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Quince Jelly

After trying quince and rhubarb earlier this year, I have been somewhat fascinated by this most majestic of fruits, so when my aunt arrived around with 3lbs of them she had got from a friend’s tree, it was like Christmas had come early. Looking at these beautiful small golden orbs, there seemed only one contender for what to do with them and that had to be quince jelly!

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Summer pudding

Yes yes, I know summer is hiding her light under a bushel right now, but I’m hoping to coax her back by eating a variety of delightfully summery dishes all the while. And what is more gloriously summery (or more gloriously British) than a panopoly of soft fruits?

A recent trip to Brixton’s Farmers’ Market came up trumps when I came home with an old fashioned paper pick-you-own punnet with a handle filled with fresh juicy Kent cherries, gorgeous redcurrants and tiny tart whitecurrants all for £4. The cherries didn’t even make it til teatime, eaten one handed on the patio while reading the Sunday papers. The currants didn’t lend themselves just as well to absent-minded nibbling being much tarter and less juicy. I half-heartedly ate a few and went off to rummage in the freezer for something for dinner…

And while there I espied a forgotten bag of frozen summer fruits from Sainsbury’s and my mind leapt to making a juice drenched summer pudding as a beautiful vehicle for some organic thick cream I happened to have picked up as well. I’m a big fan of the frozen fruits Sainsbury’s sell, especially when on an offer for three bags for a fiver and often buy them to make my five a day more interesting and affordable. The fact that they also make a mean frozen daiquiri is entirely incidental!

I haven’t eaten summer pudding for years and wasn’t entirely sure how you make it, but figured it would be fairly easy once I found a recipe. A quick Google turned up this fantastically easy sounding one from Sophie Grigson on the BBC Food Website that sums up just how easy this fabulous dessert is to make! Especially since my local shop has an inability to sell fresh sliced bread, with all their loaves seeming a bit dry round the edges. This makes them perfect for a good summer pud!

Luckily I had lots of time to make the pudding so I was able to leave the frozen fruits to defrost overnight and brings the juices out as recommended, although I halved the amount of sugar she suggested. However I don’t think you’d be missing too much if you go straight to the heating stage. I simmered the fruit for about ten minutes, before adding a few tablespoons of Ribena and allowing it to cool enough to be able to dip my bread into without burning myself. I trimmed the bread of crusts while I waited and cut the slices into triangles, except for one that I cut into a circle using the base of the bowl as a template.

Once the fruit mixture had cooled enough, I dipped the circle of bread for the base in juice on both sides and began lining the bowl. I dipped each triangle on one side and began making my juicy jigsaw, wedging each piece of bread in carefully to make sure there were no gaps, adding little plugs of bread where needed. I then filled the bread shell up with the gorgeous fruit mixture and realised I was slightly short of bread to make the lid. Some judicious cutting and trimming later and all the fruit was covered and I was relieved that no one would see its hotchpotch look when the pudding was served!

I then put a saucer on top of it all, popped the bowl into the vegetable drawer of my fridge and put a few cans of chickpeas on top to weight it down overnight and allow the lovely juices to soak into the bread and help shape the pudding before eating. This should happen overnight, but it was a full 48 hours before I got back to mine. The juice hadn’t completely soaked through the lid and I was a bit worried that the pudding would fall apart when I turned it out. Crossing my fingers while I did it made it a bit trickier, but I needn’t have worried! It slipped out of the bowl easily and looked lusciously purple and mouth-watering on the plate.

I had a generous slice cut and on a plate with a dollop of thick cream in next to no time. It was delicious. The soft succulent bread contrasted with the still crunchy berries beautifully. The cream tempered the slight sourness of the berries and turned this frugal dessert into something truly stunning that I would servee to anyone. I’ve been eating this for breakfast most mornings this week and as well as tasting wonderful, it keeps incredibly well in the fridge. My five a day haven’t been this enjoyable in a long time!

Rhubarb and quince

Mister North hand delivered me some forced rhubarb straight from the Rhubarb Triangle a few weeks ago and this level of service made me think I should treat this precious cargo with the utmost respect.  It seemed like the appropriate moment to use the rather regal looking quince I had picked up a few weeks previously at my favourite Portuguese deli A&C Continental in Brixton.

A quick search on Google confirmed that I wasn’t making an egregious error in partnering these two, but didn’t give me a huge number of ideas on what to do with them and none of my cookbooks had any suggestions either. I decided to err on the side of caution and simply cook them both in the oven until tender.

I simply peeled and cut the quince as you would with an apple and placed it in a dish with the chopped rhubarb and some fructose to take the edge off. I then cooked them in a 180˚C oven, covered in foil for about 25 minutes, before removing the foil, turning the heat off and leaving the dish for about 30 minutes.

The rhubarb was beautifully cooked, holding both its shape and colour. The quince was slightly less successful, retaining rather more bite than al dente and a strange grainy texture. I have never eaten quince before, so this might just be how they are when cooked, but it felt oddly raw to me. In future I would cook it for longer and more liquid to soften it up more and hopefully realise more of the fabulous perfumed taste of this lovely fruit.

I served this fancy fruit compote with some vanilla ice cream as a dessert and it was heavenly. I haven’t cooked rhubarb in the oven before and I much preferred the taste and texture to that of stewed rhubarb. The quince was light and aromatic and both were complemented by the creamy vanilla of the ice cream, even if it wasn’t eaten with a runcible spoon. Expect to hear me mention both fruits* again very soon!

*I know rhubarb isn’t horticulturally speaking a fruit. But the EU allow it to be classed as one and that’s good enough for me…

Tangerine Dream

I’ve been disappointed by the flavour of small oranges over the last few years. As a kid I used to love the exhilarating combination of sweet and tart juice, an exploding refreshment in every segment. So why oh why is it so hard to find a decent dinky citrus fruit? The market’s overwhelmed by the bland sweetness of satsumas, mandarins and un-named ‘small oranges’ in the supermarkets. But for me the king of the bunch has to be the tangerine.

Small oranges were so much more fun than ‘proper’ oranges: you could peel then more easily, didn’t have to spend ages trying to remove the acrid pith, the segments were much more suited to snaffling in a single mouthful, and you were more likely to dodge a pip in the seed version of Russian Roulette. They were also lunchbox-friendly, tended to end up in the toe of your Christmas stocking as a token healthy concession on a day of chocolate-fuelled gluttony, and came in great string bags.

I think Radio 4’s ‘The Food Programme’ covered the changing trends in orange consumption a few years ago, demonstrating how the public’s taste had grown for sweeter varieties to the detriment of tangy-ier citrus fruit. I was chuffed to find tangerines in Sainsbury’s over Christmas and into the new year as I’d not seen them in shops for years. My stash for this year has now been depleted, with even the slighlty wrinkley and aged ones used for cooking juice, but at least I know I can still get my favourite fun-sized fruit. The future’s bright… the future’s orange!

Rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb…

The pastel hues of Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb

Great news for those us with access to one of Yorkshire’s finest regional specialities… forced rhubarb has achieved Protected Designation of Origin status this week.

I just picked up my first bunch from the market today (just look at its pale, shy colouring!), and I intend to make the most of this delightfully delicate flavour. This particular bunch is going to get stewed simply and stirred into some creamy full-fat yoghurt for dessert, but next week I’m determined to serve up some more with mackerel, as it’s supposed to be a classic pairing. Roll on the rhubarb!