Blackcurrants…

The blackcurrants are ready and I’ve been waiting for a break in the rain so I can pick them, ideally dry, and make some store cupboard food.  As always I turn to my favourite cluster of books for some inspiration; Sarah Raven’s Cookbook, River Cottage Handbook No 2 (Preserves) and The River Cottage Year.  Much as I love tart fruit the boys are not all that keen so I’ve mainly been looking for jam or jelly recipes, although the RCY had a recipe for blackcurrant double-ripple ice cream that I am rather tempted by.  This year I have 2.5 kilos of fruit and so I’ve decided to go with jam and the usual Cassis as it’s always a winner and good for gift giving.

For both the below, the fruit has been washed and dried on teatowels and the shrivelled flowers on the end of the berries have been left on.

Cassis

450 g blackberries, crushed

450 g sugar (I used golden caster as I didn’t have any granulated)

570 ml brandy

7 very small, new blackcurrant leaves.

All the above is put into a 1.5 litre kilner jar and will be turned once a week (in fact once a day initially) and left for one month before straining off into sterilised bottles.  I’ve read in some recipes that you should leave it for 3-4 months and whizz the alcoholic fruit and strain through a muslin to be added to the liquid, this makes sense to me so I might try it this year.

Blackcurrant Jam

Makes about 8 regular jars.

For the jam it’s a very simple recipe and as the fruit is so high in pectin there is no need to add lemon juice or use sugar with added pectin.

1 kg blackcurrants

1.5 kg golden granulated sugar

Put some saucers in the freezer.

The fruit (with stalks removed) is put into a large pan (I went to buy a new jam pan today after burning the last one so badly it was beyond repair only to find they were £50!!!! I don’t think so, I shall be using my large spaghetti pan today) with 600 ml of water and simmer for about 15-20 mins until the fruit is soft.  The trick is (apparently) to get the fruit soft but not completely mushed, otherwise when you add the sugar the skins toughen up and become quite chewy in the final jam.

You then add the sugar and leave it to dissolve on a very low heat, stirring occasionally.  

Once all the sugar has dissolved you bring to the boil and boil on a rolling boil for 5 mins.  

(just before boiling, put your cleaned jars and lids into an oven at about 150 degrees)

After a rapid 5 mins rolling boil remove from the heat and test the jam for a set.  To do this, put a small blob of the jam onto one of the saucers from the freezer, leave it for a few minutes and push with your finger, if a skin has formed that wrinkles then the jam is ready, if not you need to boil for a few more minutes (only about 3 mins for blackcurrants as they have a high pectin level and so don’t need much to reach setting point) then test again.  Repeat until the jam has reached setting point.  For me this took 5 mins plus an additional 3 mins today.

Remove and scum from the edges and leave the jam to cool for 10-15 mins, then stir and check the fruit is being held in the jelly and not bobbing to the surface (leave it a bit longer if this is the case).  Ladle into your sterilised jars, whilst they are still hot from the oven.  Cover with a wax disc and screw the lids on immediately.

Having just had a good look through the preserves storage cupboard I’ve decided to ditch the remaining 2 jars of gooseberry jam as quite frankly they are past their best and no-one is interested in gooseberry jam in the household.

I hate throwing things away that I’ve taken the time to grow and make but there is also little point keeping them, especially once they are gathering dust and quite frankly are well over a year old.  The one thing I could make mountains of is strawberry jam as the boys eat it by the bucket full, it’s lucky we live in Kent and can buy local strawberries at great prices.

 

I’m impatient, the jam is still quite warm but I’ve just taken some homemade bread out of the oven and couldn’t resist having a taste and it’s definitely a winner.  In fact, I’ve just given some to C, having told him it’s ‘Ribena’ jam and he’s also sold.  Hummm…..not sure I actually want to share 🙂

Garlic Harvesting 2011…

I have been keeping an eye on the garlic as the cloves are nice and big and it’s been odd weather this year with so much early sun and now quite a bit of rain, but as I am in no hurry for the bed, I was planning to wait until the leaves start to turn yellow and the stalks bend before pulling them up.  That was until I glanced at them a few moments ago and noticed that a couple of the stems weren’t looking very happy, on closer inspection their cloves were moulding away in the damp soils so in a hasty digging session I’ve pulled everything that’s large enough up and laid them out in the empty (phew, thank goodness for that) greenhouse to dry.

The rain that was due came early and I was only dressed for picking blackberries in sunshine so now I smell like a wet sheep (due to my very damp wool jumper) but I’m happy that I only lost 2 cloves to mould and the rest are looking good, if a little bit muddy.

I’m going to leave them for now as they are nicely spread out and well ventilated but with the wet weather set to continue I might bring them indoors in a couple of days (after the soil has dried off a bit more and I can shake some more off, I don’t want to over handle them today)  and dry them in front of our glass ‘wall’ inside.  I’m a little concerned the damp air in the greenhouse might make matters worse.

To get an idea of scale they are

this big.  The best ever so I’m very pleased.

June Eating and Container Planting…

We’ve just returned from a trip to Germany and I’m relieved to find the vegetable garden survived quite well.  Apparently it was very dry whilst we were away but I was expecting that and this year I have planted everything (including the melons and beef tomatoes) outdoors.  It seems to be working quite well, the tomatoes would be a lot further along if they were indoors but the massive advantage of being able to put a single sprinkler on a timer (I had to, as sadly there is no-one to come and water for me) and know that it pretty much reaches all the important crops makes it worth while.  The rest of the garden is not looking it’s best, due to general lack of water and I’m slightly worried we’ve lost one the huge pines on the border but time will tell.

The garden in general is a bit messy, as you can see, I covered the fruit bushes in enviromesh in rather a hurry to stop the birds from stripping them.  The fruit netting was already in use on the beds to stop the cats from using them as a litter tray and the birds are quite quick around here and will often take the redcurrants and such whilst they are still very green.

I’ve spent today removing any weeds, dead heading roses, and generally having a tidy up.  The garlic is just about ready to pull up, it’s looking rather impressive this year despite a late planting, I think giving it the best raised bed has really improved the crop in general and it looks like we’ll get some huge cloves.  I’ve also cleaned and washed down the empty greenhouse in anticipation of drying the garlic in there for the first few weeks.

We are eating quite a bit from the garden at the moment:

Radish ‘Sparkler’ & ‘Cherry Bell’

Spring Onion ‘North Holland Blood Red’

Salad

Courgettes ‘Defender’ & ‘Soleil’

Strawberries Alpine

Pak Choi

Herbs ‘Parcel’, ‘Savory’ & ‘Thyme’

Rhubarb (although it’s past it’s best)

As for the growing crops, I’m quite excited about the potatoes which are looking great, I’m just waiting for them to flower and the broad beans are also about ready.  Sadly, the squash and pumpkins aren’t really taking off, I’m sure they’ll be fine but they are a bit slow to get going.

Planting in the huge containers that I normally put my squash in is also working really well, I’ve finally got around to writing up the crop lists in my book, I normally plan every aspect of the vegetable patch in here during the Winter months and this is the first time I’ve been so loose with my plans and I’m rather enjoying it.  I’m sure that because of this I’m not going to be making the absolute most of successional planting and I am definitely missing some things (like chard and kale) but it feels a lot more relaxed and that’s working for me right now 🙂