Do It Yourself on the Cheap: Jams and Preserves
Now there’s nothing like organic, home grown fruit and veg and we’re due for a bounty of some crops this year because of the good weather. But what can you do with a bumper crop?
Áine is joined by Biddy White Lennon with all the expertise on how to successfully pickle and preserve your fruit & veg and chief Darina Allen.
Principles of preserving
The main ingredients for preserving are salt, sugar, vinegar or oil. Mustard is good to. The key to successful pickling or preserving is having enough of the chosen preservative and then you can think about the other ingredients.
Sterilising the jars
- This is also extremely important. Biddy says she does belt and braces – you clean the jars, then put them into sterilising liquid and then into an oven at over 70 degrees for 30 minutes. Make sure they are 100% clean and dry.
Preserving wild bilberries by sugar (these are in season now and this is away of preserving any whole berry or fruit such as blackcurrents or strawberries.
Bottling bilberries is easy. First make a sugar syrup. The strength and whether you choose a light or heavy syrup depends on how sweet you prefer the finished result. Bear in mind that they are a tart berry. One part water to two parts sugar gives a medium syrup. One to one a heavy syrup. Place the water and sugar in a pot and heat gently until the sugar is dissolved. Boil for a minute or two.
Use sterilized jars with glass or metal lids. Sterilize. Pack tightly into the jar filling them a third at a time and adding the sugar syrup to the level of the fruit as you go. It will take about 125ml of syrup to each 500ml fruit.
Place jars on a rack or a tea towel in the bottom of a pot, choosing a large pot deep enough for the water to cover the jars by 3cm. Pour hot water over. Bring to the boil for approximately 15 minutes. Remove from the pot and place on wooden board or a tea towel to cool. Wait 24 hours and then test the seal. The lids of screw tops should have pulled down into a slightly concave position as they cool. This indicates a good seal. If it pops up when you press the top you do not have a good seal. To test the seal on glass jars with rubber seals and a clamp on top press the fruit against the lid, if any bubbles appear you do not have a good seal. It is possible to reprocess at once. Otherwise eat the food as soon as possible as it will not keep. Correctly done and stored in a cool dark place they will keep
Wild Rowanberry & apple Jelly
(again any berry and apple can be used)
1kg Wild Rowanberries, prepared
1kg cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced
3kg sugar, warmed
A little water
Cook the apples in a tiny bit of water until soft and then process
through a food mill or strain. Place berries with a little water and boil for about 10 minutes. Process these through a food mill or strain. Place berry and apple purée in a pot with the warmed sugar. Stir over the heat until the sugar is dissolved; then boil until setting point is reached. Pot into sterilised jar and cover. Store in a cool dry place.
Crab Apple Jelly (there will be a huge crop this year)
2kg Wild Crab Apples, prepared
Cut crab apples in half. Place in a pot with just enough water to barely cover. Boil rapidly until the apples are soft. Strain through a jelly bag and allow drip overnight. Measure the juice and to each 1 litre add 1Kg sugar. Place, apple liquid and sugar in a large preserving pot, heat until sugar is dissolved. Then boil rapidly until setting point is reached.
Skim carefully and pour into sterilised pots and cover.
(Again can be done with cultivated blackcurrants)
Wild Elderberry Chutney
1kg Wild Elderberries
1 large onion, finely chopped
1kg crab apples
½ litre wine or cider vinegar
75-100g brown sugar (or to taste)
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
Spices. as desired. The amount and variety is a personal choice:
consider nutmeg, cinnamon, mace, cloves, allspice, ginger, mustardseed, and chilli. Don't go mad with too many, or add too much. The balance of the sweet/sour flavour is also a matter of taste – some people like rather sweet chutney, some prefer a sour. Add less sugar to start and see how you go - it's easy to add more.
Put the elderberries in a preserving pot and give them a good mash, or a bash. Add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 12-16 minutes, or until thick. Do your final tasting at this time and make any adjustments you wish. Stir well for another minute over heat.
Pour through a wide-necked funnel into sterilised jars. It is better if the covers are not metal. Store in a cool dark place and allow to mature for several months.
Elderberry wine – you can also do Elderflower wine
Wild Elderberry Wine
2kg Wild Elderberries
1¾-2kg sugar, warmed
5 litres water
Juice of half a lemon or orange
Wine Yeast to measure
Place berries in a large pot and to help release the juice mash with a wooden potato pounder or similar utensil. Simmer the fruit in half the water for a few minutes. Stir in the sugar. Pour mixture into a fermentation bucket; add the rest of the water and the lemon juice.
When cool, sprinkle half the wine yeast on top. Cover and allow to stand for about 3 days. From this moment until fermentation is complete choose a warm place - ideally 75ºC. Strain through a jelly bag back into the bucket. Add the remaining wine yeast (you may if you wish add yeast nutrients) and, once dissolved, pour into 5 litre fermentation jars. Fit an airlock and ferment to a finish. It may then be syphoned into a clean fermentation jar (leaving the sediment behind) and allowed to clear. You can repeat this if the wine looks cloudy.
Finally syphon into sterilized bottles; cap tightly and store in a cool place. Six months is usually the time it takes to mature and bear in mind it won't improve after two years. However, experience has shown that if you'd like to try your wine at the first Christmas after bottling, try it mulled.
(This is a standard method for making a fruit liqueur with a wide varieties of hard skinned berries such as black currents, red currents)
The amount of sugar you use determines whether this results in Wild Sloe schnapps or a Wild Sloe liqueur. This version is our favourite and when complete should be served straight from the freezer, ice cold in shot glasses, to share with your friends at Christmas
1 Bottle really good gin divided (it’s for your friends, only the best!)
Enough Sugar to fill one third of the bottle
Enough Wild Sloesto fill one half of the bottle
A few shelled and peeled almonds (optional)
Fill the bottle one third full of sugar. Each sloe must be pierced with a sharp fork or a darning needle and placed at once into the bottle. Top up with the spirit of your choice refit the cap tightly. Shake to help dissolve the sugar and release the juice of the sloes. Shake once a day for seven days and once a week for seven weeks.
Half way through, you can add the almonds. At first the liquid will be tinged with pink and over the weeks it will turn darker into a rich purple.
Christmas is the traditional time to broach the bottle. In reality it is better of left for several more months. Strain and decant the liquid alone into a fresh bottle.
Now shake out the Wild Sloes, and this is the best part. Pass through a mill and use the boozy pulp to add flavour to a dessert. Syllabub, fruit fools, Ice cream, tipsy cake, boozy fairy cakes, cheesecake, plumb and almond tart immediately spring to mind but it’s also cool in scones, brioche, breads or even winter puds.
Preserving wild ceps
Preserving Wild Ceps by Drying
Cut off the base and wipe with a clean, damp cloth. If the mushrooms are large they should be cut into slices. Thread onto a thin twig or use a darning needle and very thin string or very thick button thread; a knot between each piece keeps them separated and allows them to dry faster. Hang the twig or thread in a dry, warm place - from rafters, if you possess them, or in an airing cupboard. You could also dry them in the warming drawer of a cast-iron cooker or in a very, very cool oven
(below 60°C). Once they are fully dry they may be stored in jars or paper bags; storage must be in a dry, dark place.
Preserving Wild Ceps by Ketchup
This traditional Irish Mushroom Ketchup, unlike thick gloopy tomato ketchup, is a thin, intensely flavoured, lightly spiced condiment. It can be used to add zest to a huge variety of soups, stews, and sauces, or simply when it takes your fancy. Collected by Florence Irwin, the “cookin’ woman” who taught cooking skills in rural Co. Down in Northern Ireland.
Her real passion was collecting and trying out the traditional recipes and ways within rural areas. She wrote regular articles about her discoveries in The Northern Whig and later they were collected into two books. Choose a cool place (the dairy was traditional). As the ‘mushroom season progressed, mushrooms were placed in an earthenware jar as they were gathered and each layer covered in salt’. Each time you gather some more add another layer and sprinkle salt on top and press well down. Continue until you have a thick black liquid. Pour this liquid into small ‘sterilised’ bottles with tightly fitting caps or corks. Other flavourings of your choice may be added at this stage. The most usual in Irish food culture was pepper and onion.
Preserving Wild Ceps by Relishing
Cut mushrooms into small pieces. Sprinkle well with salt. Spread out on a large dish. Cover and allow standing for 48 hours. Give them a stir occasionally. Place mushrooms and the liquid they have exuded into a pot with 200mls white wine or cider vinegar. Add a few cloves of garlic and a couple of large onions, finely chopped. Add a tablespoon of spices of your choice: peppercorns, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, or ginger. Simmer gently for about two hours. Strain through muslin and bottle in small ‘sterilised’ jars - small, because once opened this relish should be stored in the fridge and used up reasonably quickly.
Preserving Wild Ceps in Oil
For 1kg of Wild ceps, take the juice of two lemons, 3-4 cloves garlic, a few bay leaves, peppercorns, 100mls wine vinegar and 60mls rapeseed or olive oil and water, and simmer boil for fifteen minutes. Slice the Wild Ceps and place in the pot add more water if needed to bring liquid level with the mushrooms. Simmer for five minutes and allow cooling in the liquid. Drain. Place in sterilised jars and cover with oil and a well fitting cap. Add additional spices or herbs as you wish. Store in a cool, dry place.
Preserving Wild Ceps by Pickling
Although traditional Irish recipes would have been made with malt vinegar, it’s pretty harsh for modern tastes. Wine or cider vinegar might be better choices. If making a sweet/sour pickle that includes sugar you will find you’ll need a little extra sugar if using cider vinegar. With pickles the amount of spices, herbs and other flavourings are very much a matter for individual taste. So, do not feel the need to follow a recipe slavishly. If you like hot pickles feel free to use chilli, but bear in mind that you don’t want to overwhelm the flavour of the mushroom! If you are that fond of chilli make a chilli pickle!
Place prepared Ceps in a pot of salted water. Bring to the boil, remove from the heat and allow the pot to stand for five minutes. Drain and spread out and allow water to dry off. Place in sterilised jars.
Meanwhile, using a litre of wine vinegar, add peppercorns, garlic cloves lightly bruised, pickling onions, and sprigs of fresh herbs of your choice. Simmer gently for fifteen minutes. Allow to cool, pour over the mushrooms in the jars, making sure the mushrooms are fully covered. It takes several weeks for the flavour to develop.