Category Archives: Preserves and Cordials

Wintersweet

Chimonanthus Praecox

No snowdrops yet, it’s been too cold, but on the bare twigs of the chimonanthus praecox hangs a promise of Spring. Wintersweet I adore you!

And here is the new garlic, undeterred by last night’s frost

and here will be daffodils

In the meantime the kitchen is swamped with the smell of bitter Seville Oranges – the aroma of January in England

First batch being inspected. More to come.

Dan Lepard’s Easy White Bread by Brian

Brian baked some bread this week.  He selected this recipe of Dan Lepard’s which has the beguiling title of ‘Easy White Bread’.

It made fantastic crunchy toast,  topped with home made blackberry and apple jelly and Seville marmalade; plus the bonus of the first morning sunshine in two weeks. I could eat toast like this every day for a month. Who needs anything else?

Edit : Maybe a trip to the Marmalade Festival….

Dan Lepard's Easy White Bread





Blackberry Jelly

Blackberry Jelly and Testing for Pectin

Ready to go!

So here’s what became of that big basket of blackberries we picked on Sunday.

Testing for Pectin – how on earth do you know how much pectin is in any particular batch of fruit?  There are guidelines, Pam Corbin has a helpful list in her book ‘Preserves’ in which it says things like ‘early blackberries, medium pectin,low acid, late blackberries, low pectin’… but I am not that experienced in jam making that I can then instinctively know what to do next. Having had the experience of the damson jam setting like concrete once and being determined never to have that happen again, I veer the other way and often make runny slippery jams that slide off the toast and onto my lap….

So each time I make jam, three or four times a year at most, I re-read my books, looking for any pearl of wisdom, this time I found something good on a site called Jam World which is full of detail, even if the bit about making jam for competitions is a bit beyond me and it is the Jam World formula I have used this time.

How to test for pectin:

When you have prepared the juice for the jelly (more of this later) this is the time to test for pectin.

Place a teaspoon of the juice in a small cup and add two teaspoons of methylated spirits to it. Give it a little swoosh to mix and then leave to stand for a few minutes. Then have a look. Pour away the liquid spirits which will leave the jelly liquid behind. See how solid it is, if it is solid then the pectin content of your juice is high and you will get a good set and not need to add anything in the way of additional pectin. (I’ve also read recently that you can use whisky if you don’t have any methylated spirits, but I haven’t tried it.)

Looks like it gelled all right!

My jam was made with:

  • 5 and a half pounds of blackberries
  • 6 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 600 ml water
  • Brought to a boil and then left to simmer gently to release all the juice from the berries. Put all the fruit into a jelly bag and left it to drip through for most of the day. Then did the pectin test as above,  which showed there was enough pectin and then I put the juice in the fridge over night and carried on the next day.
  • First thing I put some saucers in the freezer to help me test the set later and prepared the jars, keeping them in the oven until they were needed.
  • Then I measured the quantity of juice
  • You then add 1lb of sugar for every 600 ml/pint of juice. For this batch that was 1230 grams of sugar. I used preserving sugar which has larger crystals and has a reputation for giving a better jam.
  • I warmed the sugar in the oven first and added it slowly to the juice, making sure the sugar was completely dissolved before bringing it up to the boil.
  • I did quite a lot of skimming and saved the scumble (the jammy scum which I think is very tasty though it doesn’t look that pretty) which I will have on my toast this week.

    Scumble skimmed off the top of the cooking jam

  • Using a sugar thermomenter we started testing for a set once the temperature got to 104 C. Jellies usually set between 104 and 106c. Ours set after about 12 minutes altogether and had reached a temperature of 106 C. We did three checks during that time, turning the gas off while we checked.
  • Check for a set by putting a little of the hot jelly on a cold saucer, leave for a few minutes and then push it gently with your finger, it if wrinkles as you push it, it is ready. Another thing you can do is hold a wooden spoon over your pan and observe the drips, if they look like they are setting that is another clue.
  • Brian carefully filled the jars and put the lids on (they had been simmering in a saucepan of water)  and I wrote some labels this morning and here they are.

    A tower of jam

Just under 5 lbs of jam to look forward to sharing around with family and friends.

Jam jars with spotty lids came from the jamjarshop website by the way.  We ran out of small jars last year so I ordered these when they were on sale.  Some friends are good and keep all their jars to give to us… and then they get more jam!

As it is only the beginning of the season I may go back to pick some more before the month is over… Today I came home with a bag of mirabelle plums, red and yellow, like over sized cherries, might be good in a clafoutis pudding? Never made one of those yet…

One year on.… Lots of people seem to read this post still, and I had another look at it this August (2011) as Carl Legge had kindly suggested it as a good read on Twitter. I realise that I never posted a picture of the jelly itself. What an omission!  Believe it or not, I have one jar left in the garage and tonight I dug it out and opened it and here is a quick photo. It has darkened a little and become a little grainy in texture; it is a year old but it still has that wonderful complex fruity taste that sings of the English countryside. I love blackberry jelly!

Blackberry Jelly

Piimä Bread for Moomins

Toast for Moomins

Written originally in Swedish by Tove Jansson, a Swedish speaking Finnish writer, and much adored all over the world, the Moomins arrived in England in 1964 as the Finn Family Moomintroll.   My mother promptly got hold of a copy and read it with us and the Moomins turn up in my dreams even now. (Click Continue Reading to see the recipe for this Finnish bread….)

Continue reading

Wild Cherry Jam

2nd July 2010

As I trailed around the local woodland with the dogs I looked at the wildflower meadows planted by the schoolchildren a few years ago and thought that I must get better at flower identification. It’s on my list of things to learn…

Wildflowers sown by the local infants school

Then I noticed something…

What’s that in that tree?

A quick investigation revealed:

Cherries – billions of them!

Small, sour-sweet, dark and juicy, trees full of them!  I don’t remember seeing these at all last year…and they’re everywhere, trees full of them, dark red, bright red, big ones, small ones…

Never being without a bag, I’m a dog walker remember? I stood and picked a dog bag full, about 3lbs in weight. I looked as if I was a member of the cast of the recent promenade version of Macbeth the students did here with my hands stained red with cherry juices.

At home, I washed and sorted my cherries out.

Beauty in a colander

Then consulted Pam Corbin; no cherry jam recipe. Cherries, high in acid and medium pectin it said though. So I de-stoned them, one of those contemplative activities, in which one half of the brain says, ‘I can’t believe you’re doing this’, and the other half says, ‘Yeah, yeah, but once in a while it’s fine to do this and you started this by picking them in the first place so just get on with it. ‘

Then I washed the fruit, put them in a pan to heat up and gently cooked them till the skins had softened. Don’t add sugar till the skins are soft.  Added the sugar, heated it till it dissolved, completely, added the juice of a lemon and a little commercial pectin and then brought it to a roiling boil (I love that word!) and it was ready in about 7 minutes. I use a sugar thermometer to monitor the temperature, usual setting point is 104 – 106 C.  Test for a set by putting a teaspoon of jam on a cold saucer,  turn off the boiling jam while you wait to see if it has set enough. It should wrinkle slightly when you nudge the test spoonful once cooled.  If it hasn’t then turn the heat back up again and bring it up to temperature once more.

Tip: the time to stir is when you are slowly dissolving the sugar, once you start boiling the jam, don’t stir as it stops the jam coming up to temperature quickly which is what you want, in order to have a nice fresh tasting jam.

This first batch pictured here was made with 50 percent sugar to fruit weight and was destined to go in the fridge and be eaten quickly. I wanted a tart jam that really tasted of cherries.  I made a second lot later with 1 kg of sugar to 750 g fruit that was hopefully to be kept longer. But I was guessing here as to what the correct ratio is. Edit: I have done a little bit more research and the most commonly advised proportions are :  60 per cent sugar to 100 per cent fruit weight. If the cherries are sweet then add a tablespoon of lemon juice for each kilo of fruit. You will probably need to add some pectin, either home made or commercial.  Suggested proportions and lots more useful information can be found here where I found it on the Allotment Vegetable Growing site.

Bubble, bubble…

I love cherries and cherry jam is my joint favourite jam along with damsons, and I’m down to my last jar of that, so the cherries should keep me going for now :)

Wild Cherry Jam

And here it is for breakfast on some of that soya linseed bread that makes fabulous toast….an all time favourite Dan Lepard Guardian recipe.

Cherry jam on soya linseed toast

Elderflower Cordial Part 3

At last…

The following day we studied the instructions again. One thing I forgot to say; you need a thermometer. If you are going to do any of these recipes, it is essential. That and this book and you won’t go too wrong!

Pam Corbin’s method gives a cordial that you can keep on the shelf. Other methods give a result which you have to keep in the fridge, like the Jam Jar Shop Guide to Elderflower Cordial.

The alternatives have some version of making a sugar syrup first, then adding the flowers. Some recipes add chopped up whole citrus fruit rather than zest.  That method presumably is gentler on the flowers and you might get a more fragrant though shorter lived cordial that way.  There is a risk of mould if you don’t use a sterilising water bath to process the bottles and want to keep the cordial out of the fridge in storage.

Filtration:  Brian poured the liquor  carefully out of the bucket where the flower heads and zest had been soaking overnight into another container and strained it through a muslin bag to remove particles. The liquid was very dark and we worried that we were gong to end up with a brown cordial.

Then we did some sums;  1.5 litres of liquid to 1 kg of granulated sugar plus one heaped teaspoon of citric acid were the proportions used.

We added all of the lemon and orange juices reserved from the previous day, about 500 ml, to the strained liquor, sugar and citric acid. Heated it up slowly to dissolve the sugar and then realised that we had forgotten to strain the citrus juice, so we put the whole lot through muslin again. Twice.  A mistake that could be fixed! No floaty particles now!

Our jam pan held 4.5 litres worth of liquid so that’s what we worked with.

We sterilized the bottles and  Brian carefully simmered the cordial. It stayed a murky brown. I took a spoonful and put it in a glass and diluted it to see what it tasted of. Not quite right somehow, but I couldn’t work out why.  A little bitter, a little polleny, not what I expected.

I went away to do something and when I came back Brian had transformed the cordial. The secret was buried in Pam’s notes:   it has to come up to  88° – 90° C whilst being simmered, for two minutes, this not only extends the shelf life but transformed the cordial into a paler and brighter fluid. Now it tasted right, silky, floral and citrussy. For a moment there I thought we were going to have to chuck the lot!

Much happier now, Brian proceeded to fill the bottles leaving a gap of an inch at the top for expansion in the final stage.

He then arranged them in two waterbaths, positioning the bottles so they didn’t touch the sides of the pan and standing them on folded tea towels. Tops on bottles not done up tight at this point.

The water was brought up to 88° C and kept there for 20 minutes. A thermometer is essential!

After this, he hoiked them out and tightened the tops.

Bottles of golden June delight! I found some ancient sheets of label paper and used one of the photos as a background image for these labels.

Thank you Pam and thank you Brian, chief bottler and preserver!  A summer of delightful elderflower spritzers beckons….

Edit: Later in the month  when we were “Around and About” we made a second batch using a cold steep method. This batch was a lot more lemony and had less of the elderflower aroma too it, but had a much paler colour.