Apple and Bramble Crumble

My all time favorite pudding, Autumn isn’t complete without one every weekend.

I’ve loved Apple and Bramble Crumble for as long as I can remember, I used to request it as part of my birthday meal every year when I was younger. No other crumble will suffice, it’s just not right if it doesn’t contain the jewel of the Autumnal hedgerow. I can’t walk past a bramble bush without stopping to stuff my face, it’s one of lifes great pleasures. It’s always a sad day when the last packet of frozen brambles are used up, knowing that it’ll be months and months before the next chance to pluck one from it’s thorny home.

I think one of the beauties of making Apple and Bramble Crumble is how you can tinker with it, but still retain the very essence of the dish. It doesn’t really matter if you use the bog standard recipe from the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book, go all Raymond Blanc and cook the crumble and filling seperatley, or spice up the filling like Tony Singh, the essence of the dish remains.

So last time I made it, I decided to go a bit off piste and rather than just following the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book recipe, I decided to follow Tony’s lead and get the spices out. Sautéing the apples in spiced butter, prior to baking... In with some jaggery, rather than plain white sugar, then a cinnamon stick and a star anise were added and left to infuse while I chopped the apples. Eaters of course, as you want your apples to stay chunky and solid and not turn to mush, like a cooker would. I also used a variety of apples, so each mouthful would yield a slightly different taste and texture.

I’ve found that I need my hob on nearly full whack to get any sort of colour on the apples within the few minutes the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book recipe says to cook them for. In this instance, that meant the aromas coming out of the pan were immense, jaggery certainly makes for a tasty caramelisation. I think maybe a couple more star anise next time though, or a longer infussion, so that flavour comes through a bit more.

All in all, it was a very tasty pimping of an otherwise bog standard Apple and Bramble Crumble and one that warrants a bit more experimentation. Maybe next time I’ll cook the filling and the topping separately and see how that works. Always serving it with ice cream mind, none of this double cream nonsense…

Apple, Pear and Ginger Mincemeat

Apple, Pear and Ginger Mincemeat

I decided that we didn’t have enough mincemeat to make it through the Christmas period. As we had some pears left over, I decided to use them to make Apple, Pear and Ginger Mincemeat.

The recipe for this was in the variations section, at the bottom of the page detailing the Plum and Russet Mincemeat recipe in Preserves: River Cottage Handbook No.2. The method for producing it was exactly the same, so I wont go into details of that, just a couple of things.

I didn’t have any crystallised stem ginger to hand, just a jar of Chinese stem ginger in syrup, so I used that. I also didn’t bake it for quite as long, about half an hour less and I remembered to add the brandy. It did froth and steam at bit when I added it, as per the recipe, which leaves me wondering if all the alcohol was burnt off or not. It’s supposed to be required to aid in the preserving, so you’d hope some of it survived.

Green Tomato Chutney

Bread, cheddar and chutney...

I grew twenty four tomato plants this year, hoping for a bumper crop with which to make roasted tomato passata. Only four tomatoes ripened on the plants, which left me with an absolute glut of unripe green ones, which meant only one thing, lots of green tomato chutney.

I made some last year, following the recipe in the River Cottage Preserves Handbook and while it wasn’t a complete disaster, I was so focused on following the recipe that I over cooked it badly. This is the bit that I came unstuck over:

It is thick enough if, when you draw a wooden spoon through it, the chutney parts to reveal the base of the pan for a few seconds.

It took over four hours of cooking to get it anywhere near to this point, by which time it was just a thick dark brown paste; not really what you’re looking for in a chutney. This year I decided to go with the:

Let the mixture simmer, uncovered, for two and a half, to three hours — maybe even a bit more.

As a reference, rather than the being able to see the bottom of the pan. Green tomatoes... In the end I made three different batches, which I cooked for different lengths of time. It was interesting to see the difference only fifteen extra or fewer minutes cooking made to the final amount and how it looked.

Making chutney is a pretty simple process, chop up a load of veg, mix with some dried fruit, sugar, vinegar and a spice bag, then cook. The art would appear to be in selecting the fruit and veg to use and manipulating the spice bag to suit. It’s one of those things you can make at practically anytime of year, with whatever you have a load of. While I quite fancy trying Gingered Rhubarb and Fig, wrong time of year; or Pumpkin and Quince, right time of year; with so many green tomatoes and courgettes/marrows, there really was only one choice.

At the start of cooking...The problem I have with this kind of recipe, is that one mans simmer, is another mans boil. How hard am I suppose to simmer it…? Just a bit of a blip every now and again, or just short of an all out boil? This kind of thing really makes a difference with the cooking times, as not one of the three batches was anywhere near ready after two and a half hours, so does this mean I wasn’t cooking it hard enough? Any harder and I’d have been burning it to the bottom of the pan, which very nearly happened with the second batch anyway, as I wasn’t concentrating.

Given the above, I cooked all three batches on the same setting on the hob, just with fifteen minutes difference between each of them. So the first batch was cooked for three hours, the second batch for three and a half and the final batch for three and a quarter. In retrospect, I didn’t think that the first batch had been cooked for long enough. It wasn’t dark enough in colour and it was a bit watery. After two hours of blipping... The second batch I felt was maybe a touch over, while it still had good colour and clearly identifiable chunks in it, I just felt that the optimal was slightly less. Hence splitting the difference with the third and final batch.

I’ve no idea what the second and third batches taste like, as there was none left over after potting up. The first batch made five big jars (454g or 1lb if you prefer), one small jar (227g or 8oz), with a bit left over in a ramekin. The second batch made four and a half jars exactly, while the third batch made five jars exactly. So for each fifteen minutes, I was losing about a 227g jar’s worth of chutney. As the recipe says it makes ten to eleven 340g jars, there is obviously a bit of a mismatch between it and my experience. As five 454g jars (2,270g) is way short in volume terms, of ten 340g jars (3,400g).

The only thing I can think of, that could possibly be causing the mismatch, is the pan I use. As much as I want one, I don’t own a jelly pan, so make do with my five litre stock pot. From the left, batch 1, 2 and 3... As a jelly pan is purpose built to aid evaporation with its sloping sides, I can only think that using the stock pot requires more time, as the straight sides inhibit evaporation. Maybe I’m just going to have to bite the bullet and buy a proper jelly pan for next year; I already have it on a list of things I’d like to buy, along with a tamis, tart rings, dariole moulds and a larger jelly bag setup.

I had some of last years chutney at lunch yesterday and know that all three of these batches are better. So while I know that I’ll be giving away most of the sixteen jars that I’ve produced, I’m really quite looking forward to cracking into whatever I keep in a few months time.

Plum and Russet Mincemeat

Plums softening in orange juice...

When we made mince pies last Christmas, I wanted to make some Plum and Russet Mincemeat, but I didn’t realise that it’s suppose to mature for a couple of months. When we were offered some plums and apples last month by a friend, I knew exactly what to use them for.

While the apples we were given weren’t russets, I didn’t think it would make that much difference, so didn’t bother trying to hunt some down. We also hummed and hawed about buying ginger wine and brandy, as neither is something that we have in the house. Plum and (not) Russet Mincemeat melding overnight... In the end we decided to buy both, as if you’re going to do something, you may as well do it properly.

You start by softening the halved plums in orange juice, before either blending the lot, or passing it through a sieve. As I have a Vitamix though, I wasn’t going to bother with the arm ache of passing it all though a sieve. The recipe says that you should end up with around 700ml of purée, I got waaaaaaaay more than that, so I’m not sure if my plums were extra juice or not. I added a bit of icing sugar to the remaining purée to turn it into a kind of plum coulis, it went quite nicely with some apple and bramble crumble.

Once you have your purée, you add everything else to it, bar the brandy and leave it overnight to meld. The following day, it’s into the oven to bake for two to two and a half hours. I decided to go for the full two and a half hours, I can’t remember why now, but I should only have baked it for two, as it was a bit too reduced and cooked for my liking. Plum and (not) Russet Mincemeat after being baked in the oven for too long... All that was left to do was add the brandy and pot it up, so I totally forgot about the brandy and shoveled it into recycled pasata jars and left it too cool.

I have no idea why I forgot the brandy, but as the alcohol is required as part of the preserving process and the fact that I actually went to the trouble of buying some, I’m quite annoyed with myself. Only time will tell if this was a fatal mistake or not. Only time will tell if using pasata jars was the right thing too, as I have not idea how I’m going to get all the mincemeat out of those when the time comes. I might have to buy a really long handled teaspoon or something; I’m not sure what I was thinking when I pulled those from the cupboard.

Purple Fingers

Purple fingers...

I find it impossible to walk past a bramble bush without picking some.

It’s that time of year again, with nature’s bounty waiting to be plucked from thorny bushes resulting in purple fingers. As you can see, I’ve already plundered a local hedgerow for some brambles to make jelly with. This weekend, I’ve also got to pick all the rowanberries in the front garden and the elderberries in the back. Plus I need to get hold of some haws, hips and sloes. I can see that I’ll be needing to invest in quite a few bags of preserving sugar.

I’ve also noticed quite a few apple trees while I’ve been out cycling on the local bridleways and byways. While I’m not a cider drinker, it’s tempting to have a crack at making some, or even just trying to bottle some of the juice. We’ll see…

Bramley Lemon Curd

I love lemon curd, I always have. I used to bug Mum to buy jars of the hard set luminous yellow stuff when I was a kid. I can remember the first time I tried proper lemon curd, it was at my Granny’s house after school one day. After tasting it, there was no going back to the processed stuff, it just wasn’t in the same league.

I’ve toyed with the idea of making it for myself for years, but like most thing, I’ve never got round to it. But once we bought the Preserves: River Cottage Handbook No.2 I knew that I finally had to give it a go. Since my wee boy had recently enjoyed some passion fruit curd, I asked him if he wanted to help, he said yes. He changed his mind on the day though, preferring to play with his Lego, but then my wee lassie decided that she wanted to help.

It was pretty easy to make if I’m being honest, although it took waaaaaaay longer than the book suggested. I’m not sure why, but I think a combination of a smallish pan and a big thick pyrex bowl, meant that it was sitting quite far away from the simmering water. The book says to stir over a gentle heat, but in the end I had it on full whack and it still took fifty minutes, rather than the stated nine to ten, to reach the required 83°C.

Next time I make it, I’ll definitely be putting the bowl on the widest pan we have, so it sits further in and closer to the boiling water. I’ll also use slightly less apple, as I this batch wasn’t lemony enough for my tastes. Their variation of using gooseberries instead of the apples sounds interesting though, especially as I’ve just planted two gooseberry bushes in the garden.