Queen of the Crops

Soft fruit has to be one of the most rewarding crops a home gardener can grow; it does its own thing for most of the year and then suddenly, come June/July, you have more fruit than you know what to do with – not really a hardship, I’m sure you’ll agree! Given the price of fruit in the supermarket, where tiny punnets of raspberries cost a small fortune and often go off disappointingly quickly, this is somewhere you can save pounds. It’s also very hard to even find the currant family, or even gooseberries, in the shops these days, unless you have acess to a farmer’s market or pick-your-own farm.

Admittedly, it’s a good idea to net most of the soft fruit family; redcurrants are particularly prone to bird attack (even when netted!) and I’ve known gooseberries and blackcurrants disappear too, though whether due to birds or passing humans, I’ve never been quite sure… My raspberries seem to thrive without netting and I have a bonus crop this year from raspberry runners that have decided to take up residence underneath my Bramley apple tree – permaculture in essence!

The strawberries are usually first to arrive and have given me a good month of generous pickings: from strawberries on my breakfast muesli (such decadence!), to Strawberry Cheesecake, strawberry meringue and strawberry ice cream. Another old favourite, simplicity itself to make, is a Summer Fruit Crème Brûlée, a recipe I picked up on a Sainsbury’s recipe card many moons ago. The ice cream, another dead-easy recipe, is adapted from Sarah Raven’s Garden Cookbook and puts shop-bought impostors well and truly in their place – you’ll never want to taste bought ice cream again!

Strawberry Ice Cream

Strawberry ice cream

500g fresh strawberries, washed and hulled if necessary
Juice of one orange
Juice of one lemon
300ml double cream
150g caster (or vanilla) sugar

Blitz the strawberries, orange and lemon juice in a blender. Add the cream and sugar until well mixed. Churn in an ice cream maker, or make the old-fashioned way by freezing for an hour or so, then whisking in the ice crystals and repeating until softly frozen.
Serve as is or with more fresh strawberries – divine!

Strawberry ice cream serving

Summer Fruit Crème Brûlée – serves 4-6

Creme brulee portion

250g fresh strawberries, washed and hulled
1 nectarine or peach
125g grapes
14-16 Amaretti biscuits
2 x 200ml tubs crème fraiche (I like the half-fat organic one from Yeo Valley, but full-fat is good too)
150g soft brown sugar

Arrange the strawberries, nectarine and grapes in a round 20cm soufflé dish. You can add a tablespoon of Amaretto at this stage if you wish, but I find the fruit makes its own juice as it chills. Place the Amaretti biscuits on top, evenly spaced. Spoon on the crème fraiche to completely seal the fruit and chill in the fridge for a good couple of hours.
Sprinkle over the sugar, completely covering the cream, then grill for 1-2 minutes (or use a blow torch if you have one!) until the sugar caramelises.
Allow to cool slightly, then serve to general acclaim.
You can of course, use any soft fruit of your choice in this recipe – raspberries are good too, or just strawberries.

My final recipe is an adaptation of my standard strawberry cheesecake instructions to accommodate the current raspberry glut. I ended up picking over a 1kg raspberries in torrential rain yesterday, so a cheesecake and delectable accompanying coulis seemed the way to go.

Raspberry Cheesecake – serves 8-10

Raspberry cheesecake

75g butter
250g Speculoos biscuits (I used Lotus)
150ml double cream
200g full-fat cream cheese
200g crème fraiche
Juice and zest of 1 lime
75g caster sugar
Few drops vanilla essence
Fruit to top: 500g raspberries

I make this in a shallow 30cm x 20cm rectangular tart tin with a loose bottom, but you can use an equivalent round tart tin if you prefer. Grease the tin with butter.

Melt the butter in a small pan and add the crushed biscuits (the old-fashioned way using a plastic bag and a rolling pin, or food-processor if you prefer). Mix and turn into the base of the tin. Spread out and refrigerate while you make the filling.

Whip the cream lightly with the sugar, then add the lime zest and juice, cream cheese, crème fraiche and vanilla essence, continuing to whip until the mixture makes soft swirls. Turn into the base and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight for the best set.

Top with fresh raspberries and serve with raspberry coulis if liked.

Raspberry Coulis

250g raspberries
Juice of 1 orange
1 tbsp icing sugar, sifted

Blitz the raspberries (I used the squishy ones from the bottom of my punnet after picking in pouring rain!) in a blender with the sifted icing sugar and add the sieved orange juice. Strain through a sieve to remove the seeds and serve with the cheesecake or with ice cream. You can add more orange juice if too thick, of course.

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