Archives

Purple Bullace Jelly And Courgette Chutney

This week in my kitchen I have been busy using all the home grown produce that I have picked.  I always have a lovely sense of satisfaction when I use my organic fruit and vegetables, as I  know one hundred percent that no chemicals have been used to grow them and I think this also makes them taste better.

SAM_9823

.

This week my outdoor tomatoes have started to ripen and I have begun picking them daily.  They are a variety called ‘outdoor girl’ which are usually a little bit earlier than other outdoor varieties, however for some reason they are a little bit later than usual this year.

I am constantly checking for tomato blight as my tomatoes have only escaped once over the years.  You can see photos of tomato blight here, together with lots of information on what to do when you first notice it on your tomatoes, as some of your crop can be saved if you act quickly.

SAM_2649

.

With my first batch of tomatoes I made a big pot of tomato and basil soup, which we had for lunch with a loaf of warm, crusty homemade bread.  It was far nicer than any soup you can buy in a tin and it only cost me a few pennies to make as nearly all the ingredients were from my allotment.

You can find the recipe here.

SAM_9826 SAM_9786

.

I am also still using all of the courgettes that my plants are producing.  This week I made my favourite courgette chutney….

.

Courgette Chutney Recipe:

.

2 onions chopped

500g tomatoes chopped

500g courgettes diced

300ml white wine vinegar

2 cooking apples peeled and diced

250g brown sugar

2 teaspoons mixed spice

1 tablespoon of mustard seeds

Thumb sized piece of root ginger grated

4 garlic cloves crushed

.

Put all the ingredients in a large pan and bring to the boil slowly, stirring continuously.

SAM_9758 SAM_9760

SAM_9761

Simmer for 2 hours uncovered, until it is dark and looks like chutney.

SAM_9762

Pour into hot sterilised jars.

( To sterilise jars, pop them in an oven for five minutes, gas 4 / 180C / 350F )

SAM_9765

Leave for 3 weeks before eating.

.

.

This year at my allotment I had a bumber crop of strawberries.

SAM_9332

At this time of year I usually tidy the plants up a bit…. I remove the straw that I lay around the plants in the spring and put it into my compost heap.  I then cut the strawberries back to approximately 3 inches (8 cms) from the crowns.  It always looks harsh but they grow back really well.

SAM_9807

Cutting the strawberries back in this way helps the plant produce more fruit the following year, as the plant then puts all it’s energy into producing a strong root system.

SAM_9806 SAM_9805

This is the second year my plants have fruited so I am not keeping any runners, so I cut them all off.

  If I wanted to increase my stock I would just peg down the runners with a large stone or wire, so that the new plantlets are in contact with the soil.  When they have good roots on them at the beginning of September, I cut each runner from their parent and replant it where I want it to grow.  This way they are settled before the winter and produce fruit the following year.

.

Incidentally, I found this little fella under the old straw around my strawberries:

SAM_9804

I have been told he is a ‘death head hawk moth’ caterpillar.  He looks quite evil doesn’t he, but I left him alone as moths are hugely important for the food chain and some of them are great plant pollinators.

.

This week I have been picking ‘Cucamelons’.  It’s the first time I have grown them and they seem to have taken ages to become established….and now they are taking over my polytunnel!

SAM_9800 SAM_9801

When I was researching the cucamelon, I found some people loved them and some people hated them, so I thought I would try them for myself…..I’ve got to say I am somewhere in between.

I think they taste like a cucumber, but with a crunchy skin.  The plants have certainly given me a good crop, but after we all tried them, we decided we like normal cucumbers better….so this is one I won’t bother growing again (sorry James Wong).

However this year they will go to good use in salads, with a drizzle of olive oil, lemon juice and a pinch of salt:

SAM_9817

.

At this time of year I am thinking about storing my crops ready for the winter.  My potatoes have all been dried and they are now storing in sacks.

S

  My french beans are doing well at my allotment this year and I have been busy blanching and freezing them, together with the runnerbeans that I am still picking:

SAM_9794 SAM_9795 SAM_9796

.

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you will remember that this time last year I gave the old tree in my woodland area a real good prune as I don’t think it had been pruned for years.  I had been told by a couple of people that I would be better off chopping the tree down as it never has fruit on it….but I decided to give it a chance.

I prunned away approximately a third of all the dead, diseased and crossing branches and I will continue doing this every August until it is back to how it should be.

….And after just one year of pruning it has rewarded me with a bumper crop…..

SAM_8695 SAM_9757

The gentleman that rented the plot before me (my dear friend Eric) told me that the tree was not a damson tree, but he didn’t know what it was.  I think the tree is a ‘purple bullace tree’….I may be wrong, but it doesn’t really matter as the fruit makes a great fruit jelly…which I have been making this week, ready for my Christmas hampers:

.

A Wild Plum, Damson or Bullace Jelly Recipe:

.

First cut your plums in half just to make sure they haven’t been infected by the plum moth (discard any that have).  Don’t bother removing the stones. 

Put the plums into a maslin pan or a large jam making pan.

SAM_9787

Cover the plums half way up with water.

SAM_9788

Slowly bring the plums to the boil and then simmer until they are soft (approx. 15-30 mins).

SAM_9789 SAM_9790

Meanwhile, bring a pan of water to the boil and place some muslin or a clean tea towel into it and boil for 3 minutes.  Take it out of the water and wring it out and then leave to cool.

Tip the fruit into the muslin and let it drip overnight or for approximately 8 hours.  I find it easier to put the muslin over a colander that is already over a bowl, as it’s easier to pour the fruit into it.

In the picture below, you can see how I suspend my muslin bag over a bowl.  I have read that an upside down stool can be helpful to do this, but I have never tried it.

 SAM_9791

The next day put some side plates or saucers in the freezer to check the setting point of your jelly later on.

Measure the juice.  For every 1 pint of juice, measure 1lb of granulated sugar.   Put the juice and sugar back into a large pan and bring it to the boil slowly, over a low heat, until the sugar has dissolved.

Also, as I don’t use jam sugar I add two tablespoons of lemon juice for every one pint of juice.

SAM_9809

When you can see no sugar crystals on the back of your wooden spoon, turn the heat up and boil hard until the setting point has been reached.  This can take quite some time.

(I always continuously stir my jams and jellies to stop them from burning at the base of the pan, however I have never seen a recipe tell you to do this, so it’s up to you).

SAM_9810 SAM_9811

To check the setting point, put a small amount of jelly on a saucer from the freezer and wait for a few moments, push the jelly with your finger and if it wrinkles then the setting point has been reached, if not just continue boiling for a further five minutes and then check again.

SAM_9812

When the setting point has been reached, take the pan off the heat and leave it for fifteen minutes. If there is scum on your jelly, you can skim it off, but I just stir in a small knob of butter which does the same job.

SAM_9815

Sterilise some jam jars (gas mark 4 for 5 minutes)

Pour the jelly into the jars and seal with lids.

SAM_9816

Enjoy it for months to come!

SAM_9818

Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back next Friday at my usual time.

Advertisements

A Strawberry Ice Cream Recipe & My Allotment This Week

Before I start, I don’t usually advertise anything on my blog, but I thought I would make an exception for this:

Transition Leicester are holding a ‘Leicester Green Open Homes And Living’ event….

Their website says “Would you like some ideas about making your home and/or life greener? Come and look around the homes of people who are changing their homes and lives to reduce their carbon footprints and talk to them about what it is like”.

For details on the houses, their availability and features, click here I can imagine it will be a real eye opener.

.

————————————————————————————————————————–

What a busy week it has been at the allotment.  Due to all the rain we had last week I have had to work twice as hard to catch up with my planting.

First though, I had to dig up my old spring broccoli and curly kale before I could even start planting:

SAM_9209

I then planted my outdoor cucumbers (burpless tasty green), leaving them under glass to give some protection for a couple weeks as it has been really cold and wet and they do not like these conditions:

SAM_9232

My runner beans and tomatoes were planted out:

SAM_9202

And my sweetcorn, butternut squashes, patty pans and courgettes:

SAM_9210 SAM_9231

And more spring onions and lettuces:

SAM_9224

And some more cauliflowers under environmesh and I planted cabbages under bottles as they were small and I wanted to give them a bit of protection from slugs and the cold

SAM_9201 SAM_9218

I also planted my leeks that were sown way back in January.  If you haven’t planted leeks before, it is a bit unusual the way they are planted.  You can read how to plant them here.

SAM_9222 SAM_9220

I also planted my celeriac, which like plenty of water and they certainly had plenty of rain on Wednesday this week…

SAM_9223

…and I finally got round to planting some flowers- sweetpeas, nasturtiums and tagettes.

SAM_9214 SAM_9215

I also planted some nasturtiums around my runner beans as a sacrificial plants.  The blackflies prefer nasturtiums to the beans and so they leave my runner beans alone.

.

I also invested in a very large net from ebay this year to stop the pigeons from eating my peas.  I hope to be able to use it for years to come as it wasn’t the cheap sort that you can buy.

A few years ago I didn’t need to net my peas as the birds never bothered with them, but they seem to eat everything these days, including my lettuces which I still find strange.

SAM_9212

.

Also, I finally got round to nipping the top couple of inches off my broad beans to stop the blackflies as they love the top growth.  The best time to do this is when the first beans start to develop on the plants, but as you can see in the photo below, I was a little bit late on one or two of them, but I’m sure they will be fine.

SAM_9203 SAM_9206

.

Finally at my allotment, I have had loads of people ask me what is wrong with their onions this year and I have said the same thing over and over again….it’s the allium leaf miner, which is a fairly new pest.  You can find information about it here.

My onions have been hit too and I will be covering them with environmesh next year:

SAM_9234

.

.

During half term when it was raining nearly all week, it was lovely to have some time to catch up at home.  Especially as my daughters were off school, as I love spending time with them.

One of the things we did was toasting marshmellows over a candle.  I had forgotten how good they taste and they took me back to when I was a Guide (many years ago).

I absolutely love the melted marshmellow taste:

SAM_9192SAM_9193

.

During the week I also managed to catch up on some long overdue jam making sessions with leftover fruit in my freezer.

I made rhubarb jam and strawberry jam:

SAM_9186 SAM_9188

SAM_9189 SAM_9191

I find jam making quite thereputic and it is so easy to do.

If you haven’t made jam before, you can find a strawberry jam recipe and some jam making tips here if you are interested.

.

I also managed to give my drains a bit of a clean  by pouring 1 tablespoon of bi-carbinate of soda down the drain, followed by a cup of white vinegar.  It bubbles up like a volcano for a few minutes and then I flushed it all down by running the hot tap for a few moments….the result was clean smelling, unblocked drains!

SAM_9187

.

I was also able to take time to make some nice salads from my polytunnel and some nice meals for the family without rushing….it was such a pleasure:

SAM_9179 SAM_9195 SAM_9184 SAM_9182

The last photo is homemade shortbread, which is one of the simplist recipes I have.  You can find it here.  I use pure margarine as my daughter is lactose intolerant, but you can use normal margarine or butter and they taste even nicer.

.

The photo my daughter took as we picked them

The photo my daughter took as we picked my strawberries

This week I made some luxury strawberry ice cream as double cream was on offer at Tesco….and the taste is absolutely delicious!…and yet again so easy to make.

I used my strawberries from the allotment as they are ripening nicely.  These are a very early variety that I planted two years ago:

SAM_9248

.

Luxury Strawberry Icecream Recipe:

300 grams strawberries

300 ml double cream

140 grams of caster sugar

.

Puree the strawberries in a bowl with a hand blender / liquidiser or a fork

SAM_9241 SAM_9242

Add the caster sugar and the double cream to the bowl

SAM_9243 SAM_9244

Give it all a mix with a spoon until it is all combined

SAM_9245

And add it to your icecream maker to do the hard work

(If you haven’t got an ice cream maker, just put the blended ingrediants into a container and freeze.  Remove from the freezer every 1-2 hours and mash vigourously with a fork to break up the ice crystals)

SAM_9246

As there are no chemicals in the ice cream, the ice cream will be quite hard when you take it out of the freezer to use, so it is better to take it out for fifteen minutes or so before you eat it.

Then enjoy it!

SAM_9173

.

I actually made double the amount of ice cream and it filled an old two litre plastic ice cream tub and I worked out it cost me just £1.85 to make.  I’ve checked on the Tesco website and the ‘posh’ ice cream is far more expensive than that!

Within an hour of making the ice cream, some of it had disappeared out of the tub….it must have been the ice cream fairies…so beware of the ice cream fairies if you make it too.

SAM_9249

Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back again next Friday

My woodland garden this week

My woodland garden this week

Have a good week!

Preserving and Storing Crops – Part 3

Today I am continuing with my series on ‘Preserving and Storing Your Crops’ and I am talking about ‘drying’, jam and jelly making, pickling and chutney making:

SAM_7260

.

Drying:

People used to use the heat of the sun for drying and today we can still buy ‘sun-dried tomatoes’ and ‘sun-dried raisins’ from the supermarkets.  Sun drying involves many days of hot sun and dry air, which unfortunately this country is usually short of.  However, nowadays you can buy electric dehydrators, where you lay sliced foods such as apples etc. onto trays.  I would absolutely love one of these, but I also have a long list of other gadgets I would love too.

Years ago peas, beans and sweet corn were dried by families ready to use over the winter.  They were left to dry completely on the plants until they had turned yellow and then the plant would be cut to the ground and hung inside to finish drying.  When the pods were brittle they would be shelled and then left on trays for a few more days before storing in airtight containers in a cool dry place.

Today, however people find that the above things are actually nicer when they are frozen, so they don’t bother to dry them, though I do know some people that do still dry their home grown beans.

SAM_2625

I have got to be honest, the only things I do dry are herbs such as basil and lavender.  If you read books about drying, it will say you need a warm, dry place such as an airing cupboard to dry your produce.  I wash my basil and shake it dry and then hang it in bunches in my kitchen.  When it starts to crumble, then I know it is drying and I pop it into a paper bag so the bits don’t go all over my kitchen floor.  It can take several weeks to dry, but when it is dry I rub the leaves through a colander and store it in an airtight container in my pantry.

SAM_7072

If you don’t want things ‘hanging’ around, you can easily dry your herbs on trays in your oven.  This year  I dried my basil by placing the washed basil leaves in the oven on its lowest setting and leaving the door slightly open.  It does take several hours and obviously costs money to heat the oven, but the drying procedure is over in a day.

Home dried basil

Home dried basil

.

Bottling (known as ‘canning’  in many other countries).

The idea is food in bottles is heated to a high enough temperature for a designated length of time to stop any enzyme activity and kill off all the bacteria, yeasts and fungi.  The jars are sealed at this high temperature so no further micro-organisms can re-enter the bottles.  It is vitally important to follow correct instructions when you bottle foods in this way, as you can be very very poorly if you don’t…which is why I am happy to use other methods of preserving, though I know a lot of people out there do use this method.

.

Pickling.

SAM_7233

.

Pickled beetroot, pickled gherkins, pickled onions etc are really easy to make as it is just a case of preparing the vegetable and pouring pickling vinegar over it.

Recipes usually tell you that pickling onions should be left overnight soaking in a salt water brine.  I have used this method and I find that the onions lose their ‘bite’, so I use my dads method instead.  He peels and washes the onions and then covers them in salt and leaves them overnight (no water is added to the salt).

SAM_2759

In the morning he washes the salt off the onions, dries them and then puts them in sterilised jars, covering them with pickling vinegar.  Two to three weeks later, the result is a pickled onion with a ‘bite’ to it.  Just how we like them.

Full details of how to pickle beetroot, gherkins, onions etc are on my recipe index here (under preserves at the bottom of the page).

SAM_2347 SAM_7172

.

Chutneys.

Chutneys are a mixture of vegetables and fruit cooked in vinegar.  The most famous shop bought chutney nowadays must be good old ‘Branston Pickle’.  Chutneys are easy to make, though they can sometimes take a couple of hours to make but they taste delicious served with salads and cold meats.  The good thing about chutney is it seems to mature with age and lasts for months.

Spiced Green Scallopini (Patty Pan) Chutney cooking

Spiced Green Scallopini (Patty Pan) Chutney cooking

.

Jams and jelly making.

This is one of my favourite ways to use up home grown fruit.  In fact, if I didn’t make strawberry jam for my youngest daughter there would probably be a riot in my house.  I know you can buy jams and jellies easily from the supermarkets, but if you have fruit to use up then it is so much cheaper to make your own and you know exactly what goes into it.

My Jelly making

My Jelly making

I won’t go into how you make jam, as there are lots of jams and jelly recipes on my recipe index here (under preserves at the bottom of the page), but what I will say is jam making is easy provided you follow a few basic tips which I have listed below.

My 'maslin pan' for jam making

My ‘maslin pan’ for jam making

Just to let you know, the pan I use to make jam is a ‘maslin’ pan which is deep enough for jam making.  Mine was second hand, purchased for £10 from ebay and it was worth every penny.

 .

SAM_6830

My Tips For Jam Making:

.

Clean equipment – Always use equipment that is scrupulously clean and jars that have been sterilised.

.

Fruit – Always use undamaged fruit. Fruit with too much damage will spoil the result and the jam is likely to deteriorate quickly.

SAM_6828

.

Pectin – Jams, jellies and marmalade set because of pectin. Pectin occurs naturally in fruit and when cooked with sugar the naturally occurring acid in the fruit, thickens and sets the preserve. Citrus fruit, blackberries, apples and redcurrants have high pectin levels. Soft fruits such as strawberries have a lower pectin level. If fruits are low in pectin then you can add fruits with a higher level of pectin to it or just add a few squeezes of lemon juice which will help them to set. When possible use slightly under ripe fruit when pectin levels will be at its highest.

.

Sugar – I use granulated but you can use preserving sugar, but it is more expensive. Preserving sugar will help set low-pectin fruits, but I just add lemon juice, which does the same job.

.

Quantity – Don’t make too large a quantity at one time. Large volumes of fruit and sugar will take a long time to reach setting point, causing the fruit to break up and eventually dissolve in the jam.

.

To test for the setting point – Place a few small plates or saucers in to your freezer for a while before you start to make jam, so they are really cold.  Pour a small drop of the hot jam on to the plate and wait a few moments. Push the edges of the jam with your index finger and if the jam wrinkles then the setting point has been reached.  If it’s not set, continue to boil it and check again in 5 minutes. Don’t overcook. It is tempting to keep cooking to achieve a firmer set. A slightly looser jam is preferable to one that tastes burnt or where the fruit has dissolved.  Don’t worry if you didn’t judge your jam setting point correctly and it’s runny, just call it a ‘preserve’ instead.

SAM_6824

.

Scum – There is always a little bit of scum on the jam after the setting point has been reached.  Skim it off with a ladle or add a tiny knob of butter and stir. This will dissolve the scum almost instantly.

.

Leave the jam to settle – Always leave the jam for 15 mins away from the heat, once the setting point has been reached.  This will prevent the fruit from rising to the surface of the jar when you pour it in.

.

SAM_6736

.

This is the end of my feature on ‘Preserving and Storing Your Crops’ as I have written an awful lot on the subject.  There are many other ways to preserve crops e.g. wine making, fruit butters and cheese making etc. but I have written about the basic methods, as these are the most used.

I really hope you have enjoyed reading about ‘Preserving and Storing Your Crops’.  I would love to hear any feedback from you.

SAM_2596

Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Monday at 4pm.

How To Make Strawberry Jam & Jam Making Tips

This week I was astonished to find see that strawberries are £2.00 for a 400 gram  punnet (or £2.50 for a 300 gram punnet of organic strawberries).  It’s a long time since I have bought strawberries and I didn’t realise they are so expensive and I would like to bet they don’t taste half as nice as homegrown ones, as shop bought strawberries are usually grown for their ‘long shelf life’ rather than taste.

.

If you read my post on Friday, you will know that I am having a bumper crop of strawberries this year.

SAM_6766 SAM_6804 SAM_6736

We have been eating them on their own, or with yoghurt, or with a sprinkling of sugar and my youngest daughter has even been dipping them into melted chocolate.  They are delicious.

SAM_6705

I have also frozen lots of them, by laying the washed and hulled strawberries on a tray and then freezing them.  When they are frozen I put the strawberries into bags.  This way, they don’t all stick together and it is easy to just pick a few out of the bag when I need them.

SAM_6784

I use the frozen strawberries to make cordials, pies etc and my daughters like them in fruit salads (though they do go a bit mushy when they are defrosted).

I also use them to make jams for the christmas hampers that I give away to my family:

SAM_5454

.

Over the weekend I made another batch of strawberry jam for my daughter, as it’s her favourite.

Strawberries are quite low in pectin and pectin helps the jam to set.  I normally remedy this by just adding a tablespoon or two of lemon juice to my jam, as this is high in pectin and helps it to set.  However, I thought I would try an experiment this time, to find out if  ‘Jam Sugar’ with the pectin already added, would make a better jam, as lots of recipes recommend you to use this:

SAM_6810

So this is how I made the jam with the jam sugar:

.

Strawberry Jam Using Jam Sugar:

.

2 kg Strawberries

2 kg Jam Sugar

.

Before I started, I put some side plates into the freezer for a few hours.  I used these later to test for the ‘setting point’

I washed and hulled the strawberries

I put the strawberries and jam sugar into a large pan (the contents rise as it boils)

SAM_6811

I put the pan onto a low heat and stirred comtinuously with a wooden spoon.

SAM_6812

I continued stirring until the sugar melted and I couldn’t see any sugar crystals on the back of my spoon

SAM_6814

At this point I turned the heat right up and boiling hard.  I always find that jam burns at the bottom of my pan if I just leave it to boil,  so I stir the jam continuously, though other recipes don’t tell you to do this.

SAM_6815

After approximately 5 minutes of boiling I tested for the ‘setting point’.  To do this, I put a small drop of jam on one of the side plates from the freezer.  After a few moments, I push the jam with my finger and if it wrinkles it’s ready.  If it doesn’t wrinkle, I continue to boil the jam.

I usually keep checking the jam every five minutes until the setting point is reached.

SAM_6824

When the setting point was reached I took the pan off the heat and stirred in a knob of butter to reduce the skum off the top of the jam.  I then left it for fifteen minutes, which helps to stop the strawberries from dropping to the bottom of the jars.

SAM_6825

While I was waiting I sterilised eight jam jars by placing them in my oven, gas mark 4 for 5 minutes.

I poured the jam into the jars and sealed them with the lids.  I used jars that have a sealable lid (i.e. the jars that jam is sold in, at the supermarket).  This way I don’t need to worry about wax discs to create a seal.  As the jam cools, the lids ‘pop’ down and make you jump.

SAM_6830

.

I managed to make eight jars out of the ingredients and the jam sugar was £1.99 per kg.  This worked out at just under 50p per jar, which is still cheaper than shop bought jam, however if I had used ordinary granualted sugar and lemon juice, the jars would have worked out at 25p per jar.

.

My Review Of Jam Sugar

.

So did the jam set better?….

When I was making the jam, it reached setting point far quicker than my method of using granulated sugar and lemon juice.

When I used the jam, was it any better?

Unfortunately the answer is “No”, it was the same as my jam.

Would I buy and use Jam Sugar again?

No, I don’t think it is worth the money.  Please let me know your thoughts on this.

SAM_6810

.

My Tips For Jam Making:

.

Just to let you know, the pan I use to make jam is a ‘maslin’ pan which is deep enough for jam making.  Mine was second hand, which I purchased for £10 from ebay and it was worth every penny.

Jam making is easy once you have got the hang of it.  If you haven’t made jam before, I have written some tips below to help you:

.

Clean equipment – Always use equipment that is scupulously clean and jars that have been sterilised.

.

Fruit – Always use undamaged fruit. Fruit with too much damage will spoil the result and the jam is likely to deteriorate quickly.

SAM_6828

.

Pectin – Jams, jellies and marmalade set because of pectin. Pectin occurs naturally in fruit and when cooked with sugar the naturally occurring acid in the fruit, thickens and sets the preserve. Citrus fruit, blackberries, apples and redcurrants have high pectin levels. Soft fruits such as strawberries have a lower pectin level. If fruits are low in pectin then you can add fruits with a higher level of pectin to it or just add a few squeezes of lemon juice which will help them to set. When possible use slightly under ripe fruit when pectin levels will be at the highest.

.

Sugar – I use granulated but you can use preserving sugar, but it is more expensive. Preserving sugar will help set low-pectin fruits, but I just add lemon juice to granulated sugar, which does the same job.

.

Quantity – Don’t make too large a quantity at one time. Large volumes of fruit and sugar will take a long time to reach setting point, causing the fruit to break up and eventually dissolve in the jam.

.

To test for the setting point – Place a few small plates or saucers in to your freezer for a while before you start to make jam, so they are really cold.  Pour a small drop of the hot jam on to the plate and wait a few moments. Push the edges of the jam with your index finger and if the jam wrinkles then the setting point has been reached.  If it’s not set, continue to boil it and check again in 5 minutes. Don’t overcook. It is tempting to keep cooking to achieve a firmer set. A slightly looser jam is preferable to one that tastes burnt or where the fruit has dissolved.  Don’t worry if you didn’t judge your jam setting point correctly and it’s runny, just call it a ‘preserve’ instead.

SAM_6824

.

Scum – There is always a little bit of scum on the jam after the setting point has been reached.  Skim it off with a ladle or add a tiny knob of butter and stir. This will dissolve the scum almost instantly.

.

Leave the jam to settle – Always leave the jam for 15 mins away from the heat, once the setting point has been reached.  This will prevent the fruit from rising to the surface of the jar when you pour it in.

.

SAM_6736

I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog today.

I will be back on Friday at my usual time of 4pm.  Have a good week.

Stop And Appreciate What You Have

I realised this week that I have been rushing around so much lately, that I have become very tired and I needed to re-charge my batteries.   With this in mind I decided to take a day off from the allotment.

My sping cabbages.

My sping cabbages.

As you have probably guessed by now, I’m not very good at sitting still and resting.  In fact I only managed to sit down for about five minutes, before I stood up to do something.

I sorted my three freezers out and made a list of what was in them.  I then made nine pots of jam with strawberries that I had grown last year and froze.  I changed the beds and afterwards I made some dairyfree ice cream for my youngest daughter (you can find the recipe here).

I did these things slowly as I didn’t need to rush, after all I hadn’t planned to do them today.  Strangely, this made me feel better, as none of the things felt like a chore, though recently they had.

It made me realise that I have somehow got into this routine of rushing everything, without stopping to take stock of what I need to do, or why I even do it.  I wondered why this had happened.

My homemade strawberry jam

My homemade strawberry jam

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you will remember that one of my oldest friends passed away in February.  I wrote a tribute to her here.  Since then, I have been trying to get on with things as the British do, ‘with a stiff upper lip’.  What I realised today, is what I have actually been doing, is to do as many things as possible so I don’t have time to think about what has happened.

While I was slowly doing my jobs today my friend kept popping into my mind, probably because I finally let myself think of her and how much it hurts that I can’t see her again.

I have lovely happy memories of our times together, so why on earth would I want to lock these memories away so I can’t remember them?…I’ll make sure I don’t again.  I suppose this is part of the grieving process.

A robin that visits me daily at my allotment.

A robin that visits me daily at my allotment.

So today I have learnt that sometimes you need to stop and become aware of what is happening in your life and within you.  I concentrated on ‘just today’ and how I was feeling and now I feel better for it.

It has reminded me that I love the way we live and I feel so blessed to spend my days growing salads, fruit and vegetables and looking after my family.

Over the years money has been tight, as we chose for me to give up work, when our first daughter was born.  Looking back, I am very proud of how we managed. We have two beautiful daughters and a nice home. It doesn’t have posh furniture or the latest gadgets, but it is a ‘home’, where we have shared so many happy memories together.

SAM_6350

I wonder how many of you reading this blog today, have found yourself rushing around so much that you can’t see the wood for the trees?  Life is so short and it’s important that we stop and appreciate what we have.

Thank you for reading my blog today.

I’ll be back on Monday.

Strawberry Jam & Jam Making Tips

Over the weekend I made some strawberry jam, with the strawberries that I have in the freezer.

I was very scared of making jam the first time I attempted it and I’ve got to say my jam was awful and rock hard!

Since then, I’m pleased to say, I have got the hang of it and I now find it very easy.

.

Strawberry jam

Strawberries

Granulated sugar

Lemon juice

.

Before you start, put some side plates in the freezer for a few hours.  These will be used to test the ‘setting point’

Wash and hull the strawberries

Weigh the strawberries and put into a large pan (the contents will rise as it boils)

Put the same weight of sugar in the pan with the strawberries

Put the pan on a low heat and stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar has melted and the sugar crystals can not be seen on the back of your spoon

As strawberries have a very low pectin level, add 3 tablespoons of lemon juice per 1lb of strawberries.

At this point turn the heat right up and bring to a boil and continue boiling hard.  I find the jam burns at the bottom of my pan if I just leave it to boil,  so I stir the jam continuously, though other recipes don’t tell you to do this.

After 10 minutes test for the ‘setting point’.  To do this, put a small drop of jam on one of the side plates from the freezer.  After a few moments, push the jam with your finger and if it wrinkles it’s ready.  If it doesn’t wrinkle, continue boiling hard.

Keep checking the jam every five minutes until the setting point is reached.

Take the pan off the heat and leave it for fifteen minutes.  If there is scum on your jam, you can skim it off, but I just stir in a small knob of butter which does the same job.

Sterilise some jam jars (gas mark 4 for 5 minutes)

Pour the jam into the jars and seal with lids.  I use the jars that have a sealable lid (i.e. the jars that jam is sold in, at the supermarket).  This way you don’t need to worry about wax discs to create a seal.  As the jam cools, the lids ‘pop’ and make you jump.

The jam stores for ages and ages in a cool, dark place, however, once you have opened a jar, keep it refridgerated.

.

The pan I use to make jam is a ‘maslin’ pan which is deep enough for jam making.  Mine was second hand, which I purchased for £10 from ebay and it was worth every penny.

I have worked out, that because I grew my own strawberries, each jar of homemade jam costs just 22 pence per jar to make.  The cheapest strawberry jam I have managed to find, is Tesco’s value jam which is 35 pence per jar and has only 35% of fruit in it too.

 Though I do say so myself, I’m sure mine tastes an awful lot nicer.

Homemade Strawberry Jam on homemade bread…bliss!

.

I commented recently that I had to learn things by reading lots of different books and websites.  It would have been much easier for me to have the information all together in one place.

So, i’ve written some jam making tips below, to help you if you are making jam for the first time:

.

Clean equipment – Always use equipment that is scupulously clean and jars that have been sterilised.

.

Fruit – Always use undamaged fruit. Fruit with too much damage will spoil the result and the jam is likely to deteriorate quickly.

.

Pectin – Jams, jellies and marmalade set because of pectin. Pectin occurs naturally in fruit and when cooked with sugar the naturally occurring acid in the fruit, thickens and sets the preserve. Citrus fruit, blackberries, apples and redcurrants have high pectin levels. Soft fruits such as strawberries have a lower pectin level. If fruits are low in pectin then you can add fruits with a higher level of pectin to it or just add a few squeezes of lemon juice which will help them to set. When possible use slightly under ripe fruit when pectin levels will be at the highest.

Sugar – I use granulated but you can use preserving sugar, but it is more expensive. Preserving sugar will help set low-pectin fruits, but I just add lemon juice to granulated sugar, which does the same job.

I buy big bags of sugar as it’s cheaper per kg

Quantity – Don’t make too large a quantity at one time. Large volumes of fruit and sugar will take a long time to reach setting point, causing the fruit to break up and eventually dissolve in the jam.

.

To test for the setting point – Place a few small plates or saucers in to your freezer for a while before you start to make jam, so they are really cold.  Pour a small drop of the hot jam on to the plate and wait a few moments. Push the edges of the jam with your index finger and if the jam wrinkles then the setting point has been reached.  If it’s not set, continue to boil it and check again in 5 minutes. Don’t overcook. It is tempting to keep cooking to achieve a firmer set. A slightly looser jam is preferable to one that tastes burnt or where the fruit has dissolved.  Don’t worry if you didn’t judge your jam setting point correctly and it’s runny, just call it a ‘preserve’ instead.

.

Scum – There is always a little bit of scum on the jam after the setting point has been reached.  Skim it off with a ladle or add a tiny knob of butter and stir. This will dissolve the scum almost instantly.

.

Leave the jam to settle – Always leave the jam for 15 mins away from the heat, once the setting point has been reached.  This will prevent the fruit from rising to the surface of the jar when you pour it in.

I really hope that todays post will help someone to make lovely jam.

Thanks for readingit .