Raspberry (or blackberry) cordial

'Aspiring' raspberries.

‘Aspiring’ raspberries.

One of the pleasures of making your own cordials is that you know exactly what’s in them (no artificial flavours or sweeteners, for starters). You can also make them as sweet or as sour as you like, and dilute them to your liking with water or sparkling soda water (or champagne for special occasions).

My Mum, Marjorie, isn’t a hugely keen gardener but she sure has the knack with raspberries. She has a big wild bed of dual-cropping ‘Aspiring’ raspberries (as well as grapes and blueberries) in an old shadecloth-covered grow house. Mum freezes at least 10kg of berries each year, enough to supply us all with jam, raspberry shortcakes and this lovely cordial. You can also use this, undiluted, as a wonderful zingy berry sauce for ice cream sundaes or drizzled over a fresh fruit salad.

Ingredients: 500g raspberries, fresh or frozen; 500g sugar; 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Method: Place the berries, sugar and vinegar in a small pot with a couple of tablespoons of water. Heat gently, mashing until juicy, for 10 minutes, but don’t boil. (If you boil it, you’ll end up with jam.) Strain the liquid through
a sieve, pressing the pulp with a spoon to extract all the juice. Then mix the sieved pulp with 1 cup boiling water, bring to a simmer, and strain again. Discard pulp. (By doing this, you’ll end up with very little seedy waste) Return liquid to the pot; simmer for 2 minutes, then bottle. Keep in the fridge.

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Summer preserving: Damson gin

Make your own Damson gin.

Make your own Damson gin.

Drunk plums: it just doesn’t get better than that!

It’s easy to steep the small, sour, purple fruit of ‘Damson’ plums (and other small stonefruit, such as cherries) in booze. Just wipe their skins clean, prick them once with a kebab stick, and pack into large glass preserving jars. For every litre jar of plums, add up to 1 cup sugar (just shake it into the jar to fill up the gaps between the plums). Then top up with cheap gin. Steep for at least three months, shaking every few days until all the sugar has dissolved.

After six months or so, strain and taste. If the liqueur isn’t smooth enough for your liking, add a little extra sugar syrup. Then devour the wrinkly plums: they’re wonderful served with a creamy rice pudding for a decadent dessert, or on your winter porridge, or drained, patted dry and dipped in melted chocolate for homemade truffles.

Damson gin is one of my favourite things to have in the pantry, not least because a bottle of plonk makes a fabulous (and almost universally appreciated) emergency gift when you need one for a dinner party, forgotten birthday or anniversary… and you can’t be bothered driving to the shops.

Summer preserving: Peach & vanilla spread (with honey if desired)

Bottled peach, vanilla and honey spread: delicious on hot, buttery crumpets.

Bottled peach, vanilla and honey spread: delicious on hot, buttery crumpets.

At my preserving workshop at Palmers garden centre in Bethlehem, I promised to share the recipes we demonstrated. Thanks for your patience, and without further ado, I shall post them here. (Probably one at a time, because the kids are outside playing in the compost heap and can’t be trusted not to stray into the pumpkin patch and wreak havoc…)

No-added sugar peach & vanilla spread
Peel and slice ripe, but firm peaches. Pack into preserving jars with screw-on seals and bands. Top with boiling water (peaches are sweet enough to preserve without using sugar syrup). Screw on the seals gently. Submerge in a large, deep pot of boiling water so that the tops of the jars are about an inch under the surface. Simmer for 20 minutes or so (when they are cooked, you’ll see the bubbles rising inside the jar). Remove from the water bath and carefully screw the lids up tightly. When you want to make a peach spread for your toast, open a jar, strain off the liquid, then puree the fruit with a hand-held blender. Add a teaspoon of vanilla paste (not cheap extract) and bring to the boil in a small pot. This is scrummy as a spread on buttered crumpets… and even more delicious if you melt a couple of tablespoons of your favourite honey into the mix. Spoon into a jam jar and store in the fridge; the honey sets the preserve when cold.