Out of season food not only bores me but also kind of spooks me – strawberries, tomatoes, bananas (do they have a season?) Nothing’s a treat any longer, and many of us have no idea what the proper season actually is – this really came home to me recently when I overheard a conversation between an irate customer and a hapless shop assistant. The former was complaining bitterly that the strawberries she had bought had gone off in two days – this was disgraceful she declared with great authority as she demanded her money back “they should keep for at least two weeks”.
Well now! She was obviously unaware that fresh strawberries, raspberries, loganberries …. are naturally very perishable and do indeed deteriorate within a short time - the berries which last for weeks in the fridge are most probably irradiated. Unfortunately, there’s nothing on the label to indicate this fact and to provide the customer with a choice.
The Irish soft fruit season has been in full swing for several weeks now. In the southeast there were many roadside stalls selling strawberries, vying with each other to entice the passing motorists to sample their gorgeous berries. Stop and feast while you can, ask to taste, some varieties are very much more flavourful than others. If you can find or indeed grow the little wild strawberry ‘fraises du bois’ you’ll find them the most delicious of all – they are indigenous to both the old and new worlds and were the basis for the organised cultivation of strawberries as we now know them, which dates back to the 14th Century. In 1821 a market gardener called Michael Keems caused a sensation when he produced Keems Seedling with its remarkable size and flavour. Most modern varieties are derived from it. Raspberries, I adore, but the real treat for me at this time are the more unusual berries not widely available in the shops - loganberries, tayberries, boysenberries. Loganberries named after Judge Logan of Santa Cruz in California are a hybrid of the raspberry and blackberry. The plants yield well and produce long berries which should be dark red before being picked. Tayberries, also a hybrid, bred in Scotland and named after the River Tay, are larger, sweeter and more aromatic. The berries are duller in colour and appearance but both are truly delicious. As with raspberries and strawberries, they are at their best just sprinkled with castor sugar, fresh softly whipped cream is the traditional accompaniment, but the French crème fraiche with its subtle acidity is for me the best of all.
Red currants are worth growing even just to make redcurrant jelly so try to pick up a few pounds to make this great standby. Blackcurrants are one of nature’s richest sources of Vitamin C – they make a delicious easily set jam and are one of the essential flavours in Summer Pudding along with redcurrants, raspberries and strawberries. We use them to make a fresh-tasting ice-cream and served in meringue nests with cream they are a delicious bittersweet combination.
Boysenberry, the offspring of two blackberry cultivars is also called after its grower.
All these fruits make wonderful pies, jams, ice-cream, sorbets and fools.
2 ozs (55g) sugar
4 fl ozs (120ml) water
2 egg yolks, preferably free-range
1 pint (600ml) whipped cream
1 lb(450 g) Blackcurrants
½ pint (300ml) Stock Syrup (see recipe)
Blackcurrant Leaves (optional)
Put the egg yolks into a bowl and whisk until light and fluffy (keep the whites for meringues). Combine the sugar and water in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, stir over heat until the sugar is completely dissolved, then remove the spoon and boil the syrup until it reaches the 'thread' stage, 106-113ºC/223-236ºF. It will look thick and syrupy; when a metal spoon is dipped in, the last drops of syrup will form thin threads. Pour this boiling syrup in a steady stream onto the egg yolks, whisking all the time. Continue to whisk until it becomes a thick creamy white mousse.
Meanwhile put the blackcurrants, (strings removed) in a saucepan, barely cover with syrup. Bring to the boil and cook for 3 or 4 minutes or until the fruit bursts. Liquidize, push through a nylon sieve and measure, you will need ½ pint of blackcurrant puree for this ice-cream. Keep the remainder for sauce.
Stir the measured blackcurrant puree into the mousse and then carefully fold in the cream.
Turn in a sterilized container, cover and freeze. Serve on chilled plates with softly whipped cream and a little Blackcurrant sauce*.
If you have access to unsprayed organic Blackcurrant leaves serve the ice-cream on them.
*If the sauce is a little thick thin it out with water to desired consistency.
½ lb (225 g) sugar
½ pint (300 ml) water
Dissolve the sugar in the water and bring to the boil. Boil for 2 minutes then allow it to cool. Store in the fridge until needed.
8 ozs (225g) blackcurrants
8 fl.ozs (225ml) syrup
4 fl.ozs (120-150ml) water* see recipe
Pour the syrup over the blackcurrants and bring to the boil, cook for 3-5 minutes until the blackcurrants burst. Liquidise and sieve through a nylon sieve. * Allow to cool. Add 4-5 fl ozs (120-150ml) water.
Fresh Loganberry Shortcake
Serves 6 - 8
6 ozs (170g) flour
4 ozs (110g) butter
2 ozs (55g) castor sugar
½ lb (225g) loganberries
8 fl ozs (250ml) chantilly cream - whipped sweetened cream
1 teasp. icing sugar
Garnish: 6 - 8 whole loganberries and fresh mint leaves
Rub the butter into the flour and castor sugar as for shortcrust pastry. Gather the mixture together and knead lightly. Rest for a few minutes if you have time. Roll out into 2 circles 7 inches (17.5cm) in diameter, ¼ inch (7mm) thick. Bake in a preheated moderate oven 180C/350F/regulo 4, 15 minutes approx or until pale golden . Remove and cool on a rack. One circle may be marked with a knife into wedges while still warm, to facilitate cutting later.
Shortly before serving sandwich with chantilly cream and halved sugared loganberries. Sieve icing sugar over the top and decorate with rosettes of cream, whole loganberries and fresh mint leaves.
Note: Individual loganberry shortcakes may be made with 3 inch (7.5cm) discs of shortbread. Brush the loganberries with red currant jelly if available.
Strawberry and Balsamic Granita
Balsamic vinegar enhances the flavour of strawberries in a dramatic way.
2 ¼ lb (1kg) fresh strawberries, stems removed and berries wiped with a damp towel
4oz (110g) sugar
2 teaspoons good-quality balsamic vinegar
First put the strawberries in a bowl and sprinkle with the sugar and balsamic vinegar and allow macerate for 20 minutes. Then put the strawberry mixture in a food processor and whizz until smooth. Pour the mixture into ice cube trays and cover with cling film. Freeze until hard.
Just before serving, dip the ice-tray in warm water, unmould the cubes and whiz in a food processor. Serve in chilled wine glasses.
Red Currant Jelly
Red currant jelly is a very delicious and versatile product to have in your larder. It has a myriad of uses. It can be used like a jam on bread or scones, or served as an accompaniment to roast lamb, bacon or ham. It is also good with some rough pâtés and game, and is invaluable as a glaze for red fruit tarts.
This recipe is a particular favourite of mine, not only because it's fast to make and results in delicious intensely flavoured jelly, but because one can use the left over pulp to make a fruit tart, so one gets double value from the red currants. Unlike most other fruit jelly, no water is needed in this recipe.
We’ve used frozen fruits for this recipe also, stir over the heat until the sugar dissolves, proceeds as below.
Makes 3 x 1 lb (450g) jars
2 lbs (900g) red currants
2 lbs (900g) granulated sugar
Remove the strings from the red currants either by hand or with a fork. Put the red currants and sugar into a wide stainless steel saucepan and stir continuously until they come to the boil. Boil for exactly 8 minutes, stirring only if they appear to be sticking to the bottom. Skim carefully.
Turn into a nylon sieve and allow to drip through, do not push the pulp through or the jelly will be cloudy. You can stir in gently once or twice just to free the bottom of the sieve of pulp.
Pour the jelly into sterilised pots immediately. Red currants are very high in pectin so the jelly will begin to set just as soon as it begins to cool.
Darina Allen’s back to basics recipe:
Fruit fools are old-fashioned and gorgeous and so quick to make and can be served right through the seasons. They are essentially purees of sweetened fruit into which softly whipped cream is added. Soft fruits such as raspberries, loganberries and strawberries, are usually left raw, whereas blackcurrants, gooseberries or apples are usually cooked in a stock syrup. The amount of cream used depends on your own taste. A little stiffly beaten egg white may be added to lighten the fool. It should be the texture of softly whipped cream. If it is too stiff, stir in a little milk rather than more cream. Fools may be served immediately or chilled for several hours.
Strawberry, Raspberry, Loganberry or Blueberry Fool
Its not at all the thing to mash ones berries in polite company, I must confess to doing just that behind closed doors because somehow they taste much more delicious that way. Compromise and serve the berries as Fool and then one has the best of both worlds.
Fresh strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, loganberries, boysenberries, tayberries........
Rich Irish cream
Crush the berries with a fork, sprinkle with sugar. Whip the chilled cream to soft peaks, fold gently through the fruit to get an irresistible streaky fool. Serve as soon as possible well chilled with a thin Shortbread biscuit.
Balsamic Vinegar – Aceto Balsamico
Is a pure, naturally sweet grape product that has been made since the Middle Ages in the province of Modena, in Northern Italy. In earlier centuries it was believed that it possessed medicinal qualities and rubbed on the chest or forehead it would chase away fevers, so it was called balsam. It was then and now a highly regarded condiment, which added to an oil and vinegar dressing brings magic to a salad, it can also be sprinkled directly on meat dishes or pasta. However, it really has an amazing affinity with strawberries and even the most ordinary berries are brought to life with a few drops of this magic potion. Available from the Ballymaloe Shop at Ballymaloe House, Shanagarry, tel 021-4652032, Italian food shops and other specialist food outlets.
Sunnyside Fruit Farm in Rathcormac, Co Cork, Tel 025-36253 – John Howard sells a wide variety of currants and berries, both fresh and frozen, both from the farm and a stall at Midleton Farmers Market. The farm shop is open daily 9-6 till end of August (after end of August telephone to arrange collection.)
Mary and Patrick Walsh, North Road, Shanagarry, Co Cork. Tel. 021-4646836, sell their delicious fruit direct from the farm.
Glen Fruits, Dungarvan, Co Waterford, Tel 058-43009, recent winner of Bord Glas Quality Award for fruit sector.
Greene’s Fruit Farm, Ballinacoola, Gorey, Co Wexford Tel 055-21783 – roadside farm shop open daily.
Farmer Direct, New Ross, Co Wexford, Tel 051-420816 – local food including fruit from local producers.
In your own area check out the Country Markets and Farmers Markets and ‘Pick your Own’ outlets for locally grown fruit and new season’s homemade jams.
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