It began with the figs. All 3 kgs of them. Having had such a dry summer, our fig trees seemed to go completely mad. Sadly, we hadn’t had the opportunity to eat their prolific produce, so I was unexpectedly faced with a glut of deliciously ripe purple fruit to consume.
With some apprehension, I googled how to turn the pile of figs in my colander into jam. Spirits lifted, I then unwrapped the preserving pan I had bought for John for Christmas the year before. Next, I dusted off the jars we had collected in the garage, and began to scrub off the labels (note to self – always remove the stickers from the jars before storing them). I was delighted to discover that making this type of jam is extremely easy: first, chop all the figs up as small as you can, add a vanilla pod and a cinnamon stick, then the sugar and lemon juice and leave to marinade overnight. Next morning, boil for 40 mins and be rewarded by the delicious aroma of cinnamon and vanilla mingling with sweet juicy figs. Imagine and inhale! When set, add to sterilised jars, and there you are! Jars of deliciously aromatic and luscious jam to accompany cheese or pâté. Such a treat. Great for gifts, too.
Feeling pleased with myself, I lifted the jars to the light. What a glorious colour, and how clever I felt. However, what I liked the most was the sight of those jars sitting on my counter. It was satisfying. Comforting. Homely. And I wanted to make more.
So, next it was the redcurrants, pounds and pounds of them, then the blackcurrants. Raspberries followed, with gooseberries close behind. I must admit I generally hate gooseberries, but the jam I discovered is delicious. With my fresh fruit supply running out and keen to make more, I thawed the Seville oranges I’d frozen 18 months earlier to make marmalade just the way we like it: sticky, thick peel with a dark and rich jelly. After a couple of rookie errors, I could tell when jam reached setting point without the use of a thermometer. A eureka moment, perhaps? Then the plums ripened and with glee I picked all 100 of them from the tree and without a second thought turned them, too, into jam.
Soft fruits, I told myself, wait for no one, unless of course you freeze them, but purists might think this is cheating. But that’s not necessarily true for apples. It’s been a good year for them, and we’ve had hundreds of them from just one tree. I exaggerate not, I’ve picked at least 50lbs of them. But what to do with the little beasts?
I have discovered there are dozens of ways of preserving them: jellies, jams, chutneys, bottling in syrup (a few disasters here), apple sauce, cider vinegar, cider, or just plain old freezing the slices in a vacuum pack for pies or crumbles later in the year. I’ve made mint jelly (delicious), rosemary jelly, apple jelly, applesauce, and apples in syrup. I’m sure the list could go on.
And so now, when I look at my shelf of preserves, I feel what must be a primitive satisfaction with my hoard. I think, I did that. I made those. And then, there’s something extremely pleasing about opening a jar – the click and turn of the lids when they are opened in the dark and gloomy winter months releasing the taste of summer captured neatly in a jar.