Storing up sunshine

Seven jars of apricots bottled this morning.  That hadn’t been the plan for the day, but Dad and Stepmother stopped in on their way through town this morning and dropped off a box of fruit. It’s been really hot again, so the apricots obviously weren’t going to last long enough to be eaten fresh, so I had a bit of a rush job to dig out all the bottling supplies and get them preserved.  Apparently doing a rush job is the secret to successful preserving, because all seven jars sealed successfully.  A nice little stash for the winter 🙂

Then this afternoon Lytteltonwitch and I walked over to the Avice Hill craft fair (which had some quite nice stuff, but nothing that inspired me enough to want to spend money on it), and from there to the golf club where there was a final display of the Stand Tall giraffes before they are auctioned off for charity next week.  I think the response was more than they’d expected, because the queue to get in was huge – half way across the car park, then a loop round the gardens before you finally got in sight of the giraffes.  I think it took us over half an hour to get through the queue, and it had grown even longer by the time we left.

Cool to get to see them all in one place, though, especially because I’d only seen about half of them “in the wild”.

It’s been such a great project – so much creativity, and such fun to discover the giraffes hiding in odd corners of the city for the past few months.  I really hope they do something similar again next year.

Toast and jam

First Toastmasters meeting of the year tonight, and as always it was a lot of fun.  I was the “Table Topics Master”, in charge of the impromptu speaking section of the meeting.  I did have a set of prompts prepared to use to assign speaking topics, but as it turned out we had a huge number of guests along, and the tradition is that guests are invited to stand up and briefly introduce themselves during the Table Topics section, to give them a first taste of public speaking, which didn’t leave much time for actual Table Topics speeches.  That’s ok though, because I’m sure I’ll get landed with the Table Topics Master job again sometime soon, so I can save the prompts I prepared for then.

Toastmasters brought an unexpected benefit tonight – a jar of jam.  One of the members, Maya, had dropped by a few times over the break to visit, and to pick a few lemons from my tree (which I’m more than happy for her to do, as there’s no way I could ever use all the fruit it produces).  Last time she was here she mentioned she’d been trying her hand at jam making for the first time, and I shared some of my limited knowledge (ok, very limited – I’ve never actually made jam myself, though did I help Mum many times as a kid, and I’ve often made chutney, which is similar in principle (apart from the vinegar part, of course)).  So tonight she brought me a jar of her jam.  It’s plum and cherry flavoured, so it should be interesting.  I think I see a batch of scones in my near future…

Phase 2

Six jars of cherry and apple chutney.

So I’ve got no housework done (except for cleaning the kitchen to remove all the stickiness – the cutlery drawer hasn’t been this tidy in ages!), but I reckon I’ve had a pretty productive weekend 🙂

Busy bottling

Dad sent me a text a few days ago, saying friends of his were coming up to Christchurch, so he’d given them some apricots to drop off to me.  Cool, thought I, there might be enough to bottle some of them – I love bottled apricots, and the tinned ones from the supermarket just aren’t the same. So I dug out a few preserving jars in preparation, and made sure I had sugar on hand.

Yeah, I forgot that Dad’s use of the word “some” tends to mean the same thing as when someone says the Pacific ocean is “quite big”:

There were a few cherries, too:

Don’t be fooled by the scale into thinking that’s a small bag – it’s a full supermarket bag.  What makes it look smaller is that those aren’t the usual tiny cherries you buy in the local supermarket – they’re the full on huge cherries grown for the export market, which not many NZers outside Central Otago ever get to sample.

All seconds, of course, but mostly only because of a bit of water splitting or branch rubbing, which doesn’t affect the taste in the slightest – it just makes them not look quite so pretty.

They were perfectly ripe too, which meant they’d only have a couple of days before they started to go off.  So I took a bag of each into work on Friday to share round the team, and then this morning I set to work bottling the rest.

And after a full day’s work (it doesn’t help that my biggest stockpot can only hold 4 jars at a time, so the waterbath stage has to be done in shifts), one broken jar, sticky syrup spread all over the kitchen (including, after one badly misjudged pouring, all through the cutlery drawer), several scalds to my hands and one to my armpit (don’t ask – the fluid dynamics of boiling water are really complex, especially when you’re trying to carefully lower hot jars into nearly-overflowing pots of it – splashes go in strange and unpredictable directions), and an emergency run to the supermarket by the wonderful Mr Harvestbird for more jars and sugar when I ran out and texted Harvestbird in a panic, here’s the finished product:

That’s 16 jars of apricots, and two of cherries.  Some of which will be going to the Harvestbirds in gratitude for them interrupting their weekend to aid me in my time of shortage.  Oh, and miracle of miracles, all but one jar actually sealed!  And that one jar was only a failure because I forgot that I’ve got three jars which are a different type, so need a gold ring instead of the green ones the others take, so it wasn’t screwed down tight enough at the critical moment.  Oh well, just means I’ll have to eat that one quickly… 🙂

And there’s still about a kilo of cherries left, which I’m thinking may have to be turned into chutney.  But that’s a job for tomorrow – I’m utterly exhausted right now!


Mojosmom’s suggestion of a peach cobbler sent me off to Google.  I’d only ever encountered cobblers in fiction, but Google quickly turned up a plethora of recipes, all completely different.  In the end I found one that seemed to resemble what she’d described, so (after a bit of tweaking to adapt it to metric measurements, halve the size (the original recipe served 8!!!) and replace the self-raising flour (which I hate the taste of so always use real flour plus baking powder instead)) I gave it a go.  The ingredient list is pretty similar to the muffins, actually:

2-3 cups sliced peaches
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
50g butter
3/4 cup flour
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup milk

Make up a syrup with the water and half the sugar, and boil the peaches in it for 10 minutes. Mix flour, baking powder, remaining sugar, and milk to make a thin batter. Melt butter in a baking dish, and pour the batter over the top, without mixing. Spoon fruit and syrup over the top, then sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake 180C for 25-30 minutes.

The batter rises up around the fruit, and you end up with a sweet, slightly chewy, doughy fruity mixture. Delicious, but very heavy – I had to share it with friends to be able to get through it all.

I’m having a very enjoyable long Easter weekend so far. On Friday Harvestbird and I went to see a Chilean film at Alice’s, preceded by a walk through the wide open spaces of the ex-CBD. After the movie we went for a very late lunch, sitting outside in the sun and discussing literary theory and the application of narrative to everyday life – a very pleasant afternoon, and it gave me some very helpful new ways to look at the world.

Then on Saturday night I went out for dinner with Jenny and MrJenny – another lovely meal and great conversation. They’re off on holiday to Dunedin this week, so I was sharing my (rather out of date) local knowledge of the best things to do and see (I made sure to direct them to the beach where Skyring nearly tripped over a seal, so they can have their own wildlife close encounter).

Yesterday it was bottling day. Despite my best efforts at muffins and cobblers and eating a huge amount fresh, I still had a large pile of fruit left.

So I set to work making nectarine chutney.

That only used up half the fruit though. I thought about making a second batch, but I didn’t have enough of the other ingredients left, and it being Easter Sunday, the supermarket would have been closed. So I decided to be very brave and attempt some bottling.

I used to help Mum and Dad with bottling fruit all the time when I was a kid, but generally only with the preparing the fruit part – once it got to boiling hot sugar syrup being poured around, I kept out of the way. And my memories of it being a very arcane and esoteric process meant I never tried it for myself as an adult. But here I was with a pile of fruit and plenty of jars and lids I’d already sterilised. So there was only one thing for it – consult the trusty Edmonds book, turn my big stock pot into a water bath, and dive in (metaphorically, that is – literally diving into the stock pot would have been quite painful… and a bit difficult, seeing as it’s only big enough for my head).

Not many photos this time – there was way too much sugar syrup getting spilt around the kitchen for me to want my camera anywhere near!

End result, 11 jars of chutney, and 10 of bottled peaches and nectarines (and only 3 jars that failed to seal, which I’ll have to use up first). That should keep me going for the winter!

The long weekend was rounded off quite nicely (though it’s not actually over yet for me – I’ve got tomorrow off as well) by breakfast with Dad and Stepmother, who were on their way back from Australia. They were staying at a motel just up the road, so we went to a nearby cafe for breakfast, then they dropped me off in Riccarton on their way out of town. After a quick dash into the mall to get a couple of things, I headed to Deans Bush to play with my camera in the gardens.