No need for a runcible spoon……

slicing-quince-for-jelly

The last of the wildlings are just about ready to fall off the trees, easy to see now that the branches are half bare and the fruit has turned golden yellow…one of my favourite breakfast jams (well more of a jelly along the lines of a wobbly, peel-less marmalade) to make is Quince and Wildling jelly….this isn’t the true quince as eaten off a runcible spoon by the owl and the pussycat, but the smaller fruiting Japonica quince (Chaenomeles)….I noticed one growing up up the road and round the corner a ways a few years ago and decided to pick some fruit and make a jelly…the results were very good as the fruit contains plenty of pectin and also takes on other flavours well too….I tend to use it alongside the wildlings as the small quince never harvest very much (though this year I gathered just under 850 grammes) …

I tend to pick the quince before they are fully ripe and then get to enjoy a couple of weeks as they slowly ripen in a huge bowl in our sitting room…the scent is all sherbetty and citrussy and makes me think of Turkish Delight and Arabian Nights….

apples and quinces

The quince need to be simmered a little longer than the apples so I tend to give them a wipe over with a clean damp cloth and then slice them into discs, pop them into a large heavy bottomed pan where they are covered with water and slowly allowed to soften…then the prepared wildlings are tumbled in and simmered…

The golden hued jelly is lovely as a breakfast preserve, it really suits soft brioche rolls and fluffy breakfast buns rather than wholemeal toasts (though feel free to eat it like that if you  prefer)…it also works well to heat and use as a glaze on top of pastries….

quince and wildling jelly

(sometimes I run out of jam jars for the last little bit of jelly so I just put what is left in the pan in a tea cup and keep it in the fridge)

This is a link to my original recipe (I used half a cinnamon quill to add another note of flavour) but this is the version I made this week…..

Golden hued quince and wildling jelly

Ingredients

850 g  Japonica quince

1500 g of wildlings (what we call apples that just grow randomly and whose variety is unknown)

Granulated Sugar (I tend to keep a couple of those huge 2 kilo size bags around for making jelly and jam this time of year)

(allowing the juice to slowly drip I got 1500ml of juice, but then I squeezed the bag and measured out another 350 ml….I could have squeezed more if I had wanted…)

sliced quince

Method….

Wash the japonica quince in cool water, pat dry, and slice into discs….place all the fruit into a large heavy bottomed pan (or a stainless steel jam pan), cover with water (for every 100 g of fruit you need to use 200 ml of water)…on a gentle heat, bring to a slow simmer and allow the fruit to soften…

After about half an hour, wash and wipe over the wildlings and chop into pieces, add the apples to the quince (including the cores) and also some more water…this time for every 100 g of apples I use 75 ml of water….continue to allow the fruit to simmer til the apples become fluffy and “lambswoolly”…..while the apples and quince are cookng you can add a quill of cinnamon or a dried star anise, but this time I added a couple of leaves from my Attar of Roses Pelargonium for a delicate floral note……

Once the fruit has softened, allow to cool…if you like you can break the fruit up even more with a potato masher…once the fruity pulp has fully cooled, pour it into a wet jelly bag (I tend to use an old pillow case that I use only for jam and jelly making)…hang the bag of fruit pulp up so it can slowly drip into a bowl and leave for a good few hours or overnight…

If you don’t squeeze the bag the resulting jelly will be clear and dazzling, but if you aren’t planning on using the jelly for Village Fetes or local shows, then squeeze away as you will be able to make several more jars with the resulting juice, it will still taste as nice but won’t be quite so ooh to look at…..

Measure the juice, for every litre of juice you want to use 1 kilo of granulated sugar…..

At this stage, pop a couple of saucers into the freezer ready to use for a set test…and make sure you have plenty of sterilized jam jars being kept warm….

In a clean jam pan, combine the juice and sugar….slowly heat and allow the sugar to dissolve, keep stirring and then turn up the heat so you get a nice rolling boil….. being wild fruit, a lot more white froth will be produced, it’s best to try and remove as much of this as you can as the froth contains a lot of air and this will prevent the jelly from keeping as well as it should….

Once the fruity syrup has been boiling for about 5 minutes, check for a set…I tend to do this by spooning out a little of the syrupy liquid onto a saucer straight from the freezer…give it a minute or so and then push your finger into it….if it wrinkles then it is ready, if it remains all liquidy then give the jelly another minute or two at the rolling boil and test again but be careful not to overboil….once you get the wrinkle, carefully laddle the jelly syrup into sterilised jars and gently lay on top waxed paper discs, allow to fully  cool before covering with cellophane circles and elastic bands………this is quite a soft set jelly, so it’s lovely and wobbly…..

The resulting colour is a beautiful mellow, golden and honey jelly and is just perfect for slow weekend breakfasts on brioche rolls or fluffy white breakfast buns….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There’s a cat in the jam pan and some wild apple vodka……

 

autumn-raspberries

We’ve had some surprisingly sunny weather the past few days and while the raspberries in the garden are starting to show signs of slowing down there are still a fair few to come….mostly we’ve been eating them as they are but a request was put in for more Raspberry Cognac Jam so I made a batch of that last week while trying to keep the cat from next door out of the kitchen….I often have the back door open as it gets a bit hot and steamy in the kitchen as the fruit melts with the sugar and slowly becomes jam, and inevitably the little miss just keeps trotting in for fussing and attentions….she rubs round my feet and I seem to have one eye on the bubbling jam and the other on where she is and what’s she getting up to now…generally it involves trying to play with knitting I may have left on the side or trying to sneak a taste of what Bernard was having for his lunch…

The jam itself is very easy to make (especially if you don’t have the cat from next door trying to jump up to play and getting all underfoot…..)…you don’t even need that many berries to make a little batch and when I make a small amount I find it’s easier to cook the fruit in a heavy bottomed pan (like Le Crueset) rather than a big pan designed for jam making

jam-pan-kitty

And talking about jam pans…..hmmmm….it would seem that they make rather nice places to catch a crafty forty winks when we aren’t looking…… obviously it’s all my fault for not putting the pan away properly after I’d used it, but to be fair I hadn’t expected to find someone making themselves quite so cosy……

out-of-the-pan-and-into

That’s one very expensive cat bed…… at least the pan had been all washed so he won’t be all jam sticky…..

wildlingsSo while the jam pan is being used for other things (I can’t believe he’s really made himself a little bed in there…) at least I can make use of some of the crab apples and wildlings that I’ve picked from the hedgerows that seem to be really heaving this Autumn…..I made some apple vodka last year and wasn’t really sure how it was going to turn out taste wise, however it was a more than pleasant surprise…..I left the apples slowly drowning in a big Kilner jar of vodka for about 6 months…then had a taste and another taste…hic….. it was more than a little reminiscent of a warm apple brandy or a Calvados….and when I offered tastes to friends no-one guessed it was vodka.

bachelor jam style infused gin

I also made a bachelor jam style drink….different hedgerow fruit is layered with sugar and then the tipple of your choice is poured over…..just leave in a dark place for a few months……

It looked like it was going to rain an hour or so ago so I quickly nipped out to fill a basket with apples, beautiful yellow and orange apples the size of ping pong balls, all flushed and rosy with a real transulent glow about them…and then a selection of sharp green apples. Both work well in the flavoured vodka, and it’s really just a matter of giving them a clean, chopping them up and covering them in sugar and vodka and leaving them……. very welcome on a cold February evening when the wind is wild and it’s cold and dark outside…..

(I also got to see my little friend Bertie…he’s an adorable King Charles Spaniel with tufty russety orange eyebrows…he’s a real sweety and I was more than happy to sit on the grass and have a few minutes fussing with him while I chatted away with his owner about the joys of foraging and what I was going to be making)…..

apple-tree

Wild Apple Vodka….

ingredients

200g  wild apples

300 ml vodka (doesn’t have to be a flash pricey one)

50g granulated sugar

2 cloves, piece of cinamon, star anise*…….

decent sized Kilner jar

method

Sterilize the Kilner jar……..

Wash and pat dry the apples…..chop into quarters, discard any stalk but you can leave in the core.

Throw a handful of chopped apples into the jar and cover with some sugar, repeat and add a clove, repeat with more apples and sugar and another clove, repeat with more apples and sugar…… (I tuck the spices in the middle)……

Pour over the vodka and seal the jar.  Give everything a gentle shake.

Put in a dark cupboard and gently shake the jar every few days (this helps dissolve the sugar)….Leave for a few months before tasting….if you’d like a more developed flavour just leave well alone for another couple of months……  finally remove the apples and spices.

You can simmer the vodka drowned fruit and use them as a base for fruit fools (beware…they’ll be quite tipsy tasting) or apple tarts.

 

*as the apples and vodka are left for several months, the spice flavour slowly developes…you don’t need to add more than a couple of cloves to make a warm soothing flavoured vodka, however half a cinnamon quill or a star anise flower could be added if you’d like a stronger flavoured drink…. too many cloves though will make it taste more like a Winter cough sweet though than a nice WInter evening tipple……

 

 

blossoms, bees, butterflies and bernard……

apple blossom

We’ve three small apple trees in our garden and this year we (well I say we but it was the boyfriend as he’s the one with the green fingers and thumbs,) decided to move two of them so they’d get a bit more sunshine and light…two are in huge pots, and I’m not wholly sure what the plans are for tree three…one of the trees is still to blossom but it’s a later variety however the other two have been a real treat to see….delicate rose tipped petals…with glorious buttercup coloured centers…..

the palest pink blossoms

The fragrance surrounding the trees has been so wonderful, the scent is quite reminiscent of gardenia or tuberose…especially one of the trees we’ve moved, it’s really basked in the sunshine and it’s blossoms are incredibly heady.

The powdery apple pollen has been somewhat of a feast for the bees, most mornings when I’m either taking out vegetable peelings for the compost or filling up the bird feeders I spot fat bottomed bees tumbling around in those silky scented petals…and it’s not just bees that have been enjoying the apple blossom, the garden is already full of tiny blue butterflies and pretty orange tipped ones.  As we live pretty close to a river and some of our neighbours have ponds, we often see damson flies and spectacular jewel bright dragonflies darting about the garden, sometimes they rest near the blossoms before flying off in the air above.

blue and yellow forget me nots

The forget-me-nots have begun to take over the garden and while I know some gardeners see them as weeds, we’re happy to let them grow, enjoying the soft smudges of colour as they spread out along path edges and down the sides of steps…the petals are a much darker bue this year, I suppose as it’s been a combination of mild weather which has meant they’ve grown, but without the full Summer sun to then fade them….they’re almost as dark as a bluebell.

delicate blue forget me nots

I love watching the colours of the flowers change, they start off as the tiniest buds of lilac and lavender, mauve and pinky…..slowly opening up to reveal those blue petals.  Last year we also had lots of catseye/birdseye speedwell but that’s been a bit slow making an appearance.

tiny blue sprigs

Tiny clusters of petals seem to form the smallest little posies….along with the forget-me-nots we’ve also let our wild strawberries spread out, everywhere we look there are tiny strawberry blossoms.  We’ve grown both the alpine (long pointy fruit and very hardy…I’ve eaten freshly picked Strawberries in November) and wild (rounder in shape and as sweet as a kiss) strawberries and over the years they’ve cross pollinated so the fruits now are seem to be a bit of a mix, some can be a bit tart but others taste like an opal fruit sweetie.  I like adding a few of them to the bigger berries when I make ice-cream and we’ve also used them before with some water mint or apple mint I’ve picked from a walk over the marshes to make a Summer cocktail with very happy results.

under the chery tree

And it’s not just blossoms, bees and butterlies in the garden…if there’s sunshine then Bernard soon heads out and takes up residence under the cherry tree….the shade there is all dappled and when he sprawls out he almost disappears….for the most part he ignores the birds, there’s been a few disagreements in past years wiht the blackbirds and he’s now a bit frightened of them, many the times he’s been chased indoors only to sit up and glare out the window at them.

Equally the birds don’t seem too bothered by Bernard, he’s not really agile enough to climb the cherry tree so they seem quite content to use the feeders above him (dropping bits of seed shell down on him as if to tease)….they’re also still pulling off wisps of fleece for nesting…mostly its the tiny tits that seem to love the fleece though I’ve also seem the goldfinches inspect it…but generall it’s the tits, they pull out the finest strands of fleecy fluff, and keep pulling and pulling, until they seem almost covered with sheepy candy floss fronts before flying off.

Hedgerow syrups for sore winter throats…..

crab apples and haws

Most of the jellies I’ve made this year have been combinations of crab apples, haws and rosehips.  All of these grow in the hedgerows that dot and line the village I live in (it’s about a forty minute walk to the city so not far from excellent coffee and a brilliant local bookshop)…certainly within a couple of hundred metres from my front door I have the ingredients to make a beautiful fruity tasting breakfast preserve (it’s really quite orangey tasting and being full of rosehips I’ve convinced myself it’s a health food…bursting full of vitamin C)

wild rose hips

This year seems to be a bumper harvest year for the wild rosehips and although I saw them in flower I’m amazed at how many there are.

I’m very lucky because these all grow along the side of grass paths, and children’s play-areas, there are no cars nor are there fields being sprayed with goodness knows what so I feel very safe foraging here.  I try not to take too much from any one spot, even though I don’t see anyone else ever picking (I think I’m known as the girl with a basket* by some of my elderly neighbours) but there’s a lot of wildlife here, no end of squirrels, various little mice, birds and foxes, and where I have the ability to pop down the shops when I’m hungry the hedgerows really are their pantry, their life source over the cold months (especially now most winters aren’t properly cold enough for small animals to hibernate properly) so they really need those berries.

hips from an apple rose

Along with using wild rosehips I’ve also used apple rosehips, these are from some beautiful turkish delight scented roses that grow behind our house near a play- ground (there are so many little parks and places for small children to play it’s brilliant, though I always feel sorry for older children as there is nowhere really for them to hang out).  In the Summer months the rose bushes are a mass of wide open bright pink flowers, they really capture the sun and smell amazing.

Once Autumn starts creeping up, the petals have fallen and the hips have swollen and become round and fat, about  the size of cherry tomatoes.  I try to just pick the firm ones though a few softer ones seem to end up in the bowl as well as the odd ladybug.

an afternoons foraging

There were still loads of elderberries about when I picked these (from the same trees where I picked the flowers for cordial back at the end of the spring)..my walking stick (a bargain from the charity shop and I rarely go foraging without it) comes in very handy, helping me to pull down the higher branches which are covered with heavy heads of black elderberries.

Elderberries are anti-viral and are high in vitamin C so are a really good addition to any winter syrup recipes.

a hedgerow harvest

Along with the elderberries there are also a couple of nicely placed rowan trees nearby so a few bunches of orangey coloured berries were also picked to add a little more flavour and depth to the syrup.

Like the rosehips and elderberries, rowan berries are high in Vitamin C and are very good for the immune system.

a very wee fellow

It’s not only the odd ladybug that travels home with me when I’ve been foraging, when I was picking over the elderberries I found this wee fellow.

the smallest snail I've ever seen

Now I know he’s going to grow up all big and fat and eat my nice winter greens but he was the tiniest little snail I think I’ve ever seen and I just didn’t have the heart to squash him (or fling him over the fence) instead he was carefully placed near the compost bin where there is plenty of greenery (but not our Kale or sprouting broccoli)

hedgerow syrups for winter throats

Making the syrup took a couple of days (I spent nearly a day preparing all the fruit, topping and tailing the rosehips, pinching out the scubby ends of the haws, carefully removing the elderberries (which I found easier not using a fork…)..at this point having the radio on was a big help as it is a bit of a thankless task and seems to take ages.

I half followed a rosehip syrup recipe but used a little less water as I was using apples and elderberries and they have a lot of their own juice.  The fruit simmered until everything was soft, then it’s strained twice before it’s bought to a boil with sugar.

Winter Syrup

Hedgerow fruit (rosehips, haws, rowan, elderberries and crab apples/wildings)

Granulated sugar

Method

Wash and dry your fruit.  Top and tail the rose hips.  Remove the scrubby bottoms of any haws.  Quarter any crab apples (chop smaller any large ones), remove all the stalks from the elderberries.

Weigh your fruit.

I prefer to use mostly rosehips, then haws, rowan berries, elderberries and crab apples in no particular order, just as they are picked.

Weigh the rosehips, haws and rowan berries.  These want to make up the main bulk of the fruit.

For every 100g  of these you want to add a 100ml of water.

With the apples and elderberries, for every 100g of those then add 65ml of water.

Simmer the red fruits first for about half an hour so that they soften before adding the apples and elderberries and their required water.

Simmer for a further half an hour until everything is soft and mushy.

Empty the fruit pulp into a jelly bag (or old pillowcase) and allow the juice to drip for an hour or so. (I’m a bag squeezer, whether you squeeze is up to you)

Empty the pulp and weigh it, for every kilo of mixed fruit pulp you want to use about a litre of water.  Put the pulp and water into a clean pan and bring to a simmer, let it cook gently for about 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat and empty into a jelly bag. Allow the juice to strain through for an hour or so. (again it’s up to you whether you squeeze the bag when it’s stopped dripping.)

Combine the two liquids and measure.

For every litre of liquid you want 500g of white granulated sugar.

In a clean pan bring the liquid to a gentle boil, carefully add the sugar.

Gently heat so the sugar completely dissolves before turning up the heat and bringing to a rolling boil and let roll for about 7 mins.

Turn off, remove any scum that appears and pour into sterilized preserving bottles.

If you run out of preserving bottles then add more sugar, bring the syrup back to a rolling boil and cook until it thickens up as it will then become a jelly and pour into sterilized jam jars.

Store in a dark cupboard away from the light.  The syrup will keep for some months but once opened keep in the fridge and use within 10 days.

I love the colour of the syrups, even if I didn’t know they were full of goodness and Vitamin C, I think just looking at those amber, jewel like oranges and that rich dark claret coloured syrup would do me the wole world of good if I was feeling peaky or under the weather.

The syrup can be taken to relieve sore wintry cough throats (a few neat spoonfuls throughout the day), but also as a cordial with water, as a hot drink with warm water, it can be stirred into yoghurt for breakfast or whisked into cream and made into wintry fruit fools.  It’s also nice poured over apples before they’re covered with a crumble topping and baked in an oven.

The best places I found for preserving bottles were my local ironmongers (the cheapest shop for Kilner products) and also my local Lakeland Plastics where the sloe gin bottles were only £4 and they hold 500ml.

Once the bottles had cooled I stuck on lables as I know I’ll never remember which syrups were which otherwise.

Rosehip and haw jelly, a forgotten sourdough starter and a very nice vegetarian gravy…..

rose hips topped and tailed

While the wet weather has pretty much done for the blackberries around here this year, some of the other hedgerow fruits seem to be going from strength to strength, there’s still rose coloured crab apples on the trees, and the rosehips and haws (the red berries on the hawthorn bushes) are having a very good year, the hedgerows are fair heaving with them.

We’ve got dog roses and apple roses growing within a few hundred metres from home, and what’s nice is that no cars can drive along where they are growing so it’s safe to forage.  While I think everyone knows what a dog rose or wild rose hip looks like, the apple rose are those sort planted by councils that smell amazing in the Summer, like Turkish Delight. The hips they form are round and about an inch wide.

While I plan to make some rosehip syrup I thought I’d make up another batch of crab apple jelly, but a sweet version this time so I picked some rosehips and haws to make a fruit jelly packed  full of vitamin C.

I gave the rosehips a good rinse in cold water and then dried them off before topping and tailing them, discarding the tops and tails for the compost and saving the rest. (If you have sensitive skin you may want to wear a pair of CSI style gloves as the yellow hairs around the hip’s seeds are an irritant and can be used to make a type of itching powder).

haws

The haws were also rinsed off and patted dry on some kitchen roll before I carefully picked off their tiny stalks. If the other end is particularly “scrubby” then you can cut this off or pinch it out with your nails.  You shouuldn’t eat the seed inside the haw but the flesh of the berry is edible, it has the texture somewhat of a ripe avocado but not I think the taste.

Both the rosehips and haws need longer cooking time than the crab apples so to begin with I cooked those first with some water, allowing the fruit to simmer for about half an hour so they’d become somewhat softer before tumbling in the prepared crab apples.  If I’d had any rose geraniums then I’d have popped in a couple of leaves from those for a more rose flavoured jelly.  In all the fruits had about an hour cooking time while they gently simmered.

Rather than use a jelly bag on a stand (all the ones I’ve seen look remarkably wobbly) I prefer to strain the fruity pulp through an old pillow case (though you could easily make one from a double layer of cheesecloth) and hang the pillowcase up from a step ladder so the juice can drip into a bowl set underneath.  If I was patient then I’d leave it to drip overnight………I’m not and gave it about 7 or 8 hours before I ended up squeezing the bag.

rosehip and haw jelly

On squeezing the jelly bag

If you leave the jelly bag (or pillowcase) alone you’ll get a clearer juice that will make for a stunningly clear fruit jelly, the sort that wins big rosettes at village fetes…however if like me you aren’t so fussed and are more concerned with making a couple of extra jars of jelly then go ahead and squeeze that bag by all means.

Rosehip and haw jelly…

In all I used just under 200 g of haws, 500 g of rosehips and then about 2300 g of crab apples.  For every 100 g of fruit I used 65 ml of water.  This was the ratio of fruit to water I used for the crab apple jelly I made last week and so I used that here.

Once the juice is all strained (or squeezed) it’s time to add the sugar.  Sugar to juice is 3:4 so if you use 300 g of sugar you want 400 ml of juice.

Gently heat the sugar and juice together until the sugar is all dissolved and then turn up the heat and bring to a rolling boil before checking for a set.

I don’t use preserving sugar , I find the jelly sets perfectly with granulated sugar (it’s also a lot cheaper).

Because the wild fruits tend to have a bit more pectin they always seem to produce a lot of white foamy scum, scrape this off before bottling up your jelly.

This is a really lovely tasting jelly, it’s very fruity and because it’s made using hedgerow fruits the flavour  is hard to place, I think it’s sort of orangey and can only imagine how nice this would be on doorstep sized  slices of white bread and butter, or used to fill breakfast croissants.  I like making bread and butter pudding in the winter (always good for using up odd pieces of bread) and tend to spread a little marmalade on the bread and butter slices along with a sprinkle of vanilla sugar, next time I make it I’m thinking to try out this jelly rather than marmalade.  And the colour is wonderful, it’s a deep amber and even though is rather “cloudy” it’s no less beautiful.

What’s so nice about this preserve is that it isn’t one you’re very  likely to find on any shop shelf, and it’s made using wild fruit that’s all come from a few hundred metres of my home.

Tuesday's sourdough with a forgotten starter

At the start of the week I made a sponge for bread with some sourdough starter  but then various other things took over and I realized the bread wasn’t going to get made after all.  The sponge was placed in a cool room and just left alone until the next day before I added any of the other ingredients.  I was a bit apprehensive but the dough felt lovely to kneed, the sponge had a stronger smell and was stickier to begin with.  The dough proved and rose fine though we thought the bread was paler in colour when it came out of the oven.  My boyfriend assures me it tastes lovely, a little more robust perhaps than the usual bread.  I’ve forgotten “sponges” before made with dried yeast or fresh yeast in little cubes and have walked in on overflowing bowls or yeast sitting there looking very sad and miserable, the ability of the natural starter to cope with last minute crop ups or even the scattiest of minds makes me love using it even more.

And finally, the vegetarian gravy. At least once a week we have roast vegetables and I tend to roast the onions and mushrooms in a separate pan from anything else.  When I was cleaning one of the pans  a while back I thought how rich and nice smelling the vegetable juices were, and with a little extra something added, would I was sure, make a very rich  gravy….. Possibly the thing I miss most being a vegetarian is nice gravy, I’ve tried numerous recipes and have bought umpteen different pre-prepared ones or ones in little card boxes that you just add water to…all fail to please.  So this week I roasted a couple of onions in a large pan (they really need a large pan to make a nice sticky area), with just a glug of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, then when they’d gently browned, I added a couple of spoons of the herby crab apple jelly and some water from a hot kettle and stirred, then left it in the bottom of the oven over night.  Next day I had a little taste (so good) then liquidized the onions and the gravy so it became a thick sauce before adding a bit more water and bringing up to the heat.  Along with some vegetarian sausages and a big serving of hot vegetables it was a more than perfect supper on a very cold and wet evening.

Next time I’m going to try it using onions and mushrooms together to get an even more deeper flavour.  I didn’t need to add cornflour or anything to thicken it, and even the boy had a second helping.

A coral and salmon coloured crab apple jelly…..

foraged apples

As I mentioned yesterday we’re lucky enough to live in a spot that is surrounded by hedgerows which are fair teeming with fruity edibles, and although the blackberries don’t seem to have done so well this year as last, the apple harvest is spectacular.

Just up the road from us is a little square of grass which is home to 3 crab apple trees, all of the variety with those red and rosy blooms, as ruddy coloured as a Thomas Hardy farmer’s complexion.  Two big baskets have been picked for jellies and then just round the back from our house are scattered some wildlings, apple trees that have just set in and grown where an apple core has been thrown.  One tree is a fine eater but I find that the others are best added to the crab apples for jelly or sliced and added to regular baking apples in pies and crumbles.

So when the weather is nice I’ll nip out for an hour or so with my old shopping basket and have a look round what I’ve come to think of as a wild pantry, at this time of year it’s very rare for me to come home without something or other that can be cooked or baked or drowned in alcohol.

crab apples and rosemary from the garden

In the past I’ve made sweet crab apple jellies flavoured with leaves from rose geraniums, soft and jewel like on bread and butter or breakfast toast but this year I thought to make a more savoury version that I can stir into Winter gravies, casseroles, and soups.

Crab Apple Jelly for gravies and casseroles

washed and dried crab apples (with some wildings too if you have them)

granulated sugar

freshly picked herbs

white wine vinegar

Making the juice

Wash your crab apples, I tend to tumble mine in the sink, give them a gentle wash in cold water and dry them with a tea towel, and check them over at the same time for grub or wasp holes and discard those to the compost. Cut the crab apples in half and then pop them into a big heavy bottomed pan (the one you usually use for jam).  I remove the stalks but leave the rest of the apple.

When you cut them in half sometimes you’ll find unpleasantness going on through the middle of the apple, compost these rather than use them in your jelly.

For every kilo of apples I then add about 650 ml of water. As this is a savoury jelly I’ve also added a couple of sprigs of rosemary and a couple of bay leaves from our garden, but if you’d rather a sweet jelly then leave those out (geranium leaves if being used instead should be added now).

gently simmer the chopped fruit

Gently simmer the fruit, it helps to watch over it and stir regularly so it doesn’t catch.  After a while the fruit begins to soften and you can press them against the side of the pan with the spoon so they break down even more.

simmer until the fruit becomes all pulpy

After a good half hour the apples will have broken down and become all mushy.  The end result doesn’t look too appealing although the smell is rather nice.

You now need to add some white wine or cider vinegar (but only if you’re making a savoury version…if you want a sweet jelly leave this out) For every kilo of apples used you’ll need to add 100 ml of vinegar.  Allow to cook a little more and keep stirring so the fruit doesn’t catch and burn on the bottom of the pan.

Straining the juice

Once the cooked fruit has cooled a little you’ll need to strain off the juice.  You can buy jelly strainers but I find the best way is to strain the fruit through an old but clean pillowcase. (But you could easily make a double lined bag from cheesecloth or muslin)

Wash the pillowcase in cold water so that the fabric is wet and wring it out well.  Open it up and place in a large bowl and then fill with the cooked fruit.  Using some strong kitchen string (I use mine double thickness) wrap round the top of the pillowcase and tie it tight,  The jelly bag (or pillowcase) needs to be suspended so the juice will drip through, if you have a kitchen stool that you can turn over then use that, however I used a step ladder…it all looked a bit Heath Robinson but worked a treat with the juice gently dripping down in to a big bowl under the supported pillowcase.  Leave over night and resist squeezing the bag to encourage the juice to drip more as this makes for a cloudy jelly.

the strained juice is a gorgeous pink

This was some of the collected juice….the juice was at this stage beautifully clear but I then proceeded to squeeze the bag to high heaven as I wasn’t fussy about the jelly being cloudy. (I’m not planning to enter any village fetes or such like, and cloudy jelly is no less delicious)

I forgot to measure the juice from the un-squeezed bag, but once squeezed I had 2400 ml of fragrant and coral coloured juice.

skim the white foam from the surface of the jelly

Making the jelly

For every 600 ml of juice you need to use 450 g of granulated sugar.  Gently heat the juice and sugar together until the sugar has all dissolved and then turn up the heat so that the jelly has a good rolling boil and then test for a set.

Crab apples have a lot of pectin and while this makes for a good setting jam or jelly, it does seem to produce a lot of white foamy scum, however I leave mine until the set has been reached, then carefully skim it all off while the jelly cools slightly before I bottle the jelly up in to sterilised jam jar.

coral coloured crab apple jelly

And this is some of the finished product, it’s a glorious coral salmon pinky colour, a tad cloudy but still jewel bright.I know it wouldn’t win me a first prize rosette on appearance (ahh but if they were only to taste it they may think quite different).

Come cold Autumn evenings when it’s all wild winds and rain battering against the windows, I’ll be more than a little happy to have this bounty in the pantry, ready to stir into roast onions so they make a gravy all shiny and sticky and full of flavour or adding a couple of heaped spoonfuls into a sausage casserole or vegetable soup.

Foraging while a sourdough starter bubbles and dreaming of the Prince of Wales jumper…..

apple, seed and honey loaf

The last few days I seem to have spent either all my time in the middle of a hedge getting stung to high heaven by the most pernicious nettles or in the kitten baking bread and making jellies.  While the weather is fine I’m getting out before the fruit spoils and generally as long as I’ve gotten up early I can prepare the starter for bread so I can juggle baking and foraging quite happily.

This is the latest bread, I’m finding scoring the dough with a star helps it to rise more evenly (it also has the bonus of looking pretty).

sourdough starter bubbling

I keep my starter in the bottom of the fridge, and tend to take it out a couple of hours before I use it so it has a chance to come up to room temperature.

My recipe for bread has become much less strict since using the natural starter though I measure out the ingredients at the start it’s all pretty flexible…

125 – 150 g of bread flour (I always use flour from Shipton Mill)

100 – 125 g of oats (rolled or a mix of rolled and giant)

a dollop of honey straight form the jar

200 g of natural starter

just under 400 ml of warm water

a grated apple (a medium baking apple is good but I’ve used granny smith sized apples from the garden too)

then I add a small teaspoon of dry yeast as I find this makes for a better crumb and although I know this means I’m not making a proper sourdough, I don’t think the bread police are going to come round and take the bread away…my boyfriend likes it this way and as far as I’m concerned that’s what counts.

After those ingredients have been mixed, I’ll cover the bowl with a cloth and just leave it to bubble away and do it’s thing.  Over time I’ve experimented a bit and have found it likes being left alone…this is when I can go out with my basket and forage.

grinding sesame seeds

Once the starter has bubbled up nicely and has become a sponge  (I’ll have left it between 2 and 3 hours so can get on with other things) I add other ingredients to make the bread dough.  I used to just throw in a handful of seeds but I’ve since read that it’s better if you grind them, you can absorb more from the seeds if they are broken down.  I bought a sesame seed grinder some years ago from a local health food store and it doesn’t take long for the seeds to break down against the ridges on the inside of the bowl, and become like a thick flour.  Sesame and sunflower are the seeds I tend to add the most.

Then I just add a handful of flour, a good pinch of sea salt, and a glug of oil, and just begin working the sponge into a dough, adding more flour while it’s so sticky, first off with a spatula and then once the dough comes together then it’s turned out on a work surface where I’ll knead it til it feels ready.

I find it likes another 2 to 3 hours for rising, sometimes a bit more if it’s overcast then once it’s doubled in size, I gently knock it back and wrap it in a floured muslin cloth and place it in a proving basket on top of the oven for 40 minutes before turning the oven on and letting that hat up before turning out the bread on a baking tray, scoring the top and baking it for however long it needs between 50 – 55 minutes)…

It all sounds like a palaver as I can start the sponge around 9 or 10 o’clock in the morning and not take the finished loaf out the oven til sometime 8.30 in the evening but it’s actually very easy and relaxing to make, and I quite like planning out my time on a bread day.

wildlings

All around the village where we live are hedgerows which are scattered with crab apples and wildlings, this tree is just near the local school and with the assistance of an old crocked walking stick I bought the other year from a charity shop,  I was able to reach the higher branches where the bigger sized apples were to be found.  They’re a bit tart for eating as is,  but I’m thinking to slice one with a bramley for a crumble for his pudding tomorrow (the weather is meant to be rotten so I’m thinking a hot pudding will be appreciated.)  The tree was surrounded by fierce little nettles and my ankles are still all tingley some days later.

haws and sloes

And just under the wildling is everything else you need for a hedgerow jam, fat purple sloes and red haws.  The haws tend to be more suitable for a savory jelly, or fruit cheese to have alongside cheese or cold cuts , however as they’re full of pectin, a couple of handfuls thrown in amongst other berries will help a jam to set.

I read a brilliant piece by Alys Fowler a while back about using them in a ketchup and I’m quite tempted as the hedgerows around here are just full of bright red haws.

We also have a fair few guelder rose trees out on the marshes but I know well enough to leave those alone.  When we were out the other weekend picking blackberries we saw a squirrel guarding his guelder rose tree, he really chittered down at us while he held the biggest cluster of berries between his little hands.

knitting up a dish cloth

In between bread doughs rising and apple jellies setting I’ve been knitting up a dish cloth for one of my sisters….it’s a pattern that I wrote a couple of years ago and is so easy that even I can knit it (though I have to write out which row I’m on or I confuse myself and need to use a handful of stitch markers or I’d be purling when I’m meant to be knitting and vice versa…)

It’s a combination of garter stitch and stockingette stitch with a little heart motif in the centre made with moss stitch.

Normally I just use a ball of craft cotton from Christine’s knitting stall on Norwich Market (stalls  130/131/144/145) or one of those reels of kitchen string from a local ironmongers, but a while back I found this giant size ball of string in a charity shop for pence so thought I’d give it a home as it’s perfect for dish cloths. (I’ve already made one from it and think I’ll get another three from it.)

I know it seems daft to knit dish cloths but I’m not a very confident knitter so knitting these helps me practice my stitches even though I know I am very very slow and I dread to think how long it would take me to knit up anything more substantial.  I’d knitted just up to the motif then had forgotten about it but while writing out the answers and questions for the Liebster award nomination (thank you again Zeens and Roger) I remembered it and thought how that jumper will only ever remain a dream unless if I practice more.

there’s something lurking under the apple trees…..

rosy and red

It barely seems 5 minutes ago I was sharing pictures of the apple blossom in the garden, soft and billowy white blooms….now, as if by magic, they’ve been transformed in to proper fairy tale apples, all red and rosy.  We’ve only got small trees and they never have the biggest harvests but the fruit they produce is lavished with love, often cooked in paper thin tarts or a tarte tatin if we have company when the apples are ready.

apples in the garden

We’ve got three trees in total and each one is a different variety.  Only two seem to have any apples (we’re thinking of moving the last tree as I suspect it’s not getting enough light and apple trees do like sunshine) ….we’ve got a big laurel tree in the corner and it casts that whole section of the garden in shadow, so if we move one of the apple trees it will be to plant it up in a big pot for the patio……I’m not sure what varieties they are but they’re ones that double up, being good for both eating and cooking.

This year we seem to have a nice little harvest out there, so I’m thinking to bake a Sunday apple cake as I thought it would be nice to make one using apples from the garden.  Even though my boyfriend is somewhat of a chocolate fiend, Sunday apple cake is still his first choice when I ask what cake shall I make.

If we had more space I’d be tempted to get a peach tree…..one of our neighbours has one growing up the front of his house, it’s south facing so gets lots of light and as it’s against the wall it’s also benefiting from the warmth given off by the brickwork.  In the Spring when the peach tree is covered in huge blossoms we always stop and admire it, it’s really breathtaking, and then in the summer when the branches are covered with fat fuzzy peaches it’s just wonderful to see….one of the sights when I’m walking to the shops that never fails to left my spirits and make me smile.

Bernard amongst the strawberries

For some time now we’ve suspected Bernard had a new hideout in the garden, we knew about under the hydrangea bush, under the rosemary bush, behind the water butt, under the ornamental cherry (it’s branches hang right low down and touch the gravel so he has a shady arbour to relax in)…but there are times when he’s called in the evening to come on indoors and although we can hear him we just can’t see him……When I was photographing the apple trees I heard a tinkle and looked round, no cat….then another tinkle and so I looked down, parted the raspberries that have now grown up around the apple trees and which are fast taking over….and saw a tuft of grey.

The best view came from stepping back and squatting down a bit…there peering over the last of the wild strawberries were two pale green eyes blinking back at me.

bob being shy

Well I thought he was staring at me but when I turned round I saw Bob from next door wriggling around under the bird bath looking totally adorable even though he’s in our bad books after he was caught using the fleece that is covering our lettuces as a hammock….everything underneath is somewhat flattened and when asked what he thought he was doing, he just looked up and slowly blinked, mewed then stretched out, squashing even more little lettuces in the process.

Most days Bernard and Bob are to be found cuddling together on the patio or sitting on the back door step while Bernard is gives Bob’s face a wash, or one is chasing the other down the path from the playground (there’s a hole in the hedge where they nip in) before they come roaring through the house only to bolt back outside when we shout “what the blazes is going on….”

If I’m sitting outside sewing, inevitably it will only be minutes before one or both of them come over to see what I’m about, then it’s lids on sewing baskets or thread and floss is snatched and ends up goodness knows where.