Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Bank Holiday Weekend August

Its the last bank holiday weekend of the year and we didn't go away. My sister, brother in law, niece and cousin are to coming to stay next week and I'm going on a travelling spree with them.

Saturday was a wash out as it rained all day. It didn't feel like summer which sucks because I'm already noticing the days getting shorter. The only things Grant and I did was have yum cha for lunch and bummed at home. We were so lazy, we even ordered pizza home delivery for dinner. 

Sunday was an improvement. The sun came out and I felt charged again. I did some beloved charity shopping and amongst my finds, was this little cross body bag for £5. I've always wanted this style.

Made some real food for lunch. Vegetarian buckwheat soba noodle stir fry with cabbage, bean sprouts and natto. I only allow myself half a packet on occasions as it's mainly used to boost flavour. Some people won't get this concept because the stuff stinks, but I love natto!

Grant and I did some impromptu foraging in Hampstead Heath. Having endured an awful horsefly bite earlier in the week, I sent Grant into the bushes since he was wearing long trousers and proper shoes. We hit a motherlode of juicy ripe blackberries! 

This was all we fit in Grant's coffee cup. When we got home, I made another batch of jam and it turned out perfectly jellified and delicious. 

On Sunday we fired up the barbecue and had some friends over. We stayed out till the sun came down. It was a happy ending to the long weekend. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Picking Wild Blackberries and Making Jam

The UK is blessed with midsummer blackberries. Through the same eyes of the child I once was, reading about bounties of wild fruit in Enid Blyton books, I'm in foraging heaven!

I found blackberries in Hampstead Heath after spotting a forager and swooped in a few days later. The juiciest berries grow on large brambles over 1.6m tall. Bring a basket or icecream container to carry your pickings. 

For obvious heath reasons if berries are growing near traffic or within dog height from the ground, don't pick them! 

The perfectly ripe berries are those which roll off with a slight pull of the fingers. Look for the largest that are completely black with fat and shiny "bubbles". If they are too ripe, they will pop when picked. If they need to be tugged, they're unripe. A tip is to look for blackberries under/behind leaves but watch out for hidden thorns. There is no shortage of the prickly things! 

Make sure to wear a long sleeve shirt, full length trousers and covered shoes. Not only to avoid the nasty prickles, but biting insects as well. I got bitten by a horsefly while picking at dusk and it's bite is far worse than you can imagine.

At home soak the berries in cold water for 15 mins, rinse gently and soak again to flush out any bugs. Because of this treatment, it's best to pick only what you need immediately because once they are washed, they will rot quickly. If you have too many, you can put them in a ziplock bag and store in the freezer. Use them for desserts, smoothies, and of course, jam!

Here are the washed berries ready for jam making. Use a heavy based saucepan, add a generous splash of water and turn the stove on high heat. Put a saucer in the freezer for testing the jam later.  

Add white sugar. You can't go wrong with a 40% ratio by weight of sugar to berries to set the jam. I like my jar a little tart so 30% is fine, anything less may require pectin to be added. 

Mash up the berries. If they have a lot of seeds, especially if they're larger than sesame seeds, pass them through a wire sieve first. It's more time consuming but it's worth it.  

Boil rapidly for 1 minute, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon (not plastic as it can melt with the heat of jam). Watch that it doesn't boil over, turn down the heat accordingly. Reduce the heat to simmer for 15 minutes, occasionally stirring. Skim off any scum that forms.

After 15 mins, the mixture will be glossy and the colour deepens. You can start testing the jam's consistency. Be careful not to burn yourself as the jam is really hot, much hotter than boiling water. 

Drop half a teaspoon on the cold saucer and let it spread out. Run your finger through it and if it runs back into itself, the jam needs to simmer for 2 minutes before testing again. If it looks like this, then take off the heat as it's ready.

Although I don't steralise my jars to preserve the jam, I still like to nuke them in the microwave for a minute or two. Get them really hot and let them sit until they are ready for filling. Handle them with a towel/oven mitts when taking them out.

Being careful of jam splashes, pour into the jars and let them cool. They now need to be stored in the fridge. If you have a fair few jars, give the excess to friends because they need to be used within a month. 

Homemade wild blackberry jam, simple and easy. 

And here is the seedless version which I reccomend for blackberry jam. Grant says it tastes better than store bought and I agree. Yummy!