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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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  • 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.

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

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

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  • 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.

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

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  • 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.
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  • Leave to mature for at least 3 months.
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