Plum jelly and hot baths

It’s village fete season – the time for jam-buying, second-hand book swapping and cake-making.I bought grapefruit marmalade and quince jam – a jar of blackcurrant jelly was thrown in for good measure. My neighbours, who know I can’t be trusted with anything in the garden, got to the fete early and bought me two courgette plants. Apparently even a fool can grow a courgette. I’ll let you know.

It’s been a week of neighbourliness, which is just as well. We haven’t had hot water in this house for two weeks, no water at all for two days and now the ‘phone line has died a death. I’ve never been offered more hot baths in my life. We’ve become a familiar sight, traipsing out of the house with towels under our arms, off for a scrub in someone else’s bathroom. And to cap it all, I got back last night to discover that a bundle of rhubarb as thick as firewood had been posted over the garden wall. So I’m feeling very cherished. Courgettes, rhubarb and other people’s hot water.

Inspired by the village fete, I’ve been doing a little jelly-making of my own. I have a vexed relationship with preserves and especially chutney. Too often it’s like slurry. It’s the opacity of it that makes me shudder. The sense that nothing will pierce the murky gloom inside the jar – and even if I could see what was inside, I’d pay not to. But this plum and chilli jelly is a different matter. I swear you could read a book through it if you wanted to.

Plum and Chilli Jelly

1 kg cooking apples

1 kg Victoria plums, stones removed

180 ml red wine vinegar

Caster sugar

4 red chillies sliced into thin rounds and the seeds removed

Chop the apples – don’t peel them – and put them with the plums in a preserving pan, along with 1.5 litres of water. Boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and then allow to bubble happily for about an hour. Add the vinegar and boil for five minutes. Strain through a jelly bag until only a papier-mache type pulp remains in the bag.

Measure how much juice you have. For ever 570 ml of juice you will need 450g of sugar. Place the sugar and the juice into the washed preserving pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Add the chilli rings and then bring the mixture to a boil for about fifteen minutes, until the setting point is reached. You can test for this by placing a teaspoon of the jelly onto a saucer that you have cooled in the fridge. (I must admit that I get rather nerdy about this and go through several chilled saucers before I’m sure). Leave to cool for 15 minutes or so and then pour your jelly into sterilised jars and seal.

Eat your plum jelly with a wodge of cheddar cheese and a glass of red wine, staring into the middle distance.