Preserves and Pontack…

I emptied out the preserves cupboard at the end of last week, partly to make sure the old has been rotated to the front, so it get’s used first and to see exactly what is in there.

I did write a list of what turned up but right now, I can’t find it anywhere, doh!  The basics are, there is no more Strawberry Jam; I didn’t make any this year as we always seem to have loads but C has slowed on his jam eating (he favours Marmite and honey these days….not together, obviously!) so I decided to skip it, I should have checked the cupboard first but we do have 4 jars of Strawberry and Rhubarb so all is not lost.  On the ‘overstocked’ side, there are 5 small jars of Redcurrant Jelly from last year, which with this year’s added makes rather a stash, I will be looking for alternative uses to make sure it gets eaten.  There is a small mountain of Marmalade in both Whisky and Jelly forms.  Basically I am the only one who eats it but I do like making it as I love the smell that fills the house and the fact it falls in Winter (if you are using ‘Seville’ oranges) when there is little else to make.  Maybe 27 jars is a bit too much (ha ha) so I need to remember not to make any more this year and it’s time to start cooking Marmalade cake for the boys 😉

There were also reasonable amounts of Pickled Shallots, Gooseberry Jam and Jelly, Cassis and Sloe Gin to name but a few.  I no longer make things that we don’t eat, so there is no Chutney, it’s not that I don’t like it but we rarely eat cold meats or cheese and even if we did I’m the only one who would eat Chutney on the side.  Onion Marmalade is a different story, we eat quite a lot of that, especially with sausages but as I didn’t grow onions this year I wont be making more of that, sadly.

And so, what to add this year.  We have limited space for storing preserves so from my earlier days when I used to make masses,  I’ve learnt to curb my enthusiasm and only make what we will eat plus a bit extra for giving away.  One thing that I did want to try again was Pontack using the elderberries from the garden and some of the lovely shallots we have grown (like the garlic, the shallots have done amazingly well this year, this is only a very small bundle of them, the rest have been tied and hung in the kitchen ready for eating).

There is so much information on-line about Pontack that I wont waffle on too long, simply, it is a spicy elderberry sauce that you can add to stews and gravy and also eat with Game that in theory you should leave for 7 years before eating.  It’s also a very old sauce that is at least 300 years old, apparently.  Most recipes are the same, I use the one by Pam Corbin from my favourite book the River Cottage Handbook No 2, Preserves.

Elderberry Pontack

Makes 1 x 350 ml bottle

500 g elderberries
500 ml cider vinegar
200 g shallots, sliced
6 cloves
4 allspice berries
1 blade of mace
1 tbsp black peppercorns
15 g root ginger bruised

Place the elderberries in an ovenproof dish with the vinegar (cover!!) and put in very low oven for 4-6 hrs or overnight. Remove strain through sieve, crushing the berries to obtain max juice.

Put juice in a pan with sliced shallots, spices and ginger. Bring back to boil and simmer for 20-25 mins until slightly reduced. Remove from heat and strain.

Return the strained juice back to the pan and boil for 5 mins. Pour into warm sterilised bottles and seal. Store in a dark cupboard for as long as you can manage, 7 years is good!

Now I’ll be honest with you, it take quite a bit of effort to make but is also fun and the boys loved the inky blackness of the liquid.  Things I would note; if you spill it on your beige linen skirt it will stain 😉 and I made a double batch of the above, having made it before and knowing there was some work involved, I wanted to get a good 700 ml in return.  I didn’t, in fact I ended up with 300 ml so what went wrong?  The only thing I have noticed having hunted around for various recipes on-line (and there are many, the main variation being to use red wine instead of vinegar) is to cover the berries during that first stage of slow cooking in the oven and in Pam Corbin’s version it doesn’t mention doing that, it also doesn’t say not to so I assume this was my mistake (I left it uncovered).  Annoyingly as I realised this I remembered that last time I made it (a couple of years ago) I came to the same conclusion, I have now pencilled a note in my book so I don’t forget again.

I have more on jams and jellies but I’m going to split it into another post as I think this is the way going forward.  I have a tendency to wait too long between posts and then only say half of what I plan as I run out of steam and time to write it up, so the new me will be attempting to post more often and with a bit less waffle, at least that’s the plan 🙂


August eating and planting…

We recently came back from our holidays in Yorkshire and one of the first things I did was take a quick look at the garden to see what had survived.  This year I planted everything outside, knowing we would be away for a few weeks here and there and then set up a sprinkler (on a small table so it reaches further) that could be put on timer.  It reaches most of the vegetable patch and has generally done it’s job, but some of the plants with lots of foliage have struggled as the water just hasn’t reached the soil, an example being the potatoes which have lost all their leaves now.  I find that as long as I let the soil dry, I can eke out collecting and eating them for a few weeks and they are still fine, I am also amazed how long they survive in the fridge although that does take out some of the pleasure of eating them directly from the garden which the boys enjoy.

We returned to quite a lot of ready salad.  The tomatoes aren’t the best I’ve grown, this is due to slight neglect, lack of feeding and direct watering so is entirely my own fault.  Despite my attempts to kill them, the plants are providing a reasonable crop with the good old Sungold doing the best.  We are also, very late, now turning out lots of cucumbers which C devours at quite a rate.  I only had 3 plants in the end, the rest got nibbled at an early stage but I was only aiming for 4 as we can’t keep up with eating the fruits otherwise.

One thing I was quite excited about on our return was the sweetcorn, which is ready.  Hummmmm, freshly cooked corn boiled briefly and ideally smothered in butter and in my case salt and pepper (the kids just get butter, I sadly have to restrict this bit) makes any growing effort worthwhile.  I gave up a whole raised bed for this crop, with 16 plants this year but it’s worth it.  The cobs aren’t their usual size, again through lack of water I think, but they are still delicious and it’s always a delight to see F tucking in when the mere sight of canned corn sends him into drama overdrive of ‘bring that yellow stuff near me and I’ll die instantly’ proportions.

Plants still going well are courgettes (I’m waiting for the powdery mildew to take over, it’ll happen soon I’m sure), spring onions, carrots, strawberries, lettuce, beetroot and of course herbs.  Generally, the garden isn’t as productive as normal and I think the very dry summer is to blame along with a little laziness on my part.  It’s been hard to keep up with the watering and I’m useless at working in the garden in any heat, I just can’t do it.  On the plus side, the fruit crops, both in the garden and hedgerows have been splendid this year.  We had bumper redcurrants, blackcurrants, pink gooseberries and strawberries plus it looks like the figs, medlars and blackberries (which we have just started picking) are going to be great.  Even the sloes that normally get quite diseased are fantastic this year.

I picked these yesterday, which is a bit late for here in Kent where they ripen very early.  We have a huge bank of sloe bushes near the house, many more than I could actually do anything with, in fact as the kids are still off school and I’m quite busy sewing for the shop, these have been washed, air-dried and popped in the freezer to be dealt with at a later date (probably more sloe gin).  I have also noticed one of the elderberry bushes in the garden has evaded the birds and is heavy with fruit, if the rain (hurrah, rain at last!) stops I may pick some later today.

On a final note, I did plant lots of seeds in late July and early August which I have forgotten to mention.  Some are quite late in and I’m relaying, again, on the mild weather we get here.  So far there are, carrots, sprion onions, kale, chard, turnips, khol rabi and winter salad.  I’ve been a bit haphazard and just thrown them into the beds where the garlic where, if they grow they grow, if not no worries, I wont have a lot of time this Autumn for gardening but I do want to get everything nicely tidied up for the Winter.