Tuesday, August 28, 2012

sticky joys

The last three days have been dominated by jam making, jam filing and jam throwing away. In short, I made 24 pots (assorted sizes) of plum jam, both red and yellow plums, and threw away 5 random pots of 'stuff' mostly without labels. These included a couple of 3 year old containers labelled 'hot tomato chutney', probably unsafe. Net gain to jam store: 19 pots. Total jam store, 115 pots that I could see, total pots likely to be consumed by JP = 10; he only eats marmalade.

There is something immensely satisfying about making jam, especially from your own fruit. It is not just that the result looks very pretty, or that it can be sold or exchanged or even eaten. It is the idea of conservation, of preservation for winter, of independence from those evil agro-industrial companies that produce 'jams' heavens only knows how and with what. My jams are at least equal balances of sugar and fruit with, if the fruit is low in pectin, the juice of a lemon (organic of course). Somehow the judgement required in assessing exactly the setting point (without thermometer) on a cold saucer seems a witch like skill. The whole is a blissfully sticky job, many tea-trays and tea cloths covered in jam spatter, then paraffin wax when it comes to sealing the pots.

Fruit processing can be a messy job but is much helped by a decent radio programme – France Inter or France Musique – and the occasional foray into tasting. Plums are amongst the easiest of fruits to prepare, just halve and pop into a pot with an equal quantity of sugar. I let them marinade overnight. The secret that recipes forget to mention is that the plums should be cooked soft before being brought to a setting boil otherwise you will just find yourself re-boiling the lot, having potted and then discovering it will not set.

The rejected preserves were mostly pesto – just basil with olive oil and pine nuts, no cheese as that goes sour – and apple mint jelly. Both suffered from the same defect. For some uknown reason basil and pine nuts absorb olive oil like sponges, so however little one puts in a pot, eventually the oil spills over. It smells fine, unlike when one puts pecorino in the mixture which goes sour very fast. The pots I rejected dated back two years. The basil was one solid lump, smelt all right but I was dubious. The jelly had gone from the mint, leaving a hard, unlovely lump.

In fact I have found a cheat's way of making pesto: first cook your pasta, troffiete or linguine or whatever, drain well and keep warmish. Then, in a large frying pan, put olive oil, ground pine or walnuts, finely shredded basil leaves. When these have melted, put in the pasta to warm up, lastly add grated pecorino.

I have totally given up on mint jelly as a larder stand-by. I just make sure there are a few pots of apple jelly, not too old, and mix in the chopped mint the day before. This may be difficult in 2012, so far all the apples have dried on the trees. My French friends are still dubious about mint jelly.

Apart from the plums, the fruit on the trees looks very sad. The peaches are few and small. The Comice pear tree has totally dried out, lost all its leaves though its branches are still supple. It might revive if we get this week's promised rain. The other pear trees bear their usual crop of black-spotted inedible fruit. There is only one pear tree whose fruit I appreciate. It has a hard, brown skin and needs long slow cooking with a few cloves stuck into the flesh. Then it becomes a tender pink. It is what I was served with roast pork in Holland – and that was a long time ago.

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