It’s something of a departure to have recipes in the Herbarium that don’t necessarily contain herbs. Why? Making food from locally sourced fruit is a nice contribution to the sort of self-reliant, eco-friendly life-style that we’re trying to foster. But we’re also mindful of Hippocrates’ edict – ‘All good foods are medicines, and all good medicines are foods‘. Herbalists are certainly proud of the nutritive virtues of herbal medicines – but the food on our table should also be good for us too. A more modern edict is to ‘eat colour‘ – and the pigments in our own homegrown berry fruits offer a fantastic range of antioxidants – there’s really no need to take exotic imported supplements when we have our own superfoods growing in our gardens and hedgerows. One of the revelations from making your own preserves and puddings is the stunning range of oranges and reds and purples, deep and glowing.
2010 has been a particularly good year for fruit – both home grown and foraged. From the garden we’ve picked strawberries, raspberries, loganberries, blackberries, apples, pears & cherries; from next door’s garden – greengages, crabapples & quinces; and foraged from the Downs – sloes, rosehips and more blackberries.
JAMS & JELLIES
Making jams and jellies can be a bit of a mission in the large quantities you usually find in recipe books. What I’ve found is that using really basic techniques and equipment it’s easy to produce a jar or two whilst cooking the evening meal! Just as important, I try hard to use whatever fruits are available on the day, so they’re nice and fresh and I can choose to mix them together as well – so every ‘recipe’ is likely to be different, but the technique is always the same.
I’ve generally speaking used imperial rather than metric measurements because most kitchen equipment (and most jam jars) are still in the ‘old’ pounds and ounces.
Like all cooking, it helps enormously to make sure you’ve assembled everything you need before you start, and that it’s all nice and clean.
- A large saucepan (jam expands a lot when boiling).
- Measuring jug.
- Kitchen scales.
- Jars & lids (recycled is fine).
- Jam funnel (helpful but not essential).
- Fruit, prepared as necessary (always unblemished & ripe).
- Sugar: everyday white granulated is recommended, being inexpensive, but the choice is yours. Preserving sugar or invert sugar are unnecessary.
- Lemons (to squeeze for juice). Note that lemon juice is usually added as a source of pectin (essential for the jam to set). Few home-grown fruits contain enough of their own pectin.
The ‘magic proportion’ of ingredients is simplicity itself – always use equal parts of fruit and sugar and you can’t go wrong. The basic method below calls for 3lb fruit and 3lb sugar, which should yield about 5 lbs of jam (the missing 1lb is lost through evaporation). It helps to know this so that you can have the right number of sterilised jars waiting. However (and this is the whole point!) you can use any amount of fruit, however large or small, so long as you stick to the 1:1 ratio with sugar. For instance, I’ve just picked what turned out to be 9.4 oz of raspberries (that’s all there were today), so with the same weight of sugar and a dash of lemon juice, the result (rather neatly, I thought) just squeezed into a 1lb jar. It took me less than half an hour. Lovely!
- Place a folded teatowel onto the base of a large saucepan, and put your jars on top so that they’re not touching eachother.
- Fill each jar with warm water, and then the whole pan so that the jars are covered completely.
- Heat and bring to the boil slowly. When it’s bubbling throw in the lids as well.
- Remove from the heat. Fish out the jars and lids and drain one at a time as you use them.
- Fill the jars with jam or jelly whilst they’re still warm, otherwise they might crack.
Basic Method – Strawberry Jam
This recipe makes 5lb but can easily be adapted for smaller quantities as discussed. If you are able to incorporate some wild strawberries (or, joy of joys, have enough to use them exclusively) they’re wonderfully aromatic and retain a firmer texture.
|Juice of half a lemon|
- Pick through and hull the strawberries.
- Rub the base & sides of a large saucepan with unsalted butter (this prevents scum forming), and put the strawberries & lemon juice in.
- Mash a few of the strawberries, then simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the fruit softens.
- Add the sugar and stir over gentle heat until it has fully dissolved.
- Raise the heat and bring the jam to a vigorous boil for 10-15 minutes. Watch it throughout – it can easily boil over, making a terrible mess.
- Test for setting by spooning a small ‘blob’ on to a cold plate. Give it a moment to cool, and then push it with your finger – the smear should have a wrinkled appearance. If it doesn’t, it’s still too runny, so boil the jam for another 5 minutes, and test again.
- Remove the jam from the heat and stand for five minutes (this helps the fruit to distribute evenly throughout).
- Pour into warm, sterilised jars and screw on the lids immediately
This jam should keep unopened for a year – once opened it’s probably best kept in the fridge and used within a week or two. Note that the most common cause of jam going off is leaving a deposit of butter in it (toast-crumbs attached!) – so use a clean teaspoon.
Mixed Fruit Jam
To illustrate the use-whatever-you’ve-got-today approach, here’s a real-life example (and you haven’t really got the idea if you try to replicate these quantities exactly!) I gave a jar of this to my son who phoned the next day to say they’d already eaten the lot. ‘I bet God has this on his toast for breakfast’ he said.
|Peaches (stone & skin removed)||5.0||oz|
Use the same basic method described for strawberry jam. This yielded five 8 oz jars (2½ lbs).
Orange & Rosemary Marmalade
As a rule I only use fruit that we grow, forage or have given to us. The exception is marmalade, as we don’t have an orangery (yet!) Don’t use Seville oranges as this is not a ‘bitter’ marmalade – Valencia or blood oranges are best. The result from this recipe has much more of a tang than normal (more like fresh oranges, in fact), and is a real family favourite.
|Sweet oranges (about 6-8)||2.5||lbs|
|Large unwaxed lemons||x 2|
|Rosemary, fresh, approx 6″ sprigs||x 6|
Cut the oranges & lemons in half and poke out the pips. Then place each cut half face down on a chopping board and slice into approx. 1/16″ thick segments, rind and all. (You may want to cut through again the other way to avoid very long strips of rind in the end result). Place in a large, heavy-bottomed pan, cover with the water and leave to soak at room temperature for 12-24 hours. This softens the fruit and helps to release the pectin.
After soaking, bring to the boil and continue to boil steadily for 30 minutes. Stir in the sugar until dissolved, and add the rosemary sprigs tied up in a scrap of musilin or similar. Boil for a further 15-30 minutes, until it passes the ‘wrinkle’ test (as described in ‘basic method’). Remove the rosemary and pour into warm sterilised jars – you should get approximately 6 lbs.
Basic Method – Crabapple Jelly
Jellies are really just jams that have had all the solids strained out – the result should be clear and is often so beautifully coloured you want to stand it on a windowsill to catch the sunlight. Equipment for making fruit jellies is the same as for jam, but in addition it’s so much easier if you have a jelly stand (the best is from Lakeland Plastics), supplied complete with its own jelly bag. Failing this, you’ll need to fashion a conical muslin bag of your own (or a tincture press bag will do at a pinch), and find some way of suspending it over a bowl. I’ve made jellies so far from blackberry & apple, crabapple, quince and medlars – all delicious fruits that don’t lend themselves to making jams.
|Water to cover||approx||1½||pints|
Pick through crabapples carefully – you only want ripe and unblemished ones. Chop them coarsely – no need to peel or core. Place in your saucepan, add water to cover, bring to the boil and then stew gently for 15-20 minutes until soft & pulpy. Remove from the heat.
Attach a scalded jelly bag to its stand and suspend over a large bowl or bucket. When cool enough to handle, pour the saucepan’s contents into the jelly bag and leave overnight to drip through. In the morning, remove the bag – take care not to squeeze out any pulp or your finished jelly will be cloudy.
Measure the collected juice, return to the pan. Add sugar at the ratio of I lb per pint, bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, and leave on a vigorous boil for 10 -15 minutes. Remove from the heat and when cool enough to handle, pour into warm sterilised jars. The yield should be about 4 lbs.
Made in exactly the same way as crabapples, using quinces that are ripe, unblemished and have been coarsely chopped without removing peel or core. Quince jelly is noticeably astringent and makes a wonderful accompaniment to cheese (especially Stilton) and other fatty foods.
Apple & Mint Jelly
Using 2 lbs of cooking apples, preferably Bramleys, and proceed exactly the same as for crabapple jelly. Before transferring to jars, wait until the apple jelly has cooled, and stir in 3 tablespoons of chopped fresh mint (I use spearmint).
I often make Blackberry & Apple jam – they go nicely together and it needs the pectin in the apples to set. However some people find the pips in blackberries challenging, so I tried making a Blackberry Jelly to see how it would turn out.
I put 9 oz blackberries in a saucepan with the juice of half a lemon (no added water as the blackberries seemed so juicy). I simmered it for 15 minutes and then poured it into a jelly bag to drip overnight. In the morning I had 6 fl oz of the juice, to which I added 6 oz sugar and boiled it for 10 minutes. What I actually ended up with was a sort of seedless blackberry jam, probably because I should have added a little water. No matter, it was delicious.
I tried the same trick with some elderberries that Nathalie harvested for me (the elderberries round here shrivelled before they had ripened properly this year). However, this one didn’t work and I got elderberry sauce instead – obviously not nearly enough pectin. So I added a little left-over crabapple juice from the day before, the result set beautifully, and it turns out that Elderberry-with-a-hint-of-crabapple Jelly is really nice. The moral to this tale is that if things go wrong, don’t panic, have a go at putting it right, and you’ll always come out with something worth having.
BREAD – a foolproof recipe
To test out your freshly made jam, what better than a warm crusty loaf of homemade bread! Even experienced cooks are convinced they could never make bread – but provided you have a good hot oven* and somewhere warm for the dough to rise, you can’t fail with this one. Use strong white unbleached organic flour (‘strong’ means it’s got plenty of protein in it, necessary for it to rise well). I prefer to use butter for the fat, but vegetarians can use Stork margarine. You should use whichever you choose to grease the bowl & breadtins as well.
*Oven temperatures: the ideal for a plain loaf like this is 220°C (fan oven), 475°F (conventional oven) or Gas Mark 9, but you should be able to get away with as low as 190°/400°/Mark 7 respectively if that’s all you’ve got.
|Strong white bread flour||1.5||kg|
|Butter or ‘Stork’||2||oz|
|Water, warm||30||fl. oz|
|Fast bread yeast, sachet||2 x 7||g|
Place the whole packet of flour in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter or margarine chopped into small knobs, and rub it in thoroughly with your fingertips. Stir in the salt and the 2 sachets of yeast.
Mix 15 fl. oz cold water with the same volume of freshly boiled water (this will automatically give you the right temperature) and add this in, mixing with a spoon initially and then kneading into the dough by hand. This takes a good 5-10 minutes (quite a long time – watch the clock to make sure you don’t skimp on this part of the process). Place in a greased bowl and leave in a warm place for 1½-2 hours. When ready it will have doubled in size.
Remove dough to a clean working surface and enjoy bashing it around for a bit to remove the air bubbles (this is called ‘knocking back’). Divide it into two and press firmly into two ready-greased 2 lb breadtins on top of a baking tray. Cover with a damp teatowel and leave for a further 30 minutes to rise again.
Meanwhile, pre-heat your oven to the temperature discussed (high!). When your dough has risen in the tins put a few artistic slashes across the top and brush with milk or beaten egg, and you might sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds to add flavour to the crust. Place the tins on their baking tray in the middle of the preheated oven and bake for 35-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and turn the loaves out of the tins onto a wire cooling rack (or just on a cool hob if you haven’t got one – the point is you need air to circulate round the loaves as they’re cooling). Use oven gloves throughout as it’s all going to be super-hot! The bread should sound hollow when you tap the bottom if it’s fully baked.
To get a crunchier crust, just before you put the bread in the oven chuck a mug of boiling water onto the oven floor (best if it’s clean first!) and let the steam do the work – it will also help the bread to rise that little bit more.
You can use wholemeal flour, half-and-half, granary flour, etc. but plain white rises so easily, you’re giving yourself the best chance if this is your first attempt. There’s no better feeling than producing your first perfect loaf.
Puddings (desserts if you want to be posh) are a great way to use up lots of fruit during a glut, and if it’s down to bits and pieces it’s surprising what a variety of different fruits combine happily in one of the basic recipes.
The illustration I give is just me using what was available on the day – a classic summer pudding usually has blackcurrants or redcurrants in it but can contain any combination of soft fruits that you can get your hands on.
|Large ripe strawberries||x 10|
|Peaches, stone & skins removed||x 2|
|Sugar, to taste||approx||3||tablespoons|
Stew the fruit with the sugar in a saucepan until soft & mushy (about 5-10 minutes). You can add a little orange zest as well to give the pudding more zing. Meanwhile, slice some bread (plain white soaks up the juices best). You can use up slightly stale bread so long as it still has enough bend in it – you’re aiming at toast-thickness slices with the crusts trimmed off. Line the base and sides of a puddfing basin with the bread. Pour in the stewed fruit whilst still hot, and add a ‘lid’ of sliced bread. Sit a plate on top of this, and a weight on top of the plate. When cool enough, put the whole thing in the fridge and leave for at least two hours. To serve, turn out onto a large plate and slice. The whole thing should be surprisingly firm, and the bread soaked with the fruits’ juices.
Just the same method as above, but in this I used 3 eating apples, 2 pears (all windfalls to use up) and a small bowl of foraged blackberries. Stewing took a little longer to soften the apples. I also added a half teaspoon of powdered mixed spice. We admired this one particularly for the lovely purple-red colour.
Stew any combination of fruit in the same way as for ‘puddings’ above. Everybody has their own way of making pancakes – whilst still hot, spoon a line of stewed fruit onto each pancake, roll it into a ‘wrap’, dust with a little icing sugar and serve hot or cold with a dollop of creme fraiche, cream, ice cream, or just on its own.
For the crumble mix: –
|Plain white flour||6||oz|
|Unsalted butter or ‘Stork’||3||oz|
Stew your choice of fruits until soft & mushy. Whilst you’re waiting, put the flour in a mixing bowl, chop the butter or marge into chunks and rub it into the flour with your fingertips until it all looks like breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar. Place the stewed fruit into an ovenproof dish and top it with the crumble mix, flattening it off gently. Transfer to a preheated oven (medium temperature, e.g. fan oven 170°C) for 30-35 minutes, until golden.
The classic combination is apple & blackberry, but do experiment – for instance, raspberry in a crumble is particularly delicious. If you want to try rhubarb, it may require a little extra sugar, and becomes a gastronomic delight if you add the juice and zest of an orange.