Strawberry Jam

Ingredients:

1kg hulled strawberries

750g jam sugar

juice 1 lemon

small knob of butter

 

Method:

Put the strawberries in a bowl (cut any large ones in half) and gently toss through the sugar. Leave uncovered at room temperature for 12 hrs or overnight. This process helps the sugar to dissolve, ensures the fruit doesn’t disintegrate too much and helps to keep its vibrant colour.

 

Before starting the jam, put 2 saucers in the freezer. Tip the strawberry mixture into a preserving pan with the lemon juice. Set over a low heat and cook very gently until all of the sugar is dissolved.

 

Boil hard for 5-10 mins until the jam has reached 105C on a preserving or digital thermometer, then turn off the heat. If you don’t have a thermometer, spoon a little jam onto one of the cold saucers. Leave for 30 secs, then push with your finger; if the jam wrinkles and doesn’t flood to fill the gap, it is ready. If not, turn the heat back on and boil for 2 mins more, then turn off the heat and do the wrinkle test again. Repeat until ready.

 

Use a spoon to skim any scum that has risen to the surface and discard this. Do this only once at the end, rather than constantly during the boiling stage, to reduce wastage.

Add a knob of butter, if you like, to the finished jam, and stir in to melt. This will help to dissolve any remaining scum that you haven’t managed to spoon off the top. Leave the jam to settle for 15 mins – this will ensure that the fruit stays suspended in the mixture and doesn’t all float to the top of the jam jar.

 

Ladle into warm, sterilised jars, filling to just below the rim, then cover with a lid or a cellophane circle and elastic band. The jam can be stored for up to 1 year in a cool, dry place. Refrigerate after opening.

 

Makes 4 to 5 jars

Flaming June

This weekend has been a scorcher with temperatures in the 30’s.  That’s made getting anything done in the garden a challenge, so I’ve contented myself with some weeding and deadheading in among the flower beds in between the early morning and late evening bouts of watering.

The roses and peonies are looking stunning (main picture and these) and the garden is full of the scents of summer.

The bees are busy collecting pollen and the poppies are laying their heavy heads on the warm soil.

As well as bringing out the best in the flower borders the sun has spurred on the strawberries and we’ve been eating them all week.  They are best fresh from the garden with cream, ice cream or yoghurt.  Happily we now have enough to make strawberry jam, so I’ll start a batch tonight and we’ll be eating it on scones later in the week.  I’ll put the recipe in the recipe section.

Peas and Strawberries

This is a very exciting weekend – the harvest of peas and strawberries has begun!

When I moved into my house 3 years ago and inherited a small veg garden with 5 raised beds I decided that I would try my hand at growing a few things for the kitchen – I love cooking and fresh produce really makes a difference.  In terms of what to grow, I inherited a number of things; gooseberries, blackcurrants, apples, damsons, rhubarb and strawberries, and determined that I would add to this only with those things that are simply better when the journey from the garden to the table is as short as possible.  So I’ve settled into a pattern of what works for me and at this point, despite the wind and the rain we have had over the last 2 weeks in June, it is a delight to be able to harvest the first peas and strawberries (see main picture).  I’d put a recipe in, but to be honest most of the peas disappeared as “gardener’s perks” and those that were left went into a mix of green vegetables we had with Salmon for dinner.  We used the last of the asparagus and some green beans (we’ll soon have our own as the beans in the pots are in flower) and popped the peas in for the last minute to warm through.  The strawberries were delicious served with greek yogurt.

The warm weather and rain have been good for the garden, everything is growing including the weeds!  So a weekend of weeding, tying in peas & tomatoes, encouraging beans up their supports, sowing more salad and putting the straw unger the courgette plants to keep the slugs at bay.

The thyme and the tomatoes are flowering, in the herb bed the bay tree, oregano & chives are all looking very healthy and in the garden the peonies & roses look stunning (I’ll put some photos up during the week).

The sight of that thyme has reminded me – I love lemon thyme drizzle cake – “time” to find that recipe…which by the way is great served alongside fresh strawberries.

The First Weekend of June

So the first weekend of June turns out to be a mixed bag of sunny spells and heavy showers, which means running in and out of the garden trying to make the best of the drier moments!

Last weekend I planted out the main tomato crop and so this weekend I needed to make sure that the remaining “bush” tomatoes joined them.  I planted most of them in tubs and a couple as hanging baskets – let’s see how they manage.  They are “cherry” types so hopefully will be more resilient to any erratic watering at my hands.

The peas and beans are doing well.  At the moment the only care they need is a little gentle encouragement up the supports.  Some of the beans have already reached the top of their canes, so I’ve trimmed the tops .  The peas look particularly happy with lots of flowers and “pea pods” – there should be a good crop, if I can keep the pigeons and snails off them!

The recent rain and warm weather has been good for the garden; the salad crops are coming on well, the first courgette flower has appeared and the first strawberry has ripened – it tasted delicious (gardener’s perk!)

This growing spurt has reminded me to start the comfrey fertiliser.  I have 2 large mature plants growing at the back of the rhododendron border which are quite pretty in their own right and also make a great, nitrogen rich, fertiliser. Apparently it also makes a good herbal tea but I’m from Yorkshire and so like my tea the traditional way.  Making the liquid fertiliser is very easy; you just shred the leaves and steep in water for a few weeks.  I put mine into an old composting bin which I keep between the new “Hot Bin” and the water butts.  As I make it every year, I just top up whatever is left from last year last and when I need it dilute it at about 1 in 10 with rain water.  As my plants well established I can cut them right back and they will give me two or three crops for the fertiliser bin.

The rhubarb growth is definitely slowing down and so I’ll probably only get a few sticks more this year.  I’ll make sure that I get the last few juicy pink stems to make some rhubarb gin, it only take 4 weeks and so we will be enjoying this on the warm summers evenings to come.  I’ve put the recipe in the recipe section along with the rest of my favourite rhubarb recipes.  I’ve also added a great recipe for asparagus and goat’s cheese tart.  One of the first things I did when I bought this house 3 years ago was to put in a small asparagus bed of 3 plants and this year we have had a bumper crop.

My favourite way to eat the spears is pan-fried in olive oil with some balsamic vinegar added towards the end and a sprinkling of sea salt – great with salmon (and mixed with peas later in the season).

In between the showers, and taking care not to compact the soggy soil, I’ve sown more carrots, beetroot, salad (rocket, spinach, leaves & radish), mange tout and chillies, as well as transplanting the sweetcorn.  The flowers for the tubs and borders are sitting outside hardening off and will be planted next weekend…all being well.

 

 

 

 

Asparagus & Goat’s Cheese Tart

Ingredients

Pastry:

110g plain flour

50g butter

Pinch of salt

Cold water to mix

 

Filling:

1 onion, finely chopped

15g unsalted butter

10 medium sized asparagus spears

110g firm goat’s cheese

3 eggs

150ml double cream

Salt & freshly ground black pepper

 

Method

Sift the flour into a bowl and add the salt. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add enough water to bind to a smooth dough. Wrap in cling film and chill for 15 mins.

 

Heat oven to 200oC

 

Turn the dough onto a floured surface, roll out and line a 20cm loose bottomed flan tin. Chill for 15 minutes.

 

Line the pastry case with foil/baking paper, fill with baking beans and bake for 10 mins, remove beans and bake for a further 2 mins.

 

Sauté onion in the butter until soft and translucent. Remove from heat and leave to cool.

 

Prepare the asparagus and cook in salted water for 5 mins or until just tender but still firm. Drain and refresh in iced water. Dry with kitchen paper. Trim each spear to 7.5 cm and cut the remainder of the stalks into 5 mm rounds.

 

Reduce the oven temperature to 180oC. Spread the onion over the bottom of the hot pastry case, arrange the rounds of asparagus stalk on top. Crumble the goat’s cheese over the top. Whisk the eggs and cream together and season with salt & pepper. Pour into the pastry case. Arrange the asparagus spears on top and press down into the egg mixture so they are just showing.

 

Bake the tart for 30-40 mins or until golden brown and the filling is set.

 

Serve warm or cold.

 

Rhubarb Gin

Ingredients:

400g rhubarb – as pink as you can get as this give the gin a better colour

250g sugar

750ml gin

 

Method:

Cut the rhubarb into 2 cm pieces and add to a 1 litre wide necked bottle/jar. Add the sugar, shake and leave overnight – the sugar will draw the juices out of the rhubarb. Add the gin and shake well. Place in a cool dark place for 4 weeks. Strain through muslin and bottle/serve.

 

Note – the colour fades the longer you keep it – so best drink quickly!

Rhubarb Ice Cream

Ingredients:

For Roasted Rhubarb

200g rhubarb (young pink stems are best)

25g caster sugar

 

For Vanilla Custard

375 ml milk

1 vanilla bean – split in half lengthwise and seeds scraped (or a few drops of good quality vanilla essence)

90g granulated sugar

5 egg yolks (I use the whites for making a large Pavlova)

185 ml whipping/double cream

 

Method:

Make the Roasted Rhubarb:

Chop rhubarb into 2 cm lengths. Toss in sugar and place in a shallow dish/tray. Cover with foil and roast at 200oC for 15 mins, remove foil and roast for a further 5 mins. Place in bowl and mix together gently – the rhubarb needs to keep some texture. Chill in fridge.

 

Make the Vanilla Custard:

Combine the milk, vanilla bean and half of the sugar in a saucepan and bring to just below boiling point. Remove from the heat, cover and leave for at least 15 mins to allow flavour to develop (skip this step if using vanilla essence)

 

Beat the egg yolks and the remaining sugar until pale and the mixture leaves a ribbon when trailed across the surface. Bring the milk back to boiling point, pour it in a slow stream over the egg mix while whisking slowly. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir until it thickens (5-15 mins). Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

 

Make the Ice Cream:

Put the vanilla custard into an ice cream make and churn until the texture of softly whipped cream. Put alternate spoonfuls of ice cream and rhubarb in a plastic freezer box, fold gently together so that seams of rhubarb are still visible through the ice cream. Smooth the surface, cover with greaseproof paper and a lid. Freeze until firm.

Rhubarb & Custard Cake

Ingredients:

For Roasted Rhubarb

200g rhubarb

25g caster sugar

 

For Vanilla Custard

Make 150 ml from custard powder – If you make your own/have some left over from yesterday’s “crumble & custard” then make sure it is quite thick.

 

For Cake Mix

250g softened butter

250g SR Flour

½ tsp baking powder

4 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

250g caster sugar

Icing sugar, for dusting

 

Method:

Make the roasted rhubarb first. Chop rhubarb into 2 cm lengths. Toss in sugar and place in a shallow dish/tray. Cover with foil and roast at 200oC for 15 mins, remove foil and roast for a further 5 mins. Drain the juices and leave to cool.

 

Heat oven to 180oc. Butter and line a 23cm loose-bottomed cake tin.

 

Reserve 3 tbsp. custard in a bowl. Beat the remainder with the butter, flour, baking powder, eggs, vanilla and sugar until creamy and smooth. Spoon one third of the mix into the tin, add some rhubarb, then dot with one third more of the cake mix and spread it out as evenly as you can. Top with more rhubarb, then spoon over the remaining cake mix. Scatter the remaining rhubarb over the batter and dot with the reserved custard.

 

Bake for 40 mins until golden, cover with foil and bake for a further 15-20 mins until fully cooked.

 

Cool in the tin and dredge with icing sugar when cold.

 

Note – ½ the quantity fills a 1lb loaf tin

Rhubarb & Ginger Jam

Ingredients:

1kg pink rhubarb, trimmed weight

1kg sugar

zest and juice 1 lemon

75 – 100g stem or crystallised ginger, finely chopped

4 – 5 cm piece root ginger, peeled

100 ml pectin (if a more solid set desired)

 

Method:

Wash the rhubarb under cold running water and slice into 2cm pieces. Tip into a large ceramic or plastic bowl and add the sugar, leave overnight for fruit to soften and to allow the sugar to dissolve into the rhubarb juices. You may need to stir the mixture occasionally to encourage this process along.

Add lemon zest and juice, and chopped stem ginger. Finely grate the peeled ginger directly over the rhubarb. Stir the mixture thoroughly, cover loosely with cling film and leave to one side for about 2 hrs.

 

Pop a few saucers in the freezer. Scoop the fruit and all the sugary juices into a preserving pan and set over a medium heat. Stir until the sugar has completely dissolved and once the sugar has dissolved bring to the boil. Continue to cook at a fairly swift pace until the rhubarb is really tender and the conserve has reached setting point – this should take about 10-15 mins.

 

To test for a set, drop ½ tsp of the jam onto a cold saucer, leave it for 60 secs, then gently push it with the tip of your finger. If the jam wrinkles the setting point has been reached. If not, continue to cook for a further couple of minutes and test again.

 

Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the pectin (if using) and leave to one side for 2-3 mins before pouring into sterilised jars. Seal immediately and label with the date once completely cold.

 

Makes 4 (and a bit) 1 lb jars

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