…which was 13th of November. In a normal year, we’d have kissed goodbye to the last of our tomatoes in late September/early October. But this wasn’t a normal year. I placed the unripe Gardener’s Delight tomatoes I’d picked when I took down our tomato plants in a bowl and left it on our dining table. Amazingly, most of them ripened, and only a few turned into those horrible frostbitten monstrosities that tomatoes become when you’ve left them out in the cold weather for too long.
I ended up putting them in a chilli con carne.
I was forced to defrost our freezer yesterday. Somebody (don’t know whether it was Mr Beans or me) had left the freezer door slightly ajar, resulting in a huge ice build-up inside the freezer. This meant that the door couldn’t be shut at all, hence the need to unplug and defrost. This meant that I had 1.2 kg of blackberries that I didn’t know what to do with, so I ended up making blackberry and apple jam.
I don’t normally care for blackberry and apple jam, because all the variants of it that I’ve ever tasted have been too sweet. So I had a go at doing a reduced sugar version. It came out lovely, although be warned: there is a trade-off between amount of sugar used and cooking time. Reduce the amount of sugar, and you increase the cooking time. If you’re using the quantities I’ve used, you will need to allow two hours from start to finish.
750 g apples (that’s 750 g after peeling and coring)
1250 g blackberries
Juice of one lemon
600 g sugar
Peel, chop and core the apples. To stop the pieces going brown while you’re doing them, place them in cold water.
Wash the blackberries if necessary (I didn’t need to do this ‘cos I’d already washed mine before I originally put them in the freezer).
Place the apple pieces in a saucepan with a couple of tablespoons of the water. Bring to the boil, with stirring, until you’ve more or less got apple sauce (a few solid bits of apple are OK though). Add the blackberries, and cook further for a few minutes. Add the lemon juice, and stir it in.
Take the mixture off the heat and add the sugar. Stir thoroughly to dissolve. Put back onto the heat and boil, with frequent stirring, until the mixture is set. This will take quite a while so do be warned!
Every so often I get obsessed by something and decide to immerse myself in whatever it is. At the moment, it’s jam – which is why readers of this blog can be forgiven for wondering why gardening hasn’t been mentioned at all for the last five posts or so.
Anyway, seeing as my jams are quite successful and enjoyed enormously by both myself and Mr Beans, I decided to spend yesterday afternoon making marmalade. Turned out great! Although it took a total of nearly five hours – if you’re cash-rich and time-poor, then making marmalade probably isn’t for you lol.
As usual, I read several recipes and then halved the amount of sugar. So here goes:
3 lb oranges/grapefruit (one grapefruit, rest of weight made up by the oranges)
Juice of two lemons
3 lb white sugar
4 – 4.5 pints water
Wash the fruit. Cut lemons in half, squeeze the juice out into the pan and discard the peel, but save the membrane/pips. Cut the oranges and grapefruit. Squeeze the juice out, add to pan and again, save the membrane/pips. Chop the orange and grapefruit peel into strips, and add to the pan.
Tie the membrane/pips from the oranges, grapefruit and lemons into a muslin bag. Add to the pan. This part of the fruit contains a lot of pectin, which will help the marmalade to set.
Add the water to the pan as well. Your pan should contain:
Juice from the lemons, oranges and grapefruit
Chopped peel from the oranges and grapefruit
The muslin bag of membrane/pips
Simmer this little lot for two hours. It will reduce down, and the peel will go soft. About 20 minutes before the end, remove the muslin bag.
When the two hours is up, take the pan off the heat, and add the sugar. Stir to dissolve. Squeeze the contents of the muslin bag into the pan (this should have cooled down enough to touch. Actually, I ended up opening the bag and straining the contents through a sieve).
Return the pan to the heat, boiling vigorously with stirring, until the marmalade sets. This takes a looooong time, so don’t expect it to happen straight away. While the marmalade is boiling, skim any scum off the top.
Decant into sterlised jars, and pop on a bit of waxed or greaseproof paper before closing with a lid. This batch filled four jars, but two of the jars were bigger than normal.
The resulting marmalade had a lovely rich “thick cut” flavour – exactly what I was aiming for.
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The morello cherry jam being now a distant memory, I decided to have a go at making some more jam, after picking up a punnet of damson plums at my local greengrocer’s for £1. After they’d been destoned, they weighed 13 ounces. Together with 8 ounces of thawed out frozen blackberries from my foraged stash, I made jam using the following invented recipe:
21 ounces (1 lb 5 oz) of fruit
Juice of half a lemon
12 ounces of sugar.
Stew the plums with several tablespoons of water – enough to create a thick mass of stewed fruit, while ensuring that the plums don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. While the plums are heating up, tie the stones (which will probably have a lot of pulp sticking to them) into a muslin cloth. Place the “bag” of stones into the mixture.
When the plums are almost cooked, add the blackberries and simmer the mixture for another couple of minutes.
Take the pan off the heat, and remove the muslin bag. Put it to one side to cool. To the pan, add the sugar and the lemon juice. Stir thoroughly to dissolve the sugar. Put back on the heat and bring to a brisk boil, stirring continuously until the jam sets. Near the setting point, the muslin bag will be cool enough to allow you to squeeze the pulp into the pan.
With the quantities I used, it took about 15-20 minutes from the addition of the sugar to the setting point. I actually think that you’re better off making jam in moderate quantities as opposed to massive amounts, because the setting time is so much quicker if you’re making less (it took ages for the cherry jam to set, and I think it was because I was making a vast amount in one go).
One other thing: this jam tastes fantastic, but I would probably use a smaller quantity of blackberries in relation to plums next time – simply because I personally prefer the taste of plum jam to that of blackberry jam. Also, I’m not sure if the muslin bag/pulp thing made any difference. You could probably leave this bit out.
As well as tasting fab on toast, that cherry jam (see yesterday’s entry) makes a marvellous hot drink. Here are the instructions:
1. Boil some water.
2. In a mug, place a heaped dessertspoon of cherry jam.
3. Add the boiling water obtained in step 1.
4. Stir vigorously.
5. Enjoy – add a bit more jam if needed.
It’s sort of like a very grown-up version of Ribena, but hot and made with cherries instead of blackcurrants. There will of course be a cherry sludge at the bottom of the mug, but you can either eat this or throw it away – whatever you like.
We finished the last jar of home-made redcurrant jam this week. Its passing was mourned by both myself and Mr Beans, but not for long. That’s because last night, I made six more jars of jam, this time with some morello cherries that I scavenged off someone’s tree, in a leafy local street. Some of the tree’s boughs hang right over the pavement, so at the right time of year you can just help youself to a handful of the cherries. Which I did one afternoon, and realised that they would make excellent jam. Morello cherries are small and dark burgundy in colour. They shouldn’t be confused with the larger dessert cherries that you buy in punnets in the greengrocer/supermarket – morello cherries have a really acidic, strong flavour which means they’re ideal for making jams. (And also wine.)
The amount of cherries needed to make jam is a bit more than a handful, so I did the decent thing and asked the homeowner if I could have some cherries, offering to pay her for them. “Don’t worry about that”, she said. “You can have them for nothing. Try and pick from the branches hanging over my drive though – it’ll mean that fewer cherries end up falling onto my car! Oh, and give me a jar of the jam when you’ve made it.”
I did as she asked and ended up with 3 kilos of cherries… and that was after I’d stoned them. Stoning cherries is a messy business; all I can say is it’s a good thing our living room rug is predominantly dark red. (I sat in front of the TV while doing the deed, with a plastic apron on and a huge foam gardening mat covered with a towel acting as a tray. But a couple of times, the cherries sprayed juice as I poked the knife into them, with inevitable results.)
With a bit of help from Marguerite Patten and some adaptation on my part, I ended up with this recipe:
3 kg morello cherries (after stoning – before stoning, it’s about 4 kg)
1.3 kg sugar
Juice of half a lemon.
Wash and stone cherries. Simmer in a very large pan for 15 minutes, with stirring. Add the sugar and stir in to dissolve. Add the lemon juice and bring to the boil, with constant stirring until the jam starts to set. Warning: you need to allow about 45 minutes for this. Ms Patten’s recipe was rather optimistic in saying that you would need 15 minutes. However, it could be because her recipe had waaaaay more sugar in it (a cherries : sugar ratio of 1.4 : 1 rather than about 2.3 : 1, which is what I used). If you like your jam sweet rather than tart as we do, then you should put extra sugar in. You might find that it doesn’t take so long to set.
|What do you do when you’re not an expert jam maker? You turn to your mum’s old recipe books of course. In my case, the book is Marguerite Patten’s Cookery in Colour, a worthy tome first published in 1960. There wasn’t a recipe for redcurrant jam, but there was one for blackcurrant jam, so I used that. For the weight of currants I had (2 pounds 10 ounces or 2.625 pounds), I would have needed just under 2 pints of water and just over 3 and a quarter pounds of sugar, according to this recipe.|
|Being chronically incapable of following recipe instructions, I used about 1 pound ten ounces of sugar and just over one pint of water, reasoning that (a) the currants were oozing plenty of juice already, and (b) surely nobody would want THAT much sugar in their jam. Following Mr Beans’ recommendation I also used the juice of half a lemon, to help with setting.|
|The instructions in Ms Patten’s book were: 1. boil up the currants with the water until they go mushy, and (b) add the sugar, stir to dissolve and boil the bejeesus out of the mixture until set. Well, it didn’t say “boil the bejeesus”, but that was the basic gist, anyway. I complied with the instructions, but added the lemon juice and associated pulp about halfway through the boiling process. The result was three jars of a dark garnet red jam, which tastes gorgeous. Because I used so much less sugar (and added some lemon juice), the jam tastes lovely and tart – a real grown-up flavour.|
|If you’re wondering what all my quantities are in metric, here they are:
2 pounds 10 oz (2.625 pounds) currants = 1.2 kg