I run around hedgerows, I pick, forage and prepare the delights for jars. I am at one with the seasons, the growing moments in the garden and hedgerow, watching how it changes, it’s magical to me. It’s all I am. This is where I belong, growing, hunting, gathering, and of course in the kitchen, that my happy place, it’s where I feel at home.
I love to sit back on occasion and reflect on the delights of the season. And tomorrow I take a step back and wonder at the magic of the world, right across the globe we all witness the equal Autumn Equinox. The day and night are the same length (12 hours) over the world. As us on the north of the world celebrate the harvest, whilst the southern side will celebrate the arrival of spring, the perfection of nature is really quite remarkable, it never fails to surprise me of its knowledge.
However it was this that made me stop and wonder at the connection of us all across the globe and how we all celebrate food and the harvest. Be it here on with our “very British” quaintness in Sunday church services collecting hampers of goodies, to hand out or in our school assemblies highlighting a need to share our bounty at this time of year. However in Italy they do it daily, be it in small hamlets, villages, towns and even houses holds alone on hill side they all stop and celebrate the weekly harvest delights. Anything from the humble chickpea, to the prized white truffle with everything in between be it soft basil or hazelnuts. Just about every little herb, fruit, vegetable, is held up and has place in everyone’s garden, and the plate playing an important role of nutriment and well-being giving balance to the harvest. Just like a mother with her family.
So tomorrow I wait in the morning dark for the first glimpse of the sun rising above the cliff tops and from behind the island nestled in the Solent. I will count my lucky stars and feel at one with nature and the world. It’s harvest time, a time of crazy busyness for me. Its not just a moment, I will celebrate on a day basis, the different fruit and vegetables coming into season and being ready as if by magic all at once!
The long days have suddenly becoming shorter, as if nature is telling me to preserve, pickle and gather in all the bounty. However my days are not shorter, they are long in hours if not daylight so I can fill my shelfs with jars of all sizes and shapes. I just love it.
A lot has happen in 8 years, it’s been jammy! I wanted to share with you when it really started, and it was in 1862! Yes 1862, someone in my family had the vision of writing down a jam recipe and fortunately it was passed on, and reached me via an original copy of Mrs Beeton cook book, my mum’s treasured air loom , something she treasured and loving looked after, with its battered pages. I loaned this book after the death of my mother just a few years ago. In it was this recipe with other’s from that time. I was overwhelmed and totally tearful and elated all at the same time. I found wedding flowers pressed and other memories, alongside cutout and hand written recipes saved for cooking inspiration, that had been stored gently and carefully between the pages, of this cook book. So I may have been cooking jam as a “job” for 8 years but in reality it’s in my DNA and I’ve been cooking since at least 1862! It’s what I’m meant to do so tonight without fear I shall raise a glass to my ancestors, but more importantly to my teacher and inspirational mother, alongside my sister. In this my 1862 year!
Finally I would like to dedicate this next year, and the secret new jam to Stuart Bailey 4th April 1949- 21st February 2019, a friend and a good man.
Something is troubling me, for about a week or two, that set me on this path and I wanted to share it with you. My friend asked me what’s your favourite meal your mum cooked for you, that special dish if you could have it now what would it be?
An innocent question that stopped me in my tracks. My mind wonders and I am cross I can’t think.
I reconnect with the question for over two weeks, I can’t think, I wonder through the memories of dinner parties, the chocolate eclairs at the winter wonderland party , the apple pies with cinnamon pasty and slices of quince.
Am I going mad? I could cry as I don’t have a favourite, I have failed I can’t think of a single dish. I conclude that as her cooking was so legendary it must be that, that’s stopping me choose.
There must be that one? like to love of your life, you just know. But I don’t and I feel I have failed my mum, by not having a favourite. I’ve become obsessed with it, I wake up and wonder what it would be if I could sit down now and eat her cooking. I almost settle with the battered oysters, then the nettle soup, I finally finish on the treacle pudding, but NO there’s more!
Its only when I reach the quince tart that I stop dead in my tracks I travel through time and I’m in the kitchen, my mums smile fills the room my dad’s cheeky funny self is entertaining her, she slightly flushed from the warmth of the aga, and the air is filled with the smell of roasted pheasant, I can almost taste the potatoes as their slightly earthy aroma steams from the pan as they cook. A large green cabbage is on the side waiting to be chopped and added to the pan. The plates are added to the bottom oven and I catch the smell of a quince tart as the door closes.
The kitchen is starting to fill up with pans some on the heat some push aside I beg for nutmeg butter, to go with my cabbage and watch as she turns the squash in the roasting tray, as they jostle for space with the carrots. I feel the warmth of the room as it fills my soul with such joy. YES I’ve remembered it’s! My Favourite dish, I want to go home, right now, I want to go to Barland Cottage and lay the table, put out the serving dishes, stoke the fire and sit expecting while my mum brings the table to life. My dad makes a joke, and my mum’s laughter fills the air we giggle, after all, he’s funny. I can safely say I’ve remembered the dish its Roast Pheasant that’s my all-time favourite and something I’ve not been able to cook since my mum died. I miss my mums cooking, I miss roast pheasant.
Quince’s have been grown for centuries, a fruit that is a quiet king of the orchard, a truly magnificent fruit. Here in England they are misunderstood, overlooked and underused, so get out and find your quince he may look like a frog but once you cook it it turns into a prince. Something as simple as adding quince to an apple pie, will change your taste buds forever. It is like nothing on this earth will ever be the same again.
Quince has always been the pinnacle of the year for me although I have other fruit to pick and more than enough plums, pears, apples and hedgerow fruit to turn into jam, but I can hardly await the moment of the quince. He normally ripens at the end of an orchard year. He makes us wait until October and sometimes even November. A crowning glory of the orchard garden, if the seasons play by the books and the weather plays her part, he arrives like an ugly duckling awkward and very different! Growing in form, just like a misshapen pear, sometimes resembling that of a teardrop. He has pale yellow soft skin that covers an unusually hard fruit, but once you have managed to peel and chop into its flesh his beauty and scent will intoxicate you, but be warned once you have cooked this remarkable, unique fruit and witness how it gives up its beauty and it shines and glows, you will be addictive, and forever under it’s spell.
So as I turn fruit into a jam and below I have shared my mum’s recipe with you.
For this recipe your need the usual equipment a large pan, wooden spoon, glass jars, lids, a jelly bag and stand. (if you don’t have a stand you can always tie it to an upturned stool, or chair.)
This recipe is similar to crab apple jelly, it the fact you just need to check your quinces for disease and bruises and add them to a pan and cover with enough water to boil them into a pulp.
I have given a weight but to be honest the weight of the fruit before cooking really is not important, so long as you have a fair amount of fruit to cover the bottom of your pan.
1kg of quince chopped (no need to peel or core)
enough water to cover the quinces
Juice of a large lemon
Brush off any dirt from the fruit and check for bruised or diseased, chop up the quinces (no need to peel or core) and place in pan with enough water to cover the fruit, cook on a low heat until the fruit has turned to mush this can take some time, especially if the fruit is very hard.
Once cooked place in a jelly bag and drip over night
Measure the juice and place in a jam pan (or heavy based pan) for each 570ml you will need add 454g of sugar.
Slowly dissolve the sugar and add the lemon juice.(you could add geranium leaves at this point)
Once the sugar is dissolved bring to the boil and check for setting point.( I have found that this sets very well and you need to have your jars ready to go)
Once the sugar has dissolved (about 5-8mins) bring the pan to a rolling boil
Remove from heat & check for setting point.
Carefully remove jars from oven.
Ladle jam into jars seal with clean lids
Label once cool.
If you have now fallen for the quince, and would like to try something a little more you could simply poach the fruit in a sugar syrup the same as you would do for a pear. Peel the quinces and slice into 4 add these to a sugar syrup with a vanilla pod
4 quinces peeled quartered and cored
350g of sugar
1 liter of water
1 vanilla pod.
Heat the water, and vanilla sugar until it’s dissolved, add the peeled quinces and slowly bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 45-60 mins. ( you could always bake them in the syrup in covered on a low heat for a few hours.)
The spring and summer cause great issues for foragers in the fact what do we pick first? There is so much ready all at once that it drives me mad, I work on average this time of year 18 hours, plus a day, the phone rings off the hook with many friends, family, and customers with news of a find, a new secret place to forage or they do indeed a glut of fruit that needs picking and of course (anyone who cooks will tell you this ) they all demand, new and interesting for recipes along with special tips and new ideas! I do my best and there’s the garden to tend too. Would I change it? No! Do I love it yes.
However this year I am picking Rowan berries before elderberries that is a first for me. Elderberries need cooking before you eat them they can make you ill if uncooked.
The Leaves and stems mustn’t be used and these too can make you quite ill. So cook them first. So yes you can make an amazing syrup, jam and jelly but here I like to tell you about a soup.
To get to the soup we first have to travel back in time to Barland Estate in Powys Wales and into Garden Cottage. In the garden the plums are ready to pick, loganberries are ripping fast each day against the walled garden space dripping with flavour, the apples are promising a bumper crop and I am still picking raspberries, strawberries and of course, the currant cage is not giving in just yet. Our freezers are full and the larder is filling up. It’s early August and the kitchen hot from the Rayburn. A constant smell of cooking fruit fills our house.
A large bowl of water with a small hint of wine, is on the heat, the air is filled with warm smells, first the fresh fruity aroma, then a whisper of cinnamon with undertones of honey fill the air in between and remind me that the summer not going to last forever, my choice of school has been my undoing. I will at the end of this month get back on the bus and although my days will be busy, I not be with my mum & dad, my little brother and of the mad dog “hop along Cassidy” and I will miss them all so much along with the garden full of fruit and flowers, dinner will become just food. I indeed missed them more than I ever told them. (Turn back the clock).
My mum’s storytelling was always fascinating and all the time she was passing on everything she learnt, she had a thirst for knowledge, and her desire to pass on everything she knows was so important. She was like a missionary spreading and sharing the word! Especially when she was in the kitchen, so as she cooked she told stories, and apart from cooking lessons we had, history lessons, art lessons and life lessons! Why, and how certain dishes came about why we forage and the importance of not forgetting what we once knew.
My mum was and is still my hero, she could cook anything and did indeed cook everything, and could make a meal from nothing. Her heart still beats in mine and although I miss her every single day I know she is with me every second. She made me who I am today, she taught me the love of life, passion and of course cooking. She was outstanding at everything especially making soups, from all most anything from the garden. Even the hardened meat eater couldn’t resist her delicious green and bean soup. So as the seasons changed and slowly moved on so did the recipes and the soup. I not sure I could even to this day give you my favourite choice if I was to choose? Then I would choose them all a small tiny cup of each starting with the pea, then cold fennel, but always finishing with the Elderberry soup.
Elderberry Soup recipe
1.5 litres of water
500g of Elderberries
2 tablespoons of Lemon Juice (one large lemon)
100ml of white wine
1 stick of cinnamon
A little arrowroot to thicken or you can have this without if you would like a thin soup.
Place on the heat water, wine, lemon juice and spice.
Pick the elderberries off the stalks, discarding any leaves and stalks.
Add carefully to the warm water, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and cook gently for 10-15 mins
The fruit will so mushy, Add a teaspoon of honey at this point.
Strain the fruit and press out the juice. Then return the soup to the pan. (Discard the pulp)
If you would like a thicker soup, mix the arrow route with a drop of cold water and the rest of the lemon juice and pour into the soup and now season to your taste.
Return to a soft heat and slowly bring to a light boil to cook the arrowroot and thicken the soup.
Serve with roasted ground cobnuts and sourdough bread croutons drizzled with honey.
Possible side effects (Autoimmune diseases” such as multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), or other conditions: Elderberry might cause the immune system to become more active, and this could increase the symptoms of autoimmune diseases. If you have one of these conditions, it’s best to avoid using elderberry.)