Thursday, 31 July 2008

Pershore plum festival

The Worcestershire town of Pershore champions its plums throughout August with a month-long festival, concluding with a plum fayre on August Bank Holiday.

The festival starts today with a market and the crowning of a plum princess. There’s also a touring heritage exhibition tracing the history of plums in the area and a plenty of plum varieties to savour, including Pershore Purples, Yellow Eggs and Emblems, as well as trees to grow your own.
Pershore began its association with plums in 1833 when a pub landlord found wild plums growing in a nearby wood. The Pershore Egg variety was developed and, because of its high pectin content, soon became the basis of much commercially sold jam in the UK.

Homegrown seasonal plums are a prize worth relishing fresh from the tree but local butchers also use their famous fruit to make the Pershore “plum” sausage using pork, spring onion, ginger and plum puree.

The town’s Abbey Tea Rooms has a range of plum-themed dishes on the menu such as homemade plum charlotte and a savoury roasted plum tart made with courgettes, peppers and topped with stilton all available with a plum flavoured black loose leaf tea.

Finally, eyes peeled for Churchfield Farmhouse plum ice cream at the farmers’ market on the August bank holiday. It’s a regional rival to the country’s only asparagus ice cream made by Spot Loggins on a nearby Evesham dairy farm.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008


In these climate-changing times, the home-grown English fruit bowl gets more exotic each year. Apricots join grapes, walnuts and blueberries as the latest hot-weather crop cultivated on these shores.

The majority of apricots are still imported to the UK from the US and Europe, but there are a number of small producers in Southern England.

A member of the peach family, the apricot is a small golden-orange fruit with velvety skin and juicy flesh. They are at their peak in July so catch them why you can – although you’ll be hard pushed to find English ’cots, the lack of steady sunshine and February frosts when the plants flower have all but zapped this year’s yield.

The longer the fruit is allowed to ripen on the tree the more sweet its flavour. Note, contrary to the supermarket trend of selling “ripen-at-home” punnets of bullet-hard fruit, apricots don’t mature once picked. But you can always halve and poach under-ripe fruits in a little dessert wine and vanilla or bake with a splash of orange juice, zest and a drizzle of honey.

Apricots are delicious hot and gooey in pastries and custard tarts, and are a good match with chocolate and almonds or served alongside roast pork with the ripe fruit and spicy notes of a 2006 Heartland Viognier Pinot Gris from Oz available in Selfridges (£20.50; 0207 318 2375;

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Cherry aid for Britain

Saturday (July 19) is the first British Cherry Day, a rallying cry to get the cherry out of a jam and back on top. In the past 50 years England has lost 90 per cent of its cherry orchards and now imports about 95 per cent of its cherries.

Organised cherry orchards were a Tudor invention, but the Romans brought the first cherry trees to Britain from Persia. It is said that you can trace old Roman roads by the wild cherry trees that grew up from the stones spat out by legions as the marched across the country.

Backed by chefs such as Raymond Blanc and Mark Hix, Cherry Aid - the campaign not the medicinal coloured pop – aims to get everyone to bite into at least one home-grown cherry this year and help save traditional orchards.

Cherries are delicious eaten fresh or dipped in melted chocolate. Kent’s Simply Ice Cream makes an ice cream from local cherries (01233 720922) and Mrs Huddleston sells a luxury black cherry and cranberry preserve with kirsch (01296 712005). Carr Taylor’s rose-red cherry wine (£4.95; mixes well with brandy or vodka and can be added to desserts or gravy when serving duck.

At Borough Market in London, try specially-made Cherry Down Cheese from the Kent Cheese Co and Sillfield Farm’s wild boar and cherry pie.
The Ludlow Food Centre in Shropshire will be selling traditional variety cherries and cherry ice cream.
Several cherry orchards are open this weekend in Kent, including the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale which will be hosting cookery demonstrations, tastings and walks. For information on cherry-themed events around the country and a guide to where to pick and buy fresh cherries visit

Fennel for beginners

People are puzzled by fennel. It’s the mystery guest of organic boxes and the vegetable about which we most commonly cry: “How on earth do I use this?”.

Bulbous Florence fennel has a distinctive aniseed flavour and can be eaten cooked (trimmed, cut into quarters and braised or roasted) or raw when its flavour is more pronounced.

Shave it thinly into salads or as a contrasting crunch added to fish in ceviche. Soak strips in lemon juice and olive oil and serve with roasted fish or simply tossed with orange segments.

The folk at Riverford organic vegetable boxes ( suggest tips on how to use fennel for its consumers. Recipes from its new book and website include aniseedy cabbage soup, fennel baked with Parmesan and pork with braised fennel.

Fennel’s fresh bite teams up well with dry Italian wines such as a Lugana Soraighe 2005 (£9.35;, made from Trebbiano grapes in the area between Lombardy and Veneto. It’s a delicate white with fresh but not overpowering acidity, great with fish.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Chinese food, British ingredients

Chinese food gets a bit of a boost this month as an appetiser for the Beijing Olympics with two new TV series and books.

Ching-He Huang, a delicate new face among the grizzled mugs of celebrity chefs, has recast Chinese food as an msg-free blend of the traditional and modern. She uses seasonal pak choi grown in the Fenlands, fresh chillies from Chorley and even soy sauce brewed in Wales.

Gold-medal TV dinners she recommends for the Games (for viewers not athletes) include steamed sea bass in hot beer and ginger lime, refreshingly chilled drunken chicken soaked in Mijiu rice wine or gin or vodka, and the gloriously named and alcohol-free Empress Dowager Cixi’s longevity peach pudding. Chinese Food Made Easy is on Mondays on BBC2; watch exclusive videos at

Later in the month Gary Rhodes packs his wok for China where he guzzles snake bladders as he masters regional dishes, including pockmarked grandmother’s bean curd, to cook for a banquet back home (UKTV Food 28 July).

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Petal power blooms in kitchens

Petal power is blooming in British restaurant kitchens. For a splash of vivid colour, silky texture and exotic aroma, flowers are hard to beat. And they’re seasonal and often local to boot.

At a recent Slow Food workshop, held at Petersham Nurseries in Richmond, Surrey, head chef Skye Gyngell arranged a three-course floral menu featuring figs with goats’ cheese, ricotta, Parma ham and rose syrup; grilled quail with sour cherries, toasted walnuts and ras el-hanout (a, North African blend of crushed dried Damask rose petals and spices), and violet meringues with English strawberries and cream.

At this week’s Hampton Court Palace Flower Show (, the Growing Tastes kitchen garden, designed by Michael Balston, features three types of edible flowers: Asian hemerocallis, or day lilies, which add a sweet crunch to stir fries or can be steamed like French beans; British nasturtiums which, like marigolds and violets, can be scattered in salads or used to garnish dishes and, from the Mediterranean, the intense blue flower of borage, which is popular in Pimm’s and cocktails. Look out for more floral cuisine in the Growing Tastes cookery theatre.

As a general rule the flowers of vegetables and herbs are safe to eat but some flowers are toxic. In Britain, nasturtiums, marigolds and violets are scattered in salads or used to garnish dishes. Avoid petals that have been sprayed with chemical pesticides and discard the petal’s white base which has a bitter taste.

Dried rose petals mixed with cumin seeds and nutmeg can be rubbed into game or lamb and added to couscous for a fragrant flavour.

Spoon sweet violet confit or rose petal jam into Greek yoghurt or rice pudding and drizzle rose syrup over cakes and pastries.

Petals can also be added to blended teas. Try delicate white tea with rose as a palate cleanser, or black Ceylon tea with violets.

If the back garden fails you, Secretts Farm in Surrey has a range of edible flowers (01483 520500;
While most regions pick a weekend to celebrate their local food, Hampshire settles on a whole month. Highlights for this weekend include Lavender Lust, a chance to see this pale violet plant more commonly associated with the bathroom distilled at Hartley Park and indulge in the farm’s lavender biscuits and cup cakes decorated with lavender water ice.
At home try apricot and lavender compote with crème brulee or Greek yoghurt. The lavender adds a perfumed twist to the sharp sweetness of apricots.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

How to eat an artichoke

The globe artichoke appears exotic but is actually harvested in England from late June.

The fist-sized thistle-like heads of the vegetable are best prepared raw and then cooked, but speedy supper this isn’t.

The freshest artichokes, like flowers, are the more tightly closed, bud-shaped ones that are heavy for their size.

The leaves have a subtle flavour and the heart is a just reward for all the patient preparation - trimming spiky leaves, removing the fibrous choke at its core and boiling until tender (20 to 45 minutes).

Once done, pull off the leaves while still warm and dip in hollandaise, lemon butter, mayonnaise, or vinaigrette.

Jamie Oliver makes a vibrant artichoke, pink grapefruit, frisee and pecorino salad; the River Café, in west London, may well have spaghetti with artichoke pesto on the menu at this time of year, and the Roux brothers go to town and serve upside crowns with chopped smoked salmon, crème fraiche and caviar in the hollow.

Can’t be bothered? Carluccio’s ( sells jars of chargrilled artichokes in olive oil which add instant class to an antipasto of deli meats, pasta or salad.

It’s been said that artichokes have a way of making wines taste sweeter. So choose very dry wines with high acidity. Go British with Ridgeview Bloomsbury Merret 2004, from West Sussex (£19.99, Waitrose). It’s a pared down, dry fizz with lively citrus fruit and a toasty note.

Castroville, in California, is the self-proclaimed world, hmm, heart of artichokes. The small town hosts an annual artichoke festival and has a restaurant, the Giant Artichoke, shaped like an oversized artichoke that serves the local speciality steamed, sautéed, french-fried, pickled, poached, and so on.

Just one elderflower cornetto

The current chilly spell will suit the first tasting of a ‘canal flavoured’ ice cream tomorrow made with foraged ingredients in honour of London’s first gelato vendor, Carlo Gatti.

Gatti is credited with being Britain’s first ice cream man, cutting ice from the Regent’s Canal to make the Italian dessert available to all classes of Londoners in his café, which he opened in Holborn in 1849.

As part of the London Festival of Architecture, British Waterways has teamed up with award-winning eco-restaurant The Waterhouse, run by green chef Arthur Potts Dawson, to serve an elderflower ice from within a 19th-century ice well, a series of which were built along the canal to store ice transported from Norway, keeping it in its frozen form before the invention of the freezer.

Potts Dawson says: “It’s a great chance to celebrate the history of a British culinary phenomenon that has its roots on the canal. Foraging for a local ingredient to base an ice cream flavour on was an enjoyable challenge for us."

The elderflower flavour ice has been added to the menu at the Waterhouse and will also be available to taste on the canal as part of a series of events inviting visitors to gain a fresh outlook on the canal’s environment, and discover new aspects of the 200 year-old transport network.

On Sunday 6 July, an actor impersonating Carlo Gatti will be walking the towpath telling visitors all about his business ventures, which included bringing 400 tons of Norwegian ice by canal to New Wharf Road. The London Canal Museum, that is open for free on the day, will have talks on the ice trade and ice wells.

For more information about the event, including timings, ticket details and prices, visit or

For further information on the London Festival of Architecture visit