MY FRIEND Camilla Plum from Copenhagen has been staying with me for the past few days. She lives about 45 minutes outside the city on a beautiful organic farm called Fuglebjerggaard.
Apart from vegetables and soft fruit orchards they have 160 sheep, grow their own wheat barley and rye, and the freshly milled flour is used for bread and the barley malted to make beer.
Both are sold in the farm shop on the farm as well as the preserves, herb salts and sugar and spice mixes that Camilla makes.
Over 100 varieties of chilli are grown, seeds are saved and Camilla, who is a beautiful natural cook, writes cookbooks and also does TV series.
Don’t ask me how they do it all but while she’s been staying with me I got a glimpse.
She wanders through the farm and gardens and into the greenhouse and comes back into the kitchen with baskets and bags of herbs, vegetables and fruit and turns them into delicious ‘totally Camilla’ things.
When we went for a drive through country lanes to the beach, we stopped to pick white fluffy meadowsweet for cordial; she found me another plant called Houttuynia Cordata.
It has distinctive variegated green, red and yellow splashed leaves and is delicious in salads or used as herb — it tastes a bit like coriander.
When we drove through Shanagarry village midmorning on Sunday, we bought some freshly picked redcurrants from the GIY (Grow it Yourself) and OOOBY (Out of Your Own Backyard) members selling their surplus fresh produce along the wall close to the Shanagarry Design Centre. It’s a brilliant idea and greatly welcomed by the local community who are delighted to be able to buy garden produce and some preserves, freshly baked cakes and spotted dog at very reasonable prices.
Back in the kitchen Camilla popped the redcurrants into a glass jar, stirred in sugar and gave me a taste of what is called ‘Shaken Fruit’ in Denmark. It was so fresh and delicious and keeps for months. I can imagine it is delicious with lamb or venison and also goats cheese, rice pudding and carrageen.
For supper, she spatchcocked a couple of chickens early in the afternoon, sprinkled with lots of chopped tarragon, lemon thyme, elderflower and chilli salt and extra-virgin olive oil over the skin.
They were simply roasted and served with roast new potatoes with capers and goats cheese — divine.
A foray into the greenhouse produced lots of little misshapen but very ripe tomatoes, so these were squished into Kilner jars with a couple of sprigs of basil and a glug of extra-virgin olive oil.
Camilla uses them in sauces, salads and on bruschetta and pizzas all winter. They cooked slowly in the cool oven of my ancient Aga overnight.
Camilla makes it all look so simple, she scarcely measures but judges by eye and feel and taste. I did my best to record and measure as she cooks.
Camilla’s Preserved Tomatoes
Makes 2 Kilner jars
675g (1lb 8ozs) approximately very ripe
5-6 basil leaves
3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp of Maldon sea salt
2-3 cloves of garlic
2 x 2 pint sterilised Kilner glass jars with lids.
Cut the big tomatoes — leave small ones whole. Stuff them in the Kilner jars and press tight. Add the extra virgin olive oil, 1 teaspoon herb or Maldon sea salt, cloves of garlic and a sprig of basil. Close and seal the jars and bake at 110C/225F/Gas Mark 1/4 until tomatoes are soft (three to four hours) or until the tomatoes have softened and are cooked.
Verbena, Chilli, Ginger and Lemon Thyme Sugar
1 handful Moroccan mint
3 big handfuls fresh lemon verbena,
leaves stripped off the stalks
1 inch knob of ginger chopped
2 tbsp lemon thyme
2-3 Kaffir lime leaves if available
1 fistful of lemon basil
250-450g (9oz – 1lb) sugar
Put the leaves into the food processor; add ginger and lemon thyme leaves, plus a couple of kaffir lime leaves if you have them. Add 110g (4oz) of sugar, whizz until blended, add rest of sugar and whizz another second, one can add less or more sugar.
Spread out on a tray or platter. Leave to dry for five to six days or even a week or use immediately.
For a hot drink
Pour boiling water over about a tablespoon of the Verbena Sugar in a glass, add lemon juice to taste.
For a cold drink
Add flat or sparkling water and lemon juice, add some rum if you fancy.
Fresh Bay Leaf Salt
Camilla Plum used coarse grey salt from Trapani
125g (4½oz) Sel de Guérande
(½ packet of Maldon sea salt)
Young fresh bay leaves — 2 fistfuls — stalks removed
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
Destalk the bay leaves. Transfer the leaves to a food processor. Whizz with the crushed garlic and half the salt. When juicy and green turn out onto a plate. Add the remainder of the salt. Dry on a flat platter for four to five days. Store in a glass jar or jars.
Use with beef or roast potatoes. Either add at the beginning with extra virgin olive oil or sprinkle over at the end for a fresh bay taste.
Nordic Cucumber and Dill Salad
Makes enough for 6-8
2 large fresh cucumbers
5 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
3 fistfuls of dill plus soft stalks chopped
Slice the cucumbers thinly - put into a bowl, add the cider vinegar, sugar, salt and chopped dill.
Toss well, leave for at least an hour. Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.
Serve with fish, lamb or chicken.
Strawberry and Rose Petal Jam
Makes 2 -3 pots
1kg (2¼lb) strawberries
1 litre (1¾ pints) of rose petals from fragrant old roses
450g (1lb) sugar
Freshly squeezed juice of ½ to 1 lemon
Put the strawberries in a wide stainless steel saucepan and cook over a brisk heat until the juices run and the fruit breaks down.
Add the rose petals and hot sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar, bring back to the boil and continue to cook for 5 – 8 minutes until it reaches a set. Add the freshly squeezed lemon juice.
Test for a set by putting about a teaspoon of jam on a cold plate, leaving it for a few minutes in a cool place. It should wrinkle when pressed with a finger. Remove from the heat immediately. Pour into sterilised jars and store in a cool place.
Charity Event - The Ballymaloe Cookery School Gardens will be open in aid of The Lismore Music Festival on Thursday, Aug 9, from 2.30pm to 5.30pm. Tickets are €12.50, includes afternoon tea - children and OAP’s half price. www.lismoremusicfestival.com
Learn how to prune your apples, pears, plums and cherry trees into ornamental fans and espaliers with Susan Turner at Ballymaloe Cookery School on Monday, Aug 13, from 9am to 2pm. Both decorative and functional, it’s a great way to grow a wide variety of fruit in a limited space. You’ll learn how to grow apples and pears as cordons, espaliers and step-overs.
Contact 021-4646785 or www.cookingisfun.ie
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