Dealing with the June Drop – How to Make Mint Sauce

One of the most frustrating things about growing any crop is when, for the sake of improving the quality of yield, you have to remove fruits or seedlings. To me this seems to be wrong. I know thinning seedlings means that the plants that remain have more space to develop and grow healthily, but the very fact that I’ve nurtured them to that point means I feel a sense of attachment and of lost potential. That’s why, whenever I can, I use the thinnings in meals. When it comes to apples, nature, as if to ensure I don’t get lazy and just let things go, steps in with the ‘June Drop’. The annual time of year when the apple tree chooses to drop a few of the extra fruits, self regulating to give those fruit that remain the best chance of forming properly and going on to ripen to their potential.

I know its July, but the drop has only just happened in earnest and the apple trees at the plot have a scattering of undersized, under ripe, apples in the grass below. Unripe apples are not a culinary highlight of the year, but they do have one great asset. Pectin. Like the super-sour crab apple, these dropped fruits are full of pectin and when tempered with sugar they are also light on flavour. As such they can be used in preserves to produce a beautiful herb jelly. This month has also seen a mint infused takeover of the allotment. The ever invasive herb has spread its refreshing leaves between and beneath almost al of the top half of the plot. So in effort to capture the mintiness for later in the season when mint suffers in the baking heat, I made mint jelly. The perfect accompaniment to roast lamb, and infinitely better than the supermarket fluorescent green version.

mint jelly

You will need (makes  jars)
500g unripe apples (cooking apples would do the job if apples are actually in season)
1 bunch of mint
Granulated sugar
30ml white wine vinegar

Chop the apples roughly; if they are small, then just chop them in half. Add to a pan with the bunch of mint and enough water to barely cover the apples. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 45 minutes or so, until the fruit is very soft. Pour the contents into a scolded jelly bag and leave to drip overnight. Don’t be tempted to squeeze the bag, or poke it, as this will effect the clarity of your jelly.

straining the pulp

Measure the strained juice, before adding the sugar. For every 200ml of liquid you will need 150g of sugar. Return the liquid to the cleaned out pan, with the addition of the vinegar. Heat to boiling point, stirring to ensure the sugar is dissolved properly. Continue to boil for 10 minutes or so, until the setting point is reached. For this I use a jam thermometer and wait until the bubbling liquid gets to 104°C, before removing from the heat, skimming off the scum, and then pouring into warm, sterilised jars. Once sealed with a lid, the mint jelly will last up to a year. Not that it will last that time, as it’s an irresistible accompaniment to lamb.

mint jelly

Elderflower Cordial

I look forward to the first few Elderflower blooms on the tree at the allotment. For me it really marks the start of the growing season, and in particular the start of the period of cropping from the allotment. At the moment the Queen of the Hedgerow is covering the land with white blooms and its heady scent. Elderflower has historically been known as a medicinal herb; being diaphoretic, anti-inflammatory and anti-catarrhal, and can be prepared as tea, tincture or a cold infusion. In culinary terms it is used in fritters, and perhaps most often made into a cordial. For me an ice cold drink of Elderflower cordial with a sprig of mint is the perfect summer afternoon refresher, and best of all its cheap and easy to make your own.

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 You will need
About 25 elderflower heads – Elderflowers need to be picked in the first half of the day and in sunshine in order to get the best cordial.
Finely grated zest of 3 lemons and 1 orange, plus their juice (about 150ml in total)
1kg sugar
1 heaped tsp citric acid (optional)

Check out the elderflower heads carefully and remove any bugs and bits. Place the flower heads in a large bowl together with the orange and lemon zest. Pour 1.5 litres boiling water over the elderflowers and citrus zest. Cover and leave to infuse overnight. Strain the liquid through a jelly bag, before pouring into a saucepan. Add the sugar, the lemon and orange juice and the citric acid to help preserve the drink and make it clear. Heat gently to dissolve the sugar, then bring to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes. Once ready, use a funnel to pour the hot syrup into sterilised bottles. Seal the bottles with swing-top lids, then pasteurise for twenty minutes at 80°C. Even without pasteurisation I have had bottles last for several months, and enjoyed the cordial well into the autumn.

I’m entering this recipe for Four Seasons Food celebrating the vegetables of spring.  FSF is run by Anneli at Delicieux and Louisa at Eat Your Veg who is hosting this month.

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I’m also dead chuffed to be shortlisted in the FOOD category for the BIBS (Brilliance in Blogging Award). If you think I deserve to be in the final then please vote for me by clicking on the picture below. Thank you for all your support!

BiB Food 2014