Thursday, 20 February 2014

Apple and Elderberry Jam

I don't have pictures of the process involved in this, so you'll have to use your imagination:

Picture a large square-ish back garden, open to the southern sun, with two large apple trees.  This is Vivien and Steve's garden and they are generous in sharing their apples.  

Picture two or three grocery bags full of apples coming home with me.

Imagine Bill and me at the kitchen table, coring and slicing apples to put into the freezer.

Imagine a lovely day in late August along some public foot paths near Gosforth race course.  Vivien and I have already invaded a swampy area near a farmer's field to get the last of the summer blackberries. She then shows me a long row of elderberry trees.  We pick a large grocery bag or two full. Passing cyclists and dog-walkers stare at us and sometimes comment.

Back at Vivien's house we scan the internet for recipes to do with elderberries.  We learn that uncooked all parts of the elderberry plant is potentially poisonous, producing a cyanide-like effect. Steve says whatever we decide to do with them, he'll not be touching it.

I sit at my kitchen table for hours, combing the elderberry branches with a fork, trying to keep the little suckers from popping all over the room, but into a couple of large ziplock bags. 

On another August day, Lucy, Vivien and I spend a couple of hours near Lucy's house (and with her two sons) picking more blackberries.  We all have loads of fruit.

All that fruit - apples, blackberries and elderberries (as well as more sloes from a few years back) - sits in the chest freezer in the garage over the winter.  Until early February when I run out of jam for my morning toast. I get the bags of fruit out to thaw.  I find this blogger's recipe, which I proceed to use.  I already have a couple of bags of preserving sugar just waiting for the day. 

Lucy gives us some lovely apple and blackberry jam she made for Christmas.  It has an unusually thick consistency that I think I'd like to replicate.  She tells me this is achieved by sieving the fruit.  She hates the pips in blackberries.

I go up in the loft (breaking the hook on a stick in the process and losing said hook, which has Bill and me crawling all over the landing and stairs for ages; we discover all the places that haven't been vacuumed in months and Bill proceeds to use the vacuum to try to discover the lost hook; it is in the ladder above our heads.  We've lost a week's worth of heat up the loft hatch my now...) and get the jam making sieve I bought twenty-some years ago and used once to can apricots from the tree in the back yard of the rent house in Salt Lake City. I'm not sure it does much good on the apples and blackberries, but perhaps it's because I'm too greedy and want more product.  I don't throw away the pulp, but return it to the freezer for possible use in making some sort of fruit-flavoured alcohol.

I use the heavy pans from the pressure cookers, two kinds of sieve, several plastic containers, the scale, a wooden spoon and about 16 other objects.  I am scrubbing the glue off of old jam jars while the oven heats and finally pull out three kinds of scrubbers to attack the stubborn stickiness; use a week's worth of dish soap in the process. I boil the kettle to pour over the jar lids, hoping the plastic ones don't actually melt. Realise later that the plastic lids won't 'set' properly anyhow.

In any case, only have enough jam for four jars at the end of it all.  Every surface of the kitchen is covered with purple sticky things.  Sit down for a cup of coffee and next I know it's time to make dinner. Shove it all aside and make something simple; I'm exhausted.  Bill spends the next day washing up all the mess, bless him.  

I realise the jam has not set...

Vivien gives me an old bottle of Certa (liquid pectin) she's not going to use and loans me a Mrs Beeton's jam recipe book. After a bit of study, I gear myself up for another sticky purple session.  However, when I open the first jar of jam I decide it is a perfectly acceptable jam texture, just not the thick paste Lucy produced.  I don't care in the least.  It tastes absolutely divine. I now have plenty of jam, particularly as Vivien has given me two jars of hers (the raspberry is heaven, thank you Vivien!).

I decide that although 24 pence mixed fruit jam from Morrison's is sufficient for me, making homemade jam is probably worth the trouble after all.

Particularly if Bill is doing the dishes.


Gam Kau said...

We made sloe gin and sloe vodka this year for the first time - very yummy. I considered making elderberry cordial which a friend of mine makes each year, but it was too ambitious for me. There really was a bumper crop of berries this year wasn't there? I still have large bags of blackberries frozen and it makes me happy to see them in my freezer. Your jam looks like a big success to me, I've never been brave enough to attempt it. I've read that elderberries can be used in fritters and the flowers can be deep fried as well.

Beryl said...

What an adventure in cooking! I have an attachment for my Cuisinart that is very efficient in removing all the seeds from Raspberries for jam with no effort at all. (Of course my husband decided he likes his jam better with the seeds.) And next time you are washing jars with stickers on them, rub the gummy stuff with any type of oil and leave it for an hour - then you use dish soap to wash off the oil and all the gummy stuff comes with it. Cheaper in the long run, especially for me since I have a bottle of oil that is unfit for eating - ruined by months of Oklahoma Summer heat. No more storing back-up pantry supplies in the garage.

Shelley said...

Gam Kau - Fritters and deep frying? That sounds way more fun than elderflower cordial (too sweet for me).

Beryl - I did know about oil, just too impatient to take that route. Now that I've discovered the joys of jam making I shall clean the outside of each jar as it is emptied, not leave the labels on to tackle all at once. Annoying about your oil being ruined. Extremes of temperature always are a real hazard for foods.

sanda said...

You had quite a busy and frustrating day with your jam project, but sounds as if the results were worth it! Esp. with Bill doing the clean-up; that's always the worst part for me. You mention sloes. That's something I'm not familiar with. I've run across the term and think I looked it up once, but have now forgotten. I remember Sloe Gin Fizz drinks in my young days! But that's my only association with a sloe.

Shelley said...

Sanda - Like you, I heard of sloe gin in my youth but never encountered it. I never saw a sloe in real life until someone told me where to pick some here - around a field / park not far from us. The bushes have evil, long spikes so you have to pay attention when picking. I learned from my adventure in making sloe gin (v. tasty, as is raspberry vodka and blackberry whiskey) that sloes have quite a large seed inside and they don't shrink up or soften much even after months of soaking. I gather one can make sloe jam, but I've not attempted it. They are bitter and v. astringent tasting raw, the only comparison that comes to mind is licking a styptic pencil - horrible!