Thursday, 30 July 2009

Tuscan Plum Tart and Other Miscellaneous Plum Madness

I’m almost too tired to type. So far this ‘Early River’s Prolific Week’ I have made 20 lbs of 62% fruit/38% sugar Plum Jam, five litres of Plum Gin, 30 bottles of Old Dower House Plum Chutney, 20 bottles of Old Fashioned Plum and Beetroot Chutney, three Tuscan Plum Tarts, hence this post. I’ve been asked to publish this recipe, went down a storm at L’s birthday picnic last weekend.

Tuscan Plum Tart (taken from Darina Allan’s Ballymaloe Cookery Course)

7-10 oz sugar
4-5 fl oz water (I use Plum Wine but water is fine)

2lbs Plums
5 oz soft butter
5 oz vanilla sugar (homemade is cheaper and easy) or plain sugar will happily do
8 oz self-raising flour
3 free-range eggs

one 10inch sauté pan or cast-iron frying pan

Preheat oven to 170c/325F/Gas 3
Put sugar and water into pan and boil over medium heat to caramelise until golden. Leave to cool and set.

Halve and stone plums and lay cut side on set and cool caramel in a single tight layer.

Put butter, vanilla sugar, flour into mixer and wiz, add eggs and stop as soon as smooth. Spoon over plums evenly.

Bake carefully for an hour, testing centre for firmness, sides should shrink a little from edge of pan. Cool for 4-5 minutes, invert onto plate. (I sometimes prick the sponge through the plum stickiness and drizzle with a spoonful or two of Plum Gin for extra yumminess). Finish, enjoy!

Tomorrow, it’s Plum Wine Day, another 60 lbs to stone for 20 litres of wine. (Thank God ‘River’s’ is a free stone). Two more heavily laden gage trees to go.
Below, Blackberry and Black Peppermint Sorbet freezer bound and bottles and sugar queuing up for processing by the kitchen door.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Tea and No Sympathy

Two pastel drawings from Saturday’s CHADO /Japanese Tea drawing day with Akemi Solloway. Our classes are always so enjoyable, not only for the art practice but primarily for the fantastic company, we’re a lively and interesting group. Akemi was not only a good model but also most interesting about her culture and country. Shame I mangled her hands in the above drawing, but you live and learn. The quick 3 x 10 minutes sketches more successful as always, no time to over work the drawing. Added a little collage material from some origami papers I had lying around instead of trying to reproduce the beauty of the kimono.

As always, this is the time for artists to open their studios or grab an exhibition space for their annual show. One of our group has built himself a cleverly designed studio at the bottom of his garden but it’s certainly no garden shed.
I returned home inspired by the work on the wall and the studio itself and asked Nick if he wouldn’t mind building me such a desirable workspace.
“So, that’s an allotment shed, a yoga/meditation pagoda, a fruit cage and now a studio, I might just build you a cage, you can draw and meditate in that!”
Demanding, moi? It is his own fault and a complement to him that I believe he can just about make anything, I’m the divine inspiration, and he’s the oily rag ;-)!
I have always been drawn to handmade buildings. I have a great little book called Handmade Houses: A Guide to the Woodbutcher’s Art, very much a product of the San Francisco hippy movement of the late 60’s early 70’s. Written by Art Boericke, (himself, what he calls a ‘ticky-tacky’ builder) and photos by Barry Sharpiro, one of which I have reproduced below showing you where I got the idea for my meditation pagoda all those years ago. Unfortunately, still no manifestation.

Friday, 17 July 2009

The Plum of Life - Sweeter the Older it Grows

It’s been a strange week. Swine flu is sweeping London, sadly with more fatalities than expected, which puts in mind questions of life and death, making the most of what one has, maybe even daring to think of precious times one can lose. It’s also been a week for looking back, I fear I might be the last person on earth to discover Friends Reunited and in doing so, and at last being reunited, I feel some things never change, for instance, I seem to still be bucking authority, will I never grow up, and do I really want to?
Tonight we consoled ourselves with fine wine and dining, fiddling as Paris burns perhaps (coincidently, Dan ‘s combo is called Nero, I must suggest this as an upcoming album title!).

This recipe uses everything fresh and seasonal from the garden.

Duck Legs with Drunken Plums
Tablespoon of olive oil
1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar
4 large duck legs
2 ounces of speck /pancetta
2 tablespoons of minced herbs : rosemary, sage, thyme and winter savory if available.
2 teaspoons of herb salt (homemade mix of celery seed, lovage seed and fennel seed ground in a little salt is good)
12 new shallots
2 small new leeks
12 large juicy plums
1 bay leaf
2 cups of Prosecco or dry wine wine
1 shot of Brandy or Grappa
1 cup of chicken stock

Marinade the skinned and de-tendoned (is that a word?) legs in a mix of oil, vinegar, herbs and herb salt for a day. Fry speck, shallots, and leeks carefully not to brown too much, followed by the drained and dried legs. Remove and keep warm. Deglaze with the strained marinade, brandy and wine. Add chicken stock and return duck and vegetables to the pot adding plums. Cook in very slow oven for two to three hours. Enjoy (while you still can!) with Barolo or a nice Barbera D'Asti and a side of podded baby broad beans. Wishing you all good health in these infectious times.

Above plum 'Early Rivers' photo taken two or three weeks ago. Early Rivers (Rivers' Early Prolific) is a small, deep purple skinned plum with a golden-yellow coloured flesh. It has a very rich flavour, and can be used for both eating and cooking, making an excellent flavoured jam. The plum can be a little sharp early in the season, but as it becomes very ripe it becomes very sweet.
Raised in Sawbridgeworth, first introduced in 1830

Friday, 3 July 2009

Oh to be in England now that fruit time’s here.

While the populous prepares for summer holidays abroad; sweetness abounds in the kitchen gardens and allotments of England. It’s fruit time and whether it is our climate or latitude, lack of distance traveled or old varieties grown, there is nothing like it available though out the year from the supermarket. Soon, I will wake each morning and tipsy-toe through the dewy orchard grass to pick my breakfast apple. Firstly, in August, the early super-sweet Worcester-types of Discovery and Pearmain, then later the sub-sweet and crispy Laxton's Superb and Ashmead's Kernal (developing nicely above) and as the earth grows cooler under foot the strongly individual Pitmaston Pine Apple.

July brings abundant soft fruit. I grow five varieties of gooseberries and have inherited a jostaberry patch (a cross between a gooseberry and a black currant) at the allotment. I start thinning by picking in June, allowing these early sour fruits to be used for preserves and stewed for dessert concoctions. Sweet pickled green gooseberries are wonderful with lamb. My family and friends are all too familiar with my favourite leg of lamb recipe, La Coscia della Sposa or the Bride’s Thigh, a marathon of three day marinating and massaging (hence the bride's thigh), short wood smoking and slow cooking resulting in butter-tender, aromatic meat, which I serve with said gooseberries and a rich meaty redcurrant gravy. An easy (ish) version of this recipe can be found in Marlena De Blasi’s Regional Foods of Southern Italy.

I had the fortune, in the allotment stakes, to be neighbours with Jack, a brilliant and intuitive vegetable gardener, who grows the most delicious currants, and who slightly madly doesn’t like to eat them! His loss is my bonanza through his generosity. He is great company, a good teacher of technique and his fennel is the best, succulent and delicious. Using his raspberries, I made the sorbet recipe below, Jack: “you have them, I don’t like the pips” I’ll make him some High Summer Fruit Spreading Jelly in return, recipe below.

As a child, summer meant ‘pop’ through a straw. Both of the following recipes include small amounts of pop instead of water, because I find they impart that summer taste from childhood. I can’t drink modern pops, too sweet, surely the sugar industry has been lobbying the drinks companies, or is it my imagination that these lovable nectars have become ultra sticky since my 1950’s memories.

Finally, a quick mention of fruit alcohol, as it is tasting time for the 2008 brews. Last year I made cider for the first time and then promptly forgot about it, a good move as it turns out. While entertaining some cider-loving friends from Devon, I remembered the bottles and our guests were impressed by it’s quality, ( here I'm pausing to puff my chest out with pride) it's complexity and (get this) it's sophisicated taste. I just wish I could remember how I made it! We have also been polishing off the 2008 Merlot, not a keeping year as the fruit never developed the sweetness required, but easily quaffable.

By the way, an apology, my recipes are always in mixed measurements, metric, imperial and the useful American cup, can never decide on just one unit which must make following both frustrating and infuriating!

Raspberry Sorbet
One kilo soft ripe raspberries
One cup of Barr’s Soda Cream With A Twist Of Raspberry
Poach very ripe raspberries until they turn to juice.
Add two tablespoons of Cassis or Kircsh to the well-sieved liquor
Pour into ice cream churner. Refrigerate.

High Summer Fruit Bread and Butter Jelly
Half a kilo very ripe raspberries
Half a kilo red and white currants
Half a kilo mixed other red juicy summer fruits (I used ripe cherries, gooseberries, plums, jostaberries and strawberries)
Two cups of Barr’s Dandelion and Burdock
Two large leaves of Borage
One teaspoon raspberry balsamic (optional)
Poach all the above ingredients (except balsamic) until all turns to juice. Turn into jelly bag and strain (don’t be tempted to squeeze bag) Measure liquor (should be about a litre) and add sugar to taste (approx 12/14 ozs ie 60% fruit juice to 40% sugar depending on sweetness of fruit for a sweet/acid balance) Add balsamic. Bring to a rolling boil for a minute or two. This should reach setting point within that time due to the lack of water used. Bottle in sterilised jars. Spread on real bread and butter. Enjoy, sitting out under blue skies.