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Welcoming Autumn
Jar by Jar

by Nigella Lawson

There is something about this time of year, with summer gone and fall not yet truly upon us, that makes me want to bustle about the kitchen canning and preserving and setting aside all manner of good things for the harsh months ahead.

There is, however, one slight problem: I have no idea how to go about canning. And even if I did know how, I don't have the time or the cupboard space to throw myself into heavy-duty preserving. But these seasonal urges toward comforting domestic activity are somehow pleasing all the same, and a busy urban life does not necessarily preclude satisfying them. From a purely practical point of view, of course, there is no call for pickle-preparing or jam-making, but that is what makes setting aside time to enjoy this kind of activity a pleasurable luxury. I feel as if I am escaping the confines of my normal life, my normal self, and that in itself is liberating.

Of course, it helps that the gentle preserving I go in for a mellow pumpkin chutney, some pickled fennel, an oven-made raspberry jelly requires only the minimum of effort. The whole point is that you do not need to be a bona fide, stoutly efficient homesteader; you need only have the desire to follow the recipes. This may be gingham cooking for the stainless-steel-kitchen set, but unashamedly so.

For the unpracticed preserver, chutney is perhaps the easiest first step. It requires neither expertise nor frenzied activity. You just put everything in a pan in this case, chopped pumpkin, onions, chili peppers, sugar, pumpkin pie spice, ground cloves, minced ginger, vinegar and some salt and let everything bubble away until you have a mellow, brown and sticky mixture. The chutney makes itself without much intervention on your part. Once put into sterilized jars (and I often sterilize these by giving them a run through the dishwasher), the chutney keeps well. Indeed, it actually gets better with age. Imagine, you could bring this stuff out to go with your Thanksgiving turkey. (Just bask in the warm glow that gives you.) To wait that long before eating it would be a shame, though. Pair it with a good sharp cheddar or alongside some cold meats, with which it is out of this world.

The fennel pickle, flavored with orange and lemon, is not much harder to make. A bit of slicing and steeping, some heating and your work is done. As with all pickles, the results are best eaten with oily foods some grilled salmon or, easier still, some store-bought smoked fish fillets. For an impressive appetizer, simply lay some very thinly sliced raw salmon fillets on a platter and then top them with the pickle and some of its acid juices. The fish cooks ever so slightly in the citrus and vinegar juices, like a kind of northern version of ceviche. Serve with pumpernickel or just plain brown bread and butter and sigh with pleasure.

Normally, I would not suggest any sort of jelly-making as a relaxing pastime. Indeed, even the suggestion of a candy thermometer gets my blood pressure rising. But this is ease itself. I call it stress-free raspberry jam: you simply get out two dishes and put equal weights of sugar and raspberries in each, then let them bake for a half hour or so. Pour one into the other and that's it, you have made a kind of raspberry jam.

I love it even more than the regular stuff. It tastes fresher and more vibrant. My jam is wonderful dolloped on warm croissants, plain white bread and cream-smeared scones. Poured over an ordinary poundcake it would make a fairly trouble-free dessert, too. Not being an actual preserve, it does not keep long, but believe me, this has never posed a problem.

Recipe: Stress-Free Raspberry Jam
Recipe: Spiced Pumpkin Chutney
Recipe: Pickled Fennel St. Clements

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