ArchiveAugust 21, 2004

We picked our first Beauty of Bath

This is a fantastic year for fruit – the best for maybe 10 years. In the orchard the trees are groaning with fruit, there’s a huge crop of apples and plums and although the pears are not quite as abundant there’s still a terrific crop.

We picked our first Beauty of Bath a few weeks ago, this variety more than any other reminds me of my childhood. Almost every family had a few apple trees, as children we knew exactly where the best apples were and where to clamber over the wall into our neighbour’s orchard. My first bite of that bittersweet apple with its red and yellow speckled skin brought memories flooding back.

Grenadier is the earliest cooker to ripen. We have already had some grenadier apple sauce with some of our oven succulent roast pork. The pigs are Saddleback and Tamworth crossed with red Duroc for good measure. The flavour of the meat from these happy lazy pigs is sublime. These breeds have a decent layer of fat, which renders out to baste the meat while the skin crisps into the most irresistible crackling. The pigs adore snuffling around under the apple trees to find wind falls – we joke that they then come with built in apple sauce! Plum sauce is also delicious with pork, duck, even a goose – in fact now is the time to order a plump goose for Michaelmas and have a Thanksgiving feast.

But what to do with the surplus, I’m always desperate to store some Brambly apples for winter tarts and pies. This year I have plans to spread them out in a single layer on fruit trays in a cool shed. We’ll stack the recycled boxes so the air can circulate. I’m racking my brains to try to remember how it was done years ago “in life before electricity”. Perhaps some of the readers can share their tips with me. I certainly remember our old gardener Pad digging a long shallow pit to store cooking apples. I must have been tiny, 3 or 4 when I helped him to select unblemished cooking apples. I seem to recollect that the pit was lined with straw and then covered with a good layer of soil then covered with an old mat

Nowadays, almost everyone has a freezer, so make as much stewed or apple puree as you can manage. It can be used not only for sauce but also in crumbles and tarts in winter. The flavour is immeasurably better than the under mature Brambly available in the shops. Have you noticed how they don’t break like the homegrown apples that are picked when they are properly matured. Apple juice is another option – you’ll need to buy a centrifuge, Krups, Magimix, Kenwood and other manufacturers have models worth investing in (you can also use the centrifuge to make a variety of other fruit and vegetable juices.

Chutneys are another delicious way of preserving surplus fruit and vegetables, there are a myriad of recipes, try this Spicy Apple Chutney and then start to experiment yourself.

Plums, greengages or pears poached in a sweet geranium or even a simple syrup is completely delicious and freeze brilliantly – a terrific standby pudding to have in the freezer. Store them in smallish plastic tubs so that they can be defrosted easily. Meanwhile feast on as many apples, plums and pears as you can for breakfast, lunch and dinner and build up your stock of vitamins to guard against winter colds – remember to old adage “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”.

Spicy Apple Chutney

makes 2.7-3.6kg (6-8 lb) pots

In season: autumn
1.8kg (4 lb) cooking apples, we use Bramley Seedling or Grenadier
450g (1 lb) onion, peeled and finely chopped 
450g (1 lb) sultanas
900g (2 lb) granulated sugar
1.1L (2 pint) white malt vinegar
30g (1oz) salt
2 teaspoons mustard seed (white)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoon curry powder
2 teaspoon cinnamon
2-1 level teaspoon ground cloves 

Peel and cut the apples into quarters, remove the core and chop finely (¼ inch approx.)
Put all the ingredients into a wide stainless steel saucepan. Simmer gently until soft and pulpy, stirring frequently. Cook, uncovered for approx. 12-2 hours until very thick and dark brown. (should be reduced to about 1 third of the original volume). Allow to mature for about two weeks before using. Wine vinegar is less fierce bit obviously more expensive.

Plum Sauce

Delicious with duck breast or wild duck. This also freezes brilliantly.
450g (1lb) blood plums 
225g (½lb) sugar
2.5cm (1inch) piece cinnamon stick
2 cloves
2 tablespoons redcurrant jelly 
100ml (4fl oz) port
25g (1oz) butter

Put the plums into a stainless steel saucepan with the sugar, cloves, cinnamon, one tablespoon of water and the butter, cook slowly until reduced to a pulp.
Push the fruit through a fine sieve and return the puree to a clean saucepan. Add the redcurrant jelly and port, bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes. The sauce may be used either hot or cold. Keeps well

Compote of Plums – Poached Plums

Poach the plums whole, they’ll taste better but quite apart from that you’ll have the fun of playing - He loves me - he loves me not! You could just fix it by making sure you take an uneven number!
Serves 4

400g (14ozs/2 cups) sugar
450ml (16 fl ozs/2 cups) cold water
900g (2 lbs) fresh Plums, Victoria, Opal or those dark Italian plums that come into the shops in autumn

Put the sugar and water into a saucepan, bring slowly to the boil. Tip in the plums and poach, cover the saucepan and simmer until they begin to burst. Turn into a bowl, serve warm with a blob of softly whipped cream. Divine!

*The poached plums keep very well in the fridge and are delicious for breakfast without the cream! 
Note: If plums are sweet use less sugar in syrup

Normandy Pear or Apple Tart

Serves 8 - 10
This is certainly one of the most impressive of the French tarts, it is wonderful served warm but is also very good cold and it keeps for several days. Splash in a little kirsch if you are using pears and calvados if you are using dessert apples. 

4-5 ripe pears or apples, poached 

Shortcrust Pastry
7 ozs (200g/scant 1 ½cups) flour
4 ozs (110g/1 stick) cold butter
1 egg yolk, preferably free range
pinch of salt
3-4 tablesp. (4-5 American tablesp.) cold water

3 ½ ozs (100g/scant 1 stick) butter
3 ½ozs (100g/½ cup) castor sugar
1 egg, beaten 
1 egg yolk, preferably free range
2 tablesp. (2 American tablesp. + 2 teasp.) kirsch if using pears or calvados if using apples
4 ozs (110g) whole blanched almonds, ground or 2 ground almonds and 2 blanched and ground 
1 oz (30g/2 American tablesp.) flour

To Finish
¼ pint (150ml/generous ½cup) approx. apricot glaze 

9 inch (23cm) diameter flan ring or tart tin with a removable base 

First make the shortcrust pastry,
Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl, cut the butter into cubes and rub into the flour with the fingertips. Keep everything as cool as possible; if the fat is allowed to melt the finished pastry may be tough. When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, stop. Whisk the egg yolk and add the water. 
Take a fork or knife (whichever you feel most comfortable with) and add just enough liquid to bring the pastry together, then discard the fork and collect the pastry into a ball with your hands. This way you can judge more accurately if you need a few more drops of liquid. Although slightly damp pastry is easier to handle and roll out, the resulting crust can be tough and may well shrink out of shape as the water evaporates in the oven. The drier and more difficult-to-handle pastry will give a crisper shorter crust.
Cover the pastry with cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for a minimum of 15 minutes or better still 30 minutes. This will make the pastry much less elastic and easier to roll.
Next poach the pears and allow to get cold. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/regulo 4. Roll out the pastry, line the tart tin with it, prick lightly with a fork, flute the edges and chill again until firm. Bake blind for 15-20 minutes.

Next make the frangipane. Cream the butter, gradually beat in the sugar and continue beating until the mixture is light and soft. Gradually add the egg and egg yolk, beating well after each addition. Stir in the ground almonds and flour and then add the kirsch or calvados. Pour the frangipane into the pastry case spreading it evenly. Drain the pears well and when they are cold cut them crosswise into very thin slices, then lift the sliced pears intact and arrange them around the tart on the frangipane pointed ends towards the centre. Arrange a final half pear in the centre.
Turn the oven up to 200C/400F/regulo 6. Bake the tart for 10-15 minutes until the pastry is beginning to brown. Turn down the oven heat to moderate 180C/350F/regulo 4 and continue cooking for 15-20 minutes or until the fruit is tender and the frangipane is set in the centre and nicely golden.
Meanwhile make the apricot glaze. When the tart is fully cooked, paint generously with apricot glaze, remove from the tin and serve warm or cold with a bowl of softly whipped cream.

Apricot Glaze

Apricot glaze is invaluable to have made up in your fridge. It would always be at hand in a pastry kitchen and is used to glaze tarts which contain green or orange or white fruit, eg. kiwi, grapes, greengages, peaches, oranges, apples or pears. It will turn you into a professional at the flick of a pastry brush!
In a small saucepan (not aluminium), melt 12 ozs (350g/1 cup) apricot jam with the juice of 3 lemon, water - or enough to make a glaze that can be poured. Push the hot jam through a nylon sieve and store in an airtight jar. Reheat the glaze to melt it before using. The quantities given above make a generous ½ pint (300ml/1 ¼ cups) glaze.

Poached Pears

6 pears
½lb (225g/1 generous cup) sugar
1 pint (600ml/2 ½ cups) water
a couple of strips of lemon peel and juice of 2 lemon

Bring the sugar and water to the boil with the strips of lemon peel in a non-reactive saucepan. Meanwhile peel the pears thinly, cut in half and core carefully with a melon baller or a teaspoon, keeping a good shape. Put the pear halves into the syrup, cut side uppermost, add the lemon juice, cover with a paper lid and the lid of the saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer until the pears are just soft - the tip of a knife or skewer should go through without resistance. Turn into a serving bowl, chill and serve on their own or with homemade vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce, in which case you have Poires Belles Helene - one of Escoffier's great classics.

Foolproof Food

Bramley Apple Sauce

The trick with Apple Sauce is to cook it covered on a low heat with very little water.
If you have a surplus of apples, why not make more and freeze it in small containers for another occasion. Great served with roast pork, duck goose…..

Serves 10 approx.

1 lb (450g) cooking apples, e.g. Bramley Seedling or Grenadier
1-2 dessertsp. (2 - 1 American tablesp.) water
2 ozs (55g/scant 3 cup) sugar, depending on how tart the apples are

Peel, quarter and core the apples. Cut the pieces into two and put in a stainless steel or cast iron saucepan with sugar and water. Cover and put over a low heat. As soon as the apple has broken down, beat into a puree, stir and taste for sweetness. Serve warm. 

Note: Apple Sauce freezes perfectly, so make more than you need and freeze in tiny, plastic cartons. It is also a good way to use up windfalls.

Hot Tips

West Cork as a region has become synonymous with a lifestyle that embraces the pleasures of life whilst at the same time pursuing an ethnic, excellence, integrity and innovation writes Ivan McCutcheon of West Cork Leader Co-op in his introduction to a taste of West Cork. 

The guide has been developed in conjunction with Fáilte Ireland as part of a comprehensive training programme for local tourism establishments. Chef Rory Morahan who honed his skills in some of the worlds finest kitchens including the Ritz and Dochester in London and the George V in Paris created the recipes using local produce from the West Cork area where many of the most passionate artisan food producers in the country are based.

I hugely welcome any initiative that encourages bed and breakfasts, hotels and restaurants to serve their fine local food proudly. West Cork in the vanguard of Irelands culinary revolution provides more choice than virtually any other area in the country. What a joy to find a breakfast of Macroom oatmeal, Ummera or Gubeen bacon, plump sausages from Martin Carey, Fingal Ferguson or Stauntons, traditional black and white puddings from local butchers. Mushrooms from Fran Frazier, cured meats from Frank Kraychek. Smoked fish from Ummera or Woodcock Smokery. A selection of local West Cork farmhouse cheeses, some fresh baked crusty soda bread with local butter and any one of a number of local honeys, homemade jams and marmalades.

Any West Cork establishment would be proud to highlight these and many other local foods on their menu. The publication has a list of producers, shops, activities and catering establishments and suggested prices – a terrific resource but the highlight for me are the enchanting and as ever brilliantly researched contributions on the various foods by Irelands leading food historian Regina Sexton who wrote the book “A Taste of West Cork” published by Collins press at a price of €12.95. 

If you fancy being able to drizzle everything from Balsamic vinegar to chocolate sauce over your culinary creations just like the hot chefs, look out for a squeezy sauce bottle – the kind that used to be used in less salubrious surroundings filled with brown sauce. Available for Nisbets or good kitchen shops


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