Thursday, 15 September 2011

We're Jammin'

I love the preserving season - it is another marker in the rolling rhythm of the seasons. It feels right to be revelling in the abundance all around us and making sure we will be well fed through the barren winter months. Before I lived this life, my food came from a fluorescently lit supermarket in crappy cellophane packets and I ate the same things all year round. I am sad to think that I never noticed the hedgerows bowing under the weight of wild cherries, or the apple trees on motorway sidings fecund with shiny red apples.

We woke up at the weekend to find that our apple tree - supposedly trained against a wall, had broken loose and flopped on it's face. With a lot of grunting and swearing, we managed to prop it up against the wall temporarily, but in the process, it dropped apples all over the place.

Admittedly, most of the swearing occurred as I said to Oli 'just hold it on your own for a minute. I need to take a photo for my blog!'
As the majority of the apples were tiny and unripe (and therefore higher in pectin and low in water) there was only one thing for them...jelly. The squashed and bruised ones went in the pigs (who looked pleased).

I made a batch of Apple and Mint Jelly, using mint from our overgrown patch in the garden. This will be perfect for roast dinners with lamb. I also made a batch of apple and raspberry - for toast. I have never gotten my jellies to set in the past, but these were perfect. I recon this is due to the lemons, high pectin apples and preserving sugar - it set perfectly.

Here is the recipe:

Apple and Mint Jelly

2.7kg cooking (or tiny unripe windfall) apples
3 lemons, roughly chopped
15 sprigs of mint
Preserving sugar (450g for each 600 ml liquid you end up with).

1. Roughly chop apples (pips, stalks and skin on) and half of the mint and bung the lot in a preserving pan with a very small amount of water. Stew over a medium heat until pulpy.

2. Set up muslin over a stool/whatever contraption you prefer, and strain pulp into a clean bucket overnight.

3. Add sugar to the liquid and bring to boil. Keep on a 'rolling boil' (i.e. without letting it boil over) for 20-25 mins or until it reaches the setting point.

4. Add remaining finely chopped mint and fill and seal jars while still hot.

But is it worth it?

I never saw the point of making jams and jelly's as a cost-saving measure. This was when I only bought Robinsons strawberry jam at the supermarket, and the most adventurous companion to meat dishes was Colemans apple sauce or creamed horseradish. But now that I have learned how much a sumptuous berry jelly enhances a stew, or the miracle that is apple cheese, I see jellies and jams in a different light. But food prices at the farm shop are going up and I recently paid £2.30 for a jar of apple jelly and £1.80 for a jar of relish.

The only bought ingredient for my mint and apple jelly is the sugar, at approximately £1.50 per 1kg, and the lemons, at 5 for £1 (we re-use old jam-jars). This made 6 jars - making each one approximately 45p. I would put the cost of making jams (such as my plum jam or raspberry jam) about the same. Chutneys work out at more like 60p, as they call for expensive spices and vinegar.

That said, a jacket potato, 3 good sausages and a generous spicy damson chutney makes a good, simple meal.

Assuming we get through 6 jars of 4 types of chutney and 4 types of jams/jellies, we would spend £98 in a year. Making the same ourselves would cost nearer £25 - a saving of £73 - which is almost what we pay for a trailer load of firewood!

So, although we wouldn't exactly starve if I put my feet up and watched Eastenders instead of spending the evening in the kitchen, it all helps to make life more comfortable now that times are tight - and I quite like it.

Preserves or Pat?

Thankfully, what with laptops and BBC i-player, I can do both at the same time!

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