Hmmm, I was promised a heatwave…anyone seen a heatwave around here?
Anyhoo, it matters not; I shall make hot weather desserts and it’ll just have to catch up with me – where I lead others will follow…maybe.
As I write I’m looking out at my sodden garden – poor thing. My eagerly anticipated white roses (or are they pink…can’t quite tell) are blossoming with gusto (I can see 12 heads from here) but they look seriously peed off, railing against the persistent drizzle and gusts of wind. I feel their irritation (‘If I’d know I had to contend with this I’d have stayed nestled up as a bud!’ I hear ya sisters.)
Never fear, however, because I know that exciting times await us peeps of the garden-loving persuasion. No-one can deny the fact that it is well and truly May. So I’m told. And this means Veg Growing Season is upon us.
Our local garden centre has recently undergone a massive facelift and to commemorate its re-birth they invited the celebrated genius botanist, James Wong, along to speak; share his wisdom; answer questions…oh and sign his new book…last weekend. Having enjoyed his show (and book) ‘How to Grow Your Own Drugs’ I was keen to pootle along with an open and willing mind and try to absorb some of his green-fingered flare. With husband obediently in tow we whiled away a happy couple of hours and, I believe, came away a good few brain cells weightier. It’s always a delight to engage with someone who is clearly so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their subject, but Mr Wong shared some genuinely unique insights into fruit and veg growing – well, unique to me at least – and put a refreshing slant on things.
He questioned all the long established practices that have been expounded in practically every horticultural book since WW2; sometimes finding them to be outdated and incorrect, but equally proving some to be of value. It seems that so much research is carried out at various institutions throughout the world, the interesting findings of which never seem to make their way into the mainstream standard practices and guidance given even in newly published media. Who knew, for example, that the colour red when reflected onto a tomato plant (maybe all plants – I can’t recall off-hand) produces a 20% increase in fruit yield? Or that Aspirin mimics a naturally occurring hormone in the same plants (Salicylic Acid) which, when sprayed on said plants, considerably boosts its defences producing a far healthier plant? Not me sir…although I do now!
We also sadly realised that we’re been wasting a lot of time and effort in recent years with pointless exercises…grow bags and zip-up mini ‘greenhouses’ are a thing of the past for us…it’s all about LIGHT, people, and not the heat that I’d always so desperately prayed for…(purely for the sake of the plants, obviously).
James’ main point is that we want fruit (and veg) that tastes amazing and not necessarily shed loads of it. He maintains that it’s preferable to grow fewer fruits that taste wonderful (and waay better than you can buy in shops) than to grow plenty of bog standard fruits. I’m wont to agree.
With James’ aforementioned enthusiasm well and truly rubbed off onto me, I am now eagerly awaiting this weekend so that we can get stuck into planting. A selection of seeds are already sprouting away under the earth (and over it too! see above) but I’m keen to try out some of our newly acquired tips. I’ll keep you posted.
Being in an outdoorsy frame of mind, I’ve been craving something bright, zingy and fresh! My thoughts have therefore re-visited the freeze dried fruit section of my larder. I’ve been wanting to test out the intensely zesty flavour of blackcurrant in a meringue for a while – figuring that the huge sugar contingent will be a soothing balance for the tart berry. I wanted the freshness of mint to further perk up a dessert that, while utterly delicious, can fall a little heavily on the sweet creamy side. I’ve come up with this. It tastes good. I cannot say the same, in all good conscience, for its looks, but, you know…
It seems I’ve been cheated out of displaying my recently acquired link-making skills because the original recipe that I adapted for this creation has now been taken down from its website – bbcgoodfood.com – ‘Recipe licence has expired‘ apparently. It was called Strawberry and Passionfruit Meringue Roulade and it was quite delicious. Fortunately it was nestled safe and sound in my hand written note book of favourite ‘keeper’ recipes, so all’s well that ends well.
- 6 medium egg whites
- 250g caster sugar
- pinch of salt
- 40g freeze dried blackcurrant powder
- 4 oranges
- 150 ml double cream
- 200g orange curd
- Fresh mint leaves – lots
- 3 heaped tablespoons caster sugar (for making the orange syrup)
- 2 heaped tablespoons caster sugar (for making the mint cream)
- Icing Sugar – to dust
Prepare the orange segments thus:
In order not to extract every single unit of taste from these mighteous fruits, remove the zest with…a zester (!) and keep to one side. You can boil these in with the syrup to add extra flavour, or just use them for garnish.
Cut the top and bottom off each orange and slice the skin off from top to bottom, making sure to remove all the pith.
Holding the peeled orange above a bowl (to collect the juice) slice into the centre of the fruit along the edge of the pithy membrane so that you get perfect segments.
When you’ve removed all the segments give the pithy skeleton a good squeeze over the bowl so that you’ve got all the juice out. The orange segments will continue to bleed out more juice, so just keep syphoning it off into the ‘juice bowl’ every now and then.
Pour the juice into a small saucepan and add 3 heaped tablespoons of sugar (you may need more to achieve the syrupy taste you like, it depends how juicy your fruits are). Place on a low/medium heat until it starts to bubble.
Cook until the liquid has reduced by about 3 quarters (i.e. until it’s a quarter of its original volume) then set aside to cool. Once cool, add a little of the syrup to the orange segments for them to macerate until you’re ready to assemble the roulade.
When you’re ready to make the meringue heat the oven to 180 deg / 160 (FAN) and line a swiss roll tin of approximately 23cm x 30cm with baking paper.
To make the meringue whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl with the salt until stiff peaks form. It’s best to use a stand mixer if you have one.
Slowly add the sugar, while still whisking, until the mixture becomes glossy and feels smooth when rubbed between your fingers (i.e. the sugar should have dissolved).
Next add the freeze-dried blackcurrant powder and continue whisking until fully combined.
Spoon the mixture into the tin and smooth out evenly. Bake for 15 minutes when it should be crisp and lightly browned on the top.
Remove from the oven and let it cool completely.
To prepare the mint cream add 2 heaped tablespoons of sugar to a mini food processor (or pestle and mortar) with a good handful of clean mint leaves and blitz (or bash).
Whisk the cream until just lightly thickened then add the mint sugar and another good handful of chopped mint leaves. Whisk until it’s thickened a bit more (don’t over-do it) and give it a taste to test for ‘mintiness’. If it needs more, then add more. If it needs less…tough luck, er, I mean just add more cream.
When you’re ready to assemble your meringue roulade get a sheet of baking paper and place it in front of you (assuming you’re standing at a clear work surface).
Flip the meringue onto the paper then carefully peel away the ‘used’ paper that is now on top and discard.
Spread the orange curd over the meringue in a thin layer.
Before spreading the cream over the top, stir in the remaining orange syrup that you set aside earlier. Layer the cream over the orange curd.
Finally, place the orange segments on the top with a few more mint leaves before rolling the meringue up lengthways.
Transfer to a serving plate, or board, then dust with icing sugar and decorate with a few more mint leaves and some orange zest.
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