Winter is coming.
No, but seriously, winter is coming and I have had a bit of an old lady obsession with 'stocking up for the winter months' lately... like we live on a farm in the middle of 100 acres of nowhere, instead of five minutes away from a supermarket. During the summer months I bought kilos of very fresh tomatoes and bottled, jarred and boiled away til we had a (makeshift) larder stocked with summery preserves, ready for the cooler months. We have, however, eaten most of them already. No problem, there is always more to preserve...
Because preserving is fun! Or if not fun, then very satisfying. Turning mounds of fresh produce into bottles and jars of goodies that can be stacked in the larder and enjoyed through the months to come is very satisfying. It's the perfect project for a rainy Saturday, and you end up with a bunch of really neat stuff. Like quince paste, pomegranate syrup, chillies in oil, dried mint and kasundi. To name a very specific few.
As the days become unpredictable and swing wildly from crisply sunny to pouring and windy enough to blow away the electricity, I have found myself with a lot of chillies and mint ready for the plucking, and piles of quinces and pomegranates thanks to some serious foraging. What to do with all this freshness? Preserve, preserve, preserve! Not because I hate fresh things. Because I don't think I could actually consume the mountains of fruit I had sitting around the kitchen before it 'turned'. And so I, once again, became an old-style farmer's wife.
So let's get preserving!
I'm only giving you two recipes here, because some of these preserves were VERY trial and error for me, and I'd rather you hook up with Google and find a more reliable recipe than whatever I could give you. I can give you a lot of handy hints though. And the recipe for pickled chillies and kasundi (an Indian hot tomato chutney).
First though: PREPARE YOUR JARS...
There seem to be a thousand million ways to sterilise jars in preparation for filling them with preserved goodies, and they probably all work. But I have a method that I use every time and it's easy and it works. Here it is:
Heat the oven on 100c. Grab all your jars and lids (making sure they aren't plastic) and wash them in hot soapy water. Rinse and fill them with boiling water (literally, from the kettle). Empty out all the drips and lay the lids flat and the jars on their sides in the oven until they are completely dry. Leave them in the oven til your preserve is ready, then bottle it up while both are hot. Sterilised!
And here are some tips for making pomegranate syrup- I learned these the hard way, so trust me on this:
THE EASIEST WAY TO DESEED POMEGRANATES is to cut them in half, hold one half cut side down in your palm, and bash it with ever-increasing power with a wooden spoon. The pips will eventually all come free (this works much better with ripe pomegranates, but it will work either way). It is the quickest way, it is also crazy messy. You will end up with pomegranate juice splattered everywhere within a two metre radius of your de-pipping site- so do it outside, and in old clothes!
KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR COOKING SYRUP. Pomegranate syrup keeps thickening when you take it off the heat. If you cook it for too long you will end up with a block of pomegranate toffee- the bottle of syrup in the pictures? Yeah, that wasn't syrup... it was like really, really thick fruit glue. If you do overcook it like I did, you can bring it back: reheat your toffee, tip it back into a saucepan, add some more juice and cook gently to homogenise.
YOU CAN CHECK FOR READINESS the same way you do with jam- put a saucer in the freezer and when you want to check the syrup blob a little on the cold saucer. When it thickens to your desired consistency, you're good.
This recipe comes courtesy of my Uncle John- hey Uncle John! He has been doing it for years, and we have been eating it for years. I have no idea who passed it onto him, but he passed it to me and now I am becoming a link in the pickled chilli chain.
Slice the chillies. Pop them in a bowl and mix in the salt til it is well combined. Leave overnight. Cover the salted chillies with vinegar and leave for another 8 hours/overnight. Drain, pour into prepared jars leaving a cm or two at the top, and cover with olive oil. You're done!
You can easily reduce the amounts if you don't have a a kilo of chillies- I made just one small jar, reducing the salt to a little under a tablespoon.
1 kilo fresh chillies (of all shapes, colours, sizes)
1/4 cup salt
kasundi- from 'whole larder love', the book from the author of this wonderful blog.
Boil a large pan of water and keep it simmering. Cut an X in the non stem end of each tomato and place in the water for about 30 seconds- you'll probs have to do this in batches. Remove from the water, cool slightly and peel away the skins.
Dice tomatoes and set aside.
Heat the oil in a large pot and add the spices and mustard seeds. Fry over medium heat for a few moments. Add the fresh ingredients and mix well. Add the sugar and vinegar and leave to simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cook until it has thickened slightly, into a chutney-like texture.
Pour into sterilised jars and leave the kasundi in a cool, dark place for a week or two so the flavours can mingle and develop and make your chutney super delicious.
Eat with all things.
3 tbsp sunflower oil
6 tbsp mustard seeds
6 tbsp cumin
3 tbsp turmeric
1 tbsp chilli powder
3 kg ripe tomatoes
20 cloves garlic
7 hot chillies
3 cups malt vinegar
2 1/2 cups sugar
BONUS PRESERVE: To make dried mint, it is very easy. You basically pick mint, spread it out on some baking paper or alfoil and leave it til it is crisply dry. Pop it into a jar and you're done!