Conserves, preserves and jam

As my we were tootling along somewhere, for no remembered reason, we began to talk about jam… maybe we had started by talking about marmalade, the making of which we are experts, or maybe it was something else which triggered the conversation, but we began to wonder what the difference was between preserves and conserves and how they were different from jams. I knew I had looked at this before and had a guess that is was maybe the amount of fruit to sugar, or the size or sort of fruit…

here is what the Kilner (Kilner jar people) site says about it:

The main distinguishing factors between these preserves are:

  • The fruit used
  • The size of the fruit pieces
  • The addition or omission of flavourings
  • The procedure used to process the fruit and sugar mix

There is a marvellous little book, ‘Jams, Jellies and Preserves – How To make Them’ by Ethelind Fearon, first published in 1953 which has a really interesting introduction. It’s interesting for two reasons – one it has some great recipes and helpful advice, and secondly it’s an insight into how basic cooking has changed.

In talking about pectin, Ethelind reminds us that the most usual test for the amount of pectin in fruit is the methylated spirits test – I don’t suppose many of us have methylated spirits in our houses any more – maybe in the remote corner of the garage or garden shed, but in the kitchen? I don’t think so!

She also mentions that in the old days (the old days for her would have been way before the war) ‘old paper dipped in brandy was used for sealing the jars. This is now rather expensive…‘  Ethelind also reveals that many of her recipes came from a handwritten book of her grandmother’s; as Ethelind was born in 1878, her grandmother must have been born between fifty and sixty years before. here is what grandma said about sealing jam pots:

Observe to keep all wet sweetmeats in a dry cool place, for a wet damp place will make them mould and a hot dry place will dry up the virtue and make them candy. The best direction I can give is to dip writing paper in brandy, and lay it close to your sweetmeats, tie them down well with white paper and two folds of thick cap paper to keep out the air for nothing can be a greater fault than bad tying down and leaving the pots open.

In the ‘older days’ of course, people would have relied on their preserves to last them over the winter – no fridges, freezers or supermarkets!

Going back to the different types of preserves, here is a list:

  • jams – small or chopped or mashed fruit and sugar
  • jellies – fruit and sugar cooked and strained so there are no bits
  • preserves – whole fruit or large pieces and sugar
  • conserves – high fruit content, often with added dried fruit, nuts, etc, similar consistency to jam
  • marmalades – mixed citrus fruit and often with chopped or sliced peel, and sugar
  • fruit butters – puréed cooked fruit and less sugar, soft and spreadable – they don’t keep well so have to be eaten quickly – oh good!
  • curds/cheeses –  fruit, sugar, butter and eggs, and as with butters, and have to be eaten quickly

Here is a link to the Kilner jar site:

A tale of spring

We’ve had such a lovely day, it really seems spring is with us! here are some lines from John Clare, the Shepherds Calendar for March:

March month of ‘many weathers’ wildly comes

And where the stunt bank fronts the southern sky
By lanes or brooks where sunbeams love to lye
A cowslip peep will open faintly coy
Soon seen and gathered by a wandering boy
A tale of spring around the distant haze
Seems muttering pleasures wi the lengthening days
Morn wakens mottled oft wi may day stains
And shower drops hang the grassy sprouting plains
And on the naked thorns of brassy hue
Drip glistning like a summer dream of dew
While from the hill side freshing forest drops
As one might walk upon their thickening tops
And buds wi young hopes promise seemly swells
Where woodman that in wild seclusion dwells
Wi chopping toil the coming spring deceives
Of many dancing shadows flowers and leaves
And in his pathway down the mossy wood
Crushes wi hasty feet full many a bud

Spring cleaning… do I have to?

As it’s the vernal equinox, and I guess the first day of spring, and as I seem to have neglected housework in favour of writing maybe I should properly think about doing a traditional spring clean. The inner child in me whines ‘do I have to?’… and yes maybe I do, because our house really is lacking a bit of love and attention. I actually don’t remember my mum having a session of spring cleaning, she just did the housework as far as I recall, but maybe she did and just didn’t make a fuss of it!

Consulting Ruth Drew’s ‘The Happy Housewife’, I find pages and pages of helpful hints and instructions… ‘with spring cleaning on the map, it is necessary to sit down with a pencil and make a proper plan of campaign. it pays hand over fist, especially if you have other things to do beside housework…‘ Well, yes, I do have other things to do!

Luckily one of the first things Ruth suggests is that you ‘don’t try to do too much in a rush,’ and suggests its spread over several weeks – would several months be ok, Ruth?

She mentions chimney sweeps and clutter, comfortable shoes and handcream and of course, a dust-preserving handkerchief tied round the head! … and then has paragraphs on specific areas of spring clean need:

  • cupboards, selves and drawers
  • paintwork, carpets and rugs, upholstery and floors
  • turning out rooms, cornices, alabaster, glass, plastic, parchment, silk, rayon, nylon, paper buckram
  • general points including lampshades and lamps
  • curtains – brocades and damasks, chintz – both permanently and non-permanently glazed, cottons, Holland blinds, muslin and lace, net, rayon, terylene, velvet, washable velveteens and chenilles and similar

A Cavern That Overlooks the River Avon

When I was growing up in Cambridge, we had local giants, Gog and Magog, or maybe it was a single giant Gogmagog after whom some low chalky hills were named… or so I always believed and so we learnt in our local history lessons when I was at junior school.  However there is also a Biblical connection, but Gog was the giant and Magog was his land…

Now we live near Bristol, it seems there were giants here too, Goram and Ghyston, or Vincent, who lived in a cave in the Avon Gorge… you can still see the cave today, but here is a poem by Robert Southey, who lived from 1774 to 1843; he was born in Bristol and obviously knew the legends:

For a Cavern that Overlooks the River Avon

Enter this cavern, Stranger! Here, awhile
Respiring from the long and steep ascent,
Thou mayst be glad of rest, and haply too
Of shade, if from the summer’s westering sun
Sheltered beneath this beetling vault of rock.
Round the rude portal clasping its rough arms,
The antique ivy spreads a canopy,
From whose gray blossoms the wild bees collect
In autumn their last store. The Muses love
This spot; believe a Poet who hath felt
Their visitation here. The tide below,
Rising or refluent, scarcely sends its sound
Of waters up ; and from the heights beyond,
Where the high-hanging forest waves and sways,
Varying before the wind its verdant hues,
The voice is music here. Here thou mayst feel
How good, how lovely. Nature! And when, hence
Returning to the city’s crowded streets,
Thy sickening eye at every step revolts
From scenes of vice and wretchedness, reflect
That Man creates the evil he endures.

Robert Southey

Her is what the cave looks like:

Jules Verne and the Mole Man of Hackney

While I was doing the ironing this morning I was listening to a programme on the radio called ‘To the ends of the earth: lost worlds, new worlds’ ; it was an introduction to a series of programmes about exploration and the history of exploration, including a dramatisation of Jules Verne’s ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth.’ It was a fascinating programme which you can hear on the link below.

It did not just discuss Verne and his other books (including ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ – and a visit to the submarine museum in Portsmouth) but also other ‘exploration’ books of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. I was an avid reader of all these sort of books, so it was particularly interesting to hear them discussed, the Victoria adventurer writers, H.G.Wells, Mary Shelley (who was earlier actual in fact) , Conan Doyle, and of course Rider Haggard, my particular favourite. The programme discusses the ‘lost world’ genre of writing, which is still popular today, especially in science fiction and movies like the Indiana Jones series and the Mummy series.

I was surprised at how early Verne was writing – I think I knew but had forgotten; he was born in 1828 and his books and stories were published from the 1860’s. Rider Haggard whose work is also explored in detail in the programme was born in a different generation, in 1856.

To find out more I went on the programme page on the BBC site, and there was a little quiz about underworld and undersea exploration, and there was a mention of the Mole Man of Hackney. Intrigued by this I looked him up; not a fictional character but a real person, a somewhat eccentric person, William Lyttle, who took to excavating beneath his own house in Hackney and digging tunnels in all directions, much to the alarm of his neighbours. There seemed no purpose for his tunnels and he caused a huge amount of damage – but he did become a bit of a celebrity. He died in 2009 having spent forty years digging… Poor neighbours!

Here is a link to the Mole Man:

… and here are links to the BBC pages:

When daisies pied and violets blue

I saw some violets yesterday, they were just growing on a grassy bank, a whole crowd of them in the sunshine, and i was reminded of the old flower seller who used to sit in Petty Cury in Cambridge calling ‘Vi’lets! Lovely vi’lets! Vi’lets! Lovely vi’lets!

When daisies pied and violets blue

When daisies pied and violets blue
And lady-smocks all silver-white,
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
Do paint the meadows with delight,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he,
Cuckoo, cuckoo! – O word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!

When shepherds pipe on oaten straws,
And merry larks are ploughmen’s clocks,
When turtles tread, and rooks, and daws,
And maidens bleach their summer smocks
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he,
Cuckoo, cuckoo! – O word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!

William Shakespeare

The Red Tent

I’ve written quite a bit about my two book clubs, and the variety of books I have read because of – or rather thanks to them. One book club is a group of friends who have become friends through reading together, the other is held in Waterstone’s book shop in town and it’s a bigger, more varied group – I love them both and have tremendous fun in both!

I confess however, that I am a very fussy reader and there have been so many books chosen which everyone else likes and I just don’t… I have at times wondered if I have lost my reading skill because so often I seem to struggle my way through a book, or am even defeated by it, and everyone else loves it and thinks it’s wonderful. I really don’t like what’s thought of as ‘women’s’ books, dealing with ‘women’s issues’, I like puzzles and mystery and action… maybe I should try harder to read differently…

So when the book chosen for next month was ‘The Red Tent’ by Anita Diamant, described on the front as ‘the oldest love story never told‘, and on the back ‘find out why 1.5 million women have loved this book‘, my heart sank and I had a little sigh.

However… however… it is absolutely amazing! Unputdownable, and I’m absolutely gripped by it! The blurb on the back doesn’t raise expectations… the main character and narrator is Dinah, a biblical character and daughter of Jacob. Her name is pronounced Dee-nah, not Die-ner and she is an unforgettable character. You will find the story of her in Genesis but Anita Diamant has brought the Biblical verses to vivid life in telling Dinah’s experiences, from her babyhood to her adult life far away from her family.

I haven’t yet finished it, and in a way I don’t want to because as with all good books, although I want to find out what happens to her, I don’t want to leave her!

Anita Diamant is American and was born in 1951; she has written books about Jewish life, and also other novels since the publication of The Red Tent in 1997:

  • The Boston Girl, 2014
  • Day After Night, 2009
  • The Last Days of Dogtown, 2005
  • Good Harbor, 2001

This is a link to Anita’s site: