fruit was lightly rinsed (drop of vinegar added) and dried - I like to know that there are no critters lurking. (And there were. We're dealing with nature here. There will be life, lots of it, in the hedgerows. Some people may not like that.) Blackberries were picked over for any insects and grubs, elderberries were taken off the stalks and green berries discarded, rose hips were topped, tailed and then blitzed whole in a food processor. This gave me around a kilo of fruit which I matched with another kilo of cooking apples. Crab apples would have been my first choice but I was unable to find any … for now. Apparently crab apples add a lovely rosy glow to a jelly, something I'd like to see.

After adding water and stewing the fruit to draw out the pectin and juices, I popped the fruit into my new jelly bag to strain overnight. Previously I've faffed about with muslin cloths and ingenious methods of suspending the fruit over a bowl; a tiny accident put a stop to that - it involved some rosehips, a cloth suspended on high, a bowl filled with juice and a plank of wood over the bath followed by a bit of redecorating.  This jelly bag, for me, is progress.

I had about 1.5 litres of juice the following morning. I thought it was delicious at this stage, if ever so slightly tart. But, onwards. Into the pan it went, brought to the boil, sugar added (not quite as much as the recipe suggested) and brought to a rolling boil until setting point (104 C) was reached. I don't trust the cold saucer test so have a cook's thermometer.  About 15 minutes later (using that time to sterilise the jars and lids), I had jelly, of sorts. It still looked very liquid when I poured it into the jars despite the required temperature being reached. Oh well, I thought, it can be reboiled to thicken if needed. And, actually, as it cooled, it set. A bit on the soft side, but I quite like that. We live and learn.

A bit more:
1, I wish I'd put even less sugar in the jam but then, would it have set? Would there be less flavour? I need to better understand the science behind jam making.
2, I was able to blitz my rosehips, seeds and all, because the fruit was being strained so the pips and their surrounding hairs were filtered out. The hairs are an extreme irritant, used in making itching powder!
3, Try to use fruit growing away from the road for less of those kerbside fumes.
4, I'm convinced that jam making, like baking bread and cakes, fulfils some deeply subliminal primeval urge. Despite there being absolutely no need whatsoever to make my own preserves, there is something so satisfying in the process.
5, I haven't gone Polaroid-mad, I've been amusing myself with an app that makes photos look like polaroids. Useful for cards, labels, recipes, etc. Find Pola (for Mac) here.

Finally (hurrah!), passing on some useful information. I've found a brilliant website for preserving, Rosie Makes Jam.  Rosemary Jameson founder of the Guild of Jam Makers, has a plethora of inspiring recipes on her site (Beetroot and Elderberry chutney, anyone?) and links to her shop where she sells jars, etc. My favourite is the ingredient calculator that converts the recipe to the amounts available. Invaluable.

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