Chocolate-mint semi-freddo

The sun has re-emerged and out we come, like worker bees. In the past week, overtaken by this new solar energy, I have forked over half the vegetable and flower beds, whilst Matt has hacked away at the brambles in the wilderness. The thick manure mulch that I put down back in November has hardened into a sepia-toned cake, flecked with straw, but once the fork goes in the soil beneath is light, open and moist. I am pleased by the investment of both effort and cash. As we work we are accompanied by a symphony of bird song.

Slowly shifting the earth of the veg patch; peas and broad beans have been planted at the rear
Removing the creeping buttercup in the cut flower bed; see the difference once the top cake of mulch is worked in

It’s slim pickings now, of course, and will be for several more weeks. Had I been more organised I could have been picking tulips and sweet fennel at this time; as it is, I have only just got around to planting out the biennial honesty and sweet fennel that I sowed last spring. Last year’s sweet william are showing no sign of flower; for some reason, biennials behave like triennials in this ground – they take two years to get established and then in year three, we are overtaken by blooms. And speaking of biennials – I am leaving a few parsnips in the ground this year, to see what their flower looks like; as part of the carrot family I have high hopes for a whooper umbellifer.

Last of the 2020 parsnips plus a few surprise baby leeks

I come home with dry hands, grubby nails and a head full of plans. The planting map from a few weeks back has been revised, drawn pedantically to scale by Matt using Google maps as a guide. As ever, I am wondering how I will fit it all in – but we will, as we always do.

Revised plan for 2021 allotment – pedantically drawn to scale by Matt using Google maps

The sudden warmth has transformed our kitchen. Asparagus is on the table a few times a week; there’s the salt-kick of anchovy and olive against the sweet onion of a pissaladiere; proper burgers and pink wine. I’m also thinking about ice cream. Is it too early in the year? Not a bit of it.

This recipe for chocolate mint semi-freddo comes from Rachel Roddy’s wonderful book Two Kitchens, which my friend Annette raved about until I felt duty bound to get a copy of my own. Ordinarily I would be excessively snobby about mint ice cream but this has been a revelation; using really good fresh mint is the key. What you get is a bar of frozen mint cream, chocolate and air: predictably enough, we have come to call this Fake Vienetta, which both over- and under-plays its worth.

Even if you don’t like mint make this anyway, because the semi-freddo base is sensational; just leave out the herbs and flavour with citrus zest, or vanilla, or you could leave the mixture plain but stir in chopped nougat before freezing. It can be served straight from the freezer and manages to be rich, light and creamy at the same time.

This makes a massive bar of semi-freddo, enough to fill a 1kg loaf tin; you could halve the recipe to make it more manageable.

Chocolate-mint semi-freddo
From Two Kitchens by Rachel Roddy

The night before, warm up 500ml double cream with five stems of fresh mint, then transfer the lot to the fridge to steep overnight.

The next day, chop 60g good dark chocolate into a rubble along with a few extra leaves of mint.

Finely chop mint, and reduce the dark chocolate to rubble

Now gather three bowls and an electric whisk.

Separate 4 large eggs, yolks into one bowl and whites into another.

Whisk the egg whites until thick. (If you whisk the whites first you don’t need to wash your beaters as you go along, but work quickly so there’s no risk of egg white collapse).

Strain the flavoured cream into a bowl, remove and discard the herbs. Whisk until thickened.

Add 100g caster sugar to the yolks then whisk until pale and thick – the ribbon stage.

Whisk the egg whites, then the flavoured cream and lastly the egg yolks and sugar

Fold the cream into the egg yolk mixture gently but firmly, then fold in the egg whites – it’s best to do this in two or three stages. Lastly, fold in the chocolate and chopped mint.

Fold into an airy mass then add the chocolate and mint

Line a large (1kg) loaf tin with cling film, ensuring that plenty is left to hang over the sides. Gently tip the semi-freddo into the tin, then fold the clingfilm one the top so that it is entirely covered. Freeze for a good 12 hours until firm.

Freeze in a lined loaf tin until firm, about 12 hours

To serve, slice straight from the freezer. No other accompaniment needed.

Eats straight from the freezer

Also this week:
Sowing and allotment: More broad beans, more peas, sunflowers, and I’ll start the climbing and dwarf beans in the next few days. Direct sowed carrots, parsnips and dill on allotment, and carrots and lettuce at home. Also planting up pots for summer. Dug over much of the flower and veg patches. Planted out broad beans and peas. The first lot of broad beans that we direct sowed a month ago have not come up.
Cooking and eating: Asparagus. Proper burgers. Pissaladiere. Rock cakes and banana flapjack – nursery food, which of course Harry completely rejects. Joy of joy – rose wine!

Ice cream, she Mumbles

Allotmenting – and cooking for that matter – has taken a back seat for the last few weeks. After the storms blew over the best of the sunflowers and dahlias, I lost heart a little, and since then my time has been taken up with work (meetings now happening IN REAL LIFE! which is exciting but also exhausting after so long not seeing anyone), Harry’s birthday and a trip down to the Gower. Maybe it’s normal to get an energy dip at this time of year, with the days shortening and the light beginning to dim. But then this weekend the sun has come out and I realise that we’re not quite done with the season just yet – look at this basket of colour, harvested yesterday.

This week’s flower haul: dahlias, cosmos, sunflower, zinnia, chrysanthemum and dill

Once or twice a week I am gathering a flower haul like this, with multiple colours and shapes of dahlias, cosmos, sunflower, zinnia and chrysanthemum, and today I also added a few sprigs of lime-yellow dill to the basket. I place them in multiple vases in the dining room, the more clashing shades the better.

I place them in multiple vases in the dining room

This week Harry turned three, with not one but two birthday parties (in Corona-times we have to limit the numbers of people who can get together at once). I did consider making one of those 3D ambitious Thomas the Tank Engine cakes but sanity took over, and I stuck to the good old-fashioned chocolate tray bake with chocolate fingers and 100s and 1000s. To be clear, no matter how small the number of guests, a child’s birthday party is TIRING. I am deeply looking forward to Monday and a rest.

Harry’s small but fun birthday tea

But onto the ice cream referenced in the title. Last weekend we were in Mumbles at the edge of the Gower peninsula, hoping for a few days of peaceful rejuvenation amidst the sea air. Not a bit of it: in the six months since he last saw a beach, Harry has morphed from sand-phobic to CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF IT. I am rapidly having to rethink how we approach our forthcoming autumnal Cornwall holiday, for the usual cagoule-and-welly 30 minute beach experience is looking like it will become a full-day-outer needing buckets, spades, windbreaks, wet suits and thermos.

Afternoon light on the Gower
Sand meets sea meets sky on Rosilli beach

When one is knackered, and on holiday, there is always the promise of ice cream to keep energy levels up. And baked goods. And my goodness, do the Welsh deliver on the ice cream front. Verdi’s, on the Mumbles seafront, is an Italian cafe institution, serving up ice cream sundaes, semi-freddo cakes, custard slices (of which the Welsh are particularly partial, they were a regular feature in cafes) and proper coffee.

Ice cream sundaes, semi-freddo cake and cappuccino at Verdi’s

In fact, there are Italian-style cafes and ice cream parlours dotted across the Gower, and a little research tells me that this is A Thing. In the first half of the 20th century, immigrants from the small town of Bardi in the northern Italian mountains settled across South Wales, bringing cafe culture with them – and whilst many of these institutions have now closed, a few have stuck in out, passing businesses (and recipes) down the generations. This BBC article has more but what I would really like to do is take a road trip through the valleys, slurping my way through cappuccinos and gelatos, to find the true spirit of these independent Italian superstars for myself.

Also this week:
Harvesting: Cavolo nero, a scant handful of beans, raspberries, dahlias, chrysanthemum, cosmos, sunflowers, dill, zinnia. Also: Stripped back leaves from the bush tomatoes to let some light in, hoping for a few to ripen.

Cooking and eating: Birthday tea 1: chocolate cake, smoked salmon blinis, sausage rolls. Birthday tea 2: Full Tamworth buffet spread, my contribution was a mac and cheese with leeks and bacon and chicken wings marinated in yoghurt and ras al hanout. Baked porridge oats with blueberries, raspberries and coconut. Semi-freddo cake and ice cream sundaes at Verdi’s. Fresh mackerel and sardines bought from the fishmonger in Mumbles, butterflied and grilled, with fresh bread, salad and laverbread. Squishy focaccia sandwiches and chelsea buns from the Mumbles bakery.

Peach and amaretto ice cream

High summer is upon us. This has meant a few days of treacherously hot, heavy weather, broken with restless thunder and incredible forked lightening. Now we’ve lulled back into good old comfortable drizzle and mist – grey skies being the true constant feature of an English summer in the Midlands. Already there is the sense of nature drying out and crinkling up.

Yesterday we headed the other side of the city to Castle Bromwich gardens, a 17th century walled garden placed rather ignominiously beside the M6 and underneath the flightpath to Birmingham International Airport. It’s a gem of a find. Come August there is little I enjoy more than checking out someone else’s veg patch, and these marrows planted in a parterre style are certainly impressive. These cornflowers also caught the eye for their unusual shades of pink and purple, more fun than the normal blue and white.

The kitchen garden at Castle Bromwich Walled Garden
Cornflowers in shades of pink, plum and indigo

On my veg patch, or should I say flower farm, we have reached peak abundance. The dahlias are sensational this year; they must enjoy the full sun of our plot. Likewise we have armfuls of sunflowers and chrysanthemums, marigolds, tansy and strawflower.

Brassicas, squash and corn thriving amidst the cut flowers

This year I have sown ammi visnaga for the first time, a stubbier version of the more common ammi majus, and it’s quietly magnificent. On its own it is elegant, with lime green to white shades, but when placed with other stems it makes their colours shout louder. Also it doesn’t drop seeds and fluff everywhere, which is always a bonus. Highly recommend.

Ammi visnaga and cosmos purity are now coming into their own
We’re getting towards the jungle stage

I’m also enjoying this sunflower, whose name I do not know as I think it has come out of a Seeds of Italy mix. I’m planning to leave this head on the stem in order to harvest the seeds in a few weeks time so that next year I can grow more. The sunflowers are always covered in bees, no matter what time of day I visit, and it makes them impossible to cut for who has the heart to steal their nectar?

The un-named sunflower, a magnet for insects

With high summer comes a surplus of stone fruit in the supermarket, most of it – let’s face it – bruised and still rock hard. It is nigh on impossible to get a really good peach in this country, they usually need to be nudged along into softness. A peach that is picked before it is ripe will never become truly sweet, so the best thing is to poach them in syrup (stones and all) and then use them in cooking. Poaching stone fruit with their skins and stones intact gives the most glorious sunset colours; add a strip of lemon peel or a few bay leaves and you are whisked away to an Italian terrace.

This peach and amaretto ice cream is just the thing for those meltingly hot days where you’d rather be dipping into the sea around Amalfi. Incidentally, this is yet another ice that doesn’t need eggs, and I am coming to the conclusion that the very best fruit ice creams are the simplest: fruit, sugar and cream is all that’s required. A splash of booze helps to keep the ice cream smooth, but is by no means essential. You do need an ice cream machine, however.

Peach and amaretto ice cream
Makes about 1 pint. You need an ice cream machine and a stick blender or food processor.

5 small peaches, rock hard is fine
150g granulated sugar
150ml water
150ml double cream
25ml amaretto
icing sugar, optional

Halve the peaches but you can leave the stones and skins intact. In a shallow pan, melt the sugar into the water, then add the peaches and bring to a slow simmer. Put the lid on and poach the fruit for 5-10 minutes, until soft. Leave to cool, fish out the stones and skins, then blitz to a puree using a stick blender or in a food processor. Chill the mixture thoroughly before attempting the next stage.

When the fruit is quite cold, stir in the cream and add a shot of amaretto. Have a taste and if it needs to be sweeter, stir in a spoonful of seived icing sugar (remember that ice cream looses its sweetness when frozen). Transfer the lot to your ice cream machine and churn into a soft peachy mass. When it’s done, move the ice cream to a tub and freeze until firm. Remove from the freezer for fifteen minutes or so to soften before serving.

Peach & amaretto ice cream – as usual, no pretty sundae pictures here, just ice cream in a tub

Also this week:

Harvesting: Dahlias, ammi, cosmos, sunflowers, marigold, delphinium, strawflower, amaranthus, chrysanthemum, tansy, raspberries, blueberries, spinach, chard, courgettes, chard, dwarf beans.

Cooking & eating: Roast chicken with runner beans and roasted potatoes, carrots and fennel; pancakes with fresh raspberries, cinnamon buns; vegetable curry using home-grown veg.

Doing: Elford Walled Gardens, Castle Bromwich Walled Garden, moving back into my office after a 5 month renovation.

Red gooseberry ice cream

It’s mid-July and the glut is starting to hit. Not that much of it has been grown by me, of course; I do get a glut of cut flowers and courgettes but that’s always about it. No, this glut is the result of greedy farm shop purchases plus generous gifting from my mum and dad’s veg patch, and a spot of judicious shopping from Aldi (a supermarket that is surprisingly good for summer produce).

The bright late summer cut-flowers are starting: chrysanthemum, strawflower and achillea
The allotment is reaching its cut-flower peak

In my kitchen currently I have: punnets of plums, strawberries, blackberries and peaches; a massive bowl of red gooseberries, a juicy cantaloupe melon sliced and topped with blueberries from the shrub outside the back door, three aubergines, five green peppers, a bag of French beans, a bag of chard, another bag of spinach beet, a kohlrabi, an overflowing plate of tomatoes and several courgettes (erm maybe a marrow). This week there has also been raspberries, bulb fennel, beetroot and young carrots. Outside there are pots of basil, marjoram, tarragon and leaf fennel; there should be lettuce too, but the snails got there first.

What can be more joyous than whole boxes of summer fruits and veg? The box at the back was grown by my mum and dad, the stuff at the front is from Hillers farm shop
Late strawberries meet early plum and blackberries

And so begins my annual trawl through the cook books to find new things to do with all this loot, because one thing I REALLY don’t want to do is spend hours prepping it, stick it in the freezer, forget about it for a year, then chuck it out. (No judgment, everyone with a productive fruit and veg patch does this.)

These days I don’t have much space for wafting around the kitchen creating fun new dishes – no one ever tells you just how much time pre-schoolers take up – but one evening this week, after work, teatime, bath time, Tree Fu Tom, Big Red Bath, Katie and the Dinosaurs and bed time, I found myself, glass in hand, sitting down to top and tail this lot.

Homegrown red gooseberries getting topped and tailed

Thomasina Miers posted a recipe on Instagram for red gooseberry ice cream a few days back, spiked with grappa, orange and proper vanilla. Thus inspired, I’ve come up with this version, which is full of the flavours of the English summer. The grappa is replaced by blackberry gin, and elderflower cordial takes the place of vanilla.

The method is simple enough and can be adapted to so many summer fruits (see my blackcurrant ice cream). Take your prepped gooseberries, bubble them up with elderflower cordial until soft, add the gin and sugar, then blitz to a puree. Push through a sieve and chill until quite cold, then fold in whipped cream and churn to freeze.

Gooseberry puree spiked with elderflower cordial and blackberry gin
Churn the puree with cream, then freeze until firm. I know I should post a picture of a perfect ball of pink ice cream in a dainty glass dish, but in this house we eat it straight from the tub.

It’s rich, of course, but the acidity of the gooseberries stops it being cloying. The alcohol helps to keep the ice cream smooth but you can leave it out if you prefer. These cream-based ices don’t last so long, so eat this one up within a few weeks. Now…what to do with those blackberries?!

Red gooseberry ice cream

500g red gooseberries (you could use green but you may need more sugar)
1 tbsp water
2 tbsp elderflower cordial
140g granulated sugar
50ml blackberry gin (or other suitable spirit)
250ml double cream

Top and tail the gooseberries. Tip them into a pan with the water and elderflower, then cook gently for about 5 minutes, until soft. Add the sugar and gin. Blitz in the blender or with a stick blender until smooth. Push through a sieve and chill until quite cold. Stir in the cream then churn in your ice cream machine, or use the stir-freeze method. Pop in the freezer to set hard. Remove about thirty minutes before you want to eat to soften.

Also this week:

Harvesting: Dahlias, calendula, nasturtium, first sunflowers, achillea, last sweet peas, cornflowers, first chrysanthemums, first strawflower. The soft flowers of June are giving way to lurid carnival brights of late summer. First courgettes, a few French beans and spinach beet leaves. Took up final broad beans. Onions are ready and we need to have a poke around the potatoes. Have had to put cages over the 6 nepeta plants to stop the neighbourhood cats destroying them.

Cooking and eating: A tart of puff pastry topped with harrisa, sliced roast aubergine and feta. Summer minestrone (no tomatoes, just greens). Lemon and blueberry drizzle cake. Matt’s beef shin, beer and mushroom pie. Plums straight from the punnet.

Reading: Nothing of note. I am desperate for the library to re-open. We’re watching Toy Story at least once a day.

Also: Renovation of the office continues and I’ve decided that the bathroom is next.

Chocolate mini milks

I’ve been remiss in documenting this year’s allotment, mainly because progress has been slow and steady and therefore not very dramatic to photograph. Plus we have new neighbours whose efforts put me to shame (that’s retirement for you). Something has flipped in me this year though, because the self-seeded plants who have set up home on our allotment have become friends rather than foes. Last year, everything felt like a struggle, partly because I was running a festival and HAD NO TIME. This year it’s a wee bit more relaxed, though I’m only spending an hour or two a week down there and I can only do what’s possible in the time I have. The thistles and groundsel I do remove, but there’s no point fighting the borage, nasturtium, mullein and poppies. The pollinators love them and actually their colour and form are welcome elements to this year’s allotment (I have harvested some poppy seed heads for drying). Even those annoying brambles are swelling with the promise of a bumper crop of blackberries.

Perhaps because of my tardiness, the broad beans have been fine but no major success this year. They are full of weeds and I do wonder if they needed less competition. It’s a similar story with the climbing beans, whose base are overrun with nasturtium. I think the Cobra will do OK, but the purple and borlotti beans are sluggish. We will get a crop but it will be late, partly because my first set of plants were zapped by that late April frost so these are Maytime afterthoughts. The runner beans, incidentally, have completely vanished, which makes me wonder if I planted any in the first place. I’ll pop some seeds directly into the ground next time I visit, in hope of an autumn bean surge.

The long view, with bean sticks, squash plants, sweetcorn and amaranthus. Also plenty of self-sown ‘weeds’ – borage, nasturtium and poppy.

The things that we leave alone often do the best. The dahlias were over-wintered in the allotment, I never water them, and they are now the biggest plants on the plot. There is something to be said for leaving tubers in situ. They are just now beginning to give a crop, as are the new tubers planted last month on the gritty thin soil at the top of the path.

The March-sown corn plants with dahlias behind

The onions have become fat, their leaves beginning to flop, and next to them – miraculously – we have a line of pale green parsnip seedlings that finally germinated on the third attempt.

onions, leeks and tiny parsnips plus some hastily planted zinnia to plug the gaps

August’s cut flowers will be dominated by cosmos, chrysanthemums, ammi and sunflowers. The sweet peas are fading now, their velvet shades become mottled as they give up the ghost.

Ammi visnaga and cosmos, with chrysanths and strawflower behind plus the inevitable self-seeders mullein and poppies
sweet peas, nasturtium and cornflower
Sunflowers are romping away now

The hop is one of those plants that is hidden in plain sight. It’s so part of the furniture that I rarely see it these days, only to look up last week and notice that one bine has collapsed under its own weight.

A bine has collapsed on the hopolisk

Because of my transformed attitude to weeds, plus the success of this year’s planting plan (every inch of ground is covered with something), the July allotment is a pleasure rather than the burden that it was threatening to become. The crops are coming weekly but in small number, which doesn’t make for good photos but does make for a more manageable life. We’re talking a courgette and a bag of broad beans a week, leaves from the trug at home, plus a few berries and two or three vases of flowers. Come August all this will change of course and the glut will hit.

The regular haul of sweet peas, cornflower, nasturtium plus first dahlias and cosmos

Do you remember when it was warm? No I don’t either but I have pictorial evidence that, just a few weeks ago, the sun shone. At these time I become one of those highly irritating super women who produces home-made ice lollies for her offspring. (Don’t be fooled by this, because the rest of the time he exists on chocolate buttons and Aldi’s own-brand Ritz biscuits.) These chocolate mini milks are really easy and use up those smushy black bananas that are always lurking in the fruit bowl. They’re also a good way of getting milk inside him disguised as a treat.

You’ll need a blender and some lolly moulds. Little hands can join in, but make sure they know which end of the lolly handles to put into the moulds…

Remember to put your lolly sticks in the correct way up

Chocolate mini milks

In a blender, whizz together 1 banana, 1 tsp cocoa powder, 2 tsp icing sugar and about 200ml milk. Pour into lolly moulds and freeze.

Chocolate mini milks

Also this week:

Harvesting: last broad beans, first courgette, lettuce, rocket, blackcurrants, blueberries, alpine strawberries, cornflower, sweet peas, dahlia, first sunflower, nasturtium, poppies. Also finding peaches, nectarines, plums, strawberries and red/white currants in the shops and farmer’s market.

Cooking and eating: Nectarine, plum and strawberry crumble. Inevitably, pasta prima vera with courgette and broad beans. Chicken marinated with Moroccan spice mix, yoghurt and garlic, roasted in a HOT oven and served with chopped salads, yoghurt and chips. Toscakaka. Black banana cake.

Also: Reading the biography of Elizabeth Jane Howard. Working back at full tilt without ever feeling any richer. Slow but steady progress on the office renovation. Taking Harry for his first hair cut since February, and then only because his fringe had become and health and safety issue.

Strawberry cheesecake ice cream (no-churn)

We’re approaching glut season. Ten days I go a had a piddling number of quite crappy-looking strawberries, and now I’m picking by the ice-cream-tub full. Same goes for redcurrants and it won’t be long before the blackcurrants, blueberries and raspberries head in the same direction. This is not a complaint of course: loads of strawbs and loads of redcurrants mean a kitchen filled with the sweet fragrant fug of boiling fruit and sugar as I bottle up a year’s worth of jam. Need to wait until the baby’s in bed though; I can not even imagine the horror of attempting jam-making with a 9 month old whizzing around under my feet in his baby walker.

Strawberries, redcurrants, chard, rocket, lavender and sweet william

One thing that can absolutely be made with the kids is this no-churn strawberry cheesecake ice-cream, shamelessly pinched from this month’s Waitrose Kitchen magazine. It uses fresh strawberries (anything to get through the glut), those little caramelly Lotus Biscoff biscuits (I get them from the Pound Shop), and a few other store cupboard items that you’ll have lying around anyway or can pick up cheaply enough. There’s no making of custard or boiling of sugar, and no messing around with ice-cream makers, so it’s simple too AND is surprisingly good.

First, in your food processor or blender, whizz together 235g strawberries with a squeeze of lemon juice and 1 tbsp icing sugar until smooth.

Whizz together strawberries, lemon juice and icing sugar

In a largish bowl, using a handheld whisk, beat a 200g pack cream cheese until soft and creamy, then add 1 tsp vanilla extract, a small pinch of fine salt, and a 397g can of condensed milk. Keep whisking until smooth, then add 425ml whipping cream and whisk until thick with soft peaks.

Whisk together cream cheese, condensed milk, vanilla extract, salt and whipping cream

Finally, in a another bowl, crumble up 60g Lotus Biscoff biscuits. I think it’s important to use these as their intense flavour comes through even when frozen, but you could try a different type of hard, caramel biscuit if you can’t find the Lotus Biscoff ones.

Bash up some Lotus Biscoff biscuits

Then get a tupperware box and fill to halfway with a layer of cream, then fruit and then biscuits. Swirl with a knife to make a ripple effect, then add a final layer of cream, fruit and biscuits. Give it one last swirl with a knife and then put in the freezer until firm, about 5 hours.

Layer the fruit, cream and biscuits into a plastic tub and freeze until firm

Once you’re ready to serve it’s best to leave this at room temperature for ten minutes or so to soften. Word up: this is RICH and a little goes a very long way. But it tastes great. It would also work blackcurrant, raspberry or blueberry…always thinking about the next glut, me. Serve with some more fresh fruit on the side to cut through the richness.

No-churn strawberry cheesecake ice cream

Also this week:

Harvesting: Lettuce, rocket, chard, broad beans, strawberries, redcurrants, lavender, sweet william

Also in the garden: Foxgloves are going over but the delphinium and roses are coming into their own. Sunflowers are stunted by the dry weather but beans are romping away. From my desk I’ve been watching newly-fledged magpies testing out their flight muscles whilst still being fed by their parents.

Cooking & eating: Tarragon roast chicken with broad beans, pecan brownies

Days out: Three Counties Show for Matt’s first Father’s Day and to introduce Harry to his cultural heritage of sheep, cows and men-being-daft-about-old-tractors. David Austen Roses for a cream tea on my birthday. 38 and not out!

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Blackcurrant ice-cream

I spent a good hour on Sunday processing soft fruit. I don’t mean putting it through the food processor… I mean topping and tailing gooseberries and blackcurrants to make them freezer ready. Yesterday at the allotment, my neighbour left with a crate (a crate!) filled to the brim with goosegogs. That’s a lot of crumble.

In truth our fruit harvest is down this year on last and I’m uncertain why. Perhaps the bushes need a good prune, or maybe I didn’t net properly and the birds had them. But still, on Sunday the bushes gave up about 1 kilo of blackcurrants, and there’s still more to come.

I’ve had my eye on Sarah Raven’s cassis recipe for quite a while. It’s very simple: in old money, for every pint of brandy, add 1lb each sugar and blackcurrants, plus a few blackcurrant leaves for flavour. Leave to stew for a few weeks before straining. Cassis is great for making cheap white wine (in particular, fizz) into something drinkable: the French call this a Kir, or if you’re using fizz, a Kir Royale. I’ll give the verdict in the autumn.

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Cassis in the making

But the best, the absolute BEST, thing to do with blackcurrants is to turn them into ice-cream. And I mean ice-cream is the purest sense; that is, cream that is flavoured and frozen. Most ice-creams have a custard base which can be a bit of a faff. This one is as simple as can be.

Firstly, get yourself some cream. Incidentally, I’ve never weighed or measured anything when making this ice-cream, just going with what I have. Each time it’s worked out yummy. But that’s no help to you so I’d allow about 450ml double cream.

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Take some cream…

Then you’ll need some blackcurrants. I took about 500g of fruit and cooked it down with a little sugar and water until the fruit burst. It tasted sweet but not too sweet. It was then pushed through a sieve and chilled to make a thick glossy smooth puree.

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…and some cooked and sieved blackcurrants…

Then you just mix it all together! Whip the cream until it’s just thickened and then fold in the blackcurrants. Don’t over-whip as that will mess up the texture; it needs to be smooth and dollop-y. Give it a taste: it should be slightly too strong and sweet, as the freezer will dull the flavour. If in doubt, add a little icing sugar to the mix.

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Whip them together…

Then pop the lot into your ice-cream maker and churn until frozen. Or frozen-ish. I always make too much and so it stays very soft-set. No matter, as it hardens up just fine in the freezer.

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…and churn

Pop the lot into a tub and freeze until firm. This ice-cream retains a lovely  texture that really is akin to a custard-base ice. I can only imagine that the blackcurrants, with all their pectin, have something to do with this. If it’s too hard to scoop, just leave the ice-cream out of the freezer for 20 minutes or so before serving.

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Purple blackcurrant ice

If you, like me, pick far too many blackcurrants at this time of year to eat, then you can always make up the fruit puree and freeze for future ice-cream making forays. I’ve made this with both sieved and chunky puree, and I think sieved gives a better texture.

Be warned: this is fruit and cream and sugar. It’s rich and a little goes a long way. But my God, it’s good!

Blackcurrant ice-cream

Recipe half-remembered from a National Trust cookbook from many moons ago. You’ll need an ice-cream maker.

About 500g blackcurrants

Granulated sugar, to taste

About 450ml double cream

Icing sugar, to taste

First make your puree. Remove any big stems or leaves from the currants. Put them in a pan and cook on a gentle heat with a splash of water and a few spoons of granulated sugar until the fruit bursts. Taste it: it should be sweet but retain a bit of sharpness. Push through a sieve and chill.

Whip the cream until very soft peaks form. Fold the fruit into the cream, tasting as you go until the right balance is achieved. Add icing sugar if you need to. It should taste a bit too strong and a bit too sweet. Churn until frozen, then put in the freezer to harden up.