A day of preserving and pickling at the School of Artisan Food
It has become something of a running joke in my family that every Christmas everyone will get a jar of my homemade tomato chutney, lovingly labelled and then decorated with a piece of round gingham fabric on the top.
But this year I thought it was time to retire the tomato chutney so in my quest for inspiration I signed up for the day-long Preserves and Pickling course at the School of Artisan Food which is on the beautiful Welbeck estate near Worksop. Housed in the former stable building, the award-winning school runs a diverse programme of courses covering everything from matching cheese to beer to the more ambitious how to butcher a pig from nose to tail.
When I arrived at 9.30am I was welcomed into a large kitchen and dining area and told to help myself to coffee and freshly baked croissants while we waited for everyone to arrive. I soon got chatting to the others who were taking the course and after a short time we were ushered next door into the modern, well-equipped kitchen.
We were making three preserves starting with a mango chutney. Working in pairs we prepared the ingredients, peeling the well-ripened mangos and deciding how many chillies would be too many. With the pans gently simmering on the hobs the room was soon filled with the a warm, spicy aroma and it wasn’t long before we were able to spoon the chutney into the sterilised jars.
After a coffee and croissant break (it was a tough day!) we were back in the kitchen to cook our marmalade. As well as using the traditional oranges, this recipe also contained ruby grapefruit and lemon, giving it an extra depth of flavour. Making the mango chutney had been fairly straightforward but the marmalade required a bit more concentration. My cooking companion (also called Catherine) and I had decided to cut our peel into dainty slices and after removing all the white pith, we realised we were behind everyone else. We hurried up and once all the ingredients were in the pan we left it to bubble while we moved onto our third and final preserve: lemon curd.
With the eggs cracked, the lemons squeezed and the sugar carefully measured we were on our way to making our lemon curd. Unlike the commercial stuff this one was not bright yellow; instead it looked a lot more natural and tasted delicious.
Once it was finished we put it into the jars and after a quick check on the marmalade, which was still gently cooking, we made our way back to the dining area for lunch – and what a lunch it was! As it was Sunday we were treated to a roast with all the trimmings: pork with apple and sage stuffing, crackling, roast carrots and parsnips, roast potatoes, mustard mash and cauliflower cheese. Afterwards, there was a selection of cheese including Stichelton, a blue cheese made on the Welbeck estate, as well as artisan bread and of course, homemade pickles.
Feeling refreshed – if a little sleepy – we headed back to the kitchen to complete our marmalade which by now smelt very festive indeed. I learnt that you have to bring the marmalade up to 105 degrees centigrade – which is not a fast process. Keeping a close eye on the thermometer we all started to compete with each other and there were whoops of joy when we finally reached the magic number. Once it had cooled we poured the marmalade into the jars and all admired each other’s efforts before loading up our bags and saying goodbye.
I’d had a fantastic day at the School of Artisan Food and came away full of new ideas. Not only that but the relaxed setting also meant that it had been great fun – I will definitely be back to try out one of the other courses.
A course at the School of Artisan Food would make the perfect Christmas present for the foodie in your life. Or why not impress your friends and family by taking a course in the run-up to the festive period? For details, including information on Christmas courses, visit the website.