PUBLISHED: 12:51 25 September 2013 | UPDATED: 12:51 25 September 2013
Charlotte Smith-Jarvis picks the top of her crops and shows that preserving can be easy, inventive and above all, delicious
Growing your own – it’s brilliant. Almost everyone says so, and I agree.
There’s a smugness about gardeners as they list their ‘free’ bounty – freshly picked strawberries, handsome spears of asparagus and beans as long as a forearm. They make the sludging through mud and double digging worth all the effort.
But I’m sure most allotmenteers – myself included – get to a point, come early autumn, when they think “Right, this is great, but what am I going to do with all these flipping courgettes?”
Friends and colleagues can attest, I’ve made every effort to give away my gourds and greens, but they can only do so much with a marrow.
The glut I currently share with my well-seasoned gardener dad includes what seems like thousands of jewel-like blackberries, courgettes of all sizes, delicately scented heritage apples and several varieties of plum.
Mum has always tried her best to use them up. But there’s not a week goes by where I don’t find an offering of some kind or other hanging from my fence or front door in a carrier bag from dad – hand delivered on his bike no less.
This year I decided to be pro-active and actually use the jam jars I’ve been scrupulously scrubbing and storing at the back of the cupboard.
If you’re in a bountiful position, why not join in the fun? You could even send us pictures of you picking and potting! Email firstname.lastname@example.org >>
Pate de fruits
I have a dangerous penchant for pate de fruits - or fruit jellies if you want to be a little less pretentious. It’s a similar hankering to the one I get for Turkish delight, and the cravings usually kick in around Christmas time when these treats start popping up ready for gift giving.
I’m not being tight, but I do go weak at the knees when I see teensy packs of jellies for £8 upwards, especially when I know I can make them myself.
These gloriously juicy little confections are reminiscent of some I had recently in St Aignan, France, where they glistened in the counter amidst the glace chestnuts and pralines.
Soft set, sweet, plummy and ripe, they perfectly capture the pure essence of the berries. What’s best is if you can make jam, you can definitely make these. They’re easy.
Ingredients: 500g blackberries, washed and dried, 500g jam sugar (I used Tate & Lyle), 250ml cold water, juice of a lemon, 50ml liquid pectin
1. Blitz the berries and water in a food processor or blender until smooth and pass through a sieve into a large saucepan (the kind for making jam is best), discarding the pips. Squeeze in the lemon juice. Line a square brownie tin (about 20sqcm) with greaseproof paper.
2. Add the sugar and bring the liquid to the boil, continuing to boil for around 20 minutes until a sugar thermometer reads 106C (jam setting temperature).
3. Add the pectin and boil for another minute or two.
4. Pour the jelly into the prepared tin and leave for three hours to set in a cool place.
5. For the last hour of setting put the oven on 160C.
6. Once the jelly has set turn the oven off. Sprinkle granulated sugar into a tray and tip out the set jelly and cut into squares, rolling in the sugar.
7. Place the jelly onto a clean tray and place in the switched off oven, leaving the door open. When you can feel the residual heat has gone, shut the oven door and leave the jellies overnight for a few hours then roll them once more in sugar and place in an airtight container. Eat within a week.
Tips: Make any shape you like. A bottle top is good for making little pastilles, or try small love heart cutters.
Experiment with other fruits. The pectin will only last 14 days in the fridge if you buy a new bottle, so you can get five batches out of it. Use plums, cherries, greengages, apples.
Spiced Asian courgette relish
I’m partial to a pickle. Not the vinegary ones you find floating in jars at the chip shop beside the sad-looking eggs, but the kind you can smear on cheese on toast, dollop next to a bit of pork pie or trickle over a poppadum.
This recipe produces a sticky, aromatic, warming and only slightly spicy result. Feel free to play with the spices.
Ingredients: 600g courgettes cut into 1cm dice, 3tsp sea salt, 1 large onion peeled and finely sliced, thumb sized ginger peeled and grated, 5 garlic cloves sliced, 2tsp cumin seeds, 1tsp ground cumin, 3tsp mustard seeds, 2tsp ground coriander, 1tbsp dried curry leaves, 1tsp ground cinnamon, 1tsp chilli powder, 1tsp ground turmeric, 200g light brown sugar, 50g treacle, 300ml malt vinegar, oil for frying
1. Place all the spices apart from the mustard seeds into a pestle and mortar or spice grinder and blitz finely.
2. Put a little oil in a saucepan and fry the onions over a low heat until softened then add the ginger and garlic and cook out for a minute.
3. Add the mustard seeds and turn up the heat. When they start to pop add the spice blend and courgettes and stir
4. Add the vinegar, sugar, salt and treacle and bring to the boil then place on a low heat for one to two hours until thick and sticky (the cooking time depends on the size your courgettes were as bigger ones hold more water).
5. Once you’re satisfied, pour the mixture into sterilised jars and turn upside down with the lid on to create a vacuum seal. Try not to eat for at least a week and once opened eat within a couple of weeks.
Put this in a cheese toastie.
Add a spoonful or two to a stew or curry for extra flavour
Spread on flatbread and top with seasoned lamb mixed with coriander and a little curry paste then grill.
The apple season seems to go on forever when you grow your own. As well as the abundance of fruits on the trees, there are windfalls to navigate – and I say navigate because the wasps like them too!
Apple pie is nice, apple crumble too, and don’t forget baked apples and tarte tatin. A less fattening way to make something of your pickings however is by making apple butter.
Cooked down in their juices with sugar and spice, apples take on a creamy, silky texture that’s spreadable and oozing. Best of all, the concoction smells like apple pie.
This is so simple to make you could hardly call it cooking. I can think of no better way to spend an early autumn weekend morning than with this spread thickly on toast, next to a cup of chamomile tea and a good magazine.
Ingredients: 450g apples peeled, cored and chopped roughly, 150ml cold water, 160g caster sugar, 1tsp ground cinnamon, 1/4tsp ground nutmeg, pinch allspice, 2 cloves ground to a powder
1. Place the apples and water in a saucepan and bring to the boil, then simmer until it becomes mushy like apple sauce.
2. Put the mixture into a blender and whizz until smooth, or use a hand blender.
3. Add the sugar and spices and turn the heat down to low, stirring often for an hour until the mixture takes on a deep golden hue and thickens like caramel.
4. Pour into a sterilised jar, place the lid on and turn upside down to seal. Keep for two weeks in the fridge.
Swirl apple butter into whipped cream with a splash of whisky or calvados and serve with buttery biscuits.
Dollop on top of porridge.
Spread on the bottom of a pastry case and top with a tin of caramel, then custard and whipped cream for a tasty pud.
Layer some into the bottom of your mince pies.
Oriental plum sauce
The best part of a Chinese meal for me – bar cracking open the fortune cookies at the end – is the crispy duck.
The ceremony of lifting the lid of the bamboo pot, lining up the shards of cucumber and spring onion, and liberally covering this with shreds of melting duck and crunchy skin is memorable in itself. But the eating is divine.
Plum or hoisin sauce bring the whole thing together in the same way that anointing chicken and spuds with gravy ‘makes’ a roast.
If you do one thing with your plums this autumn, make sure it’s this. The sauce will liven up everything you eat it with, bringing a sweet tang and mysterious touch of anise.
It’s especially good with leftover pork that’s been briefly rechauffed in a hot pan until the edges crisp up.
Ingredients: 2.5kg plums, stoned and chopped roughly, 2 teacups light brown sugar, 2tbsps sesame oil, 150ml dark soy sauce, large thumb ginger peeled and grated, 8 cloves garlic crushed, 3 teacups water, 2 star anise, 1 cinnamon stick, 2 onions peeled and finely chopped, pinch salt and pepper to taste, 2tbsps cornflour
1. Place all the ingredients apart from the cornflour into a very large pan and boil, stirring occasionally, for 40 minutes.
2. Mix the cornflour to a smooth paste with a small amount of water and add to the mixture. Remove the star anise and cinnamon sticks.
3. Using a hand blender or food processor blitz the mixture until smooth.
4. Pour back into the pan and turn up the heat, cooking for around 10 minutes until thickened.
5. Pour the mixture into sterilised bottles. It should make around 3-4 750ml bottles worth. Once opened eat within a couple of weeks.