Baking with Bach, Beethoven or Brubeck is the perfect way to spend a bleak January afternoon. The croft kitchen is a refuge from a raw westerly wind and I’m wrapped in warmth, light and music, drenched by the aroma of spices, dark molasses sugar and ginger. However, let us not get carried away by too much dewy-eyed romance about the good life, as my eyes are streaming from the miasma of chopped onions and not the beauty of a Schubert string quintet.
Traditional home baking is one of my distraction-procrastination occupations, what to do when I can’t face yet another survey from the “department of collecting useless information about crofting”, filling in my tax returns or similar bureaucratic nonsense. There is something extra-ordinarily therapeutic about turning a wet sticky dough into a tray of smooth round scones glistening with egg wash ready to go into the oven, or pouring a mix heavy with fruit, seeds and spices into a loaf tin. The following quiet interval with a cup of tea in the rocking chair watching the ravens cavorting in the wind and enjoying the indescribably comforting smell of baking seeping into the kitchen, is the prelude to scones and redcurrant jelly for tea.
January is also marmalade month, but this year I had to close my eyes to the box of knobbly Seville oranges in the supermarket and concentrate on buying kilos of red onions. The produce store shelves are buckling under jars of preserves, we still have some marmalade left from last year, we’ve only just started the 2017 bumper batch of tomato chutney and we still have one small jar of red currant jelly, vintage 2016. Moreover, there are still redcurrants from 2017 and 2018 in the bottom of the freezer!
Our redcurrant bushes are prolific, and even after the gooseberry sawfly caterpillars had stripped every leaf of every bush, I still picked over 6 kg of fruit last summer. I love redcurrants, but there is a limit to how much redcurrant jelly we can consume or give away. Fortunately I discovered a recipe for redcurrant relish, which is delicious and quick to make, even if it requires kilos of chopped onions. It will also accommodate any cranberries which didn’t quite make it into the Christmas cranberry sauce. So far 3 kg of redcurrants, and a few stray cranberries, have been transformed into relish, which still leaves enough to make a monster batch of jelly.
I enjoy making preserves, but it requires more stamina than baking, more a case of a marathon with the complete Mozart or Beethoven sonatas than a shimmy around the kitchen with Roxy Music! For anyone with a redcurrant dilemma, the relish recipe is in the Croft Kitchen archive. Now it is time to go back to the paperwork and prepare myself for some jelly making. I wonder if HMRC would be interested in a few jars of chutney and a fruit cake in-lieu of income tax?