This year the weather hasn’t really got into the swing of what we might call spring or summer!
First it was dry and we had hosepipe bans then it rained and rained and rained. We’ve had some glimmers of sun but not much. Whilst this make us all grumpy that we aren’t having a long hot summer it also has very real effects for the kitchen gardener and the commercial growers. Produce has been much slower to get going and ripen and so we’ve had to wait longer to see some of the traditional British summer produce on the shelves and in our gardens. The weather has also taken its toll on seafood with shrimp catches starting late and low yields.
For the cook this really does mean being able to make the most of the good stuff as and when it’s ripe, ready and available. It means stretching things further so that we can enjoy the flavours for as long as possible even with smaller quantities and higher prices.
Here four of my summer favourites allowed to shine in a frugal way.
A simple tomato salad looks beautiful and tastes wonderful. Sliced thinly, laid on a large plate, sprinkled with salt and garnished with herbs or edible flowers a little goes a long way whether there are two or ten of you. It also allows the tomato flavour to shine. If possible get more than one variety to add variety of flavour, texture and even colour.
Another great way to use tomatoes is to chop a few into small pieces and toss them through pasta with a little oil, fresh herbs and sprinkle with some sharp cheese. The warmth of the pasta lifts the flavour of the tomatoes and the cheese adds a good tangy counterpoint.
Tomatoes are delicious roasted with smoked sea salt and oil and served as a side dish with grilled meat or fish. This works well for under ripe tomatoes bringing out the flavours and helping concentrate them.
And if you suddenly find yourself with a glut from the garden a real glut then its time to do dome preserving; unripe green tomatoes are especially good in chutney and pickles.
Tiny brown shrimp are totally delicious, sweet and rich a little can go a long way. Potted shrimp with toast is traditional and a sandwich packed with shrimp is a rare treat. Being more frugal however they work well sprinkled on a crisp green salad as a garnish. If you only have the potted sort then pour the buttery juices over the salad as a dressing. Similarly a few tossed though fregola or other small pasta or butter beans with a dash of something sharp like Worcestershire sauce makes a lovely starter or light lunch.
Peas are brilliant for adding a sweet crunch to almost anything and you only need a handful. Of course just eating them fresh on their own makes a lovely snack but tossed in coleslaw, salad, pasta or risotto at the last moment they add a fresh summeriness without the need for huge quantities.
I love raspberries they are one of the highlights of the summer for me. A large bowl of perfectly ripe raspberries with cream would be a dream but to stretch a punnet to feeding a larger number then I would either make a raspberry version of Eton mess or serves them with a small square of super gooey chocolate brownie and a dollop of cream. That way each person only needs a few of the precious fruit to get the flavour. Another option is to serve them with a second fruit that contrasts taste and texture wise, peaches or nectarines would be perfect.
Another way to make the most of a small quantity of fruit is to use it to make fruit vodka or vinegar. This will work with almost any fruit is just a matter of balancing the ratio of sugar to suit the fruit.
Here’s my basic method for vodka or vinegar:
Fruit Vodka or Vinegar
I don’t use fixed measure for this but ratios. I have made this with as little a handful of fruit.
- Select your fruit of choice and weigh it. They tip it in a large glass jar (e.g. a preserving jar with a clip lid).
- Add between half to the same weight of sugar for vodka (I usually used granulated) depending on how tart the fruit is and how sweet you want the result to be. For vinegar I use ¼ to ½ the weight of sugar, if you want a very tart result you don’t need to use any sugar.
- Then pour over about 1 ¼ -1 ½ times the volume of vodka (or white wine vinegar) as you had weight of fruit; so if you had a 750ml bottle of vodka you’d be looking to find between 500-600g of fruit.
- Add any extras you think you’d like, a shaving of lemon peel is good with damsons or sloes. Spices are very good too especially in vinegars: raspberry and a touch of chilli or rhubarb and coriander seeds are both good.
- Stir it all round to get as much as the sugar to dissolve as possible.
- Close the jar and leave for a minimum of 6 weeks for vodka a week for vinegar.
Check regularly and shake to help the sugar dissolve. After the first 6 weeks test the flavour and either leave to extract more flavour or strain and bottle.
Leave the bottle to mature for a further few months minimum. It gets better with age if you can resist for long enough. For vinegars you can condense down to get a sweeter flavor by simmering gently after straining the fruit out.
Tips for further alcoholic treat!
- If you haven’t got a large glass jar but have a glut of fruit you need to use up quickly then put everything a big non-reactive pan, cover and then track down a jar – it’ll be fine for the first few days even weeks in a pan.
- You can use gin instead of vodka but remember gin already contains its own aromatics so you’ll get a different flavour. Sloes and damsons work particularly well with gin.
- If the fruit is quite hard then you need to break the skin to allow the flavours to mix – I do this by putting the fruit in a large freezer bag and bashing it a bit with the rolling pin. If you’ve stoned the fruit (or its a soft fruit) then there’s no need to do this.
- You might want to strain through muslin or even a coffee filter before bottling if you want a really clear result. If you don’t mind sediment there’s no need to bother.
- Be wise whom you share the vodka with; once people have tried some they’ll always be angling for another bottle!
In the end if produce is scarce for whatever reason there are always inventive ways to make a treat go a long way.
Linda Williams works with small and medium business as a ‘bite-size’ general manager and right hand woman to the owner. She helps make sure projects happen and guides them through the maze of business from numbers to social media and beyond. She loves cooking and experimenting in the kitchen and is also currently learning the art of letterpress printing.
You can contact Linda on firstname.lastname@example.org