Elizabethan housewives and farmers’ wives had a passion for candying and preserving in their stillrooms. The stillroom was a room in the house where medicines and healing ointments were made and fruits, vegetables and flowers, according to the season, were preserved in jams, jellies, candies, etc. ready for use in the harsh winter months. As the price of sugar fell and it became generally available, countrywomen preserved fruits and vegetables in delicious jams, jellies and chutneys. The large amount of sugar acts as a preservative and ensures the preserves have a long shelf life.
BEFORE YOU START
Jars must be clean and warm before filling them to the brim to allow for shrinkage. Wash the jars in hot soapy water, rinse and put in a low oven to dry and become warm. Stand the jars on folded newspaper to prevent cracking when the hot jam is poured in. Wipe the outside of the filled jars and cover the surface of the jam with waxed circles. Seal tightly with lids or transparent covers and elastic bands. This must be done while the jam is hot not warm, to prevent mould forming. Label and store in a cool, dry place.
This old English country recipe makes an unusual preserve, which is delicious on crusty bread, pancakes, scones, etc.
1 kg/2 lb chestnuts
675 g/1 1/2 lb Golden granulated sugar
1 vanilla pod/bean
Slit the chestnut shells (to prevent them exploding in the oven!) and place on a baking tray or in a roasting tin and put into a hot oven – Gas 6/200C/400f for 15-20 minutes; alternatively place the slit nuts on a plate, 6 at a time, in the microwave and microwave for 30-60 seconds. Peel the nuts whilst hot, to ensure removal of the inner brown furry skin, which is bitter. Place the peeled chestnuts in a pan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and cook for 30-40 minutes until tender. Drain and rub through a sieve to puree. Add the sugar to the warm puree and place in a pan with 6 tablespoons water per kg of sweetened puree. Add the vanilla pod and place over a low heat, stirring all the time. Cook until the mixture is stiff and comes away from the base of the pan. Remove from the heat and take out the vanilla pod. Spoon into warm sterilised jars and cover with waxed discs and lids. Store in a cool dry place.
Mincemeat was first recorded in the 16th century and contained a substantial quantity of minced or shredded meat as well as dried fruits and spices. By the 17th century the recipe had also acquired alcohol. Today the only remnant of meat in the recipe is the suet – although nowadays there is the option of using vegetable suet. Mincemeat will keep for a year in a dry cool place as long as enough spirit is added to preserve the ingredients. Make it now and it will be ready for Christmas.
APRICOT AND ALMOND MINCEMEAT
A recipe for people who dislike the taste of traditional mincemeat.
450 g /1 lb cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped
225 g/8 oz raisins
225 g/8 oz figs, chopped finely
450 g/1 lb dried apricots, chopped finely
450 g/1 lb sultanas/white raisins
110 g/4 oz glace/candied cherries, chopped
110 g/4 oz almonds, chopped
50 g/2 oz crystallised ginger, chopped finely
225 g/8 oz shredded suet
350 g/12 oz Light Muscovado sugar
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
1 teaspoon ground mixed spice/pumpkin spice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
150 ml/5 fl oz rum or brandy
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, stirring very well. Cover the bowl and leave to stand overnight. Next day stir the mixture to thoroughly combine the ingredients and spoon into cold sterilised jars making sure there are no air bubbles. Cover with waxed discs and tight fitting lids.
Chutneys originated in India – the name comes from chatni, meaning a strong sweet relish. They first appeared in England in the seventeenth century. They are usually cooked very slowly for a long time to give a rich mellow flavour and dark colour.
Always use a stainless steel or aluminium pan – never brass, copper or iron, as vinegar will corrode these metals.
To test when the chutney is cooked – make a channel across the surface with a wooden spoon: if the impression lasts for a few seconds and does not fill up with vinegar then it is ready.
When ready, the hot chutney is poured into warmed jars right up to the brim and covered while still hot. Vinegar corrodes metal, so use plastic lined lids. Chutney will taste better if left to mature for at least 3 months and will keep in a cool, dry, dark place for 2-3 years.
GREEN TOMATO CHUTNEY
A recipe that was popular with the Victorians, who regarded this as an ideal accompaniment to cheeses and cold meats.
1.8 kg/3 1/4 lb green tomatoes, sliced
450 g/1 lb cooking apples
575 g/1 lb shallots or onions
2 cloves garlic (optional)
225 g/8 oz raisins
15 g/ 1/2 oz fresh root ginger, bruised
450 g/1 lb Dark Muscovado sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
600 ml/20 fl oz vinegar
Peel, core and chop the apples. Peel and finely chop the shallots and garlic. Place the tomatoes, apples, shallots, garlic and raisins in a large pan with the salt and cayenne pepper. Tie the ginger loosely in a piece of muslin and add to the pan. Stir in a little of the vinegar and cook gently over a low heat for about an hour until the vegetables and fruit are soft, stirring from time to time. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar and remaining vinegar. When the sugar has dissolved completely, return to the heat and bring to the boil. Cook gently for 1-1Â½ hours until thick and the vinegar is absorbed. Pour into warm sterilised jars and seal immediately.