Over to a local garden where a very kind customer has invited me to pick fruit: Egremont Russett * Spartan * Crab Apple Victoria Plum & the rosehips from Rosa Rugosa. Back at home I taste everything and decide to make a jam which combines the Victorias and the Spartans.
The Spartans have a beautiful white flesh which has a citrus sharpness and it’s a juicy apple. Unlike the Egremont where the flesh seems to have absorbed all the juice, a bit like blotting paper, leaving a very compact apple which resembles an unripe pear in texture but has quite sharp notes. It is supposed to have a nutty flavour but I can’t detect this at all: maybe it’ll appear later, at the cooking or cooked stage.
It’s firmness could mean it’s a good candidate for chutney, unfortunately I don’t have enough to make a chutney, so I’ll try it as a fruit cheese instead & that way I might get some juice which I can make into either a jelly or keep as pectin. However when I cook it there’s very little juice but the pulp is very dense so will hopefully make a good fruit cheese.
I take a Christine Ferber recipe for Alsatian Quetsch Plum & Apple with Anise & Vanilla & and substitute with lovely english fruit varieties. Ferber fans will know that the central tenet of her preserve making is macerating the fruit for a period of up to 3 days. This isn’t a complicated process it just requires a bit of planning ahead: time wise and also making sure there’s enough space in the fridge. The prepared fruit/s will sit in a ceramic bowl (steeped in sugar, lemon juice and any spices, herbs or teas and the fruit’s own juices) which takes up a fair amount of space. The process of maceration which involves stirring sugar into the prepared fruit, causes the fruit to release it’s juices. Ferber also always adds the juice of a small lemon and this has the same effect as salt in that it sharpens or heightens the taste of the fruit. Before doing this I’d only ever thought of seasoning as being savoury so this was a small revelation. It is then left at room temperature for an hour, then brought to a very gentle simmer, left to cool and then placed, covered with greaseproof paper, in the fridge overnight. It’s interesting to taste it before it goes into the fridge and the next day after it has reached room temperature again, to see how this process effects the flavour of the fruit. Some apples like Katy & Beauty of Bath also produce a beautiful pink juice which then effects the colour of the jam. Combining two fresh fruits, the plums and the apples, brings together sweet and sharp flavours which is good for customers who don’t like their jams too sweet or too sharp. It’s a good balance and is a challenge for the tastebuds. * for more information on all things apple-community orchards/apple days/tree dressing see www.commonground.org.uk
There’s a hedge of Rosa Rugosa which I pass quite frequently on a walk and I always wonder about its rosehips. So when I found them in Anita’s garden and was able to pick them and then look them up when I got home & then make them into a jelly- it was a result for a fledging jammer. They are a lot easier to prepare than wild rosehips as they are softer but the taste is not as complex. It’s a more gentle flavour so I mixed it with some of the crab apple, which was quite tart, and which I’d made into a puree and some of the egremont juice, to make sure it set. It produced a very warm orange colour, with flecks of the Rosa Rugosa and had a subtle and gentle flavour which I think will develop a richness over time. With the encouragement of the wonderful Jo Harries of the Food Travel Company and the technical support, for social media, from the lovely Fromester I am now on Twitter. It scares me intially, like crossing a rocky beach barefoot, but swiftly it has changed to duck-to-water and I’m away not a full blown addiction but maybe a day off from twitter occasionally? When I’m thinking of a tweet for the upcoming artisan market and looking at at the information about the Rosa Rugosa: its fragrant scent, I remember Gertrude Stein’s famous line rose is a rose is a rose is a rose
The produce for the Frome Artisan September market is coming along well and the Pershore Jams will make a great addition. I only added sugar and a little lemon juice to the Purple Pershores as they have such a pure and intense taste I think they can stand on their own. On the other hand I think I can take more risks with the the Yellow Pershores mainly because I have so few of them and they need the addition of another fruit. Hidden away in the chest freezer are a small bag of treasured japonicas which are waiting for just this kind of experiment, as is a bottle of Viognier. Oh it’s exciting & scary in equal measures. It’s not like I can nip-down-the-road and get some more Pershores. Again I follow CF’S recipe for plum & apple jam with the addition of wine. Interestingly wine is added on the day of cooking and is not included in the maceration process. When it is cooked I am not at all sure, it feels like the japonicas, a robust little fruit and the wine, together, have overwhelmed the very subtle pershores. Oh. I just hope it will settle and I’ll take it to market and see what the customers say – a different point of view.
At the market the Pershores go well and there is interest in the Yellow Pershore, new and old customers love the taste, it’s complexity and the fact it’s very unusual. The yellow pershore is now holding its own and giving the japonica’s smoky lime-ness and the wine’s flowery sharpness a very definite undertow of plums. My neighbours are Alice and the lovely Pete from I Dress Myself, amazingly it doesn’t rain-hail or thunder to-day! Next Saturday I am having a stall at Frome Farmers Market in the Cheese & Grain and I want to make some greengage jam for that. I have been out and about foraging and have collected some elder and blackberries so I look in Mes Confitures and see there is a recipe for a plum jam with elderberries: I take this recipe and add blackberries.
Whilst cooking the jam I am interested in the fact that it only takes a handful of black and elderberries to not only colour the jam immediately but to also impart the most delicious scent and taste of berries. Tony drops by unexpectedly with a very big bag of apples which is fantastic, they will now be making their way into a jam with the rest of the greengages. Below Frome Farmers Market at the Cheese & Grain, Frome.
After the Farmers Market I am invited by two of my first ever customers, Michael & Ash to go to their garden and pick some damsons- they say it’s a poor crop compared to last year but there’s enough to make some puree and juice which I’ll freeze and use later as fruit cheese and jelly. They’ve also got a handful of japonicas which I’m very grateful for.
As the chutneys are proving popular I’m going to try & make another version of the Keralan Chutney. Pears are now coming into season so they will be the main fruit & alongside will be: celeriac coconut horseradish spring onions fresh coriander limes ginger & green chillis. The dried ingedients will be: gold mustard seeds, kashmiri chillis, tellicherry pepper, onion seeds & lime leaves. During the long cooking time the horseradish begins to lose it’s flavour and even though I bought it fresh, it wasn’t eye-wateringly hard to prep which probably means that it had been stored? On the other hand perhaps some ingredients can be added at a much later stage and thereby retain their flavour. The pear and the celeriac are also being put to the test and when the chutney is finally cooked, together they have produced a kind of buttery caramel taste. It’s sweetness makes me think of Southern Indian vegetarian food and the long pancakes, Dosas, stuffed with vegetables and the accompanying relishes. Perhaps this is more relish than chutney, it certainly is a very delicate taste which could go very well with gougons of fish for example. The supermarket ones are very unreliable, in that they can be dry and not have enough fish in them- so-oh no I’d better try and make some.
Last year on a walk I saw this flower: it’s almond & vanilla scent made me wonder whether it could be used in the same way as elderflower, in cordials & preserves. Like elderflower it also seems to flower once in the early summer & then appears again, not nearly in such abundance, in late summer. This year I saw it again and decided to pick some and try & find out what it is- well it’s meadowsweet and yes it was used in Medieval times- the clue is in the word sweeten mead- to flavour wine & beer and rice pudding & preserves & cordials It’s aromatic scent, it’s part of the rose family, also meant it was used as a kind of early room freshener! It is also a very valuable medicinal herb and to quote from the Herbal Encylclopedia. “Anti-inflammatory chemicals, called salicylates, were first extracted from the plant in the 1830s. Sixty years later, a pharmaceutical company called Bayer, produced acetylsalicylate artificially, and called it “aspirin.”
As I am in squirrel mode I make an infusion of the meadowsweet, steep it overnight and then freeze it the next day. The almond flavour is slightly bitter, not in an unpleasant way, it will be interesting to see what it might go with.
Over to Whatley to see if there are any apricots, mulberries, apples or medlars which I picked last year and made into wonderful jams. The expression on Silas’ face says it all really wot no fruit, I don’t adam & eve it ! At least there are some medlars. Another very kind Fromer has said that I can go and pick their Crab apple tree so that’s next on the list as is picking: rosehips & hawthorn berries & black & elderberries.
It’s now early October and to-day the sun is shining like it’s summer. The rosehips and hawthorn & black berries are ripening in the sun and I even see a few sloes. My pace is relaxed in the warmth and I come across a dragonfly sunbathing on a post-I later find out from Chris Brooks that it is a female Common Darter. Back at home I start planning what to do with the bounty.
I gently poach the elder & black berries & sloes in some red wine and star anise. The plan is to add this at some point to some pears and make into a jam- in the mean time I freeze it. Last year I followed Denis Cotter’s recipe for Rosehip Cordial but this year I want to try and make a fruit cheese. It is a bit of a gamble as gathering rosehips is time-consuming and it’s hard not to get away with not being scratched by their many thorns. I also really like having them in the kitchen as they are very beautiful to look at, so I have to make sure that they don’t go over. At first I poach them gently but after an hour & topping up the water and then another hour & topping up the water I realise we’re in for the long haul. It takes something like 3 to 4 hours before they are soft and when I put them through a sieve there’s so little pulp I want to cry. Even though I’ve cooked them very gently they taste like they’ve had most of their flavour boiled out of them- I add some sugar and gently they are coming back to life but as a tiny blip on a saucer not a mound of the rosy amber loveliness I had anticipated.
Next is another experiment; I’ve never used hawthorn berries but I’m going to see what they are like. I feel a little optimistic as the sun seems to have ripenend them and I have have been picking from the sunnyside of the hedge. Again I poach them gently and they cook quite quickly and I put them in a jelly bag overnight. In the morning I put them through a sieve and the taste and texture is something like chesnuts. The only way I can anticipate using them is a filler for fruit cheese, I’m not convinced.
Much more successful is an apple and blackberry cordial which I’ve adapted from a Pam Corbin recipe for elderflower cordial, it’s easy to make & delicious. I go to Milly Moon in Catherine Hill and buy ribbon & now they are ready for the first ever Bath Artisan Market. It’s a cold and very bright day and it’s very nice to be under cover at Green Park Station. As always it takes me ages to set up, there are so many components: samples, little dishes, spoons, display boxes, props, price list, bags, flowers- so I am always scurrying around squirrel like setting it all up. Customers are friendly and are interested in hearing about Bath’s newest market. Japanese and Chinese students want to know everything; what is Brunswick & Uruwela & Pinecone? What is a plum? oh dear plums, the mind boggles- next time I must bring some images on my camera and the pamphlet on Ceylon teas. The teas are infused in some of the jellies and jams. My neighbour, James Gilliam, imports and sells teas. And as he talks about his visits to India and walking there it makes me think about the book I’m reading, Mountains of the Mind by Robert Macfarlane. I mention the book and James tells me that he went to a talk at Topping booksellers by Macfarlane only this week in Bath- oh no. It’s great to be talking about India and treking and mountains and the history of landscape and geology. Only very briefly of course, as there are customers to serve and samples to reknew and bread to be torn. The chutneys are going well and I am inordinately proud of the fact I now have four chutneys for sale -from zero to quattro- in just a few months. Meet the lovely folks, John Juliet and Emily from John Arbon Textiles in North Devon they’d just been to the Chutfest at Barrington Court and were telling me what an extraordinary event it is- so maybe next year. Emily buys a range of jams and chutneys for her new home/kitchen.
A fortnight later, I’m off to London to Borough Market and to also see Lindsay Seers‘ current video installation, nowhere less now, in a tin tabernacle in Kentish town. The visit to Borough is to buy licorice from Sweet Roots and to generally look around for interesting ingredients and ideas for preserves. I’m also scouting around for some ingredients in order to make a couple of recipes from two new cookery books : Indian Family Cookbook by Simon Daley with Roshan Hirami and Burma by Naomi Duguid. I chose these books from a whole pile brought to the inaugral meeting of the Cookery Book Club in Bath by the writer & teacher of Italian cookery and founder of the Foodie Bugle Silvana de Soissons. We meet in the Society Cafe which has delicious coffee/herb teas /sandwiches and cakes & macaroons– oh my. But more of that later.
Buy some licorice sticks which are brought over from Calabria & some sweets to take home. Next, to Cinnamon Tree Bakery to buy a couple of their delicious biscuits.
Then very nearby are Mexican herbs, spices and peppers at the Cool Chile Co where I buy chile ancho and the most delicious Tomatillo Salsa- they have some Tomatillos on the stall. Nearby I find Spice Mountain and they have the turmeric root I need to make Lemon Salt Pickle. I also find a small pot of Burmese Curry powder which will come in handy I hope when I try one of the recipes from the cookbook Burma. Things seem to be coming together quite seamlessly- well until I can’t find my favourite Italian cheese stall. Mamma Mia you think it’s only supermarkets who are always changing things around.
In the end I have to ask someone & they very kindly take me to where the stall has been relocated. There I am reunited with the man, Marco Vineis who knows more about Italian cheese and especially Pecorino than is possible to know- he knows the farmers, the methods they use, all the regions, all the specialities. Mamma mia it’s amazing-we taste a pecorino which is from the Northeast of Italy- it has the classical buttery taste but it also has an underlying stronger flavour- which writing this up over a week later I can’t honestly describe- I’d need to taste it again. Oh Yes. I buy some to bring home and then lo & behold find a fantastic bread stall- the Flour Station.
I’m drawn not just by the sight of mountains of artisan bread, in all shapes & sizes but by the descriptions Calabrese a mild, almost cakey loaf from Calabria with a touch of semolina. Words: they really are such powerful things, the way they draw you in. I remember taking my Mum to Calabria on holiday & I really miss her Italian-ness. I end up buying a small Tortano Crown as well. There’s one more stall to find then I must leave-Tumi nearly always has a crowd around it-and I find that really interesting the way some stalls attract customers. The stall is stand alone and easy to approach & the the produce always looks interesting. I ask to try a grape jelly which accompanies cheese and it’s delicious-being rich & fruity & sweet. I want to recreate it at home but think that the choice of grapes might be critical. I buy a cheese called cirone which is rich & buttery but strong and its flavour is long lasting.
Back in Somerset I’m looking forward to an event organised by the Great Bath Feast- a month of all things foodie: tastings/talks/demonstrations, given in and around Bath. Well– this one begins in Bristol at the Fruit & Vegetable Market at 6am and has been organised by Chris Staines head chef at the Abbey Hotel in Bath. We meet Chris at The French Garden a wholesalers who supply the Abbey hotel’s restaurant, The Allium Brasserie and are given a tour of the market by the erudite Charlie Hicks, one of the owners of the French Garden. I’m all agog & gaze longingly at small turnips & cabbages one minute- you I could pickle and ferment- and tasting Persimmons the next- you I could make into a fragrant jam. Our tour concludes at the French Garden where we are shown Chinese chesnuts, English apples, French quince and passion fruit from Vietnam. We taste the latter, wow it’s like an amalgam of mango, orange and apricot with the sharpness of japonica. I bring a couple of boxes back with me as I think they could be a really interesting addition to curd & marmalade. As we say goodbye we are given a big goody bag full of fruit and vegetables by Charlie Hicks which is very generous. We then drive back to Bath and have a delicious breakfast at the Allium Brasserie, a really relaxing end to a very busy morning and it’s only 10am. On the way home in a tired but yes over excited state I see a blue cow in a field.
What next? Quince with Licorice & Yellow Chiili * Quince Jelly with Passion Fruit * & from the cookery books Lemon Salt Pickle & Tamarind Squash Curry, better get back into the kitchen smartish. Arrivederci.