Tag Archives: preserves

Meddling with medlars

We have a friend who has a wonderful selection of fruit trees in his garden.  This year we have received basketfuls of apples, walnuts, these cherries

and this week, possibly the most exciting yet.

Okay, the cherries were probably the tastiest and it is a real treat to have cherries fresh from the tree and a huge basketful to boot.  But the medlar is a fruit I have read about and wondered about and I find them very intriguing. Now, according to my friend the colloquial term for these little beauties is Dog’s Arse – I can’t begin to think why.

I was thrilled when he knocked the door bearing a basket full of these unusual fruit.

As they are, fresh off the tree, they are hard and yield very little juice or smell. They are not pleasant eaten raw straight off the tree but I am led to believe that if I leave them in a cool, dark place for a couple of weeks they will start to blet, which is they will soften and turn a darker brown, and then could be eaten raw.  However, I am not sure I will be brave enough to try them when, let’s face it, they will be halfway to rotten, and my friend tells me that he left some to blet last year and just couldn’t fancy eating one.  His chickens had a feast though.

Anyway, my medlars are in the garage bletting away.  I plan to make medlar jelly in the next couple of weeks with them. If anyone has any experience of medlars or has a good recipe for a jelly or anything else then I would be very interested to hear it.

Tomato Ketchup

As you may know we have a glut of tomatoes.  I have wanted to make tomato ketchup for a long time.  My mum made us a big batch of it when we were little and of course being kids we all tucked into expecting it to taste exactly like the famous stuff and we were all bitterly disappointed and voiced our opinion of this to our poor mother. I often think back to that moment now and feel very sorry for my mum.  I have special empathy for her now, of course, as my own children often voice their disappointment with what I have just placed in front of them, mostly by exclaiming ‘yuck!’

As you grow older though your tastes change and this tomato ketchup tastes much better than the famous stuff.

This recipe is adapted from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s recipe in The River Cottage Cookbook (ISBN 0 00 220204 2)

1.5 kg tomatoes
1 large onion (I used red as that is what we have grown in the garden)
1 small red pepper ( or half a big one)
50g soft brown sugar
100 ml white wine or cider vinegar
A square of muslin or tea towel, boiled for a few minutes to sterilise and then filled with the spices listed below and tie with string to make a spice bag.
1 tsp fennel seed
1 tsp cumin seed
½tsp mustard powder
piece of cinnamon stick
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp ground mace
1 bay leaf
1 garlic clove, bashed once to bruise
1 ½ tsp black peppercorns

½ – 1 tsp paprika and salt to taste at the end of cooking

Method

Chop the tomatoes, onions and pepper and then place in a pan over a medium heat and cook until really soft.  I cooked them for about 25-30 minutes.

Rub the tomato mixture through a sieve over a bowl to achieve a smooth skinless purée.

Place the purée back in the clean pan and add the vinegar and the sugar and the spices in the bag. Bring the mixture to a boil and the reduce the heat and simmer gently until the mixture is a good tomato ketchup consistency.  Keep tasting as you will need to remove the spice bag when they have infused the mixture to your taste.  I removed my spice bag after about 15 minutes and simmered the ketchup for about 40 minutes.

Add paprika and salt to taste. Pour into warm sterilised jars and seal.  This made 1¾ jar fulls for me.

I keep my jar in the fridge and intend to use it within a few weeks but Hugh FW says that it should keep for about a year. I can testify that it is great on a bacon sandwich.

Lemon curd

In honour of the fact that despite the snow and freezing temperatures of the last two weeks our five Black Rock chickens (there used to be six but that is another story – naughty Mr Fox!) are still laying 2-3 eggs each day I made some lemon curd today.  I was inspired by my mum who has made batches of this for my  dad in recent weeks as he has developed a particular fondness for it, as has my eldest daughter.  So I baked another loaf of brown soda bread so that we had something that we could slather it onto when she got home from school – and the combination was very good indeed.

I normally use Mary Berry’s recipe in her excellent The Aga Book, but today I followed Darina Allen’s in her Forgotten Skills of Cooking and I think maybe Mary Berry wins this one.  She cooks hers in a bain-marie  (a heat-proof bowl over a pan of hot water), whereas Darina Allen suggests doing it directly in a pan over a gentle heat and when you are using an Aga it can be difficult to get a gentle enough heat, even on the simmering plate, without being in danger of having lemon flavoured scrambled eggs.  I just managed to avoid this by taking it off the heat periodically and standing it on the cold granite worktop and giving it a good whisk with my balloon whisk.  Mary Berry’s technique takes longer but is less hair-raising.  However if you have a hob that you can easily control then Darina’s direct heat method will no doubt work very well.

Here is what I did, and it made enough to fill one ex-Bonne Maman conserve jar which previously had 370g of strawberry jam in it:

50g (2oz) butter
zest and juice of 2 unwaxed lemons
100g (40z) caster sugar
2 whole eggs plus 1 egg yolk, beaten

1 or 2 sterile jars (depending on size) – sterilise them by washing well, rinsing with hot water and then placing in a low oven for about 20 minutes. Make sure not to touch the rim or the inside once you have sterilised them.

Method

Either in a saucepan over a direct gentle heat or in a bowl over a pan of simmering water (depending on whether you can control your hob enough to give you a gentle heat) melt the butter.  Grate the zest of the lemons directly into the butter and squeeze in the juice, using a sieve to catch any stray pips. Add the caster  sugar and the beaten eggs. Stir all the while over the gentle heat until the mixture thickens and coats the back of the spoon.  If you are using the bain-marie (bowl over water) method this is likely to take about 25 minutes.

Pour the curd into the sterile jar(s) and seal when cool. Keep in the fridge and eat within two weeks.

It is good on fresh bread, warm scones or crumpets or you can make lemon curd tarts.  It is also good as the filling in a Victoria sponge.

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Daisy in the snow

Quince jelly

quince jelly

My parents have a quince tree on the side of their house and it really is beautiful, it has very pretty red flowers when blossoming and this time of year the ripe quinces fall to the ground.  They are  a bitter and unyielding fruit and cannot be eaten raw but they smell lovely.  If you never make anything from the quinces you can at least bring the fruit into the house in bowls and they fill the house with their delicious smell.  The unyielding fruit is transformed with cooking and quince jelly tastes delicious.  It is easy to make, it just needs a little time, and it is delicious with a lamb roast or with cold meats or spread onto a cracker before a slice of mature cheddar is put on top.

It is an amazing transformation from green fruit to an amber jewelled juice, which becomes even more jewel-like with the addition of the sugar.

strained quince juice

This recipe for quince jelly is based on Mrs Beeton’s, the original domestic goddess. I used 600g of prepared quinces and that yielded about a pint of juice, as you can see from the above picture.  Mrs Beeton recommends peeling them but that is a very fiddly job, so I washed them and cut out any bruises.  I did heed Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s warning in the River Cottage Cookbook though that you need to remove the pips before cooking as they can cause stomach upsets.  Hugh FW also suggests adding a quince to an apple pie, which sounds like a good idea that I may have to try.

To every 1 pint (570 ml) of juice add 1lb (450g) sugar.

Sterilised warm jars (wash the jars well and rinse well and place in a low oven, 100°c, for about 20 minutes to sterilise)

Method

Wash the quinces and remove any bruises.  Slice into chunks and remove the seeds and place in a large pan or a preserving pan.  Cover with enough water so that the quinces just float and boil until the fruit is tender.  Mrs Beeton suggests that you boil for three hours.  I placed it in the simmering oven of the aga, which is the equivalent of simmering on a very low heat, for about three hours. Remove any scum that rises to the surface and strain the juice through a sieve. Measure the juice and return to the pan, adding 1lb (450g) sugar for every pint (570 ml) of juice you have. Bring this slowly to the boil, stirring to help the sugar to dissolve and then boil for about ¾ hour until a little of the jelly poured onto a cold saucer will wrinkle.  Pour into warm sterile jars and seal.

Pickled Damsons

Pickling damsons

Pickling damsons

We have a couple of damson trees in our garden.  Last year a late frost damaged the blossom and there was not a damson to be seen. This year the trees have been loaded. We have frozen some ready for making stewed damsons this winter, I have made damson jam and damson vodka and pickled damsons.  I was introduced to the idea of pickled damsons by my husband and I must admit that I was appalled at the very thought until I tried them!  Now I am a convert, they are absolutely delicious with cold ham, sweet with a sour tang. If you haven’t tried them they are very easy to make and really worth it.  Once tried you will be making them again and again. This is a recipe from my mother-in-law from an old pamphlet collecting local people’s favourite recipes.

Sterilise 3 x 1 lb jars by washing them thoroughly, swilling with hot water and then placing in a low oven (100°c) for 20 mins

2 lbs (900g) damsons
½ pint (275ml) malt vinegar
2 lbs (900g) dark brown sugar
1 oz (25g) ground cinnamon or a cinnamon stick
2 tsp ground cloves or 6 whole cloves

Method
Prick the damsons with a fork or several times with a skewer and put into a large jar or bowl.  Tie the spices into a muslin bag and place in a large saucepan with the sugar and vinegar and bring to the boil. Pour this mixture over the damsons and leave for 24 hours.  Turn all into a large saucepan and bring to the boil.  Boil for 3 mins.  Carefully spoon into the hot sterilised jars and cover when cold.  These are best stored for 6 weeks before tucking in and they last for ages and ages.  I have had jars for a year or more and still tasting delicious.