September Foraging and Preserving


This month my focus has shifted onto food.  September is a great month for foraging and making preserves, though I hadn’t made jam for years.  I have a vague memory of making jam with my mum years ago, going through the process of boiling the fruit and sugar, skimming, testing for set in a saucer filled with cold water etc.  I also made several batches of jam about 5 years ago.  The first was a ‘hedgerow’ jam; a mixture of whatever fruits were available.  My friend Sandra proclaimed that it was the best jam she had ever tasted.  She took the whole batch and said ‘I hope you have the recipe’.  Of course I didn’t.  I followed up with a small batch of Lavender Jelly, which also went down really well.  Unfortunately everything then went down hill.  I made mint jelly, which no-one really enjoyed, and finally I made more fruit jam (I think it was plums) which tasted of burnt sugar (I’m still wondering how I did this – maybe the jars were far too hot when I filled them with jam).  Since then I avoided jam making.

A few weeks ago I went walking with my friend Sandra, and we picked a batch of Damsons.  I searched online for recipes, and found this easy looking recipe for Tamsin’s Damson Jam (she really did look like she knew what she was doing).  I’m pleased to say that it turned out really well, friends and family have all proclaimed the lovely, tasty, tangy jam a success, and I made a second batch a few days ago:

making damson jamAfter the first batch of Damson Jam I made Mirabelle Jelly (I’d spotted the small yellow plums on the way back from the Damson trees, and returned to collect a batch).  The jelly making was easier than I remembered, so again I was spurred on to do more.

A couple of years ago, while I was out walking with my friend Kathy during September, we both agreed that it would be good to go foraging and to make preserves to give to friends and family for Christmas.  Last year we never managed it, but this year I set the ball rolling by sending a text to Kathy asking how she was, and I telling her I’d made Damson Jam.  Straight away she responded with ‘what are you doing this weekend?’  On Saturday she turned up with a wonderful River Cafe Chocolate Nemesis Cake (a beautiful, moist, chocolatey treat enyoyed by all – sorry, no photograph as we’ve eaten all the evidence), and after charging our batteries with my homemade cookies (which were going to be cranberry and white chocolate, but after finding dried sour cherries and dark chocolate in the pantry the plan quickly changed – this often happens when I bake cookies).  The basic recipe I used was Millie’s Cookies Recipe.  In the past I’ve baked cookies with the same recipe, but replaced the chocolate chips with all kinds of treats (try Cadbury’s Chocolate Orange and grated orange rind, Smarties, and other favourite sweets to convince the kids and adults that you really do bake the most excellent cookies) and they always dissapear within days (I made about 30 cookies from this one recipe).  This is what remained of the batch I baked on Friday:

sour cherry and chocolate cookiesPoor little cookie sat all alone in the tin – it was just begging to eaten, so after I took the photo….

Back to the story, Kathy and I went in search of fresh, free food which we could use to make preserves.  This is where I started to worry.  I’d convinced Kathy that my surroundings are full of the best damsons, mirabelle plums, blackberries, elderberries, rosehip and crabapples.  The question is, could I live up to it?  To cut a long story short, we returned a few hours later with huggings of damsons, blackberries, elderberries, a little lavender and a punnet of hazelnuts.  The mirabele plums were past there best,  We were hungry, so we had lunch, and then another short walk to pick the crabapples and rosehips.

Let the cooking commence!  On Saturday we cooked Elderberry Cordial, Rosehip Syrup and Lavender Jelly.  We also made Damson Vodka, which I’m hoping will be ready at Christmas.  I insisted that Kathy took this home with her as it wouldn’t have lasted ’till the weekend in my house!  My favourite of the batch so far is the Lavender Jelly.  It tastes beautiful.  If you spot any crabapples, pick them quickly and make lots.  I cannot believe how wonderful those sour little fruits can taste when cooked with sugar and a little lavender.  Kathy left around 10pm with half of the goodies.  I left the cooker cleaning until the following morning.

My journey into the world of preserving continued a few days ago with Piccalilli and Delia’s Spiced Damson Chutney.  The Piccalili was really quick and easy,  but you have to allow for the fact that the vegetables have to be soaked in brine over night.  Delia’s Spiced Damson Chutney was easy enough, but took about 4 hours to cook (the recipe said 2 – 3, but I found that it took longer to boil off the vinegar).  At the end of the session I reeked of vinegar.  My kitchen reeked.  The whole house reeked.  The neighbours and their houses reeked.  The whole street reeked.  There was a noxious cloud of vinegar hovering over Royston for at least 24 hours following.  If it had rained, the resulting acid rain would have eaten through the mortar of all buildings within a 1 mile radius, and I would be sat with my laptop writing this post on top of a pile of rubble.  I’m hoping the chutney will taste wonderful when it’s matured, but it will be many years before I try making it again.

I spent a few hours yesterday afternoon rearranging my pantry and labelling jars.  This was a section of the top shelf as I was stransferring jars:

jam on pantry shelfAnd more jars requiring labels:

jams and pickles waiting for labels

As you can see this was quite a mammoth session.  At the end of it I’m left feeling confident about jam and chutney making, but ready for a few days rest from it.

Did I mention that I’ve taken on half an allotment?  This must be a story for another day.  I’m off to do some weeding!