River Cottage Preserves Handbook
About Me: Britain's seasonal gluts of fruit, vegetables and herbs are ripe for turning into delicious preserves to enjoy all year round From jams, jellies, curds and leathers to pickles, chutneys, cordials, vinegars and sauces, Pam Corbin presents an abundance of preserves across the sweet and savoury spectrum. Over 75 recipes encompass traditional favourites such as raspberry jam, lemon curd and sloe gin, to fresh combinations such as apple butter and nettle pesto.
The term ‘mincemeat’ originated in the fifteenth century, when chopped meat was preserved with a combination of dried fruit, sugar and aromatic spices. During the seventeenth century, beef or lamb suet replaced the meat and has been used ever since – with vegetarian ‘suet’ a more recent option. This recipe is a departure on several fronts: it uses fresh fruit as well as dried, and contains no suet. In fact, it contains very little fat (only the oil in the almonds). The result is light and fruity, but with all the rich, warm spiciness of a traditional mincemeat.
Flavored vinegars are very useful additions to the store cupboard as their distinctive flavours can revolutionise a simple salad dressing or sauce. The process is simple: aromatic herbs, flowers or strong-flavoured ingredients are steeped in vinegar for a period of time and are then strained out. The vinegar is then decanted into a sterilised bottle and sealed. Always pick leaves and flowers for steeping when they are dry and their perfume is at its best. Use cider vinegar or white wine vinegar, rather than the stronger malt – or perhaps try some delicate rice vinegar to give a hint of Asian flavour to the mix.
I love the sweet, earthy flavour of beetroot and I hate to see it swamped in strong tasting vinegar, as so often happens. This light preserve is quite a different proposition: roasting the young roots really concentrates their robust flavour, while the sharp pungency of horseradish adds a liveliness to the sweet beet. Serve this summery relish alongside smoked mackerel. It’s also fantastic in sandwiches with cold meats.
This traditional sweet vegetable pickle, Indian in origin, is the ultimate August preserve for me. The time to make it is when garden produce is at its peak and there is ample to spare. You can use almost any vegetable in the mix but make sure you include plenty of things which are green and crisp. The secret of a really successful piccalilli is to use very fresh vegetables and to take the time to cut them into small, similar-sized pieces. The recipe first treats the vegetables to a dry-brining, which helps to keep them really firm and crunchy, then bathes them in a smooth, hot mustard sauce.
This recipe comes from Liz Neville, a virtuoso preserves maker with whom Pam runs the River Cottage Preserve Making courses. You can make it with any raspberry, but we particularly like to use the big autumn berries which generously stretch the softfruit season well into October, even November. Bottle a few and you can extend your raspberry eating well into the dark winter months. In an ideal world, the fruit for this preserve would be packed into the jars as you pick it from the canes. That may not be possible – but do make sure the fruit is in tip-top condition and handled as little as possible.
I welcome the first tiny gooseberries that appear in the month of May, just as the first boughs of elderflower are beginning to show. The berries are picked when no bigger than my little thumbnail, almost as a thinning process, allowing their brothers and sisters to fill out and mature on the bush. But these early green goddesses are full of pectin, sharp and tart, and make a divine jam. The fragrant elderflowers add a flavour which will remind you, when the days are short and dark, that summer will come again.
A fruit cheese is simply a solid, sliceable preserve – and the princely quince, with its exquisite scent and delicately grainy texture, makes the most majestic one of all. It can be potted in small moulds to turn out, slice and eat with cheese. Alternatively, you can pour it into shallow trays to set, then cut it into cubes, coat with sugar and serve as a sweetmeat. A little roughly chopped quince cheese adds a delicious fruity note to lamb stews or tagines – or try combining it with chopped apple for a pie or crumble.
This is also known as officer’s jam but it’s really not a jam at all. The German name, Rumtopf, seems far more appropriate for what is actually a cocktail of rum-soaked fruit. The idea is that the mixture of fruit, alcohol and sugar is added to gradually, as different fruits ripen throughout the growing season. This preserve is usually prepared with Christmas in mind, when the potent fruity alcohol is drunk and the highly spirited fruit can be served on its own or with ice cream and puddings. It’s not essential to use rum, by the way – brandy, vodka or gin will work just as well. You will need a large glazed stoneware or earthenware pot with a closely fitting lid, and a small plate, saucer or other flat object that will fit inside the pot and keep the fruit submerged.
The sweetly scented, creamy-white flowers of the elder tree appear in abundance in hedgerows, scrub, woodlands and wasteland at the beginning of summer. The fresh flowers make a terrific aromatic cordial. They are best gathered just as the many tiny buds are beginning to open, and some are still closed. Gather on a warm, dry day (never when wet), checking the perfume is fresh and pleasing. Trees do differ and you will soon get to know the good ones. Remember to leave some flowers for elderberry picking later in the year. This recipe is based on one from the River Cottage archives: it’s sharp, lemony and makes a truly thirst-quenching drink. You can, however, adjust it to your liking by adding more or less sugar. The cordial will keep for several weeks as is. If you want to keep it for longer, either add some citric acid and sterilise the bottles after filling, or pour into plastic bottles and store in the freezer. Serve the cordial, diluted with ice-cold sparkling or still water, as a summer refresher – or mix with sparkling wine or Champagne for a classy do. Add a splash or two, undiluted, to fruit salads or anything with gooseberries – or dilute one part cordial to two parts water for fragrant ice lollies.
It always amazes me just how much fruit a gnarled old pear tree can bear in a good season. However, it’s still a little tricky to catch pears at their point of perfect ripeness – somewhere between bullet hard and soft and woolly. Never mind, should you find yourself with a boxful of under-ripe specimens, this recipe turns them into a preserve ‘pear excellence’. These pears are particularly delicious served with thick vanilla custard, or used as a base for a winter fruit salad. Alternatively, try serving them with terrines and pâtés, or mix with chicory leaves drizzled with a honey mustard dressing and crumbly blue cheese.