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Easy Apple and Cardamom Chutney

Well I’ve been trying to whittle down my absolutely enormous bushel of apples. We picked loads from an old abandoned orchard not far from us. We used a couple of kilos along with local wild blackberries to make some absolutely heavenly Apple and Blackberry Jam. I’m also planning Apple & Chilli Chutney and Apple and Ginger Chutney. Today is the turn of Apple and Cardamom Chutney. It is bubbling away on my hob as I write and smells amazing!!!! I’m only making two jars. Once to keep and one to gift. And best of all? The cost is the mere two quid of a Kilner cliptop jar because I had all the ingredients knocking around in the pantry and the apples were free!

Ingredients:

500g of peeled and cored apples chopped into small chunks

1 large onion cut into small wedges

150ml red wine vinegar

300g soft brown sugar

3 heaped teaspoons of ground cinnamon (you could also use sticks)

The seeds from 8 cardamom pods

4 bay leaves

100g sultanas

Method:

Chuck all the ingredients except for the sultanas into a large pot, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add the sultanas and continue to simmer and switch on your oven to sterilise your jars (if you’re not using the dishwasher to sterilise them) for 15 minutes.

Your chutney should be nice and broken down and thick at this point and ready for bottling.

I’ll be enjoying this with crusty made bread and pate, although I’m sure it will go brilliantly with cheese or pork as well.

 


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How to make Sloe Gin

Its one of those cold, wet, miserable days that the UK seems to produce in abundance around Christmas time. You’ve just rushed inside after your obligatory 4 mile walk with your toddler to ensure he doesn’t use up his excess energy trashing your house watch too much TV. Freezing cold, and with your soaking shoes and jacket ruining the carpet just inside your front door (Nope, no luxury mudroom here), there is nothing better to warm you up than a roasting fire and a decent glass of something to warm the cockles. My tipple of choice is sloe gin. Although you can buy it, its cheap to make, and tastes way better than the commercial stuff. Using only three ingredients, this will be the easiest, and most rewarding thing you make all year.

Ingredients:

Roughly 750g Sloes

Roughly 400g sugar

750ml gin

The most important ingredient is the sloes. They’re the fruit of the Blackthorn tree (Its more of a large bush than a tree to be honest) and right now is not a bad time to find them. There are loads of in the country park where I live, which makes it very easy for me to find them. The best way to find a Blackthorn tree is to look for them in spring, when they are covered in white blossom, usually in hedgerows. If you’re not sure what you’re looking for, ask. Sloes are roughly the size of small grapes, purple and tend to have a pale purple bloom on them. Don’t go eating any straight off the tree, they taste revolting.

Blackthorn or sloe (Prunus spinosa) - geograph...

Blackthorn or sloe (Prunus spinosa) – geograph.org.uk – 1451519 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The traditional time of year to pick them is after the first frosts, usually mid September. This year, I’ve left mine till now (early October) because, first, we haven’t had any frost yet, and secondly, they are perfectly squidgy and ripe. Pick them too early and they won’t be ripe. The reason one waits for the first frost, is because freezing these little gems breaks all the plant cells inside the fruits, allowing maximum infusion with your gin. As we haven’t had ANY frost yet here, I’ll be sticking mine in the freezer to get the same effect.

The second thing you’re supposed to do with your sloes is to prick them individually with a non metal pin (toothpick anyone?). I’m sure a metal pin or fork is fine. Two years ago I made 3 litres of the stuff, and I couldn’t face the mind numbing chore of individually pricking 3 kilo’s (roughly 6lbs) of the little bastards. The whole point of pricking the skins is the let the lovely sloe yumminess actually get out of the sloe and into your gin. My solution is to just lay them in a single layer in a baking tray (frozen) and beat the living daylights out of them with the bottom of a wine bottle. The skins split, which is the whole point. You can always decant off the little bits later. In fact you need to, to prevent the whole lot turning bitter.

Once your sloes are all prepped, chuck them into your bottle of choice till the bottle is between a quarter and a half full. Add sugar, shaking it down until it is level with the top of the sloes. Top up the whole lot with lots of gin. You can do like I did two years ago and use rather expensive export quality, or you can use the cheap and nasty stuff, which is what I’m doing this year. You don’t have to use caster sugar, ordinary white, granulated sugar is also just fine.

Seal and shake your bottle. Store in a dark cupboard. Shake a few times in the first 24 hours, then once daily for a week, once weekly for a month and once monthly till sometime between Christmas and early March. Decant off the used up sloes and store your lovely gin in a nice bottle. Don’t leave the gin on the sloes for more than 3-5 months, otherwise it can turn very bitter. It will be ready to drink by Christmas, but I prefer to leave mine for a year or so. It will turn an amazing pinky red during this process. Decanted and left to mature, it turns a more tawny red and mellows beautifully.

MAKE some, you’ll need it for my Sloe Gin Venison Pie, coming to a blog near you soon! Although I like it neat, I believe it makes a brilliant fizz cocktail when combined with some bubbly. Chin chin!


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“The mind I love must have wild places, a tangled orchard where dark damsons drop in the heavy grass. ~ Katherine Mansfield

We live right in a fantastic country park which links up to several local commons. I tend to go for regular long walks with little K in the pram. She really enjoys the scenery and I can’t say I blame her. There are some incredibly enormous trees that were replanted here from Kew Gardens during WW2 so that they wouldn’t be damaged during the bombing raids on London. Some patches of ancient woodland, undisturbed for hundreds of years, also still remain. There are also two old abandoned orchards.

I missed the cherries this year but managed to get the Damsons before the birds. Damsons are essentially small, wild plums. They have a fantastic tart flavour and the skins release an unreal pink colour. I picked 1.5kg.

My chefy friend L and I spent several days debating the pro’s of damson vodka, icecream and jam while said fruit languished in my freezer. In the end, we opted for Jam. So last Monday we juggled 3 kids, 2 cups of tea and a jam thermometer while our Damsons bubbled away on the stove.

Damson Jam:

You’ll need equal weights of whole, ripe Damsons and ordinary granulated sugar. Damson’s are fairly high in pectin as long as you cook them enough before adding the sugar so you don’t need to use fancy jam sugar with added pectin.

We weighed the frozen Damsons and chucked them straight into a large pot on a low heat with a drop of water and covered them. Once they were burst and bubbling and the stones were separated from the flesh, we added an equal weight of ordinary granulated sugar. That brought the stones to the surface and we picked them out. We brought the jam up to 120 degrees and let it bubble away for 10 minutes while we picked out more stones. The hot jam was then poured into warm sterilised kilner jars. We had enough for exactly 4 jars (roughly 2 pints in total)

 

I’ll be enjoying this on scones in a week or two. Next week I’ll be pilfering some apples from the orchard and having a bash at chutney.