I am in an experimental type of mood, which is not always good, because when one is cooking or growing to eat, depending on the day this might be a good thing, or not so good. One generally has to eat one’s experiments with good grace.

I remember eating broad beans as a child, and I probably ate them quite happily at the start of the season, but all I really remember was the toughest of leathery skins on rather old broad beans, that maybe shouldn’t have been served but they were because they had been grown by my Grandad so the waste not want not attitude came into play.

Fortunately when we first got the plot hubby had the same memory of broad beans as myself and we quickly discarded the growing of them. (his father had a veg patch and so he knew about the waste not want not attitude and the tough broad beans) But as ever I am always listening to others and always at the start of the year I have listened to many people wax lyrical about the tenderness of the broad bean.

I was hesitant, along with being hesitant, we only had the one plot which was always chock a block, so didn’t really have room to spare to try this loathed by the both of us vegetable. But this year we have two plots to plant up. So in between the bout of pneumonia and the very wet chest infection I managed to start a few in my greenhouse and hubby planted them out for me.

The first pickings.

And here are the beautiful baby broad beans, which I boiled in salted water for a few minutes, and they were delicious, which was a complete shock to us and I am glad that so many people have talked about them. I am looking forward to trying the lovely recipes for broad beans that I have become aware of over the years.

Next on the experimental list, was to try and master the bread maker. I bought a bread maker many years ago for the making of gluten free bread, it was never successful, so as it was kept under the stairs. Occasionally I go on a bread jag and make lots of bread, I’ve been making bread for a long time and I never weigh or measure I just look at a bag of flour, I know its this amount of flour to this amount of water and if it rises quickly I may have added a little too much yeast, but hey ho,, and off we go.. I can turn out loaves that are pretty nice most of the time.

But, bread making can be a bit hard on my joints and muscles (without going into too many details) so I thought I would reinvestigate the bread maker. Well, I had failure after failure and it was at this point that I had to take a serious look at everything I was doing. Although my texture was right with the amount of flour and water I was adding, I found out my yeast was out by 1/2 a teaspoon. I corrected it, and since then I’ve been turning out loaves that are okay to me, but abhorred by my family, the reason being, they are wholemeal and not white.

Even when I tried making a white loaf, it was never good enough for the clan. So being the sneaky person that I am, I thought of favored ingredients, and these were sun dried tomatoes, olives and oregano so I made a loaf out of them. And I waited to see what the reaction might be.

At long last, Success. Son no.1 had the first slice and at the very moment he took his first bite the guttural cry of “mmmm…mmmm…” resounded from him.

The hungry hoardes took their lead from him and the loaf practically disappeared within minutes, I asked whether I should bake some more for packed lunches the next day, which was met with a resounding Yes. Oh how that made me smile. And off course it was so easy because all I had to do was chop a few olives and sun dried tomatoes and let the machine do the work. It was a good job done. (although I did have to stay up till eleven o’clock at night to take the bread out of the machine- a woman’s work is never done!)

And yet more experiments.

Once upon a time when I was pregnant with son no.2, it was our first summer in this house and hubby’s parents came to stay for a while. During this time we went strawberry picking (as you do) and we picked far too many strawberries, (it all became a bit competitive !) and we had far too many strawberries. So that afternoon on a very hot summers day in June hubby’s mum and I decided we would make strawberry jam. Knowing that I had a preserving pan, (bearing in mind they had bought it on request from me, and I’ve loved it so) we set forth.

What started well became a nightmare, and eventually we gave up, bottled our jam which was not properly set, and started the evening meal. Then studied what we had done wrong, and set forth the next day and got it right and the jam set beautifully. You would agree that it wasn’t something I wanted to repeat, the memory of being exhausted whilst looking after guests and being pregnant, well it didn’t leave me.

During the last eighteen years I must have made a small batch of strawberry jam because even though I can’t quite remember doing this son no.2 has asked me to make it recently because he remembers the taste or was it the jam fumes that he smelt whilst being safely in my tummy, I don’t know.

Having never grown enough surplus strawberries at the plot for the likes of jam I was overjoyed to see my high class grocer beginning with W selling their stock of strawberries off at 75p for 400grams,.. Well, I was giddy, it was within days that son no. 2 had begged me for strawberry jam and so I looked carefully at what they had to offer. The fruit was in perfect condition but the more I looked the more I realised that they were from different producers and there were at least at least 5 different varieties to look at. Which was shocking actually because they were just piled up together. But then thinking about it, you would have to approach more than one supplier to be able to produce all that you need for those few days of your offer.. (the offer was an half price offer before they were reduced)

Now if there is one thing that allotment growing has taught me, its to look at variety. For instance, I am addicted to Piccolo tomatoes, when buying cherry tomatoes, my heart quickens if I see those, I actively look them out and am sad if they are not there..

So, I stopped and listened to myself, and then carefully picked up each different variety and slightly, very gently squeezed the carton, so as not to bruise the fruit but just enough to allow a puff of air to escape out of the holes on the top of the tub, and sniffed.. There were varieties that are very pretty, look nice, keep their shape, etc, Elegance for one, but have no flavour.. After a little deduction I settled on Sweet Eve, the fragrance wafted out so strongly that they are on my to grow list and bought many tubs of them.

Just as an aside, there were many women that were shopping whilst I was conducting my little experiment and all wanted to gain as much as they could from this offer. Experienced women, family type women, in the middle of the day, not stressed working type women, sadly not one ‘sniffed’ or even realised that that there were various varieties on offer.. They just looked, murmured between each other and chose, some talked about the various attributes between a small and a large strawberry and on some previous memory chose, which is all we have sometimes. I wonder how much the supermarkets rely on this, I wonder how much the supermarkets rely on the fact that they have taught us to shop for fresh vegetables and fruit through plastic bags and tubs. As long as it looks nice, we will buy.

So later that day,

I quickly prepared the strawberries, whilst son no.2 was preparing the jars. I was working on the premise that as he wanted the jam he could help. (good thinking, no?!)

This was when the sugar had finally dissolved, I used lemon juice as my pectin, I would recommend a sugar thermometer you need to bring the jam up to 104 C and with that important piece of kit, you realise just how slowly it takes to come up to temperature with a pan full of jam.

But eventually you get this, lots of pots of yummy strawberry jam.

Just as another aside,,, hubby had to go out late last night just to buy croissants, just so that he could eat copious amounts of strawberry jam. Its that good..

4 thoughts on “Experiments

  1. Carie says:

    The jam looks amazing! I too sniff the strawberries in the supermarket but none can compare to my aunt's homegrown (she has a farm near Kidderminster) – my Mum is doing a detour to bring me some from her at the weekend and I can't wait!


  2. amelia says:

    My family have been here but now are gone so I'm back.I am so very jealous of your broad beans. No one has heard of them here and I love them so much. I can buy them in cans but when I see yours I want to cry. They are so green and tender!!


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