July 13

How To Turn A Basket Of Blackcurrants Into A Cupboard Full Of Frugally Fabulous Preserves

Is The Humble British Blackcurrant The New Superfood?

I lost interest in superfoods several years ago. I am not convinced any food remains super when it has been transported half way round the world. That, and superfoods always seem to be pricey. Nobody ever claims the humble – and cheap – brussels sprout as a superfood, for example. But a source of vitamins and minerals and antioxidants that is still bright green in the dead of winter sounds pretty heroic to me. Superfoods seem less like a health revolution and more like a marketing ploy, yet another way to get us all to buy expensive products when the cheaper, local version is perfectly good. So I am heartened by the more recent move towards embracing the super powers of foods that grow – cheaply – right here in our chilly northern climate.

Our national love affair with all things Scandi has reintroduced the idea that berries might be of benefit – great news in the British summer time when they are abundant. Which brings me to blackcurrants – hailed by one study as the next superfood over a decade ago. Blackcurrants are easy to grow and easy to pick. No bending over (strawberries I am looking at you) and no big prickles lurking on every stem (hello gooseberries and blackberries  and I see you have your slightly kinder friends the raspberries with you.) They grow in gardens, are abundant in PYO farms and make some of the most delicious preserves and desserts known to man. According to The Blackcurrant Foundation, these tiny powerhouses can help with all manner of health issues, from a UTR to Erectile Dysfunction but let’s not pretend I am really eating them for their health benefits. In truth, you have to add so much sugar to the tart little berries that much of the benefit to your body is outweighed by the damage to your teeth.

Got Blackcurrants? Got No Idea What To Do With Them? Look No Further…

No, for me, blackcurrants are not health food; blackcurrants are treat food. Their intense flavour is wasted on Ribena – it deserves to be in artisan jams and jellies gracing elegant cream teas. Or in seriously indulgent deserts. Or liqueurs. The closest I am prepared to go to claiming blackcurrants as health food is as a dressing ingredient in salads. Pam Corbin’s fruit vinegar recipe works beautifully with blackcurrants to make the perfect base for fruity salad dressings – perfect drizzled over rocket, pecan nuts and goat’s cheese. The link also leads you to Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Blackcurrant Ripple Parfait. What better way to enjoy the fruits in season? In fact, if you want to cook with blackcurrants – or eat them in a decadent smoothie or a cool, sharp ice-lolly – look no further than The Blackcurrant Foundation’s own recipe page.

Delicious magazine’s Creme de Cassis recipe requires very little effort but quite a lot of patience. Keep some of your jewel-coloured liqueur until December and you can use it to make BBC Good Food’s simple but impressive Christmas Mess. Or enjoy it mixed with bubbly on Christmas morning.

Blackcurrants are incredibly easy to make into jams and jellies because they have just the right balance of acidity and pectin. It’s the combination of these two ingredients that ensures a good set for jams and jellies and, without it, you have to mix fruits together or add pectin to your mix. With blackcurrants you need sugar and heat and nothing else. The only fiddly bit is removing the stalks from your berries – and you can skip even this stage if you make jelly instead of jam. Simply boil up the fruit, stalks and all, and then strain it through a jelly bag or a clean tea-towel in a sieve. Then add sugar to the resulting juice and boil it up again to  make jars of thick, dark jelly. Try this Blackburrant Jelly recipe from The Irish Times to make an intensely flavoured and elegant preserve. If you are sold on jam, try this simple Blackcurrant Jam recipe with videos of all the important stages, from Farmersgirl Kitchen.

Finally, something a little different. Larder Love’s Blackcurrant And Rosemary Cheese – not an actual cheese, but a very dense, slice-able fruit preserve similar to the spanish dulce de membrillo – is simple to make and perfect to serve with cheese or pate.

Get picking and potting people!


October 9

Grandpa’s Guide To Bringing Home The Brambles

When I was a child we spent a week each autumn in a caravan in the countryside. No electricity! no central heating!! No tv!!! No wifi!!!  Evenings spent playing board games; the soft hiss of gas lamps being lit as evening fell; beds still water-bottle-warm in the mornings as ice-crystals formed on the inside of the windows…

In spite of conditions that make Tartan Boy look at me with a mixture of horror, pity and incomprehension they were happy holidays. As kids, we looked forward to doing things that were different from our usual lives but still reassuringly familiar, because we did them each year. One of our favourites, enjoyed most days, was brambling with Grandpa. Grandpa is long-gone, sadly, but his approach to taking children fruit-picking stays with me. Here are the three wisest tips I learned from him.

  1. Kids need a reason – chat on the way about what you are going to do with your brambles when you get home. Make bramble jelly? Bake a bramble pie? Knock together a bramble and apple crumble? If that’s too far away to motivate them then offer a small reward for filling their containers. Most kids will do anything for a fun-size mars bar.
  2. Children need a quick win – don’t take big tubs for them to fill slowly. Grandpa used to collect empty food cans, drill two holes near the top and thread string through to make a long handle. Looped over a child’s head the cans hung at chest height, leaving our little hands free to pick fruit and pop it in the cans.The cans filled quickly, we felt proud of the speed with which we had reached the top and that spurred us on to fill another. Grandpa meanwhile tipped each full can into a big tupperware box. If drilling holes in cans sounds like too much work for a short brambling expedition, try dishing out small tupperware boxes for your kids to bring back to the mother ship.
  3. Children get bored quite quickly – don’t chivvy them to keep picking once they get restless. Move on – there will probably be a new patch of brambles not far away and they can attack that one with renewed enthusiasm. Or let them climb some trees, or play hide and seek, or sit down and have a snack… If none of that works, it’s time to call it a day and go home to eat your brambles.
September 15

The Urban Forager

I used to feel such envy of my country cousins in Autumn, imagining that they were out in sunny lanes, gathering abundant free produce from the hedgerows. Perhaps they were – but I lived in the city, and knew that the city has no hedgerows.

But, over the years, I have discovered that the city, too, has it’s free larder for the foodie forager – you just have to know where to look. I now pick plums, damsons, apples, sloes, and several different types of berry without leaving the city – sometimes without even leaving my own neighbourhood.

Some fruit has snuck in wherever it found a place – elderberries for example, perfect for making Larder Love’s dark, fruity chutney, have tucked themselves into gap sites, disused industrial yards, and cracks in walls. Some fruit has been planted for its pretty blossom in spring, its autumn fruit an overlooked bonus. Crab apples are the prime example, and make the perfect base for Mulled Apple Jelly. And some of it has become so traditional in gardens that we don’t even register it as a plunderable producer of fruit – take the humble sorbus/rowan tree, found in so many front gardens for example. Rowan Jelly is found in the poshest of deli’s – so why not in your cupboard, for free?

(Side note: rowan was believed to ward off evil entities of various sorts, and was planted by front doors to keep houses safe. That’s why, even now, it feels like a front garden kinda plant.)

Autumn is the perfect time to go looking for fruit – the urban hedgerow is signalling its existence with jewel-bright produce right now. So keep your eyes open as you go about your usual business. If you want to actively seek out free fruit, look for green highways – urban features that stretch out into the countryside – like canals, or old railway lines that have become cycle paths. The Sustrans website will let you check out which bit of the National Cycle Network – much of which is made of old railway lines – runs near you. And carry a few plastic bags with you at all times: you never know when you are going to bag some brambles or find some windfall apples waiting to be used. It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) if you are not sure if the fruit you have found is edible – look it up. The “River Cottage Hedgerow ” book will help you identify pretty much every edible plant you could find anywhere in the country. Happy hunting.


May 17

Elderflower Preserves – Food For Free

Elderflower Preserves

I think they smell of sherbet; Tartan Dad thinks they smell of cat pee. We both agree that elderflowers make their presence felt – and they are present everywhere from rural hedgerow to urban wasteland. So why not make something for (almost) nothing with the frothy, fragrant (?) flowers bursting out in parks, gardens and railway banks all around you this month and next?

British Larder has a lovely recipe for elderflower and strawberry cordial or you can find a plain cordial recipe here. You can dilute it with cheap carbonated water as an occasional drink (it is mostly sugar so not for everyday glugging) or pep that up with a splash of vodka if you want a sparkling drink with a kick. Or you could use it to flavour Eton Mess or fold into gooseberry fools or make delicious. magazine’s elderflower jellies

And if you still have blossom to spare, try a batch of classic elderflower champagne for a sparking wine that is ready in weeks. Nearly-free fizz – what’s not to love?

February 14

Being Thrifty When You Can’t Be Bothered

Getting Into The Habit Of Being Thrifty

Tartan Thrifty is all about getting into the habit of spending less without living less well. Some habits need to be carried out every day, some every week. Some only need to be carried out once a month – and, surprise, surprise, they are the hardest ones to keep up. To help with that you can find a wall-planner to help you keep on top of this week’s Thrifty Habits – the dailies, the weeklies and the ones that only come round once a month – here. Use it to plan when exactly you are going to carry out the Weekly and Monthly Habits.

Thrifty Things To Do This Week

Thrifty Habits Planner April Week 1 - New Page
This is the week to Preserve Something. Nature is not exactly bountiful in February so how about a big jar of Disgracefully Drunken Prunes? The ingredients are cheap, the effort minimal, and – if you leave them alone for months – the results are delicious. It’s also the week to dig out all your receipts and bank statements and find out how in control of your spending you are this month…

Staying Thrifty In February

How are your plans for a thrifty 2017 working out? I find January is usually an excellent month to start some new thrifty resolutions – any thriftiness at all seems like a stellar effort compared to the excesses of the previous month. Plus, sales shopping gives a certain thrifty veneer to spending more money, because it’s not really spending if it’s a bargain, is it. (Is it?) And, given the state of most people’s bank balances in January, it’s not so much a lifestyle choice as a dire necessity. So a frugal new year seems entirely do-able in January.

February though… The shine has come off your new thriftiness – it is no longer fun. Or an interesting challenge. And, with a new month’s pay in hand, it seems less urgent. You start to forget your new thrifty habits. But habits – thrifty ones included – thrive on repetition. The more often you repeat them, the more likely you are to keep on repeating them.

So, no pressure, but if you started out on a new journey to take control of your finances last month, this month is crucial. Keep your new thrifty habits up through February and by March they will be well on their way to becoming second nature. If you do fall off the wagon, just hop straight back on. And remember to give yourself little treats to keep your morale up. Good Luck!


March 15

Preserve Something

If Life Throws You Lemons, Make Lemon Curd

three jars of mulled apple jellyWhy did I introduce Preserve Something as a monthly habit? Traditionally, preserving was about making a seasonal glut last through leaner times. Preserving is still about taking advantage of things when they are freely available – or even available free. What could be more thrifty than that? In my case it was largely to supply Tartan Towers with frugal treats – artisanal preserves at Aldi prices. Something nice for (almost) nothing. I figured that, if life throws you lemons  windfall apples, you might as well make spiced apple jelly.

strawberry glam jarsSadly, there is not much freely available at the very end of winter/start of spring (although you could get in an early batch of Disgracefully Drunken Prunes this month), which makes this the perfect time to get all your supplies ready for a year of frugal preserving. That way, when you get cheap strawberries at a pick-your-own farm you can turn them into Strawberry Glam right away. I have been known in the past to throw fruit out, mouldy and unpreserved, because I never did source enough jam jars. This year will be different. I am going to start stock-piling jars now, and buy my fresh lids, cellophane disks, etc today so I don’t have to dash out to the nearest (most expensive) supplier mid-jam-session next July. Why not join me this week in getting your preserving supplies in order, ready for this year’s bounty?

The Thrifty Preserving Rules

February 15

A Year Of DIY Deli Preserves

preserves004This time last year I was thinking about the beautiful jars of pricey preserves that caught my sunshine-starved eyes every time I walked past my local deli. And when I say “walked past” I mean “stood with my nose pressed up to the window, a wistul expression in my eyes and drool escaping from my mouth”.

strawberry glam jarsI decided the thrifty answer was to make my own for a year. I have now had twelve months of preserving and can report that it is entirely possible to fill your larder with loveliness for not much money. Not only that, it is a pleasure to do and helps you to feel a little connection to the natural world and its changing seasons. And the satisfaction of being able to sit down to a very simple treat for pennies not pounds just because you took an hour a month to make them is considerable.

I didn’t manage 12 preserves – there were months where life got in the way and months when nature failed to provide me with booty to bottle up. But I did manage some preserves, and that is a whole lot better than none preserves.

So here are some of the preserves I did make. What would you add to that list? It’s a new year and I am open to suggestions…


Thrifty Habits PlannerClick here for this week’s free downloadable Thrifty Habits Planner.

August 15

What To Do When You Pick Too Many Raspberries

What to do when you pick too many raspberries

Pick-Your-Own For Frugal Fruit

picking raspberriesWe visited the fruit farm to pick our own raspberries yesterday and – surprise, surprise – picked more than we can possibly eat before it starts to go mouldy. The problem is, once you start picking, the heavy, sweet smell gets to you, each little flash of red demands to be picked, the next thing you know you have picked enough to keep the family vitamin-packed through a global fruit shortage. The solution is to make a weekly trip to the fruit farm with small numbers of small containers. Yup, that would have been more sensible…

raspberriesSince we seem to have brought home all the fruit on the farm, though, I have frozen some of the berries. I spread them out on baking trays and open-froze them before packing them into ziploc bags. This is the gold standard of preserving rasps – it retains most of the nutritional value without adding bucket-loads of sugar. It also takes up freezer space I don’t really have, to produce a frozen fruit I can buy almost as cheaply, at almost any supermarket. Self control at the fruit farm still looks like the thriftiest option.

How To Preserve Raspberries When They Are Cheap

A little sugar, now and then, as a treat, is not so very unhealthy, though. So I have made some into raspberry jam. Jam to spread greedily on toast; jam to spoon frugally over home-made pancakes (try my chocolate pancakes, replacing the orange oil with vanilla essence); jam to nibble daintily in a victoria sponge cake, or to devour messily in a DIY swiss roll… Raspberry jam is so versatile and so easy to make that it would be a definite frugal fail to let the summer go by without potting up a few jars. There are other options though – raspberry vinegar, raspberry liqueurs, or a simple raspberry syrup, for example.

Is This The Finest Raspberry Preserve Known To Man?

RaspberryChocolateJam from www.larderlove.comTHE thing to make with an excess of raspberries, though, is this Raspberry And Chocolate Jam from Karon Grieve’s Larder Love. Chocolate spread is good. Raspberry jam is good. But Raspberry and Chocolate Jam is wicked. Imagine the jam tarts you could throw together with a jar of this in your cupboard. And cheaper than you would get it for in the shops. If you could actually get it in the shops.  Don’t forget to make it up in pretty jars with a label made using the free Jam Labelizer so you have the option of giving some of it as gifts. But only to people you really, really love…

August 8

5 Lessons I Learned The Hard Way About Getting Your Money’s Worth At PYO Fruit Farms

Picking Fruit At A Formative Age

eastyondertonWhen I was four my family spent a week working as fruit pickers in East Anglia – partly for the free camping en-route to Europe, partly to give my teenage brothers a chance to make some spending money for the rest of the holiday. One morning they took me with them. (I am guessing that child labour laws were a little more lax then.) I picked strawberries alongside my mum all morning and earned a few pennies for my haul. I used them to buy a purse to keep them in. It was remarkably tasteless – orange and pink with sparkles –  and left me with about three pennies to put in it. But I was very proud of that purse. Thinking about it still makes me smile.

labelled jars of strawberry glam jamThere was an old lady on the site, who told my mother that she spent every summer on the camp. She liked to supplement her pension with her earnings from fruit picking, and she loved having company from daybreak to dusk. As a bonus, she bought a little of each day’s pickings at cost and spent her evenings sitting outside her tent boiling the fruit up over a precarious gas-burner to make a few jars of fragrant jam. By the summer’s end she had enough jars to see her through a year of teatimes and hostess gifts, for only a few pounds. I think of that old lady every time I make jam, forty-odd years later, and wish I could have told her what a lasting impression she made.

I learned several important lessons on that trip.

1.  A strawberry picked and eaten in the sunshine will taste better than any you have ever eaten straight from the fridge.

2.  Making a few jars of jam regularly can save you money and bring you pleasure – and doesn’t require lots of fancy equipment or a vast Downton Abbey kitchen.

3.  You are never too young to learn the connection between money and work.

4.  You are never too young to learn to take care of your money.

5.  Orange and pink with sparkles can literally bring on a headache. Although I suppose it might have been too many strawberries or too much sunshine.

pick your own strwberries in a punnet

Pick Your Own Fruit Farms – A Perfect, Free Family Outing?

DSCN0292No surprise then that our nearest pick-your-own fruit farm is one of my favourite free summer holiday outings. When I say free… obviously I pay for the fruit. Which I would have bought anyway. What I don’t pay for is the pleasure of spending a few hours under a wide blue sky floating on the honeyed smell of a million ripe strawberries as the kids run up and down the rows of fruit bushes in search of ladybirds. Today I lost track of them for a moment, but knew they were somewhere among the rows of fruit, perfectly safe. (I found my children – like a prudish Edwardian vicar’s wife – under a gooseberry bush, in case you are worrying .)

They love the fruit farm. I love that they are getting fresh air and learning about where their food comes from. And I love that I am getting fruit at peak ripeness for less than supermarket special offer prices.

There are some things not to love about picking your own fruit, though.

What’s Not To Love About Pick-Your-Own Fruit Farms

Getting Your Money's Worth At PYO Farms

images (1)1.  Not all PYOs are equal. Many now charge entry (why is this – I don’t have to pay to get into Asda, do I?) Some farms charge prices per kilo of fruit that are barely below the supermarket price. The idea is to make getting cheap fresh fruit double as a family outing, not to pay over the odds for either food or family fun. So avoid PYOs that charge entry and check their prices online before you go. Paying to pick fruit you could buy more cheaply is Not Thrifty.

2.  Jam does not make itself. Like the old lady in my childhood camping memories, once you have picked fruit you have to crack on with preserving it. You can get away with sticking it in a fridge for 24 hours but, after that, the layer at the bottom of your basket will start to get soft and mouldy. Been there. Now, before we head out the door to the farm, I schedule myself a specific time to get it jammed. If I don’t have time for jam-making the next day, I don’t pick more than we can eat in a couple of days. Picking your own and then throwing it in the bin a few days later is Not Thrifty.

ChristmasRetroShop-GraphicsFairy13.  Jam goes in jars. This is obvious, and yet… I have, on numerous occasions, picked mountains of fruit when I did not have mountains of jam jars. Much of my jam went to waste. This too was Not Thrifty. Now I check I have jars, cello tops and wax circles before I even think of picking fruit. Honest.
4.  It is very, VERY easy to get carried away. A strange, primitive gathering-lust descends on me at the fruit farm. There is something deeply absorbing about working your way steadily down a row of plants, focussing all your attention on finding more, more, more… Any mindfulness benefit of this is completely ruined, however, by finding that you have picked 20 kilos instead of 2 and must now sell one of your kidneys to pay for them. In supermarkets you can put food back on the shelves – fruit farms don’t work that way. Buying more fruit than you can use or afford is, again, Not Thrifty.
Berry-Picking-Picture-GraphicsFairy-thumb-150x1505. There is a limit to the amount of ripe fruit a small tummy can hold. On no account jiggle a small child who has just accompanied you to a fruit farm on your knee unless you have a very relaxed attitude to pink vomit. It turns out I do not. Food that comes straight back up is also Not Thrifty.

In spite of all this, provided you do your research and planning first, I still think an afternoon picking fruit in the sunshine is a fine free outing for the holidays. As an added bonus, the farm we go to is right beside Glasgow Airport and we can watch planes taking off and landing as we pick. How many supermarket fruit aisles offer that?

Glasgow airport runway from East Yonderton PYO Farm

July 19

Gooseberry Cheese – Elegant, Delicious And Surprisingly Thrifty

Living The Fine Life Frugally

279046Gooseberry cheese. It’s like membrillo – that pricey quince paste you see in fancy delis and supermarket special selections – but made of gooseberries. Why would you want some? Come on – if it’s good enough for Fortnum & Mason then it must be the least any frugalista deserves with her cheese and (value range) crackers. Besides, it’s tart, perfumed flavour is divine with a budget supermarket chevre dahling! I have a bit of a thing about deli food. And a strong suspicion that deli food is much cheaper to make than to buy. So today I cut out the many middle men that lie between me and my gooseberry cheese and made myself a few jars for only slightly more than the cost of one F&M jar. Tartan Mum loves a thrifty luxury.

Apron-lady-GraphicsFairy2Making a fruit cheese is much easier than making jam: there is no need to reach set point for a start. The only equipment you need is a big pot, a sieve and a wooden spoon. You also need containers but they don’t even have to be jars. How simple is that? The key ingredient is time – time to stand pushing gooseberry pulp through a sieve and time to stand stirring a bubbling pot until it reaches the right consistency. Or, as I like to think of it, time when all I can do is listen to the radio and I am not available to play with lego or catch up with housework.

Here’s how to get yourself some upmarket  deliciousness at a street market price.

Gooseberry Cheese Recipe


Gooseberries (surprise!), about 1.4kg. Try pick-your-own farms for these if you don’t have a free supply.

Granulated sugar – the amount will depend on how much pulp your berries produce


You need a high-sided pan, a nylon sieve (although a regular metal one will do if it has small holes) and a wooden spoon. A preserving funnel will help you to avoid burnt fingers and messy dribbles when potting the preserve up but so will a big jug if you have one.

gooseberry cheese from Tartan ThriftyYou will need containers. You can spoon your cheese from a jar but, ideally you want to mould your cheese so you can turn it out like a tiny jelly and put it on your cheeseboard. Your ideal container is a lidded jar with straight sides and no neck – easy to seal and easy to unmould. If your jars have lost their lids you can use waxed disks and cello covers instead. You can also use any teacup, ramekin or other container without a narrow neck but you will need to brush the inside with glycerine or flavourless vegetable oil. (e.g. sunflower) and seal the top with food grade paraffin wax. For really pretty fruit cheese you can use a bunch of cheap mini-jelly moulds like these with lids at both ends (for easy out-popping). I keep cheese made in jelly moulds in the fridge rather than the cupboard because I don’t entirely trust the seal on them – although, if it is secure enough to hold dissolved jelly, it must be a pretty good seal. Perhaps this year I should experiment…


Wash your containers in warm, soapy water and then dry them thoroughly with a clean dish towel. If you are using teacups, etc, brush them with oil now. Put jars, ramekins, etc into a low oven to dry them and keep them warm. This stops them splitting when you pour in hot gooseberry cheese.


simmering gooseberries1.  Put your berries in a deep pan with 150ml water and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat.

gooseberry pulp2.  Put a nylon sieve over a large bowl and pour the berries into it. Use a wooden spoon to push all the berries through the sieve. You should now have a sieve full of the skin and other fiddly bits of the berries and a bowl full of pulp. Chuck the contents of the sieve out and measure the pulp in a measuring jug.

3.  Return the pulp to the pan and add 60g sugar for every 100ml of pulp. Heat gently, stirring, until all the sugar has dissolved.

4.  Raise the heat and bring to the boil. Lower the heat to let it boil gently, stirring frequently, for 33-45 minutes.

5. DSCN0311Regardless of how long it has been bubbling, when you can draw your wooden spoon through the pan and leave a clean line through the mixture – one that lets you see the bottom of the pan for a few seconds – it is ready. Pour it into your jars or moulds and cover immediately with cello covers, lids or paraffin wax.

6.  While it is cooling, visit The Jam Labelizer to create your own classy Gooseberry Cheese label. Print onto card or adhesive sheets, cut out and tie/stick on once the jars have completely cooled.

Gooseberry Cheese Label made with The JamLabellizer by Tartan Thrifty

DSCN0341Ideally, let your cheese mature for a month. Eat it within a year.


CHandNoticeVintage-GraphicsFairylick here to read The Thrifty Preserving Rules

Click here to read more about The Jam Labelizer in Glam Your Jam – A Thrifty And Very Nifty Tool For Making Jam Labels


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