So I promised you more ideas for jams, didn’t I?
One of the favourites in our house is Bramble and Elderberry. Like brambles, elderberries can’t easily be confused with anything else once you know what to look for:
(Photo by Stephen McKay, via Wikimedia Commons)
Click here to visit The Woodland Trust’s site and find out how to easily identify the elder (Sambucus nigra) common to the UK. Birds absolutely adore elderberries, so the usual rules apply about not stripping a shrub of its berries – that said, of course, there are usually plenty you can’t reach unless you are partial to romping through the countryside with a ladder.
We are very lucky and have a self-seeded elder in our front hedge, mixed in with the brambles and briar roses and spitefully thorny berberis. The berberis, naturally, provides a wonderfully spikey safe-zone for birds from the marauding local moggies and so our hedge is permanently full of the twitterings and chatterings of a multitude of sparrows that have decided to gather there like little feathered neds. They are an absolute delight to watch, but the downside is that they are rather partial to an elderberry of sixty, so stripped our tree before many of the berries even ripened properly. Undeterred, I pootled off to an underused path at the back of one of our local streets where I had spotted a fantastic cluster of elders a few months ago thinking ‘Ooh, how clever and cunning I am to have such a good back-up plan’ only to discover that the ever-so-helpful council had been along and cut all the low hanging branches. Bye bye reachable elderberries!
I have therefore given up on elderberries this year. However, if you do fancy giving them a go they can be easily worked into most recipes requiring dark berries. Some people find them an acquired taste – they can be almost sickly sweet and rich and, whilst adding a lovely extra dimension to berry jams, I wouldn’t make a 100% elderberry jam. I would, however, substitute up to a half of other berries, so in the Apple and Bramble jam recipe from last week, I have very successfully used 450g of apples, 300g of brambles and 150g of elderberries. I have made batches with and without spices, and both have been lovely. Equally, you could leave out the apple altogether and have a combination of brambles and elderberries – if this was the case, I would double the amount of lemon I was using to give it that zing that you would lose without the apples, and stop the jam tasting too sweet.
Elderberries are definitely, in my opinion, worth picking if you spot any. Cut off whole bunches of them, bring them home, plonk yourself in front of the TV / fire / sit on the back step in the sun and strip them off their stalks using a fork. It’s satisfying, though messy work (the juice does stain, so do be careful!). Weigh them, and pop them into a freezable tub or bag (it’s worth writing the weight down in permanent marker) and pop them in the freezer, they can be very handy for making up a shortfall of other fruit for jams, or even fruit puddings such as crumbles. Wash them thoroughly after they’ve defrosted before use.
Marrows are not something you would usually associate with jam, are they? You’ll be surprised how well they work as a preserve.
We grow courgettes every year. I always grow two plants – one as a standby in case one fails. Every year, we love courgettes for maybe the first fortnight of having fruit from them. As do our friends and neighbours and fellow gardeners. And then, well. You start running out of ideas for what on earth to do with courgettes. So what I do now is to allow some of mine to mature into larger fruits – i,e. grow from ikkle baby courgettes into big, beefy brutes of marrows. And then I make it into jam, and nothing could be easier.
Here’s one we prepared earlier…actually, this is a squash of some description kindly donated by a fellow gardener but the method is exactly the same.
Basically, you skin and de-seed your marrow (you can dry out your seeds in the oven as you would pumpkin seeds and toss them in curry powder for a gorgeous treat if you are feeling particularly frugal) and remove the more fibrous, ‘stringy’ parts. Chop up what’s left into small chunks – you need a bit of patience for this, but you’re ideally aiming for wee chunks about 1-2cm square or thereabouts.
Weigh your marrow, make a note of the amount, and set aside.
You’ll need 20% more jam sugar than marrow (‘jam sugar’ will be better than ‘preserving sugar’, and far, far easier to use than normal sugar), so work out how much you’ll need and set that aside.
Now for the ginger – you have a choice here. I have used both powdered ginger and the sugary crystalised stem ginger and, to be honest, you couldn’t really tell much difference. Chopping the crystalised ginger down into tiny pieces is a fiddly, sticky and time-consuming job so in future I will just go for the powdered ginger, which is also considerably cheaper! With ginger, it’s one of those ‘personal taste’ things – if you really like ginger, wallop a load in. If you don’t like it so much, hold back. I usually add about four teaspoons to mine per 1kg of marrow.
You’ll also need the juice of 3 lemons (per 1kg of marrow, reduce amounts if using smaller marrows but don’t worry about being too precious about it – it’s experimental science, dudes!).
So all you do is whack in your marrow with a wee dod of water as you did your apples in the previous blog post, stir away until your head is spinning and the marrow is lovely and soft and breaks apart easily when prodded with the spoon; then add your ginger and lemon. Then add your sugar and make your jam exactly as we did last week. Obviously the same rules apply about sterilising your jam-jars and filling them as high as you can. Half filled jars of any jam should be fridged once cool and used as soon as you can – don’t worry, these jams will not hang around for long!
If you’ve enjoyed making jam and would like to experiment with different combinations and maybe even branch out into the wacky, crazy world of chutneys and pickles, I can highly recommend this book:
Everybody needs at least one Marguerite Patten book in their life, I reckon, and this really is my bible. Except for her marrow and ginger jam recipe, which I completely ignored and made up my own. Marguerite really was a quite remarkable woman, there is a brief Wiki biog of her here and if you can track down the recording of her interview for BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour a few years ago, it is really worth a listen.
EDITED TO ADD: I found the Marguerite Patten interview here on the BBC’s website. It really is wonderful.
I was going to tell you all about my delightful birthday pootle in the sunshine, but I think it deserves a post of its very own. Plus the light is rapidly fading and the clocks go back this evening (well, 2am tomorrow UK time) and I want to sit outside on the back step with my cuppa and gaze at the gorgeous, autumnal blue sky for as long as I can. Meh. Winter! (But again, that deserves a blog post of its own, and so it shall get one!).
Until next time, my lovelies xx