Culinary pleasures

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For me, making preserves is a private pleasure, though I sometimes wish I could share it with someone else.

Had a lovely weekend this weekend, making preserves.

I enjoy cooking, but there are several things I like more than others. Soups is one, slow cooking is another, and making preserves is a third.

I wonder why so few people make preserves these days? The British, in particular, are keen on their fancy jams and sauces, but so few seem to realise how easy it is to do it yourself. Perhaps the idea of botulism puts them off (virtually impossible, if you’re using sugar or vinegar, as both are biocides), or whether it’s just the time involved in the modern, busy life.

Admittedly, you do have to give up a few weekends, but if you enjoy cooking, time spent cooking is hardly a waste. 

Time was, I’d make 100 jars of preserves a year but now I keep it down to about 30 – just enough for us to eat. With so many women on daft diets, I was finding I couldn’t give the stuff away. And this year, my focus is – more than ever – on saving money, so it’s a question of using what’s available in season.

At the moment, that means my friend N’s cooking apples, which are very plentiful, along with my Braeburns and the odd quince. The soft fruit was rubbish this year – no cherries, peaches or plums at all: it’s the first time the plums have failed and it’s a shock – I normally have bushels of them. 

I must have walked miles in my kitchen this weekend, from the stove to the chopping board to the steriliser and back, over and over again. And 23 Kilner jars of compote and chutney later, everything in the house is sticky, but I’m feeling well satisfied.

I’ve made brown apple chutney with balsamic vinegar and roasted vegetables, and green apple chutney with cucumber and whole almonds. Red apple chutney with red wine and bird’s eye chillies, and gold apple chutney with turmeric and honey. The compotes have cloves and cinnamon, or red wine and ginger: there’s no point, I figure, in making something you could buy in the shops, so I keep them chunky and full of spices in contrast to the commercial type which are horribly smooth and bland.

The red wine one looks like pickled cabbage and I can’t wait to try it, but there are about another 50 jars in the cellar to get through first, so let’s not be precipitate – cherries in kirsch; blackberry jelly; golden plum compote; Moroccan lemons; my friend Mandy’s peaches and ‘fruit walk coulis’, made from the jostaberries, gooseberries and currants I’ve planted under the fruit trees.

If you enjoy cooking, as I do, it’s not a passion you can easily share with someone who doesn’t. The DH, for instance, likes eating and won’t turn his nose up at a plum crumble or a cherry pie, but he loathes cooking, so he stayed out of my way this weekend, only coming down every so often to lick a spoon or wash up a pan.

But for me, those quiet hours spent alone in the kitchen, listening to Radio 4 and stirring a preserve are among the most satisfying I ever spend, and time passes very quickly – probably 12 or 14 hours of it this weekend.

I like to think of it as a thread stretching back to all those other cooks, in other centuries, who stood in other kitchens, creating something out of nothing.


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