red currants

By the middle of July the red currant bush is heaving with ruby fruit. Each year I see it fruiting, all glamourous and jewelled, and a few possibilities go through my mind.

red currants

Red currant cordial, a boozy version with rum and spices? Red currant jelly, lightly sweetened with apple and stevia? Frozen red currants to throw over ice cream and other lovely things! What would you make? I’m still considering the delicious prospects.

rustic tart

Making shortcrust pastry has to be amongst the easiest and the best skills to have in the kitchen. For providing the perfect backdrop to an endless variation in fillings, from savoury, like the leek and dorset blue tart I made at River Cottage, to a sweet seasonal fruit tart, shortcrust pastry is perfect. The glorious days of blueberries are imminent, so let’s make a rustic tart, the one I baked for the folks at Heart Home, when they came out to visit the old cottage.

shortcrust

I like to make a large recipe, and bake two. Start with 500 grams of flour (I used a mix of white and whole spelt), 250 grams of cold unsalted butter, a couple of egg yolks, a pinch of salt, and 100 ml of cold milk, though we may not use it all. For the filling, cook five or six cups of blueberries until their liquid reduces a bit, then remove from heat and toss with 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/3 cup of light flour. Squeeze half a lemon in, too.

shortcrust tart © elisa rathje 2012

Cut the butter into the flour til it’s in tiny pieces, and then start rubbing the butter into the flour. (I like to wash my hands in cold water, as you don’t want to melt the butter in!) You’re looking for the moment when the flour turns yellow, and resembles breadcrumbs.

shortcrust tart © elisa rathje 2012

Yellow? Excellent. Mix in the two egg yolks.

shortcrust tart © elisa rathje 2012

Add some milk in splashes, just until the dough comes together and no more. Knead it for a minute. You could break the dough in half and form two balls. I wrap mine in parchment, then toss it in a bag to chill in the fridge for a half hour. Heat your oven to 375F/180C. On a very lightly floured surface, roll the dough out thinly, and lift it onto a flat, parchment lined tray.

shortcrust tart © elisa rathje 2012

Dollop the blueberry filling into the middle, fold the pastry in, and sprinkle with some coarse sugar if you’ve got some around. Bake it for close to an hour! And serve, cooled, with some whipped cream. It looks
incredibly gorgeous when it’s baked
, especially if you’ve got a professional photographer and a pair of magazine editors to document the event.

elderberrying

Whenever I become familiar with a plant I begin to see it everywhere, ubiquitous, like the name of a star who appears everywhere you look. Each year the elderberry eluded me. I never knew it like I know the wild blackberry, sure of its stages, and though we knew where to find elders from gathering elderflower in the spring, we’d return each summer to England long past berry season. This summer we were resolute. On a sunny afternoon the children and I called on the first plants we’d collected flowers from, along an old greenway near our old flat in London, where nettles grow tall and rich and blackberries line the path.

 elderberries © elisa rathje 2011

Abundance.

 elderberries © elisa rathje 2011

I was warned that elderberries are a bit poisonous raw, and so we still only imagine their flavour, though we’ve since heard that’s only the unripe ones. The bucketful we’ve picked are bound for a medicinal cordial, but may not make it past us to flu season. While the berries on the sunny side of the path were glorious black, in the shade there are green ones, there’s time yet to return for more elderberrying.

 elderberries © elisa rathje 2011

The elders grow tormentingly tall along our path, but we made a couple of friends, building at the end of a garden, who emerged with the perfect berry snips, and helped us forage a few extra umbels. Ever so kind! I spotted what I thought were plums high up, out of reach, and I’m delighted to hear they are likely damsons. My first glimpse of them. This is wild fruit I’ve only dreamt of in deep winter whilst poring over my copy of Hedgerow.

mirabelles © elisa rathje 2011

Our friends confirmed that we’d found a wild plum. Probably mirabelles, if Mark, the head gardener at River Cottage, can be trusted. He did just write their latest handbook, Fruit, which I must wrestle away from my tall girl so I can read it myself.

hawthorn berries © elisa rathje 2011

Our small girl was enchanted with the hawthorn berries and wanted to collect them. I’m hoping they will keep on the trees until we’re back in the countryside with our trugs and our preserving jars. I’ll be back soon to show you what I’m doing with all the wild food!

Before you go, subscribe to the appleturnover postcards, which will commence with this autumn’s equinox, in celebration of a year of homemade stories. I’ll be marking the anniversary with a gloriously delicious project that tells the story of how appleturnover came to be. Get the postcards to your inbox for a peek at what I’m plotting to learn to make in the coming months and to catch singular homemade projects appearing in the impending appleturnovershop.

huckleberry shrub

Red currants and red huckleberries were bountiful this summer, the former in my mother’s garden and the latter in the forest. Inspired, as is frequently the case for me, by the wonderful Marisa of Food in Jars, I decided to try my hand at a preserving an old fashioned colonial shrub.

shrub © elisa rathje 2011

Huckleberries and currants;

shrub © elisa rathje 2011

Snowed under with sugar (we made one using birch sugar, for my family in Canada to keep);

shrub © elisa rathje 2011

Thoroughly muddled and left in the fridge for a couple of days to develop into the cold-pressed syrup that Marisa describes. Top up with vinegar according to the recipe, I used apple cider vinegar.

shrub © elisa rathje 2011

You needn’t take this next step unless absolutely necessary: seal and pack the jar very well in a suitcase, and take it to England.

shrub © elisa rathje 2011

I do however highly recommend tucking the huckleberry shrub into a picnic basket along with some sparkling water;

shrub © elisa rathje 2011

And enjoying a glass of it in the park. Hyde Park was glorious on a late summer weekend, just right for skipping rope with my little family and listening to the grasshoppers.

shrub © elisa rathje 2011

blackberry season

Farewell to our dear friends and family in Canada, to the summer and to blackberry season. I find the end of summer so bittersweet. We never preserved a single blackberry, they all went straight from the vine into little tummies.

blackberry

wild blackberries, digital drawing, 2004, elisa rathje

Now we are flying into the equinox, and looking forward to autumn. Cardigans and fingerless gloves, squash soup and apple pie, collecting leaves and settling back into sewing and knitting. How do you mark the change of seasons?