With this roasting weather we are having (enjoying would be a bit too energetic), cooking is the last thing on my mind. Eating, though, is always a pleasure, especially when I escape for the weekend to stay somewhere with a kitchen garden. Last weekend, I went to Great Dixter, the late Christopher Lloyd?s famed garden in East Sussex and, to my delight, the fruit cage was bursting with goodness. Raspberries, redcurrants, loganberries, gooseberries and, one of my favourites, blackcurrants, were all waiting to be put to good use and what better use could there be than summer pudding?
This is the most English of puddings and one that hasn?t spread worldwide, though I don?t understand why not. Nothing could be simpler or more delicious. It is a pudding for lazy July days, though you should get your picking done before the midday sun. I think the mystery of it not having left our shores lies in the dearth of blackcurrants.
Go to any supermarket and, be it winter or summer, you will find strawberries and blueberries in profusion. In lesser quantities, and at a higher price, you can obtain raspberries and redcurrants. But never have I seen blackcurrants. Even at farmers? markets they are a rare treat. There is a rather boring obsession with ?superfoods? at the moment. This includes the blueberry, almost always grown on foreign shores, so now everyone seems to eat those with their yoghurt. While most people gobble these often tasteless and madly priced fruit (I have seen punnets containing 30 berries selling for £3), we are ignoring a much better berry.
Perhaps it is because everyone consumes blackcurrants in liquid form. Apparently, 95 per cent of British blackcurrants are made into Ribena, named after their Latin title, Ribes nigrum. Ribena flourished during World War II, when the Government encouraged the growing and harvesting of blackcurrants and the drinking of cordial to keep up vitamin C levels (70g of blackcurrants contains your daily dose).
The French are pretty keen on blackcurrants in liquid form, too, but they add the excitement of alcohol. Crème de Cassis, made with the Noir de Bourgogne variety, is a delight, whether as the vital ingredient of a kir (or even better, kir royale), served with soda water, or spooned over ice cream. The other popular use of blackcurrants is as a vital ingredient in throat pastilles. Not those ones that numb the throat, but those ones that are like sweets. This use for blackcurrants gave the fruit its folk names quinsy or squinancy berries, quinsy being an inflammation of the tonsils.
I would much rather be putting them to a delicious use, however. The leaves of the bush, if caught when they are young enough, make a wonderful infusion for syrup and an even better sorbet, which is rather like a translucent version of the blackcurrant flavour. I don?t recommend them later in the year, as their scent develops into something more akin to cat pee.
But back to summer pudding. On the subject of eating it, Jane Grigson writes: Remove the basin and serve with a great deal of cream; cream is essential for this very strong flavoured pudding, which, because of its flavour, goes a long way and should be served in small slices. Now while we certainly complied with her instructions concerning cream when I made it last weekend, I am not quite sure I agree with serving just a small slice. If there had been more of us I suppose we could have made it go a bit further. But, with a bottle of champagne, the six of us managed to polish off a two-litre basin with alarming ease.
I am, of course, counting the one-year-old Ayse as having eaten a grown-up portion?
Best made in July, when all the berries are ripe, but you could freeze bags of mixed fruit. Raspberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants and strawberries and, if available, loganberries are delicious.
The bread is vital. It should be white, but no ?Mother?s shame? ? ever. It goes too squidgy. A rougher textured bread, slightly stale, but still malleable, is what is needed. I used sourdough, which has a perfect texture. Brioche can work if you want to be fancy, but a plain white loaf is fine. I haven?t given amounts, but as a guide, we used about 2lb of fruit and 3 tablespoons of sugar for a two-litre bowl.
Ingredients: ? summer berries ? sugar to taste ? butter ? bread
1. Put the fruit and sugar in a pan and add a tablespoon of water. Bring to the boil to release the juices and take off the heat immediately.
2. Butter the pudding basin and line with the bread, making sure the bowl is completely covered. Spoon in the fruit, keeping the juice to one side.
3. Cover the fruit with a layer of bread and pour over the juices. Put the pudding bowl on a deep dish, as the juices will spill out over the edge.
4. Find a plate that fits inside the edge of the bowl. Place this on the bread and press down firmly, making sure it remains even.
5. Place weights in a plastic bag and put them on top of the plate. Leave overnight in the larder or fridge. When ready to serve, run a knife around the bowl and turn out on to a deep serving dish.