Guide to courses
Preserve-making days at Otter Farm, Devon
I’ve been an admirer of Mark Diacono’s work for a long time. I watched with interest his crowdfunding campaign early last year to secure funds for a kitchen garden school building at Otter Farm, near Honiton in Devon. This successful project surpassed its original target and the farm now hosts a wide range of learning days on everything from growing, cooking, preserving and building, through to fermenting, photography and much more besides.
There’s an awful lot to like about this. Mark’s written seven award-winning books over the years, based around his work at the farm and is passionate about all things growing, cooking and eating. Also known as the ‘climate-change farm’, the 17-acre site features a wide and exciting range of traditional, forgotten and more unusual fruit and vegetables from around the world, demonstrating what is possible in our changing climate. With orchards filled with everything from peaches, apricots, quince, medlars and pears and a forest garden packed with white cherries, Asian pears, Chilean guava, kiwis and creeping Japanese raspberries, it seemed only fitting that I should first find out about their forthcoming preserves courses.
Led by Pam Corbin, who you may remember from her frequent appearances with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in the River Cottage TV series, Mark says: “I’ve known Pam for years and she, almost singlehandedly, has turned me from a maker of perfectly passable preserves, into someone whose jams, jellies and curds have subtlety and finesse. Her techniques and recipes are tested to the extreme, and guaranteed to please.”
If, like me, you have one of Pam’s River Cottage books, Preserves and Cakes, on your bookshelf, then you’ll get a taste of how excellent these courses are going to be.
A key skill
Learning how to turn your home-grown fruit and vegetables into tasty chutneys, jams and bottled goodies for the larder is a key skill for smallholders as we are often faced with gluts; another courgette anyone? As well the culinary delights to which learning some of these techniques opens you up, it’s also important if you want to have a stab at greater self-sufficiency.
Depending on your current level of experience, you can also pick and choose which course you go along to. The two-day masterclass package covers everything you could want to know. However, if you have some basic experience already, you might just be interested in the more advanced techniques covered in the second day. Likewise, if this is all new to you and you’d just like to learn how to get started, the Fundamentals course on day one might be enough to be going along with.
Day one starts with a look at everything you could possibly want to know about jam, including selecting fruit, sugar, pectin and acid and which equipment will be needed to help you along the way. It moves along in the afternoon to the preserving splendour of vinegar, looking at the different types that can be used (and their tastes) and how to go about it. As a sweet treat to round off the day, Pam will finish with a demonstration of the essentials when it comes to making the perfect lemon curd.
The more advanced second day starts with an in-depth look at how to go about making pectin-rich fruit stocks, demonstrating their use to the home preserver in many different ways, including the making of a full flavoured sweet or savoury jelly. The morning will also show how to store pectin and how it can be used in jam making alongside low-pectin fruits that would otherwise struggle to set as jam. This is followed in the afternoon by all things bottling, which can be a highly useful way to store fresh produce.
All in all, it sounds like a very fruitful weekend.
Mark Diacono collecting berries
Pam Corbin, who leads the course