Tomatoes

Tomato – the edible, often red, veg of the plant Solanum lycopersicum, commonly known as a tomato plant. The plant belongs to the nightshade family, Solanaceae (potatoes, auberinges/ eggplants). The species originated in western South America.

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Wild versions were small, like cherry tomatoes, and most likely yellow rather than red. A member of the deadly nightshade family, tomatoes were erroneously thought to be poisonous by Europeans who were suspicious. This was exacerbated by the interaction of the tomato’s acidic juice with pewter plates. The leaves and immature fruit in fact contain trace amounts of solanine which in larger quantity would be toxic, although the ripe fruit does not. Aztecs used the fruit in their cooking. The Nahuatl (Aztec language) word tomatl gave rise to the Spanish word “tomate”, from which the English word tomato derived. The exact date of domestication is unknown, but by 500 BC it was already being cultivated in southern Mexico. The Pueblo people are thought to have believed that those who witnessed the ingestion of tomato seeds were blessed with powers of divination. The large, lumpy variety of tomato, a mutation from a smoother, smaller fruit, originated in Mesoamerica, and may be the direct ancestor of some modern cultivated tomatoes. Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes may have been the first to transfer the small yellow tomato to Europe after he captured the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City, in 1521. Christopher Columbus may have taken them back as early as 1493. The earliest discussion of the tomato in European literature appeared in a herbal written in 1544 by an Italian physician and botanist who suggested that a new type of aubergine/ eggplant had been brought to Italy that was blood red or golden color when mature and could be divided into segments and eaten like an eggplant – cooked and seasoned with salt, black pepper, and oil. It was not until ten years later that tomatoes were named in print by Mattioli as pomi d’oro, or “golden apples”. Taken to Europe, the tomato grew easily in Mediterranean climates and cultivation began in the 1540s. It was probably eaten shortly after it was introduced, and was certainly being used as food by the early 17th century in Spain.

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Tomatoes were grown mainly as ornamentals early on after their arrival in Italy. For example, the Florentine aristocrat Giovanvettorio Soderini wrote how they “were to be sought only for their beauty”, and were grown only in gardens or flower beds. The tomato’s ability to mutate and create new and different varieties helped contribute to its success and spread throughout Italy. However, even in areas where the climate supported growing tomatoes, their habit of growing to the ground suggested low status. They were not adopted as a staple of the peasant population because they were not as filling as other fruits already available. The earliest discovered cookbook with tomato recipes was published in Naples in 1692.

 

Tomatoes were not grown in England until the 1590s. However, by the mid-18th century, tomatoes were widely eaten in Britain, and before the end of that century, the Encyclopaedia Britannica stated the tomato was “in daily use” in soups and broths. They were not part of the average person’s diet, and though by 1820 they were described as “to be seen in great abundance in all our vegetable markets” and to be “used by all our best cooks”, reference was made to their cultivation in gardens still “for the singularity of their appearance”, while their use in cooking was associated with exotic Italian cuisine.

Botanically speaking, a tomato is a fruit, a berry, consisting of the ovary together with its seeds, of a flowering plant. However, the tomato has a much lower sugar content than other edible fruits, and is therefore not as sweet. Typically served as part of a salad or main course, rather than at dessert, it is considered a culinary vegetable. One exception is that tomatoes are treated as a fruit in home canning practices: they are acidic enough to process in a water bath rather than a pressure cooker as vegetables require.

Tomato plants are vines, initially decumbent, typically growing 180 cm (6 ft) or more above the ground if supported, although erect bush varieties have been bred, generally 100 cm (3 ft) tall or shorter. Tomato plants are dicots and grow as a series of branching stems, with a terminal bud at the tip that does the actual growing. When that tip eventually stops growing, whether because of pruning or flowering, lateral buds take over and grow into other, fully functional, vines. Tomato vines are covered with fine short hairs. These hairs facilitate the vining process, turning into roots wherever the plant is in contact with the ground and moisture.

The poor taste and lack of sugar in modern garden and commercial tomato varieties resulted from breeding tomatoes to ripen uniformly red. This change occurred after discovery of a mutant “u” phenotype in the mid 20th century that ripened “u”niformly. This was widely cross-bred to produce red fruit without the typical green ring around the stem on uncross-bred varieties. Prior to general introduction of this trait, most tomatoes produced more sugar during ripening, and were sweeter and more flavorful.

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Here are some to try growing: 

Garden Pearl (Determinate) – Sweet cherry tomatoes, happiest in large pots outdoors.

Marmande (Semi-determinate) – Large irregular fruits with excellent flavour, happiest grown outdoors.

San Marzano 2 (Semi-determinate) – Classic flashy Italian plum tomato, happy in the greenhouse or outdoors.

Golden Sunrise (Indeterminate) – Distinct sweet flavour, happy in the greenhouse or outdoors.

Red Cherry (Indeterminate) – Prolific crops of sweet ‘cherry toms’ happy in the greenhouse or outdoors.

Tigerella (Indeterminate) – Good flavour and novel stripes on the skin, happy in the greenhouse or outdoors.

Sungold F1 (Cherry) – Attractive golden fruits with a very high sugar content balanced with some acidity, Indeterminate.

Shirley F1 – A much loved variety famed for its heavy yields of well-flavoured fruits – an outstanding hybrid.  Indeterminate.

Loretto F1 – sweet cherry sized fruits with excellent flavour and a good choice for outdoor containers. Resistance to blight is one of the major benefits of this cascading ‘bush’ tomato. Indeterminate.

Alicante F1 – One of the best for flavour and very reliable yielding a good crop of medium sized tomatoes. Indeterminate.

Ferline F1 – A top quality tomato variety producing high yields of large and tasty fruits. Trials have shown that tomato Ferline F1 has excellent resistant to blight. Indeterminate.

Indeterminate – these varieties of tomatoes are the most common and are grown as cordons (single stemmed plants with side shoots removed). They will grow very tall – sometimes taller than 2.5m in very warm conditions.

Bush/Determinate – these varieties stop growing sooner than indeterminate varieties with the stem ending in a fruit truss. They are referred to as ‘bush’ and ‘dwarf’ types (suitable as hanging basket tomatoes) and don’t require any pruning.

Semi-determinate – these are similar to indeterminate varieties (grown as cordons) only they produce shorter plants.

Types of tomatoes:

  • Beefsteak tomatoes – 10 cm (4 in) or more in diameter. Their kidney-bean shape, thinner skin, and shorter shelf life makes commercial use impractical.
  • Plum tomatoes, or paste tomatoes (including pear tomatoes), are bred with a lower water /higher solids content for use in tomato sauce for canning and are usually oblong 7–9 cm (3–4 in) long and 4–5 cm (1.6–2.0 in) diameter; like the Roma-type tomatoes.
  • Cherry tomatoes – small and round, often sweet tomatoes, about the same 1–2 cm (0.4–0.8 in) size as the wild tomato. Probably my personal favourite.
  • Grape tomatoes – are smaller and oblong, a variation on plum tomatoes.
  • Campari – are sweet and noted for their juiciness, low acidity, and lack of mealiness, bigger than cherry tomatoes, and smaller than plum tomatoes.
  • Tomberries –  tiny tomatoes, about 5 mm in diameter.
  • Oxheart tomatoes can range in size up to beefsteaks, and are shaped like large strawberries.
  • Pear tomatoes are pear-shaped and can make a rich gourmet paste.
  • “Slicing” or “globe” tomatoes are the usual tomatoes of commerce, used for a wide variety of processing and fresh eating. The most widely grown commercial tomatoes tend to be in the 5–6 cm (2.0–2.4 in) diameter range.

Heirloom tomatoes are becoming popular amongst home growers as they tend to produce more interesting and flavorful crops at the cost of disease resistance and productivity. The definition of an heirloom tomato is vague, but unlike commercial hybrids, all are self-fertile varieties that have bred true for 40 years or more.

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How to grow tomatoes

In England, we can be kind-of lucky and get some tomatoes off the vines when we grow them outside, but really it is easier to do it in a greenhouse as they will prefer warmer growing conditions.

Tomato seed is normally sown 6-8 weeks before the last frost date (March/April) although they can be sown earlier for greenhouse cultivation. Sprinkle your tomato seed thinly on the surface of good quality seed compost. Cover the seed with about 1.5mm (1/16in) of compost and water lightly with a fine-rose watering can. If only a few plants are required sow two seeds into a 7.5cm (3in) pot and after germination remove the smaller plant. The seeds generally germinate in about 7 to 14 days at a temperature of around 21C (70F). Keep the compost moist. Pot on the tomato seedlings when large enough to handle, taking care not to touch the stem. Handle the plants by the leaves and transplant them carefully into 7.5cm (3in) pots. Take care not to expose the plants to frost, cold winds and draughts as this may kill them. Tomatoes need a lot of water and feed (high potash) to get the best fruit. Water little and often for the best results. If growing outdoors, plant approximately 45cm (18 in) between the plants and 75cm (30in) between the rows. Regularly pinching out of tomato side shoots will concentrate the plant’s energy into producing fruit.

One of the most common problems when growing tomatoes is tomato blight, which spreads quickly throughout the plant in wet weather, causing the plant to die and the fruits to decay. The symptoms are brown patches on all parts of the plant. It is much more common in tomatoes growing outside than tomatoes growing in a greenhouse.

Start picking your tomatoes as the fruits ripen and gain full colour. When frost threatens at the end of the season, lift any plants with unripe fruit on them and hang them upside down under cover.

Tomatoes contain excellent amounts of fiber, vitamins A, C (to resist infections), and K, potassium (controlling heart rate and blood pressure), and manganese. Good amounts of vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), thiamin, niacin, Vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper are other resources. In daily value, tomatoes provide 38% of what is needed in vitamin C, 30% in vitamin A, and 18% in vitamin K. Tests suggest tomatoes may be a preventive factor against prostate cancer. Lycopene flavonoid antioxidant has the ability to protect the cells even as it protects the skin from ultraviolet damage, and as a possible result, skin cancer. Lycopene in tomatoes has been proven to decrease oxidative stress and risk of osteoporosis and prevent serum lipid oxidation, thus exerting a protective effect against cardiovascular diseases. The coumaric acid and chlorogenic acid, in tomatoes, fight against nitrosamines, which are the main carcinogens found in cigarettes. The presence of vitamin A in high quantities has been shown to reduce the effects of carcinogens and can protect you against lung cancer. Tomatoes keep the digestive system healthy by preventing both constipation and diarrhoea. They also prevent jaundice and effectively remove toxins from the body.

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There are so many ways of using tomatoes and they are such a valuable crop to grow yourself. You can eat them raw, as part of a salad or cheese sandwich, cheese toasty, stuff them, cook with them to make a sauce for any dish, fry them to go with your English breakfast, sun dry them, bottle or can to make your own tinned tomatoes, always a handy thing to have at hand for a quick meal… 

Here are some recipes that use tomatoes. Plenty more on the site!

Recipe: Mushroom Tomato Risotto

Aubergine (Eggplant) Curry

 

Recipe: Fried courgette-tomato sauce with spaghetti

Updated recipe: homemade pizza

Quinoa – Chicken Casserole

Recipe: Baked Potatoes and Kidney Beans

Salad – Rocket – Pasta and tinned tomatoes and rocket

Keep searching for more recipes! 

Happy Halloween! Recipe Flashbacks

Time has come when Trick or Treat doesn’t really happen in the household – although I assure you the dressing up of the Beagle dog still happens, she loves to be a pumpkin or Tinkerbell – so if you are likewise not hitting the neighbours to beg sweets of them, why not make something spooky at home to eat in front of ‘Ghostbusters’, ‘Addams Family’, ‘Wallace and Gromit Curse of the Were Rabbit’… ?

Here are some old recipes I have posted that can become quite ghoulish…

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Recipe: Jam Roly-Poly

Also historically known as ‘Dead-man’s Arm’, this is an easy, warm, scrummy pudding that can be made to sound rather violent… Don’t worry, it tastes good so you will soon forget to be squeamish.

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Recipe: Fried courgette-tomato sauce with spaghetti

Make a tomato sauce and spread it out over spaghetti and, voila!, splattered brains (inspiration form Swedish Farm Daughter’s blog, check out her list of Halloween party recipe ideas: https://wordpress.com/post/thekitchengardenblog.wordpress.com/2100).

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Garlic

Alternatively, make my Eggy-Garlic Spaghetti which really does look like brains, or some monster’s insides, a little Dr Who-ish.

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Recipe: Apple and Blackberry Crumble

Add blackberries to your apple crumble for a bloody coloured pudding.

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Cherries

Make my cherry yoghurt cake and say that the cherries are eyeballs…

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Courgettes

My favourite Halloween supper after Trick or Treating one year was my mum’s pumpkin dahl – replace the courgettes and carrots in the food processor with pieces of roasted pumpkin, blend and continue to follow the recipe as instructed here. It makes a lovely sweet tasting, warming dahl. Serve with rice.

 

Alternatively… 

In the old days it was customary for us to make an island of mashed potato in the middle of the plate, stick some sausages into the middle, pour instant gravy around the edges to make a moat and squirt lots of ketchup on top, creating a bloody, ghoulish island. I’m not sure why, it was just a habit.

Another idea: long story but my grandma who used to love to buy us sweet treats used to buy quite a lot of chocolate raisins. We ended up with a TOWER in our cupboard that we couldn’t quite face. We used to tie them up in tissue paper and give them to little kids and relatives for Christmas as reindeer poo, at Easter as Easter Bunny poo and at Halloween as ghost poo. So if you are ever stuck for Halloween party or Trick or Treat ideas, ghost poo always goes down a treat. Mini-marshmallows work just as well as chocolate raisins.

 

I will be posting (hopefully) very soon recipe ideas for what to do with leftover pumpkin/squash from your Halloween carvings. Until then, Happy Halloween everyone, enjoy it! 

 

 

Cherries

PRUNE May-June HARVEST July-September

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‘Morello’ Sour cherry tree

Cherries are fleshy drupes (stone fruits). There are sweet cherries (Prunnus avium) and sour/acid (Prunus cerasus). The English word ‘cherry’ derives from the classical Greek through the Latin cerasum, which referred to the ancient Greek place name Cerasus, today the city of Giresun in northern Turkey in the ancient Pontus region.

The harvesting of cherries extends through most of Europe, western Asia and parts of northern Africa, and the fruit has been consumed throughout its range since prehistoric times. A cultivated cherry, as well as the apricot is recorded as having been brought to Rome from northeastern Anatolia, also known as the Pontus region, in 72 BC. A form of cherry was introduced to England at Teynham, near Sittingbourne in Kent (Kent cherries are the most famous in the UK) due to the orders of Henry VIII who had tasted them in Flanders. There were once vast numbers of cherries grown in the UK but the manpower shortages during the world wars started a slide that was exacerbated by cheaper imports. As a consequence, we have lost 95% of our cherry orchards in 60 years. However, cherry trees are becoming a major growing market in the Middle East, Europe, North America and Austrailia, Turkey being most productive producing 480,748 of sweet cherries in 2012 and 187,941 sour ones in the same year. In France since the 1920s, the first cherries of the season come in April or May from the region of Ceret, where the local producers send, as a tradition since 1932, the first crate of cherries to the French president. In Australia, the New South Wales town of Young is called the ‘Cherry Capital of Australia’ and hosts the National Cherry Festival.

Over the last few decades, plant breeders have succeeded in developing smaller self-fertile trees, ideal for our back gardens as it dispenses then need for giant ladders and endlessly extendable tools like lopers.

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Our sweet cherry trees we bought last winter are:

‘Stella’:  A self-fertile, Canadian bred variety producing large dark fruits with an excellent sweet flavour. Highly recommended and popular. Large fruit in a blood red hue. Very productive but sensitive to cold. Harvested from mid-July -August.

‘Sunburst’: A late season eating cherry which produces large almost black fruits. Supposed to be very productive. Self Fertile. Crops earlier than ‘Stella’, from mid-July.

‘Merchant’: A large black, red early-season cherry with a good flavour. Self-sterile –  requires a pollinator for a crop.

‘Hertford’: Requires a pollinator, self-sterile. Black coloured fruit, crops late-mid summer.

The sour cherry tree we own and harvested from for the first time this year since we bought it last January 2015 (and is probably the most famous, popular brand of sour cherry to purchase) is the ‘Morello’. For 400 years it has been the people’s favourite. The ‘Morello’ is self-fertile too and very popular for pie-makers. Harvesting often happens from late-August onwards. Sour cherries have twice as much vitamin C as sweet varieties, the trees are more likely to be ‘laden’ and are happy to face north or east.

All cherries are a target for feathered friends but sweet cherry’s Latin name, avium does mean ‘for the birds’. Net your trees with insect-friendly netting as soon as you see fruit starting to form after the blossoms. We had a couple of sweet cherries on our ‘Sunburst’ and the birds found them too quickly this year. We only got to net the ‘Morello’ and fortunately enjoyed all of the harvest for ourselves.

Sweet cherries love full sun while sour cherries do not mind a shady spot. Cherry blossom tends to form early and can be susceptible to frost damage so be prepared to carefully fleece their delicate blossom or to grow them is a sheltered position. Do remove or peg up the fleece during the day time to allow the insects to pollinate the blossom. Cherries like fertile, well-drained soil. Plant cherry trees in a a hole you have dug and fed with very well-rotted manure, compost and Blood, Fish and Bone or Bonemeal. Gently put the tree in the hole, up to where the knob is on the trunk, no higher. Firm the soil in very well around it by stamping with your feet. For dwarfing root-stocks plant them 2.5m from each other, for large ones 6m. Once planted, water well through dry periods. Put a ring of well-rotted manure, Blood, Fish and Bone and a layer of mulch around them in late winter/early spring (around March) to fertilise these shallow-rooting trees and to set them up for the fruiting season ahead. Do not let the manure touch the trunks of the trees, give them some space or it will wither burn the bark or encourage growth at the bottom of the tree which you don’t want, you want it all to be higher up.

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‘Hertford’ cherry blossom is beautiful

Prune and train cherry trees like you would for any other stone fruit in the summer months. Aim for a goblet shape. They fruit in clusters at the base of year old stems and older wood so limit pruning of freestanding cherries to taking out dead and diseased or crossing branches after you have harvested. The disease silver leaf is common amongst cherry trees and finds its way in most easily on pruned branches. This can be reduced by pruning in summer when the rising sap prevents this disease from taking hold. Sour cherry trees are pruned like sweet cherries until the third year. They crop along the length of stems that grew the previous year so cut out a good amount of the older wood that is unproductive and this removal will encourage new growth that will fruit the following year.

Cherries naturally thin their fruit, dropping excess they feel incapable of carrying so you will not need to do any thinning out as you would with apples, plums or pears which feels heartbreakingly difficult. Do net them when they grow or the birds will swoop in at the first sign or ripening.

Bacterial canker and silver leaf are two diseases to be wary of, other than root rots so do be  wary not to over-water the trees who detest being too wet (useful for England, yes?). Blackfly or black cherry aphid is another possibility which I had on my cherry tree leaves last year. Try wiping them of if you can as they cause the leaves to curl and promotes fungal growth on the fruit. At the fruiting stage in June and July, the cherry fruit fly may try to lay its eggs in immature fruit, causing fungal infection in the fruit after a rain shower.

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Cherries are usually ready for eating in the second half of the summer season, depending on the weather and type of cherry tree. Pick them by their stalks in fry weather. Be careful to avoid bruising the fruit as it is so delicate. Cherries may keep in the fridge for up to a fortnight by the flavour will deteriorate and it is best to eat your sweet ones as soon as possible and to either cook your sour ones immediately or to freeze them. There is no need to remove the stones – unlike plums, once frozen cherry stones come out really easily. When defrosting them, remove them from the freezer for a few hours before cooking them and leave them to drain all of the excess liquid through a sieve into a bowl or cup. This juice can then be drank as a cherry aide.

Cherries don’t have a particularly high nutritional content. Dietary fibre and vitamin C are present in moderate content while other vitamins and minerals each supply less than 10% of the Daily Value. Sour cherries have a high content of vitamin C and A than sweet varieties. Despite this, science has proved that eating cherries is very good for you. Studies published suggest that drinking cherry juice is as good as taking prescribed drugs for lowering blood pressure. People who drank 60ml of cherry concentrate, diluted with water, saw their blood pressure drop by 7% within three hours, according to scientists at Northumbria University. This was enough to reduce the risk of a stroke by 38%or heart disease by 23%. Tart cherries contain two powerful compounds, anthocyanins and bioflavonoids. cherry consumption reduces several biomarkers associated with chronic inflammatory diseases, like gout and arthritis. There is even some scientific studies implying that eating cherries can help memory loss, reducing the symptoms of Alzheimers. Cherries are a natural source of melatonin, a hormone that helps control sleep. Studies suggest that particularly tart cherry juice can help one with insomnia sleep.

As I said, we only harvested our ‘Morello’ sour cherries this year, no sweet varieties available for trying out. I froze a couple of small bags worth and have used one so far. There are plenty of yummy ways to eat sweet cherries raw: think mixing them in fruit salads, yoghurts, ice cream sundae toppings, chocolate fondue or alongside some cheese and walnuts in a salad for a starter or main meal. You would be surprised how many ways there are to use sour cherries that need to be cooked to be eaten. Clafoutis, a batter with cherries and a dash of kirsch thrown in makes a delightful French pudding my mum loves. Stew them with brown sugar to make a compote to eat for breakfast, dessert or as a snack, or even alongside trout, I have read of before. Or use the compost to mix into homemade ice cream to make cherry ice cream or mix in with yoghurt to make frozen cherry yoghurt. For my first adventure with our homegrown sour cherries, I went for the inevitable: cake.

Yoghurt cakes have an amazing texture and the slight sour taste really does accompany the cherries brilliantly, giving the cake flavour. Everyone was very complimentary at the result. I was a little stingy on how many cherries I used, 150g, but feel free to add in more. You can probably change the fruit as well. I can imagine blueberries, perhaps pears or plums or another stone fruit like apricots or nectarines being complimentary with the cake. I have used this recipe before with a bag of frozen cherries bought from Sainsbury’s a couple of years ago which did work after a long time of defrosting so it does not have to specifically be sour cherries, it can be sweet – sour will just give you that extra magic flavour.

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Cherry Yoghurt Cake

Cherry Yoghurt Cake

(Serves 10)

-200g salted butter – 200g caster sugar – 4 medium sized eggs – 100g Greek yoghurt – 200g self-raising flour – 1tsp baking powder – 150g cherries

  1. Preheat the oven 180C. Grease and line a 20cm deep cake tin with baking parchment.
  2. In a bowl, beat the butter and the sugar together until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs together and then gradually add them to the butter mixture, whisking well to thoroughly combine them.
  3. Mix in the Greek yoghurt followed by the flour and baking powder.
  4. Pour the mixture into the cake tin and scatter the fruit on top (do not press them into the mixture otherwise they will sink to the bottom of the cake during the cooking process. Scattering them allows some to sink a little and some to remain on the top). Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre leaves clean. Leave the cake in the tin for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.
  5. Serve in slices either plain, with a large dollop of Greek yoghurt, ice cream or cream. Store in an air-tight container for up to three days.

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Serve plain or with some yoghurt, cream or ice cream for a lovely summer dessert