Recipe: Stewed Plums

My mum is very into her stewed plums at the moment since I made plum crumble this year. Fortunate as we have so many Victorias (no greengages 😦 ) that I don’t know what to do with them all. I have no space in the freezer to keep them for jam and no time to make jam!!!

She begged me one evening for more stewed plums on their own without the crumble. It was really quick, easy and got rid of a container full of them. Great!

She loved eating them just plain but she also had some with yoghurt. Custard would be delicious with it. It only takes about ten minutes and makes a really quick and simple dessert or snack.

Stewed Plums

-400g plums -1-2 handfuls of granulated sugar

  1. Remove the stones from the plums by cutting them in halves. Place in a non-stick pan over a high flame.
  2. Add the sugar and stir into the plums. Allow the plums to heat up and start bubbling before turning down the flame down to a low heat. Continue to stir to encourage the plums to break up.
  3. Leave simmering for at least 10-15 minutes. Remove from the heat and serve plain or with yoghurt, ice cream, cream, custard or with pieces of shortbread or plain sponge cake. Store left overs in an airtight container in the fridge or freeze.
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Before…
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After

Redcurrants

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The redcurrant is a member of the Ribes (gooseberry) family. It is native to parts of western Europe region – Belgium, UK, France, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Netherlands, northern Italy and Spain, Portugal, Poland and Croatia. Closely related to blackcurrants, redcurrants are grown a little more like gooseberries. All cultivated currant species have Asian and European ancestry. The most significant historical source of cultivation of currants was within Russia during the 11th century when they were grown in monastery gardens, towns and settlements. Redcurrant plants grow wild and they are cultivated both commercially and domestically for their berries. Redcurrants are able to flourish within the Northern hemisphere, in moist to wet, well-drained soil and once established they need little irrigation to survive.

Redcurrants are self-fertile. They like a sheltered, well-drained location with a fertile soil. For the sweetest tasting fruit, position them in a sunny spot but they are tolerant of a little shade and are good for training against shady walls. Usually 5-10mm in diameter, redcurrants hang in tassels known as racemes or strings that poke through the leaves.

Plant them 1.3m (60cm) apart. Plant bare-root currants in late autumn but no later than the end of winter. Container-grown plants can be planted out at anytime. Every spring, when you feed your fruit trees and bushes, also feed your redcurrants with a little Blood, Fish and Bone sprinkled around the trunk followed by a layer of well-rotted manure – not touching the plant at all so as not to burn it or encourage growth in the wrong places on the bush – and add a thick layer of mulch over the top. Water redcurrants through dry periods, especially before/during fruiting season.

Redcurrants fruit on buds that form at the base of the previous year’s new shoots. Currants should be pruned hard in winter to take out unproductive and crossing branches. Prune sublaterals back to only one bud as this will encourage new spurs that will develop flowers and fruit by summer. Cordons should also be pruned as summer arrived. Cut new sublaterals back to five leaves. During winter, cut back the leader to just above one bud of the previous year’s growth and prune all sublaterals to two buds to encourage new fruiting spurs. Prune May-June and November-January.

Netting redcurrants is almost compulsory. As they start to change colour, the birds swoop in and nab as many as they can. Use bird netting to allow the insects in still and pin it down the the floor securely. It makes picking difficult for you but it will ensure you of a harvest.

Redcurrant blister aphids cause red blisters on redcurrant leaves during the summer months. Check the underside of the leaves in late spring for yellow aphids and do your best to remove them. They won’t damage the fruit though so try not to be tempted to use chemicals. You can cut back the side-shoots in mid-June to 1-2cm short for the first fruit to remove any blistered leaves and to encourage good air circulation, if you want to take action. If your redcurrants are affected by sawfly larvae or coral spot, cut any affected shoots back to good wood and burn the cuttings.

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Redcurrants are ready for picking by midsummer, July-August. They become a beautiful ruby red colour. Unlike soft fruit, one can be patient and leave redcurrants a little longer to change from a pale pink to a rich red to increase sweetness. To harvest, pinch them from the plant as whole trusses, running a fork down the trusses to release the fruit. Storing them in the freezer straight away is the best option as they will spoil very quickly in the fridge.

They are a rich source of vitamin C, providing 49% of the Daily Value. Vitamin K is the only other essential nutrient in significant content at 10% of DV. Redcurrants are known for their tart flavour due to their relatively high content of organic acids and mixed polyphenols.  As many as 65 different phenolic compounds may contribute to the astringent properties of redcurrants. These contents increase during the last month of ripening. Twenty-five individual polyphenols and other nitrogen containing phytochemicals in redcurrant juice have been isolated specifically with the astringent flavour sensed in the human tongue.

Redcurrants can be eaten raw but they are a little sharp tasting (like all currants) and seedy, which is why making jelly rather than jam from them is more ideal. They are high in pectin so a few can be slipped into jams to increase the setting. I like to make redcurrant jelly from our batches. My family eat it with their roast dinners, sausages, chicken dishes, on melted Brie cheese on toast or baked Camembert cheese and rice or alongside a hearty homemade pie. My mum has also made an instant redcurrant sauce to pour like a gravy over the top of mashed potatoes and vegetables, when I had not quite got round to making my first batch of jelly this year and we had run out of last year’s products. In France Bar-leduc or Lorraine jelly is another spreadable jelly made from either white or redcurrants. Redcurrants are a popular filling for Linez torte in Germany and the nectar derived from the fruit is added to water for a drink, known as Johannisbeerschorle, named because redcurrants supposedly ripen on St John’s Day, Midsummer Day on the 24th June. There are plenty of pudding recipes out there for using redcurrants. I have seen redcurrant cupcakes, redcurrant jelly, redcurrant trifle, grunt, cobbler and, of course the famous summer pudding.

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Redcurrant Jelly

(Makes 4-5x 225g jars)

– 1kg redcurrants – 400ml water – Granulated sugar (see method for further instructions about amounts needed)

  1. Put the redcurrants in a large pan with 400ml of water. Simmer until soft and the juices from the currants have leaked. It should take about 45 minutes.
  2. Strain through a jelly bag/muslin for several hours, better yet to leave it overnight, taking care not to poke or prod as this will result in a cloudy jam.

3. Measure the juice and put it into a clean pan. For every 600ml of juice, add 450g of sugar as you start to bring the pan of liquid to the boil, stirring the sugar in until it has dissolved. Bring it to a rapid boil and leave it for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally to check if the liquid is becoming sticky rather than runny.

4. Pectin test: Put a china plate inside the freezer until it is cold. Put a small dollop of jelly on the plate and put it back in the freezer for a minute. Remove and run your finger through the middle – if it leaves a trail, it is done. If it starts to run back together, continue to boil and keep checking regularly – be careful not to leave it for too long or it will burn but under-boil it and it will not set.

5. Once your jelly has started to set, remove from the heat and allow to cool before ladling the liquid into sterilised jam jars.

6. To sterilise jam jars, place the jars and lids inside an oven preheated to 150C until warm to the touch. Remove from oven and leave to cool completely before using.

7. Place a wax disc over the top of the jelly in the jars to help them keep longer, seal the lid and label. Store in a cool, dry, dark place overnight before using to allow it to set properly. Serve with your Sunday roast dinner. Use within 12 months.

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Mum’s Instant Redcurrant Sauce

You will want to use freshly picked redcurrants for this and the younger the better – there will be less pips. Save the frozen and older ones for jelly making.

(Serves 6)

– 250g redcurrants – About 100ml water  – Enough granulated sugar to taste

  1. Place the redcurrants and water in a small saucepan and bring to the boil before turning down to simmer until all of the redcurrant juices leak out into the water. It should take about 10-15 minutes.
  2. Remove from the heat and using a very fine sieve, pour the liquid through it into another pan so that the currants are left behind in the sieve and you have a pure sauce.
  3. Turn it back onto a low heat. Add enough granulated sugar to taste, stirring in to dissolve. Continue to simmer for another 5-10 minutes.
  4. Remove from the heat and serve immediately, pouring it over your Sunday roast dinner, sausages and mash, lamb, potatoes, rice or salad dishes like a gravy. Keep in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Cucumbers

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‘Passandra’

Cucumbers (Cucurbitaceae family, or gourd) originated from Asia where it spread over its borders around 4000 years ago, becoming eventually the fourth most widely cultivated vegetable in the world. Long, green cylinders that are on every shop shelf around the country, the cucumber is a strangely popular vegetable – strange because it is more fruit-like in its appearance and watery, cooling taste. It is the ultimate ingredient for a summer salad or a glass of pimms.

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‘Marketmore’

They originated in the wild in India. Around 2-3 millennia BC they started to be cultivated and infused into the rich Indian cuisine. It spread through trading with Middle Eastern and European countries.

The Romans embraced cucumbers heartily. Their ease at producing them made them popular amongst the nobility and lower classes alike – Emperor Tiberius declared he would eat a cucumber every day and during the summer months his gardens were tended just for vegetables and in the winter cucumbers were grown in moveable bed frames that were moved to expose the sun or illuminated with mirror-stones. In Rome, cucumbers were also used in the medical profession, over 40 various remedies included them. They were used to treat everything, from bad eyesight, scorpion bites, infertile women who wished for children were encouraged to carry them around their waists.

After the end of the Roman Empire, cucumbers decreased in popularity and it was not until the court of Charlemagne in the 8th or 9th century that cucumbers resurfaced. Cucumbers arrived in England during the 14th century where they were not popular until the mid-17th century. During the 18th century, the expansion of cucumbers across North America halted when several medicinal journals claimed that uncooked cucumbers and similar vegetables produced serious health risks. Discouraged by this theory, cucumbers were abandoned on the continent until the 19th century when their safety and nutrition was confirmed. In 2010, worldwide production of cucumbers was 57.5 million tonnes.

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‘Crystal Apple’

The cucumber is a creeping vine that bears cylindrical fruits. There are three types of cucumber: slicing, pickling and burpless. Cucumbers enclose seeds and develop from a flower and are botanically speaking classified as pepoes (a type of botanical berry, like courgettes I posted about previously). In this way they are very much like tomatoes and squashes (same family) as they are often also treated as vegetables.

Cucumbers are usually more than 90% water. This high water content means that they are low in most essential nutrients, the only notable one really being vitamin K, 16% of our daily recommended value.

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Cucumber sandwich means summer

Cucumbers can be difficult to keep healthy. They are fussy about temperature changes and like to be kept in a humid environment, watered well but not too much and they really do hate being potted on, they don’t like to be disturbed. They are also quite hungry little plants so remember to feed them every fortnight if possible. Common diseases include powdery mildew and cucumber mosaic virus (see Courgettes for more information about these two diseases). The worst pest is the sap-sucking red spider mite that attacks the foilage on the cucumber plants (and other greenhouse plants) which eventually causes a mottled look followed by death of the plant. Biological control is the only remedy as the mite is immune to most pesticides.

Cucumbers have been bred to remove their natural bitterness and most supermarket varieties have a watery, diluted taste and consistency. They can be pickled, cooked and eaten raw. They are perfect for salads or as side dishes, such as combining them with yoghurt alongside curries where their cooling taste takes the heat off spicy dishes. Once pickled they can be kept in the fridge for a few days but are recommended best eaten fresh (‘Letith’s Vegetable Bible’). You cannot freeze cucumbers successfully due to the high water content. If you have a glut and cannot eat them all, pickling or including them in a chutney is your best way of using them up and preserving them that little bit longer. If you ever do produce a bitter cucumber, try peeling the skin off, the inside should be fine.

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‘Crystal Apple’

Varieties I have tried: ‘Marketmore’ – Sow: February-April. Traditional, cylinder shaped, dark green produce with bumpy skin that smooths during growing. The skin has a stronger taste than shop bought ones but I quite like it; I find it more flavoursome. The taste is not bitter unless the watering is inconsistent. Do not remove the male flowers on this plant. Suitable for outdoor and indoor growing.

‘Crystal Apple’ – Sow: April-June. Suitable for indoor and outdoor growing, this plant produces yellow coloured balls – literally apple-shaped cucumbers. They have a lighter, crisper taste than ‘Marketmore’. They are gorgeous and quite small too if you want to eat a whole cucumber in one meal.

‘Passandra’ – Sow: February-April. A new type I am trying out this year. Cylinder shaped, light green, smooth skin. They are advertised as being disease resistant. They taste delicious and are my little brother’s favourite. They look a little more like the ones we have bought from Sainsbury’s and are a safe option for starting to grow your own cucumbers, especially if you are growing for a family. The ‘Passandra’ variety have been our most productive so far this year.

Sow indoors, 0.5cm (1/4 inch) deep, on edge, in pots of compost. I like to sow mine in tall yoghurt pots (think Yeo Valley yoghurt styled containers, tall ones that give the roots lots of space to grow). Puncture a hole in the bottom to let the water drip out so that the plant is not drowning). Water the plant well and place in a temperature of 21-24C (70-75F). When mine have germinated, I like to place them on a warm, sunny windowsill during the day time and keeping them on the floor at night-time when the temperatures dip. When the plants have grown 3-4 leaves, harden them off in slightly cooler conditions (I move mine to a cooler room in the house to begin with). Some varieties can be planted outside by the brave (I have tried and failed with ‘Marketmore’ last year, never again, I will stick to indoor growing after losing 11 plants over various months…) at 60cm (2 inches) apart. Otherwise, pot them on inside a greenhouse in large containers up to their lower leaves. Water well and stake them with canes to give the tendrils something to cling onto as they grow and climb. Give them a weak, liquid comfrey feed every couple of weeks to encourage the growth of new flowers and to keep them healthy. Once they start producing, don’t be tempted to leave all of the cucumbers on the plants to become ginormous. Keep picking them at a medium size and they will be encouraged to produce more fruit so that you get a constant supply over the harvest season. With any luck, you may be picking them from July to October.

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There are plenty of ways to use a cucumber: add to any dish that requires a salad in circular discs, make cucumber sandwiches, cucumber and tuna and mayonnaise sandwiches, cheese and cucumber sandwiches, shred them and serve it in Chinese pancakes along with crispy duck and plum sauce, shred them and put them in a stir fry, the classic Greek salad, or as, I said earlier, add to yoghurt and eat alongside a curry – cucumber raita.

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Matte Paneer Curry
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Cucumber Raita

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Matte Paneer Curry with Cucumber Raita

Paneer is an Indian cheese with a sort of rubbery texture that can be bought it most supermarkets. Do not be put of by its look, it tastes amazing and is my favourite curry. ‘Matte’ translates as ‘peas’. To make ‘Saage Paneer curry’, replace the peas with spinach (‘saage’ means ‘spinach’). For meat eaters, replace the paneer with some freid chicken and for a vegan replace with some cooked chickpeas. You can also replace the coconut cream or milk with about 100-200g ground cashew nuts – it just thickens the curry a little.

(Serves 6)

For the curry: – 1 large onion, finely sliced – Olive oil or ghee, to fry in – 1 tbsp mustard seeds – 1 tbsp nigella seeds – 1 tsp fenugreek seeds – Handful of curry leaves (if available) – 2 large garlic cloves, finely diced – 1/4 tsp ground cumin – 1/4 tsp ground coriander – 1/2 tsp Garam masala – 1tsp ground turmeric – 2x 400g can of tinned tomatoes  – 225g paneer cheese – 250ml can/packet coconut milk or cream – 100g peas

For the cucumber raita: -1/2 cucumber – 200g Greek or natural plain yoghurt

To serve: – 300g brown or white basmati rice – Popadoms, chapatis, naan bread, or a mixture of all three – Mango, lime or tomato chutney – Shredded lettuce and other salad like chopped up tomatoes or plain cucumber, optional

  1. Oil a large frying pan. Peel and slice the onion into thin strips and place in the pan. Heat for a few minutes until the onion turns golden brown before turning down to simmer. Add the mustard seeds, nigella seeds, fenegreek seeds and curry leaves, stirring in the ingredients to combine. Allow the contents of the pan to simmer for a few minutes to absorb the flavours.
  2. Add the other spices: cumin, ground coriander, turmeric and garam masala. Stir in and leave to simmer for a few minutes to combine flavours.
  3. Add the tinned tomatoes, stir in and turn the heat up to high. Add the coconut milk or cream and stir in again – this thickens the curry a little.
  4. Cut the paneer cheese into small cubes. Add to the curry followed by the peas.
  5. Once the curry has thickened slightly and the peas have cooked, turn it down to a simmer until you are ready to serve.
  6. To make the cucumber raita: cut the cucumber into discs and then cut crosses through those discs to make 4 triangles. Put them into a large bowl and stir in the yoghurt until it is combined. Set aside until ready to serve.
  7. Serve the Matte Paneer curry along with the cucumber raita and rice, any Indian bread, chutney, side curries and salad you like. Try my Red Lentil, Carrot and Courgette Dahl Courgettes and my Curried Potatoes and Bread maker Naan Bread.

Happy Indian banquet!

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Mix the Matte Paneer curry with other side dishes
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Top with the cucumber raita for a crispy, cooling accompaniment for the spicy curry

 

Curried Potatoes and Bread maker Naan Bread

These make excellent side-dishes to the Dahl recipe I posted previously Courgettes. It is a great way of using up any left over potato too and if you have a bread maker or can adapt the recipe to make by hand, the naan bread is incredibly delicious. One final Indian curry recipe coming shortly: Cucumber raita with Matte Paneer Curry (Cucumbers).

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Curried Potatoes 

(Serves 6) 

– About 500g pre-boiled potatoes – 1 large onion, finely sliced – Ghee or oil, for frying – 1 tbsp mustard seeds – 1 tbsp nigella seeds – 1/2 tbsp fenegreek seeds – 1 handful curry leaves (optional) – 1 tsp cumin – 1 tsp ground coriander – 1 tsp ground turmeric – 1 1/4  tsp ground garam masala

  1. If you are not using pre-boiled potatoes, wash and slice up potatoes into small pieces and place them in a pan of boiling water for about 10-15 minutes until they are cooked. To check that they are done, insert a knife into the boiling potatoes – if they slip off easily without any persuasion, they are cooked. Drain and set aside.
  2. Oil a large frying pan. Peel and slice the onion into thin strips and place in the pan. Heat for a few minutes until the onion turns golden brown before turning down to simmer. Add the mustard seeds, nigella seeds, fenegreek seeds and curry leaves, stirring in the ingredients to combine. Allow the contents of the pan to simmer for a few minutes to absorb the flavours.
  3. Add the other spices: cumin, ground coriander, turmeric and garam masala. Stir in.
  4. Add the boiled potatoes and stir them into the spiced mixture so that they start to yellow and slightly fry. Turn the heat up a little if necessary.
  5. Leave to simmer for about 10 minutes or until you are ready to serve them so that they absorb the flavours and turn a little crispy.
  6. Serve alongside another curry or with just naan bread (see below for bread maker recipe), popadoms or chapatis.

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Bread maker Naan Bread

(Serves 6)

– 1/2 tsp fast-action dried yeast – 225g strong white bread flour (or 200g strong white bread flour and 25g khoresan flour, available from Doves) – 1 tsp sugar – 1/2 tsp salt – 1/2 tsp baking powder – 1 tbsp vegetable oil – 2 tbsp natural yoghurt – 100ml water

  1. Put all of the ingredients into the bread maker pan.
  2. Put it in the bread maker and set it on basic ‘DOUGH’ program, 45 minutes.
  3. When it is ready, sprinkle enough flour into the pan so that you can work with the dough without it sticking to your fingers. Set the grill to a medium-high temperature and flour a baking tray.
  4. Grabbing fistfuls of floured dough, divide into small balls, enough for 6. Using your hangs, stretch the balls out to make long naan bread shapes. Place them on the baking tray and put them under the grill for 2 minutes each side until puffed up and slightly browned. Keep a very close eye on them as they burn incredibly quickly. Serve immediately with a curry.

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