As the year draws to a close Jojo finds ways to pre­serve sum­mer’s flavour through the raw months, and makes the most of a glut of grapes

Gardens Illustrated Magazine - - Gardener Cook -

There is a raw­ness to gar­den­ing at this time of year. The wind bites and fin­gers stum­ble numbly over sim­ple tasks. I of­ten like the idea of win­ter gar­den­ing more than the re­al­ity but I still want to cook with some­thing I’ve grown, even if it’s just a herb. Sage lives in a pot on the stone steps out­side my kitchen door. Its soft, grey-green leaves are al­ways good to stop and smell, and by fry­ing them with but­ter you can use them to make the sim­plest of all sauces for stuffed pasta. Put the pasta (ravi­oli, tortellini or ag­nolotti) on to boil. Melt 100g of but­ter and fry with 16 sage leaves, let the but­ter caramelise and the solids sep­a­rate but not burn and then add a ladle­ful of the pasta wa­ter, the sauce should foam and start to thicken. Add the drained pasta (just slightly un­der­cooked) and cook for an­other 30 sec­onds on a medium heat, the sauce should be vel­vety and coat the pasta. Serve with lots of parme­san and black pep­per.

Flavoured vine­gars

The dis­cov­ery of how to make many of our ba­sic in­gre­di­ents – cheese, bread, yoghurt – came about through some un­known culi­nary ac­ci­dent. Vine­gar is no ex­cep­tion; wine left to ox­i­dise will nat­u­rally turn to vine­gar. (The word vine­gar comes from the French vin mean­ing wine and ai­gre mean­ing sour.) You can make vine­gar out of old wine or cider us­ing yeast or a vine­gar ‘mother’ (a cloudy film that is filled with vine­gar-mak­ing bac­te­ria), or by sim­ply let­ting it sour (with more vari­able re­sults) and can make a flavoured vine­gar by in­fus­ing fruits or herbs in strong white vine­gar or in a cruder form by let­ting fruit juice fer­ment. Most of us will start with the sim­plest process – in­fu­sion. Take cider or white wine vine­gar and just add herbs or flow­ers. Stuff a bot­tle with tar­ragon leaves to pre­serve the flavour of tar­ragon year round or use basil or fresh chill­ies. You can in­fuse vine­gar with el­der­flow­ers to make vine­gar that has a del­i­cate sweet fruiti­ness. You can also fer­ment el­der­flow­ers with sugar to make a ‘fizz’ and then in­stead of drink­ing it, let it sour. The key is that the sug­ars must turn into 3 or 4 per cent al­co­hol be­fore they can then be­come vine­gar. Both black­cur­rants and ap­ple juice make good vine­gars.


While most of us don’t have a lot of ex­cess wine to hand we of­ten have sour fruits. This year I have been ex­per­i­ment­ing with fer­ment­ing a va­ri­ety of crops ei­ther to make a nat­u­ral soda (fer­mented with whey) or to make ver­juice. The lat­ter is a gen­tler acidu­lant use­ful in the kitchen when le­mon juice or vine­gar is too harsh but with the same bright­en­ing ef­fect on flavour. Ver­juice was a com­mon in­gre­di­ent in me­dieval kitchens (and is still used in Ira­nian cook­ing) but over time it was su­per­seded by the le­mon. Ver­juice was tra­di­tion­ally made with un­fer­mented grapes or crab ap­ples, which is per­fect as the most plen­ti­ful sour crop I have are the many ki­los of small green grapes I har­vest each year from the vines that en­gulf my al­lot­ment shed. You can also use un­ripe ap­ples or ear­lier in the year use cur­rants, damsons or the tall Amer­i­can blue­berry, Vac­cinium corym­bo­sum. If you can’t wait un­til next year and still have lots of frozen berries (goose­ber­ries or cur­rants) you could de­frost some and use those. Pulse 1kg of whole un­blem­ished fruits in a food pro­ces­sor un­til you have a pulpy mass and strain through a sieve un­der light pres­sure. Place the liq­uid in a clean china bowl. Cover with a cloth and leave for three days (per­haps a lit­tle longer if your kitchen is cold), stir sev­eral times un­til all bub­bling has ceased. Strain through a muslin or jelly bag and trans­fer to clean plas­tic bot­tles and store some­where cool and dark. You can use the ver­juice as a base for sauces in a salad dress­ing, added to braised or roasted veg­eta­bles, to deglaze pans af­ter cook­ing meat or fish or make a dress­ing out of 2 ta­ble­spoons of olive oil and 200ml of ver­juice and use it to baste roast chicken.

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