Sunday, 9 August 2009

Crimson Tide

crimson jam made with czar plums

We Johansens love to forage, fish and hunt. In fact we love everything about the outdoors - the thought of mountains, forests and fjords renders us somewhat misty-eyed and nostalgic for long summer days on the west coast of Norway. Few things in life make us happier than hiking up those mountains, scampering through dark forests and catching fish from fjords or lakes. It's a heavily romanticised Grieg-inspired idyll of course, but nature is by definition romantic

So far, so Peer Gynt. In truth we're not a family of avid hunters, but fishing and foraging are primal activities so deeply ingrained in our DNA that Papa Johansen is the keenest fisherman I know, whereas sadly I am a useless fart at anything aquatic except swimming and like to imagine that dropping crayfish pots in the fjord constitutes fishing, thus qualifying me as some sort of piscine goddess. This is a source of endless amusement to Papa J, along with the fact that I hate downhill skiing. It must be hard not having a son when you're the Last Of The Vikings

As for hunting, the one time I tried shooting animate objects was last September on a gamebird hunting weekend in Derbyshire. Hunting is divisive, you don't need an anthropologist telling you that but the ritual aspects of hunting, whether for the Inupiat in Alaska, the Sami in Northern Norway or for the Ainu in Japan are integral to their identities and how they conceptualise the world. We descend from hunters and gatherers and being a committed omnivore I don't have any principled objection to killing animals - if you want to eat meat or fish you must at some point in your life be prepared to kill it, brutal a notion though that may be

Anyway, enough lecturing. I confess that despite my support of hunting generally I felt a sense of relief those birds weren't shot out of the sky by my trigger-happy hand. The same can't be said about my lovely Croatian friend Kata who shot birds with so much gusto it frightened all the men of our party

We're only a few days away from the start of grouse season, but a less gruesome activity beckoned this weekend. The foraging and picking of summer fruit is a gentle summer activity and I had yet to do any this year. My Norwegian grandparents owned a fruit farm in western Norway so I grew up picking wild and cultivated strawberries, raspberries, currants and plums during summers spent on their farm with the looney aunts

Dad and I had been missing that favourite of summer pasttimes (not the aunts mind you), so when I was in Sussex this weekend to see Ma & Pa we investigated nearby PYO farms. Off we went on a muggy afternoon to Grange Farm in the quaint Sussex village of Funtington where we spent a happy hour picking plums and apples before the rain came crashing down:

Picking your own plums may not save that much money but we thoroughly enjoyed stomping through Grange Farm where they have hundreds of plum, apple and pear trees, not to mention row upon row of blackcurrant and gooseberry bushes, rhubarb and strawberry patches...they're delightfully organised these Grange farmers which appeals to my Germanic sense of organisation:

And sure enough the czar plums we picked were plump and juicy with a fantastic indigo skin:

here's me picking the czars, avoiding the wasps:

Discovery apples:

Sadly I only picked a few kilos of these delicious apples before the rain started:

Tart, crisp and aromatic - the perfect English apples:

The reason for this frenzy of fruit picking? I decided to make plum jam in aid of Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital and will be selling the jam along with cakes and cinnamon buns this coming Thursday at the UK Food Bloggers' Association food stall in Covent Garden's Real Food Market. Rejina of the fabulous food blog Gastrogeek very kindly invited me along to share the stall with her and she'll be donating her profits to Amnesty International so if you have a spare half hour in your lunch break or you're moseying around Covent Garden do swing by and help us raise money for two very good causes

Recipe for plum jam:

  • 2kg de-stoned plums
  • 375g fructose (fruit sugar)
  • pack of "jam" which is basically ascorbic acid and a bit of pectin, we buy it in Norway
Put your plums in a large pot over a medium heat, stir while the plums start to dissolve and cook. Make sure to stir fairly regularly so the plums don't catch on the bottom of the pan and burn, they will start to look like soup:

Bring to a boil, stir and bring back to the boil three times. My father swears by this method, I suspect because three has some ritual connotation for him. Take the pan off the heat, add the fruit sugar, stir really well to distribute the sugar and put back on the heat. Bring to the boil one more time, then add the magic "jam" (this isn't strictly necessary but it helps the jam set...plums are quite high in pectin anyway so just cook the jam as normal without this mystical Norwegian powder) Decant into sterilised jars, seal, and turn upside down until cool

As an addendum, we foraged these wild cherry plums on an old Roman road near Chichester:

And voila! Made them into jam too:

Papa Johansen insisted we pick wild cherry plums on our way back from Grange Farm, and thus we spent an hour shaking the plum tree down, collecting plums and getting stung by nettles whilst being drenched in the rain. Good family fun. Dad very kindly offered to help with the jam-making, although by the time we got round to starting the wild cherry plum batch at 7pm we had both run out of steam. Be warned, you have to cook the wild plums whole and skim out the kernels as they separate from the fruit. Below Papa J looks less than impressed at how long it took us to prepare the wild plums (we slit them along the middle to help the separation of kernel from flesh):

And there was no sympathy from Mama J: "It serves your Father right insisting on foraging those wild plums, he never appreciates how much work goes into jam-making"

I suspect he probably does, and hereby extend a big thank you to Papa J for all his help. What better way for Father and daughter to spend time together...


Anonymous said...

What a fantastic post! I cannot wait to try the fruits of your most laborious labour and am getting very excited indeed about Thursday. Your father is clearly a foraging hero and the jam is going to be a keeper if those wonderful plummy shots are anything to go by. Banzai!

Signe said...

Banzai indeed Reginald! Fingers crossed the jam is a keeper, we shall see on Thursday :)

Looking forward to our market stall exploits, and so glad we're donating funds to such worthwhile causes...

verity said...

Fantastic! I had great fun making strawberry jam earlier in the season and would love to give that a go.

Signe said...

That's great Verity, do let me know how you get on. Might try making some more jam later this month if time allows...

Gourmet Chick said...

That jam looks amazing - hope the stall went really well