Sunday, 25 September 2011

Sunday preserving of figs and limes

Yesterday I got a sudden craving for figs....fig jam was one of my father's favourites. I think he must have got a taste for them when he went up Italy during World War II. I just wish he was still around so that I could get to the bottom of this.

I've never made fig jam before, and am nearly at the bottom of the jar bought in Leamington a few weeks ago. I got to the fruit shop just as it was closing, and bought back 10 fruits.

I found a recipe for fresh fruit jam on the Waitrose site, but adapted it by adding a little chopped apple. I had thought it would have cooked into the sauce of the figs, but it kept its shape. As I use it for a topping for yogurt etc., and this batch will be just for me.....I do not think it is a nice variation.

As I used the purple figs the jam is a wonderful rich red colour. I used the juice and finely grated peel of a lemon. The fresh fig flavour comes through perfectly.

The jam my father liked was green, so should I come across green figs I shall make a 100% fig conserve.

At Tesco's they had a special offer on organic limes, and as I had been thinking of trying my hand at Lime Marmalade I got a couple of bags.

As they need so very long initial cooking, I decided to use the pressure cooker to cook the peel. After cooling, and all the peel was cut up and the pulp sieved, I use the preserving pan to boil the marmalade. I thought it going to be a nice bright green is a little subdued, but I can't use that term to describe this zingy marmalade. 1.5 lbs limes gave 5 235g net and 2 350g net jars.

Damson Preserves

Preserving the damsons so kindly sent by one of my husband's colleagues ... nearly ended in tears. Luckily I had decided to tackle them in two batches, as the first ended in the green bin. Working very late one evening, I thought that I had turned off the gas, but the next morning I realised my I had covered the preserving pan, and the gas was very low, and the pan bottom very thick, there was no lasting harm done.

With the second half I made Damson Cheese, and some chutney.
For the cheese1.4Kg damsons gave 0.75 litre puree after sieving, and with careful evaportion gave 3 x 220 g jars of cheese.

With 1.2Kg damsons, onions, apples, dates, cider vinegar, brown sugar, salt, mustard seeds, ground ginger, and cloves, I made 6 jars of Chutney each 220g net.

Friends bearing gifts

On Monday Penny arrived and from a bulging trolley brought forth these huge quince from her garden. Thanks so much Penny, and I hope you enjoy the chutney made from my garden plums.

I am reading through my books and have yet to make up my mind how I am going to use the quince.

Also this week David arrived home with more damsons, and pears from a work colleague. Unfortunately I went to bed leaving the damsons on a very gently simmer.....but covered and with a very thick base to the pan, no harm was done. I thought I had turned off the future I shall move the pan off the flame, then I can be sure that no further cooking will take place. I had only been using half the damsons, so the first lot went into the green bid, and I have now preserved the second lot!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

More Prize winning Preserves

A couple of weeks ago, I entered some of my preserves in the Home Produce Section of the Kenilworth Horticultural Club Autumn Show, the Marmalade won first, best in section for preserves, and the Kenilworth Horticultural Society Cup.

I also had first prizes in the jam and scones section. My pineapple chutney was not judged as the seal was so tight they were unable to open the Kilner Jar.

There were some additional prizes. So many people entered, they had to put up extra tables compared to the previous year, and squeeze exhibits in. The mayor and mayoress: Mr and Mrs D Shilton were there to present the prizes.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Serious Discussions

Yesterday a consignment of jars arrived from a new supplier. I have managed I think to get the best deal, but I have had to buy quite a few. What I was pleased with is that these are jars made in England, rather than coming from Italy or other parts of the continent. They are the pretty hexagonal shape which nestle closely in the cupboard.

Hubby went all quiet whilst we had our afternoon tiffin yesterday, and then we had a brain storm.......we evaluated my passions, and the need to express these, and we considered all the other aspects of my project. From it all, I arrived at a wonderful position.....

I make as many preserves as I would like
Keep the six friends who have already showed interest in my venture in spare preserves, at cost price. In addition offer them 4 oz jars of my very special preserves free as tasters.
Continue to donate preserves for local charity sales and fund raising etc
Give the rest away to family and for swaps with 'preserve' buddies, and to the many friends who ply me with their surpluses which would otherwise go to waste.

I even have friends who drop off blackberries, and other wild fruit etc when they have had a day out walking...they enjoy foraging, but then they have no time to deal with their fruit.

Preserving is my hobby and a leisure interest....

Once I had a large allotment and that nearly became too much for me, not allowing me sufficient time to persue other intersts and activities, a little like Mrs Mace Preserves was becoming.

I used to have a wonderful allotment, and was always fighting to cope with the surpluses each summer, giving loads away. At the time of the most surpluses, and with all the work, it was more difficult to enjoy the preserving interest.

I had a lovely man on the next allotment who helped me with my digging. I have a bad back, he had bad fingers, so together we managed all the tasks. After Ray had dug my plot, I would use the deep bed method, using loads of compost, and found that swinging my mattock to till the earth, a far kinder way to treat the soil. I would do the delicate picking for him, the tying up, the fine hand weeding etc. When I left, Ray asked for my mattock!

When we moved I was sad to give up the allotment. I had been offered a very good plot close by soon after we moved, but I don't regret that I turned it down at all, as this leaves me so much time to enjoy other pursuits. I was somewhat relieved, and now love going to the local market, farmers' markets etc, and just getting what we need. There are a couple of friends with lovely gardens here, and enjoy the fellowship of working together there.


With a few plums and some spices, I followed a recipe for fruit cordial, and made up a couple of bottles for our drinks cabinet. Once opened they will have to be kept in the fridge of course. Lovely to have a home made cordial. Earlier in the summer I enjoyed elderflower cordial made by my daughter in law. The drinks are so very easy to make.

When we crack open a bottle one dark dim cold evening, I shall remember the lovely summer day I made this.

Meagre Pickings

I received reports from friends around the country that they had rain on and off during the summer, however here we seem to be in a very dry spot right in the middle of the country. With the shortage of rain, and hot dry sunny days the wild brambles just have not been up to their usual fecundity. What fruit I found were small and fairly dry, until I came to a patch which I knew grew in an old dew pond. However I only picked one small box full. They went into the freezer with a few others I had picked elsewhere, and in a few weeks, I shall consider what to make with them.

On the way back I spied a wild damson tree and filled the other tub I had.

I did not pick many but being such a rich flavoured fruit, there was sufficient to make a few pots of Damson Jam. Just to add a certain je ne sais quoi, I added a few star anise seeds.

They were sifted out with the stones before I added the sugar. As there was so little I potted the jam up into 8 ounce jars.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Working on prize winning Marmalade

They say you should not count your chickens till they have hatched...but if you want the eggs to hatch, you can follow best practice to ensure the best outcome...

Each of my batches of preserves in the past has been made with the same care and attention, so when it comes to competition time, I just go through my preserve cupboard, and select a pretty jar. This January though, I did not make enough to last me through, or maybe I gave a few too many jars away, so for the Marmalade section, I need to make a new batch....

Here is the batch coming up to the gentle roll stage.

The best outcome would have been with fresh Seville Oranges, but at this time of the year, I have only 0.75Kg of frozen ones to work on. However fresh juicy lemons, and my favourite brand of sugar, careful preparation, cooking, and testing, and my fingers are crossed that the judge will be of the same opinion as me!

In addition to spreading on toast, I use marmalade in cooking: to finish off pan fried duck breast as a sauce with rosemary, and port, in bread and butter pudding, in fruit cake etc....

With my registration papers from Warwickshire came all the guidance notes, and one was that there should be sufficient extraction to prevent moisture build up in the premises....can't say that I had a premonition about this venture, when we had an extractor hood fitted a few months ago...but it is a boom when they is so much simmering and boiling taking place. I prefer to have the doors and windows closed until the preserve is potted up, to prevent wasps and such like being attracted by the smells. Afterwards the whole house gets a blow through.

Making preserves for other people

Its only a few weeks, since I got this urge to share my preserves. The reason is that I love researching, the process of preserving food, and later bringing something out of the cupboard that will transform the ordinary into something special.....but one can only eat so much, and store so much. I've written about my forays into the preserving world on my other blog, so dip in there if you want any back history.

With years of prize winning entries, not all the cards are in the picture here, and giving of jars to family and friends, it occurred to me to investigate selling my produce locally. I've researched outlets looking at prices and packaging, and am trying out selling through a local artisan bakery.

I've spent quite a lot of time costing the jars of preserves, considering what to put onto the scales:

Cost of jars: this comes in at between 70p for the 12 oz size to 42p for the 4 oz size. This just shows how much packaging costs. However I would love to have these jars returned and reused which fulfills my recycling ethos. For the club, I think I would offer 30 p against the next item, as I would need to use new lids.

Cost of fruit and veg: I decided to cost as if I bought at the market or supermarket, even though some of my fruit cost me nothing, I've spent time cycling and picking, and given cakes, bread and other items in exchange. After all it would be unfair to compete with other people who have to earn their living.

Time: I only put 2 hours at £5.00 an hour for each batch....if I start making jam just for love, then I would go back to before and just give a few away to friends, to club tables for their sale etc., and hey I'll still be doing that anyway with my stash!

Spices and sugar and vinegar: at cost

I was astounded at what the prices came out at.....jam and preserves at supermarkets is so much cheaper. Its a good job mine is the 'best'!

When I popped into Crustum, I was really pleased to see that Nick is really busy and his bread is selling well, but that also means that he has not had time to promote my jam. It is positioned low down, and his mark up brings the preserves to the prices asked for in 'tourist outlets'. I'll give him a couple of weeks to see what moves.

It occurred to me whilst I was in 'the zone' chopping that what I really would like is a small band of jam, chutney and preserve loving people, about 10 to 12, to join as a club. I would rather make only one or two batches for an appreciative few. Each month or so I would offer a preserve, chutney or mustard. I am thinking 12 oz or 8 oz size jar for jam, 8 oz for preserve and 4 oz for mustard.....

In my own little brainstorming way I am thinking of main tenets and concepts:

As much as possible of locally grown produce: donated, foraged, or bought at the market...reducing miles and packaging as much as possible.

Top quality produce, for example when using dried fruits, only those with no preservatives, using cider vinegar only.

Return of jam jars encouraged, with credit given against next item.

Seeking 'sponsors' for special batches, ie someone asks for a specific recipe, or asks me to research one for them, and commits to take on x no of jars. For example a chutney without garlic or a special family favourite.

If someone offers the majority of the fruit/vegetable components, then in addition to their 'club' jar, they get an extra one free.

Finding local people, or friends of local people for the group, so that they can collect or I can deliver.

Everyone ends up trumps: I get to create preserves, and members get regular locally hand made quality preserves at the best possible cost.

Plum and Red Onion Chutney

It takes patience and time to prepare all the ingredients. One washes, and chops the ingredients, all by hand, but then in the pan the eye is drawn to the odd larger piece, and out come the scissors to cut it ......pieces need to be no larger than you want them in the finished article!

It takes time for the mixture to cook through and surplus moisture to evaporate, and this one took four hours from beginning to end. Every few minutes, the bottom of the pan needs to be stirred to prevent sticking, and finally there is the filling of the hot jars. Afterwards the chutney needs to be 'laid down' in a cool dark place, for at least six weeks, six months is better. I once found a chutney over two years old, and it was fabulous.

Last night we had some excellent locally made sausages braised with onions, and served with mash, and purple french beans, which turn green from the garden. Even though the serving in the ramekin had only matured for a day, it was excellent with the meal. At lunch time we had some with homemade chicken liver pate, toast and salad and it went very well with that too.

This batch contains Marjorie Seedling Plums, Bramley apples, all grown without fungicides and pesticides, red onions, organically grown raisins, fresh ginger, mustard seeds, ground black pepper, white sugar and dark muscavado sugar half and half, and cider vinegar, and just 1 teaspoon of sea salt.

The yield was 11 jars, the jar sizes are 12 oz size, a small sample jar, and a couple of spoonfuls which went into a small ramekin. I think that this size jar is about right.

I spent an hour up a long ladder picking plums, both for myself and the tree owner. The tree is tall and old, and looks towards Kenilworth Castle, the apple tree was much smaller and had started to shed some of its load and I found lovely large fruit, unbruised nestling in the long grass. My basket was my 'payment' for helping to harvest his tree!