Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Raspberry Conserve

Raspberry Conserve
If, like me, you grow your own fruit in the south of England, you may be experiencing a mild bout of panic as all of our fruits seem to be ready at once this year.  Normally we can confidently expect to be picking gooseberries, followed by strawberries, then raspberries.  Well, not this year.  Strawberries were an incredible three weeks early, gooseberries seemed to appear at about the right time but, judging by mine, will not fruit into August as normal.  The bushes hang heavy with the golden globes more associated with late gooseberries, and it isn't even the end of June yet.  As for summer raspberries, I'm picking several pounds every couple of days and my autumn raspberries are already starting to fruit too.  Help!

If you don't grow your own you will think this is a nice problem to have.  If you know a grower, ask how their raspberries are doing.  They don't keep well and believe me they will be happy to give some away this year.  So what to do once you've had your fill of just-picked rasps?  Well, you can make a light sugar syrup and add the raspberries for a 30 second 'cook'.  Then they'll survive in the fridge for 2-3 days and be delicious with yoghurt.  Or you can go the whole hog and turn them into 'jam', or better still 'conserve'. 

There is a difference between the two, although there is no absolute definition of a conserve.  For me it means a higher fruit content than a jam and consequently a looser set.  The fruit is steeped in the sugar before cooking and the resultant conserve tastes more intensely of the fruit and has a great colour.  It will not keep quite as long as a jam but if you sterilise your jars properly this conserve should keep for at least 6 months in a dark cupboard.  It will taste so much better than jam that it won't stay on your shelf anyway.  Once opened, keep in the fridge and use within 4 weeks.

This recipe is both quick and easy.  Even though raspberries are supposed to be a fruit naturally low in pectin, I find there's no need to add commercial pectin for this recipe.  A little lemon juice provides the necessary acidity.  The ratio is two-to-one fruit to sugar and I use a jar as my measure.  You can make as little or as much as you like but I have given the recipe based on four jars of fruit.  Conserve/jam making is not an exact science.  Pectin levels in fruit vary depending on type and ripeness - the riper the fruit the lower the pectin levels.

Once your jars have cooled, on tilting, if the contents appear looser than you would like, don't worry, just label it 'compote' and enjoy it as a dessert.  Opening a jar of this preserve in the depths of winter is far more rewarding than digging a bag of raspberries out of the freezer.

Raspberry Conserve
4 Jars of raspberries
2 jars of caster or granulated sugar
2 teaspoons of lemon juice

Empty four jars of raspberries into a large heavy-bottomed pan. Add two jars of sugar and leave to macerate for 30 minutes or so.  Wash your jars and lids in clean soapy water and rinse.  Place the jars in an oven at 160C for 10 minutes to sterilise them.  Remove them and leave to cool.  Place a saucer in your ice-box/freezer to use for testing the jam set.

Bring the contents of the pan to the boil on a fairly high heat, stirring from time to time to ensure the sugar doesn't burn on the bottom of the pan.  Skim off the pink foam which gathers round the edges of the pan and boil until the bubbles become a little thicker in consistency - this could be in as little as 10-15 minutes.  Lift the pan off the heat and take your saucer from the ice-box/freezer.  Place a small dollop of the mixture onto the saucer and leave for 1 minute before moving the mixture with a finger. You're not looking so much for a wrinkling, as you would with a jam but more of a containment.  If it's runny, place the pan back on a high heat for another couple  of minutes and repeat the test.  Take the pan off the heat and stir in 2 teaspoons of lemon juice.  Fill your jars and screw the tops on tightly - careful the jars are hot!  Label and feel self-satisfied.