Battening down the hatches and bottling it

When I wrote my last blog, I knew we were teetering on the edge of summer, ready to topple head-first into autumn… but I had forgotten just how impressive Cornish sideways rain can be, thanks to gale-force winds straight off the Celtic Sea.  However, Cornish flora – just like the fauna (I include native Kernowyon in this) – is made of strong stuff and, despite spending storm-ravaged nights convinced the roof would blow off our little cowshed (that’s if it wasn’t crushed by a falling tree first), Treverra has survived the autumnal storms so far and is looking lovely (no small thanks to the team who keep it all going, with special creds this week going to the boys in rubber who spent two days in masks and wetsuits repairing the magic pool cover).

Treverra after a good ravishing by Katia

Men In Black come to the aid of the Treverra pool cover

Ironically, given the tempestuous weather, we’re experiencing a lovely little lull right now, a calm patch in between the busy summer and October’s half term holidays and shooting parties.  With the tourists mostly gone (except in Padstow – it seems it’s always busy in Padstow), the Cornish roads are emptier (and safer without Rock Mummies careering around in Chelsea tractors and their big-wig husbands taking road rage to new heights) and the beaches are tranquil.  But the hedgerows and trees… they are busting out all over the place with apples, damsons and autumn berries.  So, what’s a girl to do except buy 8 litres of gin and get stuck in?  Ahhh, damsons, you sexy little things – eye-wateringly sharp, yet with a wonderful depth of flavour and a velvety, delicously dark hue.  With Hurrican Katia rampaging outside, I turned about 4kg of damsons picked from the field next door into damson ketchup (a Mother Chef special recipe) and another 5kg into damson gin, its aromatic, boozy fug enveloping the house.

Damson ketchup – from the Mother Chef, aka Gill Fuglesang
8 lb damsons

8 oz currants

1 lb onions, chopped small
2 oz coarse salt

1 lb Demerara sugar

2 pints distilled white vinegar



Tie up the following in muslin
:
6-8 dried chillies

1 tblspn black peppercorns

1 tblspn mustard seeds

½ oz dried root ginger, crushed a bit first (I usually just use about 1 oz fresh grated)

½ oz allspice berries
2 whole garlic cloves
 


To save having to stone the damsons by hand, I just very gently heat them until the juice runs and they go soft enough to put on the rubber gloves and squeeze them through a colander, pushing the pulp and juice through into a large pan and trapping the stones, being careful to put all the pulp back in the pan.  Add currants, onions and the bag of spices.  Add 1 pint of the vinegar, bring to the boil and simmer gently, uncovered, for about 30 mins or until mixture is soft. 
 
Then remove the bag of spices, place contents of pan in a liquidiser and blend until perfectly smooth.  Rinse out the pan and return the purée and bag of spices to it, add the salt, sugar and remaining 1 pint of vinegar.  Bring to simmer and cook gently, uncovered, for 1½ – 2 hrs or until the ketchup has reduced to approximately 3½ pints.  (From experience I know that you should have it slightly thinner than you would like it when you bottle it as it thickens as the months/years go on – especially years!)  Stir occasionally to prevent sticking and leave to cool for a few minutes before pouring into bottles.  The recipe tells you to then sterilise the bottles for 10 mins, I never have done and have never had a problem with ketchup going off so I wouldn’t bother if I were you (that’s my mother for you – cavalier as ever, and usually she gets away with it, but I’d advise you to wash and rinse the bottles thoroughly and put them in an oven at 90°C for 10 minutes to make sure they’re sterile before filling them).  Leave for at least 6 months before eating to allow the ketchup to mellow.

Autumn and damsons have definitely come to Treverra

Damson gin – getting eyed up from all sides, I just hope it makes it to next autumn

Damson ketchup – like being a paid assassin, it’s a messy job, but someone’s got to do it…

Sadly, due to damsons’ tannins, the gin and ketchup need to mature for a while before they are fit for consumption.  Luckily, there are a few other Treverra-made treats to sample in the meantime: apple & rosemary jelly, “44” (a Madagascan recipe where you steep an orange, 44 coffee beans, 44 teaspoons of sugar and a few vanilla pods in a litre of gin for about 44 days – if a measure of that doesn’t warm you up in winter, I can only suggest a second, third or even fourth attempt…) and raspberry vinegar.

Typically, this being Cornwall, my cosy, autumnal domestic bliss may be short-lived.  Apparently we are getting an Indian summer on Wednesday, bringing blazing sunshine and temperatures well into the 20s (for a couple of days, anyway).  Which is most excellent news – my damsons are dealt with, the garden’s looking lovely, the pool cover is fixed – bring on the Pimms and a bikini.

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