Saturday, 21 February 2009

The smell of summer

One of the things I love about growing my own food is eating with the seasons. It really feels as if it is good for me but more than that, the food seems to suit my mood somehow. At this time of year a good vegetable soup or a warm casserole are just the job but in the heat of the summer a light, fresh salad is just perfect. There are, however, times of the year when preserving messes with this harmony. In August I find myself making plum and cinnamon jam and plum and orange mincemeat. There is no question that the spice smells that fill the kitchen on those days are out of season, suited more to a cosy December day close to Christmas. But, of course, these are preserves that will be enjoyed at Christmas and when the jar is opened in winter the smells are again appropriately seasonal.

Now, I'm not a great one for doing housework, although I pride myself on my ability to keep the laundry under control. And with all the cooking I do, my kitchen is usually pretty clean too! However, twice this week I have been driven to spring cleaning by my passion for gardening. Firstly, my drastically leaning salad seedlings clearly needed moving to a brighter windowsill so I was compelled to remove the clutter, dead moths and dust from the windowsill in my conservatory for the sake of my plants. But it does look a good deal better for it! Then today the need to find space for yet more home grown produce drove me to sort out the contents of my chest freezer.

So what has all that got to do with smells and seasons? Well, lurking at the bottom of my chest freezer (not forgotten but previously out of reach) were two pounds of blackcurrants. With the need to make room for some of my winter crops before the spring causes regrowth it was time finally to do something with those blackcurrants (the raspberries will have to wait for another day). So this evening I boiled the blackcurrants up with some sugar, smashed them up and strained them in order to turn them into blackcurrant cordial. A smell strongly associated with July filled my kitchen so for a couple of hours this February evening the smell of summer wafted through my house. Eating with the seasons is great but a tangy shot of vitamin C is welcome at anytime of year.

Blackcurrant Cordial

1 kg blackcurrants
600 ml water
375g Demerara sugar

Put all the ingredients in a preserving pan and bring to the boil. Boil for about 5 minutes, using a potato masher to crush the berries to release the juices. Strain the liquid through a nylon (not metal) sieve. Bottle and refrigerate. Dilute as you would normally for blackcurrant squash. The cordial should be OK for about 3 weeks but if you wish to increase the shelf life, heat up the sealed bottles in a pan of water to roughly 75°C for about half an hour. Note, however, this will slightly alter the flavour of the cordial.

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