Sunday, January 3, 2010

A day in the country

The sky above the green hills was bruised with rainclouds and the cool rainy weather was a shock after several days of heat. But the Otway region of Victoria always seems cool and green to me. Although it was five hours' drive from my home, it was where my mother grew up and we spent most school holidays here visiting my grandparents. I know we visited Lorne in summer, so there must have been hot days, but my memories are mostly of cool, rainy weather or rambles over green hills under grey skies.

My grandparents died many years ago, so it's been a long time since I stayed at Deans Marsh, a little town of nearly 700 people midway between Winchelsea and Lorne. But now a new tradition has begun, as we visit once a year to go berry picking at the Pennyroyal Raspberry Farm, a five-minute drive from Deans Marsh.

I don't think the berry farm existed when I was a child, although I remember visiting the Pennyroyal Tea Rooms on this site (and eating some of the best scones I can ever remember eating). Thankfully scones, freshly made, are still available at the farm now, served with homemade raspberry or blackberry jam - or pickles, if you choose the cheese scones.

The blackberries, brambleberries and boysenberries were abundant and we quickly filled our containers with ripe, juicy fruit. One for me, one for the container...

The raspberries had been heavily picked, so we had to hunt among the leaves to find ripe berries and it took longer to fill our punnets.

I find berry picking relaxing and fun and it's great fun with kids. Daniel quickly learned the colour of ripe berries and which ones he should pick.

It's also very economical - we paid $16 a kilo for our berries. I've seen 125g punnets of raspberries in the shops for $5, which works out to be about $40 a kilo.

The first thing I did when I got home was to make a batch of raspberry jam. This is one of the easiest jams to make, as raspberries are high in pectin and you don't have to worry about adding lemon juice or commercial pectin. If you are new to jam-making, I suggest that you try raspberry jam as your first - it will give you confidence.

The raspberry jam recipe I use is extremely easy and is from Cookery the Australian Way, the textbook I used in my year eight home economics class. This classic book is still an essential reference and provides simple, clear instructions for many basic dishes (eg jams, sponges, scones), as well as advice on why dishes may fail (eg undercooked sponges that flop).

Raspberry jam

Put 500g of raspberries into a heavy-based saucepan and mash with a wooden spoon. Bring to the boil over medium-high heat. Add 2 cups of sugar (if you wish, you can warm the sugar before you add it). Bring back to the boil, boil for six minutes and then test* to see if it's cooked. Once cooked, pour into hot sterilised jams, let cool a little and then seal.

* I do the saucer test to test if my jam is cooked: place a saucer in the freezer for a few minutes. Remove from freezer, place a little jam on the saucer and return to freezer for a few more minutes. Remove from freezer and push the jam with your finger. It should wrinkle as you push it - this means the jam is cooked. If it doesn't, cook jam a little longer and then repeat the test.

Pennyroyal Raspberry Farm, Division Road, Murroon (between Birregurra and Barwon Downs), phone 5236 3238


Suzie said...

What a fantastic thing to do! I am so jealous, and must have a search for somewhere near Sydney to go berry picking. The colour of that jam is amazing.

Melinda said...

Thanks Suzie! I adore berry picking - there is nothing more delicious than the taste of a fresh berry plucked from the bush.