Notes from a Working Kitchen – June 2015
The asparagus season has been and gone, short lived but enjoyed by us all. Every year as we note the change in the asparagus we wait eagerly for the call to start crayfishing again. As the winds die down and the temperatures rise the American blighters start getting lively. As predicted the call came and we shall be off this weekend to start our 6-8 week crayfishing trips. The pots are easy to bait with the trim from the sack loads of trout we are prepping, a clear favourite with the freshwater river monsters. It’s always a pleasure to know that in removing these invading, predatory and voracious creatures from our native freshwater streams and ponds we may in some small way be helping to redress the balance with our smaller native species. Once freed from their shells the crayfish meat is a lovely sweet treat far removed from the rubbery farmed and brined French ones to be bought in the supermarkets. Once we have that the options are almost limitless, but guaranteed will be risottos, linguine and raviolis. As part of a small platter with smoked trout, and trout pate they really go to show that our local rivers and lakes have plenty to offer.
On the drive over to the cray pots you can’t help but notice the blooming elderflowers that go hand in hand with this time of year. In hedgerows and on scrubland, along our walks with the dogs, elderflowers are accessible to everyone. They are not an exclusive ingredient and not even one you have to pay for just there for you to collect and use. We like to pick them when they are just beginning to flower and dry, we never pick in the wet, best chosen from the quieter back lanes where the traffic is minimal or ideally non-existent. It doesn’t take many to add a little floral note to your food. A simple cordial with water, citric acid and sugar is quickly made and can not only be drunk as a refreshing beverage on a hot day, but be added to spirits for cocktails poured over ice-cream, turned into jellies, sorbets, ice creams and many other tasty treats. A favourite of my German Granny was to make a light and sweet pancake batter and dip them in some hot oil, a cold apple compote and a liberal dusting of icing sugar would see us all covered in the same enjoying a lip smackingly special and seasonal dessert. So have a go there are plenty of recipes out there and they are super simple, a great activity at the weekends with the kids, get them back in touch with nature and maybe show them where their food can come from. An elderflower and strawberry lolly to finish a hot days picking would definitely go down a treat.
The ‘Big Fish Supper’ we held saw us getting to grips with a multitude of fishy treats. In preparing for that evening we made a large batch of Talisker single malt smoked salmon, it was so very popular and a real triumph. Needless to say that along with some citrus cured organic salmon we have a lovely starter for the a la carte menu. Pickled Mackerel with Cucumbers, dill and buttermilk slushy was also one we will be using again, especially as mackerel is bang on in season right now. Griddled mackerel with a punchy salad of watercress and shallots and a chilled gazpacho is also a gorgeous combo attainable by even the most relaxed cook.
Now that we have cut the rhubarb back in the garden we will have to wait a while for the next crop, luckily the many gooseberry bushes we have seem to have avoided being munched by caterpillars this year and are full with fruit. Not the prettiest but a wonderfully versatile ingredient. They make a great accompaniment to any rich or oily meat like the mackerel above as compote with a little white wine, or in a sauce for duck breasts and even a crackling rich roast pork, just cut the apple sauce with some gooseberries yum. We shall be making plenty of our Gooseberry Double Cream Ice Cream for our regulars who can’t get enough when we have it. Jams are definitely also on the list as the natural pectin in the berries just makes an amazing set. More gooseberry rum for our Mojito’s is definitely a necessity if we are going to keep up in the summer. The gooseberry rum also makes for a great addition to a more adult version of the traditional gooseberry fool. So don’t ignore them if you see them, give them a go we really look forward to them every year, gooseberries signal to us know that the real summer is about to start.