January is supposed to start with promises to self on issues of great importance, right? Zin should be getting Zen.
On a farm when everything decides to ripen at once the year starts with the loud demands of rapidly ripening fruit. This is overlaid with the inherited (or absorbed) psychological subtext that ‘waste is sin’. Days start from half sleep mental notes of picking orders, processing possibilities and storage to sale solutions.
So some plan to drink less (really not helpful to our business) eat less (really bad idea) exercise more (make bread to avoid tuck-shop arms). If you really want to be helpful, I need you to eat more jam, relish and pie.
When someone skinny, fit and pious arches a brow when you reach for another slice/piece/glass – tell them you’re just doing your bit to help a farmer.
I don’t know (or choose not to know) anyone who doesn’t like the gift of a jar of homemade jam – it’s like a hug in a jar. If you grow or receive the gift of excess fruit these are my top tips for quick results.
2 kg fruit
2 kg sugar
1 or 2 lemons
Boil rapidly for ten minutes or until a little cooled in a saucer sets.
Remove lemon, pour into hot sterilised jar and lid immediately.
That, is it. These tips may help:
If you are using low pectin fruit like strawberries add some jam setter (pectin) or high pectin fruit like apple grated through.
Add a smattering of less ripe fruit to aid setting.
NEVER try to cook more than 2kg at a time.
Add a knob of butter to rid a foamy top
Use the largest pot you can with a heavy bottom (I mean the pot) Smaller pot, smaller batch.
Fruit with stones that are not free may be easier cook and then remove the stone, most will float to the surface. Don’t worry about the odd stone.
If you are too busy for jam, relish or pie right now and the fruit looks like it might crawl off the bench if you leave it one more day, roast fruit with a little butter and sugar and pop in the fridge or freezer. This should only take a few minutes and it will now keep to make some pies or top ice-cream or as a base for a more exotic chilli jam/relish.
Some people feel guilty about things they have or haven’t done in life – the big stuff.
Me, I feel racked when I realise the last of the peaches fell to ground, there were figs I missed spotting or the birds beat me to a particularly succulent bunch of grapes.
My confession – I adore filling jars, and everything that goes with preserved food – safe from decay, wildlife or neglect. Squirreling.
This weeks race against the sin that is waste (Aunty Isabel lived through the war and “Waste is Sin” was one of her favourite sayings) has had me drying figs, jellying crabapples, jamming plums, relishing tomatoes and roasting peaches.
My Grandmother (and Aunty Isabel) would have been horrified at the use of such perfect fruit as these peaches in crostata, pies were a place for less than perfect fruit.
I roast fruit in a single layer sprinkled with sugar and dotted with butter, cooking in a moderately hot oven until just bursting.
The restaurant menu also saw hour old kipflers simply dressed with olive oil, fresh mint, basil and parsley, a little seeded red chilli and salt. Yum with fresh curd cheese and black olive tapenade.
A salad of rocket, endive and sorrel had tiny barely ripe port grapes scattered through – the effect like balls of vejuice bursting in the mouth.
A rainbow of colours in the heritage tomatoes not only looks pretty but presents a spectrum of flavour, every variety having different levels of sweetness and acidity.
Spinach went into a savoury crostata with three types of cheese and eggs collected that day.
Seasonal cooking begs for restraint. Kind of ironic when nothing else is showing any.
Make a syrup by boiling 1 litre of water (or wine) with 1 kg of sugar.
Pop the whole figs (stalk intact) in this syrup and simmer very gently for about an hour.
Remove from the syrup and lay figs, allowing a little space, on trays. Place in the sun to dry for three days or until dried to your liking.
Keep the syrup and reuse for this purpose or reduce and pour over ice-cream.
Establishing The Zin House garden is my greatest folly, one that raises the bookkeepers eyebrows most weeks.
It is justifiable only because it ticks each of our guiding principles – Quality, Authenticity, Generosity. And simply because I love it.
So many firsts this week:
First no dig kipflers
First dish entirely our own produce – greens/tomatoes/new potatoes/organic Angus rump/muscat vurjuice dressing
First tomato surplus, leading to:
First batch of tomato chilli jam
First cape gooseberries 🙁 not great yet
Self sufficiency is not the aim, I want to keep supporting as many local producers as possible. But it is exciting to see the garden and orchards in such abundance and good health.
It’s a wild and wooly looking garden, not for the neat who pull things out at the first sign of untidiness. By allowing plants to complete their cycle they are deciding for themselves where they’d like to grow – the self seeded kale took over an entire path so we eliminated the path.
James noticed that when some of the rocket is allowed to flower it has less pests and theorised that as the flowers look just like white butterflies that this is a deterrent to them.
When I was little the suburban houses being built around our farm-house were finished with a planting of potatoes in the front yard. It was the last thing the builders did routinely to break up the ground ready for the owners petunias or carnations. As a tribute Jackie has done this to much of our newly claimed garden area. As a defiance I will never plant petunias or carnations.
Our orchard gave up the last of the apricots (jam for the farm shop opening in February) and at a rough calculation we will be on plums for about three weeks, followed by peaches and figs. Then it will be persimmons, pomegranates and quinces in subsequent weeks.
The big Greengage plum trees in the stone fruit orchard yielded only about a kilo of fruit this year, which I’ve added to the apricot jam for the extra pectin and piquancy to lift the super ripe apricots. The blue diamond plums made what we thought were unbeatable tarts, until yesterdays blood plum version.
Blood plum tart with honey ice-cream is currently at the top of our best, favourite, all time list. I’ve given the recipe for both crostata and ice-cream in previous blogs. But you might like to try this, we served it on the charcuterie plate with our own bresola, rocket, parmesan and mandarin infused olive oil mixed with fresh green grape juice.
If you have access to grapes on the vine then now is the time to press them for fresh verjuice.
Tomato chilli jam
As many tomatoes as you have Chillis to taste and according to heat. I would use about a dozen medium warmth chillis to 2 kg tomatoes One cup of sugar, one cup of cider vinegar, one large onion and few cloves of garlic per kg of tomatoes
Combine everything (roughly chopped) and cook gently over a stove top until jammy in consistency. Season to taste with good salt and pepper.