“He waits; that’s what he does. Tick follows tock follows tick”, that great advert for Guinness had it all, a true modern masterpiece, encapsulating the zeitgeist of the time and cleverly entwining it with the catchy hook for Guinness, that all good things come to those who wait.
We spend a long time in anticipation. The sweet thrill of getting what you’ve waited for is definitely worth the actual waiting, which sucks (like most Guinness adverts since I might add). I am currently waiting out the infuriating last two weeks of my phone contract, I’m sure phones are designed to go wrong just before your deal is up, just to make you want a new one more. Of course, now I’ve looked at mobile phone shops and dandered around perusing the damn things I’m almost done convincing myself I need an iPad too, of course I do, I’ve needed one for ages and they just hadn’t been invented yet, neither had the desire to own it but the two are intertwined. So I add more anticipation, another layer of commercially driven desire to add to the collection of just out of reach thingummies I don’t really need: shiny Lamborghini, big tellies, beautiful Gibson guitars… all unnecessary and all highly, achingly desirable. I can’t anticipate their arrival because, well, they’re not coming; but there are things that are – watermelon, blood peaches, mirabelles. Not anticipation created by advertising executives, rather more the ghost of peaches past rearing her beautiful fuzzy head.
Its official, right now is the best time to be a cook. Not half nine on a Monday morning, that’s the best time to have another cup of tea and procrastinate about writing your blog a bit more; and believe me that’s checked and double checked! June, especially with a spring like this one, is a right old stonker of a month for grub. The fruits have been steadily rolling in, vast piles of apricots, cherries, strawberries, goosegogs – the whole shebang. They’ve been steadily chopped, macerated, simmered, skimmed, strained, bottled, packed and stored for whenever this glorious summer inevitably descends into winter discontent of dark evening raininess and you need a little reminder of what sunshine was all about. As we get through to the lazy end of August we’ll pickle and chutney till the cows come home – but now it’s jam o’clock.
The great summer fishes have been truly stunning this year, it must be something in the “hottest spring for since records began” air. Wild salmon is half the price it was last year, and the line caught trout from the river Towy is beyond compare. We’ve been serving it raw with Ginger Dressing – a throwback to my days at Kensington Place. Rumor has it that Rowley got the recipe for the marvelous ginger dressing from a Japanese kitchen porter who worked there; whoever he was he deserves a handshake. Who knew a simple ratio of shallots, garlic, ginger and soy could be so heavenly?
We’ve also managed to get some of the wild salmon into salt and sugar to make gravadlax; it’ll get on the menu after a day or two in the cure, with pickled red onions, some cucumbers and dill. We’ll also make some wheaten bread from my granny’s recipe to tie the whole lot together. When we don’t serve them raw the delightful salmonidae have been steamed with delicious little surf clams from Devon; grilled and served with gooseberry sauce – more of which later – or roasted and plonked atop a salad of Jersey royals, samphire and marvelous summer sorrel.
We are Bad People, capital letters definitely necessary; raspberries abound, strawberries are shipped from all over the world to satisfy our constant demand, blueberries, bilberries, red and white currants are all available in our local supermarkets, but I’m yet to see any of our native, delicious, spiky, hairy, ugly, sour, heavenly little green gooseberries anywhere. I get them from Covent Garden Market without any issues; I just lament their absence from shelves and baskets. They are a thing of such beauty they should be lauded and applauded the nation over. We serve a compote, sweetened with a splash of our elderflower cordial, with the lemon and elderflower cake, a sweet and sharp delectation. Unsweetened and stewed with a spot of chopped shallots and fish stock they anoint grilled fish with aplomb; mackerel, salmon, trout, even tuna would enjoy a dollop of gooseberry goodness, the astringent fruit cutting the oily fish so delicately it prompted the French to call them mackerelberries–“groseilles à maquereau”…well, nearly.
Anticipation is a strange sensation: we have to anticipate the day ahead – will the tube be a mess – almost certainly; will it rain cats and dogs after an hour of glorious sun? typically yes; we get giddy in anticipation of forthcoming nuptials (only a fortnight to go!) we get greedy as we see great heaps of berries – I have a weakness, stemming I guess from pick-your-own farms, where for every three or four berries for the pot there’s normally one for me. We anticipate the arrival of shiny new toys with a heart-stopping intensity, ignoring the hefty monthly tariff that will almost certainly ensue, and we anticipate the biting cold and general drudgery of winter by stocking up with lovely preserves and jams, even if we can’t ever wait that long and have to have a little nibble before the jars are sealed for months to come. If you can’t whet your appetite a little, what’re you ever going to miss?
Will’s Strawberry Jam (adapted from various recipes I’ve used over the years, so if there’s something here you recognize, I probably nicked it!)
1K freshest, bestest strawberries you can lay your sticky mits on, if there’s a wild berry – or Frais Du Bois – in there too, so much the better
1K preserving sugar – not Jam sugar with added pectin but plain preserving sugar
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways and the seeds scraped out
The finely grated zest and juice of a lemon
Wash the whole strawberries quickly and delicately in a big sinkful of cold water. Spend a lovely while gently taking the core and stem off the berries and cut any whoppers in half or even quarters if they’re truly gargantuan (I find this a perfect time to look wistfully out of the window and have a little pre-Raphaelite daydream). Place them all in a big bowl, mix with the sugar, lemon zest, juice and vanilla; chuck the vanilla pod in with the seeds too, it can’t hurt. Now stir it all together with big confident strokes (“I said knock him out: not touch him up” to quote Lock, Stock…) if you paddle and dab at it the berries will slowly mush up and you’ll have a paste, a delectable paste, but a paste nonetheless, not the bright shining globs we’re all after. Cover the resulting goop with cling film and pop it in the fridge for a while, overnight is best but anything over six hours will do.
Once macerated, the fruit should have softened and there should be lots of shiny, sparkling red juice – sparkling like diamonds, not like Badoit. Put your largest colander over your largest pan, deposit the whole sugary strawberry sludge into it and drain off the sweet juice from the soft berries. The juice will need to be boiled until it reaches 105ºc on a jam thermometer, this will take a while, but I don’t know what your cooker is like, so keep half an eye on it, when it boils it certainly goes and will cover your lovely stovetop with strawberry caramel superglue. This is not fun to clean off any hob, or so my kitchen porters tell me. When you have reached the magical 105ºc (the setting point of pectin – you need it to make your jam semi firm and jellyish, not strawberry Ribena) pop the softened berries in to the pot and return to the heat. Hold fast and boil! The whole lot has to get to 105 now and when it does remove from the heat immediately. Let it cool down a while – half an hour or so while you prep your jars is sufficient. Have a little taste; you quite literally can’t stop yourself. Pot into your prepped jars and seal. Store for as long as you can before tearing open and devouring – great with some wheaten bread and a cup of steaming tea on a dismal Thursday afternoon in November.
Jar preparation and the techniques thereof.
There are lots of different ways to sterilize your jars for jamming, I usually use the ‘whack it through the dishwasher a couple of times’ method and haven’t really had any issues, but you can use whichever method you prefer from the eighty three thousand results you get if you Google “Jam Jar Sterilisation”.