Firstly, let me introduce myself, my name is Ann and my dear friend Lydia and I used to work together and shared a love of food and The Great British Bake Off. But now it’s all change, Lydia moved up to Manchester and I have retired and of course Bake Off as we knew it is no longer. However, we have kept in touch and one of my signature bakes is the infamous Banana Chocolate Chip Cake which has already appeared on the blog so I feel doubly privileged to do a guest spot and already have a recipe featured.
I’m not sure exactly where my love of cooking came from but my paternal Grandmother was a Vicar’s wife so there was always homemade cake around. My maternal Grandmother and Mother were both into preserving and bottling so I have embraced both sides of the family in those respects. There is something immensely satisfying about having a store cupboard full of colourful glistening jars of home produce. I also enjoy general cooking and use recipes only as a rough guide adapting to what is to hand which work as my friends and family seem to like what I produce. I also find cooking strangely relaxing, especially baking. I live in a small village in the Cotswolds, Ebrington, which is just outside Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire and if you google the village you will find the Ebrington Arms which was voted Best Village Pub in July 2017 in the Times theebringtonarms.co.uk.
I always look forward to picking and subsequently producing lots of wonderful things to put into jars or in the freezer. I think my favourite fruit that grows in the garden are redcurrants because they hang in glossy, bright red bunches and have a jewel like appearance. Mind you the birds also share this view and can quickly strip the berries in a blink of an eye.
There are black, red and white currants in my garden plus raspberries, most of which are an autumn fruiting variety which means the pressure is off with them whilst the currants are in full flow. I also have a couple of small apple trees and over the wall in the adjoining field; there are blackberries, golden plums and a variety of wild plums (sloes), damsons, elderberries and rosehips. I also have a few of those wonderfully intense flavoured Alpine strawberries which spread like anything but don’t take up much room and seem to appreciate thriving under other plants. They don’t produce much harvest, well they do, but are tiny so there doesn’t seem a lot, but a put a few on top of yoghurt for a special treat and they are worth it. This year however I have lost out to my 2½year old granddaughter, Olivia, who has discovered them and picks whatever ripe ones there are under close supervision as she’s not learnt to differentiate between ripe and green ones yet!
Anyway, as Lydia knows, I make jams, jellies and chutneys with the one criteria that all the fruit and/or vegetables used are free. So with my garden and the kind providence of friends, my jam and chutney storage cupboard is overflowing by the end of the season. My one exception is marmalade, yes, believe or not the Cotswolds does not produce Seville oranges! However, I do have a cunning way around the free rule. My neighbour, Karen, is married to the local farmer whose family now run a farm shop in the village (they used to have a green grocer in the nearby town but that has since closed) and we make our marmalade together. I provide the sugar and Karen the oranges and lemons as when the farmers take our local cabbages, sprouts and cauliflowers etc to market in Birmingham, they return with fruits and vegetables that can’t be grown in the surrounding area.
Little diversion – a plug for the farm shop which only opened this month (July 2017). They have a café attached which does breakfast, light lunches, lovely home baked cakes and bread and a lovely cup of coffee with various teas on offer. All meals use their own and other local produce, the café is in its early days but so far it’s looking good. The shop and café overlook the wonderful rolling Cotswold Hills and is south facing. Here’s a link and if you find yourself around here then pop in and give it a go: vegetablematters.co.uk.
Let us return to preserving my garden and field produce, I’m not going to fill up the blog with jam recipes, my bibles are the Good Housekeeping recipe books and nowadays these can be found on their website so easily. As will mysteries such as setting points. I will include two chutney recipes, one from my Grandmother and the other one which I adapt depending on whatever I have. There is also a fruit jelly recipe, well not really a recipe, just what I do at the end of season so let’s start there.
Like summer puddings, there is a week or so when all those late summer fruits are still there with the first of the autumn fruits. For what I call ‘Hedgerow Jelly’, all I do is pick blackberries, damsons, sloes, plums, late raspberries, elderberries plus a few rosehips (which are better after a frost so just pop them in the freezer which also softens them) plus a few windfalls from the apple trees. The jelly is different every year depending what you have managed to pick so spend a lovely autumnal day in late sun in the countryside and see what happens.
- After weighing all the fruit (any stalks, cores etc are included, so easy prep) pop in a large pan (size depends on quantity gathered) with 1 pint of water for every 1lb of fruit and boil until soft (sorry folks I am old fashioned with my measurement units, I am and my scales are).
- Put in a jelly bag and let the mix drip overnight (Lakeland do a kit but I use a bag suspended from a wooden spoon across the base of an upside down tall stool. Precarious but it works).
- Next day retrieve all the dripped through juices (don’t squeeze the bag otherwise this results in a cloudy jelly, however the flavour is not affected and if you want an extra jar or so and are not worried about a cloudy end result then squeeze away). Then measure the amount of juices got and add 1lb sugar to every pint of juice, so for half a pint of juice, half a pound of sugar; for 4 pints, 4 lb and so on.
- Boil this up until setting point is reached. I use a silicone spoon which has a built in digital thermometer so I get good results every time and it so much safer, as previously one had to dangle the sugar thermometer over the bubbling cauldron of jam or jelly trying not to get scalded! Spoon into jars and cover etc.
Now on to chutney, here is my use-anything recipe which again is really loose like the jelly one above. Use what you have but obviously certain things need to be included such as vinegar (use what you have and it’s a brilliant chance to empty out all those bits of vinegar left in random bottles over the year, fruit ones, wine ones, cider ones but top up with malt or pickling vinegar) and spice, again a good clear out – all those spices which we buy for a one-off recipe or are forgotten about. Sugar –if you want a darker chutney go for dark brown which imparts a lovely molasses note. For a lighter, not so strong chutney then use some light brown or demerara, good old granulated is good too.
- So random mix: 6lb of chopped, peeled, deseeded fruit/veg (marrow, courgette, tomatoes (red or green), apples, plums.
- Add 2 chopped onions, 2 garlic cloves, 12 oz of dried fruits (e.g. sultanas, raisins, apricots, figs) and 4 oz preserved ginger chopped or chopped fresh ginger or 2 tablespoons of ground ginger, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 tsp each of ground cloves and ground nutmeg, 1 tablespoon each of mustard seeds, chilli powder, ground cinnamon, 4lb sugar and, lastly, 1½ pints of vinegar. If using pickling vinegar then spices might need adjusting but it can be made as hot and spicy as you like.
- Gently bring to boil and simmer for 1-2 hours until thick with no free liquid. Pot and cover. Best kept for several months to mature
Granny Fowler’s Green Tomato Chutney
Not sure how old this recipe is but it’s obviously traditional.
- Slice 3lbs of Green Tomatoes and 1 lb onions and sprinkle with salt, cover and leave for at least 12 hours.
- Add 1 lb moist sugar (I interpret as soft brown), 1 tsp of cayenne pepper (or chilli these days), 1 oz mustard seeds, 1 tsp ground ginger, 8 oz chopped sultanas, 2 lbs prepared apples, 1 pint vinegar.
- Boil gently for two to three hours until thick and with no free liquid. Again best left to mature.
Aside from preserving, I must mention a freezer and firm family favourite, Strawberry Ice Cream. It is so easy with no ice cream maker or intermediate mixing required and no eggs are used, so it really is suitable for everyone.
Strawberry Ice Cream
For every 1lb of fruit add ½lb of icing sugar whizz together in blender then fold in ½pint whipped double cream/whipping cream/extra thick cream/Greek yoghurt or Crème Fraiche – the flavours work equally well but the texture is slightly different.
Experiment and be amazed, I usually go to a local ‘Pick Your Own’ and then batch make the ice cream in various containers in numerous sizes which we then enjoy throughout the year. The recipe works well with other fruits but the whizzed-up fruit puree may need sieving if the fruits are too pippy (e.g blackberries) or cooking up and sieving (e.g. currants). The recipe also works amazingly well with a jar of lemon curd – just mix entire contents of jar (shop bought and I find Tesco Finest is the best for this) with a large carton of double cream.
Another fruity and very easy recipe that I batch bake and freeze for use later in the year is a French inspired Blackcurrant Tart.
- Make a sweet pastry case (although it also works as well with a shortcrust pastry case which has been blind baked).
- In the case put in enough blackcurrants (raspberries also work well) to fill the case, approximately a double layer or slightly less.
- Mix together 2 eggs, 1 oz flour, 5 oz white sugar and a tad under half a pint double cream (250ml pot does well) and mix well.
- Lastly add a tablespoonful of Crème de Cassis. Bake for 30-40 mins at 200C/Gas Mark 6. Serve either cold or just warm.
That’s all for now, I could go on and with an impending apple harvest I could be unstoppable.