What to do with pumpkins – chutney

pumpkins glowing in autumn lightI don’t really want to harvest all my pumpkins too soon, I want to have a few left for Halloween but they are ripening up thick and fast in this warm, early autumn weather. I roasted most of the last one and made some soup (based on this one but with added lentils) but quite a lot of that is still in the freezer.

inside a pumpkin

The second of our eight fruits came home at the weekend and it was about the same size as the first – 7kg! Time to make some chutney.

It’s two years since we had a major chutney making session. I don’t know how many jars we made but we’ve been eating my favourite dark, sticky rhubarb chutney ever since. I’ve adapted the recipe to use up some of my pumpkin. It seems to have worked well but I can’t promise that it is perfect because you can’t really test a chutney until it’s matured for  month or two.

The most time consuming part of making chutney is the chopping up. It can’t really be avoided though and unless you particularly want chunky chutney, you have to spend the time finely dicing your fruit and vegetables. The pumpkin seems to hold it’s shape surprisingly well, considering how easy it is to mash when it is steamed. The picture below is the ‘before’.

pumpkin chutney before

Ingredients

450g Dark Brown Sugar

1kg of finely diced pumpkin. This is the weight after it has been peeled and chopped

450g chopped cooking apples

450g sultanas

450g finely diced onion

2 lemons – remove the zest and chop, remove the pips then finely chop the rest of the lemon

25g ground ginger

25g salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

700ml white wine or cider vinegar.

Put all the ingredients into a large preserving pan and heat gently. Continue to cook, allowing the mixture to bubble gently until the liquid has reduced significantly. This will take a couple of hours but you shouldn’t need to give it a lot of attention, just the occasional stir to make sure that nothing is sticking.

To test whether the chutney is done, draw a wooden spoon across the bottom of the pan. If the mixture stays parted for a few seconds and you can see the base, it has probably reduced enough. The picture below is the ‘after’ picture. It’s not particularly attractive but it does taste good.

When the chutney is almost done, prepare your jars. I always use recycled glass jars which I wash well, stand upright in a roasting tin and put in the oven for about 15 minutes at just over 100C to sterilise them. I also wash the lids, checking that none of them are damaged and then stand them in a pan of boiling water.

Fill the hot jars with the warm chutney using a jam funnel, taking care not to get burned!

bottling chutney with funnel

And if you’ve still got lots of pumpkin left, roast some more and make spiced coconut and pumpkin stew.

pumpkin stew

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The best and easiest ice cream ever

strawberry ice creamThis recipe came from my sister-in-law and like most of the recipes we use in this house, it is quick, easy and adaptable. For the basic ice cream you will need:

Half a pint of double cream

400g tin of condensed (sticky) milk

Whip the cream until it forms stiff peaks. Be careful that you don’t over whip the cream as it can turn to butter in the blink of an eye. Fold the condensed milk into the cream and freeze.

That is it. No churning or mixing. Just freeze.

Now, the fun thing about this recipe is that you can flavour it in so many ways. My sister-in-law usually adds crushed crunchy bars to her ice cream so that was one of the first additions we tried. The combination of smooth ice cream and sweet, crispy, toasted sugar is delicious. Here are some of the other variations we have tried.

Chopped up After Eight mints (a bit like eating the mint Vienetta of my 80’s youth)

Chopped caramel bars (not so good – the caramel is too sticky).

Rum and raisin. The raisins were soaked in warm rum first and then folded in. Delicious.

Lemon curd. I think The Husband mixed some lemon curd right into the cream and he also  added some lemon ‘ripples’. Also delicious

Strawberry jam. As lemon, above and just as successful.

You can also adapt this recipe to use up excess fruit. For example, I’ve harvested over 15kg of strawberries in the last two weeks. We’ve been enjoying eating them on breakfast cereal, with clotted cream and scones and in smoothies but mainly, I’ve been making jam. However, one of my batches of jam never quite made it to the setting stage so I sieved it using my new/old vintage Kenwood mouli attachment and used it in a batch of ice cream. You could get a similar effect by using fresh strawberries. In fact, I used this recipe a few years ago and it was very good. It’s the same basic recipe as I got from my sister-in-law.

If I ever get around to picking the many gooseberries in our allotment I may try that variation too.

I hope you enjoy experimenting with this recipe. It’s not exactly healthy, but you only need a little bit of it for a very indulgent treat.

P.S. It’s too good for children.

 

What to do with courgettes

I love courgettes but they do have a tendency to appear as a glut. Especially when you have seven plants.

IMG_7709This was my haul last Friday.

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We have almost managed to eat up this batch. They have been sliced and fried in butter; griddled, layered with tomatoes and cheese and cooked in the oven like an aubergine parmigiana;

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IMG_7755 baked with a topping of smoked cheese and parmesan;

IMG_7757and grated into a chocolate cake.

IMG_7752When the courgette glut really gets going I like to preserve some of them in lemon juice and olive oil. We managed to make a batch of these last week when the weather was still at it’s warmest. The photos below show the process, the recipe is at the bottom. It takes quite a long time to complete the whole process but it can also be broken down into chunks of activity and as you may be able to see from the photos, the whole family can get involved. Even Babykins likes to brush the sliced courgettes with oil, though it is Son Number One who is in the picture.

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Courgettes Preserved in Lemon Juice and Oil

Juice and rind of 3 lemons. 

Up to 2.5kg of courgettes (big or small)

1 large onion, finely diced or 300g shallots

about 6 cloves of garlic (or up to a whole bulb if you are brave)

salt

fresh or dried herbs such as thyme, bay, oregano and perhaps a tablespoon of peppercorns

Approximately 500ml of olive oil, plus more for brushing over the courgettes before cooking

1. Slice the courgettes into long-ish pieces, 1/2 a cm thick and layer them in a bowl, sprinkled with salt. Rest them for about an hour then rinse and dry them.

2. While the courgettes are salting, finely slice the onion and garlic and sweat over a gently heat until translucent. Remove from the heat and set to one side.

3. Mix the lemon juice and rind with a tablespoon of salt in a large bowl. Add the cool onions and garlic and plenty of herbs.

4. Wash your jars in the hottest soapy water you can find. Rinse and place on a baking tray, the right way up. Put them in the oven and turn it on to 100 degrees C for at least 5 minutes. Ideally you want the jars to be hot when you pack them with the courgettes. You can use any recycled jars if the lids are clean and fresh. Personally, I find the golden syrup jars that Tesco sell their value golden syrup in are an ideal size. They are the round ones on the right in the picture below.

5. Before you cook the courgettes, brush them on both sides with oil. Heat up your griddle pan or fire up the barbecue. Cook the courgettes on both sides, covering them in nice, black, criss-crossing lines.

6. When the courgettes are cooked, place them in the lemon/onion/garlic/herb mixture. When they are cool enough, toss them all together, with your hands if necessary and then strain the courgettes, retaining the lemony juice in a measuring jug.

7. Begin to pack the courgettes into the jars. Use the end of a wooden spoon and some tongs to do this. Try to pack them in as tightly as possible. Fill the jars but not completely to the top. Leave a space so that they will be completely covered in oil.

8. Add olive oil to the lemon juice until you have 500ml of liquid. Place it into a pan and heat it to 80 degrees C (the oil will begin to boil) mixing it thoroughly, ideally with a whisk. Pour the hot oil/lemon mixture over the courgettes, sharing it out as equally as possible.

9. Make sure that the courgettes are completely covered with oil. Top up the jars with more if necessary.

10. These jars should store well right into the winter and make a quick and easy meal when mixed with pasta. They are also good on their own as a sort of antipasti.

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Elderflower time again

IMG_7390You know it’s June when the elderflowers bloom!

I love making elderflower cordial. It’s a little bit of summer in a bottle. It’s also well worth it because the store bought version is relatively expensive.

I love picking it too: no thorns or stings and the smell is divine. We are lucky to have an elderflower tree growing over the corner of our allotment, behind the greenhouse. I harvest both the flowers and the berries each year but only from the lower branches. There is always plenty of fruit for the birds in the autumn.

IMG_7512I have been thinking all week about when I could do some foraging and preserving and today was the day. While Babykins raked and watered I snipped away at the big, creamy, flat flower heads, dusting the yellow pollen all around me as I went. Babykins and I also harvested the first courgette of the season.

IMG_7518Which, as you can see in the photo above didn’t last long.

Tonight I have started the process of making cordial. The flowers are steeping in a bath of sugar syrup and lemon slices. After my experiments last year, I have decided I prefer the sharper version of elderflower cordial (a bit like this). It’s a miracle that there’s any sharpness left in it at all when you realise just how much sugar goes into cordial.

IMG_2563Each pint of water requires 750g of sugar. I thought I would measure this by volume too. 750g of sugar is almost equivalent to a PINT and A HALF!!!!!!! No wonder it tastes good!

IMG_2559 For previous elderflower posts, click here

Tomatoes in November

The pumpkin soup was a hit. We had it today with some ‘roman bread’ (spelt and honey). The weather was horrible so it felt like a good, warm, comforting lunch.Last night, whilst I was busy making the soup, I was also (finally) getting to grips with our tomato harvest. It seems strange to be dealing with tomatoes in November. Considering the terrible summer we’ve had, our tomatoes have done quite well. I think we had six plants. Three were in a mini greenhouse and three were outside. All were against a south facing wall so they got as much sunlight and warmth as they could

This picture must have been taken back in September. As you can see, there was plenty of fruit but not much of it was ripe. We left it as long as we could but finally picked everything about two weeks ago. We were also trying to stay ahead of Babykins. He liked picking tomatoes (enough said I think).I really hadn’t expected the green fruits to ripen up but they did. We kept them all together in a big bowl in a sunny place and gradually they started to turn. Of course they have to be preserved sooner or later or they just rot. When I weighed what remained of the crop there were 3.5kg of ripe tomatoes. I was torn between making passata, chutney or dried tomatoes to preserve in oil. My kilner jars still have gooseberries in them so passata was out, I have tons of rhubarb chutney already, so the latter option won. I preserved tomatoes like this a couple of years ago and they were delicious. As usual, I used my trusty River Cottage Preserves book. There isn’t much to the process…

First chop up your tomatoes and remove the seeds.Add a little salt and sugar, allow to rest for a while and then turn the tomatoes over. Cook them on wire racks in a very cool oven for about 6 to 10 hours.

I was persuaded by The Husband that I could do this over night. I put them in the oven at about 10.30 and turned it off at about 5 am, when Babykins woke me up. Alas, they were a bit too well done. Think tomato crisps, rather than shrivelled but still slightly plump. I probably could have gone on with the next stage in the process, which involves vinegar, oil and sterilised jars but they are very tasty just as they are. They would probably keep for quite a long time in an air-tight jar.However we will be playing host to some friends tomorrow night so I don’t think they’ll last that long. These tomato ‘crisps’ will be really tasty with some creamy, yoghurty dip.

I still have some green tomatoes to process so perhaps some chutney is in order as well. You can never have too much.

In the interests of not completely stealing someone else’s recipe, you may note that I have kept the instructions for how to dry tomatoes very brief. If you want to do this yourself, I suggest getting a proper recipe that might point out the pitfalls (other than leaving them in the oven too long of course).

 

 

 

September Food

Food has been on my mind. September should be a busy month for the home preserve maker. I bought some hard goats cheese ages ago with the intention of making nasturtium pesto. It really is tasty, I made some a few years ago but I still haven’t made the time to do it this year.

We seem to have nasturtiums growing in great quantities in the allotment so they should be put to good use.

Our allotment is so neglected. We have some little saplings in pots that we meant to plant out about two years ago. We still haven’t cleared the area that they are supposed to go in. They are bearing fruit this year, despite their roots being crammed into a small space with limited nutrients. I hope this means that when they finally do get planted they will crop heavily. I am longing to turn these crab apples into something tasty but I can hardly reach them, the area is so overgrown. Come to think of it, I’m not sure how I got the photo!

The hedgerows can be full of beautiful berries at this time of year (and I seem to get carried away trying to photograph them).

Some berries seem more sparse than usual this year. I haven’t seen any sloes near here but the elderberries have been as abundant as ever.

I managed to grab the few apples from my Mum’s tree and made a big batch of apple and elderberry jelly.

I really enjoy making this. You don’t have to peel or core the apples because you only want the strained, cooked juice from them. The cooking process is so visually satisfying. I was taking photos of it every five minutes as the colours in the pan changed. This blogging lark can do funny things like that to you.

It’s a bit of a drawn out affair as you have to let the cooked fruit drip through a muslin cloth over night. I know it’s strange/pathetic/not very rock and roll, but there’s something about that that I like too. I can’t really put my finger on why I enjoy doing it so much. I’ve tried to explain my love of making preserves in this post. There’s definitely something comforting about the routine of it.

The other preserve that I have managed to make this autumn is rhubarb chutney. The Husband noticed that our rhubarb was starting to go past it’s best. There was plenty of it, but it was a bit tough for using in desserts. That, and the fact that we recently used up our last jar meant a chutney session was in order. We have been making this rhubarb chutney recipe for quite a few years now and it is absolutely my favourite. It’s dark, soft and treacly. There are no chunky bits in it but it does have texture. We had enough rhubarb to triple the recipe and plenty of home grown onions too. One night while I was chopping and cooking the apples and elderberries the husband did all the chopping and mixing of the rhubarb chutney ingredients.

The next morning at about 6am I tipped it into our maslin pan, hoping it would all fit. It did, just. The house smelled of vinegar fumes all day while it simmered away. I could have bottled it sooner if I didn’t have three children to contend with but I just had to keep putting it off until they were in bed. I don’t suppose that’s good practice and I hope it doesn’t affect it’s keeping qualities. I couldn’t follow the usual instructions for the cooking time either. My preserve book suggests that it’s done when you draw a wooden spoon across the bottom of the pan and it leaves a clear trail for a few seconds. There was so much in the pan, there was no way you would be able to see the bottom. I think when the wooden spoon stands upright like this:

it’s probably done. It tastes ok, which is just as well because I’ve now got about 15 jars of it. My next mission is to create some apple and bramble treats – flavoured gin, anyone?

Playing Gooseberry

It took me the best part of a day, on and off, to get all my gooseberries washed, topped and tailed. I would have like to have processed them all straight away but the majority of them have gone in the freezer for now. Lets hope that I get around to doing something with them sooner rather than later because I still have soft fruit in there from last year.

For some reason, I’ve got a bit of an obsession with Kilner jars. Maybe it’s the fact that they are ‘old’ technology. I don’t have that many: four medium ones and two larger ones. Most of the time I prefer to make my preserves in recycled glass jars because I like to give them away as gifts and I couldn’t bear to part with a Kilner jar. However, for the purposes of preserving fruit by bottling, rather than jamming, a Kilner jar or a Le Parfait jar is essential.

I haven’t done much bottling but it’s a process that appeals to me. Again, I can only think that it is it’s old fashioned-ness that I like. If you had no electricity you could preserve fruit like this with a suitably big pan and a stove. I chose to use the oven method this time though. Most of the people that I have quizzed about it can remember their own mothers bottling fruit. Women from my grandmothers generation didn’t have fridges when they first set up home during World War II, never mind freezers.

My only foray into bottling so far was when I preserved some homemade passata. We had a glut of tomatoes that year. I’ve since wondered whether you can preserve home made soups in a similar way and if not, why not?

Since that one and only attempt, I’ve been on the lookout for a likely bottling project. Gooseberries seemed to be ideal and I had the brainwave of using some of my elderflower cordial as the liquid in which they are cooked. According to my books, you can preserve fruit in plain water but it will obviously taste better in syrup. I diluted my cordial one to one with water as that seemed to give about the same concentration of sugar as the books used in a ‘heavy’ syrup.

As you can see in my (poor) photos, the bottling process made the fruit shrink quite a bit and rise to the top of the jar. These photos were taken as soon as the jars came out of the oven and, after a bit of a shake, it has spread out a bit more now. As yet, we haven’t taste tested the results. Bottled fruits seem to cry out to be stored until the depths of winter. There’s not much point in preserving them one week and eating them the next, especially when there are so many other fresh summer fruits around.

My next gooseberry experiment was ice cream. Last year I made this from the River Cottage Year by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (the link is to a Guardian article but it is the same recipe). It was deliciously creamy and delicate and I will definitely be making some more. However, I decided to try this, different recipe that had a large quantity of greek yoghurt in it, since I had a pot slowly going off in the fridge.

 

I have never used an ice cream maker before and I think I will have to play with it a bit more before I pass judgement. The ice cream itself turned out well, though it is very hard and needs a good half hour in the fridge before it can be served easily. I deliberately made it quite tangy and we ate it with a dollop of gooseberry jam. I also served it with these little beauties, which were a nice complement.

 

I’m sure there is going to be much more gooseberry experimentation, since I picked another kilo on Saturday! Watch this space.

Sorry about the very small final picture – I can’t work out why it won’t upload any bigger.