This is a bit late in being written, but finding myself home a bit earlier than expected from a lovely dinner out in Oxford, I thought I’d take the opportunity to catch up with myself. A few weeks ago, I went down to Kent to visit my parents for the weekend. It was a beautiful summer’s weekend with the sun shining bright and there was plenty of opportunity to lie in the garden, drinking ice cold wine and eating home-cooked food. After a Saturday at the sea-side, at the revamped Margate, which included trips to many, many junk and retro shops and a massive bowl of local mussels, Sunday was a more leisurely affair.
While everyone went about their Sunday morning business, my Mum was in the kitchen preparing the roast, my Dad was packing for another longhaul trip to somewhere and TOH was revising for an exam, I spent an hour and a half trapped in the soft fruit cage trying not to get mauled by the gooseberries. I’d managed to rustle up some wellies from the shed, and was very happy in my solitude, picking the fresh raspberries and loganberries which seem to multiply before your very eyes. I swear, you’d clean the cane, you’d turn around and when you turn back – ping – it’s full again. I’d missed the strawberries for the year, even by mid-June when this was, so I was determined to make the most of the beautiful raspberries which I’d been let loose on. After an hour and a half, I’d managed to pick three kilos of fruit!
Well, with three kilos of fruit tucked safely in the car, away from the thieving fingers of brother number 2, I started planning what to do with it all. Initially I wanted to make raspberry wine, but an hour on the internet, and lots of talk about demijohns, air-locks and brewer’s yeast, and I decided I didn’t have either the time or the inclination. I looked at raspberry vodka, but was disappointed to find that all you had to do was buy some vodka, stick the fruit in and leave for as long as you had the patience for. Moving on, I investigated raspberry ice cream, freezing them whole, coulis – my, there’s quite a lot you can do with raspberries really. Anyway, I wanted something different, not too time-consuming but just taxing enough and giftable so as to share the lovely Kentish fruit.
I settled on jarring some of the fruit under syrup so they could be used later on in other puddings, making a cordial to mix with water and then raspberry vinegar which is one of my favourites. I had the same dilemma with the vinegar as hit me with the vodka (both being with v??) in so much as it was a case of buying some vinegar and leaving the fruit to stew for five days. I did look into making my own vinegar, but blimey that’s an event in itself.
At the end of the week, I had a little array of bottles and jars to go under the stairs.
The cordial is the light, opaque bottle at the front, the vinegar went a lovely, dark, rich colour and is at the back and the jar of raspberries is half-full on the right. The most surprising thing for me was that this was the sum total of the three kilos of raspberries which looked like a small mountain to start with. It was a bit of a shame to mush up nearly two of those kilos knowing it would only make four bottles of vinegar, but sacrifices had to be made, and the outcome was 100% worth it. Also surprising was that the jar was full, chokka, of nice plump raspberries ready to be put under syrup. I purposefully did not all squash them all up, thinking that if I didn’t stuff the jar, the fruit would still be nicely shaped at removal. I then filled it with the hot syrup and they floated up to the top and lost quite a lot of shape. Two months later, they still look the same(ish), and I remain a bit sad at their lack of form. There *must* be a way. Ah well, nest year …
The vinegar was a huge success and has been gifted to both Dr Katie and also my parents who seemed to be demanding some kind of “payment” for the three free kilos of soft fruit from their garden, tssk! Most people who I told my raspberry story to (repeatedly) asked what on earth I was planning to do with said vinegar. Well, it’s great to use in salad dressing in place of your more standard balsamic, but I’m a massive fan of putting it on ice cream. This is something my Grandma Betty taught me a few years ago, and I’ve never looked back. It sounds odd, but please, don’t knock it til you’ve tried it – it’s ace. Just plain and simple vanilla ice cream with a nice drizzle of raspberry vinegar to cut through the sweetness . It’s just delicious.
I don’t want to wait until next year to make another batch of home-grown goodies, and it’s a shame that raspberries come round but once a year, but hey ho. Reports that the garden is overflowing with plums came to me yesterday so I’m thinking some kind of spiced plum chutney might be in order. And then there’s the blackberries which seem to be springing from every hedgerow at the moment. I’ve got a friend visiting from London this weekend and I might, maybe, go for a wee walk along the tow path to The Trout and I might, maybe, have a plastic bag conveniently in my pocket. Watch this space!