Damson Day with Vivien Lloyd:
Autumn Preserves Workshop in an Old Somerset Farmhouse
For those of you in the preserving world, there will be no need to introduce Vivien Lloyd, as she is a well-known and much respected WI judge, as well as being the author of First Preserves (Marmalades, Jams, Chutneys), a best-selling and hugely informative preserves cookbook, as well as several eBooks about jam, marmalade and chutney. As an avid preserver of many years, (about twenty years to be precise) Vivien and I often share our passion for traditional methods of preserving via her hugely popular #vivjamchat sessions on Twitter, as well as through emails and my blog; in fact, some of my readers will remember I reviewed Vivien’s book First Preserves, several months ago and made two of her delectable recipes for my review…….Apple & Ginger Jam and Book Review – First Preserves by Vivien Lloyd and Preserves from the Pantry! Apricot & Orange Chutney from First Preserves by Vivien Lloyd. Both preserves were easy to follow from her book and were VERY well received by family and friends! So, when Vivien invited me and two other food writer/blogger friends down to her home for a Damson Day Preserves Workshop last week, I was thrilled to accept. I was delighted to hear that the other two “students” for the day were none other than my lovely Lancashire Lass friend, Sue, (from Not Just Any Old Baking Blogspot) as well as the charming Charlotte (from Charlotte’s Kitchen Diary) – both of them are very good friends of mine, and I have had the privilege of meeting them both in the past.
The day started off with jam! A lovely breakfast was provided with pots of Vivien’s home-made jam and marmalade, as well as some of her home-made brioche – a recipe from Crust by Richard Bertinet. For those of you who are interested in attending one of Vivien’s excellent preserves workshops, all the dates and details are listed here: Vivien’s Courses and there is a wonderful B and B, The Old Vicarage in Kilmersdon, nearby that will be happy to accommodate any jam makers.
Vivien had devised a wonderful day in celebration of Damsons – Damson Day, and we were going to be able to watch, prepare and cook three preserves alongside her: Damson Cheese, Damson and Apple Jelly and Damson, Ginger and Cardamom Chutney. Vivien and her husband live in a beautiful old Somerset farmhouse, where the courses are held; they have their own orchard as well as growing their own soft fruits, and as we soon discovered, they also have a hot-house devoted to numerous types of chillies!
The kitchen was large and airy and there was ample space for all four of us to prepare the fruit at the kitchen table, as well as observe Vivien in close proximity; three preserves is a lot to manage in a day, so the fruit and vegetables has already been prepared for the Damson, Ginger and Cardamom chutney, but Sue and I set about chopping the apples for the Damson and Apple Jelly as soon as breakfast was over, and then progressed onto pitting and sieving the cooked damsons for the Damson Cheese. Vivien provided us with aprons and recipe notes, and as I expected, she was very informative and knowledgeable about the history and traditions of all things preserving, and, although I consider myself to be a confident and experienced preserver, I learnt SO much from the one day workshop, with valuable tips about when to add the sugar to chutney and jams, as well as how to gauge the setting point for jellies and fruit cheeses.
We made the Damson Cheese and Damson Chutney in the morning before lunch, which was a lovely spiced cod and salmon dish followed by citrus and almond cake, and chocolate coated damson cheese sweetmeats. Vivien’s preserves courses include lunch as well as tea and coffee, and are excellent value at £85 per person. She holds two kind of workshops at present – “Making days” which include demonstrations and hands-on preparation, cooking and finishing marmalades, jams or chutneys, and learning about selecting fruit, pectin levels, setting point, sterilising and bottling your preserves. And “Competition days” that take you through the exact judging process explaining the marking system and what the judges look for in a competition. You will be encouraged to evaluate your own marmalade, jam or chutney and take part in a taste test. Our Press Day workshop was a combination of both courses, and was extremely interesting.
All the ingredients for our Damson Day preserves workshop were provided, and we were also able to take away a pot of each preserve…….the fruits of our preserving day! Rather than copying all my copious notes here, about the individual preserves that I made, I have permission from Vivien to share two of the recipes in this post – Damson Cheese, Damson and Apple Jelly, with photos added to the step-by-step procedure within the recipe steps; the third recipe for Damson, Ginger and Cardamom chutney can be found in Vivien’s book First Preserves. I have added a couple of video snippets from Vivien’s website below, to whet your appetite with a view to purchasing her book or eBooks…..I love the videos that are shown in the eBooks, and they will prove invaluable for novices and experienced jam makers alike.
After lunch we proceeded with our last preserve of the day, which was the Damson and Apple Jelly; the pulp had been draining for several hours and the juice was then measured and the sugar added, according to the juice to sugar ratio (as shown in the recipes below) before being boiled to setting point and potted. We now had jars and jars of glowing jelly, rich Bordeaux coloured chutney and ruby red cheese…..it was indeed a veritable treasure of Damson Delicacies, but, the day had also yielded so much more for me, I had learnt new tips for chutney making, as well as invaluable jelly and marmalade tricks of the trade, especially in respect to showing them at local fairs and shows. Viven is a long time WI preserves judge and she is going to be featured on BBC One Show this TUESDAY 18th September, so DO tune in for that, as I will be doing…..it will be an interesting programme!
And what will I do with my new-found knowledge? I will be making all three recipes at home, for gift giving and for “general daily use”; plus, I also think that I am a more confident preserver now – you are never too old to learn new tricks and tips, and, for me, the essence of Vivien’s Workshop was very definitely the knowledge that I took away with me, as well as the passion that she has for traditional preserving procedures and age-old recipes – the use of local and home-grown ingredients and the act of preserving them, “laying them down” for the winter months……it is indeed an alchemy – from damson to dazzling jelly! One of Vivien’s workshops would not only be enjoyable for old-hands (like me), but they will give confidence to new jam makers, as well as useful tips for those who want to sweep the board at the local WI Jam Competitions…..and, I think they would also make a great Christmas gift too.
Before I leave, I am delighted to tell you, that Vivien has offered me a copy of one her eBooks, First Preserves – Chutney, as a Giveaway on my blog……to celebrate the onset of the autumn chutney season……I will be posting the giveaway in a separate post later, but I will pop back here to add the link for ease! And one more thing, watch out for Vivien’s Chutney Chat on Twitter on the 27th September, between 5 and 7pm – #vivchutneychat is the hash tag to follow and she will be there to answer all your chutney queries! I’ll be there too……
With a HUGE thanks to Vivien and her husband for making me feel so welcome, their hospitality, the chilli lesson, for the superb food and drink as well as the preserves instruction; a big hello and thanks to Rob from Big Blu Design too, for your suggestions, I will be in touch and finally, a big thanks to Sue for lifts to and from the station, and to Charlotte for transporting my preserves to me – they were too hot to handle when I left for the train!