Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cherry Cerise

After the earlier rains rotted all the sweet dark cherries, I turned my attention to the other cherry trees in the garden. They held a smaller, very red cherry. The French call these cerise originel, the Yanks sour cherry and we often refer to them as the morello cherry.

These little beauties, though originally very tart became quite, quite sweet as the blistering hot sunshine ripened them throughout June. Scoffing them directly from the tree and having a bowl-full with breakfast became the norm. Eventually as they began to ebb, I picked a big bunch washed them and placed them directly into kiln jars, with a handful of sugar and topping up with vodka. Having given the bottle a good shake, I placed them into a dark cupboard where I'll leave them for a good six-months and then resurrect them for a shot of intense sweet summer sunshine in the depths of winter.

As the cherry season began to end, I panicked, it was jam-making time. I needed to capture all those sweet, juicy berries and keep them safe for friends and for winter time when these summer treats are but a distant memory. I stoned about 4lbs of them, only to find later that the tiny amount of pectin the cherry has is mostly contained within the matter; the colour - an extreme burst of wondrous cerise - the taste so sweet and addictive, more than made up for the consistency. I left the cherries whole and they looked entirely beautiful suspended aloft in their deep pink home.

Stored in the fridge the jam sets well and served in a small bowl at breakfast it is a welcome addition to hot croissants or fresh bread.

I'll stick the Sour Cherry Vodka in the freezer at New Year and to cheer us in darkest January will be ice cold shots of cerise vodka...divine!

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sweet feasting friendship

A perfect summer starter here in this sweet fragrant corner of rural France is Charentais melon and Bayonne Ham. The salty, wafer thin slices of ruffled jambon taste divine when paired with the super sweet and juicy orange-fleshed melon. Only the highest quality of ingredients is needed for this dish - no olive oil or dressing, just ripe melon and good Bayonne (or Parma or Serrano) ham.

Nothing can be more fulfilling than preparing a feast of epic pleasure for your dearest and oldest friends. To lay a table with glasses, flowers, champagne and evening sunshine.

To present the ones you love with rich, simple tastes, to spoil them with fresh seasonal flavours and to sit together and toast your 30-year friendship with laughter and memories. What could be sweeter than simply being together under a star packed sky.

A dish of perfectly juicy and roasted quail teamed with baked aubergine, tomatoes and local goats cheese, sets off the main course. The quail marinated in crushed garlic, herbs de provence, salt and pepper and oilve oil for as long as you have - pan roast the tiny birds so they become golden and crisp - roast them off in the oven for a little time - constantly check them to keep them pink and juicy. Place the sliced aubergines in a dish, drizzle them with olive oil and anoint with S&P, bake in a hot oven for twenty minutes before placing the sliced tomatoes and crumbled cheese on top - roast again for another ten minutes until all is caramelised and soft A rich red poured into deep glasses to drink with. The time gentle floats around you as you savour each mouthful and smile with your luck.

A good ripe Coulommiers camembert, a super poky roquefort and a hard pourtalet, the last of last autumns creamy walnuts and a juicy pear make for the perfect cheese course.

Hours later, the sun has well set, the stars, planets and satellites course above our heads, the wine and food has left us mellow and at peace. Finally we finish with a plate of roasted nectarines - dusted with cinnamon and served with a generous spoonful of creme fraiche mixed with natural yogurt, icing sugar and fresh vanilla - adorning them. We have feasted like kings and we are at peace with the world - all is good and we are blessed with this moment.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The long days of summer

At what point during the two-month long summer break are you allowed to stop being uber mum and start shouting?

Taking our children to live in rural France, was to give them the opportunity to spend their idyllic childhood days wandering barefoot and fancy-free; climbing trees, picking flowers, measuring bugs and generally enjoying the sweet elixir of their innocence.

In the humidity, that is currently July, by 4pm my zen master moment is all but out of the window. As the legions of flies crawl over the bread, the peaches, our heads and the thousands upon thousands of seemingly unrelenting ant armies mange to find any accidental crumb no matter how small - my once dignified cool of this morning, is lost to madness, as I harshly insist that the children evacuate the kitchen, and go and play outside NOW...

This humble Tuesday we have made home-made lemonade, we have made fragrant lavender water; we have pasted papers, pictures, cotton wool - just about anything to hand - into scrap books, we have strolled and frolicked, we have danced and sung - but at some point I desperately need - just a moment of - space.

When your children first start primary school you feel desperate that this huge change in your life will leave you forever bereft and lonesome, yet at the close of the first term you realise the freedom it allows and you begin to embrace your newfound peace.

But the thing with motherhood is that you spend most of the time feeling guitly for having enjoyed your quiet moment of freedom, for shouting at your beautiful offspring, or for not doing enough - whatever enough is.

However, tomorrow is another day, a chance to return to the zen master of motherhood, an opportunity to bake some bread together, to read one more story, to cherish another hug...

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Friday, July 2, 2010

Ma Cherrie

June has been awash, literally, with lashings of rain, buckets of sunshine then lashings of rain. The guests have poured south and it has been back-to-back entertaining.

The washing line has groaned under its weight of duvet covers, sheets, towels and pants. Every night for nigh on a month we have dined like rich, gluttonous lords. The wine has been swimming, the cheeses oozing, the salads crisp, the meat roasted and juicy, the melons fat and swollen and the gout ready to make an appearance.

Despite the sweat and hard work involved in having fun 24-7, several bottles of sweet refreshing elderflower have been made, and consumed.

The cherry crop – appearing to be so fat and sweet – was all but lost to the constant rain. However, several Clafoutis’ made their appearance at the supper table and were duly lapped up.

Fortunately the sour cherry crop is fabulous, though nearing its time now, their sour sweet almost over-ripe taste is divine. The sour cherry jam produced is a thing of beauty, its crimson jelly sweet and dripping off the finger the fat cherries sitting on top glistening like sweet red lips. Several kiln jars of sour cherry vodka have been rustled up in anticipation of autumn and a glassful of sweet lingering summer memories.

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