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.
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.
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.
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.