Home-made things to try yourself

When you grow your own fruit and vegetables, and transform them into bottles and jars of concentrated flavour, you’re not just filling your larder for the non-productive months. You’re also forging a year-long connection between your garden and your kitchen. I talk about one of my favourite books EVER below – hopefully this will encourage you to try this out for yourself!

Savoury treats

Recently published The Jam Maker’s Garden: Grow Your Own Seasonal Preserves, by Holly Farrell (Frances Lincoln, £17.99/€20.50). Whose books include the delicious Grow your Own Cake and Plants from Pips, trained at the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley in England, and worked as a head gardener on a private estate in the UK. One of the ever-increasing breed of gardener cooks, she is as much at home in the kitchen as in the garden.

Her writing is simple yet enthusiastic: her explanations are clear and her eagerness is infectious. The Jam Maker’s Garden is the kind of book that launches an urgent desire in the reader to turn their garden’s bounty into jams, jellies, curds, compotes, cordials, marmalades, fruit cheeses, ketchups, pickles, relishes and chutneys.

It will have you pondering pleasurably on pectin levels, and daydreaming about the perfect muslin for a jelly bag. The photographs, by the accomplished Jason Ingram, are mouth-wateringly appealing.

Farrell grew up in Kent, home of orchards and fruit farms, and has an easy familiarity with her subject. She deals with about three dozen fruits and vegetables in the book, as well as a handful of herbs and flowering plants. The rootstocks of fruit trees — apples, cherries, pears and plums — are demystified, giving information to help you to choose a tree with the vigour and size to suit your space.

A taste of the outdoors

Pruning, seed sowing, watering, weeding and feeding are covered in the introductory pages. So, too, are the basics of preserving: what equipment to use; how to sterilise it; and how to cook, test, pot and store various preserves.

Farrell gives concise cultivation instructions for the different crops, and follows each with a few choice recipes. She advises on specific varieties for preserving and for stretching the growing season. She advocates for fruits and veg that are difficult to find in the shops.

Take gooseberries: although there are about 150 cultivars still in existence, one rarely sees the fruits for sale. Planting your own doesn’t just give you a rarely grown fruit with a refreshing and many-layered taste, it also helps to keep the old varieties alive. Gooseberries, moreover, offer two pickings: an initial cull early in the season of unripe berries (perfect for jam) to thin the bunches, and a main harvest of ripe fruits.

Other flavours

Farrell often suggests adding other garden flavours to lend deeper and more complex notes to a preserve. Some of her combinations are classics: elderflower and gooseberry, apple and blackberry. Others are less familiar. Thyme, for example, gives a floral edge to strawberry jam, while raspberry jam can be augmented with mint, black pepper or rose-scented pelargonium. Lavender or lemon verbena make fragrant additions to a blueberry conserve and bay leaves can be used to infuse a bramble jam — the leaves are boiled with the fruit and removed before the sugar is added.

Her non-fruit recipes are appealing. As well as pickles and chutneys, there are more offbeat jams: green tomato jam, chilli jam and pumpkin jam — the last of which Farrell uses as an autumnal filling for Victoria sponge cakes. I can’t wait to try carrot jam, flavoured with orange, cinnamon and ginger, and which she recommends eating on a brioche bun with cream cheese. Your own carrots, newly pulled from the garden, are the best, as the fresh roots retain their natural sugars. The longer the time since harvest, the author says, the greater the proportion of sugars that will have been converted to starch.

Ketchup

Ketchups can be made from produce other than tomatoes, and Farrell includes instructions for a plum, as well as a rhubarb and rosemary ketchup. Herb and flower jellies, made from rosemary, thyme, sage, mint, lavender and rose, are also discussed. Savoury jellies are excellent accompaniments to roasts, while the sweet kinds “can be served with a plain biscuit and some Earl Grey tea”.

Holly Farrell’s Jam Maker’s Garden is a delightful book, guaranteed to energise anyone who has a kitchen and a patch of land, no matter how small, on which to grow their own ingredients. A few hours among its pages will turn a gardener into a cook and a cook into a gardener.

Honestly, if you aren’t tempted by this then I don’t know what will! Making your own jam is so simple and is so rewarding, shop bought is just not the same! Let me know if you buy the book and try it out for yourself, did you have any good tips for jam making that you’d like to share with Carl and I? Get in touch! Thanks!

– Connie