Preserves



The idea of Home Preserving seems, at first, to be a daunting task. It conjures up all sorts of images of stoic great grandmothers bottling everything from corn to carrots to the kitchen sink. Home Preserving really is one of the last vestiges of true home cooking. After all, it is so much easier and convenient to buy jars of jam or marmalade or pickle than to spend several hours picking the produce, de-stalking it and then slowly cooking it. At this point, if your pectin level is'nt up to spec then you might just find yourself with a disappointingly runny preserve (although it will still taste delicious).
To make preserves, you do need to set a weekend aside because if you’re going to make jam, you might as well make some marmalade and some chutney too. It is a therapeutic, peaceful pursuit and relatively easy if you put your trust and faith into the science that lies behind a good set. Making preserves is not just a case of adding a bit more sugar here, a bit of salt here. There are fairly strict ratios that need to be adhered to. To be honest, if you’ve spent money on fruit (which, at this time of the year, you probably will have if you’re using strawberries or raspberries), what’s a little more time and consideration anyway?
My first foray into making preserves is mentioned below, when I attempted to replicate that Greek/Turkish delicacy, Preserved Lemons. I haven’t actually used them yet but each time I open the fridge, they look up at me, my first preserved fruit.
Some fruits come into their own once they have been through the preserving process. Sloes taste absolutely, mouth-puckeringly dry and bitter when picked straight from the tree, but slowly stewed to make a jelly or soused in Gin and they become other-worldly. Green tomatoes too, for those summers when they refuse to ripen, can be put to great use in delicious, bold, spicy chutneys or jams. Rosehips can make a delightfully, bright, shiny pink syrup which, supposedly, keeps all manner of illnesses at bay.
What I enjoy most about preserves is that they evoke a simpler time, a time when everything in the hedgerow was utilised because money was scarce and/or refrigerators hadn’t been invented.
It is a nice feeling to be given a bag of windfall plums or to gather the crab-apples that have fallen to the ground, and turn them into rows of colourful jars of jam on your windowsill, illuminated by an Autumn sun.
The fun part is the gathering of the fruit. I dragged my husband and two dogs along on a wild fruit picking expedition last weekend (before the rain and before the blackberries get their slimy jacket or ‘devil’s spit’ on them) and the sheer quantity of fruit around for the picking was immense. In a half hour period, we collected over 2 pounds of blackberries (and we were only limited to that because we didn’t have enough bags with us and the dogs were getting tetchy), the same of Sloes and some Rosehips, although I prefer to leave them on the hedgerow as they look so pretty. When I got home, I froze our bounty of blackberries and made a bottle of Sloe Vodka as a Christmas present for my grandmother, with still enough of those tiny bowling ball blue/black, shiny, painfully bitter globes left for next year.
An interesting by-product of Slow Gin that I discovered whilst surfing the net one dull afternoon at work, is sloe cider made from the gin soused sloes that are discarded once the purple liqueur is strained and decanted. I am eager to give this a try but it will probably have to wait until just before Christmas. The sloes are simply added to a good quality cider, which must give turn the golden apple elixir a lovely pinkish blush and a subtle juniper back note. We shall see.

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