September 15, 2010

Courgette glut

Nothing can beat the thrill when you spy your first bean, courgette, pea pod or raspberry, or dig up the earliest potatoes or carrots. The downside comes when you are weighed down by the fruitful abundance of your plot - or in this case a rather over-productive courgette plant.

A great way of dealing with nature's excess is to turn it into chutney, pickles, sauces, ketchups and relishes. Effort expended now will mean you can wear the halo of a true domestic goddess - or god - throughout the winter. There is a world of difference between a shop-bought chutney and one you made months earlier from your own allotment or veg patch produce and making your own jams, pickles and preserves is a tradition well worth keeping alive. The pleasure you get from ranks of of a mish mash of collected jam jars filled with jams, jellies and chutneys, shiny and dark, lined up in the larder is hard to measure.

Home-made preserves also make a lovely gift and in my opinion so much more meaningful than something bought in a shop. This Christmas I'm planning to have a selection of home-made goodies in the wings as gifts for unexpected visitors who may drop in over the festive period.

If you don't fancy joining me on a preserving frenzy, you could always check out my recipe for courgette and lime cake in the she bakes section. But for those of you who do, then you can't go wrong with this simple but delicious recipe for sticky courgette and ginger compote - perfect with cheese or cold meats.

Courgette and Ginger Compote
Makes about 3 lb
Preparation: 30 mins, 24 hrs ahead
Cooking: 30 mins, plus cooling

1 ripe green oversized courgette or marrow, weighing about 900g/2 lb
900g/2 lb preserving sugar
30g/1 oz ground ginger
30g/1 oz fresh ginger root, peeled
1 1/2 large unwaxed lemons
1/2 teaspoon cayenne

Peel the courgette with a potato peeler, cut it in half, remove the seeds and cut the flesh into 5 x 2.5 cm/2 x 1 inch chunks.
Place on the bottom of a deep bowl and sprinkle with half the sugar, the ground and fresh ginger, the rind of the half lemon cut into julienne strips (leaving the white pith on), the juice of all the lemon and the cayenne. Leave for 24 hours.
Put a preserving pan over a moderate heat and put the courgette mixture into it. Cook gently until tender. Add the rest of the sugar and bring very, very slowly just to a simmer, stirring constantly. Cook gently until setting point is reached.
Mash the courgette with a potato masher, then pot in warm dry sterile jars. Cover and label.

September 09, 2010

The wonders of rose-hip

It seems that rose-hips are a bit of a wonder food. They contain more vitamin C than any other fruit or vegetable, four times as much as blackcurrants in fact, and twenty times as much as oranges. And if that doesn't make you want to rush outside to forage the berry-laden hedgerows, they also contain vitamin A, D and E and are reported to be beneficial in reducing inflammation and pain to rheumotoid arthritis sufferers.

The shapely rosehip is the fleshy fruit of our native hedgerow rose. The orange-red berries that appear this time of the year contain a crowd of creamy white seeds, protected by tiny irritant hairs, which is why they should never be eaten raw, or shoved down someones shirt, and which I am ashamed to say is how we used to use them in my schooldays! Definitely not recommended...

Rosehips have long been used for making jams, jellies, wine, tea and, my favourite of all, syrup. This recipe is based on one issued by the Ministry of Defence during the Second World War when rosehips were gathered by volunteers. They were paid 3d (just over 1p) for each pound (450g) they collected and the syrup made from the fruit was fed to the nation's children.

Use this rosehip syrup, mixed with hot water, as a warming winter drink. I also love it drizzled neat over rice pudding, pancakes or a bowl of steaming porridge.

Makes about 1.5 litres
500g rosehips
650g granulated sugar

Pick over the rosehips, removing the old stalks, and rinse in cold water.

Put 800ml water in a pan and bring to the boil. meanwhile, mince the rosehips or chop them in a food processor. Add them to the pan of boiling water, cover and bring back to the boil. Take off the heat and allow to stand for 15 minutes. Pour through a scaled jelly bag (scalded by placing in a pan of water and bringing to the boil)and leave to drip for an hour or so. If, like me, you don't possess a purpose made jelly bag or stand you can improvise, using an upturned chair or stool with a double thickness of muslin tied to each leg to form a bag.

Set aside the strained juice. Bring another 800ml water to the boil, add the rosehip pulp, and repeat the boiling process. Tip the mixture back into the jelly bag or muslin and this time leave to drain overnight.

The next day, combine both lots of strained juice (you can discard the rosehip pulp). Measure the juice (you should have about 1 litre) and pour into a saucepan. Add the sugar and heat, stirring until dissolved. Boil for 2-3 minutes, then immediately pour into warm, sterilised bottles (by putting them all in a large pan of water and bringing to the boil. Leave them in the pan so they are still hot when you are ready to use them)and secure with a screw-cap or cork. When opened, use within 4 months and store in the fridge.

September 03, 2010

Sloe Gin

I've been busy this week stocking up the larder with homemade goodies for Christmas. One of my favourite foraging forays this time of the year is seeking out deep blue sloe berries in the hedgerows to make sloe gin, a classic country tipple thought to date back to the eighteenth century, when gin drinking was at its peak.

Sloes are meant to be picked after the first frost but I've never really understood this timing because in previous years when I've waited the sloes were nearly over or eaten by birds. I've since got round this by popping them in the freezer overnight to soften their skins. This method also saves time pricking each berry with a pin so no more sore fingertips either!

I've tried a few different recipes over the years but the one I keep returning to is this one from the River Cottage Preserves handbook by Pam Corbin:

Makes about 1 litre
450g sloes, frosted or pricked (see above)
450g sugar (or less for a more tart gin)
600ml gin

Put the sloes into a large clean jar or bottle. Pour over the sugar, followed by the gin. Secure the container with the lid and give it a good shake to mix up the contents. Shake daily for the next week to prevent the sugar from settling on the bottom and to help release the sloe juice. Thereafter shake and taste once a week for 8-10 weeks.

When the sloes have instilled their flavour, pass the mixture through a fine sieve. Pour the strained liqueur into bottles.

It will be ready to drink by Christmas and makes a great present if you can bear to part with it that is...