I have been waiting for this moment. Those tomatoes that will colour have turned orange or red, and I can now see which are the green ones that won’t. It’s time to make my spicy harvest jelly!
We have been collecting fruits for this jelly through the autumn , and the freezer is full with elderberries, rose hips and blackberries. Surfaces in the kitchen are crowded with apples collected from friendly gardens – and the odd scrumping trip. Stephen’s chillis are harvested. We have been waiting for the green tomatoes.Out come the frozen berries and onto the scales they go …The green tomatoes go on the scales too …As do the chopped apples …The chillis are on the chopping board …And then they all go into the preserving pan together with some additional spices (for recipe see end of blogpost) and the mix is generously covered with water.This rich mix is simmered for about an hour and a half, and the fruits are broken up with my potato masher.It now looks a real witchy brew, doesn’t it?! I can assure you that it smells fantastic – indeed, the whole house does.
The brewed fruit “rests” overnight so that the flavours can work in together. Next morning we tasted it, decided it was very promising – and most importantly of all that the chilli temperature was just right. This is obviously a very personal matter – I wanted an interesting, warming tang, not a vindaloo blast.
Now to set up my old and ancient jelly-bag contraption. I have tried various upended chairs but nothing works so well for me as this old stool. After sterilising with boiling water…In goes the fruit mix. This is a messy business! The liquid is very hot and it’s hard to avoid splashes everywhere.The jelly-bag drips quietly away for the next 24 hours.I once read that if you squeezed the jelly-bag at all, the ensuing jelly would be cloudy. However, I’ve discovered this is a fallacy, so before I throw out the residue left in the jelly bag (onto the compost heap, since you ask – nothing wasted) I give the bag a good tight squeeze to make sure none of this lovely liquid is wasted – it takes some muscle!The resulting liquid is measured (4 pints) and I added 4 lbs of granulated sugar (an imperial pound of sugar for every pint). Almost ready for the final stage! The oven is full of clean washed jars where they are warming up and being sterilised … Onto the hob the jelly liquid goes …The “scum” on the surface is removed to make sure the resulting jelly is clear. (It’s perfectly edible, of course, just mars the look of the jelly) …And now to boil to setting point. Oh, that gorgeous rolling boil!Lovely wrinkles on the cold test plate – this jelly is ready to be potted up!Into the hot glass jars the jelly goes – bit tricky because the jelly is scaldingly hot and very sticky.Now the all important taste test! I think this year’s harvest jelly is very good – just a tang of interesting smoky chilli heat on top of the rich jelly flavours. Stephen says it should be hotter and we must put more chillis in next year …This is a recipe that I have been making for a very long time. I was inspired by the Hedgerow Jam recipe that I found in this lovely book. ( I’ve noted on the fly leaf that I bought it at Bovey Tracey’s Last Bastion bookshop on 14th December 1978 – so that is indeed a long time ago.) Oh the Mabeys do write nicely! You can just imagine this collecting walk on a nice autumn day.But where I differ from them is in the ingredients. Whilst they thought sloes an essential ingredient, I’d say that of the elderberries. And they chose to make jam not jelly. This is what they say:
“Sieving is a possibility, but it so alters the special texture of the jam with its chunks of crabapple and whole elderberries which burst when the jam is spread on buttered bread, that we don’t recommend it.”
Well, I’ve never missed those chunks of crabapple.
In addition, I’ve made my jelly very warm and spicy with a range of ingredients which give this jelly a very distinctive flavour.
(Each year the quantities vary slightly depending on availability. The important thing is to have a balanced quantity of apples and hedgerow fruit. The quantity of sugar is calculated from the resulting liquid. These were my ingredients this year.)
- 1.5 kg berries (black, elder and rose hips)
- 1.25 kg apples
- 600g green tomatoes
- 6 medium sized chillis
- 10 cloves
- 10 peppercorns
- 4 star anise
- I tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 dsp ground allspice
- 1 dsp ground cinnamon
This produced 4 pints of rich sieved liquid to which I added 4 lbs of granulated sugar.
It is so very pleasurable to look at the finished product. Generations of cooks must have shared this warm glow of satisfaction. Fruits of garden and field have been transformed into food to put away and sustain family and friends over the winter months. Not really like that for modern times, but my comfortable glow is because I now have some Christmas presents sorted!And – aah the wonders of Instagram!! The recipe has travelled and here is the Niçoise version, courtesy of @isaduranton!