These are a few of my favourite things – cherries and broad beans, crab and English lamb…..
What a difference a month makes! Just four short weeks ago when I wrote the copy below for the Kent Farmers’ Market Association web site for July, the sun had just started to shine and I was beginning to believe the forecasters might have got it right for a change and we were in for a lovely summer. But here I am on the 1st July and it’s officially been one of the wettest Junes on record. In eight days time my eldest daughter marries her wonderful partner of nine years with a Sussex country wedding in the garden (at his parents’ glorious setting on the edge of the Ashdown Forest). Then the following day I host lunch here in my newly designed and planted garden (created from what was essentially a pile of mud just four months ago by my talented sister, Jane King). Well, at least I have been spared the watering and everything has grown like gangbusters. But the fat new rose buds are rotting on the bushes, the slugs are partying amongst my delphiniums and my new Big Green Egg in its bespoke oak housing has yet to be christened…
Whatever the weather, July has ways of making up for the wet. The wedding meal/s (which, thank goodness, I am not cooking) will be showcasing the best of seasonal local produce, and I will be proudly serving local sparkling wine from Plumpton Estate to my guests. Add a really great band, lovely setting, the best friends and lots of family on both sides, of course the most beautiful bride, and the day will be special whatever the weather. I was lucky enough to meet the team from Plumpton College who run their Wine Production courses when I judged the Food Village stalls last month at the South of England Show; their enthusiasm, knowledge and of course the wines themselves, won them second place (just pipped by the folk at Flavit Seaweed Seasoning, whose product I have been using ever since in my cooking with great success). I am currently making the wedding cake (the lemon layer is baking as I write this!), honing my rusty cake-decorating skills on a four-tier, four-flavoured buttercream cake to be decorated with fresh herbs and garden flowers that provides something of a challenge to one who used to make a lot of wedding cakes but of the dried fruit, marzipan, fondant and sugar flower variety. If it all goes well there may be pictures so look out…
In the gaps between baking and icing, tomorrow morning I’m off to Penshurst to buy food to keep us all going in the run-up to the wedding next week. Here’s what I’ll be putting in my basket
Don’t miss this month….
As I write this, the countryside is finally basking in the sunshine of high summer after the long cold spring, which means that now is the perfect time to indulge in some wonderful locally-grown produce, especially outside (well fingers crossed that might be the case this month, unlike in June!). There really is no better way to enjoy any precious warm days than with a feast of wonderful summer foods, grown and produced close to home. At this time of year, everything is so good, you can follow the less is more precept and keep preparation and cooking to the minimum.
Grass-fed summer LAMB is now at its very finest and, as a more fatty meat than some (the fat gives the meat flavour and keeps it from drying out), it’s ideal for the BBQ. A boned-out leg or shoulder can be marinated overnight and cooks perfectly in under an hour. I like to make up a paste of ground spices, lime juice and yogurt or try the Moroccan spice Ras al Hanout rubbed over the skin before cooking (try on cubed lamb for kebabs). On the fish front CORNISH SARDINES are all the rage now – as they should be as another wonderful barbecue choice.
And look out for MACKAREL – bought silvery fresh from the market and cooked the same day to enjoy at its very best. Serve with a pickled cucumber and dill salad. Midsummer is a great time to enjoy CRAB – all you need to make a feast is to serve dressed crab with simply buttered new potatoes and good mayonnaise, home made if possible. Serve with a chilled glass of one of the excellent English white wines that are now coming onto the market, such as the award winning Ortega from Biddenden Vineyards.
Amongst an abundance of produce at this month’s market, you’ll find tender BROAD BEANS (freshly picked little pods can be enjoyed whole), fresh GREEN PEAS, radishes, beetroot, spring onions, spinach, and of course, new potatoes. Cucumbers, beans, both French and runner, and courgettes should be there alongside all kinds of salad leaves and great bunches of fresh herbs.
The slow cooler start to the season has been good for STRAWBERRIES, especially now that the weather is warming up to ripen the fruit – so indulge yourself with the best of the British summer fruit all at its peak this month. You’ll discover a completely different experience from the pale imitations that can be found all year round in supermarkets, varieties grown for flavour rather than ease of transport and keeping qualities. Serve with rich golden pouring cream from cattle fed on the lush summer grass and a sprinkling of sugar – add a grounding of black pepper to really enhance the flavour. And don’t miss out on CHERRIES with the season now in full swing (Kentish cherries are justifiably world famous), gooseberries, black and REDCURRANTS, and wonderful raspberries. This is the month for jam makers and you don’t have to make huge vats of the stuff – just a few jars are incredibly satisfying to produce in your home kitchen, taste marvellous and make wonderful gifts.
Black forest chocolate cherry cheesecake
This may just be the best cheesecake recipe ever! I created it for a menu for Waitrose last year to fund raise for Marie Curie so it has appeared here before. But with English cherries in season it seems the ideal time to bring it out again. It’s perfect for summer parties and celebrations (such as weddings!) as it can be made ahead
Serves 8/Prepare 25 minutes/Cook 35 – 40 minutes plus overnight cooling and chilling
175g dark chocolate digestives, crushed
50g unsalted butter, melted
400g fresh cherries, stoned
400g full fat soft fresh cheese
100g caster sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
100g good quality dark chocolate, broken into chunks
150ml double cream
1 tbsp cocoa
100ml soured cream
dark chocolate curls to decorate
1 Preheat the oven to 170C Gas mark 3. Mix the crushed biscuits with the melted butter and press into the base of a 20cm greased and base lined spring-release tin. Arrange two thirds of the stoned cherries over the base.
2 In a large mixing bowl, beat together the soft cheese and sugar until smooth, then gradually beat in the eggs and egg yolks. Melt the chocolate with the cream and cocoa in a small pan over a very low heat and stir until smooth. Cool then fold into the cheese ingredients. Spoon into the tin and level the surface then bake for 35 – 40 minutes until only just set. The top should still wobble a bit when you shake the tin. Turn off the oven and leave the cheesecake to cool in the oven for a couple of hours then remove from the oven and chill for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
3 To serve, carefully remove the cheesecake from the tin and place on a serving plate. Spread the soured cream over the surface and top with the reserved cherries. Scatter with dark chocolate curls.