Putting a resolution into action…

Last night I woke with a start at 2am, as a random thought suddenly clicked into focus. I’d wondered a couple of times lately why the elderly chest freezer in the garage, which I’ve been meaning to defrost for months, had been switched to “super”, so I grumpily kept switching it back to normal. Maybe one of the girls needed to cool something rapidly & forgot about it? Maybe one of the cats trod on the switch?

No. In the dark of the night I realised that it was so iced-up it was running constantly, on “super” because normal just wasn’t maintaining the temperature any longer as warm air leaked in around the iced-up seals. So defrosting it suddenly leapt to the top of my “to-do” list & first thing this morning I was out there, hauling the contents out & stuffing them into a vast assortment of cool-boxes and insulating wraps – mostly old wool blankets. Luckily everything was still absolutely solid.

Then it struck me; oops, I had no idea how long some of the contents had been in there. It was high time for a good sort out… This freezer’s been great at keeping things very, very cold, but it is reaching the end of its expected life & showing the strain somewhat; I should be running the contents down & saving up ready to replace it within the year. So whilst it was defrosting enough to scrape the rest of the built-up ice off gently, I ran down to the market and invested in a notebook.

As stuff went back in, I logged it. I thought I only had a couple of packs of meat or fish in there; actually, there were 20-odd items. There’s cheese and butter. I thought I’d used the last of our home-grown beans up over Christmas, but there were 3 more bags in there. I’d completely forgotten the bags of grated golden courgettes, intended to bulk out soups & stews. There’s enough apple & pumpkin in the bottom to sink a battleship, and several bags of roasted butternut squash chunks. All of it carefully, lovingly & organically grown…

There’s no huge rush to use up the things I know only went in there a month or two ago, especially not as we still have trays of wrapped apples and several large squashes to eat up first. And the meat, not to mention the cheese, will see us through the next couple of months with very little need to visit a supermarket; the idea will be to use something from the freezer every other day at least. If I had a New Year’s resolution at all this year, it was to use up stuff that we already have; admittedly I was thinking of fabric & yarn, but it works across the board really. Here’s my chance!

Some of the other things had definitely been in there for longer than I cared to remember – raspberries, blueberries, & blackberries from 2018 or before, all of them market bargains or foraged from the hedgerows.  So I decided to make “Freezer Jam” with them, rather than let them go to waste.

I weighed the bags of fruit, then an appropriate amount of sugar – a little less than the total weight of the fruit; I don’t like my preserves too sweet – then chopped up the very last of this year’s quinces, hoping they’d provide at least a little pectin to set the jam. I chucked it all into my preserving pan & let it all melt down together. At this point I realised that some of the “blueberries” were in fact sloes, so had to stop & push the whole lot through a colander to remove the stones. But the taste was really gorgeous; deep, dark & tangy, well worth the extra work!

So now we have 5 full-size jars and 2 small ones of “Freezer Jam”. And yes, it seems to be setting just fine. When I made the Medlar jam, I said I hadn’t expected to be making jam in December. Well, I really hadn’t expected to be making it in January too!

freezerjam

That said, there’s a bag of Seville oranges in the conservatory awaiting my attention…

Following on…

… from “Another Cautionary Tale” where I acknowledged that many people are – somewhat cautious – about buying second-hand supplies and equipment, I’ve recently had a classic example come exploding into my own life. I was cruising our local charity shops looking for a little black cardi with ¾-length sleeves when I spotted something interesting hiding on a low shelf. An ice-cream maker… one of the very best makes, a Gaggia Gelatiera, not new but obviously not much-used, at about one-tenth of the original cost. PAT-tested, and that shop will refund without a fuss if things don’t work properly.

Photo 28-05-2019, 16 44 34
Raspberry Sorbet under construction!

On a list of all the kitchen gadgets that are simply not necessary, ice-cream makers must come close to the top. But long ago I blew up my trusty Kenwood Chef, terminally, trying to make ice-cream, because I love good ice-cream, made with fresh ingredients that I can actually spell. We’ve made it a few times by dashing out to the garage, where the big chest freezer lives, and whisking frantically every now & then, but somehow we’d never achieved the smooth creamy deliciousness that I craved. I did consider saving up to buy a machine, but it certainly wasn’t a priority – and oh boy, did we need to prioritise! – and most of them didn’t make nearly enough for a family of seven plus the odd guest. I wanted one which did the whole job, rather than one where you need to freeze the bowl in advance; I knew I’d never be organised enough to put it in in advance, and if I left it in the freezer full-time, it used up space that could have been used to store food…

But now there are only four of us at home full-time. There’s a bit more space available, and I’m lucky enough to be in a position where I can frequently get brilliant bargains on fruit, thanks to our local market. So I barely hesitated; at that price, it had to be worth a try…

It’s wonderful. We’ve made loads of ice-cream & sorbet, and are about to start on the frozen yogurt. The web is a fantastic resource; there are loads of recipes out there, but most have to be adjusted to the size of our machine, which can only handle 600ml of contents at a time, though it came with two spare bowls & paddles, so we can always do several batches, one after another. So far we have made Stracciatella, Chocolate, Strawberry, Strawberry & Prosecco, Gin & Tonic, Cherry, Cherry & Mascarpone, Pineapple & Mango Sorbet, Raspberry Sorbet, Blood Orange & Star Anise Sorbet, & Kiwi Sorbet, many of those more than once! Kiwi sorbet is the only one that hasn’t been that popular, and I think I may try a different recipe next time I can get about 20 kiwis for £1.

Photo 03-06-2019, 20 41 18
A batch of Cherry Ice Cream ready for the freezer…

Last Sunday I was given, for free, a huge bag of very ripe cherries “for your chickens” as my favourite greengrocers were starting to pack their stall down. About a quarter of them were “going over” and did go straight to the chickens (who love them) but the rest were perfectly acceptable provided I could use them up swiftly. Luckily I have an old tool for removing the stones from olives; it also works on cherries. I froze a large tray of them for future reference, gave some away, made another batch of cherry ice cream, and turned the remainder into jam, along with a few strawberries that needed to be used up, the next morning. The ice-cream has been stashed away in the big freezer, and hopefully one winter’s evening it will tickle our tastebuds into believing it’s summer once more. That said, there are lots of autumn/winter ice-cream recipes out there (blackberry & apple, quince & pear, lovely spicy things) and we’re beginning to get confident enough just to try things out for ourselves.

Photo 17-06-2019, 11 32 55

So there you are; sometimes a secondhand bargain can let you try something out which will turn out to be well worthwhile!

 

The time has come…

… to pick up my long-neglected keyboard again. Life has started to calm down a little; the kittens are nearly 6 months old now and not quite so relentlessly cute and playful. My mother has moved, and despite other people’s worries about her leaving her lovely “sheltered” flat, is very much happier in her little bungalow, with a garden she can sit out in, and family & friends close by. I have come to the end of my summer shows, and am starting to move surplus stock on as most of my trading “dates” from now on until next spring are indoors, which means having not much more space than a tabletop. The allotment & garden are in full production and now I need to swing into action on the preserving front. It’s not been such a good year for apples & quinces, but the hedgerow fruits seem to have done rather well.

No. 2 son staggered through the door last night, having done a 12-mile training run whilst suffering from a raging cold, and begged for a lift back to the gym where he’d left his car. I wasn’t doing anything, and it was a chance to see him – he moved out (for the third time) a month or so ago – so gladly agreed. As I drove into the car park opposite the gym, my headlights lit up two little trees groaning under the weight of crab apples. So a good armful of those came home with me, whilst my son suddenly regained his athleticism and hurtled off into the night before anyone recognised him. This afternoon I went down to the old railway and liberated a tub of blackberries, and now a muslin full of boiled crab apples & blackberries, along with a sprig of rosemary from the garden, is dripping into one of my preserving pans to be jellied tomorrow. I must raid the stash of reclaimed jam-jars in the garage & clean them ready for use… Much though I’ll miss summer, and never want it to end, I do love this time of year!

DSCF1325
Crab apples & blackberries ready for boiling!

Do the maths!

I was at the market in our County Town this morning when I saw a small crowd of people round a fruit & veg stall. They were inspecting a little tower of boxes dubiously. I sidled over, and saw a notice: whole box of strawberries – £2!

£2strawbs
A slightly-depleted box of strawberries!

Well, irresistible! I checked with the stallholder; it really did mean a whole box, 20 good-sized punnets, for £2. “They’re going over,” he said. “You’ll need to pick your way through.” But the crowd were shaking their heads and wandering off. “Half of ’em are mouldy!” one woman huffed indignantly. Another lady & I looked at each other and laughed; the woman evidently hadn’t worked out that if half of them were no good – and it certainly wasn’t anywhere near half – you would still be getting 10 punnets for £2. Which is quite a bargain!

So I somehow managed to carry the box, mostly balanced on my head, back to my van, whilst dragging my shopping trolley behind me. My mother & I polished off most of one punnet for lunch, and I gave two more to one of my brothers, who happened to appear at an opportune moment. So 17 punnets came home with me.

What to do with 17 punnets of strawberries? I rounded up every jar I could find a lid for and made a massive pan of jam; 11 jars, 4 of them 2lb-ers. I didn’t have any preserving sugar, and strawberries are low in pectin, but I did have these:

apples&quinces
Apples & quinces…

…which are full of the stuff. So I boiled up a pan of apples & quinces until really soft, then strained them through a muslin, then chopped the strawberries into the resulting juice and added an equal weight of sugar. Discarding the bad ones as I went, 9 punnets-worth half-filled the pan (it’s a BIG pan) which is enough as I didn’t want it to boil over.

6 punnets-worth have been sliced into my dehydrator; dried strawberries are good in muesli, or yogurt. There’s one punnet of decent berries left in the fridge, and one punnet made its way to a friend.

Altogether, from the 17 punnets I brought home, there were 2½ punnets of debris to throw out – mostly into the chicken run, as they love strawberry tops. So the best part of 14½ punnets, plus the 3 that went elsewhere, were good to use; way more then half! 11 pots of jam for £2, a bit of sugar and some energy… still seems like a good deal to me!

 

April daze…

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?!

scones
Still-warm spelt scones, on-its-sell-by cream & freshly-made strawberry jam…

£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…

quinceblossom
Quinces blooming away in the front garden.

 

 

False economies…

Sometimes you just have to buy new. About 6 years ago, I was a member of the European Compact, a group that had vowed not to buy anything new for a year, excepting underwear & a few other items. By and large I didn’t find this too difficult, as it’s the way I choose to live anyway, for ethical reasons as well as pure financial common sense, but when my faithful 15 year old Cannon cooker died, I hit the buffers bigtime. It was followed a succession of Freecycled cookers which just didn’t cut the mustard for a big family at all, starting with a big dual-fuel range cooker that was only half working; I knew it had blown an oven element, but what I didn’t know was that it would almost instantly blow the element I bought to replace it, then a second one a week later. So that went, to be followed by a more modern looking, slightly smaller range with one giant oven. This did work but was wildly uneconomical to run, as try as I might I wasn’t organised enough to fill the oven every time I needed it, and I didn’t like the ceramic hob either. So that was Freecycled onwards, to be replaced by a tiny 50cm cooker, which I thought would be cheaper to run. But sadly I couldn’t fit my saucepans on the hob, so had to cook things in succession & heat them up again to serve, thus using more fuel… eventually I cracked, confessed all to my fellow-Compact members & bought a new modern-style range cooker, “A” rated for efficiency, the cheapest I could find. It didn’t have a couple of features I would have liked but I decided I’d be able to cope without them; it was the best available “fit” within the budget I’d set myself.

It was a classic example of a false economy. The dratted thing broke down majorly twice and had to be professionally mended at a cost of £200+ each time, including parts. If we were going out for the day, someone had to stay in all the time to turn it on at the appropriate hour, as it didn’t have an automatic oven. One by one the gas hobs clogged up beyond my ability to clean them out again, and stopped working altogether (I was down to 2 out of 5 by the end) and the pretty shiny black glass doors showed every splash & fingerprint. When this one too started to blow elements on a regular basis, I realised that it had 4 separate problems & the bill for repair this time would more than likely add up to more than I paid for the flimmin’ thing to start with. It did have some very good features, notably the tall slim oven at the side, which heated up very fast & continued to work all the way through, though it had taken me a while to collect up casseroles, tins & dishes that fitted it, but at the end of the day it just wasn’t up to the job of serious cooking for plenty of people.

So this time I splurged every last penny on a Rangemaster, which I’m hoping will last at least as long as our original Cannon. I was sent to a specific shop, Spillers of Chard, 50 miles away by our local electrical suppliers, Holmans, who have always done me proud but couldn’t match the prices that Spillers can get, as they don’t do anything BUT range cookers. You have to wait for them to build your cooker, and then we had a couple of glitches with the installation process that meant it was two months from ordering to my cooker being installed. And here I would like to give a big pat on the back to Spillers, who have gone above & beyond the call of duty & agreed to refund me a charge for an independent gas engineer to eventually connect it. I’d encourage anyone considering buying a range cooker to consider them before the online-only stores that can match their prices, because the after-sales service has been superb; nothing has been too much trouble & they have stayed in touch without being prompted. I’m planning a return visit soon to stock up on bits & bobs like spare oven shelves & baking tins specifically to fit the ovens, as a transport-free friend needs to visit another shop in Chard, and I’d like to thank them in person.

I’m mentioning this because this week we had to make literally VAST quantities of cake, 300+ servings. Sadly it was for a funeral, for a dear friend who died far too young and far too quickly. And the Rangemaster showed its quality by coping with 3 cooks filling both ovens, turn & turn about, temperatures going up & down as needed, over the course of about 18 hours, because I didn’t have any freezer space free to store pre-cooked cakes! At the same time I was also cooking up vast batches of Two-Quince Marmalade and Apple Butter on the hob, using two BIG preserving pans, and sterilising jars & lids in the ovens between batches of cake. Well-impressed here, and just wanting to repeat that sometimes, it pays to spend more and invest in the right tools for the job when you need them; let’s see if I can manage to remember this myself next time I need to replace something vital!

Another vat of apples on my new pride & joy...
Another vat of apples on my new pride & joy…

Freecycle Chutney…

Well, what else can I call it? We’re not short of apples on our own big Blenheim Orange tree this year, although it’s hardly a bumper crop, but I’d gathered a handful of those pretty little red crab apples from the riverbank to make some crab apple jelly with. However there weren’t an awful lot on the tree, and I know other people like to use them too, so I didn’t feel I could be greedy & help myself to too many. There are other trees I know of, but they’re quite a walk off the road and the weather’s pretty soggy just now. And I’d found some other interesting-looking crab apple recipes online; several chutneys, crab apple butter, and slow-roasted crab apples, to name but a few, which looked well worth a try. I also seemed to be rather short of jars; the box I thought was still out in the garage, wasn’t, when I went hunting for it. So I asked on one of our local Freecycle groups, both for crab apples and for jars. And I was lucky enough to get two replies, one from Maggie whose elderly mother loves honey & goes through at least a jar a week, so had a full box of jars saved up, and one from Stan, who said he had not crabs, but apples…

Oh boy, does he have apples! I am now suffering from serious orchard envy. He and his wife moved to their cottage 20 odd years ago, on retirement, and he has been building up his orchard ever since. Sadly he’s struggling to manage his garden now, as his wife is very ill and he’s finding it hard to bend, but the place should be declared a national treasure. There are all the well-known varieties, and some lesser-known trees too, grown from cuttings, interspersed with gooseberries, currant bushes and an enormous row of runner beans. Anyway I helped myself to three huge bags of windfalls, mostly of small yellow apples with little red splashes, which taste a little like Golden Delicious, and he handed me a bag of jars too. I’ve promised him a jar of the results, and some Egremont Russets, too, as his Russet has stopped a-russetting & now bears pretty, delicious red apples that only bear a slight resemblance to an Egremont.

On the way home, I spotted some small red fruits lying on the road into town, and realised there’s a crab apple in a roadside garden there. So I pulled into the nearest car park, plucked up my courage & knocked on the door. The owners professed themselves delighted to let me pick up their windfalls too. So I came home absolutely laden with bounty…

I mixed the little yellow apples & the red crab apples with a couple of damaged quinces from our own garden, which won’t keep until I get round to making the quince marmalade; I’m willing to bet that the crabs & quince will make up for any lack of zing from the yellow ones. The slow-cooker is full to the brim of apples, cranberries, rosemary, onions & garlic turning gently into chutney, and I stuffed both my big preserving pans full to bursting with apples & boiled them up to make lots of pretty pink juice for crab apple jelly. The drippings from 4 muslin bags have now filled the 10-litre pan, and the chickens will dine well on the fruit pulp tomorrow. But I hadn’t thought about sugar… it would take every ounce we currently have, and then some, to turn that lot into jelly. So off to the supermarket I shall hurtle, tomorrow, and trust that they’ll have enough; they don’t always have the big bags.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We won’t eat all this ourselves. Apart from the jars I’ll return to the donors, I like to make up a basket of home-made things – I hesitate to call them goodies – for various family members at Christmas. Some will get given to produce stalls in support of one organisation or another & some will be inflicted on absent offspring’s flatmates. I will go out & gather more crabs, to try the slow-roast idea, when the weather’s not quite so damp. But I still have rather a lot of apples to process/give away/eat and I haven’t even really started on our own home-grown ones yet!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Don’t get me wrong; I am actually really grateful for all this & will do my best not to waste any of it. I’m just goggling a bit at the sheer size of the task I have before me! And it triggers some interesting thoughts about life before or without freezers & dehydrators, as the seasons turn. I may have to haul out some demijohns…

Further thoughts on hoarding…

…albeit mostly aimed at people who would die rather than read this!

A glut of something useful or edible does not constitute a hoard. The slowly-diminishing store of marmalade, crab apple jelly & other preserves in the garage is not a hoard; it was made to use up gluts & it’s there to be eaten & enjoyed as well as given away. It has all been made within the last two years – now eat it, before I’m forced to let this year’s crops rot on the trees & bushes! The fact that it didn’t come from a supermarket or contain 70% sugar does not mean that it’s not fit for human consumption.

Helpfully throwing out things that the helper considers naff isn’t actually helpful at all, especially if, like my kitchen timer, there is only one and it is in constant use. If you don’t like the chicken-ey look of the thing, buy me one that works that we all like. And having more of some things than most people also isn’t hoarding, if they are actually needed & being used, like the contents of my spice rack. I do know that most people do not have 20 different herbs and spices in their kitchen, but I cook 95% of our meals & snacks from scratch and all of those are ingredients in things I prepare & cook regularly. Not one of them is anywhere near out of date.

Sometimes “hoarding” is simply a response to rapidly-changing circumstances. Yes, there are probably too many baking tins in my cupboard, but as the number of people in the household is still subject to dramatic variations in a very short time, I still do need four loaf tins some of the time, and often without notice. However I will concede that we have far too much cutlery; since we no longer have a dishwasher, we no longer need 4 x 7 of everything. But it’s good, well-balanced stainless steel stuff, and we do have space to store it, so I am not planning to throw it out just yet but to Freecycle it when it’s clear that none of you needs it. I am also really, really narked about plastic ice-cream tubs, which are stealing some of the space that the loaf tins could otherwise sensibly be kept in; why can they not be recycled in our area? The answer here is obvious; not to buy ice-cream, but to make it in future, if people think they really need it.

And where do you draw the line between “preparedness” and hoarding? There are two big packs of lentils in my cupboard that have gone out of date; I am still planning to eat them as they’re not that far gone (late 2011) and I won’t replace them until they are nearly empty, but I do believe in keeping some basic stocks in hand in case of unexpected contingencies. In a large household, that means more than in a smaller one; a tray of twenty tins of baked beans isn’t a hoard, it’s just a month’s supply in a household that contains 3 or 4 young men. I also like to buy plenty of storeable food when I see a good deal; I do rotate the stocks as things come in so that the oldest get used up first. But that’s why it takes me an hour to unpack our monthly supermarket shop & there are tins & packets all over the kitchen floor for that hour; if you’re tripping over it, it makes more sense to help me do it properly than to shout at me.

And anyone who recycles my carefully-saved jamjars just as we come into peak preserving season clearly hasn’t learnt the lesson from when their father recycled all my wildly-expensive Le Parfait jars “because they hadn’t been used in weeks…”

Well, I do feel better for getting that off my chest – oh dear, chests – yes, I do need to do something about the two chests of perfectly-good fleece under the stairs…

Edited to add: in case you think I’m backtracking or prevaricating up above, more stuff went out today – another bootload to the Tip, & the boot has now been refilled with things to drop off to a charity shop tomorrow. A big bag of yarn went off to two young friends starting to knit, and some needlework kits flew away on Freecycle. Two items sold, one on Ebay (off to the States!) & one elsewhere. And it’s a free listing weekend on Ebay so I’ve earmarked at least 3 other items to list, one of them large… but there are still several huge piles of stuff to tackle. Slow & steady wins the day…

Well, I feel quite let down…

…by Google!

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…

A good haul today…

I just nipped into the Tip in passing today, to see whether they by any chance had any last-minute Japonica quinces; I think I’ve denuded the entire neighbourhood of them now. No quinces, but there were a fair few other bargains to be had:- 

  • a wicker basket for my stall. Stuff looks far better, and is easier to transport & display, in  containers, and wicker looks the part nicely on top of my rescued red velvet ex-curtains.
  • a bag full of splendid pelargoniums to brighten my conservatory windowsills over the winter & give plenty of cuttings for next summer’s windowboxes.
  • another armful of tins; I do have enough now, but a friend is collecting up good quality kitchware to do a market stall of her own. These are very attractive, worthy of display in their own right.
  • a sturdy solid wood chopping board.
  • two intact “Bodum” cafetieres, small & mid-sized.
  • some good-quality utensils for my friend’s stall – an easy-clean garlic press, a sturdy stainless steel corkscrew, and a tin-opener that’s so good I may not hand it over! And some smooth, sturdy old wooden spoons, and a couple of rather nice pastry tins.
  • more jamjars. I know there are more quinces out there somewhere

The reason I’ve been hogging all the quinces & jamjars is that Transition Town Wimborne are doing a stall at the Charities Fair at the Allendale Centre this Saturday. My contribution will be a “preserves” tombola & taste-testing – hopefully that’ll be an eye-catcher, raise us some funds and raise people’s awareness of just how much free food is going to waste in the hedgerows & gardens all around us… as well as lightening the load on our garage shelves!