Vegan Lemon Curd

This is a recipe from May Byron’s Rations Book (1918). Rationing during the WW2 is well known, but it was also introduced during the last year of the first world war. Confession time: I’ve changed the title of this recipe from the original. The original recipe is for Lemon Curd Without Eggs, which would have been a concern back then through food rationing. In this day and age, it is mainly be a dietary choice, so I have opted for the (nowadays) clearer and more succinct term, ‘vegan.’

It also has a lot of other things going for it, like being fat free, dairy-free, gluten-free and coconut-free. There are lots of vegan lemon curd recipes out there, but the vast majority seem to employ some kind of fat and many of them also include coconut cream to give body to the finished result and turmeric for colour.

This recipe has none of that, because the main ingredient in this recipe is swede. Yes, swede the vegetable. Also known as rutabaga, or ‘neeps’ if you’re in Scotland (shortened from Swedish Turnips, in case you were wondering). A mild-flavoured root vegetable, it adds body and also colour to the lemon curd. A little sugar, lemon-zest and juice and a gentle thickening with arrowroot, and you have a gloriously golden preserve to spread on your toast, fill your cakes and tarts and drizzle over ice-cream.

It doesn’t have to be arrowroot – although I do like the quick and ‘gentle’ set it has, and it’s ability to go clear when it’s setting qualities have ‘activated’. When cold, its not as firm/rubbery as other thickening agents. You could alternatively use cornflour, tapioca flour, sago, ground rice, etc. These last two were also in the original, but the sago needs to be soaked overnight and then cooked until translucent, and the ground rice made for a slight graininess, all of which takes away the spontenaiety. More cooking might have addressed the texture issue, but any prolonged cooking you run the risk of losing the fresh lemon flavour of the juice and zest.

And the flavour is the best thing about this recipe. It’s bright and fresh without any cloying richness from butter or eggs. It’s practically health-food!

This method could also be used for other citrus/fruit curds.

Vegan Lemon Curd

Makes about 250ml.

225g swede – peeled and diced small
85g caster sugar
zest and juice of 2 lemons
pinch of salt
15g arrowroot

  • Simmer the swede in boiling water until tender (15-20 minutes).
  • Drain and return to the warm pan. Turn off the heat and allow the excess moisture from the swede to evaporate.
  • Puree the swede. Because it is a small amount, it can be done in a spice grinder or small liquidiser. It is important for the texture to use something with offset blades – that is, blades pointing in different directions – to ensure a smooth puree. A food processor, with it’s flat blades spinning in just one plane, won’t chop things finely enough. Spare a thought for May Byron’s original readers, who had to press the cooked swede through a sieve.
  • Add some lemon juice to make the pureeing easier.
  • Return the puree to the cleaned pan and add any remaining lemon juice, the zest, the sugar and the salt.
  • Mix the arrowroot with a tablespoon of cold water and pour into the pan.
  • Heat gently, stirring, until thickened (4-5 minutes) and you can no-longer see the whiteness of the arrowroot mixture.
  • Pour into a clean jar and store in the fridge.

 

Marmalade

It’s that time of year, when Seville oranges are in the shops and marmalade is the name of the game.

For the competitively-minded, the Marmalade Awards are an annual competition to find the best marmalades across a number of categories. Whatever your forte  –  plain Seville, dark and chunky, boozy – or even if you are a complete novice, there’s an opportunity to enter and get feedback on your jar from those doyennes of home-produce, the Womens Institute.

Each jar is tasted and scored out of twenty. Less-than-perfect specimens are given hand-written feedback on where improvements can be made. High-scoring jars get certificates. It’s great fun.

I’ve entered for a number of years, some more successful than others – and have garnered a range of Gold, Silver and Bronze awards. The recipes here have both won Gold for me over the years and are ideal for the novice marmalade maker as they are small batch recipes, one making four and the other just two x 450g jars.

Both of these recipes were found in handwritten recipe books, one from the middle of the 19th century and the other from the late 17th century.

Dundee Marmalade

1850

This marmalade is simplicity itself: boil the oranges, chop, then simmer with sugar for 30 minutes. I’ve made only one adjustment to the original recipe, which is to change the water the oranges are boiled in, in order to remove the harshness of the oil contained in the skins. If this sounds like too much hassle, then by all means use the same water all the way through – the result will be on the feisty side!

Top Tip: The cooked oranges will freeze excellently, so if you like this recipe, or have limited storage space for jars, cook a large number of fruit and then freeze until required. The recipe can be easily scaled, so you can use just a couple of oranges to make one large jar at a time.

Seville oranges
granulated sugar

  • Put the oranges into a pan with enough water to cover them. They will float to begin with, but gradually become heavier as they absorb moisture.
  • Bring the pan to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer.
  • After 25 minutes, bring a second pan of water to a simmer.
  • Transfer the oranges to the second pan and continue simmering.
  • Discard the first lot of cooking water and scrub the saucepan. The bitter orange oil will have gathered on the sides of the pan. Fill the pan with fresh water and bring to a simmer.
  • Repeat the above until the oranges have been simmered for 2 hours – 4 changes of water.
  • Lift out the oranges and set aside to drain and cool.
  • When cooled enough to handle, cut the oranges in half and remove only the pips.
  • Chop the rest of the fruit as liked. I prefer to slice it by hand into strips and then into thin shreds with a sharp knife.
  • Weigh the fruit and for every 450g, put 600ml of water and 900g granulated sugar into a clean pan.
  • Heat the sugar and water gently, stirring occasionally, until all the sugar is dissolved.
  • Add the chopped peel and pulp and bring to a gentle boil.
  • Cook, stirring occasionally, until it reaches setting point of 105°C. For 450g of fruit, this will take about 30 minutes. Smaller or larger quantities of fruit will require slight adjustment of this time.
  • Pour into clean, warmed jars and seal whilst hot.
  • Clean and label once cold.

Bridget Hyde’s Very Good Marmalade

1680

Bridget Hyde's Marmalade recipe
Bridget Hyde’s Marmalade recipe, circa 1680, MS2990, Wellcome Library Collection

This recipe is unusual in that it uses the setting qualities of the pectin in green apples and the luxury of wine to create a light and brightly-flavoured, shred marmalade. It is very straightforward to follow the recipe as written, but equally easy to use some of the fruit cooked in the previous recipe, so the recipe below will follow this adaptation. Even without the original musk and ambergris perfuming the result, this is a delicious and delicate marmalade. Any sweet, dessert white wine can be used, however for my Gold-winning entrant in the Marmalade Awards I sought out some Muscat de Frontignan, whose richly perfumed aromas of citrus and honey perfectly complements the fruit in this marmalade. Reflecting the high cost of the ingredients of the time, this recipe makes just two jars per batch.

225g granulated sugar
300ml sweet dessert white wine, Muscat de Frontignan for something really special
150ml water
450g green apples – Granny Smith or Bramley
3 Seville oranges – cooked as above
225g granulated sugar
1 lemon – optional
1 sweet orange – optional

  • Put the first portion of sugar, the white wine and water into a saucepan.
  • Chop the apples into 2cm pieces and add to the pan also, cores, seeds and all.
  • Cut the Sevilles in half and use a teaspoon to scrape out all of the flesh, membranes and seeds. Add this to the saucepan as well.
  • Simmer the contents of the saucepan gently over medium low heat until the apple pieces become translucent.
  • While the apples are simmering, slice the cooked peel into thin shreds.
  • When the apples are translucent, strain the liquid of the pan through a sieve, pressing down on the solids to extract all of the liquid.
  • Rinse the pan and return it to the heat with the wine syrup.
  • Add the remaining sugar and stir until dissolved
  • Add the shredded peel and simmer until it reaches setting point of 105°C, which will take around 20-30 minutes.
  • Taste and adjust the finished flavour to your own liking by adding some freshly-squeezed lemon and/or orange juice.
  • Pour into clean, warmed jars and seal whilst hot.
  • Clean and label once cold.

 

Damson Preserves

Here’s a trio of preserves that champion one of my favourite sorts of food – free stuff!

Damsons grow wild in the hedgerows and along the canal banks and lanes of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire, and the only cost is your time to pick them. They are tart, wild plums, about the size and shape of a large grape, with a soft, hazy-blue bloom to the skin. NB The size/shape is key to identifying true damsons – if the fruit is round and apple-shaped, it is a different wild plum known as a bullace.

I had an especially impressive haul of damsons this year, from three difference sources, so aside from the obligatory Damson Gin, I had enough to make batches of the above preserves for the first time, the recipes for which I have had bookmarked for years. Whatever your toothsome preference, there should be something for everyone here.

If you’re unable to find damsons, then all of these recipes will work with any kind of small, tart plums.

Damson Conserve

MS1795
From MS1795, circa 1685, Wellcome Library Collection

First up is the oldest of the three recipes, found in a household manuscript book at the Wellcome Library. Sadly for those of us interested in people as much as recipes, it is anonymous,  and dates from around 1685. It caught my eye because of the slightly unusual method it employs. Usually, the vigorous boiling in the making of damson jam renders the delicate fruit into a pulp, but the method in this recipe is strikingly similar to that employed by the modern queen of jam-making, la fée des confitures, Christine Ferber. Sugar is used to both draw out the juices of the fruit, and to infuse the delicate flesh, so that it can all the better withstand the cooking process. The result is beautifully whole damsons in a richly flavoured syrup.

You can make any quantity you like, by scaling up the recipe to suit the quantity of fruit you have. I have altered the recipe slightly, based on my experience of working with Madam Ferber’s recipes.

1lb damsons
1lb granulated sugar
120ml water

  • Remove the stalks and with a sharp knife, cut the skin of the damsons around “in the crease” as the recipe puts it.
  • Sprinkle a layer of sugar in a pan and set the damsons into the sugar, to draw out the juice.
  • Sprinkle the remainder of sugar over the top.
  • Pour over the water.
  • Cover and leave overnight.
  • Next day, heat very gently until the sugar has melted.
  • Lift the fruit out of the syrup and bring it to a boil.
  • Return the fruit to the now hot syrup and allow to steep overnight.
  • On Day 3, lift the fruit out of the syrup and bring it to a boil again.
  • Return the fruit and simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Transfer to warmed pots and seal while hot.

Miss Milward’s Pickled Damsons

19th century

Alison Uttley’s fictionalised autobiographical book The Country Child was one of my favourites growing up, and it remains so to this day. The book details her childhood growing up on a Derbyshire farm in the late nineteenth century – I highly recommend it.

Ms Uttley came across her mother’s recipe book whilst researching Country Hoard, and in response to encouragement from her published, produced Recipes from an Old Farmhouse in 1966. This recipe was made in vast quantities, to ensure there was a ready supply for the many mouths fed at the farm.

Almost equally sweet and sharp, they are equally good served alongside cold meats and cheeses, as spooned over ice cream.

You can halve or even quarter this recipe if liked.

3.2kg damsons
1.8kg white, granulated sugar
2 x 5cm cinnamon sticks
20g whole cloves
malt vinegar to cover

  • Layer the damsons and sugar in a casserole.
  • Add the spices and vinegar enough to just submerge the fruit, and cover with a lid.
  • Place in the oven and turn the heat to 120°C, 100°C Fan.
  • Bake gently for 1 hour to draw out the juices.
  • Set aside to cool.
  • When cold, drain the fruit from the syrup.
  • Heat the syrup until boiling, then pour over the fruit and allow to stand until the next day.
  • Repeat this draining/boiling each day for the next 7 days (for a total of 8 days).
  • Allow the damsons to stand in the syrupy pickle for seven  more days.
  • Spoon the damsons into warmed pots, boil the syrup and pour over the fruit.
  • Seal at once.
  • Cherries may also be pickled in this way.

Mrs Musson’s Baroda Chutney

This recipe, from Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire, won first prize in the Farmer and Stockbreeder Competition in 1950, and it is my new, favourite chutney. It can be found in a delightful little book entitled “Cook it the Farmhouse Way” by Barbara Wilcox. A digitised copy of the book can be borrowed for 2 weeks from The Internet Archive – click here.

The damsons give it a beautiful, rich colour, and the chutney can be eaten immediately. It is fantastic with both cold meats and cheeses.

1.35kg apples – peeled and cored
1.35kg marrow – peeled and chopped roughly
1.35kg tomatoes
900g damsons, counted
1.125kg onions – peeled
225g shallots
170g garlic
140g salt
1tsp dried chilli flakes
900g sugar
115g mustard seed – yellow or black
50g fresh ginger – sliced thin
15g whole cloves
1.7 litres malt vinegar

  • Chop the apples, marrow, tomatoes, onions, shallots and garlic. You can do this by hand or, as I did, by pulsing them 2 or 3 times in a food processor. You want  your resulting chutney to be fine enough to spread in a sandwich without any unseemly large pieces.
  • Put into a large bowl with the damsons, salt, chillies and sugar.
  • Mix thoroughly, then cover with cling film and leave overnight.
  • The next day, tie the spices and the sliced ginger in a muslin bag and add to the vegetables, together with the vinegar.
  • Mix thoroughly then pour everything into a preserving pan.
  • Bring slowly to the boil, stirring frequently, then turn the heat down and simmer until no excess moisture is visible – 4-6 hours – stirring regularly. Alternatively, you can cook this, uncovered, in a slow cooker. It requires less stirring, although the cooking time then increases to about 10 hours.
  • Remove the muslin bag of spices and fish out the damsons stones (optional – but you might want to write a reminder on the label if you keep them in). If you counted your damsons before cooking, you can easily keep track of how many stones you need to retrieve.
  • Pot and seal at once.

Potted Prawn, Shrimp or Crayfish

This recipe was chosen for it’s multi-purposeness , because you can use this method for any of the above-mentioned seafood, or perhaps even a mixture of two or three.

Potting used to be a means of preserving, the clarified butter being used to make the contents impervious to air-borne microbes, etc. Properly potted food could last days, if not weeks, without the need for refrigeration. When required, the butter was removed and the potted food used for whatever purpose the cook had in mind.

Nowadays, potted food is consumed in much the same way as a pate, spread on crisp toast or crackers. In this adaptation, the butter used to bind the seafood is delicately infused with spices before being combined with the fish and seasoning.

Potted Shrimp, Prawn or Crayfish

100g clarified, unsalted butter
1 blade mace
2 cloves
1 slice nutmeg
270g cooked brown shrimp, prawns or crayfish
black pepper
salt
Extra clarified butter to seal

  • Put the clarified butter and spices into a small pan and heat over a very low flame for 10 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat and allow to infuse for a further 20 minutes.
  • Remove the spices and combined with the seafood. NB British brown shrimp are tiny and perfect for spooning onto a finger of toast, so you might prefer to omit the next stage, and just season and pot them directly. Prawns and crayfish are larger and thus require chopping to make them easier to
    pot as well as easier to spread when served.
  • If you opt for chopping up the seafood, pour the mixture int a food processor and blitz intermittently until combined.
  • Taste and add salt and pepper as required.
  • Spoon into small pots or ramekins.
  • Pour over a thin layer of clarified butter to seal.
  • Chill in the fridge until required.
  • Serve with hot buttered toast

Pickled Cherries

This recipe comes from the manuscript receipt book of Lady Ann Fanshawe at The Wellcome Library – page 292 by Lady Ann’s numbering. It is very quick and straightforward and not that different to the other pickled cherry recipes around, except for the seasonings.

Lady Ann favours mace and dill which were unusual enough to tempt me to try. The recipe also calls for the very best heart cherries, which are cherries that have a soft and rounded heart shape. A bit of research into old varieties reveals that heart cherries could be both dark or pale. I’ve gone with dark, and used a little red wine in place of the original water, in order to help preserve the colour of the fruit. If you can get pale dessert cherries, then swap the red wine for white.

The original recipe contained no sugar, which was a bit much even for a vinegar-lover like myself, so I have tweaked the recipe and added a little brown sugar to soften the flavour.

Original Recipe
Source: MS7113, Wellcome Library Collections

Pickled Cherries

2kg dark purple cherries
540ml light fruit vinegar – I used home-made gooseberry, but you could use whatever you like, as long as it doesn’t overpower the flavour of the fruit. A white balsamic, for example
180ml red wine
6tbs dark muscovado sugar
3 blades of mace
1 tbs dried dill
½ tsp salt

  • Stone the cherries and arrange them neatly in concentric circles in the bottom of a preserving pan. There should be enough to make a full single layer covering the bottom of the pan.
  • Add the sugar, mace, dill and salt.
  • Gently pour in the vinegar and red wine. This should just cover the cherries.  If you need more liquid add it in the proportion of 3 parts vinegar, 1 part wine.
  • Put the pan on medium heat and bring to a gentle simmer.
  • Cook for 10 minutes, until the cherries are just tender but still holding their shape.
  • Gently spoon the cherries into sterilised jars. Pour in the cooking liquid to cover and seal.
  • Can be enjoyed immediately with ham and terrines, as well as fatty meats such as roast lamb, duck and pork.

 

Candied Cranberries

Here’s a recipe you might want to try when fresh cranberries are back in the shops.

After discovering the joys of home-candied peel a few years ago, I have since tried my hand at several different fruits. With it being the season for mincemeat and fruit cake decorating, when I spotted some punnets of fresh cranberries on sale, I thought I’d give them a try.

Hunting around on the internet, it seems many people’s idea of candied cranberries is to dip them in egg-white and roll them in caster sugar. Beautiful and festive and twinkly-frosty, but not really candied in the traditional sense.

I also found no recipes on the traditional method of candying for these particular berries, so I thought I’d make up my own, based on the many examples of preserving recipes I’ve found in various manuscript books.

My method is a combination of the old-fashioned method of making conserves with delicate fruit, and how to make sloe gin *hic!*

This recipe takes about a week, but your active involvement is little more than an hour. Over the week, the delicate berries will gradually exchange their juice for sugar, making the cranberries more robust the more sugar they absorb, and as a bonus you’ll get a beautifully-coloured cranberry syrup.

For ease, select a pan you can get by without using for a week.

Candied Cranberries

1kg fresh cranberries
1kg caster sugar

  • Poke holes in each cranberry with a cocktail stick in order to let the juice out (and the sugar in). You don’t have to be too fastidious – I made about 5 or 6 holes around the middle.
  • Layer the cranberries and the caster sugar in a pan – a wide pan is better than tall saucepan, for ease of gently moving the berries around later.  Leave for 24 hours. The sugar will draw out some of the juice.
  • Next day, heat the pan very gently to melt the sugar. You’ll probably have to add a little water to get it started – about 1/2 a cup. Shake, don’t stir – or if you absolutely have to, stir very gently. Vigorous stirring and/or heating will cause the berries to burst. Some will burst anyway, but try and keep that at a minimum by being gentle.
  • Once the sugar is melted, turn off the heat, cover, and leave 24 hours. As the sugar is absorbed by the cranberries, they will gradually become more robust, but for the first day or two, you’ll need to be careful.
  • Repeat the heating gently for 5 minutes then leaving overnight for 5 days. Gradually the syrup will become redder and the cranberries more jewel-like.
  • After 5 days, warm the syrup (to make it easier to drain) and pour through a sieve to separate the cranberries from the syrup.
  • To finish, the cranberries need to dry a little, so line 2 large baking sheets with parchment and scatter the candied cranberries over. Try and get them separated, to facilitate drying, but there will be some squished ones you can’t do much about at this stage.
  • Last thing at night, put the trays in the oven and turn the heat to 170°C/150°C Fan for 5 minutes, then turn off and leave to dry overnight.
  • Repeat the drying next day – 170°C/150°C Fan for 5 minutes then turn off and leave to dry. If extremely sticky, they might need another overnight drying (I did Friday night/Saturday day/Saturday night).
  • Once only slightly tacky to the touch, they’re ready to use. I sorted mine into 3 groups: Perfect ones went back into the syrup (to keep moist) to use as decorations. I dipped a few of the not-so-perfect ones in dark chocolate, and rolled the rest in caster sugar and stored in a ziplock bag. The exploded ones I chopped and put in a jar for mincemeat.

Honey Curd

This recipe was an absolute delight to discover in an old Women’s Institute recipe book. For a start, the use of honey instead of refined sugar is so much better for you, and it increases the keeping properties immensely. The original recipe claimed that it would keep a year.

I used the cheapest, runny honey to see how much the flavour of the honey impacted on the final result, and it’s not overly intrusive – just a gentle hint at the end.

The real beauty of this recipe is how you can tweak both the honey and the accompanying fruit to give an almost limitless variety – Lime Tree Honey and limes, Orange Blossom Honey and oranges are just a couple of suggestions that sprung into my mind. Update: I have now tried both these flavour combinations, and can honestly say, hand on heart, that they are two of the most sublime-tasting citrus curds I have EVER tasted.

This recipe will make double the quantity of honey, so you’ll need just one extra jar in addition to your jar of honey. Wash both jars and lids and put them into a cold oven. Turn the oven on to 100°C, 80°C Fan until dry and hot.

As for the instructions, they couldn’t be easier. The original recipe contained just one line of instruction, but I’ve managed to pad that out to four!

Honey Curd

340g jar of runny honey[1]
2 large eggs
1 large yolk
zest and juice of 1 lemon
juice of 1 extra lemon
45g clarified butter

  • Put all of the ingredients into a small pan and whisk together over a low heat until thickened.
  • Pour into the clean, warm jars and seal.
  • Set aside to cool.
  • Use as any other curd – the original recipe recommends it as a filling for little tarts.

[1] Don’t be too precious about being exact –  I only specify 340ml because that’s how much honey was in the jar that I used. 300ml-ish is fine.

Apricot Jam

I’m a big fan of the sharp-sweet tang of apricots, and with a respectable amount of pectin, there’s no need to Faff About™ adding any extra. The small quantity lemon juice helps anyway, both in the set and in sharpening the flavour of the apricots.

This method, gleaned from several hand-written 17th century manuscripts, is slightly longer than your regular jam-making session might be, but it is seriously low on effort. Start-to-finish, it’s about 24 hours, but of that, there’s maybe only 1 hour of actually doing anything – bonus!

The result is so vibrant, so delicious, you’ll wish you’d made more – however many jars you make. I bought 6 x 350g punnets – and made six jars. One jar of finished jam for every 350g of raw fruit is also a handy way to work out how many jars your going to need. As a precaution, I always have one jar extra, all cleaned, heated and ready to go, in case of an overabundance. I’ve scaled the quantities down to use just 1 kg of fresh, pitted fruits (so 3 punnets from the shop), so it’s a little easier to scale up/down.

This method involves first macerating (or soaking) the fruit in sugar for several hours (or even overnight). The sugar draws out the juice from the fruit, and in turn a little of the sugar is absorbed. This absorption of sugar will help to firm up the fruit and keep it from disintegrating during the necessary boiling later on.

That being said, this is not a solid jam that has to be crowbar’d out of the jar (a particular dislike of mine). It’s definitely leaning more towards the conserve, although having sliced the fruit to manageable bite-sizes, I think that disqualifies it from the traditional definition of conserve (i.e. whole fruit in syrup).

ANYHOO….

Here’s how it goes:

Apricot Jam

3 x 350g punnets of Bergeron (for preference, but not compulsory) apricots, to give 1kg of prepared fruit
800g granulated sugar
Juice of 2-3 lemons
Day 1

  • Rinse the apricots and cut into halves, top to bottom, and remove the stone.
  • Layer the apricot halves, sugar and the juice of 2 of the lemons in a large bowl ensuring the cut surfaces of the apricots are covered with sugar.
  • Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside for 8-10 hours, or overnight.
  • Mop brow and declare loudly to any interested parties “This jam-making is EXHAUSTING! I must have a REST and watch a FILM”.
  • Put feet up.

8 hours later, or next morning if you started at night

  • Gently slide the apricot mixture (which will probably be quite runny by now) into a preserving pan and warm gently, until all the sugar is melted.
  • Try and avoid stirring, as the fruit will still be very fragile and might begin to break apart with too much spoon action.
  • When all the sugar is melted, bring the mixture to a boil.
  • As soon as it boils, remove the pan from the heat and gently pour the fruit mixture back into the bowl.
  • Re-cover with cling film and set aside overnight.
  • Mop brow and put feet up as above.

12-14 hours later

Here’s where things might get a little too Faffy™ for your liking, feel free to skip the next part if you prefer a slightly more rustic jam.

  • Removing the skins
    • Strain the fruit from the syrup. I prefer to lift the aricot gently with a skimmer, to avoid squishingthem too much, but you can pour it through a sieve if you like.
    • By this time, after their overnight soaking, the skins should be wrinkled and easy to separate from the flesh of the apricots. I usually start by picking up an apricot half by the skin in my left hand and then using a small, sharp knife to ease the flesh away. Sometimes the cut edge of the apricot next to the skin has hardened and needs a little encouragement to come free. If your apricots have a slightly thicker skin, this may not be as easy as described. In this case, give up.. Persevering will only mash the apricots to mush.
    • Discard skins.
  • Using some sharp scissors, cut the now skin-free apricots into strips about 0.5-1cm wide. Again, feel free to skip this if so inclined. It just makes the jam easier to spread. Set fruit aside for now.
  • Once the fruit is prepared, it’s time to boil the syrup to setting point.
  • But before you start heating it, taste. I like a particularly sharp jam, so I tend to add the juice of another lemon at this stage if necessary. Taste the syrup and make your own decision.
  • Also, put 2 saucers in the freezer. These will be used later to test whether your jam has reached setting point.
  • Pour all the syrup into the preserving pan and bring to a simmering boil. Keep an eye on it, as too high a heat may cause it to boil over.
  • Skim the froth from the top of the simmering syrup – removing this will help give your finished jam that jewel-like clarity. Don’t throw the foam away, it’s still delicious, just bubbly. Enjoy on toast with some salty feta or goats cheese – NOM!
  • Setting point is reached at 105°C, when the excess water has evaporated – there will be a distinct lack of steam coming from the pan, but use a thermometer to double-check.
  • Add the apricots, sliding them gently into the syrup. It will immediately go off the boil, and as there will be quite a lot of syrup clinging to the apricots themselves, it will take several minutes to come back to setting point.
  • Use this time to wash your jam jars, rinse and arrange onto a baking sheet, together with their lids.
  • Put the jars into a cold oven, and turn the heat to 100°C, 80°C Fan.
  • When the jam has reached setting point for the second time, draw the pan to one side away from the heat and test the jam by putting a teaspoon onto one of the cold saucers from the freezer. Return the plate to the freezer for a minute or two then remove and slowly push a finger through the cooled jam. If the surface wrinkles, then the jam is done. If not, return to the heat for a few more minutes and test again.
  • Once the jam is set to your satisfaction, turn off the heat and leave it to cool a little. You want it to be cool enough to begin to form a thin skin on the surface. This means that it is starting to set, and you should put it in jars. Depending on how big a batch you’re making, this could be as long as 20 minutes. Have a cuppa while waiting!
  • Stir the jam gently, to distribute the fruit throughout the syrup. Now that the jam has cooled a little, the fruit will stay suspended evenly. Stirring when the jam is too hot will do nothing, and pouring too-hot jam into jars will just make all the fruit float to the top.
  • Remove the hot and now dry jars from the oven and, using a jam funnel, pour your jam into the jars. You might want to use oven gloves to hold the jar steady. Fill the jars as close as possible to the top – to within 5mm at least (bacteria love air gaps, so you want to keep them as small as possible).
  • Screw the lids on tightly and then wipe off any spillage from the outside of the jars. Leave to cool completely before labelling.

Fat-free Mincemeat

This recipe is adapted from Hannah Glasse’s 1747 recipe for Mince Pies for Lent.

Nowadays, we traditionally make mincemeat far in advance of the festive season, so that it can mature in flavour. Both the sugar and the suet act as preservative and so when Christmas rolls around, you’ve got a jar of deliciously spicy sweetmeat and not a fizzing, fermenting jar of goo.

The downside of course is having to be organised enough to remember to make it far enough in advance, making enough for those unexpected baking moments (such as surprise visitors, or a last minute school bake sale contribution), and not making too much so you have storage problems. Quite apart from it not being suitable for either vegetarians or vegans.

Here, hopefully, is a solution. No suet means it’s vegetarian and vegan. No added sugar means its more suited to people needing to control their sugar intake, for whatever reason – although there IS sugar in the candied peel, so this isn’t quite a sugar-free recipe. Best of all it doesn’t need maturing, it’s literally mix and go.

The mixture is gently warmed and the fruits absorb the sherry, brandy and fruit juices. The finely-chopped dates break down and bind everything together. The result is packed full of flavour and with a much cleaner and fresher taste. This mix makes just under 500g of ready-to-use mincemeat.

NB This will keep for up to a week in the fridge, but no longer. Cooked as mince pies and frozen – up to 3 months.

Fat-free Mincemeat

50g currants
50g raisins – crimson raisins look pretty
50g sultanas
50g dates – finely chopped
25g candied orange peel [1]
25g candied lemon peel [1]
25g candied grapefruit peel [1]
35g dried cranberries
25g flaked almonds – chopped
2tbs sherry
1tbs brandy
juice & grated rind of an orange
pinch of ground ginger
a grating of nutmeg,
pinch of ground cinnamon
pinch of mixed spice
pinch of ground cloves

60-100ml apple juice

  • Put the dried fruits into a small saucepan.
  • Cut the candied peel into small pieces with scissors and add to the pan with the spices. NB If you’re using your home-made candied peel that has been stored in syrup, then there’s no need to soften it in the saucepan – just stir it in with the nuts once the fruit has plumped.
  • Add the orange juice and zest, brandy, sherry and 60ml of apple juice.
  • Stir gently to combine and set pan over the lowest possible heat.
  • Cover and let the mixture stew gently until all the liquid has been absorbed.
  • If the fruit isn’t as plumped and juicy as you would like, add a little more apple juice.
  • The mixture should be moist, but with no liquid visible in the bottom
  • When you’re happy with the consistency, stir through the chopped, flaked almonds.

[1] If you’ve made some candied peel yourself, then these are pretty straightforward. If not, then use 75g of what you have/can get. Buy whole peel pieces if possible – they retain their flavour much better than chopped – and cut them just before use.

 

Candied Peel

A forgotten art in British preserving is home-made candied peel. ‘But I can buy that!’ you shriek. Yes, I know. But if you’ve ever tasted fresh candied peel made with nothing more than sugar, peel and water – you’d understand. I used to hate store-bought candied peel, and avoided anything that included it, but home-made just blows it out of the water. The explosion of citrus flavour is amazing. The beauty of making it yourself is that you can candy any citrus peel you like, and not be limited to just orange and lemon. So here, for anyone who fancies having a go, is how to do it, gleaned from 17th century manuscript recipe books. It’s not difficult or complicated, but it is a bit repetitive. But make a decent amount at one time, and you won’t have to repeat it for a good few months. Oh – and it’ll make your house smell amazing.

How To Candy Peel

Citrus fruit of choice
Sugar
Water

  • Remove the skin from the fruit. Slice off the top and bottom (to make a flat surface to stand the fruit on) and then cut the peel from the sides of the fruit by slicing downwards. Keep as much of the pith as possible.
  • Scrape any flesh and membranes from the fruit rind. Don’t worry if you can’t get it all, it’ll become easier after the peel has been boiled. Leave the pith intact – it’s the pith absorbing the sugar that keeps the rind juicy and helps prevent it becoming hard.
  • Place the rind into a pan large enough to hold it plus an inch of water. Cover with clean water.
  • Bring water to a boil and boil for a minute or two then drain.
  • Rinse the peel thoroughly, and also scrub the sides of the saucepan thoroughly as well. Why? The bitterness of the peel comes from the citrus oil in the skin of the fruit. Bringing the water to the boil helps release this oil, but it then floats on the top of the water, coats the rind when the water is poured off, and also congeals onto the sides of the pan. If you don’t rinse the peel and scrub the pan well, you just end up basically boiling the peel in the bitter citrus oil, which kinda defeats the whole purpose of repeated boilings.
  • Repeat until the peels are semi translucent and very tender. This will greatly depend on the type and condition of the fruit itself, but as a rough guide, lemons = 4 times, oranges = 5 times, grapefruit = 6 times.
  • Leave in a colander to drain well.
  • While the peel is draining, make some sugar syrup: mix 1 part water to 2 parts sugar. 500ml water to 1kg sugar is straightforward, but might leave you with a lot of leftovers, if you’re not making much peel. Not very helpful I’m afraid, but to my mind, it is better to have a little extra syrup, than have to make more once you’ve added the peels because there isn’t enough. I usually guesstimate by eye – and use non-standard measures (i.e. large mug or jug) and just measure by volume.
  • Heat the sugar and water slowly until the sugar is dissolved, then bring to a boil and continue to heat until the mixture is clear.
  • Squeeze excess water from the peels by pressing them between several layers of kitchen roll – or I find that using a clean hand towel works best – they’re surprisingly soggy peels!
  • Scrape off any remaining flesh and membranes using the side of a teaspoon and cut the peels into 5mm strips.
  • Once the syrup is clear, drop in the drained peel. Make sure that there is enough syrup to allow all of the rinds to be submerged.
  • Bring syrup and rind to a boil then cover and put onto the lowest heat. Let it stew gently until the rinds become translucent and jewel-like (almost like coloured glass). Stir occasionally. This takes about an hour. Don’t be tempted to turn up the heat to speed things along, it’ll just harden the peel.
  • Store the candied peel in screw-top jars, making sure it’s completely covered by the syrup. This will keep it moist until required, and the high sugar content of the syrup will act as a preservative. When you need to use it in a recipe, rinse off the excess syrup and pat dry with a paper towel.
  • Any excess syrup can be bottled and saved to drizzle over cakes or desserts. It will have a wonderful flavour.