Tuesday, 31 December 2013

A possible dearth of kingfishers

14th – 28th December were known as the Halcyon Days, a time when the gods ensured calm weather so that the kingfisher - whose old name was halcyon - could hatch her young in peace.

Christ mas tree at twilight
 With the wild and wet weather lately there's bound to be a shortage of kingfishers in 2014, sadly.

So, little opportunity to garden as the weather hasn't allowed and preparations for Christmas have had to take precedent. 

Christmas is always a good excuse to have lots of flowers in the house. The cats have enjoyed investigating the arrangements, knocking the cards down from every possible surface - accidentally of course - and have even helped open presents, especially Estella who has a penchant for paper.

Christmas swag

One can't enjoy gardening and not be an optimist. Winter jasmine and verbena are in full flower and primroses and hellebores are showing the promise of colour to come. Lots of spring bulbs are already making their presence felt and I've had great fun thinking about which plants to buy next year to fill a space previously occupied by a small topiaried holly tree which has gone to the great compost heap in the sky.

Here's to good gardening in 2014
A thought to carry into  2014


Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Quince jelly

For the very first time ever, my six year old quince tree not only flowered but produced fruit this summer. Looking very much like contorted furry pears, I duly picked the golden fruit as directed - in early autumn - with a mix of anticipation and delight.

Quince tree with fruit
The slightly furry fruit smells delicious and on Gardeners' Question Time some while ago garden expert Pippa Greenwood confirmed that she often had a bowl of quinces in her study, simply to scent the room. None of the team were enthusiastic about cooking with quinces alone and recommended adding them to apple recipes to enhance the flavour.

Some years ago I was given a Christmas present of a set quince jelly, known as membrillo which was usually eaten as an accompaniment to cheese. So, last weekend, armed with a substantial trug full of quinces, I determined to have a go at making quince jelly for myself.

Trug of golden quinces
What a palaver!

The fruit had to be peeled - not an easy operation given the shape of the quinces - then quartered, another difficult operation  as the fruit is so hard that my fingers were quite sore after all were finally prepared. They were then boiled for more than an hour to soften the flesh and left to soak in the cooking liquid overnight.

Liquid and chunky flesh were then poured into a jelly bag and left for hours to drain. I had to resist the temptation to help the process along by squeezing the pulp as this would have resulted in a cloudy jelly.
Estella's helping paws

Then, for every 17 fluid ounces of liquid, 12 ounces of sugar had to be added to the pan together with the juice of one lemon, the sugar dissolved and then the syrup boiled for 10 minutes until setting point had been reached.

For all that time and effort I ended up with 6 quite tiny jars of a glorious orange-coloured, clear liquid.
Admiring my handiwork the next morning I tilted a jar, only for the liquid inside to list sharply - the syrup hadn't set firm after all. Disaster!

Nothing daunted, I had to empty the syrup into a clean pan and boil all briskly again, adding the juice of another lemon for good measure. This time all went well. I did have a wonderful, membrillo-like solution which smelled delicious with a fragrant honey flavour, tempered with undertones of summer.

Summer captured in a jar

Sadly, my six jars had dwindled to four, with a small amount left over in a fifth jar. That one will have to be mine. The big decision now is how to decide which of my friends will be fortunate enough to be given a taste of summer in the depths of winter. Will it be you?