Category Archives: preserves

Aga Marmalade

I adore marmalade.  I really enjoy the bitterness of the orange peel in contrast with the sweet jam.  In fact, I just had to get up to make some toast so that I could have some marmalade because writing about it made my mouth water.  Well, between you and me, I made two pieces and spread the other one with lemon curd. I think it is a well established fact that I am greedy, and now there are crumbs on the laptop.

This is the time of year for making marmalade as it needs to be made from Seville oranges and these are only available from markets in January and early February. The Seville orange is incredibly bitter and not at all one that you want to eat freshly peeled. But when mixed with a ton of sugar they make one of the best things that can be spread on toast. The lady who runs my local market tells me every year of the tale of the woman who was naughtily mixing her bag of oranges between the normal and the Seville.  The Seville is usually a bit dearer and this lady thought she was going to get herself a good deal. The market owner thought it appropriate that she let her get on with it and have fun at home playing orange roulette.

Seville oranges freeze very well, so buy them when you see them and put them in the freezer for making marmalade throughout the year.  In fact, I used frozen for this recipe as I mentioned to my mum that I was off to get some Sevilles and she still had some in her freezer from last year so I used those up. Use them from frozen.

I used Mary Berry’s recipe from The Aga Book. In this recipe she recommends that you simmer fresh fruit for 2 hours and frozen fruit overnight.  This makes me feel better as I missed that instruction and was planning to simmer them for two hours but fell asleep watching telly and went straight to bed having forgotten all about my oranges. You see, things always work out in the end.

This recipe made loads, about 10 jars, so unless you have friends and family who are marmalade fiends too you may want to halve the recipe.

1½kg (3lb) Seville oranges
Juice of 2 lemons
3 kg (6lb) sugar
2 litres (4 pints) water

Method

Put the whole oranges in the Aga preserving pan and squeeze in the lemon juice. Cover with the water and bring to the boil.  Once boiling, place the pan carefully in the simmering oven and leave to simmer until the oranges are tender (2 hours or so for fresh fruit, overnight for frozen). Remove the oranges and leave to cool. Once cool enough to handle cut them in half and scoop out all the pulp and pips and place these back into the water.  Bring to the boil and boil for 6 minutes.  Strain this liquid into a large bowl through a sieve and, using a spoon, force the pulp through the sieve.  It is this pulp which contains the pectin that will set the marmalade. Pour the liquid back into the preserving pan.

Cut the peel of the oranges as thinly or as thickly as you like your shreds to be and add these to the liquid, along with the sugar.  Bring the whole lot up to a rolling boil and boil until setting point is reached.  You can test for this with a sugar thermometer (105°c) or have a cold saucer ready and when a little is allowed to cool on this saucer it should wrinkle when pushed with your finger.

Allow the marmalade to cool a little (this will help with the distribution of peel through the jar rather than it all sitting at the top) and then pour into sterilised jars.

To sterilise your jars, wash in warm soapy water and rinse with hot water, then place on a baking tray in the simmering oven for twenty minutes.

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Medlar jelly

The medlars have bletted.

I am ashamed to admit that I haven’t been brave enough to try one raw.  You are supposed to spoon out the fruit and it should taste sweet and cinnamony, but look at them:

I couldn’t do it.

But I could put them in a pot with some cut lemons and boil them up for an hour or so, strain the liquid through muslin, add sugar and boil again to make jelly.  Now I looked at several recipes, including the one at Celtnet and Nigel Slater’s recipe in last Sunday’s Observer magazine and then of course adapted to make my own.

Now both of the above recipes state that you boil the juice and sugar for around 6 minutes.  I boiled mine for a lot longer before it finally looked like it might set.  At the first boiling of about 10 minutes the liquid was still very liquid the next day so I poured back into the pan and boiled again, probably for another 15 minutes or so before it finally showed signs of wrinkling when a little is spooned onto a cold saucer and pushed with a finger.  Now the reasons for this might be that I didn’t add enough unbletted medlars and so didn’t have enough pectin.  But then again Celtnet use all bletted medlars.  It might also have been my fear of burning things and so not having it at a rapid enough boil.  Maybe a gentle boil just doesn’t do the trick.  So I would recommend using about 400g of unbletted medlars (as Nigel recommends) and really boiling the liquid and not being a wimp like me.

The jelly is nice but I am not sure it is really worth the effort of waiting for weeks for your medlars to blet.  I think quince jelly is just as good and not quite as much faff.  If I had a medlar tree I would make them again, or if I receive a boxful again then I will make it, but I wouldn’t go to the effort of seeking the fruit out particularly. As the friend who gave me the medlars said to me, there is probably a reason why the medlar tree is not so popular as other fruit trees. Having said that I have enjoyed the experiment and I am going to attempt to make medlar fudge and that may be a different kettle of fish.

Strained medlar juice

2kg bletted medlars
3 lemons, sliced in half
2 litres of water
granulated sugar, for every 500ml of strained juice add 375g sugar

Method
Quarter the medlars and place into a large pan, add the lemons.  Pour over 2 litres of water and place on a high heat and bring to the boil.  Partially cover with a lid and allow to simmer for about 1 hour until the fruit is really soft.  The time this will take will depend on how bletted your medlars are.  It may take longer.

Pour the fruit and liquid into a jelly bag, or muslin square or a couple of clean tea towels and tie up and suspend from a hook or a tap ( I used the kitchen cupboard handle and a wooden spoon to secure it) until the juice has run out of the bag.  Don’t be tempted to squeeze the bag or the finished jelly will be cloudy.  Measure the amount of juice you have and pour back into the large pan and add 375g sugar for every 500ml of liquid.  My 2kg of fruit yielded 1.8 litres of juice so I added 1.35kg of sugar.  Put onto a medium heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved, then boil rapidly for at least 4 minutes.  Place a saucer in the fridge or under a very cold running tap and then spoon a little of the liquid onto the saucer, allow to cool slightly and then push it with a finger.  It will wrinkle slightly when it is ready.

Pour into sterile jars, mine filled 7 400g jars, seal and allow to cool.

Serve with roast meats, cold meats and cheese or even spread on toast for a breakfast treat.

Preserving horseradish

We grew some really good horseradish in the garden this year, although the caterpillars (of the white cabbage butterfly variety) ate the tops.  The little monsters.  I was surprised that they found them delicious, but perhaps the tops aren’t as strong-tasting as the root.  I adore horseradish sauce, especially when it is freshly made with cream.  This is the horseradish I retrieved from the garden and I can tell you it takes some digging out.

There was about 225g (8oz) in its unpeeled form and about 175g (6oz) once peeled.

You can grate it a lot finer on a microplane but I just didn’t think I could bear the eye-watering, so I used the grater attachment in my food processor and whizzed away.  It was still eye-watering, it has to be said, but not as bad as actually standing directly over a grater. This has left me with longer strands, but I am hoping these will give an interesting bite to future horseradish sauce.

To preserve it, mix the grated horseradish with one teaspoon of sugar and half a teaspoon of salt and then pack it into a sterile jar.  Add enough white wine vinegar to cover the horseradish (about 125ml, 4 fl oz) and seal the jar tightly.

I am looking forward to seeing how successful this is as a way of preserving one of my favourite things.

Meddling with medlars

We have a friend who has a wonderful selection of fruit trees in his garden.  This year we have received basketfuls of apples, walnuts, these cherries

and this week, possibly the most exciting yet.

Okay, the cherries were probably the tastiest and it is a real treat to have cherries fresh from the tree and a huge basketful to boot.  But the medlar is a fruit I have read about and wondered about and I find them very intriguing. Now, according to my friend the colloquial term for these little beauties is Dog’s Arse – I can’t begin to think why.

I was thrilled when he knocked the door bearing a basket full of these unusual fruit.

As they are, fresh off the tree, they are hard and yield very little juice or smell. They are not pleasant eaten raw straight off the tree but I am led to believe that if I leave them in a cool, dark place for a couple of weeks they will start to blet, which is they will soften and turn a darker brown, and then could be eaten raw.  However, I am not sure I will be brave enough to try them when, let’s face it, they will be halfway to rotten, and my friend tells me that he left some to blet last year and just couldn’t fancy eating one.  His chickens had a feast though.

Anyway, my medlars are in the garage bletting away.  I plan to make medlar jelly in the next couple of weeks with them. If anyone has any experience of medlars or has a good recipe for a jelly or anything else then I would be very interested to hear it.

Tomato Ketchup

As you may know we have a glut of tomatoes.  I have wanted to make tomato ketchup for a long time.  My mum made us a big batch of it when we were little and of course being kids we all tucked into expecting it to taste exactly like the famous stuff and we were all bitterly disappointed and voiced our opinion of this to our poor mother. I often think back to that moment now and feel very sorry for my mum.  I have special empathy for her now, of course, as my own children often voice their disappointment with what I have just placed in front of them, mostly by exclaiming ‘yuck!’

As you grow older though your tastes change and this tomato ketchup tastes much better than the famous stuff.

This recipe is adapted from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s recipe in The River Cottage Cookbook (ISBN 0 00 220204 2)

1.5 kg tomatoes
1 large onion (I used red as that is what we have grown in the garden)
1 small red pepper ( or half a big one)
50g soft brown sugar
100 ml white wine or cider vinegar
A square of muslin or tea towel, boiled for a few minutes to sterilise and then filled with the spices listed below and tie with string to make a spice bag.
1 tsp fennel seed
1 tsp cumin seed
½tsp mustard powder
piece of cinnamon stick
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp ground mace
1 bay leaf
1 garlic clove, bashed once to bruise
1 ½ tsp black peppercorns

½ – 1 tsp paprika and salt to taste at the end of cooking

Method

Chop the tomatoes, onions and pepper and then place in a pan over a medium heat and cook until really soft.  I cooked them for about 25-30 minutes.

Rub the tomato mixture through a sieve over a bowl to achieve a smooth skinless purée.

Place the purée back in the clean pan and add the vinegar and the sugar and the spices in the bag. Bring the mixture to a boil and the reduce the heat and simmer gently until the mixture is a good tomato ketchup consistency.  Keep tasting as you will need to remove the spice bag when they have infused the mixture to your taste.  I removed my spice bag after about 15 minutes and simmered the ketchup for about 40 minutes.

Add paprika and salt to taste. Pour into warm sterilised jars and seal.  This made 1¾ jar fulls for me.

I keep my jar in the fridge and intend to use it within a few weeks but Hugh FW says that it should keep for about a year. I can testify that it is great on a bacon sandwich.

Elderflower cordial

My oh my, it’s been such a long time since I posted last.  Sorry, sorry.  Choclette has even asked me if I have disappeared into another ash cloud. It is starting to feel that way.  I have a list of jobs as long as my arm ( and someone else’s) and it seems if I dare to turn my back more weeds have grown to monstrous proportions in the garden.  Oh well, mustn’t complain as there are some good things growing there too. I am hoping to harvest a few broad beans tonight for the first time, and we are on our last root of Charlotte potatoes from the polytunnel, just in time for those in the garden to be ready.  The first strawberry is turning a crimson shade today in the old sink, ready for the girls to pick tonight. The girls have been disappearing  for about twenty minutes every night just before bed to emerge smeared with redcurrants.  The onions and garlic are nearly there too and we have been enjoying them the last couple of weeks.

My mum, who of course has a garden in which there is not a weed in sight, gave me some wonderful beetroot this week which I roasted and enjoyed very much indeed. Even Mr OC who has for years had a fear of the beetroot (something to do with pickled beets and the way they bleed into everything on your plate) had one and said it was ‘alright’!

One of the best things about this time of year though is the hedgerow and the wonders that can be found in it.  We are very lucky to have some really good elderflower trees nearby, which are well away from the road and which, this year, are brimming with flowers.  So, on Sunday evening, with the sun still shining I went off with my scissors and bowl and cut about 30 heads of elderflower.  The smell of these flowers is so beautifully sweet and delicious and really is the essence of summer. When I poured the just boiled water over, the smell permeated the whole house all evening, making it worthwhile making this cordial simply for that reason.

However, there is another very good reason for making this cordial and that is that it is really delicious and thirst quenching on a hot day, or even a cloudy and showery day like today.  I also intend to have a go at making an ice cream or a sorbet with it.  Should you be planning a summer barbecue, then make some quick as it makes a really good drink for those who wish to forgo the alcohol.

I have taken the recipe from The River Cottage Cookbook (Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, 2001, HarperCollins, ISBN: 0 00220204 2) in which Hugh advises that if you want to keep this for more than a few weeks in the fridge then you should add a heaped teaspoon of tartaric acid for every 500ml of strained juice. It should then last for a year.  I haven’t added any to mine as I don’t expect it to hang around that long.  Don’t forget that the cordial needs to be diluted by at least one part cordial to five parts water before you enjoy it.   I am going on the hunt for a recipe for blackcurrant cordial next.

Make sure you are careful when you pick the elderflowers as you don’t want to lose the precious pollen in each of the tiny flowers.  Give them a very gentle shake to get rid of insects and then start the recipe as quickly as you can once they are picked.

20-30 heads of elderflower
zest of 2 lemons
zest of 1 orange
350g sugar for every 500ml of strained juice
50ml lemon juice for every 500ml of strained juice

Method

Place the heads of elderflower in a large bowl and grate over the zest of the 2 lemons and 1 orange.  Pour enough just-boiled water over the elderflowers to cover them completely. Cover with a cloth and leave overnight.  The next day strain through a muslin or a clean tea towel and measure the amount of strained juice you have.  Then pour into a large pan.  For every 500ml of strained juice add 350g of sugar and 50ml of lemon juice and heat over a gentle heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar has completely dissolved.  Bring up to a gentle simmer and spoon off any scum that rises to the surface.  Leave to go cold, then strain it through a muslin or tea towel again and then decant into clean bottles.  Store in the fridge and then dilute by at least one part cordial to five parts cold water.  Add ice and enjoy.

Aga method lemon curd

Regular readers of this blog will know that I made lemon curd a few weeks ago. Very delicious it was too, but as I have an Aga it was quite hair-raising trying to save it from becoming lemon flavoured scrambled eggs.  This was because I was trying to save time and I was making it directly in a saucepan rather than in a bowl over a pan of simmering water.

When I went to judge Shropshire’s Tastiest Sausage, the event was held at an Aga shop and the great  thing about Aga shops is that everyone who works there is very knowledgeable about cooking on an Aga.  I spoke to the Sales Advisor, (who is a trained chef and offers one to one demonstrations on how to use an Aga), about my difficulties with my lemon curd and he suggested I read Richard Maggs’ The Complete Book of Aga Know-How as he has a method for making lemon curd in a jar in the simmering oven.  Now, I have cooked on an Aga since 1995 and so thought I knew quite a lot about the art of cooking on an Aga, but this book has been really useful in revealing tips about conserving and controlling heat that I hadn’t really thought about before.

The Aga method for making lemon curd worked really well.  It isn’t a recipe that is done and dusted in half an hour though, but it is one that means you can just leave it to do its thing and it is great if you are doing other things in the kitchen, so you can be there to add the ingredients and give the jar a shake from time to time.

I used Mary Berry’s recipe from The Aga Book, as I think it is a winner, with just the right amount of lemon.  This time though I used 5 egg yolks and made meringues with the egg whites to eat with the lemon curd.

For this recipe you need a sterile kilner or large jar.  If you are using a kilner jar remove the rubber seal whilst making the curd.  Richard Maggs suggests that you can store the curd in the same jar as you make it, but he obviously isn’t as messy as I am, so if you too are a messy cook I suggest sterilising one or two jars by washing them and rinsing them very well and then leaving them in the simmering oven (or a low oven at about 140°c) for twenty minutes.

100g (4oz) butter
225g (8oz) caster sugar
3 lemons, the finely grated rind and juice
5 egg yolks or 3 whole eggs, beaten

Method

Put the butter and the sugar in the jar, close the lid and place in the simmering oven for 30 minutes.  Take the jar out and add the rind and juice of the lemons.  Put the lid back on and give the jar a good shake.  Put it back into the simmering oven for another 30 minutes. By this time the sugar should have fully dissolved, if it hasn’t help it along by swirling the jar. Now you will need a small hand whisk or a fork and you will need to beat the eggs quickly into the mixture and continue to beat for one minute.  Put the lid back onto the jar and place back in the oven for a further 1 to 1¼ hours.  Give the curd a gentle shake and then leave to cool.  I was concerned that it wasn’t thick enough but it does thicken quite a  bit whilst cooling. When it is cool transfer to clean sterile jars if you feel the one you made it in is just too messy. Store in the fridge and eat within two weeks.