[Title inspired by a you-tube of a kirk minister in Inverurie giving a sermon on ‘The Hairst’ – or harvest – in broad Doric – like a scene from Sunset Song, except they wouldn’t have had women in the pulpit in those days.]
So there we were on Sunday night dressing the church hall floor for a wee Taize event. We met the main dresser by chance in the street outside and I was given a massive branch of hawthorn to carry in – it was like Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane. I also had to read out a poem by Elizabeth Barratt Browning – ‘The Autumn’ – which I found pretty moving. We had a good evening, and then I was given a bag of mixed windfall apples to take home.
Before going on to the jelly-making, I just want to show you these gourmet tatties – ‘Shetland Blacks’, apparently – when boiled, the skins go purple and the surrounding water goes turquoise. I haven’t witnessed this myself because there were only three and they weren’t on offer! Will be pleased to hear from anyone who has sampled same.
So – making apples into jelly is a great idea for loads of reasons, but one of the best is that you don’t have to peel the wee buggers, you just give them a good wash and chop them up a bit, and simmer to a mush. That was yesterday, and I rigged up a pillowcase dangling from a kitchen stool at work to let it drip overnight. Today I boiled them up and made the jelly – as before, using the probe thermometer and boiling to 105 degrees. Brilliant. I wish I’d learned to use the technology years ago, and save myself from making all those jars of toffee …
The set on my jelly is great, the flavour is lovely, the colour is a little pale – apparently the best colour comes from crab apples but I don’t think my collection contained any of those. However I didn’t clear the scum off the top properly, thinking it would just sink or rise or magically disappear in some other helpful way – it didn’t. It lurks in the jars in whitish streaks, so it’s just as well I’m not planning to enter it for a competition. Next time I will be more careful. I’m telling you this so that you don’t make the same mistake! Skim carefully, my friends, and your jelly may well be perfect.
The last word on plums goes to Nigel Slater, in his book ‘Real Fast Puddings’. He has some wonderful adjectives for those lush beauties reclining in a drowsy heap – and then compares them with the ones he buys in the supermarket – primped up and set on a mat, displayed in a glass case (aka clingfilm) – ‘like Faberge eggs’. I know what he means. The seasonality of plums is unmistakable in the supermarket, which has to be a good thing. Those big fat purple flavourless ones do nothing for me. So I’m glad to have enjoyed our Scottish Victorias to the full while they lasted.
The Bake-off bungle rages on, and I’m sorry to see it ending in tears because it’s been a wonderful series of shows. Well done the BBC for birthing and nurturing it. And isn’t it just as well for the current contestants that it doesn’t go out live. I was particularly inspired by the last-but-one challenge on lacy pancakes, and will have a go as soon as I’ve purchased a plastic bottle. This week though I felt quite smug because I’ve made Bakewell Tart many times. I decided to have another go for the tenants, and produced this one. Normally I don’t put the icing on top, I just scatter it with flaked almonds, but I thought I’d have a go at the feathered icing, which I last did – oh – 30? 40? years ago. I remembered that it was very easy. Well probably my standards have risen because yesterday’s result was, I felt, a bit messy. Like lines on a heart monitor. Ominous. However it was wolfed down with a request for the leftovers to be served up next day with hot custard. Myself, I think the tart is better with flaked almonds than icing – but then I don’t have 95 year old teeth to contend with! Not yet. One day, if I’m lucky.
Just to use up the icing, I did some wee buns too … also well received, despite the shoogly hand. What is it about a drizzle of icing that appeals to people? I’m not that keen, really – I just do it for work purposes – all that extra sugar going straight to your belly and your teeth. However I’d like to improve my pathetic piping skills because, hey, you never know. I might get converted.
At last I have cracked the secret of perfect (modest as always) jam …
I’ve been making jam for years – only in small quantities – but on the whole it’s been a triumph of optimism over reality. The only difficult thing about the whole enterprise is the timing – too long and it turns into toffee, and not in a good way; not long enough and it runs right off your scone. The classic way of telling whether you’ve cooked it long enough is to keep a couple of wee plates in the fridge, spoon on a drop of your hot jam and see if it creases a little as it runs … well that way hasn’t worked for me, ever. I don’t recommend it. You just get anxious watching for the crease that never happens.
The reason my setting point worked today was that I made the jam (plum, Victoria, from Newburgh) at work, and there, of course, there’s a probe thermometer. I found a book that told me the jam had to reach 105 degrees C to be done – and sure enough. No guessing. It’s perfectly set! Nice and wobbly on the spoon, soft and melting on the tongue, and it stays in place. I am a very happy jam-maker and am going forthwith to buy myself a temp probe for home use.
The other piece of (extremely simple) equipment that made the job easy today was my new jam funnel, purchased yesterday in Perth for £2.99. Instead of jam running down the sides of everything, it just went straight in the jar. Clean and easy.
Why am I surprised? My mother had a saying, ‘a bad workman always blames his tools’; and I’m coming to the conclusion that she wasn’t always right (stand by for thunderbolt). We could never afford any kind of equipment, it was always make-do-and-mend; so I’ve grown up always looking for the frugal way. Frugal is good. But so is my new jam funnel, and so will be my forthcoming temp probe.
Have also prepared a batch of damson gin, with damsons from the second Saturday of the Newburgh Plum Fair. Hoping for great things but will let you know in due course.
To find out more about this cute little creature which entered my kitchen yesterday, read on…
I have to confess I hadn’t realised we were having a Food and Drink Fortnight here in bonnie Scotland, till I read a thoughtful piece about it in the Scotsman the other day by Stephen Jardine. He was commenting that we ought to be more ‘out there’ in celebrating our produce: ‘Community halls should have communal suppers celebrating the last of the summer produce, chefs should be out on the streets offering tastings and demonstrations, and farmers should be marching through the streets urging us to buy Scottish produce’. I quite agree. The SF&DF website has a jerky thing going on which makes it quite difficult to read, but even so I’m finding it a bit disappointing – too many events which just seem like restaurateurs grabbing onto free publicity to do what they would be doing anyway. But perhaps I’m being harsh. If I were nearer Aberdeen I’d definitely go on the Breakfast Bus and find out more about breakfast traditions (it’s tomorrow morning so you’l have to be quick); and if I were less skint I’d go to the rapeseed oil tasting menu in Dundee. (Note to self: hurry up and organise the rapeseed oil blind tasting you’ve been promising yourself … It’ll be round the kitchen table and won’t cost a penny.)
Nevertheless, the Newburgh Plum Fair has kicked off as promised (just what Stephen Jardine would approve, I’m sure), with a fabulous crop of Victoria plums as the main event, and various other things to tickle the fancy. I bought a couple of kilos of plums and have made a small batch of plum sauce, and some jars of plums in brandy. I also bought some Pink Fir Apple potatoes, which looked like stem ginger apart from the colour, and tasted fresh and gardeny, with a great texture. I had to take a photo of the odd-shaped one – it was really begging for a Picasso or a Dali to come along and give it the treatment in oils but I just boiled it, buttered it, ate it. Mustn’t have the tatties getting above themselves … However I did elevate it to the top of the page.
My plum sauce was from a Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall recipe (parsnips with plum sauce) – far too footery for the small amount it yields. Tastes lovely though, even though I made some substitutions in the ingredients list. Next time I’ll stone the plums before roasting them, so that I can just chuck the whole thing in the blender instead of sieving for hours. I can’t find a link online to the recipe but you’ll find it in his ‘Fruit’ book.
The plums in brandy barely merits being called a recipe – wash and prick the plums, put them in a jar, add some sugar, cover in (cheap) brandy, seal, shake regularly, and desist from opening for three months. I know they will be fabulous as I’ve done this sort of thing before. Yum yum yum, I can hardly wait. That’s the pudding course sorted for Christmas day.