Preserving: the truth

 

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I find this time of year a tad depressing. The olives are swelling on the trees, ready for brining and salting, the plums have already been made into jam and the peppers are pickled. Well, in most people’s houses. I know it’s sour grapes and probably sour figs as well, but at this time of year, I’m faced squarely with my inadequacies in the preserving department. My Facebook news feed scrolls by with photos of delicious pickles and jams and burgeoning pantries filled with jars of lovely produce as people process their crops. I’m  not a Domestic Goddess. My pantry is full of grubby egg boxes, cleaning equipment and packets of dried foods from Lidls. Maya Angelou once said “Let me watch someone with a tangled pile of fairy lights and I’ll tell you want kind of person they are”  I’m the kind of person who jumps up and down in a flap when my hosepipe gets tangled, falls over it, breaks a few plants and stomps off to the house for a cup of tea leaving Señor Faztudo to sort it out. I’d love to have a pantry full of gorgeous preserves, all lined up, but my jam never sets, my jars are all different sizes and when I make pretty labels, the felt pen runs.

I’m not a complete failure however. I have learnt how to brine olives, preserve lemons and pickle peppers. But to be honest, anyone can stuff a lemon full of sea salt, change the salt water in a jar of olives ever day or boil some vinegar.

Even when I do succeed  in making a jar or pickles or some such, I live in fear of dying of some horrible toxin because I haven’t sterilised the jars properly. Botulism is my biggest worry and although it’s extremely rare, I never put garlic in with my olives, because of my fear of it. I think I’ve got a sort of cook’s hypochondria and lack confidence about the whole preserving game .

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Figs are all being dried around here at the moment, laid out on the top of cisternas or on the flat roof. I have tried to dry them in the sun a few times. The first year I left the out in the sun, I found them crawling with maggots from the flies that laid their eggs on them in two days. “Don’t worry about that,” said my Portuguese neighbour seeing my disgust, “just put them in the oven on a low heat for a long time  and all the little maggots will come out” I did and they did and the maggots  got fried, but that still put me off eating the dried figs a bit, although they were so delicious, I succumbed in the end.  Then I learned  about a  minuscule insect known as the fig wasp, whose life cycle is symbiotic with the fig. The female wasp lay their eggs in an unripe fig and her offspring hatch and the females tunnel out to find another fig to lay their eggs where they deposit the pollen from the tree they were hatched in. Unfortunately,  the entrance to the fig is constructed  to destroy the wings of the female, so  she can never visit another plant and is entombed in the fig. So when  you eat a dried fig, you’re probably chewing those female fig wasps. A friend called this “The Ugh” and said she couldn’t think about it or she would never eat another fig. I’m inclined to agree.

Still, we benefit from all our friends’ offerings, the real Domestic Gods and Goddesses.  One of my friends makes the most delicious “English” marmalade. Funnily enough, although we live only a couple of hours from Seville here, the Portuguese don’t eat or make marmalade, even thought the word marmalade comes form the Portuguese “Marmelada” Marmelada is a sort thick quince jelly  you can slice, such as we serve up in the UK with cheese at posh restaurants. The Portuguese eat it a lot, as the fruit Marmelão or Quince grows very well in Portugal.

My  neighbour, Donna M, always supplies me with huge jars of newly picked and bashed green olives, bashed with a rock gently, to let the brine in and soften them more quickly. They are delicious and although I can’t eat too many because of the salt content, I enjoy them very much and look forward to the new harvest.

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We have a plentiful supply of wonderful sea salt here, from the salt pans at Olhão and Tavira, which have been producing salt since Roman times, so if I’m  feeling lazy, I just pack whatever I want to preserve in salt and then soak it out or use it later. My main success has been the preserved lemons, which just get better with age and make a great addition to tagines.

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One of the things I am trying to cast off in my retirement is the tyranny of “should do” and food processing at times is a tyranny to me. I put rather a lot of my last year’s preserves in the compost bin to my shame this year, having given away as much as I could, so this year I’m  going to eat what I have in the garden as I have it and only process when I get the “Domestic Goddess” urge which does happen occasionally. No,  I’m not going to give a fig, no matter how much it begs me to!

 

 

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11 thoughts on “Preserving: the truth

  1. Thanks Jane, Very much enjoyed the read…my dear wife and I have many parallels with you !!
    Kindest Regards
    Roy and Susan

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  2. This was so funny and so regocnizable!! Thanks for the story!! The jars, the insecurity of not trusting your own make at times, etc loved it, because I guess we all have the same!!

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  3. Of course! First sterilise a large preserving jar. Get some organic lemons, since you will only be eating the rind. Cut the end bits of the lemons and then quarter them, but without cutting the quarters separately. Open like a flower and stuff packed with sea salt. Put in the jar and squish down. Add a few Bay leaves and peppercorns. As you squish it down the juice will come out, which is what you want. Pack more and more lemons in tight, layering with more salt until they fill up the whole jar. Top with a bit more lemon juice, seal and leave for a least a month. When you open it, you should really refrigerate and use within 6 months, so if you don’t use a lot, use smaller jars. The lemons will be all squidgy and smell different (a bit disinfectanty) but that’s fine. Take all the pulp and pips out of the squidgy lemon with a dessert spoon, cut up the rind and use in tagines and other recipes calling for preserved lemons. They cost a fortune in Waitrose, but are so easy to do, because even I can’t mess it up!

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  4. What’s even funnier, is that sometimes, someone gives you a jar of jam that someone has given them and I swear it’s the same jar of jam you gave to someone a few weeks before!

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  5. Hello Jane, It’s been a while since I stopped by but I’ve been following what you do. All marvellous and beautifully told.

    I had to laugh at your preserving and bottling as I did the same the first few years with such zeal. The kitchen would often look like a war zone when we had gluts of plums and apricots. And there are only so many sliced lemons and limes that can be sliced up and frozen for drinks instead of ice.

    I have an idiot proof recipe for lemon curd, quick and easy in the microwave, if you want it. I’ll post here. Re olives. I helped my friends in Greece harvest theirs for oil but they bought masses of black ones from the market and this is how they prepared them for jars with herbs and things. Make a crossed slit at one end of the olives and put all in a large bucket of water. Change the water every day until when you bite into one, there is no bitterness (about a week). Then prepare with your favourite recipe.

    We tried dried grapes one year but put them in a cage of mesh so that the beasties couldn’t get in. Quite a successful horde of currants. And my friend does his young figs every year by putting them in brandy and bringing them out at Christmas for gifts. Fantastic.

    Hope you don’t mind these few tips. I don’t do any preserving or bottling these days. There are many people around here selling their stuff at charity boot fairs, including a wonderful piccallili.

    Hugs
    Pam

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  6. Dear Lady Luz, aka Pamela, so nice to hear from you!
    I know you are many years ahead of me and much the wiser, so I value your tips and ideas for preservation! Do you just literally plop the figs in brandy and are they the green ones? I like the idea of preserving things in alcohol, as it’s so easy and cheap aguadente is available here. The olives I do try with…the only thing is they get that sort of blackish slime on the top, which I’m told isn’t harmful, but puts me off a bit! It would be great to get your microwave lemon curd recipe…that sounds right up my street. We have had such a hot summer, things are hanging onto life, but it looks like the pomegranates will be good this year. Take care and hugs xxxx

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  7. Hi Jane. Here is the easy, quick recipe for the lemon curd:-

    6-MINUTE LEMON CURD – in the microwave – it really works:

    75g (3oz) butter
    250g (8oz) caster sugar
    3 eggs
    finely grated rind and juice of 2 lemons.

    Melt the butter in a 1.5 litre (2 ½ pint) bowl on HIGH for about 1 ½ mins.

    Beat together the sugar, eggs, lemon rind and juice. Stir well into the melted butter, mixing well.

    Cook on HIGH for about 3 minutes, or until the mixture coats the back of a spoon.
    Stir every 30 seconds, stirring very briskly as the mixture starts to thicken, to keep it smooth.

    Pour into a sterilised, warmed jar, cover, seal and label in the usual way. Stores in a fridge for up to 2 weeks.

    Makes about 500g (1 lb).

    My friend picks his green figs when they’re young, washes and dries them, then does a sugar, water and brandy syrup and just pours that on the figs in the kilner jars. If you’ve ever done rumtopf where the Germans have a huge ceramic (usually very beautiful) vase like container and just keep putting in layers of fruit and pouring brandy on top, then replacing the lid. By Christmas it’s lovely.

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