They say the sign of a good gardener is that there is neither famine nor feast in a garden. This is something I can’t quite master, all the produce in the veg garden and orchard seems to have ripened at once and I’ve spent most of the month digging and picking fruit and veg. At one point there were so many blackcurrants that I gave up trying to pick them individually and instead combined pruning and picking in one job and carried swathes of branches into the cottage which proved much easier. I know this is frowned upon by the self-sufficiency ‘bible’ (Self-sufficiency by John Seymour ). I’ll see next year if it affects the blackcurrant harvest. At the end of the day I had 10lbs of blackcurrants, then to the task of processing them. I dry froze 2lbs to add to apple crumbles in the winter and the remaining 8lbs I first stewed and strained the juice to make homemade Ribena and the rest I made into blackcurrant compote. Hours of work produced 4 half lb pots of jam, rich and delicious, but paltry compared to the amount of effort that went into producing them.
Rhubarb has proved to be my mainstay for preserves. I’ve been using it in most of my compotes since April and it’s still growing strongly. I don’t really make jam as I object to the amount of sugar the recipes call for – you also lose the taste of the fruit. Instead I make weekly pots of compote which only use a fraction of the amount of sugar and only take a few minutes to make. This is my tried and tested recipe that can be used for any fruit.
- Chop 1lb / 500g of fruit, place in a wide bottomed pan and just cover with water or apple juice
- Gently stew
You don’t have to watch the pan at this stage it usually takes about 10 to 20 mins depending on the hardness of the fruit used.
- Sterilise the jars either in a warm oven 100 degrees C or by boiling for 5 mins. I use a baby bottle steriliser.
- When the fruit is soft take the pan off the stove and mash the fruit
Berries don’t need to be mashed as it’s nice to have them whole in the compote
- Add approx 6oz / 200g of sugar, stirring to ensure all the sugar is dissolved
- Taste and add extra sugar if the fruit is very sour
Strawberries shouldn’t need extra sugar but sour fruits like gooseberries will
- Return the pan to the heat and boil on the second highest setting for no more than 5 mins, stirring all the time.
- If any froth forms at the edges remove it with a spoon
- Leave to cool slightly then bottle
- There’s no need to test for a setting point as it is a compote and will be runnier than jam
- Store in the fridge.
Compote is great not just on bread but also as a topping for pancakes, ice-cream or yoghurt.
I’m currently making mixed berry compote with wild strawberries, blueberries, ripe gooseberries and rhubarb. The rhubarb is great for thickening the compote. Incidentally, Jamie Oliver makes a similar compote, with strawberries, on his Jamie At Home Summer Recipe DVD, it’s a great series but he boils the fruit first. If you did this for plums they would just go hard. Simmer first Jamie!!
Now at the end of July the vegetable patch is desolate. The potatoes developed blight again and all had to be dug up. I’m definitely investing in blight resident varieties next year. We couldn’t pick the peas quick enough. I’ve frozen a few but again after hours of poding peas I only managed to fill one tuberware box – it will be Captain Birdseye this winter! I’ll save the home grown ones for a special occasion maybe Christmas. The onions and garlic are now dried and stored for the winter. There are leeks and broccoli to plant next week and lots of tomatoes to pick in the greenhouse. Sometimes it frustrating and tiring trying to keep up with a vegetable patch but there’s great satisfaction to be had in producing a home-cooked meal straight from the garden.