Being an Autumn baby, it’s no surprise that this crisp, crimson season is my favourite the whole year through. Sure, there’s elements of each season that I truly love and I enjoy wholeheartedly each for it’s own beauty – but there’s something extra special about Autumn, something that makes my heart sing and gives me that ‘jump up and live again’ feeling.
I love the abundance of the season – bags filled with apples that need to be cooked up, wild trees loaded with pears that we’re watching closely to make sure we get in for a share before someone appears in the middle of the night stripping them bare and berries begging to be turned into jam. This year we even infused sherry with hawthorns for the first time, apparently it’s a great Winter heart tonic – you just have to remember to strain the hawthorns out of the sherry before you drink it, apparently they contain arsenic in the seed! After a quieter harvest store last year, due to being immersed in newborn land, we’ve enjoyed a wonderfully busy and productive harvest season this year. The larder shelves are looking very full and every time I stand back looking with joy at the preserves, Papa comments “I really hope those shelves are strong enough to hold all those jars!”
::Blackberrying ‘Milly-Molly-Mandy’ style – with the help of a crook::
This season is the most diverse preserving we’ve done so far;
- Blackberry vanilla jam
- Gooseberry jam
- Elderberry jam with cinnamon and star anise
- Elderflower cordial in the Summer – I didn’t realise how super simple this was to make, we’re stashing lemons for the season next year because that’s what made it difficult – organic lemons aren’t readily available down here during elder flower season.
- Wild chai spiced apple mousse (with the 23kilo’s of wild apples Papa spontaneously picked during a Sunday family road trip)
- Vanilla poached whole pears
- Chai spiced quinces (the first time I’ve ever had these – now I’m wondering why I waited so long to try these delicious morsels.)
- Jelly from the remaining poaching liquid (using Great Lakes gelatine, again super simple and wondering why I haven’t been on a jelly making flurry before now, especially considering how therapeutically beneficial the Great Lakes gelatine is.)
- Hawthorn infused Sherry
- Tomatillo chutney
- Cinnamon sprinkled dried apple and nashi & cardamon sprinkled dried pear
- Our annual raw pressed apple juice delivery is expected around Easter time and this year we think we’ll try our hand at our own cider. Last year’s 20 litre tub of apple cider vinegar that we put on is also now ready for us to finally taste our first ever homemade ACV. The evaporation level through the year has been surprising – wondering how big our mother is deep down in the belly of this brew.
Over coming times I’ll share more harvest and preserving recipes including my new favourite method of poaching pears and quinces, but here is our go-to jam recipe in the meantime.
::Chai spiced jam::
Recipe by Elke at Another Day
Any jam we make generally ends up ’chai spiced’. I love the synergy of syrupy berries or poached fruit that are complimented by gorgeous warming chai spices. The spice blend I define as ‘chai spice’ for jam making though is actually not as complex as the blend we normally use when brewing chai for tea. The general rule of making jam is ‘kilo for kilo’ fruit and sugar, but I find I need a lot less sugar and especially if I’m using rapadura – in that instance I near on halve the sugar amount. I never add pectin or any jelling agent to our jams – a few lesser ripe berries do just the trick with their natural pectin content. The beauty of organic home preserving is that each batch is unique – some are quite thin, others gel beautifully and some turn out like tar. I love the way each takes on it’s own character and that often two batches made with identical ingredients in exactly the same way can be totally different. It’s the beautiful surprise of organic kitchen alchemy.
- 1 kilo of freshly washed and picked over berries
- 500-750gm of your preferred sugar (we use either raw or rapadura)
- Chai spices; cinnamon, cardamon, nutmeg, star anise, cloves, bay leaf (I generally use these all as ground spices with the exception of the star anise and bay leaf. Although sometimes using whole quills is nice as well. I often leave the whole spices in there when jarring as well – it’s nice to stumble upon these in the occasional jar of jam and spoon out around them. They infuse in greater depth over their standing time.)
- Sterilised jars for storage
- Put freshly washed berries into a large non-reactive saucepan.
- Mix sugar through fruit and add spices.
- Put the lid on and leave to meld for a few hours to overnight.
- Turn the pan onto medium heat and bring to a boil.
- Place a splash guard over the top of the pan and keep at a rolling boil for at least 20 minutes or until the jam has reduced down substantially (be careful of spitting liquid, this stuff is scorching hot.
- Once you are happy with the consistency and reduction of your jam – turn it off. Remember the jam will set further as it cools and stands.
- Have your sterilised jars waiting on a board lined with a towel (If you fill the jars directly on your bench you may end up with heat bubbles in your counter top!)
- Using a stainless steel measuring cup or some other heat suitable pouring utensil – ladle the hot jam into jars and seal with the lid.
- With a clean warm cloth, wipe any spills off the sides of the jar.
- Leave to cool. The jar lids will most likely pop in themselves. If you do this in the afternoon it’s fun to listen through the night as the jars lock themselves “pop” goes another lid! Any lids that haven’t sucked in their button top you can push down the next morning and they will most likely stay down. If they don’t then it’s up to you whether you transfer to refrigerated storage or take a chance on keeping this jar on the larder shelf. Any lids that bulge during storage are an indication that something has gone wrong with your preserve and there is fermentation happening inside. Feed that concoction to your compost and try again. In all the years we’ve been doing this we’ve only once had that happen (this season actually!) with a batch of pear sauce that I think I added way too much water to.
- Once cool, label your jars and transfer to a cool, dark place such as a larder shelf for storage.
Sterilising jars and removing labels;
- You can buy expensive canning jars, but you also don’t have to. The jar your tomato paste came in from the store is absolutely fine to up-cycle into a canning jar. It’s what most frugal home preservers use very effectively. If it’s a glass jar and has a metal lid then you’re in business – if it’s got one of those safety button ‘pop-tops’ then all the more better, but Graham assures me that they aren’t essential. In our experience even if there’s no ‘pop-top’ they still seal well (so long as there’e the rubber ring around the inside of the lid) and store preserves effectively. Do your own research of course and make your own decisions on what you feel is safe and that you’re comfortable with, but this has been our own personal experience.
- To remove labels – soak your jars in a bath of cold water that covers the jars fully, leave for a few hours or overnight is preferable, take a blunt knife such as a butter knife and carefully scrape off the labels with the side of the blade (even thought you’re using a blunt knife – be careful!), any remaining label or glue can be removed by a tiny bit of eco washing up liquid on a steel wool ball, rub the steel wool over the label and this should remove the rest.
- Wash your jars and lids in hot soapy water, rinse in clean water to remove all suds.
- Place jars in oven standing upside down on racks – heat the oven to 130ºC and then hold it there for 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, bring all the lids to a boil in a large pot of water. Once the pot is boiling, boil the lids for 15 minutes. You can also include your jars in the saucepan and sterilise them this way, however I find it more convenient and efficient to do the jars in the oven and the lids in the saucepan, otherwise I have to do multiple batches in the saucepan.
- Carefully remove the jars with oven mitts and tongs (remember the jars will be very hot) onto the lined board and fill with hot jam as described above.
What’s your favourite preserve to make?