Andrew and I detest gardening … not only because we are extremely lazy and are quite clueless about plants, but also because this year there are supposed to be poisonous spiders crawling amok in the gardens of the UK. If ever there was a perfect excuse not to garden, that was it.
However, because we had put off the gardening for so long already, by this weekend we were actually trapped in the house by what had become an overgrown jungle of poisonous spider-inhabited triffid-like foliage. When the vines had grown over and across the top of next door’s extension and climbed up and around their apple tree, and then became so heavy and overgrown that they snapped our trellis (and nearly – I imagine – brought down the extension!), we knew that we finally had to do something.
So, I started my usual tactic of persistent nagging on the subject, slowly grinding down Andrew’s defences until he recognised that he had no choice but to man-up with gardening gloves, wellies and a hoodie (to stop the poisonous spiders jumping onto our heads and running into our ears to lay eggs / biting us), and make a start on the jungle / garden.
Over two hours of spider-dodging, cutting, pruning, mowing, sweeping, bagging and whinging later, we had filled 5 recycling bags full of clippings and had a garden to be proud(ish) of again. We were both quite shocked by how big the garden actually is (I am ashamed to say that it really had got that badly overgrown), and how light the kitchen could be when the windows are not shadowed by half-dead herbs (mainly weeds) and rotten geraniums. We were also shocked by the fact that we had successfully grown grapes, and briefly imagined a wine-making venture until we tried one of the grapes and had to spit it out again immediately as it was pure sour nastiness.
But, I didn’t want to chuck away the fruits of our labour (literally) and so took to the internet to ask people what to do with a pile of inedible grapes. Well, as my friend Rochelle quickly replied, the flavour of anything can be improved if boiled up with large quantities of sugar.
Rochelle and I have known eachother since we were 10 years old, when I moved house and joined the same primary school as her. Moving to secondary school together with another girl Clare, we met Sonia and the four of us became firm friends. 27 (gulp) years later, we’ve all remained friends even though we catch up mainly electronically and rarely see eachother in person. When we do, it’s like we’ve never been apart, despite leading very different lives in different parts of the country. I can’t remember what we all thought we would be doing in 20 years time whilst sat daydreaming in Mrs Midgeley’s English class, but I don’t think we imagined swapping jam recipes over the (as yet uninvented) world wide web. If only we had imagined the web part, we might now be millionaires …
Luckily I did have Rochelle to come to my rescue, because her recipe for spiced grape jelly has turned my disgusting grapes into pots of sugary goodness. I didn’t follow her recipe exactly because I didn’t have any lemons in the house, but I think with preserves as long as you follow the main principles (lots of sugar and lots of boiling) you can’t go too far wrong (the main rule is that you MUST NOT TRY TO LICK THE SPOON unless you want first degree burns on your tongue … yes I have done it, and it really, really, really hurts). So if you have some sour grapes in your garden, this is what you need to do.
Grapes (approx 1.5 kg but I didn’t weigh mine), an orange or lemon, a few cloves, 300 ml water, preserving sugar
Put your grapes, seeds and all, in a preserving pan or heavy bottomed saucepan with 300mls of water and a chopped orange or lemon and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes and mush up the grapes with a potato masher so the juices are released. Then strain the liquid through a jelly bag or muslin – preferably overnight but at least for four hours, until no more juice is dripping through. Measure the strained liquid so that you can calculate how much sugar you will need: allow 450g of sugar per 600ml of juice.
Mix the sugar and juice together, along with a few cloves (I used 3 in 800mls of juice, which probably wasn’t enough to affect the flavour, so maybe 5-6 would be better), and bring to the boil. Keep stirring until the sugar is dissolved, and then allow the mixture to rapidly boil until it reaches setting point (this is usually around 105 degrees – if you don’t have a thermometer you can dribble some of the jam mixture onto a cold plate, allow it to cook and then run your finger across it – if the mixture wrinkles when you push it across the plate, it will set). I find it always takes longer than the recipe states for setting point to be reached – in this instance the mixture required a good 10-15 minutes of rolling boil. Pour the mixture carefully into sterilised jars (my 800mls made 3 small jars of jelly) after taking the cloves out of the liquid (whoops, guess what I have forgotten to do!) and allow to cool. Each jar will keep for a year, but once opened keep the jar of jelly in the fridge.
Serve on homemade spelt bread with salted butter, and try not to eat too much in one go. It’s very moreish – a bit like jellied mulled wine. Thanks Roch!