There is some beautiful fruit around in high summer, says fresh food produce supplier James Wellock, while British Larder chef-consultant Madalene Bonvini-Hamel cooks up some seasonal recipes
August sees the beginning of the grouse season – the Glorious 12th. This date also signals the start of a wealth of new produce coming into season.
Stone fruit is at its very best, with options galore. Cherries are a sure winner and UK varieties steal the show. More and more growers are turning their hands to cherries, and there will be crops available from every part of the country. As always, freshness brings flavour and, when it comes to cherries, this means crispness and extra juiciness.
There is a massive selection of plums, with the French President variety slowly being replaced by the local Opal. Another option is the French Mirabelle, also known as the Mirabelle prune. This dark yellow plum is small and oval, with smooth-textured flesh. Known for its sweetness and flavour, it is excellent eaten fresh, but also widely used in jams and pies, fermented for wine or distilled into plum brandy.
They lead nicely on to damsons, famously from the Lyth Valley and Evesham. These are only around for a short while, so you must be quick to get them fresh. They freeze well if you want to squirrel some away for later in the year.
August is also pretty much the last month for exceptional peaches, nectarines and apricots. Once you hit September the flesh becomes woolly, so fill your boots.
UK berry options continue to be amazing throughout August. Ten years ago it was all about yield and appearance, but now it is all about flavour. The blackberries especially will be at their best. Make sure yours have been picked when each little pod is ready to burst, because this is when they are packed full of juice and flavour. If they are picked before they reach this stage they will be bitter.
As well as blackberries, there are local redcurrants, whitecurrants and blackcurrants. These have a very short season, but while they are here they are a joy to use – and very versatile. Like damsons, they freeze well.
Redcurrants are for sale all through winter, but they are not fresh – they are gassed and then brought out when needed in the marketplace. So why not blast-freeze them yourself when the local crops are available? You’ll get a much better flavour.
Some berries are making a tentative comeback, thanks to local growers and constant requests from chefs for something different. Loganberries, tayberries (a cross between a blackberry and a raspberry), worcesterberries and jostaberries (a cross between a blackcurrant and a gooseberry) are all worth a try.
Climate plays an even more important part for berries than for other crops. The same plant varieties are used in all parts of the UK, so the weather has a big effect on speed of growth. For example, a strawberry plant in Spain takes 35 days to produce red fruit; in Kent it takes 50 days, in Yorkshire 60 and in Scotland 75. The Scottish fruit have more of a chance to take on nutrients and build up stronger cell walls over a longer period. Add in soil type, amount of rain, lack of pollution and daily sunlight hours, and you start to understand why Scottish berries are seen as having the best flavour and longest shelf life.
There are a few berry varieties to look out for. Majesty strawberries, Tulameen raspberries, Loch Ness blackberries and Brigitta and Bluecrop blueberries are the best options.
British broccoli is taking a major step forward, with tenderstem, purple and white all being grown locally. There is a similar trend with cauliflowers, with lots of options as well as the normal white. Yellow, orange, purple and the green Romanesque varieties are making this once boring vegetable sexy again. Try it chargrilled on a barbecue – sensational.
I don’t often rave about carrots, but the new crop is so sweet. There are many options: white, yellow, purple and good old orange, in every size from a mini chantenay through to the large bunched. We will have a minimum of 20 different carrots in stock at Wellocks.
Another short-term gem is the English dwarf or bobbi bean, which is rather like a plump fine bean from Kenya. However, the British ones are much more tender and beautiful. There will also be plenty of stick or runner beans, which are best eaten when they are young and sweet. All beans have short seasons, so make the most of them while you can.
In the wild
August is an excellent month for foraging in woodlands for bilberries, wild cherries and mushrooms, such as ceps and chanterelles. All are exceptionally good when paired with wonderful grouse. Also available to forage will be sea aster, sea beet, beach coriander, elderberries, sweet cicely and wood sorrel.
The first English apples are due on the 12th from Evesham. I love the Discovery apple, but it has to be fresh – it’s no good leaving it in the fruit bowl. Its sharp, sweet taste will bring your menu bang up to date. After three weeks, the variety will have moved on, so be careful only to use Discoveries when they’re at their peak.
Crab apples used to be gathered by children and used as ammunition, but they are now finding their way on to the menus of adventurous chefs – and this is the month to get stuck in. More English apples will follow in September and the plum selection grows up, so watch out for next month’s flavours.
Roasted poussin, poussin leg cigarillos with live-culture tomato yogurt
- For the live-culture tomato yogurt
- 100g fresh ripe plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 1tbs tomato purée
- 1 stick lemongrass, chopped
- 20g fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
- 1tbs maple syrup
- 1 litre full-fat milk (as fresh as possible)
- 60ml thick Greek yogurt with live active yogurt cultures (L Bulgaricus, S Thermophilus, L Acidophilus and L Casei)
For the tomato salt
- 40g sundried tomatoes
- 1tbs coarse sea salt
- For the poussin and cigarillos
- 3 poussins
- 2 sheets filo pastry
- 50g tomato concasse
- 1tsp fresh oregano, chopped
- 2tbs unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for cooking the poussin
- 1tsp poppy seeds
- Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- A selection of heritage and multicoloured tomatoes
- ½ cucumber, cut into spaghetti strings using a spiraliser
First, prepare the tomato yogurt (start this process one day in advance). Preheat a waterbath to 42°C or use a yogurt maker/machine – a standard waterbath works perfectly well. Place the fresh tomato, tomato purée, lemongrass, ginger, maple syrup and seasoning in a blender and blend until you have a fine pulp. Pass this through a fine sieve into a small saucepan and bring the mixture to the boil over a medium heat. Boil for one minute (to kill any enzymes that may compromise the yogurt), remove and chill to 42°C.
In the meantime, heat the milk to 90°C and then chill to 42°C. Once the milk reaches 42°C, stir in the yogurt and tomato mixture and transfer to a container that fits in the waterbath (I used two Pacojet beakers). Cover the container with a lid or clingfilm and place in the preheated waterbath for eight hours; the longer you leave it, the thicker and tastier the yogurt will be. It’s important not to disturb, mix or shake the mixture during this incubation period.
Once the eight hours are up, carefully place the yogurt in a large sieve lined with muslin cloth, and set it over a bowl in the fridge to drain for approximately two hours (overnight is also good). Once drained, place the yogurt in a clean container and keep chilled until needed. The yogurt will keep for up to seven days.
In the meantime, preheat the oven to 100°C and chop the sundried tomatoes and salt as finely as possible. To remove moisture from the mixture, spread it on a lined baking tray and dry for one hour, then chop for a second time. Keep the tomato salt in an airtight container until needed.
For the poussin, preheat the oven to 200°C. Remove the legs from the poussins, season and drizzle with olive oil. Then place the legs on a roasting tray in a preheated oven for 20 minutes before removing and setting aside to cool. Once cool, remove the meat and discard any skin, bone or gristle. Flake the meat and add the tomato concasse, chopped oregano and seasoning.
For the cigarillos, preheat the oven to 180°C. Brush each filo pastry sheet with melted butter and spoon the poussin leg mixture at one end of the sheet to form a long, thin sausage. Roll the pastry up to form one long cigar shape, about a centimetre in diameter. Brush the entire filo cigar with melted butter and sprinkle with poppy seeds. Do the same with the second sheet.
Place the cigars in the fridge to set for about one hour, and then cut them into one-centimetre-long pieces (cigarillos). Place on a lined baking tray and, when ready to serve, bake for 15 minutes until cooked, crisp and golden brown.
For the poussin, heat a non-stick frying pan with a splash of oil. Season the poussin crowns and brown them in the warm pan on the breast, skin-side down. Add the butter and baste them until the skin is golden brown; then place on a roasting tray and put in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. When cooked, let them rest for five minutes and then remove the breast from the bone. Season with the tomato salt.
To serve, garnish each plate with the tomato yogurt, and divide the heritage tomatoes and cucumber spaghetti between the plates. Place two pieces of the cigarillos on each plate followed by one poussin breast. Sprinkle tomato salt over each dish and serve.
Black cherry clafoutis with white chocolate cherry ice-cream
For the white chocolate cherry ice-cream
- 250ml milk
- 100ml whipping cream
- Seeds from one vanilla pod
- 75g caster sugar
- 4 large egg yolks
- 150g white chocolate, finely chopped
- 150g fresh ripe black cherries, stoned
- 12.5ml kirsch or cherry brandy (optional)
For the black cherry clafoutis
- 60 black cherries, stones removed and washed
- 1tbs kirsch or cherry brandy
- 2 large eggs
- 80g caster sugar, plus extra for dusting
- Pinch table salt
- Seeds from one vanilla pod
- 20g melted unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
- 75ml milk
- 50ml buttermilk
- 2tbs (heaped) wholemeal or spelt flour
- Fresh black cherries, stones removed, finely diced
- White chocolate shavings (optional)
First, prepare the ice-cream. In a small saucepan over a medium heat, bring the milk, the cream and the vanilla to the boil. As soon as the mixture starts to boil, remove the pan from the heat and set aside for 10 minutes for the milk to infuse.
In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar and the yolks. Add a ladleful of the warm, infused milk, mix well, and then return it to the saucepan. Add the rest of the milk, return the pan to low heat and stir continuously until the anglaise is thickened and coats the back of a spoon.
Do not boil the mix as the anglaise will curdle. Once it has thickened, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the chopped white chocolate until it has completely dissolved. Transfer the ice-cream mix, cherries and kirsch to a blender and blend until smooth. Pass the mixture through a fine sieve into
a container to cool before churning using an ice-cream maker, according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Keep the ice-cream frozen until it is needed. If you are using a Pacojet, pour the mixture into the Pacojet beakers, chill and then freeze until it is frozen solid before you churn it, as required, according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
For the clafoutis, preheat the oven to 180°C and grease 12 individual ovenproof serving dishes with butter, dust with caster sugar and then set aside. Mix the cherries and kirsch together and set aside.
Place the eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla seeds in the bowl of a mixer with a whisk attachment. Whisk for seven minutes until the mixture has become aerated and thickened. Add the melted butter and mix well, then add the milk and buttermilk; after that, fold in the flour.
Divide the mixture between the 12 greased dishes – you should fill the dishes about three-quarters full. Place five macerated cherries in each dish. Place the dishes on a baking tray and place the tray in the preheated oven for 12 to 15 minutes until the clafoutis is cooked and golden brown. Then remove from the oven and dust with the extra caster sugar.
To serve, divide the chopped cherries among the 12 clafoutis and arrange them so they form a nest for the ice-cream. Place a quenelle of ice-cream on each, garnish with white chocolate shavings and serve immediately.
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