Welcome to my tales of cookery school, food and travel

The first 30+ posts of this blog describe my experiences as I complete a nine month cooking course - the City and Guilds Diploma in Food Preparation and Culinary Art. I did this after I moved out of full time employment and it was purely selfish - I love food, cooking, eating and drinking. Subsequent posts are about, food, travel and adventures.

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Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Picking raspberries is like milking cows

At this time of year the gardens are in full bloom and we reach a tipping point between anxiously waiting for crops to bear fruit, and being overwhelmed by a cornucopia of produce.  We seem to grow more every year and spend an inordinate amount of time taking photos of mounds of fruit and bunches of glossy vegetables, then texting the photos to one of my brothers with whom I engage in an arcane form of gardening as a competitive sport.
A selection from last year's harvest


I find home grown fruit and vegetables fall into a three categories:

  • those you won't/can't grow for various reasons - you hate them (swedes); wrong climate  or conditions ( tropical fruits); or repeated failures (celery, celeriac).  
  • those you grow just the right amount of and enjoy from first to last (raspberries, strawberries - in fact any berries, corn, carrots; radishes, fennel) 
  • those you initially enjoy, but by the end of the season want to poke out your eye with a needle rather than eat or, at the very least, wish you had only planted one (without question, zucchini).  
When I pick the first zucchini (a week ago) it is with a schizophrenic heart.  I love the vegetable and it is versatile enough to use in everything from pickles through fritters and slices to cakes - google "chocolate zucchini cake" or muffins and see how many hits you get.  However,  I know these first harmless green cylinders herald an ongoing battle which will last to the end of summer, as this too-prolific plant and I battle it out to see who dies first.  Typically I will surrender, and my version of raising the white flag is plucking out the offending plants by their roots.

From picking fruit to jam in less than an hour
But raspberries are a different matter.  Having engaged nets to stave of flocks of hungry birds, we happily eat all we produce, to the extent I find myself at the berry farm down the road picking a punnet or two so I can make some raspberry jam.  It is then I dwell on the act of picking each berry (you may think I have too much time on my hands).  It reminds me of milking cows by hand.  When you milk a cow you gently squeeze the teat to shoot the milk out into the bucket.  When you pick raspberries, you gently squeeze the berry so it slips off the stalk.  If it doesn't slip off easily, it isn't ripe enough.

I  saw Annabel Langbein  make her 10 minute version of Raspberry Jam on TV the other night, so had to give it a try.  

Berries (I used 1kg)  and sugar ( I used about 650gms. I can't remember what she used, but I think it depends on how sweet or otherwise you like your jam.  Some cooks go kilo of fruit to kilo of sugar which sounds too sweet to me).  Put the berries in the pan and heat til juice runs, add sugar and bring to the boil. Hard boil for 10 minutes, add a knob of butter, which gives gloss and reduces the foaminess. To see if the jam has reached setting point,  put a small spoonful of jam on a cold plate and see if a skin forms on top of the jam. This is my Mum's method and it works a treat. If it isn't ready, boil a bit longer and test again.  When it is ready, bottle in sterilised jars.  Delicious.

And it won't be long before I'm making Zucchini Pickle.