If there’s one thing I wouldn’t have expected to spend a significant proportion of today doing, it’s preserving. It’s April; this is supposed to be the Hungry Gap… But what else you do, when a greengrocer hands you a bag of FREE strawberries?!
£10 filled my shopping trolley to the brim at lunchtime today, as the market traders prepared to pack down until next Friday; all the stuff that’s not going to last is sold off for 50p, and some of it just gets given away. I’d already bought some strawberries, which are ridiculously cheap at the moment, and various other bargains, and as I packed them into the top of the trolley he just handed me a bag of slightly-battered strawberries with a cheery, “‘Ere, luv, you can ‘ave these too! Use ’em up.”
I didn’t have any pectin, and strawberries aren’t very high in it, so strawberry jam can be a bit of a bu&&er to set. But what I did have was a big bag of apples that I’d picked up cheap two weeks before that I hadn’t got round to doing anything sensible with. So I chopped them roughly, leaving the skin, cores & pips still in, boiled them up & simmered them for half an hour, with the bottom of the pan covered with water & the lid tight on. Then I strained the resulting juice off & crossed my fingers that enough pectin would have migrated into the water to give the strawberries a boost; I actually only used half of it, because that looked like enough. So I chopped the strawberries, removing any rough bits – there was actually very little waste, they were’t very far gone – weighed out the same amount of sugar, poured both into the warm hopefully-pectin-solution along with the juice of a lemon and stirred until the sugar had dissolved. Then whacked the temperature up & boiled until a few drops on a cold plate formed wrinkles when pushed. It DID happen, and it didn’t take too long – success!
It just so happened that instead of my usual scrabble for jam-jars in June, I picked up a big box of 57 pristine, probably brand new, 1lb jars complete with lids at the Tip a couple of weeks ago for £2. I’m assuming that one of the Country Market ladies has sadly given up or passed away, but I’m very happy to be able to use what she’s no further use for. So my usual mad dash around the garage shelves, hunting for enough random-sized jars & matching lids that haven’t gone rusty, wasn’t necessary; I just washed some from the box, rinsed them & popped them into a hot oven to sterilise.
Two and a half jars of strawberry jam made. But what to do with the rest of the pectin-water and the apple pulp? A quick check of the spice cupboard, and I knew I had enough to make some Apple Butter; three and a half jars of it, in fact!
So that’s got the 2015 store cupboard off to a flying start, quite a lot earlier in the year than I can ever remember making jam before. Not that it’ll have to be stored for long; we’re already into the first full jar, having polished off the half-jar! All sorts of things seem to have got off to a flying start this year, with the lovely warm weather we’ve been having. Mid-week I had cause to drive through the middle of our county on the country roads, which I had just about to myself. It was simply stunning; the trees were a symphony of blossom, from clouds of blackthorn through blushing apples to rosy-red hawthorn and cherry-blossom. And underneath the trees, there are still acres of primroses, but also bluebells, not quite in full bloom yet but near enough. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so much blossom at one time; it’s a fantastic show. The sea was aquamarine & sparkling; if I’d had a camera with me, I’d never have got to my destination!
Looks like I’m going to need a few good quince recipes, too…