I briefly flirted with the idea of joining up for all August all Virago – heaven knows I’ve got enough Virago books waiting patiently to be read but just now there are far too many other things I’m keen to read (Stella Gibbons, Angela Thirkell, Trollope) and even more things I want to plan (cooking projects, garden projects, reading projects). It perhaps doesn’t help that August always feels like the beginning of autumn to me – possibly because in Shetland it often is, or the end of summer anyway. The nights are drawing in, everything looks dusty and sunburnt, at work our first Christmas line has turned up in the warehouse (everything from now on in will be about the C word). So there you have it – August, not the best time for setting limitations, making promises, or taking on extra new commitments.
‘Fruit’ happily combines a lot of my potential projects in one attractive pocket sized volume. I really do love these River Cottage handbooks, they look good, feel good, are eminently practical, and chatty enough to make for excellent reading (more than a text book). I did wonder if after ‘A Taste of The Unexpected’ ‘Fruit’ (and ‘Veg Patch’) would really be necessary but there’s enough difference to keep me happy. ‘A Taste of the Unexpected’ concentrates on the exotic ‘Fruit’ gives page space to apples, plums and pears (as well as Japanese Wine Berries, mulberries, medlars, and quinces which appear in both, but hey – they deserve all the promotion they can get).
My wish list of plants is growing faster than weeds at the moment, and without a garden that’s strictly speaking my own I suppose most of them will stay on a list – though I am determined to get a Quince (and possibly a Damson, and maybe a Mulberry) onto the Scottish ones grounds. Quince because although it’s probably my least favourite fruit of the three seems to be especially decorative (lovely flowers), it would be a nice thing to leave behind for someone else to enjoy should that dream of moving back North materialise (leaving a Mulberry just as it came to fruiting age would surely be heartbreaking).
After a divine gooseberry crumble (a highlight of Orkney was Jan’s cooking at the B&B) a week or two back, I would love to have some gooseberries too and have been reading to see if they would make suitable reinforcements to a hedge. Sadly I think the answer is no and to fit one in a patch it would like would mean losing some other cherished plant now. Ridiculously that crumble was the first time I’ve ever eaten a gooseberry – and this is rather the point of books like this – because it’s rare to find them in supermarkets or in grocers you have to grow them yourself. Farmers markets may have them but I don’t have a farmers market that works with Work – I can understand this with something like a Mulberry but given that gooseberries appear in so many other things (Waitrose has them in pate, yoghurt, jam, and fool) it’s a bit frustrating that you can’t buy the fruit itself.
In a long winded way this is bringing me back to the recipes at the end of the book, most of them can be made using bought fruit (although obviously home grown would be more satisfying). As Diacono points out if you add cream and meringue to most fruits your onto a winner anyway so I wouldn’t say there’s anything groundbreaking here but lots of nice things. The Apricots on toast (with honey, vanilla, and cardamom) sounds like a memorable way to end a meal and should surely suit the less flavourful supermarket fruit. There’s a Summer Pudding recipe that’s a timely reminder both that I meant to make one after an epically delicious version courtesy of my youngest sister last week (the first time I’ve really got the point of it) and that it’s an excellent counterpoint to the richness of game or the fat on a good piece of lamb. A Rhubarb and Strawberry tart sans custard in the filling also looks like a winner, and a colourful Peach salsa... Most of the recipes are a sort of template into which a whole variety of fruits can be fitted – which I find very satisfactory too.
So there you have it, a book that’s useful whether you can grow much of your own fruit or not and which stirs the imagination to no mean effect. The River Cottage handbooks continue to make me dream of a better life; one in which we all think a bit more about what we eat and why, where food has more flavour and a real provenance (and where I perhaps don’t have to work for a living but can instead float around growing things and cooking, possibly with the help of a gardener and a winning lottery ticket). It makes me happy.