Twisting off the lid on jars of jam and chutney and hearing the vacuum ‘pop’ is always a thrill, especially when you know that there’s nothing but natural ingredients, time and love that have been placed in the jar. We even try and grow some fruit at Room Forty HQ, although so far our little garden has a good few years to go before it is producing substantial crops. Nevertheless I was thrilled to top my cake for the last Warrington Clandestine Cake Club with my own raspberries. On those occasions when I am lucky enough to open my front door and find a box of fruit or veg from the allotment chaps on my doorstep I’m thrilled. I couldn’t get fresher, no food miles and no pesticides to worry about, they always taste sweeter for the kindness inside too.
I’ll soon be able to take my daughter out to forage for wild blackberries and damsons, rosehips and, seemingly ripening earlier every year, the sloes. Thinking and researching recipes to use them up is always fun, though I do have a tendency to get distracted by Pinterest!
Later in the year I’ll publish our ‘legendary’ sloe gin recipe and tips (we also made a rather delicious and refreshing rhubarb gin this year – rhubarb courtesy of the allotment!)
Preserving and using fresh fruit offers all sorts of exciting possibilities, and to be honest it is much easier than I thought it would be, I think the key, like most things is just find a good recipe and have a go. There’s not much to lose (especially when the fruit is in season) and you will be rewarded for months to come, especially on Christmas Day (sorry again).
We have a number of favourite recipes, some we have made up ourselves, some we have adapted and some we have adopted. A fabulous book which is still in print is Jams Preserves and Chutneys by cookery legend Marguerite Patten. It is failsafe and the tips and hints excellent. No pictures, just fabulous recipes and advice.
Here’s one of our favourite recipes. Make it now, leave it to mature and this will be just fabulous to serve over Christmas. Trust us and impress your friends. Makes a great gift too!
Spicy Plum Chutney
This will make about 2. 75 kg of chutney (about 12 smallish jars)
Make sure that the jars you use are sterile. Wash and rinse them, preferably in a dishwasher then put them on a tray in the oven for about 20 minutes at 150 – 175 degrees. We boil the jar lids for a few minutes.
900g Plums (weight when stoned)
450g cooking apples (weight peeled and cored)
2 x finely chopped or crushed garlic cloves
600ml white malt vinegar
1 x tsp ground mixed spice
1 x tsp curry powder
1 x tsp ground ginger
1 x tsp ground cinnamon
½ x tsp chilli powder
1 x tsp cayenne pepper
1 x tsp nutmeg
350g sultanas (or any mix of dried fruit - currants, raisins, even chopped dates or chopped apricots)
450g light brown sugar
Salt and pepper to taste (we rather like the heat of ground black pepper, but season to your liking)
Measure out all the spices and place in a bowl.
Halve the plums and remove the stones.
Peel and dice the apples.
Peel the onions and coarsely chop them, pop them in a food processor and blitz them,
Crush or finely chop the garlic
Then place the fruits (plums and apples) along with the onions and garlic into a pan with half of the vinegar (300ml) and the spices.
Simmer gently until the fruits are soft then add the sultanas, sugar and remaining 300ml vinegar.
Stir over a low heat until all the sugar has dissolved then boil until the mix has reached a jam like consistency. Taking care not to burn your mouth taste the mix (make sure it’s cool enough on a spoon) and add seasoning; pepper and salt. If it is still too vinegary add more sugar -trust your tastebuds!
There’s no ‘setting point’ here, ideally the mix shouldn’t be too runny – when you the back of a spoon through the mix the channel shouldn’t backfill with liquid too much.
Spoon into hot jars and seal.
Leave for at least three months (if you can bear to) in a cool dark place.
Enjoy (oh, and Happy Christmas!)