Results for category "Preserving"

Juicing Weekend

Saturday morning was soon upon us. Immediately after breakfast we concluded the bottle cleaning activities from the previous day. Milton was used to sterilize the bottles, so they were completely ready to hold the combinations of the sixty or so varieties of apple which are grown in the orchards, before they were moved up to the “juicing” shed.

Crate after crate of apples including Russets, Sunsets, Bramleys, Ashmead’s Kernels and Edward VII, were pulled onto the grass next to the chopper and sorted by variety. Apples can vary greatly in the length of time they can be stored, the general rule being the later in the autumn the variety is ready, the longer they will last. Many of the first apples in the orchard need to be eaten/sold within a week of being picked, whereas other varieties, which are harvested later, can last and indeed sweeten, throughout the winter.

After a little more organizing and sorting, we were ready to begin the processing. The first step is to pulverize the apples in the chopper, creating a juicy pulp. The pulp was then transferred into the press, taking two of batches of pulp to fill the press. After a couple of press tightening sessions, the juice would finally slow and eventually cease, ready to be bottled and the pulp to be cleaned out.

The bottles are filled just into the base of the neck and then inserted into the cooker to be heated. In order to pasteurise, the juice must be heated to at least 72 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes. Once this is completed, the bottles can be cleaned up and then capped for storage and future sale at the market. Fortunately, this year the pressed pulp won’t go to waste either. A lovely treat for pigs, it will be picked up later on Monday by a local pig farmer and customer at Rob’s Market store.

Batch after batch of amber bottles appeared out of the cookers and the boxes of empty bottles were replaced by full bottles of various custom juice blends. As dusk approached, R cared for the birds, while K continued to work the press. After a few more batches, almost all of the bottles were full and ready to be pasteurised.

With only 27 bottles being able to fit into the cookers at a time, they had become a bottleneck in our process, (no pun intended). Earlier in the day there was great hope we could finish everything on Saturday, however, we would need to resume the next morning with the pasteurisation of the rest of the bottles whilst pressing the last of the apples for a batch of cider that Rob and Diana are keen on making. We had pressed 10 batches of juice already, with the pulp bagged for pig food to prove it.

After everything was rinsed of apple pulp and juice and stored back into the shed, we headed out into the night for our Pyworthy walk. As we sat in our little caravan after enjoying another lovely evening meal, we looked forward to the possibility of a Sunday afternoon walk to be the capstone to our weekend.

Sunday morning brought a slightly later start to the day, being the only day of “rest” for the week that our crew would have. After breakfast, we set about completing the task before us, the rest of the apples to be pressed and bottles to be filled and pasteurised.

Six more batches of pulp pressed, we were finally through all of the apples. The last of the bottles had all been filled and 56 litres of juice remained in fermentation jugs, two 20 litre jugs left to become cider and the third jug of 16 litres would become vinegar. We had bottled 203 bottles of juice over the weekend, as well, all together requiring a total of 17 presses.

Pleased with all that we’d accomplished, we sat down for a brunch meal just before 2 with plates full of egg, beans, tomato, veggie sausage and toast. Afterwards, we headed out on a slightly longer walk through the country lanes, about 4 miles round trip, although as we returned and dusk was falling we found ourselves longing for an an even longer walk.

All in all, it was a full weekend and Monday was coming all too soon. After our evening meal of homemade pizza, oven chips, salad and coleslaw, we settled into the caravan for some precious down time before the work week began again.

Making Jam While the Sun Shines

Bright sunshine greeted us as we headed out to collect the eggs. Today was going to be a day for us to show what we learned on Friday, as we were to make our own jam today. However, there would be an experiment for the apples that had yielded very little juice in Friday’s attempt. Mo referenced marrow jam, which uses a process of macerating the marrow with sugar, to pull out the juice, which she thought might also work for our apples.

So, after returning with five fine eggs, we set to work by peeling and coring approx 3kg of apples (to make 2kg of processed apples) and then adding to 2kg of sugar (remember the 1:1 ratio!). We kept the cores and peels, as these would be used later as a pectin source, needed to set the jam. Once done peeling and chopping, we left the mixture for a few hours to macerate and headed outside to work on tidying around the greenhouse and in the Water Wheel garden.

Under Mo’s supervision we pulled out the angelica along the side of the greenhouse, spreading the seeds around before discarding the plants to the burn pile, as they self-fertilize and will grow new plants in the spring. We also trimmed the cardoon and lovage plants that grow alongside the greenhouse. Lovage can actually substitute for celery, as it’s quite similar in taste. We then moved over to the Water Wheel garden where we trimmed the evening primrose and spread the seeds, trimmed down the rose bush, day lilies and bergamot and weeded for all the usual suspects: grass, thistles, nettles, dandelion and chickweed.

With the sun’s rays shining bright, the opportunity to do a load of washing came to us, as most of the smallholding’s energy comes from their many solar panels.  There are a couple in front of the Water Wheel garden and many more in the back field behind the chicken pen.  In addition to the solar energy produced, the smallholding also has the opportunity for hydroelectricity from the water mill.  However, it takes a large excess of water from rainfall to produce enough water to really get the wheel going enough to register on the energy meter.  The house can monitor the energy levels using a meter they have in the kitchen.  It shows the amount of energy being produced by the water wheel and the solar panels, as well as, the energy the house is currently using.  This allows the family to adjust, as needed, to avoid kicking over to use Mains electricity, such as, waiting to run the dishwasher, or the laundry, as we experienced today.  These energy sources and their diligence in monitoring and adjusting allowed for an energy bill last year of only 55 pounds – for the entire year!  In addition, they have been acknowledged as a “Super Home” for having established a carbon savings level of 95%!

After a late lunch we resumed our jam making starting by putting the mixture, now quite juicy, into a pot. We also prepared a pip bag with about a third of the cores and peels from the apples of the morning along with about 4 Tablespoons of cinnamon, tying tightly, as it will be boiled along with the apple mixture. Next steps follow what we observed on Friday: make sure all the sugar dissolves, on medium heat and then increase the heat and bring to a rolling boil until the plate test proves it will set. This took quite a bit longer than Friday, since we were pulling pectin from the pip bag. After almost an hour of boiling and, of course, ensuring our lids were boiled in hot water and jars heated in an oven at 150 degrees Celsius, we were finally ready to jar them. Mo left for basketball practice and left us to it. This was a little trickier than Friday because we weren’t just dealing with pure liquid jelly this time, but a chunky jam. Yet, the handy funnel still worked very well and in the end we had 11 lovely jars of apple cinnamon jam. A successful experiment, for sure!

The sun of the day left us with warmth for a lovely evening walk down to the sea cliffs. We enjoyed a simple pasta dinner, but were rewarded with an extra yummy blackberry and apple crumble for afters, which Mo had made earlier and left for us. After our picturesque walk and a delicious dinner, we settled in for some down time.

Tunnels and Funnels

After a restful weekend of reading and film viewing  inspired by the bug we were suffering from, it was time to get back to work. Our considerate host, taking pity on our illness, planned a morning of light outside work followed by an afternoon concluding our Friday jelly making activities. So after cleaning  the chicken house, and admiring the chicken “palace”, which Guy has made significant progress in building over the last few days, it was time to head to the polytunnel.

Polytunnels are used in some similar ways to greenhouses and can significantly extend the growing season. They keep things cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, as well as protecting from strong winds and heavy rain etc. Far more factors are able to be influenced using a polytunnel and as Mo will testify to, they can greatly increase your yield. At Lynch Mill, peppers, sweet potatoes and tomatoes are grown under their protection with the tomato crop being particularly impressive this year.

Today, we set to work clearing the tomato beds along each side of the polytunnel with weeds and tomato plants being pulled out without discrimination. The seeds we saved on Friday will be used to replant the beds in the spring , until then they will be allowed to recuperate over the winter, ready for next years crop.

After a lovely lunch of vegetable and bean soup, containing all homegrown ingredients, it was time to resume our jelly making activities.  Using the juice we stored on Friday, as referenced in the post It Was ALMOST Jelly…, we set about finishing the task.  The jelly is made using a 1:1 ratio of juice to sugar, both being placed into a pot (keeping in mind that the pot should have more than ample room remaining as the bubbling mixture will double, or even triple, in volume) on medium heat to first melt the sugar.  If the heat is too high here, it could burn the sugar.

After checking the spoon for sugar granules left undissolved to ensure they have all melted into the juice, the heat can be increased to produce a rolling boil.  This boil will activate the pectin and produce a set.  If there is enough pectin, a set should be possible after 10-15 minutes of the rolling boil.  If not, additional pectin can be added by introducing a “pip bag”, a cloth bag hung inside the boiling mixture with cut up apples inside that include the peels and the seeds, which hold the most pectin.  In order to confirm that the mixture is able to set, a plate test can be used.  Drop a little of the liquid onto a plate and allow to cool slightly; using your finger, you can test to see if a film is forming on the surface, producing wrinkles in response to the motion of your finger through it.  This test might need to be performed a few times before a set is confirmed and then the mixture can be removed from the heat and is ready for jars.

When you reach the rolling boil stage, the lids should be set to a boil in water and the oven with jars inside turned on to 150 degrees Celsius, both needing at least 10 minutes to sterilize.  Using a funnel and being careful not to touch any of the inside, or lip of the jars or inside of the lid and cancel out the sterilization process just performed, the jelly can be spooned into each jar, filled to within 3mm of the very top.  The funnel we used here is actually cut  from the top of a water bottle so it  includes a useful handle and is much cheaper than a “proper” funnel that is expensive and can end up sized wrong for various tasks.  Chutney requires a larger hole because of the chunks, where conventional jelly funnels have a much smaller end.

Lids can then be placed onto the top and sealed tight – again, don’t touch!  You can use a magnet or fork to pull the lids from the water and drop onto the top before using a toweled or gloved hand to tighten them up.  And once it finishes setting with its cool down, it’s jelly!  Tomorrow we will try again with some apples, as we didn’t get very much juice at all from out attempt on Friday.

After our evening walk, we settled inside for a little more restorative rest, hoping 100% comes back to us shortly.

It Was ALMOST Jelly…

The chill seems to be settling in now, or at least there is a succession of chilly days. Body warmers on, we headed to the big polytunnel this morning to pick tomatoes and start off weed clearing there. When the time for morning tea break arrived, we found Mo in the kitchen, ready to start off with jelly making – up on the agenda from yesterday’s harvesting, a blackberry and apple jelly.

Mo had the blackberries simmering on low heat in a large pot with just a little water to start them off. After about an hour of simmering, they were very juicy and a potato masher was introduced to break up the rest of the bits. Once thoroughly mashed (mostly by Isambard, or Izzy for short, our hosts’ three-year-old son and little bit of mashing by each of us, as well) an unbleached cotton pillowcase was rolled onto the top of another large pot and the blackberries poured there to strain the juice from the pulp of the berries. This needs to rest for straining for several hours, overnight even better. Mo’s special note here was that you could use muslin, but it’s expensive – Ikea has very cheap unbleached cotton pillowcases by comparison; a couple of years ago, they were only 38 pence per case!

Once we reached this step, we started in on the apples, having cut them into what would most easily be referred to as bite-sized pieces, they went into a pot of their own. After about an hour and a half of stirring, they were broken down well enough for the masher, as well. However, they looked very much like applesauce at this point. Yet, we set them up to strain in a pillowcase-covered pot of their own and hoped for some juice. It seems that previously, Mo has cooked the apples and blackberries together and then strained, which worked out fine. But, on this occasion, we ended up with very little apple juice as a result of all those apples and cooking time. So, the blackberry and apple juice we did end up with went into the fridge for another go next week at making a more successful batch.

Before we had abandoned our jelly making of the day, we had also pulled a box of jars for potting our jelly. It’s important to note a few things about potting preserved goodies. Firstly, jars can be sterilized and re-sterilized for many uses, but with lids there is more difficulty reaching optimum sterilization after their first use. This can become a problem and even produce an inedible jar of what could have been yumminess, so it’s best to always start out with new lids so that failure here is avoided. Secondly, to sterilize the jars, they sit in a warm oven for 15 minutes, just like we did when preparing chutney in the post Chutneyfication, but also important to note is that cold jars should go into a cold oven – glass can react quite violently to extreme temperature changes (i.e. cold jars into hot oven), so best to follow the temperature matching rule here, too.

Another task occurring during our stirring time was K’s preparations of tomato seeds for next year’s planting. From our morning’s collection of tomatoes from the big polytunnel, he took several of each of the three varieties grown: Money Maker, Yellow Cherry, and Gardener’s Delight and cut them open to remove the seeds. First, he marked a paper towel with the name of the tomato seeds he would be placing there and then went about pulling out seeds and placing them onto the paper towel. Two plates of each of the three kinds of tomatoes were prepared and placed in the window sill for drying before they will be able to be stored for the winter. A couple of days of drying time in the window is likely sufficient, but Mo said she leaves them to dry for an entire week just to be certain they are completely dry and there will be no risk in storage for the winter months. They should be stored in a cool, dry place and will be ready for planting after the cold of winter has passed and their beds are ready for their arrival.

After an evening walk, we settled in for a quiet evening, both feeling quite tired, seeming to have caught a bit of a cold that our hosts and Izzy have been dealing with the last few days.


Today brought about a rainy day to Strawberry Hill.  We were able to spend the early part of the morning picking a few blackberries and some apples, then clearing most of the green tomatoes from one of the raised beds next to the house (renovated barn, so sometimes referred to as “the barn”).  However, as we were finishing the tomato task, the rain really started to pick up.  So, it turned out that it would be a chutney making day today!

Using what vinegar, brown sugar and spices Rupert could find in his place, we headed back to the caravan for the first batch of chutney.  After chopping enough green tomatoes and apples to fit the large pot we have in our caravan and finding a recipe to model from for purposes of vinegar, spice and sugar quantities, batch one started to simmer on the stove top.  With only a short break off the burner so that we could prepare lunch (as one of the 4 burners not working), the chutney simmered all afternoon until several hours later when the vinegar had finally evaporated enough to have a first batch of 5 jars!

To recap the process, we cut up enough fruit to almost fill the pot we were working with, a few tablespoons of sugar and a teaspoon of turmeric, mixed spices (cinnamon and nutmeg), a diced chilli pepper and enough vinegar to just cover the fruit and simmer low for about 3 hours.  We were provided with a set of empty jars with metal lids for potting the chutney.  The glass jars went into a low oven for 15 minutes to sterilize and the metal lids into boiling water for 10 minutes.  It’s important to keep hands off of both, so that everything stays sterilized and to not let the jars touch each other.  The chutney being hot, it should go straight into hot jars.  Lids on tight!  After 3 months in a cool, dark place, the chutney will be matured enough to be eaten – it only gets better with time!

We might end up taking a jar of one of the batches with us to try in a few months, if we have the space – we shall have to see at packing time!  We have many more batches to make while we are here  so plenty of time to perfect the process.  We certainly enjoyed the chutney that Rupert’s friends passed to us in the care kit they put together from their kitchen on our cheese sandwiches and hope ours can live up to such standards.   Chutneyfication seems a yummy way to preserve fruit and veg and we’re excited to play with ingredients and different recipes to make a bunch of chutney in the future!

Loving Simplicity