At this time of year the Italians might have their golden peaches and the Indians their lush ripe mangoes, but we have the most delicious local berries in season now.
Strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries are in full flow with the promise of blackcurrants on the horizon.
At the Young Farmer’s Clubs of Ulster home management competition last week, Jane Kirkpatrick,from Donaghadee YFC club, cooked a simple strawberry and rhubarb crumble. It was unadorned by custard or cream but was still a delicious concoction of sweet and tart fruit topped with a buttery, crisp oaty topping. She’s kindly provided the recipe – and I can confirm it’s even better with vanilla ice-cream!
Blackcurrants are my favourite fruit. They’re not as popular as their flamboyant scarlet berry counterpart, the strawberry but they should be. With their lip puckering astringency and deep, rich flavours, they deserve to be cherished. In the late 19th and early 20th century fruit curds were served with scones and breads as an alternative to jam. In those days, before refrigeration, it would have been made in small batches, but now commercial techniques have made it commonplace.
Homemade curds are now on trend in the best restaurants and they’re a lovely way of using up excesses of fruit and adding flavour and texture at the same time. Blackcurrants, combined with lemon, make an excellent smooth curd that can be a lovely addition to your afternoon tea spread. Fruit curds combine the actual puree with egg yolks, egg and butter – very decadent.
I’ve included a recipe for a blackcurrant curd that’s served in a light filo case and topped with Italian meringue. This variety of whipped egg white has the addition of a hot sugar syrup, instead of just sugar. It gives the meringue an extra fluffy finish and you can safely top the tart and glaze it with a blow torch. Because the curd is all natural it’ll only last for a week or so in the fridge – but that shouldn’t be a problem.
When fruit is in season it’s a good idea to preserve for the winter months. You can buy ready frozen fruit in supermarkets all year but you won’t capture the unique sense of place that a local one provides. The simplest way is to bag them and freeze them. But there are a couple of interesting alternatives.
Fruit Shrubs have become fashionable in cocktail recipes. Fruit is soaked in a sugar syrup, drained and topped with vinegar. It’s then bottled and refrigerated. They were developed in colonial America, where they were topped with ice and soda water to make a refreshing drink for a hot summer’s day. The acidity adds a refreshing element to drinks and is a more sophisticated alternative to sticky cordials.
Fruit liqueurs can also be made easily – combine 500g of fruit with 500g of sugar and add a litre of spirit in a kilner jar. Leave for about two months and strain (give the jar an odd shake). I like to add vanilla pods, citrus rind, lavender and all manner of aromatics to the mix.