1. Abundance and preserving. It’s that time of year again: the regular thud of apples falling off heavily-laden boughs onto my lawn; the triffid-like majesty of two thriving rhubarb plants; the first swelling of aubergines and cucumbers on their stalks in the greenhouse, and the flourishing of herbs - lemon verbena, grapefruit mint, Thai basil, oregano, lavender…The markets are full of beautiful rosy Victoria plums and blooming jade greengages, the last of summer’s peaches and downy apricots, and jewel-like berries in abundance. At times like these, I love nothing more than to dust off my jam pan and start preserving for the autumn and winter (although admittedly I make far more preserves than I can ever get through alone, and give away around 80% of what I produce, but that’s part of the joy too). Favourite recipes at the moment include Diana Henry’s plum, orange and cardamom jam, greengage and honey compote (this freezes well for use on winter porridge), and my own spiced apple and date jam, or rhubarb, vanilla and cardamom jam. If you have an apple glut, try making flavoured jellies for sweet and savoury food: my two favourites are festive apple jelly and lemon verbena jelly. For more luscious jam ideas, see Diana Henry’s beautiful book Salt Sugar Smoke – the apricot and lavender jam is also excellent.Read More
Normal people have certain staples in their freezers. Bags of peas. Ice cream. Breaded fish fillets. Ready meals. Frozen pizzas. In the freezer of the food-waste-phobe, this set of staples will probably have a few extra additions: tubs of homemade stock from the leftovers of a roast dinner; parmesan rinds to be added to soups; odds and ends of bread to be turned into breadcrumbs when the need arises.
And then, if you’re me, you can add to this list a plastic bag full of squeezed lemon halves, and three frozen bergamots.Read More
There are a million and one delicious things in the world. Chocolate. Ripe mangoes. Jennifer Lawrence. But sometimes I think that, as far as simplicity goes, you can't get much better than curd. I'm not talking about the pale, buttery clouds that rise to the surface when you make cheese (the curds of Little Miss Muffet, as they are otherwise known), but that blissfully ambrosial concoction of butter, eggs, sugar and fruit, heated and whisked until glossy, gelatinous and spreadable and then placed in jars where you can admire its beautiful pastel hues.Read More
The word ‘jelly’ fills me with a little bit of horror. Firstly, it conjures up images of lurid children’s birthday party food, weirdly fluorescent transparent goo in odd shapes that wobbles under the pressure of a spoon or a fat youthful finger. I’ve never liked jelly or even tried it, as I recall; I think I’m afraid of the strange way it would feel in my mouth, not solid but not quite liquid either, trampolining oddly against the teeth. I have an irrational aversion to the stuff.Read More
I’ve had an apple tree in my garden for as long as I can remember. When I lived with my parents in Cambridge, our neighbour’s apple tree overhung our garden and reliably dropped large quantities of cooking apples onto the lawn every autumn. My house in York, by happy coincidence, also has an apple tree in the garden, but this time it is entirely mine and entirely my lawn that bears the brunt of the October windfall.Read More
Sometimes, I feel like vanilla gets a little overlooked in my kitchen. That's not to say I don't use it often; a teaspoon or two of golden vanilla extract regularly makes its way into my baking and even sometimes into my breakfast. But it's always there as a background to other things, a pleasantly sweet, bland, blank canvas to be painted over in vivid stripes by other flavours. It's so easy just to tip vanilla extract out of the bottle without thinking about it, without really enjoying its heady (there's more than a little alcohol in there) perfume, to just let it blend in. You get a totally different experience using vanilla pods.
Opening a thin glass jar of vanilla pods is a wonderful thing. First, there's the incredible aroma that hits you like a powerful blast of sweet air as you take off the lid. Then there's the feel of the pods - slightly moist, almost silky, damp with flavour and perfume. I always find it odd how something ostensibly so gnarled, black and ugly can produce the flavour we associate with everything light, white and aesthetically pleasing - think vanilla ice cream or vanilla cheesecake.
Then there are those beautiful little seeds, tiny capsules of flavour that should look so wrong peppering a dish like dust, but instead are pleasing to the eye, promising an abundance of sweet vanilla goodness. I hate recipes that tell me to scrape the seeds from a vanilla pod and add to something, because inevitably some seeds always get lost in the process - they stick to the knife, or the bowl, or the spatula, or you just can't get them all out of the pod.
Still, I also like that you can recycle vanilla pods. After infusing things with them (ice cream, jam, etc.) I give the pod a quick rinse, let it dry on some kitchen paper, and then stick it in a jar of caster sugar, where it infuses the sugar wonderfully with its scent. Our vanilla sugar jar at home now has a total of five pods twisting up out of the mound of sugar - that's got to be some potent stuff. While vanilla pods aren't cheap, they're certainly good value. And while a good brand of vanilla extract (or vanilla paste, which is my new love - it contains all the seeds as well, in a viscous, treacle-like black goo) is perfectly fine for most things, you sometimes can't beat a vanilla pod in the kitchen.
This jam is one example. While I used to think ginger and orange were the best things in the world to pair with rhubarb, this jam changed my mind. There is something about the combination of rhubarb, sugar and vanilla that is just incredible. I think it's the intense sweetness of it, reminiscent of childhood desserts and sweets from the corner shop. Combine the fragrance of vanilla with the tart sugary hit of rhubarb, and you have something utterly wonderful.
This jam arose as a way of using up six bags of rhubarb from my freezer, but I've made it again since with specially purchased rhubarb, because it's just so good. The rhubarb and sugar cook down into a rather unassuming brownish pink mass, flecked with those all-important vanilla seeds, but it is definitely one of those things that tastes better than it looks. Spread on toast, where it becomes a lovely dusky pink colour, it's the ultimate sweet morning pick-me-up.
I've also added cardamom, which I have to say was a bit of an inspired idea. Cardamom works well with rhubarb, lending it a delicious citrus note, but the combination with the vanilla as well is ridiculously good. There's tartness from the fruit, sweetness from the sugar, fragrant perfume from the vanilla, and an alluring exotic citrus note from the cardamom that is reminiscent of those beautiful syrupy sweet Middle Eastern desserts.
This is a very special jam indeed, yet one that hardly takes any effort; in fact, it's more effort to sterilise the jars to put it in than it is to make the jam. A fine use for the special vanilla pod, as well as one of England's most neglected vegetables.
Rhubarb, vanilla and cardamom jam (makes 5 jars):
- 1kg rhubarb (weighed after trimming)
- 1kg jam sugar
- 1 vanilla pod, split lengthways
- 12 cardamom pods, seeds removed and crushed to a powder
- Juice of 1 lemon
Chop the rhubarb into 3cm pieces and put in a large, heavy-based saucepan or preserving pan. Add the sugar and vanilla pod, and heat gently until the rhubarb starts to turn juicy and the sugar starts to dissolve. Put a small plate in the freezer (to test for when the jam is set). Add the cardamom and lemon juice to the rhubarb, then turn the heat up and let it bubble quite vigorously for 30 mins-1 hour. Stir occasionally to prevent the rhubarb and sugar catching on the bottom of the pan and burning - this happens if the heat is too high.
Meanwhile, sterilise your jars and lids. I do this by washing them well in soapy water, then putting the jars upside down in an oven at 120C for 40 minutes, adding the lids (also upside down) for the last 10 minutes. Turn the oven off and leave the jars inside until ready to bottle the jam.
To test for a set, put a teaspoon of jam onto the cold plate from the freezer and leave for 2 minutes. If you can run your finger through it and it wrinkles and separates, it's ready. If not, let it bubble for a bit longer.
When the jam is set and still hot, ladle through a clean funnel into the jars, add wax discs and put on the lids. Voilà!
Until recently, my only experience of lime leaves was of the dried variety, that come crammed into little spice boxes in major supermarkets, often with a hefty price tag attached for the privilege of acquiring the exoticism conferred by the words 'Kaffir limes'. I'd throw these fragile, desiccated morsels, rather like crisp, curled bay leaves, into a heady mix of coconut milk, lemongrass, ginger and shallots, every time hoping that they'd impart the lusciously fragrant aroma implied by their limey affinity, and every time finding myself disappointed, completely unable to notice any difference whatsoever. I tried adding more, but to no avail. Even sniffing deeply at the box or jar, I'd notice very little olfactory impact at all.
Then recently, I finally opened a packet of lime leaf tea I bought in a market in Cambodia last summer. Straight away I was hit by the astringent aroma, sharp and crisp, like a muskier version of a fresh lime. Brewing the leaves in boiling water, I marvelled at the pale jade colour of the resulting tea, and its feisty citrus flavour, reminiscent of ginger tea in its peppery, citrussy heat. This, I suddenly realised, was the real thing. This was how lime leaves should smell and taste: a deep, earthy yet vibrant aroma, like crossing potpourri with a fresh citrus fruit.
Still finding myself with a huge crate of Brazilian limes (despite my best endeavours in the way of gin and tonics, cheesecakes, curries and many bowls of fresh papaya, I still have about twenty left), I fortuitously caught sight of Nigel Slater's recent recipe in the Guardian for lime and lime leaf marmalade. As it used a whole nine limes, this seemed the perfect way to both use up some of my lime stash, and indulge my deep love of preserving.
Though I don't have as much time as I'd like to devote to the stirring of vats of sugary confections, preserving is one of my absolute favourite cooking tasks. I love the transformation of bright, fresh ingredients into something more muted, subtle, possessing a sweet and aromatic flavour of its own. I love the frugality and home economics of the activity, capturing something of the delicious seasonal fruit to eat long after the original product has disappeared (yes, amazingly, there are still some fruits that aren't available in this country year-round: gooseberries, rhubarb, blackcurrants, quinces, to name a few - essentially, all of my favourites, because I'm a masochist like that).
I love that I can put a few slices of homemade sourdough or soda bread into the toaster in the morning, and, while the smell of burnished bread wafts through the kitchen, peer into my jam cupboard and find myself with an array of delicious homemade preserves to choose from: fig jam, apple jam, quince jelly, and rhubarb and vanilla jam are just some of the current inhabitants of the cupboard. I never have to buy jam; why would I, when ladling a generous spoonful of the homemade version onto steaming toast is so infinitely more rewarding? I also love that each and every jar has come out of a mundane need to 'use something up' yet has produced a result that is infinitely more than convenience.
The rhubarb, for example, was the woody, sour, summer kind. Five bags of it had been sitting in the freezer, when last November I decided to clear them out in one fell swoop, simmering them in a pan with sugar and a vanilla pod to make the most ridiculously gorgeous pink jam, far more wonderful than I'd ever have expected from beholding those thick, green chunks of the original vegetable.
The apple and blackberry jam, too, notable for it cost me absolutely nothing: the blackberries were foraged from hedgerows in the Yorkshire dales, the apples were windfalls from the tree overhanging our garden in Cambridge, and the sugar and jars were already sitting patiently in the cupboard.
The fig jam I am most proud of, for it arose when I came home from holiday to find one of Mum's colleagues had given her a huge tray of figs from his garden, yet she'd allowed them to almost rot, sitting in the fruit bowl. They were far too far gone to be edible, soft and squishy with fruit flies hovering eagerly around in droves, but I managed to rescue them with the aid of a bag of jam sugar, transforming them into the most incredible jam, a deep khaki green, flecked with crunchy seeds and chewy pieces of fig flesh, and possessing a rich, caramelly flavour. I only made a few jars, but with every mouthful I feel proud of myself for rescuing those sad fruits - true testament to both the transformative and economical power of preserving.
Preserving may not be as trendy these days as the homely putting together of a Victoria sponge in a kitchen decked with bunting while wearing a Cath Kidston apron and using a Mason Cash mixing bowl, or the frivolous piping of buttercream onto a fussy cupcake, but for me it has an honesty and an integrity greater than almost any other kitchen pursuit. There is a quiet dignity in a homemade jar of jam or marmalade, adorned with a slightly wonky handwritten label. It speaks of promise and of patience.
Patience was definitely the keyword for my marmalade adventure. Now that I am a PhD student, my weekends have acquired something of a sacred quality. I try, as many PhD students are advised, to treat my research undertaking as a full-time job, working nine to five on campus during the week then taking the weekends off. By and large, it works well (except I won't lie, it's more like ten til five. But I cram a lot of intense work into those hours, so I think it's okay). Even then, I usually have at least something I can't escape doing at the weekends, so I try and make the remaining hours of leisure time count.
Last weekend, those hours were spent extracting the juice from nine limes, then using a teaspoon to scrape every last fragment of pith and membrane out of the shells of said limes. There are three things I would advise at this stage. Firstly, if, like me, you have a nasty habit of biting the skin around your fingers, this is going to hurt a LOT. Secondly, don't use a pretty Whittards teaspoon with a pleasantly decorated plastic handle, because the acid from the limes will melt the pattern into something veritably Dali-esque. Thirdly, don't be in a rush. This is not something to be rushed.
Oh, and one more thing - you can skip the gym for the weekend if you do this. Purging eighteen lime shells of their innards is surprisingly taxing on the upper arm muscles.
The fun doesn't end there. You then need to shred the lime peel. Nigel Slater was kind enough to anticipate that by this stage, the last thing you probably want to do is painstakingly slice the peel into slivers, so he offers the alternative of chucking it all in the food processor. While I think hand-slicing it would give a more attractive final result, with delicate tendrils of peel suspended in the golden sugary liquid, I probably would have burst into frustrated tears had I decided to attempt this. Instead, it was made light work of in seconds by those spinning electronic blades, and I could sit down for a minute. I had juiced a couple of Meyer lemons for a lemon tart that day, and by some presence of mind had saved the skins, so they went in there too - Meyer lemons have a gorgeous floral fragrance that I thought would be fabulous with the limes and lime leaves. The result of the ferocious blitzing was a beautiful speckled medley of green and yellow shreds.
After that, everything is fairly simple. You bring the lime juice to the boil with some water, add the peel, then put the pulp from the limes into a muslin bag and suspend it in the mixture, boiling it for an hour or so. Then you add the sugar and lime leaves.
This is part two of my lime leaf revelation.
Three words: buy them frozen.
I was vaguely aware you could get frozen lime leaves in Chinese supermarkets, but I'd never remembered while there to have a look. I was delighted to find a large tub of frozen leaves in the Chinese supermarket just down the road (my house is excellently located in York for two reasons: one, it's opposite the gym; two, it's about ten minutes from a brilliant Middle Eastern and a Chinese supermarket), for the princely sum of £1.60. There must be at least a hundred leaves in it, so it's ridiculously good value for money.
Comparing frozen lime leaves with dried is like comparing fresh basil with dried: there is simply no contest. The leaves, added to the bubbling syrupy vat of citrussy marmalade, imparting the most incredible fragrance to the liquid and to my house. It's hard to describe the smell of fresh (well, frozen, but once thawed they're as fresh as you'll get outside Thailand) lime leaves, but suffice to say they possess all the positive attributes of a fresh lime - zesty, zingy, citrussy - plus something extra in the form of their aromatic fragrance.
This marmalade makes your house smell wonderful, like a sweet shop: warm, spicy, cosseting. It turns a beautiful amber colour, flecked with pale shards of lime peel that soften in their sugary bath so that you can crush them easily with your fingertips. The lime leaves work beautifully to consolidate all that fresh lime flavour, adding a little delicate perfume too.
Ladling the glossy, golden mixture into jars, I suddenly didn't mind so much that I'd spent my weekend in agonising pain, hands smothered in acid, teaspoons melting, millions of sticky, sugary utensils waiting in the sink to be washed. Because I'll get to spend my next precious weekend kicking back, relaxing, and eating doorstop slices of dark soda bread spread thickly with this beautiful fragrant preserve.
It's hard to describe the complex flavour of this marmalade; it's fresh and citrussy, yet also has an amazing deep, fragrant tang to it from the lime leaves. It's a beautiful golden colour - not an artificial green, as you often find in inferior commercial lime marmalade - and it isn't too sweet; there's just enough sugar to bring out the myriad flavours within. It's really best if you just give it a go for yourself and see what I mean.
The marmalade recipe, by Nigel Slater, is here on the Guardian website. I didn't make any changes apart from using the peel of two Meyer lemons as well as the lime peel, instead of the one normal lemon he suggests, as I happened to have some left over and thought their unusual bergamot-esque fragrance would work well in the mix.
Things in jars give me a deep and profound sense of satisfaction.
Well, OK, not entirely. I should probably qualify that statement. Things I have made that I am able to put in jars give me a deep and profound sense of satisfaction. Such things include jam, jelly, chutney, preserved lemons, and bottled fruits.
What is it about the simple act of putting something homemade in a jar that is so enjoyable? I think it's perhaps that we tend to associate jars with things we've bought in a shop, rather than made at home. When we make something ourselves, put it in a jar and label it, it's almost as if we feel we're packaging up a product that's good enough to be on a shop shelf (though, of course, the irony is that homemade produce is often far better than anything you'd find on a shop shelf).
That's just a theory, but I do think there's something in it. When we make a nice plate of food, we can admire it all we like, but we're not packaging it up in a way that's presentable, that's transferrable. When we pour homemade jam or chutney into jars, seal and label them, it's as if we're proudly declaring to the world, "This is good enough to be given as a present, or to be displayed on the larder shelf".
Perhaps it's also the sense of anticipation: generally, homemade jams, jellies, chutneys and the like last quite a long time. Chutney, especially, seeing as it usually needs to mature for several months before it is edible. When we put the lids on jars of homemade preserves and give them their final twist, we think of and eagerly await all the delightful pieces of toast or cold meat sandwiches to come.
Perhaps it's the sense of giving, the fact that we've lovingly stirred away at a tasty creation that's now ours to share, because it's easily portable. It's almost a cliché to say that homemade preserves make wonderful gifts, but of course it's true. A jar of homemade chutney or jam from a friend will always be prized and savoured because it's unique; you can't just nip to the supermarket and find an identical jar when you run out.
And, of course, homemade jarred goods are usually rather aesthetically pleasing, too. You only have to look at the pictures of my bottled apricots from this year to see that. The preserved lemons I made years ago were once beautiful as well. Now they look rather like a jar full of dead things preserved in a swamp, with the odd clove and bay leaf floating around, but the glow of preserving pride is still there every time I take one out, chop it and add its zesty, salty aroma to my cooking.
Small pleasures, perhaps, but I enjoy them nonetheless.
I did not, however, enjoy the last time I attempted to preserve one of my favourite fruits, the quince. I decided to make membrillo, that beautiful golden, sweet, perfumed quince paste so beloved of the Spanish. I followed a recipe instructing me to place a couple of kilos of whole quince in a dish and bake them in the oven for several hours. I was then supposed to push the cooked quince through a sieve.
What a ridiculous notion. Sure, the quince was quite soft, after I'd caused my house's electricity bill to skyrocket by leaving the oven on all afternoon, but did its skin and tough fibres want to go through the sieve? No, they emphatically did not. You may as well have tried to push a whole apple through a sieve using a ladle. Half an hour of intense frustration and aching biceps later, I had extracted a poxy amount of quince purée which I then dutifully boiled with a lot of sugar, as instructed.
Yes, the result was tasty membrillo, but a very small amount considering the money I'd expended on all those quince whose pulp ended up in the bin. To add insult to injury, most of it went mouldy (despite being in the fridge) before I'd even had much of a chance to enjoy it. Usually I'm all for making things yourself; it's generally much cheaper than buying them. But in this case, I should have just bought myself a jar of membrillo and not bothered. Although the homemade stuff was amazing on toast with goat's cheese. To this day, I cannot understand the thinking behind that recipe. It was, I think, in Waitrose Food Illustrated, but I honestly do not believe it was ever tested. Every recipe I've come across since has instructed me to boil the quince, chopped, in a little water so it turns mushy, and THEN push it through a sieve. Much more realistic. No matter how long you bake them for, you won't get that mushyness from putting a quince in the oven as opposed to a pan of water, especially if you leave the skin on, as the recipe directed.
This year, then, I did not go down that route. However, when a big bag of quinces arrived, courtesy of a friend whose parents had a glut of them, I couldn't resist revisiting the idea of quince preserves again. Mainly because these quince surprised me with their diminutive size; there was such a high ratio of core and pips to actual quince flesh that it didn't seem worthwhile to bake or poach them as I would normally do for sweet or savoury dishes. I've never seen such tiny quince, but a quick Google informed me that these were in fact ornamental/Japonica quinces, a very different variety to the huge specimens you find in the markets at this time of year, usually imported from France, Spain or Turkey.
In the interests of an easy life, then, it seemed easier to just chop them all up - peel, pips and all - and make some sort of preserve with them, rather than attempt to painstakingly peel, core and chop them all for a dessert. The beauty of quince jelly is that you can boil the quinces with all the pips and peel remaining - you literally just chop them up roughly and put them in some water.
Quince jelly, then. Not membrillo - this time I decided to do something different. For quince jelly, you just want the juice you get when you boil the quince in water until soft. The way to do this is to strain the resulting quince mixture through a muslin bag to extract the juice, which you then boil with sugar until you reach a set. It really is as easy as that. However, you can then make membrillo with the remaining quince pulp in the muslin, which I might get round to doing next week, so as not to waste a single morsel of this excellent fruit (apart from the pips, of course).
I dutifully hung my bag of quincey goodness over a bowl overnight, and ended up with a lot of liquid that looked like that gorgeous Copella cloudy apple juice. This I then weighed, measured out an almost equal amount of sugar, and boiled it all together.
And gosh, it was a LOT of sugar.
I really did wince as I poured an entire kilo of the white stuff into the pan of quince juice. My mind turned to fillings, tooth decay, ADHD...but then I realised that of course I wouldn't be eating the entire panful in one go, and that it was no more sugary than jam I'd buy in the shops (though of course when you buy it, you have the luxury of being able to ignore just how much sugar goes into it). In went the sugar, and the resulting mixture bubbled away for about an hour.
In the process, it turned from pale yellow to the most incredible crimson. I have never understood why quinces turn from gold to deep amber with long cooking, and I"d never really experienced it first hand before, but this pan of bubbling, spitting, sugary goodness was a truly beautiful sight. It took forever to reach a setting point, I think because the quince juice was quite dilute in the first place so took a while to boil down, but finally I was able to pour it into jars and seal them.
And how beautiful are these jars? They completely encapsulate everything I said above.
I really cannot stop admiring them. How would you describe this amazing colour? It's somewhere between red and pink, but darker and more vibrant; it almost seems to glow of its own accord. It's also completely clear; the jelly reminds me of dark amber, just waiting for the point of a buttery knife to slice down within and create a jagged fault line through its scarlet depths.
I put the jars in the sun and admired their jewel-like beauty for a good few minutes, musing on the miraculous transformation of a bowl of speckled, wrinkled fruit into something so gorgeous.
And that, really, is what preserving is all about.
This is a really rough guideline for a recipe, as I didn't measure out my quinces beforehand. Basically, roughly chop all your quinces, put in a large pan, and barely cover with water. Simmer until they're very tender and almost falling apart. Then put all the mixture in a muslin bag, tie it up and suspend it over a bowl overnight to catch the juice (or just pour the pulp into a colander lined with muslin).
Measure out your quince juice and pour into a sturdy pan (a jam pan is ideal, if you have one). For every 550ml of quince juice, add 450g caster sugar. Also add the juice of a lemon (this helps the jelly set, and also helps offset some of the sweetness). Slowly heat the mixture, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then bring to the boil and simmer until a setting point is reached.
To test for a set, put a saucer in the freezer until very cold. Drop a spoonful of jelly onto it, and leave it for a minute or so. If you can run your finger through the jelly leaving a wrinkly mark, it's set. If not, continue to boil. This can take anything from ten minutes to over an hour, so be patient.
While you're waiting, sterilise some jam jars and lids (I sterilise jars by washing them then putting them, upturned, in the oven at 130C for 20 minutes; I sterilise the lids by pouring boiling water over them). When the jelly has set, pour into the jars, cover with wax discs, and screw on the lids.
Astrid from Paulchens Foodblog is hosting Weekend Herb Blogging this week, and once again I am going to go a little crazy over rhubarb. Still struggling to get through the enormous bag of the stuff given to my mum by a friend (the rhubarb and ginger cake made very slight inroads), I decided the most appealing option remaining was to preserve it in some shape or form. It wasn't quite gorgeously pink and slender enough for bottling, so I went down the jam and chutney route. It's been a while since I've made jam or chutney, but I do enjoy the wonderful alchemy of putting a load of apparently disparate ingredients (raisins, vinegar, onions, rhubarb, spices) in a huge pot and stirring away with a giant wooden spoon until they have merged together into a harmonious, spreadable delight. It makes me feel rather like a Victorian housewife.
I set about the chutney first, because it takes longer. I wanted ginger in there, for a fiery kick and also for its affinity with rhubarb. I wanted raisins, because I love the way they plump up in a preserve and add a lovely textural contrast. I wanted apple, to add another fruity flavour to the rhubarb, and I wanted brown sugar because I love its caramel notes. In they went, along with copious amounts of red wine vinegar, chopped red onions, rhubarb, salt, and curry powder. Adding curry powder is an idea I picked up from googling chutney recipes - it's easier than adding all your own spices in small amounts, and it adds a great spicy aroma. I would have put mustard seeds in there too, convinced we had a small bag of them in the larder - I had seen them before recently, and could visualise their location - except neither I nor my mum could find them anywhere. We practically dismantled the larder in search, but they were nowhere to be found, and now I am convinced I am losing my mind. You know you're too obsessed with food when you start hallucinating mustard seeds.
I bottled this jam and chutney in a mixture of Le Parfait and normal jam jars, so I've given roughly the number of normal jam jars it will fill. This depends on your jars, though, so have a selection sterilised and waiting for the finished preserve. If you can only half-fill one, just keep it in the fridge and eat it first!
Rhubarb and ginger chutney (makes about 6-7 jars):
1 kg rhubarb, cut into lengths
500g red onions, roughly chopped
4 cooking apples, peeled and roughly chopped
60g fresh ginger, grated or finely chopped
300ml red wine vinegar
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tbsp mustard seeds (if you actually have some, and are not just hallucinating)
2 tsp salt
400g muscovado sugar
Boil the onions, ginger and vinegar for 10 minutes. Add all the remaining ingredients, except the rhubarb, and cook for about 15 minutes until the apples have softened. Stir in the rhubarb, and simmer gently for about an hour, possibly two, until it has all softened and formed a thick brown mass. You should be able to run the spoon down the centre of the pan and leave a momentary gap between the two halves of the mixture.
Pour into hot sterilised jars while the mixture is still very hot, then cover with waxed discs and seal. Leave for at least three months to mature before eating.
Rhubarb, orange and ginger jam (makes 4-5 jars):
1 kg rhubarb, cut into short lengths
Juice and zest of 2 oranges
50g fresh ginger, grated or finely chopped
1 tsp ground ginger
700g granulated sugar or jam sugar
100g muscovado sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
Place all the ingredients in a large pan and bring to the boil, stirring to make sure the sugar doesn't burn. Lower the heat and simmer gently for an hour or two until the jam has thickened. To test it, put a plate in the fridge until cold, then spoon a little jam on top. Leave for a minute, then run your finger through it - it should wrinkle.
Spoon the hot jam into sterilised jars, cover with wax discs and seal.
The Merton Time Ceremony a couple of weeks ago, involving copious consumption of port, instilled in me the craving for a cheeseboard. Gruyere, Brie, Oxford Blue (of course), oatcakes, grapes, figs, and a jar of Tracklements Crabapple Jelly, which I was lucky enough to receive a sample of in the post. I've never tried crabapple jelly before, but I am a convert. It's a bit like quince cheese - sweet but sharp enough to go perfectly with both meat and cheese. Crabapples are inedible raw, being very sour tasting - a bit like quinces. Apparently Tracklements get local schoolchildren to help collect the crabapples from nearby fields for the jelly. I rather like this idea. I also have a soft spot for the company seeing as they were the first to introduce onion marmalade to the world (in 1999), which is one of my all-time favourite condiments. The jelly would be lovely in sandwiches (particularly, I imagine, roast pork or possibly pheasant) but I can confirm that it is very good trickled over an oatcake onto which you've placed a large chunk of blue cheese.
There's something satisfying about making your own jam. I think it's the pride you can take in your own sheer organisation as you stack neatly labelled, hand-written jars in the larder, ready for numerous breakfasts to come. Or the notion that you have taken something that may have gone to waste, and turned it into something delicious. I once came home from a holiday in Nice to find two huge bowls of green figs on the kitchen table. My mum's boss had given them to her from his tree in the garden. Unfortunately, given that none of my family share my wild enthusiasm for figs, they had been left to fester. Some were beyond salvaging, and went in the compost (it was with a heavy heart that I put them in there). The rest were too far gone to be edible as they were. Desperate not to let such gastronomic potential go to waste, I jumped on my bike and rushed to Tesco to get some jam sugar. An hour later, and I had four jars of beautiful fig jam.
Jam-making is at its most rewarding if it involves parting with no money at all. The apples for this came from the tree in our garden, the blackberries from the bushes in Yorkshire. I've made apple jam before, and can't understand why it isn't made commercially. I've never seen apple jam in the shops, but mine was delicious - just apples, sugar and raisins, with a bit of sourness to it that sets it apart from sweeter jams. I would definitely buy it if I could find it (though I'd rather make my own). Apples have a high pectin content so the jam sets easily - I just use ordinary granulated sugar to make apple-based jams, rather than special jam sugar with added pectin.
The recipe for this is so simple you could probably do it with your eyes closed. I wouldn't advise it, though, because being in close proximity to a vat of boiling sugar is probably one of those times where you should have full visual capability. Put 500g blackberries and 500g apples (peeled, cored and diced weight) in a sturdy pan with the juice of a lemon and 100ml water. Simmer until the fruit has softened and turned blood-red. Then pour in (you might want to close your eyes for this bit, as the amount of sugar that goes in is rather shocking) a 1kg bag of granulated sugar. Stir and boil vigorously for about 10 minutes. To test if it has set, put a saucer in the freezer for a few minutes to chill. Dollop some jam onto it, leave it for a minute, then drag the back of a spoon over it. If it wrinkles, it's done. If not, keep boiling until it sets - it can take anything from 5 minutes to half an hour. If it really isn't setting, add the juice of another lemon.