There's a brilliant crop of walnuts on my next door neighbour's tree which happily hangs over into my garden. So I've been making Stilton and Walnut Crisps.
Two things I always make as soon as I get my hands on quinces are Membrillo and Quincemeat. Membrillo is the perfect give away treat, is delicious with cheese and costs a fortune if you have to buy it in the shops. Quincemeat provides a good build up for the festive season, and is a great excuse to eat mince pies in October. A note on preparing quinces - they are a bugger to peel, especially the small, wild knobbly ones so I cook mine whole for my membrillo recipe, then pull off the flesh. However if you have those show-offy perfect, plump quinces then it's easier to peel and core them first, which saves sieving them. The horrible little runt quinces I make into quince jelly to spread on my toast and to glaze fruit tarts.
As the weather is getting warmer and the nights are drawing out I start to get excited about summer, having fresh garden produce and forgetting about cooking warming winter soups and stews. Discover the difference that a few fresh herbs can make to your spring salads by either adding them into the salad, providing a nice contrast to the crunchy leaves of lettuce, or blitzing them into a simple vinaigrette dressing. As herbs begin to shoot in spring, or I’m lucky enough to find some that have over-wintered well, I spruce up even the plainest of salads with a few sprigs of fresh herbs. Be brave and experiment with different herbs adding vitality, texture and flavour to your meals. Make the bulk of the salad with mild flavour leaves such as Cos, Romaine, Little Gem or Lollo Rosso. Lovage – use the leaves sparingly as they add a very strong savoury flavour when raw. The first stems of spring provide the most delicate flavour. Try rubbing the salad bowl with bruised leaves to impart a milder flavour. Chives – the snipped stalks add a delicate onion (or garlicky if using Chinese chives) flavour. Hard boiled eggs, crumbled crisp bacon, watercress, steamed Jersey Royals, raw or steamed freshly podded peas all contrast well with chives and will liven up a leaf salad. Chickweed – or hip weed as I call it, now grown commercially for the restaurant trade and used in both salads and garnishes. Full of vitamin C and tastes slightly grassy, throw this in in abundance as it’s delicate, mild flavoured and if from your garden, free! Winter purslane – sometimes called Miners lettuce and grows rapidly in the spring. Add the narrow early leaves or the curious stem-wrapping leaves for a cool, mild flavour also providing a succulent and juicy texture into a leaf salad. It’s also very nice wilted as in the spinach recipe. Chervil – use the stem and leaf chopped into salads to add a subtle aniseed flavour. It complements eggs, fish and cucumber particularly well. Crab, goats curd and chervil is a favourite combination of mine.
One of my home grown veggies has enjoyed the heatwave this year. It's the freaky Serpent of Sicily, also known as a cucuzza. Seeds from Franchi - Seeds of Italy. I'm going to see if this one will reach the ground.
Hardly ever seen until this year but now it's trendy and on every menu. It grows like a weed in my garden. My favourite way to use it is to rub my salad bowl with a big handful of the stuff and it will impart a lovely savoury Bovril like flavour. When used raw in dishes it can be very overpowering. The first young stalks of spring are the best for a delicious delicate flavour.
Lovely waxy, nutty, knobbly Anya potatoes from Steve and Nick Lewin in Norfolk. They're a cross between a Pink Fir Apple and a Desiree potato and named after Lady Sainsbury. That's why you won't find them in any other supermarket.
There was an Old Man of Girgenti, who lived in profusion and plenty; he lay on two chairs, and ate thousands of pears, that susceptible man of Girgenti.' Edward LearWritten by Ruth
This is one small branch of the £3.99 pear tree bought from Lidl four years ago.The tree has been espaliered and grown against a sunny wall by my father. I wish I had taken a picture of the whole tree. The crop was impressive!
Near suffolkfoodie hq we have an old airbase where lots of trees planted in the war are still producing fruit, including these lovely plums that we are about to turn into jam. You don't need an airbase to forage to get wild fruit - just look at the side of the road where people have chucked out their apple cores. The cores are now fully grown trees. But professional foraging can cause problems as people strip the contents of everywhere wild. Leave some behind for the future!
You can't get any more money through the lottery Local Food Grants but there are lots of interesting food projects going on around the country that are not food banks giving away pot noodles and instant mashed potato. There's a community vineyard, primary school allotments, a food circus and have a look at the size of the saucepans they have in Manchester in their Feeding 5000 project.
Last night I was invited to the 'Farming Oscars', held by the Suffolk Agricultural Association at Trinity Park, on the outskirts of Ipswich. The awards are an amalgamation of the Suffolk Farm Business Competition, which is open to all farms in Suffolk, and the Best Alternative Land Enterprise (BALE) Awards, which celebrate the diversification of businesses in Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. Congratulations to runners up of the BALE Award - Jason and Katherine Salisbury from Creeting St Mary-based Suffolk Farmhouse Cheeses. The couple annually produce 27 tonnes of cheese under three brands, Suffolk Gold, Suffolk Brie and Suffolk Blue. Also Simpers Deben Shellfish, run by the Simper family, who are reviving the native oyster in the Deben, scooped the Best Newcomer award. Their oysters can be ordered online.
Today I picked my whole crop of basil and turned it into pesto sauce ready to smother onto hot pasta. Pesto is very quick and easy to make, either in a mini food processor or by hand, with a pestle and mortar. You will need:
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup pine nuts ( or try walnuts for a change)
- 3 medium sized garlic cloves crushed
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Crush the basil leaves, salt, pepper and garlic together adding the nuts and oil a little at a time. Keep working until you have a rough paste. Add the grated cheese and the last of the oil. Mix well and store in the fridge in a covered jar.
I keep a layer of oil on top of the sauce, to maintain the colour and texture.