As winter begins to grasp the landscape it’s not just candlelight, fluffy jumpers and a roaring open fire that can bring warming comfort. There is something primeval and satisfying about picking the last of the berries, blossoms and blooms and preserving their sun-drenched flavours, says Nikki Bawn.
Our ancestors were experts at preserving food – their survival depended on it. People in the tropics used the sun to dry out their edibles and others in colder climes stored their food in the land ice of mother nature’s freezer chest to keep food for longer.
More recently though, we have the French to thank for pickling and preserving methods. In the 1700s, a Parisian confectioner and chef, Nicolas Appert, discovered and developed successful ways to suspend food’s taste and texture in time.
Having a pantry filled to the brim with glinting jars and bottles packed with seasonal flavours can help to make sure your dishes are continually colourful and flavoursome whatever the time of year, and it’s not difficult to achieve.
Once the last of the autumn foraging is complete, the Boggle Lane kitchen becomes a hive of jarring and bottling activity, and is filled with the sweet, spicy aromas which waft from bubbling rowan jelly, hedgerow jam and spiced apple chutney.
There are lots of different ways to keep food in pristine condition. Salting is one of the oldest, but I prefer keeping bacteria at bay by dehydrating and immersing dried herbs in extra virgin olive oil for dressings and dips, or by bubbling gorgeous foraged goodies in vinegar and sugar.
My favourite preserves include rowan jelly which gives an amber coloured earthy tang to lamb and game dishes, or hedgerow jam which is a marvellous addition to a demi-glace, a cheeseboard or simply daubed on toasted muffins to make a simple breakfast sing. Their flavours chime of summer and autumn abundance, and bring glossy sweetness and cheer to most dishes.
There is nothing better than seeing homegrown and foraged produce buoyant in oil or sugared vinegar, ready to adorn your dinner table, or adding a sprinkling of dried petals or herbs to a winter’s dinner to bring back the pungent warmth of the sun.
So why not treat yourself to a Maslin pan and start experimenting with fruit or vegetables to create your own preserves, jams and signature pickles. I promise, you won’t regret it!
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ROWAN JELLY RECIPE
You will need:
2kg rowan berries
1.5 kg apples
Granulated sugar (1 pint of juice to 1 pint of sugar)
Remove the berries from the stalks and wash them thoroughly
Cut the apples into chunks then put them into a pan along with the rowan berries and add enough water to just cover the fruit
Simmer for about 30 minutes or until the fruit is softened and pulpy
Strain through a muslin cloth or jelly bag overnight
Measure the strained juice in a measuring jug and add the same amount of sugar
Heat until the sugar has dissolved, then boil briskly to setting point. This should take about 20 min, but test it after 10 min
Remove any scum from the top and then pour into warm, sterilised jars and seal.
This gorgeous, gloopy jelly adds luxurious colour and depth that complements the earthiness of game dishes and brings cheer to any cheeseboard – it also makes a fabulous Christmas gift for foodie friends too!