Purple is my little grandson Sam's favourite drink. To him it is not just a colour, it is the name of a cordial. It is, as he also points out, his Mummy's favourite colour. Quite complicated concepts for a two year old. I had my own purple haze today, making Blackcurrant Jam. I should have worn my beetroot sweater again today - that's all I'm sayin'. Apart from the obvious hazards, I bloomin love the smell of hot blackcurrant jam. I always have and I always will. This embodies what I am always saying about making preserves - much more comes out of each jar than you put in as ingredients. When I am making blackcurrant jam it takes me right back to being the smallest - like Sam is now - and being sent into the middle of the blackcurrant patch to pick the currants that no-one else could reach. It seemed enormous to me then with the branches towering above me, but the smell of the leaves, the currants and then the jam cooking always comes back to me when I open a new jar. Maybe that is why it is my favourite?
Look what I made for myself - isn't it just fun?
We had another new member for our Rosie Makes It Easy ClubsTM today - this is her box being packed for dispatch. Welcome Janet - I am sure that you will enjoy receiving your club pack each month. Indeed, true to it's word, the Rosie Makes It Easy ClubTM makes it easy to learn the skills of preserving, in your own home, with or without a group of friends. Each month, or to your own timetable, you receive the seasonal pack, complete with DVD ( which can be copied to members' computers), recipe cards, jars, lids labels and sometimes hard to find ingredients. There is no minimum sign up period and you can work at your own pace. You each receive a Personal Organiser to keep the recipe cards in and make other notes, and you are also first to receive free gifts or offers as they occur. At just £10 per member per month, or £15 for individual membership, it is a cost effective way of gaining the expertise you are looking for. We have found that up to four people is about the right number to work together in a domestic kitchen, maybe more in a community kitchen. So work along together, learn from each other - and my DVD! - and then share out the preserves to enjoy.
Individual membership is especially suitable for those who are perhaps shift workers, or maybe carers for another, or for those who prefer not to work in a group. The extra cost is just to cover the postage. Each new Member receives complimentary membership of The Guild of Jam and Preserve Makers as part of the package ( normally £25.00 ).
Having failed to make the Smooth Beetroot Chutney yesterday, I got it done today. I wore my beetroot sweater ( so the splashes don't show ) and soon had a pan bubbling away. This is how it went.
After prepping everything - beetroot, apples, onions, it all goes into the pan with red wine vinegar, demerara sugar, ground ginger and salt.
Cook it slowly for about 1 - 1 1/2 hours, then, working in about three to four batches, process the contents of the pan through a goblet liquidiser or a food processor until smooth-ish. Tip the batches into a clean pan as they are finished and then stir the whole lot together to combine before returning to a low heat.
Gently re-heat the smooth chutney until it is hot and ready for jarring. Be very careful not to have the heat too high - once it is smooth, this chutney 'bloops' and explodes all over the worktops and walls if you don't watch it. Hence the beetroot sweater! Pot into hot, sterilised jars and seal immediately. This chutney can be eaten straightaway and is brilliant for spreading in sandwiches, with or without cheese. If you don't want the chutney smooth then leave out the processing but cook for a little longer.
I haven't done any preserving for 3 days now! I am starting to twitch. I have my excuses. It was my lovely mother-in-laws's birthday on Saturday so we went to Suffolk to take her out for lunch and fix up her birthday presents. Whilst not downsizing in terms of housing she is 'getting rid' - all sorts of things are being found new homes (mostly our garage!) so there is no point taking her 'things'. We gave her clothes for Christmas, so, what to do? Trev wanted to get her a whole load of new bird feeding things, so we did, and put them all up so all that she has to do is enjoy watching the visitors. They didn't take long arriving!
On Sunday we had a road cycle race going on all around us - going right between our house and The Old Smithy in fact! Rob brought the little guys over and we went to the Smithy to get a good vantage point. After cookies and milk all round we eventually saw the front runners (?) come into view. Lots of clapping and cheering from the assembled bunch of spectators, and again when the main block of riders flashed past. A few tail enders and that was it! Ha! It all seems so much more when you see it on the television . . . So we all trooped home and enjoyed a triumphant Toad in the Hole which looked like an exploded cushion. I haven't made one before in my mumble mumble years - in the firm belief that I can't make Yorkshire Pudding. It was a James Martin recipe and he should know.
I thought I would make some Smooth Beetroot Chutney today - I only had Trading Standards coming at 10.30 ish so I would have plenty of time . . . We like Jade, our local officer, from Peterborough Office, and she is extremely helpful. We had a lot to discuss as she is working with us on devising the Quality Assurance Scheme for Artisan Production which will be a low-cost scheme of accreditation allowing us to blow our own trumpets - for once. There is still quite a lot of work to do as yet, but it shouldn't be too much longer.
We also needed to go through the new Distant Selling Regulations that come into force in June which will give those of us who buy on line clearer parameters to protect us and for those of us who sell on -line a lot of the grey areas have been cleaned up and for once we don't come off worse. If you do sell on-line it would be as well to check out the new regulations and make the necessary changes to your T&Cs before the regulations become mandatory in June.
Finally, we needed to check the fine detail with her over labeling - there will be new labeling laws for food taking effect in December this year in UK. Again, best to become familiar with them as they especially effect how we give information on labels in respect of allergens etc. Jade is going to send me a list that I can publish to you to help us all get it right.
Jade made her departure at just after 2.30 p.m.
So, the Smooth Beetroot Chutney will have to wait until tomorrow.
At this time of year it's easy for those of us with preserving OCD to go a little crazy waiting for the Summer rush of fruits to arrive. It's a bit like having a baby - we've quite forgotten the manic marmalade season and are now ready for some more mayhem. We've checked our jar supply, there are enough lids, labels, and we're stockpiling sugar so we don't run out. What are we to make though? The rhubarb is starting to come in now - I don't know about you but rhubarb never quite presses my preserving buttons. Don't get me wrong - I do make stuff with it, lots of people like it - love it, but I'm not a fan.
I was filled with trepidation at the beginning of the week - Trev announced he was going to make a rhubarb crumble. 'Oh no!' I thought, dreading the acidy bite of the fruit only just masked by the lovely crumbly topping. Anyway, show willing, " Oh good, do you want me to help?" No, a recipe had been obtained from the internet and lo and behold a lovely crumble duly appeared. "This is absolutely delicious!" I said - and it was."What have you done to it? It's amazing!" "Oh I just put some sherry in with the rhubarb" What? "It said port, but I got to the sherry first - that's what it said in the recipe"
Well, whether it was that or some particularly fine rhubarb but it was so smooth and no trace of acidity - so sherry it is from now on. Our veg box has just arrived and I can see some rhubarb in there - Trev?
Anyway, back to preserving. I have been wanting to make a relish with carrots for some time and decided, as you do, that today was the day. Somebody asked for it ages ago as they had had a particularly tasty one in a sandwich from Marks & Spencers! So, I set to and with a little experimentation managed to produce some small jars of some rather delicious relish. From reading through my various recipe books it seems that carrots do not keep as long as other vegetables so I have put this in small jars with a 3 month shelf life.
It ended up as Gingered Up Carrot Relish and this is what I did.
I took 1 kg/2.2lbs fresh carrots and topped, tailed and peeled them. I grated them on a hand grater but you can use a processor if you have one.Peel and core two cooking apples and grate those as well.
In a heavy bottomed pan put 2 teaspoons yellow mustard seed, 4 teaspoons crushed coriander seeds and 2 teaspoons cardomom seeds, taken from the pods. Put the pan over a low heat and just gently toast the seeds for a few minutes to release their oils. Add the carrots and the apple and stir to combine Pour in 240ml/8fl oz cider vinegar, the zest from 2 oranges and their juice, stir to combine. Cook for around 10 minutes over a low heat to soften the carrots and apple. Peel and finely chop a large piece - 5cm total - of fresh ginger and add it to the pan. Finally stir in 250g/9oz soft brown sugar. Stir again and cook over a low heat for a few minutes until the sugar has dissolved.
Now increase the heat slightly and cook on for about another 15 minutes to evaporate some of the liquid and until the mixture has become quite syrupy - then it is ready to jar up. I used quite small jars 125g/4 oz but as the mixture wouldn't pass through a funnel I had to spoon it in and it was quite a messy job. Fill the jars to the brim and wipe the jars clean before sealing tightly with a lid. Store somewhere cool and dark so that you don't lose the vibrant colour. I don't know what Marks and Spencer's tastes like but this is amazing, a real hit from the orange followed through with a lot of heat from the ginger. Enjoy.
Gingered Up Carrot Relish
Here's the thing. How many times have I told my students not to buy supermarket strawberries to make jam? It must be hundreds if not thousands. Strawberries that are grown large and glossy for lovely pavlovas - other desserts are available - generally have a high percentage of water content which isn't a great attribute for making jam. Too much water makes the jam very difficult to set so I usually recommend Pick Your Own fruit to be a better bet. Pick smaller fruit, a small proportion of which should be slightly under ripe. All fruit has the most pectin just before it is ready to be picked - it then diminishes the longer it is kept. Strawberries don't have much of this elusive benefit - it's a form of starch - so if you PYO and then make your jam as soon as arriving home, so much the better.
Anyway, back to me. I saw some lovely strawberries in the week running up to Easter - aha! my customers would love some Strawberry Jam for Easter I thought, and before I knew it I was back at The Old Smithy wondering what on earth I was thinking of. Two attempts at making the jam and getting it to set later, I gave up.
Easter tree house building came and went, back to work, 20 jars of unset Strawberry Jam mocking me from the table. Right, I thought, today is the day. I have some frozen gooseberries so I put 2 kgs in a pan, put them on a low heat to soften and cook. I added just a teacupful of water to prevent sticking. Gooseberries have a lot more pectin than strawberries and would help to make the jam set - hopefully!
Once the gooseberries were soft I emptied the jars of 'jam' into the pan and gave them a good stir to mix. I salvaged all of the jars and washed them in hot soapy water, gave them a rinse and then put them in a warm oven 50-100 deg C to dry and sterilise. I intended to use new lids so that I didn't have any sealing issues.
I realised that I would need more sugar but I didn't know how much. So, using my trusty refractometer - which you all have if producing for sale right? - I took a reading which was 50. As it would need to be 60+ I added 1 kg of sugar, stirred to dissolve, and then took another reading. It was now 55 so I knew that I would need a further 1kg, which kind of makes sense as I had added 2kgs gooseberries. Better to be sure though, as I didn't want a third failed attempt! As all the sugar was dissolved I increased the heat and boiled rapidly for approximately 5 minutes before testing for a set by the cold saucer method. I have an irrational mix of technology (refractometer) and old fashioned customs (cold saucer test) in my kitchen. I have never liked using a thermometer and don't actually own one, I don't think.
All jarred up and, at last, tasty - SET - Strawberry & Goosberry Jam!
Sorry! All the links are up now for the Chilli Jam recipe and the Rhubarb & Raspberry Jam that I posted the other day. I thought I had done the links so for those of you frustrated at not finding the method I hope you will now have a go with them. Whatever you do - don't get them confused. I know they are both called jam but the chilli version is more of a sauce really, and extremely hot. My son uses it on just about everything as he likes his food fiery. I don't, and I even have to wear gloves while I'm making it! You can vary the heat depending on the chillies that you use, but for sale, I usually make it really hot as that is what my customers ask for.
Don't forget that my recipe site is optimised for mobile phones although it scales to tablets, laptops and PCs. If you have a different amount of the main ingredient just enter the weight into the box at the bottom of the page and the whole recipe will reconfigure to this weight. No more guesswork! You can check on what ingredients you need on your phone while you are shopping and there is even helpful information about which jar size to use.
I decided to make some Hot Cross Buns - I think it was me that ended up hot and cross! As I find mixing and kneading quite painful these days, I decided to use the trusty breadmaker to make and rise the dough overnight. I didn't understand the instructions properly so totally failed to put the fruit and spice in at the beginning - as I read it you mixed it in before shaping the buns. However, we did have some buns and even though they were a bit lumpy bumpy looking they tasted fine. I also didn't want to make a small amount of pastry to make the crosses and I don't own a piping bag now - and can't make those paper things, so I just cut the tops to form the cross. Trev didn't complain, they were still better than the supermarket ones and there weren't any left!
The Easter Project was to build a 'tree' house for all of our little guys. In truth it wasn't ever going to be up a tree but attached to the end of the swing - but they don't care as long as it is off of the ground. Grandad and Dad soon set to with an assortment of pallets from which they fashioned a very substantial structure. My brief had been 'rustic' but I hadn't allowed for their interpretation! I think it is all ready now for Nanny to do a bit of a makeover to make it look less pallet-y but I don't think the boys mind at all. Let's hope that they have a nice fine Summer so that they can enjoy it with their cousins.
Let us hope it is fine tomorrow for the Easter Egg Hunt - Grandad will be sooooo disappointed if he doesn't find any!
Busy week this week with Easter orders and stock to make for the shop. Great to see the first of the rhubarb coming in, I always think it heralds the start of the preserving season proper. That's wrong really as I preserve year round, but it is the first of our native fruits - except it's a vegetable, botanically speaking. I know this because I dragged Trev for a visit round a rhubarb farm in Pontefract, one of the best known of the old farms, Olroyd's. It was absolutely fascinating and I now have much greater respect for this rather humble er, fruitable! One of the best times to go is in early February and have a tour of the forcing sheds and a very informative talk afterwards.
I have some raspberries in the freezer so you may have too - why not try making Rhubarb & Raspberry Jam? It is really delicious and both fruits shine through in the taste. I only made one batch last year and regretted it for the rest of the year.
Chilli Jam was also on the list to make as I have been out of stock for a while ( because I don't actually like it! ) I set to though and really it is easy to make and a best seller. The ingredients look so colourful and the hens really love all of the peelings. In fact they thought it was their birthdays and Christmas yesterday there were so many peelings. The hear my car coming down the lane and are all waiting in the compost bin by the time I get to them. Needless to say there isn't much compost! That is more than up for by their obvious pleasure and they would be smacking their lips if they had any!
One of my deli customers had ordered their usual weekend bucket of pesto and while I am making it I always think how useful it is as a standby ingredient. You can have it on pasta dishes of course, in fact, it is so delicious you can just have it stirred through some good pasta for a quick lunch. Use it on tomato based dishes and drizzled over pizza either before or after cooking. I use it on squares of puff pastry, topped with a small piece of Brie, or similar, baked for around 15 mins and then topped with a splodge of pesto - great nibbles to have with drinks. You could have it on a jacket potato with or without cheese, stirred through mashed potato, spread in tomato sandwiches or rolls. With the Easter weekend coming up, why not make a batch and keep in the fridge? It's good for 2-3 weeks and only takes minutes to make. Here's how.
Pick the leaves from a handful of fresh basil ( approx 2 x pre-packs ) and put into the goblet of a liquidiser or the bowl of a processor.
Give a quick whizz to lightly chop the leaves. Add around 75g pine nuts, 2 roughly chopped garlic cloves, salt and freshly ground black pepper and around 100ml olive oil. Whizz again until combined and smooth-ish. Add around 50g grated parmesan cheese and whizz to mix in the cheese. Add a little more oil if needed, or more cheese if too runny.
That's it. Store it in a jar or small bowl in the fridge and be generous when you serve. The flavour is amazing and the colour is fresh and enticing.
These pictures show the amount I was making for my customer - yours will be less!
Like so many other days in my life I had a lot planned for today but then things happen and I find myself at this end of the day not feeling that I have achieved very much. I did do a lot of emails, some research, and then I DID manage to get some canning equipment ordered from America. I am going to do a lot of experimentation on preserving tomatoes and fruit in our lovely Le Parfait jars. It isn't something I have done since I used to help my Mother when I was little, and I don't feel comfortable just selling these traditional jars without knowing the process. Ultimately I would like to have the pressure canning equipment on lovejars.co.uk so I will keep you posted on how I get on.
Feeling pleased with myself I settled down to tackle another item on my list when my friend Susan called in to The Old Smithy after a six week trip to USA. Naturally the kettle went on and we had a lot to catch up on. A dash home for a quick visit from the mobile hairdresser, then out to the village for the annual litter pick. Depressing as it is to have to do this, we sweeten the pill with tea and cake afterwards and I was in charge of teapots tonight. It is one of the aspects of being in WI that I like, a community focused event with a positive outcome. A lot of the village turn out, WI or not, and we all get to feel good as the village is restored to order. This is why I often start a lot of work late in the evening!
We have had the first delivery of our little gift boxes and they are really cute. They come in five colourways and two sizes AND they have matching gift tags as well. I am very excited. I am easily pleased. This is just the first of several new products we are working on with this particular company so stand by for even more excitement.
Tell you what - email me with the code Little Boxes and your address and I'll send you a sample or two ( and I won't keep the address for any scurrilous purposes either! )
Little Sam, just two years old, paid me a visit at The Old Smithy the other day, which he often does with my daughter-in-love, Tania. "What's that Nanny?" "It's Nanny's table Sam," "Why/" "because Nanny needs a table for when she is teaching" "What's that?" "It's a bolt" "Why?" " Grandad had to fix the table together when he made it and he used lots of bolts" "Why?" You get the gist. All this was delivered at machine gun speed, much faster than I can type it, or you can read it. Suddenly, he stopped, staring at the jug of daffodils up on the windowsill, his little face a picture of puzzlement.
"I got those dabbodillies at my house but mine are in grass!" That's my boy, attention to detail. They will remain dabbodillies now, for me.
Spring is in full swing here in Rutland - Dabbodillies, lambs and the lawn needs mowing! I have been busy, very busy in the garden and overhauled the mint bank. We have quite a scrappy piece of garden where the previous people had compost bins and it's always been a bit of eyesore. So this weekend I set to and demolished bin number 1, with Trev's help, and dug all of the nettles and cow parsley out. In so doing I discovered a cobbled stone floor, which was probably the base of an old soakaway drain, but it looks wonderful uncovered. So I extended the bank around the end of the cobblestones ( with the contents of the old compost bin!) and I hope the mints will spread their roots around in the space. I'll post a picture soon.
Of all the things you can grow I think herbs are the most useful, especially if you don't have much space.They are fantastic value for money - either grow from seed, or buy small plants - they soon lush out into beautiful plants which just keep on giving. I even use the herbs that come in the pots from the supermarket. Cut off what you need then keep them moist and they will soon sprout again. Get them used to the outside gradually, then plant them out. Two for one!
Don't forget it's Easter this weekend - how could we with all of that lovely time off - and the weather looks set fair for once. I am hoping to make a start on a small summerhouse - Ok, OK, shed - that I am going to tell Trev is for him but I will end up taking over - you know the way we do.
Forget Easter Eggs, why not make your nearest and dearest a lovely gift of fresh Lemon Curd and some fresh scones? There isn't anything better in this World and I have the perfect recipe on my recipe site. Make several batches as you are sure to want some too. I haunt our local charity shop as they have a lot of pressed glass from the 40's and 50's. I buy sugar bowls and small dishes and store them up. When I make Lemon Curd as a gift, I put it into one of these pretty dishes with a little card including the storage instructions. Try it - you'll be hooked.