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As the nights draw in and the last of the August sun lingers into the early days of September the blackberry bushes finally yield their fruit. The tight little beads of white berries turn to red and then finally swell to a deep dark purple. I watch these changes as I walk the dog.   I return to the same spots each year in the hope of cornering the best pickings before everyone else.

My special spot is high up on common ground overlooking the sea.  Amongst the long dried grass and to the side of downtrodden grass paths can be found large clumps of bramble bushes.  As the years have passed my pickings have become slimmer and slimmer, largely due to foraging becoming more popular. Last year it was difficult to collect enough to do anything worthwhile, so this year I decided not to bother.

That was until I helped Sally take a chair back to her beach hut.  When we got there she realised she had left the keys in the car, so I was asked to watch the chair (in case someone decided it was abandoned and took it home) while she returned to her car to get them.

I stood there looking out to sea; there were no ships to spy, and nothing to see so I soon became bored. The sun was quite strong, so I decided to move to behind the beach hut and stand in the shade, and that is when I made the discovery.   Behind the huts lies a steep wasteland, as I scanned across the long grassy bank I spotted what I thought was a large dark mass of ripe blackberries – surely not. I left the chair and went to get a closer look. As I gingerly scrambled up the slope I could see not only one heavily laden bush but also a whole mass of them. Deep rich purple berries glistening in the sun. There was evidence that someone had earlier this season visited and trodden down paths around the bushes and, judging by the weight of the blackberries on the bushes, had not returned.

Beachut

This is not Sally’s hut. I am keeping that location quiet for now!

I went back to minding the chair, thinking how could I have missed this rich seam over the years. I concluded that the rows of beach huts shield the area from the front and the steepness of the bank shields the view from above. I have now marked this as my new spot.  The minute I was relieved from chair minding I raced back home to grab some containers and gloves. An hour later I was back home relaxing with a cup of tea in my hand and a container of 4lbs of blackberries I had collected.  These juicy little berries were going to be turned into blackberry jelly, as I hate the little irritating seeds that get stuck between the teeth found in jam.

Blackberries are picked in England at the end of August and all through September but never after September as ‘the devil spits on them and they are bad’ that is what I was always told.  An old wives tale maybe, but not such a myth because as the weather becomes colder and wetter the berries can be infected by toxic molds.

It doesn’t matter how many blackberries you have, as with most things cookery it is all to do with the formula. Put blackberries in a large pan with enough water to cover them and lemon juice.  Blackberries are not endowed with masses of pectin so this is where the lemon juice helps.  Simmer for about one hour and strain. The juice is measured and then balanced with sugar, taken back to the heat to boil to setting point, and then bottled.

photo 1

Blackberries with water to cover

 

Blackberry Jelly

Ingredients

4 lbs blackberries
2 Lemons – juice of,  pips as well
Enough water to cover the blackberries
Sugar granulated (1lb sugar to 1lb of strained juice)
Large pan or preserving pan
Jelly bag or a couple of layers of muslin lining a sieve.

Clean sterilised glass jam jars. (see below)

Method

1. Wash the fruit and pick out any obvious stalks and rotten fruit
2. Place into the preserving pan with the lemons juice and pips  just covering with water
3. Bring to the boil and then simmer for about 1 hour
4. Using a wooden spoon or potato masher break the fruit down as much as possible
5. Let the liquid cool a little – this is not for any reason other than it stops yourself being scalded if you spill any.
6. Strain through a jelly bag and allow to drip through until it dries up. I leave mine overnight.
7. Measure the juice produced and pour back into the cleaned preserving pan. Bring gently back to a gentle boil and add the sugar:

For every pint of juice you will add 1 lb of granulated sugar.

What is left in the jellybag

What is left in the jellybag

Add the sugar a bit at a time.  Stir, you don’t want the sugar sitting on the bottom of the pan and catching.
Once all the sugar has been added stir and gently bring up to the boil.
Using a thermometer boil until jam temperature is reached and set has been tested.  When set is achieved.  Let the pan sit and cool for 10 minutes and then pour into sterlised jars (see below).  Label.

photo 3

The jelly reaching setting point. As you can see the liquid rises quite a bit so its a good idea to have a large pan or preserving pan.

The Set

Don’t just rely on the thermometer reading, the jelly still needs to be tested for set.  Place a small plate into the freezer and leave for 10 minutes and then drop a little jelly onto it and leave for a couple of minutes to cool. Now push your finger through the jam.  It should wrinkle and not flood back.  You want the jelly to be thick enough that the path remains.  If the jelly is not set then bring the preserving pan back onto the heat for another five minutes or so and test again.

Blackberry jelly does not set like other jams it has a much looser set. Once set it will wobble rather than sit solid in the jar.  It also takes quite a while to cool down so best to leave it until the following day before eating.

Makes 7 jars

Sterlising Jars

To sterilise the jars wash them in hot soapy water and rinse. Place on a baking tray and put into a warm oven Gas mark 3/325F/160C and leave for 10/15 minutes. Carefully take out and use.

I use the rule that it is either wax discs or screw lid not both. The waxed disc will prevent the twist top from creating a proper seal.

Remember to label and date. I like to keep a jar from the previous year so I can compare tastes.

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CrabapplechillijellyMD

I am a little early in posting this recipe, as we are a long way away from crab apple season in England.  There is a reason. All will become clear in the next post.

A crab apple is a small apple that looks not unlike a large rosehip.  From the colour you might think they would be sweet, in fact they have a sour and tart taste and, are not known for their eating quality.  They are though, a wonderful producer of jellies mainly because of their high pectin content.  They also make delicious wine – but that’s another post.   If you don’t have enough for a jelly they can be roasted and served with meat.

crab apples

The crab apple has been around for many years, mentioned by William Shakespeare and attached to legend.  Throw their pips into the fire whilst saying the name of your true love and if the pips explode then your love is true.  Best done without your husband present – just in case!  The sport of gurning (extreme pulling of face) originates from when the Lord of the Manor gave crab apples to the poor of the village.  The faces they pulled when biting into the sharp little apple then turned into a competition on who could pull the ugliest of faces.  This tradition is still kept alive today at the Egremont Crab Fair which began in 1267 in Cumbria, England.

For me, one of the nicest preserves to make is Chilli Crab Apple Jelly, mainly because of the beautiful clear golden elixir and delicate flavour that the crab apples produce.  The chillis adding a kick which brightens up the recipe.

A worthwhile quantity to use is 4lbs of crab apples, which is what I have used in the recipe below.  There is no reason why you can’t make less or more as again there is a mathematical formula to this recipe.  After simmering the apples and straining them it’s the amount of liquid produced that dictates the amount of sugar used.

This recipe is for chilli crab apple jelly but there is no reason why you can’t substitute that for other spices.  The heat of the jelly is again down to your personal taste.  The quantities I have given here are for a light kick of chilli.  I think the secret is to allow the delicate taste of the crab apple to come through without killing it off with too much chilli.

Chilli Crab Apple Jelly

Ingredients

4 lbs Crab apples

Sugar – granulated or caster

3 Chillies – seeds left in and chopped.

(How much heat you want is controlled by how many chillies you put in and the type of chilli).

Water

Method

Wash the crab apples and top and tail.  Cut each apple into four (no need to core) and put in a large pan along with the chopped chillies.

Crab apple and chilli pan

Add enough water to just cover the apples and cook gently for about 45mins/1 hour with the lid on. They are ready when the apples are at the mushy stage.  Strain, using a jelly bag or a piece of muslin placed over a sieve. Leave for a couple of hours or more so that all the liquid gets a chance to drip through.

Before placing the strained liquid into a clean pan measure the amount.  You will need 1 lb of sugar for each pint of liquid.

If there is a fair amount of apple mash left in the jelly bag, returned it to the preserving pan, adding a little water and reheated it for a further half hour.  Strain this again using either a jelly bag or muslin.  Then again measure the quantity of liquid adding the required addition of sugar to the main batch.

Gently heat the liquid with the sugar making sure to keep stirring the sugar until it dissolves in the pan.  When the sugar has dissolved, turn the heat up, to bring the jelly to a boil.

When the jelly has started to boil it will produce a scum on the surface, remove any that appears – there will be plenty!  Keep skimming, as the less scum there is the clearer the jelly.

At this point use a jam thermometer; you need the liquid to reach ‘ jam’ temperature. The thermometer is not essential but is very useful. Alternatively, when you think the jelly is reaching setting point take a small saucer and pop it in the freezer to cool.  Remove from the freezer and put a little of the jelly onto the plate and leave to cool (you can put it in the fridge for a couple of minutes) and then push your finger against the jam.  If there is a skin which forms a wrinkle when pushed then the jam is ready.

Set aside for ten minutes for the jelly to cool slightly and then pour into warm sterilised jars and seal.

Do not use a wax disc and a screw top lid.  The wax disc stops the twist top from forming a seal.  If using a wax seal then cover with cellophane and secure with a rubber band.

To sterilise the jars wash them in hot soapy water and rinse.  Place on a baking tray and put into a warm oven Gas mark 3/325F/160C and leave for 10/15 minutes.  Carefully take out and use.

Remember to label and date.  I have learned this to my cost.  You think you will remember but trust me you won’t.

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Seville Orange Marmalade

I have come to making and eating marmalade late in life. I didn’t care for the taste as a child even though it graced the breakfast table every morning; I preferred Ready Brek or Rice Krispies. To me, people who liked marmalade were of a certain type. Now after many years I have joined those certain types and have grown to love the taste!

After a very long journey of failures, I have the recipe I am happy with – well, for now that is, until I discover a better one. The recipe originally was hastily written down on the back of an envelope in a shorthand style of instructions. I thought at the time that every little detail was obvious and there was no real need to write it out, that was until I came to make it and then I struggled. After a little trial and error I have come up with a recipe I enjoy eating.

I entered this recipe into the World Marmalade Awards in Cumbria and won a gold award.

Gold

Seville Orange Marmalade

Ingredients

1 lb and one extra orange of Seville oranges

3 lb sugar (I prefer caster)

Juice of 1 lemon

1 sweet orange

3 pints water

Method

Wash all the fruit well.

Using a potato peeler, peel the zest off the Seville oranges and sweet orange. Set these aside.

Cut up the remaining fruit into small pieces and place in a preserving pan with 2 pts of the water and the lemon juice. Cover and leave over night.

With a pair of scissors or a sharp knife cut the peel as you like, either thin or coarse, and place in a second pan and add the remaining 1 pint of water. Cover and leave over night.

The following day put both pans on to simmer for 2 hours. Partially cover the peel pan with a lid to stop the water evaporating too quickly.

If the water level becomes too low in either the fruit pulp pan or the peel pan add some hot water just so as to cover the fruit.

After 2 hours check that both the fruit pulp and peel have cooked through. The orange pulp in the main pan should be very soft – if not simmer for another hour. The best way to test the peel is to taste a small piece. If needed return to the heat for a further hour.

Strain the fruit pulp through a sieve into a clean bowl.

Also strain the peel into the same bowl. Set aside the peel for now as this will be added later.

Measure the total liquid in the bowl from the combined pans – this should be about 1000ml/ 1 ¾ pints. If not add a little water or boil a kettle and pour over the fruit pulp allowing it to drain through a sieve and add this to the marmalade liquor. If there is too much liquid, place back onto the heat and boil down until the correct volume is achieved.

Put the sugar into a roasting tin and place in the oven to warm through.

Pour your 1000ml of marmalade liquor back into the cleaned preserving pan and return to the heat. Slowly add the sugar, stirring it gently, don’t put it in all at once. It is very important to make sure all the sugar dissolves properly. When the sugar has all dissolved add the peel and bring the whole lot to a rolling boil.  Removing the white scum as it forms.

DO NOT WALK AWAY – this amber nectar can turn into the most vile molten lava which will show no mercy on your cooker, unless you like spending an afternoon cleaning – trust me I have been there, never to be repeated.

The marmalade now needs to reach setting point of 105C/220F . There are two methods to test whether it has reached setting point, one is to put a little of the marmalade onto a chilled saucer and put into the fridge and see if it crinkles when pushed back, the other is to use a thermometer. I prefer to use a jam thermometer because it saves all the standing around waiting for the marmalade tester to cool.

Once the marmalade has reached setting point, remove from the heat and leave the marmalade to stand for 10-15 minutes. This should stop the peel floating to the top of the jar when set.

After 10-15 mins pour the marmalade into warmed sterilised jars and seal.

Makes about 6 jars.

Sterlising Jars

To sterilise the jars wash them in hot soapy water and rinse. Place on a baking tray and put into a warm oven Gas mark 3/325F/160C and leave for 10/15 minutes. Carefully take out and use.

I use the rule that it is either wax discs or screw lid not both. The waxed disc will prevent the twist top from creating a proper seal.

Remember to label and date. I like to keep a jar from the previous year so I can compare tastes.

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