Have you been watching Wimbledon? Haven’t the Brits been doing well this year? Scrap that – I’ve just watched Murray get knocked out!
Nothing says Wimbledon fortnight more than strawberries & cream. I’ve adapted a Nigel Slater recipe to create a little twist on the classic – vanilla cream with red berries.
I planned on using our home and allotment-grown strawberries, raspberries and redcurrants but we didn’t have a large enough quantity that was ripe all at the same time. I made a quick trip to the supermarket for a punnet of strawberries to bulk up our rations.
Slater used orange juice and passion fruits in the original recipe. However, I used a few glugs from a bottle of grenadine syrup I’ve had in the store cupboard for ages. What a fantastic, last-minute idea – it worked brilliantly, with the strawberries especially. From this day forward, I’ll always team my fresh strawberries with it!
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Vanilla cream with red berries
- 250g/9oz crème fraîche
- 250g/9oz mascarpone
- 1 vanilla pod
- 800g/28oz mixture of red berries (I used strawberries, raspberries and redcurrants)
- 50ml/1 ¾ fl oz grenadine syrup
- sprig of mint to garnish
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- Place a sieve or small colander over a mixing bowl and line it with a piece of muslin (I used a jelly bag)
- Spoon the crème fraîche and fromage frais into a mixing bowl
- Split the vanilla pod in half lengthways with a sharp knife, open it flat and scrape out the dark, sticky seeds. Fold the seeds through the crème fraîche/fromage frais mixture and spoon it into the muslin-lined sieve
- Cover the sieve/colander and its under-bowl with cling film (Saran wrap) and leave in the fridge overnight, during which time the vanilla cream will thicken to cheesecake-like texture
- Hull & slice the berries (not redcurrants if using), put them into a mixing bowl, pour over the grenadine syrup. Mix gently to cover all the fruit with the liquid, cover with cling film and refrigerate for about an hour
- Upturn the sieve/colander on to a plate and allow the muslin and cream to slide out
- Carefully peel away the muslin
- Spoon the marinated red berries and liquid around the vanilla cream
- Drizzle an extra capful or two of grenadine syrup over the top of the vanilla cream
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I’ve preserved all our other allotment and foraged fruit in one way or another – raspberry jelly, redcurrant relish, rose hip syrup. I thought this time I’d give canned blackcurrants a go. Home canning (in glass jars that is!) is much more popular in the US than it is here in the UK, but I’ve always fancied giving it a go.
Canning, according to Wikipedia, “Is a method of preserving food in which the food contents are processed and sealed in an airtight container. Canning provides a shelf life typically ranging from one to five years, although under specific circumstances it can be much longer.”
Some websites I’ve visited say you need special equipment; a big stove-top canner – much like a pressure cooker – for starters. A jar rack, jar lifter, funnel… In practice, the only foodstuffs that need to be canned in a high pressure canner are meat, seafood, dairy and most vegetables (sweet tasting ones such as carrots, beetroot, sweetcorn, peas and beans). Fruit (which is what I’ll mainly be canning) and acidic vegetables can be done using the water bath method in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. It’s not absolutely necessary for them to reach the 116-130ºC temperature necessary for the first group of foods.
I used utensils I already had to hand. Aforementioned heavy bottomed pan. A jam thermometer to be perfectly sure the water bath got to the optimum temperature. A funnel to make sure the little berries didn’t bounce all over the floor and under the kitchen cabinets as I tried to pour them into the jars. A wire cooling rack to keep the jars from rattling against the bottom of the saucepan during boiling. A pair of tongs to lift the jars out of the hot water. Some vintage Mason-type jars with new rubber seals. It is important that jars are in perfect condition with no chips or ill-fitting lids. If they aren’t they won’t be air-tight and contents will spoil and may prove a health risk!
Here’s the method…
- At least 500g freshly picked blackcurrants. Use only perfect fruit - no bruised, over-ripe berries need apply!
- For the sugar syrup
- 1 part sugar to 2.5 parts water (e.g. 200g granulated sugar to 500ml water)
- Sterilise the jars & lids - you can do this by putting them into a large saucepan and covering them with water and bringing it to the boil. Once it boils, turn off the heat and leave them in the hot water until you're ready to use them
- Top & tail and rinse the fruit well in a colander
- Decant the fruit into the sterilised jars (using a funnel if you have one). Leave a space of about 2.5cm/1inch from the rim of the jar
- Put your sugar and water into a medium-sized saucepan over a medium heat
- Stir until all the sugar has dissolved. Turn off the heat
- Carefully pour the hot sugar syrup over the fruit - enough to completely cover the fruit but leaving a gap of 1.25cm/½inch to the rim of the jar
- Remove any air bubbles using a plastic or wooden knife (like the ones you get from a take-away)
- Screw the lids onto the jars firmly, but not too tightly
- Put a wire cooling rack into the base of a large heavy-bottomed saucepan (if you don't have one or the one you have doesn't fit - use a folded tea towel)
- Put the jars into the saucepan and fill the saucepan with enough hot water to completely cover the jars by at least 2.5cm/1inch. Make sure there's at least 5cm/2inches gap to the top of the saucepan; if there isn't you'll need a larger pan
- Put a lid on the saucepan
- Bring the water to a low, rolling boil. Once it gets to this point, boil at this level for a further 15 minutes
- Turn off the heat and carefully remove the jars using a jar lifter or metal tongs
- Put the jars on a thick tea towel or wire rack to cool. The lids on the jars should be concave and should not move when pressed down with your finger. If one of your jars has not formed a vacuum - just refrigerate and use it's contents within a week
- Label, date and store the jars in a cool, dry, dark place. The fruit will store for at least next year when you can do it all over again! 🙂
This recipe will work for any kind of similar fruit - redcurrants, white currants, bilberries, blueberries etc.
This week I attempted a cake (or more rightly, a bake) that I’d not done before – lemon & polenta berry squares.
It’s taken from 1001 Cupcakes, Cookies & Other Tempting Treats. It turned out really well, the berries kept it lovely and moist and the polenta gave it a bit of a crunch.
Here’s the recipe:
Lemon & polenta berry squares
- 175g/6oz butter, plus extra for greasing
- 175g/6oz caster sugar
- 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 100g/3½oz ground almonds
- 150g/5½oz polenta
- 2 tsp baking powder
- finely grated rind of 1 lemon
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 300g/10½oz frozen small berry fruits such as cranberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackcurrents and redcurrents (I used a mixture of bluberries and strawberries sliced in half)
- icing sugar, to decorate
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Grease a 23cm/9inch shallow square cake tin and line base with baking paper
- Put the butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat together until light & fluffy, then gradually beat the eggs into the mixture until smooth
- Add the ground almonds, polenta, baking powder, lemon rind and juice and stir together until well mixed. Stir in the fruit of your choice
- Spoon the mixture into the tin and spread out evenly
- Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes or until golden brown and firm to the touch
- Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely
- Sift icing sugar lightly over to decorate and cut into squares
Image credits: blueberries, quince, damsons
Spring is coming, spring is coming!
That means that we’ll be able to get back to using our garden again. It’s looking really sorry for itself at the moment – neglected, frost-shattered terracotta pots
Much as I love pretty, jaunty annuals, I never feel like they’re value for money. I prefer having bulbs – they bring pleasure year after year and once they’ve been planted, the majority of them just get on with it.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about investing a bit more and getting a few fruit trees. Top of my list are damsons, quinces and blueberries. I make jams & jellies so fruit from my own garden will make it all that more “home-made”.
Bluberries really suit where we live – they love acid soil and you can grow them in pots (the majority of our garden is cobbled stone setts). Damsons are famous for growing well “up north” – apparently they like a bit of damp – they’ll feel right at home with us then! I’ve wanted my own quince tree ever since I made a batch of jelly from a big bag of quinces given to me by a friend of Granny Glittens. They’re not the kind of fruit you tend to find to readily in shops or markets and the jelly is fragrant, delicious and a beautiful amber colour.
I think I’d like to turn our little plot into a micro orchard!
It’s been a long time since our last Out & about post – we even missed the whole of summer!
Flower-filled fields feel a distant memory…
…the flowers gave way to autumn leaves…
For the first couple of weeks of autumn we had the best of both worlds – sunshine as well as amazing seasonal colour.
We were seeing butterflies until quite late in the year…
…but there was no doubting that summer was over, as the winter-visiting geese were beginning to arrive.
Even the autumn sunshine is now a thing of the past – it seems to have been raining non-stop for almost a month. But now we’re into December, this rain will hopefully turn to snow which will mean a magical white Christmas!
Our berry picking has started early this year. We were out gathering bilberries at the weekend. They love acid soil and are found on low-growing bushes in the surrounding area. The berries are small and picking them is quite time consuming – but, be patient, they’re well worth the effort!
We put some in the freezer for future jam making and used the rest of our crop to make this bilberry custard tart. Here’s the recipe:
You’ll need to collect about 225g/8oz bilberries. Remove stalks and stray leaves and rinse in a sieve. Dry carefully on some kitchen towel (Don’t use a tea towel unless you don’t mind it getting stained purple).
For the shortcrust pastry
- 125g/4oz plain flour
- pinch of salt
- 55g/2oz butter, cubed
- 30-45ml/2-3 tbsp cold water
(or you can buy a pack of ready-made in the chilled section of most supermarkets)
- Put the flour and salt in a large bowl and add the cubes of butter
- Use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour until you have a mixture that resembles coarse breadcrumbs with no large lumps of butter remaining
- using a knife, stir in just enough of the cold water to bind the dough together
- wrap the pastry in cling film and chill for 10-15 minutes before rolling out
- flour the table and roll out the pastry to about 1/2cm thick and 25cm/10inches in diameter (or large enough to fit over the dish you’re using)
- carefully lift the pastry and lay it over your dish, moulding it to the bottom & sides
- cut off any excess bits using a sharp knife
- pour in the fresh bilberries
For the custard
- 4 eggs
- 2 egg yolks
- 475ml/1pt milk
- 55g/2oz caster sugar
- heat the milk gently in a pan
- whisk the eggs & egg yolks
- slowly add the milk to the egg mixture whisking continuously (make sure the milk’s not too hot or the eggs will scramble!)
- pour the mixture carefully through a sieve on to the bilberries in the dish
- Preheat the oven to 175ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4. Cook the flan for 45 minutes or until the top begins to brown nicely. When cool sprinkle a tablespoon of caster sugar over the top
The tart looks fabulous with the deep purple juice seeping into the creamy custard…
…and it tasted good too!