Posts tagged ‘mayo’

September 27, 2012

Fruit of the vine- a gift of grapes means lots of grape jam

by Ciaran Burke

I got the call on Sunday morning,” I have friend of a friend who has a grape vine…”. The vine grower now lives in France, but the vine in question grows in Sligo. Nobody wanted the grapes, the caller thought of me, “would I like the grapes?”  Yes, definitely. We arranged to meet on Tuesday morning, we were told there were lots to pick, but were not sure how much that was. So we packed a couple of buckets and off we went to Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo, a short drove from our home.

We arrived at the vacant house, a west wind blew damp and fresh, the garden overgrown, the grass long and weeds invading the driveway. We followed our friend Mary to the tunnel, a stunning sight greeted us. The vine had started to wander, side shoots stretched out like tentacles, reaching into the air, looking for something to grab. The main body of the vine was supported on a homemade support sytem of wood and steel, winding stems looked ancient, older than their years. They twisted along the suports from the far end of the tunnel. Almost the entire length of the structure was filled by its fruitful presence. The large leaves tried to hide its bounty from our view. We gently eased back foliage to see the large clusters of grapes revealed. We got busy with out scissors, our buckets soon overflowed, luckily I had a crate in the car, the harvesting could continue.

Grape vines are easy to grow, the west of Ireland climate does not provide good ripening conditions, a protected structure such as a greenhouse or plastic tunnel over comes the disadvantage of our location. Each end of the tunnel had plastic netteing for doors allowing good ventilation, essential for vines so as to reduce the incidence of powdery mildew, which can be menace for Vitis vinifera.

So what to do with all these grapes? First of all jam. We have also made cordial and my wife Hanna baked a delicious rustic Italian grape cake. All the recipes are on their way, but first the jam!

Grape Jam Recipe

Grape jam takes a little work to prepare. The work involves removing the pulp from the grape and separating the skins. Then the pulp is cooked and sieved to remove the stones. While the pulp is cooking you blend the skins with a food processor or hand blender. The skins are then added to the sieved pulp, then cooked slowly for about 30 minutes. Then add sugar and boil like mad for about another 30 minutes until the jam is setting. A good set can be achieved without the addition of pectin. I try to limit the sugar quantities to a minimum, partly for healthiness but I also prefer the jam to taste of grapes and not be too sweet.


  • 4kg of grapes
  • 500ml of water
  • tbsp of lemon juice
  • 1.5kg of sugar


  1. Remove the skins. This is easy, just squeeze the fruit so that the inner pulp and seed ejects from the opening where the fruit was attached to the bunch. Put the skins in a separate bowl. Two people doing a 2 kilos took about 30 minutes
  2. Put the pulp containing seeds to cook, when they start to boil reduce heat to simmer for about 10 minutes
  3. Meanwhile chop up the skins using hand blender or food processor
  4. Sieve the grape flesh to remove the seeds, a coarse sieve will do, I used a colander with small holes
  5. Retutn the grapes to the saucepan and add the puled skins. Add the lemon juice and water and bring to boil
  6. Reduce the heat to simmer the fruit for 30 minutes, cooking slowly releases the pectin
  7. Slowly add the sugar and then turn up the heat
  8. The jam will boil heavily and keep the temp up high. It took about 30 minutes for the jam to start thickening.
  9. When it is starting to set, fill the jam into sterilized jars.

This amount made 13 8oz jars. When making jam stir the fruit occasionally to make sure it does not stick to the sauce pan, never leave it alone as it is sure to boil over and burn as soon as you turn your back.

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September 22, 2012

Picking Blackberries and Blackberry Jam Recipe

by Ciaran Burke

Blackberries are an abundant fruit in the Irish countryside

Shining and black, tightly packed and full of flavour. Each segment a tiny drupe, like a miniature stone fruit, they line the lanes and roadsides of the Irish countryside. Blackberries are abundant, their prickled stems arch over the hedgerows and back to the soil where each stem can take root at its tip and continue its colonization of the earth.

Blackberries, Rubus fruticosa are a bit of a  Jekyll and Hyde for gardeners, sometimes hated. Then it is called a bramble or a briar, a sharp prickled vigorous and multi-stemmed woody weed; Mr Hyde, wild vagabond and unwelcome. Brambles are sometimes loved. In September the sweet and juicy black fruits ripen to the darkest black, picked for jam making and delicious pies, then they are blackberries; Dr Jekyll, most welcome.

I have spent hours, days, maybe weeks chopping bramble stems in our garden. Gloved hands dragging their roots from the soil after vigorous hacking at their toots with a spade. It is a constant battle, more like war, where battles are sometimes won but the enemy always return to the same front or ambushes you somewhere else. Yet I love them, yes, I love my enemy.

Rubus fruticosa is a variable species and there are said to be hundreds of varieties occurring in the wild. Plants around our garden produce small hard fruits without great flavour so I take cuttings from plants that I find with good fruit. I will plant these into the woodland bordering our garden so I don’t have to travel looking for good berries in the future, reducing my carbon footprint! Until our new introductions of superior blackberries produce fruit, which will be a couple of years as they fruit on previous years growth, Hanna and I have been picking the fruit along the roads in our locality.

Rubus fruticosa – its a love hate thing!

One of the reasons I enjoy food foraging and discovering more about the edible properties of the wild plants that grow all around us is that It gives me a new respect for plants I previously called weeds. It also creates a link with the past. This is something our ancestors would have done. Foraged food played an important part of their diet. It also bring back fond memories of my childhood. I have happy memories, of purpled hands and face, plastic buckets filling slowly and the sweet taste of blackberries in my mouth. Sometimes I ate more than I picked on our family expeditions to the countryside, where we would walk along the country roads gathering the fruit, falling in ditches, getting scratched and dyed. Recently when visiting Turlough Monastery and round tower near Castlebar in Co. Mayo I tasted delicious berries. They were big, juicy and sweet. Picking berries beneath the towering presence of a thousand year old stone tower, watched by a statue of Jesus and passing by the old yew trees brought a connection of site and action that goes back to pre-christian Ireland where probably this old monastery was preceded by a holy site where our ancestors probably nibbled on a berry or leaf when they visited.

Round tower and blackberries -Turlough, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, Ireland

You also have amusing encounters with people of the present when they see you picking berries. Last Monday on a country lane, we were filling our buckets ripe sweet fruit. A blue Nissan  car approached and slowed to a stop. An elderly local lowered the passenger side window, an amused look on his face. We greeted each other and he asked “ are ye gettin’ many?”. I replied, telling him that there were lots of berries, he laughed and said “they will have lots of maggots by now” and drove away.  Our relationship with the bramble in modern Ireland is a curious one, while the roadsides are filled with their free fruit, people buy farmed and imported blackberries instead, €3.95 for 250 grams! Last Monday we picked a small fortune of fruit in a couple of hours, and no maggots!



  • 2kg Blackberries
  • 3 cooking apples cored and chopped
  • 750 g of organic sugar
  • Juice of one large lemon
  1. In a  sauce pan I cooked the chopped apple  with about 150ml of water until the apple had gone to a soft pulp. (Leave on the skins if organic and remember to wash them well)
  2. In another larger saucepan I added 150ml of water and the blackberries and the juice of half a lemon.
  3. Cook the berries slowly until they have become soft this can take 20 to 30 minutes
  4. Then press the apple pulp through a sieve into the blackberries.
  5. Slowly add the sugar, stirring to help it dissolve.
  6. Turn up the heat and stir occasionally. The jam should be boiling really hard and it will splatter. I always leave the lid partially covering the pot to reduce the mess on the walls!
  7. The jam will start to thicken, when set you pour it from a wooden spoon it will form thick droplets that are slow to leave the spoon. I like my jams to have a little give, not like a jelly. This boiling stage will take about twenty minutes, a little more if you want your jam more set.
  8. Then transfer the jam into jars which have been sterilized.

I use my new jam funnel, it cost about €6.50 and it reduces the mess, in fact there is no mess and it speeds up the process of jar filling. I put on the lids immediately.From these quantities of ingredients I got eight jars.The best part of jam making is continually having to taste the jam before it is ready, making sure it is sweet enough and the fruit has softened, and the smell of the cooking fruit is delicious too.

My new jam funnel used here to fill pots when making plum jam.

Taxus baccata “Fastigiata’ _ Irish Yew and the round tower at Turlough, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, Ireland

September 5, 2012

A Saturday Night with Black Sabbath Making Rose Hip Jam…

by Ciaran Burke

Two pots of rose hip jam

Its coming to that time of year again, blackberries are ripe, elder berries are ripening and the rose hips are nearly there. I “look forward” to some Saturday nights making jam. During the summer I made some rose hip jam from fruits that were in the freezer, it is a delicious jam but it does take a bit of work.  From my old blog here is the story of a Saturday night spent making rose hip jam in the company of Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath. I have added my revised rose hip jam recipe using sugar and apples to add pectin.

The knife cuts through the red flesh, the head is severed, then, thop, brop, brop… bouncing in the bucket. I pick up the next one, cut and chop, thop, brop, brop…

It is Saturday night, the guitars, the bass, the drums, they blast from the speakers. Ozzy Osbourne’s tortured cries accompany, “Am I Going Insane?”… Cut and chop, top and tail, thop, brop, brop… Perhaps I will go mad! I am preparing a bucket full of rose hips, our bounty from the hedgerow, getting ready to make rose hip jam.

Rosa rugosa – hips

Rose hips, the fruit of the rose are easy to pick, once you get started its hard to stop. Wild dog rose, Rosa canina is ideal, and Rosa rugosa hips are also good. The bucket fills quickly, as you add more and more. Then you get home. Now you have to top and tail them. Remove the stalk from the base, and discard the leafy calyx from the top.

Rose hips- a long night ahead!

I start with enthusiasm, what better way to spend a Saturday night? Black Sabbath are playing loudly as I pick through the harvest, topping and tailing. Soon the sound of the falling rose hips is dulled as they land on a layer of prepared hips, no longer do I hear the hollow thop, brop, brop of topped and tailed hips bouncing in an empty bucket. I  work away, Ozzy sings “Tomorrow’s Dream”, rose hip jam on my bread for breakfast.

A busy Saturday night topping and tailing rose hips!

The bucket of unprepared hips is still quite full, and Sabbath are nearly finished one album. I am beginning to think that I am going to get to hear their whole back catalogue. “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” has me singing “Rosehips Bloody Rosehips” as I dip into the never emptying  bucket.  But I continue with my toil, my three containers in front of me; the harvesting bucket, the compost bucket and plastic bowl of prepared hips. Black Sabbath keep blasting out the tunes, I keep cutting. It is good to hear the old tunes again, air guitar with a sharp knife is not a good idea though

Eventually there is hope, a slight glimpse of white plastic, the bottom of the bucket. Briefly glimpsed before a hip rolls to replace its vacated companion. “Never Say Die”, ah yes, ah song for every occasion, the band plays on. With renewed vigor, I keep chopping, topping, tailing and the bucket is empty at last.

Rose hips topped and tailed

Next I wash some old jars, weigh out 1.2Kg of hips, bag the rest and put them in the freezer.  I place the fruit in a big sauce pan add some water and cook them. Its getting late, but I have lots of Black Sabbath albums. As I move to the next phase of the jam making operation, I change to the second era of Black Sabbath, with Ronnie James Dio on vocals, “Turn Up The Night”. After about an hour the fruits have softened.  I have to press them through a sieve to remove the seeds, a thick pulp of rich red results, it is hard work. Then I skin a few apples and chop them in the food processor. The pulp goes back into a saucepan with two 400ml bottles of apple juice concentrate  and chopped apple. The mixture bubbles like a witches brew, Dio sings of circles and rings, dragons and kings, as I stir the jam. The temperature rises, the jam starts to thicken and after a while of continuous stirring it is time to fill the jars.

Rose hips in the saucepan

This is always the messiest part. The boiling jam is transferred with a spoon into jars that have been heated in the oven to sterilize them. I usually manage to spill some, but only minor scalding results. Soon the jars are filled, I scrape the cooling and setting jam from the edges of the pot. I lick the sweet sticky fruit from the spoon.   It is late, it has been a long night of toil, but this is the best moment, it is hot, it is sweet and it is delicious as Dio sings… “ Heaven and Hell”. Well, it was hard work, for two and a half jars of jam. Not quite hell, but rose hip jam is close to heaven.


Since I fist made rose hip jam I have revised the recipe using sugar instead of apple juice concentrate. This jam wont be set like a jelly, instead it will be like a thick delicious sauce. It still involves topping and tailing!


  • 500 g rose hips chopped
  • 500ml water
  • 200ml boiled water
  • 3 apples, cored and chopped, don’t peel them
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1.5 cups of sugar


  1. Boil the rose hips in 500ml of water until they are soft.
  2. In a separate pot boil the chopped apples in a little water until soft and mushy.
  3. Push the pulp of the rose hips through a sieve into a bowl and set aside.
  4. Put the seeds back into the pot and pour in 200ml of boiling water, cook for a few minutes and sieve again, add to the rose hip pulp.
  5. Next, put the apple pulp through the sieve and mix into the rose hip pulp.
  6. Heat the pulp, add the sugar slowly, stirring to make sure it is dissolved. Add the lemon juice. Turn up the heat and boil the jam.
  7. Continue cooking for about 20 minutes until the jam has thickened.
  8. Put the mixture into sterilized jam jars.
  9. Fasten lids and allow to cool.
March 26, 2012

Planting Potatoes in Plastic Bags

by Ciaran Burke

Harvesting New Potatoes

Early potato tubers are usually chitted before being planted outside. This involves placing the tubers in a well lit, frost free place. The shoots develop from the eyes of the tuber and will then be planted outside when the soil has warmed to 6° Celcius.

Early varieties take between 75 – 90 days to mature. Harvesting can start in early summer. Irish people use St Patrick’s Day, 17th March, as the date by which you must have the early potatoes planted.

Not everyone has space for planting potatoes, in fact not everyone has a garden. However, just about everyone can enjoy harvesting a few of their home grown potatoes in summer using old plastic compost bags for planting. To obtain an earlier crop, tubers can be planted in a tunnel or glasshouse. Tubs or barrels can also be used. I decided to re-use a couple of old plastic compost bags. Here is what I did:

Step 1: I turned the bags inside out to reveal their dark side which attracts more heat, and looks nicer. I rolled down the bag so as to allow light for the shoots when they grow. Into the base of the bags I made a number of slits to allow drainage.



Step 2: From our compost heap I got a wheel barrow of lovely dark compost.  A 10cm (4 inches) layer was shoveled into the bags and then firmed with my hands.



Step 3: The tubers I placed on the compost and then covered with a further 10cm (4 inches) of the good stuff, and firmed. Then the compost was watered.



Aftercare: When the stems grow to 15cm (6inches), more compost will be added, to a depth of 10cm (4 inches). As the plants grow the sides of the bags are unrolled to allow for greater depth. I will continue to add more compost as the stems grow until it is 5cm (2 inches) below the top of the bag. The potatoes will need to be well watered. They need a weekly feed of liquid seaweed fertilizer to promote growth. When the plants start to flower the crop will be ready to harvest.  As a true Irish man I can’t wait to cook the first potatoes; steamed and then eaten with melted butter and some chopped chives from the garden, yum!

  • There is nothing quite like your own compost from the garden when growing vegetables. Learn about making compost on my other blog Ciaran’s Gardening Blog and download an information sheet on Home Garden Composting.
  • Listen to a podcast of “In The Garden with Ciaran Burke” – Episode 13
  • WATCH THE YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THE NEW GROWTH PROJECT HORTICULTURE COURSE. This is a free training course that we are running in our own garden in Co. Mayo, Ireland. For more info: THE GARDEN SCHOOL Each week we make a video of what the students are doing on the course.

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March 13, 2012

The New Growth Project – First week Video

by Ciaran Burke
New Growths Potting

New Growths busy potting

Last tuesday we had the first class of The New Growth project. Click on the link below to see how our students got on on the first days.

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