preserves

Christmas mincemeat with pecans and dried cherries

Well I missed Stir-up Sunday but I did manage to get round to making my mincemeat this week. It is worth making just for having the smell of Christmas in the house for a couple of days whilst it sits and soaks. I used Delia Smith’s recipe as a guide but added dried sour cherries and pecan nuts – two of my favourite things. I made the first batch last night, baking twelve and freezing twelve, and I am deeming this mincemeat a success. They get eaten pretty quickly in this house as the girls are both fans of a mince-pie too.  I am looking forward to making the next batch already. I use vegetarian suet so that I can offer them to anyone who may call.

This recipe makes 6lb (2.75kg) of mincemeat.

450g Bramley apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped (I used two large apples to get this weight)
200g vegetarian suet
200g raisins
200g sultanas
200g currants
100g dried sour cherries
200g whole candied peel, chopped finely
350g soft dark brown sugar
grated rind and juice of 2 oranges
grated rind and juice of 2 lemons
50g pecan nuts, chopped
4 tsp mixed spice
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ whole nutmeg, grated
6 tbsp good quality brandy

Method

Mix all of the ingredients, except the brandy, in a large bowl, making sure that everything is well combined.  Cover with a cloth and leave to stand for twelve hours.  Cover it loosely with foil and then place it in a low oven (120°c, 225°f) for three hours so that the suet melts and covers the rest of the ingredients.  This will help preserve the mincemeat for longer.  Allow it to go completely cold.  Stir the brandy in well (this is when the smell is at its most delicious and really is Christmas in a bowl!) and then spoon into sterile jars and seal.

Mincemeat will last for twelve months in a cool dark place.

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After the suet has melted
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Oven dried chillies

chillis

dried chillies

We had a good harvest of chillies this year from our greenhouse and polytunnel.  Too many to use fresh, despite my husband becoming addicted to slicing them raw on almost every meal put in front of him.  What is he saying about my cooking?  So we decided to dry them and crush them. We are very lucky to have an Aga, which has a warming oven that allows us to pop these in and leave them until they are ready.  They take a good twelve hours at least so this will be harder to achieve with a standard oven that you need for cooking other meals.

All we did was to place them whole onto a grill rack on a baking tray and with the oven at its lowest temperature we left them in the oven until completely dry.  We then allowed them to cool completely before grinding them in the pestle and mortar.  We put them into a sterilised jar and they should keep for ages to add a spicy kick to our dishes throughout the winter.

Drying them makes them hotter than they were fresh so less dried chilli is needed when using in recipes.

crushing chillies

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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.

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Oven dried tomatoes

oven dried tomatoes

This is a really good way to preserve any glut of tomatoes that you may have.  My parents built a poly tunnel for my husband’s birthday present last year and we love it.  Our tomatoes have been really productive, although they did show signs of blight at the beginning of the summer. We chopped it out and they have provided us with a bounteous supply ever since. Those that haven’t been snaffled out of the bowl by the handful by the eldest daughter have made many a tomato inspired meal and with the rest we have made a couple of batches of passata for the freezer and several jars of these oven dried tomatoes.

I am lucky enough to cook on an aga which makes this way of preserving ideal as you can just leave them overnight in the warming oven and they are ready in the morning.

tomatoes
salt
olive oil
sterilised jars

Method
Wash the tomatoes and dry well. Slice the tomatoes in half and place onto a grill rack that is over a baking tray (to catch any spills and make it easy to put in and take out of the oven). Make sure they are well spaced and not touching. Sprinkle with salt and place in a low oven (100°c, or if your oven doesn’t go that low on its lowest setting).  Leave for anything from six hours to eighteen hours, it will depend on the size of your tomatoes. When they have dried out take them from the oven and leave to go completely cold. Place into a sterile jar and top up with olive oil.  Store in a dark place. Make sure that the tomatoes are always covered with oil, so top up if you need to as you use them.

I like mine in plain oil but if you prefer you can add vinegar to your oil or add herbs.  A sprig of thyme would be good, a bay leaf or perhaps a sprig of rosemary.

Don’t forget that once you have used your tomatoes, the oil will be deliciously tomatoey and will be good used in dressings or over pasta or used in tomato sauces.

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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.

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