10 October 2014
I spent some time earlier this year researching festivals and noting their dates. If they fit in with what else we are doing then we observe them. It was the Autumn Equinox last month and as I was reading about it I was struck by the similarity of what the author suggests to do at this time of year and what we are already doing in our own lives which I do through my own experiences with my mother and grandmother.
While the summer speaks to me of being outside as much as possible enjoying its warm envelope and long days, the autumn is about readiness and preparation. Preparing for the cold times ahead when the home is the heart of our lives and where we are wrapped in warmth. Preparation of food for consumption in the wanter and early spring by preserving it so that it keeps. In the part of the world we live the growing season has a beginning and end, defined by the seasons, we are not able to grow enough food to live on all year round. Often at the end of our growing season we have a glut of produce most of which would not keep unless it is eaten straight away or preserving it, allowing us to eat our produce for longer. There are many ways that good can be preserved, using tried and tested recipes or, with much trepidation, new ones often you have to leave whatever you have made for a few months before eating it is a long time to wait to see if a recipe has worked!
We are lucky enough to have the space for a chest freezer. It is in our garage and is model that is designed to be located in an unheated space. It is usually quite full at this time of year and I am getting better at organising it, although you wouldn't think it when you open the lid. One item we have in abundance in there is frozen fruit. We are not big jam eaters so if we have a lot of fruit either from the garden, foraged for or given to us I usually freeze it in the first instance and use it up over the following months. Last year I froze over 20lbs of fruit, this year I suspect it is the same I have yet to add it all up. I use this fruit to make puddings and cakes mostly but I am going to make more fruit leathers with it this winter, experimenting with different flavours!
I have also been making and freezing soup. We eat a lot of soup in the winter and they make a great addition to a picnic. It is always handy to have some on standby..............I have been using courgettes and cucumbers from the garden. The courgettes have been made into this recipe frozen before the cheese is added. The cucumbers using this recipe given to me by a friend:
1 bulb fennel
1 onion or 6 shallots or several spring onions
1 pint vegetable stock
1 tbsp parsley chopped
Chop onion and slice fennel, fry in butter. Slice cucumber and add with stock and cayenne to pan. Simmer until fennel is soft. Blend and add parsley. I omit the parsley if I am freezing and add when I have reheated.
I grew gherkins for the first time this year. They were moderately successful and I would grow them again. They didn't fruit as much as the cucumbers but I think that may be down to neglect on my part, they weren't getting as much water for a start. The gherkins that did grow were large, I expect that if you want to have a mass of smaller fruits, like the sort you buy, you need to tend to the plant more and pick the fruits more. The few I did pick at a smaller size had gone mouldy by the time I had enough to fill a jar. I think I need to learn more about growing gherkins before trying again. Undaunted I decided to pickle the large ones I had by chopping them into pieces and using a recipe I adapted from Festivals, Family and Food:
2 Tablespoons Salt
1 fluid oz White Wine Vinegar
2 pints water bought to the boil
Jar - clean and sterilised
Wash and scrub the gherkins, slice into pieces. I chopped mine into bite size pieces, some slices are whole, some halved, some quartered. In the bottom of the jar sprinkle some dill and about 1/2 teaspoon of the pickling spices. Add the gherkin pieces until jar is almost full. Place a bit more dill on top. Mix together the salt, vinegar and water to make a brine and pour into jar whilst it is still hot. Store for three months before eating, I hope they taste good!
I have pickled onions for years, I remember doing this each year with my mother making a huge batch as my family loved these. I have grown pickling onions in the past but I don't find the sets for sale that often round my way, I often end up buying the onions to pickle. I grew onions this year and about half of them were very small, I know that you are supposed to use pickling onions for pickling (they have a slightly milder flavour) but I thought I would pickle my tiny ones. Although I have been pickling for years I have yet to share my recipe:
White Wine or Malt Vinegar
Jars - clean and sterilised
Peel onions and put in a big bowl. Make a wet brine with 50g salt to each pint of cold water. Pour the brine over the onions placing a plate and a weight on top to ensure that all the onions remain in the brine. Leave for the desired amount of time, 24 hours will give you crisp onions (my preference) you can leave for up to 48 hours depending on how crisp you like them. Meanwhile prepare the vinegar with a teaspoon to a tablespoon (we prefer the latter) of pickling spices to each pint of vinegar. You can place the spices in a muslin bag or strain them out at the end, either way put them in pan with the vinegar and boil steadily for 15 minutes, leave to cool. I usually find that 3lbs of onions needs 1 pint of vinegar. Drain and rinse very thoroughly. Put the onions into your jar(s) and pour the cool vinegar over, seal down and leave for three months.
I have made one jar with my own onions and will buy some more pickling onions to make some more, we eat a lot of pickled onions in our house!
I have also pickled cucumbers using this recipe.
We have once again made rosehip syrup this year, using rosehips picked in a friends garden. They are supposed to taste better after a frost, sweeter apparently. I made mine before the frost, just, I should have waited as we had a very heavy one this week! I froze my berries before I made the syrup which has the same effect as a frost, apparently............I have been enjoying this on my porridge each morning.
I first made fruit leather last year it took me a while to get the temperature and times right for my oven. So do persevere if they don't work at first they are well worth it! I had only made them using apples so I tried blackcurrants this time, cooking them with a little honey into a puree. I strained them through a sieve to get rid of the pips, spread them out onto the baking tray and cooked/dried in oven. They were really good although a little sharp I might use a touch more honey next time. I have a freezer full of fruit so am going to experiment with a few other fruits and combinations..........
I still have a few more cucumbers that need attention, probably into pickles. Sadly the apples orchard that we usually go and pick apples in yielded a poor crop this year only enough for a weeks worth of eating apples. This means I was not able to freeze apples as I usually do or make apple chutney and apple butter. I will just have to find another source of apples for this year!
Do you do any preserving? Do you have any recipes to share.............