I am going to join the army of bloggers out there banging on about how good it feels to preserve things…because it does! It is totally a human instinct and is immensely satisfying. My preference is for jelly rather than jam – we just don’t eat Jam in our house, but I can get on board with a blob of jelly in a casserole, or with some cold meat at Christmas.
This feverish preserving binge began in the run up to the wedding in September. With table plans to create, bridesmaid shoes to buy and 1001 other little things to do, I found myself task avoiding by making a batch of Hedgerow Jelly and Apple and Rosemary Jelly. Our apple tree dropped early this year and I was determined not to waste a single apple if I could possibly help it.
Apple is a great base for a jelly, stretching any other fruit you have in smaller quantities. I don’t have a recipe but just make it up as I go, following the rule that for each pint of juice you end up with, you should add one pound of jam sugar.
First I chop the apples, splitting them into however many batches I need to encompass the flavours I want to use. This was Apple on its own and Apple and Blackberry. I stew them – adding enough water to just half cover the fruit. If it is too dry, it won’t strain. At least if you add too much water, you can always boil it off.
Once thoroughly mashed, I strain through muslin into a large plastic tub overnight. It isn’t very rustic or traditional, but I find pegs and a Tupperware box work just fine!
The next day, I boil the liquid with jam sugar in the quantities above.
After a nice rolling boil for about half an hour, it reaches setting point (which to me means it forms a blob on a chilled plate that will just about hang upside down). I scald the jam jars in boiling water and fill them almost right up. At this point you can add rosemary or sage to the apple (for beef or pork/chicken) or whatever herb you like! Give it a stir and then a shake now and then as it sets, and the herbs distribute throughout the jelly evenly.
Last night, I went for a totally blissful dog walk, armed with a bucket, and foraged pounds and pounds of rosehips, Hawthorne berries and blackberries, which will go into more hedgerow jelly, apple and rosehip jelly and possibly some chutney.
It was amazing how much I collected in just an hour.
It was getting chilly and at about 6pm the evening light was golden, chasing me along the hedgerow as I stopped and picked. I imagined how generations of Wiltshire people had done this very same thing over the years – out of necessity rather than for pleasure.
It got me thinking about why we hark back to times of hardship, from our times of plenty (excess even). Are we any happier now that we can just go to a shop and buy whatever we want? It’s a question that is on my mind.