Thursday, 14 April 2011

Preserving pears ~ and a good fruit-sugar-water ratio

I'm part way through packing away my pears for the year and am once more using the simple ratio that worked so well last year: for each kilo of prepared fruit (ie: peeled, cored, etc) I use one cup of sugar and five cups of water. 

I considered reducing the amount of sugar, but found there was no need to do so.  The right amount of sugar enhances the natural flavour and makes it refreshing to eat, whereas fruit that is over-sweetened can seem too rich and leave a cloying taste.

The amount of water given will mean you have plenty of syrup to top up your jars, with some being left over after you've finished.  This is helpful as you won't need to keep a kettle of water simmering nearby for topping up your jars, and also when you get near to the bottom of the pot the remaining pieces of fruit will still have syrup to swim in.  And after you've done the washing up, you'll have a very pleasant glass of light pear syrup to drink up - num-num!

Fruit needn't be peeled but I prefer it that way.  Having done this I've found that wastage due to peeling and coring is about a quarter of the initial weight.  Last year I started off with 8 kilos of fruit and the before-cooking weight was 6 kilos.

Compared to making jam, preserves are quick and easy: the main work goes into preparing the fruit and in making sure the jars and lids are all clean and ready to go.  As I prepare and slice the pears I place them into a large bowlful of cold water to prevent browning.  I drain the water off when I'm ready to get cooking.  As I near the end of preparing the fruit I put the sugar and water on to heat so that it's hot and ready to receive the fruit once I've finished preparing it.  Fruit is put into the heated water all at the same time so that it cooks evenly.  Once it is on the stove the process of getting them all into jars is over in about half an hour - all the fruit looking luscious in pop-top jars and the lids clicked down and fully sealed.

Last year I did the fruit in two batches.  My regular-sized stock pot takes only about two and a half kilos of fruit, whereas the larger one comfortably takes three.

The yield was fourteen jars, mostly these large ones. 

This year my first batch of 2.8 kilos of prepared fruit produced 9 jars of preserves, five of them large and four medium sized.  

Blessings on the pear trees, which bear so much fruit so generously.  

Spring blossom, October 2011

This article is an updated version of the one I published in April 2010.
For expanded notes about doing preserves you can refer to my earlier articles: 
Preserves - notes both general and particular, and 
Pop-top jars for jam and preserves.

More of my articles about jam and preserves as well as other food articles can be found listed together via the link below:

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

You know you're a librarian when ~ Sumner's library remains closed and you get mad!

Quake damaged Sumner's excellent community library remains closed: sandwiched uncomfortably between two buildings in immanent danger of collapse the decision to keep it closed requires no brains at all - it's absolutely necessary, right, proper and all the rest of it.  But does this mean that Sumner need go without a library service - No, No and No!  

Christchurch has a mobile library service in the form of a book bus, which I'm sure is working its wheels off in various locations around the stricken city, or at least I hope it is.  But I hear it can't get to Sumner due to the state of the roads.  Pardon?  Can't get to Sumner?  I know the road is very damaged, reduced to one lane in areas and access is difficult, but the vehicles of locals come and go, so where exactly is the problem?  Maybe that particular vehicle can't get through, but others certainly can and do - on a regular basis.  

In a time when digging holes in the back garden to use as toilets, and sewerage a hot topic of general conversation I strenuously suggest that library administration get its heart out from behind closed doors and actually apply one of its own dearly beloved maxims, the one about Libraries Without Walls! 

I left library work years ago but I know how they function: the simple equation is this:
  • Books plus community plus willingness to share equals a library service, pure and simple.  
Forget about computers, audio and security if that's too hard at present, and just get the books out there.  A former colleague and I were discussing this the other day, and we would have got the books out there in suitcases if we had had to.  Get the army, get tanks, get pack-horses, carry them on your head if that's the only way, but Get The Books Out There!

I put the following problems to readers and librarians alike, and offer the obvious solutions:
  • Library building closed: no problem: find a cafe, a school hall, an empty house, a garage which can reasonably be made available for the purpose of people coming and going for some months.
  • No computers: forget it.  Do without them.  Forget backup, forget the lot.  Get customers to write their own lists of items borrowed if that's the best solution.
  • No due date dockets: forget it: get half a dozen date stamps and some stamp pads and get customers to stamp the inside of the backs of their books themselves.  Yes, straight into the inside of the back of the book.  It's been done before.  Most things have been done before. 
  • No security for the stock: forget it.  Long before the invention of computers or even before the days of books being housed on open shelves books were going missing.  From having worked in New Zealands largest library network I know exactly what the average loss of stock is per library, despite all efforts to contain it.  But, the fact is, that most people bring most books back.  Most people treat borrowed items well.  Some don't, but they are a minority.  Accept the potential loss and get on with providing the service.
  • No staff: oh dear, well, love will find a way: organise a roster of volunteers to at least vaguely supervise whatever place is set up.  
  • No shelves: well, put books out on trestles, as at book fairs.  People who go to these do manage to find masses of stuff they want enough to lug home by the bagful.
  • No order: doesn't matter.  See above. 
  • No furniture: this does matter.  It can be found, borrowed or contrived.  
  • No tea room: Here again, this does matter.  I suggest conversation be opened with one or more of the local cafes.  I'm sure something can be contrived.  
  • No budget: that I simply don't believe.  Come on people: extraordinary times require extraordinary measures.  
One of the big problems of living in Christchurch at present is that so many of the usual places that people like to go either no longer exist or are closed due to damage.  People need places to go for outings and refreshment: places to gather to chat or to linger for a while; places which are neutral yet friendly, to cheer them up and give them a change of scene; and then something nice to take away.  Books and libraries are great for all of that. 

Come on, Christchurch City Libraries:
If the Christchurch library administration can get an informal set-up of some sort up and running in areas where their libraries are closed they will prove their worth as well doing their public a great service.  It will be proved, yet again, that libraries are a vital and very much alive organ of a happy and healthy community.  

Waving a flag for the staff:
I am well aware of how hard front-line library staff work.  Very likely this is continuing although a large portion of libraries remain closed.  The unusual circumstances prevailing in Christchurch shouldn't bring more pressure to bear on them.  At such times it's a matter of finding different rather than harder ways of working, which I hope is the case. 

If they can't, you can!!!
If the library administration can't rise to the occasion, I challenge private individuals to give them a run for their money.  Start your own informal clubs.  Many households have at least a handful of books they're not actually valuing much anymore.  Pool them and have some fun.  And when your local libraries are open again, take them back if you still want them, or donate them to the next book fair.  Which makes me wonder, where exactly are all the books destined for the next one?  if they're sitting idle in a warehouse somewhere accessible maybe they could be got out and put to work!  
Note: Newspapers supplied in libraries are always very popular, so if you're thinking of what to have to hand newspapers will be well received.  If you can't afford to buy them in to have available for free, consider getting some to on-sell.  And my guess is that any one of the first half dozen takers will donate their copy anyway.

Prepare for the rush:
I know how much Sumner values its library, so any equivilant establishment would do well to prepare for immense popularity...  I'm also well aware that Redcliffs has lost its library and that Mt Pleasant has never had one.  There is no reason whatsoever why impromptu library-cum-book-exchange fairs couldn't spring up all over the place like the farmers markets which are proving so valuable.  

I no longer live in Christchurch, or I'd be there at the front with this one.  Go Christchurch! 

All my articles about the Christchurch earthquakes and aftermath can be found via the page linked to below, or at the upper right of this screen:

Friday, 1 April 2011

Wind, rain and roses ~

Late yesterday afternoon a great gust of wind suddenly sprang up from nowhere.  I looked out the window and saw that our mild nor'west day was about to become a dark, rather stormy, sou'wester: inky dark clouds were looming in the south and the garden tossed in the now cold wind.  Rather than leave my roses to be diminished by the weather I went outside to cut the best blooms.  They fill my kitchen with their glow and fragrance:

Matawhero Magic

Usually I prefer to leave them on the garden, but it is nice to have some inside from time to time.  While roses require more care than many other plants, having a few adds special charm, and I must say, elegance.  

Here are a couple of buds hastily plucked from my other rose:

Tequila Sunrise
I adore this rose, which gets carted from place to place when I move.  A few years ago I successfully propagated it, much to my surprise.  It has a particularly glorious scent.  

The perfume of roses often seems to me to be like the fruit of similar colours: lemon roses tend to smell lemony, dark red roses like red wine, and orange and apricot roses like those fruits of the same name - lovely!  From this you may correctly guess that Tequila Sunrise has an especially fragrant tang.  Perhaps this is where the wine expert derive their term 'bouquet' when referring to the aroma of wine. 

Today the storminess of the southerly has passed over and we have a crisp autumn day.  Island weather is changeable, and in New Zealand especially so.