Category Archives: kitchen

Orange Marmalade

dscf2665Its that time of year again – marmalade time.

1 kg Seville oranges – guaranteed to have more pips than flesh and even when you think you’ve got all the little blighters they keep popping to the surface during the interminable boiling time.

1 lemon – this one came wrapped in tissue paper.  It was the only one wrapped in the crate with its little logo covered square of protection – so obviously it was the one I needed despite the fact it was virtually at the bottom of the box.

2kg of warmed granulated sugar…you know that adage about the watched pot – what it should actually say is that the warmed sugar is either stone cold or welded to the bottom of the pan.  There are no in-between stages.

A small muslin bag for all those pips. The chances of you having one of these unless you’re like me and saw them in a sale several years ago and thought they might come in useful are remote – and it turns out little muslin bags with drawer strings are very useful indeed.  They will also be exceedingly useful next time you’re shopping and see something else in the kitchen paraphernalia range that your loved one feels is excess to requirements.  Now you will be able to remind him or her of those handy little muslin bags whilst looking virtuous and highly organised.

I cup of cointreau or spirits of your choice – to add to the marmalade not to while away the time whilst the marmalade cooks.

8 X 375g sterilised jam jars.


First chop your oranges and deseed them.  Its the pith that makes the marmalade bitter but I very swiftly discovered that my marmalade wasn’t going to be delicate and ladylike – for starters the oranges had lives of their own and for seconds it turns out that I have many cuts on my fingers.  The mandolin did not work particularly well as the little device for stopping you chop your fingers off didn’t like the orange peel very much.  Any way ultimately I chopped a kilo of oranges into roughly equal strips and collected most of the pips.  The pips go in a muslin bag which as luck would have it I had (as I may already have mentioned).  The oranges and the lemon chunks go in a very large bowl and then you add 2.25 litres of water followed by the bag of orange pips and a plate to cover it all.  Go away and do something else for twenty-four hours.

Transfer the pleasantly citrus concoction to a large stainless steel pan along with the pips in their bag.  If you use copper you’ll end up with very clean copper and very dirty marmalade – take it from one who knows.  Gently heat.  You need to halve the amount of liquid.  The longer it takes the softer the peel will be.  When the kitchen is steamy because you’ve forgotten to put the extractor fan on open the window so the neighbours can share your orangy sauna and turn on the extractor fan.  Thank your lucky stars you don’t have wallpaper in the kitchen and if you do tell yourself that you needed to redecorate in any event.

Deposit 2kgs of sugar in a pan – heat gently watching it nervously for any signs of sticking.  This means you need to stir it regularly but gently because otherwise hob cleaning is going to take on a whole new meaning.

When the sugar is warm and the liquid in the other pan has halved, add the sugar to the liquid.  I took the bag of pips out before adding the sugar not he grounds that I wanted to use the bag again and knew how difficult it would be to get clean otherwise.  Put your thermometer in the pan and prepare for a long couple of hours inhaling orange steam. The setting point for marmalade is 104 degrees centigrade or 219 degrees farenheit.  One very helpful book informed me that if I went over the setting point that the marmalade would never set – a dispiriting thought.  Remove the odd rogue pip, stir to stop sticking, admire the peel shrinkage and when the temperature is close to setting point add the cup of spirit.  There will be alarming bubbling of the kind that you’d expect to see in a cauldron and the temperature will drop unexpectedly despite all the bubbles.

Don’t forget to sterilise your jam jars.

Eventually after a very long time the optimum temperature will arrive.  By that time you should have planned the next month, be able to breath through your nose and gone off making marmalade until next year.   Remove pips and any scum. Pot the marmalade up without pouring it over your hands. Seal and leave to cool.  Apparently you can enjoy it for breakfast the following morning.  Is now the time to mention that I don’t like marmalade very much? However, the Pottermeister’s jar has already got her name on it!

Now all you need to do is clean the kitchen or find a willing victim – er, sorry- helper, to do the washing up and clean the hob.


D is for…

dscf2504Disaster!  D could have been for Derwent Water; Durham; Derby Cathedral; dandelion wine; digging the garden or even divining – but no, it turns out that D stood for dropping my mobile phone down the toilet.  Lovely.

I took the battery out as soon as I’d fished it out and it’s now sitting in the airing cupboard on a towel as I didn’t have any rice in the kitchen cupboard and didn’t think that spaghetti would have quite the same effect.  I once put my wristwatch in the washing machine and after a week in the airing cupboard it was fine. It wasn’t quite the D I’d been anticipating but apparently its a common accident.

We seem to be slightly stuck on b as we picked more blackberries yesterday and bilberries today.  The Littlest Madam is our number one forager but I’m not sure that her yelling at her sisters, “Pick more!  Pick more!” is necessarily the way to go but it was glorious weather; the skies were very blue – we saw bees, butterflies and an assortment of fungi (I’m not that brave a forager). Tonight there are more jars of ruby red happiness in progress but hedgerow jelly this time.

An A-Z of little adventures

DSCF2505.jpgMy friend Ivor recently told me of another set of friends who had recently retired.  They were concerned that they might turn into the kind of couple that slowly vegetated into old age so they came up with a superb idea for keeping themselves young and enthusiastic.

We rather like their idea as it is sometimes difficult with the CFS to think large-scale and it is rather easy to get stuck in a routine which revolves around sleep. This strategy seems like a good way of helping with the pacing, trying new things whilst ensuring that they are manageable, not to mention thinking laterally and having something to look forward to which can help with the depression that can sometimes creep into the life of someone with CFS who always feels totally tired.  It should also help HWIOO to develop a repertoire of seasonal activities which again should help with the pacing.

The plan is that you work your way through the alphabet doing something each week or every couple of weeks for the letter of the alphabet that you are on.  The key is to be flexible; it could be a place or any other kind of noun for that matter, an activity, or a food etc.  For example, A could be Arundel Castle, an art course, an art gallery or arts festival, apple bobbing, acorn collecting or aubergines for that matter!  What we actually did yesterday which was to go to an agricultural show.


You continue through the alphabet  thinking creatively on as small or large a scale as you wish.  Today we went blackberry picking in order to make blackberry jelly.  Having said that HWIOO returned from his blackberry picking and took himself off for a siesta so I began the blackberry jelly which is a magical process and the end product definitely counts as happiness in a jar.

Whilst I had hoped to do a chocolate making course  or candle making I am quite happy to go to the cinema next week though Ben Hur could just as well have been the letter B.  It would have to be said that we both discounted caving and canoeing as soon as the thought entered our heads. I don’t like confined spaces and the last time I was in a canoe I sank without trace.  The Number-One-Son was mortified because I didn’t sink quietly.  I squawked rather loudly, thus causing maximum embarrassment.  It didn’t help that he and his father simply stepped out of the boat whilst, because I was sitting cross-legged, I couldn’t untangle myself swiftly enough to make a safe exit.  Certainly I don’t think Daniel Boone would have made such a hash of it.  We also decided that a cable car trip was out of the question based on the fact that HWIOO’s labyrinthitis probably wouldn’t have responded well to that particular activity – abseiling and bungee jumping were also discarded based on a similar rationale.  On the other hand HWIOO was rather pleased to suggest doing one of the Sunday newspaper crosswords as this demonstrates an improvement in the brain fog situation.  Two years ago he wouldn’t have been keen on the idea as he just couldn’t focus but now he’s back to doing the quick crossword.


I can’t help wondering what adventures the rest of the alphabet is going to bring.

Apricot jam

DSCF2337.JPGJam making is a vice that creeps up on you unawares.  One minute you’re quite happily purchasing jars of jam from your nearest purveyor of confiture and the next thing you know you’ve got homemade jams, compots and coulis lurking in every available cupboard space; are asking your friends and family to keep empty jars and are handing over jewel like filled jars with warnings such as – “I didn’t get all the stones out I’m afraid,” or “it’s a bit runny.”  Odd the way you never see labels on shop bought jam with that kind of information.

This week I made apricot jam.  They were selling apricots a pound for a pound on the market.  Home I cam with excitement in my heart.  For every pound of fruit you need a pound of sugar.  Did I have enough in the cupboard?  Of course I did.  Next to the great jam mountain there’s also sufficient sugar to withstand a siege.  I work on the principle that its better to buy it whilst its on special offer rather than to find yourself running short. My cupboards look like I might take twenty teaspoons of sugar in every mug of tea that I drink.   I also keep a large bottle of lemon juice lurking in the fridge as most jams that require additional pectin also specify lemon.

DSCF2338.JPGHaving halved the apricots and removed the stones I was left with two and half pounds of fruit which I covered with granulated sugar and four tablespoons of lemon juice.  I then covered the whole lot up and went away to worry  for fifteen minutes about the fact that one recipe specified the addition of water whilst the one I’d opted for didn’t.

DSCF2340Having made sure all the fruit was coated in sugar I put my pan over a low heat and began to dissolve the sugar.  Once the sugar  dissolved- which it isn’t so long as the potion has a whitish hue- it was a question of reaching the magic 219 degrees Fahrenheit (I have an antique thermometer) whilst stirring all the time.  An hour later I was still squinting at the red line on the thermometer willing the temperature to rise by another degree so that the jam would set and so that I could stop dodging sitting fruit/sugar mixture.

DSCF2342There is a kind of magic in watching fruit and sugar turn into jam.  There may also be a hint of masochism.  You can buy the stuff at your supermarket for a very reasonable price without running the risk of burning yourself, feeling as though you’re in the middle of a hot flush or having to wash up a rather sticky jam pan.

But there’s nothing to beat the moment when you know you have jam  and our it into its jars or indeed the moment when you take that first mouth full and know you got it right.

I do now know why the other recipe suggested water.  I have quite a firm set.  Its not overdone it’s just somewhat solid.  Next time I’ll try the other recipe.


Even as I whirling my jam in a figure eight stirring motion and then sweeping the thermometer through the whole concoction Stan and Tatiana were applying themselves to seedless raspberry jam – there having been a bumper crop this year.  There’s more jam makers out there than you realise.  Tatiana watched Stan struggling with his wooden spoon trying to push the raspberry mixture through muslin to deseed it and concluded that a more solid dome shaped tool would be helpful which is why Stan found himself using a darning mushroom for a purpose which its manufacturer never intended. It did the job rather nicely I am told.  Now, I’ve never darned the socks of HWIOO but I do have a darning mushroom.  I’m moving it from my workbox into the kitchen so that when I spot raspberries on the market I’m prepared for seedless raspberry jam.


Elderflower Cordial

DSCF2293.JPGElderflower cordial – how summery is that? My mother used to make it when I was a child. There was one memorable occasion when we made it, bottled it and then put it a little too close to the central heating boiler for comfort. The cordial fermented, the pressure built, the screw top untwisted and zipped across the room with rather a loud ping resulting in a half hour search until someone encountered a sticky pool of elderflower cordial and deduced what had happened. Note: think cool dark storage space.


Living as high up as we do the elderflower is only just coming into full bloom although the general guidance is that elderflower blooms from May to June – so if you’re reading this in the lowlands south: it’s too late to make your own cordial this year. I’ve been keeping an eye on the elderflowers for the last fortnight whenever we go for HWIOO’s afternoon perambulation.


A couple of afternoons ago, in between showers, we toddled off with a basket of Miss Marple proportions and a pair of scissors having already purchased 20z of citric acid from the local health food shop. It came in a plain plastic wrapper. I am so pleased we weren’t stopped on the way home! The citric acid is for preserving the cordial. It also gives the sour taste in lemons and turns up in dishwasher detergents (lovely). There are recipes that don’t contain citric acid – after all we’ve only been using it in it’s chemical formulae as a preservative for the last hundred years and presumably the lemon is also a preservative. Next year I may well not use the citric acid.  I’ll have a look and see what Mrs Beeton has to say on the subject.  Jamie Oliver and Rivercottage also have variations on the recipe.


Here’s what to do and not to do.  First gather 35 heads of elderflower. Give them a good shake to get rid of insects. I rinsed mine when I got home. Place in a large bowl. Add zest of four lemons. Chop and add lemons.  Other recipes use a mixture of lemons and an orange.


Place 1.3 kg of sugar and  2 1/2 pints of water in a pan. Dissolve. Add sugar water to the elder flowers and lemons. Stir well. Add citric acid. Stir again. Cool, cover, leave over night. Remove stray insects.

DSCF2295.JPGUse a muslin to drain the liquid off and then place it into sterilised bottles having removed the last of the stray insects should there be any. There should be a 2.5cm gap at the top of the bottles.  My book – The Hedgerow Cookbook for the Wild at Heart- suggested further sterilisation by means of a water bath  to prolong the life of the cordial.  It the bottles are old fashioned stopper bottles they have to be completely sealed and if they’re screw top then the bottles should be loosely closed. You place a trivet or folded tea towel in the bottom of the pan, then your bottles, standing upright.  Fill the pan with water until the bottles are completely submersed. Heat the water until it’s simmering and keep it simmering for 20 minutes. You may wish to look at it nervously every so often. Then turn off the heat, leave the bottles for five minutes before removing them very carefully so that you don’t burn yourselfDSCF2296.jpg.  Place the bottles on another folded tea towel or a wooden surface or else the bottles may crack – generally speaking a shower of hot glass and hot sugary cordial is not to be recommended.  Tighten the screw tops.  Unfortunately I don’t have a pan that’s large enough so probably shouldn’t have even attempted the process (note to self – find a very large pan for future cordial making activities.) However, I did and consequentially discovered that overfilling the bottles is not a terribly good idea as there is expansion (yes I did get a physics O level but clearly didn’t apply my learning in this context), a build up of pressure and then the laws of physics took over without any help from Scotty from Star Trek! There was a rather unpleasant cracking sound and one of the bottles broke in mid simmer resulting in hot, glass filled elderflower cordial which is not, generally speaking, to be recommended. My tea towel also decided that simmering wasn’t good for colour fastness.




Wax seals…a Potteresque adventure.

DSC_0039.JPGThe Right Little Madam is very keen on Harry Potter.  This year she’s having a Potter inspired birthday party.  The Number One Daughter, who infected the child with the Potter mania in the first place, is doing things in style.  Take the party invitations.  They are all Hogwarts acceptance letters containing a Hogwarts Express ticket.  This means that each letter had to be addressed to its recipient as living in a cupboard under the stairs.  This in itself wasn’t the problem.

The problem was getting the envelops to go through the printer and despite our best endeavours two printers failed to show so much as a glimmer of helpfulness.  This meant that I was found furtling through cupboards in search of green ink.  It’s mildly alarming that I found some.  The Number One Daughter then hand wrote the envelopes.  Ta dah!  You might think.  But no.  The original acceptance letter comes complete with a wax seal.  I could provide the wax but sadly my seal, dating from my early teens, bears the letter J and no amount of extended linkage could make that even remotely Harry Potter.

There then followed a hunt through the house for anything that could be used as a seal; earrings, beads and HWIOO’s cuff links (have you ever tried to remove sealing wax from a cufflink?) .  Ultimately I found the charm pictured in this post which the Number One Daughter suggested could be the whomping willow.

There then followed an interesting family interlude.  First there was melting the wax.  Fortunately I had some tin tart tins that I was intending to use to make pine cone fire lighters.  Having seen the occasional film with gangsters and drug dealers I suspect the family gathered around a small candle melting a solid substance in a tin tray may have other connotations in other contexts.  Then there’s the matter of getting the right amount of wax on the envelope and pressing the charm into the wax without gunning the charm with wax or leaving it glued to the envelope.  Ultimately what to any of us want with unburned finger tips in any event.  However, after much trial and error, the knack is to put only a little wax on the envelope and press the charm into the wax for the count of three whilst ensuring that the handy little loop remains free of the wax in order to prize it from the still rather warm and clingy wax.

Oddly I have never seen an entire family singing their fingers during period dramas in order to send a letter.  Come to think of it I don’t suppose that was the standard approach in the past either.  Further investigation revealed that handy little bronze scoops are available to melt the wax and, of course, the stamps themselves tended to be rather more substantial.  Furthermore, for a price a Hogwarts stamp is available on the Internet.  Still, I’m sure that it’s a family moment that will live in legend and all I can say is that the lucky recipients of the Right Little Madam’s party invites had better appreciate them.

Right then – I’m off to rehearse the slug jelly and cauldron cakes; find a besom broom and pointed hat (no, I don’t already possess them); create a frame for the Right Little Madam’s friends to do their best Azkaban prison pictures and purchase large amounts of chocolate to make chocolate frogs and mice.  There’s every chance that by the end of next month there will be a long post and many photographs on hosting a Harry Potter party.  Now, where is that wand?

Out of the mouths…

I make a decent bread pudding even if I say so myself. It was one of the first things I learned how to cook and rather like my maternal grandmother I tend not to use a recipe but chuck random amounts of fruit into the combo depending on what’s in the cupboard.


At Christmas there’s the chocolate pantone bread pudding which requires copious amounts of nutella and chocolate chips. An then there’s my new invention, the Dutch apple cake bread pudding of this evening because I forgot that I’d bought the cake in a one buy one free offer for HWIOO to have with his lunch – not a whole cake in one go, obviously a slice at a time but its been languishing in the back of the cupboard ever since. “Aha!”  I thought when I saw it – bread pudding with ice cream.  On this occasion I even managed to use up the three apples that had been languishing at the back of the fridge for some considerable while as part of the base – sort of apple crumble meets bread pudding or a heavy duty queen of puddings without the meringue on top.


The only thing is I hadn’t banked on the apple cake needing less time in the oven than the standard bread pudding. Consequentially the top was somewhat caramelised…we’re not talking incinerated here, just somewhat crisp.

The Right Little Madam may have a promising career as a food critic if we can ever get her to eat anything more exotic than macaroni cheese given her seeringly honest appraisal, “You’ve burned it Granny.”  And this before I’d actually managed to put it on the table.  She said ti kindly as though I may not have noticed it prior to her alerting me to the fact.  Actually I was rather hoping that no one else would notice.


“It’s caramelised.”




“Okay it may have had five minutes too long or been cooked at too high a temperature.”

She nodded, “Burned.” By this stage she was attacking her portion with the intensity of Norman Bates in the shower scene of Psycho. Ultimately she shoved the bowl at HWIOO, “You do it Granddad. The caramelised bit which is actually a burned bit is too hard for the spoon.”


So there you have it, my cooking pretensions trounced by a personage of tender years.  And no there’s no picture.