Preserving taps into that late summer/autumnal instinct that drives squirrels to hide nuts, birds to migrate and bears to curl up in caves. Alas we cannot curl up till spring but we can ram pears in jars, boil oranges into sticky jam and jellify the hedgerow harvest. Why? To re-engage with the cycle of nature, tune in to sustainability and deny supermarkets the pleasure of our pennies for inferior, often chemical-ridden alternatives.
Pam Corbin, author of the River Cottage handbook Preserves and Liz Neville are a force to be reckoned with: armed with pans, spoons and jars, they promote common sense and practical experience over certificates and qualifications. As Liz says, “We’ve preserved for generations and that’s why it’s lovely to see people embracing the jam jar.”
Both ladies have serious jamming credentials. Pam and her husband Hugh owned Thursday Cottage now under the ownership of Wilkin & Sons Ltd; Liz runs Parrett Preserves, a company born out of two preserving pans and a gas ring in North Perrott on the Dorset/Somerset border. Both work closely with River Cottage.
From fruit-infused booze to caramelised shallots, zesty Drambuie curd to honey granola and spiced cranberry, port and walnut sauce and more, the day was a delight of heady scents and seasoned advice. By afternoon tea, I’d realised that preserving makes sense at any time of the year, not just Christmas. With the availability of fruits (dried and fresh), booze and vegetables all year round, it is no longer a ‘summer glut’ reflex. And once you start, the smugness at creating your very own potted domestic bliss is strangely addictive.
Tresillian House runs day and residential cookery courses throughout the year, drawing inspiration from esteemed moon gardener John Harris’ produce from the walled garden. The two recipes below are highlights from the course: Jamaican marmalade with dark rum and homemade vanilla essence (so easy you wonder why we spend over a fiver on the supermarket’s best industrial efforts):
Jamaican marmalade with dark rum (makes 5 – 6 x 450g jars)
- 750g mixed sweet oranges and lemons
- 250g crystallized ginger cut into small pieces
- A piece of bruised root ginger (bashed with a heavy weight)
- 2kg granulated sugar
- 50 ml dark rum
Scrub the oranges and lemons, cut in half, squeeze out the juice and keep to one side. Using a sharp knife, slice the peel and pith into thin, medium or chunky shreds (depending on preference). Put aside any inedible bits of the orange. Put the sliced peel into the preserving pan and cover with 2.3 litres of cold water (if you have time, leave this to stand for 24 hours). Add the bruised root ginger in a piece of muslin, along with any unused pithy bits of orange and add to the pan, together with the squeezed fruit juice.
Bring to the boil and then simmer slowly, with the pan covered, to soften the peel (approx. 1.5 hours) and the contents of the pan will be reduced by about a third. Remove the muslin bag and discard. Stir in the sugar and bring back to the boil, stirring until all the sugar has dissolved and at this stage add the chopped crystallized ginger. Boil rapidly until setting point (test by coating the back of a metal spoon, if it wrinkles on cooling, the jam is ready). Leave to cool for a few minutes and add about 3 tablespoons or 50 ml of dark rum and stir well. Pour into clean warm jars and seal immediately.
- Vanilla essence (This not only tastes delicious but looks pretty and good for presents)
- 3-4 vanilla pods
- 250ml alcohol – eau de vie (Somerset Cider Brandy Co. highly recommended or gin, vodka, brandy)
- 250ml sealable bottle
Split the vanilla pods lengthwise. Drop the pods into the bottle and top up with alcohol and seal the bottle. Shake to mix and continue to do so sporadically until the alcohol is well infused with vanilla. Leave for 4-6 weeks and use as you would commercial vanilla essence. Top up with alcohol occasionally and add a new pod every now and then and after ten years, it will taste even more delicious.
Top tip: obviously re-using jam jars is the best option for storing preserves but if you are producing a large quantity or selling, you may want to buy new for hygiene reasons. The Jam Jar Shop was born out of jam maker Rosie’s need for decent quality jam equipment at a good price, all in the same place and comes highly recommended by Pam and Liz.
For more information on upcoming courses at Tresillian House, Newquay, go to their website or phone 077485 92225 before 9pm for more information.
Photographs © John Such at suchgoodpictures.co.uk