1. Abundance and preserving. It’s that time of year again: the regular thud of apples falling off heavily-laden boughs onto my lawn; the triffid-like majesty of two thriving rhubarb plants; the first swelling of aubergines and cucumbers on their stalks in the greenhouse, and the flourishing of herbs - lemon verbena, grapefruit mint, Thai basil, oregano, lavender… The markets are full of beautiful rosy Victoria plums and blooming jade greengages, the last of summer’s peaches and downy apricots, and jewel-like berries in abundance. At times like these, I love nothing more than to dust off my jam pan and start preserving for the autumn and winter (although admittedly I make far more preserves than I can ever get through alone, and give away around 80% of what I produce, but that’s part of the joy too). Favourite recipes at the moment include Diana Henry’s plum, orange and cardamom jam, greengage and honey compote (this freezes well for use on winter porridge), and my own spiced apple and date jam, or rhubarb, vanilla and cardamom jam. If you have an apple glut, try making flavoured jellies for sweet and savoury food: my two favourites are festive apple jelly and lemon verbena jelly. For more luscious jam ideas, see Diana Henry’s beautiful book Salt Sugar Smoke – the apricot and lavender jam is also excellent.
2. Greek produce. Perhaps it’s because this time last year I was preparing for a glorious week in the sun in Greece, and this year I sadly am not, but I seem to have gone mad for Greek cuisine at the moment. I love the simplicity and generosity of Greek food: lusciously creamy dips; sharp, salty cheeses; comforting breads and pulses and moreish meat and seafood dishes. Last year I brought back three jars of different honeys from Crete, and over the past twelve months I’ve become convinced that Greek honey is the best in the world, with an incredible complexity of flavour that makes it a gorgeous addition to both sweet dishes – it’s luscious on top of porridge or perfuming the crumb of an apricot upside-down cake – and savoury, drizzled over baked ricotta or pan-fried halloumi, or added to a pan of caramelized roast chicken and peaches. I’ve also been enjoying some delicious AKI olive oil which I was kindly given to try recently. Produced by a small family farm in Ancient Corinth, this small-batch olive oil is pressed the same day that the olives are harvested for superior freshness. Like Greek honey, it has a beautiful bouquet of flavours, slightly grassy with a fragrant herbal note and a touch of pepperiness. This is an olive oil to savour with warm pitta or flatbread; I’ve been enjoying it as a dip for some za’atar flatbreads and as a dressing for a mixed bean salad. There is so much rubbish, over-processed, adulterated olive oil out there that I definitely think it’s worth hunting down a good one, and this is a fine example.
3. Seasoned Pioneers spices. I wrote about the lovely Seasoned Pioneers ‘Knead the Seed’ mix in a previous post, and this week I’ve also been enjoying a couple of other products from their incredibly extensive range (I have a taste for obscure and exotic spices, and even my needs and desires are fulfilled by their comprehensive collection, which is saying something). A lot of Indian recipes call for ‘Kashmiri chilli powder’, which is quite tricky to track down. Don’t be fooled by regular chilli powder masquerading as Kashmiri; the real stuff is ludicrously bright red with an incredible fresh, almost fruity aroma. It has a more rounded flavour than standard chilli powder and will give a glorious colour to your curries, without that musty flavour you sometimes get with regular chilli powder. The Seasoned Pioneers Kashmiri chilli is beautifully bright and fragrant, and I’d say it’s a must if you do a lot of Indian cooking. If Middle Eastern cuisine is more your thing, try adding their barberries – sharp little berries rather like currants – to rice pilafs and grain dishes for burst of tangy sweetness that go beautifully alongside those other staple Middle Eastern ingredients: smoky meat, salty cheese, creamy tahini and earthy chickpeas. I was also sent an intriguing packet of Kaffir lime powder, which I have yet to experiment with but I am excited about. Watch this space!
4. Goat’s butter. I didn’t even know this existed until a friend offered it to me with my boiled eggs for breakfast a couple of months ago. If you love the grassy tang of goat’s cheese, you’ll love goat’s butter, which has the same slight ‘goatiness’ to it and is also infinitely more creamy and luxurious than regular butter. I use the St Helen’s Farm brand, which you can buy in most supermarkets, and it is utterly ridiculously divine slathered over toasted sourdough, particularly if then topped with some fluffy scrambled eggs that have also been cooked in the butter. I consider it my duty to spread the word: goat’s butter is a thing, and it is good.
5. Multicoloured produce. My PhD supervisor recently gave me a huge bag full of green, purple and yellow beans from her allotment, which were so beautiful I almost wanted to paint them rather than cook with them. One of the downsides of supermarket produce is that it tends to be the uniform, safe, purpose-engineered varieties of fruit and veg that sell, so you don’t get to see nature’s other offerings. If you can track them down, purple potatoes are a gorgeous addition to a dinner party – and a fun talking point – while purple carrots and purple sweet potatoes are stunningly beautiful and will liven up any recipe. I’ve seen the latter a lot in Asian grocers at the moment, and Waitrose occasionally sell purple carrots. Otherwise, hunt down a good farmers market and see what unusual varieties you can spy. Heirloom tomatoes come in all shapes, colours and sizes too, and candy beetroot is another of Mother Nature’s marvels.