A glut of figs

A bowl of figs

The other day, the Guardian published an article on what to do with a glut of figs. It featured one lonely recipe, which required six figs. Luckily the Guardian community stepped in to provide many ideas for dealing with an actual glut.

I don’t personally have a glut, but I did notice the three fig trees groaning with fruit in a children’s playground I pass on the way to my daily swim. The ripe fruit was simply dropping to the ground, which seemed a terrible waste. So in the last few days I’ve picked over 2 kg, which is only a fraction of what’s there. Thanks to BBC Good Food and a commenter on the Guardian article, this post includes twice as many recipes as the Guardian article, and actually preserves the figs for future enjoyment. I’m very happy with the results of both: a delicious fig chutney, and spicy fig jam. Both very easy too. I adapted both of them according to taste and local circumstances.
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Clementine jam

Clementine jam

I had a large bag of impulse-bought clementines to use up — they didn’t taste that great raw, but they turned out to make a very good jam. I’m calling it jam rather than marmalade because you don’t get a clear syrup with small strips of peel suspended in it; instead it has a thicker, more jammy texture, but still with the tang of marmalade thanks to the peel. It’s also a lot less work than marmalade.

I adapted this from a recipe on French cookery site Cuisine Actuelle. I liked the idea of keeping the peel on some of the fruit and peeling the rest. I didn’t though think it was a good idea to simply halve the unpeeled clementines — you’d end up with massive pieces of peel in the jam, hardly toast-friendly.

This amount will make about two to three 375 g jars. I wouldn’t make a much larger quantity than this, as it’s always difficult to get a set with a large volume. It’s best to choose clementines with as few pips as possible.
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Bookmarked recipes: Chilli jam

Spicy preserves 2

I bookmarked Jacqueline’s bookmarked recipe challenge, originally started by Ruth, a couple of weeks ago. I have tons of bookmarked recipes: a long list in my browser bookmarks, a few more stashed in Evernote, a box full of magazine and newspaper clippings, cookbooks bristling with Post-Its and bookdarts. Where to start?

Well, my recent browse through Margaret Costa’s Four Seasons Cookbook provided inspiration in the form of tomato and pepper chutney, now maturing nicely in the larder. There’s something very satisfying about starting out with a pan full of chopped vegetables, reeking of vinegar, and finishing with these glowing jars of glossy red chutney, and it kickstarted me into more preserving. After a quick detour into Delia’s famous mincemeat, which I’ve had a printout of for ages and never made, I was prompted by the Cottage Smallholder site, fount of all knowledge about preserving, to make some sweet chilli jam using a recipe from the BBC Good Food site, a frequent source of bookmarked recipes. I love chilli jam and jelly — they make a lovely relish for cheesy and eggy things, and I’m also partial to them with scallops. I bet both jam and chutney will go very nicely with turkey too.

This is my version of the chilli jam recipe. I found the original rather imprecise in some ways. For example, it gives weights for some ingredients but then just specifies “8 red peppers”. Mine were huge, at least double the normal size, so I used four. Then it says “10 red chillies”, without any qualification — a little dangerous in my view. Throw in 10 Scotch Bonnet chillies with their seeds and the jam will blow your head off. I did like one comment on the BBC site which queried the “finger-sized piece of ginger” because “I have big hands”! As always, nothing beats tasting and adjusting as you go.
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Cherry Compote

cherry compote

Pitting cherries must be one of the messiest jobs in the kitchen, but it is oh so worth it. I’m not very conscientious about wearing an apron, but this is one occasion when I swathe myself in my most voluminous apron, cover the table with newspaper, and settle down to a curiously relaxing session of pitting. We’ve eaten a lot of cherries this season – mainly because back in May I was irresistibly tempted by a 2-kg crate of cherries in a Spanish venta for only 5.60 euros. I got home wondering how on earth two of us were going to eat them all before they rotted. My new cookbook, The Real Taste of Spain, provided an answer: cherry compote. A monster, messy pitting session followed, especially as I had no cherry pitter to hand.

This recipe is so simple to do, and words cannot describe how delicious it is. For a week, our breakfast was a spoonful or two of this with dollops of Greek yoghurt, and we mourned when we scraped out the last few drops of syrup from the bowl. From then on we constantly looked out for affordable cherries, and whenever we found some, we bought at least a kilo to make some compote. The last batch is now in the freezer in several plastic boxes so that we can spin out the pleasure over the summer. So my advice is, if you make this, make plenty, it freezes really well. It goes with all sorts of things: with ice cream for an extra-special Cherries Jubilee, with yoghurt or cream, or spooned over an almond cake, for example.
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Enjoying other people’s food: Belgian pears and pumpkin cake

Belgian pears

I’ve enjoyed a few things from other people’s blogs recently, and these two recipes are definite keepers.

First, Fiona’s Belgian pears. I made a mental note to try these ages ago, prompted by the rave reviews on her blog. When I looked more closely, the ingredients and method looked really strange — cook pears in vinegar and sugar for six hours??? Wouldn’t they be reduced to mush? But I have absolute faith in Fiona’s tried and tested recipes, so small pears from the market at 90 centimes a kilo seemed a good opportunity to try it. They sat at a bare whisper of a simmer on top of the woodburner, and the small amount of vinegary liquid slowly transmuted into a quantity of mahogany coloured syrup. After five hours, we tentatively tried a couple of the very soft pears with a little of the liquid and a blob of crème fraîche. Wow, they were good! As Fiona says, they taste alcoholic even though they are not. And they look most impressive bottled — they would make lovely Christmas gifts.

Although I hesitate to vary from Fiona’s tried and tested recipes, to be honest (having done two batches now) I think you could cook them for less time. You have to handle them very, very carefully when bottling because they are so soft after six hours, even at an almost invisible simmer. The necessary juice is produced during the first three hours’ cooking. So I think the uncovered simmering could easily be reduced to two hours without detracting from the final result.

Next up, the weekly conundrum of the pumpkin in the veggie box. The Open University group of foodies came up with loads of ideas, and one of them caused me to google “pumpkin and carrot cake”, which brought me here. Yes! My somewhat amended recipe follows — no photo because the light wasn’t good and the icing was a bit of a disaster. But you can always look at the photos on Meeta’s post. The cake is dense, with a lovely spicy flavour, and a dark brown colour from the sugar. Good with or without the frosting. Oh, and if you don’t have any pumpkin I am sure it would be just as good with carrots alone.

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Oven-dried tomatoes

Dried tomatoes

Well, no-one is ever likely to want to make a film about my attempt to cook my way through Delicious Days, so perhaps I needn’t feel too bad about falling off the wagon. I suddenly realised that Nicky had a way of using up some of the glut of tomatoes in our weekly organic vegetable box, so I quickly did a batch of these dried tomatoes. Barely a recipe: just halve or quarter your tomatoes, season with salt, pepper, garlic, and herbs to taste, and leave in a 90-degree oven for several hours till they are dried to your liking (I also used the residual heat after I’d used the oven for something else).

Mine are soft and semi-dried — I’m not sure how long they will keep, but I have covered them in olive oil (which can be used in salad dressings) and put them in the fridge. You can use them in salads, soups, as garnish for pizza, frittata, or quiche …

Even if I haven’t kept up with the challenge too well, I have still cooked more from this book than I might have done otherwise, and found some brilliant keepers — especially the ginger and lemon cordial, which is destined to become a summer standby, and the coffee panna cotta.

Chilli jelly


I managed to buy a jar of chilli jelly on a recent trip to the UK, but I’ve long fancied trying Fiona’s recipe and making my own; this stuff is too tasty and versatile to be reserved for special occasions. So I bought a couple of kilos of apples and eventually tracked down a selection of chillis in Carrefour (they can be difficult to find, since the French don’t do hot as in chilli).

The first lot didn’t look much like chillis I’ve seen before; they were relatively large and bell-shaped. “Do you think I should use one or two?” I asked Steve. He looked at them and scoffed. “Pah! They’re so big they can’t be hot, and they are French after all. Those small pointy ones will be hotter.” Boldly, he cut a bit off one of the bell-shaped ones and chewed it. A moment’s silence, then: “AAAAARGH!” Quickly, I handed him the antidote, a spoonful of yoghurt, and he swallowed it gratefully. “OK,” he croaked after a minute, “I’ll try the small ones.” Bravely he nibbled one: “Humph! Not hot at all!” Armed with this information I added one cut-up bell-shaped pepper, seeds and all, to my simmering apples.

The next day, I tried the disappointingly scanty juice that had dripped through the cloth. ‘Phwoarhhhh!” Luckily there was some yoghurt left. Well, maybe the sugar will tone it down. Hmm, only 400 ml of juice from 1.5 kg of apples? I did the maths in my head with difficulty, added the requisite sugar, and boiled it up — result, half a jar of jelly, admittedly a beautiful colour. This didn’t seem like good value, so I tipped the pulp back into the pan with more water and managed to get two more jars of pale, translucent jelly from it. Their innocent looks belie their ferocity though; I think I’ll have to put health warnings on them.


Later, a bit of googling suggests that Steve might have inadvertently scored a further point in the Omnivore’s Hundred: raw Scotch Bonnet pepper … if you try this recipe, I recommend you use less virulent chillis than I did, or at least remove the seeds!

Preserving grapes

As usual at this time of year, we have a glut of grapes; our plot of vines is for making wine, but in the old days people often planted a few table grapes amidst the others. So every now and then when harvesting you come across heavy bunches of sweet, greenish-gold grapes instead of the deep red Carignan.

The trouble with grapes is they don’t keep long, and you’d better believe you can’t give them away around here at harvest time. So we often end up throwing many of them away. This year I was determined not to, and grape jelly was about the only way I could think of for preserving them. A bit of googling turned up a site which looked interesting and had not one but two recipes for preserving grapes. And unlike many sites it was clear that they really had tried the recipes, repeatedly.

So these two recipes come from The Cottage Smallholder; I’m only copying them here because it would be unfortunate if next time around their site had disappeared! It looks well worth bookmarking if you are interested in home-grown food.

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Preserving apricots

We are fortunate enough to know someone with an organically cultivated apricot orchard, and at this time of year we take delivery of a 10kg crate of golden, red-tinged apricots. Unlike the under-ripe, tasteless apricots you get in shops, these are actually a pleasure to eat raw. Still, we can’t eat 10kg of apricots in a weekend, so time to get the preserving pan out.

Last year I made the best apricot jam I’ve ever made with these apricots, but I made so much we still have some jars left, so this time I “only” used 2kg of apricots for that. Another excellent and very easy way of keeping apricots is to preserve them raw in a mixture of syrup and alcohol. The resulting apricots are delicious in any cooked apricot dessert, or just as they are with cream or ice cream. And of course the preserving liquid makes a very nice digestif.

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Lemon curd

Lemon curd

Home-made lemon curd is so quick and easy to do, and so delicious, that there’s no excuse for not making it when lemons are cheap and plentiful. Keep in the fridge and consume within a few weeks. This quantity makes about 2 jars.

It can be done in the microwave, but I make it in a double boiler; it’s just as quick and you can see exactly when it’s ready.

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