Saturday, June 26, 2021

Recipe Testing

It's a depressingly common thing to mock recipe blogs for not getting straight to the point and it's always annoyed me. There's nothing stopping us from buying or borrowing a cookbook - a person's blog is their own space to write what they like on and nobody owes us free recipes after all. What we do owe the writers of those recipes is an acknowledgement of how much work goes into developing even the simplest recipe.

I'm thinking about this a lot at the moment as I wrestle with potential adjustments to the jumper pattern I'm knitting, and try and develop some sort of original recipes for a couple of things. I've spent a lot of time setting up spreadsheets for the recipes to keep a proper record of the changes I make, or think I need to make at each stage. One is for a cocktail inspired by hall teas in Shetland. I've made it with spirit after spirit - all good - to get to my definitive version - all the while conscious that someone else's definitive version might end up being quite different. There has been a lot of room for variation.

Yesterday and today I've been working on a rhubarb jam, based on an old recipe but one I wanted to change slightly. The good thing is that I've finally made myself make something in a small batch (although this has implications for scaling up in the future - increased fruit, longer boiling time, different flavour) but even then, with scarcely a handful of ingredients, there's a lot of choices to make. When to add a flavour note (before boiling or just before potting)? How much pectin to use for the reduced quantity I'm making (why do packets of pectin not come with any indication of how much you need to add to a kilo of sugar, and why has it only just occurred to me that perhaps I ought to pre-mix it with kilo bags of sugar)? Should I really reduce the sugar and go for a Scandi style nearly jam?

The answer to the last one is probably yes, and will be the next version I make, although the question there is will my mother's rhubarb patch give me another batch of rhubarb to play around with this weekend, or will I have to try and find some to buy. I am pleased with how my 500g of chopped fruit to start with turned out though, despite the far too much pectin I put in with it. It's made 3.5 small jars, which is enough for any new flavour, and perhaps as much rhubarb jam as I'll ever want at a time. 

The recipe I'm trying to devise is something that falls comfortably between a jam and a compote. I want it to have enough sugar in it that it'll keep well in the fridge for a couple of months unopened and feel like something I want on a scone, but not so much that the fruit loses its tartness. I'd also like to be able to use it in the side with pork or ham (as I would with something like quince jelly). The experiments continue. 


  1. Just a note to say that over the years your posts about cookbooks, drinks, books, etc. have been inspiring. Thanks for introducing me to Diana Henry! and River Cottage! I get them from the library so I look at the books before purchasing.. I have so many. ha Enjoy the jam. Things are just starting to ripen here in Midwest, US. Your knitting is beyond my skill, but so enjoy seeing the patterns and colors. I am much more a quilter and sewer. Take care.

  2. Thank you, those are lovely things to hear. I'm a terrible sewer and am in awe of anybody who has the patience to make a quilt. If you like knitting then I absolutely promise you Fair Isle, and simpler lace patterns (which are all I dare tackle at the moment) do not demand the skill you might think looking at them - so don't be put off if you fancy having a go. (The free Shetland wool week hat pattern is an excellent place to start.)

  3. I've never made jam or preserves or a compote in my life and unlikely to but it gives me such a warm, cozy feeling reading about you doing this!

    1. I mostly do it for the warm cosy feeling it gives me - it's a very reassuring process!