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Posts Tagged ‘preserving’

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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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potted shrimp

I first ate potted shrimp when I used to visit a boyfriend who was studing in Morecambe.  We ate them served on toast sat by an open fire and they were delicious.  Buttery and sweet with a hint of spicy aftertaste.  They always remind me of winter and Morecambe.   Like the boyfriend, potted shrimps seem to be a dim and distant memory!  The recipe has gone out of fashion which is a shame if not a scandal.

Years ago I lived in Norwich and each lunchtime I would visit  Norwich market which had a wonderful shellfish stall.  The shellfish would be stacked into huge piles separated by wooden dividers.  There was always a long queue. The shellfish were sold by the pint or ½ pint and usually by a team of women who would use a pewter tankard to measure the amounts out before emptying them onto a sheet of paper, which would be wrapped and handed over to the customer before turning to the next person in the queue – all at greased lightening speed. There was no time to ask any questions.   I was always tempted by the sweetness of the 2 inch browny pink shrimp but opted for the prawns – I was too impatient to sit and peel the shrimps.  Maybe the massive decline in their sales over the decades is because we just don’t want to sit and do fiddly little jobs like peeling shrimps anymore?  It’s all about fast food.

What I didn’t know then was the skill and hard work that went into catching them.  The two main sources of shrimp come from  Morecambe Bay and Kings Lynn off the Norfolk coast.

In Morecambe the brown shrimp in years gone by were fished by horse and cart, in bitter conditions of winds and freezing temperatures.  The horses would go out as far as 2 miles, with the water coming right up to their necks.  The last of the horse and cart was seen around the 1950s, along with the Nobbies.  A Nobby is a small wooden 32ft fishing boat which dates back to the 1840s, they were fast and designed for the shallow waters of Morecambe.  Sadly now these too have nearly died out. Today the shrimps are caught with nets attached to a rope on a trailer behind tractors. These scrape along the sand disturbing the shrimp who then jump up and are swept up into the mesh bag.  It is a dangerous job as the tractors can sink in the sand and there are the tides to contend with.

Morecambe Bay is the most beautiful sight – when the tide is out it leaves a vast area of golden sand broken up by  little channels of seawater.  These sands are treacherous and have taken many lives over the years because when the tide turns it is said to come in faster than a galloping horse. The fishermen who do this job need expert knowledge of the shifting quicksand and tidal patterns.  There is a fantastic short film which shows the men going out with the horses, taken around the 1950’s.   It really does give a glimpse of how hard the work was for a Morecambe Bay shrimper.

Sadly, only three companies shrimp in Morecambe Bay now whereas there used to be thirty.

The most popular way to eat brown shrimps is Potted Shrimp.  A traditional British recipe and much loved but hardly ever eaten now.  Tossed in spiced butter and potted, and then covered with clarified butter to preserve it.  Potting with clarified butter is a method that has been used for centuries, dating back to Tudor times.  Very simple but effective.

Potted Shrimps

Serves Two

Ingredients

90gms peeled brown shrimps

1 oz butter

pinch of cayenne pepper

pinch of mace

pinch of white pepper

Worcestershire sauce a few drops

Clarified butter (see below)

Method

In a pan melt 1 oz of  butter do not allow to brown.   Take the pan off the head and add the spices.  Taste and adjust.  Put back onto a low heat for a minute so that the spices have a chance to infuse the butter.  Remove from the heat and stir in the prawns making sure they are well coated with the spiced butter.

Divide the shrimp mixture into two small ramekins pressing down with the back of a spoon to compact the shrimps.  Now gently pour over with clarified butter, covering the shrimps with an extra 1/4 inch layer.  This is the preservative factor.  Put into the fridge and allow to set.

Clarified Butter

Ingredients

2 oz unsalted butter

Muslin for straining

Method

Put 2 oz of unsalted butter into a pan and slowly heat.  Allow it to come to a gentle bubble making sure not to burn it.  Patches of white clouds will appear.  Carefully spoon this off.  You don’t need to be too precise as the next step is to pour the melted butter through a sieve lined with a couple of layers of muslin into a jug.

The clarified butter will keep in the fridge for a couple of months and can be used for other dishes.

Clarified butter

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