Chilli and tomato relish with goji berries

tomato, chilli and goji berry chutney

When you’re of the foraging persuasion, you find yourself constantly on the lookout for new produce to plunder. It’s surprising what you see growing right under your nose if you keep your eyes peeled. Just round the corner from us, someone has hops growing in their front garden. On the shortcut we take to our local Aldi, there are grapevines, elder and goji berries. All this, within just a few hundred metres of our house.

I was vaguely aware that goji berries can sometimes be found growing wild in the UK, but this was the first time I’d found them and was curious to see what I could use them in.

Despite the more familiar dried berries being thought of as a sweet snack food, fresh goji berries are apparently often used in savoury dishes, and I decided to put them in this relish. (Or is it a chutney? After a bit of Googling I’m still none the wiser.)

Goji berries 3

Ingredients

  • 12 ripe, normal sized tomatoes
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 2 onions, peeled and chopped roughly into large chunks
  • 6 or 7 red chillies (deseeded or not, depending on your preference)
  • Fresh (not dried) goji berries, washed (I picked about 70g, but as many as you can get your hands on)
  • 200ml white wine vinegar
  • 200g caster sugar

Cut the tomatoes in half and place cut side up in a roasting tray (without adding oil). Cut the tips off the garlic, brush them with oil and nestle them among the tomatoes. Roast in the oven at about 180°C for half an hour to 40 minutes, until the tomatoes look nicely softened and are starting to colour a bit. Remove and leave to cool.

Once the garlic cloves are cool enough to handle, slip off their skins.

Whizz the garlic, onions, chillies and goji berries in a food processor until they form a fine mush. Scrape out into a large pan, then thoroughly whizz the tomatoes as well and add these to the pan too (you might need to do this in batches).

Add the vinegar and sugar to the pan and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer, stirring constantly. You want this to get to a nice sticky chutney consistency, which could take a while so be patient. When you can scrape a spoon over the bottom of the pan and leave a clear line, you’re pretty much there.

Divide into hot sterilized jars and seal.

This made 4 small-ish jars. It can be eaten as you would any chutney or relish – I think it’d be ideal dolloped in a burger.

Damson gin and sloe gin

I’ve finally had the opportunity to make damson and sloe gin this year after some unsuccessful foraging attempts previously. I still haven’t managed to find a good spot to pick damsons or sloes, but luckily someone I used to work with did- and my god did she manage to pick a lot of them. Carrier bags full of the bastards. So, the spoils were shared, chilli jam changed hands by way of payment and I once again have the kindness of a colleague to thank for a blog post.

Sloes and damsons- a beautiful shade of inky midnight blue (there I go again with the Nigella-esque poetic food descriptions).

The idea with sloe gin and damson gin is to make them in September-ish so that they’re ready in time for Christmas. I was actually a bit late making mine, so I’m probably going to decant it in the New Year.

You might still be able to pick some sloes and damsons, although it’s likely that they will have already been found by other foragers by now. Alternatively, if you know anyone with a stash of them in their freezer, you could always try to sweet talk them into sharing. Damsons and sloes freeze well- I was given mine just before going on holiday in September so I left them in the freezer until I had time to use them. Freezing them is actually recommended, as it simulates a frost and splits the skins- a less labour-intensive alternative to pricking all the fruit individually.

I’ve tried to outline this recipe using ratios, as I realise not everyone has the same sized jars or the same amounts of fruit.

Ingredients

  • Damsons and/ or sloes- rinsed, dried and either frozen or pricked thoroughly with a skewer or fork.
  • Gin (I used good quality gin in a couple of my jars and cheaper gin in the other to see how different they tasted)
  • Sugar (I used caster)

Start by sterilizing some big sealable jars. I used 1 litre Kilner jars.

Fill the jars about two thirds full with your damsons or sloes. I put mine in straight from the freezer. This worked out as about 600g of fruit in each jar.

Add a third of the amount of sugar to fruit- so 200g per jar in my case.

Top up with gin and seal the jar. Give the jar a gentle shake to help dissolve the sugar and then invert it every couple of days until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Leave for about three months before straining through a muslin and bottling.

My plan is to decant my gin in the New Year, but save most of it until at least next Christmas, as apparently the taste improves with age. I also have plans to try making slider (no, not the tiny burgers) with the leftover sloes, although I think this might involve the use of demijohns and airlocks and what not (which could either be new and exciting or a total disaster).

Rose hip syrup (and jelly)

I’ve occasionally wondered what rose hip syrup would taste like, but had never got round to foraging any rose hips to make it. While visiting my dad this week, I realised that one of the bushes in his front garden was laden with rose hips, so thought now was as good a time as any to give it a go. My dad’s garden has proved useful to me in the past when it comes to making preserves, which helps make up for the fact that I don’t have a proper garden of my own.

Rose hips are rich in vitamin C, and people were apparently encouraged to make rose hip syrup during the war when citrus fruit wasn’t readily available. This was confirmed to me by an elderly gentleman who happened to walk past my Dad’s garden when I was collecting the rose hips for this recipe – he asked me if I was going to make syrup and said he used to collect them when he was a child.

I don’t want to get all ‘Nigella’ about this, but aren’t these the most beautiful Christmassy crimson colour?

After having a look at various different recipes online, I decided to follow roughly the following ratios of ingredients:

  • Rose hips (I had about 450g of them)
  • Water (about 1.5 litres per 500g of rose hips- I used 1.25 litres)
  • The same weight of sugar as rose hips (I used 300g of caster sugar because I only made two thirds of the liquid into syrup and the rest into jelly-see below)

The rose hips I picked were ripe, but not too squishy. I didn’t bother topping and tailing them or anything like that- I just gave them a good rinse and drained them. This is the method I used for the syrup:

Put your water in a pan and heat it up. Put your rose hips into a food processor and whizz thoroughly. (If you haven’t got a food processor, you could chop them up but this could take a while.) Scrape the rose hip mush out of the food processor into the pan as quickly as possible. I say as quickly as possible because apparently the vitamin C begins to oxidise as soon as the rose hips are damaged. I’m basing this on advice from the internet, which also suggests that despite the boiling process, much of the vitamin C will be retained. If anyone out there is scientifically minded, please feel free to confirm or refute this information…

Allow the water and rose hip mixture to come to the boil, stirring often. Once boiling, allow the mixture to simmer for about five to ten minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the mixture to steep while it cools.

Once cooled, put the mixture in a jelly bag or muslin and allow it to strain through into a bowl. Normally, I’d say don’t be tempted to squeeze the bag or you’ll end up with cloudy syrup, but this came out quite cloudy anyway. Incidentally, I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce the set up I use for straining things through muslin- it’s a wooden stand I persuaded my dad to make to my own specifications and it’s brilliant. He’s very good at this sort of thing, as well as having a garden which provides inspiration and ingredients for cooking projects:

Once the mixture had strained through, I had about a pint and a half of liquid. I decided to make some into syrup and some into jelly.

For the syrup, I added a pint of the strained liquid and 300g caster sugar to a pan and heated it gently, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar was dissolved, I decanted the hot syrup into sterilized bottles.

For the jelly, I added half a pint of the strained liquid and half a pound of jam sugar (with added pectin) to a pan and boiled until it reached the setting point (about 104⁰C). This filled about one and a half sterilized jars.

Apologies for the hotchpotch of metric and imperial measurements by the way, but maths isn’t my strong point and this just made it easier for me to work out.

The verdict

It’s always a worry when making jams, jellies and syrups that the flavour of the fruit will be lost in among all the sugar. I could still taste the rose hips in this syrup though- they have an unusual taste which to me had a hint of tomato or perhaps physalis about it (I could well have imagined the bit about the tomato flavour…)

As for how to use it, I’d suggest drizzling it on ice cream, pancakes or porridge, using it in cocktails or topped up with champagne, or just taken by the spoonful when you’re feeling under the weather or a bit hungover.