Gardening the Bhutanese Way

Friday, October 23, 2015

THE FLEETING TIME

The sky stuffed with malevolent murky clouds,
That remitted intermittent roars of thunderous beats,
Now unleashed its profuse fleecy belongings to wander about,
And the azure blue firmament casts its heavenly smiles from behind.

The gregarious insects creeping over dense foliage,
That once unearthed the hidden tale of voracious feeding,
And the lush leaves rendered to a lifeless skeletal framework,
Now encased in pupal sheaths; buried themselves latent in the earth.

The white lilies embellishing the garden Eden,
Flawlessness & purity embedded in each disk of its bloom,
Which once magnetized many a gaze in amazement & admiration,
Receded abruptly to the futile stalk of brownish hue in utter exhaustion.

                                                   The lush green meadows blanketing the hillside afar,
Harboring herds of cattle to relish their territorial fodder,
Took to call the note signaled to them by the seasonal swing,
And russet do they appear with the hideous barrenness welcomed.

The flocks of birds inhabiting the tree of their homes,
That caroled from a twig to another with chirping hymns,
Their soothing & gentle hymns no longer traversed my ear canal,
For they took the swift flight to places beyond one’s panoramic view.

The tapering peaks of the gigantic mountain afar,
That remained immaculately clad with glistening snow,
Gave way upon the radiance emanated by the iridescent sun,
And leaves the host tethered to its base; gloomy with its adornment lost.

The millions of stars succeeding the enveloping dusk,
That dazzled its glistening beauty to its innumerable fans,
And extended a warm hand-in-accomplice to the flawless moon,
Diffused in utter despair when the evolving dawn encroached their zone.

The youthful human webbed with energy & enthusiasm,
Who once exercised his brain & wit in changing the world,
No longer could he saunter off to places desired or whisper a word,
For he remains withered a plant in austere stage of restful contemplation.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Jams at your Doorstep; Guidelines to Prepare Home-Made Jams



19/10/15
Many of the gardeners might have experienced surplus production during the season. Infinite number  of fruits dropping helplessly and lying on the ground with a melancholic note to rot is a sad phenomenon. It doesn't benefit either the grower or the tree in itself. The growers' basket remains crammed with the produce with minimal scope of market.

 The tree on the other hand conveys a tacit note of discontent to witness its bearings falling incessantly. She clings to the opinion that the fruits which she has nurtured and nourished so meticulously, even if her lanky twigs were on the verge of giving up shall land up in a high-fetch market adorned with protective covers . It throbs her heart at each thudding sound her fruits hit the muddy shield beneath and remits a cry of help.

I came to a tacit understanding of the message conveyed to me by the mother trees. And so did I gently slip off the fruits from its stalk and processed it into JAMS. Jam, by definition is a product made by boiling fruit pulp with sufficient sugar to a reasonably thick consistency, firm enough to hold the fruit tissues in position. 

And also, the tale of horticulture or agriculture does not end in the field. The task is still half-done if the produce doesn't reach the consumers. Hence market is an essential component of agricultural systems, for which the post harvest processing of produce, especially the horticultural produce conjoined with their perishable nature is a prerequisite.

The aforementioned phenomenal facts drove me to the track of preparing Jam;  simple home-made jams. The steps and ingredients required are in  close proximity and stand in the affordable range of all aspiring home-made jam makers.

A simple module and practical lessons on post harvest management of horticultural produce back at college has showered me with the idea, & this is how I strive not to pack the hard-earned knowledge in the basket of obsolescence.

And now, let's all gear into the track together. Are you ready to embark on something which will render you with a product even during the lean season?  If so, let's clutch on the steps which I will unfurl in the lines to follow.

The basic understanding of food preservation should be that you create an environment that is not congenial for the growth and multiplication of microorganisms, which causes food spoilage. The preservatives that will sustain your jam are sugar and citric acid. How do you think  these 2 preservatives is going to exercise their miraculous power? 

Well, Sugar acts as a preservative by a process known as Osmosis, wherein it absorbs all the available moisture with the result that there is very little water for the growth of microbes, thereby rendering the environment unsuitable for their multiplication. By nature, low acid foods are spoilt rapidly while acidic conditions inhibit the growth of many microorganisms. That is how the role of citric acid is featured in food preservation.

The FPO, Food Process Order of India specifications for the preparation of jam are given in the table below;
Fruit/Vegetable
Ingredient for 1kg pulp
Sugar(Kg)
Citric acid(g)
Water(ml)
Apple
0.75
2
100
Pear
0.75
1.5
100
Peach
0.80
3
100
Plum
0.80
-
150
Strawberry
0.75
2
100
Mango
0.75
1.5
50
Carrot
0.75
2.5
200

Now, your ingredients, within the range of availability in your garden with the specification depicted in the table above is ready to undergo the process.
The steps are very simple. I will have them enlisted in the following 10 lines ;



1.Firm ripe fruits/vegetables

2.Washing

3.Peeling(not necessary in case of strawberries & even plums)

4. Pulping( removal of seeds & core)

5. Addition of sugar(add water if necessary)

6. Boiling (with continuous stirring)

7. Addition of citric acid

8. Judging of end point by further cooking(By sheet/flake test)

9. Filling hot into sterilized bottles

10.Cooling, Capping & Storage.

A little elaboration on the Sheet/Flake test(step 8);  a little amount of jam is  taken out during boiling, in a spoon or wooden ladle & cooled slightly and allowed to drop. If it falls out in the form of sheets or flakes instead of flowing in a continuous stream, this is an indication that the end point has reached and your jam is ready for bottling.
It should be borne in mind to sterilize  the cans/jars before use. This can be done by placing the empty jars in boiling water for around 30 minutes. This ensures the destruction of all viable microorganisms due to high temperature.

A simple pictorial guidance on the steps to be followed Jam preparation shall I unfold herewith;
1) Plum Jam Preparation
Image 1: Washed, fresh, firm ripe fruits on the left & chopped fruits with cores removed on the right

Image 2: Fresh lemon & sugar

Why do you think I have lemon included in the list of my ingredients? Well, the ease with which we can avail commercial citric acid is a question. I had the question springing in my head & this would undoubtedly stand in opposition to those in far-flung villages wanting to prepare & taste their own home-made jams. For this reason, I opted to single out lemons, available in our market owing to the fact that it contains high amount of citric acid. So the pallid lemon juice can be used as a substitute for commercial citric acid. In one or two of the instances, I used the bottled lemon juice too.

The image beneath depicts how exactly the citric acid looks like & how much of it amounts to 2g. It resembles sugar in its crystalline form  & hence, it should not be mistaken for one. A tablespoon of it may roughly weigh 2g. This is to assure convenience of its usage if electronic balance is a stock at bay. Well, a pinch or two of it might have leaped into my viscous jam pot had it been here on time.
Image 3: Commercial citric acid nesting on electronic weighing balance

 In fact, I didn't use citric acid in any of my home-made jams. This however curtailed my shelf life too. I had to trace the route of the citric acid that I have it in possession at the moment all the way from Siliguri. My stock basket of perishable commodities was empty by the time it trudged its way here.

Image 4: Stirring with wooden ladle
  This is how it needs to be subjected to continuous stirring after addition of all ingredients. The local made wooden ladle serves the purpose well. In addition, I used the Food Blender for meshing the pulp to a uniformly consistent matter.
                                                                
The jars for bottling your product shall be sterilized in  boiling water & dried well before hand. It shall be rid of any moisture so as to check microbial growth.

Image 5: Sterilization; & dried jars for bottling jam

Image 6: The Final products; Home-made Plum Jams

 I do have some other products of which I shall present only the imagery illustration. This is on account of the fact that the basic & the underlying principal for jam preparation is same in any other product. It is only a matter of a slight variation in the quantum of citric acid or sugar. in fact, the F.P.O. specification doesn't necessitate the addition of citric acid in plum jam. This may be in line with the fact that the raw fruit in itself contains a lot of acid. I, nevertheless, added some lemon juice which rendered my product a bit sour than it should actually be. I also reduced the amount of sugar by a slight degree as I didn't want my product to be extremely sweet.




Image 7: Sequential steps in Apple jam processing

Image 8: Banana Jam

Image 9: Pear Jam

  My jams of varying hues; the scarlet glazy plum jam; the intense golden-yellow Golden delicious apple jam; the slightly faint yellow banana jam; & the dim brownish-yellow Pear jam with its gritty texture all suited well to varying taste buds. Everyone savored them with a note of glimmering lusciousness while their eyes reflected a  taciturn look of wanting more. However, this is only the first year of my embarking on this task. I tried all these on more or less a trial & error method.. I will be working to improving the taste as well as shelf life of the products. And a term of certainty, I will be coming up with a greater diversity of products in the times to elapse.