We are now officially struggling. I'm over my comfort debt threshold (which, truthfully, is 1p in debt, but practically, it means we are 1,500 overdrawn and I fret, I fret). I'm down to the knuckle in terms of what I can spend every week on food, and having to budget in advance for uniform buys and even bus fares. I hate it. A year ago we were flush, I didn't have to think, now I do, every day. I pick away every day at the thought that perhaps I should work too. But I don't want to. Not because I don't *want* to, but because this is son's first year of school, and daughters year of playgroup. I want so much to spend it helping him through it by having tea done for him when gets in, knackered, and shuffling him to bed, happy,through that first year. I know from experience how he chats on the way home from anywhere, and what a kid downlaod time that is. I wouldn't miss it for the world: everything rises up on that long walk home. Who said what, what's bothering him, the lifecycle of earwigs. That's for me, not a childminder, if I can at all help it. And daughter: she never had that one on one time that son had before her noisy arrival. I want this year of time with my daughter before she goes to school, to focus solely on her during the day, to know her a bit more, away from her brother. (This is easier said than done. Being so close, together, they have no need of me and have developed a hive mind). I will cut, cut, cut again to the bone to be at home this year. Not that there are any jobs that suit, anyway.
And to that end, I am foraging and scrimping. The fields at the end of my garden, (soon to be home to 1,000 homes instead of the wheat, Roman remains, Iron age settlements,and wildlife it currently supports) are blessed with loads of blackberries and wild plums,one crabapple, one wild pear, and lots of damson and sloe along the hedgerows. Nobody else seems to pick them, the berries lay heavy on the branch. Just me and kids. It's a true blessing for us, it will furnish us with jam, chutney and soft fruit through the winter, if I get can my vinegar knowledge hat on. This week (and last!) I have collected 10lbs of blackberries, 14 lbs of plums, and 8 dustbin liners of straw leftover after the balers had been and gone. The straw will bed the chickens, the soft fruit has already made 8 pots of plum chutney and 6 bottles of plum ketchup, one blackberry and plum slump, and lots of snacks. However, a dent has not been made. So I intend to make Plum and blackberry chilli chutney, bottle plums and pears, make blackberry wine, and freeze a raft of fruit. The fact remains though, that chutney and preserves will not feed us all Winter, and we will get sick of our runner beans before long. Even the rampant courgettes won't sustain us. I can pot and preserve as much as I like, it won't really help (The chickens must be nervous....) Basically, it is the eighties. I'm poor again, and all I can do is batten down the hatches, love the kids, and hope they don't notice. In a few more months I may be waiting in line at the new Tesco, asking for work. (sob). Or maybe i'll be picketting it. Hope springs.
So, to that end, here's a recipe for spicy plum chutney, which is DELISH with blue cheese and a cracker. This should be made, and left for 4 weeks, or up to 2 years before eating. It's gorgeous, and not at all plummy. It's what I want and hope my kids will be: a lovely fruity, diverse thing born out of adversity.
1.5kg plums, stoned and quartered or more, depending on size
6 shallots, finely chopped
700g dried fruit (I used dried apricots and sultanas)
600g sugar (I used half jam making sugar and half brown)
500ml vinegar (I used cider vinegar, but rice vinegar is also nice)
1 lemon, sliced into 8 slices, then finely chopped. (This adds pectin)
And the spices:
4 sliced cloves garlic
Thumb sized piece of ginger, chopped
Some people stop here, but I also added:
10 black peppecorns
7 juniper berries
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon salt
3 black cardamons, whole (remove after cooking)
2 sticks lemongrass, bashed (remove after cooking)
6 birdseye red chillies, in muslin, whole (remove after cooking)
You can add or subtract spices as you like, I like a fairly hot chutney, and the black cardamons are my secret ingredient, they add a smoky touch to the end product, being quite unlike the green.I'm cooking up a batch as we speak (pictured, top), that has more blackberries, less plums, and star anise in.
Basically, add all the ingredients, bring to boil, then simmer for about 4-5 hours, until you have a nice thick, reduced mixture that parts like the red sea when you draw a spoon across the bottom of the pan. Then cool slightly before pouring into warmed jars (I bake my jars at gas 3 for 10 minutes to sterilise), and sealing. Put them in a dark cupboard and forget about them for 4 weeks, then distribute and eat. I can't tell you how much this makes as I used a hodge podge of old jars, it made 2 large and 4 small the last two times though! Never underestimate how much chutney reduces. I urge you to try your hand at chutney. Nicer than jam, and more useful to the late night snacker. It makes cheese on toast a grand meal. (The picture, right, shows Plum chilli chutney, Plum ketchup, and plum and ginger chutney, and the brownish round fluff you can see at the far left is a hens' arse.)