What with the travelling, the festival organising and the general gallivanting, there’s not been much cooking and allotmenting on Veg Patch of late. This might indicate that there’s nothing going on – but that would be false. First though, let’s take a little trip to the Hills.
I went home (i.e. to the parental home) to water the greenhouse, an age-old job that for most people takes 10 minutes, but at Grove House takes at least an hour. For years, the Way to Water the Green House (and the hanging baskets) has been indoctrinated into me, in the same way that a Tiger Mother might teach their child the times-tables. My folks like their plants tended to just-so, and obviously they have a lot of plants. As my reward, I did a little scrumping.
In Birmingham, our plant tending is a little more laid back. As is my flower arranging. I like mixing up the flowers and the veg because, well, it’s all so pretty!
The recent hot weather has brought everything on, everything apart from the French beans of course which remain sad and stunted. The greens, meanwhile, are fresh and zingy and beautifully slug-free.
I love greens. But perhaps, just perhaps, we might have too many?
In other news, the artichoke we inherited is proving to be a bully with more style than substance. For starters, it is HUGE and threatens to overrun both the currants and the strawberries. Last year I spent an entire weekend turning about 40 globes into antipasti; I’ve eaten less than one jar because although they tasted great, the texture was stringy. I wondered if they were better used for boiling. So yesterday I boiled up two of the larger specimens and ugh! I couldn’t even finish one. They tasted sludgy and herbaceous, but not in a good way. So I will let all these remaining buds turn to flower and unless they are amazing beautiful, the whole thing is coming out to be replaced with something a little more useful.
The cosmos and dahlia are starting to bloom, along with a few self-seeded interlopers. I’ll let them off; they’re pretty good.
However, some other interlopers have had their day. I removed the netting from the redcurrants and blackcurrants, to be greeted not only with bounteous fruit, but a forest of blackberry saplings that were hidden in plain sight.
And so we move to today’s recipe. It’s an odd one, but a really really good one. The recent hot weather demands an ice or two, and I really can not think of anything better than a sorbet delicately fragranced with fresh blackcurrant leaves. This is one of those recipes that is probably age-old, known only to country folk and people who grow-their-own, but my God, it’s amazing. The flavour is somewhere between lemon citrus and blackcurrant, but it’s more herbal and delicate than either of those two descriptions allow. There’s an element of elderflower in there; it’s ephemeral and light, but flavourful. If you have access to a blackcurrant bush, just give it a go and you’ll see what I mean.
First, get yourself a few fistfuls of fresh blackcurrant leaves. Check for bugs. We don’t want any bugs.
Then make up a simple syrup flavoured with lemon zest. It occurs to me that those Amalfi lemons I scooped up in Italy would be lovely in this, but alas they’ve all gone.
Now it all gets a bit witch’s brew. Chuck your leaves into the hot stock, wilt them down a little bit, and add the juice of three lemons. Then just pop a lid on and leave to infuse for a few hours, stirring occasionally.
When it’s properly stewed, strain it through muslin into a jug. I recommend that you wear an apron for this and do not do what I did, which is to come home from a media event in your poshest frock, remember that you have not yet strained the brew, then splash it down front of said frock and onto the floor. That would be an error.
Then chill the syrup down and put it into an ice-cream maker to churn. Half-way through the churning, add a lightly whisked egg white. I’m not 100% sure why this is necessary, but I think it’s something to do with making a smoother sorbet.
After a few minutes in the machine you’ll have a pale ice. Give it a good stir to make sure it’s smooth, then put in the freezer to firm up.
To serve, soften for a few minutes and serve a scoopful at a time, perhaps with a trickle of double cream over the top (it will freeze like that 1980s oddity, Ice Magic). Or just steal from the freezer when you get hot. Whatever works for you. I’ve also been known to swirl blackcurrant compote through this to make a grown-up ripple ice.
Blackcurrant leaf sorbet
Recipe adapted from Sarah Raven’s Garden Cookbook
An ice-cream tub of good fresh blackcurrant leaves
Grated zest of 2 (unwaxed) lemons
Juice of 3 lemons
575ml water (I used Malvern water, obviously)
1 egg white, lightly whisked with a fork
First, bash the leaves a little to release the fragrance. Make a stock syrup by melting the sugar into the water, then add the lemon zest. Bring to a simmer then remove from the heat. Add the leaves and let cool. Add the lemon juice. Cover and leave to infuse for a few hours or overnight. Strain the syrup through muslin and chill. Churn in an ice-cream maker for 5 minutes, then add the egg white and continue churning until frozen. Give it a stir to make sure it’s all incorporated and smooth. Freeze until firm.