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.