We had a wonderful offer a little while ago, a couple of our readers/friends have a holiday home not far from us. They dream of retiring over here and come whenever they can, but unfortunately never seem to make it when their rambling orchard is offering it’s best. Saddened by the waste they thought of us – can you make use of our fruit ? Do bears shit in the woods ?!
So this week, Inspired by a crisp sunny morning and a need to get out ( it’s just too easy to forget an out even exists when you’re working from home !) Hal and I hopped in the car with our buckets and boxes to go explore. Must say, Audrey and Sean, you have found yourselves a beautiful spot.
So, how many varieties of apple can you squeeze into half an acre ? An awful lot we discovered. And then there were the pears, vines and chestnuts. Bounty indeed ! We investigated, tasted, gathered and picked. So much incredible food.
Later, as we unloaded the car a wave of anxiety rushed over me. Already short on hours, we stood in open mouthed contemplation before the haul ; boxes; big, big boxes of work… Oh la, hunger. Give the girls some calories quick !!!
It’s amazing how much brighter the world can appear, a bowl of soup and a glass of red later 🙂
Sorting and planning – windfalls in buckets, picked in crates – the recipes and ideas flew, as did the afternoon. But we had the beginnings of a list and a very orderly storeroom.
First on the agenda were the grapes, loads and loads of grapes, luvverly yes, but right on the verge of auto-annihilation. Difficult I know, to think of anything but wine (or is that just me ?) but we live in France hang it, why would I wanna make bad vino ? Ok, a bit more thought sends me hunting out ol’ Ma Beeton – don’t know about you guys, but that woman is my port in any storm – you can somehow trust a book of recipes that has been bestselling for one hundred and fifty four years ! – so while the families gobbled up the juciest bunches, Hal and I scanned for grape jelly….
Why mess with a winner? We just followed her instructions….
Beginning with sorting out the rotton ones and removing the stalks…
Then hop, into the preserving pan with some water. Isabella recommends 150ml water for every 450g of grape ( that’s 1/4pint for every pound.) and seeing as how Isabella is my preserving goddess, her word is my command…At this point though, we do deviate very slightly from the original instructions, (sorry Issy), to ask you to put 3 or 4 side plates into the freezer, we’ll come back to them later…
So, back to the grapes in the pan, we let them simmer very gently until soft and then poured them into a fine cloth lined colander. ( Mums of infants note, hang onto your muslin squares, they will serve you for life. No kids yet? Get some, they come with piles of incredibly handy muslin squares that will serve you for life!)
Tie the muslin tight, you can then attatch the resulting dripping, steaming bag to a chair back, freeing you up to get on with other things or, like our industrious Hal, take a little standing nap while it cools….
When your little bag is no longer too hot to handle, (or when you’ve remembered you left it hanging), untie and squeeze every last drop of juice you can ring out and measure. For every 600ml of juice you’ll need 450g of sugar (1 pint of juice, one pound of sugar). Put both into a preserving pan or heavy bottomed saucepan, and bring to a rapid boil, stirring frequently,
After about 10 – 15mins a scum will start to collect, skim it gently off and then go retrieve your cold plates. For it’s about now we’ll do the plate test. Your mixture is beginning to thicken? When it does spoon a good dollop onto a cold plate and wait a few seconds for it to cool. Then smear your finger through the jelly…
When the finger leaves a clear smear, a definate line – you’re ready to pot. Oh please don’t be too hasty at this point, that’s why we put a fistful of plates to cool. If your jelly begins to run into the smear, discard the plate and cook for another few minutes before trying again – don’t hesitate to use as many plates as needed, your eye will become more practised with all the preserving you’re planning on doing, no-one’s counting but you; and let’s face it, runny jam just ain’t what we’re after!
Ok, so your smear is perfect, your pots are clean and dry, now all you have to do is ladle them full – as speedily as you can manage – we want it piping hot when we close them.
Screw on your lids, wipe your jars with a clean damp cloth and place them upside down to cool. The turning of the pots allows the boiling jelly to scald the lids ensuring mould free tops without the hassle of melting paraffin or greaseproof circles.
When they’re cool, re-turn, label and store in a cool dark place. Et voilà, grape jelly. I’ll be enjoying it with blue cheese and salad toasties, as a wonderful glaze for roasted chicken, with spicy sausage, the list goes on. Hal will probably put it on bread!
So that’s our first assault on fruit mountain, we’ll tell you about further forays next week. In the meantime, I couldn’t help but think of all the second homes there are in just our little corner of France. Wondering how many other gardens are producing their little hearts out to an empty gallery? Seems a mighty shame when you think about it… Meanwhile, Audrey and Sean, we’ll be seeing you very soon, jelly in hand. A giant thankyou for your generosity!
’til next week,