09 August 2009

River Cottage Handbook No. 2 – Preserves

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall seems an unlikely cookery chap. He is a good cook, but quite unkept and rumor has it, fired from some of the most posh restaurants in London. Then he made a fateful decision. He left the restaurant business and moved to and old farm named the River Cottage. There he cooked, hunted game, planted vegetables, gathered from his hedgerows and wrote about it. The River Cottage Cookbook became a huge success. Huge in the sense that it spawned an industry. Though they are no longer tenants at the River Cottager the name lives on.

They are now producing a series of “handbooks” including River Cottage Handbook No. 2 – Preserves. While Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall writes the introduction, the actual compiler of the recipes is Pam Corbin. Nicknamed “Pam the Jam” she was running a small batch preserving company when she came on board for Preserving Days at River Cottage and never left.

This is a great little book with innovative preserves, like Nasturtium ‘Capers’ made from nasturtium seed pods, Blues and Bay, a blueberry and bay leaf preserve and this Florence fennel.

Pickled Florence Fennel

1 kg fennel bulbs, trimmed and thinly sliced, a few feathery fronds reserved
1 liter cider vinegar
15 g peppercorns (black, white or pink)
75 g granulated sugar
Grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
3 or 4 bay leaves
1 tsp celery or fennel seeds
3-4 tbsp olive, hemp or rapeseed oil

Pour 2 –3 liters water into a large pan, salt it well and bring to a boil. Add the sliced fennel and blanch for no more than a minute. Drain in a colander, cool under cold water, then drain and pat dry.

Put the vinegar, peppercorns, sugar, lemon zest, bay leaves and celery or fennel seeds into a saucepan. Bring to the boil and continue to boil about 10 minutes until the liquor reaches a syrupy consistency. The vinegar vapors will create quite a pungent atmosphere in the kitchen.

Pack the fennel into wide-necked, sterilized jars, lacing a few fennel fronds between the slices. Remove the vinegar syrup from the heat and carefully pour over the fennel. You may well find all the spices remain at the bottom of the pan. If this happens, distribute them between the jars, poking the peppercorns and bay leaves down through the fennel slices. Pour sufficient oil into each jar to seal the surface. Seal the jars with vinegar[proof lids. Use within 12 months.

It’s not called Florence fennel for nothing. Make up a couple of jars of this fennel, and pop one open in mid-winter. It will be the beginning of beautiful staycation.

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