Bullace Jam

You probably have just enough time left to follow in our footsteps and create the worlds most delicious hedgerow jam.

Two weeks ago we stumbled upon a laden bullace tree and decided to gather ourselves a few fruits for a stewed pudding. They were so abundant and easy to reach that a few fruits rapidly turned into a carrier bag full and I had inadvertantly created myself the chore of an evening’s worth of jam making.

I am deep in the depths of a sugar free, gluten free, dietary phase so jam making is not high on my to do list.

Fortunately the kids are less faddy than me and were happy with the opportunity to sample.

Bullace jam is apparently the “best jam ever”, and two weeks post production it is still the preserve of choice. Today I was told it forms the perfect accompaniment to applewood cheese and toast, beating quince jelly hands down.

So if you are quick, you might still be able to gather some wild plums for your own supply of champion jam. Here’s the recipe:

Bullace Jam
Arguably the world's best hedgerow jam......
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Ingredients
  1. 2lbs of bullace wild plums
  2. 1.5 lbs granulated sugar
  3. 1/2 pint water
Instructions
  1. wash the fruit
  2. put all the ingredients into a large preserving pan and bring slowly to a boil
  3. spend ages stirring and fishing out the stones
  4. bring up to the boil and either heat to the jam setting point 105'C (test with a jam thermometer) or test for a set on a cool saucer.
  5. pour into pre-sterilised jars, seal and wait for the bread to toast.
Notes
  1. Some suggest cutting the fruit in half to check for bugs and to remove the stones but all the unpalatable bits float to the surface for you to fish out. It took an age to retrieve all the stones but I think on balance it was quicker than cutting out the stones.
  2. I used the thermometer method but the moment it reached setting point it managed to turn the base of my pan to a fruity toffee consistency and I had to quickly remove from the heat.
Earthwoman Allotment Blog http://www.earthwoman.co.uk/

 

 

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The Excellence of Second Hand Sloes

Sloe PortIn search of suitable bottles for the preparation of the annual glug of sloe gin I found last years experimental sloe port.

I planned on leaving it for 2 months to mature but here we are 10 months later and I can only say that it has matured fantastically.

It is a crying shame that I have an 8am Monday morning presentation but if they knew how smooth this tipple was, I’m sure they’d forgive me for a lacklustre performance. I can only hope so anyway.

 

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Port and Sloe Gin Production

Most of the sloes had gone by the time we got our foraging heads on. We had to endure multiple blackthorn puncture wounds in order to get deep enough into the hedgerow to secure some berries that the birds had missed.

I still bear the scars from that day and the experience has left me wanting to squeeze the very marrow from my hard won sloes.

20131222-163812.jpgThey initially went into bottles for the traditional sloe gin but now two months later I am decanting the gin and don’t feel the sloes have reached the end of their useful lives.

Thankfully Permaculture magazine has provided me with the perfect recipe for semi-sozzled sloes. Sloe Port.

I bundled an approximate dollop of sugar and healthy slug of cognac into the drained bottle of gin soaked sloes and topped up with a bottle of bargain basement merlot. In a couple of months I should be rewarded with a very interesting bottle of port.

Either that or a bottle of pink salad vinegar.

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The Importance of Labels

Salmon and Rhubarb JamWe ran out of tartare sauce today.

I don’t know what you are supposed to do in that situation. If I run out of lager I’ll substitute a bottle of Merlot but I don’t have a ready made substitute for tartare sauce.

With salmon on the plate, I had to think on my feet and I went down the chutney route.

I raided the fridge where all the unlabelled, half-eaten jars reside.

I polished off the last remnants of the best beetroot relish ever! And then experimented with the unknown – the small gifted jars that either came from my family or the in-laws. The distinction is important. Lynn’s family do jams. Mine do sour chutneys and marmalade.

Neither family do labels though.

In the end I “enjoyed” salmon with rhubarb jam.

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Cavalo Nero Kale Crisps

This is the first year of growing Kale.┬áIt’s taken me about 40 years to acquire the taste but I’ve now found the recipe that boosts this brassica into top spot – Cavalo Nero crisps.

I force fed the vegetable loathing teenager a crisp, hoping to recreate the last force feeding photo opportunity, but it totally backfired. She actually loved my crisps and now I have to share them!

Here’s the recipe:

  • Chop leaves into 1 inch strips
  • Cut out the vein out as it helps the leaves dehydrate without burning
  • Toss with olive oil and a bit of sea salt
  • Lay out on the microwave plate and cook for 3-4 mins

Cavolo Nero Kale Crisp Recipe

Kale crips

I opened the microwave after 2 mins to let some of the steam evaporate but its a fairly forgiving process – the leaves dry out well without much fuss.

They crisp up amazingly well and store for an age in a tupperware box. Not that I’ll need to keep them for long, my current problem is trying to keep them away from the teenager.

I’ll be planting an extra row of Kale next year.

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Wild and Fluffy Food

I’ve been inspired by John Lewis-Stempel’s “The Wild Life“, to resurrect my fascination with wild and local foods. Although I haven’t actually foraged much further afield than Borough Market, I am currently preparing a pot of slow cooked, wild, rabbit stew. I might not have shot it myself but I was rather perturbed when I noticed bunny fur remaining on the quartered carcass. De-fluffing the tea brought me a bit too close to the harsh realities of our carnivorous lifestyle but that can only be a good thing.

I’m not sure I’ll be able to persuade any one else to join me for a serving so I’ve taken the precaution of preparing a backup leek and potato soup.

Back to the book, John committed a year of his life to eating wild produce hunted or foraged within the grounds of a derelict farmhouse that he and his wife had bought to renovate. It sounds like a hell-ish challenge. He started in game season so he had plenty of meat to hand but had to grub around for meager offerings of greenery. He managed to poison himself more than once by over-reliance on dubious quality produce.

His ingredients list for February reads:

Pigeon, rabbit, squirrel, dandelion, corn salad, nettles

He was pretty strict about the source of his food and so beyond the stuff he gathered or shot on a daily basis he would have to rely on foods he’d managed to preserve or dry such as nuts, oils, rosehip syrup and copious quantities of alcohol.

I think I was particularly inspired by his ability to keep himself stocked up with daily supplies of alcohol as well as his ability to stomach some of the concoctions brewed. Home brew wine is rank at the best of times and I don’t think oak leaf wine would fare any better than the usual culprits. Dandelion and Burdock beer sounds delightful though and I was impressed to discover you can turn the brew around in about a week.

The book is illustrated with many historic and authentic hedgerow recipes which must have taken some time to unearth. We have Chickweed soup, Stuffed Bistort Leaves, Fat hen pancakes with horseradish and as I’ve seen them lined up next to the rabbits at Borough Market, perhaps this one will do for next weekend:

Herby Squirrel Burgers
Serves 4

1lb/450g lean minced squirrel
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp hedge garlic, chopped
2 tsp equal parts wild thyme and wild chervil
pinch salt

Mix together the egg, meat, herbs and salt in a bowl.
Shape into flattened patties and fry in goose fat. Serve with a green salad.

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Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants

I’ve spent a good proportion of the bank holiday reading about food and quite specifically how to eat food.

I started with the seriously irritating Allen Carr and his Easyweigh to Lose Weight. I’ve read this once before and threw it out in disgust but I have to cut Allen a lot of slack as I’m into my tenth year as a non smoker thanks to his EasyWay methods. Still, when it comes to food and nutrition he drives me nuts.

His main premise is that we should look to wild animals for advice on what to eat, after all they don’t get sick or obese. Somehow he manages to jump from wild animals to the instruction to eat a vegetarian diet with fruit and nothing but fruit for breakfast. I can cope with all of that and resist the temptation to argue the point of predation and age-related conditions but when he starts on slugs and snails I’m afraid the book has to go into the charity pile again.

I know about slugs and I’m not too enamored of them. Allen likes to use the example of the slothful slug and snail to illustrate his suggestion that exercise is overrated. You don’t really need to exercise as, after all, have you ever seen an obese snail? That sets me wondering. If I match sluggy slime trails to body length, I reckon our squidgy friends are really quite active critters, especially of a damp evening and if we are going to be critical, I’m not sure I’d consider them the slenderest of creatures either. Quite podgy I’d say.

Next on my list was Savor, a Buddhist guide to mindful eating. This book attempts to fuse nutritional advice with the buddhist concept of mindfulness through the discussion of the four noble truths and a series of exercises or meditations that encourage a focus on the present. Mindfulness is not restricted to eating and Thich Nhat Hanh takes us through mindfulness for eating, exercise and living.

The eating messages I’ve taken home are:

  • Eat at the table
  • Avoid multitasking – so no TV, work or magazines
  • Appreciate your food by use of all the senses
  • Chew and take it slowly
  • Quality not quantity

There is a particularly useful exercise on appreciating the apple and I’d encourage anyone to spend 10 minutes with a Discovery apple, reacquainting yourself with its joys.

I’m a big fan of food and this time of year is particularly conducive to appreciating food. The plot is so productive that I can’t help but serve up meals that are at least 70% home grown and it is such a delight to look at the plate and remember the soil turning, seed sowing, weeding and watering that led to the harvest.

We’ve snuck a few yellow courgette plants into the flower border at home and I find their unexpected presence on the plate extremely satisfying.

Not content with the first two books on food, I’ve turned now to Michael Pollen for the down to earth advice succinctly wrapped up in the title of this post: Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants. Homespun advice that would make your mum and grandmother nod their heads in appreciation.

In Defense of Food, contains Michael Pollens manifesto for eating and attempts to find the commonsense lost in the nutritional world that has become hijacked by commerce and the food industry.

In addition to the above advice you’ll find tips such as:

  • Only eat food your great grandmother would recognise as food
  • Avoid products with unpronounceable ingredients or more than 5 ingredients

I’ve been overdosing on common sense, so now it’s time to set the table and enjoy the products of our labour.

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Roasted Sweet Beetroot Relish

The plot and the hedgerows are so productive at the moment. It seems about two months too early but the sloes are already plump and juicy. I’ve just had to polish of the last remaining drop of slow gin from last year so that I can re-use the bottles for this year’s vintage. Extraordinarily tasty and potent stuff!

This year we remembered to take carrier bags for a trip around Mitcham Common and have collected enough apples and blackberries for about 30 pies. The trees were almost breaking under the burden of fruit, it’s a shame more people don’t take advantage of the free crops.

Back on the plot we’ve found ourselves overrun with beetroot and I’m in the unusual position of trying to find creative ways to cook and store it.

The Preserves book from the River Cottage Series has a fabulous recipe for sweet beetroot relish. I made slight adjustments, replacing creamed horseradish for the requested home-grown pickled variety and I also cheated with the tomato puree which I couldn’t be bothered to make from scratch. Here is my cheats version:

Sweet Beetroot Relish

  • Servings: loads
  • Time: 1hr
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

1kg Beetroot – roasted at 180’C
250g Sugar
150ml cider vinegar
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
large onion finely chopped
2 tbsp creamed horseradish
4 garlic cloves crushed
1 tbsp tomato puree

Directions:

Put all the ingredients except for the beetroot into a preserving pan and boil for 5 mins.

Peel and coarsely grate the roasted beetroot. Add this to the mix and cook for another 10 mins.

The juice should be syrupy when ready to transfer to the sterilised jars.

It should last up to a year.

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