Tag Archives: Redcurrants

Salad Days

Allotment harvest mid-June

We’ve been experiencing an unexpected heatwave here in the South of England for the past week or so, with temperatures over 30°C at their peak. Nothing unusual for many parts of Europe, to be sure, but pretty exceptional in the UK! My house has a north-south axis which works very well in these conditions, especially as my office and bedroom are on the cooler north side of the house, so working and sleeping aren’t too much of an issue.

Watering becomes of paramount importance to a gardener, though. I’m resisting watering twice a day, but trying to water pots and containers at home in the morning, and the raised beds at the allotment in the evening – to spread the load. It’s actually a very enjoyable process, as you can commune with Nature as you water and see what’s newly flowering/germinating/doing well. I’ve managed with water from my water butts so far, but two out of the three at home have now run dry and the allotment butt has been empty for a while – although fortunately water at the allotment comes from a trough and standpipe at the corner of my plot – very convenient! Our yearly subscription covers water costs too, so while it’s not metered to us (although hosepipes aren’t allowed), any huge uptake in usage could theoretically lead to a rise in subs for us all next year, as it is metered to the allotment association.

Allotment poppy June 2017

I love summer evenings up at the allotments: there are always a few people pottering around their plots, it’s incredibly peaceful (apart from my noisy dogs if people dare to walk past “their” plot – sorry, folks) and the sunsets are spectacular. A lesson in mindfulness at the end of a busy day…. This week I’ve managed to mow the grass (trying to keep on top of it so it doesn’t reach jungle proportions again!), get rid of some perennial weeds (docks, blackberries, the dreaded convolvulus) that were encroaching on the paths, do some weeding around newly planted beds and keep up with the harvesting: strawberries, raspberries and redcurrants have suddenly started to ripen at a tremendous pace, and the broad beans and lettuce are still going strong. Such a lovely time of year.

I’ve even made some comfrey tea for use as a fertiliser in three weeks’ time when it has steeped sufficiently. Having lost my comfrey patch a few years back, a healthy-loooking clump has sprung up near the communal bonfire site, so I swapped a wheelbarrow full of weeds for a barrow overflowing with comfrey leaves, stuffed them in an old chicken pellet container (with a lid to contain the stench!), covered with water and will leave to brew. It smells vile but the plants love it – and it’s free!

The strawberries have been epic this year – I’ve had enough for breakfast every day and to make strawberry ice cream, strawberry cheesecake, pavlova and Strawberry Coulis for the freezer (just blitzed in a blender with the juice of an orange and 1 tbsp of icing sugar). Yesterday there were even enough for the quintessential summer jam: strawberry & redcurrant to be precise, as the currants add pectin and make for a better set.

Strawberry & Redcurrant Jam – makes 5 standard jars

Strawberry and redcurrent jam

1.2kg strawberries
300g redcurrants (or gooseberries would work too), removed from stalks
1.5kg granulated sugar
Juice of 1 lemon

Hull the strawberries, chopping up any particularly large fruit and put in a preserving pan with the strigged redcurrants. Add the lemon juice and simmer over a low heat for 20-30 minutes or until very soft.

Strawberry jam making

Weigh out the sugar and add, stirring until it dissolves, then turn up the heat to a rollicking boil, stirring as you go. Add a small knob of butter to reduce any froth! Test after 5-10 minutes to see if it has set – I find the best test is to hold your wooden spoon over the pan and when the drips run together to form a bigger drop that breaks off sharply, the jam will be done. Otherwise, have a saucer in the freezer and place a little of the jam on the saucer, cool slightly, then push with your finger: the surface should wrinkle. You will need to take the jam off the heat while you do this test to stop the jam overcooking. Strawberry jam is notoriously fiddly to set, so test little and often. Mine was ready after just 5-6 minutes in yesterday’s heat.

When set, pour the jam into prepared jars (washed and sterilised in the oven on a low heat), cover with waxed circles and lids, then label when cool. Set aside for the perfect accompaniment for traditional Victoria sponges and scones with jam & clotted cream over the coming summer months…

When the weather is this hot, though, salads are the way to go. Quite apart from the fact that I’ve been getting back from the allotment so late that cooking isn’t an option, it’s really too hot to contemplate cooking. I love experimenting with whatever I have in the fridge or bring back from the plot, resulting in some delicious combinations. Lunch today was a refreshing Melon, Strawberry & Feta Salad served on a bed of mizuna with dill and mint to garnish – sublime! With Galia melon (not my own!), two kinds of strawberries (the large allotment variety and tiny alpine strawberries that run with gay abandon in one border at home), drizzled with a splash of extra virgin olive oil and a hint of balsamic vinegar, this really hit the spot for a cooling, yet tasty lunch. The salty chalkiness of the feta and the slight bitterness of the mizuna were a perfect foil for the sweet and juicy fruit.

Strawberry and melon salad

Other salad combinations have included Baby Broad Beans & Griddled Halloumi with toasted pine kernels and rocket, with a chilli, mint and lemon dressing, and my perennial favourite, Bauernsalat (farmer’s salad), inspired by one of our best-loved holiday hotels, the Tennis Hotel in St. Wolfgang, Austria, which simply consists of crispy fried bacon and potatoes scattered on a bed of fresh salad, with a herby yogurt dressing to accompany. So good – worth cooking extra new potatoes especially to make this! Anything goes – experimenting is half the fun. If something doesn’t work particularly well, just leave it out next time – but with fresh and homegrown produce, chances are it will all taste sublime.

Allotment sunset

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More Alchemy in the Kitchen

Fruit glut July 2015

I’ve said before that I love the alchemy of converting piles of fresh fruit and vegetables into jams and chutneys. There’s something very special about a well-stocked store cupboard, harvesting nature’s bounty for the cold winter months ahead. If the produce in question is free from your own garden or allotment (or a neighbour’s, as in the case of my jostaberries), or better still from the hedgerow, that’s even better. I always try to make at least one batch of elderflower cordial a year, as it’s so much better than shop-bought, and this year I was tempted to experiment with my own blackcurrant cordial too, when the blackcurrants reached glut proportions during my week away! Redcurrant jelly is another favourite as it makes the most sublime sauce to accompany lamb, and recently I’ve tried jostaberry jam for the first time, using up the surplus from my neighbour’s monster bush. This hybrid of blackcurrants and gooseberries is deliciously tangy, but a devil to top and tail. Gooseberries are at least large and dry, so can be topped and tailed quite easily in front of the television, blackcurrants usually only need to be destalked as the flower “tails” are quite unobtrusive, but these berries have noticeable tops and tails – you can only really leave them on if you intend to sieve the jam. It took me 40 minutes to top and tail 3lb of fruit for this jam – not ideal, but hopefully the results will be worth it! I find it best to top and tail them in a bowl of water as they are also very juicy so you need to do it with your fingertips, rather than a knife as you would with gooseberries. Tempted? It’s really very simple. Here’s how:

 Jostaberry Jam

Jostaberries3lb jostaberries

3lb granulated sugar

1 pint water

Top and tail the jostaberries as described above, then cook with 1 pint water in a large preserving pan for about half an hour or until soft. Add the sugar over a gentle heat and stir until dissolved. Bring to the boil and cook vigorously for about 5 to 7 minutes until setting point is reached.

I find the best test is to hold your wooden spoon over the pan and when the drips run together to form a bigger drop that breaks off sharply, the jam will be done. Otherwise, have a saucer in the freezer and place a little of the jam on the saucer, cool slightly, then push with your finger: the surface should wrinkle. You will need to take the jam off the heat while you do this test to stop the jam overcooking.

When set, pour the jam into prepared jars (washed and sterilised in the oven on a low heat), cover with waxed circles and lids, then label when cool.

Jelly is slightly more fiddly than jam, but probably requires less hands-on time and is just as satisfying. You will need a jelly bag and stand, but the resulting jelly will be so much better than anything you can buy in the shops. I love to use it in a ridiculously simple Redcurrant, Orange & Mint Sauce from Delia’s original Complete Cookery Course: just mix a couple of tablespoons of home-made jelly with the grated rind of one orange and a handful of finely chopped mint. Allow to stand and serve with roast lamb – sublime! Also goes well with curry made from any leftover lamb the next day, rather than the more traditional mango chutney.

 Red & Whitecurrant Jelly

Red and whitecurrants in preserving pan3lb red and whitecurrants (or just use all redcurrants)

1 pint water

Sugar (see recipe)

Put the fruit, stalks and all, into a large preserving pan with the water and cook for ½ to ¾ hour until really soft. Strain overnight through the jelly bag attached to a jelly stand into a large jug placed beneath. Do not be tempted to squeeze or poke the fruit as otherwise the jelly will be cloudy.

Measure the extract the next morning and allow 1lb sugar to every 1 pint of extract. Return to the preserving pan and stir over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved. Then boil rapidly for 8-10 minutes until a set is achieved (see above). Skim off any froth, then pour into jars, seal and label as above.

Jelly bag Bubbling jam panRed and whitecurrant jellyThe third in my trio of midsummer preserves is blackcurrant cordial. Having put numerous bags in the freezer, made a divine sorbet, a summer pudding and countless other desserts, I thought I’d give this a go. What a revelation! Pure, fresh-tasting cordial, so much nicer than the branded varieties, and of course, you merely need a splash with fizzy water (or sparkling wine!) for a delicious long summer drink or Kir Royal. I tried this last year without the citric acid, but it didn’t keep very long, even in the fridge. This year, I’ve added citric acid, and whilst I’m sure it won’t hang around for long, I think it will keep as long as I need it.

Blackcurrant Cordial

500g blackcurrants
275g sugar
250ml water
½ tsp citric acid

In a heavy-based pan, simmer the sugar, blackcurrants and water gently for 5 minutes. Using a potato masher, break up the fruit to release as much juice as possible. Add the citric acid and simmer for another 2 minutes. Strain the mix through a jelly bag overnight, without squeezing and pour the resulting liquid into a sterilised bottle and keep in the fridge.

If, like me, you have so many blackcurrants that you decide to increase the proportions, please make sure that your jelly bag can take the weight…. Mine was so overloaded that it slipped off the stand, splashing cordial around the kitchen! Fortunately, not too much was lost as it landed in the bowl beneath, but I was very glad I’d had the forethought to cover the kitchen table with newspaper before starting!

Blackcurrant cordial

Berry Bonanza

allotment haul July 2015Summer in the allotment is a fabulous time for soft fruit and this year is no exception. From the end of June through to the end of July, there’s a constant stream of delicious berries to harvest, starting with strawberries, closely followed by currants, white, red and black, and on to raspberries. This week I’m also looking after my neighbour’s allotment whilst she’s on holiday and she has jostaberries too: a German hybrid of blackcurrants and gooseberries (hence the name: Jo-hannisbeeren (blackcurrants) and Sta-chelbeeren (gooseberries)). This makes a huge bush – my neighbour’s must be at least 8-10 feet across and this year, secure in its fruit cage, is absolutely dripping with fruit. I’m under instructions to help myself, and so have jam in my sights, but for now have just picked enough for a delicious compote to top a cheesecake – tangy and delightful, tasting of both its parents, but unique too – definitely one to try again! I usually make this recipe with fresh strawberries (as shown in the photo) or raspberries, but it was equally good with jostaberries and would work beautifully with blackcurrants too.

Strawberry (or Jostaberry) Cheesecake – serves 6-8

Strawberry cheesecake 75g butter

250g HobNob or digestive biscuits

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 strawberries (sliced) or raspberries

or 500g jostaberries or blackcurrants

50-75g sugar (to taste)

1 tsp arrowroot

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, but don’t overprocess: a chunky mix is good). 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 berries if using, garnishing with borage flowers if you have any.

If serving with compote, cook the jostaberries or blackcurrants gently with the sugar until just cooked. Don’t be tempted to add water as the fruit will produce plenty of juice as the berries burst. Pour some of the juice into a small bowl and mix in the teaspoon of arrowroot, then stir the resulting mixture into the cooked berries over a gentle heat, until the mixture thickens slightly. Do not allow to boil, otherwise the mixture will turn runny again! Cool overnight and use to top the cheesecake just before serving.

My summer raspberries are just about coming to an end, and my autumn raspberries (along with many others on the allotment) have succumbed to a mystery virus this year, so I won’t be enjoying my autumn breakfasts of muesli, yogurt and fresh raspberries this year, sadly. It’s been a great season, though, and I’ve used raspberries in so many ways, including the following delicious summer pudding, great for a dinner party. This recipe originally came from the Beechgrove Garden TV show when we lived in Scotland, but I’ve adapted it slightly and it has been part of my summer repertoire ever since:

Meringue Roulade – serves 8

Meringue Roulade4 egg whites

225g caster sugar

25g flaked almonds

1 dsp cornflour

1 tsp lemon juice

150ml double cream

150ml natural yogurt

Fresh raspberries or strawberries (at least 250g)

Line a Swiss roll tin with baking parchment. Set oven to 160°C (fan) / Gas 4.

Whisk egg whites until firm and gradually whisk in the sugar until glossy and stiff peaks have formed.

Fold in the cornflour and lemon juice using a metal spoon, then transfer to the prepared tin using a spatula and gently level the surface. Sprinkle with the flaked almonds, then bake for about 20 minutes until just starting to turn golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Cut a piece of greaseproof paper a little bigger than the roulade, place on a large chopping board and gently place over the roulade. Invert the whole board gently so that the roulade is upside down on the paper. Carefully peel off the baking parchment.

Whip the cream until the soft swirl stage, then whisk in the yogurt. Gently spread over the meringue and top with the fruit of your choice. The more fruit you add, the more challenging it will be to roll, but the more delicious it will taste! You can always add more fruit on the side if you’re not sure…

Finally roll up firmly, using the paper as a guide. Think positive! Transfer onto a serving platter and serve to much acclaim!

The original recipe suggests serving this with raspberry sauce, but I don’t think this is necessary if you add enough fruit to cover in the first place….

The starting point for my final berry recipe was a recent Waitrose recipe leaflet that coincided with a glut of raspberries in the kitchen. I misread the recipe when I first tried it (more haste, less speed!) and forgot to separate the eggs. I also used gluten-free self-raising flour (Dove’s Farm) and halved the mixture – they were delicious! This morning I experimented again for my weekend house guests, separating the eggs, and using the full quantity and standard self-raising flour: they were even better! I also changed the proportions of yogurt and ricotta as I only had half a pot of ricotta left after the first time. Just goes to show that you can sometimes deviate from the recipe with great success….

Raspberry and Redcurrant Ricotta Pancakes – serves 4 hungry people!

125g self-raising flour (gluten-free works fine)

50g caster sugar

100ml natural yogurt

250g ricotta

1 tbsp milk

3 large eggs, separated

Zest of 1 lemon (or lime)

½ tsp vanilla extract

100g raspberries or redcurrants (or a mix of both)

Sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl and stir in the sugar. In a separate bowl, beat together the egg yolks, yogurt, ricotta, milk, lemon or lime zest and vanilla extract until well mixed. Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Gradually beat the wet yolk mixture into the flour, then fold in the egg whites, followed by the fruit.

Heat a knob of butter and a splash of oil in a large frying pan, pour off excess and place small ladlefuls of the mixture into the pan, in batches. I cooked four at a time in my large pan. Fry on a medium heat for a couple of minutes each side, turning with a spatula or fish slice when golden brown on each side. Keep warm (or serve to impatient breakfasters!) while you continue with the rest. Serve on their own, or with butter or maple syrup. Any leftover (ha!) are delicious toasted the following day….