Saturday, 12 September 2009

Apples: core strengths

Apples are, arguably, the most English of seasonal fruits. They have been ripening on trees for weeks now but September signals the true start of the apple season.

More than 2,000 varieties have been grown here over the years, many with names that pinpoint their origin such as Keswick Codlin, Kentish Fillbasket and Beauty of Bath. Others bear hints for the palate in their names such as the Pitmaster’s Pineapple, D’Arcy Spice and Blenheim Orange.

Sadly there has been a drastic decline in both the diversity of varieties grown and the number of orchards in the country in recent years. Kent, for instance, has lost 85 per cent of its orchards in the past 50 years.

Farm shops and farmers’ markets offer an excellent choice of locally-grown apples and eyes peeled for English apples in British supermarkets. If you have space in your garden, the Apple Source Book (Hodder & Stoughton, 2007) tells you everything you need to know to plant an apple tree.

A rosehip operation

The bright red seeded berries of the wild rose are known as “hips”. They are found all over the UK, particularly in hedgerows skirting woodland and along footpaths.

Only the thin fleshy covering of rosehips is edible and they are used, most commonly, to make a subtly flavoured syrup that is delicious with ice cream, pannacotta, rice pudding and pancakes. Do not eat rosehips whole, the “itching powder” seeds inside are an irritant.

To make 2 litres of rosehip syrup, you’ll need a jelly bag (available from good cook shops). Boil 1kg of crushed freshly picked rosehips in 1.75 litres of boiling water and allow to stand for 15 minutes.

Pour the rosehip mixture through a jelly bag then repeat the process from the start using the pulp and 900ml boiling water. In a clean pan, reduce the juice, lower heat and stir in 450g caster sugar, boil for 5 minutes then pour into sterilised jars.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Tomato catch up

Homegrown tomatoes are coming into their own now and should have an aroma, taste and even (mis)shape that are more enticing than the uniform packaged varieties available in supermarkets.

Heritage or heirloom tomatoes are making a comeback among allotmenteers and chefs. These are basically old non-hybrid varieties with different flavours, rainbow colours and strange names such as Hillbilly Potato and Green Sausage tomatoes. Search farmers’ markets for the best crops.

In the kitchen, the tomato is such a versatile ingredient. Pizza and pasta aside, big beefy toms can be hollowed out and stuffed with cooked quinoa, feta cubes, toasted pine nuts and parsley then oven roasted; cherry tomatoes make a sweet partner to fish when roasted with a few capers, grated lemon zest and olive oil, and chopped vine tomatoes need no more than finely diced red onions, sea salt, vinegar and oil for a delicious side salad.

To maximise flavour, eat tomatoes at room temperature or even warm but never chilled from the fridge.