We are fortunate in having well-developed hedgerows here at Blackdown Yurts, which this year are bursting with berries and hazelnuts. I recently met a woman who worked on the farm fifty years ago and she said that one of the buildings in the farm complex used to have a nut store - presumably to store the abundant hazelnuts and perhaps there were other nut trees in the orchards back then too. I have just pledged to plant a tree on 30th November for the Woodland Trust's Big Climate Fightback and I'm going to plant a walnut (more about that next time).
For now I want to share with you two toppings for your toast (or crumpets - it's definitely crumpet season now isn't it?!): a hedgerow jelly and a chocolate nut spread (basically home-made Nutella). The former is smooth and seed-free, the latter a bit more grainy than the shop-bought variety. While it is good on toast, I think it would also work nicely as a base instead of frangipane for a pear tart for example. So here goes read on for the recipes...
I used this recipe from BBC Good Food as a guide. You really can use whatever berries you can find (or buy) for this with an equal weight of cooking or crab apples. I foraged most of mine including elderberries, blackberries, rowan and sloes, but I added a few strawberries and blueberries I had in the fridge that were a bit past their best. I'm lucky in having several apple trees in the garden including a cooker, so I used those. We do have a crab apple tree but this year it has had a very poor crop indeed.
How to make it:
Making a jelly is really quite simple. The only difference between that and a jam is that a jelly has the seeds and skins removed whereas a jam has it all left in. As I don't have a jelly bag, I placed the cooked fruit in a sieve lined with a muslin set over a jug instead. I folded the muslin over and weighed it down with another saucepan and heavy item to encourage the juice to run out overnight.
Once the juice has run measure it and use 500g (1lb) of granulated sugar per 600ml (1pt) of juice. Pop both in a pan and heat gradually 'til the sugar has dissolved then up the heat to a rolling boil until the jelly reaches its setting point. I test this by having a saucer in the freezer, taking it out and popping a teaspoonful of the jelly on it. If it wrinkles when pushed and starts to set then it's ready to take off the heat and bottle. As it's boiling I tend to skim off the scum with my grandmother's skimming ladle.
Whenever I use it I remember her and all the jams and jellies she used to make - I remember her crab apple and mint jellies in particular. She had the most amazing soft fruit cage chock full of raspberries, red-, white- and blackcurrants and gooseberries. She also had an incredible bramble hedge that separated her kitchen garden from the paddock. I am forever attempting to emulate her in my kitchen garden but I will never even come close. Growing things was in her blood - she grew up on a strawberry farm in Cambridgeshire and was a land girl during World War 2, before moving to Surrey and establishing such a stunning garden with asparagus beds, rhubarb, beans, cut flowers, apples and much more. I remember helping during the summer holidays to harvest and prep fruit, veg and flowers with her for the weekly WI market.
Anyway, I digress. Once that setting point is reached, remove from the heat and if some scum still remains pop in a little butter to help it disperse. Then bottle into sterilised jam jars and label. Enjoy on hot buttered toast, or maybe a muffin or a crumpet. Autumn comfort food at its best.
Hazelnut and chocolate spread
This has been the first year since arriving at Blackdown Yurts that I have noticed such a bumper crop of hazelnuts on the trees lining the driveway. They are literally raining down so I thought it would be criminal not to do something with them. I will roast some and keep for adding to muesli, granola and crumble toppings but I wanted to try my hand at a nut spread in homage to Felix's favourite toast topping - yes you guessed it - Nutella. Nothing can quite come close to the real thing - how they get it so smooth is anyone's guess. However, this was fun to try and I think will be good as a base in other recipes as well as a topping for pancakes or bagels.
How to make it:
First collect your nuts and find yourself a willing nut cracker! Felix did ours - we found the nut crackers worked better than the hammer. Make sure you check the nuts for bits of shell - you don't want anyone cracking a tooth. We used 150g of shelled nuts and toasted them for a bit in the Aga to enhance the flavour and dry them out a bit. You could use a low oven and just keep an eye on them to make sure they don't burn.
Once cool place in a food processor or blender (I used my Nutribullet) and add 2tbsp of maple syrup, 2tbsp of coconut oil, 2tbsp of cocoa powder of cacao nibs and between 50and 75ml of water. Blend until smooth. I didn't add enough water on my first try and you may want to experiment a bit with how much syrup you add as we found ours wasn't really sweet enough (compared with the real thing) but I like to think it's a whole lot better for you and doesn't contain any palm oil.
Mia used some as a centre for decadent chocolate cookies recently. Just freeze teaspoon sized blobs of spread for a bit on a baking tray lined with baking parchment before surrounding with cookie dough (she put grated chocolate in hers), place on a lined baking sheet and bake til golden but still gooey in the middle. Delicious.