Two of the things for which we are becoming famous – if that does not sound immodest – are our baking and our preserves.
Bread and Jam
Bread, the staff of life, is more of a concept than a specific food. It occurs all over the world made from varying grains, with or without yeast, from a simple flour and water mix to complicated enriched doughs studded with nuggets of every sweet and savoury kind; the basis of a myriad meals. From Bara Brith in Wales, to French sticks, to Indian pittas.
Jam, on the other hand, is in no way an essential. It is a luscious, delicious treat which brings memories of summer joy to the colder months and is a perfect way of keeping the fruit harvest to hand with the simplest technology.
A Multitude of Preserves
You will know by now that I am choosy to a fault. I only really like two preserves: Seville orange marmalade - on toast – and strawberry jam – on fresh white bread and butter or with scones and clotted cream. However, I make many different types of jams, jellies and curds for gifts and for sale and I do keep a few jars of jelly for adding to winter stews and gravies.
Preparing for the New Season
Over the past week I have been clearing the freezer of all stored fruit in readiness for the beginning of the new season.
We had a glut of gooseberries last summer and so I feel able to make a jelly, the most profligate of preserves, as the skins, pips and some of the flesh is discarded (but only to The Great Redeemer, so it will end up doing good).
The story here is of the most beautiful colour change from pale yellowy green when the fruit is raw to a carnelian red when the jelly is bottled. I feel very pleased with this row of jewel-like jars shining on the sunny window sill as they cool. If you are lucky enough to have a piece of rump steak to fry for your dinner, de-glaze the pan with a spoonful of this then add two or three spoonfuls of crème fraîche for a perfect sauce.
At the other end of the scale, I find several small quantities of wild foraged hedgerow fruits gathered last autumn and stowed piecemeal. There are elderberries, crabapples and two kinds of plum: the wild bullace and a green one similar to a gage. I decide that this will make a pleasing combination with sweetly fruity elder balanced with sharp crabs, given a substantial, sticky quality by the plums. It is a great success and produces a result so dense and black that the light scarcely penetrates it. A spoonful of this will raise a rabbit casserole to gourmet fare.
How to make a Jelly
- Take whatever fruit is available in quantity
- Barely cover with water and simmer until very soft
- Crush with a potato masher
- Strain through muslin (I use a traditional baby muslin tied to the legs of an up-turned stool) and leave to drip. Squeezing will produce a cloudy jelly so go and watch a film or have an early night
- Measure your juice and – apologies to the modernists, but imperial units are easy to remember – add one pound of sugar for every pint. Do, by all means, convert this if you wish!
- In a pan at least three times the volume of the liquid, bring to the fastest boil possible and test for setting
- There are many methods: between 103 - 105 degrees c (depending on the weather and height above sea level) either listen for the hissing bubbles to begin sounding like louder, slower ‘plops’, or wait for drips to turn to ‘flakes ‘ as they fall from the spoon
- I do a bit of each and then, when I feel that I have a set coming, push my finger along the back of the spoon and put it in my mouth. I can feel the jelly forming and I know that it is time to pot up
Not a bread recipe, but a recipe using bread. This idea is found in many cultures and, when you have the basic concept, you will think of many variations to suit your family’s tastes.
Breconshire Breakfast Pudding
For each person:
- Two slices of white bread, crusts removed
- One egg
- 120ml milk
- A pinch of dry mustard powder
- 15g grated cheddar
Dice the bread (use the crusts to make garlic and olive oil croutons for an evening snack) and place in the base of an oven proof dish, well buttered. Beat the egg lightly, add the mustard and cheese, beat until well blended and then incorporate the milk. Pour over your bread, cover and leave in a cool place overnight.
In the morning, put on your chosen topping – chopped sausage and a scissor-snipped rasher of bacon for the meat eaters, cherry tomatoes, pierced, and quartered mushrooms for the vegetarians are favourites with us.
Bake for up to an hour in a medium oven, making sure that the toppings brown a little. In the Aga I start at the top of the lower oven and brown for a short while near the end of the cooking time in the top.
This is great food to feed a crowd as the preparation can be done in the quiet of the evening and the cooking is easy in the morning when you are busy.
Jam today, bread tomorrow morning.
Find out more about our other produce.