Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Plum and raspberry jelly: quick tutorial

Well, a little off timetable, but I finally finished my Bank Holiday mini preserving marathon - what do you think?

Plum and raspberry jelly, bramble jelly, plum chutney and elderberry liqueur

I promised to post a tutorial for my plum and raspberry jelly, so please find this below. I find jellies much easier to make than jams, in terms of set, although of course there is the additional stage required initially for making your juice.

You will need:
1kg plums
1kg raspberries
900g golden caster sugar
1 large cinnamon stick

1 preserving pan or very large, heavy-bottomed pan and a long-handled spoon
A jelly bag stand and bag, or, as I do, a stool, muslin square and string
Large bowl
Clean, sterilised jam jars and lids - probably three or four large jars or an assortment of smaller ones. You can sterilise jars by putting them through a hot dishwasher cycle and using them whilst still hot, or wash in warm soapy water and then put in a warm oven to dry completely, and again use whilst still hot.
  1. Harvest your fruit and discard any that is over ripe, or bad. Halve and de-stone your plums. Put all of your fruit in your pan and add 1 litre of water.

  2. Bring very slowly to the boil, then simmer for about forty-five minutes. Don't let the mixture simmer too quickly or you'll lose to much liquid.

  3. Either get out your jelly bag stand, or prepare your homemade version. Tip the hot fruit and liquid into the muslin/jelly bag and allow to stand over night. Don't forget to put your bowl underneath to catch the juice!

  4. Put a clean plate in the fridge - you're going to need this to test for setting point.

  5. Discard your fruit mush and measure the resulting liquid. When I made it I ended up with 1200ml. Put your juice back in the clean pan and slowly bring to the boil. For every 600ml of juice, add 450g sugar (so I added 900g). Stir until dissolved.

  6. Bring back to the boil and wait for setting point. You can do this the scientific way with a jam thermometer (you need to get to 104.5 C), or the arty way and look at the colour/consistency and test on a cold plate. Although I used to use a thermometer, I actually find I get more reliable results from the latter approach! As the mixture boils you will notice that the bubbles will gradually change and become more glossy in appearance - this can take as little as five minutes, or as much as fifteen. From about five minutes onwards, I start taking out a teaspoon and putting it on the cold plate. Allow to cool for a few seconds, then push with the tip of your finger. If the mixture appears to ripple slightly, you've reached setting point and need to take the pan off the heat straight away. Keep testing for fifteen minutes - if you still don't think you've reached setting point at this stage, take your pan off the heat anyway and allow the mixture to cool slightly. If it really isn't setting, add a little more sugar, bring back to the boil and keep checking. Repeat until set.

  7. Skim off the frothy scum and pour into your jars (which ideally should still be warm).

  8. Label and store in a cool, dark place. Or get out some bread and butter for a quick quality control check!

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Foraging tip #2

If you see it, pick it - it might not be there tomorrow!

I've been admiring the heavily-laden blackberry bushes in our area for a few weeks now, but what with the weather and looking after the baby, have only managed two forages this month: last week for elderberries and this week, for blackberries. I had this idea of making a Bank Holiday Bramble jelly, using blackberries and our windfall apples, but unfortunately when I went out yesterday I found sodden bushes (we've had a lot of rain) either completely divested of fruit or with lots of rotting berries. It took me two excursions around a number of the best sites to scrape up a mere 500g.

Still combined with a kilo of apples from the garden it made one litre of juice, so it wasn't all bad news! It's going to be another preserving weekend (with an extra day to do it all in, thank goodness), as our plums are almost all ripe, the raspberries are prolific this year and we've a lot of apples too. I'm planning to make my bramble jelly, a second batch of plum and raspberry jelly (for which I'll post a quick tutorial), some plum chutney (to be squirreled away until Christmas), plum and apple mincemeat (ditto), and the elderberry liqueur I mentioned last week. Phew! Better get started! 

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Baby-led weaning: a day

Crumpets for breakfast
I'm not sure what it's like in other areas, but the support for mothers wanting to use the baby-led weaning  (BLW) approach where I live is practically non-existent - I've twice been advised by health visitors to consider using a more 'traditional' method, despite the official 'weaning class' we were given including a video explaining the BLW precepts! Some of the forums I've found are also very full of people doing BLW whilst still breastfeeding - which the Gill Rapley book also seems to favour slightly - I stopped breastfeeding at three months for a variety of reasons, but haven't found that it's been a problem combining bottle feeding and BLW. And finally, we have the hyper-sensitive skin issue to contend with too, meaning we have to very slowly and carefully introduce acidic fruits and vegetables to allow her skin to get used to it...

I thought, therefore, it might be useful to start recording my own experiences with baby-led weaning, in case it is of interest, or of help, to other mothers. Here's a sample day to start off, and I'll try and do a whole month of entries in September so you get the full flavour!

  • 7.00am Milk feed
  • 7.30am Breakfast. Crumpet (shop-bought) (first time food) (no reactions), spread with unsalted spreadable lurpak and the merest hint of some homemade plum and raspberry jelly for baby. I had more than a hint on mine!
  • 11am Milk feed
  • 1pm Lunch. Apple slices (braeburn) and Yeo Valley natural yogurt for some spoon-holding practice. She's getting quite good at this, but when she starts to tire, the spoon takes a long time to get to her mouth, by which time most of the yogurt is down her front ...

  • 2pm Whilst the baby has her nap, I prepare the food for dinner. We like to eat at 6pm and WH  doesn't get home until 5.45pm, so I need to have all the fiddly stuff out of the way whilst the baby is asleep. We're having the salmon pesto parcels recipe from the Baby-led Weaning Cookbook tonight, which will cook in 20 minutes once prepared and just needs to go into the oven so is nice and simple, and will be accompanied by some veg. Prep today involves digging up some carrots, harvesting the last of our broad beans and also cutting the first of our kale. First I make the pesto, which shouldn't be store-bought for babies as ready-made brands contain too much salt - I don't follow a recipe particularly, just chuck in a heap of basil, a small heap of Parmesan, a handful of toasted pinenuts, a crushed garlic clove and a few glugs of oil. I find that adding broad beans gives it some additional depth and in the winter you can substitute the basil for kale, which makes a surprisingly tasty pesto for pasta. Because I'm using the pesto as a coating for the salmon, I don't add as much oil as I usually would, to stop it being too runny. Then the rest of the veg needs washing and chopping, remembering to cut some veg to baby-friendly shapes.

  • 4.30pm Milk feed

  • 6pm Dinner. We started sitting down to family 'dinner' when the baby was just over five months old, to get her used to the highchair and the food 'game'. Now it's a really enjoyable part of our day - it's amazing to watch her discover new foods, and how to pick things up that are different textures. She can be really very dexterous when it's a food she's particularly enjoying. Dinner is finished off half an hour sitting listening to some of her music (we do a Kindermusik class which has an 'At Home' CD), before getting ready for bed.

  • 7.30pm Milk feed

  • NB. We give her water at the end of every 'meal' in a sippy cup, which she didn't like initially but now seems to enjoy. 

    And that's a day in relation to food, at the moment - phew!

    Monday, 22 August 2011

    Late summer herb garden

    Calendula (pot marigold) flower-heads ready for drying
    I last wrote about my new herb garden in June, when the bed was just newly finished and most of the plants didn't have a lot of growth. Here are some pics of the garden as it looks now in late August. I managed to miss harvesting the chamomile, but I've already picked a lot of the calendula for drying and I'll be harvesting the seeds on the dill and the coriander shortly too, once they've dried on the plant a little more. As you can see from the pictures, the plants really took off and I'm planning to add a lot more supports next year to keep things in check. I may also rethink some of the annual herbs I plant - as the medicinal/household/craft herb wheel in particular has become very overgrown and I haven't used some of these herbs at all this year.

    The herb garden in late summer

    The culinary wheel - the mint and tarragon have both had to be cut back at times to stop them taking over.

    The medicinal/household/craft wheel - the borage has pretty much fallen over and I don't think I'll bother with it next year.

    Here's the corner with the dill, sage, parsley and rosemary - the sage plants were so small when I put them in!

    Sunday, 21 August 2011

    My first elderberry cordial

    Well, the preserving season is upon us once again, and to keep things exciting I like to add a few new preserves to my repertoire every year. I went on my first forage as an adult yesterday and returned with a bag, full of elderberries. (I was also taken for some sort of foraging 'expert' by a family picking blackberries - must have been my air of confidence and the fact that I'd thought to wear wellies and bring scissors!)

    I used the elderberries in another first - a recipe from the A year with James Wong (of Grow your own drugs fame) that I bought ages ago but haven't made anything from as, when you look at the recipes in detail, they almost always include something random I don't have to hand, like eucalyptus or herb robert (although that one's sorted now as I'm growing it in the herb garden!). It's a very simple elderberry cordial recipe, using 1kg of fruit to make about 600ml of juice to turn into the cordial. My berries made quite a lot more juice, so if I hadn't been a muppet and spilt lots of it on the floor when trying to remove my jelly bag, I could have had some juice to make an interesting 'hedgerow-style' jelly next weekend with some of our windfall apples and some foraged blackberries. Still, my cordial looks great and a small taste from the bottom of the pan promises good things; it should last up to 6 months kept in cool, dry conditions.

    Elderberry cordial has traditionally been used to alleviate the symptoms of colds and flu and there seems to be some recent studies which show it can assist patients to recover faster, particularly from Type A influenza. I'm a bit partial to a hot toddy when I've got a cold, so I'll be replacing my lemon juice with 1 tbsp of my elderberry cordial this autumn/winter.

    If you watched any of James' TV programme, you'll know he's a man who likes the booze, and only after I'd started my cordial did I discover his recipe for elderberry liqueur, which again can be used as a medicinal hot toddy when you're feeling under the weather - looks like I'll be out foraging again next weekend!

    Saturday, 20 August 2011

    Foraging tip #1

    Don't wait until the clouds are at their most threatening to go foraging - odds are you'll get a bit wet! Not a bad haul, nevertheless.

    Tuesday, 9 August 2011

    Kitchen garden days

    Today has been a kitchen garden day - in that I have been mostly working on garden tasks and on cooking/preparing food.

    The garlic I harvested last month has been drying nicely in the mini greenhouse and needed prepping for winter storage - well I say 'winter storage' but we use so much garlic in our cooking that even with this year's improved haul we'll be lucky if it lasts far into the autumn. We've 1.243kg of garlic or 19 bulbs - pretty good as this would cost about £6 from the supermarket!

    Every time I turn around at the moment there seems to be something new ripening in the garden. We finished the last of the broadbeans at the weekend in a very nice pesto (spread on chicken breasts and baked in the oven). This afternoon I collected a bowl of raspberries and a handful of tomatoes, as well as digging up some of our beetroot for this evening's meal: chickpea patties with beetroot tzatziki (courtesy of Nigel Slater's Tender).

    Served with cherry tomatoes from the greenhouse and some cucumber

    I also spent some time preparing the main dish for tomorrow's dinner. I'm so pleased that I bought the Baby-led Weaning Cookbook, as it really is chock-full of useful ideas for catering to and for baby for three meals a day. However, we have found some of the recipes are a little bland for us, particularly at the moment when she isn't really eating a huge amount, so I've already started tinkering (as my lovely husband knows, I'm almost completely incapable of following a recipe all the way through anyway!) In case you're interested, here's my take on the Tuna Croquettes.

    You will need:
    1 large potato, peeled and chopped
    1 tin of tuna in spring water, drained
    1 large spring onion, finely chopped
    1 tbsp lime juice
    50g plain flour
    50g polenta flour
    1 egg, beaten
    25g butter
    1 tsp paprika
    olive oil

    1. Boil the potato for about 15 minutes, drain and then add the butter. Mash. Stir in the flaked tuna fish, spring onion and lime juice.

    2. Mix the flours with the paprika in a shallow dish.
    3. Shape handfuls of the potato mixture into croquettes. Dip them into the beaten egg, then coat with the flour mixture. I find it helpful to have a bowl of water on hand to wash my fingers between coating each croquette to stop the mixture sticking to me instead of the croquettes.

    4. Leave to rest for five minutes, then dip and coat once more.
    5. Fry the croquettes in some olive oil until golden brown on each side.

    Either eat straight away or refridgerate for later and warm in the oven (c.15 minutes at 160 Fan).