When Guy set up the farm here in Devon he made a point of planting native fruit trees around the place, as much to boost biodiversity as for how they contribute to making it a beautiful place to work and visit. Every autumn the field margins, hedgerows and even the driveways have boughs heaving with sloes, crab apples, quince, hawthorn, elderberries, rowan and medlars, which staff and visitors are free to help themselves to should they be keen. This year we took it one step further decided a staff foraging and preserving event would be good fun.
To this end various members of our marketing, finance, IT, customer services and recipe box teams gathered after work one October evening, to learn from our Riverford recipe matriarch, Kirsty Hale.
After splitting into foraging teams and armed with bramble shears and gloves where necessary, we spread out across the farm; some down to the old rhubarb field margin, some up by the reservoir, some to the cardoon field and some to the medlar tree in the car park.
45 minutes of competitive picking (in some cases) later, we reconvened in our recipe development kitchen and under Kirsty’s instruction, set about preparing our quinces to make quince Ratafia; quince gin or vodka. As you can see from the pictures, it was organised chaos and brilliant fun, with a loud buzz and clatter of chat, peeling, grating and chopping. In case you are not familiar with it, quince is a beautifully perfumed fruit that brings light, almost floral notes to whatever it is blended with. It is the one fruit you really can’t eat raw; it’s just rock solid and unpalatable. However when baked or poached its texture is transformed to a dense, jelly-like finish, though our aim with this exercise was simply to swipe its beautiful notes to create a festive tipple.
We love talking about veg, but it was good to do something a bit more social with each other for a change!
Next up was hedgerow jelly made using the crab apples and other fruits. If you fancy having a go, here are Kirsty’s recipes:
Quince gin or vodka (ratafia)
You will need:
- Sterilised glass bottle/jar and lid (wide necked is easiest), left to cool
- Gin or vodka
- Granulated sugar
Cut the quince into quarters and roughly pick out as many pips as you can. Coarsely grate (or use a processor) and transfer to your sterilised, cold bottle. You want to fill it approx. ⅓ full (exact ratios below). Add sugar, ground cinnamon and nutmeg or mace, top up with booze and seal.
Leave for at least 2 months, longer if you can (up to 1 years, even 18 months). Gently turn it now and then, about every week, so the sugar slowly dissolves.
Strain through muslin for the best finish and decant into cold sterilised bottles.
You can guesstimate the weight ratios, but here’s a rough guide:
2.5 litre jar = 4-5 quince, 500-600g sugar (to your own preference for sweetness), ¼ tsp each cinnamon and nutmeg (more if you like), peel from 1 lemon, approx. 1-1.2 litres booze
2 litre jar = 3-4 quince, 400-500g sugar, good pinch or two of cinnamon and nutmeg, peel from 1 lemon, 800ml-1 litre booze
1.5 litre jar = 3 quince, 350-400g sugar, pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg, peel from ½ lemon, 600-750ml booze
1 litre jar = 1-2 quince, 200-250g sugar, pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg, peel from ¼ lemon, 400-500ml booze
You can also make lovely booze with: Sloes (freeze overnight or prick with a pin before adding). A few drops of almond or vanilla essence is good with this, damsons or plums (prick several times), crab apples (use leftover pulp from making jelly), medlars, and many other fruits.
Use – on its own, or over ice. Or top up with tonic, lemonade or bitter lemon (sloes or damsons are very good with bitter lemon). Make cocktails or pour over ice-cream or desserts. Experiment and enjoy!
Crab apple or Hedgerow jelly
To make approx. 6-8 x 8oz jars, or approx. 4 x Riverford 12oz jars
- 1kg crab apples + 1 kg other berries eg sloes, hips, hawthorn, elderberries, rowan, or use more crab apples, washed well
- Granulated sugar – have about 1kg to hand, you may not need all of it
- Clean, sterilised jars & lids – put jars on a baking tray in a cold oven, heat to 150C for a 15 mins (keep the jars hot in the oven for potting)
- Cold saucers kept in the fridge (to test for a set)
Put the fruit in a large pan with 1.2 litres of water. Bring up to a low boil. Cook the fruit until very soft, approx. 15-20 mins or so.
Ladle the contents of the pan into a suspended muslin jelly bag. Leave to drip for several hours (or overnight). Don’t squeeze or press it or the jelly will turn cloudy.
Measure the juice. For every 600ml juice you need 450g sugar. Transfer the juice and sugar to a preserving pan (a very large heavy-based stainless steel saucepan is fine to use).
Heat the pan gently until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, boil for 10 mins.
Test for a set – put a dessertspoon’s worth on a cold saucer. Leave for 20-30 secs, then push it with your finger. It should ripple when the set is ready. If not set, repeat the boil and test at 10 minute intervals, until you get the ripple effect.
Skim off any scum from the surface. Pot the hot mixture into hot sterilised jars. Seal, turn upside down for 5 mins to sterilise the lids. Label when cool. The pots should keep for up to 1 year.
You can use the leftover drained mushy apples to make crab apple vodka or gin.
- Add a little chilli to the apples/berries when steeping.
- Pop a little star anise in with your finished jelly – the anise flavour is really good with pork and game.