Fruit notes and recipes for every season from our food historian and cook, Monica Askay.
You have to go a long way to find a better use for red cabbage than pickling it for a week with dried chillies and black peppercorns in a mix of distilled and cider vinegars, and wolfing it down for breakfast layered on toasted sourdough, topped with rollmop herrings (ok, a personal viewpoint) but this sounds good.
BRAISED RED CABBAGE
1 medium red cabbage, shredded
1 large onion, chopped
1 large Bramley apple, peeled, cored and roughly chopped (Bramley works best for this because of its sharpness and the fact that it cooks to a pureé)
½ oz / 12g lard
Salt and pepper
Approximately 5 tbsps / 75ml cider vinegar
Approximately 2 oz / 50g soft dark brown sugar
Melt the lard in a large saucepan. Add the onions and fry gently to start to soften them. Add the apple and continue to cook for a couple more minutes. Add the red cabbage and stir well to mix. Then add seasoning, and about half the cider vinegar and sugar. Add a little water and cook gently over low to medium heat. Stir from time to time to prevent it sticking and burning, adding a little more water if necessary. After perhaps half an hour taste and add more cider vinegar and/or sugar as necessary. You want the cabbage to have a sweet and sour taste, but not too sweet and not too sour. The harshness of the vinegar will mellow as it cooks.
Continue to cook over low to medium heat until the onions and apple have cooked down. In total the cooking time will be around a couple of hours. The cabbage will then be thick and dark purple. Adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Serve with roast pork or poultry, or with sausages. This also makes a good addition to sprouts for next year’s Christmas Dinner! It is quite a flexible recipe. Try adding grated pear and/or beetroot with the apple. You can also add some ground cinnamon or mixed spice. If you prefer you can use a tasteless oil, such as grapeseed or groundnut, instead of lard. However, this does affect the texture. It freezes well.
ROASTED ROOT VEGETABLES WITH PEARS
A selection of root vegetables - red onions, potatoes, celeriac, turnips, parsnips, carrots, beetroot, Jerusalem artichokes etc (whatever is in season and you have to hand)
Pears, preferably the hard warden-type cooking pears
Freshly ground black pepper
Cloves of garlic, whole
Preheat the oven to Gas 6 / 200°C / 180°C Fan. You will need 1 or 2 large baking trays ------- you will need to spread the vegetables out to cook in a single layer.
Prepare the vegetables according to type. Peel all the vegetables apart from the potatoes, pears and garlic. Halve or quarter the onions depending on size. Cut the vegetables into approximately 3cm / 1.5” rough cubes. Halve, quarter, then core the pears. Cut into pieces the same size as the vegetables. Dry all the pieces with kitchen paper then toss all the vegetables, pear and garlic in the oil and season with black pepper. Do not add salt at this stage as this will make them soggy. Spread them out on the baking tray/s. Place in the oven and cook, turning from time to time until browned - about 40 minutes. Add salt just before serving.
This is good on its own topped with crème fraiche, or served with roast pork or sausages. Try adding smoked paprika, roughly crushed cumin and coriander seeds, or rosemary and thyme leaves to the rapeseed oil.
BLACK CAPS PAR EXCELLENCE
‘For the Second-course, or for Dessert
Cut a dozen fine Norfolk biffins in two without paring them, scoop out the cores, and fill the cavities with thin strips of fresh lemon-rind and with candied orange-peel. Cover the bottom of a flat shallow tin with a thick layer of fine pale brown sugar, press the two halves of each apple together, and place them closely in the tin; pour half a bottle of raisin or of any other sweet wine over them, and be careful to moisten the tops of all; sift white sugar thickly on them, and set the tin into a very hot oven at first, that the outsides of the apple may catch or become black; then draw them to the mouth of the oven, and bake them gently until they are soft quite through. The Norfolk biffin answers for this dish far better than any other kind of apple, but the winter queening, and some few firm sorts beside, can be used for it with fair success. These for variety may be cored without being divided and filled with orange marmalade. The black caps served hot, as a second-course dish, are excellent.
Norfolk biffins, 12; rinds fresh lemons, 1 to 2; candied orange-rind, 2 to 3 oz.; pale brown sugar, ¾ lb.; raisin or other wine, ½ bottle; little sifted sugar, ¾ to 1 hour, or more.
Obs.- The apples dressed as above resemble a rich confection, and will remain good for ten days or a fortnight; sometimes much longer even. The receipt is an admirable one.’
The above recipe is from Modern Cookery for Private Families, Eliza Acton, 1845.
Eliza Acton is right - it is absolutely delicious! An earlier similar recipe appears in The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, Hannah Glasse 1747. This uses lemon juice and orange flower water rather than raisin wine. It also omits the lemon zest and candied orange peel. Jane Grigson in her Fruit Book, 1982, suggests using orange flower water or rosewater rather than raisin wine, along with lemon or orange juice and rind.
The best apple to use is Norfolk Beefing or Biffin, an extremely hard apple. Another apple which would work well is Blenheim Orange, although it would need less cooking time.
For “raisin wine” I used an Australian liqueur sauvignon blanc which was really dark and rich. The sticky syrup gelled when cold. A non-alcoholic alternative is a pressed apple juice ---- I have successfully used a Russet juice.
To scoop out the cores I used a serrated grapefruit spoon. Any combination of candied mixed peel would also work. It is better to use an ovenproof serving dish to bake the apples in than a tin (the acid reacts with the tin).
The baking instructions Eliza Acton gives are not for regulated modern ovens. I started mine off at 200°C / Gas 6 for around 20 minutes, then dropped the temperature to 180°C / Gas 4, and cooked until the apples were tender when pierced with a skewer.
This is a good garnish for roast pork or feathered game.
Dessert apples - they need to hold their shape when cooked. Choose a variety with a well-coloured skin if possible (Try Barnack Beauty, Rosy Blenheim, Queen Cox)
50g / 2 oz unsalted butter
4 tablespoons Cider Brandy or The Somerset Pomona Aperitif
Prepare the apples immediately before cooking. Do not peel the apples. Cut them into quarters and remove the core. Slice each quarter into 3.
Melt the butter in a large heavy-based frying pan. Add the apple slices and cook, turning from time to time, until golden brown and tender (test with the point of a sharp knife). Place the apple slices on warmed individual plates or a serving dish. Pour the brandy or aperitif into the pan to deglaze it. Let it bubble briefly and pour over the apple slices.
VARIATION: This can easily be turned into a dessert. Take 1 apple per person. After adding the alcohol, add a tablespoon of dark muscovado sugar and stir. Pour over the apple slices and serve immediately with Greek yoghurt.
March and April
March and April can be a difficult time for traditional fruit based cooking - especially after a warm late winter and an early spring. The warm temperatures mean apples which will usually store until this time of year haven't kept well so can't be used. Still there's always something! Try the fruit leather for a sweet healthy lunchbox snack, much tastier than the name suggests!
Prepare two 24x30 cm baking sheets by lining them with baking parchment. Preheat the oven to 60°C. Peel and core the apples. Place in a pan and cook gently, stirring frequently, until the fruit is very soft. Purée. Stir in honey if using. Spread the fruit pulp thinly and evenly over the baking parchment using the back of a spoon. Place in the oven and leave for 12 – 18 hours (or longer!) until the purée is dry and easily peels off the baking parchment. When cold, roll the fruit leather sheets in fresh baking parchment and store in an airtight tin. The fruit leather will keep for some time.
Preheat the oven to 180°C / Gas mark 4. Line the base of a 23 cm / 9” tin with baking parchment. Butter the sides of the tin.
I must begin with a note on the storage of fruit. Traditionally some orchard fruits would have been stored for use later on. This, however, does not apply to plums and dessert pears which deteriorate quite quickly after picking. Some apple varieties do indeed improve and mellow with keeping. Wardens (hard cooking pears) can also be kept (indeed it is said that the name “warden” derives from their keeping qualities). Wizened apples and pears the following spring and early summer may look unpromising, but can still be used in a variety of dishes. Ignore the appearance of the skin! They do, however, need to be peeled, chopped (and any bad bits discarded) and cooked rather than eaten raw or cooked whole.
Those of us who do store fruit for several months after picking all have our own methods which work for us. I store apples and pears in a single layer in the discarded flat cardboard salad boxes available in supermarkets and on market stalls. I then stack the boxes and keep them in my white van (kept cool as white reflects heat). For most of the year the van is filled with a delicious apple aroma! Others find different methods work best for them. If I need to keep several examples of a single variety together in a bag, I use paper, and not plastic which would make them sweat and therefore deteriorate faster. There is no need to wrap the fruit individually in newspaper, although you will need to check the fruit from time to time and remove any that are going bad.
1 lb / 454g apples ----- I like to use a mixture of varieties, both culinary and dessert, which gives the cooked fruit an interesting taste and texture
5 oz / 145g soft light brown sugar (or to taste)
Juice and zest of a lemon
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, or mixed spice, or ginger, or a pinch of ground cloves
4 oz / 110g wholemeal flour
2 oz / 60g plain white flour
3 oz / 85g butter
3 oz / 85g demerara sugar
2 tablespoons rolled oats or chopped nuts (optional)
The same spice as used above, in the same quantity
Preheat the oven to 180°C / 170°C Fan / Gas 4.
Wash, peel, core and coarsely chop the apples. Arrange them in a deep ovenproof dish, layered with the lemon juice and zest, sugar and your choice of spice.
Make the crumble topping. Sift the flours together with the spice. Cut the butter into small pieces and rub into the flour mix with your fingertips to the “breadcrumb” stage. Stir in the sugar and oats / chopped nuts (if using).
Spoon the topping over the fruit.
Cook until the topping is browned and the fruit is cooked through (test with a skewer, approx 40 minutes or so).
Serve with double cream, custard or crème fraiche.
This crumble recipe can be adapted for any fruit. The spices and type of sugar used can be varied, although using demerara for the topping does give it a crunchy texture. I also enjoy eating this cold with Greek yoghurt for breakfast.
The crumble is said to have originated during the WW2 and Post-war rationing period when the limitations of rationing made conventional pastry-making difficult.
WARDEN PEARS POACHED IN PERONELLE’S BLUSH
It is particularly important to cut wardens open after storage. They may appear fine from the outside but pears do go brown from the centre. Ignore the appearance of the skin! This recipe is a variation of one of my favourite and most impressive recipes, with a long history. I normally poach (peeled but with the stalk intact) pears whole in red wine (I choose a shiraz, both for its colour and its spicy flavour). I make them a couple of days in advance so that the colour is gradually absorbed by the whole fruit. I then serve the pears upright with a gilded (using sugarcraft gilding) bay leaf inserted by the stalk. Cutting up the fruit is more suitable for wardens which have been stored.
Peronelle’s Blush is one of Aspall’s (based in Suffolk) ciders, which has an added dash of blackberry juice. It gives the wardens an attractive pastel pink tinge and delicate flavour.
6 – 8 (depending on size) wardens or hard cooking pears (I used St Germain which are quite large. This year they have kept until towards the end of April but would not have kept any longer.)
500ml Peronelle’s Blush
Caster sugar to taste
Cinnamon stick or whole star anise
Preheat the oven to 130°C / 120°C Fan / Gas ½
Peel, core and quarter the pears, and place them in a wide shallow casserole dish with a lid. Add the cinnamon stick or whole star anise, if using. Add caster sugar to taste. (I found I needed to add 4 or 5 oz as Peronelle’s Blush is quite sharp and the pears I used a little tannic). Add the Peronelle’s Blush. Put the lid on the casserole and poach the pears in the oven until tender when pierced with a skewer. The time will depend on the size and ripeness of the pears. Refrigerate once cold. After a couple of days the colour will permeate the fruit.
This is a very versatile recipe with many variations. Delia Smith gives recipes for using conventionally-coloured cider or marsala both of which result in pears in shades of amber. For a touch of the exotic, I noticed that Diana Henry in her new book How to Eat a Peach poaches pears with lime juice and zest, and dried hibiscus flowers! Non-alcoholic versions can be made using grape, apple or pear juice, or use water with the addition of a vanilla pod.
Damsons are the latest of the plum-type fruits to ripen.
Their normal season is mid to late September, though it should be noted that this varies slightly from year to year, and that this year the season has been a little early. Several varieties such as Merryweather are not true damsons, but rather plum/damson crosses. True damsons are not dessert varieties and are very tannic and “mouth-puckering”. A variety such as Shropshire Prune is a true damson with an intense flavour when cooked or steeped in a spirit such as gin. Here is one of my favourite damson recipes.
1 ½ lbs / 675 g damsons
A very small amount of water
6 oz / 150 g caster sugar, or to taste
½ pint / 300 ml / 10 fl oz double cream
Halve the damsons and cook gently with a very little water (3 tbsps?) until soft. This next bit is hard work but definitely worth it! Rub the cooked damsons through a nylon sieve to remove the stones and skin. You want to lose as little of the precious damson flesh as possible. Add sugar to taste to the puréed damson flesh and leave till cold.
Whip the cream to the soft peak stage, taking care not to overwhip it. Gradually fold in the puréed damsons. Chill before serving.
This is the most glorious colour!
This is a flexible recipe for all sorts of fruit. Normal proportions are 1 lb fruit to ½ pint cream, with sugar to taste. Any left over fool can be frozen and served as an ice cream.
Early apple varieties do not keep, unlike later varieties some of which continue to mature with storage. Discovery is an early variety (its original name was Thurston August). It is delicious when first picked but the texture becomes “woolly”. It has a flavour reminiscent of strawberries, a characteristic it has inherited from Worcester Pearmain, one of its parents. Discovery is an apple which originated in Essex.
AUTUMN FRUIT SALAD
450g / 1 lb dessert apples, crisp-textured and preferably with a colourful skin and preferably some balancing acidity. Discovery newly picked or a little underripe are ideal.
300 g / 10 – 11 oz blackberries
A couple of tablespoons demerara sugar
1 lemon, zest and juice
2 tbsps Somerset Pomona or apple juice (or try undiluted blackberry and apple cordial and omit the sugar)
Zest and juice the lemon. Core and chop the apple roughly and put in a decorative glass bowl with the lemon juice. Toss the pieces of apple carefully in the lemon juice (to prevent them browning). Carefully mix in the blackberries and lemon zest. Sprinkle in the sugar and Pomona. Mix carefully. Chill. Serve with Greek yoghurt.
This month's recipes have a Halloween theme - in that they feature seasonal squash and apples! Apples go well with root vegetables and squash, making interesting soups. Having experimented with several varieties I have come to the conclusion that Bramley is the ideal apple to use, both for its sharpness and the fact that it cooks down to a purée.
SQUASH, APPLE AND GINGER SOUP
25g / 1 oz butter
1 medium-sized squash (a grey-blue skinned variety with dense orange flesh such as Crown Prince works really well), peeled, deseeded and the flesh chopped into smallish cubes
1 large or 2 medium potatoes, preferably Maris Piper or King Edward, scrubbed, peeled and cut into smallish cubes
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 large Bramley apple, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
1 approx 2” piece of root ginger, peeled
1 / 2 pints water
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Melt the butter in a large heavy-based saucepan. Add the onion, potato and squash with salt and pepper. Stir to coat the vegetables. Sweat the vegetables over minimum heat, stirring to prevent sticking. After a few minutes, add the water and whole piece of root ginger. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and simmer until the vegetables are almost cooked. Add the apple and cook for a further few minutes until the apple has collapsed and the vegetables are soft. Add more liquid if necessary or boil briefly if too liquid.
Remove the ginger. Blend with a stick blender until smooth. Adjust the seasoning as necessary and serve. VARIATIONS: Using the same method and roughly the same proportions, you can make a number of soups containing apple. Beetroot and Apple Soup is the most amazing colour - cook the beetroot in advance and add, roughly chopped with the apple. Celeriac and Apple Soup works well as does Curried Parsnip and Apple - add a tablespoon or so curry paste to the onions, potatoes and parsnips and mix in well just before adding the water. A little crème fraiche can be swirled into the soup just before sprinkling with chopped chives (chopped coriander would work well with the Curried Parsnip and Apple Soup) and serving.
SAUTEED APPLES, BACON AND POTATO
shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
unpeeled waxy new potatoes, boiled until just tender and cut into chunks or, if very small, left whole
smoked streaky bacon rashers, cut into pieces
dessert apple chosen for sharp flavour, crisp texture and colourful skin (try Suntan, Bismarck, Ashmead’s Kernal), unpeeled, cored and cut into chunks
olive or rapeseed oil
salt and freshly milled black pepper
a few fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped
a few juniper berries, lightly crushed
Note: I have left quantities up to you as proportions will depend on personal taste and availability. As a rough guide I suggest you use roughly equal quantities of apple and potatoes with a tablespoon of oil, a medium shallot and 2 rashers of bacon per person. This recipe makes a good lunch or supper dish.
Heat the oil in a large sauté pan. If the pan is too small the ingredients will steam rather than fry. Fry the shallots over medium heat until beginning to soften. Add the bacon and cook till it becomes opaque. Add the potato, apple, seasoning (not too much salt as the bacon will be salty - you can always add more if necessary before serving) juniper berries and sage, and continue to cook, stirring, until browned. Adjust seasoning as necessary and serve.
VARIATIONS: Try adding cubes of winter squash - add to the softening shallots and cook until becoming tender, stirring frequently to prevent burning, before adding the bacon. Experiment with different apple varieties - you need an apple which holds its shape when cooked.
PEAR, ROQUEFORT AND WALNUT SALAD
(Starter, serves 6)
1 ½ dessert pears
150g Roquefort cheese
75g walnut pieces
1 bag rocket or mixed baby leaves
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
Sea salt and freshly milled black pepper
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tbsp grapeseed or groundnut oil
1 tbsp walnut oil
2 teaspoons perry vinegar, if available (if not, use cider vinegar or apple balsamic vinegar)
First make the dressing. Mix the mustard, salt, pepper, garlic, oils and vinegar. Whisk together or shake in a screwtop jar.
I haven’t given quantities here but you will need roughly equal quantities of beetroot and apple.
RED CABBAGE, APPLE AND CELERY SALAD
This is a sort of a cross between a Waldorf Salad and a Coleslaw! It is a good winter salad which goes well with cold meat and baked potatoes --- good for Boxing Day!
Red cabbage, shredded
Celery including leaves, chopped
Firm eating apples with preferably a sharp flavour and colourful skin, cored but not peeled, and cut into smallish chunks. A Cox type apple is a good choice, so is Spartan.
Optional: Some celery leaves to garnish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Apple Balsamic vinegar
Make the dressing first. Place all the dressing ingredients in a screwtop jar. Proportions are personal taste but around 1/3 vinegar to 2/3 oil. Approx 1 tsp mustard for an average sized jam jar, with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Shake to mix the dressing and put some in the bottom of a large salad bowl. (The amount of dressing you use will depend on the quantity of salad ingredients. You want the salad to be moistened by the dressing but not swimming in it! Any dressing leftover will keep well in the screwtop jar in the fridge). Roughly chop the apple and put it into the dressing and stir to coat. Add the shredded red cabbage and chopped celery and celery leaves. Mix together gently. Garnish with celery leaves (optional).
This will keep for a couple of days in the fridge. The vinaigrette dressing is more refreshing and less cloying than mayonnaise. (I always use a vinaigrette dressing rather than mayonnaise when making Waldorf salad.)
Variations: This is a very flexible recipe. Toasted whole hazel or cobnuts make a good addition, with a dressing containing grapeseed and hazelnut oils (I have recently found hazelnut oil impossible to find ------ cold-pressed rapeseed oil has a nutty flavour and is a good alternative). Toasted walnuts are another option, with a dressing containing grapeseed and walnut oils. Cider vinegar can be used instead of apple balsamic. Pears can be used instead of apples, with perry vinegar (should you be so lucky as to come across some!).
POACHED PEARS IN RED WINE
This is a modern version of the medieval recipe Wardens in Sirop. A warden is a hard cooking pear. It is best to choose harder pears for this recipe. You will also need to choose a variety with a good pear shape. This recipe is best made a couple of days in advance and refrigerated.
8 large hard pears
1 pint / 600 ml red wine (I use Shiraz or Syrah for it’s rich purply colour and spicy flavour)
2oz / 50g caster sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
8 bay leaves
Edible gilding (available in sugarcraft suppliers and some supermarkets)
Preheat the oven to gas mark ½ / 130°C.
Thinly peel the pears, leaving the stalk intact. Cut a thin slice from the base of each pear (this is so you will be able to stand them upright to serve them). Coring the pears is optional but if you do it you will need to do so very carefully! I tend not to.
Take a large wide flameproof casserole with a tight-fitting lid (Le Creuset is ideal). Place the pears in the casserole on their sides. Pour the wine over the pears and then sprinkle with the sugar and add the cinnamon sticks. Bring to simmering point, put on the lid and bake in the oven. It is not really possible to be precise about the length of time they will need. They need to be soft when pierced with a skewer but not so soft that they will start to disintegrate.
They will need to be cooked on alternate sides, for the same amount of time on each side. If the pears are reasonably hard I would probably cook them initially for 45 minutes on each side. Depending on how soft they are becoming I would cook for a bit longer, making sure that they are given the same amount of time on each side. This way they absorb the colour of the wine evenly. Once they are cooked, remove the cinnamon sticks and leave the pears in the casserole with the liquid to cool. Refrigerate and turn the pears in the liquid regularly. Over time they will absorb more of the red wine.
Choose 8 similarly-sized and well-shaped bay leaves. Paint the bay leaves on both sides with edible liquid gilding. Leave the gilded bay leaves on baking parchment to dry.
To serve the pears place them in a shallow china dish so that they are standing upright. With a small sharp knife cut a shallow slit just to the side of the stalk. Insert a gilded bay leaf.
This looks very celebratory, and with its mulled wine flavour, is an ideal dessert for the festive season, while being light and refreshing.