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.

 

Apple, Apple, Double Bubble.

It is fast approaching THAT time of year. The time when you open the front door to find one of your neighbours standing there festooned with bulging carrier bags and a hopeful expression on their face.

“Would you like a few apples?” they ask, a slight note of desperation in their voice.

What they mean, of course is “Please, please take some. The freezer is full, the kids are refusing to come home if I serve one more apple dessert and even the dog has started hiding them under the sofa.”

If you weaken, despite the fact that the end of your own garden looks like an exploded cider press, and agree to take “a few”, they will dropped a couple of bags and run before you can change your mind.

You are now faced with dozens and dozens of apples of an unknown variety in a multitude of conditions, from nice to oozy and every stage between the two.

What to do, especially as your own freezer is already full and you are beginning to hear the sounds of rebellion from your own rank and file.

The answer is chutney and jelly, double bubble from the same set of apples.

First peel your apples, discarding black bits, unidentifiable bits and anything which might be protein.. SAVE THE PEEL. Chuck it in a zip bag or a covered box, you will need it for the jelly.

Core the apples, see previous about protein bits, and save the cores with the peel.

Chop up the fruit and some onions, I can’t say how much because it depends on the number of  apples you were fooled into taking, but about 8 oz of onion to 2lbs of apples is about right.

Put them in a preserving pan with a bag of dark brown sugar and enough cider vinegar to cover. Add some sultanas or some raisin or even some finely chopped prunes. Bring to the boil and simmer for a couple of hours until all is thick and a spoon dragged across the bottom of the pan leaves a clean line. You will need to check and stirred regularly to stop it burning. Put into hot sterilised jars and cover in the usual way. Leave for a month or so before eating. Don’t be tempted to try it earlier, it won’t be nice.

You can spice up the mix anyway you like. My son-in-law would probably add a fistful of chillies, maybe two fists full, but those of us who like our mouths unblistered might add paprika or coriander or cloves. I like to put mustard seeds in, they add crunch and spice without getting over excited.

This chutney is perfect with cheese, delicious with ham and a must for a pork pie.

Now for the jelly.

Take all the peel and the cores and put them in a big pan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer until everything has fallen apart and the whole thing looks disgusting.

Trust me.

Take off the heat and put the whole lot into a jelly bag to drip over night. Please put a bowl under the jelly bag to catch the result, I refuse to accept any responsibility for the omission of this.

No jelly bag? A one leg of a pair of tights does an excellent job.

The next day, discard the remaining contents of the jelly bag (tights leg) in the compost heap and tip all the collected juice into a jug and measure it, it may take a couple of goes to measure it all. Once you know how much liquid you have, pour it into a saucepan and add sugar at the ratio of 1lb of sugar to 1 pint of juice. You may have to do some maths, but it isn’t an absolute, so don’t worry too much, just try and be somewhere near.

Heat the mix slowly until the sugar is dissolved and then bring to a rolling boil and boil until you reach jam setting point. To skim off any scum, because underneath there will be a beautiful clear, amber coloured syrup which will set to a glorious soft jelly.

You can just put it in jars as you would any jam or jelly, it is delicious with ham or on crumpets or pancakes, but you can also flavour it by adding things to the jars as you pouring in the hot syrup. Herbs like mint, sage or thyme work well, as does strips of lemon peel or a couple of chillies you have slit open to let the fire out.

Two treats for the dark cold days to come from the same unpromising bags.