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Posts Tagged ‘preserve’

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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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Quinces are hard not to miss; they resemble giant yellow pears and have the most wonderful delicate scent.  Inside their flesh is crisp almost hard which when cut discolours very quickly.  This and their tart taste can be forgiven as that same tricky flesh turns into the most beautiful pinky red colour when cooked.  This is a fruit so rarely seen in supermarkets and shops yet it has so much going for it.  Full of pectin, these fruits are fabulous in jellies and jams.  On top of which they are very versatile and can be used in sweet and savoury dishes.  Quince is often used with meat dishes.  Unlike other fruit it only takes three quinces to produce something truly delicious.

I was beginning to think that I would not see any qunices this year – if it weren’t for a tip off that some had been seen in the greengrocers in the next village.  Twenty minutes later I was on my way home with a large bag sitting on the passenger seat filled with quinces.  Oh how I long to have a friend who has a large quince tree in their garden with no use for the fruit.

I have a weakness for cheese and love the combination of a slice of cheese with something sweet such as a spoon of chilli crabapple jelly or a slice of the wonderful Dulce de Membrillo.   Anything that adds a sweet kick to the cheese is heaven for me.

Dulce de Membrillo comes from the Spanish for ‘sweet quince’.  The recipe has few ingredients; quinces, sugar and water.  Patience is needed for this simple recipe but it is well worth the effort.  The Membrillo will keep in the fridge for months.

Dulce de Membrillo

Ingredients

Quinces

Sugar

Water

Method

Wash the quinces well and place In a large pan (complete with skin) and fill with water to cover them.  Place a lid on the pan and gently bring up to the boil.  Then simmer for 40-45 minutes.  They are cooked when a knife is easily inserted into the centre.

Drain, discarding the water, and set aside to cool.  Once cool, peel the quinces and core them.  Liquidise the flesh until smooth.

Weigh the quince pulp and whatever the weight add an equal amount of sugar.

Place in a clean pan and return to a gentle heat.  Now the patience starts as the the sugar and pulp need to be stirred otherwise they will catch on the bottom of the pan and burn.  Keep doing this until the mixture becomes thick and you can see the bottom of the pan when you drag the spoon through it.

Beware of spitting because the mixture can become too hot and will spit.  Using a long handled wooden spoon helps to avoid this.

Transfer to a dish lined with greaseproof paper and allow to cool.

When cool remove from dish, wrap with fresh greaseproof paper and store in the fridge.

Note:  I made my Dulce de Membrillo with 3 quinces but I could have added less or more it doesn’t matter.  3 quinces produced for me two slabs measuring 12cm x 16cm.

Instead of putting the quinces in a pan of water they can also be baked in the oven.

 

Footnote

Quinces and quince trees seem to be hard to find and A Taste of Wintergreen posted a link on comments which sums up the problem in a really interesting article found here.

Another Quince fact is that they don’t stop at being a wonderful source of food they were also considered to be an aphrodisiac – probably the reason why seventeenth century London prostitutes were known as marmalade madams.   Ivan Day has written about the history of the quince in England with some wonderful pictures and recipes of quince – here

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