Fresh from winning Best Organic Food Blog at the Soil Association Awards, demo kitchen regular and Market Life magazine columnist Kathy Slack returns to delight in the deluge of berries streaming into the Market
The British fruit cage in July has to be one of the most enticing and magical Edens imaginable. A treasure trove of jewels hidden beneath leaves and thick forests of tightly packed shrubs, there is something secret and unknowable about this place. You must hunt for the crop, get down on your hands and knees to search out the bounty, each berry a gem and a little moment of satisfaction. And the flavours are a revelation each year. Every variety of strawberry is unique; every crossbreed of raspberry and blackberry subtly different, some sharp, others fragrant. The summer berry harvest is rich and varied and I adore all of it.
Britain is perfect for berry growing. Strawberries love the warm summers of Kent, while blackberries, raspberries, loganberries and tayberries are most at home in Scotland (hence the name, after the Tay river in Scotland). Gooseberries are happy pretty much anywhere, though the sour, early varieties like a bright spring.
Berries are highly promiscuous and easy, relatively speaking, to cross—which is why there are so many different types. Strawberries can be wild, cultivated or white (pineberries); raspberries can be summer or autumn fruiting and might be purple, red, yellow or crossed with blackberries—which themselves are wild and sour, or cultivated and sweet—to make increasingly obscure cross-bred cousins. Gooseberries are hard, sour and green if early, but soft, sweet and sometimes pink later. Like I said, it’s a sweetshop assortment.
Soft, fragrant sweetness
The obvious use for the berry harvest is in desserts. Their yielding texture and soft, fragrant sweetness are a perfect match for sweet pastry and billowy cream. I’ll be making two sweet pastry tarts at my ‘best of the berry harvest’ cookery demo. One, with a rose and vanilla cream topping, an airy pillow for a mountain of strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, and a second with something altogether sharper: set lemon cream jewelled with red and blackcurrants. I’ll be making blueberry blondies, too, for the alliteration. The combination of berries and white chocolate is a familiar pairing, most commonly seen in the classic dessert of frozen berries with hot white chocolate sauce (a perfect quick dessert). I’ve just made that pairing a bit more portable.
The summer berry harvest has much to offer in savoury dishes, too. Sourer fruits, like early gooseberries, or those with some tannin tang, like blackberries, are especially suited since they bring a hint of sweetness but not so much as to confuse the palate. Gooseberries with fish are a classic pairing, especially with mackerel. I’ll be pairing their sharpness with scallops, lardons and broad beans, cooked in their shell with a dab of butter. Also on the menu will be seared beef carpaccio with quick pickled blackberries. Pickling is one of my all-time favourite ways to deal with a glut and those berries that already have a sweet-but-sour flavour are only enhanced by a quick five minutes in a pickling liquor of the same vein.
All these recipes will make a feast of tasters during the cookery demonstration. Join me in the demo kitchen to celebrate the summer berry harvest and taste the delights of the British fruit cage in July.
Join Kathy for tips, tastings and recipes Friday 26th July in the Market Hall, 1-2:30pm