Guide to cour­ses

Pre­serve-mak­ing days at Ot­ter Farm, Devon

Country Smallholding - - Welcome! -

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

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