Sunday, 10 July 2011

Life is a bowl of cherries...

Well, this afternoon was, anyway. We went to the Cherry Festival at Brogdale Farm in Kent. Although it has been raining a lot on and off recently, this afternoon while we were having our tour of the fruit orchards it was warm and sunny, so we couldn't have asked for better weather. We got to see and sample lots of different types of cherries (they have nearly 300 different varieties), all of them lovely and ripe and juicy and just picked from the tree, so that even the commercial varieties we tasted were wonderful and sweet. There were small cherries and large cherries, dark ones that were very nearly black, pale red ones and white cherries (the ones with yellow flesh and yellow and red skins, and even one variety that had a purely yellow skin, something that I had never seen before), sour cherries and not so sour (Dukes) which are good for cooking. I had read about Dukes, Montmorency and Bigarreau cherries in cookery books (Jane Grigson's Fruit book one of the main ones), but never actually seen or tasted any apart from the Morello cherries we have grown ourselves recently. Some of my favourites were Turkish Black, a small black variety (this particular one tasted better than some of the other small black varieties I tasted, I'm not sure if it's because some of the others were perhaps a bit overripe and not so sweet because of it), Napoleons (a sweet 'white' cherry), Donnisen's Gelbe, a variety with pure yellow skin, and I loved all of the three commercial varieties that I tasted - Stella, Lapins and Hertford. I think I had a slight preference for the Stella over the Lapins. We bought a punnet of Hertfords to take home. They had several varieties of cherries for sale, but the Hertfords were the only ones of those available that I had tasted on our orchard tour.

Varieties seen and/or tasted:

1. Durona di Vignola - dark red, didn't like this so much
2. di Pistoia - dark red, medium size, tough skin, didn't like this so much
3. Florence - light red with just a bit of yellow, hard skin, not really sweet or sour
4. Techlovicka - small, black, very soft and juicy
5. Donnisens Gelbe KnorpelKirsche - yellow skin, very nice, a favourite X
6. Strawberry Heart - small, light red, pointy end, very nice
7. Badacsonyi Orias - large, hard skin, but juicy and sweet
8. Wellingtons - medium size, dark red, very juicy
9. Magyar Pork - large, medium red color, quite nice
10. Vosenka - small, black, very soft and juicy
11. Alma - small, black, tough skin, I didn't like these
12. Early Buckenhays - very small, very shiny black, looks like a berry, very nice X
13. Pivka - old Czech variety, tasted possibly over-ripe
14. Mai Bigarreau - pale red or red/yellow skin, pale yellow flesh, juicy, not at all sour, one of my favourites, and D's also X
15. Sweetheart - red and yellow skin, small to medium size
16. Hoskin - looks like the major commercial varieities, size a bit smaller
17. Montmorency - small, light red, look like Morellos, maybe not quite as sour
18. Grosse Schwarze Knorpel - did not quite live up to its name; medium size, dark red
19. Techlovicka - medium size, nearly black
20. Centennial - small, red/yellow skin, D loved these, he thought they had loads of flavour X
21. Mramorovona - medium size, very black, possibly overripe but still sweet
22. Mary Jane - medium to large size, looks like the commercial varieties, not too sweet
23. Polstead Black - small and very dark
24. Olympus - large, medium red
25. Norwegian - small to medium size, red/yellow skin
26. Vic - looks like the main commercial varieties
27. Vega - pale red
28. Van - a main commercial variety, large, dark red
29. Amber - red/yellow skin
30. Pointed Black
31. Ironsides - from Midlands, red/yellow skin, not so sweet, but not so sour as Wesson Unknown
32. Mansfield Black - small, black, D liked these, but the one I tasted was too soft and not so tasty X
33. Inspector Lohnes - small, dark, pointy shape, nice, very soft and juicy
34. Black Glory - Kent, heart-shaped, quite dark
35. Wesson Unknown - yellow skin with some red, slightly sour
36. Hooker's Black - small, very dark red, nice flavour
37. Stella - a main commercial variety, self-fertile, large, dark red, dark flesh, juicy, one of my favourites X
38. Lapins - also a commercial variety, not quite as dark as Stella, I thought they weren't quite as sweet, and had a slight preference for Stella over Lapins; these ripened on the tree so probably taste better than ones we may have bought in the supemarkets X
39. Hertford - also a commercial variety, dark red, maybe a bit smaller than Stella and Lapins, maybe a bit darker skin, also juicy and delicious X
40. Napoleon (clone V1009) - red/yellow skin, yellow flesh, quite sweet, both D and I loved these X
41. Turkey Heart - small, black, ripe, not sweet (possibly overripe), tough skin
42. Turkish Black - very small, very black, nice, one of my favourites X
43. Kentish Morello - similar size and colour to the ones from our tree, sour
44. Kent Bigarreau - small, red/yellow skin, not so tasty
45. May Duke - not so dark red, a bit sharp
46. Schattenmorelle - small and light red, like ours were before they were fully ripe (our tree is apparently a Rhenish Schattenmorelle)
47. Morello (EMLA) - similar to the other Morellos, quite acid
48. 2002-143 - small, very black, not sweet, possibly overripe
49. Holovouska - medium size, black, tough skin
50. Werdersche Braune - black color, nice but possibly overripe

After tasting so many different varieties I think we were all cherried out, our taste buds were saturated, and it was hard to tell which variety we preferred over which other any more. We thoroughly enjoyed our day out and look forward to going back again next year. Pictures coming hopefully soon.
29/07/2011 Photos added.

Thursday, 19 May 2011


I bought a citron in Whitechapel Market yesterday. How cool is that!

Usually I look for candied citron before Christmas, to use in cookies and fruitcakes. Here in the UK I can usually only get it in the boxes of Sundora mixed peel, which have a lot of orange and lemon peel and only a smaller amount of citron peel.

I have never come across a raw citron anywhere, although I know they are grown in places like Sicily and Calabria.

I wasn't actually thinking of citron when I bought this green knobbly citrus fruit in the market yesterday. They often seem to have a variety of greenish citrus fruits in the Whitechapel Market. We had bought one, which I think was some type of sweet lemon, a few years ago, but apart from being quite expensive, I don't think it was particularly interesting.

Yesterday quite a few of the stalls had several varieties of greenish citrus fruits, in particular, some small, oval, very smooth-skinned ones, and some larger ones with knobbly skins sort of like the skins of Kaffir limes, except that the fruits were shaped more like large lemons.

I inquired from some of the stall-holders, who said that the small ones were used for juice, while the large knobbly ones had more flavour, and were for eating. So I bought one of each.

When I got them home, it was immediately obvious that the large, knobbly fruit had a very aromatic zest compared to the small smooth-skinned one. When I cut it in half, it had a very thick layer of pith, which is when I thought, 'citron'.

So I was off to the internet and Wikipedia to find out whether citrons were used in Bangladeshi cuisine. Apparently citrons are indeed grown in Bangladesh, and they are eaten raw with rice.

Pictures coming soon.

29/07/2011 Finally I got around to uploading some photos.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Memories of Canada

Unexpectedly caught an old (from 1972) Gordon Lightfoot concert on BBC4 about an hour and a half ago. I just walked into the living room as a music show that D was watching came to an end, and the Gordon Lightfoot concert came on. Wow! That took me back.

I don't consider myself a country music fan, but I've been a Gordon Lightfoot fan probably since the late sixties, and went to at least a couple of his concerts when I was a student in Canada.

Isn't it strange how words you haven't heard or thought about for years and years suddenly come out of your brain sometimes, though - like the words to most of the Gordon Lightfoot songs that I hadn't heard in ages, yet I could still remember almost perfectly. How are they all stored away?

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Forever Nigella: Chocolate Raspberry Heart

This is my first ever entry submitted to a blogging challenge, the Forever Nigella challenge started by Sarah of Maison Cupcake.

This month's theme was Seduced by Chocolate, and what could be more appropriate for the month when we celebrate Valentine's Day, than the Chocolate Raspberry Heart recipe from Nigella Lawson's Feast. The recipe can also be found in this Daily Mail Online article from 10/02/2005, called Nigella's Valentine feast, which is an extract from her book.

OK, so my main deviation from the recipe will be immediately obvious - it doesn't look like a heart. I didn't have a heart-shaped baking tin, so I had to make-do with two 9-inch round cake tins instead. Apart from that I followed the recipe faithfully.

I used Green and Black's cocoa powder for the cake, and Green and Black's 72% cooking chocolate for the ganache.

I didn't use a Kitchen Aid either, so I had a little bit of trouble folding the flour evenly into the mixture. I think I am more used to North American methods of mixing layer cake batters, and I often have problems with British instructions.

My sponges came out rather dry, but I blame that on my fan oven, which has been causing me a lot of baking problems recently.

The ganache was just right in consistency - it didn't set too quickly, before you have time to spread it on the cake, nor did it refuse to set after the cake had been iced.

The assembled cake looks very pretty, if I do say so myself, with a lovely glossy chocolate icing. Unlike Ms. Lawson, however, I don't have any young children, so I have to take full responsibility for the icing not being perfectly smooth!

See the Forever Nigella web page for all the other entries and this month's winners.

My Top 10 Rhubarb Recipes

After a very cold start to the winter, which saw everything covered in snow for the better part of December, we have been having rather warm, wet weather for most of February, and the spring plants are making up for lost time. In our front garden, the daffodils are just about ready to bloom, and in the back garden the rhubarb is growing.

Most years, although the rhubarb starts coming back up around Christmas, I figure it doesn't really get big enough to eat until around Easter. This year, Easter is late, and the rhubarb seems early - although none of the stalks that have come up are full-sized yet, if we picked the small stalks we have now it would probably be enough for a small rhubarb crumble.

The appearance of the rhubarb leads me to reflect on my favorite rhubarb recipes, so here is a list of my top 10.

1. Stewed Rhubarb and Ginger, from The English Country Cooking Diary 1988 by Maxine Clark.

2. Lamb and Rhubarb Stew, from The Legendary Cuisine of Persia by Margaret Shaida.

3. Upside-down Rhubarb and Ginger Cake - from Rachel's Favourite Food at Home by Rachel Allen. (See the recipe here on the UKTV Good Food Channel website.)

4. Rhubarb Ice Cream, from Rachel's Favourite Food for Friends by Rachel Allen.

5. Rhubarb and Strawberry Crumble, from Bake by Rachel Allen.

6. Rhubarb Sponge, from Rachel's Favourite Food for Friends by Rachel Allen.

7. Rhubarb Chutney, from The Guardian Weekend, March 2, 1996 by Rowley Leigh.

8. Rhubarb and Date Tart, from The Archers' Country Cookbook by Martha Woodford.

9. Rhubarb Crumble, from Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course.

10. Rhubarb Fool, from The Cookery of England by Elisabeth Ayrton.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

La-Lot Beef Soup

Having come across some la-lot leaves for the first time in an Oriental supermarket the other day, I got out my Oriental cookery books, and found that I only had 2 Vietnamese recipes which called for la-lot leaves after all. This seems to happen to me over and over again when I come across some new ingredient which I'm sure I've read about in some cookbook or other. When I actually buy the stuff, I can't find the recipes I was sure I had for it, lol.

I ended up using the la-lot leaves in this very tasty as well as colorful Vietnamese soup, from Simple Art of Vietnamese Cooking by Binh Duong and Marcia Kiesel, and I'm sure we'll be making it again. The la-lot leaves, piper sarmentosum, are apparently related to the vine that produces black pepper.

La-lot Beef Soup
4 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups steamed white rice, preferably long grain jasmine rice
2 whites of scallions (spring onions), thinly sliced
1/2 t ground black pepper
3 T Vietnamese fish sauce (nuoc mam)
8 ounces lean beef (top round), cut into very thin slices
3 T vegetable oil
1/2 t dried chili flakes
2 stalks lemon grass, flattened with the side of a knife, and cut into 2" lengths
2 medium tomatoes, cut into thin wedges
10 la-lot leaves, cut into wide strips

In a large bowl combine the scallions, black pepper, and 1 T. of the fish sauce.

Add the beef and toss to coat. Set aside to marinate for 10 min.

Put 1T of the oil in a small saucepan over high heat. When a chili flake sizzles, drop in the rest and remove from the heat. Set the chili oil aside.

Bring the stock and the lemon grass to the boil in a large saucepan, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 min.

Heat the remaining 2 T. oil in a wok over high heat. Whent he oil starts to smoke, add the beef and brown it on both sides, stirring once or twice. Add the tomatoes and stir fry until the beef is cooked., about 2 min. With a large spoon, add the beef and tomatoes to the soup. Bring the soup to the boil over high heat, add the remaining 2 T. of fish sauce and the reserved chili oil. Remove from the heat and stir in the la-lot leaves. To serve, spoon rice into each soup bowl and ladle the soup over it. Eat with chopsticks and soup spoons.

London on a Grand Scale

Got off the tube at Green Park this morning, a part of London I haven't seen in many years. I was immediately impressed by the tall, grand, old buildings, as I passed the Ritz Carleton Hotel, what seemed to be various other grand hotels, Patisserie Valerie, and then as I walked down St. James's past a window displaying Cuban cigars, and another window belonging to a perfumery. I was headed for King's Street, and the famous auction house Christie's. I had been told that Christie's were having an auction of impressionist paintings in the next few days, and that prior to the auction the paintings were on display and could be viewed by members of the general public, something that would never have occurred to me. I thought that with my track record as regards art galleries (I managed to live in Paris for more than a year and never set foot inside a gallery or museum, but that's another story...), I had better take the opportunity to see these works of art. The display was quite impressive, several rooms of paintings, all from private collectors, featuring painters like Picasso, Renoir, Gauguin, Pisarro, Chagall, and many others that, not being an art expert, I had never heard of before. There were also a few Rodin sculptures and a Henry Moore. My favorite painting was one of a blue vase with pink flowers on a blue background, Les Lys Magiques, by Marc Chagall. I also loved the colors of Terrasse a Vernon by Pierre Bonnard, the blues and greens, and for some reason I also decided I liked the pale mauve monochromatic Brume sur l'Oise by Gustave Loiseau.