Brink of another economic crisis? Make jam

The beach at Wells-next-the-Sea, North Norfolk

After a wonderful weekend in Norfolk (I’d forgotten just how beautiful the North Norfolk coast really is), I was  fortunate enough to not only leave with a teenie bit of a hangover and expanded waistline from the delicious food we ate all weekend, but also an enormous harvest of marrows, yellow courgettes, multi-coloured cherry tomatoes, apples and raspberries from a Norfolk garden.

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As we made our way home from a weekend with my partner’s (Nick) parents, we began to plan what to do with our edible September windfall. With the help of my iPhone, by the time we’d arrived back in London, we had a fully fledged plan – Roasted Raspberry Jam, Jamie Oliver’s Easy Tomato Chutney and HFW’s Ratatouille recipe in Saturday’s Guardian.

I have to admit, I’m a cooking whimp. Convinced I can’t cook, I’m neither adventurous nor motivated. The most action my kitchen gets is various foods and liquids hurled into the microwave and copious amounts of tea and coffee making. So when Nick and I started cooking together several months ago, I was plesantly surprised that cooking in a pair is not only fun, but far less stressful than when I try on my own. Perhaps this is a real test of our relationship, but we’ve not fought, and actually all our creations have come out suprisingly well. Neither of us really have a clue what we’re doing, but simply following a recipe and taking our time to enjoy both the cooking and eating seems to work pretty well.

Chutney and jam are the two things that I thought were so complicated that only 60 year olds with a lifetime of cooking experience could possibly manage such a feat.

Now the secret is out.

Jam and chutney making are EASY. And, this comes from someone who can burn absolutely everything.

Roasted raspberry jam is incredibly simple. Whack the oven on (180 deg in a fan oven), put raspberries in a heatproof dish, and jam sugar in another heatproof dish. Once the oven has heated up, put the dishes in for up to 20 minutes checking that the sugar and raspberries aren’t burning. Also if you are planning on jarring up the jam, put the clean jars you intend to use into the oven to steralise them.

My first attempt at roasted raspberry jam

How much sugar? How many raspberries? Simple. The ratio of raspberries to sugar is 1.25:1, so 1kg of raspberries will need 800g of sugar.

After the 20 minutes are up, put the sugar and the raspberries in a bowl (that won’t melt!), and stir together with a wooden spoon. Pour the juice of 1 lemon per kg of raspberries in and continue to stir. Then decant into the steralised jars, and cool.

That’s it. Really. It’s that simple.

Chutney, well. The secret seems to be simply to chuck all the ingredients into a saucepan and simmer, stirring occassionally. Not much of a secret really now is it?

In all fairness, JO’s recipe was ‘Easy Tomato Chutney‘, so I suspect this was designed for the novice chutney-maker. I made two batches becasue of the glut of tomatoes we had. The first batch were made with unrefined cane sugar – the brown sugar you’d put in coffee. The second batch I made with soft brown sugar, that has the texture of wet (and sticky) sand.

The first batch was slightly less sweet (but still very sweet) and had a dark tomato red colour. But the second batch had a wonderful deep brown colour, and reminded me more of a chutney. Both were delicious and go well with oatcakes and a very mature chedder.

HFW’s ratatouille was both simple and delicious. If I had to complain about one thing, it was HFW’s insistance that all vegetables had to be cooked in a seperate saucepan. Now, I don’t like washing up (who does) so I was a little unconvinced. Nevertheless, he argues that it means that each vegetable (aubergine, courgette, onion and cherry tomatoes) retains its distinct flavour.

Anyway, we went ahead with the saucepan per vegetable approach. Both Nick and I agreed that it was worth the faff. With home grown vegetables, the flavour was incredible. I could hardly believe the simplicity of it. Served up with sourdough bread and a bottle of dark belgium beer left us practically speechless.

I never used to appreciate home grown fruit and veg. Both sets of grandparents would load my family up with beans, tomatoes, raspberries, blackcurrents, marrows and apples throughout the summer whilst I was growing up. As a vegetarian all my life, I did appreciate the fruit and veg (but not my mum’s steamed or stuffed marrow), but not the difference in flavour from most shop bought products. Now I do. I also found the idea of grafting in a garden come rain or shine, rather unappealing – and of course something you do when you retire. But now I realise the pleasure of eating home grown products and making exotic jams and chutneys, I find myself wanting to have an allotment of my own (sadly the waiting lists for allotments in London are so long, they have had to be closed!).

With rising food and energy prices, I am  beginning to see that my grandparents had the right idea all along.

Update, 3rd of October: This week I’m making Marrow and Ginger Jam and Crab Apple Jelly.

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