With various birthdays and Christmas on the horizon, I have cleared out the larder, sterilised each saucepan, boiled every jam jar, Dettol-ised work tops and removed all traces of dog hair from the kitchen sink—all in preparation for my annual round of Jam and Pickle making. It may be a bit of a nuisance if our kitchen is temporarily converted into a bubbling chemistry lab, but you can save lots of money if you can make your own DIY presents. Also, family and friends will mostly appreciate your gifts of homemade marmalade and stuff more because they’re personal. They would much rather receive something from you—your choice of ingredients made by you and nobody else and not by some anonymous factory in Blackburn using truckloads of canned fruit from Guatemala (best before March 2011) or reconstituted fruit pulp as a by-product from Hinkley Point.
I’m sure uncle Peter and cousin Viv will continue to enjoy my jars of delicious home-made blackberry and mandarin marmalade. At least neither of them complained about last year’s batch which I admit was rather too syrupy and gloopy. Come to think of it, Viv did have a nasty upset tummy for a week in January which might have been connected, but she is so kind and so considerate and never said anything about it so it was probably OK.
My nice neighbours certainly found my preserved medlar jelly useful. I did point out the stuff was a bit on the acidic side, but they must have liked it because they asked for a second jar! Only later did I discover they were using it very effectively as a household rust remover.
Pickling and bottling has always been a west country speciality. Every garden fête, market stall and local farm shop sells rows of cottage cloned marmalades, raspberry jams and honeys all with home designed pretty labels featuring flowers and bees and cute cuddly mammals like voles or badgers. I’m not sure if a picture of Mr Brock increases the sales appeal of my famous Rio Radish Piccalilli. Maybe a dead one by the side of the A35 would be more realistic and would imply a subtle warning as to the extreme heat of its contents?
Many label brand names win awards as romantic film sets or Mills and Boon novels like ‘Dapple Tree Farm Conserve’ or ‘Downton Damson Chutney’. This month’s Sunday evening telly will doubtless now give birth to jars of ‘Victoria Plum Jam’ (the Queen of Sweetness) and ‘Albert’s Pickled Sauerkraut’ (now with no added Melbourne sauce). ‘Poldark’s Preserves’ would leap manfully off the shelves but the label might keep coming off to reveal bare glass.
With so many exotic fruits and fancy foreign vegetables from far flown away places now available in our shops, I anticipate many new flavours. Boring old favourites like pickled onions and walnuts will give way to exciting new ranges of Preserved Kumquats or Pickled Physalis. If you see it in a supermarket and don’t know what to do with it (do you boil it, fry it, bake it, squeeze it or slice it?), just shove it in a jar of pickling vinegar and see what it tastes like after 6 months. Be bold, be brave—you may be lucky. Or not.
Be creative, be imaginative… be a trail-blazing innovator. Did you know that many bugs and insects are incredibly nutritious? For example, mealworms are rich in copper, sodium, potassium, iron and selenium and are comparable to beef in terms of protein content. If you can’t bear the thought of eating them, try pickling them. Much more digestible and—after a few months in a jar—nobody will know what they are anyway. Try experimenting with exciting combinations like ‘Strawberry and Stick Insect Jam’ or ‘Greengage and Grasshopper Jelly’. Human beings are naturally curious and—although you may not fancy putting them in your own mouth—I guarantee you people out there will buy them. You will create a major talking point and be interviewed on local and national radio. Foreign camera crews will beat a news path to your door and (unknown to you) you may become a star on breakfast TV in Bolivia. Sales (like your preserved termites) will go through the roof and your hits on You Tube will exceed fifty million a week. Your Facebook account will become so hot that your local fibre optic cable near Yeovil will melt.
Warning: you may also be arrested for poisoning your customers, so you had better obtain some good commercial insurance. And, if your products do become really successful, Health and Safety will almost certainly close you down. I reckon you’ve got about three months which is just enough time before Christmas. Start now!