A high summer jam with a couple of variations……..

raspberry harvest

Apart from the odd overcast afternoon with an accompanying shower of rain, it’s been pretty dry here the past few weeks in Norfolk, and while it’s a bit too warm for me to want to spend too long outside in the garden, our raspberries are loving the early heat wave.  Many of the plants are already my height and more and we’ve been picking fruit everyday, in fact there is now so much all ripened together that today I’ll be making jam.

The variety of raspberry we grow is called Autumn Bliss, the plants produce two harvests, a small early crop around now and then they really go for it around August and will produce fruit, weather permitting, through October and even into November if there isn’t a frost.  Those first fruits are smaller in size but come August they are the size of small plums, but already we are seeing very impressive sized red velvety berries, hanging down from the bushes like Christmas tree baubles….Normally we don’t get jam quantity sized gluts until the second harvest, so this is a lovely surprise, especially as today seems a bit cooler and I won’t need to keep fanning myself while I’m leaning over the jam pan.

a handful of berries

The other Christmas my boyfriend bought me a huge French copper jam pan, and that’s really wonderful for making a kilo of fruit sized jam quantity, (the jam itself also seems to look brighter and more glossy) but I’ve also regularly used the big size Le Crueset or Chausseur pans if I’ve only had say 500 g of fruit (though if you have room in a freezer, you can always freeze small quantities of the berries until you have enough as raspberries freeze very well)

Raspberry Jam

Ingredients

1 kilo of freshly picked raspberries

800 g granulated sugar (I use golden as it has a lovely taste)

juice of a lemon

Some sterilized jam jars

(pop a couple of little saucers in the freezer as these will help checking the set of the jam easier)

Method

Don’t wash the raspberries, just check them over and cut off any bits that are a bit scabby.  Put them into the pan you’re using for jam. Cover with the sugar and the lemon juice.  Bring the fruit to a gradual boil, all the time just very gently stirring the fruit and the sugar together without over squashing the raspberries.

Keep stirring gently, and allow the fruit and sugar to bubble furiously….as well as watching the jam, you’ll need to keep an eye on the time.  The jam needs between 5-8 minutes (a bit longer if you are using more fruit), skim if it’s needed (though to be honest I don’t always bother), check for a set on a chilled saucer from the freezer, allow the jam to cool down for a minute (turn the jam pan off so it doesn’t keep cooking)…once the jam wrinkles when you push your finger into it, pour into the sterilized jars and cover with waxed discs.

Variations

Sometimes I add a splosh of cognac to the jam once it has reached setting point, it adds another note to the jam which is particularly nice if you’re using berries from the freezer….another little tip which I do more with the Autumn crop and which ekes out a smaller quantity of raspberries is to mix them with nectarines and peaches, this is especially good if you’ve bought some of those and they are a bit sort of ….woolly…. (I don’t like to say woolly as a non compliment as I love my sheepy yarns and a really woolly yarn is always lovely to knit with, but I can’t think of how else to describe peaches and nectarines when they become a bit spongy and fluffy tasting at the end of their season)…

I generally use around a 5 to 4 fruit:sugar ratio…… so 250 g of peaches will need 200 g of sugar…..Peel the peaches, remove the stones and weigh.  Put into a ceramic dish and add the calculated amount of sugar and a squirt of lemon juice, leave for a couple of hours and then mash slightly…if you are just using a couple of peaches then a tablespoon or so lemon juice will be enough as you’ll be adding more with the raspberries….put into a heavy based pan and bring to a simmer for a couple of minutes….once the fruit has softened, add to a jam pan before putting the raspberries and rest of the sugar and lemon juice……

That all  sounds a bit pfaffy but it’s actually very easy and it uses up fruit which otherwise isn’t quite so nice to eat.

Raspberry jam is such a taste of Summer jam and can’t be beat on scones mere seconds out of the oven, ones so warm they can just be pulled apart before being covered with jam and a smear or dollop of clotted cream, it’s also excellent for a Victoria sponge cake. But I’ve also used the raspberry jam before in making truffles, the sharp fruity taste mixes in perfectly with the chocolatey ganache.

 

 

 

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….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Broad beans, exotic blooms and the blackbird tapping……

white bottomed buzzy bee

For the past some years I’ve been an early riser, even on those dark cold mornings when it’s rainy and windy outside, I could happily snuggle back under the pile of quilts and blankets that we have on the bed, but once I’m awake, I’m awake….I need to be up, have the kettle on, make a pot of tea…  Even if it’s just nestling in my corner of the sofa with some knitting, my day has began and I want to start doing…..

Come Summer the early morning light creeps into our bedroom, I can hear the dawn chorus begin and feel Bernard shift around at the bottom of the bed, I make myself stay under the covers til five thirty so I don’t wake the whole house with my fidgetting but then I’m up and try to be mouse quiet as I dress and creep down the stairs…

The past week has seen the weather warm up, mornings have a soft cool breeze that tickles at the back of my neck and along my arms, but make being outside a pleasure in the early hours before it feels too hot and scorchy….

napping on the potting table

(the supervisor taking a little nap sometime last year……)

Our little back garden is quite open, it’s East facing so there’s plenty of sunlight for plants, without the full exposure of West facing, there’s shady spots and shadows shift across the vegetable beds….

The past couple of Summers gardening hasn’t been so easy, or so enjoyable, next doors cats seem to delight in playing amongst our raised beds and raspberries, last year we didn’t feel inclined to do anything after numerous plantings were squashed, dug up, and pooped on….but this year I can feel the pull of the soil in my heart, I need to get my hands in the compost and plant, smell green things growing…..

The last time I felt this deep longing was a year or so after my dad died, there were so many things I wanted to ask, some to do with how things were planted, what was the best time for beans to go in the ground, how much space should I give courgettes and squashes, how many tomatoes could I fit into a grow bag….but also other things too…conversations I didn’t know I wanted until it was too late…..being outside, potting things up, weeding and tickling with one of my dad’s hoes (there’s a spot his hands have worn right smooth and shiny) seeing what wanted to grow where and what liked the soil…..all the noise and jumble in my head seemed to soothe itself out while I dug, and planted, watched seeds I planted grow into sweet smelling blossoms, herbs and fruit I was able to make into pestos and jam…….

It’s not been all sunshine, we’re still getting quite heavy downpours so being out first thing in the morning, the soil feels damp and weeds are relatively easy to lift out before Summer makes everywhere rock hard….but it’s being outside while the morning wakes up alongside with me that is seeming to give me the most pleasure….

We’ve been buying live meals worms from Wiggly wigglers and the blackbirds and robin have been tucking in like you wouldn’t believe….the sound of the blackbird tap tap tapping as he fills up on worms accompanies me most mornings when I’m outside and if I’m weeding, the robin hops over and watches me, cocking his head from side to side then darting down if he thinks I’ve found something particularly interesting….

broad bean flowers

I’ve cheated a bit this year, rather than grow a lot of things from seed I’ve bought small plug plants from Thorns which is a local ironmongers, if you live in Norwich or Norfolk then you’ll be smiling when I say it’s a right old rabbit warren inside, and I’m sure people get lost in there all the time…..I’ve planted out two rows of peas and I’ve also got broad bean plants growing too….I love the stark contrast between the milk white and inky black blossoms, and look forward to seeing those tiny doll sized pods appear…we’re growing the broad beans a bit different this year, himself has read about growing them in a circle with a tripod support, the beans grow closer together and create a micro climate that retains the moisture in the soil…..I’m not sure what my dad would have thought, he grew his in rows but then he’d grow several hundred where as we have just 2 dozen.

newspaper pots

Apart from the plug plants, I’ve planted some french beans from bean rather than plantling, the first couple of weeks of May were really cold and damp so I don’t think it’s the end of the world planting these now, hopefully they’ll soon start to sprout and come on before I know it….

I’d wanted to try make these newspaper pots for ages and I found a couple of really nice little videos on youtube, (I think this chap in particular is really nice)….I actually got a bit carried away and made way more than I needed so I think I might plant up some of the wild/apline strawberries that have started to take over under our cherry tree and give those away to friends….

Other seeds I’ve planted included foxgloves and hollyhocks and some grannys bonnet that I found up in a seed box, I don’t know if the grannys bonnet seeds will grow as they are a few years old, they came from a plant that my dear friend Joyce gave me, she died last year so I must have had these for a good few years…oh well, we’ll see, if they grow they grow, if not…I’ll just have to buy one instead…the hollyhocks are from various neighbours gardens, I’m not sure if these are the deep purpley, as “black as Cromwells heart” (…thank you @paulbommer for that) ones or the apple blossom pink ones that are all faded brown around the edges…..for the most part we have lovely neighbours, and a compliment on gorgeous front garden blooms sees a handfull of seeds given away very generously……

courgette flower

One of the real delights in getting up nice and early is being greeted by a beauty like this when you step outside….it’s like a glorious exotic bloom in a glasshouse….seriously who needs Chelsea Flower show when this is in the back garden…The blossom is the most eggy colour yellow you could imagine, all sou’westery and brightness itself….

I love courgettes and I bought 3 plants from good old Thorns, Mister Green Fingers informed me last night that I’d planted them a bit too close together so first thing this morning I moved two of them, I’ve put them into large plastic pots and will try and remember to buy some plant food when I go into town on Friday (another visit to Thorns, I almost live there in the Summer….) I can happily eat courgettes til they come out of my ears, grilled, roast, lightly steamed and served on cauliflower rice or tossed into a salad…I used to use them in a poppy seed cake where they add lots of moisture, so the cake in theory would keep longer though it tasted so nice it wouldn’t ever last more than a couple of days.

wild strawberries

I mentioned the wild/alpine strawberries that have taken over the garden somewhat…..we’ve grown both wild and alpine varieties and over the years they’ve pollinated each other so the fruits that grow in the back garden are rather a jumble, they seem to do most well just growing where they will rather than in pots, often the sweetest fruit are the ones that appear in the middle of the patio or alongside our garden path…I guess it’s because their roots like to spread out, and for the most part we just let them do as they please….the little fruits are a mix of sweet and sharp, some taste like Opal fruits/starburst, others are tart and make you go “ooh!!”….I’ll often add them to jam (they are too tiny to pick enough to make a jam of them by themselves) or to breakfast yoghurt, we also like to mash them with water mint from over the marshes and make a Summery Orchard Mist cocktail….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A fruity semi-freddo…….

wild cherriesThere’s been a big improvement in the weather this week and it finally feels warm enough for an ice-creamy type pudding…..one of the easiest chilled puddings we like to eat in the Summer is a semi-fredo, especially when we flavour it with fruit from the garden….sadly it’s still a bit early for our raspberries but  a poke about in the back of our freezer has found a little tub of a cherry compote that I made last year with some foraged cherries…..

In the past I’ve used the cherry compote to make a very grown up tasting cherry ripple ice-cream (served with a trickle of dark chocolate sauce…. but I think crisp buttery biscuits would have been nice as well.

fragrant elderflower blossomsAlong with the cherry compote I also found a little tub with a gooseberry and elderflower compote inside and I’m wondering whether to try that in more of a possety pudding for mid-week.

The elderflowers have been a bit slow here this year but I noticed quite a lot of cloudy white billows out yesterday so I guess the week of sun-shine has helped them come on…..fingers crossed if it’s nice tomorrow we’ll head out with a basket and walking stick (helps me reach some of those higher up blossom heads)….

Semi Freddo is really easy to make, however this recipe does use raw eggs so it’s not suitable for children or anyone pregnant..

We buy all our eggs from Folland’s Organics on Norwich market, the eggs there are amazing and well worth the money, if you keep chickens or ducks yourself then your pudding is going to taste out of this world….I’ve wrote my recipe on here before, but this is a scaled down version if you don’t have a whole lot of freezer room.

unwaxed lemonsSemi-Freddo (enough for 4 pudding loving people, or 6 if you just like a taste)

Ingredients….

2 large organic eggs (separate the whites from the yolks)

350ml double cream

25 grammes of vanilla sugar

vanilla pod/fruit compote/lemon curd……

2 small loaf tins

Method….

Line the two loaf tins with clingfilm.

Beat the egg yolks and the sugar together until they become airy and pale in colour.

Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks.

Whisk the cream until it just forms a soft cloud.

Carefully add half the whipped egg whites and whipped cream into the egg yolks and sugar….and once that has only just come together, gently mix in the remaining half along with the flavouring…( I prefer to put in my flavouring now whether it’s a fruit compote, a couple of big spoons of very sharp lemon curd, a dollop of caramel syrup…….adding it now means the semi-freddo is lovely and rippled)…..sometimes I just use a vanilla bean if I’m serving the semi-freddo with fruit, and then I’ll scrape the tiny seeds out and add them to the egg yolks as I beat them with the sugar.

Gently spoon out the mixture and divide it between the loaf tins, tuck all the clingfilm over the mixture and allow it a few hours to freeze.  I tend to make it in the morning so it has all day in there.

You can take it out of the freezer about 15 minutes before you want to eat it, just leave it out on the side, but I prefer to take it out an hour before hand and then leave it on a shelf in the fridge….turn the loaf tins upside down and it should slide out fine….cut and serve with a drizzle of any remaining compote and some crisp biscuits or fruit.

(you can also freeze it in little silicion loaf tins which work very well too.)

 

 

 

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).