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Friday, 2 September 2011

Saving the Summer

As the Summer draws to a close it is time to save as much of that sunshine as possible. Preserving and Jam making may be seen as the domain of the WI but it is a really good way of making use of ingredients at the height of their flavour and freshness and brightening the long winter months.Use as many local ingredients as possible and bottle that sunshine.

I dealt with raspberry Jam earlier in the year but it is Strawberry which takes centre stage now with Darina Allen’s easy to make

“Mummy’s Strawberry Jam”.

Makes 8-10 Jars

1.8kg strawberries with their green tops removed (and any white areas as well)

2 lemons, juiced

Between 900g and 1.5kg white sugar, depending on the sweetness of your strawberries

Put the strawberries, lemon juice and sugar into a big bowl and mix together thoroughly with your hands. Cover with cling wrap and store in your fridge overnight, or for up to 24 hours.

The next day, take a potato masher and thoroughly mash the strawberries until there are no completely whole strawberries left and many, many mashed bits. You don’t want a puree, but you want all the strawberries to have been mashed at least a bit, if not a lot.

Bring the strawberries to the boil in a large pot, stirring to dissolve the sugar as they heat. Continue to boil until setting point is reached, (when a little poured onto a chilled saucer and left for a minute wrinkles when you run your finger through).

Pour into sterilized jars, seal and store.

When I was at Ballymaloe Cookery School we learned this recipe as an absolute MUST as it is quick, easy and incredibly versatile. With this one in your repertoire you will have a huge range of possibilities, and it freezes.

Tomato Fondue

A great way to use up Tomatoes and, at the end of the season a glut means that they are cheaper! In Winter just use peeled tinned tomatoes, economy brands are more than adequate. Alternatively freeze them in summer on a baking tray before putting into bags/boxes in your freezer.

Tomato Fondue is one of the great convertibles, it has a number of uses, I serve it as a vegetable or a sauce for pasta, filling for omelettes, topping for pizza, or with some stock as a soup!

Serves 6 approximately

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

110g (4ozs) sliced onions

1 clove of garlic, crushed

900g (2lbs) very ripe tomatoes in Summer, or 2 tins (x 14oz) of tomatoes in Winter, but peel before using

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar to taste

1 tablespoon of any of the following;

freshly chopped mint, thyme, parsley, lemon balm, marjoram or torn basil

Heat the oil in a stainless steel saucepan or casserole. Add the sliced onions and garlic toss until coated, cover and sweat on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured – about 10 minutes. It is vital for the success of this dish that the onions are completely soft before the tomatoes are added. Slice the peeled fresh tomatoes or chopped tinned tomatoes and add with all the juice to the onions. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar (tinned tomatoes need lots of sugar because of their high acidity). Add a generous sprinkling of herbs. Cover and cook for just 10-20 minutes more, or until the tomato softens, uncover and reduce a little.

Cook fresh tomatoes for a shorter time to preserve the lively fresh flavour.

Tinned tomatoes need to be cooked for longer depending on whether you want to use the fondue as a vegetable, sauce or filling.

(A few drops of Balsamic vinegar at the end of cooking greatly enhances the flavour.)

Peeling Tomatoes

Cut a small cross in the top of the tomato and then plunge into boiling water for 30 seconds or so then into cold. The skin will lift and peel back easily. TIP if you freeze tomatoes they only have to be dropped into cold water to get the skin to split and loosen.

One of the incredibly “hot” topics at the moment is Bacon Jam. Luckily I got hold of the recipe and would love you to make your own. Don’t worry it is a rich chutney or Onion Marmalade. Serve it as a pickle with meats or add to a cheese sandwich, even better just serve it on freshly toasted good quality bread.


500g streaky bacon (it has to be streaky), chopped into small dice

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 red onion, finely diced

50g brown sugar

50mls maple syrup

50ml cider vinegar

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

250ml fresh brewed coffee (NOT instant – important)

2 chillies finely chopped


Sauté the bacon over a medium heat until starting to crisp.

Take the bacon out and fry the onion in the bacon fat until softening but not coloured. Add the garlic for about a minute.

Transfer the bacon, onion, garlic to a large pot with the rest of the ingredients (excluding the red wine vinegar). Simmer gently for one hour, adding a little water every 30 minutes if required (I only had to do this towards the end). Add the red wine vinegar in the last 5 minutes.

Pulse it in a food processor briefly (to retain the course texture) although I felt it didn’t need it as the bacon was chopped quite small.

Ready to serve. Will keep in the fridge (although I doubt you will have any leftover) or seal in sterilised jars.

With all that cooking and preserving you probably deserve a rest and a “little something”. Here’s a recipe which will not give instant gratification but will be a treat in a few months time. Since our hedgerows are filling with these bright blue berries forage some and settle down for a long wait and amazing reward at the end.

Sloe Gin


450g/1lb sloes

225g/8oz caster sugar

1 litre/1¾ pint gin

Preparation method

Prick the tough skin of the sloes all over with a clean needle and put in a large sterilised jar. Or freeze overnight on a baking tray, the skins will split when brought back to room temperature and save you some considerable time!!

Pour in the sugar and the gin, seal tightly and shake well.

Store in a cool, dark cupboard and shake every other day for a week. Then shake once a week for two months.

The sloe gin will now be a beautiful dark red and ready to drink, although it will still improve with keeping.

Variation: make blackberry brandy in the same way, substituting blackberries for the sloes and brandy for the gin. Blackberries do not need pricking.

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