Thursday, 29 September 2011

Rowan Jelly

Yes!  On my third attempt,  it worked.  We found a rowan tree heavily laden and not too bitter at all.  The berries were definitely ripe, because as we picked, the little berries rained down on me, which was quite fun. I spent a good half hour crawling around and squashing berries, ruining my trousers, picking up all the shiny fresh ones.  This was a bit compulsive if time-consuming, as it was a huge tree, and eventually I was dragged away - with a whole kg of rowans in my foraging bag.

So this is how it is done:  Pick over the berries, calmly letting all spiders escape - otherwise the berries are very likely to go all over the floor. Then a good wash, and straight into a big pan covered in water, plus about a small pint.  Some recipes call for the same amount of crab apples to provide pectin - not needed. Cover and bubble till  berries are soft, which turns their vibrant pink colour to palest orange Then strain the lot through a scalded jelly bag.  There are ingenious contraptions you can invest in to hold the jelly bag over the bowl, but I just use various chopsticks and colanders. A piece of folded muslin cloth would do. I think my first jelly was strained through a clean t-shirt. Leave overnight to drip through.  The important thing is not to touch or squeeze the jelly bag.  This makes it cloudy.

Next morning, you have a bowl of juice the colour of which you will never have seen before.  Measure it, and for every pint add around a pound of sugar - standard measure for  jellies and jams.  Slowly bring to the boil stirring a lot, because the sugar must be dissolved before it boils.  Then boil quite hard for a bit.  Setting point is reached when you do the cold saucer thing, but I find you can tell by the way it drips off the wooden spoon - a little slowly.  Also, if the droplets just spread on the saucer, it's not done.  If they stay round and proud, done.

Pour into sterilized jars.  I just hot-wash them in the dishwasher.  Seal.

Serve with game or pork.... for an interesting, if inexplicable flavour.


Saturday, 17 September 2011

Wild Gardening

I love the flowers of summer - and the birds - and the sun, obviously. The native white water lily needs a lot of sun, and here is one of only two that appeared on my pond this year.  And so fleeting - just a day or so, then it's gone, just like our summer, really.

My front garden is a "scented" garden.  I love that idea, so I planted the little patch with camomile lawn seeds.  It is a delight, and if you rolled around on it you'd get the very strong scent of sweet apples.  I don't often roll, but I was pleased when a very little girl stopped and crept into the garden to have a closer look at the masses of charming little flowers.  But I wouldn't go so far as to call it a lawn - more a very unruly camomile meadow.  

Last year a giant borage plant curled and furled its bright purple boragey flowers,  laying claim to the front. But no sign of it this year. I was very excited to find wild rocket, though, dear little yellow flowers at the end of the long nodding stems growing all along our verge under the viburnum hedges (wayfaring tree) that line our road. The new lavender has done very well in the morning sun, not much scent, even so, they always attract the bees.  And as for the viola odorata (sweet violet) under the elderberry tree, they have spread well in the shade - but not a single sweet-jolly-scented flower between them.

So, to the back.  I've been wanting to paint the shed black ever since I saw a very tasteful black shed in an arty garden book. So I did it. Now it looks for all the world like a fire has turned it to charcoal.  It was a bit of a job, too.  First I had to steel myself to gently sweep all the spiders' webs away (they'll build more!).  Then move the tiles and various pots and bricks stacked around the bottom.  This dislodged two very sweet little frogs.  I left them to make their escape, and only later, when I was painting near the bottom did I see they were still crouched there, still as...well, frogs, just waiting to get an arty splodge of paint on their speckly little bodies.  Known as common frog, I had to delicately balance all the tiles to form a covered walkway for them to shelter under. I saw a couple of the little spiders storming off too. A wildlife garden is such a treasure of finely played-out angst.

And there's the birds.  The bird table groans with wild bird food, and I would have loved to see a goldfinch or our visiting chiff chaff - tiny little birds with a dawn call described kindly in the book as "dogged". Described by me (it's early!!) as extremely annoying. But we have grown fond of the wood pigeons who visit.  Always in pairs, sometimes they let two dainty collared doves share the table.  With the table full, the garden is often a charming energy of the big fat grey birds bouncing around on the thinnest branches grabbing berries or strutting and posing on the table. Then the other day, on the deck was sweet Kitty in a silent and serious stand-off with a very young and handsome fox.  I rushed out, and it darted off, although not very far.  It stood quizzically in the middle of the lawn and eye-balled me.  Then it eye-balled the cat, who made a convincing play of darting to the end of the deck to see it off, then straight back inside to us. The fox didn't move.  After a while it slunk casually around the garden, its very fat tail hanging behind.  It sniffed around, no hurry, much like he probably does every night when he owns the place.  Then disappeared.

Later, walking to the bottom of the garden, behind the hazel where everything is left wild, I saw it.  A large flattened area - and dusted everywhere, dozens of gentle dove-grey feathers.  

One of my pigeons has been taken.

All alone 

After a couple of days on the exquisitely old-fashioned Isle of Wight, at an exquisitely old-fashioned hotel, we were blown away by an exquisitely old-fashioned mackerel pate.  It was the first thing I made when I got home:  

Smoked Mackerel Pate.

2 fillets smoked mackerel, 4 or 5 spring onions, half the juice of a lemon (to taste - I was told it was a bit too lemony), very large teaspoon of horseradish (serve some on the side as well - I was told there wasn't enough), parsley, white pepper, 4 Tbs double cream (although I used half-fat creme fraiche, being on a low-cal kick), and as you can see, it's very much a matter of taste.  I whizzed it up on my brand new Magimix blender - although you can also pound it in a mortar and pestle.  Serve on melba toast (sliced thick white bread, toasted till golden, then split the bread down the middle and grill the other side).  A delicious old-fashioned dish.