Friday, 15 October 2010

Neal's Yard Dairy and Brogdale Farm

Red Beurre Hardy pear
Source: University of Reading/National Fruit Collection

Randolph Hodgson of Neal’s Yard Dairy (NYD) has long been a supporter of Brogdale Farm, home of the National Fruit Collection at Faversham, Kent.  The Collection is one of the largest in the world and includes over 3,500 named cultivars of Apple, Plum, Pear, Cherry, Bush fruit, Vine and Cob Nut.   Every October crates of little known apple and pear varieties are stacked up outside the NYD shops  in London over the precious few weeks  when they are fresh from the trees.   
Apples and pears go well with a number of cheeses.  Apples team up with hard cheeses such as the cheddars – I suggest Lincolnshire Poacher, Montgomery’s or Keen’s  – or the  sheeps milk Berkswell.  Try pears with the hard, nutty flavoured sheeps cheese  Spenwood or a Pecorino, or a strong blue cheese such as Stichelton or Colston Bassett Stilton. 
This week’s crop at NYD included Belle de Tours - medium sweet, white fleshed, firm  and fragrant, it would surely be perfect in a tarte tatin, although I normally use Braeburn.  Also on offer was the wonderfully named William Crump (a Cox’s Orange Pippin and Worcester Pearmain cross) – described as aromatic, rich, sweet with masses of pineapple acidity, later in the season mellowing to the flavour of a Cox.  I’d say early pickings produce an interesting firm-fleshed  apple for those who enjoy a certain tartness in their fruit.  Other crates were filled with Blenheim Orange and Cornish Aromatic.  The star of the show was a deliciously juicy Red Beurre Hardy pear – described as “juicy tender with rose water flavour”. Perfect eaten just as it is but if you're in the mood for a seasonal pear cake, this one from Nigel Slater which uses soft brown sugar for a wonderful caramelised flavour is the best I've ever found.  I rate this recipe as outstanding.
Honey Pear Cake (Source: Nigel Slater)
3 medium sized pears
2 tbsp honey (for poaching the pears)

For the honey cream:
40g (1½ oz)butter
* 50g (2oz)soft brown sugar
1 tbsp honey
1 drop vanilla extract

For the cake mix:
125g(4½ oz) butter
125g (4½ oz) golden granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tbsp milk
125g(4½ oz) plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pre-heat oven to 180C/gas mark 4.  Peel, core and halve the pears.  Place them in a saucepan and pour over the 2 tbsp honey.  Add enough water to just cover the fruit then cook at a simmer till tender to the point of a knife.  Leave them in the syrup until you need them.
Cream the butter, soft brown sugar, honey and vanilla extract till light and fluffy.  Spread over the bottom of a 20cm shallow non-stick cake tin.  Drain the pears and place them in the tin, cut side down.
Make the cake mix by creaming the butter and sugar until soft and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, adding a little flour if they start to curdle.  Sieve flour with the baking powder and fold into the creamed mixture.  Smooth over the top of the pears.  Bake for about 45 minutes until golden.  It should still be quite moist.  Leave for half and hour or so then turn out onto a plate.
* I make the honey cream mix with mollasses sugar or muscovado.  This gives a grittier texture to the cream and I get excellent results.  The cake is delicious served just warm but also keeps well for a day, if you can resist it.