Tag Archives: fruit

preserving blog: time for a citrus fest

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For Anna Colquhoun, Riverford’s Preserving Guru, January and February mean one thing in her kitchen.  Citrus.

Kilos arrive from Riverford, all lugged in crates by local driver Richard who always smiles and never grumbles.  The Seville oranges, blood oranges, lemons and clementines are fantastic  – bright, ripe, full of juice and flavour and of course unwaxed.  

ImageThey are some of my favourite things to preserve, as their colours stay true in the jar – a citrus rainbow of red, orange and yellow – and the boiling vats perfume the whole house. 

In my classes coming up in Feb we will make marmalade, spiced pickled oranges, blood orange and port jelly, clementine jam and Moroccan preserved lemons. 

If you’d like to join me at the courses in London, the dates are: 

Sat 8th Feb (waiting list only)
Sun 9th Feb (waiting list only)
Sat 15th Feb (places available)
Sun 16th Feb (places available)

If you’d rather have a go in the comfort of your home, here are a few tips…

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Preserved lemons:

These are easy to make and something special to add to your pantry of ingredients.  They are distinctive of Moroccan cuisine and go brilliantly with roast or braised chicken and fish, in chickpea and couscous dishes, and in salad dressings and salsas.  Chicken, olive and preserved lemon tagine is a classic, but why not also try spiced squash with preserved lemon or shoulder of lamb with preserved lemon.  You can find my recipe here.

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Preserved lemons are ‘lactofermented’, like some of the world’s other best foods – sourdough bread, yoghurt, chocolate and kimchi, to name a few.  Friendly bacteria enjoy the salty conditions, multiply, squeeze out any unwanted micro-organisms and produce lactic acid and carbon dioxide.  The former gives the lemons their distinctive texture, flavour and aroma, and the latter displaces the air in the jar.  The clever clip-top preserving jars let excess gas escape, so they don’t explode.  The bacteria like pure fine salt, that is to say not contaminated with those mysterious ‘anti-caking agents’.  Find it in wholefood and heathfood shops, or buy one of those expensive flaky sea salts and grind it in a mortar or processor. 

Fermentation takes around a month at warm room temperature.  Make sure the lemons stay submerged in the salty juice.  You might notice the jar fizz or sputter – good signs it’s working.  After fermentation keep the jar somewhere cool and dark and try to wait another month or more as they improve with age.  In Morocco I met a women who proudly showed me her syrupy seven-year old specimens.  (Not that I’m recommending that here.)  Fish out a lemon with a clean utensil, give it a rinse, cut away the flesh as it will be too salty and dice the translucent rind. 

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Marmalade

Pick up a Riverford Kit, some jars and granulated sugar and you’re away.  Bitter oranges are inedible raw, but deliciously bittersweet when transformed into marmalade.  They originated in China and later became popular in the Arabian empire, through which they spread around the Middle East and Mediterranean, as far as Spain, which remains a main production area.   

There are different methods for making marmalade, but all have several things in common.  First, the rind is boiled before it’s cooked with sugar, since the quantity of sugar involved will stop it softening.  So make sure the rind is tender enough to easily penetrate with the tines of a fork before proceeding.  Second, the all-important pectin is in mostly found in the pith and pips, so these are retained and used to impart their setting power, although strained out so as not to cloud the jelly.  Third, all the sugar must be gently dissolved before you boil, since stray grains on the side of the pan can cause a whole jar to crystalise.  Nothing wrong with crunchy jam, but perhaps not what you were after.  For a darker, richer ‘Oxford style’ marmalade, stir in a couple of tablespoons of black treacle.

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You need a big pan so the marmalade has space to boil furiously to reach setting point, which happens at around 104C.  Jam thermometers are not perfectly accurate, so better to use the cold saucer test – see my preserving guidelines for details.  Watch as the steam dies down and the bubbles seem slower and less watery – signs you should be testing.  It could take as little as 15 minutes or as much as 50.  When ready give it a few minutes so the rind disperses before pouring into jars, or they will be top-heavy with rind.  If there is scum, gently fold it in, skim it off with a spoon or dissolve it by stirring in a knob of butter.  For those so inclined, now is the time to add a dash of whisky.

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Of course, there’s no need to limit your marmalade to your breakfast toast.  It’s great in bread and butter pudding, on steamed puddings and cakes, as a glaze for meats (ham, chicken, duck), in ice cream, and even in cocktails (marmalade whisky sour, anyone?).

Look out for our next preserving kit for clementine jam, which is probably my new favourite citrus preserve as it’s so ridiculously easy to make and retains so much of the raw clementines’ bright colour and flavour.  I promise you’ll love it.  

Whether you’re an experienced or novice preserver, please let me know how it goes, ask me any questions and share your own tips by commenting on this blog below, writing on our Facebook page or sending a tweet to @Riverford with the hashtag #cooksquestion. 

 

 

top jam tips – now is the time for making jam!

The sky has turned an unusual colour (blue), the thermometer is soaring to new heights and at last summer fruits are appearing in abundance after the long cold spring – this is the time to make jam!

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ask Anna
Anna Colquhoun, our preserving expert, shares her jam-making tips below and talks about why now is the time to start bubbling up a batch of jam while summer fruit is in abundance around us. If you have any questions just comment on our blog, our Riverford Facebook page or tweet!

The one problem with summer holidays abroad is that you miss out on eating and cooking with local summer produce. (Every year I nurture a row of tomato plants for months only to be away for the bulk of the crop.) Our summer season is short, so to make the most of it I recommend turning your hand to jamming now.

We’ve just held my summer preserving workshops in London. It was so satisfying producing row after row of beautiful filled jars, including strawberry & rhubarb jam, stunning bottled cherries and glowing lemon curd. Many hands indeed make light work. So I suggest getting together a group of friends for a jamming session, or coming to my next Riverford Autumn Preserving workshops in October!

The flavour and beauty of summer treats like cherries, strawberries, raspberries, currants, rhubarb, apricots and gooseberries can all be preserved for months to come with nothing much more than sugar, jars and a large pan. Read on for my top jamming tips…

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fruit
It should go without saying that you should use beautiful, good quality fruit. Wash carefully, cut out any rotten patches and chop into even pieces. I’m not a huge fan of gimmicky jams. (You know the sort, like Tesco’s Cosmo and Daiquiri ‘Mocktail’ preserves.) However, judicious use of vanilla pods, fresh bay leaves or sprays of lemon verbena can work a treat in with the fruit.

pectin
You need pectin for jam to set. Some fruits are naturally high in pectin, such as gooseberries and currants. Others, including strawberries, rhubarb and sweet cherries, have very little so you need to add it. Apricots and raspberries are somewhere in between so might need a little if you want a firmer set. It’s easiest simply to substitute some or all of the sugar in your recipe with ‘jam sugar’, which has pectin in it.

sugar
To make a jam that will last on the shelf (unopened) rather than needing refrigeration, use approximately 1kg sugar for every 1kg of fruit. Regular, white granulated is best, or ‘jam sugar’ (see above). Don’t use caster; you might be tempted as you imagine it will dissolve faster, but it’s more likely to catch and burn at the bottom of the pan. The first step is to dissolve every last grain of sugar with minimal heat. You can even macerate the chopped fruit in the sugar in the fridge overnight to start the process. This works especially well for strawberries and helps preserve their shape in the finished jam.
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acid
For the pectin to work it needs acid. Most fruit is naturally acidic, but some need the juice of a couple of lemons to help the jam set properly, including strawberries, apricots, sweet cherries, raspberries and – rather surprisingly – rhubarb. Add it to your jam mixture in the pot.

heat
Once all the sugar is dissolved, crank up the heat, boil furiously but watch that it doesn’t boil over. This is why you need a big pan! I found my beautiful old copper preserving pan in my parents’ garage by chance (thanks Mum), which is fortunate since they now cost a fortune. It’s true that copper pans work a treat, but any large stainless steel pot will work fine.
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setting point
This is the magical moment when syrup becomes jam! Fruits seem to behave very differently, even from batch to batch or year to year, so don’t believe a recipe that tells you to boil for X minutes and then pot. You need to test. A thermometer will give you a good guide – you’re after around 104 degrees Centigrade – but they’re never totally accurate. So I prefer to watch how the syrup runs off a wooden spoon – first in a long watery stream, then in sticky globs that seem to want to hang on – and then perform the ‘saucer test.’

saucer test
Have some saucers chilling in the fridge or freezer. Pour on a teaspoon of syrup then let it sit undisturbed while it cools. This is your window into the future – a sneak preview of the consistency your jam will end up. Push your finger across the jam and watch for bunching up and wrinkling. If instead it still feels and looks like a syrup, turn on the heat again and boil for another few minutes before testing again.

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You have now made jam!

Let it sit for a few minutes so that the fruit settles. Fold in or skim off any unsightly scum and pour into hot, sterilised jars right up to the brim. Carefully screw on clean, new lids and turn the jars upside down for 10 minutes to sterilise the insides of the lids. Just remember to turn them over again before they set!

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You can find more guidance here, including instructions for sterilising jars in the oven.

Whether you’re an experienced or novice preserver, please let me know how it goes, ask me any questions and share your own tips by commenting on this blog below, writing on our Facebook page or sending a tweet to @Riverford with the hashtag #cooksquestion.

Organic persimmons from Spain

organic persimmon fruitYou may find organic persimmons in your box this week. These are yellowy orange fruit with a sweet fragrant flesh and are grown in the South of Spain by Joaquin Pérez.

Joaquin has been farming organically for 10 years and bio-dynamically for 2 years. He also grows apricots and peaches on his farm, 60km south of Valencia, which he sells in the local area.

Persimmons are best eaten fresh, when still fairly firm. Eat them on their own or try in salads, with poultry, lamb or pork or in desserts.

Have you tried them?

Fruit hero – gooseberries

There are some foods that need a little work to get the best from them, and in this hot-stepping world of ready meals, phone apps and instant gratification, at times it can seem an inconvenience. Spending time podding broad beans when a bag of pre-prepped supermarket veg could have you plonked in front of the TV in minutes seems madness to some, but history has shown that when the body is kept busy with a task that does not demand great concentration, the mind is freed to flex its lesser-used muscles in ways that a blaring TV will not allow. If you’ve hit a bit of a wall with a problem, give it a try. We’re not suggesting you’ll find the answer to world peace, but you might surprise yourself in other ways.

Gooseberries fall into this category of ‘too much of a hassle to bother’ for many. Their appeal is not instantly apparent, as anyone who has eaten one of these tart and rather hairy berries straight from the punnet will testify. However, those who do take time to discover the extent of their culinary possibilities reap many rewards. Don’t be fooled into thinking that gooseberries are only good for pud; nature has laid some helpful hints to help you plug their hidden depths of flavour in other ways. They ripen more or less as the first mackerel arrive off our coast, and a simple gooseberry sauce brings out flavours in both of these ingredients that you probably didn’t know were there. See our website for this and many more gooseberry-liberating recipes.

The gooseberry bushes on our Devon farm are also something of an icon of what organic farming is about for us. When Guy planted his first acre, a fair few people predicted that without an arsenal of chemicals, disaster would come in the form of sawfly, a pest that attacks only gooseberries. For the first three years the bushes were indeed stripped bare, but eight years on, nature has established a balance and we have a mystery predator keeping the larvae in check. Overall, it’s evidence of the virtues of a long-term understanding of farming ecology, the subtle management of our environment and a little faith, as opposed to beating nature down with chemicals and sprays. It does not always work out so well, but we are very thankful that it has in the case of our gooseberries which, after all, are a very British harvest.

Fruit of the month – English apples

Discovery applesOrchards are swelling with ripe, fragrant fruit. It’s time to celebrate English apple season and rediscover some traditional varieties.

Paul Ward grows apples, pears and plums for us on his four farms in Kent. He started out over 17 years ago, buying his first orchard as a hobby. Since then, Paul’s business has grown to producing 700-800 tonnes of apples every year. About half of these go to us, to supply our regional farms.

Paul Ward's organic English applesOrganic apple growing is not without its difficulties. Our damp, mild, British climate makes trees susceptible to fungal diseases that sap vigour and yield. Organic farming forbids the use of some sprays to prevent this, presenting a very real challenge to growers. This is why so few orchards remain in the UK; despite people’s professed enthusiasm for traditional varieties, the reality is that our eyes prefer the cosmetically-perfect specimens in the fruitbowl. The apples you’ll get from us might have the odd knot or gnarl, but they are grown for flavour and character.

Apples in KentWe start the season with Discovery, a red-skinned fruit with crisp white flesh. Katy will be ready soon after; a beautiful dark crimson apple that has a light, gentle flavour typical of early varieties. Then come Red Windsor and Red Pippin with a stronger, Cox-like flavour. Look out also for Russets, with a distinctive dry flesh and balance of sweet and sharpness. Mid-season, try Spartan, a dark red-skinned, aromatic variety. We will also have some Bramleys through the season; the definitive English apple for cooking and baking.

Some of the early season varieties, particularly Discovery, are at their best for only about a week. As with all fruit, smell is a good indicator of flavour and ripeness. For the main varieties, ripening is about the conversion of starch to sugar; they get sweeter up to a point, then the texture dives and they lose moisture, becoming soft and woolly. As a rule, all English apples are best eaten as quickly as possible, freshly-plucked from the tree.

Order apples online.

Strawberries and plastic: are tunnels worth the eyesore?

Over the last twenty years the huge majority of the UK strawberry crop has moved from open fields to the protection and intensification afforded by hundreds of acres of polytunnels, largely in Kent and Herefordshire. Plastic can advance a crop by perhaps two weeks, but the great advantage is the protection it gives from the vagaries of a British summer. Fruit must be picked dry to avoid bruising and to give a reasonable shelf life. Even more importantly, persistent dampness leads to a build-up of fungal disease, particularly botrytis, which can reduce a good berry to a foul tasting pulp in a matter of hours.

Our strawberries are grown extensively on high ridges at wide spacing which, in a normal year, gives enough airflow to dry dews and rain before botrytis sets in. There can be no doubt that polytunnels are a blot on the landscape; the question is whether they are justified by the economic and environmental benefit they bring by reducing wastage, extending the UK season, excluding exports and thus reducing food miles. For twenty years I have stubbornly persisted with growing outdoors, with the result that we have a relatively short season and, over the last few years, have not been able to pick up to a third of the fruit. Initially I was convinced that growing outdoors gave better flavour, but now I am not so sure and wonder if I have been overly dogmatic in my resistance. Across the five regional farms we would need eight acres of tunnels to provide a good supply of strawberries for the 45,000 homes we deliver to each week. Your views would be welcome.

Guy Watson

Can free trade be fair trade?

Years of growing vegetables for supermarkets in the UK taught me that the free market can be a harsh place for small producers. Distant producers are even more vulnerable. So is Fairtrade certification the answer? Can ethics be measured, certified and delivered via a free market to customers 3000 miles away who want to use their buying power to make the world a better place?

fair-trade-pineapple1

These are the questions I found myself asking last December in a small field of organic pineapples 100 miles north of Lome in Togo, West Africa. The first of the fruit was ready for harvest, the culmination of fifteen months of planting and weeding with only a mattock to help, and of ten years of planning, agronomy and organisation by the French company Pronatura. The field, one of the largest in this village, is the size of half a football pitch and the orderly rows are interspersed with termite mounds, papaya trees, palms, bananas and towering kapoc trees. The scene is well managed, harmonious and productive; organic farming at its best and in stark contrast to the intensive, large scale, foreign owned monocultures that are typical of export-oriented production in Africa. The goal has been reached: an organic, fair trade pineapple from small producers which can reliably meet the demands of an English supermarket buyer.

How 16p turns into £2.50