Tag Archives: Pam Corbin

T is for… Tarragon Tomato Passata

This is something of a labour of love; the trouble with making your own tomato sauces is that you get spoilt and don’t want to buy the shop stuff. It is labour intensive and, unless you have really good cheap tomatoes, probably not worth it from a financial point of view. However, nothing tastes as good as home made passata and you can adapt the recipe to suit your family’s palate.

The recipe we work off is from Pam Corbin’s wonderful book Preserves, one of the River Cottage Handbooks. We have made many other lovely preserves and chutneys from this book. Recommended !

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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

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.