Ah, what better way to spend an afternoon in July walking the dog, having a swim and then eating homegrown and harvested courgette and peas for dinner while reading a Thomas Hardy novel?
Just the classic easy-go-to-when-can’t-be-bothered-or-am-in-a-rush meal: spaghetti, parmesan, ketchup (because ketchup is good) and the before mentioned courgette and peas.
Does anyone else find it strangely satisfying to pod peas? I feel so proud when I see the little green circles inside the pods.
So: the update for the garden is literally hosing, moving the sprinkler, picking raspberries, picking strawberries, picking raspberries, picking reducurrants, picking raspberries, picking blackcurrants, picking raspberries, planning to pick jostaberries and failing, and, yes, picking more raspberries. The strawberries are nearly over and the raspberries have taken off. Slight problem: way too many to eat, not going to stand in a kitchen and make boiling hot jam in the only heatwave in England I will ever experience in my entire life, but all of the freezers are full except for one, which is typically broken (I mean, broken since last year and still not replaced because that’s how we roll). So it means literally shoving raspberries down other people’s throats before I start tearing my hair out. And stuffing the working freezers so much that it is too dangerous to try and open the doors now.
But today I made sure I picked some redcurrants and made our instant redcurrant sauce (available here at Redcurrants) and my first mint sauce, which I will share soon, for the family’s sausages this evening.
So I haven’t really been doing any proper gardening 😦 just picking and watering.
But I did harvest and eat my first early potatoes yesterday. They were ‘Charlottes’ and they were delicious.
Other news: the charity I’ve been helping with, space2grow, was judged two weeks ago for Farnham in Bloom. We’ve only been working since September so it was pretty amazing to already be showing it to other people and entering these community events. We aren’t getting our hopes up, but it was a great first presentation of the project.
For more information about the therapy or volunteering we offer, visit https://www.space2grow.space
I always struggle with finding a vegetarian protein at Christmas and then I struggle to find one to pair with cranberry sauce afterwards. Cheese is always an option, it famously goes well with cranberry and redcurrant, but I’m not a huge fan of it at the moment. I love cranberry sauce with potatoes, and Brussels sprouts (Recipe: Potato, Brussel Sprout and Cranberry Bake), but that isn’t enough protein to tick the boxes for a well-balanced meal.
I tried red split lentils last night. I like red split lentils because I don’t have to soak them for hours before hand when I need an instant meal, they are very nutritious and filling and never taste how you think they are going to (they have a lemony taste to me). I use them a lot in daal (Courgettes and carrot Daal) but they are actually very nice just boiled, plain. And even more nice with a little bit of sweet cranberry sauce added to them.
Do you know what else goes really well with cranberry sauce? Runner beans. I dug out a packet we froze from this years harvest.
I’ve got another 3 1/2 large jars of cranberry sauce from December left to eat up… 🙂
Lentils, potatoes, runner beans and cranberry sauce
-4 medium sized potatoes -250g red split lentils -8 serving spoons worth of runner beans -4 generous tsp of cranberry sauce, to serve
Pierce holes in the potatoes and place in the microwave. Heat for approximately 10-15 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft and squishy and have cooked through.
Meanwhile, bring a small pan of water to the boil. Add the red split lentils and simmer for about 15 minutes or until they have absorbed the water and are cooked. If there is any spare water, drain, and put to one side.
Bring another pan of water to the boil and add sliced beans into it. Boil for about 6 minutes or until the beans are cooked. Drain.
Place a potato on each plate and slice open. Spoon lentils next to it and 2 serving spoons of runner beans. Add a large dollop of cranberry sauce to serve.
I’m currently making redcurrant jelly and cranberry sauce (at least it has made room in the freezer for the other’s turkey).
We always put out redcurrant jelly and cranberry sauce for christmas lunch as one of the christmas sauces to have along with the main meal.
For the last couple of years, I’ve also been making redcurrant jelly along with raspberry jam for presents, especially to my cousin who has been very receptive and lovely about my homemade concoctions – brave soul!
Do you fancy making your own sides for christmas dinner? They are very easy and the recipes are right here, specially for you!
(Makes 4-5x 225g jars)
– 1kg redcurrants – 400ml water – Granulated sugar (see method for further instructions about amounts needed)
Put the redcurrants in a large pan with 400ml of water. Simmer until soft and the juices from the currants have leaked. It should take about 45 minutes.
Strain through a jelly bag/muslin for several hours, better yet to leave it overnight, taking care not to poke or prod as this will result in a cloudy jam.
3. Measure the juice and put it into a clean pan. For every 600ml of juice, add 450g of sugar as you start to bring the pan of liquid to the boil, stirring the sugar in until it has dissolved. Bring it to a rapid boil and leave it for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally to check if the liquid is becoming sticky rather than runny.
4. Pectin test: Put a china plate inside the freezer until it is cold. Put a small dollop of jelly on the plate and put it back in the freezer for a minute. Remove and run your finger through the middle – if it leaves a trail, it is done. If it starts to run back together, continue to boil and keep checking regularly – be careful not to leave it for too long or it will burn but under-boil it and it will not set.
5. Once your jelly has started to set, remove from the heat and allow to cool before ladling the liquid into sterilised jam jars.
6. To sterilise jam jars, place the jars and lids inside an oven preheated to 150C until warm to the touch. Remove from oven and leave to cool completely before using.
7. Place a wax disc over the top of the jelly in the jars to help them keep longer, seal the lid and label. Store in a cool, dry, dark place overnight before using to allow it to set properly. Serve with your Sunday roast dinner. Use within 12 months.
Cranberries are a group of evergreen dwarf shrubs or trailing vines in the sub-genus Oxycoccus of the genus Vaccinium. Cranberries are creeping shrubs or vines up to 2 metres (7 ft) long and 5 to 20 centimetres (2 to 8 in) in height. They have wiry stems and small evergreen leaves. The flowers are dark pink, with very distinct reflexed petals. The fruit is a berry that is larger than the leaves of the plant. It is initially light green, turning red when it is ripe. It has an acidic taste that can overwhelm its sweetness.
Most cranberries are processed into products such as juice, sauce, jam, and sweetened dried cranberries (see useful recipe for these below), with the remainder sold fresh to consumers. Cranberry Sauce (see recipe below) is a traditional accompaniment to turkey at Christmas dinner in the UK, and at Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners in the US.
The name cranberry derives from ‘craneberry’, first named by early European settlers in the US who believed the expanding flower, stem, calyx, and petals resembled the neck, head, and bill of a crane. Another name used in northeastern Canada is mossberry. The traditional English name for cranberries is fenberry, originated from plants found growing in fen (marsh) lands. In 17th-century New England cranberries were sometimes called ‘bearberries’ as bears were often seen feeding on them.
American Indians enjoyed cranberries cooked and sweetened with honey or maple syrup—a cranberry sauce recipe that was likely a treat at early New England Thanksgiving feasts. By the beginning of the 18th century, they were being exported to England by the colonists.
Cranberries were used by the Indians decoratively, as a source of red dye, and medicinally, as a poultice for wounds since not only do their astringent tannins contract tissues and help stop bleeding but we now also know that compounds in cranberries have antibiotic effects.
Although several species of cranberries grow wild in Europe and Asia, the cranberry most cultivated as a commercial crop is an American native, which owes its success to Henry Hall, an gentleman in Dennis, Massachusetts. In 1840 he noticed an abundance of large berries grew when sand was swept into his bog by the prevailing winds and tides. The sandy bog provided just the right growing conditions for the cranberries by stifling the growth of shallow-rooted weeds, enhancing that of the deep rooted cranberries. Cranberry cultivation spread across the US, but also across the sea to Scandinavia and the UK. Cranberries became popular for wild harvesting in the Nordic countries and Russia. In Scotland, the berries were originally wild-harvested but with the loss of suitable habitat the plants have become so scarce that this is no longer done. The berries arrived in Holland as survivors of a shipwreck: when an American ship loaded with crates filled with cranberries sank along the Dutch coast, many crates washed ashore on the small island of Terschelling. Some of the berries took root and cranberries have been cultivated there ever since.
Historically, cranberry beds were constructed in wetlands. Today’s cranberry beds are constructed in upland areas with a shallow water table. The topsoil is scraped off to form dykes around the bed perimeter. Clean sand is hauled in and spread to a depth of four to eight inches. The surface is laser levelled flat to provide even drainage. Beds are frequently drained with socked tile in addition to the perimeter ditch. In addition to making it possible to hold water, the dykes allow equipment to service the beds without driving on the vines. Irrigation equipment is installed in the bed to provide irrigation for vine growth and for spring and autumn frost protection.
To grow at home: if you can grow rhododendrons or blueberries in your garden soil, cranberries should succeed. Otherwise, grow plants in pots, hanging containers or raised beds in ericaceous compost. Water with rainwater, not ‘hard’ tap water. Compost should be moist at all times, not waterlogged and should never dry out. Peg down or bury long, trailing stems – these will root over time. Feed during the growing season, if growth is poor with a little hoof and horn (15g per sq m) or sulphate of ammonia. Old beds can be revitalised by covering them with a 14mm (½in) layer of sharp sand in spring and working the sand down between the stems.
Propagation: peg down trailing stems from March to June, to encourage rooting.
Little pruning is required, other than to remove any excessively long and congested arching growth in early spring. Trim out straggly roots after harvesting.
Cranberries need organic, rich, moist to boggy acidic soils, ideally at pH 4.5, in an open, sunny site. Although they like constantly moist conditions, plants should sit above the water. Plant in garden soil, providing it is suitable. Alternatively, dig a trench 90cm (36in) wide by 30cm (12in) deep and line it with heavy duty polythene or pond liner, fill it with ericaceous compost for acid loving plants and soak with rainwater before planting or create a raised bed, 30cm (12in) deep. Plant at a spacing of 30cm (12in) in and between the rows in from October to December, in mild spells in winter or in March and April.
As far as pests are concerned, cranberries are vulnerable to primarily birds. We netted ours as soon as berries appeared this year and fortunately managed to harvest the (few) all (our cranberry bushes were only just planted last season so to get a few berries was pretty wonderful). Harvest from late-September to mid-October, when the berries are red and prise easily from the plant. They can be frozen or eaten straight away. We froze our few this year to add to my dad’s wonderful yearly Christmas creation of Cranberry Sauce for our Christmas Day dinner (see recipe below).
RHS recommended varieties:
‘Pilgrim’:We have two of these. Ideal for container growing, fruits ripen from July to September.
‘Early Black’: Early harvesting, small and deep red; ideal for sauces and for baking.
‘Redstar’: Ideal for window boxes or containers, dark pink flowers are followed by bright red fruits.
‘Stevens’: Mid season with large, red fruit.
Raw cranberries have moderate levels of vitamin C, fibre and the essential manganese (each nutrient having more than 10% of the Daily Value per 100 g serving, as well as other essential micronutrients in minor amounts). As fresh cranberries are hard and bitter, about 95% of cranberries are processed and used to make cranberry juice and sauce. They are also sold dried and sweetened.
For many years, researchers believed that the ability of cranberries and cranberry juice to help prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs) was partly related to the strong acidity of the cranberries. Recent research has shown that it’s not the acidity of the cranberries, but the unusual nature of their proanthocyanidins (PACs) that is related to prevention of UTIs. The special structure of these PACs (involving A-type linkages between their components) acts as a barrier to bacteria that might otherwise latch on to the urinary tract lining. For the cardiovascular system and for many parts of the digestive tract (including the mouth and gums, stomach, and colon) cranberry has been shown to provide important anti-inflammatory benefits. It’s the phytonutrients in cranberry that are especially effective in lowering our risk of unwanted inflammation, and virtually all of the phytonutrient categories represented in cranberry are now known to play a role. These phytonutrient categories include proanthocyanidins (PACs), anthocyanins (the flavonoid pigments that give cranberries their shades of red), flavonols like quercetin, and phenolic acid (like hydroxycinnamic acids). Dietary consumption of cranberry has also been shown to reduce the risk of chronic, unwanted inflammation in the stomach, large intestine (colon) and cardiovascular system (especially blood vessel linings). Drinking a little cranberry juice now and then seems to be a good idea…
So if you don’t fancy your cranberries raw, try making your own cranberry juice (if you have enough to spare), perhaps a Cranberry Sauce instead of Redcurrant Jelly for your roasts (see recipe below) or dry them out like you would to make apple rings and use them in a bread recipe or follow my Christmas Brownie and Walnut Cake recipe and serve them alongside it for a delicious dessert (you don’t have to wait until Christmas for it!).
Dad’s Cranberry Sauce
(Makes 4x 350g jars)
-900g fresh/frozen cranberries -Juice of 2 oranges -150g granulated sugar
Place the cranberries in a large pan.
Add the juice of the oranges to the pan followed by the sugar.
Bring everything up to simmering point, stir well, put a lid on the pan and let it all simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the cranberries are breaking down. Stir now and then.
Remove the pan from the heat. When it is cool enough to handle, scrape into sterilised jam jars. Store in the fridge. For freezing, when cool transfer the relish to a plastic container and freeze.
Christmas Brownie Walnut Cake with Dried Cranberries
Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a 23cm/9inch cake tin with baking parchment.
Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl in the microwave. Melt the butter and add to the chocolate mixture.
Whisk the eggs and sugar together until the mixture is pale and thick enough to hold a trail when the beaters are removed. Mix in the chocolate and butter mixture.
Add the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder, mixing to combine.
In a food processor or nut grinder, grind the walnuts. Mix into the other ingredients thoroughly.
Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes until the cake has a nice crust on the outside but is slightly soft in the middle. When you cut into it to serve, it should gradually get gooey-er as you go further into the middle, the brownie element of the cake. Leave to cool in the tin.
Dust with icing sugar and scatter dried cranberries in the middle for decoration. Serve these cranberries alongside the slices. Store in an airtight container.
What has my mum been doing while I have been absent at uni? Collecting chestnuts. No, no, not just a handful. I am talking kitchen-overflowing-with-chestnuts sort of collection. There will not be enough for the squirrels despite ht productive year.
Last year (luckily) we got away with a poor chestnut harvest – I had too many apples to deal with that autumn – but the year before we had a similar glut. I am ashamed to admit that I don’t like chestnuts. It is a nice little fantasy of chestnuts roasting on an open fire, a Victorian Christmas treat, but I just don’t like them. Give me walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, brazil nuts and I am fine – dare to wave peanut butter under my nose and you risk a slap. Again, just don’t like the stuff!
However, in an attempt to find a way to a) preserve chestnuts, b) see if I can like them and c) just for fun, we tried making chestnut jam last winter with what we had.
Unfortunately, I still don’t like it but for anyone who likes chestnuts, vanilla or fun things like this, it might be a good gift this winter.
The recipe is from the River Cottage Handbook: Preserves. It is also on their official website. They recommend dolloping it on top of meringues or ice cream or buttered toast. I tried mine on toast, a bit like Nutella. If you like the idea of mixing it with whipped cream in a chocolate swiss roll it might be nice?
(Makes 5 x 225g jars)
1kg sweet chestnuts
400g granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
The first task is to remove the leathery shells and skin from the chestnuts. Use a sharp knife to make a knick in the top of each chestnut. Plunge them into a pan of boiling water for 2–3 minutes – sufficient time to soften the shell but not to let the nuts get piping hot and difficult to handle. Remove the pan from the heat. Fish out half a dozen or so chestnuts and peel off their coats. With luck, the thin brown skin under the shell will peel away too. Continue in this way until all are peeled.
Put the chestnuts into a clean pan and just cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 25–30 minutes, or until tender. Strain, but keep the cooking liquid.
Purée the chestnuts with 100ml of the cooking liquid in a food processor or using a stick blender.
Pour a further 100ml of the cooking liquid into a pan and add the sugar. Heat gently until dissolved. Add the chestnut purée, vanilla paste and honey. Stir until well blended. Bring to the boil then cook gently for 5–10 minutes until well thickened. Take care, as it will pop and splutter and may spit. Remove from the heat and stir in the brandy. Pour into warm, sterilised jars and seal immediately. Use within 6 months. Store in the fridge once opened.
Blackcurrant season has been long over but I have only just managed to make my first batch of blackcurrant jam from this years crop from the bags we stored in the freezer. It had to be done a) make space in the freezer for the last of the runner beans (and my brother and sister are complaining there isn’t enough space for ice cream in there), b) blackcurrant jam is just what I crave on wet, cold days in winter so I needed some at the ready, and c) blackcurrant jam is delicious.
Blackcurrants are high in pectin so you should not need to add any. This is the best recipe from the River Cottage Preserves Handbook. It is easy and delicious, as far as jam making goes.
(Makes 7-8x 340g jars)
– 1kg blackcurrants -600ml water – 1.5kg granulated sugar
Remove stalks and leaves from the blackcurrants (the dried flowers at the end are fine to leave). Put them in a large pan and add the water, bringing it to the boil before allowing it to simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the fruit is soft and broken down to let all the juices out but not completely slushy/disintegrated.
Add the sugar and stir in until dissolved then bring the pan to a rolling boil. Leave it to boil furiously for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir until it is room temperature (try pectin test here if you would like and if it has not set, bring back to the boil or add a little liquid pectin).
Leave it to cool – if the blackcurrants are going to float to the top of the jars, leave it to cool a little longer. If they still refuse to sink slightly, then bring it back to the boil for a couple of minutes until they do.
Once cool, bottle in sterilised jam jars and store in a cool, dry place overnight to allow it to set a little more.
Remember my love of jam? Not that I am trying to hit you over the head with it or anything…
I fell in love with raspberry jam a couple of years ago. Then it was homemade plum jam. Then blackcurrant. This year, it has been strawberry. I just can’t get enough.
You will remember my overly-excited post about harvesting enough strawberries to make strawberry and rhubarb jam (Recipe: Strawberry and Rhubarb Jam) and hoping that one day I would pick enough to freeze for purely strawberry jam? Well, my dear friends, that dream came true and it is a sweet, sticky, yummy dream, perfect for finishing off August with slathered on homemade toast and butter.
Strawberry jam is a little tricky: the fruit is very low in pectin meaning it is most likely going to end up running all over your toast or scone so pectin rich liquid (what I use) in abundance or pectin jam sugar is pretty much an obligation. Then there is the sweetness of the fruit. You don’t want to overly sweeten the jam with sugar otherwise it becomes sickly. To counter this, I would advise using lots of lemon – this will also add pectin to the mixture. Finally, do you want whole strawberries in your jam or just a straight jelly? To get rid of the whole fruit, you need to simmer the fruit down to mush. For my batch, I chose to go halfway – stew the fruit before adding in the sugar so that it created a jammy sauce for some whole fruit to float in.
– 1kg strawberries – 1kg granulated sugar – Juice of at least 3 lemons – 135 ml Certo Apple liquid pectin
1. Put the strawberries in a large pan over a high flame. Stir the fruit as it begins to bubble and some of the juice starts to ‘leak’ into the pan so that the whole berries are swimming in the sauce. Add the sugar and lemon juice, stirring in.
2. Stir over a high heat and then allow the fruit to stew, checking the temperature with a jam thermometer. When it has reached boiling point, allow it to bubble furiously for at least ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Meanwhile, put a china plate inside the freezer so that it is cold. Spoon a small dollop of jam onto the plate and put it back in the freezer for a minute. Take it out and run a fingertip straight through the middle of the jam splodge on the plate. If the jam ‘crinkles’ and leaves a trail as you push your fingertip through, then it is done. If it doesn’t, continue to boil the jam and check to see if it is improving. Once it is nearly done, turn of the heat. Pour the liquid pectin into the pan and stir in. Check the pectin test again to make sure that it is setting. Allow the jam to cool slightly, for probably at least half an hour.
4. Once done, bottle in sterilised jars (place wax discs over the surface to preserve it longer before putting the lid on) and store in a cool, dry place overnight, allowing it to set. You can use the jam from the next day onwards.