Learning to Preserve 3: Apple Jelly

I saw a recipe in our ancient Reader’s Digest book for apple jelly and I couldn’t get it out of my head. The apples we have at the moment are sharp and flavourful with a pink tinge to them so I thought they would be perfect.

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I was under no illusions that as a novice, jelly was a slightly ambitious undertaking but I went for it anyway. The first step was to cook the apples with some water down to pulp.

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Then use a jelly strainer to extract the juice. Only the book said there was no point buying one and to just tie a cloth to an upturned stool. We don’t have a stool, so I came up with this magnificent contraption:

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The idea here is to get the juice and none of the pulp so you can have clear jelly in the end. This means no poking or prodding, you just have to wait.

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After a night of straining, I was left with about a litre of pink juice! This is brought to the boil, then sugar is added and it is boiled until it reaches the setting point, adding some lemon juice at the last minute. This took a lot longer than the recipe said, and I am glad I had a sugar thermometer, otherwise I would have just put it in the jars before it was ready.

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Ah yes, the jarring. The jelly actually started to set in the pan as I was trying to put it in the jars so that was interesting. I managed though, and I think it was alright for a first attempt!

The verdict: The jelly set well, and is a really nice amber colour. It tastes good too – the lemon juice was definitely a good addition. It is apple-y and sweet, but with a little sharpness. It is great on brioche!

Learning to Preserve 2: Pickled Beetroot

Pickling beetroot is a yearly tradition in my house. My extended family is crazy about the stuff, and I’m pretty fond of it too. Some people might be put off thinking it will be too sour, but I can assure you that my Mum was traumatised by years of really acidic beetroot so her version is nice and mild! I can actually give you a tutorial for this one too, as it is a family method. It’s not technically a recipe though, as I can’t give you proper quantities – veg do vary in volume and density! I’ll just tell you what I did.

First off, pick your beetroot! I had a row from our garden that came out to about a kilo.

the most important thing at this stage is not to cut them! If you get them with the greens on, just wash them and snip off most of the leaves, leaving about an inch of stems. If you cut them they will bleed and make a huge mess through the whole process.

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Next, boil the beets until al-dente. If you have beets of varying sizes like me, you’ll need to drop them in at different times, starting with the large ones and working down to the smallest. Then turn off the heat and let them cool for a while – they will keep cooking a bit.

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After a while (you may have noticed this is not an exact science) you can drain them and run them under cold water so you can handle them. Now comes the messy part.

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Slip the beets out of their skins and pop them straight in the jar, slicing the big ones into bite- or two-bite-sized rounds as you go.

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Your hands will look like this, you just have to accept it and move on! I wouldn’t bother wearing gloves, the stain comes off after a couple of washes. Just don’t touch anything before you get to the sink!

When your jar is full, fill them with a half-vinegar, half-water mix. Then just seal it up!

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These will keep for months. Keep them in a cool dark place until you use them, then once opened, keep them in the fridge. At that point they will last for around one month. You also should leave them for at least a week before you use them to let the beets absorb the vinegar.

Learning to preserve 1: Apple and Tomato Chutney

I’m back from my holiday to miserable weather and masses of fresh fruit and veg from the garden and I’m suddenly getting the urge to squirrel away food for winter! My Mum has always made preserves and pickles, and I thought it was about time I learned how to do it too. I have some big plans, but as I’d never done it before I have a bit of a learning curve so I thought I’d start with something relatively simple.

We have five apple trees in our garden, all of which have had massive crops this year, so apples were the obvious starting point. I decided to make some chutney, using a recipe from a Reader’s Digest book we have which must be older than myself.

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So, apple and tomato chutney it was!

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The verdict: full disclosure, I don’t actually like chutney, but when I tried it, it tasted mostly like ketchup. We’ll see how it tastes in a couple of weeks though. As for the actual process, I got a bit fed up and bottled it when it was still a bit runny but I don’t suppose that matters. Unfortunately, I don’t think I did the jarring quite right as only one of the jars seems to have sealed properly. We’re sending that one to my Grandma and putting the other ones in the fridge.

For a first attempt, I think it was alright. Hopefully I can perfect my jarring technique and get proper seals next time! I’ll update on the taste when it has matured a little!