Many cookery and food writers would have people believe that Britain was an austere and grey place in terms of what we ate, until we were introduced to the wonders of french and continental cooking… During and after the war to be sure food was rationed and there were many things which were not available – there are so many stories of young children trying to work out what to do with a banana having never seen one before, because of course our little island was blockaded .
In a book from the 1950’s I’ve found recipes for jams made from loquats, a very uncommon fruit I’d have thought, except people must have had them otherwise why include the recipe?! They are described as ‘another little low-growing apple-y kind of fruit which… makes a delicious and unusual jam’; it’s a simple recipe, fruit, sugar and lemon to make a jelly, which must have an unusual colour!
Barberries too, which are now a very fashionable addition to recipes by Ottolenghi among others, feature in three recipes; to be fair they wouldn’t commonly be used then but the plants were and still are a very common garden shrub – in fact we have several in our garden now… hmmm… just need to wait for them to ripen! They are very prickly plants and a useful intruder deterrent if you grow them along your fences!
Berberis jam – this is one of the neglected and unusual fruits usually grown for ornament alone, but very piquant and palatable: 3lbs barberries, 3lbs sugar. pick the little berries (the coral red kind) from their stalks and put into a stone jar with an equal weight of castor sugar, being very careful that no leaves or spines fall in. Stand the jar in a deep saucepan of boiling water until the is sugar dissolved and barberries quite soft, then remove from the heat and let them steep over night. Next day put them in a preserving pan and boil gently for about 15 minutes when the jam should be clear and setting.
Barberries in bunches – select the largest and most perfect bunches and set aside. Pick the others from their stalks, stew in sufficient water to cover then strain through a hair sieve. return juice to the preserving pan with 1½ lbs of sugar for every pint of juice, then boil and skim as for jelly. Finally drop in the barberries tied in small bunches and cook until quite clear and bright. Pot when the jelly is setting and eat in bunches, spreading the jelly on your bread.
Barberry – This is, to my mind, the most delicious jelly in the whole repertoire of a cook, partaking of the twin flavours of ripe red currants and fresh lemon juice. For its sake it is quite worth growing a whole row of Berberis Wilsonae, quite apart from their own intrinsic magnificence. Take equal quantities of cleaned barberries and loaf sugar. Put the fruit in a stone jar with a tight fitting lid stood in a large pan half full of boiling water. Simmer it for several hours until all the juice is extracted from berries, then strain through a cloth, without mashing, into a preserving pan. Add the hot sugar, bring to the boil and boil hard for ten minutes. Put in small pots and cover at once. It will be the colour of rubies.
These are from Etehlind Fearon’s little book, Jams, Jellies and Preserves. I actually think a microwave might be the way to go for us these days – but when they were making jam over sixty years ago, wouldn’t a Nottingham jar be just the perfect thing?!
Here is a link to my thoughts on Nottingham jars: