Darina Allen makes the most of summer fruit with these strawberry dishes

Darina Allen makes the most of summer fruit with these strawberry dishes

Beautiful apricots, cherries, raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries piled up onto the greengrocers shelves. The blackcurrants and redcurrants are also beginning to ripen in our garden. 

The abundance of fruits makes our hearts sing and helps us to forget our woes and count our blessings.

Mother Nature is sweetly cheering us up…

My grandchildren are in their element crawling in under the netting on the fruit cage to steal the ripest strawberries – sweet, juicy berries, often half the size of the perfect commercial fruit but intensely flavoured from all that delicious sunshine. 

We can’t wait to drizzle them with a slick of thick yellow Jersey cream and a sprinkling of caster sugar, that’s all the first of the new season's organic strawberries need but as they become more abundant, I start to search for other delicious ways to enjoy them. One of the simplest is to add shredded mint leaves, a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkling of caster sugar or honey.

Jane Grigson’s Fruit book published in 1982 is a classic, one of my favourite cookbooks of all time. It’s an alphabetical guide to fruit from the apple onwards. It was out of print for a while but is now available again. If you don’t have it, try to source an original – they are a collector’s item. Jane’s beautiful prose and immense knowledge of the history of each fruit makes it bedtime reading. 

Bushby’s Rosscarbery Strawberry Farm (023 883 8140) and Rose Cottage Fruit Farm from in Co. Laois grow a large selection of fruit. Look out for loganberries and tayberries at local Farmers' Markets and the Wexford strawberries are along the roadside right up as far as the midlands - www.rosecottagefruitfarm.ie

Don’t forget to use lots of fresh herbs with fruit, of course elderflower with gooseberries, but it’s also delicious added to syrup to poach other stone fruit, peaches, pears and nectarines. The Ballymaloe sweet geranium is another must have to add a magical haunting lemony flavour to so many dishes.

A glut of fruit is an opportunity to make a few pots of jam. Strawberries are low in pectin, the substance that helps with gelling. Jam made with commercial strawberries that are constantly irrigated seem to be even more difficult to set. Some people use jam sugar which I’ve never been fond of partly because the jam can easily end up the texture of ‘bought jam’ so what’s the point of making your own. 

I recently discovered that jam sugar also has hydrogenated palm oil which I try to avoid at all costs. However don’t fret, fruits that are low in pectin like the aforementioned strawberries can be combined with fruits with high pectin e.g. redcurrants which by a happy coincidence of nature both are in season at the same time. We’ve had a brilliant crop of red, white and black currants. The latter won’t be ready for a few weeks.

Look out for wild strawberries too, divinely sweet. We’ve also got a patch of wild raspberries, watch out for them around the country and soon there will be blueberries.


Strawberry and Redcurrant Preserve

Makes 3.2kg (7lbs) approximately

Homemade strawberry jam can be sensational but only if the fruit is a good variety. It’s one of the most difficult jams to make because strawberries are low in pectin, so don't attempt it if your fruit is not perfect. Redcurrants are well worth searching out for this jam. They are very high in pectin and their bitter-sweet taste greatly enhances the flavour.

  • 1.8kg (4lb) unblemished strawberries (El Santa or Rapella if available) 
  • 225g (8oz) redcurrants
  • 1.5kg (3 1/4lb) granulated sugar (not castor sugar) or 1/2 jam sugar and 1/2 granulated sugar
  • 150ml (5fl oz) redcurrant juice or if unavailable the juice of 2 lemons

First prepare the redcurrant juice (see method) using about 450g (1lb) fruit to obtain 150ml (5fl oz) of juice.

Put the strawberries and redcurrants into a wide stainless steel saucepan with redcurrant juice. Use a potato masher to crush the berries, leave a few intact. Bring to the boil and cook the crushed strawberries in the juice for about 2 or 3 minutes. Warm the sugar in a low oven and add to the fruit, stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat and boil for about 10-15 minutes stirring frequently. 

Skim, test and pot into sterilized jars, cover and store in a cool dry cupboard.

This jam sticks and burns very easily so make sure to stir the base of the pot regularly using a wooden spatula.

Redcurrant Juice

Put 450g (1lb) redcurrants (they can be fresh or frozen) into a stainless steel saucepan with 175ml (6fl oz) of water. 

Bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes. 

Strain through a fine sieve. 

This juice can be frozen for use another time if necessary.

Scorched Apricot Tart

This tart looks like it came straight from a French patisserie. Try to follow the edges of the fruit to scorch.

Serves 10-12

Makes 1 x 28cm (11 inch) or 2 x 18cm (7 inch) tarts

Pastry

  • 225g (8oz) flour
  • 110g (4oz/1 stick) butter
  • 2 tablespoons icing sugar
  • 1 large organic egg

Filling

  • 10-20 apricots or figs depending on size
  • 25g (1oz) butter
  • 3-4 tablespoons castor sugar
  • Apricot Glaze (see recipe)
  • softly whipped cream, to serve

Make the pastry in the usual way.

Sift the flour onto a work surface and rub in the butter. Add the icing sugar. Make a well in the centre and break in the egg, adding a little water if necessary. Use your fingertips to rub in, pulling in more flour mixture from the outside as you work. Knead with the heel of your hand, making three turns. You should end up with a silky smooth ball of dough. Cover and leave in the fridge for at last 1 hour before using. It will keep for a week in the fridge and also freezes well.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Roll out the pastry, line the tart tin or tins, fill with baking parchment and dried beans and bake blind for 20-25 minutes. Remove the beans and paper.

Cut the apricots in half (figs in quarters if using), discard the stones and arrange cut-side up on the tart, packing them in quite tightly at an angle because they will shrink in cooking. Sprinkle with castor sugar and dot with butter. Cook for 30-45 minutes until the fruit is really soft and slightly scorched. Serve the tart warm just as it is with some softly whipped cream or paint with apricot glaze thinned out with some of the juices.

Apricot Glaze

  • 350g (12oz) apricot jam
  • Juice of 1/4 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons water

Makes 300ml (10fl oz) approx.

In a small stainless steel saucepan, melt the apricot jam with 1 - 2 tablespoons of juice or water. 

Push the hot jam through a nylon sieve and store in a sterilized airtight jar.

Melt and stir the glaze before use of necessary.



Rustic Peach Galette with Summer Berries

Irish blueberries are just beginning to ripen – contact Nuala O’Donoghue at Derryvilla Blueberry Farm (087 2466643) for delicious blueberries from the Bog of Allen.

Serves 6-8

Pastry

  • 225g (8oz) plain white flour
  • 1 tablespoon castor sugar
  • 110g (4oz) butter, cut into 1/2 inch (1cm) dice
  • cold water or cream to mix

Filling

  • 50-75g (2-3oz) sugar
  • 1 tablespoon corn flour
  • 4 ripe peaches, peeled and sliced 1cm (1/2 inch) thick
  • 110g (4oz) blueberries
  • 110g (4oz) raspberries

Demerara sugar for sprinkling, about 1 tablespoon

1 x 23cm (9 inch) pie plate or tart tin.

First make the pastry, put the flour and sugar into a bowl, rub in the cold butter. When the mixture looks like breadcrumbs, add just enough water or cream to bind. Knead lightly to get the mixture to come together. Cover with wax or silicone paper and rest in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.

Roll the pastry on a lightly floured surface into a 35cm (14 inch) round approximately. Transfer to a 23cm (9 inch) greased plate or baking sheet.

Just before filling the tart.

Mix the sugar with the corn flour. Toss in the sliced peaches and blueberries. Stir gently. Add the raspberries, but don’t stir. Pour the fruit and the juices into the chilled tart shell and distribute evenly. Fold the overhanging edge to cover the outer portion of the filling, leaving a 12.5cm (5 inch) opening of exposed fruit in the centre of the tart. Brush the pastry with cream, sprinkle with a little sugar. Alternatively, sprinkle with castor sugar when cooked.

Bake the tart in a preheated oven 220°C/427°F/Gas Mark 7 for 8-10 minutes, lower the temperature to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 and bake for 30 to35 minutes longer. Serve warm or at room temperature with softly whipped cream.

Cherry, Pistachio and Coconut Cake

This was the first cake I made for the restaurant. We wanted something that would sit on the bar counter and just make people stare. It has been with us from the first day and I have a feeling it will stay there until the end. We do vary the fruit on top, so we use red plums or yellow plums or raspberries, but really the cherries are the best version. The contact between the cherries and the green pistachios, and the addition of mahleb to the cake batter, together create something electric. It is such an easy recipe to follow, I am sure it will become a huge favourite in any household.

Makes a 22cm (9 inch) diameter round cake

  • 100g (3 1/2oz) sugar plus 20g (3/4oz) for the topping
  • 90g (3 1/4oz) light brown sugar
  • 180g (6 1/4oz) ground almonds
  • 30g (1 1/4oz) ground pistachio
  • 45g (1 3/4oz) desiccated coconut
  • 50g (2oz) self-raising flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground mahleb
  • 150g (5oz) butter – melted
  • 3 eggs
  • 300g (12oz) cherries
  • 50g (2oz) rough chopped pistachios for the topping

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Line the cake tin with parchment paper.

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Pour over the melted butter and mix in the eggs, spoon the batter into the pre-greased tin and smooth down.

Remove the stones from the cherries - you can do this with a cherry stoner or by just pulling them apart and popping the stones out with your fingers. I like to do this over the cake tin, so that any juice drips onto the cake and adds colour. Drop the pitted cherries onto the batter and sprinkle the top of the cake with the remaining 20g (3/4oz) of sugar and the roughly chopped pistachios. Bake in the centre of the oven for 45-50 minutes, then turn the cake around and bake for a further 5 minutes until the cake between the cherries goes all golden.

Allow the cake to cool in the tin, as it needs time to settle, then gently remove by running a knife around the edges. Covered well, it will keep in the fridge for up to a week (not much chance of that happening), but for the best flavour, allow it to return to room temperature before eating.


Redcurrant or Whitecurrant Jelly

Redcurrant jelly is a very delicious and versatile product to have in your larder. It has a myriad of uses. It can be used like a jam on bread or scones, or served as an accompaniment to roast lamb, bacon or ham. It is also good with some rough pâtés and game, and is invaluable as a glaze for red fruit tarts. Whitecurrants are rarer and more difficult to source, they too make delicious jelly that we use in a similar way.

This recipe is a particular favourite of mine, not only because it's fast to make and results in delicious intensely flavoured jelly, but because one can use the left over pulp to make a fruit tart, so one gets double value from the redcurrants. Unlike most other fruit jelly, no water is needed in this recipe.

We’ve used frozen fruits for this recipe also, stir over the heat until the sugar dissolves, proceeds as below. You can use whitecurrants – which will be difficult to find unless you have your own bush. The whitecurrant version is wonderful with cream cheese as a dessert or makes a perfect accompaniment to lamb or pork.

Makes 3 x 450g (1lb) jars

  • 900g (2lb) redcurrants or whitecurrants
  • 790g (1lb 12oz) granulated sugar

Remove the strings from the redcurrants either by hand or with a fork. Put the redcurrants and sugar into a wide stainless steel saucepan and stir continuously until they come to the boil. Boil for exactly 8 minutes, stirring only if they appear to be sticking to the bottom. Skim carefully.

Turn into a nylon sieve and allow to drip through, do not push the pulp through or the jelly will be cloudy. You can stir in gently once or twice just to free the bottom of the sieve of pulp.

Pour the jelly into sterilised pots immediately. Redcurrants are very high in pectin so the jelly will begin to set just as soon as it begins to cool.

Wild and Free

Feverfew - Tanacetum parthenium, is a familiar perennial herbaceous plant with daisy like flowers (Asteraceae). It is a traditional medicinal herb used commonly to prevent migraine headaches, arthritis and digestive problems. It’s also brilliant for flower arranging. Pour boiling water over the flowers and leaves to make an infusion. Pretty disgusting but depends how sever your headache is.

Hot Tips

1. Organic Gardening for Beginners, Ballymaloe Cookery School, Tuesday, 14th July 2020 with Tom Petherick, consultant head gardener at Ballymaloe Cookery School Organic Farm and Gardens.

Covid-19 has sparked a frenzy of interest in cooking and growing some of your own food. We've designed a series of gardening courses on a variety of topics - also for kids who are intrigued by the magic of growing - http://www.cookingisfun.ie/cookery-courses/course-list

Tom goes back to basics and will teach the fundamentals of how to get started with organics, the importance of healthy soil for healthy plants, composting, crop rotation and plant care the organic way.

The gardens at Ballymaloe Cookery School are certified with the Irish Organic Trust.

Booking Essential – 021 4646785

2. Have you discovered Achill Island sea salt, crunchy and delicious crystals hand harvested from the wild Atlantic Waters that surround Achill Island off the west coast of Ireland. There are now a variety of flavours including smoked and wakame seaweed. www.achillislandseasalt.ie

3. At last restaurants and hotels have opened for business, Margaret Jeffares, Founder of Good Food Ireland has made a plea to all of us to support regional food producers and local tourism communities.

Restrictions on international travel provides opportunities to rediscover Irish tourism businesses and support local producers, encouraging Irish people to visit the countryside and express solidarity with local producers and communities promoting food-tourism and cultural heritage.

We can all do our bit to reboot the economy depending on how we choose to spend our precious euros.

Ballymaloe House is open for lunch/dinner Thursday – Sunday (booking essential 021 4652531).

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