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.