FOOD & DRINK / New preservation orders: Nobody has to make their own jam or pickles any more. But grandmother's forgotten skills can be a real pleasure to acquire, writes Michael Bateman

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
WHEN John Major urged us Back to Basics, he didn't mean Old Testament basics. He didn't intend to unseat every morally weak, yet otherwise excellent, constituency MP in the land. But he was right to sense the mood of the Nineties, even if it's a spirit of conservation not Conservatism that's in the air. As is conserving: in the kitchen there is a new enthusiasm about getting back to basics.

Grandmother's jams really did taste better than most of the stuff on the supermarket shelves, not to mention the jellies, the pickles, the chutneys, the fruits in alcohol, the sloe gin. Granny exercised her preserving skills out of necessity, of course, so that the annual glut of garden fruit and vegetables could be eked out through the rest of the year. Modern methods of preservation - chilling, freezing - and the ease of importing out-of-season foods from across the globe have made this necessity redundant. But instead of necessity there's suddenly a better reason for preserving - sheer enjoyment.

It's in this belief that Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz has written the first serious book on preserving, pickling and bottling for a decade: Clearly Delicious (Dorling Kindersley, pounds 14.99). Amy Carroll, who edited the book, says it's a response to a changing climate. 'People are becoming conservation-minded; they want to rediscover the basic things that were done before, the traditional skills. There's a sense of nostalgia for the good things that have gone.'

Preserving was something that used to be done by country folk, she says. Now it appeals to city-dwellers. 'They have this idea about recycling and save beautiful jars and bottles. Then they see how much a jar of fruit in alcohol costs in Harvey Nichols, for example, and they say, it wouldn't be very difficult to do that. You only have to set aside part of Sunday and suddenly there's a store of good things, for yourself and to give away to friends.'

Amy Carroll is American-born. 'Americans always bring something they've made themselves when they come to dinner. It's a hospitable thing. Some people are starting to do that here. It's much more appreciated than a bottle of wine. You're bringing something of yourself.' She's quite right. Home-made jams, preserves, pickles, chutney, oils and vinegars, beautifully labelled and presented, make lovely gifts, not only for dinner parties but at any time, for family, friends, birthdays, Christmas.

'Taste,' says Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz firmly, 'taste is the main reason why you should make your own. Anything you make at home is going to taste better because you will be fussier about the quality of ingredients than a jam factory. Factories have to make up for a lack of essential quality by using additives. Or if you do buy a really good brand, then it will cost you a lot more than you pay for the ingredients, especially when they are from the garden.'

Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz is a global authority on the world's foods and she has written many books about the food of Latin America, the Caribbean, Spain, Portugal, France and Japan. The present book is partly an anthology of her wide-ranging tastes, and partly an echo of her childhood memories. Her mother was a serious jam-maker ('she made a blissful jam with dried apricots'). A touch of the exotic entered their lives when her father, whose work involved looking after an Indian nawab, brought over an Indian chef. 'So my mother learnt how to make all the authentic chutneys.'

Her new book, Clearly Delicious, is a nice mixture of ancient and modern, and it embraces the food processor and freezer to save time and trouble. There's no longer such an emphasis on complicated sterilising or acquiring costly Kilner jars for long-term storage, which may put off some beginners.

Some recipes are almost too easy. The section on flavoured oils and vinegars (contributed by collaborator Judy Ridgway) demystifies what is usually a luxury range of high-priced items in your local deli. Just stuff some herbs into a bottle of good oil or vinegar and wait a few weeks. Hey presto. Decanted into pretty bottles they glow with warmth, and are most appreciated as gifts.

Here is a brief taste - a seasonal selection - of their clearly delicious treats.

GOOSEBERRY AND ELDERFLOWER JAM

Makes about 3.25kg/7lb

1.8kg/4lb gooseberries

600ml/1pint water

5 large elderflower heads

2.25kg/5lb sugar, warmed

Put the oven on at its lowest setting. Weigh the sugar into an ovenproof bowl and warm in the oven for 15 minutes. The sterilised jars can be put into the oven to warm at the same time.

Top and tail the gooseberries. Put them with the water into a copper or brass preserving pan.

Cut off and discard the stems and wash the elderflower heads. Place on a large square of muslin and bind into a bag with string. Tie the muslin bag to the pan handle, so that it rests on the fruit, and bring the fruit and flower mixture to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30-40 minutes, or until the fruit is soft. The mixture in the pan should have reduced by about one-third. Discard the bag, squeezing it first to extract all of the juice. Add the warmed sugar to the gooseberries, and stir over a low heat, until the sugar has dissolved.

Increase the heat and boil the mixture rapidly, without stirring, for 6-8 minutes, or until it reaches setting point. (This jam reaches setting point quickly, so start testing early.) Remove the pan from the heat to test. The sugar thermometer should read 104C/220F. If you do not have a sugar thermometer, drop a little of the mixture on to a cold plate and chill quickly in the refrigerator; if the jam forms a skin it has reached setting point.

With the pan off the heat, lightly skim off any scum from the surface of the jam, using a long- handled metal spoon. Immediately pour the jam into warmed sterilised jars, to within 3mm/ 1/8 in of the tops. Seal the jars and label.

PRUNES IN PORT

Serve with roast pork or game, or as a simple dessert with ice cream, spooning the port over it. Or drink the port as a liqueur.

Fills 1 litre/1 3/4 pint jar

500g/1lb 2oz stoned prunes

480-600ml/16-20fl oz tawny port

Pack the prunes into a sterilised jar and pour in about 480ml/16 fl oz port to cover the prunes by 4cm/1 1/2 in. Cover and reserve the remaining port.

Seal the jar and label. Keep the prunes in a cool dark place. Check the prunes in a day or two. Once they have soaked up so much port that they are no longer covered, pour in the remaining port. Re-seal and leave for one month before using, to allow the flavours to develop.

HOT PEPPER SHERRY OR RUM

This is a potent brew, so add a few drops sparingly to stew or sauces.

Makes about 600 ml/1pint

6 hot red chillies, fresh or dried

600ml/1pt dry sherry or light rum

Put the chillies into a sterilised bottle with the sherry or rum. Seal and shake well. Keep in a cool dark place for two weeks before using, to allow the flavours to develop. Shake the bottle from time to time. Remove the chillies before using.

STRAWBERRY WINE

This is a refreshing early summer drink which can be served either undiluted, or with a splash of sparkling water. Float vivid blue borage flowers or a sprig of lemon balm in each glass to finish.

Makes about 900ml/1 1/2 pt

225g/8oz strawberries

3 sprigs of fresh lemon balm

1 sprig of fresh rosemary

1 sprig of fresh hyssop (from specialist herb nurseries),

or 2 sprigs of fresh mint

1 bottle of semi-sweet rose wine

Hull and slice the strawberries. Lightly bruise the herbs to release their flavours. Put the strawberries and herbs into a sterilised jar and pour in the wine. Seal the jar and shake well. Keep in a cool dark place for two days, to allow the flavours to develop. Shake the jar from time to time.

Line a funnel with a double layer of muslin and strain the flavoured wine through it into sterilised bottles. Seal the bottles, label and keep in the refigerator. The wine is now ready to use.

JAPANESE PICKLED GINGER

In Japan pickled ginger is always served with sushi - vinegared rice garnished with raw fish and shellfish. It also goes well with other seafoods and poultry. Traditionally, fresh plum juice is used to subtly colour the pickling liquid, but red food colouring works just as well.

Fills one 350ml/12fl oz jar

225g/8oz fresh root ginger

sea salt

240ml/8fl oz rice vinegar

15ml/1 tablespoon sugar

a few drops red food colouring

Peel the ginger and cut it along the grain into the thinnest possible slivers. Put in a bowl, cover with cold water, and leave to stand for 30 minutes.

Drain the ginger and put it into a saucepan of boiling water. Bring back to the boil, drain again, and let cool. Return the ginger to the bowl and sprinkle lightly with salt.

In a saucepan, combine the vinegar and sugar. Stir over a low heat until the sugar has completely dissolved. Stir in a few drops of red food colouring. Pour the vinegar mixture over the ginger, making sure it is completely submerged. Cover the bowl and let the ginger stand in a cool dark place for two weeks.

Transfer the ginger and liquid to a sterilised jar. Seal the jar, label, and keep in the fridge.

ORANGE AND CORIANDER OIL

Makes about 1 litre/1 3/4 pints

30ml/2 tablespoons coriander seeds

4 strips of dried orange zest

1 litre/1 3/4 pints extra virgin olive oil

To dry orange zest: preheat the oven on its lowest setting. Peel wide strips of zest from top to bottom of an orange. Put the strips on a baking sheet and leave in the oven for 1 1/4 hours, or until dry.

Lightly crush the coriander seeds in a mortar and pestle, being careful not to break them up completely. Alternatively, use the end of a rolling pin to crush them. Divide the coriander seeds equally between sterilised bottles.

If necessary, cut the dried orange zest to a size that will fit through the necks of the bottles. Add the zest to the coriander. Pour in the oil, to within 3mm/ 1/8 in of the bottle tops.

Seal the bottles and shake well. Label and keep in a cool dark place for one week before using, to allow the flavours to develop. Shake the bottles from time to time.

GOAT'S CHEESE WITH HERBS IN OIL

Fills one 350ml/12fl oz jar

2 small round goat's cheeses (crottins de Chavignol),

each weighing about 75g/3oz

3 sprigs of fresh thyme

3 bay leaves

6 black peppercorns

240ml/8fl oz extra virgin olive oil

Cut each goat's cheese into quarters. Pack the pieces into a sterilised jar, layering the cheese with the herbs and peppercorns as you go.

Pour in the olive oil to cover the cheese by 1.25cm/ 1/2 in.

Seal the jar and label. Keep in a cool dark place for two to three weeks before using.

Leaving the cheese for this time ensures that the oil takes on the full flavour of the cheese and vice versa. Use the cheese in salads or on crisp French bread, and the oil for cooking.

(Photograph omitted)

Comments