As I was tidying up the Oak Room after our guests left I noticed one of the books on the shelf called ‘Jambusters’ written by Julie Summers and about the Women’s Institute. Seeing it reminded me to write this blog about my jam making. I was pleased with the variety of jams I made this year from all our produce but it’s incredible to think (especially as we approach Remembrance Sunday) that in a way it was the defiant jam making of the Women’s Institute that supported rural Britain during both the first and second World Wars.
We are lucky to have so much produce in our orchards and hedgerows. Apparently, it was the Romans who introduced the growing of fruit trees and bushes together near the house – orchards – as well as herb and vegetable gardens. Then from the middle ages onwards the preserving of fruits grew in popularity. In the early days the only sweetening agent was honey and then when refined sugar became available it led to the development of a wider variety of preserves.
Our little orchard has young trees that even in their fledgling years are producing enough fruit for me to make jam and compotes for our guests. Last year it was the Damson that was laden with fruit and this year the Quince was the winning fruit provider along with the Crab Apple. Quince is a fruit you rarely find available to buy in your local store but now that I have tasted them I can’t think why! Along with their unique taste and perfume they add some romance to the orchard as they are known as the fruit of love. Ancient Greeks grew Quince and it was sacred to the goddess of love, Aphrodite. The story goes that brides chewed on a piece of quince to give them sweet smelling breath before entering the bridal chamber and this tradition was carried on by the Romans who gave quince to newly-weds to dine on as a symbol of good luck and fertility.
This year I have made Quince jam, a cake with quince and apple, and compote with the same mix. But there are so many more amazing Quince recipes that I look forward to trying out as my trees mature and provide more fruit each year. Along with the Quince my jam making season has produced Crab Apple, Blackberry & Apple, Gooseberry & Fennel Seed and Marrow & Ginger – this unlikely sounding jam proved quite a hit with some guests last year and is always an excellent way to use up the marrows (or should I say courgettes) that got away. It doesn’t matter how much I think I’m on top of picking courgettes there are always a few that hide under their huge leaves and turn into a marrow!
Of course, I can’t write about preserves without at least mentioning marmalade but that is a January/February tradition, when the Seville oranges are available.
As I write this I have a huge pile of green tomatoes sitting in front of me that I have just rescued from our polytunnel at the end of a very successful tomato season. I can’t see how these many tomatoes will ripen now that the weather has definitely turned, so I have just looked in my ‘Women’s Institute Book of Preserves & Pickles’ and found a recipe for green tomato, apple and ginger jam. As the clocks have just gone back and I have lost gardening time I shall fill my preserving pot and enjoy boiling up a new jam this afternoon.