Friday, 23 October 2009

Apple Chilli Jelly

As I mentioned in my Apple Day post, I have been making Apple Chilli Jelly.  The recipe is here, and I'll say it again, this is a great one.  I made it last year and we enjoyed it so much that making another batch this year was a foregone conclusion.

I was particularly excited to be making it this year as we actually grew our own chillis!  Much of our vegetable-growing was rather less than successful this year owing to the ridiculously shady plot.  I thought I had lost the chillis too due to an infestation of aphids, but spraying the plants with diluted washing-up liquid obviously did the trick.  That or the ladybirds I kept ferrying over to the plant!

We didn't have a huge crop, but it was so satisfying to see them grow, then redden on the plant.  I love that they have grown into such curly quirky shapes.

Having boiled up the apples yesterday and let them drip overnight, today I measured out the resulting juice and added what seemed like vast amounts of sugar...  Still, I am learning that when preserving you have to just stir in the sugar and not worry about it.  Things won't set if you don't use enough.

It took nearly half an hour of boiling to get this to setting point (I suppose I should have added more sugar...), but while it was on a rolling boil I chopped the chillis. 

When I buy chillis they are clearly labelled as to how hot they are, but of course I had no idea about these.  I licked my finger after chopping them and suspect from the tears that sprung to my eyes that they are pretty hot!  However, I decided to chop them all anyway.  Last year's batch was not very hot, and we both like some chilli heat so I thought I'd go for it.

And I'm pleased I did.  I think the jelly looks just beautiful with the slices of chilli suspended in it.  The jars looked particularly lovely this afternoon as the sun was streaming in through the window and making the jelly glow.



We went out for a cycle ride last weekend, taking in some of the Grand Union Canal towpath.  As we were hurtling down a long hill into Berkhamsted Rob suddenly screeched to a halt.  I immediately suspected some kind of problem - most likely a flat tyre (which seemed destined to happen, as I had forgotten to bring the puncture-repair tools with me...) but thankfully there was a much more pleasant reason for stopping - Chestnuts!

And not just a few.  As you can see, the road was covered in them, many squashed to a pulp by the passing cars, but plenty still nestling within their spiky shells.

The UK is home to two kinds of chestnut tree, although confusingly they are not related to eachother.  The Horse Chestnut produces the conker, inedible to humans but much used by children for playing conkers.  The Sweet Chestnut tree was introduced into Britain by the Romans who made much use of its edible seeds.  These chestnuts are available to buy for a few months over the winter (often seen as being symbolic of Christmas - 'Chestnuts roasting on an open fire', etc) but those in the shops are usually imported from countries such as Italy.  It seems that few people collect their own nowadays, although I suspect this is in part because the chestnuts you might see growing wild here are often tiny, too small to be of much use. 

These chestnuts however were a great size, the biggest I'd ever seen here, and we proceeded to fill up our rucksack-pockets with them.  Those prickly cases are vicious though, so I soon discovered that the best way to free the nuts was with my feet!

I'm not sure what the people in the passing cars thought of us...  I wonder how many people realised what we were collecting?

We had so many that I wondered how on earth we were going to use them all.  I had great plans for marrons glaces, chestnut cake, chestnut stuffing, etc, etc...

But you know, sometimes the simplest ways are the best.  We have just been roasting them on the glowing embers of the fire, eating them with nothing more than a sprinkling of salt, and drinking a glass of fine English beer while we do so.  

I love the Spring, I adore the Summer, but Autumn is pretty fantastic too!

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Happy Apple Day!

I wasn't intending to blog today.  I still have an unfinished post awaiting completion so I didn't think I'd be writing a new one...  but when I found out that yesterday was officially Apple Day I thought that I needed to mark it in some way! 

This might not look like a particularly happy apple, but believe me I was happy when I found it; and the many others that were sitting in a box on a driveway with a plaintive 'Please help yourself' sign. 

I was even happier to put them to use in the kitchen, and today I have made the most of the first day of the half term holiday and used up all the apples that I have collected from the driveways of Buckinghamshire. 

My favourite thing to make is Apple Chilli Jelly.  It's SO easy, the apples don't even need to be peeled and cored!  The recipe I use can be found here, but please note that a chopped red chilli should be added to the apples as they are first boiled (this is mentioned in the comments section below the recipe, but not in the recipe itself).  I made a batch of this last year and we have really enjoyed eating it since then.  I like it with roast chicken, but it's particularly nice with a plain milky white cheese such as Lancashire, Cheshire or Wensleydale.  The pulp is currently suspended in a muslin bag over a bowl as the juice drips out.  I will make it into beautiful red-flecked jelly tomorrow.

Whilst that was underway I set to making my first batch of chutney.  The recipe is from a much-used, well-battered charity cookbook sold in aid of the Alphington Church (in Exeter, Devon) repair fund.  It's one of those lovely fundraising books which is clearly a product of a whole community.  I have several such recipe books as I can never resist buying them.  In this case, several celebrities had clearly been asked to contribute recipes, and this Apple Chutney recipe is credited to the actress Penelope Keith - who starred, appropriately, in the classic 1970s comedy about self-sufficiency The Good Life!  Chutney-making Penelope is clearly a world away from her snobbish character Margot though - this recipe is a winner.  So simple, and a perfect way of using up a glut of windfall apples.  Although peeling, coring and dicing 4lb of them is not much fun...

I had my annual oh-no-the-pan-isn't-big-enough panic as I piled in the ingredients, but after a short time the apples had cooked down and begun to turn pulpy.

3 and a half hours of simmering later and I was able to pot 8 jars of chutney, enough to see us through about 6 months of cheese-and-chutney sandwiches!  Last year I made 2 batches of this and we finished them over the summer.  I think I'll need to collect more apples soon and make another few jars.  It keeps so well.

It's also a great way of reusing all those jars which I can't stop myself saving...  I use the nicer ones for sweet  jams and jellies, but those with the lingering scent of something savoury - olives, capers, curry paste (?!) - I save for chutney figuring that it has such a strong vinegary flavour that it will cover up any other tastes.

The recipe is nothing new, nothing special, but if you want a really good 'basic' chutney then you can't go wrong with it:

Penelope Keith's Apple Chutney

4lb windfall apples, peeled, cored and roughly diced
1lb onions, chopped
1lb sultanas
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 pint malt vinegar
1lb soft brown sugar
1tsp ground ginger
1tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper

Put all ingredients into a pan.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 3-4 hours until dark brown.  (My note - from experience... Keep an eye on it for the last hour as it can stick and burn if left for too long at this point).  Pot whilst hot, in sterilised jars.

I hope you are enjoying apple season.  Excuse me while I clamber onto my soapbox, but I really really really resent the amount of apples that we import into this country.  Apples grow so well in England, and in such an abundance of varieties, that it seems so wrong to buy a bag of them that have been flown half way around the world.  I rarely buy apples in fact (as they are so easily available for free!), but whenever I do I carefully check the labels (so often designed it seems so that it's virtually impossible to find the country of origin...) and make sure that they are grown in the UK.  I've heard it called a mange-tout moment; you know, when you stand there in the produce section of a supermarket and realise that the small plastic-wrapped packet of veg you are about to throw into your trolley has actually come on a 10-hour flight from Kenya...  Well, have an 'apple moment' too!  Yes, I buy imported food - I'd find it hard to cook without such things as lemons that we can't grow in this country - but where there's a choice...  well, just think about it.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Rosehip Syrup

Having made Hedgerow Jelly, thus fulfilling a small ambition to use rosehips for a culinary purpose, I had the urge to make further use of these plentiful fruits.  The Jelly is gorgeous, but the over-riding flavour is of apples.  I wanted to taste the rosehips in their full glory.

It wasn't difficult to gather a generous colander-full whilst on a local walk.

Once again I turned to Pam Corbin's fabulous Preserves book, and this time thought I would try Rosehip Syrup.  Rich in Vitamins A and C, Rosehip Syrup was a staple drink for generations past.  During World War Two members of the public were actually paid to collect rosehips for this syrup, in order that the nation's children could be kept healthy. 

The recipe is simplicity itself, although does require some forethought as the rosehip pulp needs to be left overnight to drip.

Rosehip Syrup

Makes about 1.5 litres.

500g rosehips, rinsed, stalks removed
650g granulated sugar

Put 800ml water in a pan and bring to the boil.

Mince the rosehips in a food processor, and add them to the pan of water.  Cover and bring back to the boil.

Remove the pan from the heat and allow to stand for 15 minutes.

Pour through a scalded muslin or jelly bag and leave to drip for an hour or so.

Set aside the strained juice.

Bring another 800ml of water to the boil, add the rosehip pulp and repeat the boiling process.

Tip the mixture back into the bag/muslin and this time leave to drip overnight.

The next day discard the rosehip pulp (I added it to our compost bin) and combine both lots of strained juice (which should be about 1 litre) in a large pan.

Add the sugar and heat, stirring until dissolved.  Boil for 2-3 minutes, then immediately pour into warm sterilised bottles and secure with a screw-cap or cork.

Use within 4 months.

Pam (for I feel like we can be on first-name terms now!) suggests drinking the syrup mixed with hot water - I'd imagine this to be particularly good as an attempt to ward off the inevitable winter cold - or drizzled neat over rice pudding or pancakes.  Co-incidentally my brother-in-law had also been making rosehip syrup during the same week.  He combined it in equal parts with gin and presented us with a bottle as a gift...  I think Pam should add this to her list of recommended uses for it! 

It's nice to think that we'll be drinking and eating memories of this Autumn well into the coming Winter.

No, we haven't yet had our first frost!  This picture was taken last December.  
I love how the rosehips last so long into the Winter.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Hedgerow Jelly

Any walk through the English countryside during September and October can provide a multitude of treats for the eagle-eyed forager.  Forget that, there's no need for eagle-eyes - Autumn's fruits are everywhere!  People with apple trees in their gardens have just begun to leave baskets of fruit on their driveways, accompanied by scrawled notices beseeching passers-by to 'Please take some apples!', so of course I have obliged.

However, last weekend there was no need to look for cultivated fruit.  A quick cycle-ride along the canal towpath yielded basketfuls of hedgerow treasures which were just perfect for the 'Hedgerow Jelly' recipe I had had my eye on for a while.

We couldn't bear to get rid of these Fruits de l'Ontario baskets!
Fond memories of buying them full of ripe Niagara peaches and grapes...

Rob got carried away with picking blackberries, as you can see.

However, blackberries were not what I was after...  I had noticed some crab-apple trees up the towpath, and as the recipe called for half the quantity of fruit to be apples, I thought that these would be more appropriate than the apples I had 'foraged' from people's driveways!  I also filled my basket with rosehips and haws (from the hawthorn tree).  I knew that rosehips were edible - they were commonly gathered to make a Vitamin C-rich syrup, particularly during wartime last century - but I had never tried using them.  However, until recently I was unaware that haws were edible and as there's such a profusion of them this year, it seemed a shame not to try them.  Eaten straight from the tree they are uninspiring; slightly mealy and flavourless, but it seems that they have a multitude of potential health benefits, so that seems reason enough to include them in this recipe.

The recipe is, once again, from Pam Corbin's excellent River Cottage Handbook 'Preserves'.  This is fast becoming one of my cookery book essentials, and is certainly the book from which I have cooked most recipes over the past few months.  Typically, this recipe is gloriously flexible, allowing you to use whatever hedgerow treats you find, but with Pam's own favourite combinations suggested too.

500g crab apples (or apples)
500g mixed hedgerow berries (a combination of 2 or 3 of these is suggested: rosehips, elderberries, haws, bullaces, sloes, damsons, etc)
900g white sugar

Pick over your fruit, removing stalks and leafy bits and rinsing the berries if necessary.  Don’t peel or core the apples (they’re an excellent source of pectin), just chop them roughly.  Place all the prepared fruit in a saucepan with 1.2 litres of water and simmer until all the fruit is soft and pulpy.

Turn the contents into a bowl lined with a scalded muslin cloth, and leave to drip overnight.  I tie mine up by the corners and hang it off a clothes-airer with the bowl underneath, which seems to work very effectively, even if it looks a little odd!

The next day measure the juice – you will probably have about 1.2 litres, though this will depend on the berries used.  For every 600ml juice allow 450g sugar.  Put the juice into a large pan and slowly bring to the boil.  Add the sugar as it just comes to the boil and keep stirring until the sugar has dissolved.  Then boil rapidly, without stirring, for 9-10 minutes until the setting point is reached.  Skim the jelly and pot (in sterilised jars) and seal as quickly as possible.  Use within 12 months. 

This recipe can easily be halved, which was in fact what I did.  As you can see, this particular combination of berries produced a gorgeous clear ruby-red jelly, which almost glows as the Autumn sun shines through it.


The jelly can be spread on toast, or crumpets (to be eaten in front of a roaring fire of course!) but is equally at home used as a condiment with a roast dinner.  I have a real fondness for fruity jellies eaten in this way, but I think that's something that you either love or hate.  Either way, it's a perfect way to enjoy the loveliness of the new season.