Sunday 19th August set off in the car to go to Walsgrove Farm near Pershore to pick plums. I was most interested in Yellow Egg pershores becuase they make incredibly delicious jam. Unfortunately there were not many there and those that were there were not easy to spot. Their yellow green colour acts as an excellent camouflage against the leaves and they also appear to be quite tucked away behind the leaves. Hmmm Plum Detective! Had a lot more success picking purple pershores and picking is part of the enjoyment of preserve making, especially plums. The trees are shaped like a canopy and the first thing to do is to dive under the umbrella. Immediately there’s a sense of how the plums sweep from up high to almost touching the ground: from here you can see what condition they are in, where the wasps are & how many plums there are. I came here a year ago and there were no Purple Pershores but lots of Burbanks, this year the Burbanks are not ready and also disappointingly there are no Katy apples but thankfully some Beauty of Bath, which are a Somerset/ Mendip apple. The weather has had such an impact on growing this year. Monday 20th August Lots of decision making to-day: I’ve got around 20 kg of plums and I need to decide, what I’m going to make and how best to preserve the fruit, so I can continue to make over a period of time. Go to Pam Corbin’s Preserves book and look at the advantages of bottling fruit over freezing it. Obviously it’d be so much quicker to freeze the fruit but quite often the texture is changed, becomes much softer and loses it’s shape. Last year I bottled some gooseberries and I noticed a difference when it came to making them into jam: it took longer to get a set and I overcooked the first batch because of this. On the plus side the juice from the bottled gooseberries was delicious- just like a cordial which I guess is what it is. So it’s bottling to begin with and thankfully I have some flagons to put the fruit in. From sterilising the flagonstowashing the plums to making the syrup toprepping the plums hands are busy and the mind is free. The plums are like beautiful dark stones and handling them reminds me of picking up stones on a walk, rolling the stone around in your hand, deciding this is the one I’ll take home, & into your pocket, a small memento of the much larger landscape or country. It also makes me think of Edmund de Waal‘s book The Hare with the Amber Eyes: the part where he talks about the relationship between an object & the hand which holds it.
I’ll look it up later in the meantime I go & get a favourite stone collected on a treking holiday in Morroco. It’s a similar fit to the plum, which has a stone inside it & as children we would count these stones whilst saying the rhyme Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief- who will I be? The sound track which accompanies Fiona Tan’s video work Countenance includes this rhyme.
Frome Artisan Market Sunday 5th August It was Absolutely’s Birthday and like a year ago it was rain/thunder/hailstones, except this year I was under cover. Much of the produce this year though was made using pineapples. One of the enjoyable aspects of making preserves is the challenge of taking a few boxes of fruit and seeing what you can make: sweet and savoury. Having never cooked or eaten only very little chutney but having plenty of requests for it I decided this was the moment to try and make some. A little bit weird when you don’t know what you’re aiming for. I looked high and low for a recipe until at last, found what I was looking for on my-pickles-and-jams.com It’s the wonderful Jess’s site -a pickle wizard whose Bengali Pineapple Chutney was what I imagined a really good chutney would taste like. As a contrast to this heavily spiced recipe I decided to adapt a Stevie Parle dish, from his book Real Food From Near And Far into a chutney. What I really liked about this dish, Pollichattu, was the lightness of the spices and the contrast between the fresh ingredients: green chillies, fresh curry & coriander leaves, coconut, spring onions, garlic & ginger with the dried chilli & black pepper & turmeric. It made a great chutney or maybe it was a relish. Regular and new customers liked the new produce and a few pineapple converts were made. Went to the allotment on Monday to do more clearing. Tuesday over to Chew Magna to the market to buy tomatoes and then visitedArne Herbs– a very tucked away nursery which has an incredible range of herbs and medicinal plants. There are always lots of things I want to buy here so I have to keep an eye on the purse strings. I found a Szechuan Pepper plant which I could not resist as I had made a Bullace Jelly with dried szechuan pepper which was delicious: so fresh pepper must be amazing.
I am further encouraged by Mark Diacono’s book A Taste of the Unexpected which encourages growing food which we otherwise import. When I told the owners I made preserves they suggested the berries of a Berberis Vulgaris: these are small and bright orange with a citrus flavour. I imagine if you made a jelly it would be a similar colour to rosehip. I also wanted to buy a wild juniper but you have to buy a pair and so I resisted, for now.
For the following Frome Market in the precinct I made Raspberry Jelly from a Christine Ferber recipe: the juice was so sharp with such a clean taste I added only sugar- it set very well. Also made Passata and put it in beer bottles, Sicilian style but not in such great quantites or with somany helping hands. Making Passata can be acommunal activitywith plenty of work but lots of feasting and most importantly produce to take home with you. I used Pam Corbin’s recipe which roasts the tomatoes, the delicious smell drove my neighbours a little crazy. I added fresh oregano, rosemary and sage. Sara, my lovely neighbour held the bottles firm while I capped them but there was only enough passata over for samples. No. Next year I will attempt to grow them, as many tomatoes produce very little passata. It’s that word glut. Where is the glut? I think it’s a rural myth.
Absolutely will be one year old this August and has been selling all things preserved, sweet and savoury, at local markets and events here in Somerset. To celebrate this great passing of time and the fact I’ve managed to keep going I’ve started this blog which will record adventures in preserve-land.
I’ll be at my local market- Frome Artisan St Catherine’s Hill Frome Sunday 5th August from 10-2pm with a great range of Summer Jams, Marmalades & Chutneys. Directions: walk up St Catherine’s Hill and half way up on the right and opposite the steps up to Palmer Street, in the doorway of the Barber Shop you’ll find absolutely.
Jan 2012 Hello is there anyone there? I’ve wanted to begin a blog or preserve diary for some time but have been prompted to start writing by being on an excellent, pilot, course at Norton Radstock College called Women Entrepeneurs in Rural Tourism. It’s like a rehearsal I tell myself for the real thing- I’ll see what it’s like to write and take photographs on a regular basis, to see if I can do it & at some point publish it. I amencouraged to make a start by two wonderful bloggers who inspire me and make me laugh inequal measure-what julia ate & tigress in a pickle.
Midsomer Norton Farmers Xmas Market
I spent Christmas & New Year in London with one of my dearest friends. I really needed a break from all the cooking/running around for the Farmers, Artisan and Xmas markets. Jammed out as much as I was, I was still hard wired to bus itover toBorough Market– & wander around, in a blur, looking longingly at all the amazing produce & buying the best ever licorice & hand-made biscuits: plus different types of funghi to make a pastadish. I’d already bought some delicious truffle salt and olive oil from theFine Cheese Companyin Bath in anticipation of the funghi dish. Also loaded up in the car were my own Sweet Spicy Crab Apple Pickles, Wild Apple & Medlar Fruit Cheese , Xmas MorningCroissant Jam & Damson Liqueur with Somerset Eau de vie. It’s Xmas & more/ more/ more seems to be the default setting. The normal visit to the shops/supermarket/market is now in an altered state- a large packet of smoked salmon, normally not anywhere on the radar is making its way into the basket – that would be a good idea- but would it? And in this reverie of indecision you notice that the person standing next to you is also in the xmas food shall I? shan’t I? fog. The logic of I can’t afford it has melted away replaced with it’s xmas and you are compelled.
Met up with my lovely friend Jane for an Apero Frizzante at Princi, one of my favourite cafes. Like London this Christmas it was full of Italians.BuonaNatale e FeliceAnnoNuovo. Other highlights were discovering Venison salami at Fortnums & walking, walking , walking around London and seeing the Lygia Papeexhibition at theSerpentine.
Visited Lewes the day before coming back and had a very tasty Shepherds Pie atBill’s.
Check Borough Market website for Sweet Roots Licorice& Cinnamon Tree Bakery forhand made biscuits.
Post New Year and back at home and having sold all the produce I decide to take a couple of months off from markets in order to trial new ideas and to also see if it’s possible to carry on making things from local and seasonal produce in the winter months: albeit with the safety net of a few kilos of locally picked fruit stored away in the freezer. Is this a gauntlet ? No I don’t think so it’s more a question of starting again from scratch, which is exciting and scary in equal measure. Also am on a bit of a cabbagesare kings mission and in this endeavour I’ve been looking, in earnest, at Sandor Ellix Katzs‘ book Wild Fermentation: especially at how to make sauerkraut and kimchi. I start gathering the ingredients for sauerkraut: sweet and crunchy winter King cabbage & for Kimchi: cabbage, carrot, turnips, leeks and horseradish all grown and sold locally at White Row Farm. Turnips sliced very thinly in a mandolin are incredibly delicious- like radish but with a slight hint of onion and maybe even coconut?
The sauerkaut is now in it’s own special fermenting croc and I made Kimchi but not in the conventional Korean way- i.e I didn’t include fermented fish sauce or chinese cabbage but concentrated instead on lots of local winter vegetables with garlic & ginger and I managed to track down some authentic Korean Pepper Powder. I really enjoy cutting the vegetables in different ways- oh the joys of a mandolin! Now it’s been fermenting for a few days I’ll adjust the taste: add more salt-it’s Sel de Guerande-the heat is just right especially since it is freezing here in Somerset. The vegetables are very light, crunchy and smell delicious. The sauerkraut is matureing very well and a sour saltiness is developing nicely.
I’m also attempting to make my own yeast- with Sandor’s help. It’s magic basically and every school child should get the opportunity to witness the yeast coming to life- the tiny bubbles appearing on the surface initially & later becoming almost volcanic! Making the leaven has been prompted partly by the fact that reading about fermentation makes you realise how it is very much within your reach, so you want to give it a try. Also I have developed a serious food crush on Hobbs House sourdough bread –but –this habit requires the equivalent of a second mortgage. Instead I get Richard Bertinet’s book Dough from the library. The book includes a CD with RB demonstrating how to handle dough and transform it from what resembles porridge into a solid dough. I watch the CD several times and most importantly am listening intently to what is being said: it all seems to make sense. Yes, this is possible especially since RB is here in the kitchen with me. Yes it’s going to work. No the reality of it- my laptop on the kitchen counter, CD paused & the ingredients at the right stage to be worked into a dough ready for the oven are more the stuff of bad reality TV. More dough on the Mac and my hands & apron than on the work surface. A lot of swearing & repeating the same stages over & over but with no progress. Sourdough Day. But I am starting at the most challenging end of bread making : K2. Making sour dough and knowng when the leaven is at the right point takes great skill and a lot of practice- I continue. Mainly it doesn’t rise enough but it is really delicious; it’s dark & malty & it keeps & I love it. I also take some to a market and use it to go with samples of jam- one person who is asking lots of questions about the jams suddenly breaks off to say ” is this sourdough?” Yes.