The potager shed

The potager shed

Hi.

Welcome to my blog. This is just my personal garden and food diary. I’m a flexitarian, vegetarian at home, but more flexible when with friends. I’m trying to grow our own food so we leave a lighter footprint on this precious planet.

Over the past six years I have been transforming a one acre former vineyard on a steep hill into a garden. There are distinct areas; an 80m2 vegetable garden, a small orchard, a pond and a sunken path flanked by two long mixed borders.

We are in a small hamlet near Faugères in the Occitanie (formerly Languedoc) region of France. Our soil is rocky schist. Summer temperatures can reach 40℃ and in winter sink as low as -10℃. Water comes rarely but is diluvial when it does.

Lizzie

Intense blackcurrant jelly

Intense blackcurrant jelly

My great aunt Kath & grandma Vera both used to make prized blackcurrant jelly. Mum said it was too much of a faff, so flatly refused to have anything to do with it. As a kid I remember receiving a pot of this delicious treat as though it contained gold flakes.

No wonder. It isn’t that much of a fiddle compared with, say, stoning 3 kilos of cherries to make jam. Now that really is a faff. We used to call it Best Behaviour Cherry Jam because only people on their very best behaviour were allowed to have some, so arduous was the task of making it. But making blackcurrant jelly demands a certain patience, helped by imagining the end result dribbling through a hot buttery crumpet in January.

Yesterday I took a chair along to my only blackcurrant bush which was laden with fruit. Scout and Jonty came to lay in its shade too so we were all very snug in a corner of the vegetable garden, squeezed in between the coriander and leeks, tubs of strawberries, climbing trombone squash and the fence.

Blackcurrants heavy on the sole bush

Blackcurrants heavy on the sole bush

Halfway through picking.

Halfway through picking.

Once picked over they weighed in at a healthy 3 kilos.

Once picked over they weighed in at a healthy 3 kilos.

Saint Ali offered to pick out all the leaves and bits of stalk as I’ve cut the top off the middle finger of my left hand and this is a two-handed job.

Blackcurrant Jelly

What’s in it?

3kgs blackcurrants

1.4 litres water

450g caster sugar for every 600ml juice after straining (However, I prefer to use reduced sugar for jam-making which means you use half the sugar to fruit, so the flavour is much more intense)

How’s it made?

Don’t worry about removing the stalks from the blackcurrants. That’s just torture and very messy. Lob them in a huge pan with the water and simmer them gently for about 30 minutes until they are all soft and pulpy. Stir occasionally.

Line a big sieve with muslin, or hang a muslin cloth on a stool like this:

Make sure you tie it tightly or your kitchen will look like a murder scene.

Make sure you tie it tightly or your kitchen will look like a murder scene.

Ideally place the whole kit and caboodle in a sink.

Ideally place the whole kit and caboodle in a sink.

Pour all the blackcurrant gloop into the muslin and let it drip trough overnight. Wise people say that you shouldn’t encourage it through with a wooden spoon the next day otherwise your jelly will be cloudy. However, I can’t bear there to be any waste after I’ve grown the fruit so carefully so I definitely try to squeeze as much through as possible and hang the cloudy jelly.

(I’m also inclined to add some more boiling water once I’ve taken enough for the jam, then, by adding sugar and reducing it I have a rival to Ribena. Did you know that 90% of the UK blackcurrant production goes to make Ribena? Isn’t that shocking? Think of all that never-to-be-made blackcurrant jelly)

Anyway, now you measure the juice that you’ve extracted and return it to the saucepan, adding 450g ordinary sugar for every 600ml extracted (see note above about special sugar and follow the instructions on the pack)

Heat the mixture gently, stirring until all the sugar is dissolved then whack up the heat to bring it to the boil, stirring all the time. Boil it rapidly for 15 minutes with ordinary sugar - or 3 minutes with the special jam sugar. Follow the pack instructions. Keep stirring otherwise you’ll have tar at the bottom of your pan. Take it off the heat and remove any scum - I usually forget. Pour into sterilised jars and screw on a lid immediately. Turn upside down for a second to seal it but be careful not to scald yourself with boiling jelly if you are rubbish at screwing jars up tightly.

I think I ended up making about 4kgs jelly. The big jar on the left contains a kilo!

I think I ended up making about 4kgs jelly. The big jar on the left contains a kilo!

I couldn’t wait for it to set in the jar before putting some on my porridge this morning. Blackcurrant jelly on the right and some honey from our adopted bees who live in Valencia on the left. Is it any wonder that I am overweight?

I couldn’t wait for it to set in the jar before putting some on my porridge this morning. Blackcurrant jelly on the right and some honey from our adopted bees who live in Valencia on the left. Is it any wonder that I am overweight?

And that’s it. Too delicious for words.

Frazzled

Frazzled

A bean feast of Moroccan flavours

A bean feast of Moroccan flavours