Jam, Jam, Jelly Jam

Not to mention chutney.

I’m bored with being ill, let’s talk about nice things.

It’s that time of year again, preserving and storing the yummy things of summer to be enjoyed in the dark, cold days of winter. Every year I promise myself I will be adventurous and make loads of different things and while I do manage a few novelties, every year the same three staples come out of my kitchen, bramble jelly, apple butter and apple chutney.

My recipe or rather method, for bramble jelly is on here somewhere. Nothing really changes from year to year,  blackberries are still a wonderful natural and free food and they’re still vicious bastards. Every year I try a new, thicker pair of gloves and every year I end up dripping blood, scratched to ribbons and stained purple in unlikely places.

The only change I have made is I now put them in a plastic box with a sealed lid for a few hours after I’ve picked them. It is remarkable how many creepy crawlies emerge and pin themselves to the lid looking for an escape route and nothing puts you off a clotted cream and bramble jelly scone more than the presence of something leggy embedded in the sweet purple yumminess..

Apple butter and apple chutney are going to be a bit more of a problem this year. Ever since we moved into this house the apple tree in the garden that backs on to us has hung its unpruned branches over our wall and dropped piles and piles of wind falls into our lawn and every year I gather them up, cut out the bruises and the bugs and turn them into apple butter and chutney,

This year the behind neighbours have FELLED my apple tree!!! Okay, it was their tree, it was rotten and it was trying to bring down the wall, but that is not the point, where am I going to get free apples now? I’m trying not to mutter and I’ve started training binoculars on other neighbours gardens. I think I’ve spotted a tree a couple of doors down. so the time may have come to take an offering of cake there…just to be friendly you unbderstand,

There are as many recipes for apple butter on the web as there are apples on a tree. Find one you like and give it a go, its a great resource, it can be eaten on bread like jam, made into a pie or even eaten as it comes with cream or poured over ice cream. I once served it at a posh dinner party with vanilla ice cream and cinnamon shortbread biscuits, I could say it wasn’t a triumph, but I’d be lying.

Apple chutney is also not something I can give you a recipe for, because it varies every time I make it depending on what sugar is in the larder, what vinegar (I avoid malt) and what dried fruit and spices are left over. Cook chopped apple in vinegar and sugar adding what you like, chilli, allspice, cinnamon, cloves…the spicy world in your oyster and your choice of dried fruit. Last year I used white wine vinegar, soft light brown sugar, dried figs and apricots and allspice. You cook it until a wooden spoon dragged across the bottom of the pan leaves a clean line and then pot it. Do NOT be tempted to try it, it will taste harsh and you will want to cry, but if you leave it for a couple of months it will mellow and mature into a gorgeous product that goes wonderfully with cheese, ham and pork.

Don’t waste what the sun and the good earth have provided, preserve it, but always leave some for the birds and the animals who will need it to survive the lean times that are now just around the corner.

 

Banana, Banana!

Sometime back in the 1960’s my grandparents went on holiday to the Canary Islands. Back then this was a real adventure, especially for two people born before World War One and for whom flying was still something amazing.

One of the things they brought home was a bottle of banana liqueur. It was one of those things tourist did bring back, it was in a very exciting shaped bottle and the most improbable golden yellow in colour.

My gran never drank and my grandfather was very abstemious, so this bottle was never opened. I suspect they never really had any intention of opening it, it sat in their cocktail cabinet a glowing golden addition to the a status symbol my grandfather was very proud of , it cemented his image as the successful, self made business man he was.

In time the cocktail cabinet and the bottle passed to my mother. She also is/was no drinker and her really hated that cocktail cabinet. Resourceful woman that she is, she found homes for both, the cabinet to a cousin who admired it and the bottle to the Military Historian and me.

Neither of us is adverse to the odd glass of something, but there was something about this jaundice liquid in its bulbous bottle which did not tempt. So we did what any sensible person would do, we put it in the back of a dark cupboard and ignored it. When we moved we thought about chucking it out, but what with one thing and another, it came with us to the new house and went into a new dark cupboard.

Then we moved again and so did the bottle, to yet another cupboard. Then I had a new kitchen and it spent a while in the cellar. Then we needed to clear the cellar, so it found itself in one of the new kitchen cabinets…luxury, it was only semi-dark in there.

Then comes last night. I’ve made pots and pots of apple butter from the bags and bags of windfalls which keep appearing. It is delicious and it needs a home, so we decide to make some space in the kitchen. There in all its yellowness is the now sixty year old bottle of banana liqueur. The time has come, its day is done, the bottle is quirky, so we might keep it, but the contents is going down the sink. Let’s face it, by now it will be yucky beyond belief.

I’m about to pour when the Military Historian says “dare you to try it”. Well, I’ve not been married to the British Army for more years than I care to remember for nothing! A challenge is a challenge and not something to be turned down. So I pour some into a spoon and try it.

Then I had another spoonful to make sure my taste buds hadn’t been deceived. It is DELICIOUS! Sweet, mellow and tasting of banana, but not in a bad artificial way, but the way a perfectly ripe organic banana does. It is obviously not something for dwarfish quaffing, but it is very drinkable. I have no idea if it always tasted like this or whether time has been the agent, maybe by the end of the bottle I will have worked it out.

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We are What We Eat.

I have just sent my occult detective short story off to the editor and his first comment was on the part food plays in it. Lovely John Linwood Grant made the same comment about my other short stories in an interview I did with him recently, only he mentioned the other F word…fertility, more of that at a later date.

http://greydogtales.com/blog/solemn-curfew-folklore-horror-cheese/

It got me thinking, because food does play an important part in my stories. I think what a character cooks and eats is important to understanding them and can give you as much insight as what they wear, where they live and what they believe. Chances are if they don’t eat pork, they are from one of the Faiths of the Book which forbid it, or if they don’t eat beef, they maybe Hindu. If they don’t eat meat at all, they maybe vegetarian or vegan, either by conviction or faith again.

Some of us are heathens with the moral values of a vulture and eat almost anything…I’m not judging, I’m just saying, cos I suspect I may have to put my hand up and be counted in this group.

Maybe this is the moment to mention my favourite food apart from bread and butter, because I don’t get to eat it very often and if you just happen to have a tin which needs a home, I would like you to consider me first.

Yes, I love caviar. I don’t need your blinis or your soured cream or your chopped egg, just give me a spoon.

I digress… back to food in stories and the insight they give to character. For example, if an individual breakfasts on raw chicken gizzards with a side order of hot caramel sauce, the chances are they are either the villain or not playing with a full deck.

I couldn’t find a picture of raw chicken gizzards, so here is one of tentacles. I would most certainly eat this, but not with a side order of hot caramel sauce.

On the other hand, Mrs Lillicrop, my occult detective breakfasts on porridge and kippers and has a fondness for afternoon tea. Already you are getting the picture of middle class respectability and you would be right, apart from a tendency to attack poltergeists with nothing more than a pince-nez and a stern word of reproach.

I sometimes visit a site where young authors ask for advice, often it has to do with what name would be best for their characters and what hair colour to pick etc etc. I think it would be a far better if they first worked out what their creation likes for lunch…see previous about breakfasting…a tuna sandwich with no mayo says more than sea green eyes and dirty blond hair imo. I’ve not suggested any of this to them, because they would probably regard it as grossly frivolous.

As you probably know, or have guessed, I like to cook and I like to cook things I have never cooked before, especially if I can use ingredients I haven’t tried. I also like to read about cooking down the ages, because the evolution of food and cooking technics reflects the evolution of mankind. It is part of our history, all of us, no matter where we come from, how we eat and how we cook it is the result of thousands and thousands of years of experiment and enjoyment. Tastes differ all over the planet, but very few of us eat what we don’t like, although plenty of us eat too much of what we do like, and yes, I’m guilty of this…warm crispy bread and lashing of fresh butter…mmm.

What people don’t like to eat can tell you more, Mrs Lillicrop is off to Scotland in my next (work in progress) story, but she will not be eating haggis. Why? Because I hate it, can’t stand it, its up there with cabbage and beets, my other two top hates. I will now sit back and await the comments of haggis lovers, including no doubt my husband who adores it and has to cook it himself if he wants to eat it. He is lucky I don’t make him do it in a fire pit in the garden. He likes cabbage as well, I sometime wonder why I married him.

However, what those around Mrs Lillicrop do eat on her Scottish adventure and what they don’t eat will provide much to explain them and their thoughts, tastes and motivations.

 

BTW, he doesn’t like lobster either, I have to eat his share for him, it’s so hard, but someone has to do it.