Friday, 17 September 2010

Judging by the number of chutney recipes books I sold this week, the preserve season is definitely in mid-flow. It was good timing then, to be invited to a local gardening club on Tuesday evening to give my talk "What to do with the stuff once you're grown it". I spoke about jam and chutney making of course, but also how to use up fruit and vegetables in a variety of different ways so as not to get sick of it. I had my recipe books and some of my jams and chutneys available for sale too that evening and most people went away with something in their hands as well as a few more ideas in their heads, I hope.

Hopefully, I'll sell a few more books and preserves tomorrow too when I go to the first fete of the season. As it happens, I'll be selling the last few jars of last year's stock as my current preserves are in boxes awaiting their pretty labels before they will be ready for sale.

One way or another it has been a week of busy evenings. Monday was OK, then out on Tuesday to the gardening club. My mum came over to dinner on Wednesday so she could drop off a few plants for me to look after whilst she's on holiday for two weeks. The girls were particularly interested to see the orange pips and peach stones in a jar that she had managed to get to germinate. Oh, that stem of lemongrass I stuck in a jar sprouted its first root this week by the way.

Despite it being midweek, I still thought I ought to make an effort to make a special dinner so after collecting the girls from school we went round to the allotment to gather a few more windfall apples to make an apple crumble. Whilst we were there we also gathered a few bean, mini corn and a diddy little cauliflower. Back at home, my youngest helped me make the apple crumble then I put some potatoes in the oven to bake and some gammon on the hob to boil then squeezed in a quick bath before Mum arrived. It was a lovely meal and tasty dessert.

Thursday night my eldest had her first karate lesson. All very well except the class runs from 5.30 to 6.15pm, which clashes with the time I'm usually making dinner. When she had asked if she could do the lessons we had decided it would only work if I dropped her off and Steve picked her up on his way back from work. Unfortunately, Steve was out at a meeting and didn't get back in time for his part of the arrangements so just for once I found myself drawn to the Chinese restaurant outside the class. Well, sometimes you just have to!

With everyone stuffed with Chinese take-away Thursday evening, there was still crumble left over after dinner Friday, which was handy. But with me being out most of Saturday I figured I wouldn't have time to make something for dessert on Saturday. So after dinner I made some lemon and lime cheesecakes. I came across this recipe a couple of weeks ago and it's fantastic - so simple you can make it in about 20 minutes or slightly longer if you choose to make it with the help of a child or two. I think it has a lot of potential for some fiddling with to make some different flavours so watch this space.

Lemon & Lime Cheesecakes (makes 4 individual ones)

1 and half oz butter
6 digestive biscuits
1 lemon
1 lime
250g tub marscapone cheese
1 and half oz icing sugar

Melt the butter. Crush the biscuits in a blender or in a bag hit with a rolling pin. Mix together the biscuit crumbs and butter then press the crumbs into 4 small dishes or large glasses. Refrigerate the dishes whilst you make the topping. Grate the zest off the lemon and squeeze out its juice. Grate some of the zest off the lime but do not use all of it unless you particularly like lime flavour. Squeeze out the juice of the lime. Mix the cheese, juices and sugar together until smooth. Dollop the cheese mixture onto the biscuit bases and smooth. Refrigerate and serve chilled.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

A deep freeze juggling act

There is something magical about this time of year when there is such an abundance of food ready to pick from the plot. I can quite understand why people have historically held harvest festivals at this time of year. I too feel the urge to give thanks (not quite sure to who or what) for the gluts of tasty fruit and veg. I could quite easily burst into song too!

Yet, at the same time, it can also be somewhat overwhelming. Nobody needs 16 cucumbers a week, or 8 courgettes and several pounds of apples. You can feel yourself beginning to drown in the stuff, wondering which form of preserving to turn to next. On Saturday, with the help of my girls (who were feeling particularly obliging), we harvested the onions, shallots and garlic. With the courgettes and cucumbers from a few weeks ago, a few plums and the windfall apples I now have all the main ingredients required for making chutney. But as chutney making is a stinky business that causes offense in my household, it is something I can only do in peace during the week and only one type a day so it's not an instant solution. And "instant" is what windfall apples and pass their best plums demand. So freezing would seem the better option (at least for those things that can be frozen).

Unfortunately, my chest freezer is neither huge nor empty. It is, apart from the more useful day to day meal items, largely occupied by the summer's soft fruits, all waiting patiently to be jammed. So in order to put something in it, such as chopped plums or cooked apples, I have first to remove something from it. The first to go this week was a bag of blackcurrants to be converted into blackcurrant cordial. I have made cordial before from blackcurrants but I found a recipe from Olive magazine for blackcurrant and lemongrass cordial. So, having purchased 4 lemongrass sprigs from Tesco, I used 3 of them with the blackcurrants to make the cordial. And very tasty it was too, the lemongrass adding a refreshing citrus undertone. The fourth sprig of lemongrass I have popped into a jar of water to see if I can get it to root (these things amuse me!).

Blackcurrant and Lemongrass Cordial

500g blackcurrants (thawed, if frozen)
3 lemongrass stalks
300ml water
300g granulated sugar

Finely chop the lemongrass and place it in a pan with the blackcurrants and water and put a lid on the pan. Gently heat to bring to the boil, boil for 1 minute then turn off the heat. Leave the pan to infuse for a few hours or overnight. Add the sugar to the pan and bring back to a boil, stirring all the time to dissolve the sugar. Strain the mixture through a sieve, squashing the berries to remove as much juice as possible. Ladle the juice into sterile bottles then refrigerate. Dilute to taste and use up within a month.

Next I removed a few more blackcurrant bags to make several pounds of blackcurrant jam. And then a few strawberries and raspberries to use with some fresh windfall apples to make summer fruit jam. Where next? I have a couple of pounds of windfall apples to use asap - do I make apple and blackcurrant jam or cucumber and apple chutney, green tomato chutney or brown sauce? Decisions, decisions... although it matters little as I shall make them all within the next couple of weeks and have my store cupboard well and truly stuffed by Christmas.

Blackcurrant Jam

Ingredients (makes 4 to 5 jars)
4 lb (1800 g) blackcurrants
2½ pints (1400 ml) water
4 lb (1800 g) sugar

NB: Every pound of blackcurrants requires 12½ fl oz water and 1 lb sugar

Pick over the blackcurrants but there is no need to wash the fruit. Put them into a preserving pan with the water and bring it to the boil. Simmer for 40 to 50 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the skins are tender. In the meantime, warm the sugar. When the fruit is cooked, add the sugar to the blackcurrants and stir over a low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Boil rapidly for 6 to 8 minutes until the setting point is reached.

Summer Fruit Jam

1 lb (454g) strawberries
4 oz (110g) raspberries
1 lemon
2 lb (900g) apples
16 fl oz (450ml) water
3 lb (1350g) sugar

NB: Every pound of apples requires 8 oz (225g) strawberries, 2 oz (55g) raspberries, half a lemon, 8 fl oz (225ml) water and 1 lb 8 oz (680g) sugar.

Cooked the strawberries and raspberries with the lemon juice and about 4 fl oz (100ml) of water for a few minutes until soft. Pour into a jelly bag and allow to drip until cool then squeeze the juice through. Peel, core and chop the apples and cook with the remaining water until soft and pulpy. Add the red fruit puree then the warmed sugar and stir until dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil vigorously until set. Pour into warmed jars and seal immediately.