At first glance it might seem that I am just a happy, normal girl who loves to bake and walk her dog. However, I have suffered with an eating disorder since I was 13. It was only in May 2014 when I realised that this Voice in my head was slowly but surely trying to kill me. And so began the long, hard, and painful journey which is recovery...

I want My Cocoa Stained Apron to be a special place...a place for reflection, memories, shared stories...and of course a little bit of cocoa-staining ;) Recovery might be the hardest thing you ever choose to do in this life. But it is also the bravest and best decision you will ever make.:)

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

summer's first batch of jam...

It's that time of year again my friends...
The sun is shining, the birds are singing...but lo and behold, there is another noise that one only really hears at this time of the year. It's the sound of Ganache-Elf picking blackcurrants. Yep, I freely admit I am no singer - but when it comes to berry-picking I just can't help myself. There is just something so, so rewarding about picking berries. Even if after a few minutes your back starts to ache and your head itches because of those pesky midges. And so while I am happily plucking and picking away and getting my hands all purple with berry juice, I often just can't resist bursting into song. You see not only is berry-picking a joy in becomes even more of a joy when you have a very special purpose in mind for those berries.
I remember it as if it were yesterday...the day I made my first batch of jam. It wasn't blackcurrant though believe it or not. My next door neighbour brought me round a huge glut of homegrown raspberries which he had been given as a gift, but didn't really want. Now I can easily eat raspberries, and strawberries for that matter, raw. I love them and could easily eat them like sweets, handful by greedy handful. I sampled a few of the plumpous fruits once my neighbour had assured me for the hundredth time he did not want them. Immediately, a burst of fruity sweet deliciousness burst forth upon my tongue. They were amazing. But...there were so many of them. And some were already going mommy and overripe. How on earth was I going eat all of these? And then...I had a brainwave. I hastily reached for my apron and wooden spoon...
And so that's how I entered into the wonderful world of jam-making. Once you've tasted homemade jam, you will want to taste it again, believe me: shopbought just can't match that fruity, sweet, irresistible flavour. I got about four pots of jam from that luscious crop of juicy raspberries. But I didn't maintain that number for long, of course. 
Unfortunately, I haven't been able to make raspberry jam since then. If raspberries were cheap and easy to get hold of, of course, then I would be making it by the bucketful: but in Ireland, unfortunately, this is not the case, and if one were to go out and buy the required quantity of raspberries for a few batches of jam, well, let's just say the shopping bill wouldn't come out exactly cheap, anyway. But...don't worry, all was not lost. Unbeknownst to me, my neighbour has had, for a few years, a load of berry bushes growing rather haphazardly in his back garden...not raspberries or strawberries, no, but blueberries, gooseberries, and, best of all...blackcurrants.
Now raw blackcurrants are nothing special, it is true...but, when made correctly with the correct quantity of sugar they make the most beautiful, beautiful jam. On lamenting the fact that I was unable to commence with any more jam production due to lack of suitable fruit, my wonderful neighbour thoughtfully enlightened me on his own berry bushes, telling me he was uncertain as to whether I could utilise any of those for further jam making. My heart skipped a beat. Blackcurrant that would be something. Next to raspberry, it is most definitely my favourite flavour of jam...and absolutely nothing could possibly rival it for spreading on toast, dolloping on rice pudding, or smothering lavishly over scones, teacakes, buns, and such like.
And so what started off as an experimental endeavour in order to try and use up a glut of extra fruit developed into a yearly ritual for Ganache-Elf. Yes, I did indeed hurry out to pick those blackcurrants - a process which in itself cannot be completed in a hurry, but, as I've outlined above, is for me a pleasure rather than a chore, despite the scratchiness and the acheing and the risk of embarassing oneself due to the poor quality of one's own singing. Anyway, to return to the point, I picked the berries at my lesiure, returned to the kitchen, and set about making my first batch of blackcurrant jam...and yes, since that summer - I'd say it was abbout three years ago, at a guess - I have been making blackcurrant jam every year. And have been blissfully happy in doing so; as I have been equally as satisfied with the results.
Ok ok ok.....if you are like, really really houseproud (or sorry, perhaps kitchen proud would be a more suitable term here.) perhaps jam-making is not for you. It's soooo messy, well blackcurrant jam is anyway. As you can see from the pic above. It spits when it's cooking for one thing, splattering the walls (and you, quite possibly, so please, do wear an apron as the stains are annoyingly difficult to get rid off once they're there) and the hob and anything else that happens to be in firing range as it does so. And when it comes to pouring into the jars...well, I find it easier to transfer the mixture into a jug first, then into the sterilised jars...but still, all in all it still is pretty messy and by the time you're done chances are your kitchen surfaces will look as if a three-year-old was attempting to paint them purple or something. 
But please, please, please, if you can, don't let thoughts of sticky treacley messiness put you off making your own blackcurrant jam. Honestly, it really is worth all that scrubbing and cleaning and fairy washing-up liquid that will be required afterwards...and not only that, jam-making is so fun. There's something wonderfully theraputic about it all - apart from actually picking the berries themselves, the stirring and the labelling of the jars and so forth. jam makes great gifts, too - along with cakes, a little pot of my homemade jam always makes a very welcome gift amongst my friends and family. It's funny, but even though of course I can only make it during the summer when the berries make themselves available, I've become almost as "famous" for my jam as I am for my baking. And, just like baking...jam-making need not remain an unfathomable mystery to you. And as the jam-maker, you and only you can reserve the right to clean the saucepan and measuring jug once your jam is jarred and safely sealed...oh yes, there is something extremely theraputic about jam-making, indeed. ;)
Anyway, I think it is only right I share with you my recipe for my favourite ever jam :) it makes about 4 small pots, but can be easilt doubled or tripled if you are lucky enough to have that many berries at your disposal. 
  • 450 g blackcurrants
  • 1 kg granulated sugar
  • 1 pint/300 ml (or a teency bit less...,it's no exact science ;)water.
First wash your berries and remove any stalks. Do try when you are picking the berries to pluck them off the bushes without taking the stalks off too, because then it makes it very tedious and irritating to have to pick them off at a later stage. Pop them into a big saucepan with the pint of water and then bring to the boil over a medium heat, stirring well every now and again - you don't have to do it continuously, but don't leave it unattended, that said. I usually multi-task when I'm jam-making - I might be icing buns or something, say, while at the same time I can still stop to tend to the jam. Put a little saucer in the freezer.
When the berries are boiling, turn down the heat to low-medium and simmer for half an hour, stirring every now and again as before. Once the 30 mins are up add the sugar, bring to the boil once more, and simmer for another 10 minutes. 
Now for the setting test. I am sure jam-makers are well familiar with this, but just in case you aren't let me just briefly explain. That little saucer you put in the freezer is not only a useful way of cooling down a jam sample so you can taste it for yourself you see. ;p) no, this is what is going to help you to determine whether your jam is set or not. Put a small blob of jam on this saucer and then wait a minute before pushing it gently with your finger. Can you see a little "wrinkle" on the surface of the jam blob as you push it? If you can, this means your jam is ready! :)But if not...simmer it again for a few minutes and then try again.
And then once you're happy enough...pour the jam into a big measuring jug (the messy part ;) ), and then pour into the sterilised jars (I sterilise my jars by washing them in really hot soapy water, drying them and then heating them for about 20 minutes in the oven at 120c.) They don't need to go into the fridge until they're opened. One they're opened, the jam does keep in the fridge in its jar for a good few weeks, so don't worry too much about that. But once opened it never lasts that long anyway. ;)

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