I’ve been aware of the Opies brand for several years, having bought and really enjoyed a number of their preserved fruit products during that period. What I didn’t know was that this family-run business has been going since 1880, making it one of the oldest private family-owned food companies in the UK.

Company OutingsOpies Workers

In 1880, young Cornishman Bennett Opie set off to make his fortune in London with just a few pounds in his pocket. He started out by selling eggs and bacon, and gradually expanded his business, with the help of his two brothers. In 1912 he was joined by his son William, at which time he founded Bennett Opie Limited. When supplies of fresh eggs were limited during the first world war, William recognised the opportunity to manufacture and supply liquid eggs to the bakery trade. Later, he decided to diversify into preserving cherries, keen to provide a less expensive alternative to popular but pricy French brands. At that point, in 1929, the company relocated to Sittingbourne, Kent – the heart of Kent’s cherry-growing region. The site is close to natural springs; the water from which is still used by Opies today. This move marked the start of Opie’s growing range in preserves and pickles. William’s sons Tony and Derek continued to build the business through the second world war and their efforts were rewarded with a Royal Warrant in 1962 (though Opies doesn’t hold one currently).

Today, Opies is run by Bennett’s great grandsons, Philip and William, who divide the company’s focus between their traditional products, such as pickled walnuts and cocktail cherries, and creating new products in line with modern trends. I’ve been assured that the next eager generation of Opies is waiting in the wings!

Learning more about Opies, I’m particularly happy to learn about their commitment to reducing their carbon footprint. As well as recycling all water used in their production cooling processes, 90% of their packaging is recyclable and they recycle cardboard and other materials used in the manufacturing process. Their delivery vehicles are selected with a view to minimising emissions and they always maximise loads to reduce unnecessary journeys. They also focus strongly on sourcing ingredients locally.

Indeed, when I asked whether traditional recipes for their longer-standing products had changed over the years, they explained that they strive to keep flavours and textures traditional, but have tweaked recipes over the years as more natural (and local) alternatives to original ingredients become available. Of course, they run regular quality and tasting checks on all the lines they produce.

Inspiration for new product lines comes from global travel, food exhibitions and suggestions by their trusted suppliers. It can be a challenge launching new products – obtaining listings and shelf space is tough and it’s always hard to predict exactly what consumers will love; a new recipe for spiced pears in vinegar didn’t catch on and supermarkets just didn’t get the idea of a ginger spread with 60% ginger.

However, there’s plenty of love for both their traditional and new product ranges and I have been enjoying working my way through a selection of alcohol-preserved fruit, pickled quail eggs, fruit compotes, cocktail cherries and gherkins, a variety of pickled vegetables and relishes and their recently launched hickory barbeque sauce, which is naturally smoked in a traditional smokehouse. That gives a far lovelier flavour than the artificial smoke flavourings used by some brands.

Opies-2359 Opies-2360
Opies-2358 Opies-2361

Loosely inspired by Ben Spalding’s 30 Ingredient Salad, I decided to create my own “cacophony of colours, textures and tastes” (as I described it) using some of my Opies samples and some additional salad ingredients from the supermarket.

OpiesSaladCOLLAGE

I used Opies Rhubarb & Redcurrant Compote, Opies Pickled Baby Beetroot, Comte cheese, Opies Pickled Quails Eggs, Salami, English Honey, Opies English Cucumber Relish, Toasted Pumpkin Seeds, an Cox’ Orange Pippin apple and Greek basil leaves.

OpiesSalad-2199

The ingredients were the kind of selection we might enjoy for a cold lunch, the sort of buffet you might set up as a coffee table picnic on a sunny afternoon. The only difference here was in presenting all the elements together as a single pretty plate. I was delighted with the result, even though it wasn’t a patch on Spalding’s incredible feast for the senses!

 

COMPETITION

Opies is generously offering the same selection they sent me (above) to one Kavey Eats reader. The prize includes free delivery within the UK.

 

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the competition in 3 ways:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment below, sharing your suggestions for an incredible salad featuring one or more Opies products.

Entry 2 – Facebook
Like the Kavey Eats Facebook pagefollow and leave a (separate) comment on this blog post with your Facebook user name.

Entry 3 – Twitter
Follow @Kaveyfollow on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter! Then tweet the (exact) sentence below.
I’d love to win delicious @BennettOpie treats from Kavey Eats! http://goo.gl/ou85CQ #KaveyEatsOpies
(Please do not add my twitter handle into the tweet; I track entries using the competition hash tag. And you don’t need to leave a blog comment about your tweet either, thanks!)

 

RULES & DETAILS

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 15th November 2013.
  • Kavey Eats reserves the right to alter the closing date of the competition. Changes to the closing date, if they occur, will be shown on this page.
  • The winners will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • The prize is a set of Opies products, as shown above, with free delivery within the UK.
  • The prize cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prize is offered and provided by Bennett Opie Limited.
  • If one or more of the items is out of stock, Bennett Opie Limited reserve the right to substitute a similar item from their range, of same or higher value.
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. One Facebook entry per person only. You do not have to enter all three ways for your entries to be valid.
  • For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kavey at the time of notification. For Facebook entries, winners must Like the Kavey Eats Facebook page at time of notification.
  • Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contacting the winner.
  • The winners will be notified by email, Twitter or Facebook. If no response is received within 7 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

 

Kavey Eats received a sample set of products from Bennett Opie Limited.

 

As usual, time ran away with us down at the allotment and the thickly sown rows of beetroot never did get thinned out or weeded. That resulted in a harvest of lots of teeny tiny beetroots which we were determined to use, as they were our very first home-grown.

PickledBeetroot-1870

Pete roasted them in their skins before laboriously peeling each one. I heated some white wine vinegar with whole black peppercorns, powdered mixed spice and some Demerara sugar.

PickledBeetroot-1874 PickledBeetroot-1876

We bottled them in a (sterilised) hinged Le Parfait jar and poured the hot pickling liquid in before sealing.

PickledBeetroot-1878

No idea what they’re like, but hoping they are good enough to motivate us to make a better job at the allotment next year!

 

With thanks to Le Parfait for sample preserving jars.

Sep 172013
 

I love home-made ketchup, and it’s even more satisfying making it from home-grown tomatoes.

In the past, I’ve made several batches with red tomatoes and a couple of batches with green ones but this is the first batch I’ve made with beautiful orange sungold tomatoes, a variety we’ve been growing for the last few years. Sungold is a cherry tomato variety and naturally super sweet, so a lot of the harvest doesn’t even make it indoors, or last long if it does. But our plants are giving us plenty this year, both those in the greenhouse and the ones outside. I was keen to see if I could preserve the vibrant colour in a ketchup to enjoy once the growing season is over.

SungoldTomatoKetchup- SungoldTomatoKetchup-2

I used my maternal grandfather’s Spicy Tomato Ketchup recipe – the same one I’ve used before. I had 940 grams of tomatoes, so I halved the recipe and made some minor adjustments to spices as well.

 

Spicy Sungold Tomato Ketchup

Ingredients
1 kg ripe sungold tomatoes
Half a small onion, diced
1-2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
Whole spices in fabric bag *
5-6 cloves
2 black cardamoms, cracked open to release flavours
Half teaspoon whole black peppers, cracked open to release flavours
Half teaspoon cumin seeds
1-2 small pieces of cinnamon or cassia bark
Ground Spices
Half teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated if possible
1 teaspoon chilli powder (or to taste)
2 level teaspoons mustard powder
40 grams sugar (with extra available to adjust to taste)
50 ml cider vinegar (with extra available to adjust to taste)
1 teaspoon salt

* Instead of wrapping my whole spices in muslin tied with string, I use fill-your-own teabags for speed. These are easy to fish back out of the pot and throw away once used.

Method

  • Sterilise your jars and lids. I boil my lids in a pan on the stove for 20 minutes before laying them out to dry on a clean tea towel. I sterilise my glass jars in the oven, leaving them in until I’m ready to fill them.
  • If you like, you can cut the tomatoes in half, or just slash each one, which makes it easier for them to break down more quickly, but as the sungolds are small, I put them in the pan whole and squish occasionally with a wooden spoon as they cooked.
  • Place tomatoes, onion, garlic and bag of whole spices into a large pan. Add a couple of tablespoons of water to stop the tomatoes catching at the bottom before they release their own juices.
  • Cook until soft.
  • Allow to cool a little. Remove spice bag.
  • Blend into as smooth a puree as you can.
  • Press through a sieve to remove skin and seed residue.
  • Place the sieved liquid into a pan with the nutmeg, chilli powder and mustard powder and bring to the boil.
  • If your liquid is quite thin, boil longer to thicken. The time this takes can vary wildly. In the past it’s taken half an hour. This time, I found the liquid was reasonably thick after 5 minutes boiling.
  • Add the vinegar and sugar and continue to cook until the sauce reaches ketchup consistency.
  • Add salt.
  • Taste and add additional vinegar or sugar, if needed.
  • Remove the sterilised jars from the oven and pour the ketchup into them while both ketchup and bottles are still hot.
  • Seal immediately.
  • Once cooled, you can label and store in a dark cupboard.

Please note: As this recipe has only a small volume of sugar and vinegar (both of which are preserving agents), you may prefer to store the ketchup in your fridge and use within a few weeks. We have stored it in a dark cupboard, eaten it many, many months after making, and found it fine. However, we are not experts in preserving or food safety, so please do your own research and decide for yourself.

 

How have you been preserving your garden or allotment harvests? I’d love to hear your recipes and ideas for tomatoes, apples and potatoes in particular!

 

I posted recently about different methods of preserving food, with a particular focus on home canning.

My first experiment last year was salmon, new potatoes and shallots in olive oil but as I was only able to heat treat at 100°C, I’m not confident about having eradicated the risks of botulism, so will likely discard the results, even though they look great in the jars. I am hoping to buy a pressure canner soon, and will return to preserving fish and meat then.

In the mean time, 100°C is considered sufficient when canning products which contain a certain level of acid, such as apples. As I mentioned in my recent post about apple, date and ginger chutney, we have a lot of apples to use up!

There are 10 jars of chutney and 12 jars of apple jelly in the preserves cupboard. The freezer is already full. I decided to try canning apple pie filling. The advantage over freezing (quite aside from lack of available freezer space) is that it’s much quicker to make an apple pie. Buy or rustle up a portion of pastry, line the pie dish, pour in a jar of filling, lay on the pastry lid and bake!

I based my canning on several American recipes, many of which are very similar. They all call for canning into 1 quart (1 litre) jars but I opted for 750 litre jars for two reasons. Firstly, as there are only two of us, we don’t want to make really large pies. Secondly, these jars fit into the cauldron I’m currently using for the heat treatment whereas the 1 litre jars don’t!

 

How to Can Apple Pie Filling

Makes 6-7 x 750 ml jars

Ingredients
3 kilos apples, unpeeled weight *
800 grams sugar
250 grams corn flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
0.5 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 litres water
(Optional: extra lemon juice to stop apples from browning during preparation)

Note: I used half cooking apples and half eating apples.

Method

  • Sterilise jars, caps and lids. I oven sterilise the jars and boil caps and lids on the stove top. I always sterilise a couple of extra jars as when you cook with fresh produce, the amount you make will vary.
  • Peel, core and slice apples. I peel all the apples first, then core and quarter them all, and finally slice. I store the peeled apples in a large pan of water with a little lemon juice added to stop them from browning while I work).

ApplePieFillingCanning-0017 ApplePieFillingCanning-0018

  • In a large stock pot combine the sugar, corn flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, lemon juice and water and heat until the sugar fully dissolves, and the syrup thickens.

ApplePieFillingCanning-0020

  • Drain the sliced apples. Combine the syrup and apples together in a large pan. My 8.5 litre maslin pan from Lakeland was perfect.

ApplePieFillingCanning-0024

  • First transfer the apples into the sterilised jars up to the marked marked filling line. Use a spatula or spoon down the inside edge of the jars to wiggle the contents about a little and allow them to pack down further. You want to fit as many apples into each jar as you can without actually squashing them down.

ApplePieFillingCanning-0026 ApplePieFillingCanning-0030

  • Next, pour the syrup into the jars, also up to the marked fill line.

ApplePieFillingCanning-0032

  • Wipe the rims clean, position the disc caps and screw the lids in place.

ApplePieFillingCanning-0034 ApplePieFillingCanning-0036

  • Prepare your water bath and bring the water up to boiling. In my case, I used a large aluminium stock pot with a couple of thick tea towels on the base and additional tea towels pushed between and around the sides of the jars to separate them and keep them from touching the pan directly.
  • Carefully lower jars into the pan, ensuring that the water comes up at least two inches above the tops of the lids.
  • Boil the jars for half an hour. Check regularly to ensure that the water is still boiling and to top it up to the correct level, if necessary. (Do this from a boiled kettle so you don’t reduce the temperature).
  • Once processed, remove the jars and leave to cool.
  • The heat treatment should have created a vacuum seal.

ApplePieFillingCanning-0039

You will notice that the apples shrink during the heat treatment. When we made our first apple pie, we used some of the syrup in the pie and served the rest as a delicious sauce over the top.

The pie filling was fabulous, so I’m really looking forward to cracking open the other jars. However, I’m also very happy that they will last for at least a year or two in the store cupboard, should we wish.

To make your apple pie, simply line a pie dish with short crust pastry, spoon in your filling, lay a pastry lid over the top, crimp the sides, make a slit on top for the steam to vent and bake for about half an hour. I would suggest a 7-8 inch pie dish for a 750 ml jar and an 8-9 inch dish for a 100 ml jar.

You will likely have left over syrup that doesn’t fit into the jars. Either store in sterilised jars or keep in the fridge and use over the next week. It would make a great sauce to serve with pancakes or over ice cream, stir into a bowl of porridge or rice pudding, whisk into a salad dressing with oil and vinegar. I think it would also make a great apple cake, along the lines of lemon drizzle, pouring the apple syrup over a simple apple cake.

 

With thanks to Le Parfait for sending me some of their jars to play with.

 

I’m very used to making jams, jellies, chutneys, ketchups and pickles, all of which require basic sterilisation of jars, easy recipes and a straightforward process to fill and seal the jars. In these recipes boiling helps kill harmful bacteria and yeasts as well as reducing the moisture in which they thrive; sugar or acid stops regrowth and sealing in a sterilised airtight jar prevents recontamination.

But these techniques aren’t suitable for low acid foods such as fish and meat which is why we often turn to other techniques to extend their shelf life. The same goes for vegetables, when we want to preserve them without introducing the strong acidic flavours of a pickle.

Most commonly for fish and meat here in the UK, we freeze, cure or dry them.

Freezing turns moisture into ice and also inhibits the growth of most bacteria. The advantage is that the fish or meat is as fresh once it’s been defrosted. Curing with salt, sugar, nitrates or nitrites works by drawing out moisture. It changes the nature and flavours of the fish or meat, but this is often highly desirable – many of us adore cured salmon, bacon and cured hams such as Parma and Serrano. Drying, by sun, in a dehydrator or oven, or by smoking, works on a similar basis of reducing moisture. It also seals the surface of the fish or meat, which makes it difficult for bacteria to enter. Smoked fish such as salmon and mackerel are popular in the UK. Biltong, Bresaola and jerky are examples from the dried meats category.

I do know people who cure and smoke fish and meats at home. But it’s relatively rare.

Preserving by fermentation is becoming more popular here too, though it is still uncommon. As the food ferments, it produces lactic or other acids, which are themselves preserving agents. Kimchi (which is enjoying a surge of popularity amongst foodies at the moment), sauerkraut and surströmming (which my dad enjoys but I just can’t get into) are all examples of preservation by fermentation.

Of these three methods, freezing is probably the easiest for the home cook. Indeed, our freezer is full of raw home grown vegetables as well as raw meat and fish and portions of cooked food such as stews and curries.

There is another way of preserving low acid foods so that they can be stored at ambient temperatures and retain their essential flavours or textures. Known as canning, the process was first trialled by the French navy in the early 1800s, after they launched a competition seeking new methods of preserving food. Although the method was originally tested and developed using jars, when the process took off commercially, most food was preserved in tin cans rather than glass and hence the process became known as canning.

After the food is prepared and sealed in to the tin (or glass jar), a heat and pressure treatment is applied to the container to kill the bacteria within. It’s the heat, not the pressure, which destroys bacteria, but pressure provides the easiest method to achieve sufficiently high temperatures. It’s important to be thorough here, as there is no acid, sugar or salt added to the ingredients to restrict the growth of any bacteria that survives the treatment.

Canning as a commercial process took off around the world, nowhere more quickly than in the US, as did its counterpart, home canning. Indeed, judging by online content, I consider America to be the spiritual centre of home canning! Many of the other preservation methods are more popular in Europe and elsewhere in the world, but it seems to me that the Americans have taken the canning process to heart.

It’s critical to reach the correct temperature and to maintain it for a sufficient duration, which can be quite a challenge for the home cook. To that end, there are home pressure canners available, though in the UK we have access to a smaller selection, at higher prices.

Because of the risk of botulism, the toxins of which are not detectable by taste or smell, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides detailed guidelines for home canning. Botulinum spores are very hard to destroy at 100°C but can be eliminated at 120°C, provided the temperature is maintained for long enough. Where foods do contain enough acid, the guidelines suggest a boiling water bath will be sufficient. For lower acid foods, a pressure canner to reach the higher temperatures is recommended.

As an avid food blog reader, I’ve been bookmarking home canning recipes for several years.

Attending an event by Le Parfait, when they launched their products into the UK last year, gave me the last push to give this form of preserving a go myself, especially when they kindly provided some sample jars for me to use.

ApplePieFillingCanning-0032 ConfitBabyTangerines-0993 PearGingerChutney-4667

In the US, Ball or Kerr brand Mason jars are the most popular, featuring a two part lid – a flat disc cap that seals to the rim of the jar and a screw on band which secures the disc cap into place until the canning treatment creates a vacuum seal. Here in the UK, we’ve traditionally used hinged clip top jars with rubber sealing rings such as those made by Kilner. Indeed, like Hoover vacuum cleaners, “kilner” seems to have become shorthand for describing this style of jar regardless of manufacturer. Le Parfait is a French brand and has been going for over 80 years. They offer both styles of jar – their Super Preserve and Super Terrine both have clip top lids and their Familia Wiss have seal caps under screw-on lids.

As far as I can see, the advantage of the clip top design is that, once purchased, the costs are minimal. The rubber sealing ring lasts well, though not indefinitely, and needs replacing from time to time. That said, I find them more difficult to open and close, and awkward to sterilise, since I use the oven method for jars and boil the lids separately. The Mason style jars are much easier to use but since the disc caps are single use only, the costs of using them are higher.

At the moment, I don’t have a pressure cooker or pressure canner, so I’m using a large and ancient Indian aluminium stockpot. I mentally refer to it as a cauldron, though that does give a slightly wiccan air to it. I also don’t have a canning rack – essentially a special wire metal basket and handle which makes lowering and lifting jars from the water much simpler; it also keeps the jars from sitting directly on the base of the pan, touching the sides or rattling against each other. In my cauldron, I use several flannels and tea towels to line the pan and separate my jars and I’ve not yet discovered an easy way of lowering the jars into boiling water!

Without pressure, I can’t achieve temperatures above 100°C, so am hesitant to use the technique for fish or meat products.

Stay tuned for my first canning experiments.

 

The two apple trees on our allotment gave us a whopping 55 kilos of apples this year; 34 kilos of cookers and 22 kilos of eating apples. And that’s just what we picked – we left some cookers on the tree for our plot neighbour to enjoy.

Some of them we processed at the time, making several variations of apple jelly. Some we made into apple pie. Some we peeled, prepped and froze in large bagfuls. But the majority were carefully washed, individually wrapped and then boxed according to grade – perfect, slightly blemished and those to use first… a labour of love by Pete.

Since then, they’ve been sat in their polystyrene boxes in the garden shed waiting to be used.

I’m conscious that we really need to use and process the rest, so a large batch of chutney seemed to be a good option.

As I had some fabulous dates leftover from Christmas, I decided to use these too. A web search revealed so many different recipes with such vastly differing ratios of apple, dried fruits, vinegar and sugar that I gave up on following any of them and created my own recipe according to the amounts of apples and dates I had to hand, and sugar and vinegar to my own taste. Ginger powder and chilli powder added a kick and additional depth of flavour.

I allowed my apples to cook down until they were really soft but if you prefer them more solid, you may need to reduce the amount of vinegar and sugar you add.

AppleDateGingerChutney-0084

 

Kavey’s Apple, Date & Ginger Chutney

Makes approximately 4.5 kilos chutney

Ingredients
2.5 – 3 kilos cooking apples (unpeeled weight)
500 grams of super soft dates (weight including stones)
500 grams onions (unpeeled weight)
350 grams muscovado sugar
650 grams granulated or caster sugar
600 ml malt vinegar
3 heaped teaspoons ginger powder
1 teaspoon of extra hot chilli powder
1 tablespoon salt

Note: My apples weighed 3.1 kilos before peeling, coring and dicing but many of them were unusually small, and some had a little spoilage, so the weight loss during preparation was higher than usual. I’d estimate that I used the equivalent of about 2.5 kilos of regularly sized cooking apples in good condition.

Note: My chilli powder is some of the hottest I’ve come across. Mix in, taste and add enough to give a warming kick.

Method

  • Stone and roughly chop dates.
  • Peel and dice onions.
  • Peel, core and chop apples into a large pan of cold water. Drain well just before cooking.

AppleDateGingerChutney-0074 AppleDateGingerChutney-0075

  • Measure all ingredients into a large saucepan or stock pot and mix well. Cook on a medium heat until apples soften and liquid thickens.

AppleDateGingerChutney-0076 AppleDateGingerChutney-0079

  • Transfer the hot finished chutney into hot sterilised jars (I sterilise mine in the oven and boil the lids on the stove top) and seal.
AppleDateGingerChutney-0080
  • Leave to mature for at least 3 months.
 

The Pershore Plum Festival celebrates plum growing in and around the Worcestershire town of Pershore. Many varieties are grown in local orchards, including Victoria, Monarch, Greengage and many more but, of course, the varieties that are most celebrated during the festival are those named for the town, Pershore Purple, Pershore Yellow Egg and Pershore Emblem (also known as Evesham  Red). Of these, the Pershore Purple seems to be most prevalent.

Held during August bank holiday weekend, the festival sees this pretty market town celebrate plums with an expansive food and drinks market, music and family entertainment, craft exhibitions and even a large vintage and classic cars show held in abbey park. Local shops deck their windows out in purple, competing for the prize of best display of the year.

I bought my plums from the absolutely charming Ellenden Farm Shop near Harvington. Smaller than other farm shops we visited over the weekend, this one was nonetheless our favourite, firstly because it had a really appealing range of produce and secondly because of the genuinely warm and helpful welcome.

PershorePurplePlumPortJelly-1563

My Pershore Purples went into a simple plum jelly, with the addition of port for extra flavour.

The purple skins and yellow flesh combined to make a beautiful deep maroon pulp which I strained to 500 ml of juice. Putting the juice aside, I also pressed an additional 182 grams of thicker pulp from before discarding the remaining stones, skin and fibre. I made the jelly in two batches, one with the strained juice, which results in a clearer jelly, and a second smaller batch with the pulp, which makes a thicker and cloudier but just as tasty offering.

I used the same recipe as my previous plum jelly, made from yellow plums from our allotment, it was the colour of sunshine in a jar. It’s the recipe my mum’s been making since I was a kid and is simple and delicious.

 

Plum & Port Jelly Recipe

Ingredients
Plums
Sugar
Water
Ruby port

Note: You won’t know how much sugar you need until you’ve cooked the plums down and strained the juices. For each litre of juice, you’ll need a kilo of sugar.

Note: You can omit the port if you prefer to make a plain plum jelly.

Note: I’ve provided information about the weights and volumes produced from this batch of plums below the recipe.

Method

  • Halve the plums. I find this quick and easy to do by drawing a sharp knife right around each plum and then twisting both halves in opposite directions; the halves come apart easily.

PershorePurplePlumPortJelly-1569

  • Place halved plums into a large pan, leaving the skins on and stones in.
  • Add just enough water to cover most of the plums. (It’s better to be frugal with water and add more during the cooking down process – add too much and your resulting juice will be too thin).

PershorePurplePlumPortJelly-1571 PershorePurplePlumPortJelly-1573

  • Cook down the plums until they disintegrate completely. Add more water only if the mixture is looking dry and might catch.
  • Transfer the cooked pulp into a muslin straining bag or cloth. Either tie closed and hang over a pan or place into a colander inside a pan, so that the juices can easily run down. I left mine to strain overnight, with a clean towel loosely covering everything.

PershorePurplePlumPortJelly-1575

  • To avoid cloudy jelly, resist the urge to squeeze the pulp to extract extra liquid.
  • Set the strained juice aside.

PershorePurplePlumPortJelly-1588

  • If you are feeling thrifty, as I was, squeeze more juice from the pulp, and process this separately, as it will produce a thicker, cloudier jelly than the naturally strained juice.

PershorePurplePlumPortJelly-1590

  • Discard the pulp (on your compost heap or into your green bin).
  • At this stage, if you think your juice may be too watered down, boil to reduce volume.
  • Measure the juice and put into a large pan, with caster sugar. Use a kilo of sugar per litre of juice, adjusting for your volume of juice.

PershorePurplePlumPortJelly-1608

  • Plums are naturally high in pectin, so I used regular sugar, but if you use this recipe for other fruits with lower pectin, add powdered or liquid pectin now, or use jam sugar, which has pectin added.
  • Boil the juice and sugar hard. I use a jam thermometer to make sure I reach 104 °C (219 °F).

PershorePurplePlumPortJelly-1609

  • When the jelly has reached temperature, do a pectin check to test that it’s ready to set. I usually just hold the spoon up and see how the jelly drips off it, or draw a line in the jelly coating the back of the spoon).
  • If the jelly is ready, turn off the heat and stir in the port.
  • Pour your hot jelly into hot sterilised jars. I sterilise my jars in the oven (and boil the lids at the same time, draining them onto a clean tea towel). Pouring the jelly into the jars while it and they are still hot minimises the risk of the glass cracking from a sudden and extreme change in temperature.
    (Actually, I ask Pete to do the pouring as holding large jugs of very hot liquid scares me!)

PershorePurplePlumPortJelly-1610

 

I started out with 1.2 kilos of plums from which I strained 500 ml of juice and squeezed an additional 180 grams of thicker, cloudier juice.

To the 500 ml of juice, I added 500 grams of sugar and about 2 tablespoons of port. This produced three 200 gram jars of dark but clear jelly.

To the 180 grams of thicker juice, I added 180 grams of sugar and a tablespoon of port. This made just over one jar of a thicker jelly, more like fruit cheese. We poured the excess into a small bowl to be eaten over the next few days.

PershorePurplePlumPortJelly-1611

 

This is a beautiful jelly, both in appearance and taste. The flavours of fruit and herb come through clearly, and a gentle aroma too.

As a preserving addict, I knew I wanted to make some apple jelly with the kilo of cooking apples from our allotment tree. We also had a small handful of Cox’ Orange Pippins left from the small tree we planted in the back garden last year. We’d enjoyed a few of these sweet, crisp, richly flavoured apples every night for some weeks after harvesting them, but the last few in the fruit bowl had started to wrinkle. To these we added 2 British apples from the supermarket, also past their best.

An interview with garden designer Robert Stoutsker, during a recent visit to London Syon Park hotel, resulted in his gifting me a generous bag of lemon verbena cuttings. A few of these Pete planted (and am pleased to see some of these growing successfully) but the rest I dried and stored in a bottle in my spice and herb rack.

I’ve been thinking of making mint jelly this way for the longest time, but the lemon verbena snuck in first.

Kavey’s Apple & Lemon Verbena Jelly

Ingredients
Apples
Sugar
Lemon verbena leaves
Water

Note: You won’t know how much sugar you need until you’ve cooked the apples down and strained the juice. For each litre of juice, you’ll need approximately 750 grams of sugar, adjusting to taste and according to how sharp your apples are.

Note: As apples are naturally high in pectin, an apple jelly doesn’t require any added pectin. If you adapt this recipe for other fruits you may need to add lemon juice or pectin to help achieve a set.

Method

  • Halve the smaller apples, chop the larger ones into quarters or eighths. You don’t need to peel or core them, as the skin and pips contain lots of pectin, which will help your jelly to set.

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  • Place chopped apples into a large pan and add water to about two thirds of the way up the apples.
  • Cook the apples on a medium heat until they disintegrate completely. Add more water if the mixture is looking dry and might catch.
  • If some of the apples don’t break down, give them a helping hand. I used a potato masher towards the end of cooking, as some of the apples were firmer than the rest.
  • Pour the cooked pulp into a muslin straining bag or cloth. Either tie closed and hang over a pan or, as I did, place into a colander inside a pan, so that the juices can easily run down. I left mine to strain overnight, with a clean towel loosely covering everything.

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  • To avoid cloudy jelly, resist the urge to squeeze the pulp to extract extra liquid. *
  • Discard the pulp (on your compost heap or into your green bin).
  • At this stage, if you think your juice may be too thin and watery, boil to reduce volume. Mine was a fairly thick but easy pouring juice, similar in consistency to single cream.
  • Measure the juice and put into a large pan, with caster sugar. Use 750 grams of sugar per litre of juice, adjusting for your volume of juice.
  • Add lemon verbena leaves. If using fresh, add a small scattering of leaves and taste after the first few minutes of boiling, adding more if the flavour isn’t coming through. I had previously dried my lemon verbena leaves, reducing their potency greatly, so ended up adding over 100 shrivelled leaves, in order to impart my desired level of flavour.
  • Boil the juice and sugar hard. I use a jam thermometer to make sure I reach 104 °C (219 °F).
  • Test for set. I put a plate into the freezer before I start cooking the jelly. When I reach the required temperature, I put a teaspoon of jelly onto the plate and pop it back into the freezer for 20 seconds. After I get it back out, I push my finger through it to see if it wrinkles. If so, the jelly is done. If not, I cook for longer.
  • Pour your hot jelly through a strainer, to remove the lemon verbena leaves. I ladle mine into a heat-resistant Pyrex jug and then pour into hot sterilised jars. I sterilise my jars in the oven (and boil the lids at the same time, draining them onto a clean tea towel). Pouring the jelly into the jars while it and they are still hot minimises the risk of the glass cracking from a sudden and extreme change in temperature.

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As apples are high in pectin, the jelly achieved a great set and is a beautiful colour, with tiny flecks of lemon verbena leaves suspended throughout.

I’m looking forward to enjoying this on breakfast toast, but as it has a lovely herby flavour, I may also try it as an alternative to mint jelly next time I have roast lamb.

* I hate waste, so once the cooked apple had finished dripping through the muslin, I set the clear juice aside and then pressed and squeezed the remaining pulp to release quite a bit more juice. This was much cloudier than the rest, so I used it to make a second batch of jelly in a smaller pan. To this one I added very hot chilli powder instead of lemon verbena. Although the single jar of chilli jelly is not as clear as the lemon verbena, it’s perfectly attractive and tastes great.

 

Although we’ve not achieved as much as we’d hoped over at the new allotment (which we took on this time last year) we have enjoyed harvesting fruits from the existing trees and bushes.

Our plum tree gave us a fair crop of juicy sweet fruit.

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I’m glad we picked nearly all of them on one day as, when we returned just a few days later to collect any remaining, we found they’d been shrivelled up by brown rot.

I had a hankering to make plum jelly just like my mum makes. When I was growing up, we had plum trees in the back garden, so she’d make some every year.

Plum Jelly

Ingredients
Plums
Sugar
Water
Pectin or lemon juice (optional)

Note: You won’t know how much sugar you need until you’ve cooked the plums down and strained the juices. For each litre of juice, you’ll need a kilo of sugar.

Note: If your plums are a little tart, or you include some slightly unripe ones in the mix, you probably won’t need to add extra pectin. However, if all the plums are very ripe, additional pectin may be needed. This can be added in powdered or liquid form, or via lemon juice, which is naturally high in pectin, or you can use jam sugar, which has extra pectin.

Method

  • Halve the plums. I find this quick and easy to do by drawing a sharp knife right around each plum and then twisting both halves in opposite directions; the halves come apart easily.

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  • Place halved plums into a large pan, leaving the skins on and stones in.
  • Add just enough water to cover most of the plums. (It’s better to be frugal with water and add more during the cooking down process – add too much and your resulting juice will be too thin).

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  • Cook down the plums until they disintegrate completely. Add more water only if the mixture is looking dry and might catch.

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  • Pour the cooked pulp into a muslin straining bag or cloth. Either tie closed and hang over a pan or, as I did, place into a colander inside a pan, so that the juices can easily run down. I left mine to strain overnight, with a clean towel loosely covering everything.

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  • To avoid cloudy jelly, resist the urge to squeeze the pulp to extract extra liquid.
  • Discard the pulp (on your compost heap or into your green bin).

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  • At this stage, if you think your juice may be too watered down, boil to reduce volume.
  • Do a pectin test if you think you might need to boost the pectin before making the jelly.
  • Measure the juice and put into a large pan, with caster sugar. Use a kilo of sugar per litre of juice, adjusting for your volume of juice.

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  • If you need to add pectin, add it now (or use jam sugar, which has extra pectin).
  • Boil the juice and sugar hard. I use a jam thermometer to make sure I reach 104 °C (219 °F).
  • Pour your hot jelly into hot sterilised jars. I sterilise my jars in the oven (and boil the lids at the same time, draining them onto a clean tea towel). Pouring the jelly into the jars while it and they are still hot minimises the risk of the glass cracking from a sudden and extreme change in temperature. Actually, I ask Pete to do the pouring as holding large jugs of very hot liquid scares me!

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My finished jelly is a soft set, as I chose not to add any extra pectin.

It’s delicious, and has such a gorgeous colour, tinged pink from the skins of the fruit.

I used some recently to glaze a home-made blackberry, raspberry and banana fruit tart. It worked beautifully. And of course, it’s lovely on toast or scones. And I bet it’d be nice between two layers of soft sponge cake…

 

My family call this sauce imli (tamarind) chutney. The word chutney comes from the Hindi chaatni which describes a tangy condiment that makes you lick your lips at it’s flavour! Although the verb chaatna means to lick I think lipsmacking is the most appropriate translation in this case!

I refer to it as a ketchup or sauce because I’ve found that most people in the UK think of chutneys as condiments with chunks of fruit and vegetables in them rather than smooth sauces like this one.

Traditionally, it is used in chaat dishes – snacks which again make you want to lick your lips (and your fingers) clean of every last morsel! They are often sold as street food – though many families enjoy them at home too – and are usually hot, spicy, tangy and with a contrasting mix of textures.

The chaat dishes I’m most familiar with usually include a dough-based element such as gole-gappa (crisp puffed-up fried breads) or maybe something like vadas (lentil dumplings) plus natural yoghurt, tamarind chutney (or ketchup, as I’m calling it), a combination of spices and herbs and perhaps also some boiled potatoes, chickpeas, salad items and green mango coriander chutney. I like for there to be something crunchy in the mix against the softer potatos and chickpeas, myself.

Oh and my parents also like an accompaniment called jal-jeera (fire-water) which I reckon is an acquired taste and one I’ll never acquire!

Recipes for all these dishes can be found on our family recipe website, Mamta’s Kitchen. (Mamta is my mum).

But the sweet sour spicy flavour of tamarind ketchup should not be restricted to such a small niche – I also like it as an alternative to regular tomato ketchup with anything from burgers and chops to chicken fritters and if you mix it with yoghurt it makes a lovely dip!

Mamta’s Kitchen Tamarind Ketchup

Ingredients
400 gram packet of dry tamarind pulp, with stones/skins intact
Approximately 1 litre hot water
1 teaspoon cooking oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
A large pinch of asafoetida powder
6-7 teaspoons salt. *
100 grams jaggery or brown sugar or muscovado sugar *
1 teaspoon chilli powder *
2 teaspoons roasted cumin powder
1-2 teaspoons garam masala

*The quantity of these ingredients should be adjusted during cooking, according to taste. The tarter the tamarind, the more salt and sugar it will need.

Method


Dried tamarind block, broken into pieces
  • Break the tamarind block up as best you can and soak in hot water for an hour or longer. This will soften up the dry tamarind. It should be squishy.
  •  Massage the pulp to help separate seeds and skins. I follow my mum’s advice to wear rubber gloves as tamarind is quite acidic.

 

As I’m making a large quantity here I’m doing the mashing and squeezing while a friend is pushing the resulting liquid through a sieve to remove any rough bits
  •  Mash and squeeze the pulp to release a thick liquid of the flesh and water. Mum usually uses a colander or sieve to squeeze the pulp against for this step however the most recent time I made the ketchup, I was at a friends and found her steaming set a great help – a large pan with small colander-sized holes in the base that fits snugly on top of a large saucepan – much more stable than mashing into a colander or sieve balanced in a pan or bowl!

More mashing and squeezing
  • Depending on how well you’ve extracted flesh from the seeds and skins, you might want to re-soak the remnants in a smaller volume of hot water and make a second pass of mashing and squeezing. I do usually do this.
  • You should end up with a large quantity of thick liquid.

Sieving the liquid to remove any remaining bits of skin and fibre
  • If you used a colander for the previous step, you may wish to strain the liquid through a sieve to get rid of any remaining lumps of skin or seed but if the liquid looks smooth and lump-free, don’t bother.

Discard seeds and skin
  • Discard the seeds, skins etc.
  • In a large pan heat the oil.
  • Add the cumin seeds and asafoetida powder. When the seeds splutter, pour in the tamarind liquid and all the other ingredients except the garam masala.
  • Allow it to boil briskly, stirring from time to time.
  • Taste and adjust salt, jaggery/sugar and chillies to reach your preferred balance of sweetness, acidity and heat.
  • If the liquid is too thin continue to heat to reduce volume and thicken up. Note, this ketchup is not intended to be really thick and gloopy but of a pouring consistency.
  • Add garam masala and stir in.
  • Take off the heat and allow to cool.

Bottled
  • Pour into sterilised, airtight bottles or jam jars.

The ketchup will last well in the fridge for a few months. Jars can also be kept in a freezer, indefinitely.

 

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