I do enjoy a bit of foraging, and the WWW has been my constant companion & advisor, both in identifying plants and in working out how (not to mention whether) to use them. I love walking in our beautiful countryside or along the riverbank, seeing what I can find to supplement & broaden our diet, and cooking & preserving the assorted goodies that Nature gives us. But not all my foraging takes place in the wild; our local market is often an excellent hunting ground for astonishing bargains, like the £1 sack of organic parsnips I bore home triumphantly a few weeks back. I shared that with a couple of neighbouring households, and Googled parsnip recipes (NOT Woolton pie) and we’ve had some lovely cream of parsnip soup, rösti, and roasted mixed vegetables over the last few weeks.
On Friday I found one of the fruit & veg stalls selling entire boxes of blueberries for £1; that’s 12 of the little supermarket punnets, which sell for about £1.75 each. Admittedly they were not in the first flush of freshness & one or two were suspiciously stuck together; I knew there’d be some sorting out to do. But I also knew that if they were too far gone to use any of them, I could use them for dyeing some of the tonnes of fleece & wool that’s hanging around the place. In the event, when I sorted them out this afternoon, less than one punnet’s worth had to be thrown into the compost & the rest were fine, so, having just been given some nice clean jam jars, I decided to make some blueberry & lemon jam.
The sort of thing I need Google for is to find out whether any given berry or fruit will gel left to itself, i.e. how much pectin it contains. I do have plenty of old recipe books, but were blueberries available to Isabella Beeton? It might take me hours to find out; it’s far quicker to use the computer. But could I find a definitive answer to how much pectin there is in blueberries? Not in a hurry… Some sites claimed they were high in pectin, and some that they were low in it. The rather-useful Pickle&Preserve was hedging its bets with a “medium” rating. I do have some pectin in the cupboard, but I always prefer not to use additives, however natural, if I don’t have to, so I decided to get on with it & see for myself. If it didn’t gel, I could always call it a coulis.
Well, I’m firmly on the “high” side. I would swear that the masher I used to smash the berries up as they were heating & the sugar was dissolving had trainee jam on it. And it had only been boiling for a very few minutes before the drops on the cold plate – I do own a sugar thermometer, but a cold plate is far less bother & much easier to clean – wrinkled straight away. Time will tell; it hasn’t cooled yet, but it looks like we have nearly 4½lbs of blueberry & lemon jam, for the grand sum of about £2. I feel a scone-baking session coming on…
And just an update on the mincer front; the little blue one found a new home without any trouble yesterday at Boscombe Vintage Market but in the meantime another one has landed in my kitchen. This one is a slightly rusty old “Potter” about the same size as the Spongs; it doesn’t have the slicer/grater attachment, but it does have a grain grinder and it screws onto the tabletop, rather than sticking down as the Spongs do – or rather, don’t, as our wooden tabletop isn’t smooth like the Formica surfaces they were designed for. Once I’ve cleaned the Potter up, I will have to choose which one stays & which one goes. Lovely, and effective, though the beige Spong is, it’s not that practical to use for slicing/grating in my particular kitchen, as I need three hands; one to push the food down, one to turn the crank, and one to hold the machine itself down! So that one too may end up on my stall next month.
Come to think of it, I have a whole porch full of “kitchenalia” – maybe I need two stalls…