Monday 31 August 2009

Apples, blackberries and sloes

As a result of our visit to Cambridgeshire, we have a stock of 4 sacks of apples plus a further two carrier bags full; a bucket of blackberries and about a kilo of sloes. Lots of jam and gin making coming up this week.

I've also been down to the allotment tonight for the first time in a week. We have a large supply of runner beans to pick, more tomatoes to gather in and, I am delighted to say, we have our first pumpkins growing. And finally, our Victoria plums are ripening. I picked a couple to try them out.
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Saturday 29 August 2009

Picking apples

I am in Cambridgeshire this weekend, doing the annual trip to David's mother's. This is a rural area and has many country lanes with hedgerows. As we drove to the house in Bottisham, I felt like we were driving up the aisles of a free supermarket: lots of bushes and trees sagging under the weight of fresh fruit all waiting to be picked. And just as we drove into the village, there were the apple trees which I picked last year.

It took me only 45 minutes to fill 4 carrier bags with apples. We brought down hessian bags to transport them back to Gateshead. Two have been filled. Hopefully this will be sufficient to keep us going to the end of the year at least. We will have to sort out storage of those we will eat raw. Others will be turned into jams and jelly, go into pies, dried etc.
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When things go wrong - sloe and crab apple jam

Quite what went wrong with this one, I don't know. I made sloe and crab apple jam on Thursday and woke up on Friday to find none of it had set.

The recipe I used was as follows:
2kg sloes
1.5kg crab apples
3.5kg sugar
1 litre water
2 lemons

Sloes and chopped crab apples went into the jam pan along with the juice of the lemons. I then chopped the peel and added that. The water was added and heat applied.

This was brought to the boil and simmered until everything was a soft pulp. This was then sieved - a pressed the pulp through the sieve to get the maximum out of it.

The resulting liquid was then measured. We had 3.5 litres. That meant 3.5kg sugar which was added to the liquid once it had reach boiling point back in the jam pan.

I then boiled it to setting point which seemed to be reached. I tested in the normal way - on a saucer. It developed a skin. It was then put into jars (and it rapidly formed a skin in them.)

So I was surprised that all 18 jars still contain liquid a day later. I am going to experiment with a small number of jars to see what will get it to set. I am also wondering if I simply added too much water. Crab apples can be very dry and absorb water. Perhaps I over compensated for that.

All is not lost. If I can't get it to set, it will make a lovely sauce for puddings. Or I could use it as a basis for a fruits of the hedgerow jam.

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How to make blackberry vodka

My original plan yesterday was to make blackberry whisky. I picked the blackberries on Thursday in Crystal Palace Park and was ready to repeat the recipe I used last year. Alas, though trips to a number of supermarkets in the area were made, we could find now cheap, own label whisky (the last thing to do is use an expensive brand!) Then in Sainsburys, I spotted their cheap, own label vodka. Now's the time to expand my range of fruit vodkas, I thought to myself. So here goes, my recipe for blackberry vodka:

1 litre supermarket own label vodka
600g freshly picked blackberries
300g sugar

Add the blackberries and sugar to a kilner or other storage jar. Pour in the vodka and close the jar.

Give the jar a good shake to make sure the contents are thoroughly stirred up. Repeat this every day for a month. It takes a few days for the sugar to fully dissolve.

Then shake it up once a month for the following two months.

After a month of daily shaking and the further two months of one off shakes, strain and bottle. It should be ready for drinking immediately.

After the first shake, the liquid goes a lovely dark purple colour. I am expecting the colour to get stronger during the next three months.

I was asked recently if fruit liquers should be drunk neat. The answer is yes, don't spoil them by adding anything else.

Finally, as with all recipes for fruit vodka, gin, whisky et al, use the pickled fruit that is strained off at the end of the process. Something like raspberries and blackberries can be used as a topping to ice cream. Sloes are a bit of a problem because of their stones. I am working up some ideas on how to use sloes pickled in gin so I'll try them out later this year and post up the recipes (assuming they work of course!)
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Tuesday 25 August 2009

How to make plum and nectarine jam

This is a great recipe for using up surplus and windfall plums. Plum on its own in jam is great but I had a handful of nectarines going spare so I included them in this jam. This is what I used:

500g plums
500g nectarines
3 lemons
1kg sugar

Note that the weight given above is after the stones have been removed.

Chop the plums and nectarines once the stones have been removed and add them to the jam pan. Add the juice of the lemons to the pan as well, apply heat and bring to the boil.

Leave to simmer until the fruit is very soft. I found the nectarines kept their body whilst the plums turned into a pulp - so make sure the nectaries are well chopped before cooking.

Once the fruit is soft enough, add the sugar, stir constantly and bring back to the boil. Check for the setting point in the usual way - seeing if a skin forms on a sample of jam. Once it has, put into warmed jars.

We made 4 jars from the quantity above.

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How to make sloe gin

After the disaster of the sloe crop last year, this year I am pleased to say there is an abundance of sloes - or at least there is in Crystal Palace Park, near our London home. So I was out this morning picking sloes. And I've just finished setting up the sloe gin.

This is what I used:

650g sloes
325g granulated sugar
1.4litre cheap, supermarket own brand of gin

The boring bit comes first. Get a sowing needle and prick each sloe about 5 times. This allows the juices to percolate into the gin.

Then add the pricked sloes to a kilner jar, add the sugar and then pour in the gin. Some people add almonds at this point for extra taste. I haven't bothered this time but may do so on the next batch.

Give the contents a good stir before closing the jar. For the next month, give the jar a good shake each day. For the following 2 months give it an occasional shake. After three months strain and bottle the sloe gin - it's useful therefore to hold on to the bottles the original gin came in.

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Wednesday 19 August 2009

How to pickle beetroot and store garlic

We have now harvested the beetroot and garlic we had on the allotment. This video shows how we have preserved it.

Friday 14 August 2009

allotment update no 6 first summer crops

This is the latest update video from the allotment: we have been harvesting baby leeks, garlic, marrows, peas and beetroot.

How to grow potatoes in bags

We tried an experiment this year of growing potatoes in bags. It was a success. 6 bags were planted out on the allotment and we have now harvested over 15kg of potatoes. These bags are ideal for patios, balconies, back yards and rooftops. No garden needed.

Thursday 13 August 2009


I thought the season for wild raspberries was ending a couple of weeks ago. However, we picked a half bucket full last night whilst out for a walk and I am back at the same location now and have another half bucketful. Jam making this afternoon I think.

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Sunday 9 August 2009

Too late for the cherries

Last year we get a great crop of wild cherries. I say "wild" - perhaps semi- domesticated would be a better description. The trees were planted by the Council - for the spring blossom, not the fruit. I picked them in central Gateshead at a place called Clasper Village, on the banks of the Tyne. I am here now to do the same. Alas, my bucket is going back empty. There are no cherries left.

I guess the wood pigeons and blackbirds got most of them but perhaps someone else beat me to them as well.

The lesson is, don't leave it too late to pick the fruit.
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