Saturday, 9 October 2010

From an Old Postcard Album

We've got quite a collection of old postcards, aren't these two wonderful.

 Catherine Hill, Frome, Somerset

The Pannier Market, Barnstaple, North Devon

On the back of this card the writer apologises to the addressee that she won't be there in time for tea today, what faith and all for 2d! 

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Spiced Pickled Pears and Quinces

When Sharon gave me a large bag of pears I knew what I wanted to do with them. Every year I make a jar or two of these spiced pickled pears which go wonderfully well with all the cold meats and cheeses we have during the Christmas season.

This year, as well as the pears, I have put up a jar of quinces in the same vinegar mixture. I have no idea how successful it will be, but the vinegar has changed to quite a dark red and has a very strong quince flavour.

Spiced Pickled Pears       from Delia Smiths’s Christmas

2lb pears (firm ones)                 ½ teaspoon whole cloves

12oz soft light brown sugar        1 level teaspoon juniper (or allspice)

10fl.oz white wine vinegar         1 teaspoon black peppercorns

10fl.oz cider vinegar                  ½ a lemon, cut into thin slices

3inch cinnamon stick, broken

Put everything but the pears in a large pan, heat slowly, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar, then bring to the boil.

While this is happening peel the pears, cut in half and core. Put into the hot vinegar and poach gently until they are just tender, and slightly translucent. Remove them with a slotted spoon, leaving as many of the spices behind as possible into a heated jar. This quantity of pears, sliced in half, will fit into a ¾litre jar. Boil the remaining vinegar to reduce to a syrupy consistency, and while still boiling strain over the pears in the jar, to cover them. You can fish out the lemon slices to put in the jar, and a few escapée spices won’t hurt, but it can taste medicinal if there are lots. Seal the jar immediately. Store for a month before using. The pears will keep for months unopened.

These cherry sized crab apples are Malus Butterball, they have a wonderful flavour, and I am hoping to make some golden coloured crab apple jelly from the first years crop.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Birthday Celebration

Last week Imogen, in celebration of her birthday took Sharon and me to At the Chapel, Bruton for tea. On their website it says that the premises were previously a 17th Century Coaching Inn, but inside it looks just like a non-conformist chapel.

We ate the most delicious, and huge, Almond Croissants

When we arrived the woodfired oven in the bakery was just being lit, we lingered so long  over tea that by the time we left I would think it was hot enought to start baking the pizzas, for which they are well known.

Joe, who is one of the chefs, told us that the pizzas are cooked while the oven is at it's hottest, followed by  a wide variety of  artisan bread , baked for sale in the shop.

It was a lovely afternoon, thank you Imogen for such a treat.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Scottish Highlands

We’ve just come back from what was my first visit to the Scottish Highlands, flying from Bristol to Edinburgh and then a series of trips by rail and coach. It’s hard to believe that this beautiful country is at the ‘top end’ of the UK. The weather was anything but perfect and the top of the Cairn Gorm was totally enveloped in low cloud, the view from the top is reputed to be awesome! However the Ptarmigan Restaurant there provided a little consolation with a dish of salmon in a creamy leek sauce, even if we didn't see it's namesake.

I came back with a very nasty cold and to cheer myself up made a lovely spicy tomato soup on the day after we got back, just what the doctor ordered, eaten with Scottish Oatcakes.
I used a can of tomatoes, a squirt of Heinz tomato ketchup, a red chilli from the greenhouse, 3 cloves of garlic, and a spoonful of Maggi dried coconut powder,( I recently discovered this very useful product). I first cooked the garlic and chilli, with most of it’s seeds in a little olive oil, added the canned tomatoes with a good squirt of ketchup then whizzed it up with enough water to make it souplike, adding a tablespoon of dried coconut powder.

The big white mug came with a bottle of whisky last Christmas, but ‘Famous Grouse’ was a pretty good description of me until I began to feel better!

Monday, 13 September 2010

Social Housing for Tiny Workers

Now I have actually given Imogen the birthday card I made especially for her I want to show it off! I'm quite pleased with it, the photo was taken in the kitchen garden of Arlington Court, North Devon this Summer, and with the help of Photoshop I turned it into a lovely card. The National Trust had made 'Insect Towers' for all their tiniest visitors.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Hats for Smoothies

I read this post on  the lovely GiddyStuff blog at the beginning of the month and was inspired to knit a few of these little hats myself, here are the first few I have made!

I remember reading last year about the Innocent Smoothie idea  for raising money for AgeUK, but had completely forgotten about it in the meantime. Each little hat should raise 25p for the charity, and although my little hats don't look as smart or clever as other people's I'm enjoying making them and do hope someone will like them enough to pay a little bit extra for their smoothie.
You can download patterns from this link if you would also like to join in. The deadline for sending your hats in is October 10th.

A Gift of Apples

A couple of weeks ago one of the branches of an apple tree in Orchard Street allotments fractured and Sandra one of the allotment holders very kindly asked if we would like some of the apples as they were going to have to cut off the branch before it ripped the tree more severely. As we have a very long ladder Chris offered to carry it round and help out if needed. He came back with a box of apples which were rather under ripe but in excellent condition, and at the same time Imogen gave us a large bag of windfalls from the tree in her garden. I love these kinds of gifts and set to, to use them up.

As we were at the end of the school summer holiday period and we were having lots of family visits or visiting them the windfalls went into delicious apple pies for puddings here or as contributions to family meals away. Another family favourite is chopped up apples with sultanas and crystallised ginger in a spicy apple fruit cake, if you haven’t tried it you’ve missed a treat. Don’t forget that the apples can be quite wet so not too sloppy a cake mixture. I usually soften the apples a little in the microwave first, and use a basic plain cake recipe i.e 1lb self raising flour, 8oz margarine, 6oz dark brown sugar (but that’s a matter of taste, white or brown, or a bit more if you like things sweeter) and 3 large eggs with approx. ¼pint milk, baked in an 8½” cake tin.

With the picked apples I made a big batch of apple chutney, mostly because our older son likes this one above all others and then some jars of blackberry and apple jelly. We have still got a few of the larger apples left. I’m not sure if they will last well because of their early picking, but our quinces should be ready in a couple of weeks and I’ve found a lovely recipe for Paradise Jelly which I’d like to try this year.

Our favourite Apple Chutney Recipe

5lbs apples,peeled, cored, chopped                 1 pint vinegar
1lb brown sugar                                              1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger                              3-4 dried chillies
8oz chopped, stoned dates                                                                  
8oz chopped onions                                            
8oz sultanas

Bring the vinegar to the boil with the sugar, salt and spices. The chillies are up to you, if you leave them whole you can fish them out at the end. Add the rest of the ingredients and boil until thick. Put into hot jars while the chutney is still very hot and use vinegar proof lids.

Using these apples this year the chutney was very thick before it had properly cooked so I had to add some water and a little more vinegar. Some of the apples being quite small and all them under ripe I think they are not so juicy. The taste is still excellent, even though it has had no chance to mature yet.

Apple and Blackberry Jelly.

The quantities of fruit for this preserve can be pretty elastic.

I had picked 5lbs of blackberries, and used 3lbs of green cooking apples. If you want to use a larger proportion of blackberries you might want to add some lemon juice to aid the setting.

First of all wash and cut up your apples, no need to peel or core, just make sure you remove any blemishes and bruised bits, put the fruit into a large pan with enough water to cover it and cook until the apple is beginning to soften, add the blackberries and cook until it is all soft and mushy, squash with a potato masher or wooden spoon if needed, but don’t let it catch on the bottom of the pan, there should be enough liquid in the blackberries, but add more water if the liquid is not still covering the fruit. I didn’t bother with jelly bags this time, I just ladled the fruit into sieves over deep large bowls and let it drip through, turning it with spatulas once or twice. This will take several hours, cover the sieves with clingfilm if there are wasps about.

( I have a translucent but slightly cloudy jelly, but for the first time I questioned why I go to such lengths to achieve such a perfect finish when it will taste just the same. I’m getting much more canny in my old age.)

Measure the extracted juice and put into a large clean pan. You can divide up the liquid if you have too much for your pan. For each 1 pint juice add 1lb of sugar. Bring slowly to the boil, stirring now and again, until the sugar has dissolved and then a full rolling boil until you reach setting point, test it after 15 minutes, it should be about there, if not give it another few minutes and test it again. A teaspoonful on a cold plate left in the fridge for a few minutes should wrinkle when you push it with your finger, and also when you lift up a wooden spoonful of jelly from the preserving pan and pour it back slowly into the pan it should form drops on the edge of the spoon and a leave a coating on the back of the spoon that you can leave a trail across with your finger.

Pour into clean, hot jars and seal with lids or cellophane jam pot covers

Although I keep a large handwritten notebook for preserving recipes that I’ve used time and time again I cannot recommend too highly the Basic Basics Jams, Preserves and Chutneys Handbook by Marguerite Patten. So many recipes and easy to understand methods.

In one of my many folders of clipped out recipes I have one for Paradise Jelly, the cutting says that this is ‘a beautiful jelly, very good with turkey, chicken and pork, and was found in the Old Yankee Cookbook’. We have a good crop of quinces this year, if rather smaller fruit than other years, but I am going to give this a go. I will strain this one carefully, with a name like this how could I not!

Paradise Jelly

4 large quinces
1.5kg (3lb 5oz) cooking apples
750g (1lb 10oz) cranberries
Approx. 2 kg (4lbs 8oz) granulated sugar.

Wash the apples and quinces (get rid of the fluff on the quinces) and chop them into chunks (no need to peel or core). Put them into a large pan, cover with water, turn down the heat and cook until soft, about an hour, adding the cranberries after half an hour. Suspend in a jelly bag overnight. To each 500ml of juice add 500g sugar (1lb to a pint) Bring slowly to the boil to allow sugar to dissolve, boil until setting point is reached. I’m really looking forward to getting round to trying this one.

Beautiful Squash from the allotment

Bought down from our allotment this week because the weather forecast wasn't too good.  Wall to wall sunshine since they were harvested!  But aren't they beautiful.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Somerset Levels

Yesterday being such a glorious day we took time out from garden and kitchen to visit one of our favourite places, The Somerset Levels. (The link leads you to the Ham Wall area, where we were yesterday)

 In the past peat extraction was a major industry in this part of Somerset but now the area has been allowed to flood and is habititat for large numbers of birds, water and woodland. There is a large network of lakes and rhynes, the name particular to this area for the drainage ditches which cross the Levels.

One of the rhynes

 Yesterday there were dozens of brilliant dragonflies, we managed to indentify the Four Spotted Chaser, and the colourful Emperor, but watch as I might there was no chance to get a photgraph.

One of the ditches was being dredged, and we were lucky enough to be able to talk to the operator as he was walking back along the silt he had pulled out to rescue any creatures that had been bought up to the bank.  We did see one small dead fish on our side of the bank, and a few fresh water mussels.  We didn't even know until we were talking to him then that there was a fresh water mussel. I took a photo of Chris holding a shell just to show how big they are.

A grey heron was working his way along the bank, and from the hole in the mussel shell I imagine this one provided a snack earlier.  Plenty of swans in evidence and the ever present resting cormorants that you see on some of the lakes but nothing more unusual about at this time of the year.

It is here about that the starlings roost in the late autumn and early winter months, a magical sight and sound, the thousands of wing beats coming in over your head. Winter also brings large numbers of waders,  spoonbill last winter, and lapwings move into the fields if they start to flood.  Where there are large flocks of birds there are always the raptors, and we've seen Hen Harriers and Peregrines in some parts of the Levels.

Looked like a group of volunteers busy yesterday.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Courgette and Feta Bake

I  recently twice made this recipe from the cookbook New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant. Called Zucchini-Feta Casserole, it’s a bit more like a bake.

I think I should have used a tin, rather than a pottery dish and then the base may have been crisp. The first time I made it I mis-read the recipe and mixed the egg mixture in with the bulgur wheat, so I put it all on top of the courgettes, before topping with tomatoes and cheese. It did actually taste just as good that way.

These quantities are for 2-3 people.

Sauté a cup of sliced onions and two cloves of chopped garlic in a little oil until the onions are translucent, add 3 cups thinly sliced courgettes, and cook until they are just tender, add a sprinkling of herbs, basil and marjoram, and some black pepper.

Place a scant half cup of bulgur in a bowl with the same volume of boiling water, and leave until the grain is tender and edible. Add ½cup chopped parsley, 1 tablespoon tomato paste and a good half a tablespoon of soy sauce to the bulgur. Mix well and put into the pie dish, firming it up a bit.

On top of the bulgur put the cooked vegetables.

Mix together an egg, ½cup of cottage cheese, and 3 ounces chopped feta cheese. Pour on top of the courgettes.

Slice a tomato or two over the egg mixture, and scatter with a little grated cheese.

Bake for about 45 minutes, at about 175°C uncovered for the last 15 minutes to brown the top.

Delicious! Serve with a crisp salad.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Sarah's Layer Cake Quilt

Sarah, Imogen's daughter, has just made her first quilt, a complete delight.  She chose a Layer Cake Selection which, she said, reminded her of the fabrics her grandmother had had, which makes it all the more charming. 

I have not noticed Layer Cake fabric packs anywhere (being blinkered most of the time), but looking it up on the Moda Bakeshop site, I see that there are 42 10" squares in each pack. I don't know why, but this particular pack reminds me of a Punch and Judy show, a Helter Skelter, or a circus  from  a watercolour painting or on the box of an old jigsaw!

Imogen and Sarah with Sarah's First Quilt

There are some much better photos on The Faerie Godmother Blog  Sarah says she's set to continue with her quilting,  she has some great ideas planned for the next one! and she has opened my mind to the possiblities of pre-cut packs

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Talented Friends

I'm so privileged to have such talented friends, here is some work from three of them who haven't appeared in this blog before.

Isabel made this lovely little vase especially for the sweet peas we grow each year.

Here she is on a painting day, she taught Art for a number of years,  a versatile and well-known potter, she is also a talented watercolour artist.

How many people get a hand-drawn postcard? Thank you, Caroline.  Both she and her husband travel with their sketch books. Very different styles, both brilliant. See more on An Eye for Detail. Perhaps we'll see more of Caroline's water colours on there soon?

A much more long term prospect are Pat's beautiful bonsai trees, grown by her from their beginnings.

These photos were taken on rather a dull day, Pat was about to move house and find new homes for these growing works of art. I loved them all so much I didn't want them to escape my photographic clutches!

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Those Careless Mammoths

Image from Wikipedia

In yesterday’s newspaper...

Woolly mammoths killed off by climate change after ice age

Climate change rather than the hunting skills of early Man killed off the last of the woolly mammoths, a study has suggested.

It was thought that mankind or the impact of a giant comet led to the demise of the ice age beasts around 20,000 years ago.

But the Durham University study, the most comprehensive to date, found woolly mammoths were forced from their grassland habitat by the spread of forests as the climate warmed after the last ice age. Modern species could experience a similar fate if global warming was allowed to continue, it warned.

Prof Brian Huntly said: “We believe that the loss of food supplies, from productive grassland was the major contributing factor to the extinction of these mega-mammals”

And the quick as a flash reply in today’s letters page, sent by Ella Hatfield, from Skipton, North Yorkshire.

Mammoth energy use.

Oh, the wicked mammoths killed off by climate change. They brought it upon themselves with their profligate use of light bulbs. When will the world ever learn?

Thank heavens for our wonderful sense of humour!!!

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The Blackbirds have Flown.

Walking into the garden yesterday evening the scent from our night-scented stocks was wonderful, (and today the bees are loving them), but there was no rustling in the hedges, the last blackbird had flown.

I’m pretty sure that the blackbirds have reared three broods this year, and until a few days ago an extremely well grown youngster was keeping the male bird very busy with it’s incessant demands for food, I was becoming pretty well-trained myself, rushing out with bird seed when the squeaking got too urgent.

Ready to leave the nest

The blackbirds always stake out their claim (they are very territorial) to our garden early in the year. I believe they are one of the earliest garden birds to start nest-building. There has been a pair nesting somewhere in our small walled garden every year for the last 15 years and they give us so much enjoyment. Sometimes the sparrows join them to nest in the ivy, because of the high walls we are very rarely visited by cats, who have to come accross the roof to gain access. Sad to think that Summer is coming to an end.


Saturday, 14 August 2010

'Bread and Butter' Pickles

Evidently this has been a ‘good’ year for cucumbers. I used to wonder why those people who grew them were so generous with their crop, now I know. I can't believe how fast they grow. 

This morning I set to, to make some ‘Bread and Butter Pickle'  I used a recipe I had noted down a while ago.

4 quarts sliced cucumbers  (I took 32fl oz as an American Quart)
6 medium White onions, sliced.
One-third cup salt.

3 cups sugar
20fl. oz white vinegar,
3 teaspoons mustard seed and one and a half teaspoons each of ground turmeric and celery seed

I used my ancient Magimix for the slicing of cucumbers and onions, but I’m not sure if the result isn't a little too fine.

Mix the salt with the sliced vegetables and leave for a couple of hours, drain off the liquid that comes out, rinse with cold water and drain again. Press with a plate with weights on top to extract as much water as possible.

In the meantime make the pickling liquid.

Dissolve 3 cups of sugar in 20 fl. oz white vinegar, adding 1½ teaspoons ground turmeric, 1½ teaspoons celery seed, and 3 teaspoons mustard seed.

When you have drained and rinsed the cucumber and onion, add them to the boiling pickling liquid, and bring back to the boil

Have ready hot preserving jars and a pan of hot water, big enough and deep enough to take the filled jars. Pour pickle into hot jars (I had enough for 3 1-litre jars and about a cup full over). Fasten the spring clip jars, if using screw-top Kilner jars loosen the caps by a quarter turn. Immerse the jars in the hot water and bring the water temperature up to 88ºc in about 10-15 mins and then hold that temperature for 10 minutes. Bale out some of the hot water and remove the jars onto a wooden surface to cool, tighten screw tops immediately you remove the jars from the water. Check for a seal when completely cold.

I am becoming more successful using the clip top jars now I use the faster sterilisation method, i.e hot contents, hot water to start with.

Two more recipes, very similar, but the last one is from a Good Housekeeping Recipe Book,   does not call for heat sterilisation, and is for more manageable quantities.

But first the recipe from a most excellent book from North America called ‘Putting Food By’, mine a Fourth Edition was printed in 1991.

“Short Form” Bread and Butter Pickles

6 quarts thinly sliced pickling cucumbers (about fifteen 6-inch)
6 medium onions, thinly sliced
½cup pickling salt

1½ quarts white vinegar
4½cups sugar
½cup whole mustard seed
1 tablespoon celery seed.

The method is exactly the same as the previous recipe. Allow several weeks for the flavour to develop, may also be made with crisp young zucchini.

Bread and Butter Pickle from Good Housekeeping.

3 large ridge or smooth skinned cucumber, sliced
4 large onions, skinned and sliced
45ml (3 level tablespoons) salt

450ml (¾ pint) distilled vinegar
150g (5oz) sugar
5mls (1 level teaspoon) each of celery seeds and mustard seeds.

Same method, cook the vegetables for three minutes in boiling vinegar mixture, pot while boiling hot, into hot jars and cover immediately. Done.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Raspberry and Gooseberry Curd

After tasting the delicious raspberry curd at Audley End, English Heritage, a while ago I thought I’d love to make some. But although I ‘googled’ it there didn’t seem to be many recipes and no agreement in the ones there were, so I thought I’d base my attempt on a Gooseberry Curd recipe which I have used for quite a while.

I used 2lbs of raspberries, cooked over a gentle heat and sieved, but really I don’t know why I cooked them as they could have been sieved raw. Dissolve 12oz sugar in the puree, using a double boiler or heatproof bowl over a pan of boiling water, then add 6oz butter, cut into smallish pieces and 4 beaten eggs (put these through a sieve so there are no stringy bits), heat until just below boiling, stirring often as it comes up to heat and thickens. A spoon should leave a trail in the curd when it is thick enough. It took 40 minutes to get thick enough, by which time I was a bit fed up, so this morning I thought I’d make a little experiment with a small amount of the curd. I put it in the microwave and let it boil briefly, it did not curdle.

I used a large pyrex bowl over boiling water to thicken the raspberry curd

Swap 2lbs of gooseberries for the raspberries to make gooseberry curd. I like to bake the gooseberries in the oven until they are tender.

Ready to put in the freezer

Fruit curds can be kept for a couple of weeks in the fridge, but for longer storage I decant into little tubs and freeze it. Unfortunately it tastes delicious when it’s frozen, so it’s still not safe from moments of greed.

Raspberry curd is excellent rippled into Greek yoghourt, as is Gooseberry Curd. I have deliberately boiled gooseberry curd (with no signs of curdling) after it has been in the freezer to thicken it slightly for a tart filling, using a lemon tart recipe, where it works really well.

Why not use raspberry or gooseberry curd instead of lemon curd in this recipe for Lemon Curd Ice Cream, which although it’s been about for years has stood the test of time and is easy and delicious.

Add to about 350g-450g fruit curd, 300g of thick Greek yoghourt and 300ml double cream, fold it all together and freeze. If you need to sharpen it up add the finely grated rind and juice of a half or whole lemon. The original recipe suggested you froze it in a lined loaf tin and sliced to serve. Why not?

I haven’t tried to make it with just Greek Yoghourt and fruit curd, but to cut the fat content it would be worth a go.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Artisan Market ,Catherine Hill

Today I finally found time to go to the Artisan Market on Catherine Hill, Frome, and I was not disappointed! Held on the first Sunday on the month it's a showcase for local talent. I stupidly forgot I had my camera in my bag until we were nearly at the bottom of the hill so haven’t got as many photos as I’d have liked.

This photo is taken from St Catherine's website.

The traders I liked best were ‘felt so good’ where there were delicious looking felt bags just right for birthday and Christmas presents for the girls in your life and my complete favourite Miss Havishams Attic – to die for collection of vintage inspired cards and ephemera.

Here is her business card, but she explained that she had corrected her original spelling to fall in line with Miss Havisham of Great Expectations. Her web page is lovely, sprinkled with fairy dust as you move your cursor!

I didn’t expect to find food at the market, but there was a baker with the most fantastic looking bread, local farm shops and a cheesemaker were there, locally produced hot food available, and unbelievably a vendor called the anti-cupcake company selling whoopies and brownies. I’ve forgiven her her name (I love making cupcakes) because the produce looked so good. She was trading outside her mum’s shop,’ bonbons’ at the bottom of the hill.

Whoopies at the 'anti-cupcake company'

Strawberry cupcakes from Pandie Cakes

Seasonal flowers too!

Sunday, 25 July 2010

What do you keep in your Freezer?

We are getting a new large upright freezer next week, to replace a less than efficient chest freezer. Apart from it’s probable fuel consumption its main inefficiency is as far as I am concerned is its depth which means that unless I am feeling particularly athletic I take things from the top, instead of delving into its bowels to find the oldest bag of beans, box of raspberries etc.

We already have one upright freezer and I am looking forward very much to the new delivery, although I do wonder why two pensioners need so much freezer space – does in fact our allotment produce cost us a great deal more than we realise.

Apart from our allotment produce the things I like to keep in the freezer are fresh ginger, it can be peeled and grated from frozen, pulses that I have soaked and cooked, frozen into can size portions, tubs of meat stock, chopped parsley and nuts which I buy in large bags when I can. What do you keep in yours?

With this thought in mind I have this week removed some of the gooseberries from the freezer and preserved them in Kilner jars which can be stored in the larder. I haven’t done that for donkey’s years so am feeling quite pleased with myself.

Safely stored in the larder, but although I have no trouble with Kilner jars that have a disk and screw band I can never get the Le Parfait type to seal when I sterilise in a hot water bath.  If I pour boiling hot jam into one and fasten down the clip immediately it does seal. What am I doing wrong?

Notes on Bottling Soft Fruit

I sterilised my jars of gooseberries by the water bath method, and this is how I did it, the first lot I did using the slow method, the second batch the quick method.

You will need a pot that is large enough to take your jars without them touching each other or the sides of the pan and deep enough for water to come up to the necks of the jars.

I couldn’t find a trivet (to provide a false bottom to the pan) to fit the first pan I used so I folded up one of my older tea towels to cover the bottom and stood the jars on that.

Here are the two methods:-

Slow water bath  Pack the jars tightly with fruit, then fill up with cold syrup. Put the metal discs and screw-bands in place, then turn the screw-bands back a quarter-turn. Place the jars in the large pan and cover with cold water, immersing them completely if possible, but at least up to their necks. Heat gently on top of the cooker, checking the temperature of the water regularly if you have a jam/sugar thermometer, raising the temperature gradually from cold to 54°C in 1 hour, then to 82ºc within a further 30 minutes. Maintain the temperature for 10 minutes for gooseberries.

If you have no thermometer 82º is when bubbles are rising but not breaking the surface, just before it comes to a boil. A large pan will just about come to this heat after 1½ hours on low gas.

Remove the jars and place on a wooden surface, bale out some of the hot water first so you can get a firm grip on the jars, and immediately tighten the screw bands. When cold, test for a seal by undoing the screw bands and checking the discs are tight. They will be concave and rigid if there is a good seal, and as they seal you will hear a satisfying ping as the air inside creates a vacuum. If a jar is not properly sealed you must refrigerate it and use it up soon, or freeze the contents in a suitable container.

Quick water bath  As before but fill the packed jars with hot (not boiling) syrup, cover and place in the pan of quite warm water. Bring the water to simmering point in 25-30 minutes, and keep simmering for 3 minutes.

A pretty standard sugar syrup recipe is 225g sugar dissolved in 600 ml water, (8oz to a pint). Dissolve sugar in half the water, heated and add the other half cold to cool it more quickly if you want cold syrup. You can bottle fruit in plain water, or in a syrup made from sugar and wine, or cider and sugar. Depends on the fruit you are using.

Sliced apples take the same processing time as gooseberries, for plums, apricots and damsons, hold the final temperature for 15 minutes slow method, 10 minutes quick.

Pears, add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to each 450g (1lb) fruit, take processing temperature to 88ºC and hold for 30 minutes slow method, 40 minutes quick.

I've since found this very informative list of processing times.

Jams and Chutneys do not need to be processed. After they are made they are poured, while still very hot into hot jars, and sealed straight away. Jars that are clean can be heated easily by pouring water to about half an inch into them and brought to the boil in the microwave, just before you need them. When you pour out the boiling water they will dry immediately. If you need a lot of jars heat them in a low oven, about 70-100ºC

I do not have the same reliable success preserving with clip top jars with rubber rings, even when I totally submerge them for the processing. I am hoping that someone will tell me how they do it.

School terms ending at different times meant we had the pleasure of our elder granddaughter's company last week.  We made our third visit to Audley End, an English Heritage property on Thursday. This time they had just opened the stable yard, and our granddaughter was thrilled to be able to meet two of the horses, Smiler and Captain, and even help to groom them.

Willing volunteers at the Stables at Audley End

In the shop I tasted a sample of raspberry curd, which was rather nice. I’ve made gooseberry curd before but never raspberry so will have a go and post the recipe soon.

From the larder at Audley End

Perhaps we ought to keep a list of 'good days out' somewhere. (Just begun one, click here). I'd certainly recommend Audley End, near Saffron Walden as well as Wimpole Hall, a National Trust property near Royston which has a Home Farm attached. Both places good for adults and children alike.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Courgettes Again

This is the time of year that the courgettes come in thick and fast from our allotment and I need to find new ways of using them up.  The photo above is today's harvest, so I made a hasty courgette risotto.

Risotto with Courgettes
Start off by cooking a finely sliced medium onion and 2 or 3 plump cloves of garlic, cut up small, in a little olive oil (you can use butter, but I have reluctantly foresworn it) and when the onion is translucent and not at all coloured, add to the pan 150g of arborio rice, stir it round until the rice is slicked with oil, then add in about 500g chopped courgettes. Now start to add hot, well seasoned stock, a ladleful at a time, giving it a regular stir as the liquid becomes absorbed into the rice.

When the rice is soft the courgettes will be cooked and it’s ready to serve, sprinkled with some grated cheese if you like.

You can cook the courgettes in the pan of stock as you are gradually adding it to the risotto if you’d rather.

Risotto with Courgettes

The following recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is a real winner, which can even be frozen for later use in soup or pasta sauce.

Slow-cooked courgettes
I often (says HFW) cook courgettes like this - they lose most of their moisture and become a thick, fragrant, chunky mass. They can be used as a pasta sauce (just add a little cream) or the base for a lovely soup (just whizz up with a little stock and/or milk). But they also make a great toast topping - which of course the Italians would call bruschetta.

3 tbsp olive oil

3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

1kg courgettes, finely sliced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, then add the garlic, courgettes and a little salt. Cook gently, so the courgettes soften without browning. As they release their water, turn up the heat to bubble it off. When they become more concentrated and pulpy, turn it down again. Stir whenever they begin to catch on the pan, and do not allow them to brown more than a shade. Keep cooking until they are rich and oily, but not watery. Check seasoning.

We also like courgette in salad, cooked or uncooked (very thinly sliced).  Here is a recipe I have tried this week, which would have looked prettier with the recommended red chillies!

Courgette Salad with mint, garlic and chilli

My Kitchen Devil paring knife and this sort of potato peeler cut thin strips well.

Slice courgettes lengthwise very thinly, a mandolin is best, but a potato peeler works well. Toss the courgette strips in a little oil and griddle on a pan, or on the barbeque until just cooked, lay out on a large plate, season with salt and pepper and while they are still warm drizzle over some lemon juice and olive oil. Deseed and chop finely a red chilli and half a clove of garlic. (The amounts will be a matter of taste and depend on the number of courgettes you are using, but as a rough guide this would be enough for us using 4 medium size courgettes and a chilli of medium heat). Scatter the chilli and garlic evenly over the courgettes with some chopped fresh mint.

I see Sophie Grigson adds char-grilled red peppers to a similar salad.

Here are three other ideas, all on a similar theme.

Jane Grigson’s Sweet-Sour Courgettes, Sicilian style.

1kg courgettes                         1 large clove of garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons olive oil              2 tablespoons wine vinegar
2 tablespoons water                 30g pine kernels
30g sultanas                             8 anchovy fillets, chopped small
Salt and pepper

Cut the courgettes in strips . Cook the garlic slowly in the oil and after a couple of minutes add the courgette strips. Keep them moving until they are just beginning to colour. Pour in the vinegar and water, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Uncover, add the nuts, sultanas and anchovies and cook more rapidly until the liquid is reduced to about 2 tablespoons. Keep stirring so the courgettes are bathed in the sauce, check seasoning and eat with crusty bread.

Browned Courgettes, which are great just as they are, or with a little garlic cooked with them as a vegetable side dish.  They are quicker to cook if they are sliced into rounds, but these are ready to use in Jane Grigson's recipe.
Elizabeth David – Italian Food. Sweet-Sour Courgettes

Cook gently 1kg sliced courgettes in olive oil, using 2 pans if necessary. When they are nearly tender season with plenty of black pepper, a little powdered cinnamon, four tablespoons of wine vinegar and two tablespoons sugar and a little salt. Turn them over in the juices which should evaporate into a small amount of sauce.

Antonio Carluccio Fried Marinated Courgettes

6 medium courgettes, topped, tailed and cut into batons, quarter lengthways if not too big.

Olive oil for frying

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 bunch of fresh chopped mint leaves

2 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

Salt to taste.

Heat a little oil in a pan and fry the courgettes in batches. Fry until brown and drain on absorbent paper.

Put the courgette batons in a dish, and add the extra virgin olive oil, mint, garlic, vinegar and salt, and leave for the flavours to combine before eating.

Jane Grigson's Sweet-Sour Courgettes - Sicilian Style