Sweet Red Chilli Jelly & Jalapeno Jelly

Sweet Chilli Jelly/ Jalapeno Jelly

This has only three ingredients and is simplicity itself to make, but oh, so luscious. It is one I make every year, and is a nice addition to Christmas hampers, being a beautiful colour and not too hot for the faint hearted either. It goes very well with a cheese board, with sandwiches or indeed stirred into gravy for roast dinner too. I try to save up enough chillies to be able to have the right quantity to go with a kilo of sugar because it saves weighing or measuring it, but you can adjust the quantities to suit whatever you have available. The  heat can be adjusted by using more chillies and peppers or reduced vice versa. I used roughly half and half for this batch

What you need: (This makes approx 1.5 l so choose your jars accordingly)

250g red chillies and red peppers, deseeded and without pith (wear gloves for the chillies if you use hot varieties) - see note above

1kg jam sugar, or white granulated sugar plus one sachet of pectin powder/liquid

500ml white wine vinegar

What to do:

1. Sterilise jars and keep warm. Put a saucer in the freezer to use to test for setting point

2. Put the cut up chillies and peppers in a food processor with about two thirds of the vinegar, and blend until they are small pieces

3. Pour into the preserving pan, with the remaining vinegar

4. Add the sugar (and pectin if not using jam sugar), heat gently, stirring to dissolve

5 Bring to a rolling boil (ie when the mixture is full of bubbles and rises up the pan a bit) for 8 minutes

6. Test for a set using the cold saucer: the liquid will wrinkle slightly when you push it with your finger as it cools.

7. If it is not set, boil for a further two minutes, when I'd be surprised if it wasn't ready. Don't over boil as it will set hard otherwise

8. Leave to cool for 10 minutes and stir before pouring into warmed jars, wiping the necks of the jars and putting on the lids. (Leaving for a while helps with flecks of chilli distribute evenly through the jelly)

Jalapeno jelly needs one very large green pepper (or two smaller ones)  and enough jalapenos to make up the weight. Other than that, it is exactly the same ingredients and method. It does have a really fresh flavour and keeps a decent green colour too

Both jellies keep for at least a year in a cool, dark place, and I have never refrigerated them after opening: they have been fine

Nasturtium Leaf Pesto and Pickled Nasturtium Seeds

Nasturtium Leaf Pesto

We add nasturtium leaves and flowers to salads every year, and enjoy their peppery taste, so I have no idea why it took me so long to think of using the leaves in pesto as well. After all, rocket leaves work well, so why not nasturtium?

We ate half of this first batch with last night's pasta with chicken and I shall be making up another batch very soon, as it was so delicious. Nasturtiums turn to mush at the slightest touch of frost, so I shall have to be quick

What you need:

About 40 Nasturtium leaves with stalks... make sure you avoid any with blackfly on the back of them, or those nibbled by caterpillars

A handful of shelled walnuts (or any other nuts that appeal to you)

75g finely grated parmesan or other strongly flavoured hard cheese

3 cloves of garlic, skinned

½ cup olive oil (I don't use extra virgin olive oil for pesto as I like the flavours of the other ingredients to shine through, but use it you if prefer)

What to do:

1. Sterlise your jar and keep it warm

2. Rinse the leaves in cold water, and fill a bowl with clean cold water

3. Blanch the leaves in boiling water for 8-10 seconds, remove immediately with a slotted spoon and plunge into the cold water. Push the leaves under the water with the spoon.

4. Pick up all the leaves in your hand and wring as much water as you can out of them

5. Put the leaves, still in a ball, into a food processor with the nuts, garlic and half the oil. Grind to a rough paste and turn off the processor

6. Push down any mixture up the sides of the bowl. Turn the processor back on and slowly enough oil to make a loose paste. Don't worry if it looks a bit wet at this stage

7. Add the cheese and mix in quickly. Turn out into a small bowl or your jar

8. If there is insufficient oil in the pesto to cover the top of it, pour on some more gently. Cover the bowl or seal your jar

In the fridge, in a sterile jar, this will keep for at least three months, although in a covered bowl it'll certainly last a few weeks too.

I promise you this is totally luscious and could easily be eaten spread on nice bread or used as a dip, as well as stirried into hot pasta.

I am now wondering what it might be like made with feta instead of a hard cheese, so if the frosts stay away long enough I shall be giving that a go too!

Cucumber Dill Pickles

Cucumber Dill Pickles

See the note below about Nasturtium Seeds

This year we have had a huge glut of cucumbers and this is one of our favourite pickles to make, with a nice flavour of Summer provided by the dill. Quick and easy too! I made a double quantity, and decided to put them all in the one jar. Once the jar has been opened it'll live in the fridge, but unopened, in a cool dark place, the cucumbers stay nice and crisp for well over six months. (Using sea or kosher salt keeps the cucumbers stay green)

What you need:

750g Cucumbers, sliced lengthways into quarters and most of the seedy jelly cut off, then cut into 5-6cm batons. 

3tbsp kosher or sea salt

600 ml white wine vinegar

100g white granulated sugar

5 Dill flower heads, or heads of green seeds

What to do:

1. Put the prepared cucumbers in a large bowl and mix with the salt, using your hands. Leave covered with a large plate overnight

2. Rinse the salt off the cucumbers and leave in a colander to drain

3. Sterilise the jar(s) and keep warm

4. Gently heat the vinegar and stir in the sugar to dissolve

5. Tightly pack the cucumber batons vertically in the jar, with the dill heads evenly distributed

6. Pour the vinegar into the jar, ensuring the tops of the cucumber pieces are covered and that there are no air bubbles

7. Wipe the edges and top of the jar to ensure there is no sweet vinegar remaining on it, and screw on the top. This should make sure you can get the lid off again!

This time, I wanted the clean flavour of dll alongside the taste of the cucumbers themselves, but you can add all sorts of different spices to the vinegar, such as mustard seeds, cloves, coriander or cumin seeds, or garlic and chillies if you'd like. 

Nasturtium Seeds can be pickled in a similar way, soaking them in brine overnight before rinsing them thoroughly and putting them in a warm, sterile jar, before pouring some warm vinegar (with sugar if you like) over them.  I sometimes add a bayleaf too.These seeds are an excellent substitute for capers, especially in Tartare Sauce

PS You can see a jar of these in the photo above, with the pesto. There are some more seeds to go in and fill the jar right up

These jars contain 4.5kg of fruit, so a single kilo would fit into two 350g jars I think

Green figs in rose syrup

This is the recipe that I referred to in my blog, which took so much work to produce. However, if you are only making a more normal amount, such as using a kilo or so of figs, rather than the 9kg I started with, it would be much more straightforward. A week later, the figs are tasting pretty good, so here is the method, and be reassured there is no trace of the dreaded latex now!

I am pleased to have found a way of using these little figs, which would otherwise have gone straight into the compost bin otherwise as there was no chance of them ripening outdoors at this time in the year

Latex can be very irritating, especially when combined with the rough fig leaves as you gather the fruits, so wearing gloves is a good precaution when picking and preparing them. Do not use a non sstick pan for the initial boiling, as you have to scrub hard to remove the latex from around the edges of it, and your non-stick pan would never be the same again. I used a stainless steel one. When you get to making the syrup and boiling the figs in it, a non-stick pan works well Forewarned is forearmed!

What you need:

1 kg of small green figs, the ones picked off the tree in the Autumn If you have slightly more or less, it will be fine, as long as you make a little more syrup for a larger amount. Make sure they will fit in the pans you plan to use so you can make them all in one go, though!

3 cups of sugar

½ tsp rose essence

6 cloves

½ tsp vanilla essence

Juice of one lemon

What to do:

1. Wearing gloves, trim off the stem of each fig and cut a cross in the base - the point of this it to allow the latex to escape.

1. Put the prepared figs in a large bowl of water. If the water turns very milky, change it for fresh a couple of times, then leave the figs to soak overnight, weighted down by a plate to ensure they are all submerged.

2. The next day, drain the figs and put them in a pan of fresh water, bring to the boil and boil for 20 minutes. Drain and cool: I used ice water to cool them down quicker

3. Repeat Step 2 - The point of this is that the expansion and contraction of the fig flesh enables the release of all that latex, so it is quite important!

4. While the figs are cooling the second time around, start making the syrup. Put the sugar in a nonstick pan large enough to take all the figs in one go, and add a cupful of water. Stir and heat until the sugar is dissolved completely. Put in the cloves

5. Reduce the syrup by about a third.

6. Add the rose essence and the vanilla. Remember that the syrup will be further concentrated so don't overdo the rose. You can always add more later if you need to

6. While the syrup is boiling, sterilise your jars and keep warm in the oven

7. Put the cold figs in the syrup, with the lemon juice, and boil down again until thick and syrupy. This takes about 15-20 minutes

8. Check the flavour of the syrup and adjust if needed. Do not worry that the figs lack flavour at this point: they will steep in the syrup in their jars.

9. Once the syrup is ready, pack the figs tightly in warm jars and pour in the syrup to cover them completely, leaving about 1cm space at the top of the jar.Poke out any air bubbles with a sterile bamboo skewer, and then put lids on. Straight sided pickle jars are easiest to use.

10. Leave the figs for at least a week before eating them: they get better the longer they are in the syrup.

These are very good with vanilla icecream, or good, thick plain Greek yoghourt. Next year I shall try a batch with lemon syrup as well as the rose I think.