The first week of my August leave was spent at home. We knew we were going to stay with friends the second week so, apart from the day trip to Morecambe, my plans were to do lots of homely things like gardening, quilting and baking. What I really wanted to do though was to go foraging for food to make jams and preserves.
Every day on my way to work, I pass by a crab apple tree on a patch of spare land. And for the past few years, I've waited until the first apples start to fall on the ground as a sign that it's time to go picking. Now was the time.
In the past I've used the crab apples to make jam, jelly (clear jam) and liqueur. This time, I wanted to mostly make jam so the first step was to extract the juice. I chop the apples in half to make sure they're not carrying any passengers (!) and put them in a large pan with some water. For 3.5 lbs of apples I added 1.5 pints of water and cooked them until they were mushy. The mixture was then strained through a muslin cloth. I don't have one of those fancy straining contraptions so, as you can see, I line a steamer with the muslin and put it over a jug or bowl before adding the apple mush.
Once the liquid has been extracted, I do an extra filtering stage through a coffee filter paper to remove the sediment which always seems to get through the cloth. I've found that this helps stop scum forming during the jam-making process.
One of the best things I ever did was buy a jam thermometer. Before that I used the crinkle test where you put a drop of the hot jam on a cold plate and see if it crinkles when you push it with your fingernail. It worked but it's so much easier watching a thermometer and I've had almost perfect results every time.
Crab apple juice is really good for combining with other fruits. Originally I planned to make blackberry jam but we didn't have any luck with our first blackberry picking expedition. However, some rummaging in the freezer uncovered plums, so plum jam it was. From 1lb plums and 1/2 pint crab apple juice, I got 5 small jars. I prefer the smaller jars as they keep better if you don't use a lot (which we don't) and there are more to give away or exchange.
Also in the freezer were a few bags of rhubarb and they were transformed into rhubarb, crab apple and ginger jam. It was the first time I've made rhubarb jam and the flavour's good but I think I'd add a bit more ginger next time.
Finally, another first. I learned everything I know about jam making and preserves from Marguerite Patten's book The basic basics jams, preserves and chutneys handbook. As I was browsing through looking for ideas, I came across a recipe for spiced crab apples and had to give it a go.
You heat up some white wine vinegar with the spices and simmer for a few minutes before adding the crab apples. Cook the apples until just tender and spoon into a jar. Add some sugar to the vinegar and spice mix and cook until it goes syrupy. Pour over the apples and seal the jar.
I'm going to save these until the autumn or winter months - maybe even Christmas. Can't wait to try them though! What do you think I should serve them with?
After all of this, I still had 1/2 pint of juice so I've frozen it for later. I've a feeling it might get added to some more plums: I arrived at work earlier this week to find a bag containing 4kg of plums on my desk! A colleague has a tree which is groaning under the weight of fruit - I think she said she'd had at least 8 carrier bags full! I've given some to Mum and have been looking through my cookery books for recipes - chutney is appealing to me at the moment. I also want to make some elderberry cordial so we're going foraging again on Sunday. Wish me luck!