Cherry ripe

 

Actually, they weren’t until spread out in the sun for a day.  These aren’t any old cherries but the sour Morello variety from the historic Porter’s Lodge garden www.portersgarden.org  in Portsmouth Naval Base.

My great friend, Joan, is a volunteer gardener in this special garden where much of the planting is authentic to its origins in 1754.  None of those modern upstart hybrids permitted.  Each year the volunteers pick these wonderful cherries and I’m often lucky enough to be spared some for jam.  This year I’m trying different ways of preserving them: bottled; dried in the dehydrator for use in cakes and homemade granola.  If I get more, perhaps homemade glace cherries might be possible

I have a very nifty German-made cherry stoner: the fruit gently rolls from the hopper on to a small piece of rubber.  Pushing down the plunger presses out the stone, through the hole in the rubber and into the collecting box.  Meanwhile, the rubber has sprung back and ejected the cherry – very simple and effective if you have a large amount of fruit to handle.  But still worth checking for any missed stones – no-one wants to lose a tooth.

Once stoned, the cherries are washed in very hot/boiling water and then packed in Kilner-style jars (with a rubber seal and metal clip).  I add a dash of kirsch to each jar and then top up with a sugar syrup.  I made the syrup by adding enough water to the juice I’d saved to make 360g and then added 120g of white sugar.  The syrup is heated in a pan until the sugar dissolves and poured into the jars to cover the fruit.  With the seals in place (best done before filling the jars) and lids securely clipped closed, the jars are placed in pans and covered with hot water.  Once the water is boiling in the pans, reduce to a gentle simmer for about 30 minutes.  Air trapped in the bottles will expand and be forced out past the rubber seals.  Allow the jars to cool and then test for a safe seal: undo the clip and try to lift off thelid. If it stays put, they are safe to store – if not, eat them soon.

The Porter’s Garden in the Naval Base is a special location for me: I walked past it every day when I was working in the Old Naval Academy and had to travel by train as  my sight had got too poor for driving.  Little did I know that, over 20 years later, I’d be cooking the produce from that garden.  I have many happy memories of that Naval Base – visitors see it as a historic site; for me, it was my familiar workplace that felt like home.

 

 

 

Omissions and improvisations

 

Clearing out the freezer and store cupboards brings surprises and challenges.  This week, a pack of Spanish dried ham emerged blinking into the daylight from a Christmas past.

I confess to using de-frosted bought shortcrust pastry to make the tart.  Don’t bother with the palaver of baking paper and beans when baking blind.  Simply fit the pastry to the tin, prick the bottom with a fork and cover all the pastry (edges included) with a sheet of cooking foil.  Press down firmly to both shape the pastry to the tin and provide masking from the heat.  Cook for 10-12 minutes at Gas 6/200C before removing the foil.  My tip for avoiding a soggy bottom is to paint the inside of the tart pastry with beaten egg and then return to the oven for about three minutes.  Then leave the pastry case to rest for an hour or so.  The residue of the original egg plus three others were beaten with cream to add to the tart.

That ancient ham was finely shredded to cover the pastry.  Meanwhile, six younger leeks were very finely sliced and separated into individual rings before being sweated in a little water in the microwave.  Par cooked and cooled, they topped the ham and the tart went in to the oven for half an hour, minus the eggs and cream which this over-enthusiastic blind cook had completely forgotten.  But the end product was still delicious and so much better for one’s waistline.  The languishing egg and cream mix is in the freezer in the hope it will survive for another day – no net gain on freezer space,

Peppers were charred over the gas before cooling in a plastic bag to make removing their blistered skin easier.    De-seeded and very finely sliced, the peppers were doused with vinaigrette ready to serve with the tart.  I wanted to pep up the flavour and searched for mustard seeds amongst the Indian spices.  Even though I tasted the different little round seeds, I managed to use whole coriander by mistake – and the result was even better.

The left-over peppers went into small jars, clamped with rubber seals: covered with water in a pan and gently simmered for 30 minutes.  I’m attempting bottling them for freezer-free storage in case the power goes off!  They will either be a taste of summer or pent-up botulism!  Wish me luck!