Rebecca Tyrrel: Days Like Those

'Anything in this house that qualifies for life in a jar will be turned into jam, sauce or jelly'
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When Matthew nonchalantly announces that he is going to do "a quick shop" what he actually means is "I will be returning in three hours with upwards of 28 supermarket carrier bags". He will be drenched in sweat and too exhausted to unpack anything, so I will have to do it while he has a long, cold bath.

In short, what Matthew suffers periodically is a "doolally". This is an episode during which he becomes der- anged or feeble-minded. The word is Indian army slang from Deolali, a town near Bombay where fever and madness were prevalent a century ago.

There are many times when I notice that Matthew is doing something that would not be considered normal behaviour. Just now he took some ice cubes out of the fridge, shook them into a tea towel, folded the towel and then stuck it to his head with parcel tape. The next heat combatant he comes up with will be entirely different. A doolally, however, is always the same. It involves the purchase of industrial quantities of food.

The last doolally produced six packets of scones, 12 chicken thighs, two chickens, eight lamb chops, six pork chops, six jars of mustard, three cos lettuces, three iceberg lettuces, three cucumbers, three green peppers, three red onions, three pounds of Dutch tomatoes, six bottles of Tabasco, six jars of horseradish and six tubs of Duchy Originals soup (with a sell-by date of the day after tomorrow). There were four tins of tomatoes, four tins of tuna and a family-size tin of Cadbury's Roses that will be company for the family-size tin of Cadbury's Roses that arrived five days ago. Perhaps they will breed in the cupboard and produce some Celebrations.

Matthew's only explanation, and one delivered with very little confidence, is an atavistic fear traceable to his Ukrainian antecedents. He is subconsciously worried that we will be forced to hide out and live off meagre supplies while Cossacks maraud up and down the Uxbridge Road. But even in the unlikely event of a Shepherd's Bush pogrom, I can't see how Tabasco in quite such large quantities would help.

In the middle of counting the oranges (74), I had a marvellous idea. I put it to Matthew a few minutes ago, when to fend off heatstroke he removed two of the three dozen Soleros from the fridge-freezer and taped them to his wrists. (He then headed for the door and I said that if he left the house with things taped to him he would be arrested. He replied that if it saved him a Tube trip in this heat he would have no objection.)

My marvellous idea is to become a semi-professional producer of preserves. Anything in this house that qualifies for life in a jar will be turned into jam, chutney, sauce or jelly.

"I see," said Matthew, releasing the Soleros and offering me one, "it will be the soup fiasco all over again." He refers to a brief period in 1999 when I took to making soup with such doolally excessthat I had to give it away. A homeless couple who were residing next to a KFC were grateful the first time I pitched up with a flask, slightly less so the second and when I arrived for a third time the man politely explained that while they appreciated my kindness, they weren't "really soup people".

This time I started with marmalade, a Nigella recipe, and gave some to a friend with children. Within a week I had received an e-mail asking for more. It became clear very quickly that I had found something I was good at and that I should share my gift with those in need. Matthew's doolallies were being used up and, in turn, I was serving the community.

So next up was raspberry jam, and then I moved on to chutney, starting with gooseberries. This wasn't quite so successful, but the plum and raisin looks as if it's going to be a stunner (although will not be ready for eating for three to four months) and apple and geranium jelly (Matthew did a doolally in Homebase if anyone needs any curtain rings, stopping off in the plant section) is heaven on a piece of wholemeal toast.

I have now become addicted to preserving and find that I am pacing the floor in anticipation of Matthew's return from the shops in a sweaty state of over-excitement about what I will be pickling or bottling next.

I am taking some of the tomato and walnut jam and melon marmalade I made earlier today to a homeless shelter after phoning in advance so that they knew I was coming. Matthew, who has never had any confidence in my culinary skills and is put out that the marmalade went down so well, says he is worried that I might be told when I get there that they are not "jam people". I put this down to sour grapes on his part. (Talking of which, I have found an excellent method for pickling the muscatels he came home with yesterday.)

In fact, I am quite confident that my jam and marmalade won't be turned down and even if they are, the people at the shelter will have trouble resisting the tuna, fruit scone and Tabasco gift packages I have put together for them.