On the bottle

Three and a half days and almost all the preservation is done….

My kitchen table on Friday morning

My kitchen table on Friday morning

My kitchen table now

My kitchen table now

And in the interim, all this has happened:

And  this:

In fact, I got so involved with the process, I didn’t photograph all the stages. The tomatoes were all made into roast tomato passata, some for the freezer and some bottled (canned). The bottled ones were processed in a hot water bath, which is safe as long as they are acidic enough, otherwise they need to be pressure canned (the threshold is 4.6 and mine were well below at 3.9). I’ve retained some of the passata to make into ketchup, but I need some more jars to store it and those should arrive later in the week, so for now I will freeze it so there is no chance of it going off. As for the peaches, those were peeled (they were so ripe the peel came off without immersion in boiling water) and the stones removed, before being poached in a light syrup and bottled. Again, they were processed in a hot water bath. The left over peel and stones are now fermenting naturally to make vinegar. So, the two processes produce hardly any waste and what is left over goes into the compost.

It’s hard work, but well worth the effort – such a joy over the winter, plus the knowledge that I know exactly what has gone into the food that I’m eating and a reduction in packaging compared to buying tinned goods.

Minty

Family mint

Family mint

In my garden I have some mint. My mum gave it to me as a cutting from the mint in her garden, which came from the mint at our old family home. Subsequently, cuttings and root clumps have been given to various friends and relatives. Last year, mum’s plant went into a decline, so this year a clump will be returned to her garden. Also last year my sister moved house and so another clump went to her for her new garden. I love the fact that this particular plant has a family history and that it has been valued by so many of us.

Freshly harvested - just the top four pairs of leaves

Freshly harvested – just the top four pairs of leaves

It’s not the usual peppermint that folks use in cooking, but a variety of apple mint, although one that has a stronger flavour than many I have encountered. It makes a very good herbal infusion (I refuse to call it tea) when fresh and is our mint of choice for making mint sauce to serve with lamb and mutton. In addition, I like to grow it amongst my soft fruit to suppress dock and nettle growth and attract insects when it flowers. There are also suggestions that growing aromatic herbs with fruit can repel insect pests – I’m not sure that we really suffer from pests on the raspberry, but perhaps it helps keep sawfly off the gooseberries. Anyway, I don’t think this sort of companion planting does any harm and I like the visual effect.

Chop chop!

Chop chop!

I ran out of mint sauce not long ago, so yesterday morning I made three more jars. It’s very easy, just chopped mint leaves in vinegar. The choice of vinegar has an effect on the flavour. When I was a child, we made it using malt vinegar and we “chopped” the leaves by passing them through a herb mill, which pulverises the leaves, squeezing some of the juice out. I do own a herb mill, but these days I prefer to chop my mint by hand using a mezzaluna – it’s a bit more time-consuming, but I like the texture and the blade is much easier to wash than the fiddly herb mill! Neither do I use malt vinegar, but instead prefer the more subtle flavour of cider vinegar. Because of the vinegar fumes, you shouldn’t store mint sauce in jars with metal lids, so I have put mine in little preserving jars with glass lids this year.

Mint sauce

Mint sauce

This is my first foray into preserving this year, but I know that there will be much more to come.

 

Glutney

Since I still haven’t worked my way through all the apples I brought back from Herefordshire (despite continuing to bottle them), on Monday night I decided to make apple and pie-melon chutney. You will notice that I have now decided to use the Australian name for my Curcurbita ficifolia. This is because (1) I never have any intention of making Sharks fin melon soup and (2) the name ‘pie-melon’ is just so much nicer*. In addition, since narf gave me some great links (see her comment with this post), I’ve decided I’d like to carry on the long Australian tradition.

My pie melon... is it ripe?

My pie melon… is it ripe?

Actually, there seems to be some debate about the actual species that constitutes ‘pie melon’: in some places these are Curcurbita ficifolia, like mine, but elsewhere the name refers to Citrullus lanatus var. citroides (a sort of ancestral water melon with red seeds and also known as citron melon). In both cases, the fruit is pretty bland and I think can be used for similar purposes, hence the confusion. It appears that Citrullus lanatus may have softer more glutinous flesh, whilst Curcurbita ficifolia has tougher flesh with fibres. Both seem to store well and there is some suggestion that they ripen in storage, so I will definitely be keeping some of mine to see how they change over the months. Having said that, all of mine are still growing in the garden apart from the one harvested last week.

Anyway… having discovered that I might be able to use my Curcurbita ficifolia glut for preserve-making, I decided to explore the possibilities. We don’t eat very much jam, so there seems little point in making large quantities that will simply sit in a cupboard for ages. However, we did enjoy some apple chutney that we were given last year (delicious with Glamorgan sausages) and so, I thought that this might be something worth attempting. I consulted various recipe books and settled on using the general one from River Cottage. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall calls this glutney because you can use it to make a chutney from whatever you have an abundance of…. and for me at the moment that is apple and pie-melon. The choice of recipe was also was partly based on the fact that I’m not a big fan of vinegar-based preserves (I really don’t like pickles) and this recipe seemed to use an acceptable amount of vinegar. I chose cider vinegar because of the apples, but also because it is, to my taste, quite mild.

In the end, I used the following recipe (the River Cottage recipe I started from just gave an indication of relative amounts of sugar/veg/vinegar etc so this is my interpretation and choice of specific ingredients):

1kg pie melon
1.5kg apples
500g onions
500g dates
500g soft brown sugar
600ml cider vinegar
A spice bag containing: 50g fresh root ginger roughly chopped and bruised; green peppercorns; white peppercorns; whole coriander seeds

Basically, I chopped all the fruit and veg and the dates, then put everything in a preserving pan, brought it gently to the boil and simmered it (uncovered, stirring occasionally) for three hours, before potting it up in hot sterilised jars.

In order to avoid the house filling with vinegar fumes (as happened the only other time I tried to make chutney… mango, sometime in the last century) I had the extractor hood on over the cooker all the time.

The resulting chutney looks like bottled rhubarb! I had a little taste and it seemed ok, but it needs to mature for a couple of months before it’s ready to eat… I will report back.

Lots of jars of chutney... I wonder what it will taste like!

Lots of jars of chutney… I wonder what it will taste like!

-oOo-

* It does, however, mean that my previous post should be re-titled ‘Pie attack’… which I’m not convinced has the same ring!

String theory

I used to think that I could officially be classified as ‘crazy’ when the cat population in my house exceeded three. This did happen some years ago and the situation got so bad (factions formed – there was war) that I had to find a new home for one of them. I have, however, revised my classification… this is because we now only have dogs but I don’t think I got any saner with the reduction in feline numbers (maybe it’s a threshold thing and once you’ve had four cats, there’s no going back).

Anyway, This morning as I constructed a frame for my runner beans to climb up, it dawned on me that I may have achieved new heights of craziness. “Why?” I hear you ask… well, I realised that I have started collecting small pieces of string. The bamboo canes needed tying together and, rather than getting out my ball of twine, like any sane person, I was able to lay my hands on enough short pieces of string to fulfill my needs. And then, to make matters worse, I found myself photographing my string so I could share it with you:

 

Some of my string collection

Some of my string collection

String in action

String in action

But, it’s not just string… I also have a bag of yarn scraps:

Odds and ends

Odds and ends

Which I have been using to stuff hexipuffs, but not fast enough to stop the collection growing.

And then there’s my inability to throw out apple peel and cores, although this has produced some lovely vinegar:

Apple scrap vinegar

Apple scrap vinegar

Perhaps I just need to embrace the crazy…

 

A sour taste

Fermented apple scraps

Fermented apple scraps

About a month ago I started making apple scrap vinegar, and I can report that the process is going well. The idea was to find a use for apple peel and cores rather than simply putting them on the compost heap (although that is not a bad use in itself). By making vinegar, however, I am able to obtain an additional yield and still have compostable material… three outputs from one resource!

The strained liquid - each jar holds three litres.

The strained liquid – each jar holds three litres

It’s good to be deliberately making vinegar – I have done it inadvertently in the past, in the days when I used to make my own wine! Having added some sugar-water and allowed the scraps to ferment naturally for a few weeks, yesterday I strained the liquid off and put it in a couple of large glass jars. It’s fascinating that the mixture had not gone mouldy, but naturally occurring  yeasts had caused the fermentation (you don’t add any brewers yeast). I could have allowed it to ferment for a bit longer, but I need the space that the bucket was occupying, so I decided to move on to this next stage of the process.

Covered with loosely-woven fabric and ready for the next stage - vinegar formation

Covered with loosely-woven fabric and ready for the next stage – vinegar formation

I covered the large jars with cloth squares (lovely colour because these are off-cuts from the kitchen curtains) and transferred the jars onto the dresser to allow the liquid to continue its progression towards apple vinegar. Apparently I can now leave it for between two weeks and two months before it’s ready for filtering through a fine cloth and then it can be used directly or pasteurised to allow me to store it. The fermented apple scraps cannot be fed to the chickens (I really don’t want a drunken ‘hen party’ outside my bedroom window), so they have gone straight onto the compost heap. In fact the girls have not been missing out as they’ve had lots of scraps whilst I’ve been processing more apples for the freezer… there’s a limit to the amount of apple vinegar that a girl can make use of!

Fruit vinegar

A report on the BBC today highlights the amount of food that is going to waste in the UK, with Tesco reporting that it threw away 30,000 tonnes of food in the first six months of this year:

Using its own data and industry-wide figures, it has also estimated that, across the UK food industry, 68% of salad to be sold in bags was wasted – 35% of it thrown out by customers.

And it estimated that 40% of apples and 47% of bakery items were wasted.

My bucket of 'food waste'!

My bucket of ‘food waste’!

These are shocking figures… but I’m not entirely surprised. Perhaps the fact that food is relatively cheap and, when bought from a supermarket, the customer has invested little effort in its production, means it has little ‘value’. I am reluctant to waste anything that I have taken time to create – whether a sock I have knitted or apples I have bottled – and I think this is true for many people. In our household no food goes to waste – if for some reason we can’t eat it, it is consumed by dogs, chickens or worms, with the compost heap being the ultimate destination if there are no other takers. In addition, we never buy a bag of salad leaves because I can almost always find some fresh in the garden or in a pot and then we only pick what we need… even if that’s just half a dozen for a sandwich.

However, this week I have embarked on an endeavour to make even better use of a ‘waste’ product. A few days ago, my friend Deano (supplier of my naked pumpkin seeds and all-round inspiring permaculture practitioner) posted a link to a blog describing how to make vinegar from fruit scraps.

Apple scraps, fermenting naturally as you can see from the bubbles on the surface

Apple scraps, fermenting naturally as you can see from the bubbles on the surface

As you may have noticed from recent posts, I’ve got lots of apples! Until now, the peel and cores have either been fed to the hens (they love them, but there is a limit to the amount they can eat) or put direct on the compost heap (creating a lovely cidery smell). However, I’ve now decided to get an extra yield and am making apple vinegar. It takes several weeks, so I’m currently only at the stage of apple scraps, water and a bit of sugar fermenting naturally in a bucket (food grade plastic) covered with muslin to keep the fruit flies off. I will add to this as I work my way through the rest of the apples that I am going to bottle or freeze, and then it will be more weeks until the vinegar will be ready for bottling itself, but fingers crossed that it works. Once strained off the vinegar, the scraps will still be going on the compost heap, but cannot be fed to the chickens as they will contain alcohol and I really can do without drunken hens reeling round my back yard!

So, in our house, we’re not contributing at all to food waste. Do you have any tips for using up scraps?

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