I have been reading that if the Autumn colours are really vivid, that is a sign that we have had a hot summer – apparently the hotter it is, the more sugars can form in the leaves, and the degree of Autumn colour that the leaves get is a function of the leaf sugar levels. Apparently. So looking around at the drop-dead stunning autumn colours we have had this year (the ornamental cherry leaves are positively ablaze!), we must have had a lovely long, hot summer.
So why can I not remember it?
It just seems like so long ago, as if I am peering at Summer through the wrong end of a telescope, and it's quite easy to convince yourself that we didn't have a summer – that it's just been frosty and grey forever. And yet, and yet… there are vague memories surfacing. Memories of heat and light; of a garden bursting into life; of freshly picked sun-warmed tomatoes; of friends and laughter; of long walks in a sunbaked park; and of wild blackberry picking. And then the memories start to coalesce around one particular summer afternoon when the super fabulous Mowie and Bruce came over for lunch at our place.
When the boys arrived, and once we'd done the grand tour of the house, I immediately set them to work podding freshly cooked broad beans – but to ease the pain of the podding I did at least feed them the rasberry vodka cocktail that Meeta and I invented in the summer! The podded beans eventually became our starter – my broad bean, green bean and mozzarella salad, with crusty bread to mop up the yummy basil oil.
(2 photos above courtesy of Mowie)
For the main event, Nick was in charge of meat and unsurprisingly he chose to cook it on the barbecue! He produced an abolutely flawless version of his tried and tested pork loin stuffed with pear and sage, which is always a show-stopper. I, on the other hand, was in charge of the side dishes and above you can see me serving the mixed salad and my decadent South African potato and mushroom bake.
And then we felt it was time for a little break – perhaps a walk to allow our lunch to settle before we dug into Mowie's red velvet whoopie pies with coffee. "I have an idea", said Nick as he grabbed some plastic bags and led us out of the door. Living in the depths of E16, you would imagine that there is not much in the way of parkland – every park that anybody has ever heard of lies west of us – Regent's Park, Green, Park, Hyde Park – even Greenwich Park. So you will also probably be surprised to hear that we found 4 types of wild fruit within a 5 minute walk from our house: mirabelles, wild plums, wild cherries, and blackberries!
(Photo above right courtesy of Mowie)
As you can tell from the photos above, Mowie and I were doing most of the standing back and taking photos, while Nick and Bruce were in the thick of the brambles, picking the ripest and juciest berries with no thought to their own personal safety But it was definitely worth it – the haul of fat, juicy berries we ended up with would put supermarket specimens to shame, and they did not cost £2 per tiny punnet!
In the end, one of my all-time favourite desserts won the day: clafoutis. According to the Joy of Baking, a clafoutis (also sometimes spelled clafouti) is a French country dessert which originated in the Limousin region in Southwest France. The word comes from the French word clafir which means 'to fill' and it is traditionally made with the first sweet cherries of the season which are left unpitted as the kernels are said to add extra flavor while baking. The batter is rather like a pancake batter (heavy on the sugar and eggs, light on the flour) and results in a baked custard rather than a cakey confection. What fruit you stud the custard with is up to you – but allow me recommend blackberries most wholeheartedly – not only because their slightly tart taste balances the sweet batter but also because of the fantastic colour they give the dish. And
I am submitting this recipe to my lovely friend Deeba of Passionate About Baking who is this month's host of my Spice Sister Meeta's event, the Monthly Mingle. The theme is fruit in baking, and I hope she likes my clafoutis!
If you liked this blackberry recipe, you may also want to try these CookSister blackberry creations:
- chocolate, blackberry and almond torte
- spiced pear, blackberry and pistachio crumble
- blackberry & bourbon Eton Mess
If you are wondering where I got the pretty little plastic "shot glass" holding the fresh blackberries in some of the photos above, it was kindly sent to me by Restaurantware, who make an attractive range of bamboo and recyclable plastic disposable crockery for catering professionals.
BLACKBERRY & PISTACHIO CLAFOUTIS (serves 4)
250g fresh blackberries
3 medium eggs
120ml double cream
120g caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
70g plain flour
50 ml raspberry vodka (optional)
crushed pistachios to serve
icing sugar to serve
Whisk togther the eggs, cream, caster sugar and vanilla essence. Sift in the flour, stir well to mix, then beat with a wooden spoon for one minute to get rid of all lumps. If time allows, set the mix aside to rest at room temperature for an hour.
In the meantime, pre-heat the oven to 200C and wash the blackberries. Butter a 20cm ovenproof dish and cover the base with the blackberries. Pour over the vodka and allow to macerate.
When the batter has rested, pour over the blackberries and bake on the top shelf of the oven at 200C for 10 minutes, then turn the heat down to 175C and bake for a further 20-30 minutes or until the batter has set and is puffy and golden on top.
Serve warm, sprinkled with sifted icing sugar and crushed pistachios.
And in other news…
The May 2011 Plate to Page hands-on food writing and photography workshop presented by me, Meeta, Jamie and Ilva is now sold out - but register now if you are interested in Plate to Page II in Italy in Autumn 2011!