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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A year of cats and knitting, frosty walks and Summer strolls,homebaked bread and foraged fruits…..part one…..

bernard-shawl-testing

Sometimes when I take stock of a year I find it too easy to remember the bad stuff, the sad times…horrifying world wide events can all too easily make us forget those little moments of smiles, and happiness and everyday pleasures, a spiral of despair and feeling hopeless can take hold in the blink of the eye and all those good things, however small and unimportant to others just seem gone……

One of the many things I’ve enjoyed so much about writing my blog and sharing pictures along the way is there’s a record, something tangible I can touch and look at and think “yes, that happened and it was a good thing” or “mmmm that tasted delicious”…remember how it felt to sit on the back door step with the sun on my toes or heading out for a walk when it was all frosty out and my nose turned numb before I’d even turned onto the lane…

I know it’s really not the same but all these tiny moments and occasions remind me of the bit in the sixth Harry Potter film, where everyone stands in the Hogwart’s courtyard with their wands out, shooting up wisps of light, sending out memories of love for Dumbledore and the dark mark of skull and snake in the sky slowly breaks up and fades under all that love…..as I say, I know it’s not the same but sometimes it’s necessary to remember the good bits and focus on that, to gather a bit of strength to be able to deal with everything else……

And so that’s what I’m trying to do today…..so go put the kettle on, make a hot drink, and get a plate of biscuits and sit down somewhere comfy as there’ll be waffling and rabbiting as I look back over my year……

Guess who has pinched my shawl

I’m starting with these pictures of Bernard cuddling in a shawl as they sum up my year better than anything else……after being told last Christmas Eve that the lump we’d had removed from Bernard’s paw was cancer we spent the first weeks of the year on tenter hooks….every morning his paws were checked for anything suspicious and days were spent with him curled up along side while I slowly re-knitted my shawl and fell very in love with the scent of sheepy yarn and the gentle click of my needles……. this is pretty much how the whole year has been but it wasn’t really until September that we got the thumbs up all clear from the vet regarding his health…it goes without saying that everyday this year has been so blessed, regardless of windy bottoms and swipey paws….

 

Most of Janurary was pretty much devoted to sock knitting (I’d been warned it’s somewhat addictive…..) my dear friend Anne gifted me not only another pair of hand knitted socks but also a ball of yarn, a set of needles and the lessons in which I learnt to knit a pair of socks for myself……yes there were grumbles when it went a bit wrong, but even better was the feeling of wriggling toes in socks I’d knitted myself…..

Most mornings started off cold, a bit damp and dreary outside, but we were treated to a spectacular frost near the end of the month, all silver and twinkles, glittering cobwebs and frozen marsh ponds…..I bundled up warm  in my first ever shawl and headed out over the pastures, it’s so cold my cheeks ached and felt incredibly rosy and pink….along the back of the golf course there’ss a small copse and it’s shaded, protected from the frost…the sun shines through the trees and the dry bracken just glows golden in the morning light…so beautiful and felt glad I’d got up and out to see it.

February was a bit of a frosty old month, we had one really foggy and frosty morning where the walk over the marshes was proper eerie, all mysterious shapes looming up out of the mist….fog totally transformed the meadows there and while normally I’m a bit loathe to step out where I can’t see more than a couple of feet in front of me, when the ground is so frozen underfoot I felt a lot safer.

I made some more sourdoughs, each one seemed to come out a bit different but I found I really prefer the smell of just a sesame loaf to those made with other seed mixes….the beloved says he doesn’t have a preference so I ended up baking to suit my nose rather than his tummy.

I finished my first ever pair of socks and was proud as punch to wear them out and about, (going so far as to wear them with red heels and leggings so they wouldn’t be covered up with boots) and hot on the “heels” of those were the ones I’d began knitting using some Shetland Spindrift I’d found lurking in my stash…so warm and the most gorgeous tweedy colour….all plummy and fruit crumbly.

On particular days it feels like Spring had very much sprung, the hedgerow that lines the lane behind where we live is bursting into bloom right now, wafts of heady blossom scent the air and it makes me just feel so happy.

And it’s not just nice scents that the air is filled with, there’s also that underarm farty sound which small boys like to make….it’s what I think Long Tailed tits sound like, we’ve got a least one little colony living near by and the garden is regualrly filled with them, they swoop around the the garden and are as impressive as anything by the Red Arrows…..I love their dainty colouring, all soft dove grey, milk white and rosy tinges on their fronts with a charcoal tail.

High point of the month was popping into my local library and finding the floor space there given over to the local guilds of Dyers,Spinners and Weavers…I had a go on a drop spindle and spun a wee skein of wool, so exciting, and I even had a go on a spinning wheel….so relaxing and I just loved it.  I went back the following week and bought some amazing handspun dk yarn, one skein of Castlemilk Moorit and one of Shetland….absolutely increbible to touch and the smell….sheepy heaven.

March was a really sad month for me, my oldest and dearest friend passed away….I was lucky enough to have known Joyce since I was about 11 or so, originally she was the mum of my oldest sister’s boyfriend, and soon she become such a warm and freindly addition to our circle of family friends….she’d always appear on her bike with a beaming smile and a jolly wave, bicycle basket laden with a harvest from her garden, a bunch of something bright and cheery for my mum……we really looked on her as a surrogate grandma, we certainly loved her as such. The past couple of years she’d been lost in a hazy confusion of dementia so in a way I’d already said goodbye to the lady I loved, she was one of the nicest people I think I’ve ever had the good fortune to know.  She’s left a real ache in my heart.

The rest of the month was rather knitty based  (as I said at the start this was my year of knitting)… I joined up for a new kal (more of an unkal) over at the Caithness Craft Collective, and nominated a couple of unfinished woolly bits for that, firstly the grannies paperweight crochet blanket with it’s never-ending amount of tails to sew in, and a forgotten about tea cosy that I super-sized knitted by mistake…I began a “unicorn” in soft blue alpaca and silk….and this gave me the kick up the bum to start (and finish) my Nature’s Shades kal, a beautiful Moonraker shawl in soft and sulky greys, with accents of coffee bean and golden cream pips.  I also finished a pair of socks I’d began knitting for the beloved’s birthday, watching him put them on and wriggle round his feet as he admired them….well my heart near burst.  Even now a year later, I still can’t believe I’m knitting socks…thank you awesome Anne for the lessons…

Other highlights included making possibly the best hot-cross buns ever, making a real nose runningly spicy thai style soup (it was nice, just a bit hot), doing a Spring Fair over in Holt organised by my friend Ruth and bird-watching in the garden with Bernard on days when it was all sunshine and birdsong.

After what seemed like a long, damp and dreary start to the year, we started to see signs of life in the garden in early April…a little smudge of blue forget-me-not blossoms by the side of one of our raised beds and spotted lady birds scurrying about as we began a bit of weeding and tidying out of doors.

I finished my Nature’s Shades shawl for the Knit British/Brit Yarn kal on Ravelry…I was so pleased with how the shawl turned out…it’s very drapey and light, and much warmer than I thought it was going to be….the weather held up well and treated us to a couple of really smashing Spring sunshine days so we headed out with the shawl to take pictures and then walked round to Keswick Mill and saw fish for the first time in one of the streams (which we found very exciting) …  I also took some pictures of the beautiful dappled marking on the Keswick Mill brige, soft speckles of pink lichen amongst the grey stone work, walking home we saw an incredible puffy fungi on one of the posts near the golf course, soft rhthymic scallops in gentle shades.. ..everything you need for a shawl design is there in that fungi…colour, and shape…

Pudding of the month has been Creme Brulee/Trinity cream……so easy to make, and so easy to eat. I didn’t bake as much bread as usual as our oven is starting to play up, but each time I open the oven door it’s such a surprise to see what the loaf will look like, no two have ever looked quite the same, subtle changes in colour and shape…but all smelling so good.

I had such a thrill this month, I won a skein of the beautiful and lustrous Tamar…the colourway was Tiddy Brook and it’s a real powdery pollen yellow green…the colour changes in the sunlight, the twists in the yarn capture and hold light and shadow like you wouldn’t believe….the competion was held by lovely Isla at Brityarn. I really was over the moon when I realized I’d won this yarn, along with a gorgeous Ethel the sheep bag which I soon filled with all my Natural un-dyed British yarn….little did I know this would be the start of my Karise shawl addiction and love for Blacker Yarns….

I bought a couple of old books from charity shops, my favourite being this knitting book from the seventies, all the pieces in the book are knitted by children. I couldn’t resist the cover with that dear little knitted horse.

 

The weather was really splendid for most of the month, the air just seemed filled with sweetness and floral scents each time we stepped out the door…just up the road form us is a big patch of grass where all the dog walkers meet up and if I time my trips just right I get to have doggy cuddles with some of my four legged friends….at one side of the green there is a clump of Stag Horn Sumac growing and at this time of year those first leafy fronds look all the world like phoenix feathers or dragons feet…fancible imaginings but I think you can see where I’m coming from..I can’t walk past these without stroking them, it’s always the simplest pleasures make me happy…..

I also finished my second Moonraker shawl, this was using an alpaca/silk blend with the woolly pips of colour knitted with vintage tapestry wool…at first I was quite pleased with it but after wearing it a few times the different weight of the yarn I used didn’t really feel right…..definitely a case of (k)notting rather than knitting…. oh well, not the end of the world but I did feel a bit disappointed.

I also wrote a rather lengthy piece on what I like to use for my quilting….it really gets my goat that a lot of people seem to think you need to spend lots of money to be able to make a quilt…yes you will need to spend a few pounds but if you spend it in the right places and not on a lot of what I find un-necessary or not needed straight away equiptment then a quilt needed cost an arm and a leg to make….

As the weather is nice lemon possets become a favourite pudding to finish off a meal, and I baked some Moomin Mama buns….

June was rather damp….barely a day seemed to go by without it raining, though the garden seemed to thrive on all the water and almost overnight our raised beds were full of wild flower blossoms and smudges of forget me nots and dandelions lined the steps and path to the compost bin…..

Back in May I started knitting my first ever cardigan and in June I was able to cast it off the needles…. the pattern is Ramona and I love that the techinques for making increases in the Open Sky Shawl are now used to make increases in this…..the yarn is some I’d bought years ago from a charity shop, it’s all wool but reminded me of the pebbly beache sof the Suffolk coastline where I grew up…(however looking down at it now while I typ I’m all too aware of how it’s bobled and pilled so not great yarn but it is nice and cosy to wear….)

I also knit my first ever pair of toe up socks…the pattern is by Rachel Atkinson and was a gift from my friend Julia in Scotland…it’s all nubbled in texture…I used a now discontinued homemade strawberry ice-cream pink from Blacker Yarns and can’t not think of holidays in Italy where gelatto is served in glass dishes……

I also made some elderflower cordial, not so much as last year as it was too wet, but once again I had a little furry asisstant to help me check for insects in the blossoms..and I also made a fruity semi-freddo….

After listening to podcasts by both Caithness Louise and Shiny Bees Jo I ripped out the alpaca/silk shawl…..no tears, no sighs of bother….this is one of the joys of coming to knitting from a background in sewing…the ease with which a yarn can be re-used…..so with the help of an upturned chair, a sink of warm water and a rolled up card tube from the kitchen roll to use as a make shift nostepinne the yarn is re-balled and looks good as new…..

 

Part two tomorrow……

 

Seasonal smells and simmering spiced fruits…..

making-mincemeat

Last year I wrote a lengthy old post about marvellous mincemeat and how I like to use it in the kitchen and also included one of my various recipes for it but a few weeks ago I found up this recipe which I used to use all the time, it’s a little bit different in that it uses vegetable suet and doesn’t use cider which, at the time I was using this recipe didn’t use to drink…well even now, I’m not like a real cider quoffing Worzel but am just happy to have a small glass (anymore then that and I’m sound asleep on the sofa)…. generally  when it comes to making mincemeat you’re just mixing some chopped fruit with something sweet to preserve it so there is a lot of scope for having a tinker with it….It’s really easy to make as it’s just a big pan stir of chopped apples and fruits, plenty of spice and a few generous glogs of something warming to add festive spirit and Yuletide cheer….

I always think this makes for a really nice and fairly easy on the pocket gift if you have friends who like homemade jams and chutneys, it makes a change from those and apart from using it to fill little pastry tarts it also comes in handy with other Wintery bakes…..a generous dollop or so in an apple crumble or plum crumble right lifts those up and I’ll often add a couple of heaped spoonfuls to a bread sponge for a spicy loaf (so good for toasting when it’s chilly out) and have used it to make mini panettone style breads…

I say Wintery bakes but even in Summer I can smear this over puff pastry and quickly make pain aux raisins for breakfast.

homemade mincepies

This will make a generous amount of jars (it depends how large they are but you should get at least 6 x 450g/ 1 Ib jars)…the ingredients list does look rather colossal so you might want to buy them over a couple of days if you have to carry them home…and if you make this in the Autumn (something to try and remember to do next year) then it is a very good recipe for using up windfalls or wildlings that are foraged……

In my last house I used to make a big pan of this, while it was gently simmering and filling the house with it’s spicy aroma, I’d sit on the kitchen step (I had steps leading down to it…no room in there for a chair so a cushion on a step sufficed) and would start making my Christmas present/Christmas card list…..it’s a nice way to ease into the festive season…..admittedly I’ve left it a bit late this year but just taking a few minutes away from a long list of things that need doing to make this always helps me catch my breath and feel calmer…..

cinnamon and fruit sourdough loaf

Ingredients….

2  1/2 to 3 lbs of sharp apples (cooking or wildlings or windfalls) peeled, cored  and chopped into tiny cubes

12 oz currants

12 oz raisins

12 0z sultanas

6 oz almonds, blanched and finely chopped (note you might need to check no-one who eats these has a nut allergy…though you could just leave out the almonds if you want)

3 oz mixed peel

3 oz glace cherries

14 oz dark muscovado sugar

6 oz vegetarian suet

grated zest of a large un-waxed orange

grated zest and juice of a large un-waxed lemon (or 2 small ones)

1 heaped tablespoon of mixed spice

4 or 5 tablespoons of a good dark rum (I like Lamb’s Navy Rum)

4 fl oz Brandy

Method

In a very large pan, throw in the chopped apples and cover them in the sugar, spices and a splash of brandy to stop them from sticking….on a gentle heat gently warm through and allow the apples to simmer…add all the dry fruit, suet and nuts (if you are using them) also add the zest and lemon juice and simmer for about half an hour …

The fruit becomes rather mushy….allow to cool and add the alcohol, I like to use Lamb’s Navy Rum as that is what my dad liked at Christmas, me and my sisters would always have a sip and shudder and go “ugh”…so a few sploshes of that go into remember Dad…..the resulting mincemeat is burnished and beautiful, all in a sticky and spicy dark syrup….

Spoon into sterilized jars and cover…store in a cool and dark cupboard..if you can remember to turn the jars over every few days then so much the better, it will allow the liquidy mixture to permeate better.

If you don’t use the vegetable suet then I would suggest using about 9 fl oz of a medium dry cider……the fruit needs a little lubrication and the suet melts into the sugar to form the dark sticky syrup….

This stores well for a year, however once the jar is opened it needs to be kept in the fridge and used within 4 weeks.

A barley sugar tasting, wild fruit syrup

haws-september-2016

I love foraging for wild fruit, getting to make jams and jellies, fruit crumbles and pies…however last year the blackberries around here were rather scarce and so were the mirabelle plums…. with the help of a couple of excellent wild food books (Richard Mabey’s Food for Free is excellent) I decided to become a bit more adventurous in what I looked at for picking……the hedgerows around where I live are so full of the most beautiful scarlet and vermillion berries with crab apples and wildlings growing nearby that just a slow hour’s amble just up the road and round the way, stopping and picking a few here, a few there, soon produces a colourful basket right full of a wild fruit harvest……   (I’m now on the lookout for a yarn this same heart racing vermilliony red…any suggestions would be much appreciated)

When I’m channelling my inner Catweasel and clambering through the hedges or half up trees I’m often stopped and asked what I’m picking, and what am I going to do etc … the fruit I’m asked about more than any other are haws…… the colour of them can vary slightly, sometimes they are a dark wine red, other times they’re very orange red, but the easiest way to tell what they are is that the leaves are all the same shape, they almost look like tiny oak leaves.. the flesh inside is a bit like an avocado’s, sort of waxy/buttery….and like rose hips they’re super rich in vitamin C so they’re an ideal fruit to use to make a winter syrup……or a surprisingly fruity tasting breakfast preserve.

rowan-berries

Along with the haws I’d ideally throw in a couple of handfuls or so of rowan berries, we have a few trees around here although my favourite tree was picked clean by the birds over the course of a weekend (which will teach me to pick some a bit earlier next year)….they’re such a fantastic and bright colour, a gorgeous vintage lipstick red … I understand there’s a lot of rowan berries up in Scotland this year, so you could easily just use rowan and apple for the syrup if you don’t live near any hawthorns.

The village where I live is actually a suburb on the edge of Norwich (though I think everyone who lives here will say it’s a village) which was originally farmland and orchards, I suppose that’s why we have so many established hedgerows and lots of fruit trees, every so often I notice a new apple tree or a damson, but generally we’ve got crab apples and wildlings(apple trees), cherrys,pears,mirabelle plums and then sloes, rose-hips, haw and rowans, dotted around all over……

apples-and-rosehips

The Winter syrup is really easy to make…..all the fruit will need a wash and clean, I trim the bottom off the haws and if the flesh inside looks at all brown then I just throwto that one in the compost bin, only use the fruit that is a lovely creamy yellow inside.

Ingredients

500 -750 g of red wild fruit (haws, rowan berries, rosehips….a selection is good but 1 or 2 is fine….use less haws to rowan and rosehps just because they’re fiddlier to pick and are a bit pfaffy to prepare)

2 – 2.5  kilo of wild apples (they tend to be a bit “oooh” sharp and tart when you bite into them.

granulated sugar

large jam pan

glass bottles for preserving

Preparing the fruit

Wash all the fruit, cut the bottom off the haws to check the flesh inside, put into the pan and for every  100g of red fruit you want to use 75 ml of cold water…..  bring to a boil, turn down the heat and gently simmer for about half an hour/ fourty five minutes or so until the fruit becomes very soft.

I tend to prep and cook the haws first as they are rather fiddly, let them start cooking first then the rose hips if I’m using them, and finally the rowan berries….rose hips are topped and tailed then popped into the jam pan, rowans are given a rinse, remove the stalk then into the pan…..

Once the red fruit has all cooked, turn off the heat, and allow to cool before straining through a jam bag (I use an old cotton pillow case that is kept just for this purpose) and collect the juice…..

While the juice is straining chop up the apples, you won’t want the stalk or very bottom of the apple in the pan, but you can put in the cores as long as they look okay, chop up  into quarters (conker size) and for every 100g of apples you want 65 ml of water…..  you can also pop in a couple of star anise “stars” and a couple of cloves…. bring to the boil and then simmer for about half an hour – 45 mins.

Unless you have room for two drip drip drip jelly bags, then you’ll need to empty the pulp from the bag (save it into a big bowl, don’t put it in the compost just yet), rinse out the bag and then put the cooked apple into it……

Strain the apples and collect the juice.

Now using both lots of left over fruit pulp, weigh the combined pulp and to each 100 g of pulp use 100 ml of water…. simmer for about 15 minutes and then strain and allow to drip… depending on pets you can let this drip over night.  (you can also squeeze the bag if you want, the syrup won’t be quite so clear but it’ll still taste as nice and you’ll just be able to make more)

Making the Syrup

Measure out the juice, for every 500 ml of juice you’ll need 250 g of granulated sugar.

Bring the juice to a gentle boil, sort of when it just starts to burp and hiccup….then carefully add the sugar, stir well and bring up to a rolling boil…. you want the syrup to be at a good rolling boil for about 7 or so minutes…. very carefully pour into sterilised preserving bottles… (a ladle or measuring jug and a metal bottle funnel are really useful at this stage)

I find the syrup keeps best in a cool place pretty much for all the Winter, once the bottle is opened you’ll want to use it up within about 10 days…it’s nice taken like a throat syrup off a spoon but if you pour it into a cup and add hot water then it’s a nice soothing and fruity tea which if you have a cold is very welcome.

Tips

While this is perfectly possible to make by yourself, prepping the fruit is faster and less tiresome if you’re chatting with some company…. when you empty the cooked fruit into a jelly bag (or pillow-case) soak and squeeze out the jelly bag, the juice won’t drip properly if the bag is dry…also empty the cooked fruit into the bag with the jelly bag in another large bowl or second jam pan…..(if not it’ll go all over the floor or work surface)… depending on how much pulp you’re straining, it’s often easier for one person to hold the bag in place just above the pan to collect the juice, while someone else strings it up.

If you’re using an old cotton pillowcase, use it inside out and chop off the bit htat tucks in on itself…that way the pulp won’t stick all around the seams.

 

Autumn sunshine and red hued hedgerows…….

view-through-the-oak-trees

Once again there’s been a shift in the weather and while the last couple of days have been chilly, it’s also been gloriously sunshiny.  Slowly the hedgerows are turning colour but it’s still very green and lush in our neck of the woods…..I’ve mentioned before that just down the road from our house there is a little lane that runs along the marshes where we go for a lot of our walks….and when it’s a bit wet in the meadows walking along here means we stay reasonably dry but still get to see the nice views across the pastures.  When it’s dry I love walking through those reeds you can see in the above picture, they grow either side of a pathway and when there is a breeze they rustle and sound so wild.

walking-out-along-the-lane

I’m always amazed at how the sunlight dances under the leaves, looking up in the branches and it still feels like Summer and then on the ground it’s Autumn with all those brown leaves…. quite often when we walk along the lane we’ll see a jay flying overhead, there’s at least a couple of pairs living around here and they are fairly frequent visitors to the garden. We also see a lot of magpies, generally we hear them first as they are rather noisy with all their sqwarking and carry on.  It’s not uncommon to see groups of 4 or 5 or even 6 of them at the moment, I guess there isn’t a lot that eats them so they are pretty high up in the food chain scheme of things.  Growing up in the countryside we’d often see the rather grizzly sight of magpies strung up on fence posts and field boundaries along with weasels and crows by the farmers……

acorns

Probably the first tree I learnt the name of was the oak tree, those familiar leaves, all curves and wobbles with acorns peeping up from underneath….a couple of years ago I noticed some really odd looking acorns, they were all mis-shapen and lumpy, and looked all the world like little green men or some such characters drawn by Brian Froud…these ones seem to be fairing better.  Acorns have such a lovely shape and when I was very small I used to think little pixies or faires used the acorn cups as hats.

oak-leaves-and-acorns

It’s nice to see the tree so healthy looking.  With such a rich harvest of acorns I’d have thought to have seen a few squirrels about but to be honest I’ve barely seen any this year, maybe it’s not been such a good year for them, as usually we can hear them scampering about even if we don’t always see them.  We get the occasional squirrel on our garden fence but there are so many cats about (a lady just across the way from us has 10, maybe 11) so I suppose the squirrels decided it’s safer to keep to the woody sections rather than venture too often in people’s gardens.

meadow-hedgerow

I love seeing the hedgerows this time of year, everywhere is so bright, red and berry laden….it’s like everywhere is all bedecked with red and green for Christmas already (and they say the shops start early)……the haws are so abundant this year, and it’s been really good here for rosehips too.  Some of the tangles of wild rose have their branches right bowed over so laden are they with huge scarlet hued hips…..

rowan-berries

And it’s been a good harvest too for the rowan berries…..another month and these will have all been stripped bare by the blackbirds…I never seem to see many other birds on the rowan tree, it always seems to be blackbirds.

My favourite recipe for rowan berries is to use it in a Winter syrup along with haws, rosehips and apples, I’m not such a fan of the thick dark rowan jelly but prefer one that is lighter tasting…..it still works well used in gravies or sauces and isn’t so over powering.

red-admiral

Although I’ve grumbled a bit about it being chilly in the mornings and evenings (so glad for this years hoarded pile of handknitted socks and shawls) we’re still having the odd incredibly warm day where we see some rather unseasonal visitors in the garden….normally dragonflies and damselflies have died by now…. and butterflies would start to be hibernating up out of the way or migrating..but this beautiful chap was quite content to bask in the sunshine and the darting flutters overhead show not all the dragonflies have gone quite yet…….

 

 

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……

 

 

Darker mornings and the delights of a pan of blackberries…..

autumn blackberries

And slowly slowly the year moves on, the weather finally seems to be catching up to the changing hedgerows and trees, mornings are dark and distinctly nippy, cobwebs strew across the raspberry canes and sparkle with an almost frosty dew, the marshes are covered with a low ground mist before the day clears and properly wakes up…..and then what seems but in the blink of an eye, twilight rolls in and then by seven it’s suddenly night….

I think like a lot of people Autumn is my favourite season, partly because I love getting out and having a kick around in the leaves, and the trees here can look so stunning, a breathtaking mix of yellow and saffron, flame, crimson amongst russetty browns, sepia tones and shades that look like gingerbread men….

I also love the food I tend to associate with this time of year, slowly cooked casseroles and hale and hearty stews, sticky fat sausages (vegetarian ones sitting in the pan alongside butter sauteed onions and crab apple jelly as they melt together into a sticky gravy) and blackberry crumble….it’s easily one of my top five favourite foods and while I can’t eat too much of the crumble mix anymore I happily can wolf down second helpings of the cooked fruit…..however it’s been another poor old year here for blackberries* so rather than pick them for just one or two brief tastings of pudding I’ve been making dark coloured jellies which will hopefully see us through the year.

berries in the pan

A couple of years ago my beloved bought me a huge French copper jam pan, it’s a bit of a beast as it’s so big and rather heavy to boot but it’s wonderful to make jams and jellies in, the changing patina of the copper reflects the gently cooking fruit and becomes even more beautiful every time I use it….. a pan of blackberries on the stove, simmering foamy bubbles slowly appear across the surface, welling up from the deep like a great and fearsome sea monster, a dark rich fruity aroma wafts up….my glasses steam over if I get too close as I try to breath it all in…..more than bonfires or the smell of a damp leaf strewn afternoon, this is for me the very essence of the smell of Autumn and is a yearly treat I begin to look forward to as soon as the days become longer and warmer….

Dark glistening berries, purple but often so dark they’re almost jet black, magically become a bright vivid magenta as they bubble and froth…like some Shakespearean witches brew …oh for a pair of tights in this colour to be worn with purple shoes.

purple fingers

The smell of bubbling berries is such a familiar one…even when I lived in the heart of the city I was always able to find some hidden up brambles and pick enough berries for a pot of jam or a tummy warming crumble…..I’m not a very chic forager though, I always seem to end up with the pinkest of fingers, stained like foxgloves and tingling with splinters and nettle stings (I never make foraging sound very attractive, but the rewards more than make up for any pickle or hedgerow tangle I find myself in).

I used to just make blackberry jam but the last couple of years I’ve switched to making jellies using some of the local wildlings and crab apples that grow so abundantly nearby….when I cook my apples I pop in a couple of star anise “stars” which gives the apples a heady almost mysterious aroma, and to the simmering blackberries I add in a few shards of concentrated liquirice juice….both add something that makes the blackberry jelly taste even more blackberry and Autumny.

Jelly or jam making is such a soothing process that always seems to help me ease and adjust into Autumn…gloomy mornings are rather miserable, the evenings get shorter as they draw in so quick all cold and damp outside, almost every day at the momentt I seem to encounter huge hairy spiders as they run across our carpet or lurk by the side of the stove which make me jump right out of my skin when I see them (yes, card carrying Arachnophobe here)…but an afternoon spent slowly stiring a pan full of berries, with the scented steam drifting out into the garden, maybe having enough left over for a crumble to pop into the oven…. and I’m blissfully content and feel I can cope with anything (regardless of how many hairy fast moving legs it has).

apples and quinces

In another week or so I’ll be making apple and quince jelly, I’ve got a bowl filled with small japonica quicne on our front room table and as they slowly ripen the quince smell more and more incredible, very citrussy and sherbety…at night I close the door so when I open it in the morning I’m greeted with a lovely uplifting perfume….

The jelly is really simple to make and is rather marmaladey in taste.  It’s very delicate and it’s easy to see why it was eaten as a breakfast preserve before the fashion for oranges came in…I only made a few precious jars last year but I’m hoping to make enough to give some as Christmas gifts….I have a friend who now lives in London (she’s an amazing cook and has spent this last year studying at Leith’s Cookery School)…in Autumns past she’s been a foraging buddy, and we’ve picked bags of sloes and baskets of blackberries, so I’m hoping to be able to fit in a trip to London before the year is out and surprise her with some homemade preserves made from my solitary foraging escapades.

 

*the year before last we went blackberry picking about the mid twenty something of July right through September and into October, I must have picked in the region of 30 some lbs of blackberries, the hedgerows were fair heaving, and were so laden with fruit…the berries were fat and so sweet and flavoursome.  The first few times we ate the fruit as it was, just a dribble of Jersey cream or yoghurt on top….and even when I made it into jam the seeds were very few and far between…but every cloud has a silver lining, and as the harvest seemed a  bit sparce last year, I experimented more with what went into the jam pan and made some glorious jewel bright amber coloued hedgerow jellies instead.

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.