How to sterilise jam jars

Sterilising your jam or chutney jars is easy

Sterilising your jam or chutney jars is easy

In my recipes I will often tell you to put your jam, chutney etc into sterilised jars. This sounds difficult but is really easy to do at home, without the need for expensive sterilising chemicals and equipment.

You just need to wash the jars in hot soapy water (but not too hot so the jars crack), then rinse and drain. Heat up your oven to a low temperature (about 120 degrees for electric ovens, or gas mark 2). Then put the jars & lids into the oven and leave for about 10-15 mins. When the time is up and either put your mixture straight into the jars if the recipe says so, or leave to cool. Personally, I like to put the mixture into hot jars and leave to cool.

Autumn Veg Harvest

Went out in the garden just now to see if any of the autumn veg was ready and worth picking. Was pleased to see that some of it was! The squashes are ripening up nicely and the sweetcorn extracted milky juices when pricked so that means that is ready too. Still getting the last of the tomatoes and looks like my second sowings of beetroot and carrots back in July are just about ready to pick also.

Autumn veg harvested today, squashes, sweetcorn and tomatoes

Autumn veg harvested today, squashes, sweetcorn and tomatoes

Damson Gin Recipe

Use wild damsons or sloes to make tasty gin

Use wild damsons or sloes to make tasty gin

A great way to make use of wild damsons, or sloes. We have ample of both here in Pitstone, near Tring, Herts. In fact the area is famous for them! The Aylesbury prune I think it is called.

To make about 1 litre:

450g damsons or sloes, pricked
225g sugar (or 450g for sloe gin)
600ml gin

Wash the fruit and prick if not picked after the first frosts (a frost softens the fruit and gives a kick start to releasing the juices). Put the damsons or sloes into a large bottle and tip over the sugar. Pour in the gin and then shake well to mix the fruit in with it.

You will then need to shake daily for about a week to prevent the sugar settling in the bottom. Then shake regularly and taste if you like for the next 6-8 weeks. Once you have a good flavour and all the fruit juices have instilled, strain the mixture through a fine sieve and pour the liquor into bottles.

Try and leave the gin for 12-18 months before drinking, so it won’t be ready this Christmas, but maybe next year. So always have a batch in hand!

Autumn Foraging Notes

Another thing I enjoy at this time of year is gathering all that the hedgerows have to offer, to make into lovely jams, jellies, syrups and pickles. The kitchen has never been used so much in the past few weeks!

After making some chutneys as reported in previous posts, I’ve also tried my hand at jams and jellies. The abundance of blackberries we have (garden and hedgerow) has been excellent for stocking up our storecupboard with jars of jam and blackberry liquer (looking forward to tasting that!). Some elderberries may have found their way in too! I gathered some rowan berries the other week also, to turn into jelly. The juice has been extracted (although couldn’t resist squeezing the bag to get more juice, oh well, cloudy jelly), and just have to boil up with some sugar to make the jelly. I’m told this is good with game, particularly venison, one of my faves.

Damson gin is also happily getting ready for Christmas (although perhaps not this year). I have tried two recipes, so after some no doubt enjoyable tastings, will let you know which one is best. A few of you may be thinking this is normally made with sloes, but again I am told damson gin is a worthy alternative.

Talking of sloes, I finally found some in the hedgerows last night (whilst on a lovely evening walk). They are very soft and squidgy so will be excellent for gin, but now I have damson on the go I might try and do something else with the sloes. Any ideas? They are in the freezer at the moment, so we will see what they look like when they come out.

The other thing I spied last night that I would like to make use of is lots of lovely rosehips. I’ll be going back shortly to gather some for syrup. This will be good to have in the cupboard for winter colds etc, as is packed with Vitamin C!

Getting ready for Winter

Been so busy in the garden and kitchen these past few weeks, so not much time to write. So just thought I would report quickly on what we’ve been up to in the garden to prepare for the next season of growing.

We’ve always wanted to have a year-round vegetable garden so after studying several books and magazines, the next to-do list was created for Autumn/Winter 2009.

The first thing to do was to clear away some old summer crops. The courgette plants had finished cropping at last, so they were the first to go. Then cleared away old potato tops, peas and skeletal cabbages (thanks to caterpillars!) etc. Also tidied the trailing squashes which were nicely making their way around the garden. Should have some ready for the pot soon.

Next job was to stake the taller brassicas ready for those autumnal winds. Our curly kale and sprouts are now nicely tied in and seeds sown for spring cabbages. Also planted out were the savoy cabbages I had patiently growing in modules waiting for space. Not seen many white butterflies lately to think our brassicas are now safe(ish) from harm. Just picking the odd one or two caterpillars that we see off and banish to the end of the garden!

So that left the sowings to do. In went spinach and swiss chard into the space of one bed, with radishes, winter salads, and onion/garlic filling the gaps in others. Trying to plant them bearing in mind a crop rotation system, so new sowings went into 2010 positions. Not much room for green manures, but will dig in some of our own compost later.

So all that was about two weeks ago and pleased to see some shoots peeping their way above ground today. At the end of this month, before the frosts start,  I’ll be collecting the last of the tomatoes to either ripen indoors on thier vines, or make into green tomato chutney. Yum! The next thing to do this weekend is to start to cover up the A/W crops with cloches and get those last onion sets in!