This week has been so busy - I have been tackling the glut of plums arriving at my doorstep from generous neighbours - I hate to see them going to waste so it has been a full-on process to get them all preserved.
We have plum jam, winter warm plum chutney, plum and cinnamon cordial, plum and ginger cordial, plum leather and one of my most popular products for Christmas - plums in brandy.
I prep the plums by cutting in half, discarding the stone and any plums that were not sound. I pack them into the Le Parfait jars as tightly as possible together with a star anise and cinnamon stick. Pour over a sugar syrup leaving room to add aound 50-80 mls of brandy whilst leaving around half an inch/3 cms of headspace. Clip down or seal the jars and process in a waterbath or, in my case, the www.lovejars.co.uk electric steriliser, for about one hour. The plums get poached without cooking so much they end up as a mush.
They are delicious with good quality vanilla ice-cream for any easy Christmas dessert. ( One of my customers puts them on her husband's breakfast porridge for an easy life! )
We have a new size for the two-part seal Le Parfait jars - a very cute 500ml. It is strong and robust and the perfect size for family-size pies and crumbles. I am definitely going to be cooking some of the windfall apples from my ancient apple tree in the garden. I love stewed apple just on its own or with some custard - delicious. I don't add any sugar at the preserving stage in case I want to use it as a savoury apple sauce. I just stir in some caster sugar if needed - taste it first.
The new Le Parfait have a VIP price if you are a logged-in customer, so get a box now and they will be a purchase that lasts a lifetime.
These jars weren't in when I made the Plums in Brandy - I will use them for something very soon though - that's a promise.
It is that bittersweet time of year - regrets as the children go back to school and the realisation that the Summer is closing. This is closely followed by anticipation of the Christmas to come - but - and its a big BUT - in between there is the glut of Autumn to deal with.
Personally, I have plums and damsons everywhere and the apples will soon start to roll in. I had some lovely windfalls from my own tree so used the last of the mint to make some lovely jellies. They set really well because the apples were super fresh and therefore full of pectin, just what is needed.
I jarred it up in the superb 120ml bonta jars and used the Summer Frocks plaid lids. They look very fresh and appealing.
I also used some of the apples in a beetroot chutney ( I had beetroot as well! ) It is such a glorious colour and makes a superb addition to the Boxing Day table and goes particularly well with cold meats and cheeses. Unfortunately the downside is that someone will spill it on your best white tablecloth or the carpet!
To add to our arsenal of equipment lovejars.co.uk now has a quality 9 tray dehydrator in stock made by the America manufacturer, Excalibur. A tried and tested product it comes complete with an instruction/recipe book but really, they are very easy to use.
I bought mine, which looks very much the same, from eBay quite a few years ago now, when it was much harder to find this kind of equipment. I am very pleased to now be offering something with a 5 year domestic use guarantee or 1 year for professional use.
If you are a serious preserver then you won't regret adding dried food to your range of products offered to your customers or enjoyed at home. Dried fruits, mushrooms, fruit leather, candied fruit, tomatoes, meats - biltong and beef jerky, herbs, there isn't much you can't dry
If you are a registered customer with a log in then you will be able to access a special discounted price for VIPs ( Very Important Preservers ) You will see it displayed next to the full price in the product listing - your price has a red star beside it - see what we did there? We think you are all stars.
I hope you can keep up over the next few weeks as the glut descends - it will all be worth it.
Cerise a l'aigre-doux
The cherries have been spectacular this year - especially the British ones - and there are still plenty in the shops and markets. They don't make great jam without the help of lots of added pectin so why not raise your game with an unusual but delicious preserve.
These sweet and sour cherries are great to make now and will be ready for Christmas, either as part of your Boxing Day buffet table or as a really out-there gift. Delicious with cold meats and cheeses their sharp but sweet flavour is evocative of hot Summer days by the sea in France.
The recipe is really simple - it is a two day process but doesn't take long to make. You will need:-
Makes 6 x 500ml round jars
1.5 kgs/3lbs cherries
750mls/1.5 pints red wine vinegar
500g/1 lb caster sugar
i piece whole cinnamon
freshly grated nutmeg
Wash and wipe the cherries if necessary.
Cut the stalk around two centimeters/half an inch from the fruit.
Using a cocktail stick pierce the flesh of each cherry 3 to four times.
Put the vinegar, sugar and spices into a pan and stir to dissolve the sugar over a low heat. Increase the heat to boiling point then turn off and allow to cool.
Put cherries into the pan with the vinegar and let them macerate for twenty-four hours.
Remove the cherries with a slotted spoon and heat the vinegar for eight to ten minutes a simmer. Allow to cool again.
Meanwhile wash your jars and put into the oven to heat and dry.
Remove and pack the cherries into the jar.
Remove the spices and pour the cool vinegar into a jug and then fill the jars to cover the cherries. Leave a small space at the top.
Pour in enough brandy to fill the jar and then seal tightly with vinegar proof lids.
Store in a cool place and keep for 2-3 months to mature.
These sweet and sour cherries are the perfect accompaniment to rich pork and game, or strong cheeses.
I used the 500ml round jar which was the perfect size with a wide mouth to make filling the jars really easy.
It has been a strange week of highs and lows with the lows being exceptional. Now, don't get me wrong, most of our customers are absolutely lovely and they realise just how much has to go on unseen to make the website easy to use and ordering both simple and quick on delivery. We do our absolute best for them, all of the time.
Just sometimes there is an 'awkward' customer who takes it upon themselves to try to take this apart and set it up again for their personal use. So it was this week. A customer who didn't create a log in so is just passing through - a customer who probably is coasting around for the cheapest price. I don't mind this because, who knows, they might just become loyal and long-term. I do this myself, I try out a new company and return to them and register next time. This customer phoned very close to the end of our call taking day ( the website is around the clock of course ) and asked if she ordered tonight would she get delivery tomorrow. I explained that this wasn't physically possible as the courier had already collected today's orders and she would receive the order the following day after, which was Thursday.
She heard 'yes of course, our warehouse team will remain to process your order of one box of jars and call back the courier who will express deliver in the morning for you.'
Sure enough, by lunchtime on the Wednesday she was on the phone wanting to know where her order was which had been 'promised to her'. Rob tried to get to the bottom of what she was complaining about but she was very rude so he passed it to me as I gesticulated beside him! So, it seems I was lying to her when I told her categorically it would be delivered to her on Wednesday morning as now I am saying it hasn't left the warehouse yet and delivery will be on Thursday!
There was a lot more about our terrible service and lying to customers just to get orders etc etc. I replied that the only way I could have done more to help would have been to put it in my car and deliver it myself. To which she replied - 'Oh, could you? That would be fantastic.'
I was so upset when I came off of the phone as I felt she had goaded me into being rude to her which, after more than 10 years of doing this hadn't happened before and I felt I had let myself down. I was actually waiting for someone - a 'boss' - to reprimand me, or even sack me - then I thought 'you are the boss, stupid!'
So lovely customers, please be understanding of what it takes to produce all of this - we aren't Amazon. There are no robots or 24 hour or even same-day deliveries. Its just me, Trev and Rob doing our best for you.
A loving spoonful
50gYou may have seen my post on Facebook about the Apricot Spoon Fruit I made yesterday when I promised to post the blog link? When I looked for said blog I found I hadn't actually written one on this particular recipe . . . . this is odd because I have a definite memory of doing this!
However, it is simple enough. The unusual name dates back to a time when diligent housewives in Greece would make delectable sweetmeats called Spoon Fruit to serve to their friends who may come to call socially. Instead of proffering a cup of coffee and a biscuit, a small tray would be placed in front of the guest who would know that everything had been prepared by the lady of the house. There would be a small cup of strong black coffee, a glass of iced water and a spoon fruit on it's decorative silver spoon, resting on a saucer. It was just a sweet mouthful but plenty to restore spirits and for the guest to know that she was being revered. What a charming custom.
The fruits may have been plums or cherries, or, as in this case, apricots.
I had three large jars to fill so used seven apricots per jar - there were quite large fruits. I had halved and stoned them and packed them into the jars quite tightly. I tucked three pieces of whole vanilla pod down the sides of each jar and laid a sprig of flowering thyme across the top.
The point about the spoon fruits is that they are poached in wine of some kind which generally matches their colour and flavour. I used a 375ml of Beaumes de Venises pudding wine - I emptied it all into a small saucepan and added 50g of caster sugar. Heat this together until the sugar is dissolved and the syrup is hot. Divide equally between the three jars - if you don't have quite enough to fill the jars top up with boiling water.
Put the lids onto the jars bit do not do them up tightly. You will need to process the jars in a waterbath for around 30mins - seal the lids when you remove the jars from the pan. Most recipes will suggest poaching the fruit in the wine before putting into the jars but I find just heating them in the waterbath keeps them in better shape. ( For waterbath instructions follow link in red above)
If you don't have visiting friends to impress then eat your Spoon Fruit with good quality vanilla ice-cream or creamy rice pudding as a boozy pud.
If you plan on doing a lot of bottling - and many people are returning to this very important skill - then we have a splendid new piece of kit which makes the water bathing and jar sealing easy.
It's official name is an Electric Steriliser and the one we have listed at the moment is a 27 litre capacity. It will take 14 - yes 14 - stacked 1 litre clip top preserving jars at once making it a very economic way of water bathing in bulk. This is not a pressure canner so don't confuse the two however it does come with processing times for some soups and meat dishes.
When not being used for your preserving it makes a very good urn for drinks or soup, mulled wine - anything liquid that you want to heat and serve. A convenient tap allows for easy filling of bottles or dispensing of drinks - or emptying at the end of a processing session.
Take a look at the new Electric Steriliser and see what you think.