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.

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