Sunday, September 22, 2013

River Cottage Fruit Every Day - Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

There are many I things I have a weakness for - chocolate eclairs, pearls, tweed, gin (the list goes on and on...) but somewhere near the top of it lie River Cottage cook books. Each time I see one in the offing I think about resisting (resistance is futile) partly because it seems inevitable that eventually there will be a duff one and every time I give in within moments of seeing the thing buying it from whatever retailer I happen to be in at the time (luckily for me it was WH Smiths this time who have some terrific bargains when it comes to cookbooks). The timing with 'Fruit' was particularly fortuitous because my damson contacts had come good with a vengeance and in the end I had something like 14 kilos of them to do something with before they went off. I made as much jam as I could find sugar and jars for, there are another 5 kilos in the freezer which will probably be jelly when I can get more jars and sugar, a liqueur is brewing (a rag tag mix of gin and vodka dregs which hopefully will be pleasingly mellow and not annoyingly bland and sweet), and finally some damson puree to make Hugh's damson ice-cream from the new book.
I've only had 'Fruit' for a day or two so I've not really had a proper look at it yet but have already managed to tag a number of recipes. there is a terrific looking apple and marmalade cake which I can't wait to make. It promises a slightly lighter take on a traditional fruit cake and boasts whisky soaked sultanas along with marmalade and chunky slices of apple and lots of brown sugar (more things I have a weakness for). I also like the sound of a blackberry syrup cake where a magnificently purple blackberry syrup stains the sponge in a pleasingly dramatic sort of a way. Sloe syrup looks good too - I've only ever used sloes for gin but syrup sounds like a much more versatile option, apparently it's good on pancakes and can be used for mixing in drinks, I think it'll be well worth experimenting with. There are also plenty of salads, savory dishes, and unexpected things to do with strawberries (pizza) which look to be very much my cup of tea.

Given that this 'Fruit' has more than a bit in common with Jane Grigson's 'Fruit Book' (which I consider to be one of the best cookbooks ever to cross my path and quite likely one of the best ever without any sort of qualification) it's no surprise I'm taken with it. In fact the only quibble I have with the River Cottage 'Fruit' is one of lay out. One of the things I really like about Grigson's fruit and veg books is that she arranged them by fruit (or vegetable) alphabetically so when you have a glut of anything it's a very simple matter to flip to the relevant section and find a whole host of suggestions, here the fruits are divided into categories (stone fruits, summer berries and currants, pears and quinces etc) which for damsons (yes it's an obsession) I spent a lot of time consulting the index because however they're classified the recipes do not fall especially close together. However that's a small quibble for what's clearly destined to be a useful and inspiring cookbook.

The damson ice cream is custard based so I cheated a bit and bought ready made custard from M&S (you need the extra thick luxury stuff and a spoon, and that's another thing to add to my list of weaknesses). This is partly because I've never been a huge fan of custard based ice-creams, I like custard but have always found the eggy flavour gets in the way of whatever else is in the ice-cream and that's never been what I wanted, also custard is a little bit of a hassle to make in that you can't take your eye off it - not something to be combined with jam making, a tub seemed much more practical. The damson bit was a puree of 500g of fruit simmered with a couple of tablespoons of water and 50g of sugar until it's all soft and ready to be pushed through a sieve. After that it needs to be chilled before churning. Eventually mix with cold custard and churn in an ice cream maker (or freeze and stir every half hour or so until it's suitably soft set) and then finish off in the freezer. It's quite a grown up flavour (and you can taste the custard in it) with a definite tang of tannin (which manifests itself as a slightly smokey tea like flavour) and quite rich with a lovely velvety texture, a little goes a long way.      



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