First forage for the year

Last week we went for a drive by our favourite fruit foraging spot, just to see how this year’s crop of apples are shaping up. They are shaping up really well, but it will be at least another month before we can start picking.

However, there was something to pick. Tiny plums, the size and colour of cherries. There were just enough plums to make some jam.

A bowl of foraged plums
A bowl of foraged plums

To give the flavour a bit of a boost I added vanilla pods to the pot. Unfortunately I didn’t realise that the pods hadn’t had the seeds scraped out so when I discarded them at the end of the cooking there was quite some consternation in the kitchen. Given the size of the plums I decided to cook them without taking the stones out – too much like hard work. I was pleased that it took very little work to push the pulp through a sieve and remove the stones that way.

I think I have to call the result a ’boutique’ offering, as there was only sufficient jam to fill two small pots.

Feral Plum and Vanilla Jam
Feral Plum and Vanilla Jam

 

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In the bag

Since the ACT government introduced the ban on lightweight plastic shopping bags in November 2011 we have all become used to carrying lots ‘green’ bags when we go shopping. While these are multiple-use jobs, I’ve noticed ours are starting to get rather shabby, starting to tear and look generally ratty.

I know I can just ‘conveniently’ buy another ‘green’ bag the next time I’m at the shops, but I’ve decided to be a bit more proactive and make my own. Heaven knows I have enough fabric in my stash to furnish a large portion of our city’s population with shopping bags.

It’s easy to make a pattern, just pull apart any old ‘green bag’ use the pieces as your pattern and away you go! To be honest I was impressed how well the bag I pulled apart was constructed.

An old 'green' bag pulled apart to be used as a pattern
An old ‘green’ bag pulled apart to be used as a pattern

I made my bag using sturdy furnishing fabric remnants that I bought from the upholstery section of a department store. Curtain shops are also a good place to buy fabric with interesting patterns. You could also use canvas or other heavy cotton drills or denim to make your bag. If you are using remnants and need to sew pieces together to get the right length make sure you reinforce the seams where you’ve joined the fabric.

The construction is pretty straight forward. Follow the construction of the original bag.

  1. Sew you handles to the sides of the bag – remember to do this before you sew the sides of the bag to the gusset – and sew the little loop onto one side on the top edge.
    1. Don’t forget to reinforce where the handles join the top edge of the bag by sewing a ‘X’ across the top of the handle.
  2. Sew the two sides to the gusset, so that the seam is on the outside (right side) of the bag. Trim seam back towards the stitching.
  3. Cover the outward facing seam with a binding that encloses the seam.
  4. Make an insert for the base of the bag. I was trying to work out how I could make the bottom insert, that keeps the bag bottom flat, when I realised a I have lots of left over tapestry (needlepoint) canvas which is perfect for the job.
The insert is made by enclosing a piece of remnant tapestry canvas.
The insert is made by enclosing a piece of remnant tapestry canvas.

At this stage I’m sticking to the standard bag design. The only thing I’m thinking could make the process easier is to get some woven tape to bind the edges, purely because all the fabric on the seams gets a bit bulky to sew.

Here’s the first cab off the rank!

My first shopping bag, a gift for my frend M.
My first shopping bag, a gift for my frend M.

Plum Loco

I hope you had a great Christmas, I can scarcely believe that we are already in to the new year! But even now I can’t take much of a break. You see my friend called me the other day and asked if I wanted some of the plums from her tree – of course the answer was yes. So now I have several kilos of plums to deal with and its a 30 degree plus day here in Canberra.

Having been steadily eating our way through our previous year’s bottlings of jam and preserves I’m in full agreement with TB that we really don’t need much more in the way of jam. But there will be some jam, in this case Plum, Rhubarb and Cherry.

All the ingredients ready to go (please ignore the sweet potatoes they are not part of this recipe!)
All the ingredients ready to go (please ignore the sweet potatoes they are not part of this recipe!)

I found the recipe in my Blue Chair Jam Cookbook. It was quite fortuitous as I often run out of ideas about how to use up all the rhubarb we grow and I still had the left-overs of the cherries I bought at Christmas. In all it made 10 small jars – but I had less fruit that the full recipe called for. Enough for us and our friends to share.

The finished jam
The finished jam

I’m also planning on making some adult-style plum swirl ice-cream. I got this idea from the December issue of New Zealand House and Garden, where they have a recipe for strawberry ripple ice-cream. I plan to substitute my plums for strawberries, which I have flavoured with cinnamon star anise and some dried orange peel to make a more sophisticated take on this dessert.

Theplums with cinnamon, star anise and orange peel, cooked and ready for the next step
Theplums with cinnamon, star anise and orange peel, cooked and ready for the next step

Not to be left out, TB decided he’d grab some plums to make a small bottle of umeshu (plum ‘wine’). This is so basic, just take some plain spirits eg vodka, or in this case some Chinese spirits, wash your fruit, place it in the jar and top with the alcohol. Leave it for several months to a year, in a cool dark spot, for a fruit-flavoured liqueur. We are hoping that this version will take on a pink colour from the plum skins.

Umeshu, in the bottle and just needing some time to develop.
Umeshu, in the bottle and just needing some time to develop.

Lastly I will do what my friend so sensibly suggested. Just stew the remaining fruit up, without sugar. When the cooked fruit is soft weigh, bag and freeze it ready for the time when you feel like making jam or can turn it into a plum tart.