I have written before about my lack of enthusiasm for preserving. Somehow I find making jams and chutneys a hot and anxious pastime, whilst I hover over the jam pan, putting it on cold saucers to set and swearing quietly to myself when it doesn’t. But I made a pact with myself that I would eat everything edible in my garden if possible this year and where spoiled, feed it to the chickens, and only after all that, compost it. So, with that in mind, I have been thinking about the laziest way to make delicious things. I joined a Facebook group of US preserving enthusiasts the other day, called “Ultimate Rebel Canning” which gave me some inspiration. I love to think of all the “Rebel Canners” doing it their way, fearlessly, in the US.
I have always loved sloe gin, and as a young woman, enjoyed foraging for them in the hedgerows and waysides in the Wye Valley. You always waited for the first frost before picking them. Although not sloes, this year we had a wonderful crop of plums and after we’d gorged ourselves on them every morning for breakfast, I began to think about the surplus. I relented and made some jam, as I do love plum jam on my oatcakes and happily it turned out quite well, despite a night muttering over a hot stove. Some old CD labels came in useful for the covers. I put the rest in some very cheap bottles of gin from a well-known German supermarket (6 euros a bottle). You have to prick them with a fork and add quite a lot of sugar and stir every now and again. The gin is gradually turning the most wonderful plum colour. The sadness is I don’t drink any more, but I am sure my children and husband will enjoy it and who knows, I may even be tempted to a little tipple with the Christmas pud.
I have also had little go at making apple cider vinegar. We use acv a lot. We both drink a little in some warm water before we go to bed for our digestion and general health, the organic stuff with the mother (that always makes me laugh) and i wondered how it was made. Googling it, it isn’t that difficult, you just cut up some apples and add a bit of sugar, a bit of the “mother” vinegar and some spring water and away you go. Apples don’t grow all that terribly well in the Algarve, but my neighbour gave me some dinky little apples which weren’t really worth eating in a pie, but were just right for vinegar making. It’s been fermenting away for two weeks now and has one more week to go before I filter it and bottle it. It smells and looks right, so I’m quite excited.
The final experiment is a bit crazy. I know I’ll be laughed at for it, but who cares. I am an old woman and it’s my time if I want to waste it. We have several carob trees in the garden and the recent windy weather is bringing them down every day. I have decided to turn them all into carob flour myself. A carob pod is a hard, gnarly thing and the first thing you need to do is get the seed out, no mean task. Google came in handy once again and I boiled my pickings for twenty minutes and then spent a lot of fairly happy and meditative hours removing the seeds. These little beauties are used in the manufacture of cosmetics and as a thickening agent in certain foods, and the word “carat” used as a weight for gold comes from them. It was a unit of weight and carob seeds have been used for hundreds of years to measure jewelry, because it was believed there was little variance in their mass. I didn’t need them for my flour, only the pods, which after Id extracted the seeds, I put out in the sun to dry.
After a few days I brought them back and used an old coffee grinder to grind them little by little into flour. So far I have half a jar and I think I’ll be labouring over this for many weeks to come. This is an act of madness, chiefly because I can buy good carob flour for about 10 euros a kilo and at the rate I am processing them, the flour is very expensive! Still, I have learned something new. I plan to do the same with the almonds I harvest, and make cakes using almond meal carob flour and my hen’s eggs. I have been baking cakes for some time from almond flour only and they are really delicious. The carob flour has a great deal of natural sweetness too, so I hope to use little sugar.
Next on the agenda is pomegranates, which I love, but I don’t think we will have a surplus of that this year, because we are in quite a serious drought situation and they are very small. Then onto the olives! Lots this year, I just hope we get a rain shower before we harvest them to plump them up for brining, something which I am getting quite good at, after several failed attempts. Preserverance pays it seems.