JAM and chutney making has for a long time been seen as the preserve of those of a more mature age.
It conjures up images of grey-haired grandmothers (and grandfathers for that matter) standing over huge pans of soft fruits or in-season vegetables bubbling away on the hob.
But these days nothing could be further from the truth.
There has been something of a resurgence of late in jam, chutney and even cider making across all ages as the make-do-and-mend mentality of our forebears comes into its own again.
And it’s not just because we are currently in the depths of a recession and people are looking to save the pennies. There is an element of nostalgia attached to the current trend as well as a renewed enthusiasm for local and seasonal produce.
Many people still have fond memories of watching their grandmother or mother making jars of jam and chutney, and the pleasure derived many months later in winter of savouring this preserved taste of summer on homemade scones and bread or as an accompaniment to cold meats and cheese.
Homemade preserves taste so much better than the mass produced variety. There’s usually more fruit for a start, less sugar, no nasty additives and each jewel coloured jar has a natural bright hue and rich, fresh flavour.
But the late summer tradition of making homemade preserves has for the past few decades taken something of a back seat as people’s increasingly fast-paced lives – and the convenience of being able to pop into a supermarket and buy everything readymade – meant the majority of us could no longer be bothered to do it for ourselves.
A whole generation has missed out on the simple pleasure of picking, boiling, pressing, preserving and pickling.
But the pendulum is swinging back the other way.
And not just when it comes to home baking and preserving. People brought up in the throwaway 70s, 80s and 90s, where fast food, cheap clothes and inexpensive and often badly made furniture and white goods were the norm, are now rebelling against this wasteful and unsustainable way of living.
They want to have a go at making things themselves.
It’s a trend that Melanie Clarke, house assistant at the National Trust-run Washington Old Hall, has witnessed first-hand over the past three years.
It was in the summer of 2009 that the manor house associated with the first president of the United States, George Washington, held its inaugural jam and chutney making days.
Last year a special ‘waste not, want not’ apple day was added to the list of foodie events, which this year has morphed by popular demand into a cider making session.
The hall in the centre of what was the original Washington Village, has also started running homemade cosmetic classes utilising natural ingredients like lavender, which the property has growing in profusion in its garden. Interest in the special workshops has grown steadily each year. The jam making event at the beginning of July rapidly sold out, and Melanie expects the chutney and cider classes on September 2 and October 7 to be equally popular. The average age of those taking part has ranged from 40s up to early 60s, but there have been many younger people joining in too.
Melanie says: “There have admittedly been a lot of more mature people taking part, but also a number of younger participants keen to learn more about preserve making and have their taste buds tickled or challenged by the results of cooking up fruits, vegetables, vinegar and sugar.
“The majority who come have never tried making preserves before and don’t have a clue how to do it. But it is amazing how quickly people can become hooked.”
Melanie believes the recession is playing its part as people eke out the pennies. “More and more people seem to want to have a go. We’re thrilled at the growing interest in making your own.
“In fact, we have had people asking if we could do Christmas cake and pudding making workshops, and it is something we are looking at doing, perhaps in October.”
Melanie utilises ingredients on the doorstep for the sessions. The chutney making afternoon will use onions and courgettes grown at Washington Old Hall, as well as plums from the Nuttery and other components foraged locally.
Because cider takes around six weeks to make, Melanie will have already made up a batch. But visitors to the workshop will be taken through the process of making perry, cider and fruit liqueurs and have the chance to discuss techniques and equipment.
The preserve and cider making events are carrying on a long tradition at Washington Old Hall. George Washington’s ancestors first built a manor house on the site in the 12th century before selling it to the Bishop of Durham in 1613.
In the 19th century the hall was sub-divided into tenements. The last family left in 1932.
Melanie says it is inconceivable that the women of the household would not have preserved fruits, veg and meat to see them through the winter and also made cider and beer.
“As much of the land as possible would have been turned over to growing and it would have been the job of the women of the household to preserve as much as could be.
“It would have started with jams and compotes in late June-July and moved on to pickle making and then the cider in late September-October.”
Washington Old Hall, The Avenue, Washington Village, Washington, NE38 7LE, 0191 416 6879, www.nationaltrust.org.uk/washington-old-hall
Chutney Making, September 2, 1pm-4pm. Make your own jar of chutney. Must be booked in advance. Tickets £10 per person.
Cider Making, October 7, 1pm-4pm. Demonstration and tasting of homemade cider using foraged apples. Also includes info and techniques to make fruit liqueurs. Must be booked in advance. Tickets £10 per person.
RED ONION MARMALADE (SERVES EIGHT)
Try this National Trust marmalade recipe. It’s best served as a savoury side to cheese, pâté or even homemade burgers.
2kg red onions
4 garlic cloves
4 tbsp olive oil
140g golden caster sugar
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
Pinch of chilli flakes
75cl red wine
350ml sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
Halve and thinly slice the onions. Thinly slice the garlic.
Melt the butter with the oil over a high heat. Tip in the onions and garlic, and give them a good stir.
Sprinkle over the sugar, thyme leaves, chilli flakes, and some salt and pepper to season. Stir again and reduce the heat.
Keeping the pan uncovered, cook for between 40 and 50 minutes, stirring occasionally. The onions should be so soft they break when pressed.
Pour in the wine, vinegar and port, and simmer (still uncovered) over a high heat for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally.
It's ready when you can draw a spoon across the bottom of the pan and the space fills quickly with syrupy juice.
Leave the onions to cool, before scooping them into sterilised jars and sealing.
For best results, leave in the fridge for a few weeks before eating.