Lynda Hallinan’s Blog: Cosmopolitans in the country
Lynda Hallinan turns half-eaten jars of jam into spring cocktails (worth cleaning out a fridge for).
Spring cleaning: this is surely one of the most incompatible word pairings in the English language. In spring, there are a thousand things I’d rather do than don a pair of rubber gloves to earnestly scrub, sweep, mop, polish, dust or declutter a winter’s worth of domestic detritus.
In spring, there are baby lambs to ooh and aah over in paddocks dotted with clumps of golden-yolked daffodils. There are codling moth traps to hang in apple trees fizzing with a relay team of honey bees passing the baton from one breaking blossom bud to the next: almonds first, then plums, cherries, peaches, nectarines, apples, pears and, last but not least, quinces.
There are freesias and bluebells to pick by the basketful, and sprouting spuds to plant by the bucketful. There are dahlias to dig back in and sweet peas to sow. There are mesclun seeds to scatter in slumbering salad beds and 100 metres of hornbeam hedging that we didn’t get around to pruning last spring, now in desperate need of a short-back-and-sides trim. And this spring, in particular, there’s also a pile of covid kilos to attempt to contain, if not completely eradicate, before summer. So, I ask you, who – honestly – has time for spring cleaning?
Come spring (well, all year round if I’m being truthful), I prefer to take my cleaning cues from the original heroine of humorous housewifery, American syndicated columnist Erma Bombeck (1927-1996). Erma’s theory on housework? “If the item doesn’t multiply, smell, catch fire, or block the refrigerator door, let it be. No one else cares. Why should you?”
You shouldn’t. Unless, like mine, your refrigerator is a portal to a world of health and safety hazards. For example, when I opened my fridge door today, three eggs and a mummified glob of what I’m assuming was once gooey goat’s cheese fell out of the door to make an accidental omelette on the floor.
With all of our rural community’s chooks simultaneously back on the lay for spring, free-range eggs are piling up in our kitchens like autumn feijoas. Yes, I am aware I could put all my surplus eggs into one basket on the kitchen bench but with a rooster-to-hen ratio of 1:4 in our chook run, and a heat pump set at a balmy 22 degrees overnight, our house doubles as an impromptu incubator. And nothing, I tell you nothing, puts you off a fried egg at breakfast quite like cracking the identifiable beginnings of a foetus into the frying pan.
Too many eggs aren’t the only contributing factor to my whiteware nightmare. The American self-help author and minister Robert Fulghum once described the family refrigerator as the centre of the universe: “On the inside is food essential to life, and on the outside of the door is a summary of the life events of the household.” But the esteemed minister missed out another whole realm: the top of the fridge.
For those of us whose floor plans don’t quite extend to cavernous double-door inbuilt fridges like the ones serial killers stash their victims in on CSI, the top of the fridge is a handy storage spot. This means you’re at equal risk of being hit by something falling off my fridge, as out of it. In our house, it’s where to look first for loose change, souvenir magnets, flat AA batteries, bills to pay, prescription medications, padlocks, an assortment of Allen keys, playing cards, spare phone chargers and random nuts, bolts, screws and picture hooks.
Now, while a picture tells a thousand words, I’d die of shame before I’d publish actual photographic evidence of the Jenga-stacked shambles inside my fridge, but in the interests of truth in journalism, I have compiled this spring stocktake of its comestible contents:
Chutneys: tamarind, eggplant, tomato, plum
Mustards: wholegrain, Colman’s Hot English, Dijon and lime-green French tarragon (Edmond Fallot Moutarde verte à l’estragon, the stuff of the savoury gods, to be precise)
Meat: bacon, beef mince, chicken breast, chorizo sausages and pork chops
Vegetables: broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cucumber, rocket salad and a soggy plastic-wrapped Iceberg lettuce
Ice cream toppings: strawberry and chocolate
Sauces: aioli, Culley’s special burger sauce, tartare and tomato
Pickles: marinated artichokes, ginger, jalapeños and onions
Cheeses: brie, chèvre, colby, feta, halloumi, grana padano, mozzarella, Mooody Cow Elladale and parmesan
Seriously, who needs nine types of cheese? I’ll tell you who: the same woman whose husband opens a new jar of jam every time he makes toast. How else to explain the dozen half-eaten jars of homemade jam at the back of the fridge?
I make so much jam that I wrote a book on it. I make every flavour you can think of, and quite a few (damson and licorice; peach and lemon verbena; nectarine and amaretto) that you have probably never thought of. Every winter I also churn out several varieties of marmalade, from classic bitter Seville to whiskey and orange, lemon and lime, and Grandma Clarice’s hand-cut combination of grapefruit, orange and lemon with a naughty nip of Cointreau.
My children only eat one flavour of jam, an invention I call “jumbleberry”, which I make by boiling jam-setting sugar with a kilogram of whatever fresh and frozen berries I can muster up at the time. And as I’m pretty sure my husband only eats one flavour of jam – damson plum – that means I’m to blame for all the other open jars.
I believe there’s very little in life that can’t be improved with a spoonful of sugar and fruit: add a dollop of redcurrant jelly to the roasting dish just before making gravy, glaze pastry shells with apricot jam, stir marmalade into mulled wine, caramelise onions with quince jelly and eat sharp cheese with tart plum jam. Even better, drink the dregs!
Instead of making a classic simple syrup (simmer equal quantities of water and sugar) to sweeten cocktails, just scrape leftover spoonfuls of jam into a cocktail shaker for mint jelly juleps, lime marmalade mojitos, peach jam bellinis, cranberry jelly cosmopolitans, raspberry jam daiquiris and Seville orange marmalade mai tais.
Spring-cleaning my fridge is suddenly a rather appetising concept, especially as, with the kids blessedly back at school this week after lockdown 2.0, the only sound I can hear is its gentle hum, as it cools the champagne for another round of mandarin jam mimosas.