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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.

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 Lovage.com, we found an elderberry preserve recipe. Then on The Cottage Smallholder.com, 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: http://www.treecouncil.ie/index.html and Verity took our kitchen pictures.

Carrot and Cardamom Jam

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This little experiment came about due to the large amount of cardamom pods that we have in the house, the result of a thoughtful gift. After some searching through our recipes for cardamom related ideas, we decided first to have a go at a preserve from the Thane Prince book that we’ve mentioned before. The carrot and cardamom jam intrigued us as it seemed to be an interesting combination of flavours and an unusual type of preserve to test.Jams and Chutneys

The idea of using carrots in a sweet recipe isn’t unusual, for instance as the main ingredient in carrot cake but I’d never tried it in a jam before. However, the introduction to this recipe says, ‘serve this spicy jam with wholemeal toast and Cheddar cheese’ so it sounds rather more in the vein of a complement to savoury foods than a tea time jam (rather like cranberry jelly).

The method is straightforward, though we discovered that getting the cardamom seeds out of the pots is fiendishly fiddly. Fortunately the recipe only calls for one tablespoon of seeds (that still leaves a rather large jar full to use up) so we weren’t quite driven to distraction over the operation. Much easier was peeling and cutting up the carrots, which you boil until tender and then chop finely. I wasn’t sure whether you were supposed to leave the carrots to cool before chopping them, so rather than attempting to chop hot carrots I snipped then up with kitchen scissors which seemed to work.

The next stage is to put into a pan the chopped carrots with the juice and zest of lemon and oranges, sugar and the famous cardamom seeds. So far so good, I was surprised that no liquid apart from the fruit juices was added to the recipe but once the sugar had dissolved, the mixture had a nice consistency. You need to add pectin to this jam to enable it to set. I suppose you could try instead to make a carrot and apple preserve, but I don’t feel confident enough yet to meddle with jam recipes. After adding the pectin, you return the mixture to the boil for two more minutes, then you test for a set. If all’s well you’re well on the way to having an unusual jam to try on your toast.Carrot and Cardamom Jam

I am pleased to report that we had setting success, then we left the mixture to stand for ten minutes as instructed. The idea is that once the mixture begins to set a little, you stir it to ensure the carrot and cardamom is evenly distributed before bottling. That didn’t quite work out according to plan and I would have preferred a better distribution, but perhaps I would leave the mixture a little longer another time.

We  haven’t yet opened our jars, though we did taste as we went along. According to the book, this jam will keep for a year, but I don’t think it will linger on our shelves for that long.

Keep an eye out for our next preserving project and let us know if you have any favourite preserving recipes or can recommend any books.

Now, I’m off to butter some toast….

Bottled Elderflowers

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Our latest venture into the culinary world has been to add to our supply of preserves with some elderflower cordial. I think this is the third or fourth time we have made elderflower cordial and this year the fruits of our labour have been particularly sweet (if I say so myself) . Elderflower cordial, whether homemade or bought, is invariably delicious, I have never found one that I didn’t like. I find the idea of drinking bottled flowers an attractive one, especially such pretty flowers as elderflowers. They have a beautiful and irresistible scent that transfers intact from the flower to the drink. The taste is usually sweet although it can be sharpened if you introduce citrus fruits into the mix. Our own cordial this year is slightly tangy due to the two oranges, two lemons and three limes that were infused along with the flowers.

Elderflowers

Elderflowers

Recipes for a cordial do not have to be difficult, as the one we used shows. Our recipe (taken from Jams & Chutneys by Thane Prince, published by Dorling Kindersley) tells you to dissolve sugar in water, pour this into a large bowl over the flowers and chopped fruit and then stir in the citric acid. The liquid is left for four days to infuse and is then strained and bottled. It is a very simple process and if you are prepared to wait four days for the infusing, it is a good option. However, there are other recipes using different methods that may be quicker. The recipe we used last year (don’t ask where it came from, neither of us can remember!) instructed you to boil the liquid twice and add the sugar at a later stage, it also didn’t need to infuse for as long. However, this recipe produced a cordial that was very sweet and thick. While this was fine to start with, the cordial soon thickened even more until it resembled a thick syrup more than a drink. There are numerous recipes available and it’s probably a good idea to try a few and then come up with your own variation that ticks all the boxes in your opinion. Personally, I love the result this year, my only comment being that you could probably manage with only two, or even one, lime. It’s also worth buying elderflower cordial in a cafe, deciding which you like most and using the ingredient list to figure out how to make a similar one.

One point I think is worth making about the process of making elderflower: do not under estimate the difficulty involved in finding citric acid. While I admit it is easier to find than pectin, (we could only find this in Fallon and Byrne, where it is ridiculously overpriced), it is still not readily available. Thane Prince recommends Jewish, Polish and Asian grocery stores but we found it in McCabes chemist.

Elder flower cordial and ingredients

Our elder flower cordial and some of the ingredients

Then comes the uses of cordial. Obviously, cordial makes a drink, however, we feel sure that it could be used for other purposes. What we had in mind is an elderflower jelly, made with the cordial and vegetarian gelatine. It is also delicious when drizzled over a fruit salad, a perfect summer snack! I tried it with apples, bananas and oranges and was very pleased with the result.

Elderflower is one of our ‘wild harvests’ that we pick on the banks of our local river. The large, white flower heads come out in between May and June. It is best to pick them in the morning, before a lot of insects have settled on them. Always shake the flowers well before using them, this dislodges any insects. It is best to pick the largest, whitest flowers you can reach. The old, yellow ones or flower heads with unopened buds won’t have as strong a fragrance.

Although it’s late in June, there are still many elderflowers out and ripe for the picking. So, you’d better get picking!

Photo credits: Basket of flowers from Wikipedia, with thanks.

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