Thursday, August 18, 2011

Preserves – Pam Corbin

It’s that time of year again – the blackberries are ripe in the hedges, I’m asking my friend L about the state of her father’s plums (although I’m more interested in his damsons this time), I’m prepared to actually fight a squirrel for the chance of some nuts (I will be paying for nuts again, the squirrels always win – they’re leaner and meaner) and today I made redcurrant jelly. This is not before time; the redcurrants have been in the freezer since this time last year and will hopefully be okay. Had I known how easy redcurrant jelly is I would have made it before. Of course I say that before I’ve tried the results, but by the time I’ve written this post it should be cool enough to test – so if you’re reading this post the jelly was a success.

Checking back I see that I’ve mentioned ‘Preserves’ before but only in passing, and as I’m trying to scrape bits of jelly off it at the moment it seemed timely to write about it at more length. ‘Preserves’ was my first River Cottage Handbook (I got the first River Cottage Handbook – ‘Mushrooms’ quite a bit later and only after I realised what a tremendous writer John Wright is – but that’s another post) it set me on The Way and was all in all a bit of a revelation. It came out about three years ago when I was all but jobless and so at perfect liberty to make jam whilst trying to stay calm through domestic and culinary achievement. I had been after a book just like this for a while but had found nothing that felt quite right, picking it up was a real eureka moment.

Here was a book that laid out everything I wanted to know clearly and explicitly. Every stage documented, emphasis on all the really important principles, a reassuringly stern note regarding sterilisation and the four ‘spoilers’, plenty of recipes to follow (as well as those principles that allow for successful improvisation). Perfect. Since then ‘Preserves’ has become a particularly well thumbed volume. It’s taught me a lot without ever letting me down and yet I’ve hardly scratched the surface when it comes to exploiting the possibilities within its covers.

Good as the television and the heftier books are I can’t help but feel that the best things to come out of the River Cottage brand are these books. There’s a house style but each one also has a distinctive voice. Every time I pick up ‘Preserves’ I get a shadow of that first eureka moment and that rare feeling of thinking this book will never be bettered (not in my eyes anyway).

And as redcurrants are around and frequently on some sort of offer at the moment, and as redcurrant jelly is my go to secret ingredient for making things wonderful with (it’s getting late I might be getting overtired and carried away now) here’s how it’s made...

I improvised a jelly bag from some muslin and an old embroidery hoop (why this was to hand do not know because I don’t really sew, but I was very pleased with my ingenuity) and then threw a kilo of redcurrants into a pan stalks and all with 400ml of water where they simmered away for about 45 minutes until the whole lot was just one big soft pulpy mass in a bath of glorious ruby juice with the power to stain everything it touched. That all got tipped into the jelly bag with a nice big bowl underneath so the juices could filter through undisturbed overnight, which left lots of time to sterilise some jars before this morning when it was measured back into a pan and bought to a simmer at which point 450g of sugar was added for every 600ml of water (in my case 800ml’s of fluid and so 600g of sugar which seems to have worked just as it should). After that bring it all back to a rolling boil and after about 8 minutes check to see if setting point has been reached. When it does that wrinkly thing on a cold saucer and any scum has been skimmed off the top it’s ready to go into the warm sterile jars and that’s it, job done.


  1. You would like Christine Ferber's books: most recipes have a twist or unusual quality which makes them out of the ordinary.

    also Luxurious Jam by Sonia Allison: the idea being to make just one or two pots of something gorgeous in the microwave. This appeals to me much more than spending time making something which Bonne Maman or Tiptree do extremely well already.

  2. I like this book because apart from the basics (and it's more than just jams and marmalade) there are lots of charts and the like that indicate how much pectin a fruit has and make it easy to make up recipes. I love the sound of the Christine Ferber but my nearest and dearest are suspicious of things that sound that much fun. I've added it to my wish list.

    I like the big steaming pan and messing around with all the gubbins so am not so sure about the Sonia Allison. There's something satisfying about home made jam even if tiptree can do a better job.

    And finally - the Frances Bissell Scented Kitchen is great for unusual jam combinations.