Here we are, in the season of mellow fruitfulness, and most of us are busy making jams and jellies, pickles and chutneys. If we feel adventurous we could make some sauces or even dry some apple rings. One thing most of us won't be doing is bottling, or canning.This is a shame as there are certain things that really shine when bottled, in a way that they don't so much as a jam or chutney. Peaches
and cherries for example. Any kind of stone fruit - plums, greengages, nectarines, apricots are all superlative preserved in a boozy syrup. My rhubarb and orange breakfast compote has been really popular - not just for breakfast - it makes a delicous crumble base. Tomatoes - try bottling your own passata for winter use, add some herbs and garlic or go the whole hog and make batches of ratatouille with the Autumn glut.
For many though, the bottling process is a mysterious alchemy that is too daunting, which is a shame. There are two main methods - either the oven method or the water bath method. For either of these it is best use the special jars - ordinary jam jars could be used providing they are big enough. We stock all of the jars in a variety of sizes and you need to use a jar which will accommodate the size of fruit you intend to process - peaches will need to be in the bigger sizes for instance. My main issue is that the ordinary jam jars are not particularly attractive in the biggest sizes.
Before you think about packing the fruit into the jars the metal seals, the rubber seals and the screw rings will need to be sterilised along with the jars. Place everything into a large pan and cover with cold water, slowly bring to the boil then turn the heat off and leave in the water until you are ready to
pack the fruit. Be careful removing everything from the hot water - use tongs! there is no need to dry anything before using. Make sure that the rubber sealing rings are in good condition and replace any that have become damaged or perished.
If you prefer, plain water can be used when bottling fruit, or salt water for vegetables, but many fruits benefit from being packed in a syrup and it saves time when you come to use the preserve later on. The strength of the syrup will depend on the type of fruit and how much natural sugar is present. Gooseberries and plums will need more than perhaps peaches or cherries, but it is largely a matter of personal preference. In any case the syrup is prepared by dissolving the required amount of sugar in water and boiling together for about one minute. Other flavourings can be added - brandy or other spirits, orange or lemon zest and spices of choice.
The ratios of sugar to water are as follows:
for a light syrup use 100g sugar to 600ml water
for a medium syrup use 175g sugar to 600ml water
and for a heavy syrup use 250g sugar to 600ml water
Honey can be used if you prefer. The syrup needs to be hot when poured over the fruit in the jar
The main thing is to use unblemished fruit which is not over-ripe. Of course, remove any stalks, leaves or stems and rinse if absolutely necessary.
For stone fruit such as plums, greengages, damsons or cherries you can remove the stones - or not, as preferred - then pack into the jars leaving as little space as possible.
For pears and apples, peel and core then cut into quarters. Drop into a bowl of water with lemon juice or salt added to prevent them turning brown while you get all the fruit prepared. Remove and drain when ready to pack into the jars.
Peaches, nectarines, apricots and tomatoes can be peeled easily by placing in a large heatproof bowl or jug and pouring over boiling water. Leave for one minute, then drain and rinse in cold water. The peel should come away easily. Stone and slice the fruit as desired.
Gooseberries should be pricked with a sterilised sewing needle to prevent them shrinking in the syrup.
Soft fruits such as raspberries or currants should be handled sparingly and only rinsed if necessary. Remove any leaves or stalks.
Rhubarb should be chopped into even length pieces of around 3 cms and left in a light syrup solution overnight before packing into jars the next day.
If you take care when packing the fruit you will get more into each jar and therefore need less jars or have some spare for another crop. The fruit does shrink when processed so you need to get in as much as possible but avoid squashing or bruising it. Be sure to stand the hot jars on a wooden chopping board or a thick layer of newspaper as you pour over the syrup - be careful as the syrup will be very hot. Make sure the rim of each jar is clean and that any air bubbles have dispersed. Use a wooden skewer to 'pop' or twist the jar carefully without spilling the syrup.
With this method you will be able to process more jars in one batch than by the water bath method but it does take longer, but sometimes is less troublesome. The oven needs to be preheated to Gas Mark 2/ 150 deg C. Place a thick pad of newspaper or a folded cloth onto a deep baking tray and place the filled jars onto the pad about 5cms apart. If you have the screw band type jars fit the seals carefully in place, place the lids of the clip seal on the top of the jar, but do not seal either type of jar at this stage.
Process in the oven according to the chart below, then remove from the oven one at a time and seal immediately by either screwing on the metal ring or clipping down the seals. Leave on a protected surface to cool completely overnight.
Water Bath Method
You will need a deep pan plus a cooking thermometer for this method - line the pan with newspaper or folded cloths to prevent the jars breaking by being too near to the heat source. The pan will need to be deep enough to cover the jars completely with water. Pack the jars with your fruit and the hot syrup
and if using the screw band type of jar, fit the seal and the metal ring, then undo by a quarter turn to allow the steam to escape. Seal the clip top style of jar as the steam can escape but no water will be able to get in. Place in the pan and then cover with warm water. Bring to simmering point ( 88 deg C ) over 25-30 mins and then maintain for the timings shown in the table below. ( with thanks to Pam Corbin's book 'Preserves' )
Ladle some of the water out - carefully - to make it easier to remove the jars one at a time. If you intend to do a lot of bottling then the jar lifting tongs that are available are a godsend.Seal the rings tightly on the screw top jars and then leave undisturbed on a protected surface overnight to cool completely.
Check the Seals
Next day, when the jars are cold undo the screw bands or clips and carefully lift the jars by the lids whilst supporting underneath with your other hand. Ensure the seals are airtight and then refasten the clips or rings. Label the jars with the contents and the date then in a cool dark cupboard until required. If the seals are not airtight the jars can be reprocessed or you can eat the contents straightaway!
If you intend to do a large amount of this type of preserving - or wish to preserve things like meats, soups or cassoulet, for instance, then a very worthwhile piece of kit to invest in is a pressure canner. I have recently started using one and am so impressed that we have them for sale on the website. The processing is very precise, exact timings have to be observed and there are various factors to take into account. The canner comes with comprehensive instructions though, which are simple to follow, and the results are very good. As the contents of the jars are processed under pressure the temperature is very much higher so it takes less time and quite a large number of jars can be processed in one go. It also means that meats etc can be safely preserved because of the higher temperature - it is not safe to process items like this with the oven or waterbath method. Of course, in many parts of the World preserving in this way is routine - it is not always possible to run equipment like freezers and canning fruit, vegetables and meat is a way of life - just as it used to be for us.
Have a go - the Brandied Plums in my previous blog are really easy but delicious!
I have finished the first lot of plums collected from The Orchard Tea Room and have another 15 kgs ordered for pick up on Wednesday. 'What did you make, Rosie?' I hear you ask excitedly. Well. Naturally I made some plum jam, I also made Plum & Vanilla Conserve. Wash the plums, halve and stone them, and put into a large pan or preserving pan. Add the juice of 1 lemon per kg of fruit and pour over 1 kg sugar to each 1 kg fruit. Equal fruit to sugar, in other words. Leave the plums to soak in the sugar overnight. The next day, put the pan on to heat through gently to dissolve the sugar, stir to ensure all of the sugar is incorporated. Add two vanilla pods per kg of fruit, chopped into 3 or 4 lengths. Bring to a rapid boil, and maintain, testing for a set after 6 minutes approximately. Pot and seal while hot, placing a further small piece of vanilla pod at the top of each jar. Plum, Pear & Apple jam is also lovely - lots of Autumn fruit packs a delicious flavour - use roughly equal amounts of each fruit.
I also made Victoria Plum and Cinnamon Cordial - cook a quantity of plums with a couple of pieces of cinnamon stick, add 300ml water to each kg of fruit and cook until the the plums are soft. Strain through a jelly bag overnight. Next day, measure the juice and add 700g of sugar to each 1 litre of juice. Stir to mix and warm to dissolve the sugar thoroughly. Add the juice of 1 lemon per litre of cordial. Pour into warm, sterilised bottles. The cordial will keep for two to three weeks in the fridge but to extend the shelf life to at least 1 year process for 20 minutes in a waterbath as per my instructions in a previous blog. This is a delicious Autumn or Winter cordial - try it hot with maybe a wee dram! I Have used the 250ml Bevanto Milk Bottle for the cordial and the sauce
The best of all, in my opinion, and brilliant to make for Christmas is Plums in Brandy. You will need a couple of large jars - 500ml - 900ml, the prettier the better. Wash them and put into a warm oven to dry and sterilise. Put around 400ml of water into a saucepan with 100g honey and warm together to dissolve the honey. Add the zest of one orange and 100ml brandy. Keep warm. Halve 1kg plums and remove the stone - only use absolutely sound fruit with no bruising. Put the plums into your warm jars, pushing in as many as possible - add a small length cinnamon stick and a star anise, if liked, as you fill. Gently pour in the hot syrup making sure that the air pockets are filled. Gently ease a dinner knife down the sides of the jar to allow the syrup to flow in between the fruit. Fill the jars up to the top and seal with the cap, or the spring clip, whichever you have used. If you have an ordinary cap ease back a quarter turn.
Put the filled jars into a preserving pan onto a folded J cloth/newspaper/tea towel and pour in enough water to cover the jars. Turn on the heat and gradually bring the water to simmering point. Maintain the simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the jars from the water ( remove some of the water with a ladle first,) make sure the caps are tightly sealed and leave on one side to cool. Fantastic with good ice-cream, creme fraiche, yoghurt or shortbread. Will keep for at least one year.
Clockwise from top left: Prunes in Armagnac, Cherries in Amaretto, Brandied Plums x 2, Apricot Spoon Fruit
A quick blog today to get up to date. Apologies that I have been quiet - there is a good reason but I can't tell you what it is, yet.
Yesterday, Trev and I went on a bit of a road trip. A sick chicken before we left wasn't the ideal start.
First off to Wisbech to The Orchard Tea Room. Besides the tea room they have big orchards ( I know, there is a clue, ) of mixed apples and plums. I had ordered 15kgs Victoria Plums and needed to pick them up. I shall probably order some more as they have a 2-3 week season and have only just started picking. After I have finished this I shall go over to The Old Smithy and get cooking some jam and some chutney.
Plums stowed in the boot we set off for Lincoln. I had won a cream tea for two in The Old Palace Hotel, situated next to the cathedral in Lincoln. There was a lovely warm welcome waiting for us and we were shown into the drawing room with a panoramic view over the city.
We had a delicious cream tea served to us and every mouthful was packed with flavour.
The Old Palace is in a beautiful setting, and thought I would just bring you a little of it's history. There has been a palace on the site for almost 1,000 years. It was the base for medieval bishops to run the huge Diocese of Lincoln, which at the time stretched from the Humber to the Thames in one direction, and from Cambridgeshire to the edge of the West Midlands in the other.Some of the ruins of the medieval palace are in the grounds and opened to the public by English Heritage.
The existing building is built on some of the medieval foundations and spans three building phases. The first dates from around 1720, at the South West corner and has a classic panelled Georgian staircase. Other rooms were added 10 years later, and then the building remained unchanged for around 150 years until 1885.
At this point Edward King was appointed Bishop and he set about making the changes that are in evidence today. It continued to be used as the Episcopal seat until 1948 when the then Bishop of Lincoln moved to a smaller house on the North side of the cathedral.
The building underwent various uses and refurbishments until opening as the hotel in March 2012. The chapel that Bishop Edward King commissioned, St Hugh's Chapel, is still within the hotel, is still used by the present Bishop and clergy, and is open for use by hotel guests.
We had a thoroughly delightful visit even if they do use Tiptree jam! They are certainly ought to become a candidate for our Real Jampaign!
A not-very-good photo snapped on my phone - have a look at theoldpalace.org they have some great ones!
We paid a quick visit to the lovely farmers' market and met Jenny's Jams - good to catch up face to face.
I was going to call this post 'I don't believe it!' in the Victor Meldrew stylee, but Trev is always telling me off for not using titles with keywords so that the search engines, and more importantly, you, can find what I have written.
'What don't you believe Rosie?' I hear you ask. Well, I don't believe I stood - uncomplaining - in a queue for around five hours yesterday. I know. Mother in Law had turned out some bits and pieces from the family that were quite old and were, she believed, 'worth something. 'Ooh', we said 'Antiques Roadshow is coming to Belton House near us in July - we'll take them if you like.'
Hence the queue. If we had known the wait was going to be that long I am certain we would not have stayed. You get sucked in though, edging forward, jollied along by the stewards, chatting amongst ourselves. The nearer we got to where the action was, there was plenty to be watching, the television crew, the experts, who very gamely came to chat to the queue, Fi-ona doing her stuff, other people's 'valuables'. Trev went to get us something to eat, and bottles of water, but you don't want to be drinking too much if you know what I mean.
Eventually, we made the Reception area, your stuff is given a cursory glance by someone with antiques expertise, and you are given the appropriate ticket to - yes - join another queue.
That was 'only' going to be about 1 hour - well, it seemed daft to give up at that point. So, we amused ourselves with watching all of the great British public asking Fi-ona 'if she would mind' having her photograph taken with them. Why do people do this? I don't understand the point of it at all. She agreed with good grace - I don't think her teeth were gritted! At long last we were sat with an expert who valued our 'heirlooms' at very modest amounts ( which wasn't unexpected) and we were finally released to go home. Just as we shut the car doors the heavens opened!
That's 'our' queue going right round the edge of the filming! ( I don't know who this lady is . . . )
In other news, I have been trialling a couple of new recipes - on of them is mine 'Rainbow pickled carrots with ginger, lime and coriander' and the other is 'Pickled Pears' - a pretty standard recipe for this old favourite. I'll see how the carrots work out and then I will post both of them onto the recipe site. We had way too many carrots recently, including some of those lovely purple ones, and some lime green ones, in our veg box. So I made up the recipe to pickle them and so far they taste pretty good.
The second lot of new pickles is Pickled Pears - they have lots of spices cinnamon, mixed spice, nutmeg and lots of lemon zest. They look yummy and I can't wait to taste them once they have been in with all of those spices for a while. I'll post the recipes shortly.
I also use my dehydrator to dry some apple rings - again we had loads of eating apples, far beyond what we can eat, and I don't use the dehydrator nearly enough. They look really good in the packs, and taste great too. It's all preserving after all . . . .