24 January 2010

Summer bounty

Here's what we're picking in the garden at the moment:

The basil just keeps coming – the box above has kept us supplied throughout the summer. We've made pesto several times, and we use the leaves liberally, with tomato and feta, on toast and pizzas.The pumpkin goes into pies and soups. Brazilian cherries, cooked with apple, make a great jam. I take the pips out before cooking, but tie these up in a piece of cheesecloth to keep with the fruit during cooking. This batch of cherry jam was cooked a bit longer than planned, because friends arrived just as I was about to test the mix. The slightly longer cooking time caused the mix to go a bit darker than I like – as you can see in the difference between the colour of the fruit and the colour of the finished jam. The flavour is OK, but the texture is a bit stiffer than we like. This fruit also makes a great jelly to serve with cold meat, but jelly-making is a bit time-consuming for my taste!

Our four mango trees are all heavy with fruit. We have to pick them while still green, with just a flush of yellow-pink beginning to show (as in the basket photo), or else the possums and flying foxes will strip the fruit down to the nut before we get to it. This bunch was about to be delivered to a neighbour, but nearly everyone around here has a good supply of mangoes this year. I usually mark each piece of fruit with the date picked, and then we choose the earliest picked among the ripe ones for our breakfast (or in Allen's case, for morning tea – to ensure he has extra energy for his daily word puzzle).

My favourite fruit treat this summer is Mango Jam. Here's the recipe: cook 3 cups of peeled and sliced mango, one sliced lemon and 1/2 cup of water until tender. Cool slightly and put through the blender until smooth. Add 1 cup unsweetened pineapple juice and 1 teaspoon ground ginger to the mango-lemon mix, measure how many cupfuls this makes, and then and cook all until near-boiling. Meanwhile, warm sugar in a bowl in the oven (1/2 cup of sugar per 1 cup of fruit mixture for this one), then add the warmed sugar to the fruit and bring to the boil. (Fruit mix will start to darken from the time sugar is added; pre-warming the sugar reduces the amount of time that sugar and fruit need to cook together, and this helps to retain good fruit colour.) Cook only until the desired consistency is reached. To test, have some saucers cooling in the freezer. When the fruit mixture seems thick enough (it should go a bit wrinkly on the top when you stir it), drop a spoonful onto one of the chilled saucers and roll it around. If the jam wrinkles nicely, it's definitely ready. I don't even wait that long, as I like my jam runny. As long as the thin layer of jam on my testing saucer isn't too liquidy, I stop cooking and start to bottle.

In this warm climate, I've had trouble keeping my jams free of mould. This year I've switched from the vinegar-dipped plastic-sheet covers I used to use, and I'm trying paraffin instead. It's called 'preserving wax' and comes in a solid block (see package in jam photo above). You melt the block in the top of a double-boiler, and pour a thin film over the hot jam in each jar. The next day, you top up with an additional dollop of melted paraffin, making a 12mm wax seal on the top of each jar, with no airspace between jam and seal. I add metal covers and clips later, to minimise accidental damage to the wax, which would be too easy to dislodge, either by me or by mice! We'll see if this method works better than plastic sheeting. If it doesn't, then I'm going to need a second fridge for my preserves and jams, or else a freezer to store the uncooked fruit. Of course, I could reboil the glasses of potted jam in a traditional preserving pan, thus sealing on the metal lids. But over-cooking invariably results in a dark-coloured jam with too stiff a texture. So I hope the wax will do the trick this year. Bon appetit!

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I started this blog in 2009 when I became a full-time caregiver. My husband had been diagnosed a few years earlier with primary progressive aphasia. Over the next four years until his death in 2013, we went on a journey of discovery about this rare condition. My blog is about what I learned, how we both coped and how the journey deepened our love and appreciation of each other. Allen’s journey is over, but mine goes on.