It’s that time of year again. Time to pick the fruit and make the jams and jellies. To date I have made four jars of red gooseberry, one of yellow gooseberry and six jars of blackcurrant. I have already used up all my saved jars and freezer boxes and there is still a load to pick. I think I may have to invest in some bought jars but they are so expensive to buy the decision is yet to be made.
Made my first ever pumpkin pies this morning using just a quarter of a largish pumpkin. I did a search for a recipe as I had no idea what went into it apart from pumpkin and pastry. I used a block of frozen shortcrust pastry and lined two tart dishes. I pureed the pumpkin and added ginger and brown sugar. When the mixture was cooled I added four small beaten eggs and half a tin of condensed milk and poured the mixture into the pastry case. They took 50 minutes to cook and do look like they should. I will report on taste later. Update – add a lemon or more spices next time as it was quite bland.
The currants have done really well this year and I have frozen quite a lot ready to use in the winter months. Last night I made jam with red, black and pink and although the jars are an assortment of previously used ones it all looks very colourful and tastes wonderful. I think I shall make an effort next year and get some nice jars from Wares of Knutsford especially for the job.
This is the first year that I have made red and pink currant jelly and I am very pleased with the taste of both. Last year was the first year of the bushes and we only had enough for mixed fruit and ice cream a couple of times. They are both very pretty bushes and looked beautiful hung with multiple strings of bright jewel like fruit.
When the fruit first turns red or white it is not yet fully ripe, so harvest only once it has sweetened. It is simplest to cut the bunches of fruit, called strigs, using scissors. The fruit can be stored in the fridge for a week or two after picking. Alternatively, freeze the fruit or preserve it.
Last night we went to the plots and while Rob laid a wood chip path in the fruit tunnel I picked the rest of the fruit. The gooseberries are past their best now really. We have already picked and frozen a lot of the red so I decided to pick some green ones and make some jam.
Put the gooseberries and a little water into a saucepan. Bring to the boil, then simmer gently until the skins are soft . They will not soften after the sugar has been added. I always sieve the cooked fruit in the case of berries and currants. This also means that you can leave stems on as they will be left behind in the sieve. After sieving put the pulp/juice back into the pan and add the sugar. Use fruit and sugar in equal amounts. Add the sugar and stir over a low heat until it has dissolved completely. If you boil the jam before the sugar crystals have dissolved you will get crystallisation during storage. Bring the jam to a rapid but steady rolling boil, stirring continually in a figure of eight movement to keep the jam from sticking. Do not leave unattended. It should take about fifteen minutes to reach setting point. Pour the jam into the heat proof jars using a jam funnel. I always stand the jars in the sink just in case of spillage or breakage. Enjoy.
It has been good growing weather just lately. Warm and wet. The plants have loved it and we had a near miss from the Blight according to Blight watch which is wonderful. We popped to the plots this morning and dug up a good harvest of Kestrel Potatoes. We have already dug up and eaten some Swift and some Vivaldi, both of which were very good. Today we ate one of the cabbage Kilaxy and it too was a success. The soft fruit has been great this year. We have eaten loads, given loads away and the freezer is full too. The strawberries have been producing like mad as have the red currants, red and green gooseberries, black currants and rhubarb. I have found recipes for redcurrant tart and redcurrant jelly and am planning to have a try at them next week.
We brought home the first of the courgette, a few more red and white onions, peas, broad beans, pak choi, spring onions, carrots and red lettuce. The difficult thing is keeping up with the eating.
I hadn’t made made soup since I was at school. Whenever we wanted soup we bought a tin from the supermarket. However as we had rather a lot of tomatoes and they were ending up being thrown to the chickens I had a look how to make it. Simple. Why hadn’t I done it before? We are a family of stew lovers and over the winter I usually make one at least once a week. On Monday I decided to have a go with a few tomatoes that would be past their best the next day and we were pleasantly surprised by the lovely taste of the end result. Today I had a go with just yellow tomatoes and got a beautiful golden soup. There will be no stopping me now, until I run out of ingredients that is. The next experiment will be butternut squash soup as we have a few of those in store and then pumpkin. I will know better next season. I haven’t worked out yet how to keep it so we are eating it as I make it.
Chop the tomatoes and put into a saucepan. Add a little olive oil and cook the tomatoes for about five minutes. Use very ripe tomatoes for a better taste. Pass the soup through a seive with the back of a wooden spoon to get rid of the skin and pips. Season to your own taste. If the soup is too thick for you add a little water or vegetable stock. Carry on cooking the soup for a little longer stirring all the time. Serve with crusty bread. I know a lot of recipes suggest adding onion, potato etc but I prefer just the tomatoes. I have tried this method with other vegetables, whatever I have to use up and it always turns out to be very tasty.
We made our first visit to the plots today after a gap of two weeks. The dense growth was phenomenal and not just on our plots. I think the torrential rain has kept almost everyone away. The butternut squash plants had taken over the nursery bed and the area around it. Tangled amongst them were the Gardeners Delight tomato plants which were devastated by Blight. We removed the tomato plants and all the weeds to allow the squash plant more room. The Runner Beans were heavy with the crop which had gone way beyond the stage that I would normally harvest. I did pick a whole tray though and I shall work through them and freeze what I can. Runner Bean Firetongue turned out having to be shelled as the outer skin, whilst very beautiful, didn’t look good enough to eat. The Borlotti beans also were way past their best and again I picked just a tray and have divided them into ‘good to freeze’, ‘good to dry’ and ‘use for seed next year’. e picked a whole bowl of lovely tomatoes of all descriptions which had survived the Blight as they were safely tucked away in the lean to.
After a nasty bout of coughs and colds Rob and I didn’t feel much like plodding through the mud to take the chicken poo to the composters at the allotment. All the plots are mostly ‘put to bed’ now with some of the plotholders covering all with plastic sheeting. However our spirits were lifted by the site of burgeoning sprouts, hearting up red and green cabbages, new shoots from the broad beans and green healthy looking Parsley still there for the picking. Even the beds which we have been gradually topping up with our own compost from the ‘daleks’ were looking neat and satisfying.
Rob set to and dug up a couple of fine parsnips and a couple of leeks to take home and make into soup. We shall soon be as fit as fiddles. The visit gave us both a boost and we began to plan for next year with new vigour. I see that Thompson and Morgan are selling the seed potato Vivaldi. I have already ordered my seed potatoes for next year but think I shall have to order some of them, they make the best mash ever. Now if I am planning on ordering more seed potatoes I must have been inspired as we lost almost our whole crop to Blight this year.
Last night I cut up and roasted the first half of the butternut squash and we really enjoyed it. I was surprised to find that there were no seeds inside but was very pleased that we had found something new that we could grow again and enjoy eating. I understand that you can make a nice soup out of them too and look forward to trying that when we have enough which will probably be this time next year. Only one plant survived this year and only two fruit on that. We cut the last pumpkin today and kept it ourselves having given the other two away. We also cut the other butternut squash and a decent cabbage. I managed yet again to pick enough runner beans for a meal. Rob sowed the last of this year’s broad bean seeds over on plot 18.