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fruits

Grape

Grape

Muscat and Uva Fragola Grapes    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Muscat and Uva Fragola Grapes

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Grapes

 

Being able to buy Grapes all year round can make us take for granted this important food, which is one of our earliest cultivated plants.  But the European season is in full swing so there’s no better time to buy them.  We can eat the fresh fruits off the vine, make them into wine, dry them to make raisins and currants for storing, and press unripe fruits to make verjus to use instead of vinegar.  The grape’s seeds can also be pressed to produce a cooking oil.  Their tender young leaves can be used as edible wrappings – think of dishes like dolmades in Greece;  warak enab in Lebanon; and yaprak sarma in Turkey.  Vine prunings can be tossed onto hot coals to add flavour to grilled food and even the old wood cut-backs make good firewood.  No wonder we were quick to recognise the value of the grapevine.

Muscat grape     Photo © Puntarelle&Co

Muscat grape

Photo © Puntarelle&Co

 

There are thousands of grape varieties, most of the word’s crop - around 2/3 - goes to make wine, the other third being eaten either fresh or dried to make raisins.  Most wine grape varieties are acidic, which helps to control the yeast fermentation, while table grapes come in large clusters and are generally sweeter.  Most commercial eating varieties today have been bred to be seedless and to have a long storage life, the commonest being the ubiquitous ‘Thompson Seedless’.  Grapes suitable for eating fresh are quite diverse and worth seeking out.  Ranging from pale yellow to deep purple, seedy to seedless, their sugar content can range from 14%-25% and their acidity 0.4%-1.2%.  And it’s worth remembering that seedy varieties often have the best flavour.

 

If you want to cook with grapes, here are a few ideas.  In wine-growing regions of Italy they make Schiacciata – a focaccia-like bread – where grapes, and sometimes sprigs of rosemary, are spread over the surface before being drizzled with honey or scattered with sugar then baked; you can roast grapes in olive oil in a hot oven for 10 minutes until just bursting and serve with roast meat – particularly good with pork and game; add some to a pan of fried sausages and onions towards the end of cooking; make a Grape sorbet with deep purple Italian Uva Fragola, or Concord, grapes.  

Chasselas grape     Photo © Puntarelle&Co

Chasselas grape

Photo © Puntarelle&Co

 

The Spanish make Ajo blanco, or white Gazpacho, a chilled soup which originated in Malaga: well ground almonds are mixed to a soft paste with a little water, briefly soaked white bread and garlic is added before whizzing all together in a food processor.  Iced water, or milk, goes in until the consistency is that of single cream.  A little salt, pepper and sherry vinegar is added to taste then the soup is chilled for at least and hour.  White grapes, preferably spicy Muscat, are added just before serving. 

 

Here at Puntarelle & Co, it’s time to celebrate the European season for grapes.  The Italian deep-purple Uva Fragola have arrived.  Seedy, with a firm skin, they have a distinct strawberry and exotic fruits flavour, makes perfect Water Kefir by London Fermentary.  The thinner-skinned, perfumed Muscat grape is also here.  Its gold/green to shell-pink translucent orbs hold spicy, musky flavours.  These two are hard to beat but we’ll have other varieties to add to the mix this autumn.

 

Super Nova pink grape     Photo © Puntarelle&Co

Super Nova pink grape

Photo © Puntarelle&Co

Gooseberries

Gooseberries

Gooseberries    Photo © Evie Saffron Strands

Gooseberries

Photo © Evie Saffron Strands

Gooseberries

Currants and Gooseberries are all species of the genus Ribes and are cold climate fruits, growing most happily in Northern Europe and North America.  Gooseberries grow best in cool, damp conditions so the UK is excellent for them.  They are normally the first fruits of Spring and the bushes can remain productive into August.  The first fruits are sharp, hard and green and need plenty of sugar, but it’s then that their unique flavour is most pronounced.  If you want a sweeter gooseberry, wait a few weeks for the green globes to mellow to a pale green/gold or go for a red variety like Pax.  Given a bit of heat and sun, later in the season you can reduce the amount of sugar you need to add to them.  

 

This week we have our first gooseberry harvest from our preferred farm in Kent so you can see for yourself how they develop as the season progresses.

 

Gooseberries pair wonderfully with elderflowers, imparting a muscat flavour, and the Elder usually produces its flowers at just the right time for the first gooseberry harvests.  Just add a flower head to the poaching pan.  The fruits are packed with vitamin C, and are rich in pectin, so they are excellent for jam-making.  Made into a sharp compote or chutney they are excellent for cutting oily fish such as mackerel, or fatty meats like pork or goose.  The possibilities for puddings are many, from crumbles, tarts, jams, jellies, syllabubs and fools to sorbets, parfaits and ice creams.  They make a fine Eton Mess-like pudding and are gorgeous baked into a buttery-pastry pie.  Keep in mind that Gooseberries love cream.

Gooseberries and Elderflowers    Photo © Evie Saffron Strands

Gooseberries and Elderflowers

Photo © Evie Saffron Strands

Apricots

Apricots

Ruby Apricots    Photo © Puntarelle&Co Ltd        Apricots      The Apricot tree blossoms early, soon after the almond, which means that the flowers are very often caught by frost.  The Apricot is a difficult fruit to grow in the UK as the fruits also need to ripen on the tree.  Not that some fruit farmers in southern England don’t try – apricot trees have been cultivated here since the mid-16th century - but success remains a hit and miss affair, subject to the vagaries of our weather.  This is a shame because two of the best varieties of Apricot – Blenheim and Moorpark – were originally bred in England.  In favourable years, the English-grown crops can be good but most often we have to treat them as cookers.       For Apricots that need very little embellishment, we turn to the warmth of Italy and France, though varieties are limited.  It’s possible to bring out the floral, tropical flavours even in early fruits if you treat them right.  Early crops are best turned into jam, compote, sorbet or pureed for ice cream.  They can also add a lovely sweet-sharpness to savoury stews.  By the end of June Apricots from southern Europe can usually be eaten just as they come.  Generally, the stronger the colour, the sweeter the fruit, and the simpler their treatment should be.     Apricots have an affinity with almonds.  If you crack open an apricot stone you’ll find within a small almond-like kernel, or noyaux, which you can add to your recipe for a touch of bitter almond flavour.  Don’t overdo it, though, as the noyaux contains amygdalin, a compound which converts to cyanide in the body.  Roasting the kernel first extracts this compound.  Green Almonds are around at the same time as Apricots so try poaching apricots with a little sugar and a vanilla pod until soft but not collapsed and serve scattered with slivers of green almonds; make an Apricot Tart or Galette; with early fruits, make Apricot Jam, for sure; stuff them by halving and pitting the fruit, place cut-side-up in a dish and scatter an almond crumble topping over them before roasting on a medium heat; or make the delicious recipe for  Baked Apricots with marzipan filling and almond crumble  from  Honey&Co: The Baking Book  – partially halve and pit the fruits, stuff with a slice of marzipan, brush them with soft butter and roll in demerara sugar before roasting until soft.  Honey&Co make an almond crumble topping flavoured with mahleb (a spice made from cherry kernels), spread it thinly on a baking tray and roast until crisp.  Put the two elements together and serve with cream (their suggestion is for brandy cream).   

Ruby Apricots

Photo © Puntarelle&Co Ltd

 

Apricots

 

The Apricot tree blossoms early, soon after the almond, which means that the flowers are very often caught by frost.  The Apricot is a difficult fruit to grow in the UK as the fruits also need to ripen on the tree.  Not that some fruit farmers in southern England don’t try – apricot trees have been cultivated here since the mid-16th century - but success remains a hit and miss affair, subject to the vagaries of our weather.  This is a shame because two of the best varieties of Apricot – Blenheim and Moorpark – were originally bred in England.  In favourable years, the English-grown crops can be good but most often we have to treat them as cookers.  

 

For Apricots that need very little embellishment, we turn to the warmth of Italy and France, though varieties are limited.  It’s possible to bring out the floral, tropical flavours even in early fruits if you treat them right.  Early crops are best turned into jam, compote, sorbet or pureed for ice cream.  They can also add a lovely sweet-sharpness to savoury stews.  By the end of June Apricots from southern Europe can usually be eaten just as they come.  Generally, the stronger the colour, the sweeter the fruit, and the simpler their treatment should be.

 

Apricots have an affinity with almonds.  If you crack open an apricot stone you’ll find within a small almond-like kernel, or noyaux, which you can add to your recipe for a touch of bitter almond flavour.  Don’t overdo it, though, as the noyaux contains amygdalin, a compound which converts to cyanide in the body.  Roasting the kernel first extracts this compound.  Green Almonds are around at the same time as Apricots so try poaching apricots with a little sugar and a vanilla pod until soft but not collapsed and serve scattered with slivers of green almonds; make an Apricot Tart or Galette; with early fruits, make Apricot Jam, for sure; stuff them by halving and pitting the fruit, place cut-side-up in a dish and scatter an almond crumble topping over them before roasting on a medium heat; or make the delicious recipe for Baked Apricots with marzipan filling and almond crumble from Honey&Co: The Baking Book – partially halve and pit the fruits, stuff with a slice of marzipan, brush them with soft butter and roll in demerara sugar before roasting until soft.  Honey&Co make an almond crumble topping flavoured with mahleb (a spice made from cherry kernels), spread it thinly on a baking tray and roast until crisp.  Put the two elements together and serve with cream (their suggestion is for brandy cream).

 

Baked Apricots with marzipan filling & almond crumble    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands    

Baked Apricots with marzipan filling & almond crumble

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands