Good Food Blog
Bottled essence of summerPosted at 5:02PM, 08 July 2009 by Carol Wilson - Food writer
The recent hot sunny weather has produced a bumper crop of summer fruits and vegetables, and with more of us growing our own produce, it makes sense to preserve what we can't eat.
I grow strawberries and raspberries, but I also buy anything being sold off cheaply at markets. Fruit and vegetables are usually sold at bargain prices because there's a glut or they're left over at the end of the day - and while they may not be premium quality, fruits such as strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants and gooseberries can be made into wonderful jam.
A friend with a surplus of courgettes from his allotment has offloaded them on to me. I'll make a few jars of spicy chutney with them and also make further chutneys and relishes using French beans, tomatoes and carrots. Cucumbers can be pickled and other summer vegetables can be incorporated into piccalilli.
It's not much fun standing over a pan of boiling jam in a swelteringly hot kitchen while the sun blazes outside!
Over the last couple of weeks I've made lots of jam and varied the flavour by stirring a little rosewater into strawberry or raspberry jam or orange flower water into gooseberry jam just before potting. A broken cinnamon stick or split vanilla pod put in at the start of cooking adds a hint of extra flavour too. I make preserves in the evening when it's cooler - it's not much fun standing over a pan of boiling jam in a swelteringly hot kitchen while the sun blazes outside!
That brings me to my latest kitchen 'find', which I'm really excited about! An electric jam maker. It comes with jars, lids, ladle and its own recipe book - although as it's made in France, the recipes are for French-style jams which are runnier than British jams. I use British recipes and simply put the ingredients in the jam maker and press a button to start the programme. It bleeps when it's finished, then I just ladle the jam into jars. It also makes jelly (no need for a jelly bag and straining for hours) and even dulce de leche from fresh milk and sugar. There's also a programme for slow-cooked desserts such as rice pudding, but I haven't used that yet.
It's really rewarding to have a cupboard filled with jars of homemade jams, jellies, chutneys and pickles - even more when they're all homemade, which I think taste much nicer than commercial versions, which tend to be terribly over-sweet or packed with additives. Home-produced preserves make lovely presents for family and friends and are also a great way to raise funds for charity events.
Have you had a go at making preserves?