Plum, Damson & Gage Recipes

DAMSON AND GIN SORBET

This has a very adult flavour, not just because of the gin but also the bitter almond flavour contributed by the damson stones.  The colour is fantastic.

There is a considerable difference in the ratio of stone:flesh depending on whether the damsons are wild or cultivated so you will need to taste and adjust the sweetness accordingly.

500g damsons

50 ml water

Approx. 150 g sugar

2 tbsps gin (if you have Damson Gin so much the better)

Put the damsons in a pan with the water and cook until the fruit is completely soft.  Push the fruit through a coarse-meshed nylon sieve to remove the skins and stones.  Depending on the type of damsons used you will have about 350 ml of purée.  Add the sugar in stages, stirring to dissolve and tasting after each addition, until you are happy with the sweetness.  Add the gin and chill thoroughly for several hours or overnight before churning in an ice cream maker.

PLUM & COBNUT CRUMBLE

For a 3-pint dish

2lb of Plums

3 tbsps vanilla sugar (this, I find, sufficient for ripe Victorias, but increase if using a sharper plum)

Topping:

3 oz plain flour

2 oz rolled oats

1 oz coarsely chopped cobnuts

3 oz butter

2 oz Demerara sugar

Cut the plums in half to remove the stones and then lay them, cut side uppermost, in the dish.  Sprinkle with vanilla sugar (or plain caster sugar) and place in the pre-heated oven whilst you prepare the topping.  This initial cooking is not essential but does enable you to fit them in the dish more easily!

Mix the flour with the oats and rub in the butter. into the flour.  Mix in the chopped cobnuts and demerara sugar.  Cover the plums and press down lightly.  Bake at Gas Mark 6/200°C for 20-30 minutes until nicely browned.

GREENGAGE AND ALMOND TART

9″/23cm tart tin

Sweet Pastry:

6 oz/170g plain four

1½ oz/40g caster sugar

4 oz/120g butter

1 small egg yolk

Filling:

1lb/500g greengages, halved and stoned

1½oz/40g blanched almonds

3½oz/100g caster sugar (preferably vanilla flavoured)

6 tbsps/90ml double cream

2 tbsps water

1 tbsp Amaretto liqueur (or greengage liqueur if you have it)

3 small eggs

¾oz/20g butter, melted

Make the pastry by combining the ingredients in a food processor.  Wrap and refrigerate for 30 mins to an hour.  Roll the pastry and line the greased tart tin.  Return to the fridge to chill for a further half hour or so.  Preheat the oven to 200°C Gas Mark 6 whilst the pastry case is resting.

The filling also needs to rest before using so make this immediately after the pastry.

Process the almonds in a food processor until they are quite fine.  Put them in a mixing bowl and then add the remaining ingredients, whisking in the eggs and butter at the end.

When you are ready to cook the tart, put the blind pastry case into the oven and turn the heat down to 180°.  After 10 minutes remove the case from the oven, add the filling and bake for 5-10 minutes until it is just beginning to set and will enable you to arrange the greengages without them floating. Llay the greengages halves (or quarters if you prefer) so that they are just overlapping, all around the edge to the tart case.  Continue to cover the rest of the tart case with halved greengages, cut side uppermost.

Return to the oven and cook for another 30 minutes or until the filling is puffy and golden.

Serve with thick crème fraiche.

SPICED PLUM OR DAMSON SAUCE

This is so simple it barely warrants a recipe.  I serve it with duck, but it is also good with gammon.

Damsons or plums

1 star anise

Sugar

Balsamic vinegar.

Cook the damsons or plums with a splash of water and the star anise until they have collapsed.  Push through a nylon sieve to remove the stones, skin and the star anise.  Now taste the purée.  It will be sharp, but how sharp depends on the fruit you have used.  Add sugar and balsamic vinegar to achieve a nice sweet-sour balance remembering that it is a savoury sauce so should not be too sweet.

PICKLED DAMSONS

5lb/2.25kg damsons

4lb/1.8kg sugar

4 fl oz/125 ml water

1pt/600ml cider vinegar

24 whole cloves

1 blade of mace

1 stick of cinnamon

Wash and prick the damsons then put them in a large earthenware bowl.

Put all the other ingredients in a saucepan and heat gently, stirring until all the sugar has dissolved.  Brush around the edges of the pan with a wet pastry brush to dissolve any sugar stuck here and then only when all of the sugar has dissolved, turn up the heat and bring to the boil.    Pour the syrup over the damsons, cover and leave for 24 hours.

The following day, drain off the liquid and bring to the boil again before pouring it back over the damsons*.  Leave for a further 24 hours.

On the third day, sterilise the jars you will be using, either in the hottest cycle of a dishwasher or by hand washing and placing in a roasting tin containing about an inch of water.  Heat to 120°C to sterilise.

This time boil the damsons with their liquid but remove the damsons to the jars as soon as it comes to the boil.  The liquid can then be boiled for a while longer to reduce and thicken it slightly before it is poured over the fruit.

Cover with non-metallic lids or used waxed paper below the lid to prevent corrosion by the vinegar.

* This is a heavily saturated sugar syrup, but overnight the damsons should have added some of their juice to the liquid.  If however the sugar has crystallised out, heat just the liquid whilst at the same time heating the bowl and sugar in a low oven with a little more water.  Gradually stir in the now warm syrup until all the sugar has dissolved and then bring the whole to the boil again.

Bilberry Recipes

TARTE AUX MYRTILLES SAUVAGES

(Wild Bilberry Tart)

This tart is such a classic of the Alsace region that I felt I had to call it by its French name.  The most difficult thing about this recipe is picking sufficient bilberries.  It is best made with fresh picked fruit but I often have to store mine in the freezer until I have sufficient.  If the fruit has been frozen it will exude more juice during cooking and, if cooked in the pastry case, can turn it soggy.  I therefore cook my fruit and pastry separately to begin with and then amalgamate them for the final cooking.

Best made a day or two in advance.

For a 9″/23cm tart (Serves 6)

Sweet pastry:

8 oz/225g plain flour

5 oz/140g butter

2½ oz/70g caster sugar

1 large egg yolk

Filling:

1¼ lb/550g wild bilberries, thawed and well drained if frozen

1 level tbsp arrowroot or cornflour

1½ oz/40g caster sugar (vanilla sugar is good if you have it)

1 egg yolk

3 fl oz/85ml double cream

Pick over the bilberries to remove stalks and leaves but do not wash them.  If frozen put them in a colander to drain as they thaw.

Combine the ingredients for the pastry in a food processor.  Wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least half an hour.

Roll out the pastry and line a lightly buttered 9″/23cm tart tin.  Cover and return to the fridge to rest for half an hour.  Meanwhile preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.  Prick the pastry with a fork and cover with a circle of greaseproof paper.  Fill the case with baking beans and bake for 15 minutes.

Put the bilberries in an ovenproof dish and cook them at the same time as the pastry case until the juices begin to run.  Drain the bilberries retaining the juice separately.  (See recipe for Whortleberry Ice Cream as a way of using this).

Put the corn flour and sugar into a small bowl and mix with a couple of tablespoons of the bilberry juice to make a smooth paste.  Beat in the egg yolk and double cream and then very gently stir in the bilberries.  Pour the filling into the part baked pastry case having now removed the baking beans.  Turn the oven down to 180°C/Gas Mark 4 and bake for a further 15 minutes or until the filling is just set.

Serve cold sprinkle with icing sugar just before serving.  On Exmoor it would always be accompanied by clotted cream!

WHORTLEBERRY ICE CREAM

Here I have reverted to the Somerset name for Bilberries.  This recipe came about as a way of utilising the excess juice from making Tarte aux Myrtilles sauvages.  You could, of course, make it by puréeing whole whortleberries, and it would probably taste even better, but this method does make good use of the by-product from the tart.

5 fl oz whortleberry juice

1-2 tbsps sugar

lemon juice

5 egg yolks

8 fl oz good channel island milk

3½ oz vanilla sugar

8 fl oz channel island cream

Add 1 tablespoon of sugar and a teaspoon of lemon juice to the whortleberry juice, heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves, and then bring to the boil.  Continue boiling until the juice has reduced to 4 fluid ounces and has thickened to a light syrup.  Taste and add more lemon juice or sugar if needed (the syrup should have a little acidity).

Heat the milk to just below boiling point (and if you do not have vanilla sugar to use you could instead infuse this with a vanilla pod).

Whisk the egg yolks and vanilla sugar together until pale and fluffy.  Pour on the hot milk, whisking as you do so.  Return the custard mixture to a clean heavy based saucepan and cook over a gentle heat until it thickens slightly.  Transfer immediately to a bowl stood in a sink of cold water, add the whortleberry syrup and stir until it cools.  Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.  Stir in the cream and transfer to an ice cream maker to churn until frozen.

Other Ideas

For a smaller quantity of bilberries cook them gently with a little sugar and lemon juice until the juices begin to run.  They are then a perfect topping for cheesecake or lemon posset.

To cook one badger…

This recipe for badger was published in today’s Western Daily Press in a letter from Linda Piggott-Vijeh and comes from a French cookbook Les Cuisines Oubliees.

To cook one badger you’ll need…

1 badger

1 glass of pig’s blood

1 small glass of armagnac

1 ginger root

1 bottle of dry sparkling white wine

2 eggs

1 pot of crème fraîche

Salt and pepper

500g forest mushrooms or chestnuts to accompany

100gr butter

Oil

Eviscerate and skin your badger and soak it in a fast-flowing river for at least 48 hours.  This will help you de-grease it more easily.  Once the badger is de-greased, cut it into pieces and brown it in a frying pan with butter.  When the pieces are golden and stiff, flambée with the Armagnac, season and add a grated soup spoon of ginger.  Pour over the wine and simmer gently for at least two hours.  At the end of the cooking time, mix the chopped badger liver (cooked beforehand in a little oil), the glass of blood, two egg yolks, a coffee-spoon of ginger and the crème fraîche, and pour into the cooking dish.  Serve immediately.  This dish goes well with wild mushrooms or chestnuts.

Basil Recipes

Ligurian Pasta with Pesto

PESTO

Use this to dress dried pasta – linguine, trenette or trofie pasta are all traditional but spaghetti is a good substitute.  This quantity will dress 250g of pasta serving 2 people.

¾ oz basil leaves

1 clove of garlic

1 tbsp pine nuts

2 tbsps freshly grated parmesan cheese

olive oil (best)

Pesto is a traditional pasta sauce of the Liguria region of Italy.  The basil would be ground with a pestle and mortar, using pine nuts to aid the process.  Chopped garlic can be pounded at the same time, although I prefer my garlic cooked for just one minute in the pasta water before adding it to the mix.  It is less pungent this way.

When you have a smooth paste of pine nuts, basil and garlic, begin adding olive oil in a steady stream, continuing to stir as you add the oil, so that it is amalgamated thoroughly.  Grate parmesan and stir into the pesto at the end.

Notes

  1. In modern days, this sauce is often made in a food processor.  It will not be as good, because the basil is cut rather than shredded, however, it is still much better than anything you will buy in a jar!  If you do use a food processor add the grated Parmesan by hand at the end for a more texture.
  1. In Liguria the dish is served with green beans and new potatoes stirred into the pasta with the pesto.   Add these to the cooking pasta at the appropriate points so that everything is cooked at the same time.  Cut raw potato into small dice.
  1. Unused pesto can be stored, cover with a film of olive oil, in an airtight plastic pot. It will keep in the fridge for up to a week.

Ratatouille

Ratatouille

A classis Provençal vegetable stew best made a day in advance to give the flavours time to mingle.  Although the flavours need to come together for the finished dish, the individual ingredients have different cooking requirements which should be respected as you assemble the whole dish.

2 large onions

2 red peppers

4 large cloves of garlic

1 large or 2 small aubergines

1lb of flavoursome tomatoes

2 courgettes (not too big)

Salt and pepper

Parsley, thyme and basil

Plenty of good olive oil

The onions and red peppers can stew slowly, together with the garlic, for much longer than the other vegetables, so start with these.  Peel, halve and slice the onions and sweating them in olive oil.  Finely slice the peppers and add these to the pan, then the crushed garlic.  Cook slowly, stirring occasionally whilst you prepare the rest of the vegetables.

Although aubergines are not supposed to need salting before use nowadays, I still prefer to do this.  It will remove a degree of bitterness as well as reducing the amount of oil the aubergines will absorb.  Slice the aubergine, quite thickly, then quarter the slices.  Place the quarters in a colander, sprinkling with salt after each layer.  After about 10 minutes the salt will have drawn juices from the aubergine.  Rinse under running water and then dry the pieces on a clean tea towel.

Heat some olive oil in a separate frying pan as you want to cook the aubergines over a much higher heat than the onions and peppers are receiving.  When the oil is quite hot, lightly brown the aubergine on each side.  You will probably need to do this in a couple of batches so as not to overcrowd the pan.  Remove the cooked quarters and lay then on a piece of kitchen paper.  When all of the aubergine is browned, add it to the main pan.

Now quarter the tomatoes and discard the pips.  Dice the flesh and add to the main pan, together with some thyme, chopped parsley and a seasoning of salt and pepper.  Taste as you season because the aubergines may have contributed some salt already.

Finally slice the courgettes and fry these in the frying pan with hot olive oil.  Keep the heat high and remove the courgettes as soon as they are brown.   Add them to the rest of the ratatouille when you are happy that the remaining vegetables, particularly the tomatoes, have cooked down sufficiently.  If the courgettes go in too early they will cook to a mush.  Cook everything together for no more than 10 minutes, taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary, and then leave to cool.

Ratatouille is good served at room temperature with more chopped parsley and torn basil added before serving.  If you are keeping it overnight, these herbs can be added whilst the dish is lukewarm so that they can add their flavours overnight.

Basil Cream Sauce for Fish

Reduce half a pint of fish stock with 1 fluid ounce of sweet white wine until it is reduced by about three-quarters.  Add 3 fl oz of double cream and boil rapidly until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.  Add torn basil and serve.

See also Roast Tomato and Basil Soup.

Recipes for a gardening glut

RUNNER BEAN PICKLE

Makes 4-5 lb

2 lb runner beans (weighed after stringing)

1½ lb onions

2 rounded tbsps cornflour

2 rounded tbsps turmeric

1 tsp mustard powder

2 lb demerara sugar

1½ pints distilled vinegar

Finely chop the onions.  Put in a large, heavy based pan with just enough olive oil to prevent them sticking.  Sprinkle with a teaspoon of salt and cook gently until they are soft and just beginning to colour.  Add 2 tablespoons of sugar, stir, turn up the heat and cook until all the liquid has been driven off and the onions begin to caramelise.

Whilst the onions are cooking string the beans and cut into ½” lengths (or cut strips diagonally across the bean).

Mix the corn flour, turmeric and mustard to a paste with a little of the vinegar and then set aside.  Add the rest of the vinegar to the onions and when it comes to the boil add the runner beans.  Boil hard for 15 minutes, by which time most of the vinegar will have evaporated, then add the sugar and stir until dissolved.  Mix a couple of tablespoonfuls of the hot liquid with the slaked corn flour and spices, and then stir into the contents of the pan. Boil for about 10 minutes until thickened.

Allow to cool before potting and sealing.

Note: The mixture will thicken on cooling but if it is still too liquid add a little more slaked cornflour and re-boil.

ROAST TOMATO AND BASIL SOUP

Makes about 2½ pints

900g/2 lb tomatoes

olive oil

1 large onion

2 cloves garlic

2 tsps salt

2 tsps sugar

freshly ground black pepper

2 tsps balsamic vinegar

2 pints chicken stock

basil (a good handful)

Cut the tomatoes in half through the circumference.  Place them, cut side down, in an oiled roasting tin. Cook over a very low heat or in a low oven until the tomatoes have collapsed.  This should take about 2 hours.  (There should be no liquid in the pan, if there is, tip it away and continue cooking until no more liquid comes out of the tomatoes).

Meanwhile chop the onion and cook it gently in oil in another pan.  This can be done in the same oven as the tomatoes.  When the onion has softened but not coloured, sprinkle over the salt and then add the crushed cloves of garlic and continue cooking until this has softened also and all the water shed by the onions has evaporated.

Once the tomatoes have collapsed they can be combined with the onions in one pan, using the balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan in which the tomatoes have cooked.  Sprinkle the sugar and a good grinding of black pepper over the tomatoes and onions and continue to cook slowly for a further half an hour, stirring occasionally until everything is soft and thick.

Stir the hot stock into the tomatoes mixture and simmer gently for 20 minutes.

Remove the soup from the heat and add roughly torn basil leaves, keeping back a few to add fresh when the soup is re-heated.

Pass the soup through a fine blade of a mouli-legumes.  This will combine everything smoothly and thoroughly whilst keeping back any tough skins.  If you do not have a mouli-legumes pass the soup through a sieve having first combined it in a food processor or blender.

Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning.  The amount of salt or sugar needed can vary considerably depending on the tomatoes.

Advance Preparation:

The tomato and onion base can be prepared in advance and either kept in the fridge for a day or frozen before adding the stock.  (I also freeze tablespoonfuls of this base in an ice cube tray for adding to casseroles).

When re-heating, remember to add some freshly torn leaves of basil just before serving.

Courgette Flowers

A Californian proverb says…”never give your true friends zucchini in July”.  Certainly once the courgettes start coming in earnest, usually early August here, but it depends on the weather, it takes a concerted effort to keep up with them.  But keeping up with them is the most important weapon in dealing with a glut of courgettes.  It’s easy to eat even a dozen finger sized courgettes, and they taste great then, but let them become longer than your hand and you’ve got problems.  Despite the Californian proverb, even in these times when everyone seems to be a gardener, I can usually still find a genuinely grateful recipient of baby courgettes.

It might seem sensible not to plant too many seeds in the first place, but the main reason I grow courgettes is to eat their flowers, and for this I need at least four plants.  Of course, to allow for failures, you plant at least a couple more and before you know it you have a glut.  You can use courgettes for chutney, but they are a watery vegetable (technically fruit) with a mild flavour and to get the best out of them they should either be fried or roasted.

I begin with my recipe for deep-fried courgette flowers; you can include some baby courgettes if you don’t have sufficient flowers.  They are a wonderful dish to nibble alongside drinks whilst sitting in the sun and entirely worth the little effort involved in growing courgettes.  The recipes that follow are the others that form a regular part of my courgette cooking repertoire in July and August and if a couple of larger specimens escape notice and have to end up on the compost heap – who cares?!

DEEP FRIED COURGETTE FLOWERS

24 freshly picked courgette flowers (or a mixture of flowers and baby courgettes)

5 oz plain flour

2 teaspoons curry powder

¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

8 fl oz sparkling mineral or soda water

Oil for frying

Whisk together the flour, curry powder and salt then add the sparkling water and whisk until smooth.  Leave the batter to stand for at least 10 minutes (or up to 24 hours in the refrigerator).

Heat the oil to 190C.

Dip the flowers into the batter, rolling them to coat evenly then shake off any excess.  Fry no more than 6 flowers at a time.  Remove when the batter is golden and drain on kitchen paper.  Season with salt and serve immediately.

If using courgette slices instead of flowers, slice them diagonally, about ¼” thick.

Griddled Courgettes

This is my preferred way of cooking courgettes as a side vegetable.  I use a heavy ribbed griddle pan, but alternatively you could put them on the barbeque.  A flat cast iron pan would also work, but you won’t get the attractive ribbed pattern.

Preheat the griddle pan whilst you prepare the courgettes so that it gets very hot before you cook.

Slice the courgettes lengthways.  If they are long, cut the courgettes into shorter lengths first so that you have slices no more than 3″ in length.

Pour a good layer of olive oil into a shallow dish (the one you are going to use to serve the courgettes at table will be fine).  Season with salt and pepper, then turn the courgette slices so that they are oiled and seasoned on both sides.

Lay the courgettes across the griddle turning them over once the bottom has good griddle marks across it.

Whilst the courgettes are cooking chop some herbs – mint or thyme both go particularly well with courgettes, but marjoram is another good alternative.  Sprinkle the chopped herbs in the dish that you originally used to oil and season the courgettes – it should still have a little oil and seasoning in it.  As soon as the courgettes are browned on both sides put them into the dish and turn them so that they become coated with the herbs.  If you have a lot to cook you can keep them warm in the oven as you go, but you will need another plate for the initial seasoning if this is the case.

You can toss the cooked courgettes with a sprinkling of sherry or herb vinegar before serving if your wish.

Tian of Courgettes and Tomatoes

A Tian is a shallow earthenware baking dish – usually oval, but I also have a round one.  The idea is just to place overlapping rounds of courgette and slices of tomato in alternate rows until the dish is full.  Then season with salt and pepper and strew with herbs.  Pour a good stream of olive oil over the top and then bake in a moderate oven for about an hour.

Once the vegetables are cooked they don’t actually go that far, depending on the size of your dish probably just enough for 2 or 3 people.  If I need to feed more I use a slightly deeper oval dish, with a layer of lightly cooked onions and peppers as the base before the layer of courgettes and tomatoes as described above.

Roast Courgettes

Usually when I am roasting courgettes they are part of a selection of vegetables, but it is useful to know this method of cooking them because they absorb far less oil than frying and the flavour is intensified as some of their water content evaporates.   Just place slices or rings on an oiled roasting tray, season with salt, pepper and herbs and roast until they are golden.

Courgette Fritters

 

3 courgettes (not too large)

salt

1 egg

3 tbsps flour

tbsp chopped mint

1 large spring onion

100g feta cheese

black pepper

Grate the courgettes into a sieve placed over a bowl.  Lightly salt and mix through.  Leave for 15 minutes in which time a considerable amount of liquid will have drained into the bowl.  Lightly press to extract more.

Mix the flour and egg to form a stiff batter.

Finely chop the mint and spring onion then mix these into the batter.  Season with pepper and crumble in the feta cheese.  Fold in the drained courgettes.

Fry tablespoonfuls of the mixture in olive oil, turning to brown both sides.

 

 

Sardines on Toast

This is a modern take on an old classic using fresh sardines.  The toast is also important.  When I was a child I remember toast being made on top of a Rayburn stove.  The bread was held in a wire basket, laid on the hotplate, and when one side was done, you turned it over to toast the other side.  I’m not sure I ever remember toasting bread in front of the fire, muffins or crumpets, yes, but not bread.  Anyway, the point is since the advent of electric toasters, speed has become the over-riding factor when making toast.  It is still a comforting staple, but sometimes (such as when on holiday) it’s good to take time and discover toast in its different guises.  If you are barbequing the sardines, which is what I would recommend, then toast the bread on the barbeque too.  When I haven’t got a barbeque lit, I instead use a hot, cast iron, ribbed griddle pan.  This works excellently, just like cooking it on the hotplate of a range.

Now to the bread:  Ideally you want one made with wild yeast – a sourdough as it is often called, failing that try to find a rustic loaf with a chewy texture.

The sardines should be cleaned (gutted) then seasoned with salt and pepper before laying them over hot coals.  They are a little delicate once gutted, so have a tendency to break up when you turn them but don’t worry about this – they don’t need to look too neat.

Whilst the sardines and the toast are cooking, prepare the fresh “tomato sauce”.  This involves nothing more than cutting tomatoes into quarters, discarding the pips so that they do not make the bread too soggy, then roughly chopping the flesh.  Put them in a bowl, season with salt and pepper, a little balsamic vinegar if you have some, and then a touch of olive oil.  Tear up some basil leaves (again if you have them – not all of this is likely to be to hand if you are camping) and mix everything together.

When the toast is cooked rub one side with the cut side of a clove of garlic and drizzle over a little olive oil.  Top with the tomatoes and then cooked sardine fillets (or pieces) lifted from the bones for ease of eating.

To read the full article that relates to this recipe see Food Culture – A Taste of Britain on Sea