Thursday, 7 April 2011


I think it's worth mentioning another love of mine, both in gardening and cooking: fruit. Specifically, soft fruit - though which is my favourite, I couldn't say; it's a close contest between raspberries and redcurrants.

I grow both, as well as gooseberries (theoretically a red dessert variety, but it always gets attacked by sawfly before it can ripen properly), white- and blackcurrants, and strawberries. As you can see in the picture above, the raspberry canes that grew last summer, and overwintered as drab, brown whips, are bursting into leaf now, and it won't be long before tiny flower buds start appearing.

In fact, these are a supreme example of serendipity. Most of my back garden was overrun by brambles a few years ago - it's a south-facing slope, that was crowned by a large Holm oak tree until it collapsed in a gale. With sunlight free to bathe the soil, and nobody around to stop them (I lived away at university, then in London), blackberries took over - reaching six feet high. When I moved back here nearly three years ago, I began carving out a space amongst them - now they are all but gone. However, the most surprising discovery of the summer of 2008 was something else growing in the bramble patch - similarly arching, prickly, with leaves that a casual observer might not distinguish. But the fruit was different - maturing earlier, to red, not black. Raspberries! They must have come from a seed - maybe in bird droppings. They not only held their own against the blackberries, but were actually winning. The following year, I pruned selectively - leaving the raspberry canes alone. I ate so much fruit - handfuls in the sunshine.

I dug some out, and left them in a bucket, meaning to replant them when the ground was cleared. I didn't, and thought they were all dead. But I was wrong - the canes in the bucket rooted through into the ground beneath, and the slope produced more canes the following summer - tiny sections of root must have remained. Last year I was more conscientious, and tied them into a framework of bamboo canes. I cut down the old ones once they were spent, and tied in the new ones (being summer raspberries, they fruit on last year's wood).

I gathered so many last year, I couldn't keep up - I gave some away to friends. This year I expect even more, as they will be fertilised and kept free of weeds. I thought I'd share a 'recipe' I hope to use them in - I doubt there will be enough for jam (which I make, but never use), or even sorbet - but cocktails are another matter (though most will be eaten fresh). Here's a drink I've made for years, which has proved popular with friends - a great, unexpected combination.

Mrs Robinson
adapted from Diffordsguide


  • raspberries
  • bourbon
  • lemon or lime juice
  • sugar syrup
  • soda water
  1. Muddle (squish) a handful of raspberries in a cocktail shaker.
  2. Add a double shot (50ml) of bourbon, one measure (25ml) each of juice and syrup, and fill the shaker with ice cubes.
  3. Shake; strain into a glass with crushed ice.
  4. Top up with soda water.
notes and substitutions
I suppose other whiskeys and whiskies would be fine, but bourbon has a great flavour profile, which works really well with the fruit. Simon Difford, who originated this recipe, adds crème de frambois (raspberry liqueur), which is good, if you can get it (major supermarkets should stock it) - add a shot. Mint could be added with the raspberries, for more aroma and complexity. To be honest, it might be easier, if you intend to make a lot of these, to purée the raspberries in bulk, and add the sugar syrup and citrus juice to them to make a pre-mixed juice/syrup. Don't use a juicer - too messy. Just soften the raspberries in a pan with a drop of water over a gentle heat for a few minutes, then pass through a sieve. The balance between sugar and acidity depends on your taste, and on the fruit itself - keep tasting until it's right.

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