When I was researching skillet cornbread recipes online, I learned that there are some strong beliefs about what is and isn’t ‘proper’ skillet cornbread. There are lots of heated debates going on on some food blogs!
Some people are purists, saying that it’s made with just cornmeal, buttermilk and egg in a smoking skillet with bacon grease; no wheat flour and no ‘extras’! Others see nothing wrong with adding sugar, corn kernels, jalapeños, avocado, bacon, cheese, honey…
Maybe it’s because I’m not an American from the Deep South, I’m not averse to adding a few extras. I also like slicing it horizontally while it’s still warm and slathering it with butter. Is that wrong or do they do that in Louisiana too?
I’ve preserved all our other allotment and foraged fruit in one way or another – raspberry jelly, redcurrant relish, rose hip syrup. I thought this time I’d give canned blackcurrants a go. Home canning (in glass jars that is!) is much more popular in the US than it is here in the UK, but I’ve always fancied giving it a go.
Canning, according to Wikipedia, “Is a method of preserving food in which the food contents are processed and sealed in an airtight container. Canning provides a shelf life typically ranging from one to five years, although under specific circumstances it can be much longer.”
Some websites I’ve visited say you need special equipment; a big stove-top canner – much like a pressure cooker – for starters. A jar rack, jar lifter, funnel… In practice, the only foodstuffs that need to be canned in a high pressure canner are meat, seafood, dairy and most vegetables (sweet tasting ones such as carrots, beetroot, sweetcorn, peas and beans). Fruit (which is what I’ll mainly be canning) and acidic vegetables can be done using the water bath method in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. It’s not absolutely necessary for them to reach the 116-130ºC temperature necessary for the first group of foods.
I used utensils I already had to hand. Aforementioned heavy bottomed pan. A jam thermometer to be perfectly sure the water bath got to the optimum temperature. A funnel to make sure the little berries didn’t bounce all over the floor and under the kitchen cabinets as I tried to pour them into the jars. A wire cooling rack to keep the jars from rattling against the bottom of the saucepan during boiling. A pair of tongs to lift the jars out of the hot water. Some vintage Mason-type jars with new rubber seals. It is important that jars are in perfect condition with no chips or ill-fitting lids. If they aren’t they won’t be air-tight and contents will spoil and may prove a health risk!
At least 500g freshly picked blackcurrants. Use only perfect fruit - no bruised, over-ripe berries need apply!
For the sugar syrup
1 part sugar to 2.5 parts water (e.g. 200g granulated sugar to 500ml water)
Sterilise the jars & lids - you can do this by putting them into a large saucepan and covering them with water and bringing it to the boil. Once it boils, turn off the heat and leave them in the hot water until you're ready to use them
Top & tail and rinse the fruit well in a colander
Decant the fruit into the sterilised jars (using a funnel if you have one). Leave a space of about 2.5cm/1inch from the rim of the jar
Put your sugar and water into a medium-sized saucepan over a medium heat
Stir until all the sugar has dissolved. Turn off the heat
Carefully pour the hot sugar syrup over the fruit - enough to completely cover the fruit but leaving a gap of 1.25cm/½inch to the rim of the jar
Remove any air bubbles using a plastic or wooden knife (like the ones you get from a take-away)
Screw the lids onto the jars firmly, but not too tightly
Put a wire cooling rack into the base of a large heavy-bottomed saucepan (if you don't have one or the one you have doesn't fit - use a folded tea towel)
Put the jars into the saucepan and fill the saucepan with enough hot water to completely cover the jars by at least 2.5cm/1inch. Make sure there's at least 5cm/2inches gap to the top of the saucepan; if there isn't you'll need a larger pan
Put a lid on the saucepan
Bring the water to a low, rolling boil. Once it gets to this point, boil at this level for a further 15 minutes
Turn off the heat and carefully remove the jars using a jar lifter or metal tongs
Put the jars on a thick tea towel or wire rack to cool. The lids on the jars should be concave and should not move when pressed down with your finger. If one of your jars has not formed a vacuum - just refrigerate and use it's contents within a week
Label, date and store the jars in a cool, dry, dark place. The fruit will store for at least next year when you can do it all over again! :-)
This recipe will work for any kind of similar fruit - redcurrants, white currants, bilberries, blueberries etc.
We needed a lemon last week for a gnocci dish. We didn’t have any in the house so I popped over to the supermarket quickly to get one. All they had were those string bags containing 4 lemons – they’d run out of the loose ones.
A week later, our fruit bowl still contained 3 lemons – just sitting there – what to do with them? I had a flick through some lemon recipes and saw one for lemon refrigerator cookies. The great thing about refrigerator cookies is that you can bake off just what you need. Say goodbye to stale teatime snacks!
If you fancy them again a few days later, just cut some more slices from the roll – fresh, warm cookies in 15 minutes flat!
I must confess, I have a soft spot for a Warburton’s Toastie. I love that first, fresh crust slice with just a thin scraping of butter (only Lurpak will do!). A couple of soft white slices from a ‘bought that day’ loaf, spread with some crunchy peanut butter and half a sliced banana… divine!
This spelt cereal loaf – I borrowed a recipe from Country Bread by Linda Collister & Anthony Blake – is a much more healthy option than most loaves of bread you’d buy in the supermarket. Spelt flour has more protein and a little less calories than regular wheat flour. The added oats, bran, wheatgerm and sunflower seeds crank the nutritional value up to the max.
Justin enjoyed a few slices today with a bit of pate. I fancy a cheese & Branston pickle doorstop!
In a large mixing bowl, mix the flours with the cereals, seeds and salt
Make a well in the centre
Put the yeast into a measuring jug and make into a smooth liquid with a little of the water and pour into the well in the flour
Add the olive oil and remainder of the water
Gradually work the dry mixture into the liquid to make a soft, slightly sticky dough - it should not stick to the bowl or your fingers, so add a little more water if necessary
Turn out onto a floured work surface and knead well for 10 minutes
Return the dough to the bowl and cover with a damp tea towel or put the bowl into a large plastic bag and close tightly
Leave to prove at room temperature until the dough has doubled in size - about 2 hours
Knock back the risen dough with your knuckles to deflate it, then turn out onto a work surface
Pat out into a rectangle the length of your banneton or greased tin before putting it into the container
Cover and leave to rise again until almost double in size - 1-1½ hours
Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 220ºC/425ºF/Gas mark 7
Uncover the dough (if using a banneton, carefully tip the dough out on to a greased baking sheet) and bake for 35 minutes until it turns golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom of the loaf
Cool on a wire rack for at least half an hour before slicing & serving