All over the country people are rediscovering the joy of growing their own vegetables, a little soft fruit, an apple tree or even a few fresh herbs. It’s not just about the economics; there is the sheer thrill of digging your own potatoes, carrots or beets and it is certainly is a thrill having waited patiently for 4 to 5 months for them to grow.
In spring, it’s difficult not to get swayed by the shiny seed packets and few of us can resist planting more than we need or can share with our neighbours and friends.
So those of us who succumb will know the effort that goes into the growing, weeding, harvesting and then dealing with the inevitable gluts. But let’s look on a glut as a bonus, an opportunity to relearn the almost forgotten skill of preserving. In earlier times when there were no freezers it was an essential survival skill. Now we can utilise all the labour saving mod cons like food processors, blenders and slicers to help us prepare the food.
When I was little in the days before electrification, a glut in the garden provoked a frenzy of activity; Mummy was determined to save every scrap of the precious crop. There was a great sense of urgency as it was the only opportunity people had to lay down a store for the winter months. Preserving was acutely important in the rhythm of the year. During my childhood waste was not an option – food was too precious and scarce to be thrown away. Since the advent of electricity, most households have freezers and surplus food can easily be frozen, so the reasons for preserving have changed. Recently I’ve seen a huge revival of interest and creativity as people experiment, combining old and new techniques and flavours. Chefs who just a few years ago wouldn’t have been ‘seen dead’ jam making and who regarded preserving merely as the domain of grannies are now proudly offering their own chutneys and pickles at their restaurants as an integral part of their food style.
I love the smell of jams and chutneys bubbling on the Aga. You can’t help feeling a glow of satisfaction every time you look into a well-stocked pantry and see your bottles and jam jars lined up on the shelf like ‘good deeds’. It also means you have a ready supply of terrific gifts to take along to a dinner party – much more welcome than a dodgy bottle of wine.
One of the best ways to preserve a glut of French or runner beans is to blanch them quickly in boiling well salted water then drain and refresh under ice cold water, drain again very well, tray freeze and then freeze in boxes or bags.
When defrosted they can be served in a variety of ways – reheated in boiling water for a minute or two and simply tossed in extra virgin olive oil and some freshly chopped herbs or better still use for Gujarati style French beans a recipe lovely Madhur Jaffrey taught us years ago when she came to the cookery school to teach a guest chef course.
Gujerati Style Green Beans
If you are using frozen beans, just re-heat in boiling salted water, drain and proceed as in recipe below.
1 lb (450g) fresh green French beans
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon whole black mustard seeds
4 cloves garlic, peeled and very finely chopped
1/2 – 1 hot, dried red chilli, coarsely crushed in a mortar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
freshly ground black pepper
Trim the beans and cut them into 1 inch (2.5cm) lengths. Blanch the beans by dropping them into a pot of well-salted boiling water, boil rapidly for 3-4 minutes or until they are just tender. Drain immediately in a colander and rinse under cold running water. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium flame. When hot, put in the mustard seeds. As soon as the mustard seeds begin to pop, put in the garlic. Stir the garlic pieces around until they turn light brown, (be careful not to burn or it will spoil the flavour). Put in the crushed red chilli and stir for a few seconds, add the green beans, salt and sugar. Stir to mix. Turn the heat to medium-low. Stir and cook the beans for 3-4 minutes or until they have absorbed the flavour of the spices. Season with freshly ground black pepper, mix well and serve.
Lettuce, Broad Bean and Spring Onion Soup with Chorizo and Mint
A delicious way to cope with a glut of several vegetables. Soups can of-course made in quantity and frozen for Autumn and Winter. Omit the chorizo and mint until serving.
55g (2oz) butter
140g (5oz) spring onion finely sliced – use green and white parts
170g (6oz) potato, peeled and diced
170g (6oz) lettuce: Butterhead, Cos, Little Gem, Oakleaf… finely shredded
250g (9oz) shelled broad beans
20 floz (2 pints/ 1200mls) light chicken or vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
125g (4 ½ oz) chorizo skinned and cut into ¼ inch dice approximately
fresh mint leaves
Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan and when it foams add the spring onion, stir and cook over a gentle heat for 3 or 4 minutes until nice and soft. Meanwhile bring the stock to the boil, add to the saucepan with the broadbeans, season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bring back to the boil for 2 minutes, add the shredded lettuces, stir well, continue to boil rapidly for another 3 or 4 minutes, just enough for the lettuce to wilt (Cos and Little Gem will take longer than the Butterhead) add about 15 mint leaves to the soup, puree the soup in batches adding a little more stock or creamy milk if necessary. Taste and correct seasoning. Blanch the remaining broad beans in boiling salted water, drain, refresh under cold water. When they are cool enough to handle, pop them out of their skins and keep aside for a garnish.
Heat a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over a medium heat in a pan, add the chorizo and cook for a couple of minutes until the oil runs and the chorizo begins to crisp. If necessary re-heat the soup (do not cover or it will spoil the colour)
Serve the hot soup plates scatter a few warm broad beans, some chorizo and a few mint leaves over the top of each bowl.
Claudia Roden’s Marinated Courgettes – from The Book of Jewish Food
When you grow courgettes it’s either feast or famine so here’s a recipe to use some up. Claudia cooked these for us and stressed that they should be brown. I like the sweet/ sour, ‘agrodolce’ version best
750g (1 ½lbs) courgette (zucchini)
2 or 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
a few sprigs of fresh basil or mint, finely chopped
4 tablespoons wine vinegar or 2 tablespoons wine vinegar and I tablespoon sugar
salt and pepper
Trim the ends of the courgettes and cut in thin slices diagonally. Fry quickly in batches in hot olive oil, turning them over once, until browned all over. Lift out and drain on paper towels
Fry the garlic or leave it raw. Lay the courgette slices in layers, sprinkling each layer with the drained garlic, the basil or mint, the vinegar, salt, and pepper (sugar if using) Leave to marinate a few hours before serving cold. It keeps very well for a week or more.
We also have a glut of basil at present so we’re making lots of pesto and basil oil. Homemade Pesto takes minutes to make and tastes a million times better than most of what you buy.
Serve with pasta, goat cheese, tomato and mozzarella.
4ozs (115g) fresh basil leaves
6 – 8 fl ozs (175 – 250ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 oz (25g) fresh pine kernels (taste when you buy to make sure they are not rancid)
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 ozs (50g) freshly grated Parmesan cheese (Parmigiana Reggiano is best)
salt to taste
Whizz the basil with the olive oil, pine kernels and garlic in a food processor or pound in a pestle and mortar. Remove to a bowl and fold in the finely grated Parmesan cheese. Taste and season.
Pesto keeps for weeks, covered with a layer of olive oil in a jar in the fridge. It also freezes well but for best results don’t add the grated Parmesan until it has defrosted. Freeze in small jars for convenience.
Basil may be used either to flavour the oil or the oil may be used to preserve the basil, depending on the quantity used. If using a large quantity of basil, you can preserve it in a jar with enough olive oil to completely cover it for up to three months. Basil oil may be used in salad dressings, vegetable stews, pasta sauces or many other instances
extra virgin olive oil
fresh organic basil leaves
Ensure the basil leaves are clean and dry. Pour a little of the olive oil from the bottle and stuff at least 8–10 basil leaves into the bottle, or more if you like. The basil must be covered by at least 1cm (1⁄2in) of oil. Seal and store in a cold place. We sometimes fill bottles three quarters full and then chill them. When the oil solidifies somewhat, we top it up with another layer of oil. If the basil is not submerged in the oil, it will become mouldy in a relatively short period of time.
Delicious with cold meats and cheese.
Makes 6 x 200ml (7fl oz) jars
900g (2 lbs) raw beetroot, peeled
450g (1 lb) onion, diced
450g (1 lb) cooking apples, peeled and diced
25g (1oz) grated ginger
1 teaspoon salt
600ml (1 pint) cider vinegar
350g (12oz) granulated sugar
Chop the beetroot finely. Put into a stainless steel saucepan with the diced onion and apples. Add the grated ginger, salt and vinegar.
Cover and simmer until the beetroot is soft and the apples have cooked to a fluff, approximately 1 – 1 1/2 hours.
Add the sugar and cook until thick, 15 to 20 minutes.
Pot into sterilized jars and cover with non reactive lids. Store in a dark airy place.
Makes 7lbs (3.2kg) approx
Homemade strawberry jam can be sensational but only if the fruit is a good variety. It’s one of the most difficult jams to make because strawberries are low in pectin, so don’t attempt it if your fruit is not perfect. Redcurrants are well worth searching out for this jam. They are very high in pectin and their bitter-sweet taste greatly enhances the flavour.
4 lbs (1.8kg) unblemished strawberries (El Santa or Rapella if available)
3-4 lbs (1.6-1.8 kg) granulated sugar (not castor or jam sugar)
5 fl ozs (150ml) redcurrant juice (see below) or if unavailable the juice of 2 lemons
First prepare the fruit juice (see below) using about 1 lb (450g) fruit to obtain 5 fl ozs (150ml/1/2 cup) of juice. Put the strawberries into a wide stainless steel saucepan with redcurrant juice. Use a potato masher to crush the berries, leave the rest intact. Bring to the boil and cook the crushed strawberries in the juice for about 2 or 3 minutes. Warm the sugar in a low oven and add to the fruit, stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat and boil for about 10-15 minutes stirring frequently. *Skin, test and pot into sterilized jars, cover and store in a cool dry cupboard.
* This jam sticks and burns very easily so be careful.
Put 1 lb (450g) redcurrants (they can be fresh or frozen) into a stainless steel saucepan with 6 fl ozs (175ml) of water. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve. This juice can be frozen for use another time if necessary.
Mummy’s Strawberry Jam
Put the strawberries and lemon juice in a stainless steel saucepan. Cover with sugar. Leave overnight.
Bring the strawberries to the boil; stir until the sugar is dissolved. Continue to boil until it reaches a set. Pour into sterilized jars, cover immediately and store in a cool dry dark cupboard.
Sometimes in summer you’ll find a tray of inexpensive peaches at the market. When you’ve eaten your fill, try making some pickled peaches, which go well with glazed ham, bacon, duck or goose.
Makes 6 x 370g (13oz) jars
10 peaches or nectarines, sliced into segments (peaches need to be peeled)600ml (1 pint) cold stock syrup1 small stick cinnamon1 chilli, halved and seeded2.5cm (1inch) piece of ginger, sliced
2 slices of lemon
Cook all the above ingredients together in a saucepan for 10 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
Put all the ingredients into an oven-proof saucepan. Bring to the boil, cover and put in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Remove the chilli, cinnamon and lemon slices. Cool, store in the fridge or fill into sterilised Kilner jars. Seal and store in a cool place.
It will keep for a year but is best used within 2 or 3 months.
The motorway from Cork to Dublin is so seductive that it takes serious will power to make a detour. Recently we revisited Chez Hans in Cashel – I had not been there for far too long. We enjoyed Dover sole and a juicy well aged T Bone steak. The meat comes from Phelan’s butchers in Clonmel. It is terrific to see the second generation following in her father’s footsteps and lovely friendly professional staff. Well worth the detour but you’ll need to book ahead particularly at the weekend.
Moor Lane, Cashel Co. Tipperary. Tel: 062 61177 www.chezhans.net
It was a beautiful balmy Summer evening at Lyons Village for the launch of Clodagh McKenna’s new cookery school, café and kitchen shop recently. Clodagh did the 12 Week Certificate Course at Ballymaloe in January 2000 and started her career in Midleton Farmers Market. Don’t miss her new Farmers Market at the Village of Lyons every Friday 9am to 2pm. The cookery school is in a sublime setting with the beginning of a vegetable garden and orchard close by. Clodagh has a great list of Summer courses with catchy titles like ‘Domestic Honey’ and ‘Baking Angels’ for full course schedule www.villageatlyonscookeryschool.com
Cork Butter Museum have exciting news
The National Dairy Council has agreed to sponsor free admission to the Butter Museum every Friday for the months of July, August and September, on ‘Free Friday’ people will have the opportunity to visit this unique museum of Ireland’s signature food. Cork was the biggest butter market in the world in the1700s. The museum has been described by the New York Times as “engaging and multi- faceted”.
O’Connell Square, Shandon, Cork City – 021 430 0600 – www.corkbuttermuseum/