Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Syllabub & boozy cherries

Syllabub with eau-de-vie cherries

Winter's chill is not something we want to think of when market stalls are piled high with the sweetest English strawberries, peas in their pods and sharp, grassy gooseberries.  When the English cherry harvest joins the party, around the third week in June, the cold months seem a long way off. But if you are a preserver, you always have a thought for those little jars and bottles you can squirrel away at the back of a cupboard.  The bitter orange marmalades and quince jellies, glowing like stained glass when you hold them up to the light; perfumed apricot jams and black as night damson; slabs of fruit 'cheese' and sharp fruit vinegars.  The cherry harvest is short and sweet. Within 6-8 weeks the harvest has moved from white Napoleon to deep-dark Regina and the time has come to decide how best to preserve some fruits to bring out in the depths of winter.

Cherry jam is good but there is only so much jam a family can eat.  Cherries in eau-de-vie is better. Not only do you have delicious, boozy cherries to eat but there's cherry liqueur in time for Christmas too.  You can use kirsch or vodka instead of eau-d-vie, or even brandy, if you like. General guidance for the method comes from Jane Grigson.  Fill a jar almost to the top with washed and dried cherries, pricking each fruit 2 or 3 times.  Pour in enough caster sugar to come about a third of the way up the jar then fill to cover the fruit with eau-de-vie.  Close the jar and give it a shake.  Leave in a cool dark place for at least 3 months (I've done so for more than a year), shaking it from time to time to fully dissolve the sugar.

I don't ever remember eating cherries as a child growing up in northern England.  I've learned they grow best in Southern and Central England which would account for it.  My early experience of them was limited to those jars of ruby red maraschino cherries which made an appearance at Christmas time, always brought out by the Auntie who liked a cocktail.  The one who was the most fun.

With a history going back to at least the 17th century, originally syllabub was a frothy drink made by milking directly from the cow into a bowl of wine, cider or ale which caused the milk to curdle.  As you can imagine, it was intended to be consumed on the spot.  Syllabub progressed to a firmer textured cream by whipping in sharp fruit syrups or wine.  This dish was more stable than the original, so, it was possible to keep it for a day or two.  Hannah Glasse  in her book The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, first published in 1747, describes a recipe for 'Everlasting Syllabub' which calls for  "Rehnish wine, half a pint of sack and two large Seville oranges" to join the milk.   She also stipulates the addition of calf's foot jelly.  The sturdiness of the finished dish can only be imagined.

The recipe for syllabub below is the one I always turn to since it was recommended to me years ago. I'm sure I was told it was a Katie Stewart recipe from when she wrote food columns for newspapers.  I vary the wine/liqueur depending on what I am pairing the syllabub with - sometimes I reach for white wine or sherry or, maybe, elderflower cordial instead.  This time I wanted something to match the almond quality of the cherries which comes from steeping them with their stones intact, so, Amaretto seemed right.  The toasted almonds, which provide a necessary crunch, could be replaced by an almond biscuit.

The dish is light enough to make a Christmas meal dessert and you can prepare it in advance.  I know if you want to replicate this recipe right now you'll need to buy some cherries in eau-de-vie. But next year, when the cherry season arrives, you won't!

Syllabub with eau-de-vie cherries and almonds

Syllabub with eau-de-vie Cherries
(Serves 6)

Around sweet 40 cherries (drained from the eau-de-vie)
250ml (10 fl oz) double cream
100g (4 oz) caster sugar
Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons Amaretto liqueur
25g (1 oz) toasted almonds

Cut the cherries in half and lift out the stones.  Place all but 6 pitted cherries in the serving glasses/dishes.
Whisk the cream, sugar, lemon rind and juice and the liqueur together to the consistency of mayonnaise (should happen very quickly) and divide between the 6 glasses/dishes.

Place in the fridge for at least two hours, but it will keep refrigerated for up to 24 hours.  Top with the toasted almonds before serving.

Monday, 13 November 2017

The Sunday Night Book by Rosie Sykes

The Sunday Night Book by Rosie Sykes

I used to dread those last few sepulchral hours of the weekend, particularly in winter when it can feel like all traces of colour have leeched into the sodden earth.  That Sunday night feeling when the prospect of a whole week of school hit like a freight train.  How much more bearable those last few hours would have been if we had embraced the opportunity to cook together in the way chef Rosie Sykes's family did.  Based on the kind of food they liked to cook and eat, The Sunday Night Book is the antidote to that Sunday night curtains-drawn glumness.  But whatever the day of the week, it's uplifting cooking to banish the blues.  There are failsafe recipes for comforting dishes on toast; one-pot dishes that you deliberately make too much of just so you have leftovers for later in the week; a bowl of pasta, of course; something eggy; light salads for when the weekend has been too good; ideas for leftovers; and, at the end of the book, "if all else fails" there's a chapter on Cocktails and a little bite to eat.

Rosie Sykes has worked in the kitchens of some of the greats in British food, including Joyce Molyneux, Shaun Hill, Alistair Little and Margot Henderson.  I've eaten her food in a number of restaurants over the years and I know it pays to 'follow the chef'.  Her menus make your heart sing and the food she prepares is invariably delicious, soothing and heartwarming.  The recipes in this book are quick to prepare.  Many make use of fresh ingredients but a good number reach for store cupboard staples. The chances are high of finding a recipe that is easy and satisfying despite the fact you haven't been able to shop, and we all need a book like that.

Caerphilly with leeks and mustard
from The Sunday Night Book by Rosie Sykes

I've cooked Caerphilly with leeks and mustard, a less cheesy take on Welsh rarebit.  The 'can we have this again soon please' request came on first bite.  Bacon and egg pie was a real flashback to childhood.  Easy to make and so easy to eat.  Next time I want to wrap it in newspaper and take it on a picnic.  A Spanish recipe for Eggs in a pestle and mortar came next for the promise that I will be "amazed that something so seemingly unconventional can taste so utterly delicious"  It did and I was.  There is nothing in the ingredients lists of these recipes that doesn't need to be there.  In my experience, this is a rare thing in the current crop of cookery books.

Bacon and egg pie
from The Sunday Night Book by Rosie Sykes

Among the recipes I've place-marked are Fregola with bacon and peas, and if it tastes half as good as Patricia Niven's photograph suggests I'll be a very happy diner; Bouillabaisse of peas and beans, inspired by the French classic fish soup; Coddled eggs Ivanhoe for the delight of egg married with smoked haddock; and the Quick cheese straws to remind me of the start of a sublime meal at Joyce Molyneux's Carved Angel restaurant - yes I still remember it, and that River Dart Salmon in a butter sauce in particular.

Beginnings of Eggs in a pestle and mortar
from The Sunday Night Book by Rosie Sykes

The final chapter, on 'Pick-me-ups and pop-it-in-in-ones' makes a high-spirited ending.  Original and imaginative Cocktail recipes are from the inimitable Gimlet Bar.  Born out of of a performance work at the Slade School of Fine Art, this movable cocktail bar-for-hire makes in my view, the best cocktails in London so it's no small thing to have some of their recipes here.  Rosie's knowledge ensures each glass is paired perfectly with an edible treat.    A Light-emitting diode - a variant on a whiskey sour?  Try a plate of Squash and truffle brandade; feeling like a citrusy, bitter Reichenbach Falls?  You'll be wanting a few Shallot, parmesan and olive toasts.

It may seem odd to mention the size of the book but I love the fact it is hand size - A5.  It feels good and it's the perfect size for popping in your bag for those weekends away when you are going to have access to a kitchen.  And the beautiful block-print cover by Alexis Snell with restrained little stamps - a tin of anchovies here, a dog-in-a-basket (Rosie's beloved Florence) there - punctuating each chapter makes it look good too.  I'm a bit of a fan of Patricia Niven and here her photography is crisp and bright, true and unfussy, just the way I like it.

This is unpretentious cooking at its best and it's one of those rare books I bought two copies of - I've only ever done that with Simon Hopkinson and Rachel Roddy's books before now.  And I know exactly where the second one is going.  Yes, those "How to ..." books are invaluable but this is the perfect book for anyone leaving home who needs a heartwarming book that makes them actually want to spend some time in the kitchen.

The Sunday Night Book: 52 short recipes to make the weekend feel longer by Rosie Sykes
Published by: Quadrille