health and wellbeing · recipes

Ajna

As any yogi worth their salt will tell you, the ajna chakra is one of great significance. Otherwise termed the third eye, this chakra, situated between our eyebrows, can be described as connecting us to our intuition, allowing us to access our inner guidance and drawing from the sub-conscience. Without realising it, most of us are exercising our third eye regularly and often refer to it in language such as ‘a gut feeling’ or ‘trusting my judgement’ or ‘I instinctively knew.’ It is very comforting to know that we have this resource, and to that to tap into it is simply a case of settling and listening.

I’m not sure that my aunt, now passed, ever took a yoga class in her time, but a piece of advice she once gave me that has always served me well certainly falls in line with this way of thinking. She said, when you come to a crossroad in life and you are faced with a difficult decision that you feel unable to make, don’t make one. In time, she said, the choice or action to take will become clear.  When I have remembered to follow her words, options and choices have definitely crystallised with time and I think this is because my sub-conscious instinctive mind has been given a chance to function.

This week I was given a lovely windfall of apricots and as soon as I tasted one I knew that a large pan of bubbling jam would be on the next day’s agenda. Produce straight from the source exudes the most pungent aroma and delicious flavour that no commercially grown item can match and to be able to preserve this in either a jam or bottle is really worthwhile – particularly for the middle months of the year when stone fruits like these are a mere memory.

As I was stirring the pan full of rich amber preserve, I was considering how best to write the instructions for you to make your batch. So many books and articles have been written on the subject of jam making which can be daunting for anyone attempting their first batch. As I mentally checked off terms like ‘setting point’ ‘pectin’ ‘sugar liquid to fruit ratio’, I realised how complicated the explanation to produce a pot of apricot jam was going to become. Having also in the past followed these complex instructions meticulously, only to be left with a runny fruit syrup for my efforts, I knew it needed simplification – and the ajna chakra. So my friends, if you have some beautiful apricots that you want to be spreading on your sourdough in July, this is the way to do it:

Take a deep inhale and a long exhale and know that you can make jam.

Put a china saucer or plate in the freezer. Weigh your apricots after you have halved them, removed their stones and chopped them. Put them into your largest pot and add the same weight in sugar, 3/4 cup of water and the juice of two lemons. My batch was 11/2 kg apricots and 11/2 kg sugar. Over a low heat, stir your potion until all of the sugar has dissolved. Now increase the heat and bring your jam to a rolling boil. Stir from time to time, so that the apricots don’t stick to the base and burn.

Now for your ajna. Look at your pot and if it has been boiling for a while (15 minutes) and is darker in colour, it might be time to test to see if the jam has set. Get your saucer from the freezer and drop a teaspoon of hot jam onto it, waiting until it cools a little. If your little puddle of jam wrinkles a little when you push it with your finger, you’re done. It’s time to take the pot off the burner, let it settle for a minute and then pour your jam into hot steralised jars (100 degrees in the oven). If it has not wrinkled, it will need to boil for a little longer.

These instructions may sound imprecise, but that is the nature of jam making. You will know when your jam has set because you will look at it, taste it, think about and trust your judgement. Step away from fear, panic and doubt, afterall this is simply a pot of fruit mixed with sugar and you are a fabulous person.


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PS if you are not yet comfortable with your ajna and the puddle refuses to wrinkle, a packet of this stirred into the mix will restore your jam and your confidence.

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recipes

Preserve

Of Course I Can!

Putting up, canning, preserving, bottling – four ways to describe a process from which a sense of deep inner satisfaction is a by-product. Beginning with a pile of beautiful produce and ending with a shelf groaning under the weight of gleaming jars is a very meaningful way to spend an afternoon. Although we are not subject to food shortages, we are prone to seasonal fluctuation, and to be able to capture a crop at its finest with the ability to enjoy it year round, is a wonderful thing.

Occasionally ‘windfalls’ of produce can land in your lap. A neighbour with a productive fig tree, a market bargain or a roadside opportunity, are likely examples. To be able to bottle these fortuities to savour at a later date makes sense, economically and nutritionally. Windfalls aside, if you would like to dip your toe into the process, start with a generous selection of good eating apples. Applesauce is delicious and versatile (immediately apple pie, roast pork, danishes and custardy desserts spring to mind).

spiced applesauce ingredients

After you have peeled and chopped approximately 2 1/2 kilos, put them into a large pan over a medium heat with 1/2 cup of apple juice (or cider), three whole star anise and three cloves. Put a lid on the pot and cook the apples for about 20 minutes, or until well broken down. Stir the pot regularly to make sure the apples are not sticking. Remove the cloves and stars. Now, with a hand masher, stick blender or blender, process until smooth. At this point, add sugar (up to 1 cup). I use about 1/2 cup, but some like their sauce sweeter. Stir well. You will notice the dark colour of my applesauce and this is because I also add a teaspoon of nutmeg and a tablespoon of cinnamon with the sugar. You can do this, or for traditional applesauce, leave these out. Your applesauce is now ready to preserve.

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I use a Ball Preserver but all you need is a large stockpot with a lid and a selection of sturdy jars with metal lids. Pop your jars in the stockpot and fill with water until jars are covered. (To keep the jars from coming in contact with the base of the pot, place an upturned dish on the bottom for them to rest on). Bring pot to the boil. This will sterilise the jars for you. Boil the jar lids in a small saucepan separately. Using tongs remove the jars and fill with the applesauce. Seal jars with lids, not overly tightly. Place jars back in stockpot and cover. Boil for 20 minutes. Turn off heat and leave jars to stand in water for about 5 minutes before removing. Stand on a chopping board covered with a teatowel. As the jars cool, you will hear the lids pop, meaning a seal has formed.

Admire your efforts.

apple, peach and custard dessert

Postscript: this quantity of apples will make approximately four 500ml jars of sauce and of course there will be a little over. This is the bit you pop in a bowl with some peaches and pouring custard to enjoy while the jars are sealing themselves.

recipes

Tangelo

Tangelos

Making their brief seasonal appearance as we speak, the impossibly orange tangelo is ready to fill your kitchen with citrusy overtones and your empty jars with delicious jam.

I’m sure it is no coincidence that citrus fruit peaks in mid-winter, its colour pop and tang bolsters us through the insipid range of coolstore/gas ripened produce alternatives. Tangelos make a huge effort – juice laden and vibrant, a bowlful in the kitchen veritably radiates goodwill.

My pantry shelves did not require further stocking, but with such enticing colour and shape, I could not resist purchasing a couple of kilos of these lads. With an interstate road trip imminent and a number of pressing household issues to deal with, they really had to jam themselves. Fortunately they cooperated, so the holiday hosts, the neighbourhood and the pantry shelves all have jars of sunshine to see them through winter.

Tangelo jam

Tangelos are still catching my eye at the local fruiterer, so it’s not too late to wash out those stored jars and boil up a pot for yourself. Not as bitter as marmalade, but far from the syrupy sweet berry preserves, tangelo jam sits brightly in between.

1.5 kg tangelos (about 8 or 9)
3 litres (12 cups) water
1 tbsp tartaric acid (cream of tartar)
2 lemons halved
1.4 kg sugar, or the same weight of liquid to sugar
1 packet of Jamsetta (optional – I always keep one on hand in case jam is not setting. Simply stir a sachet through the mix and boil)

  1. Remove the zest (picture below) from the tangelos using a zester, and wrap in muslin cloth or a clean chux cloth.
  2. Cut the tangelos into quarters and process in a food processor until finely chopped – a little roughly if you like chunky jam.
  3. Place tangelo mixture into a saucepan, with the wrapped zest, water, cream of tartar and lemons. Cook for 30 minutes or until zest is soft. Remove zest from bag and set aside.
  4. Continue to cook the mixture for a further 1 1/2 hours. Strain mixture and reserve liquid.
  5. Return liquid to the heat and add the zest and sugar. Cook the jam for 40 – 50 minutes.
  6. Test for setting by spooning a little on a chilled saucer – it should wrinkle if set.
  7. Pour into sterilized jars and seal.

zesting tangelos

Postscript: do invest in a zester – it makes short work of tangelo rind (which is crucial when you have a car to pack, a house to close down and a 9 hour drive on the horizon….)

recipes

Plum

PlumsFor keen preservers, the produce section at the supermarket or the local fruit shop is a veritable candy store over the summer months. After the monotonous display of apples, pears and bananas over the chilly months, it is easy to be dazzled by the array of mangoes, peaches, nectarines and apricots on offer. Plums arrive a little later and often so briefly, that if excess time is spent admiring and pondering, the window of preserving opportunity slams shut, and another year must pass before these beauties arrive again.

So my friends, do not be caught out. Gather your old jars, select a choice kilogram of nicely ripened plums (any variety) and after an hour or so pottering in the kitchen you will have about five lovely jars of plum jam.

1 kg plums
1 kg jam setting sugar

Remove stones from plums and chop finely or process in the food processor. In a large pan add chopped plums and sugar, and cook over a low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Increase heat and boil rapidly for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and test a small amount of jam on a saucer that has been chilled in the freezer. The surface should wrinkle when pushed. Pour hot jam into hot sterilised jars and seal immediately. Leave to cool and then wipe away any stickiness on jars with a damp cloth. Add your labels.

Plum jamPostscript: Purchasing a kilogram of fresh plums is a win –  win situation. You are either going to end up with a well stocked pantry shelf, or if time gets away and good intentions are lost, a lovely fresh feast.