Making the most of the summer bounties
Summer is supposedly the season of sun and therefore all things green and vibrant. While this mantra holds true for many chefs; my personal highlights come in the colourful forms of rotund outdoor strawberries, Kent cherries, raspberries, loganberries and blackcurrants (now hard to come by, as a well-known juice maker has most of them spoken for!). Summer berries are a much anticipated and incredibly rewarding treat, so much so that it seems only fitting that they serve as inspiration for an entire summer feast! Often so magnificently flavourful that they rarely need more than a fork to enjoy, it has unfortunately become all too easy for us to overlook the myriad of culinary opportunities that await these juicy delicacies.
In the true spirit of summer, the first task in cooking a meal with summer berries in mind is to host a wonderful day with friends and family at a pick-your-own farm. Garsons Farm in Esher is a fantastic setting for a day of picking produce, as it lies only 15 miles outside of London’s City Centre and offers a comprehensive pick-your-own calendar and map to reference while planning your day (http://www.garsons.co.uk/garden-centre). It’s definitely a treat for us to be able to escape the city for a day, and the kids always walk away from these foraging escapades with stained fingertips, ear-to-ear grins and a huge sense of satisfaction. It goes without saying that developing strong connections to our food and its sources can manifest in a massive sense of ownership and gratification towards our meals.
Blackberries are always an idyllic mid-summer offering, and we have always found them to be plentiful during our days at the farm. Blackberries are a great place to start if you have little ones in your tribe, as their level of ripeness is easily identifiable by sight (and even more so by sneaky tastes), while their method of gathering requires only minimal guidance before the kiddos are ready to begin picking them on their own. If you are left with enough of your berry hoard by the time you arrive home to prepare your evening feast, a great meal to plan around your berry-picking adventures is ‘Roast Grouse with Blackberries and Salt Baked Celeriac’. I’ve always found this to be a stand-out main that perfectly highlights this incredible summer fruit.
‘Fregola Salad with Truffle Honey, Mint and Pomegranate’ is a brilliant summer side that tends to pair equally well with fish as with meat. This vibrant summer salad is bright and herbaceous—punctuated by jewelled pomegranate seeds and bright notes of mint and coriander. This is a brilliant dish to hold in the summer recipe arsenal, as it is versatile, delicious, incredibly simple to prepare and an aesthetic knock-out on the dinner table. I source my fregola from Vallebona, an incredible supplier of authentic Sardinian products based in London (http://v2b.uk/).
For dessert, I would opt for a wonderfully refreshing ‘Summer Berry Gazpacho’. This dish is cool and crisp, and takes the pressure off after a day of picking, as it is incredibly adaptable to a varietal berry selection. Always a great excuse for a day of rest between your outdoor festivities and summer fruit feasts, this dish is best to begin preparing a day or two prior to serving.
For the simplest and most incredible of summer snacks, strawberries grown under glass are not going to pack the punch of the outdoor variety available in late July. We try to pick the finest English specimens, but don’t shy away from some of the most delectable and perfumed strawberries ever, the French Mare de Bois! Oh my, if you haven’t, you must, and then again without telling your friends in case they jump on the ferry and export the lot! My advice is simple: when strawberries are at their very best a spoon should be the only garnish, and even then only when you’re in polite company. If slightly lacking in sweetness or picked under-ripe they should be treated to a dash of icing sugar and a few drops of balsamic vinegar, and banished to a warm place for a few hours. The result is a semi stew which can be added to a fool, eaten with clotted cream or used for summer pudding, with the advantage of leaving you with a divine juice which you can use for adding to that dusty bottle of champagne lurking in the corner.