Celebrating tastes of summer

Posted on: 6th October, 2014

Category: Home, Garden & Environment

Contributor: West Cork People

by Justine Sweeney

This month’s meeting in Clonakilty saw 42 GIY-ers come together to celebrate ‘The Harvest’. The meeting began with myself demonstrating how quick it is to make jam from just a small amount of fruit, ‘a six minute jam’, as I call it. The process involves nothing more than three minutes simmering the fruit with lemon juice and three minutes boiling with sugar. I used blackberries, as they were in abundance at the time, but blackcurrants, strawberries, redcurrants, raspberries and gooseberries can all be used and the jam always has a perfect set.

To demonstrate just how quick and easy this method of jam making is – whilst the jam was cooking, I also made a delicious beetroot hummus (cooked beetroot combined with toasted walnuts and cumin seeds whizzed up with a soup blender).

The second demonstration was by Bill Liao, whose calm and laid back approach to stir-frying was an education in itself. Bill showed how cutting vegetables in different ways makes the end result more pleasing to the eye and also how these different cuts can enhance the flavours whilst stir-frying.

Bill prepared four dishes, the first being courgette slices with the classic flavours of cinnamon and honey. The second dish featured long slices of courgettes, cut using a y-shaped peeler, with a tomato ragu. The third dish was courgettes made into angel hair spaghetti using a Japanese rotary mandolin – it reduced a huge and fearsome courgette into spaghetti in seconds. With added feta and Parmesan cheeses, this was a simple, tasty and quick dish.

With his final dish Bill showed us a simple technique, learnt from his Chinese grandmother. Cut courgettes into pieces at an angle, then stir-fry with onion until they caramalise on the edges. Add dry sherry and soya sauce to make a glaze. Four very tasty dishes made in minutes and enjoyed by all.

Monika Ahern spoke to the group about using her dehydrator to dry her produce. The vegetables are slowly dried at 40º C over a long period of time – something that no oven can replicate. Monica brought along dried apple rings, cherries and kiwi and some courgette crisps, which all tasted fantastic.

Tips on the night included placing a tray of chopped vegetables on a spare oven shelf whilst cooking your dinner to save energy. These can then be used for the base of sauces, stews and soups, before freezing for use in winter.

When freezing fresh or cooked fruit, weigh it and write the amount on a freezer bag. This is a great help when you need a certain amount for a recipe later on in the year. Also, when freezing vegetables, it is a good idea to chop or slice them into the shape you need. Runner beans, French beans, peas, grated courgette and tomatoes can all go straight into the freezer without blanching.

Most herbs, such as basil, coriander, mint, sage, oregano, thyme, parsley and rosemary can be frozen in freezer bags. Crush whilst frozen and then spoon straight into cooked dishes.

We talked about ways of storing vegetables in sheds, cupboards and attics, and which vegetables could be left in the ground most of the winter – parsnips, leeks, beetroots, carrots, celeriac, perpetual beet, kales, chard and so on.

The final part of the evening when the tasting sessions began was the most exciting. Cakes, jams, chutneys, sauces, cordials, hummus, stir-fries and dried fruits were devoured, along with plenty of tea and coffee. A time to celebrate and realise why we all grow our own food. Swapping recipes and sharing stories of the summer’s growing successes ended a wonderful night.

The next GIY meeting will be on Monday, October 13 at 8pm in O’Donovans Hotel, Clonakilty. This is a free meeting open to the public.

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