Two words describe my month in the kitchen: Berry and Pickle. Sometimes one of those words qualify the other: Pickled Berries or Berry Pickles. As you can probably tell, the garden has been producing loads of different kinds of berries and fruit. I’ve been harvesting strawberries (including the miniature alpine variety), loganberries, red and black currants, gooseberries, raspberries, and blueberries. We’re enjoying eating the fresh berries, but, preserve making has also begun. I’m replenishing my stock of berry jams and jellies, plus there are all those pickled preserves, chutneys and vinegar concoctions to be made with produce from the garden.
We started the month off with a berry bang. On the 4th of July, my (subversive) tribute to American Independence Day here in the UK was a bowl of fresh red and blue berries served with cream. I think the British members of the family were oblivious to the symbolism of the red white and blue – particularly as I whisked the stars and stripes tea towel away before they could notice.
We’ve been enjoying cool summer drinks made with a lovely old-fashioned acidic syrup concocted from my strawberries infused in vinegar called a strawberry shrub. It makes a mean strawberry-flavoured G & T.
Nothing goes to waste. The vinegar soaked fruit pulp left over from making the shrub was added to rhubarb from the garden to make an experimental strawberry-rhubarb chutney. Tasted good, but (like all chutneys) will mellow with age. It will be a perfect accompaniment to poultry and sharp cheeses. Then, there was more chutney making with a double cherry chutney from my small harvest of Morello cherries. Jars of the cherry chutney will come out in the autumn to go with duck and other game.
Another acidic combination resulted in the fresh red currant salsa, a fruity version of Pico de Gallo. It was an inspired combination that worked surprisingly well – astringent and fruity at the same time with a hit of heat from the jalapeño pepper. Just the thing for grilled pork fajitas.
Last, but not least, I pickled the grapevine shoots after pruning the rampant vine. This is a traditional Greek method of preserving the tender tips of grapevines and seriously delicious. The tender leaves have also been preserved for future dolmades making.
The loganberries have begun to ripen, but I am ashamed to say that when defrosting the freezer, I discovered more berries lingering from last year. Those produced a lovely tart jelly, some of which was used to make loganberry crumble bars. The new crop of loganberries is now replacing last year’s batch in the freezer.
Raspberries are also being harvested. And, I found myself experimenting with a berry herbal tea – dried raspberry leaves. All I can say is blech! The experimenting was born out of frustration earlier last month, a time when the linden tree is in flower. Lining most of the streets of my old city neighbourhood are linden trees, sometimes called lime trees. (That makes sense of all those references in British literature of “avenues of limes” lining the drives to stately homes.) Many of the gardens hereabout also have a linden tree or two – well established and most not intentionally planted. We have two shading one corner of the back garden. Every year, I had collected the flowers and brackets to dry for making the most delicate and soothing of herbal teas and a common tisane in many European countries. But…after having the linden trees pruned and thinned last year, all those lovely flowers are now out of reach – even with the tallest of our ladders. Well, I will simply have to wait until it grows again as dried raspberry leaf – though some may appreciate it – is not an acceptable substitute in this kitchen. Next to try: black currant leaf.
All of the gooseberries have finally been harvested. Mine are red dessert gooseberries. They make a fine jam. But, the last ones to be harvested were used to create a gooseberry clafoutis from a recipe in Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess.
A few more berries to come – the second crop of raspberries and the blackberries. Damsons and quince later. A lot of preserves – jams, jellies and pickles – still to be made in my kitchen!