The last of the hedgerows jams and jellies has been bubbled and boiled for another year, the jam making equipment has been packed away though I know I’ll have to get it all out again in a few weeks for making up a batch of apple rich mincemeat……The pantry shelves are all stacked with different jams made with the wild fruit from within a few hundred metres of my home….Normally I stick to variations of blackberries (prefering a thick treacle like jelly than a seedy jam) and raspberries from the garden, as those are our favourites and as we get older we’ve become more stuck in our ways, but this year the blackberry harvest wasn’t as good as last year (when I ate so many blackberries I was very much in danger of turning into one) so I began to look around me, and began to really appreciate the beautiful hedgerows that are dotted around my village……
Gorgeous rosy cheeked crab apples, wildings, rose hips, haws from hawthorns (the fruits can vary so much but it’s easiest identified by the leaf shape…like tiny oak leaves), rowan berries, and apple roses with hips as big as tomatoes……other fruits I’ve foraged this Summer and used for jams and ice-creams include mirabelle plums and wild cherries and gooseberries from my friend Jan’s allotment…..so while at first it felt like the glass was a bit half empty, looking at all the different flavoured jams I’ve made instead, the glass is in fact full and over flowing.
I’ve also made fruity syrups for sore Winter throats, variations on a rosehip one with haws and rowan berries for extra vitamin C, and a beautiful dark claret one infused with a handful of blackberries and the last of the elderberries.
Along with the jams and jellies, there are boozey filled Kilner jars, inside an assortment of wild fruit, slowly drowning their sorrows in vodka, gin, cognac and brandy….this makes us sound like a right old pair but while neither of us are big drinkers (unless it’s tea) a little glass of something warming on a cold winter’s night hits the spot most pleasantly.
The other weekend while the weather was still all warm and sunshiney we went for a bit of an amble over the marshes and were properly treated by finding a row of blackberry bushes just laden down with fruit. While not as juicy or sweet as the blackberries we picked earlier in the season, these actually had a deeper flavour….many exploded as we picked them (too much rain of late so we ended up with foxglove fingers) or were as hard as bullets when we sampled a couple but that didn’t stop us from a happy hour or so of picking in the Autumn sunshine.
I’ve picked blackberries from this spot before, they’re the last of the berries to ripen up (other bushes were finished weeks ago) and they’re always a bit on the seedy side so are best used in jellies where the seeds are all strained out and just that dark intense juice remains.
We’re pretty well stocked up now for syrups but I made another jelly with the blackberries, this time cooking some wildlings first before tipping in the berries and a piece of star anise…….allowing the fruit to gently simmer and to fill the kitchen with a lovely rich perfume……
Blackberry and wildling jelly
(the basics which you can adapt)
Roughly chop your wildlings (or crab apples), put into a big pan and cover with water (for my 650 g apples I used 500 ml water)….simmer til the apples are soft then add the blackberries (850 g) and a little more water (250 ml) and a piece of star anise (I used a whole “star”)…simmer until all the fruit is soft (my blackberries were very hard so I let them gently cook for about half an hour.)
Allow the fruity pulp to cool and then tip into a big wet and wrung out jelly bag (or pillowcase) and allow to drip (or if you’re impatient squeeze the bag after a couple of hours…)
Measure your collected juice and for every 570 ml of juice you want about 450 g of sugar. I also add a good squeeze of lemon juice.
On a gentle heat allow the sugar to dissolve into the juice, stir all the while so nothing sticks and then once it’s all liquid, turn up the heat and bring to a rolling boil for about 5 minutes, check for a set, and remove the foamy scum from the surface of the jelly.
Pour into sterilised jars and seal……particularly good on tea cakes or fruit enriched loaves.
The other jelly I made last week was a crab apple and quince one…..I allowed the quinces to really ripen before using them, for the past few weeks opening the living room door in the morning has been a real joy, the sherbety scent of the quinces has perfumed the air reminding me a little of lemony turkish delight (I may have lost my chocolatey sweet tooth but still adore Turkish delight and honey halva)……
I used half a quill of cinnamon as the fruit cooked and on tasting the jelly I think I could have used a whole one, there’s just a very soft, background taste of cinamon and perhaps it could have been stronger….while the jam/jelly bubbled wafts of November seemed to slowly rise up in the steam…..it’s all jumbled in together, slightly spicy, baked apples, bonfires, mouldy leaves (not what my jam smelt of but bringing up memories of kicking through big piles of them stacked up on pavements…)
I finally was very good and allowed the juice to slowly drip through the jelly bag into the waiting bowl below, as it was the last jelly being made I thought I should make at least one the “proper” way…no getting all impatient and squeezing the bag…drip drip drip…slow cooking at it’s finest…while the juice slowly driped, I slowly stitched, and as the stitches grew on my knitting needles, the juice filled up in the bowl…..and was it worth it…well I hadn’t made another quince and apple jelly to compare it with but in looks alone the jelly came out so clear and sparkling…like the most precious piece of flame coloured amber or a transulenct honey. So maybe yes, for light coloured jellies then it’s worth it….the only problem with using wild fruits is the amount of foam and then fruity scum they produce.*
Quince and Wildling Jelly
(the basics which you can adapt…)
Chop up the quinces (I had about 500 g) and tumble them into a big pan, cover with water (I used about a litre of water), bring to a boil and then turn the heat down and allow the quince to gently simmer for about 30 mins.
Roughly chop your apples (I used about a kilo) and add to the simmering quinces, pour in about another litre of water and pop in a piece of cinnamon. Allow the apples to soften (about 20 minutes or so) before turning off the heat and letting the fruity pulp cool.
Tip the fruity pulp into a big jelly bag (which you’ve soaked in water and wrung out just before using) and allow the juice to slowly drip drip drip into a waiting bowl below. Try not to squeeze the bag.
Measure the collected liquid and for every litre of juice you want a kilo of sugar (I use white granulated)…on a very gentle heat allow the sugar to dissolve into the juice, once everything is a hot golden liquid, turn up the heat and keep stiriring while everything comes to a rolling boil….allow to bubble furiously for about 5 minutes, check for a set, remove the foamy scum and then pour into sterilised jars and seal.
This is a nice alternative to marmalade as a breakfast preserve, and I used some in little jam tarts which disappeared incredibly quickly.
*with the foamy scum, it’s best to remove it as it’s all filled with air and apparently stops your jam from keeping so well, but rather than chuck it, it can be microwaved for about 30 seconds or so and it tranforms back into jam…this can then be allowed to cool and served on scones or kept in the fridge for a day or so for toast or used to fill pastry case tarts….(it won’t keep so it’s best eaten up quickly…like you need an excuse with home made jam).