Halloween and fireworks are upon us already – where is this year skipping off to in such a hurry, dear Reader? We’ve had weeks of watching the village next door preparing for the annual Bonfire and fireworks’ night, wood piling up and strange straw-stuffed people cropping up all over the place. Primrose and I are always caught unawares by the extremely creepy looking ‘guys’ which pop up round the village this time of year. One in particular terrified the life out of me in the dark the other night, causing me to slam on the brakes and utter some rather unrepeatable words. Continue reading
Well, dear Reader, it would seem that I have been burning the candle at both ends somewhat of late and I have been riddled with summer flu. Ridiculous! How can one possibly catch flu in the summer? Feeling utterly useless and wishing I could pull the duvet over my head, I coordinated last minute moving jobs from the sofa and put myself to bed with a whisky (purely medicinal of course). That was until the cavalry arrived (in the form of my dear Mamma) or so I thought….. On second glance, I realised that instead of chicken soup and chocolate, she was armed with a jam pan and a copy of one of my childhood culinary favourites, The Good Housekeeping Step by Step Cook book. Even now, I am still strangely fascinated by this glossy tome which
features none other than a recipe for ghoulish sounding Duck in Aspic amongst all kinds of 1970s dinner party disaster menus. The purpose of the cook book’s outing: to make a jam maker of me. My mother is known for her pots of jam littering the larder and her staunch belief that jam can last years and years! Many a breakfast has been spent opening jars to reveal green and blue hues of mould and dear Papa is always threatening to throw out the ‘collection’. I seriously think that there could even be a jar in the pantry from my teenage days……definitely not as palatable as a vintage Margaux!
So, dear Reader, I found myself standing in my kitchen in my jim jams with Poppy in hers too, thinking about how I was going to deal with 3lbs of strawberries and my Mamma’s overexcited enthusiasm for turning me into a preserving queen.
1kg strawberries (leave them whole – freshly picked fruit is better for this, if you can get it or grow it)
600g preserving sugar
350g caster sugar
2 lavender flower heads
Heat the jam pan and add all the strawberries and sugar and stir together. Leaving the strawberries whole gives a more ‘conserve’ style of jam which can be used for cakes, scones and of course, hot buttered toast. The strawberries being a soft fruit will break up a bit anyway as you stir them. Wait until all the sugar has dissolved until you add the lemon juice (lemon juice gives a helping hand as strawberries are notoriously low in pectin so I am told). Stir frequently to stop anything catching on the bottom and simmer gently for approximately 7 minutes. Then allow mixture to come to the boil. Boil rapidly for 10 minutes. Test for setting point by dropping some jam onto a cold spoon. Wait for it to cool and then push the jam with your finger – if it crinkles, it has reached setting point. Wash jars and then place them in a hot oven to sterilise before pouring in the jam (stirring through any scum that may have formed on the top). Add the lavender flowers at the very end, stirring through the pot to make sure they are evenly spread. The lavender is there for fragrance and delicate flavour – try not to be too heavy handed with it though as otherwise you will end up with jammy pot pourri! Seal the jars – jar can be kept for up to 12 months. Refrigerate once opened.
What could be more summery than luscious rosy ripe strawberry jam slathered on a buttery scones piled high with cream and extra strawberries?!! Certainly a diet fail but the perfect accompaniment to watching Wimbledon and the best antidote to a spot of summer flu I can assure you.
With some leftover rhubarb, we even had a go at some experimental ‘Jarmalade’ – yes, you guessed it, a jam/marmalade hybrid with rhubarb and orange. Dear Reader, to be honest I think that Mamma and I got a bit carried away with the preserving at this point as we were thinking up all sorts of combinations. Thank goodness Jerry arrived home just in time before I managed to populate the whole kitchen with pots of jam. His first thought was that the removal men would be boxing up at least one whole box of jam…….oh my, dear Reader, it would appear that I may have inherited that jam hoarding gene after all! Perhaps I could endear myself to neighbours in our new village with gifts of jam……?!
Dear Reader, I can only applaud you for sticking with me after last week’s empty blog post calamities! Lately, I seem to have acquired a cottage full of gremlins which has reduced me to some very unladylike language. I wondered if Debretts have a section on appropriate words to use in such circumstances. Note to self: must refer to their Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners when dealing with broadband customer service call centres, children who won’t do as they are told and the bl***y old biddies and Chelsea tractor owners who keep pinching all the parking spaces in our road…. Anyway to add more insult to injury, a crockpot of kitchen disasters also fell upon the cottage last week. Poppy’s pre-birthday birthday party meant that I had to resort to my dreadful baking skills. Dear Reader, you may well be asking yourself why I did not buy the birthday cake. Yes…..that would be a good question. It is true that scones, biscuits, even the odd macaroon I can rustle up. Birthday cakes, I definitely cannot. Remarkably depressing when you try all sorts of recipes and even attempt to channel some Hummingbird Bakery magic (dearest Barbara bought me a HB book for my birthday and I haven’t managed a single recipe without a culinary cock up). Since I endeavour each year to make Primrose’s birthday cake, I thought that it just wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t provide Poppy with the same opportunity to ‘enjoy’ a lead-like taste experience and overambitious cake design! Primrose’s toadstool cake this year looked amazing (I had a lot of help from dear Mamma with that one) but tasted hideous. Luckily I didn’t serve it to any parents and the 4 year olds at the party were too full up with jelly boats and fairy cakes to eat any of it. Undeterred, I decided to climb Mount Everest once more and upscaled a HFW recipe for Poppy’s ‘cat’ bitrthday cake. That may have been my first mistake. I set about creating a chocolate cat and was not successful at all. My cat looked more like it had feline palsy and the head was too small for the body. Apparently, you need to measure cake tins rather more accurately than I did. With no option but to serve it, as my guests were due to arrive imminently, I simply poured yet more melted chocolate onto the top and then added a pink bow in a nod to ‘Hello Kitty’. I hid it at the back of the kitchen and told Jerry (on pain of death) that we would not be letting anyone consume any. A quick rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’, a candle blown out and then cake quickly squirreled away. Mission completed and no class action for food poisoning. All in a day’s work for Margot. I must be about the only person not to like cake which doesn’t help either as I have neither patience for the process or a desire to eat the fruits of my labour. Only last week, my dear friend Edie, had the cheek to suggest that I was a baking fraudster and that she was not entirely convinced of my inability to make cakes. I can (hand on heart) promise that if she had tried Poppy’s birthday ‘cat’ cake, she would have acquiesced and issued a damning judgement on my baking talent.
On a cheerier note, Edie did make a special trip to follow my Christmas chutney on its journey to stardom and dragged her hubby all the way to the WI’s Real Jam Festival 2012 at Denman College. Margot’s Christmas Allsorts (had no idea what else to call it) sat remarkably plain (less is more…) amongst some serious contenders. Well it was a WI comp after all. Jam and chutney entries were judged by the likes of Pam ‘The Jam’ Corbin, whose preserving prowess knows no bounds. She has even taught the dear HFW at River Cottage a few tricks or two. Primrose had been asking me for weeks if my chutney had cut the mustard and I am proud to announce, dear Reader, that it most certainly had! No awards this time but a none too shabby 15.5 out of 20. For a preserving and pickling virgin, I was thrilled with the score. I lost marks on the jam jar but was tickled pink that I had made it to the judging table at all. Margot’s Christmas Allsorts was commended as a ‘well cooked chutney’ with a ‘strong spicy flavour.’ Who knows what Margot’s Christmas Allsorts might have achieved if I hadn’t taken the instructions on labelling the entry etc so literally!
The success has left me wondering if I should ditch all further baking attempts in favour of churning out chutney from now on! I have certainly been bitten by the preserving bug and intend to try my hand at some more chutney challenges. (Edie, you have created a monster and you only have yourself to blame)! Tempted by a few of the courses they run, I might drop Jerry a hint or two. The purveyors of Tracklements condiments are safe for the time being but perhaps not for long. Wait until I get an industrial sized chutney pan! Now onwards to the next country challenge…..