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


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

Christmas Preparations: The Home Made Gift Challenge

homemadegiftchallenge1Yes, you read it right: Christmas Preparations.

I don’t really do New Years Resolutions. I know that my capacity for sticking with anything is minimal and actually, I’m pretty contented; there’s not much I want to change. This year though, I am making a plan. I want my Christmas gifts to be homemade in 2013. My New Years Resolution is to work on my preparations, creating at least one gift per month. With this in mind, I’ve been thinking about what I can make. My list so far includes:

1. Christmas Cakes or puddings.

2. Food or preserves hampers

3. Crochet items – scarves, handwarmers, shawls, bags, brooches, Christmas decorations

4. Flavoured liquers – I already have quite a bit of apple and bramble gin steeping. It should be delicious by next Christmas!

I can assure you, in the words of Jessie J that “It’s not about the money, money, money”. I think that in terms of the cost of the supplies required to make the gifts and the time, I probably won’t be much better off. It’s about the pleasure of giving. Each year I hate the stress of buying gifts. I’m hoping that creating them makes Christmas more enjoyable.

If you have any good ideas for home made gifts that can be made well in advance I’d love to hear them. Likewise if you’d like to join in my home made gift challenge and create something once a month, let me know.

Thrifty(ish) Lemon and Elderflower Jelly

I made my first batch of elderflower champagne a few weeks ago, the day the Olympic Torch came to town. I had big ideas about how much I was going to make and boiled up 16 litres of water! To cut a long story short, it was an epic fail on the domestic front and a lot of sugar went down the drain. On the plus side, I did think to keep the lemon ‘shells’ that were left when I’d squeezed out all the juice. I put them in the freezer. The following week, I added more lemons to my stash, as I made another batch of champagne (which is looking good) and some cordial.

In the back of my mind I was thinking that I’d seen a recipe for a fruity jam or jelly made from left overs of this kind. When making jams and jellies, you need fruit that contains plenty of pectin. Lemons, particularly the pith, have lots, and of course, they also have plenty of acid, another essential for a good jam.

With the elderflower season still in full swing and my cordial turning out successfully, I had a flash of inspiration. I could use the lemons to create an elderflower flavoured jelly. It is not a particularly fast thing to make but that suits me as I can do it in stages. Here is the recipe.

You will need…

25 to 30 Elderflower heads, ideally picked in warm sunshine (if you can remember what that is)

Approximately 1kg of lemon ‘shells’, i.e. cut in half and juice removed. I had 17 by the time I counted up.

2 Oranges

2 1/2 pints (1500ml) of boiling water

3 lb (1300g) of granulated sugar

A large preserving pan. Some people get away with using the largest pan they can find but it should be as deep as possible as boiling jam rises a lot.

A funnel for pouring the hot jelly.

What to do: Stage 1

Shake the elderflowers well to remove any insects

Put the lemons and elderflowers into a pan and cover with 2 1/2 pints (approximately 1500ml) of boiling water. If that is not enough water to cover your fruit, add more. It’s not too critical at this point.

Juice the oranges and add the juice and ‘shells’ to the pan.

Bring to the boil and simmer for about 2 hours or until the lemon and orange peel is soft.

Leave everything in the pan to cool and infuse. I did this over night.

What to do: Stage 2

Strain the liquid through a scalded jelly bag or muslin cloth to separate it from the fruit. It’s not too hard to set up a straining system by tying a muslin over a bowl, pan or bucket, see my picture here. If you want to save washing up, strain your liquid into your large jam pan.

You need to leave this for a couple of hours or again, you could leave it overnight. Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to prod, poke or squeeze or your jelly will be cloudy. If you are not bothered about having cloudy jelly, by all means go ahead and extract every little drop of lemony goodness.

While the liquid is straining, check on your jam jar supply. You will need roughly six small or 4 large jam jars (I always sterilise more than I need, just to be on the safe side). Make sure they are well washed in hot soapy water and inspect inside the lids for signs of rust.

Place your jars, but not the lids, the right way up on a baking tray and put them in the oven. You don’t need to switch it on yet.

Measure out your sugar. The rough rule of thumb is a pound of sugar to a pint of liquid though I’ve got a feeling I used a bit more, hence the 3lb or 1300g in the recipe. You could put your sugar in an oven proof dish and put it in the oven with the jars. That way, when you come to add it to the boiling liquid it is already warm and should dissolve more easily. It is not essential to do this, I rarely do but if you want your jelly to be a lighter colour, it might help as you shouldn’t need to boil the sugar for as long.

What to do: Stage 3

When you are satisfied that no more juice is going to drip out, discard your pulpy fruit (or see below for variation) and measure how much liquid you have left. I had about 800ml.

Now dilute your liquid with boiling water until you have 1600 ml or approximately 2 1/2 pints. I actually added a slosh of elderflower cordial at this point as well.

Put the strained liquid into your large jam pan and begin to warm it.

While it is heating you can get on with some other jobs.

Turn on the oven to 100C (Gas 1/4 or 225F) to dry and sterilise the jam jars and perhaps warm the sugar.

Put a small plate into the fridge. This will be useful later when you are testing for setting point.

Put the jam jar lids into a small pan and cover them in boiling water to sterilise. Make sure they are turned upside down so that the inside of them gets filled with water.

When the liquid is beginning to bubble, add the sugar and stir gently until it is dissolved. Keep a careful eye on the heat and your mixture at this point or you could end up with a very burnt pan!

When the sugar is completely dissolved, you can turn up the heat and bring the liquid to a rolling boil. It should rise and froth and generally remind you of a witches cauldron. In theory, you should achieve setting point in about 10 to 15 minutes. I didn’t boil my liquid hard enough so it took much longer. In any case, be prepared for at least half an hour of boiling because this is another stage when you can’t take your eye off the ball.

To test to see if your jelly is going to set, use a spoon to drip a small amount onto your cold plate. Leave it for a minute and then gently push it with your finger. If it crinkles, your jelly is ready to put into jars. If not, boil it for another five minutes and check again.

If it is ready, skim off any bubbly scum with a slotted spoon and then slowly and carefully pour the hot jelly into the hot jars using a funnel. If you keep the jars on the oven tray you will catch any spills.

CAUTION!!! You need to be VERY CAREFUL at this point. The jelly is VERY hot and could stick to your skin causing serious burns if you spill it. If the worst happens run any burnt areas under cold water until they stop stinging.

Making sure you use tongs to remove the lids from the hot water and oven gloves to protect your hands, put the lids onto the jars and screw them on well. Alternatively, you can use cellophane lids and elastic bands. You will probably have to use the latter method if you want to enter your lovely jelly into any shows or competitions as I am planning to later in the year.

When your jars are cool, label them, making sure you put on the date you made your jam and a ‘best before’ date, 12 months in the future.

Enjoy your jelly…

My next plan involves gooseberries and elderflowers. Lets hope it stops raining for long enough for me to pick some.
Variation: Lemon Marmalade with Elderflower
I haven’t tried this but it should work in theory….
After you have strained the lemon and elderflowers, remove the lemon shells and slice them very thinly to create the kind of shred you find in marmalade. Add the shred to the boiling jelly once the sugar has dissolved and before you bring it to a rolling boil. When you have achieved setting point, let your marmalade cool for approximately ten minutes as this will help the shred to be more evenly distributed in the jar when you bottle it up.

I got me some OJ mOJo

Last week was a BaD wEeK. Several months of sleep deprivation caught up with me, as did various female hormones. Enough said, I think.

But this week I am BACK in the land of making. Oh yes, I have got my mojo back, just in time for making marmalade. You can’t really put marmalade making off because Seville oranges don’t have long season.

This time last year, Babykins was less than a month old and chickenpox was sweeping through the household. Not really a good time to faff about for hours on end with all the washing, chopping, sterilising and boiling that marmalade requires.

There’s no denying that marmalade is not the quickest or easiest of preserves. Truthfully, there is no real, logical reason to make it. It probably doesn’t work out much cheaper than buying it and it’s not as if you’re going to be dealing with your own, home grown glut of oranges here in the UK.

So why go to all the bother when I could nip down to the supermarket and buy a ready made jar of marmalade? I find making preserves strangely addictive. Often it’s the satisfaction of using up excess home grown produce. Sometimes it’s because I prefer the taste of my own efforts, for example pickled onions.

I think the main reason I like making preserves is because it gives me a feeling of being in touch with a world that existed in my grandparent’s childhood. A time when fridges and freezers didn’t exist. I’m not exactly sure why I’d like to be ‘in touch’ with that world, it wasn’t exactly luxurious.

Maybe it’s just the comfort of routine and familiarity? Knowing that nothing has radically changed each year as I make the same things at the same time.

The Husband reminded me that it was about time we re-stocked our marmalade supplies, having given away the last jars at Christmas. Marmalade is probably his favourite thing to have on toast. He used to make it for our breakfast in bed many years ago BC (Before Children). So last week I dutifully trotted off to our local market garden (fab place to shop) to acquire the necessary oranges.

Now, like I said, marmalade making is a time consuming process. The book I use gives two methods and I chose to use the ‘sliced fruit’ method rather than the quicker ‘whole fruit’ method. The former tends to give a “lighter, more delicate colour”, which was what I fancied. You can find the recipe here

First, you scrub and cut up your oranges.

Then you squeeze out all the juice.

If, like me you have awkward, small cuts on your hands and fingers, you might want to try applying some of this first.

I had so much juice that I ended up using a sieve and measuring jug too.

The juice positively glowed as the sun shone through it. I struggled to get a picture to do it justice though.

Next, comes the t-e-d-i-o-u-s slicing stage. I managed to do it with the Husband’s lovely sharp knives but my word, it took a L-O-N-G time. My friend Sue, who makes preserves for a living recommended a mandolin or scissors for this job. You can take a look at her wares here.

This is the best slicing I’ve ever done. I was very pleased with the fineness (is that a word?) of my shred. It took the best part of two hours to do two kilos worth (Babykins slept, Middle Miss went to dancing class, Son Number One trashed his bedroom with his best pal).

Doesn’t it look lovely though. I feel another photo coming on….

The juice and shred gets added to a large quantity of water and left overnight. This was actually a Godsend for me as I didn’t have any more time.

The next day, the whole lot gets boiled for a couple of hours to soften it up. This is the point when the house starts to smell deeee-lish-us. It’s also a good time to start rounding up your jars ready for sterilising. I have a ridiculous number of jars stashed away in my garage. Look, some of them were originally marmalade jars and have a lovely orangey lid.

I know that sterilising the jars often puts people off preserve making but really, there’s nothing to it. The whole point is to make sure there are no nasty germs lingering in the jar that could spoil the preserve. In my student days I used to study microbiology so sterilising jars always takes me back. In the lab we would use powerful sterilising techniques involving high pressure and high temperatures. In the kitchen, all you need to do is give your jars a thorough wash in the hottest soapy water you can stand. Or just run them through the dishwasher at 60 degrees or more. Stack them upside down until you are ready to warm them, just before the marmalade is ready.

When the shred is soft and the liquid has reduced by about a third, it’s time to add the sugar and lemon juice. I actually took a break from marmalading at this stage and spent some quality weekend time with my family.

I am always astounded at the quantity of sugar required. Twice the weight of the fruit, so FOUR kg in this case!!! I had to do the boiling up stage in two batches because I couldn’t fit it all safely in my preserving pan in one go. 

I learned the hard way that it is important to warm the mixture gently and keep stirring until the sugar is dissolved. If you don’t, you will have one seriously burned pan and a rather ‘smoky’ flavoured preserve.

Now comes the fun part, the ‘Rolling Boil’. This is the part when the magic happens and the preserve starts to ‘set’. Just before I turn up the heat I put a small plate in the fridge and put my jars in the oven to warm up, usually at about 100 degrees Celcius. They need to be warm so that they don’t shatter when you add boiling marmalade into them. It is also another way of ensuring they are sterile. A top tip from my Mum: put them on a baking tray and then you can lift them all out together and when you pour the marmalade in, it will catch any big spills. Obvious really, but I never thought of it.

Please don’t look at the (un)cleanliness of my oven

When I get a nice rolling boil of fruit and juice and sugar, I almost feel that I have slipped into a fairytale. There’s something reminiscent of a witches cauldron about the way it bubbles and froths and steams. I could stir it, sniff it and just plain old watch it for ages. It’s quite mesmerising. Or maybe it’s usually very late at night when I get to this stage and I’m falling asleep?

It took about 20 to 25 minutes for the setting point to be reached. I test this by putting a few drops of the liquid onto my cold plate and leaving it for a minute. If it forms a skin and ‘crinkles’ when you push your finger through it, setting point has been reached. Now you can bottle up.

So, did my marmalade turn out well? Pop back tomorrow for another instalment to find out. Night, night. I need to get to bed. No more sleep deprivation for me.