Sunday, 29 September 2013

Making Jellies

Jellies - not the wobbly ones we had when we were kids - and what happened to them anyway? Do children these days still have jelly? What about Blancmange? Perhaps the jellies are still going, but as an adult I have moved on....lots of things are like that. Pogo sticks, roller skates and other dangerously innocuous children's toys that didn't hurt me when I was younger... I also heard that jellies aren't as nice as they used to be because of all the preservatives and other additions they are now laced with - sherbet lemons aren't the same either - The best jellies are those made with real fruit and not much else....

Anyway, I digress - how easy it is to go off on a tangent and allow ones thoughts to wander into areas not contemplated at the outset - oh oh.....

Jellies - not the wobbly ones but the preserves - are jams without the bits. This can be incredibly useful for quick preserving or for retaining the integrity of the taste without the texture which may not be required. Sometimes too, the fruit can be overly tough skinned (some plums, damsons, apples, gooseberries, currants), over pipped (raspberries, gooseberries) or stoned (apricots, peaches, plums etc.)

Jellies are also incredibly easy to produce.

This is a general recipe, for which only two real items of equipment are required - a large, good, robust pan and a jelly bag or muslin cloth. Jelly bags and stands are relatively cheap and available at most kitchen THIS ONE

There is also one absolutely useful tip that should not be ignored - but that comes later dear reader, so you must read on...

Another great thing about making jelly is that it happens in three distinct stages thereby not taking up a whole half day if you don't want to do it all in one - you can spread it over a day or two. You could even freeze the results after the second stage if you absolutely have to, if time constraints make finishing it all off difficult.

Stage One

Choosing your fruit needs to take into account the amount of pectin that fruit contains - it is the pectin that enables the jam to reach a setting point. Apples contain pectin and are therefore used in many jelly recipes - especially with soft fruits like blackberries, but any search on the net will determine the fruits which are high in pectin and those which are not, for example, orange flesh is low in pectin but the skin, pith and pips are high, so when we make marmalade we use the pips and pith during part of the process to extract the pectin required to give the jam its lovely jammy consistency.

Pectin added sugars are available and, of course, I use this in my Kelly's Chili Jelly recipe HERE This enables you to make pure fruit jams and jellies if you want to.

However, once you have chosen your fruit just chop it up roughly (if necessary) and put it all in your large pan with around 600 mils of water per kilogramme of fruit and boil it all until it is soft.

Stage Two

Set up your jelly bag or muslin sheet and put all the fruit into it  and allow it all to drip into a container large enough to take it about a litre and a half of liquid.

Now here is the one tip you must NOT ignore:

Do NOT squeeze the fruit, allow it to drip slowly, at its own pace. This way you will make a clear jelly, any pressure will result in a cloudy finished product. What we want is a sparklingly clean and clear final result so allow it to drip over night if possible. 

Using the jelly bag...

Stage Three

Measure your clean, clear liquid and then pour it into your large pan again. Once it has begun to warm up add three quarters of the amount of your measured liquid and stir in until dissolved. So if you had one litre of fluid, add 750 grams of sugar. Liquid weights and solid weights are the same here so weight equals volume. If you have an odd amount add a little liquid to bring it up to an easy calculation. Simple. 

Now bring it all to a rollicking, rolling boil and keep this going until setting point. 

I have written about this before HERE

Once it has set, pour it into sterilised jars as HERE 

you can make jellies from most things but this time of year with so many apples around I make Herby apple jelly with Bramley apples and either rosemary, sage or thyme chopped very very finely and added late in the boling process. Having added a lot of the herb during stage one, the flavour is mostly there anyway, this final addition looks nice and adds some last minute flavour hits. Try it with any meat dish, in casseroles, curries,  with mackerel and with cheese it's delicious.

Alternatively take a kilo of chopped apples, a kilo of blackberries and use the entire process above to make a wonderfully tangy jelly suitable for toast, sandwiches and is fun and it helps preserve summer for use in the winter....what could be better than a taste of summer days on a cold, wet January teatime?

Setting Point

I often talk about this when making jams and jellies, so I thought I would post it separately to ease the finding of it for everyone.

Take out the dish from the freezer and drop some liquid from the pot onto it. Push the liquid with your finger. If it wrinkles, setting point is reached and you can remove the pan from the heat.

You will get some notice; the liquid becomes gloopier, thicker and has a different smell, but keep your eyes on it, it can catch quickly and burn on the bottom of the pan, spoiling the taste. If not reached boil for a few more minutes and test again.

Once setting point is achieved, remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool down for 10 - 15 minutes. This is to allow the peel to be evenly distributed throughout the mix. If not allowed to cool it will all float to the top of the jars - aesthetically unpleasing...

Jar it up and seal the jars as detailed previously HERE.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Outdoors...Observations and Oddities

Walking with the Kelly Kettle for brews..

I'm not a patient person.

In fact my daughter has been known to call me The Dwarf Doctor - a man of little patients (!!!)

So it may come as a surprise to those who know me that on our recent trip to Scotland I spent some time just sitting around chilling out, reading my books, writing and playing guitar. I don't have much time for any of those things normally - as many of us who have the exigencies of life thrust upon us will know - leisure time is hard to come by.

Yet in Scotland I seem to have the ability to slow down - and this was not a pure holiday trip, work was commingled with holiday time but still this capacity to relax, unwind and not pester the life out of my wife - all of which are so difficult under normal circumstances and even on vacations take days to achieve - was accomplished almost instantly.

Not a soul to be seen....anywhere!

I think it's Scotland. Since I first drove through Glen Coe in November 1990 I have had a love affair with the country that has led, at times, to an almost insane need to get there, even if it's only for a weekend. Even now after 23 years Frankie knows that any trip to Scotland - even one with the most time demanding work schedule - will cheer up even the darkest of moods, the most miserable of days.

We saw these beauties on a walk straight out of our front door

I recently had a fantastic holiday on the island of Madeira (and if you get the chance to go you really should) but I noticed even there that it took two or three days to completely unwind and settle into "holiday time". It's a wonderful place and the ability for the islands to grow crops on even the most inaccessible or tiniest of plots fired me up to work extra hard on my own garden this year and with great success I might add, but nothing helps me to relax like Scotland. Nothing else gives me the ability to stop and look around, to slow my mind into the pace of the countryside, the beauty, the rolling fields, the monolithic mountains and the tumbling rivers like this country does. I even find myself driving slower on the motorway home..

We only saw a handful of other people on this glorious September day

However, there is one British phenomenon which upsets me so much that I am at times speechlessly bemused but which doesn't seem to happen in Scotland quite so much. Yet it does happen and due to the nature of the Scottish landscape, its beauty, its accessibility and its availability to all, the occurrence of these paradoxical events are all the more upsetting.

I'm talking about the outdoor trip to a car park.

This is the marvel that is outdoor picnics, drinks and sometimes even barbecues within 50 feet of a car. The great British drive to the Country, Seaside or Park, the unloading of camp chairs, flasks, food and all the paraphernalia of the kitchen just to sit within sight of the car, eat the food drink the drink take a long look at the wonderful scenery and then to turn ones back on it, get back into the car and drive away.

Where I live, in our country cottage we have a wonderful first hand view of this oddity as mile upon mile of cars pass by towards Hastings and the coast, beginning at about 10 am every Bank Holiday and returning at around 6 pm the same day. The thought of those thousands of people filling up every pebble of space on the beach, squeezing into every Fish and Chip Shop and fighting for every car parking space makes my blood freeze. We are so lucky to have about 770 acres of wonderfully cared for National Trust land on our doorstep yet of the 2000 to 3000 people who visit here every Bank Holiday Weekend only a few dozen or so walk the entire Estate, most of the visitors never make it past the Cafe and Shop.

Our coastline has endless miles of walks, available to all

This is so sad, I understand that we are all different and many of us enjoy these shared experiences, but sitting in traffic fumes for hours, jostling for breathing space and food is not my idea of fun. There is still an awful lot of outdoors available - in fact in Scotland there is a legal Right to Roam, to make the most of ALL the land and countryside, to walk for as long or as far as you wish. In England and Wales there are miles and miles of coastal paths, country parks, National Parks and footpaths lovingly documented and drawn up by assiduous, country loving people in every community - our local Pub even has cards of nearby walks available to all.

The Outdoors is there for everyone, walking is free and healthy and there is so much to discover. I don't even mind if you come and walk around here, just enjoy it and respect it, take your litter home;

Take only Photographs and Memories and leave only footprints.

And most rivers have miles of walkable banks - this is the Itchen

Sunday, 8 September 2013

The River Tay

A Typical Tay Brownie...

The pretty town of Kenmore lies at the eastern end of Loch Tay in the heart of the Highlands and we arrived here just as summer was ending with a late, warm flourish as if to give us a final reminder of how lucky we have been with the weather this year. Temperatures soared all over the country, but in Scotland that just makes early September just a little more special.

it was a mild, still morning as I drove through the village at 6 am towards the river which runs out of this end of the loch towards Pitlochry further east.  The baker was parked outside the hotel, but apart from a lone dog walker, the village seemed sleepy and slow. The sky was a pale pink in the east as the sun began its gentle ascent into the Scottish air and I struggled to see the fishing line in the early light as I threaded it through the rod rings, but within five minutes or so I had squeezed myself into the chest waders like too much sausage meat in too little skin - but they do still fit after all these years - just, and they don't leak either - and was headed towards the river Tay and a few brown trout, I hoped.  

It was a calm day, but the river is wild and fast in places so I carefully eased my way from the bank and, as always in these times, my main concern regarding the inevitability of my falling in was the welfare of my iPhone - a sad indictment of how these small items of technology have become absolutely indispensable - in fact as I sit here writing this blog on my iPad, my laptop is loading up some Show Of Hands CDs we bought at the Folk Festival last weekend in order to add them to my iPod and my iPhone is buzzing next to me as my e-mails start to come through - and I'm in the heart of the Scottish Highlands using Paul's dongle to connect. 

My father won't have understood a word of that last sentence!


For an hour or so I tottered around the river striving to remain upright, casting across the river and allowing the flies to drift to pretty much no avail. Time for a rethink.

I sat on the bank and re-tied my leader with brown chameleon, which was much finer and darker than my previous line, tied on two smaller flies - a nymph on the point and a pennell on the dropper. I wobbled and slid my way back out into the flow and cast diagonally into the centre of the river and on this first cast I hooked a trout of about 10 inches in length - I love it when a change makes a difference - it makes me believe I am thinking like a real fishermen....

I had three more in the next 40 minutes, one fish slightly larger and two smaller, on both the point fly and the dropper - this latter fish giving a startling, splashy take that almost caused me to topple over backwards - so the re-tie was a useful exercise in the end. It was time to drive back to home made bread and a bacon and egg breakfast in a wonderful house looking down on the placid loch and with two dogs trying to stare me into submission of my sandwich....

Early morning stillness...