Category Archives: jams and preserves

an inch of purple

DSC_7333

There is always a chance it will explode‘  Gabriella said almost smiling, suggesting that this was all part of the process, that the possibility of cherries, wine and sugar seeping between the terra-cotta tiles and dripping from her roof was a risk she was prepared to take. We were in Abruzzo, sitting at Gabriella and Mario’s table after a very long, very good dinner at their agriturismo in the hills near Loreto Aprutino, the kind of dinner that renews your faith in food, before us a small glass of inky-purple liquid. ‘Sour cherries, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine and sugar are macerated in a large, teardrop shaped glass bottle that sits on the roof in high summer for 40 days and 40 nights‘ Gabriella explained. As we tried not to slide under the table, she talked about the science or magic of the process, how the heat of high summer halts fermentation but precipitates maceration. Or at least it should, hence the possible, if extremely rare, explosion. It crossed my mind I should be concentrating more, taking notes even, but that thought slipped away as easily as the lip staining elixir slipped down my throat. The taste lingered, I wondered what Gabriella did with the cherries seeped in wine, how they got the bottle on the roof, how they got the cherries out of the bottle, if we could have another glass?

Nine months later in Rome the first of the cherries, some crimson, others deep purple, are splattering the market with colour. We have been eating them by the kilo, greedily, spitting stones into our fists and grabbing another handful in a sort of cherry race. Then on Sunday at the small but great farmers market in the old slaughterhouse I found the first of the sour cherries, paler than usual, sweet as much as sour, reminiscent of almonds and almost the wrong side of perfect ripeness. They spent the night in the colander while I changed my mind about what to do with them which meant by the following morning there was no time to think or waste. I put them in a pan along with a few sweet cherries too, bay leaves, big lazy curls of lemon peel, some sugar and then let it all bubble into a fragrant, syrupy, shirt staining stew.

DSC_7356

I like cherries cooked in this way with plain yogurt or creme fraiche, something so sweet and aromatic needs a sharp and plain partner, otherwise it is all too cloying. Both Luca and Vincenzo turned their nose up at the offer of fruit for breakfast, which was a relief, more for me. Then last night, I spooned a few cherries and their syrup into my last inch of red wine, which happened to be Montepulciano D’Abruzzo and convinced Vincenzo to do the same. Then rather than continuing our argument disguised as a discussion we talked about Abruzzo and that small glass of inky elixir. Granted ours was hardly Gabriella’s cherry and wine alchemy, but it was reminiscent of it, the poached cherries and syrup mingling with the bold wine into some thing between a pudding and a liquer. It was a dark, sweet, boozy and fragrant finish a meal, the sort of finish I like best.

I am going to make these cherries the next time we have friends over for supper and then get people to put them in their wine‘ I said, at which Vincenzo rolled his eyes so intently they almost disappeared into his head. So we both had another inch of wine, another spoonful of cherries, decided to go back to Abruzzo this autumn, forget about the argument and any plans for supper guests until Luca isn’t a terrible toddler and I have finished the book, cleared up and went to fall asleep in front of the telly.

DSC_7441

Poached cherries with lemon and bay leaves (which you can put in wine if you like)

When I first wrote this post there was no recipe as it had all been so flippant and the nature of the recipe is one of tasting and judging by eye. However I have now added this, which is still imprecise, which I hope you will forgive me for. The amount of sugar here depends on the cherries and your taste. For a mixture of sweet and sour cherries I use about 150 – 200g of sugar. I suggest adding 100 g for every kg but then tasting and adding more if you feel it needs it. Cooking times depends: you want to fruit to be soft and the syrup full-bodied. You do not need to add more liquid as the cherries have enough of their own.

  • 1 kg cherries ideally a mixture of sour and sweet cherries but just sweet will do
  • 4 or 5 strips of lemon peel with as little white pith as possible
  • sugar to taste
  • 3 bay leaves

Pit the cherries and then put them in a pan with the rest of the ingredients and sit over a low flame, stir until the sugar has dissolved and the cherries released plentiful juice and then simmer for 5 – 8 minutes or so or until the cherries are soft and the syrup richly flavored – Taste after about 3 minutes and add more sugar if necessary. Some people then remove the cherries with a slotted spoon and then reduce the syrup until it is thick before uniting the two again in a jar. I don’t do this. Serve with plain thick yogurt, mascarpone, quark, over chocolate cake or into the end of your wine. Keep in a jar in the fridge.

DSC_7475

43 Comments

Filed under cherries, fruit, In praise of, jams and preserves, wine

what’s in a jar

DSC_4801

My mum makes mincemeat every single year. For years I helped, stirring the ever darkening mass of dried fruit, candied peel, apples, nuts and suet, then squashing it into jars.  I liked the way the house smelt, a spiced and boozy fanfare for festive things to come. We’d have the first batch of mince pies in mid December, the pastry scented with orange zest, still warm from the oven.

My dad would eat whole pies in one gulp, which we thought was hilarious and my mum would say ‘Martin really, you’ll just encourage them‘ Which of course he did. Jar after jar was spooned into round after round of pastry, warm pies presented at every opportunity, to postmen and neighbours, callers, and us, especially us. Of course a mince-pie was always left for father christmas on christmas eve. The next morning we’d find it half eaten and Ben would say ‘It’s icing sugar and Dad did it‘ while Rosie stared at Father Christmas’s snowy footprints.

DSC_4803

Then for years I didn’t help. I didn’t eat the pies either. I’d eat a whole jar of mincemeat though, crouched on the cellar stairs when everyone else was in bed. Then I’d feel as dark as the contents of the jar I’d just eaten and furious. Furious with the mincemeat, my with mum for making the bloody stuff, with myself.

It went on for years, mincemeat, like so many things, was something to be battled with, first with steely resistance, then otherwise. Later, it was on a list, two actually, to avoid and gratitude. I can’t remember exactly how it worked? Avoiding things but being grateful for them at the same time maybe! Looking back it all seems so absolutely absurd, comical even, that it’s hard to remember it made absolute sense at the time.

DSC_4805

I don’t make mincemeat every single year. However when I do, everything is there, swirling around in the spiced and boozy scent, 41 years of mincemeat, of pans stirred and pans not stirred. I could get absorbed in detail, nostalgic or absurd, but I don’t, enjoying instead the heady vapours and a nip of brandy.

Luca clambers up on chair and demands a stir. His little hands clasp the wooden spoon and flick it upwards and then downwards splattering the stove, an amber fleck handing on his wrist ‘ It’s hot meat’ he tells me.  I feel relieved Luca is a boy and yearn to talk to my mum.  As I spoon stuff into jars and screw on the lids, I remind myself it’s only mincemeat.

DSC_4915

Usually I make Jane Grigsons mincemeat (which is turn Mrs Beeton) from English Food. Not having found suet, I made Gloria Nicol’s apple and quince mincemeat, two batches actually, the first back in October. Unlike JG’s recipe the mincemeat is cooked, in cider no less, for about an hour, the result is glorious, thick, rich, fragrant, well-spiced mincemeat to which you add (plenty of) brandy. Purist will not agree, but I think it is just as good as mincemeat with suet.

Apple and Quince mincemeat

Adapted from Gloria Nicols recipe in the Guardian.

Gloria notes this makes 1.75 g of mincemeat. Both my batches filled 3 standard jars and one smaller jar. For those in Rome I bought all the Ingredients from Emporio delle Spezie in Testaccio, it is an Aladdin’s cave of spices, herbs, seasonings, dried fruit, nuts, grains and tea – all sold by weight.

  • 500ml cider
  • 225 g soft brown sugar
  • 1 kg Bramley apples (or mixture of quince and apples), peeled and cored
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 100 g dates
  • 100 g currants
  • 150 g raisins
  • 150 g sultanas
  • 100 g candied peel, chopped
  • 50 chopped almonds
  • juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 150ml brandy

Put 3 scrupulously clean standard jars and a smaller one with lids in a low oven to sterilize for 10 minutes.

In a large heavy based pan warm the cider and sugar, stirring to until the sugar has dissolved. Peel, core and chop the apples and grate the quince if using them. Add all ingredients except the brandy, to the pan. Over a low flame let the mincemeat simmer and bubble gently for around 1 hour – stirring every now and then – until the apples have turned into puree and the mixture looks rich and thickened.

Remove from the heat, allow the mincemeat to cool and then stir in the brandy. Spoon the mincemeat into the sterilised jars and seal immediately. Leave for a month – and up to a year – to mature before opening.

DSC_4864

Mincemeat tart

Why wait until christmas ? I like my pastry plain, unsweetened and more crisp than crumbly. My tin is a fluted and measures 8″ across.

  • 120 g plain flour
  • 60 g cold butter (or a mix of butter and lard)
  • a pinch of salt
  • iced water
  • a jar of mincemeat

In a bowl rub the fat into the pastry with your fingertips until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the salt and then enough water to bring the ingredients together into a smooth soft dough.

On a floured board roll the dough into a round a little large than the tin. Carefully lift the dough into the tin and press it gently into the base and the edges. Trim the overlapping pastry and set the scraps aside. Leave the pastry case the fridge for 30 minutes.

Spoon the mincemeat into the case and then decorate the top with lattice or a pattern. Brush the pasty with beaten egg and bake at 180° for 30 minutes.

DSC_4879 DSC_4897

55 Comments

Filed under almonds, candied fruit, christmas, jams and preserves, preserves and conserves, Puddings, recipes, tarts, winter recipes

On avoiding and cherries

P1160055

At eight years old I thought the height of sophistication was a Snowball in a champagne saucer topped with a cocktail cherry. I’d sit up at the bar sipping my frothy yellow drink, my feet swinging limply from the high stool, my shoulders twitching in time with the jukebox. I knew full well my cocktail had barely a wiff of alcohol – just enough Advocaat to tinge the lemonade pale-yolk-yellow – that I’d be whisked off to bed just as soon as the pub got busy. But that didn’t bridle my joy at sitting up at the bar, Snowball in one hand, cheese and onion crisp in the other listening to the Kinks.

My granny ran a pub on Durham street in Oldham called the Gardeners Arms, a traditional free house serving Robinson’s ale, bitter and stout. It was an almost handsome, heavy-set place, with patterned carpets, brass topped tables and a curved wooden bar. Two or three times a year we’d surge – my parents and three small children – up the M1 motorway to Oldham. Arriving late, besieged by over-tiredness and over-excitement, there was invariably whining and weeping. So my dad would scoop us out of the car, whisk us through the bar, up the stairs and straight into bed above the pub. We’d resist sleep with all our might, before falling deeply, the faint pulse of the jukebox below, the smell of clean sheets not quite masking that of park drive cigarettes, Robinson’s bitter and my grannies Lancôme face cream faint on our just kissed cheeks.

P1160057

The next morning we’d charge down the stairs. The air thick with Brasso and the howl of the Hoover, my aunty May and granny – all slippers and house coats – would already be hard at work. While barrels of beer rolled off the brewery lorry, down the hatch and into the beer cellar, and crates of stout and Schweppes were brought clinking-in to replenish the shelves, we’d eat bacon butties with Uncle Colin. Thick slices of white cottage loaf and best back bacon. The trick was to squash the sandwich between both palms to make it manageable. Then we’d run, like excited terriers, around the pub, brandishing pool cues, pestering for jukebox coins.

In the days before continual everything, English pubs would open for lunch and then from 7 until 11 20 with last orders at 11. When the Gardener’s Arms opened it’s doors at 11, my brother, sister and I would scramble up onto bar stools and pummel our fists, as thirsty regulars do, on the bar. Until the age of ten I thought anything in an individual bottle was exciting. Add a straw and it was even better. Add cocktail cherry on a stick and I was beside myself. So we would sit, Rosie with orange, Ben with Cola and me with my Schweppes ginger ale, our bottles spouting straws, umbrellas and sticks on which flourescent cherries were impaled. We’d slurp and crunch, we’d put another coin in the jukebox and sing along to songs we didn’t really understand.

P1160033

Although I’m still partial to a cocktail cherry or three – ideally the real thing but I’ll happily gobble a luminous one for old times sake – these days I prefer my cherries warm from my friends tree, straight from the brown paper bag on the way home from the market or chilled until they’re so cold and taut they burst between your teeth. Then once I’ve had my fill of cherries hand to mouth, I poach a few, soak a few in alcohol and make some jam.

Given the choice between boxes and jam, I’ll take the jam. I am also genetically opposed to moving house in an organised fashion. Rogue packing fueled by anxiety and too much caffeine is more my style. Also I’d run out of jam and was eating chestnut honey on toast. Which was fine for a day or two, but by the third day breakfast was disappointing, which isn’t a good start.

Satisfyingly simple jam. Having washed, stalked and stoned your cherries, you leave them to macerate with sugar and curls of lemon peel for a few hours. You then bring the fruit to the boil, skim away the purple tinged froth – that reminds me of my aunty May’s purple rinse, then lower the heat and leave the deep purple jam to bubble and burp quietly for just over an hour. Your jam is ready when it is thick, clinging to the back of the spoon and decidedly sticky. We had it for breakfast, on toast primed with almost white butter made with cream I really can’t afford. Dark, intensely cherry-sweet and lemon edged, we were not disappointed.

P1160048

Then seeking further avoidance, I made a cherry jam tart or Crostata di ciliegie. My granny Alice was not only a good landlady, one who kept an immaculate beer cellar and pulled a good pint while looking rather lovely, she was also a deft pastry maker. Cold hands, cold butter and iced water she would remind me. I can picture her cold, clean hands with neat well-scrubbed nails rubbing the diced butter into the flour, the fine breadcrumbs spilling back through her fingers into the bowl. I can also picture her behind the bar, making pint pulling seem effortless – which it isn’t – her hair set and secured with lacquer, her girlish smile.

Back to Rome and my avoidance tart. I put barely any sugar in my pastry yesterday knowing the jam was sweet enough. After leaving it to rest for an hour in the fridge, I rolled the pastry thinly and then manoeuvred it into my tin pie plate. Which again made think of Alice, and in turn my Mum, both fond of a tin pie plates. Having spooned the jam into the case I then crisscrossed the top with pastry strips. Egg yolk glue and a firm hand ensured sure they stayed in place even in the oven.

P1160062

A tart like this needs 35 minutes or so in the oven. You need to keep an eagle eye on it, especially during the last five minutes. You also need to let the tart rest for 30 minutes or so, longer if possible, so it settles and slices neatly. Some very cold, thick cream would have been nice, but we ate it just so, the buttery scantly sweetened pastry at that nice point between crisp and flaky (but not crumbly, I’m not a fan of crumbly when it come to pastry) and contrasting nicely with the sticky, sweet, lemon-edged cherry jam. It was even better this morning.

Now I think I have well and truly run this to the wall, I have to be out of here the day after tomorrow, I haven’t even collected enough boxes and my removal man has disappeared again. It’s ridiculous, even for me! I am not sure what’s going to happen about the internet, I didn’t fully understand what the operator was saying, but it sounded complicated. Which means I can’t be sure when I will next be here. I could do with a snowball or a pint, but I’ll make do with another piece of tart.

P1160079

Marmalata di ciliegie  Cherry Jam

Adapted from the Silver Spoon

The addition of lemon peel gives the cherry jam a sharp-lemon edge which is reminiscent of sour cherries. I love this, you may not, in which case omit the lemon peel and be frugal with the lemon juice.

Makes 2 jars.

  • 1.5 kg cherries, washed with stalks and stones removed.
  • 750 g fine sugar
  • a unwaxed lemon

Put the washed, stoned and stalked cherries in a heavy-based pan suitable for jam. Pare away five thick strips of lemon peel with as little pith as possible attached. Add the strips of lemon peel to the pan. Cover the fruit with sugar, stir and leave to sit in a cool place for 3 hours.

Squeeze the lemon juice over the cherries. Stir and cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally until the jam is thick, coating the back of the spoon and of an even consistency. I also do a saucer test to see if the jam has set. That is: put a saucer in the freezer for a few minutes, then put a spoonful of jam on the cold saucer, wait a minute and then run your finger through the jam. If the jam wrinkles, remains in two parts and doesn’t run back into a single puddle it is set.

Ladle the jam into warm sterilized jam while still hot. Screw on lids immediately and then leave the jars to cool upside down which creates a seal.

Crostata di ciliegie  cherry tart

Adapted from the Silver Spoon and inspired by Emiko

  • 200 g plain flour
  • 100 g cold butter, cold and cut into 1 cm dice
  • 20 g icing sugar (optional)
  • 1 small egg
  • a glass of iced water acidulated with 2 teaspoons of lemon juice
  • pot of cherry jam
  • 1 egg yolk for sticking egg white for glazing

You will need a shallow 20 cm flan tin or pie plate.

Put the flour and cold, diced butter in a large bowl, With cold hands, using your fingertips rub the butter into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add sugar.

Beat the egg in a small bowl and add to the flour and butter breadcrumbs. Add the teaspoon of iced water. Using first a metal spoon and then your (cold) hands to bring the ingredients together into a smooth even dough. Add more iced water if nesseasry. Cover the dough with cling film and chill for at least an hour in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 180°. Set aside a third of the pastry. Flour the work surface. Sprinkle the rolling-pin with flour. Roll the other two-thirds into a round just larger than the tin or pie plate. Use the rolling pint to lift the pastry over to the tin or plate. Leave a small overhang as the pastry will shrink. Spoon the jam into the pastry shell. Roll the remaining third of pastry out, then cut it into thick strips and criss-cross them across the tart painting the ends with egg yolk and pressing them firmly into the pastry case. Paint the criss-cross strips with egg white. Bake the tart for 30 – 40 minutes. Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing.

P1160077

53 Comments

Filed under cherries, jams and preserves, rachel eats Italy, rachel eats London, Rachel's Diary, recipes, spring recipes, tarts

What a nice pair

P1150330

It was a good and unmistakably Roman start to the meal: crisp, bitter curls of puntarelle (chicory) dressed with olive oil, garlic and anchovy, braised globe artichokes and slices of toasted bread zigzagged with olive oil and strewn with salt. The serving dishes were large, the table long and narrow and a lackadaisical mother allowing her child to crawl everywhere, so a fair amount of passing, negotiating and cooperation was required.

Just when it seemed we’d all helped ourselves to everything, and the dishes had found places between the bottles and the bread, Alessandro (sporting his signature chef bandana) brought an almost whole wheel of pecorino romano to the table. My friend Mauro grinned and made it clear where the cheese should be deposited by drumming his fingers on the table before him. He then took the stumpy cheese knife, impaled it, hewed off a lump of pecorino and began eating. We were in Agustarello obviously.

P1150331

It took me a while to come around to pecorino romano, the ewes milk cheese so beloved of the Romans. It’s a distinctive and surly cheese: strong and with a semi-sharp almost muttony taste about it. If parmigiano reggiano is a smooth sophisticated type with a history of art degree and a flat in Kensington, then pecorino romano is a bit of a rogue with an accent as thick as treacle, superlative record collection and oodles of charm

Most pecorino romano is aged from 8 months to a year and then considered a grating cheese. Once grated, it’s launched liberally, lending its distinctive nature and a salty wink to some of Rome’s most prized dishes: pasta alla gricia, all’amatriciana, carbonara, angry arrabbiata, cacio e pepe and the aromatic trippa alla romana.

Some pecorino romano however, is eaten young, at around about five months – I believe semi-aged is the correct term  – which means it’s less pungent, that it’s softer and milder mannered and makes a good table cheese. A very good table cheese, especially with first fave, the first tender broad beans of the spring.

P1150290

It’s one of the nicest Roman rituals, one traditionally enjoyed during the symbolic trip to the countryside after winter. A big dish of broad beans still in their pods so that you may peel them yourself is served with a piece of young pecorino romano and a glass of local wine.

Of course fave demand attention! The long, fingerlike pods need to be split down the seam and then the tough opaque coats eased away from each bean before the bright green slivers, tasting somewhere between a buttered pea and asparagus can be eaten with a nub of cheese. Weather permitting we will enjoy this ritual on Monday – otherwise known as Pasquetta or little Easter – in Villa Celimontana. Come! Bring something for the picnic table, a bottle or two and suitable shoes for football. I won’t play football obviously, I’ll sit podding fave and drinking the wine you brought.

P1150302

Or – but hush and don’t tell the farmer – you could eat your pecorino romano with pear. But I probably don’t need to tell you that! You know perfectly well what good partners hard cheese and pears make ? How nicely the sweet, buttery, vinous character of pear marries with a hunk of sharp, salty pecorino? The pear should be ripe, but not too ripe! An elusive moment I know, but one well worth waiting for. At least I think so.

This week all my pears, that is the bowlful above and a bag full sitting under the counter, reached that elusive moment simultaneously. Having been almost comically enthusiastic, my son promptly decided he didn’t like chair and shouted every time I presented him with a slice, chunk or puree. Determined the pears shouldn’t suffer the all too common fate in this flat, that is deterioration into a soft, sleepy mush that ends up (shamefully) in the bin, I took charge.

There was pear and pecorino romano just so. A salad of thinly sliced fennel, pear and pecorino was good (the faint liquorice nip of the fennel working well with the sweet and sharp) and a pear and prosciutto sandwich excellent. Then, at the eleventh hour, as the remaining pears appeared to give me the same look my son gives me when I’m typing on the computer: that is hopeful but mournful and resigned to my neglect, I made chutney.

P1150317

Pear and date chutney. I’ve had this recipe in mind for weeks, ever since spying it on a new to me blog called Life in Abruzzo. I have a weakness for chutney, for rich, sweet and sharp concoctions to be smeared onto bread, spooned next to curry or nudged onto cheese, scotch egg, pressed potato or a fat wedge of potato frittata. This recipe is a good as it sounds: a dark, sticky muddle of pear (the chunks of which retain something of their shape and shine through the glass jar) and dates, with a nip of aniseed, a pinch of fragrant and feminine coriander and warm undertones from the teaspoon of pepperoncino. Yes please.

It’s pleasingly straightforward. You chop the pears and dates and then macerate them – or whatever the verb is – for an hour or so in cider vinegar and sugar. Seeds are fried in hot oil until they’re fragrant and your kitchen smells like somewhere else. Onion is added to the seeds and then once it’s soft and translucent you add the fruit et al, bring the chutney to the boil and then reduce it to a burping simmer for nearly an hour. You ladle your dark, sticky, spoon-coating chutney into scrupulously clean jars. I find boiling water and a warm oven does the trick but don’t tell the earnest canners that, they will have me up in front of the preserving judge before you can say not hermetically sealed. But really, around here chutney is kept in the fridge and eaten long before any unsavory types have time to even think about visiting, never mind moving in.

Pear and date chutney and pecorino romano, what a nice pair, and one that fits neatly into a Roman life with English undertones. Just perfect for a picnic (in the kitchen.) Have a good (and long) weekend.

P1150332

Pear and date chutney

Adapted from Sammy Dunham’s recipe in Life in Abruzzo which was in turn adapted from Lucinda’s recipe. With advice (as is so often the case) from Jane Grigson and Elizabeth David. Did I mention how much I like Jane Grigson and Elizabeth David. Two practical notes. Firstly, stir and scrape attentively during the simmering, chutney can be terrible sticker if left to its own devices. Secondly this chutney – like most chutneys –  is best when cooked to a moderate set: jammy and coating the back of the spoon, but still a little runny; if too thick and solid it will dry out. I halved the quantities suggested by Sammy. The recipe below makes three jars

  • 750 g pears
  • 250 g dates (ideally Medjool)
  • 325 g demerara or soft brown sugar
  • 250 ml cider or apple vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped pepperoncino or cayenne pepper
  • 50 ml olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds
  • 1 scarse teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 large red or white onion (yielding about 300 g when diced)
  • salt and black pepper

Wash, core and chop the pears into small chunks. remove the stones from the dates and chop them roughly. In a large bowl mix the pear, dates, sugar, vinegar, and pepperoncino and mix thoroughly (hands are best). Leave to sit for an hour or so, stirring every so often.

In a heavy based pan, heat the oil and then add the seeds and fry (vigorously but not aggressively) for 30 seconds or so or until the seeds are fragrant. Add the onion and a pinch of salt, lower the heat and then saute the onion until it is soft and translucent.

Add the pear mixture, a pinch of salt a several grinds of black pepper to the pan. Stir, bring chutney to the boil and then reduce to a bubbling simmer for 45 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so scraping well round sides and bottom of pan.

The chutney is ready when it is dark, thickish, sticky and coating the back of the spoon.

Ladle the chutney into warm sterilized jars (I wash mine in boiling water and then sit them in a warm oven to dry.) Screw on lids and leave jars to cool. Store somewhere cool and dark. Ready to eat straight away, but better after a week and better still after three (according to Sammy.) Once opened, keeps in fridge for up to a month.

P1150343

42 Comments

Filed under cheese, chutney, dates, jams and preserves, preserves and conserves, rachel eats Rome, Roman food, spring recipes

Jammin

Our first strawberries this year, bought for a picnic on the first of May, were handsome, even featured, seductively heart-shaped, deep red things. They turned out to be terribly disappointing, taut, hollow and quite without taste. The berry equivalents of  tucked, toned, tight, plucked, perfect smile hollywood starlets. Strawberries more adapted to hurling than eating. Hurled they were. Then last week, punnets of scarlet fragole favette, reassuringly inconsistent in shape and size, arrived at Testaccio market from Terracina a coastal town south of Rome. Sweet, tender and as lovely as rose bud lips.

We ate these three just so, plump and juicy fine, quickly enough to avoid putting them in the fridge. I like avoiding the fridge. They only needed a tweak to pull out the green crowns and a wipe with a damp cloth – they were far too delicate to be drowned in water. The larger ones were sliced in two. They didn’t need sugar or lemon but Vincenzo had a twist of black pepper over his, insisting it brings out the flavour, something I am yet to be convinced of.

Talking of drowning, if we’d had some very heavy cream I’d have drowned  my third serving of berries in it, but we didn’t. I didn’t suffer its absence, not considering my imminent trip to London and the extremely large strawberry, scone and thick cream tea I intend to polish off with my sister Rosie and her new little girl, my first niece, Beattie.

On Saturday morning, to assuage my present compulsion to put food in jars I bought three kilos of strawberries to make jam. I have long harboured daydreams of having a cupboard full of French kilner and le parfait jars filled with pickles, preserves, compotes, tomatoes for a year, things under oil, things under alcohol. Vincenzo pointed out this larder was not going to suddenly materialise, and that if I wanted it, it was about time I started.

My mum is a great marmalade and jam maker, a very nice habit I took entirely for granted when I was growing up. I, on the other hand, am a very enthusiastic jam, jelly, conserve and preserve novice with a tendency towards stickiness and setting anxiety. I had a beer for lunch and then approached proceedings with a somewhat louche and cavalier attitude. I was working on the principle that even if it didn’t set, a deep red elixir of good strawberries and sugar, edgy with red currants and lemon juice would be delicious, even if it was poured.

Strawberry jam

Adapted from Jill Normans ‘ New Penguin cookery book‘ and my friend Ada.

  • 2kg strawberries
  • 250g punnet of red currants,
  • 1kg Jam/ preserving sugar,
  • juice of 2 large lemons.

Hull the strawberries wipe them with a damp cloth – wet fruit does not a good preserve make. Drain them well and cut them into pieces. Pull the stalks from the red currants and wash them. Layer the fruit in a large pan with sugar, ending with a layer of sugar. Cover with a clean cloth and leave to macerate for 6 hours.

Put 3 small saucers in the freezer for testing later. Put the pan on a low heat and add half the lemon juice. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Increase the heat, add the rest of the lemon juice and boil – a rolling boil – for 1o minutes. remove from heat

Test by putting a little of the jam onto one of the cold saucers and put it into the fridge for a couple of minutes. Then push the jam with your finger, if it wrinkles it is set. If not, boil for 5 more minutes, remove from heat and then test again. If the jam is still not set, boil for another 5 minutes and test again. It will be set by now!

Wait for 15 minutes then pour the jam – carefully – into warm, clean sterilized jars, cover and seal while the jam is still warm to create a vacuum.

It set. Sour dough toast, lots of butter, sticky, sweet jam with a delightful kick of red currant – my jam, a pot of illy coffee, its scent curling around the flat, imminent arrival of English newspaper and crossword, option of going back to bed at any given moment. All’s well.

A woman in possession of a large quantity of strawberry jam and plans to make more is best advised to make a jam tart. Nothing fussy, a simple not-too-sweet pastry, filled with a puddle of jam. The pastry; 1oog butter, 30g icing sugar, one large egg, 200g flour. To make the pastry; put the butter, icing sugar and egg in a bowl (or food processor) and work together quickly. Blend in the flour and work together into a very soft homogenous paste.

Now working quickly with your fingertips, roughly – this is no time for neatness – push the soft pastry into a pie tin or tart case. The pastry needs to come up high enough to hold a pool of jam, you know the sort of thing I’m sure. Chill the case for 20 minutes or so. Spoon in the jam, making sure it is well within the pastry ridge.

Slide the tart into the oven – the one you have remembered to set at 180° – for 20 minutes or so, the pastry should be golden at the edges and the jam bubbling. Wait at least 20 minutes before slicing into the tart so the jam has time to settle back into some sort of firmness. Eat and Remember how much you like jam tart.

We’re jammin‘ -
To think that jammin’ was a thing of the past;
We’re jammin’,
And I hope this jam is gonna last.


26 Comments

Filed under food, fruit, jams and preserves, pies and tarts, preserves and conserves, recipes

They call it bright yellow (quite rightly)

lemon Curd

A smooth, translucent semi solid preserve. Colour:  bright yellow. Flavour: aromatic, sharp-sweet. Composition: lemons, sugar, eggs, butter. My sister Rosie’s favourite.

This is where my love of all things sweet and lemony started.

When we were growing up either my mum would make lemon curd, or jars of it with jam pot hats – that circle of fabric secured by an elastic band covering the lid – would be brought back from visits to National Trust houses in Oxfordshire, English holidays or purchased from fragrant ladies wearing flowery skirts, white cardigans and pearl earings at garden fetes. The quivering canary- yellow curd, the unctuous elixir of lemon, butter, sugar and eggs, was one of our favourites, especially at teatime. We’d spread it greedily and extremely thickly on white bread, a combination designed to please, placate and muffle boistrous and noisy (occasionally horrid) kids. Spoon it on toast, dollop it on hot crumpets or eat it straight from the jar with a spoon, sweet and sharp, thick and luscious.

Somewhere along the way I must have heard that making lemon curd was rather tricky, that it’s a temperamental preserve. There were whispers about mishaps, pesky double boilers, stories of curdling and splitting, words like coagulation, emulsification, scrambling and I wasn’t about to have one of my favourites muddled up in any of that nonsense. My Mum wasn’t much help either because she’s always had a beautiful Aga cooker – which I vainly covet – and that’s a whole-different-lemon-curd-story. The long and short of it is, I avoided making lemon curd for many years. Not eating it I hasten to add, I never avoid that.

I should know better than to listen to whispers and stories. It turns out that even Nigel Slater was hoodwinked into believing the scare stories and that making two and a bit pots of lemon curd isn’t tricky at all, even for me, and I’m a master of making things complicated.

You take 4 lemons, unwaxed ones otherwise your lemon curd will be, well, waxy. Leave the lemons at room temperature so they are soft and juicy, then roll them around on the work surface a bit so they are even juicier. You zest them and then juice them. I suppose one of those fancy micro-thing-plane-hi-tec-graters would be perfect for the zesting, far superior to my faithful dinosaur grater which produces a rather chunky, coarse little pile (fortunately I like chunky zest, but I’m not sure Nigel would approve, ‘tut tut, this is not marmalade’ he might say). Whatever your grater and the consistency of your zest, cue glorious, vital, citrus smells around kitchen.

You also need 225g of sugar, 100g of butter, 3 eggs and an extra yolk, oh and a double boiler, which if you are anything like me is rather less intimidating when described as a heatproof bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water. You do need to make sure that the water never boils and the bowl doesn’t touch the water.

But once you’ve made sure all that is in order, it’s all very straightforward. You warm and occasionally whisk the lemon zest, juice, sugar and butter in the bowl suspended over the simmering water until the butter has melted. Then you stir the beaten eggs into the lemon mixture. Now you let the curd cook, tasting, whisking regularly, for about 15 minutes, until it is thick and custard-like, feels heavy on the whisk and coats the back of a spoon. Taste.

Now you remove the pan from the heat and stir occasionally as the curd cools, then you pour it into very clean, warm, sterilized jars (I put mine in a hot oven for a few minutes) and seal. Once the jars are even cooler, refrigerate them for a few hours so the lemon curd is beautifully set, thick and luscious. Spread thickly on white or brown bread, hot toast with more butter, heap a spoonful on a hot crumpet. You can use the lemon curd to fill little tart cases or (thinking of my sister Rosie ) eat it straight from the pot.

Or very best of all, my favourite pudding of late, you can stir several large spoonfuls of lemon curd into a mixture of 200g of thick greek yogurt and 200g of  double cream. You then divide this thick, very pale yellow cream between little glasses and serve it chilled with shortbread biscuits or, even better, amaretti………. just delicious. I am going to make this tomorrow so maybe I will add another photo. Meanwhile lemon curd on bread for breakfast.

lemon Curd

Makes 2 and a half jars by my reckoning. Recipe adapted from Nigel Slater and Jill Norman and inspired by my friend Kath.

  • zest and juice of 4 medium-sized, unwaxed lemons
  • 225g fine sugar
  • 100g butter, diced
  • 3 medium-sized eggs plus one yolk

Put the lemon zest and juice, sugar and butter, into a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water – make sure that the bottom of the basin doesn’t touch the water. Stir with a whisk from time to time until the butter has melted.

In another bowl beat the eggs and egg yolk lightly with a fork.

Stir the eggs into the lemon mixture. Let the curd cook stirring regularly, for about 15 -18 minutes, until it is thick and custard-like, it should feel heavy on the whisk and coat the back of a spoon. Make sure the water never boils.

Remove from the heat and stir occasionally as the curd cools. Pour into very clean, warm, sterilized jars (I put mine in a hot oven for a few minutes) and seal.

It will keep for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.

Wishing you all a happy weekend, Easter, Pasqua, holiday, break……

It should of course be Mellow yellow (quite rightly)

29 Comments

Filed under jams and preserves, lemons, preserves and conserves