Pickled pears

Christmas, for us, means making stuff to give to friends and family.  This is a lovely easy thing to make, and goes really well with cheese or cured meats.

  • about 16 small-ish firm pears (Conference are good), peeled, with stalks left on
  • 1 litre white wine vinegar
  • 0.5 litres water
  • 500g sugar (granulated)
  • 4 star anise
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
  • 1 tablespoon allspice berries
  • 2 teaspoons juniper berries
  • The zest of 1 lemon, peeled in large strips
  • 1 teaspoon cloves

 

Boil up the water, vinegar, sugar and spices in a large pan with a lid. Make sure it’s a stainless steel or other non-reactive pan, or the vinegar will create pits in the surface!

Put the pears into the hot liquid, turn the heat down to a simmer, clap the lid on and leave the pears to poach for about 20 minutes.  Take the pears out of the liquid and put them somewhere warm.  Turn up the heat under the poaching liquid and boil it for about 10 minutes until it has reduced a bit and gone syrupy.

Divide the poached pears between 4 large-ish wide necked jars, previously sterilised.  Pour the reduced cooking liquid over the pears, ensuring that each jar gets its share of the whole spices.  If you want you can add a sprig of fresh rosemary to each jar – it looks pretty and adds a herby flavour.  Seal the jars with vinegar-proof lids – either use parfait jars (the ones with rubber seals and metal clips), or proper Kilner jars, or improvise with wide-necked pickle jars and seal them with greaseproof circles and plastic-coated jar lids.

These pickled pears can keep for up to 6 months unopened in a dark cupboard.  Once you do open a jar, keep it in the fridge and use up within two weeks.

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Dried fruit chutney

A fabulous Christmassy chutney which requires patience and a good knife, or if you have no patience, a food processor.

  • 250g dried apricots – the ready to eat kind
  • 300g dried dates
  • 250g semi-dried figs
  • 100g raisins
  • 450g red onions
  • 570ml cider vinegar
  • 50g sea salt
  • 1 level dessertspoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 450g light brown sugar
  • 1 heaped teaspoon ground allspice

Chop the dried fruits and onions finely – either with large amounts of patience and a sharp knife, or bung them into a food processor and whizz them up.  Put the cider vinegar in a large pan with the salt, ginger, sugar and allspice, and bring them to the boil.  Turn down the heat to a simmer and stir in all the fruit and onions.  Leave it on a low-ish heat, stir it occasionally, and in about an hour or maybe a bit longer you’ll have a pan of lovely chutney.  You can tell when it’s done if you draw a spoon across the surface to make a channel, and the channel stays there and doesn’t fill up with vinegar.

Take off the heat and put into warmed sterilised jars.  Do yourself a favour and keep some wide-necked ones handy; they’re much easier to fill!  Seal with vinegar-proof lids (i.e. plastic-covered ones, or use greaseproof circles).  This tastes better after maturing in a dark cupboard for a few weeks.

bloody brilliant piccalilli

img_20161107_222829-1So named by family friend Eric, who is renowned for his taciturnity. However, he got very animated about this piccalilli, and declared it to be bloody brilliant. High praise indeed, from a man of few words.

  • 1kg mixed vegetables, washed and peeled as necessary. Essentials are cauliflower (white or romanesco), green beans, and shallots or small silverskin onions. The rest can be made up of sweetcorn, fresh peas, red peppers, courgettes, carrots, green tomatoes. The  more colourful the mixture, the better.
  • 50g fine salt
  • 30g cornflour
  • 10g ground turmeric
  • 10g English mustard powder
  • 15g yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 heaped teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 heaped teaspoon ground coriander
  • 600ml cider vinegar
  • 200g granulated sugar

The most time consuming part of making piccalilli is cutting up the vegetables. You need to make sure that the pieces are quite small and of an even size. Once you’ve got your kilo of chopped veg, put them in a large bowl and sprinkle over the salt.  Mix it in well and leave the bowl, covered in a cloth, overnight. This will help to ensure that the vegetable pieces stay crunchy.  The next day, rinse the veg in ice-cold water to get rid of the salt, and drain as much of the water off as you can.  The veg need to be quite dry or the resulting sauce will be watery. Put the cornflour, turmeric, and all the other spices in a big jug and mix them to a smooth-ish paste with some of the vinegar.  The rest of the vinegar goes into a large saucepan to be heated up with the sugar, until the sugar has dissolved.  Bring the vinegar and sugar mixture to the boil, then pour some of it over the spice paste and mix it well, then pour the spice paste and vinegar mixture back into the pan and bring to the boil again.  Keep stirring it until it thickens. This should take about five minutes.  Take the pan off the heat, and then you’re ready to mix in the drained vegetables.  Stir all the vegetables around until they are all coated with the spicy sauce, then pack them into sterilised jars, making sure there are no air pockets.  Seal the jars with wax paper discs to cover, and acid-proof screw-on lids.  This piccalilli can be eaten straight away but improves after about 4  weeks maturing in a dark cupboard.  It’s excellent with cheese, cured meats, pork pies, roast beef, sandwiches, anything that benefits from a mustardy, crunchy hit. I have been known to eat it from the jar with a spoon.  It’s also vegan, containing no animal products (but it tasts so good WITH animal products…!).

Bob’s fruity brown sauce

Digital CameraMy brother-in-law asked for some of this sauce for his birthday so I’ve renamed it in his honour.  I’ve made several versions of this in the past few years and have a “bung it in” attitude to the spices and dried fruits, which has led to some interesting variations in colour and heat.  This latest batch is a bit pink, and a tad more heavy on the chili than previously, because you can never guess how hot a chili is until it’s in there… This makes the equivalent of about 4 x1lb jamjars.

  • 500g fresh rhubarb (I’ve also used tinned rhubarb occasionally – in which case drain it well, and cut down a bit on the demerara sugar)
  • 250g red onions
  • 1 long red chili, deseeded
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 200g cooking apple, peeled and grated
  • 20g (about 2cm) fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2 heaped teaspons ground ginger
  • 1 dessertspoon paprika
  • 75g sultanas
  • 50g dried cherries or dried cranberries or dried dates
  • 200ml red wine vinegar
  • 50ml balsamic vinegar
  • 1 dessertspoon salt
  • 500g demerara sugar

Trim and chop the rhubarb finely.  Peel and chop the onions into small dice.  Deseed the chili and chop that finely too, making sure you protect your hands with rubber gloves to avoid any chili juice being inadvertently rubbed in your eye (or worse…). Peel and grate the apple, and do the same with the fresh ginger. The ginger needs to be grated very finely so that it’s a mush because it’s very fibrous, and the texture of the finished sauce won’t be smooth if there are clumps of ginger in there.  Put all of the ingredients in a large, heavy bottomed pan and put on to simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour.  Give it a stir occasionally.

The texture of the sauce when it’s cooked will be like runny chutney.  Take off the heat, leave to cool for a bit then put in a food processor (usually in two or three batches) and process until smooth.  Put into warmed sterilised jars or bottles and make sure you use vinegar-proof lids to seal.

The picture shows the latest batch – I think the cranberries and the particularly dark red onions I used have given it a rather nice pink tinge!  The bottles were from an online store which supplies all kinds of empty jars and bottles for home preservers – Wares of Knutsford.  You can visit their shop too – very nice people!