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Preserving Damsons (again!)

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It was jam-making time again chez nous recently, which meant that we finally used up our stock of foraged and frozen damsons. This tub of fruit has been waiting patiently for inspiration to strike me for at least a year. In the end, the reason the damsons eventually found their way into a jam jar was less to do with inspiration and more to do with a need for a large Tupperware box long out of circulation. From such mundane considerations are culinary delights created (well that’s getting somewhat carried away I suppose, but you can see what I mean). What has started out as a purely practical exercise, has re-stocked our jam supplies with some quite more-ish fruit preserve. Still remaining to be used are some of last autumn’s foraged blackberries, but I will come to those soon I hope, as we are almost out of our supply of blackberry and apple jelly .

Defrosting Damsons

Ready to boil.

I originally planned to make the damson cheese from our Thane Prince Jams and Chutneys book. However, as I didn’t have the required 2kg of damsons available, but did have some Bramleys in the house, we ended up with a damson and apple cheese. I have thus borrowed from two recipes in Thane Prince’s book, as I have adapted elements from both the ‘Damson cheese’ and the ‘Apple butter’ recipes. If you remember, we have made preserves from her book previously, including our own variation of her apple butter using apples donated by a neighbour. This batch of preserves is noteworthy as it the first time that I had proper use out of my large new preserving pan, bought last year in Aldi. Part of me wishes I had chosen a smaller size, as you need to boil a large quantity of fruit to get good use out of the pot. Anyway, I suppose it should in future mean that fruit does not hang around in the freezer for a year, as I can now boil up an enormous batch should I so desire.

The damsons were quite small so I didn’t attempt to halve them and I peeled and chopped the apples (total of 2kg fruit) and put them with a litre of water to bring to the boil. I did find that the water took a longer time than I was expecting to reach boiling point, but I suppose that was because I was not used to the pan. Prince’s original recipe uses fresh ginger at this stage, to add zing to the fruit, but as I did not have any available (I think that happened last time I tried to make damson cheese) I resorted to the spice cupboard. When at the next stage of putting the fruit pulp and sugar (1.5kg) in together I added a quarter of a teaspoon of ground cinnamon to add a hint of spice. Next time, I really will make sure to have a piece of fresh ginger handy, as I would like to try it for flavour.

Damsons and Apples

Fruit cooking in the pan.

In this type of recipe, the hard work comes in at the stage of pushing the softened fruit through a sieve to create a fruit puree. I think that maybe I need a larger sieve to make the task a little easier as it is an arm aching process at the best of times. Then, when you get to the stage of being ready to test the mixture for a set, the recipe instruction says, ‘scoop out a spoonful, put it on a cold plate, and allow it to cool. It should stay in a mound rather than spread out over the plate’. Now, I had cooked the mixture for the suggested 30-45 minutes, resulting in a thickening of the fruit mixture but it was nowhere near as thick as to stay in a mound. Having said all of that, my test amount passed the appropriate wrinkle test, so I potted up the jam (cheese) into hot jars. I am not sure what I am doing wrong as my batches are never as thick as they are supposed to be. I am concerned that if I cook longer to achieve a greater thickness, that I will then spoil the flavour.

Jars of Damson & Apple Anyway, all my damson and apple cheese (or butter?) is safely sealed and labelled. Of course, we have already been sampling! If anyone has any jamming tips to offer, we would love to hear them.

Reaching for new heights with a new foraging tool

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The blackberrying season came around this year and although we delayed a bit at the start, we have managed to get a good haul. This year we are freezing the berries in an empty biscuit tin as we gather them. When the tin is full and the time is right (ie: when we remember to buy the sugar), we’ll make bramble jelly.

We’ve been on three walks with intention to pick so far and all have been very successful. The tin is nearly full. We pick our berries on the banks of the River Dodder and sometimes in Bushy Park, where the brambles are both big and bountiful. On the first two expeditions we played safe, with the bushes we could easily reach on the bank or the shingles. On the third trip we aimed higher, with the aid of The Invention.

The Invention

A wire coat hanger

The Invention was originally Chris’ idea to help with foraging last year. We kept forgetting to make it until a few days ago, but it has now become a vital part of our foraging equipment (together with a bag, box and pair of gardening gloves). The Invention consists of one item only…drumroll, please… A COATHANGER! One wire coat hanger (see Fig. A), for which we owe thanks to the local dry-cleaners, makes the most perfect reaching tool imaginable.

First of all, Chris pulled the hanger so that the hook was at one end and it could be held at the other end (see Fig. B). That worked well until we became tempted by berries that were even higher than our newly extended reach. As an experiment to demonstrate human greed, a blackberrying scenario would surely be perfect. No sooner than new heights have been obtained, even higher ones are sought in the quest for the biggest blackberry!

The Invention 2

The coat hanger pulled out of shape.

Which brings me onto the next stage of development for The Invention. The hangers are only made of soft metal and it was easy to untwist the hook and pull the wire right out into a single length, with the hook on the end of this extension. Even more berries were now within our reach, both at the top of bushes and over the edges of parapets, where the bramble clings to the stonework in a huge tangle.

The Invention 3

The final version

Anyway, with our tin nearly full, we will probably make the jelly in the next few weeks. We still have frozen damsons from last autumn as well and we’re planning to make jumbleberry jam with some reduced price fruit as well, more on that soon!

Have you been foraging for fruit this autumn? Let us know what you’ve made!

Jam Galore

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In today’s post, I am going to do a quick round up of our recent jam making activities, as evidenced by the picture below. I’ve already talked about a couple of the varieties that you can see here, but we have had a good jam making run and produced several types this year. I still have some blackberries and more damsons in the freezer so we won’t be short of preserves this season. We hope to have another jam making session before Christmas, if only to clear space in the freezer. As I have already mentioned, preserves can make great gifts so that is another incentive to get jamming before the festive season. There was a nice feature in (I think) the Irish Times Magazine on Saturday from Clodagh McKenna, giving her recipes for apple chutney and a blackberry and apple jam. I can’t now find the link, but I’ve added the apple chutney recipe I found on Clodagh McKenna’s website. I am keen to try out the chutney but I prefer to make blackberries into a jelly rather than a jam so I’ll stick with a recipe from last year.

Jam Selection

These are a few of our jams….

I think that overall, our favourite jam this year was the rowan and apple jelly that we made for the first time this autumn. It was so tasty that we have already opened the last jar (although in fairness our first batch was not a large one). The beautiful colour and tangy flavour made it a winner on buttery toast and we are already looking forward to foraging for rowan berries next year. The next in appeal would probably be the lavender and apple and the rosehip and apple. This is again partly for the lovely clear colours and because of the flavours of these unusual types of jellies.

I think that there has been a particular pleasure in trying to make (and eat!) preserves that are not readily available commercially. That was our reason for tackling an elderberry preserve too. There was also the satisfaction of first making use of some flowers for cordial, as we have featured in an earlier post, then harvesting some fruit later in the year. Sadly, we couldn’t forage berries from the same patch that we used for flowers since the council, in its infinite wisdom had despatched workers to cut all the elder bushes hard back. It seemed a strange time of year to be doing that job and I don’t suppose the local bird population was very impressed either. Still, not to be defeated we foraged a bit further afield and came home with a few clusters of glossy black berries.

Elderberries and Apples

Ready to cook….

Here are links to recipes that we found to try out: On Lavender and, we found an elderberry preserve recipe. Then on The Cottage, we spotted this rosehip and apple jelly recipe.

I cannot say that we managed to get perfect results the first time round, but we were very pleased with our endeavours. We’d love to hear about your jam making exploits and about any favourite recipes. Do drop us a line!


Rowan jelly from foraged berries

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Yet again, you find us in fruit preserving mode, this time with rowan berries, the proceeds of some of Verity’s foraging activities. We do have a rowan tree at home but as it is still too young to produce many berries, we’ve been looking out for a suitable tree from which to forage. The reason for our interest in rowan berries is that we have been reading up on some of the more unusual preserves that can be made and we were keen to try the recipe for rowan jelly. The colour in the picture accompanying the recipe looked so beautiful that we really had to try it. And anyway, the idea of eating rowan berries was intriguing. A real step into the culinary past of using what was around you as food.Rowan trees

In the end, we scaled down the quantities in Thane Prince’s recipe book (check out some of recipes on the BBC Food site) as the weight of berries after washing and discarding the duds was just under 500g. This meant that we were only making about a quarter of the amount of jelly that the author did, but it was enough to get us started on something new. The jelly also contains cooking apples, which provides the bulk, but as in the previous carrot and cardamom recipe, it also ensures a good set, as apples are rich in pectin.

One minor digression: on the subject of suitable jars to use for preserves. We try to keep a stash of various sized jars in the kitchen cupboard, salvaging jars from anything from coffee to mayonnaise (and even jam!) Recently our cupboard has become full of small yoghurt jars. Both of us are yoghurt fiends so it doesn’t take much encouragement to buy, eat and thus acquire more jars. The appeal of these jars is not for their practicality as they don’t contain much, but what they are brilliant for is making jars of preserves into handy gifts. The shape of the Dunnes jars works particularly well, though I could wish that the labels were easier to soak and remove.

rowans and apples

In the pan…

The recipe in our book (I haven’t researched any others yet) is quite straightforward to follow. Apart from the water, there are only three ingredients. The main thing you have to remember in jelly making is that you will need a muslin cloth or a jelly bag to strain the fruit pulp before adding the sugar. We have a cloth, though after often struggling to get it suspended over a bowl, I feel the time has come to splash out on a decent jelly bag with a frame to make the task easier. Here I also need to confess to a dreadful sin against jelly making: I have squeezed the bag containing the pulp on more than one occasion. Recipes always tell you not to as you risk making the jelly cloudy. The problem I have is that I tend to look at the fruit pulp and think what a waste it is not to squeeze a little more juice.Rowan Jelly

Therefore, in making our rowan jelly, I did squeeze the bag but in fact, I can’t say I noticed much difference in the end product. It might have been slightly less clear than it should be, but it still looked glowing with colour. I found I needed to skim the surface of the jelly after adding the sugar, but that wasn’t too much of a problem. Rowan jelly is supposed to be versatile enough to use as a preserve on toast and to accompany roast lamb or venison. Thane Prince recommends it with toasted goat’s cheese and I think that maybe it would work well with camembert or brie too. After taste testing the fruits of our labours (pun intended), we were very pleased with the results. The fruit jelly has a lovely tang, a welcome change from the sweetness of some jams. I don’t want to start sounding like a wine expert detecting all sorts of notes, but I think the rowan has a sort of spicy tang that counteracts the overall sweetness of the jam. In other words, and to put it simply, it was very yummy on our morning toast!

Do let us know about any unusual jams that you’ve tried to make. Any new ideas are more than welcome…

Picture credits: the rowan tree was taken from: and Verity took our kitchen pictures.

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