Saturday, 20 September 2014

Autumnal Fare

Summer was hot and felt like it went on for ever but in reality it passed rather quickly... two months and five novels later and autumn arrived all of a sudden with gifts of grapes and experiments in preserving.

Our own grapes (all five of them) were snaffled by one of the hens that snuck into the veggie plot but gifts from friends who have plenty meant that we had to find a use for them.  The first thought with grapes is always wine but here where the wine is so cheap and usually so good we decided against it.

We made juice first off.  Wash the grapes and then heat them gently in a large pan with a cup of water until they are almost boiling.  You can squeeze them now if you want, if you do the resulting juice is cloudy, if you don't it will stay clear but of course you will have less of it.

If you taste it and it is tart then you can add some sugar and stir while it is warm to dissolve it.  We didn't need to.  One bottle of juice doesn't seem very much but we diluted it with tonic water to make a very grown up and refreshing non alcoholic drink.  We did a similar thing with a glut of plums (again gifts from friends), extracting the juice and then boiling it with almost equal quantities of sugar to make a syrup.  The syrup was then used as a cordial with water or lemonade and even added to champagne for a fruity celebratory touch.

The rest of the grape juice I had left was destined for an experiment.  I wanted to make grape jelly.  A jelly is like a jam but usually clear and without lumps of fruit in it.  Grapes have no natural pectin so I needed to add pectin to it.  A while ago I purchased some powdered pectin (you buy it at the chemist here) specifically for making herb jellies.  Alas it came without any instructions or quantity to use information so I have hung on to it for ages dithering about using it.  An internet search is of no help here since all the pectin seems to be preparatory brands and comes with its own instructions.

So.... I mixed 7 tablespoons of powdered pectin with the sugar and added it to the juice and brought it to the boil.  When it reached setting point I jarred it up and crossed my fingers.  The result?  It didn't set.  Its thick but still more a syrup than a jelly.  Never mind, its great on rice pudding and will spread on toast and we have even added it to gravy for the Sunday roast.

Other experiments were with drying.  We dried some tomatoes with great success.  I put some in oil, and I kept some in an airtight container only to find moths in with them a couple of weeks later... oooh er.  I understand the knack is to freeze for three days after drying in order to kill anything off... but I would prefer to ensure that nothing is in there in the first place.  The tomatoes were dried under nets and brought in overnight but still those pesky moths managed to find a way to them.  More effort required there I think.

grapes in a net bag ready for drying
I kept back some grapes for drying to make raisons.  They have seeds in them which I hate but I might just spend an evening removing the seeds individually before using them for a Christmas pudding or some such.  This isn't something I plan to do a lot of in future.  At the moment the grapes don't look very appetising. The recent spate of rains has not helped the drying much either.  

experiment in drying grapes hanging up
Long term I think a drying box or cupboard has to be the way to go.

grapes drying on a clothes horse

And then..... we were introduced to people who have their own olive press.  And given some of their last years batch of oil.  Mmmmmmm.... maybe next year if we can afford it, trouble is, it isn't simply a case of buying the olive press... we need to build a room or shed to put the press in... could end up as a very expensive project.