Friday, 26 June 2009

Further Foraging...

I couldn't believe it... cherries, growing wild on trees a mere 2 minutes walk from home! So yesterday I carried a garden chair down to the canal, set it up in the middle of the towpath underneath a groaning bough of cherries and got picking. Much to the amusement of the passing joggers and dog-walkers, and the annoyance of a grey squirrel sitting on the aforementioned bough and filling his cheeks with the cherries.

Within about 20 minutes I had gathered this punnet full - about a kilogram of fruit - and I could have carried on but was in danger of over-stretching and falling off my garden chair into the canal. Which come to think of it would probably have provided much more amusement to the joggers and dog-walkers, and a certain amount of alarm to the ducks.

So bearing in mind the well-known proverb that Greed comes before a Fall I stopped and carried my punnet of cherries proudly home.

Only to think now what on earth do I do with these?!!

Obviously photographing them was a good start!

But today, one cherry-pitter purchased, and recipes researched, another batch of jam is on the way...

Enjoying the Fruits of our Labours

After our successful visit to the PYO farm last weekend, and the ensuing jam-fest that followed, I wasn't too sure that I ever wanted to see another gooseberry ever again. Another piece of fruit, come to think of it. But that didn't last long, because as I mentioned in my last post, I had a Gooseberry Tart recipe that I was dying to try out.

This is a pudding fondly remembered from my childhood, and one that is guaranteed to convert even those people who swear that they don't like gooseberries. At times I have been ambivalent about how much I really like these tart prickly berries, but then I taste this tart and I realise that I do like them. In fact I love them!

As you can see I am no expert at lining flan cases with pastry (although I did make the pastry myself!). However, I didn't have to try too hard to convince myself that I actually like the, erm, rustic look that this tart has, with it's browned pastry overhang.

But just look at that moist, creamy, cinnamony filling which contrasts so beautifully with the acidity of the gooseberries nestled within...

And that crispy, speckled, crackly topping!

This is a tart that looks and tastes great. So without further ado, and thanks to Mum for e.mailing it to me so quickly after my 'I-need-that-recipe-URGENTLY' answerphone message, here it is:

Gooseberry Tart

Line an 8-inch flan dish with pastry, and blind-bake until cooked.

Cover the pastry with gooseberries that you have softened briefly in the microwave (I put mine in a pyrex bowl and gave them about 4 minutes on high, until they were just beginning to release their juices. They should still be holding their shape and not yet beginning to stew).

Mix the following ingredients together:
5oz double cream
1oz flour
3oz caster sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Pour over the gooseberries.

NB, my flan dish is 10.5 inches so I doubled the recipe for the filling which filled my tart generously - and perfectly in my opinion!

Bake at 230C for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 190C for a further 20 minutes (adjust as usual for fan ovens).

The tart will have developed a slightly browned, crispy topping.

Eat warm, at room temperature or cold - it's delicious any way!

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Pick Your Own

I have fond childhood memories of 'Pick Your Own' farms. I particularly remember Mum sending my brother and me to pick the strawberries because she had a bad back, so would rather pick fruit standing up. She would head off to pick raspberries while Ben and I would fill our punnets... and our faces... with strawberries! What child is going to complain about that?

So when I realised that there is a PYO farm nearby, I was quickly on the 'phone to find out what was ready for picking. It seems that it's still a little early for raspberries and currants, but I was delighted to hear that they had ripe strawberries and gooseberries, so we headed off for a picking session on Saturday.

Despite being fiendishly prickly, the gooseberries were easy to pick. They were plump and juicy, and the bushes were laden. I love their translucent, stubbly skins.

The strawberries of course necessitated scrabbling about close to the ground, but the reward of pulling back a handful of leaves to find these treasures made the aching back worthwhile.

And obviously there were other rewards too...!

Back at home, I was faced with the reality of nearly 3kg of soft fruit that needed using, and fast. A quick e.mail to Mum gave me the recipe for the Gooseberry and Cinnamon Flan that I remember as a result of those childhood visits to PYO farms, and I also turned some into a compote to accompany elderflower creams (like a very English pannacotta), the recipe for which I discovered in Nigella's How to Eat. (Once the elderflower season is past, these creams can easily be made using cordial, as Australian fellow-blogger Sarah discovered as she was heroically cooking her way through the entire book in a year!)

This still left me with 700g of gooseberries, so I made these into a gooseberry and elderflower jam. The recipe was very simple - equal amounts of fruit and sugar, cooked up with half the amount of water (ie 350ml of water for 700g of fruit and 700g of sugar). Instead of using water, I made up 350ml of elderflower cordial, with about 100ml of cordial and 250ml water. Gooseberries are very high in pectin, so this jam set beautifully. And I think it looks beautiful too, pinkish-orange, gooseberry seeds suspended within.

The strawberries too became jam - strawberry and rhubarb jam to be precise. I struggled to find a recipe for this, but ended up amalgamating several I had found online, one of which being a recent post on David Lebovitz's blog. I used equal weights of these fruits as I had so many strawberries. Both rhubarb and strawberry are low in pectin, so I used a cup of apple juice and the juice of a large lemon to encourage it to set. After much boiling it is still what I would describe as 'soft set' but by no means overly runny. However at one point I was beginning to wonder if I should have followed the advice found in several American versions of this recipe, and added 'Strawberry Jello' to the pan!

I think it must be time for a clotted cream tea...

Rhubarb on FoodistaRhubarb

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Come Back Summer!!

Two weeks ago anyone in England could have been forgiven for thinking that they were in fact living in the Mediterranean. The weather was incredible - well into the 20s for days on end. With amazing good luck, this mini heatwave coincided with my half-term holiday from school, and even more fortunately I had an extra day off work the following week for report writing (which I smugly finished during the 2 rainy days that preceded the sunshine) so I was well-placed to enjoy it. I spent an entire week wearing shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops.

And I didn't want to miss a second of that beautiful sunshine...

Even ironing can be fun when the sun is out!

Sadly since then we have had a week of greyness and lots of rain. Good for the burgeoning vegetables in the garden I suppose (see my newly potted-on tomatoes on the table in the photo above) but rather less good for one's spirits.

Still, it seems to be warming up again now, and the rain appears to be easing. So perhaps that glorious Summer might happen after all?

Happy Birthday M&S!

This year is the 125th birthday of Marks and Spencers. I missed their 'Penny Bazaar' event (which was probably a fight-to-the-death scrummage over the socks, so I'm not too sorry) but I am just loving their new retro food packaging, if you'll excuse the oxymoron. I snapped these in the window of the Oxford Street M&S when I was in London over half term.

Mmm, cream soda! Like fizzy vanilla ice-cream.

If I didn't make my own jam I'd be buying jars of this.

Jelly Fruits and Peppermint Creams.

These adverts are just beautiful.

My contribution to the celebrations will be to continue buying their 'Dine in for 2 for 10 pounds' offer every fortnight. Everyone wins! Happy Birthday M&S.

Monday, 1 June 2009


I've always thought that Autumn was the best time for foraging for food. All those blackberries, hazelnuts, rosehips... But I'm beginning to realise that Spring is just as good - if not better- for harvesting some free food from the hedgerows.

This burst of sunshine over the last week has been amazing, it really lifts the spirits (especially as it coincided so neatly with the half-term holiday). I couldn't help but notice that the hedges are beginning to be dotted with beautiful cream-coloured elderflowers, so headed out on my bike with a basket.

I was a little early to be doing this to be honest - many of the flower-heads were not quite blooming, and many that were were way too high up for me to reach. However, I did manage to fill my basket and soon I was at home rediscovering just how simple it is to make elderflower cordial.

I think that I got this recipe from my parents, several years ago. We have made it before, but didn't make any while we lived in Canada - in fact I struggle to remember whether I even saw elder trees in Ontario..?

Anyway, you simply mix together 40 heads of elderflowers, 3oz citric acid (I got mine from the chemist - just ask at the pharmacy counter), 3 1/4 lb sugar, 2 sliced lemons and 3 pints of boiling water. Mix everything in a large container - a bucket is great, I used a washing-up bowl - cover and leave for 5 days. Helpful hint - rinse the flower heads very well. I have quite a few bugs floating in my cordial! They will of course get strained out. And it's only a bit of extra protein...

After a few days, strain and bottle it. I also like to freeze tubs of it so that it can be scooped straight into a glass and topped up with water, meaning that there is no need for ice-cubes. This also stops the cordial fermenting as can happen if you bottle it.

On the subject of fermenting, I would really like to try elderflower champagne too... I have found several different recipes online for this, some very different from others, but think I'm going to go with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's recipe, which can be found here. I'll let you know how it goes...

My other foraging success has been wild garlic. We discovered this last week, growing in Wendover Woods, so gathered a bag full. The leaves have a very delicate garlicky flavour, almost more like chives, and they can be used like any leafy vegetable.

They are lovely eaten raw as a salad leaf, but I used mine chopped and stirred through cooked pasta with my homemade walnut pesto.

I cycled up to the woods again today to collect some more (to be added to my salad tonight) and found that the leaves of the plants are beginning to turn yellow. I managed to collect enough bright green ones for supper, but I think it's nearing the end of its season. I'm glad we caught it when we did.

Do you forage? What for? Have you ever made Nettle Soup? That might be my next challenge...