Sometimes Mother Nature does not gift us with what we expect but that is not to say she does not gift us at all; sometimes we just need to look elsewhere. This past year has been a challenging year for most small fruit growers with constant rain and grey skies through the spring and early summer which had a detrimental effect on the bursting fruit blossom, which, in turn, resulted in a very meagre harvest. However Mrs Dirtdigger did what she does exceptionally well and managed to forage many kilos of nature’s wonderful freebies from the hedgerows that border the allotment site, and so much so that by mid September she had harvested well over 5 kilos of blackberries which more than compensated for the gooseberry wipe-out earlier in the summer. Blackberries are not as pectin heavy as blackcurrants, but the use of an apple to boost the pectin level in the jamming process means there should be no need to use pectin added sugar. This year we put one of the large April Queen apples into the mix; the addition of the apple not only lifts the flavour but helps the final set. A pinch of ground clove adds an autumnal wow! factor, but too much will be overpowering, so no more than a fingers pinch. Alternatively place 3-4 cloves into a little muslin sachet and put into the boiling mix for the duration of the boil and remove before jarring.
Ingredients: 1 kg of fresh picked blackberries, thoroughly washed 1 kg of granulated sugar 1 large Dessert or Bramley apple, peeled, cored and chopped 150mls of water pinch of ground cloves knob of butter, salted/unsalted You will need a large stainless steel saucepan in which to boil the jam; 5-6 sterilized jars with clean lid and wax discs, a couple of saucers for the freezer, a tongs, a ladle, and a spoon or stirrer.
How to Jam it Up… Prepare all the ingredients and utensils you’ll need before hand; use a stainless steel pot and stainless steel or wooden spoon; have your jam jars washed and pop into the oven at 100 degrees for duration of the jamming process; wash and drain the blackberries; peel, core and chop the apple; pop two saucers into the freezer to have them chilled… 1. Put the blackberries, chopped apple and water into a large pot over a medium heat for 12-15 minutes bringing to a slow boil. 2. Once the fruit in the pot has softened and noticeably reduced turn the heat up full and begin adding the sugar, stirring constantly till the sugar is dissolved; this is where the benefit of a wooden spoon allows you fell what is between the wooden spoon and end of the pot. Once the sugar is dissolved bring the jam to a rapid rolling boil. At this stage add the knob of butter and the pinch of ground cloves, and leave it to boil for at least 7-8 minutes (boil time can vary depending on the actual fruit itself). 3. Remove pot from heat, and using a clean teaspoon pour a little of the jam onto one of the chilled saucers. Leave for 1 minute before running a finger through the blob of jam. If the surface of the blob crinkles your jam has reached setting point and is ready for jarring, if however the jam on the saucer is still too thin, return the pot to the heat and continue to boil for another 5 minutes before repeating the saucer test, and if necessary repeat once more till jam has reached setting point. 4. Once satisfied jam has hit setting point remove from heat. At this point take the jars out of the oven. Leave both jam and jars sit for 5 -8 minutes before carefully ladling the jam into the sterile jars. Fill jars almost to top, leaving 2-3mm at rim. Place a wax disc on top of jar, and screw on clean lid. The hot jam going into reasonably hot sterile jars should be enough to seal completely, but at times we then place the filled jar into a preserving pot of boiling water, completely covering the jars and boiling for 10 minutes to be sure to be sure! Using a tongs lift jars from the water and set aside to cool. 5. If your prep has been thorough and fresh fruit has been used and poured into sterile jars your blackberry jam should store for 6-7 months, of course, it probably won’t last that long at all once you start to dollop it onto fresh Devon scones, with a scoop of double cream perhaps………
I remember it well: it was The Year of the Cat, Silly Love Songs were Songs in the Key of Life, The Boys were Back in Town and some Dancing Queen was saving kisses for just about everyone. Rocky Balboa battered slaughterhouse daylights out of refrigerated carcasses and was doing it all for Adrienne, while, on the flip-side of things “we could have been anything that we wanted to be” with Tallulah and Blousey and Fat Sam. Yes I remember it well; the Bic white razors and Blue Stratos aftershave, the plaid patterned kick flairs, the big heels, the brass toecaps, and the migration from barbershop to hair dresser. And I remember it was warm, very warm, with water shortages and rent strikes. It was warm too in the Venetian court as one of literature’s earliest cross-dressers extolled the quality of mercy, and warm too as Kodály’s Hary János met Friel’s Potato Gatherers and all stopped by woods one snowy evening to discuss the allegorical significance of red socks sown into the futility of human greed in Sassoon’s Base Details. Yes, I remember it well; well most of it; well, some of it. It was 1976, the whole country was a ‘thundering disgrace‘ and that was the last time we experienced a spell of weather as warm and as dry as we’ve experienced thus far this year. It was the last time we experienced a bona fide prolonged heatwave.
Ireland was a different place back then; grubby and dreary, still striving to come to terms with the reality of developing its own terms, and still trying to find some direction for the head-spun inertia experienced since it had taken its place among the Nations of the earth just a few decades earlier. Dublin too was different back then; the city centre was –as it had been for over a hundred years-crumbling, and the newer suburbs both north and south which had been initiated just a decade earlier now stretched out to the green country fields with no shops, schools, churches or hospitals and whence prevailing winds veered from that certain direction memory of what had been left behind would still catch olfactory orifices off-guard on light winter mornings as plumes from the distant hop house surfed the wavelength between the lifting smog and the Liffey’s perspicuous stench. And that was then; and this is…well, forty years later… It has been a good summer, this summer of 2018. It has been a very warm and very dry couple of months. It has been a good summer, and upbeat consumer sentiment is reflected in the latest quarterly index retail figures, benefiting no doubt from the sunny feel-good bounce with sales in beverages and foods and BBQ’s and stay-cations way, way above average and expectation. It has been a very good summer and those lucky enough to have been visiting from abroad this last couple of months will have seen Éire at her bright and shiny best. The sun has been shining for weeks on end, the whole population is tanned and suddenly there is renewed talk of the necessity of increases in net inward migration as we are at full employment levels once again, something not seen since the heady days of the Celtic Tiger. It has been a very good summer, and the country is on a high: those who needed to be held to account have, (well some of them have) at last, been held to account. We are become an all inclusive and an all encompassing pluralistic society. We’ve paid our international debts in full and on time and we are now squirreling away for the other type of day, the rainy day; and boy oh boy we know the rainy days here too!
It has been a good summer so far, but the monster alas, is struggling. The effects of the summer’s drought-like conditions are now unmistakable. We have had some wonderfully early cucumbers and courgettes, and we’ve wiped out most of the early lettuce, salad leaves, kohl rabi and radishes but the broadbeans and potatoes are struggling big time and dare say the crop will not be so good as we hope for. The strawberries are finished, the shallots are curing and the onions have been lifted. The gooseberry crop struggled to plump so we opted for a crop in the hand sooner than the crop on the bush and managed to get a dozen jars of jam. We’ll be doing likewise with the blackcurrants this weekend. The pumpkins are swelling and the Florence fennel has germinated. We tasted some of the beetroot and it is fabulous, and once the Red Barons are cured we’ll chutney about 10 lbs. We’ve summer pruned the plum and dwarf heritage apple trees, and we’ve put the french beans and swede seed to bed and in so doing we have set the monster up for autumn and winter. Today being the 19th July means it’s Tipping Day on monsterinthecorner, the 200th day of the year, the day by which high summer almost always recognizably wains. The young finches, sparrows and linnets are fledged, robin chicks have been rescued, fox cubs and leverets are making their own way and the early summer lush greens are beginning to look just a tad jaded. Some of the monster’s beds and drills are emptying fast, and at last there is a forecast of a substantial rainfall over the next 24 hours. And slowly, but surely, it all turns. And sooner than expected we’ll be saying “we saw both days”… and we’ll remember them and hopefully recall these days with fondness. It has been a truly good summer thus far, so good so that in the last number of days we’ve found ourselves wondering what (?) if anything, the abiding memory of this great summer would or should be, should we be fortunate enough to live to reflect upon it forty years hence. But, this is where we’ll leave it, for now.
Airily and imperceptibly it has happened upon us again. Tipping day unfolds ‘ neath heavy humid skies. A steady drizzle grounds the flying ants, and a deep slate grey of midsummer’s duvet hints at Thor’s mighty hammer smash in the coming hours. The gulls and starlings that yesterday spent hours on the wing gorging on summer’s aerial feast, are this morning taking it a little easier along with the rooks, crows and blackbirds who now find the jaded and wet ant-feast crawling at their feet. For the first time is over 5 weeks, lighting-up time last night was back at 10.00pm, and the majority of Dublin’s street lamps, including the one directly outside our garden wall flickered cool pink at 21.59 precisely. July 19th; Tipping Day; the 200th day of the year; the first point beyond high summer in Ireland, and though, if we’re lucky we shall still have some days and weeks of pleasant weather ahead, by this day each year there is that unmistakable sense that changes are afoot, and none more so than in the garden. We arrived at the monster’s gate yesterday evening to find the Bunyards Exhibitors had given up the ghost completely. Although showing signs of stress the last week or so, yesterday they finally surrendered and we arrived to find them prostrate. We stripped the last of the pods and we will cut them to ground over the coming days, leaving the nitrogen rich roots in place a while longer. The Sutton Dwarfs are also showing signs of struggle, but we’ll keep these well watered in hope that they will hold for a fortnight yet. The Jumbo peas are cropping and holding up well; we have lifted our onions and set them to cure, and we have also sown our spring cabbages together with successional lettuces, radishes and chard leaves. The reasonably good summer –which for the most part it has been, to date -has left casualties in its wake right across every garden and allotment site; a lot of the allium and leaf crops have bolted, and we too have had our fair share of losses with the shallots and chard, rocket and lettuce going over very early; but we have made further sowings. Indicative of the fairly good summer temperatures so far this year, we arrived Monday afternoon to find the Monster and her neighbouring plot under a buzzing cloud of black Irish Honey Bees. Having originally swarmed the day before, they had set to hive in a compost bin on the corner of our neighbours plot, but, being made of black plastic their new home immediately overheated once the temperature rose to the high twenties. This no doubt proved intolerable in the black plastic compost bin and once the new combs began to collapse they swarmed again, setting up temporary stop on a sweet pea frame directly beside our plot. Three years in succession at our former allotment site we had been lucky enough to witness this great summer spectacle, and perhaps the only true regret we had in leaving that old site was that we would miss the beehives that were in situ there; and as beehives are not facilitated at this particular site we more than pleased with Monday’s swarm. Getting over their initial fear (- most of the plot holders at this site had not experienced such a sight before) the event proved a great photo opportunity for all the Monster’s plotted neighbours, and thanks to Keith from the Dublin Beekeepers Association who came boxed and smocked with smoker once the rescue call was logged, a lot of the plot holders now know a good deal more about honey bees and the swarming process, and hopefully will have gained a little more appreciation for these wonders of the natural world. We have made our Blackcurrant and Gooseberry Jams, and once this evening’s final offering of Hinnonmaki Gooseberries are jarred we will have jammed 48-50 jars in total, and given that we uprooted and re-set the stands in the move to our new location we are reasonably happy with this result. We jarred some rhubarb and ginger also, but our Victoria certainly rebelled at the severity of being split and dumped and after an initial helping in late May we’ve since left it to recover the rest of the year… The rocket was/is peppery and fabulous; the lettuces crisp and fresh. The Solo beetroot has, once again, proven itself a worthy performer, while the Kale Negro and Bright Lights have been used continually as cut-&-come standards for the last 7-8 weeks. The Jack O Lanterns vines have all set fruit and we’ve pinched the tips; the Big Max however is struggling big time. We have tomatoes aplenty on all our plants and they’ve begun to blush ever so slightly, so here’s hoping for an early harvest of Shirleys, and Marmandes. We are using the Gold Rush courgettes and will most likely have to start passing these on as they look set to glut. The Greenshaft are a few weeks behind but have set at last, as have the first of the Akito cucumbers. The Tender & True parsnips have caught up with the late sowing, and all of Mrs. Dirtdigger’s roses, and gladioli have put out some wonderful seasonal colour and scent, and one of the running commentaries for the last 2 months amongst our new neighbours is the wonderful wildflower area scattered by the self same dirt-digging Missus on that area we intend to erect our polytunnel on early next year. How quickly things turn; the hand spins a circuit of the face, days come, weeks go, and months and seasons slip past unnoticed. As much as it galled and upset us at having to vacate our well tended and much toiled former allotment, that sorry saga is, thankfully, a distant memory, and the level of enjoyment and success we’ve experienced in such a short time span on this our new adventure has led us to speculate as to why we had not moved sooner…but, c’est la vie! We have hares and pheasants and buzzards. Yes, wonderful crying and screeching buzzards. There are tits and finches and thrushes. We have butterflies and bees and we can see the sea in the distance. We have made new acquaintances, and run into some old faces. We were faced with a challenge last December are we’ve thoroughly enjoyed the rising to it. We have been busy; so busy getting re-established we have neglected to write as often as we should, determining at times to Garden instead of writing about Gardening, but perhaps we’ll have a little more time now. It has been a major success all round. We reached tipping day in better array than in any of the previous 6 years. I would like to be able to say that we’ve had a 100% success rate in every aspect of our new allotment endeavour (which by the way we have) but I can’t. The most we dare say is that we almost had 100% success, because there’s always that one thing that throws the damned lie into sharp relief, or unwittingly undermines the veracity of the unverified statistic. So, we’ve had a 99% success rate, because there’s always one, isn’t there? Always a fly for the ointment, or a pea for the pillow. Always something which fails to do exactly what it says on the tin. A prima-donna, a wannabe, something with ideas way,way above its station.
There’s always some commoner gardener vegetable that decides it’s having none of this and just opts out…none of this hard outdoorsy living; none of this bush tucker existence; no association with celebrity B list vegetables and C list fruits; stuck with your feet in the muck for months on end and a social profile lower than a didgeridoo’s bell end…chicken manure for tea and strained nettle and seaweed soup for brekki…no way Jose…Who mentioned ants?….hit the deck quick and get me out of here!
So, I’m a celeriac they thought…doo dah!!!
Yes, we’ve only had 99% success on our new plot… Only 99%. One little thing let us down, and after 4 failed successive sowing we decided to leave it for this year, but we’ll not go into that here…
History abounds with famous and infamous couples alike: Anthony and Cleopatra, Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall; Bonnie and Clyde even. The worlds of literature and legend are equally jam-packed with storied accounts of fate bound duos: Adam and Eve, Tristan und Isolde, Robin & Maid Marion and Romeo & Juliet to mention but a few. Of course one man’s Romeo and Juliet will often be another’s Tarzan & Jane, just as Romulus and Remus beget someone else’s Jacob and Esau, begets another’s Ronnie and Reggie Kray. Truth is, there is no accounting for taste. There will be a Gilbert and Sullivan aficionado for every Renee & Renato buff, just as every Holmes & Watson sleuth begets a Batman and Robin junkie, and every Abbot & Costello or Laurel & Hardy fanatic has to contend with the Tom & Jerry, the Bert & Ernie, the Shaggy & Scooby and that’s not forgetting to mention the Mary-Kate & Ashley brigades. No: there is no accounting for taste, and here we are all about taste, literally.
With that said we will consider some of the other great duos and doublets, especially those taken-for-granted everyday combinations that make one of the basic activities of our inane daily routines a little more worth-the-while. What would life be without the exquisite gastronomic reference points of Strawberries and Cream say?, or, Bacon and eggs for that matter? Or, how about Maple syrup and Pecan nuts, and Pork Chops in Cider? The mind boggles, and the mouth waters. Classic combinations acquire classic status because they work. The same can be said of these classic food combos: Cheese & Tomato, Fish & Chips, Bread & Jam, Spaghetti & Meatballs, Chocolate & Orange, and sometimes, when the bread is crusty fresh and the Irish butter is properly chilled, the perfect partnership can be something as simple as plain ol’ Bread & Butter. Some things just work better, together. In a slight imaginative stretch (and for purposes solely contained herein) let us take for instance that couple, being Irish & Potatoes. I (like every Irish man, woman and child since the mid sixteenth century) have developed a specific genome marker predisposing me to a love of the humble spud. The potato has been a staple of the Irish diet since Sir Walter returned from southern climes and cast his cloak neath those royal pinkies. It has nurtured and sustained countless generations of Hibernians, and sadly, on occasion, was responsible for the demise of millions of them. The humble spud: boiled, broiled, chipped, fried and roasted. Buttery mash in scooped lumps, golden yellowy paps determining the boundary twix the two veg. and meat of generation gone before us. Then there’s the gratin, and the gnocchi, and the scalloped and hassle-backed. But, throw a few fried pork sausages into the equation and you get one of the all time great taste combos from every Irish child’s childhood, Bangers & Mash. Oh yes, talk about perfect pairings…love and marriage, horse and carriage, and though not necessarily nor fundamentally bound to each other, some things, though good enough in their own right just work better in partnership with something that will accentuate its unique character. On a summer allotment things are just as tasteful. The advent of summer, especially early summer, sees the first of the gardening year’s gluts and with that comes the need to preserve the excess crop. Jams, chutneys and conserves are made in abundance as every gardener and allotmenteer’s kitchen slips seamlessly into cottage industry mode with the excess early strawberries, raspberries and gooseberries to be jammed. Commercial jam making is and always will be big business constrained by nothing other than market forces. Product is made to meet the need of supermarket shelves with the overarching and underlying principles being one and the same thing; the bottom line. Orders for the raw fruit material are placed (often years in advance) with commercial growers who have been encouraged to produce one selectively modified cultivar of fruit that can be pulped and macerated on a massive scale, mixed with the cheapest sourced syrup and sugar on the market, only then have all the goodness totally boiled out of it before being jarred, shelved and sold on to the highest bidder in hope of attaining a bigger margin once presented to the eventual retail customer. That’s the bread and butter of the jam business. That’s the business jam. That every business’s jam.
With the allotmenteer and home-grower however things can be different. Free from commercial constraints, and limited only by imagination and volume of the treasured harvest from a seasons long effort on their own allotment or small-holding, the final produce of the home Jam and chutney maker is among the finest artisan produce available. Small select batches of organically grown fruits, carefully handpicked, winnowed and cleaned, are then methodically prepared in recipes often handed down from one generation to the next. And if there is a bottom line to this home and cottage industry it is this: to preserve nature’s hard won prizes for personal use; to help fill the larder for the leaner days of winter and in so doing aid in the remembrance of bright summer days during the coldest and darkest days of the year. Or perhaps it is little more than a personal process to show of nature’s wonderful bounty stored and displayed like jarred trophies along the pantry shelf. Who knows ? Experience has shown us that on many an occasion the bottom line for most genuine home jammers is the simple joy of sharing with a few privileged friends and relatives who truly appreciate all the months of sowing and growing and pruning and feeding that will have gone into the superior jarred product they often find themselves gifted with. Of course home jammers and cottage conservers are more than just industrious. At the heart of every jam-making and preserving process (even in the big commercial enterprises) there is a recipe, most likely developed by trial, error and imagination over decades. The ingredients for jam making are simple and the jam-making process is very straight forward; fresh fruit, good sugar and water in varying amounts over a moderately intense heat, et viola! Of course with developments in modern food production science we now have pectin laden sugar which helps the whole process along nicely, but the basics remain the same: for strawberry jam use strawberries, sugar, small amount of water; for raspberry jam use raspberries, sugar and a little less water; and for blackcurrant jam use blackcurrants, plain sugar and slightly more water. However, home jam makers can take this process to a whole new level, and very often do so with mouth-watering combinations of seasonal fruits: Peach & Blackberry jam, Raspberry & Lime jam, Pear & Lavender jam, Plum and Lemon Verbena jam, Strawberry & roasted Pomegranate jam; and not forgetting a nod to two combinations with which we here on monsterinthecorner are well acquainted, Gooseberry & Elderflower, and Rhubarb& Ginger jam. Yes, rhubarb and ginger. Though in essence jam is a product of boiled fruit with occasional additives, one of our personal favourites (and a renowned fruity and zingy taste of summer both here and across the pond in Great Britain) can be derived from boiled vegetable stalks (Rhubarb) and grated tubers (Ginger). From mid-summer through to autumn every garden festival and village fete will undoubtedly have a stand at which you will be able to purchase locally grown and prepared homemade jams, and at every farmer’s market and country fair you’ll likely happen on a stall selling locally sourced honey, artisan jams and conserves. These are true seasonal gems. Take some time to see what’s on offer. Pass slowly; ask the questions, and indulge…treat yourself to some of nature’s finest fare, carefully cultivated and personally prepared.
We started jamming many years ago, and long, long before we began growing our own fruit we’d make day0-trips to the city outskirts, children in tow, and spend sunny days picking large punnets of strawberries and raspberries on which all could gorge themselves before heading home to make jam with the remainder: Our tag has never changed…
J&J Jams Nurtured by Hand Nourished by Nature The taste of summer all year long…
Some things just go hand in hand: buckets & spades, and hats & gloves, and sunny summer days in Ireland & 99’s. Some things perhaps just belong together like John &Yoko; or become synonymous with each other like Ireland & The Eurovision Song Contest; or through birth become inextricably twinned with each other for life and forever like Jimmy & Tommy Swarbrigg; or simply through fond memory will be forever associated with the wide-eyed days of youthful wonder that was the great summer of 1977 & Bob Marley & The Wailers & Jammin’…
Yes we’re Jammin’, Jammin’, Jammin’, Jammin’ Jammin’ till the jam is through….
and suddenly people, Jam is taken to a whole different level.