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………
One of the monster’s major crops each year is onions. We grow both red and white and we grow from seed and set. Stuttgarter and Bedfordshire Champions would be the considered whites while Karmen and Red Baron the trusted red varieties. Experience has shown that some years almost one third of the red onions will bolt, but when you get a summer as consistently good as last year’s, well then, thing were a good deal better with little or no bolting whatsoever, and though harvested during the last week of July, the Red Barons have stored very well indeed and this third week in January we are still making some delicious pickled red onion.
These pickled red onions are one of the quickest and easiest recipes we here at monsterinthecorner use with the monster’s bounty: they dress any beef or lamb plate, work wonderfully well with any open or slider burger, can be served with cream cheese, Cheddar cheese or with smoked fish, and their piquant zing will enliven any cold platter or meat salad.
Ingredients: • 2 red onions, peeled and thinly sliced • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) red wine vinegar/cider vinegar • 1 good tablespoon of caster sugar
Method: At the outset make sure you do not create a recipe for disaster by mixing this simple but potent trio in the wrong container to begin with. Although only using three ingredients be sure to mix in a non-reactive bowl: stainless steel, glass or ceramic. This makes enough pickle to fill a good sized jar and once covered should hold in a refrigerator for up to 3 weeks • Slice the onions as thinly as possible and toss into mixing bowl. Scatter the spoonful of caster sugar across the onions them pour the red wine vinegar into the mixture and stir it up. At this point we like to cover the bowl with some cling film and over 20-30 minutes or so invert the bowl and shake it up periodically. The onions are ready to use after about 30 minutes, or do as we do and put them into a sterilized jar and pop into the fridge where they will keep for 3-4 weeks.
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.