A Plethora of Preserves

To atone for my SHAMEFUL lack of blogging I went into overdrive last weekend and busied myself making no less than 20 jars of jam and chutney. This was by no means a mean feat, and yet there is something infinitely satisfying about waking up on a miserable Sunday in late September, and embracing the opportunity to preside over the stove for an entire day. Many staunch feminists* will now dispair of me, for after centuries of campaigning to be free from our domestic harnesses; I defy such freedom and revel in drudgery – and for this I apologise, but whilst I truly believe that domestic chores such as cleaning to be an activity designed by the (unarguably masculine) Devil, jam-making is a delicate and joyful art; always a pleasure,  never a chore. So when the jam season finally descends, I don my pinny with a happy sigh, and set to work.

Now, I know jam making may seem like the luxury of either the very rich, the very fortunate or the very bored, but I can assure you I am none of these things. I am not rich or fortunate enough to be the proud owner of an extensive fruit/vegetable garden, and I am not rich enough to be entirely idle (i.e. have all the time in the world for jam-making). I am not remotely bored, if you lived inside my head for a little while you would see that this is impossible. I make jam and chutney because I bloody love doing it, and even if you don’t, the reward always outweighs the effort. I normally make one batch of either jam or chutney a year, and I usually raid my mum’s garden to provide the ingredients. This year mum’s garden proffered a wonderful excess of raspberries and runner beans, and along with about five bags of hedgerow picked blackberries and some surplus courgettes, plums, bramleys and redcurrants, I was able to spend a merry day hovering over the newly-lit Aga. I love Aga’s. Labradors and Land Rovers can go hang, but Aga’s are worth the hype.

A word on picking blackberries – of course Seamus Heaney’s poem is all very well but blackberrying is rarely the dewy-eyed, purple-stained, mildly sexualised and infinitely romanticised activity such poets and parents would have us believe. Blackberrying is a miserable business; fingers are spiked, maggots are unwittingly consumed, thumbs stung and strange wispy creatures mistakenly inhaled. Nevertheless, the humble blackberry has much to offer the diligent picker. Kept in the freezer they can be thrown at will into pies, cakes, crumbles, parfaits, ice creams, jams and the like, and they always add a delicious extra juiciness to any pudding.

So with my hoard ready, I set to work. And here is what I made…

Harvest Chutney

The “Harvest” in the title is a little like the “Surprise” element one so often spies on school menus and the like; i.e. a license to include anything you may happen to find at your disposal; “surprise” pudding in my home always denoted some sort of hideous old fruit concoction, whilst “chef’s surprise” at school invariably included baked beans, left-over hash browns and old sausages from breakfast. This basically means one can throw anything into this chutney, I have provided the quanities in terms of categories, so you can improvise.

makes 10 jars

1 kg vegetables such as marrow, courgette, pumpkin (technically these are fruit but for the purposes of this recipe you’ll forgive me)

1kg acid fruit such as tomatoes or plums

1 kg apples

500g onions

500g sultanas/raisins

500g brown sugar

700ml cider vinegar

150ml water

2 tsp salt

SPICES: you can either buy a pot of mixed “pickling spice” and add a couple of tsp, or make up your own muslin bag of coriander seeds, bay leaves, mustard seeds, ginger, allspice berries, peppercorns and cloves. I suggest a bag made up of 2tsp coriander seeds, sliced thumb of fresh ginger, 4 tsp mustard seeds, 1 tsp peppercorns, 1 tsp allspice berries, 6 cloves,3 bay leaves and a blade of mace.

Peel and chop the onions and apples, chop up the veg. Then chuck all the ingredients into a big heavy pan and cook on a medium heat for about 2 hours. The chutney should be brown and nearly sticky, as thick as jam, and it should taste yum. Sterilise jars by placing in a hot oven, or boiling in a pan of hot water, then pot your chutney whilst warm and decorate your jars.

Runner Bean Chutney

This is a wonderful thing – a bit more special than the basic chutney above, which is ample for a strong cheddar sandwich/ploughmans. This however, deserves a more noble vehicle, perhaps some cold home-cooked ham; a lone sausage in a piece of bread. Or a chunk of very salty parmesan or Ossau Iraty (try it!).

2 onions, chopped fine

150 ml malt vinegar

8 allspice berries

2 tsp coriander seed

1 tsp yellow mustard seed

750g runner beans, chopped into diagonal lengths about a 1cm long

2 tsp wholegrain mustard

2 tsp turmeric

150 ml cider vinegar

200g sugar

2 tsp salt

250g tomatoes (drained from a tin is fine)

1 heaped tbsp cornflour

First boil the onion in the malt vinegar with the spices until it is soft. Then add the tomatoes and fry for 10 mins longer. Boil the beans in salted water until nearly tender, a few mins at most. Then add them and all the other ingredients into the pan. Cook, stirring constantly, for about an hour, until the beans are nearly soft, but retain a slight bite, and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add a few tsps of liquid to the cornflour in another bowl and stir until dissolved. Pour this mixture into the pan and stir for another few mins, until sticky. Pot and seal.

Blackberry Vinegar

This is very good used in dressings (especially a warm dressing for a black-pudding, duck or pigeon salad) it is also great in a sauce for roast-duck, venison or any game. It can be drunk with hot water to soothe colds, or cold water as a refreshing cordial on a hot day with some mint and lemon. Oh, and Granny-Who-Knows-All puts it in her Cumberland sauce for roast ham, and damn good it is too.

1 Ib blackberries

enough vinegar (cider) to cover them by a couple of inches

Place the blackberries in a bowl, then pour over the vinegar. Cover and leave for 3-7 days. Then strain (preferably through a jelly bag) and boil the liquid with half a pound of sugar for every half pint of juice. Simmer for five mins, then bottle.

Bramble Jelly

This is utterly underrated and delicious. Perfect on hot buttered muffins, crumpets, scotch pancakes and toast. Granny puts it in game casseroles, which is a good alternatve to a wee bit of redcurrant jelly, and mum has an ultimately sinful invention for evenings when you’re feeling a little tender- toast english muffins, slather with butter and bramble jelly, then top with any cheese you happen to have, and grill until the cheese is melted.

Juice 1 lemon

1 kg blackberries

granulated sugar

Boil the blackberries with half a pint of water until they become soft and release their juice. Strain through a jelly bag. For every litre of juice, add 750g of sugar. Add the lemon juice and boil the sugar and liquid on a medium/high heat, using a jam thermometer to test when it is done. The jam should reach 220 degrees. When this temperature is attained, pour the miture into warm sterilised jars.

Raspberry and Redcurrant Jam

The colour of this is truly wonderful, and the flavour is incredibly fresh; quite unlike the over-reduced, over-sugared supermarket versions we are so used to, which are practically brown and taste of little besides sugar.

Home made jam on the left, shop bought on the right…

This is my favourite jam of all, and is so good I decided to make a vehicle specifically to enjoy it, some fresh Welsh Cakes– the recipe for which is found below…

450g raspberries

juice 1 lemon

450g granulated sugar

handful of redcurrants (these provide pectin, sharpness and brilliant colour)

Cook the raspberries over a gentle heat for a few mins, until they release their juice. Meanwhile warm your sugar (in a roasting tray) in the oven. There is method behind this madness; if the sugar begins warm, the less time it will take to reach the setting point (220 degrees on the thermometer) therefore the less time you will have to boil the shit out of your raspberries, therefore the more fresh and fruity they will taste in your jam. So, when the raspberries have released their juice and the sugar is warm, add it to the pan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Turn up the heat and boil vigorously for about ten mins, until setting point is reached. Pot in sterilised jars and enjoy on warm welsh cakes with plenty of butter…

Welsh Cakes

These are very quick and easy to make. If you have a griddle- perfect, if not a frying pan will do. I did them directly on the hob of the Aga, for laziness and supposed authenticity.

Makes 6

4 oz self-raising flour

2 0z butter

1.5 oz caster sugar

1 egg, beaten with a splash of milk

pinch salt

pinch mixed spice

Rub the butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles breadcrumbs. Mix to a soft dough with the egg and milk- it should not be too sticky to handle. Roll out about half an inch thick, then cut out with a ring-cutter and fry on a lightly greased (with lard I urge!) griddle or pan or Aga hob. Fry for a few mins each side, turning until the inside is cooked and the outside are browned, then eat hot spread with your freshly made jam and butter.

*For budding feminists i can sincerely recommend my new favourite blog of all time, The Vagenda.http://vagendamag.blogspot.co.uk/

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