Blackberry vodka – the update

You may remember, way back in September

(oooh… almost sounds like the beginning of a cheesy Christmas song!)

No… I didn’t give you my heart or anything sloppy like that… I steeped blackberries in sugar and vodka – which, incidentally was A LOT more exciting!

Well, this week was the time to finish off the vodka and sample my concoction. The timing wasn’t specific – the whole thing’s taken around three months from start to finish.

What to do…

  1. Screw tops off bottles
  2. Sniff contents and have cheeky swig
  3. Empty bottles completely of blackberry and vodka
  4. Sample a blackberry
  5. Bample a couple more sackbarries
  6. Aim funnel onto cop of clean tottle
  7. Vest todka again
  8. Parefully core bodka into vottle
  9. Eat bum more slackberries
  10. Vaste todka again
  11. Squint to focus, crew sap on blottle
  12. One bore mackleberry for luck
  13. Have a lie down

What could be easier? I will definitely be using the original quantities again, because let me tell you – it’s blooming delumptious!

I’ve also kept the blackberries, as they are so infused with vodka-ey goodness,  it would be criminal to dump them. I may well transform them into a boozy jelly or upside-down cake.

As for the blackberry vodka? I’m just hoping it lasts until Christmas!

(hic!)

One glass

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Berry good ideas for using up fruit

This article appeared in The Hinckley Times on 12 September, and came out of my recent post about Blackberry Jam and Blackberry Vodka

I’ve heard several reports that this year has been a great one for fruit, and on a recent walk out I discovered the proof was indeed in the pudding. Or the crumble. Or the pie really… Blackberries are growing in abundance around our local fields, hedgerows and jitties, so I decided to go foraging.

Learning from experience that a) brambles are lethally prickly and b) I may have to manoeuvre around dog doo, on went the long trousers, long-sleeved top and sensible shoes. Armed with a load of collecting bags, I was prepared for my mission and set off in the direction of the lane.

In no time at all – the branches were literally heaving with fruit – I had myself just over 2 Kilogrammes of lovely plump berries. Wanting to try something a bit different to a crumble, I opted for blackberry vodka and blackberry jam.

Blackberry vodka
You’ll need a 70cl bottle of cheap vodka, a clean, empty wine bottle with a screw top, sugar and blackberries.

Split the vodka between the two bottles, and put about 100g of sugar into each. Then simply plop blackberries into both bottles until they are full and screw on the lids. Put them in a cool dark place and about once a week, turn the bottles (think bell-ringer) so all the contents are well mixed. By Christmas, the berries should have infused into the vodka. Sieve and put the liquid back into just the vodka bottle. Enjoy!

 

Blackberry jam

Blackberry jam

Blackberry jam
The rest of the berries weighed 1.5 kilos and these went into a large cast iron pan. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 8 minutes until the fruit is soft.

Add the same weight of sugar (1.5 kilos), a teaspoon of lemon juice and a sachet of pectin. (Pectin makes the jam set, and blackberries don’t contain much of it naturally).

Bring the whole lot to a rolling boil for about another 10 minutes. The jam has to get to a certain temperature in order to set, and you’ll know when that’s close as the boiling liquid will suddenly look calmer, appear glossier and less frothy. To test if it’s ready, take a tiny bit of the jam and put on a cool plate. It will form a skin if it’s ready: if not, boil for longer, testing at regular intervals.

The jars need to be sterile to store the jam, so these should be washed and rinsed thoroughly. Whist the jam is boiling put the jars and lids on a tray in the oven on a medium heat. When the jam’s ready, funnel it up to the neck of each jar and screw on the lids.

Extreme caution should be deployed at this point, as the jam is approximately the same temperature of the earth’s core, and the jars and lids will be red hot too.

So, for the price of a bottle of pop and a couple of bags of sugar, we will be enjoying blackberries right into the New Year.

The Hinckley Times 12 September 2013

The Hinckley Times 12 September 2013

Blackberry jam

Still wanting a recipe to use up that bag full of blackberries?

Look no further…

You will need:
Equal weights of blackberries and white sugar
A sachet of pectin
Pectin is the stuff that sets the jam – blackberries don’t contain much of it naturally
Enough clean, sterilised jars to store the finished product in

Jars
As a rough guide, 1.5 kilos of blackberries, when added to the 1.5 kilos of sugar will make enough jam to fill 6 standard-size jam jars. To sterilise the jars, wash and rinse thoroughly, and put the jars and lids on a tray in the oven at a medium heat. Leave them there whilst you’re making the jam.

Let’s start:
Put the berries into a large, cast iron pan, bring to the boil and simmer for about 8 minutes. The fruit should be soft.

Add the sugar and pectin, bring to the boil again, and let it do a rolling boil for about 10 minutes. Don’t stir.

The jam needs to reach a certain temperature to set – you’ll know when you’re near to that as the boil looks calmer, less frothy and will have less air bubbles. It also takes on a lovely glossy texture.

Test the jam for setting by taking out a small amount and putting it on a plate. If a skin begins to form, it’s ready.

Transfer the jam up to the neck of the hot jars. Exercise extreme caution as the jam will be at about the same temperature as the earth’s core at this point.

Seal the jars and label.

Blackberry jam 2

Blackberry vodka

With the abundance of blackberries around this year, and if you fancy a change from crumble, why not give this a whirl. Started now, it will be ready for Christmas.

You’ll need:
70cl bottle of cheap vodka
one clean empty wine bottle (screw top)
200g sugar
approx 700g blackberries

What to do:
Divide the vodka between the two bottles
Add 100g sugar to each bottle
plop the blackberries up to the top of both

Store in a cool dark place, and about once a week – making sure the lids are on securely – turn the bottles over to mix. Think bell-ringerand you’ll have cracked it.

The next step in the process can be found in Blackberry vodka – the update

Runner beans are up to speed

As the world went slightly hysterical over the coming of the new royal baby, I was having a smug little moment to myself down on the patch with my own little arrivals.

After runner bean-gate of a couple of months ago… you know the one… I put them out too early… they got clobbered by Jack Frost so I had to plant some emergency ones…yes, that’s the story…

Well, I am delighted to be able to tell you that not only have these grown almost to the top of the arches, but I have beans dangling in abundance all over them. When the plants do reach the top, I’ll pinch out the tips to encourage sturdier growth further down. I have three varieties in all – White Lady, Pantheon and a rather startling little number called Selma Zebra. This was an impulse buy heritage variety, and I’m so glad I tried her. The flowers are a gorgeous pink colourand the beans are mottled with purple. I’m pretty certain these will not be ‘available in a store near you’ any time soon, and I will definitely be leaving a few on the plant to dry for next year’s seeds.

Selma Zebra runner beans

Selma Zebra runner beans

As two of the Pantheons are almost a foot long already, I’ve tied a bit of string around their stalks. This signifies that these beans are definitely not for picking: I’ve earmarked them for the ‘Longest runner bean’ category in the Earl Shilton Town Show at the end of the month. With a good couple more weeks of growing time I think they are in with a fighting chance.

Elsewhere in the garden, the greenhouse is flourishingand we’ve harvested the first couple of cucumbers already – which were sweet and delicious. The tomatoes aren’t yet ripening, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.

Cucumbers

Cucumbers

I read in the week that a sprinkling of crushed egg shells around the base of tomatoes and cucumbers can give the plants a good boost of calcium. This apparently can help them reach their full flavour potential and also helps the plants regulate their water intake, preventing conditions like splitting and blossom end rot. As egg shells aren’t something that are in short supply around our house, I decided to give this method a whirl, and whizzed out to put a generous handful of shells around each plant. This, together with regular feeds should make for a bumper crop.

The tomatoes I planted in the upside down planters are also doing remarkably well. I have to admit I was dubious about these at the start – it’s just not natural for plants to grow upside down – but they appear to be proving me wrong. The plants are healthy and strong, and a good number of cherry tomatoes have started to form on the branches. Very soon it’ll be tomatoes and cucumbers for everyone!

upside down tomato planter

upside down tomato planter

This article appeared in The Hinckley Times on 1 August 2013

 

Wine from weeds

Dandelion wine

Dandelion wine

Earlier in the week, myself and the youngest decided to go off foraging and see if we could make a batch of dandelion wine. A gallon of wine from a common old weed must definitely worth a try!

Off we set to our local woods – where it has to be said, there were enough dandelions to go around the entire village, and quickly set to work on the pickathon. The recipe calls for just the flowers, so we tried to pick just the yellow heads. One gallon of wine needs one gallon of dandelion petals, and we found that a full carrier bag of flowers is more than enough to do the job, and after we’d gathered them our hands were an interesting shade of mustard.

As well as the flowers, we also needed:
4.5 litres of water
1.5kg sugar
Zest and juice of 4 lemons
500g raisins, whizzed in a food processor to chop up
1 teaspoon of brewer’s wine yeast
Yeast nutrient

All containers and equipment also had to be sterilised and we used Milton’s tablets for this.

Boil the water and pour over the petals. Cover and leave for a couple of days, stirring occasionally. This mixture looks like a bowl of sludgy seaweed… don’t be put off.

Pour everything into a large saucepan and add the lemon zest, bring to the boil then stir in the sugar until dissolved. Continue to boil for five minutes. Take off the heat and add the lemon juice and the crushed raisins or grape juice concentrate.

Clean and sterilise the fermenting container – we used a big plastic punch bowl –  thoroughly, pour in the mix and cover until cool. Add the yeast and yeast nutrient and cover with cling film. Ferment for three or four days, strain the petals off through some sterilised gauze or voile then transfer into a demijohn using a sterilised funnel. Fit an airlock cork and allow to ferment for a couple of months.

Ours is now bubbling away, and so it’s in a warm place, out of direct sunlight, I’ve wrapped it in a towl and put it in the shed.

Once it’s finished fermenting I will need to siphon the clear liquid off the debris at the bottom of the demijohn and leave to clear further in a cool place. Once it’s clear I’ll transfer it into bottles.

Hopefully we’ll be sampling the fruits of our labour at the end of summer. I’m hoping for good results…

How to make dandelion wine | Life and style | guardian.co.uk.

Tarty blackberrying

There’s a quaint little lane that leads to a field  near where I live that’s like a megastore for blackberries… if you beat the crowd.

Last week, armed with our trusty bowl-within-a-bag, the youngest and I set off in search of treasure. The scene was idyllic: sun beating down; the farmer herding his cows in; the first ripe blackberries beginning to appear, and our small yapping dog tearing up and down the place, barking her head off.

We soon set to work collecting our hoard. Maybe we should have learned from last year’s adventure to wear slightly more bramble-proof clothing than 3/4 jeans and sandals – we’d forgotten how thorny the plants were, and how far you actually have to get your arm in there to retrieve the fruit. In no time at all, I was in there on my own, and the youngest (having the attention span of a knat) was playing with the dog, but very soon the bowl was looking rather healthy. We set off for home, with a plan to return in a week or so when the next lot would be ready.

Setting off back up the path, we bumped into the farmer, now finished from ‘cow duties’, and had a jolly old conversation about how the brambles could do with a bit of a trim, and how we’d be back shortly to collect some more. We’d been chatting about nothing in particular for about ten minutes, when he informed me that we had, in fact missed the best of the crop They were right at the bottom of the field – he’d seen them with his own eyes this very morning… With a cheeky smirk on his part, we bid farewell and I decided to trawl off back to the field for the secret haul.

The youngest, having XBox withdrawal symptoms (twitchy thumbs and wild eyes) carried on home, taking our noisy dog with him.

It was only when I reached the field that I noticed my shirt had unbuttoned itself way past the mark of decency. It must have been all the reaching in and out of bramble bushes. And it must have been like it for the past half hour or so.

The shame…

Sloe gin – the sticky end

Well, all that chasing around country lanes in the pursuit of sloe berries was well worth it! We finished up with three bottles of sloe gin and two bottles of sloe vodka – result!

After weeks of agitating the bottles once a week (think bell-ringer), the gin and vodka was ready just before Christmas. I carefully poured the liquid off the berries, and into clean wine bottles. The lesson learnt from last year was NOT to try to strain it through a clean cloth. It came out smelling and tasting of washing powder and the whole batch was ruined.

The smell was divine, the liqueur was thick and almost syrupy, and I have to admit I felt rather smug with my little haul.

We had a family get together over Christmas, and I proudly presented my home-made stash of moonshine. The family were dutifully impressed and the sloe gin/vodka took a mighty bashing that afternoon… it was fair to say that it slipped down like honey!

I’d kept one bottle of sloe gin in the pantry to be savoured in small doses throughout 2012, but the rest of it was ‘open house’.

This plan was doomed for disaster. Our pantry is in fact, a glory hole. You’ll find everything from hoovers to lightbulbs in there. It never gets sorted out, and you almost have to hold the stuff in with one hand, to shut the door with the other. Whilst rustling around in there, the other half inadvertently knocked something over. This in turn created an avalanche of junk. Sod’s law dictated that this would not land on the vintage bottle of Cinzano that’s been lurking around in there since time began…oh no… it only went and landed on the treasured bottle of sloe gin.

If you have ever spilt a glass of red wine, you will know how far it travels. Imagine a whole bottle of sticky, red liqueur smashed all over the pantry floor…

The pantry floor was duly emptied and cleaned, but there is still a faint whiff of gin in there – some of it must have gone down the cracks in the tiles. So instead of having a lovely glass of something yummy, I’ll have to make do with sticking my head in the pantry and taking a big lungful of ginny aroma.

The glass that should be full of sloe gin... but is, in fact, empty.

Sloe gin: the harvest

It’s an annual tradition for me and the 13 year old to venture out into the wilderness to collect sloe berries for the Christmas gin. We’d been told of a new location where apparently the hedgerow was bursting at the seams with them.

The first time we went, we made absolutely sure that we were picking sloes, and not some ‘berry of death’ (might make an interesting conversation piece, but we wouldn’t be invited back again). Sloes are a bit like miniature plums, but slightly smaller than a marble. They’re purple, with a cloudy skin, and a small stone inside. Some say not to pick them until October/November, but we’ve found that by then they have either been eaten by the birds or picked already. Get the ones higher up – they will be riper as they have had more sun.

So there we were, in the idyllic Leicestershire countryside with the canal running through, and you could almost imagine someone in a field somewhere drinking ‘lashings of ginger beer’. It soon became apparent that our  informant was indeed correct: there were LOADS of sloes around!

Our bountiful harvest of sloes

But peace was to be shattered. In a neighbouring farm, we thought someone was teaching someone else how to drive a tractor. We heard, “turn the wheel,” then a slightly more panicked, “turn the wheel,” then a truly ear-shattering, “TURN THE F****KING WHEEL!” Bemused at who could be making such a racket, we dashed up the lane to have a look.

Turned out that the shouter was actually in the digger scoop of a tractor, trying to do some work on a barn roof. Someone else was trying to get him there without much success….
Related posts:

Sloe gin in 5 easy steps

Sloe gin: the sticky end