Thursday, 26 July 2007

Quanitity vs quality

There's a really good post today on the Observer's food blog commenting on Tesco's latest ad campaign. It's so good to see that there are people out there questioning the sacrifice of the quality of our food in favour of the having the lowest prices.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Spiced Plum Chutney

What to do with Alex Light's plums? First off I made some Spiced Plum Chutney last night, which disappointingly only gave me three jars. Still, a little pokey for now - you're to leave this for 4-6 weeks in a cool, dark cupboard before opening. And apparently it's very good with mackerel!

Recipe: Best-kept Secrets of the Women's Institute: Jams, Pickles & Chutneys by Midge Thomas

675g (1 1/2 lb) plums, stoned and quartered
450g (1 lb) onions, chopped
225g (8 oz) cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped
300ml (1/2 pint) pickling vinegar
115g (4 oz) sultanas
175g (6 oz) soft brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick

1. Place all ingredients in a large preserving pan. Bring to the boil and simmer, uncovered, for about 45 minutes, or until the chutney is thick and pulpy.

2. Spoon into cooled, sterilised jars and seal with a vinegar-proof cover (see pages 16 and 22). Label and store for at least 4-6 weeks before use.

* I actually swapped this and made up a basic spiced vinegar instead of using pickling vinegar here, recipe below (courtesy of the chaps at River Cottage):

2 pints cider vinegar
2 inch cinnamon stick
1 tbsp cloves
1 tbsp mace blades
1 tbsp allspice berries
1 tbsp peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp brown sugar

Method 1: Put all flavourings in a bottle and pour in the vinegar. Seal and leave for 1-2 months, shaking the bottle occasionally. This gives the finest results.

Method 2: To spice the vinegar quickly, place the vinegar and spices in a saucepan, cover and bring up to the boiling point. Remove from the heat and leave the steep for 2 to 3 hours, then strain.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Victoria Plum

Following all recent jam activity I've had a very generous donation from Mr Alex Light consisting of one bag of plums, grown in his back garden, down in the darkest depths of Tooting. At the moment I'm torn between the Plum and Mulled Wine Jam and the Spiced Plum Chutney, both from the book 'Best kept secrets of the Women's Institute: Jams, Pickles & Chutneys'.

I must admit that the one recipe which most intrigues me from this book is the Geranium Plum Jam, however despite being cited twice as existing on p42 in the index, I've yet to find this curious recipe anywhere on the page. If anyone has the same book and knows where it is hiding I would be so grateful if you could give some direction!

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Hugh's Raspberry Fridge Jam

Even more on the subject of jam... I thought it would be good to include this recipe of Hugh's Raspberry Fridge Jam as I've tasted it and it's absolutely delicious. My only excuse for not following this recipe when I made mine was that my local supermarket doesn't stock Preserving Sugar, which has added pectin meaning you can get away with less sugar. It's worth it if you can get it, as you get a real taste of the fruit - it's very fresh and tangy. It's also worth noting that this jam will be loser than a normal one, and not be as set.

Makes about 2kg (around 5-6 jars)

1.5kg fresh raspberries
750g preserving sugar with added pectin

Pick over the raspberries carefully, discarding any leaves and stalks. Put half the fruit in a large bowl and roughly crush the berries, then transfer them to a preserving pan or large, heavy stainless steel pan. Add the remaining fruit and the sugar.

Stir the mixture over a low heat to dissolve the sugar, then bring up to the boil and boil hard for exactly five minutes. Remove from heat, leave to cool a little (this stops the pips rushing to the top of the jar when poured) and pot and seal immediately.

If you want a firmer, more traditional set, boil the jam for 7 minutes and the test for setting point.

Because this jam contains a relatively low proportion of sugar, it will not keep as long as a traditional jam. Once opened refrigerate and use within a few days.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

The mackerel massacre

I've been down in Dorset for the past week, staying with David's family. On Wednesday night we had the most beautiful evening and so made the most of it by heading out in their boat for a fishing trip in Weymouth Bay. As eager as I am fishing has never been one of my strong points, and so when John handed me the rod that evening I expected it to follow the normal routine (ie. me going home in a sulk whilst others landed fish a plenty!)

My line hadn't been in the water for more than a minute when I had a definite 'I've got one!' moment. I reeled it in and was very happy to see I had not one but three mackerel on my line. The pressure of my first fish now dealt with things quickly progressed to silly season as I couldn't even get my line down to the bottom before feeling another bite or four.

About an hour and two full buckets of fish later we decided to call it a day. I could feel bad about this, as the boat really did look like a massacre had taken place - however I knew full well that not one fish would be wasted, as this has now stocked up their freezer and will see them through the winter (not that it's any great hardship, but it's nice to have your own caught fish rather than the supermarket's).

I returned to harbour like a happy, proud hunter (or is that fisherwoman) and was even allowed to steer the boat in to harbour. Tomorrow I'll be making the most satisfying fishcakes I'll probably ever make in my life - I am definitely looking forward to my next trip out!

The raspberry jam factory

As previously mentioned I visited The River Cottage recently for the full WI experience (that's Women's Institute). Following that I literally had a jam-making dream for at least 5 nights after - so decided to make some of my very own Raspberry Jam!

To make jam you need to first slowly melt the sugar, being careful not to burn it (as no liquid is added to the fruit and sugar), then quickly get a 'rolling boil' for about 5 minutes (this may vary, depending on what you are actually making). Generally I'm quite pleased with the result, although next time I think would be more careful to get a set with a lower sugar content, as it's a tad on the sweet side. Still all in all, I'd say I felt pretty pleased with myself when I'd finished!

Here's the recipe I used:

Traditional Raspberry Jam
Makes about 2.2kg (5 lb)

1.3kg (3lb) raspberries, washed and drained (it's really important that the fruit is dry!)
1.3kg (3lb) granulated sugar (again, I'd use less next time, and go for Golden Granulated, caster us too fine and is more prone to burning)

Cover the raspberries with sugar and leave over night in a Jam pan (Maslin pan) overnight if possible. This seems to really draw out the juices of the fruit, and is preferable to chucking all in right before putting on the stove.

Put a saucer or two in the freezer - these will be needed later on to test the set.

Cook over a gentle heat for about 10 minutes, taking care not to burn the sugar, but making sure that all is dissolved. No liquid needs to be added, it should just be fruit juice. A tip worth baring in mind here is that it's recommended you try to stir in the same direction, to try and reduce the amount of scum you get.

Once all sugar is dissolved, turn the heat up, stirring all the while to bring the jam up to a full rolling boil. A really big pan is needed, at least twice the size of your volume of ingredients, to ensure that you can get a full rolling boil without worrying about it boiling over. Boil rapidly for 5 minutes and test for a set. This can either be done by placing a teaspoon on one of the saucers from the freezer. Put in the fridge for five minutes. Once it's cooled the surface of the jam should wrinkle when touched, if this is the case it has reached setting point. Another way is to use a thermometer - once the jam has reached 105 degrees C it has generally reached setting point.

Allow the jam to cool for a minute or so - this will prevent the seeds from rising to the top of the jar as it cools down. Pour into sterilised jars and then seal immediately.

For a cheaper version of this you could try substituting half the raspberries with rhubarb or peaches.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Pick your own

Since my trip to the River Cottage last week I have honestly dreamt about making jam every single night, so was pleased to see this little tip in today's Weekend magazine from The Guardian.

Pick Your Own lists out all pick your own farms across the UK, giving you a run down of what each one grows, where you can find them and even recommends what's in season.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Eat local

Just read a really good article on the Observer Food Monthly's blog, from the director of the Soil Association, Patrick Holden, encouraging people to re-think their food and eat locally sourced produce.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

River Cottage - continued

As mentioned earlier, I spent Monday at River Cottage HQ. Now in it's third incarnation, River Cottage resides at Park Farm, which can be found in the Axe Valley in Devon (and very beautiful it is too). Although no one lives there at the moment they are renovating the farmhouse, where the livestock chap will live, and are perhaps looking to build an annex ready for people to stay on for holidays.

It's hard to pick from the selection, but inspired by my Elderflower Cordial earlier in the year I decided to go with the 'Preserved' class and learn about the dark arts of jam and chutney. Hugh wasn't actually there, but so much the better, as I found myself in the more-than-capable hands of Pam Corbin and Liz Neville. Pam Corbin is co-founder of 'Thursday Cottage', now owned by Tiptree, whilst Liz Neville is exactly the kind of West Country woman you'd expect to meet at a farmer's market.

Unfortunately we didn't actually get much in the way of hands-on experience, but no matter, as the day was absolutely packed full of demonstrations, recipes, tips and hilarious banter. My cupboards can expect to soon be home to:

- Strawberry and Rhubarb Jam
- Gooseberry Cheese
- Berrybena (A summer berry cordial)
- Bramley Apple Curd (absolutely delicious!)
- Gooseberry and Mint Jelly
- Hugh's Raspberry Fridge Jam (again, delicious)
- Beetroot Chutney
- Salted Lemons (great for Moroccan cooking)

It really was a top, top day - so many thanks to the lovely Pokers! I'm hoping to bring in something for you to sample soon.

The River Cottage

Last year from Christmas I received from Poke the most fantastic pressie of a day out at The River Cottage on one of their courses - which I did on Monday. More to follow on this later, but wanted to post a pic first.

* apologies for the picture quality, I left my camera at home, so had to make do with my phone!

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

When the Cheddar gets too much

I was down in Dorset over the weekend, and managed to get in a pint of Cheddar at The Boot in Weymouth. I have to say, it's my favourite pub there and ticks every box that a proper English pub should - although was disappointed to discover that the Cheddar was too pokey for me on this occasion. I hope it was just the end of the barrel, but have heard from the old landlady that it's capable of stripping varnish off the tables when left overnight!

Still, for my next pint I substituted it for one of Boondoggle, from The Ringwood Brewery, which was mighty fine!