Sunday, August 07, 2005
Preparing for winter: Redcurrant Jelly, Tomato & Cinnamon Jam, Green Tomato Chutney
I am yet to have my scant 10-day summer vacation in Estonia when British food magazines headline with stories like "Jamie's Cool Dinners: It's not just up to schools to give kids healthy food", "Lesley's lunchboxes: back-to-school ideas from Ready Steady Cook regular Lesley Waters" and such like. It dawned upon me that although the various festivals have just started and the weather is still untypically warm(ish) and sunny here in Edinburgh, the summer is slowly, but steadily, drawing upon its unwelcome end. Scary. Toooooo scary..
And I was wondering if I should start preparing for the winter by stocking up my larder. Not that I have a larder in my rented Edinburgh flat, and my shared fridge is on a small side as well. But stocking up for winter must be in my genes. I grew up in Tallinn in a house with a big garden, and I remember how every July-August-September we were busy preparing for the winter. Our larder and basement storage was always full of jars and bottles of different shapes and sizes, containing various goodies for later consumption. We pickled cucumbers, tomatoes and mushrooms, made juice, jams and marmalades, cooked different chutneys and relishes - you name it. To a certain degree it was a necessity - growing up in a Soviet era meant a miserable choice of food products - and later a lack of food products - in shops, so people learnt to become self-sufficient (vegetable patch in the back garden or summer house, bulk buying fresh fruit and veg at the markets to prepare at home etc). Nowadays there's no urgent need for preserving food for winter - you can buy pretty much everything in shops and some of the (local) shop-bought preserves and jams aren't bad at all. And in the era of deep freezers, most fresh fruit gets mixed with sugar and simply defrosted as needed over the winter. But people still do. Maybe there's a domestic goddess hidden in many more of us than we acknowledge..
Luckily my close and extended family hasn't given up on home-made jams and preserves and pickles. As everyone has their "best-selling" products, there's even some kind of division of labour going on. My mum makes really nice pickled cucumbers, pickled winter squash and various chutneys and relishes that figure heavily throughout the winter months. My paternal grandmother, Mamma, makes the best tomatoes in brine one can dream of (she adds loads of fully grown dill flowers to the saucepan which definitely helps). My maternal grandmother, Vanaema, makes lingonberry jam that's absolutely must-have at any Christmas table, and a lovely old-fashioned sticky strawberry jam (and while she was still living in a countryside, we got our year's supply of potatoes from her, as well as helped to make tons of apple juice from the crop of her orchard). My aunt Vaike knows the whereabouts of best mushroom foraging forests, and makes a wide variety of delicious pickled, salted and marinated mushrooms (come to think of that, my god-mother Aime's mushrooms aren't bad either). My uncle Jüri makes delicious sauerkraut in a huge wooden barrel on the balcony of his tenement flat. Whenever relatives visit, they swap preserves and condiments with each other (apparently some pickled mushrooms from my auntie are already waiting for me). It's almost like blogging by mail, isn't it:)
On Saturday I had another lovely trip to Edinburgh's now weekly Farmers Market, and this time my shopping bag was much more colourful (last time it was slightly on a green side, if you remember). As I'm leaving for Estonia on Wednesday morning, I wasn't really stocking up on fresh fruit and veg, but rather just enjoying the atmosphere before sitting down comfortably with a coffee and a weekend newspaper in a cafe. Well, that was the plan.
However, I couldn't really restrain myself and ended up buying 6 pots of herbs from an Aberdonian herb grower for my new windowsill herb garden (celery, English lavender, lovage, Vietnamese coriander, sweet marjoram and basil mint), some gorgeously red redcurrants, bright orange carrots, sweet Scottish mini tomatoes, and a big bag of green tomatoes, among other things.
As there was no way I could eat through all those vegetables before heading home for some truly home-grown bounty, I started preparing for the winter, just like in the old days. After couple of hours in the kitchen I ended up with the following (from top left to the right on above picture):
A jar of deep ruby red and absolutely delicious redcurrant jelly, following a very simple recipe from Delia. It was extremely easy to make, the jelly set very easily, and had a lovely balance of sweetness and tartness.
I didn't strain my jelly through a double-thickness muslin cloth as prescribed by Delia, just because 1) I didn't have one at hand and 2) I wasn't after a chrystal clear jelly in the first place, so a fine sieve did the job just as well.
A jar of very cinnamonny tomato jam following a recipe from Clotilde of Chocolate & Zucchini. This fancy-sounding Confiture de Tomates Cerises à la Cannelle was also utterly delicious (I used very sweet Scottish-grown mini plum tomatoes) and I don't think I'll manage to leave it in peace and let it 'ripen' in my fridge for too long before I feel the urge to spread that very jam on my toast in the mornings. But then, the cinnamon smell made me feel very Christmassy, so maybe I can exercise self-control and wait until then. (Taste-wise, the recipe was perfect. If I'm fussy, I may skin the tomatoes next time, but I don't think it's absolutely necessary.)
There are two larger jars of green tomato chutney/relish with onion, red peppers, black peppercorns, mustard seeds, bay leaves, olive oil and white wine vinegar, that I plan to use as a condiment to various meat dishes and cheese later during the year. I combined couple of recipes to make these - I was looking for something with slightly less sugar and more 'savoury' spices (i.e. pepper and mustard seeds as opposed to raisins, cinnamon, cloves and ginger). I may have added just a dash too much white wine vinegar to the marinade in the recipe converting and adaptation process, but I am hopeful that the vinegar flavour mellows after a while.
And then there are two jars of sliced carrots in a rosemary and orange brine, which I will write about separately soon, as these are for consumption within a week and thus do not fall into 'preparing for winter' category:)