Amsterdam, Liquorice and Stem Ginger

I’ve been meaning to write about our long weekend in Amsterdam for over a month now – in fact I have a queue of blog posts lined up and now, after the rush of pre-Christmas cooking classes, I might just get down to a bit of writing.

Jenny Chandler and Family Amsterdam

Soaking up the winter sunshine in Amsterdam

I just can’t believe that I’d never been to Holland before, I suppose that I’ve always felt that it’s right on the doorstep- any how we decided to escape at half term on a hideously early flight, which did mean that we were fit for little more than watching the world go by from a barge for most of the first day. We’d booked a 48 hour, jump-on-and-off boat ticket  on line (with museum entries too) so I felt rather smug and über-organised for once, saving some precious euros as well as a lengthy queue.

The boat was ideal, Imi rather randomly spent most of the time engrossed in a puzzle book about  Ancient Egypt allowing us to soak up the scene. Mile upon mile of skinny canal houses with their glorious gables cutting into the clear blue sky,  bikes everywhere, stalls of tulip bulbs and the odd Gouda cheese emporium. Amsterdam was everything I’d expected – all the clichés in a good way, bar the delights of the red light district which we left to the stag parties (although the crotchless, fishnet body stocking in the shop window by the tram stop did lead to a challenging discussion with an 8 year old).

I didn’t expect to be making many gastronomic discoveries on the trip, we were travelling with Imi after all and there’s only so much time that she’ll put up with poking about in food markets and perusing restaurant menus. We came upon the Saturday organic farmer’s market in the square by the Noorderkerk quite by chance; they were doing a roaring trade in oysters and I snapped up cheese, bread, apples and raspberry tart for a picnic lunch.

We left the fabulous museums until Monday and Tuesday when the crowds had calmed down a bit and were surprised at how relatively quiet they were. There were moments in the Van Gogh Museum when you could find yourself standing quite alone in front of one of those oh-so-familiar masterpieces, it was just a million miles away from the Mona Lisa scrum I experienced a few years ago in Paris. The Rijksmuseum was mind-blowing too, with Imi’s highlight being the 1660, Pieter de Hooch’s Mother’s Duty ( a mother delousing her daughter’s hair)- rather topical after a recent school memo about the latest nit outbreak

Back to the foodie stuff though -

Autumn beer, a dark delicious brew became the holiday refreshment  – particularly the Chouffe Boc 666 (which I’ve since discovered is Belgian!).

My newly found snack of choice was the local ossenworst – a sort of lightly smoked, subtly spiced raw beef sausage, a bit like steak tartare, served with dark bread, pickles and mustard.

We were  determined to eat a traditional Indonesian Rijsttafel (a huge spread of tiny dishes) whilst we were in Amsterdam and our dinner at Sampurna right next to the flower market on the Singel canal was very good indeed.

And then came the Liquorice?- Now I thought that I liked, even loved, liquorice – from the super-commercial Bertie Bassett variety to the soft Kiwi sticks and even the salty Italian pastilles in their tiny designer tins. So, when we found a wall of liquorice in a traditional sweet shop, I went a little wild and bought bags of the stuff: salted, sweet, with honey, with bay and then a good scoop of the Amsterdam “drop”. Nothing, and I mean nothing, could have prepared me for the astoundingly hideous taste of the “drop”- flavoured with ammonium chloride! The rest of my liquorice haul was not much better – so please all you Dutchmen and Scandi’s (yes, you chaps eat it too) explain yourselves.

& finally came the splendid pancakes at Pannenkoekenhuis Upstairs. There is a bit of hype surrounding this tiny place (just four tables), especially since Anthony Bourdain visited, so I’d definitely book. Thankfully you do burn off a bit of energy getting up the unbelievably steep stairs, as the pancakes are huge. Star of the show was the cheese pancake with a mound of finely diced stem ginger piled in the centre. It’s a combination I’ll be repeating and did remind me just how much I love stem ginger.

And just incase you were wondering what else you could do with stem ginger?

  • Slice and eat with plenty of salted butter on wholemeal toast for breakfast.
  • Use as a marinade for grilled salmon – Dice finely and mix with orange juice, zest and soy sauce. Pour over the salmon (leave in one piece rather than individual portions), leave for 20 minutes and then grill until caramelised on top and still wonderfully juicy inside.
  • Added in thin slices to a chocolate or pear tart.
  • Combine with rhubarb – in fools, crumbles or my favourite rhubarb and ginger pavlova.


Empanada and Jazz in the School Hall

It’s about time that I got back to my blog- I know, weeks of inexcusable silence. Well, it’s been a momentous month: I hit 50, Peter and I got engaged (after just 14 years) and I’ve got a new book on the go. I’ve stored up all sorts of stuff that I really will get down to writing about but thought I’d flash this one off. Here’s the empanada recipe that I cooked, amongst other tasty bits, at the P.T.A fundraiser at our daughter Imi’s  primary school – Hotwells (just a quick hike down, and decidedly buttock-firming climb back up, Granby Hill) in Bristol.

The very enthusiastic Mr Bassett, A.K.A. Peter/Manuel, was my tapas assistant and sidekick – (there was a Fanny and Johnny-esque tone to the demo and now I’m convinced that all the school parents think I’m a bossy old bag -it was all put on of course!) The evening’s entertainment went from the ridiculous to the sublime with another Mum, the super-talented Kate Dimbleby, singing some jazzy numbers including a couple from her latest show and album Beware of Young Girls (Go on have a click and a listen), The Dory Previn Story,  that she just happens to be taking to New York this Christmas.

But now to the empanada which went down a treat – the recipe came from a small restaurant just outside the town of Goian in Galicia. My search for the perfect empanada had been a long one, I felt like I was a million miles from home, gazing across the Minho river at Portugal and then suddenly Fernando the owner/chef started regaling me with tales from his days as a waiter at Thornbury Castle (just a few miles from Bristol) when Fanny Craddock parked her Rolls on the croquet lawn (oh yes we’re back to Fanny again!). It was all quite surreal .. but I must now get to the point and give you that recipe

Galician Flat Pie

The Crust
20 g/ ¾ oz fresh yeast or 1 tsp dried
350 g/12 oz strong white flour
125 g/4 ½ oz corn meal, masa harina or finely ground polenta
½ tbsp salt
50 ml/2 fl oz white wine
100 ml/3 ½ fl oz olive oil
50 g/2 oz lard, chopped into 1 cm/ ½ inch dice (you could use vegetable fat instead)
1 egg, lightly beaten

Another egg lightly beaten, to seal and glaze.

Mix the yeast up with about 3 tablespoons of blood temperature water until you have a creamy paste.

Now put the flour, cornmeal, salt, wine, oil, lard, egg and yeast in a large bowl and begin to stir everything together. You can get your hands in pretty quickly and bring the dough together. It should feel soft and quite sticky, if there is any dry flour left in the bowl then add a splash more water. You will have a job to roll the dough out thinly later if it is too dry.

Work the dough, squashing and rolling for a couple of minutes until well combined and smooth. It will feel somewhere between a pasta and a bread dough. Place it back in the bowl and cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise for at least an hour or until it has risen a little.

Meanwhile make your filling
Tuna filling – Relleno de atún

150 ml/ ¼ pint olive oil
4 onions, sliced finely
1 red pepper, sliced finely
1 green pepper, sliced finely
2 tsp sweet smoked paprika
1x 170 g/5 oz can tuna in olive oil
4 tbsp tomato puree
salt to taste
3 boiled eggs, sliced (optional)

Fry the onion until soft and golden and then add the peppers. You really should take your time on this -the longer and more gently you fry this base the sweeter and more delicious the result.

Sprinkle in the paprika and stir in the tuna and tomato puree, cooking for another couple of minutes. Season with salt to taste. Just remember to slightly over season the filling – you might want a dash of vinegar and even a sprinkle of hot paprika too (the filling will be surrounded by the more neutral crust)

Lay the slices of egg on top of the filling in the empanada before adding the lid.

Now for the Assembly

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C /400°F /Gas mark 6.

Back to the crust. Roll out half the dough to a 5 mm/ ¼ inch thickness to fit your baking sheet or Swiss roll tin. Grease the baking sheet and lay the dough on top.

Now pile on the filling, spreading it evenly, leaving a 2cm/1 inch margin around the edge. Include all the deliciously oily juices too

Brush the edge with a little beaten egg – this is your glue so do beware not to drip it down the sides of the dough or it will be welded to the tin when it comes to serving.

Roll the rest of the dough to the same size and lay it over the filling. Now crimp the edges together, twisting over the dough to form a rope-like edge – like a Cornish pasty.

Brush the entire empanada with beaten egg and, using a fork, pierce the top with dozens of holes ( or you’ll end up with the London dome effect and then a large split).

Leave to rest for 10 minutes and then bake in the hot oven for 20 – 30 minutes, until the crust is nicely browned.

Fillings can vary enormously but just think of the onion, pepper, paprika and tomato as the base and then add cooked chorizo, pork loin, octopus, salt cod and raisins, black pudding with pine kernels or whatever else takes your fancy.

You’ll find recipes for pork and chorizo or octopus empanadas in my book – The Real Taste of Spain- available from the Hotwell’s School office (if you happen to be a parent) or from good bookshops and from Amazon too

Jenny Chandler- The Real Taste of Spain

And just another little picture for you – I visited a bakery in Santiago de Compostela where everyone took their own fillings into the baker who made up the empanadas with his own fabulous dough, initials were marked in the crust and then baked at dawn ready for a simple lunch or snack to be picked up first thing in the morning.

Apple Day Dumplings

I have to admit that Apple Day has always passed me by, but this year I was writing a small piece for Borough Market about heritage apples and the celebrations that they’re holding in the market on Sunday 26th October. There will be 1000 varieties of apple on display, many available to taste, to celebrate the market’s 1000th birthday (there are in fact over 2,300 named apple cultivars).

Suddenly I’ve become more apple-aware and got all hot under the collar (& with good reason too) looking at how many foreign imports are being sold in the supermarkets at the height of our own apple harvest. I went out on an English apple hunt and found a good variety of home-grown fruit in my local green grocers – Reg the Veg. There was an even bigger selection of lesser known apple types at Earthbound, the organic store in Cotham. It was fascinating to taste so many totally different flavours and textures, Imi and her friends joined our panel – here are our tasting results.image

At the top of the pile we LOVED Egremont Russett (nutty), Red Windsor (very crisp and juicy), Braeburn (good sweet /sharp balance) and Charles Ross (wonderfully sweet).

In the second tier came Adam’s Pearmain (aromatic but a bit soft and granular) , Hereford Russett (not quite as sweet and nutty as its Egremont cousin) , Spartan (perhaps a little too sweet), Cox ( good taste – could have been crisper) Kidd’s Orange Red ( a wee bit too sharp for the girls but I enjoyed it) and Gala (bit sweet and bland).

Our only rejects were the tiny Pitmaston Pineapples that just seemed rather wooly and uninteresting.

So, fired up with newly found enthusiasm for heritage apples Peter, Imi and I visited the Horfield Community Organic Orchard  (HOCO) in Bristol for their Apple Day celebrations last weekend. You’d never imagine that there was an orchard and allotment plot tucked away behind the houses on King’s Drive but having found the tiny path we suddenly walked through a gateway into a little haven in the city. The volunteers at the orchard share their knowledge about fruit growing, look after  the ancient heritage varieties they discovered on the site and keep up a wonderful green space;  in short they’re a breath of fresh air in the city.

On Sunday there was a stall of fabulous home-baked cakes (all appley of course), a table of dozens of varieties to taste, apple pressing (giving the most fabulously toffeeish juice), a stand of jams, chutneys and very young trees and then some good old Morris Dancing. The sun shone, it was ridiculously warm for October and the busy Gloucester Road seemed a million miles away.
Maybe every city has a few gems like this tucked away, but I’m always amazed how many little secrets there seem to be around Bristol waiting to be discovered.

One recipe I discovered whilst doing my research for Borough was for apple dumplings. My neighbour, Sacha, says that as a child she used to beg her mother for any leftover pastry when she was baking and wrap up an apple into a dumpling. I have to confess that I’d never even heard of them.  Apple dumplings have now entered my repertoire, they’re a great way of playing around with whatever dried fruit or nuts you might have in the cupboard and just feel a bit more special than a simple baked apple. So, here’s the recipe.

Apple Dumplings (4)

4 delicious dessert or dual-purpose apples – I used Herefordshire Russets (cookers are just too soft and moist)
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tbsp of chopped dried fruit – I used figs but apricots, dates or sultanas would be delicious too.
2 tbsp brandy, calvados or rum
1 tbsp roughly chopped nuts – hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, pistachios
3 tbsp ground almonds
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tbsp muscovado or other brown sugar
250 g puff pastry (I cheated with all – butter bought stuff)
1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp water

Pre-heat the oven to 220 °c

Peel the apples and remove the cores, leaving about 2cm flesh at the bottom. I find it easiest to remove a plug with a knife and then excavate with a melon baller (about the only time I ever use it) to give a decent size cavity for the filling. Roll the apples around in the lemon juice in a bowl to stop them browning.

Now place the dried fruit in a small pan with the alcohol and bring it up to the boil. Switch off and leave the fruit to plump up whilst you prepare the rest of the stuffing.

Mix together everything else and then tip in the fruit and alcohol.

Carefully spoon as much of the filling as possible into the apples, be generous, you can really pile it on top.

Now take a piece of foil to check what size your pastry squares need to be to enclose the apples. Roll out the pastry very thinly and cut into your 4 squares.

Place the apple in the centre of each square and pull up the corners as if you were forming a new stem. Pinch together the sides, chop off the excess pastry and use this to make a few leaves.

Brush the pastry with the beaten egg and stick on the leaves. Bake in the oven on a tray for about 20- 25 minutes, until golden brown.

Eat whilst hot with cream, clotted cream or honeyed yoghurt.

And just another thing – my rather beautiful plates that I’ve served the apples on are, in fact, made of tin. Lindy sells them at her glorious Portobello shop Ceramica Blue or if you’re in Bristol you can find them in the  Bristol Guild . I can’t wait to whip them out on my next camping trip – they range from William Morris designs to replicas of Queen Victoria’s Coronation plates.

Chocolate Dipped Figs and Pop Up Suppers

Every once in a while it’s good to push your professional self a little and get out of your comfort zone (you can translate that as – terrify the living daylights out of yourself, hopefully glide through the process and then feel on top of the world because you’ve achieved something).

I’m feeling both apprehensive and excited about cooking for my first pop up at The Bertinet Kitchen in Bath tomorrow. It’s odd because I used to do lots of catering but it’s been a while and nowadays I’m more used to teaching and doing demo’s than “cheffing”. I’d be just a little more relaxed if I wasn’t following in the footsteps of the über talented Nathan Outlaw (oh yes, Mr 2 stars) and Monsieur Bertinet himself, who’ve cooked up the pop up feast for the last 2 weeks. I’ll give you an update in a few days time (that’s assuming I don’t cremate the food and totally cock-up and then I’ll obviously go underground)

Anyhow, today I decided I’d get a couple of jobs done, one being these chocolate figs – they really are spectacularly tasty so I thought I’d share the recipe. There’s nothing new about these – they’re an Italian classic. I learned to make them decades ago when I was working in a cookery school in Umbria with Ursula Ferrigno. They follow in the tradition of the Italian biscuits called brutti ma buoni (ugly but good); they’re not much to look at, but you just taste one.

Chocolate dipped figsChocolate Figs with Almonds –  Begin a day in advance

12 soft, dried figs
100 ml brandy
12 whole blanched almonds (ideally plenty so that you can eat the rest with a glass of fino sherry)
100 g dark (at least 70% cocoa solids) chocolate
Zest of 1 orange

Slice the tough little stalk off each dried fig and soak for as long as you have in the brandy, preferably overnight. (A quick zap in the microwave or warming through in a pan will help things along if you’ve forgotten)

Roast the almonds in a hot oven for anything between 5 and ten minutes until they smell nutty and heavenly. Watch them like a hawk, giving them a shake in their roasting tray from time to time.

Melt the chocolate – in a bowl over a pan of hot water or as I do on the very lowest microwave setting.

Now get a production line going.
Take a fig (you can drink the left over brandy later or use it for cookin)  -Push an almond into the fig – Dab the fig in the orange zest – Dip the fig in the warm chocolate- Place on a sheet of greaseproof paper to firm up – Sample with a cup of espresso.

And just one tip when cooking for large numbers or performing any repetitive kitchen tasks – it’s time to crank up the music.  E.L.O or Earth Wind and Fire make the jobs fly by.


Grape Picking in Somerset Cider Country

I always imagine that when I grow up I’ll have a garden where I nurture fruit trees and grow all my own vegetables, then I suddenly remember that I’m fifty next month (aaargh…..) and it’s a bit like wearing red lipstick or having a tidy car, it’s just never going to happen. It’s rather fortuitous for me that I have friends who’ve taken different roads in life and sometimes ring with the offer of a basket of quinces or, better still, the opportunity to help them harvest their grapes.

So last Saturday Peter and I set out on our first grape picking expedition. A few years ago you would probably have assumed that we were leaping on a plane to visit some far flung Spanish bodega, but nowadays with over 400 hundred vineyards in England and Wales you won’t be so surprised to discover that we were within 1/2 an hour of Bristol. Our friend Ingrid’s vineyard is in Wrington, North Somerset, just a stone’s throw from The Ethicurean (that fabulous restaurant/cafe/walled garden that I’m always banging on about). Most people associate The West Country with cider but, with the acreage of vineyards doubling in England over the last 10 years, you’ll find a few winemakers too.

I’d imagined a seriously back breaking morning but Ingrid and Stephen had dozens of eager friends and family lined up and, after a bit of secateur tuition ( basically cut the green bits and not the old wood), we got going. We were picking  Pinot Noir grapes, which along with some green Seyval (yes, you wine buffs probably know that they’re green – I didn’t) go into the Dunleavy Vineyards Rosé. The hot summer had been good to those vines and Ingrid seemed very chuffed with her harvest. I did feel a bit guilty though; it was as if we’d all just snapped up the form prize without doing the homework. There was a tremendous feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment filling all those crates with grapes, it seemed rather painless and fun, chatting away amongst the vines. It’s all too easy to forget that a couple of hours were the culmination of weeks and months of pruning, tidying and nurturing – it was almost as if we’d made it look too easy.

We finished up sitting around on picnic blankets with sandwiches, cake and wine; all in all a wonderfully relaxed day that will make the 2014 vintage an even more special one to drink. I can’t claim any knowledge when it comes to grape requirements for wine production but, later in the day, we received news that we’d picked around 2000 bottles’ worth of grapes with a sugar level of 85 and acidity of 8.5 – sadly this means very little to me but it made Ingrid happy so it must be good!

I meant to include a recipe in this post too – I remembered that (rather conveniently) I had a very simple one for poached peaches in my book The Real Taste of Spain. However, I rushed along to the local green grocer’s, Reg The Veg, to discover that the peach season really has come to a close. I also decided that I couldn’t bear the thought of boiling up some of Ingrid’s award winning rosé with vanilla and orange zest in any case. If, however, you do happen to have some peaches you can find my recipe on The Telegraph website here .

To hear a bit more about Ingrid,  Dunleavy Wines and the rise of English winemaking then you can catch up on this Radio 4 Food Programme episode from July.

AND, more importantly, if you’re after some of the wine (the 2013 vintage won the Local Producers award at Bristol Good  Food Awards 2014),  here’s where to get it



Farinata and The Folk House

A couple of weeks ago Lou Marchionne and I had a great evening “Spilling The Beans” about the delicious and nutritious versatility of legumes at The Folk House Cafe in Bristol. We got things rolling with a nibble of freshly cooked rosemary farinata and many of you who came along loved it so much that I promised to share the recipe from my book (Pulse).

Farinata’s a flatbread/pancake (also known as cecina, torta de ceci or socca – depending on where you come from) made from chickpea flour. It’s a speciality of the French and Italian Rivieras that I first came across in the trattorias of Chiavari back in my yachty days. Farinata makes the perfect lunchtime snack and it’s obviously a fabulous choice for all the gluten -free/wheat-free brigade.

This morning I popped into  The Better Food Company in Clifton to pick up the chickpea flour, or gram flour as it’s often known, so that I could prepare and photograph the recipe for you. … Yippee, there was Lou behind the deli counter just setting out some of her freshly made farinata,  it was meant to be! So, you have a pic’ of Lou’s cooking instead of mine. May it entice you into either of the fabulous local Bristol joints where she works her culinary magic, the afore mentioned Better Food Company or The Folk House Cafe.

Chickpea Flatbread or Farinata
Serves 4-6

200 g/ 7 oz chickpea flour (gram flour, besan)
1/2 tbsp finely chopped rosemary (optional)
1 tsp salt
400 ml/ 14 fl oz  water
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
plenty of freshly ground black pepper.

Tip the chickpea flour, salt and rosemary into a large bowl and slowly whisk in the water until you have a loose, lump-free batter. Rest the batter for at least an hour and up to 12 (strict timing instructions vary from town to town in Italy, with disasterous consequences if not adhered to, although I’ve noticed little difference in the results)

Preheat the oven to 220 C/425 F/Gas mark 7

Take a large flat tin or oven-proof frying pan ( the professionals have a huge round pan specifically for the purpose) and heat it up in the oven or on the hob.

Skim off any froth from the top of the batter and then stir in most of the olive oil.

Add the remaining oil to the hot pan, swirling it to create a non stick surface. Now tip in the batter to a depth of about 1 cm/just under 1/2 an inch and place in the oven.

Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes  or until the surface of the farinata is crisp and bubbling. I also give mine a quick blast under the grill for some extra colour.

Give it a few turns of the pepper mill, slice up with a pizza cutter and serve right away.

To make unorthodox individual servings: Fry off the batter (still about a centimetre thick) in a small crepe or omelette pan, turning it, just as you would a pancake. Once the farinata is set slip it onto a greased oven tray. Repeat the process with the remaining batter, layering greaseproof between each flatbread and then place the tray in the oven for about 5 minutes before serving.

How about serving with?
Fried onions and Gorgonzola cheese,
Mozzarella with tomatoes and basil,
or Taleggio with ProsciuttoFarinata recipe Pulse

And, for locals or visitors to Bristol…

Just a word about The Folk House which is one of those quintessentially Bristolian institutions that makes ours THE best city to live in. Tucked away down an alley at the bottom of Park Street it’s easy to forget that it’s there. The cafe is amazing, serving freshly-made, ethically sourced lunches – it’s restaurant food at cafe prices, I really can’t recommend it too highly. There is, of course, plenty of live music primarily but not exclusively of the folky kind and then there are the adult education courses. Where else could you sign up for classes from such an eclectic line up?  There’s everything from pottery to poetry, hula hooping to laughter yoga or succeeding at Suduko.

I have to admit that I’ve only done one course so far, a textile workshop where I designed some rather garish, shiny bits of fabric. One piece turned into a Barbie ballgown the other is languishing in my “things to mend and make” pile (it may be there for a while). I’m saving The Folk House up for when Imi leaves home or I somehow manage to transform my lifestyle and create some time.  I’m almost looking forward to getting old enough to retire so that I can sign up for the Wine Tasting, Indian Fusion Belly Dancing and Botanical Painting. I might just squeeze in a lampshade workshop in the meantime.

I hope you enjoy the farinata, Oh and I forgot to mention –  Lou says that eating lots of  rosemary is very good for the memory.

The Perfect Plum Sauce

This year’s been a bumper year for plums, and since the one and only fruit tree in our tiny garden is a Victoria, I’m very happy. We got back from our holiday in Devon to find the boughs groaning with ripe fruit and I’ve been finding ways to enjoy the glut ever since. You may not have a tree but you’re sure to have a local market or green grocer and there will be plenty of plums on offer if my local, Reg The Veg, is anything to go by.

I love a plum tart, French clafouti is another option (although Peter commented that it sounds like a  sheep’s foot disease) and plums do make a sublime ice cream too (recipe coming soon if I get around to it) but I’m always up for a bit of savoury so I’ve been in search of the very tastiest plum sauce. My favorites are the two below- I’m afraid that the jury’s out on a clear winner.

Georgian Plum Sauce – Tkemali

Let’s start with the Georgian classic Tkemali ( apparently as ubiquitous as ketchup in its homeland).  It’s quick, simple to make, has a relatively short ingredient list but more importantly it tastes heavenly. We had roast chicken legs, greens and very unorthodox mashed potato with it for supper tonight and the left overs will be great with pork or sausages.

500g plums, halved and stoned
2 tbsp soft light brown sugar, or to taste
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp water
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp hot paprika (preferably Hungarian and definitely not smoked Spanish)
1 tsp coriander seeds and 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, roasted and then ground
Juice of ½ lemon, or to taste
1 tbsp chopped mint or dill
2 tbsp chopped coriander

This is pretty much a throw-it-all-in-the-pot recipe; everything goes into a saucepan bar the lemon juice and herbs.

Simmer for about 30 minutes until the plums have completely collapsed – I whizzed mine with a hand held blender too.

Season with salt and then add lemon juice and herbs to taste.

You could freeze the sauce or even pour it into sterilised jars and keep it in the fridge for a couple of weeks but there’s not enough sugar in there for it to behave as a true preserve.

Asian Spiced Plum Sauce 

I also made a batch of this most fabulous Asian-inspired plum sauce; it’s a recipe that I’ve been using for years that I originally gleaned from one of the Books for Cooks collections. I’ll let you know more about those amazing little cook books next time around but today I’ll stick to plum sauce. The sauce has evolved a little – I use palm sugar instead of caramelising sugar and often throw in some tamarind if it needs a bit more acidity. I toyed with the idea of adding some rhubarb (Ottolenghi  has some in his Plum and ginger relish) but decided that this sauce needs no help at all.

This is THE sauce  to serve with pork belly, roast duck or grilled mackerel. 

1 tbsp rapeseed or vegetable oil
1 large red onion finely diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2cm knob of fresh ginger finely chopped
1 fresh red chilli – or to taste, finely sliced
2 whole star anise
1/2 stick of cinnamon
2 tbsp palm sugar or soft brown sugar
50 ml water
500g plums, halved and stoned
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp roughly chopped coriander leaves

Take a large frying pan and fry the onion until soft.

Add the garlic, ginger, chilli and dry spices and cook until you’re enveloped in wonderful smells. Add the sugar and cook until dissolves, then pour in the water.

Place the plums, cut side down into the pan and simmer until tender but still intact. This will only take about 10 minutes – do take care as the plums look stunning if they hold their shape. It’s not really a sauce in texture but once you bite into those plums there will be loads of juice.

Add fish sauce to taste and, once cool, sprinkle with fresh coriander.
If the sauce seems very sweet then a good spoonful of tamarind paste makes a great addition (or a splash of vinegar would do well too)

Fish out the cinnamon stick and star anise before serving at room temperature.

Cousin Vicky's PlumsAnd just to finish up-  this beautiful little painting by my cousin Vicky Mullins, a reminder of some the delicious types of plum on offer.