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Watermelon Rind Pickles

Watermelon pickles

I bet you didn’t know you could pickle the green rinds from the watermelon until now unless you happen to be from the Southern states of the USA and living in Brixton currently….

I discovered this because I’ve been buying so much watermelon recently. The stall under the on the corner of Pope’s Road and Atlantic Road by the Village is selling massive hunks of it for a mere pound and I can’t stop myself. (Nor can I resist the bargain cherries and flat peaches.) I felt wasteful simply tossing the rind in the bin as it doesn’t compost. So I was delighted to discover you can pickle it and end up with something as crunchy as cucumber but a little bit different for once.

Originally published at Brixton Blog….

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Apricot and Rosewater Conserve

Apricot and Rosewater conserve

It was inevitable after my marmalade making fun earlier this year that I would enter the jam making world as well. It came about accidentally when after buying some plump looking apricots in the market as a change from the constant stream of flat peaches and white nectarines, I bit into one and all I could think was ‘cotton wool’. The apricot is a fruit has doesn’t work for me unless it’s cooked. I roasted the rest of that batch, scattered with rosewater and flaked almonds and they were fantastic on bircher muesli.

But after a Twitter conversation with the lovely @RachaelParkman who is the Peckham preserve queen, I decided my first foray into jam would be apricot so that the taste of summer would remain at my table for months to come. Plus it makes such a good base for cake decorating, I might do more marzipan making.

I turned to my preserve Bible ‘Let’s Preserve It‘ by Beryl Wood which was reissued recently in hardback and it’s delightfully British and excellent on jams and conserves. (For the record, jams are cooked down fruit puree, while conserves retain chunks of fruit in with the puree.) I must say, I only picked the conserve recipe because it used less sugar and I’d brilliantly managed to tip a good amount of my kilo bag down the side of the cooker and into the box of mouse poison there and couldn’t be bothered to go to the shop for more…

Apricot and Rosewater Conserve: makes about 6 jars each 160ml*

  • 900g (2lbs) fresh apricots
  • 900g sugar
  • 1/4 pint water
  • juice of two lemons
  • 2 tbsp rosewater
  • 2 tbsp rose petals (optional)

Make sure your apricots aren’t bruised. Soft ripe fruit is fine, but don’t use fruit you wouldn’t eat yourself or it can make the conserve bitter. Wash well. Stone the fruit and then cut each half into quarters.

Put the fruit in a pan with the sugar and the lemon juice and and heat gently along with the water until it is boiling gently and then continue boiling until it starts to set. This took me about 30-40 minutes while the fruit broke down into a pulp and the sugar and water became syrupy. Stir frequently. I then used the good old wrinkle test on a cold saucer and then took the pan off the heat.

I added in one tablespoon of the rosewater and tested another snippet of the jam on the saucer until it cooled and tasted it. It wasn’t quite enough so I added a second scant spoonful and then added in the rose petals. I’d sprinkled these lightly with water so that they didn’t float in the conserve and stirred them through well before filling my jars as usual.

This was very easy to make and lifted some uninspiring fruit to something really wonderful. The rosewater brings out the apricots’ sweetness and makes this a very grown up addition to the breakfast table. I love the texture with its chunks of fruit instead of the sticky-sweet nature of commercial preserves. I’ve been heaping it on toast and enjoying the summer flavours as the season changes…

 

*I use Sainsbury’s Basic Mint Sauce jars. Under 30p a jar and a useful marinade, they are the best way I’ve found to get standard sized jars for jam and marmalade that aren’t huge or very expensive. Plus I enjoy the look on the delivery driver’s face when he hands me 14 jars of mint sauce.

Brixton Marmalade

Walking through Brixton Market is a riot of fresh fruit and vegetables of all colours. Some are familiar, but sometimes your eye is caught by something you don’t recognise, which is exactly what happened when I saw green oranges on many of the stalls. Some questioning and Googling later, I realised these are Jamaican oranges and not just the colour is different. They are thinner skinned than the peeling sort like Jaffas we are used to in the UK with plenty of pith and pips and a bittersweet flavour. I knew immediately that they would make the most fabulous marmalade…

I was sure I didn’t really like marmalade after one too many single serve portions of Golden Shred in a B&B. Sickly sweet instead of tangy and tasty, the commercial version leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Determined to overcome this dislike, I decided to try making my own and see if I could be convinced. Not only was I won over in abundance, I’ve become slightly obsessed, making pots and pots of the stuff from every citrus I can get my hands on, entering the World Marmalade Awards and slathering it on doorsteps of Wild Caper sourdough like there’s no tomorrow. The homemade stuff tastes amazing and is incredibly cheap and easy to make. You’ll never look back.

To make 2 large or 4 small jars you’ll need:

  • 800g of Jamaican oranges (about 4 in total)
  • 1 lemon
  • 3 pints of water
  • 1 kilo of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons rum
  • jars, empty and well washed
  • muslin cloth (look in the baby section for these cheaply)
  • length of string
  • cellophane jam jar covers, wax covers & elastic bands
  • two saucers or a food thermometer

The marmalade is very easy, but it does take several stages and needs to left overnight. Don’t be daunted though!

Start by cutting the oranges in half and juicing them. You should get about half a pint from this amount of oranges. Reserve the juice in a jug. Keep any pips you came across and soak them in water. Then chop your orange shells. Pull the most fibrous flesh out and then cut the peels in chunks of your choosing. I like my marmalade quite thick cut for flavour and ease of prep, but it’s your choice.

Soak the peels overnight in about 2 pints of water until it turns orange and smells delightfully citrus scented. Bring it all to the boil and then simmer for up to hours or until the peel is soft and squishy, but not pulpy. Add in a bit more water if needs be.

Iron your muslin cloth (and cut it to be smaller if needs be) and gather the reserved pips in it like a purse, tying to the handle of the pot so it hangs down into the boiled peel mix. They contain extra pectin that helps set the marmalade. Turn the oven onto 160℃ and put the jars in, using a baking tray rather than trying to grab individual hot jars with oven gloves and feeling like you’re playing a game fit for particularly sadistic PTA fundraisers. Get your thermometer to the ready if you have one or put your saucers in the freezer if you don’t.

Add the reserved orange juice to the mix, pour in the sugar and the lemon juice and bring the pot back to the boil. This is the stage when you work your magic and turn the mix into marmalade by heating it to 104℃ exactly. The thermometer will tell you this with ease, but you can also tell by spooning a drop or two of the boiling liquid onto a cold saucer, leaving for a sec and testing it with your finger to see if it ‘wrinkles’ when pushed. If it does, you’ve reached 104℃ and if it doesn’t, keep trying with alternate chilled saucers til it does.

Take the pot off the heat immediately. Add the rum (or ginger if you prefer a teetotal kick) and stir well. Leave the marmalade to sit for a minute or two to stop the peel sinking in the jars and then carefully fill the jars you’ve just taken from the oven right to the brim. Both the jars and the marmalade are obviously devilishly hot so keep your wits about you and any small children and pets away. Cover with the wax circles from your little kit.

Allow the jars to cool just enough to handle, then wet the cellophane lids well with a clean washing up sponge and stretch tightly over the top of the jar and fix with the rubber bands. This is fiddlier than you’d think and there may be some sailor’s language to accompany the rum. Let the marmalade cool completely and set before digging in and sampling your handiwork.

You’ll be amazed. It’ll be punchy with citrus and a slight hint of smooth rum with each peel exploding into little chewy nuggets of deliciousness. You won’t be able to stop yourself having a second (or third) slice of marmalade smeared bread, but if you can bear to part with a jar of it, your boss will understand why you are late for work now breakfast has become the highlight of the day again!

Jamaican green orange

* This post originally appeared on Brixton Blog who kindly asked me to write a local recipe and is re-posted here due to popular demand.

Blood orange marmalade

Bloody Old Lady Marmalade

Blood orange marmalade
When we were kids, we mainly took family holidays in Italy. In the sun and beautiful countryside of southern Tuscany, we ate wonderful food and relaxed away from day to day life. Our parents often combined the best of both worlds and relaxed as they cooked the evening meal with a long cool gin and tonic. Sometimes the gin was carried from home, but usually it was bought in the hypermarchés we stopped at across the Continent and were lesser known brands such as Bosford or Old Lady’s Gin. Even as a nipper, I was tickled by the name of the latter, especially one summer when the bottle bought came with a can of Orangina Rouge made with blood orange and the exortation that you mix the two to get the hilariously named Bloody Old Lady cocktail…

Despite only sampling the Orangina Rouge sans gin at the time, this drink further fuelled Miss Marple inspired dreams of being a wee old dear before my time. Pairs of slacks, snap clasped handbags and trips to the Post Office with my wheeled shopping trolley all help the illusion, but when I found myself in possession of a big bag of blood oranges and a bottle of Tanqueray Export a few weeks ago, I knew the time had come to be all Women’s Institute and make marmalade fit for a Bloody Old Lady.

Blood oranges, in the skin

Not being a big eater of marmalade, I obviously had very little idea of how to make the stuff. I was adamant that if I was to sample my own wares, it would need to be a thick cut marmalade as I like a bit texture in my preserves. Having made one decision, I failed to do anything else like decide on a recipe or a method of marmalade making and pretty much made it all up from there on in.

Bloody Old Lady Marmalade:

• 6 blood oranges
• 1 large pink grapefruit
• 2 kilos of sugar (I used half regular sugar and jam sugar)
• 2-4 tablespoons good quality gin

I used six blood oranges and one pink grapefruit, stripping the peel off the fruit with a knife. Being a lazy sort, I did not start removing all the pith from the peel and putting it in a muslin bag to go alongside the peel, but left it on the peel. I then juiced the fruit and squashed up the remaining segments to maximise the citrus hit. I had no pips, but if I’d had them I’d have kept them to put inside a muslin bag to help set the marmalade.

I then boiled the be-pithed peel in about 3 pints of water until the peel had started to soften and the water had started to turn the same colour. I then took the peel off the heat and keeping the citrussy water, divided it into two pans as I don’t have one big enough for both. Half the water went in both, along with juiced up fruit and a kilo of sugar in each. I mixed half a bag of each regular and jam sugar with extra pectin and bunged that in. I then boiled the mixture until it reached the magic alchemy point of 220℉ or 104℃ that turns a load of citrussy gloop into marmalade. This is easiest with a thermometer but having smashed mine to ribbons, I used the simple trick of finding the ‘wrinkle point’ on a cold saucer. Once a drop of the hot liquid sets and creases up when you run a finger over it, you have your set point and the marmalade needs to come off the heat immediately.

Allow the pan to sit for about five minutes, easing down from a scary pan of spitting sugar and potential burns, to a gentle pop and sigh of citrus deliciousness (do not forget yourself and put your finger in there). This gives you time to get your jars out of the oven where they have been sterilising, clear space for filling the jars and more importantly for the peel to settle so you don’t end up with it floating on top of your jars once they are filled. Once the marmalade is calm again, add 2 tablespoons of gin (I used Tanqueray Export. It needs to be robust for this) to each pan and stir through before filling the jars. If you add the gin too early, you’ll burn it off and lose the flavour, but don’t be tempted to pour lots in as the alcohol loosens the set of the marmalade and you’ll end up with something more like a lumpy cocktail. Seal the jars with wax circles and cellophane lids and leave to cool completely.

Sliced blood oranges, ready for marmalade

I recommend making a large loaf of bread while this is happening because the instant this marmalade is set and cooled, you are going to want to slather it generously on hot buttered toast with a good strong tea on the side. The blood oranges have a more rounded flavour than their non-red cousins and that slightly soft fruit taste comes through, given a tasty kick with the gin. The first jar I opened was all gone within 24 hours. The second didn’t last much longer. I ate marmalade for breakfast, lunch and dinner, only giving jars to those I love dearly. Giddy with my own preserve superpowers, I entered a jar in the novice category of the Marmalade Awards at Dalemain Mansion, hoping to get further tips on my scorecard. The good folk of Cumbria must have heard my shriek of ecstatic glee when a certificate arrived awarding me bronze! I celebrated by dispensing with the bread and eating more marmalade off the spoon while counting down the days til further blood orange crops. I’ll just make twice as many jars next year!

2012 Marmalade Awards, Fortnum and Mason, London

 

 

Easy Peasy Lemon Curd

An impromptu breakfast at Wild Caper in Brixton has led me to a new summer obsession. Nestled in between the toasted sourdough, homemade jams and ricotta was a small dish of mellow yellow in the shape of proper lemon curd. Creamy as custard and bursting with the invigorating tang of sunshine soaked lemons, I fell in love with it. And went back the next week for more of the same. (Wild Caper doesn’t even advertise it does breakfast, but it’s the best in Brixton… you need to go there!)

I was tempted to buy a jar of it the third time I went in (this time for one of their sourdough doughnuts) but having found some proper unwaxed Italian lemons in The Fruit Garden in Herne Hill the day before, I postponed my original plans for limoncello and decided to make a vat of lemon curd instead.

I expected it would be delicious. I did not expect it would be easier than falling off a log to make it. The only remotely fancy thing you need is a bowl over a pan of water and a lemon zester or grater. I followed this recipe from the lovely Rachel Eats as it seemed the most straightforward I could find. I halved the amount of sugar as I loathe sickly sweet citrus things and wanted some sharpness to it. It made about a pint of curd and filled a small Kilner jar.

Start by sterilising your jars in the oven. This is very important. Then get down to zesting and juicing your lemons as your (unsalted) butter melts above the water. Revel in the citrussy spell of summer now infusing your kitchen as you go. Add the lemon to the butter and put in as much sugar as you choose and make sure it is all melted. Double check the water isn’t boiling under the bowl and things aren’t too hot and then add in your eggs, whisking firmly and making sure nothing scrambles and then cook it out until it looks thick and opaque. Resist the temptation to stick your finger in there. It’s hot and you need to be fussy about good preserve hygiene.

Pour into your sterilised jar promptly, close the Kilner jar or cover with a lid and leave to cool. Scrape the bowl out and lick the spatula with unreserved glee. This stuff is amazing. Light, yet buttery with an utterly moreish tingle of lemon. You’ll be hard pushed to walk past the jar without dipping into it.

Dollop it on bread or Ryvita with a base of cream or curd cheese. Perk up your porridge with it. Stir it into yoghurt for a luxury dessert. Ripple it through ice cream. Give crepes a new lease of life. Take your lemon drizzle cake up a notch. Fill lemon poppyseed muffins with it. Eat it off the spoon out of the jar. Try to resist the urge to turn everything you come across into curd, even though you imagine grapefruit and passion fruit would both be sensational with the sharpness and sweetness that a good curd has. Make friends and influence people with jars of this when they invite you for instead of a mediocre bottle of wine from the corner shop. The possibilities are endless. But just make sure you make it immediately…