There are some beautiful blackberries around this year - sometimes we don't have very many because the farmers around here cut and lay the hedges. This is all very beautifully done, and it is a good stock fence, but it is no good for foraging. However you come by them - and buying them is fine - there are some great things to make with the humble blackberry.
Due to a certain lack of natural pectin, the blackberry is nearly always paired with cooking apples which help a jam or jelly to set. I already have blackberry & apple jam on the shelves and I have also made the chutney version of this happy marriage. I like it, but for some people it is just too fruity for a chutney. Naturally I don't agree but each to their own. If you would like to make some you will need:-
900g/2lbs blackberries, picked over and washed
900g/2lbs cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped
450g/1lb onions, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped/crushed
600ml/1 pint red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon mustard powder
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
450g/1lb light soft brown sugar
2 teaspoons sea salt
Put all of the ingredients - except for the sugar and half of the vinegar - into a preserving pan.
Stir to combine and then set over a medium heat and bring to the boil.
Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook on until all of the fruit and the onion are lovely and soft. Add the remaining vinegar if it gets too dry.
Add the sugar and salt and stir to dissolve.
Continue to cook at a simmer until the chutney has thickened.
As soon as you have your desired consistency pot up into warm, dry jars and seal immediately.
Will make around 8-9 340g/12oz jars
Store out of strong sunlight and keep for 2-3 weeks before using. This gives the chutney time to mellow and develop it's flavour.
Blackberry Vinegar next - put 450g/1lb blackberries into a large bowl and pour over approximately 600ml/1 pint red wine vinegar. Cover with cling film and set aside in a cool, dark place to macerate. Check each day, for at least three days, giving the mixture a stir and squash the fruit down.
When you are ready to bottle, strain the vinegar through muslin, a jelly bag or a coffee filter into a measuring jug. To each 600ml/1 pint liquid allow 225g/8oz white sugar. Pour into a pan, add the sugar and stir over a medium heat until the sugar is dissolved.
Bring up to the boil and cook for around 10 mins. It is then ready to bottle into clean, warmed bottles - I use the 150ml vinegar bottle with the integral sprinkler. Another great new swing top bottle is the 125ml Bambino - they look really special for gifts. Seal immediately. Use to enrich gravies for game, add to hot water for a soothing, antiseptic drink, or use in salad dressings in place of balsamic vinegar.
If you are in the mood to make some lovely Bramble Brandy ready for Christmas then this is easy and quick to make with just 1 kg blackberries.
Fill small bottles to make exclusive Christmas gifts ( don't have the bottles too big! ) The Arrenzos are a good size and look very smart with their black corks.
The recipe is here with the quantities etc.
Clockwise: pureed blackberry & apple; all the ingredients added - beaten egg on top; the finished curd; the curd being cooked;
Finally, Blackberry & Apple Fresh Curd. Absolutely stunning flavour, warm and inviting as opposed to the astringency of Lemon Curd. The full method with photographs is in a previous blog so get out and get some blackberries this weekend and make this treat for tea - or breakfast! Lovely on scones or toast, or use to sandwich a sponge cake together. Yum yum yum.
If, like me, your freezer is full to bursting with plums and you have made all the jam - and chutney - that you will need for the coming year ( and probably the next! ) then it is time to cast around for some other ideas. I have already made the Plums in Brandy and Plum Leather and this week I have been making Plum Sauce - Chinese Style. I love those little pancakes that you get from the Chinese Takeaway spread with plum sauce and covered with shredded duck, cucumber and spring onions. Roll it all up for a sweet-sour hot-cold delight.
So it was out to the store to fetch a 3kg bag of Victoria Plums and I set them over a low heat to gently thaw out and poach until soft.
I got my bottles washed and rinsed and put them in warm oven to dry and sterilise. (This recipe made 12 bottles ) I am using the 250ml milk bottles which have a nice wide neck to get the sauce in - and out again! There is nothing more frustrating than seeing your lovely sauce trapped in the bottom of of a jar and having to throw it away!
Using our lovely stainless steel pan here - just £24.99 for the moment.
Next I chopped a large onion - around 250g, 2 cloves of garlic and 1 small de-seeded red chilli, added them to the plums with 1 litre red wine vinegar and 2 teaspoons sea salt. Get the heat into the contents of the pan and then simmer gently until the onion is soft, Make up a spice bag of 1 small piece of ginger, chopped, plus 1 star anise, 2 teaspoons Sichuan Pepper and 3-5 cloves and add to the pan during the simmer - around 25 - 30 minutes. While this is cooking you can amuse yourself hooking out all of the plum stones!
Once the mixture is cooked process in a blender if possible and then strain through a sieve so that the sauce is absolutely smooth. If you don't have a blender you will need to push the mixture through a sieve, catching the pulp in a clean pan.
Gently reheat the sauce and add 500gms light brown sugar and stir to dissolve. Taste at this point as you may need a bit more sugar.
Once thoroughly heated remove the warm bottles from the oven and fill with the sauce. Fill the bottles to the brim and seal immediately. The sauce will shrink as it cools and a vacuum will be formed which holds the seal in the lid tight down onto the bottle.
Keep the sauce out of strong light in a cool place - wait for a couple of weeks to allow the flavour to mellow and then enjoy it on just about anything!
Don't stop at plums - I have recipes for you to try which have so much more flavour than shop bought products, are better for you, are cheaper and are there when you need them. Remember, if you need to go shopping for just one item - it is guaranteed you will spend at least £30 and come out with a small trolley load! These sauces are good unopened for one year ( unless the recipe says otherwise ), once opened use within 3 months. Have a go at Everyday Brown Sauce - just like, you know, the one with two initials, a delicious Tomato Ketchup, Rosie's Chilli Sauce and the unusual but utterly moreish Apple, Sage and Cider Sauce.
What a time of year this is! The apples are ripening here in Rutland and there will soon be too many to deal with. This is the year I am really going to try though, I am going to be making simple apple sauce, chutney, fruit leather, dried apple slices - and then all the ones that are left I am going to try to prep and then freeze so that I will have my own stocks for later in the preserving year. I know that I won't manage them all but I could also make some simple country cider with all the remains. Cook the skins and cores to make your own pectin stock, either freeze in bags or bottle and waterbath. You can then add to hard-to-set jams so that you avoid the commercial one with other additives.
Well, that's going to keep me busy!
While I love cooked apple in any form I love pears more and they are really coming into their own round about now. I planted three pear trees in our garden last year and one of them has very gamely borne three pears this year - tiny, but perfect. They won't be enough to pickle however, so I shall be looking around for some more locally.
One of my favourite chutneys is Pear and Orange, beautiful soft flavours melding together in the perfect fruity side to cold meats but soft enough to spread well in cheese sandwiches. I would pack this chutney in small jars so that I could give it away without feeling the loss too much! The 190ml round food is ideal as it looks smart for this very special preserve.
If you want to make something sensational for Boxing Day Lunch then take a little time out ( not much ) to make some Pickled Pears.- you won't regret it. Well, you might - you will probably regret not making more! I have two versions for you both are tremendous.
The first uses red wine and red wine vinegar:-
1.5 kgs under ripe pears ( like the ones above )
750g white sugar
1.5 litres red wine vinegar
500ml red wine
You will need some spices tied up in muslin or in a spice bag:-
1 bay leaf
1 small cinnamon stick
2 heaped teaspoons allspice berries
2 level teaspoons cloves
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
a few strips of peel - take them from the lemon before you cut it to squeeze the juice
Start by washing your jars - 2 x 750ml Le Parfait clip top jar is great for these - remove the rubber seal and put the jars in a warm oven to heat and dry.
Squeeze a lemon and put the juice into a large bowl of water.
Use the point of a knife - or a cannelle knife - to carve strips of peel away from the whole pears. Drop each one into the bowl of water - the lemon juice will stop the exposed flesh of the pears turning brown.
Put everything else into a large pan over a medium heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring the mixture up to the boil for a few minutes.
Reduce the heat and lift the pears out of the water and carefully into the pan - it is important not to bruise them or to spoil the stripey effect so use a slotted spoon if you have one.
Poach the pears very gently for around 30 mins. They are better kept firm than getting too soft. Lift out carefully and put into the jars, you may have to jiggle them around a bit to fit. At the same time, turn up the heat under the pan, take out the spice bag and let the mixture reduce a little. Pour over the pears making sure that they are all covered and the jar is full. Seal immediately.
When cold, put them away somewhere to mature for at least a month before eating.
These are very special as part of a cheeseboard for a dinner party - one per person - or enjoy as part of the lunch on Boxing Day with cold meats etc. Fragrant with the spices and the wine but with a vinegar overlay - and pretty - they are absolutely delicious.
The second recipe is equally stunning and a great favourite on the lunch table at my classes.
I use a smaller standard jar for this as the pears are quartered so fit easily into a straight-sided jar like one of the bontas or the 324ml Faceted jar. Get the jars washed and into a warm oven to dry before you start the recipe.
The recipe makes around 2.5kg of pickle.
2 kgs firm pears
750g demerara sugar
You will need 750ml of cider or white wine vinegar.
A cinnamon stick
Around 10 cloves
2 teaspoons whole allspice berries
First spice the vinegar - put into a pan with the spices and bring up the heat. As soon as it comes to the boil, turn the heat down and simmer for around 5 mins. Turn off the heat and strain the vinegar into a heatproof jug.
Pour back into the pan and start to peel the fruit. Cut into quarters, take out the core and drop each piece into the vinegar. When all are in the pan turn on the heat and poach the pears for a few minutes only so that they are cooked but not breaking up.
Remove the jars from the oven and lift the pear pieces into the jars, packing as closely as possible - use a blunt dinner knife to ease them in.
Add the sugar to the vinegar and stir until dissolved and then boil until the syrup thickens slightly. Pour over the pears in the jars making sure there are no air bubbles left in the jars and that the pears are covered.
Seal immediately and store out of strong light and hidden away so they don't get eaten before Christmas! Just joking - you can eat them straightaway . . .
Finally - our lovely new Summer Frocks jar lids have arrived and they look amazing. They are on the website NOW and you can use the code SUMMERTEN to order some with a discount.
I love greengages.
Until recently I hadn't seen greengages for more than fifteen years. Now you may say that I didn't try very hard but time was when they would have been in every greengrocers. I suppose that is part of the problem - there are very few greengrocers left. A great many of the old trees have been grubbed out and we are left with very expensive fruit from France.
When I was a teenager I used to work in my Dad's greengrocers shop in the school holidays. It was always busy in the mornings but quieter in the late afternoons and I used to sit on a stool reading. In the Summer heat the wooden box of greengages in the window were ripe and perfumed. In the quiet I could actually hear when the skin would split with ripeness - and would just have to eat them! They were absolutely delicious and I have never lost my love of them. Sadly I fear that if I did find them in a shop they wouldn't be ripe as almost all fruit is sold unripe these days.
Not so the greengages that I tracked down in North Norfolk recently. Straight from the orchard, perfectly ripe, looking - and tasting - just as I remembered.
I busied myself immediately with sorting through the boxes, freezing the whole fruit for later makes, put some jam on to cook straightaway and putting the really ripe fruit to one side. I was so hoping that the jam would cook to a pale green and not turn red - and I wasn't disappointed. A beautiful limey yellow shade perfectly reflecting the whole fruit.
Beautiful, golden Greengage Jam - delicious
I have long wanted to bottle some fruit in Eau de Vie - I had sent for a bottle from some cider makers in Cornwall and the bottle had been stashed away awaiting the right moment. This was it - I opened the bottle for the first time and took a tentative sniff, the beautiful soft scent of cider concentrated into a spirit would be perfect for the greengages. I had some smart jars which would make nice products for gifts. You need sound fruit for bottling - well for preserving full stop - but I chose the fruit with perfect skin with no blemishes. I cut them in half, removed the stone and packed them as tightly as possible into the washed and heated jars. I made a simple syrup of water and sugar - half sugar to water - heated to dissolve the sugar. I poured the Eau de Vie into the jars to about a third full and then topped up with the syrup.
Just a question of fitting the lids on loosely and then waterbathing in a pan of boiling water for around 40 minutes. Have the water over the top of the jars if possible - when ready, lift out with jar tongs and tighten the lids. Don't worry if the level of the liquid has dropped - it is just that the fruit has poached in the hot bath and takes up less room. The air will have been forced out during the process and the contents will now be vacuum packed. Leave to cool overnight and then wash the jars off with warm water before labelling. Store out of strong light and enjoy spooned over a rich rice pudding, ice cream or as a delicious crumble.
The really ripe, squishy greengages I cooked without adding any liquid, lifting out the stones as they rose to the surface. Once they were all soft I poured them into the food processor to blend in the skins. I had the shelves in my food dehydrator lined with baking parchment all ready, I poured the fruit pulp onto the paper and smoothed it out into a rough rectangle. The pulp was about the thickness of a slice of bread ( not a doorstep! ) Into the dehydrator for a few hours to emerge as a beautiful fruit leather. No added sugar, just the natural fruit. A great healthy snack for children or for walkers as it is light and won't spill. This can be done in a very low oven but I would recommend that you treat yourself to this piece of kit - it really extends the number of ways that you can preserve food.
Greengage Leather - top: the pulp ready to go into the dryer