Ketching up with the Laundry

I have the hands of a washer woman. I wish I could return them as I would quite like mine back. Although now I come to think of it, they were never that great in the first place. I blame the NHS. My years in Nursing and Midwifery not only robbed me of my youth, thanks to hibiscrub, they robbed me of silken soft skin too.

But I digress. Life aboard Wand’ring Bark has been a mucky business this trip. Partly due to the weather. Partly due to the blackberries. Partly due to the 17 year old packing a pile of dirty or too small clothes. The joys of parenting *sigh* Consequently, laundry was necessary.

I decided to combine it with a spot of Blackberry Ketchup making to liven it up a little. As you do. The Captain and I had picked nearly 1.5 kg in the park besides our mooring at Newark. I needed to do something that didn’t require overnight straining as I have been banned from the galley tomorrow. Something to do with tides and bores and such like? Must be serious as life jackets are being insisted upon.

So Blackberry Ketchup sounded just the thing. Once I’d got it to the simmering stage I dug out the washing which has to be done at the kitchen sink anyway. Within minutes my hands were red raw. By time I’d finished a modest number of smalls and the odd tee shirt I’d rubbed blisters across my knuckles. I’d like to think it is because I was born for better things that my skin is so fine. But we all know that would be a lie. I just need to train the teenagers better. Or invent self-cleaning clothes. Which, frankly, is far more likely!

The ketchup faired rather better. It is not as thick as I imagined it would be and is more like a sauce (next time I shall reduce it for longer), but it tastes lovely and is recommended for cold meats. I rather fancy it at our next barbecue.

No photo yet because I’m without laptop. The battery died and needs recharging but I blew up our inverter trying to whizz up some rosehips with my hand held blender – oops!

Update: Photo!Blackberry Ketchup

1.3kg blackberries

Sugar

1/2 tsp mustard powder

2 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground cloves

600mls cider vinegar

Wash and drain blackberries. Place in pan with enough cold water to come half way up. Cook until soft and juices run – about 30 mins. Mash with a potato masher then press through a sieve and measure the purée. For every 600ml, add 100g of sugar. Return to clean pan with sugar, spices and vinegar. Bring to boil and simmer gently until thick – about 1 hour. Pour into sterilised bottles and seal.

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Massacre in the Galley

You would not believe that multiple homicides had not been committed in my kitchen today.  Really, you wouldn’t.  I have been playing with blackberries.  And elderberries.  And, oh my, the red staining!

The Captain was quite pleased.  You see, I am not known as a tidy cook.  Despite my name.  That will not make sense unless you know me, but no matter.  However, on the boat, I have no option but to clear up as I go along.  The kitchen is simply too small to do otherwise.  Today I have spent what feels like all day, all day I tell you, washing up.  I could easily have been swabbing down after the homicide squad have finished.  Who could have believed that the elderberry, such a small thing, could contain so much juice?  It went everywhere.  I found it on my clothes.  Predictable.  On my arms.  Unsurprising.  My feet.  A little concerning.  Up the walls.  More worrying.  Down the outsides of the boat.  Just bizarre.  But the culinary magic that I have conjured with these berries is a wonder to behold!

Today I had the whole day to cook.  The weather decided to join in.  We cruised along the Trent in sweltering sunshine, all the windows open, melting in the heat.  Not the best day to make jam possibly.  I looked like I had been steamed alive by lunchtime.  Oh.  Wait.  That would be because I was doing my best to replicate those conditions.  The Captain had told me on Monday, that I would have no foraging opportunities during the day as all the locks were manned an it is a tad harder to jump ship on a river.  Especially a rather large one.  Consequently, I foraged like a mad thing yesterday to stockpile ingredients.

The results of all this sweaty laborious effort are:

Rosehip and Bramble Jelly

Blackberry Chutney

Elderberry Pickle

Pontack (elderberry) Sauce

Also, but not yet pictured, Blackberry Vodka, Blackberry Liqueur and Elderberry Balsamic Vinegar.  It has been a long hot sticky day with lots of red.  Everywhere.  But the tastings, the aromas and the meals to come have made and will make it worth it.

Meanwhile, I shall leave you with my recipe for Blackberry Chutney.  I conflated several recipes and ended up with something entirely different.  If you would like any of the others, do let me know.  Enjoy.

Blackberry Chutney

500g blackberries

150g sugar

2 red onions, finely chopped

juice and zest of 1 lemon

3cm fat piece root ginger

2 tbsp Dijon mustard

150mls white wine vinegar

Put all the ingredients except the vinegar into a large pan.  Stir over gentle heat until blackberries burst and juices start to run.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add vinegar and bring mixture to the boil.  Simmer very gently for as long as possible until thick – about 45mins to an hour.  Spoon into sterilised jars and seal.

Trent & Mersey Towpath Jam

Saturday night we moored at Armitage, just north of the toilet factory. I love that place. The way the toilet bowls are all lined up along the back fence. The way scintillating conversation vanishes down the pan as lavatorial puns abound and we hurry past with no time to loos. Sorry. Had to be done.

Flushed with success (ok, I’ll stop now) over my dewberry moment on Sunday, I was not expecting more. Indeed, I was happy with my lot. I would have been quite content to let the Dewberry Jelly drip overnight and jam it this morning. But this is August the hedgerows are teeming. During the course of the day I had the opportunity to effect my Standing on the Roof of your Narrowboat gathering method for some wild plums which were perfectly ripe.

We ate probably more than we should have done and the rest I set aside for jam and Rumtopf. Then there were the enormous rosehips of the Japanese Rose. If Carlsberg made rosehips, then they would definitely make them like this. Obviously I found dewberries and blackberries. But what most surprised was that the elderberries were beginning to ripen. I found enough inky black ones to throw into my jam.

I needed apples too but our Bramley apple tree had shaken its branches before we left home and I had gathered a bagful of windfalls to bring with me.  As jams go, it is very tasty.  Particularly as by making it two parts the boat was filled with the scent of rosehips, apples and plums one day, then blackberries and elderberries the next.  Divine.

Trent & Mersey Towpath Jam

225g Japanese Rosehips

450g Wild Plums

900g Windfall Apples / Crab Apples

300g Blackberries & Elderberries

450g Sugar

Wash fruit.  Put rosehips, plums and chopped apples (skins & cores) into a preserving pan.  Add water to cover (about 1.2 litres) and cook slowly until the fruit is tender.  Strain in a scalded jelly bag overnight.  Return strained liquid to pan with blackberries & elderberries.  Add sugar and heat gently stirring all the time until sugar has dissolved.  Bring to a fast boil and boil until setting point is reached – about 10 to 15 mins.  Pour into sterilised jars and seal.

Wand’ring Bark Rumtopf

I am very excited.  It does not take much as has been noted before.  I have been watching a Rumtopf Jar on Ebay and it is due to end this evening.

The tension is almost too much to bear.  I have not placed my bid yet.  My ebay technique is to watch like a hawk, should a hawk ever browse ebay that is.  Then I swoop down, more hawk metaphors, and fling my bid in at the last-minute with the maximum I am prepared to spend.  As techniques go it is not a bad one, though I suspect real hawks may do better.  After all, one never sees them complaining about the ebay items that got away.

Anyway, anyway, anyway.  I have been keeping my beady eye fixed on ebay ever since I started Wand’ring Bark‘s Rumtopf during our Droitwich trip.  It was one of the things I decided had to be done with the vast quantities of cherry plums I acquired.  Only as a rumtopf virgin I did not realise that size really does matter.  I am not known as a mathematician.  Sums and numbers, I leave to the Captain.  However, I do think he could have pointed out to me that my 2 litre kilner jar was never going to fit the kilo of fruit, 500g of sugar and 2 litres of rum I was trying to fit in it.  I know, I know, it should have been obvious.  But like I said, I am not good with numbers.  Or sums.  Just ask any of my previous maths teachers.  They probably still shudder.  So instead of pointing the obvious out, the Captain sat back and sniggered at my vain attempts.  His defence?  It was good entertainment.  Hummphff.

Clearly, I was not going to get everything in my jar so compromise was in order.  I layered fruit.  First red cherry plums.  Then blackberries.  Next yellow cherry plums.  So far so good.  Finally I added wild raspberries.  It was looking very pretty.  At this point I poured in the sugar and my jar was already three-quarters full.  This did not bode well for the rum.  I probably managed to squeeze in just under a litre.  This was the compromise.  I decided getting a larger pot at a later date was always an option.

Which brings me back to my exciting evening of ebay watching.  I want this particular jar because it is big.  I have a LOT more rum to add.  I am also hoping to add fruit on every trip we take until the autumn.  So it will be a truly boating rumtopf.   I also want it because it is blue.  And for those who have watched Dougal and the Blue Cat:

you will understand that blue is beautiful, blue is best.  It appeals to the girly in me because it is the right blue to match my kitchen.  But most of all I want it because it will arrive in time for our trip to the Huddersfield Canal later this month.  Then it will live aboard, as I flit about the hedgerows gathering fruit hither and thither and tossing my bounty into its vast innards until the day it is ready to spew forth its contents in a delicious orgy of tipsy berries and alco-frolick nectar.  Yum.  Though I may have to work on my metaphors …

Update:

I won!  Got it 🙂

Foraging Heaven or Netherwich (Droitwich) Basin

We arrived in Netherwich Basin, situated in the centre of Droitwich, yesterday soon after lunch.

The Captain had been itching to try out the newly opened Droitwich canal since he first heard about it and was a tad narked that we could not get there for the grand opening at the weekend.  Travelling in the opposite direction were a steady stream of boaters that he recognised from his blog.  The general impression seemed to be positive.  A bit of tweaking required here and there, but basically a wonderful new addition to the waterways.

Well, all this boaty talk was all very well and I was interested to a point.  But I could only muster enthusiasm for a short while before my attention wandered to the hedgerows.  Along the new stretch, there were no hedgerows yet to speak of.  Give it time.  I fully expect them to be abundant with exciting species soon enough.  I am confident because once under the low, make that very low, M5 bridge (actually we had 3″s to spare) we joined old Droitwich Barge Canal there were many exciting things to see.  Most thrilling were the wild plum trees which seem to line this stretch.

However, these were nothing compared to the delights waiting in the Basin.  Having moored on the new pontoons we took a walk into the town for a look around.  I was armed with my foraging basket and the Captain with his camera.  I had already scouted out a Wild Cherry Tree and some more Japanese Rosehips so went prepared.

To my delight and astonishment, we discovered a mini grove of Cherry Plum Trees growing wild!  The fruit was perfectly ripe, with both yellow and red available, and they pretty much fell into my basket.

I was enraptured.  We also found a bank of ripe brambles which seems ridiculously early but to pass them by on that pretext would have been rude.

Carrying my goods back to the boat was not easy (but look how pretty they were!).

Nor was dealing with all the fruit.  But breakfasting this morning on newly baked bread, butter and very fresh wild cherry plum jam was extremely delicious.

It is also very satisfying knowing that I picked enough fruit for eight jars of yellow Cherry Plum Jam, seven jars of Red Cherry Plum Jam, two large jars of Cherry Plum Gin, I large jar of Wild Cherry Brandy and 1 medium jar of Bramble Whisky.

This evening we are moored in Worcester.  Tomorrow, we shall be back in Droitwich and I shall make a return to the Cherry Plum Trees as I have plans to make some Plum ‘beena :o)