Plum jam from the 50p box

jam and bread...

One of our favourite stalls on Norwich Market is Folland Organics owned by our lovely friend Robb, by the side of his counter he has a 50p box where he puts fruit and vegetables that need to be sold quickly and so sometimes supper can be decided because there’s a bag of wrinkley carrots needing a home, or a load of spinach that is starting to wilt….yesterday I had a text from my boyfriend “Robb has cheap plums, shall I buy some” and while it’s too warm for crumbles or a plum pie, it’s never too warm for jam, well sometimes it feels too warm to be standing over a bubbling jam pan making it but the end result always tastes nice….

I love making jams and jellies, marmalades and chutneys…there’s something very satisfying about preserving a couple of handfuls of fruit in sugar, and knowing our pantry/cupboard shelves has a few jars of homemade preserves on them means I’ve always got a quick last minute present or am at least part way to making an afternoon tea or pudding.

mirabelle plums

The  past couple of years I’ve been making more fruit jellies than jams, using ingredients from what I think of as my wild larder.. plums and cherrys, rose hips, haws, rowan berries, crab apples and wildlings, and as much as I like the slow cooking of the fruit and the steady drip drip drip of the jelly bag (I call it a jelly bag but I use an old pillowcase as that’s more sturdy than the jelly bags I’ve seen for sale in the shops, and then tie it under an open step ladder…not pretty but it’s sturdy) but the jams I like to make the most tend to be what I think of as French style, soft set jams, where the taste of the fruit is clean and sharp, not over sugared or bubbled away for ages…jams you can spread out on wisps of buttery puff pastry and top with chatilly cream for an instant pudding but which are just as nice smeared on  crisp hot toast or still warm from the oven scones.

As there is such an abundance in the hedgerows around where we live, I tend to make most of our jams and jellies with wild fruit rather than spending a lot of money on shop bought ones, I’d normally make this plum jam with the mirabelles that grow just up the road, but the 50p plums have worked really well…..I also tend to think of plum jam as a winter jam as I’d normally pop in some star anise, a couple of cloves and a piece of cinnamon….

macerate plums in lemon juice and sugar

Plum jam

ingredients

750g plums

560g granulated sugar

Juice of 1 1/2 lemons

1 star anise ‘star’ (force of habit and not really sure it was needed)

method

Quickly rinse the plums in cold water , wipe them over and pat dry clean.  Cut in half, place in a ceramic bowl, squeeze over the lemon juice and then tip over the sugar…..

Allow the fruit to macerate in the sugar and lemon for a couple of hours.

Tumble the fruit, juice and syrupy sugar into your jam pan and bring to a simmer. Remove the fruit and put into a ceramic bowl, pour the syrup on top, cover with a circle of baking parchment cut to fit the top of the bowl, allow to cool and then leave overnight in the fridge.

simmered plums in syrup

Next morning, place a sieve over a large ceramic bowl and carefully place in the fruit, pour over the syrup (a rubber spatula really helps at this stage)…cover everything with cheesecloth to keep any flies or wasps off and leave until the syrup has collected into the bowl below.

Pour the syrup into a jam pan, and slowly bring to a boil, once the syrup is boiling bring up the heat and continue cooking. You want the syrup to concentrate and by the time it’s reached 105c on a jam thermometer it will be ready.

making plum jam

Carefully add the plums, bring back to a boil and carefully cook for 5 minutes stirring gently.  At this point the plums become the deepest red, all vampirey and theatre seat velvet….Skim the surface to remove any fruit scum.  Check the set. (I pop a couple of little saucers in the freezer as this makes checking the set easier.) Pour the jam into sterilized jars and seal immediately with waxed papers and once it’s cooled right down, cover with cellophane discs and rubber bands.

I’m happy to leave the stones in (never too old to play tinker, tailor….) though when you label your jars you might want to mention to keep an eye out for them…you don’t want to forget and later crack a tooth…..

We had this today for breakfast (him with toast, me with yoghurt) it was so fresh and fruity, and without the extra spices isn’t a Winter tasting jam in the slightest…..

I’m really lucky as I have a big copper jam pan from France but I also use a stainless steel pan for smaller quantities which you can get from Lakeland plastic…I’ve also made very nice jam in Le Creuset/ Chasseur pans, the 30 cm or so size one is good as you need the height for the jam to bubble up and rise….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A little bit of seasonal pottering in the kitchen and a round up of our favourite Yuletide recipes…..

almond biscuits 005

I know not everyone likes pottering about in the kitchen but I’ve always enjoyed using my time in there to mark the seasons…we try to eat seasonally with our vegetables and I find my baking or jam making shifts accordingly too…..I’m always happy to try out new recipes but over the past some years I find myself returning to the following tried and trusted recipes, which for us, have become a big part of our seasonal celebrations….I’m currently writing up a selection* of our favourite recipes as part of a Christmas/New Year present for some friends that live a really long way away which means we only get to see them very occaisonally… (I thought they could add to what we send with favourite recipes from their family)….I’ve gone through the things we like the most and thought I’d round them all up and put links to them here tooo which makes it easier to share them with other people too….

Citrussy almond biscuits…..(light and delicate and all citrussy, these aren’t only nice and refreshing but if you get a gippy tummy at all or wake up a bit nauseus due to overindulging rather the night before then they seem to very good at helping to calm down the flutters)

marmalade 006

While you probably won’t see the seville oranges pre Christmas, for some reason I always think of this as a Christmas make…..the smell of those oranges is so wonderful and fresh…just watch out for little bears who may want you to make them a sandwich…..

A slow simmering marmalade…..

gingerbread man 003

You can’t catch me I’m the gingerbread man…sticky and dark or crisp and biscuitty…I love both versions of gingerbread…the spicier the better….

dark and sticky…slowly filling the house with good smells while it bakes….

crisp and biscuitty…good for building houses and cutting little figures from…

homemade mincepies

I love mincemeat, the smell of it wafting up throughout the house while the fruit is simmering away on the stove is such an evocative Christmassy smell….while I have a really silly amount of different recipes for making it, these are the two I find I use more than any other…..

mincemeat made with cider…..

mincemeat made with vegetable suet….

breakfast buns

And I don’t just save mincemeat for the mince pies….. a good old dollop or two of mincemeat makes for an instant fruity loaf if you fancy baking some bread, and if you enrich the dough with butter milk and eggs you can easily make a sort of panettone style mufffin…..I also like adding a heaped spoonful or two of mincemeat into a plum or apple crumble……

It also works well in this recipe for fruity breakfast buns…..so good with salty butter and a smear of dark jam…..but you could also use it in a dough mix for hot cross bun style buns…..

And if you have bits of pastry left after making any mincepies then this recipe for tiny spiced biscuits makes use of every last scrap……

cinnamon swirl biscuits…..

Hope you enjoy baking and cooking these as much as we do……….

*The book will include recipes that we regularly cook and bake such as casseroles and breads, cakes etc but will also include recipes for jams and jellys, furniture polish and hand salves…..

A hedgerow harvest roundup of recipes………

an afternoons foraging

As I mentioned yesterday, the hedgerows are turning and the wild fruit is ripening…that means it’s time to make jellies and jams, syrups to sooth sore Wintery throats…even a crumble if the Winter gets colder (though it’s been a bit muggy and close for a crumble so far and the berries are a little too seedy and sharp to eat as they are, perhaps another couple of weeks though….)

For years I was all about the jam, much prefering those to jellies which I’ve always found to be a bit lacking in richness of taste, however, after the accidental blackberry treacle mishap a few years ago, I’ve since happily tinkered in the kitchen and am now firmly a jelly lover…in part also because I can’t really eat bread anymore and whereas jam and yoghurt looks a bit odd,  jelly and yoghurt seems somewhat more acceptable (it’s a bit like those Muller fruit corners.)

blackberry and licorice treacle

My favourite jam in the whole world used to be blackberry ….however my head has been turned by making bramble jellies with a few apples thrown in to the simmering pot….straining the mush to create a deep purple and glistening juice …… I love eating this with yoghurt both for breakfast and as pudding.

a hedgerow harvest

Adding some elderberries helps add a deeper fruitier note to the jelly (just a couple of handfuls is enough) and this tastes so good that I tend to hoard it all for myself…I do like those dark rich fruit flavours.

coral coloured crab apple jelly

I could wax lyrical about crab apple jelly all day, the jelly is easy to make and it can be made both sweet or sharp….the sharp is probably better added into casseroles or soups, or slowly stirred in to sauteing onions or pan juices to make a bright and glistening gravy.

The sweet jelly is ideal for breakfast preserves and in one of my Tamsin Day Lewis books she says it was her father’s favourite.

Cooking down the apples helps to make a good base for other hedgrow fruits, the jelly doesn’t taste like cooked apple in the slightest and only rounds out and adds body to the other wild fruits.

hips from an apple rose

For a lighter jelly that’s amber and flame coloured, I use the red and vermillion hedgerow berries…rowan and rosehip and hawthorn haws….. I’m amazed by the different tastes and colours of the haw berries…..I read that they can have the texture of an avocado, and while it took a few tastes to see that, particular berries, when large and ripe do have that butter soft feel….. you can also use hips from apple roses…… our lovely council has planted lots of these around here, and this time of year the hips are huge and are the most beautiful bright orangey red, similar to a vintage hued lipstick I used to wear.

hedgerow syrups for winter throats

I made two different tasting syrups last year, one was light and while nice swallowed off a spoon, it really came into it’s own stirred into a cup of boiled water and sipped like a fruit tea…..it was just the ticket when I had yet another cold or sore throat.  Over the past few years I’ve become very susceptible to laryngitis, and generally suffer with it a few times a year, however where normally it would make me feel very miserable, knowing there’s a bottle or two of this on hand has helped cheer my spirits a lot……

The other syrup was a lovey deep and dark purple, really glistening like the blackberries and elder berries that went in to make it….it tasted a bit like Ribenna when I tried it with hot water, but just a little on a spoon and swallowed like an elixir was very soothing on a sore and raspy throat.

apples and quinces

A very pleasant surprise was the quince jelly I made, well I call it quince but actually I used fruit from a little japonica shrub that’s just round the corner and up the way…..this was such a delicate and light citrusy taste, I can completely understand why this was a standard breakfast preserve for warm rolls until marmalade started to become fashionable.  The jelly is so bright, really golden and even on a dull and Autumn morning seeing a little jar of this on the table is bound to bring a smile to anyone’s face.

foraged apples

As I’ve said before, I know I’m really lucky to live here, while not being slap bang in the middle of nowhere, I’m in fact on the outskirts of Norwich, but to the back of us it’s all fields and river land, marshes and meadows……mostly it’s a case of looking around me, seeing what’s growing…..I know I’ve made a couple of dog walkers jump when I’ve emerged a bit tangled from a hedgerow or squeezed myself out through a gap in a fence…… what’s lovely is the amount of people who will stop, ask what I’m picking and what I’m going to make…it’s been a great way to meet people where I live, and then when I see them again there are hello’s, how do’s….and much fussing is made of their dogs. Hopefully if the weather stays dry I’ll be foraging this weekend with my friend Debbie, and while clambering through hedgerows by myself is fine, it’s always much more fun to be with a friend (and if Beks is reading, we also intend to hit the park and have a go on the swings…..)

Below is a bit of a rundown of some of my favourite wild jams,jellies and syrups and links back to where I’ve wrote out the recipes……..hope this wets your appetite and encourages you to  head on out and see what the hedgerows near you have in store……

Crab apple/wildling jelly

Rosehip and Haw hedgerow jelly

Blackberry jam

Blackberry treacle

Blackberry and Wildling jelly

Quince and Wildling jelly

Hedgerow Winter syrup

 

 

Hedgerow jewels and a wild pantry……

apple-tree

Even though it’s still warm and a bit muggy during the day (and even the last couple of nights the covers have been kicked off), the mornings are dark and we’re starting to notice a distinct chill in the air…..however this isn’t a post that’s all doom and gloom…..I love Autumn, it’s probably my favourite time of year, the hedgerows are turning the most incredible colours, scarlets and vermillions, flame reds and crimsons as haws and hips and rowan berries ripen.  Even the apples look particularly rosy and bright this year.  A walk down to the shops on even the most overcast and dreary mornings is soon brightened when I spot dew heavy berries, glistening and looking good enough to eat (which they are).

walking-home

I’m incredibly fortunate to live where there are still lots of hedgerows where it’s okay to forage and gather, behind the houses there are numerous walkways where cars can’t fit, just a few hundred metres up from our house there is a mass of hawthorns and wild roses….there is also a lane with an abundance of elderberries and sloes……and this doesn’t even take into consideration the amount of blackberries that grows over out on the marshes and surrounding meadow land.  Wildlings and roses arc overhead and are there to see if you only look upwards.

rowan-berries-sept-2016

For the next month or so, walks and gentle afternoon ambles to stretch and unwind will see me heading out, basket in hand to gather what I like to think of as my wild pantry…..the basket is great, I can fill it with freezer bags of soft fruit like blackberries and elderberries and they don’t squish like they’d do in a tote.  Another essential is a walking stick, good for moving nettles out of the way or for helping reach those higher brambles which always seem laden with the biggest berries.  A little pair of garden pruners lays in the bottom of the basket and these help trim back those eye high nettles or any trailing brambles.  I’m probably never the most smartest dressed person but these Autumn walks see me channel my inner Catweazel….wearing a pair of the oldest jeans which are plucked and snagged and a breton style tee that’s a bit holey and stained from last year’s encounters with some ferocious brambles, when it gets chillier I’ve got a tatty old jacket which is more holes than cloth and a pair of wrist warmers that I bought some years ago now, they’re locally spun and hand knit but sadly no longer have the details of the lady who knitted them.

vermillion-coloured-rose-hips

A few years ago I started keeping a little notebook for my walks, just scribbling and noting down what I noticed growing where, whenever I spotted a lone damson in a hedge, or a japonica growing quite randomly (with some apples thrown in this makes a lovely substitute for marmalade…and if you sit the fruit in a bowl and leave them for a week or so to fully ripen they’ll fill your house with the most beautiful of scents) but somehow this got mislaid, I suspect it got lost or left behind when I was clambering about through a hedgerow last year but for the most part I can close my eyes and tell you exactly where the good things are growing……(rather annoyingly the fence in the above photo has recently been repaired, there were gaps and holes in it which I could squeeze through to gather apples that would have been slightly out of arms reach…….but at least I can still pick the rosehips)

blackberry harvest

One of the nicest jams I made was quite by accident and I ended up calling it a blackberry treacle (I forgot to add the extra water and made a sticky tar like spread…..it was the taste of Autumn, and was delicous spread over toasted cinnamon bread )….the following year I made another batch and added some liquorice (the sort you use for cooking and which you can break down into small glossy shards) for a deeper flavour…the results were amazing and then last year I made a jelly using crab apples, blackberries and a few shards of said liquorice… as dark and wild as any heady embrace with Heathcliffe ….when I used my last jar I really did feel very sad and sulked for days.

apples-and-rosehips

Because last year didn’t seem to be such a good year for the blackberries around here I experimented and tinkered with other hedgerow fruits… haws, rowan berries, rosehips and elder berries are all edible…… and I made possibly my finest batches of jellies of all time.  I also made some fruit syrups and they got me (and my boyfriends dad) through a year of colds and snuffles and sore throats.  It’s amazing how many wild apple trees we have growing here and they all make a good base for jelly and syrup making, adding a note of flavour but also helping them set)…they’re sometimes a bit hard to see at first, but once you start noticing them it seems like there are apples everywhere…..

haws-september-2016

I was a bit worried what this Autumn would bring as the forging over the Summer was a bit quiet, the rubbishy weather meant the plums and cherries didn’t fare too well at all however what I’m seeing as I step out the door really does make my heart happy….a wealth of haws in particular which makes for a very fruity preserve.

It’s best to check in with your local council regarding foraging restrictions in your area, a lot of new rules and regulations seem to have crept in and where you might be able to pick in one place, you might get told off if you pick elsewhere. (I think Bristol bought in some changes the other year and I’ve been told other councils are getting stricter too….in part I think this is because foraging over the last some years has become more popular and that means bushes/shrubs/trees are getting over picked or plants near by are getting stood on and damaged.)

Tomorrow I’ll share some of my favourite recipes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easy peasy lemon squeezy posset

unwaxed lemons

It’s been absolutely glorious here the past few days, sunshiney and warm without a cloud in the sky….windows and kitchen door are wide open til gone 8…I’d say it feels more like Summer than Spring but suddenly there’s a chill in the air and the evening temperature drops quickly….most nights we have a pudding of sorts, sometimes it’s just yoghurt or a piece of fruit, the boyfriend tends to prefer something chocolately.  But weekends I try to make a bit of an effort and then it’s creme brulees, crumbles and custard, meringues…..come the warm weather though and I start to crave homemade icecreams using fruit from the garden or what I find growing in the hedgerow.

But it’s not quite warm enough for ice-cream in my book yet so this easy peasy “lemon squeezy” posset fits in nicely to the time of year…..it’s lemony flavour is nice and refreshing  but the custardy smoothness of it doesn’t chill like an ice-cream would……

Ingredients (enough for 4)

500 ml double cream

juice of a fat lemon

100 g of castor sugar (vanilla is nice to use but not the end of theworld if you don’t have any)

4 ramekins

method

In a heavy bottomed pan gently heat the cream and caster sugar, stir all the while with a wooden spoon and bring it to a boil.  Allow it to boil for about 3 minutes.

Remove it from the heat and pour in the lemon juice, stir with the wooden spoon or a wooden whisk.  Sieve into a large jug or bowl before spooning into the 4 ramekins.

Allow to cool a little before putting in to the fridge for at least 6 hours before eating……(make sure there isn’t anything aromatic like a stinky cheese in there as this will absorb into the posset…if so, you’ll need to cover the possets with greaseproof paper held in place with an elastic band.

They will keep til the next day but will develop a more tangy lemon flavour.  These ae nice served with cats tongue biscuits or almond ricciarelli biscuits….you could also make up some crumble mix and gently bake that in a warm oven until it turns golden and sprinkle it on top of the posset.

The last of this year’s hedgerow harvest……

autumn blackberries

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.

blackberries

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.

apples and quinces

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).

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.