Playing with beads

I want to show you some of the jewellery I have made in the past couple of months, but the photos are pretty awful. I’m still trying to work out the best way to photograph my creations, and it’s not easy. I think I need to spend some time practising. Anyway …

The world of jewellery is enormous, there are so many techniques and styles and things to try out. And soooo many beads. I love beads and I want all of them now! Oops!

This is one of the very first things I made, during an Intro to Jewellery class at the local bead store (which has sadly since closed). Czech glass in various shapes but similar purple hues, and gunmetal chain.

This necklace is a present I made a friend for her 40th birthday—she is an architect with a penchant for mid-century design. The beads are resin beads and I strung it on sterling silver beading wire. I was really pleased with how it turned out, to me it really captures that retro-atomic vibe. I have another version of it that I need to rework as I don’t think it is quite there, and some earrings too.

And this necklace is one that I made for my mother-in-law for Christmas. It uses tiny faceted tourmaline beads in colours from a dark mossy green to deep pink to almost an salmon pink, which I have threaded onto a piece of sterling silver wire, with a somewhat messy wrapped loop on each end to attach it to the delicate sterling silver chain. I made another one for my mum using tiny aqua blue Caribbean apatite and darker blue iolite, but the photo is too blurry. I will have to take another pic of it. I am planning to make more of these necklaces, as they don’t take long to do and they make lovely gifts (and I want one too!). I’ve got more of the tourmaline beads, as well as some other semi-precious gemstones, like labradorite, amethyst and rose quartz.

I’m hoping this weekend to get a couple more pieces made, maybe some earrings and a necklace. We’ll see.

Plum jam, two ways

We have a damson plum tree in our back yard. It seems to alternate—one year we will get a smaller number of plums, the next year we get loads. This year is one of the good years. We know when they are ripe enough to use because the birds start eating them, and then it’s a race to see who gets more.

Anyway, last weekend, I picked 7-8 kg of plums. Damsons are small tart plums, not great for eating but fantastic for making jam. When we first moved into this house four years ago, we didn’t know what kind of plums they were, only that they were tart. Poppy, then about 2 years old, would pick them and eat them right off the tree, but the rest of us found them too sour. And then one day in January, an older lady knocked on the door to explain that her niece had owned the house before us and would I mind if she picked a few plums to make jam. Only if you give me a recipe, I said. So she did.

Since then, I have made a couple of batches of jam using variations of her recipe. The first year I did a plain batch and then one with cardamom pods added, which was nice, but I overcooked the jam and it was a little “tough”. The next time I made a lovely plum-vanilla jam, simply by adding a couple of split vanilla beans to the stewing fruit, which was delicious. And I got the setting point right.

This year I am trying two new variations. The first is plum, ginger and lime jam, inspired by a recipe from Graciebakes, but based on the proportions of plums and sugar that I got from my visitor. And the second is a spicy plum jam that more or less follows this recipe from Delicious magazine as found on Taste.com.au.

The plum, ginger and lime jam is delicious—the lime juice cuts through the sweetness and gives it a pleasant sharpness. The kids love it too. I’ve only just finished making the spicy jam, but it has a different flavour to it, sweeter and more complex. I suspect it would make a nice glaze for a baked ham—might have to try that if I have any left at Christmas time.

I only have 4 kg or so of plums to deal with now! I think I’ll be stewing most of them and freezing batches for a rainy day.

 
Plum, Ginger and Lime Jam
3 kg damson plums, washed, stems removed
5cm chunk of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 limes, juice and zest
3 kg sugar

Put whole plums, ginger, lime zest and juice into large non-reactive pot. Add enough water to not quite cover the plums.

Bring to boil over medium-high heat and reduce to simmer until the plum skins have split and the flesh is soft.

Remove from heat and mash plum mixture with a potato masher. Allow to cool slightly and then remove plum stones (see notes below).

Bring plum mush bake to the boil over medium-high heat. Add sugar and stir until dissolved.

Bring back to the boil and allow to boil vigorously, stirring occasionally, for 30-45 minutes, until jam “jells” (see notes below). Skim off any scum that forms and remove any plum stones that come to the surface.

Pour jam into hot sterilised jars and seal (see notes below). Recipe makes about 3 L of jam.

 

Spicy Plum Jam

1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp anise seeds
6 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
2 fresh bay leaves, crumpled
2 cups red wine
1.25 kg sugar
2 kg damson plums, washed, stems removed
1/3 cup lemon juice

Add spices, bay leaves and 1 cup sugar to red wine in non-reactive saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Allow to cool.

Strain red wine syrup to remove spices and pour over plums in non-reactive pan. Add 1 cup of water and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat.

Remove from heat and mash plum mixture with a potato masher. Allow to cool slightly and then remove plum stones (see notes below).

Bring the plum mash back to the boil over medium-high heat and add remaining sugar. Stir to dissolve sugar.

Bring back to the boil and allow to boil vigorously, stirring occasionally, for 30-45 minutes, until jam “jells” (see notes below). Skim off any scum that forms and remove any plum stones that come to the surface.

Pour jam into hot sterilised jars and seal (see notes below). Recipe makes around 2 L of jam.

 

Notes

1. I have found the best way to remove plum stones is to use a slotted spoon to scoop up plum mixture and a smaller spoon to pull out stones. It’s a tedious job …

2. I use two methods to determine when my jam has jelled. First of all, put a couple of saucers in the freezer before starting to make the jam. Then, I regularly scoop up a bit of jam onto the wooden spoon and then slowly tip the spoon sideways to see if the droplets run together to form a “sheet” of jam. When that happens I grab a saucer from the freezer and drop a little bit of jam onto it. Back into the freezer for a couple of minutes and then push your finger into the jam—when it wrinkles up it has jelled.

3. I sterilise my jars and lids by washing in very hot soapy water. The jars are then placed upright on a baking paper-lined tray and popped into the oven, which has been set to 120ºC or thereabouts. I remove the jars just before I pour the jam into them, then screw the lids on tight and turn them upside down to cool down.

Hello world!

Well, here I am. I’ve finally taken the plunge to start this blog. It’s part of my plan to get myself writing again, to get myself to create … things. Jewellery. Food. A part of myself that is quiet, that has been lying dormant while I spend all of my energy on my young family. This is the year that I get back to me. I hope.