Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Dabbling in preserves

Last year, faced with my usual disastrous tomato crop, I was ready to compost the lot of it. As each fruit ripened it was struck with blight and we didn't get a single edible ripe tomato. My ace and clever friend SJ said I should use the rest for green tomato chutney - genius!
I'd not really eaten chutney before and certainly never made it. However, I'm a game lass and thought it was worth a go. I found a likely looking recipe but wanted to tweak it a bit. The result was marvellous!
Like a total twerp I failed to write down the changes I made, so this year's deliberately-planted-to-harvest-while-green tomatoes presented a slight challenge. Mark and my pal Kate, who kindly gives me all her jam jars, both were very keen on last year's success and I felt the burden of their expectations a tad as I guessed at what I'd done the year before.
I rather overdid it on the cayenne pepper but on the whole it's turned out very well. Here's what I did:
500g chopped green tomatoes
500g diced red onion
125g sultanas
180g brown sugar
1 tsp (or a bit more) cayenne pepper
1 tsp freshly ground green cardamom
500ml malt vinegar
A quick word about the cardamom - buying whole cardamom and crushing them in a pestle and mortar makes a world of difference to the flavour of the chutney. The rest of the recipe is dead easy, so I do strongly recommend spending that 5 minutes bashing the pods open and crushing the seeds inside a bit.
Bung everything in a bit stock pot or maslin pan, bring to the boil and then reduce the heat to simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally, until it's all soft and thickened. Spoon into sterilised jars and leave the flavours to develop for at least a fortnight if you can. It should make 4 or 5 jars of chutney (depending on the size of the jars, obviously!)
Mark likes it with pork pie. As a non-meat-eater myself, I can highly recommend it with strong cheddar.
And possibly a nice cooling yogurt to follow, if you went a bit mental with the cayenne pepper. Oops.
I've also been making masses of plum jam. My poor tiny plum tree is so laden with fruit that 7 of the branches snapped under the weight while we were on holiday. I can't have that happening in vain, so despite the fact some of the fruit are fairly unripe I've been churning out the jam at a rate of knots.
I use 1.2kg of stoned, rather unripe, plums simmered until soft in 400ml of water. I then add 1kg of sugar and bring to the boil, skimming off the majority of the skins which rise to the top. When it reaches setting point I pour it in warm sterilised jars and seal them immediately.
I don't think I've quite got that whole setting point malarkey sorted. I pop 3 small plates in the fridge and plop a spoonful on the chilled plate, leave it a few minutes and then push it with my finger to see if it wrinkles. I have to do this a bunch of times, I haven't got the timings right yet. But I'm not letting that put me off my experiments!
My final bit of preserving this week has been VERY fun. We picked a mass of elderberries from the hedgerows on Friday. Using that 'run them through a fork' trick from Jamie Oliver I removed the berried from their stalks and gave them a wash. I boiled up 1 kilo of them with a kilo of crab apples and some water until all pulpy. I slopped it into a jelly bag which drained overnight to give me a marvellously deep purple liquid. I'm going to boil it up with sugar (600g per litre of liquid) and make elderberry jelly.
The rest of them had a more fun outcome:
700g of elderberries
1 lemon
100ml water
150g sugar

Pare the peel from the lemon into the pot, add the lemon juice, berries, sugar and water. Bring to the boil and simmer for a good 20 minutes until the berries are very soft. Taste for sweetness and ass a bit more sugar if you like. Press it through a fine sieve and you've got an utterly marvellous fruit syrup. I'm told it is a very good cough syrup and is delicious over ice cream but most excitingly, it made Mark and I vivid purple and delicious Kir Royales with the champagne SJ brought us.
How to make: Elderberry Kir
a generous teaspoon of Elderberry syrup per glass of dry white wine (or sparkling wine for a Royale)
A word of warning - adding the champagne to the sweet syrup causes a MASSIVE explosion of bubbles, so do pour it very, very slowly. It was utterly delicious.

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