Tuesday, 5 July 2011

What to do with raspberries

Note: I wrote this about a week ago, but only posted it on the date above, as I wanted to take a few more photos.

I know I've posted a similar shot before, but I find them so beautiful like this - a reward for doing nothing. First you need to pick them...

How nice it is to have so many raspberries, you can eat them like sweets! When I buy raspberries (invariably when they are reduced to clear, partly because they are otherwise very expensive, partly to mitigate the guilt of buying them out of season, and partly because I like them slightly overripe, which they are when they come to their 'best before' date), I usually do eat them as they are, but I wanted to use most of my homegrown ones to make things, mostly things that will last - such as jam, jelly, syrup, and frozen delights. However, there are so very many of them right now that I can do both - with no sense of guilt whatsoever, since they are free.

Once you've picked them, they look like this - even more appealing! And the smell is quite intense, too.

But as I say, that's not the main use I have for them. So what does one do with a glut of these delicious fruits? Well, you can freeze them, of course. That's a bit of a cheat, but if you are going away, or don't feel like cooking, this is a good option, because they won't keep for more than a very few days. To freeze them, rinse them to clean, then drain them thoroughly - maybe even dry them on kitchen paper. Spread them out onto a metal tray, keeping them as separate as possible. Place in the freezer for a good few hours, or overnight. Then put them into freezer bags (if they've stuck to the tray, flex it gently and they should detach), and they should keep for at least six months, sealed. The one disadvantage of this is they will turn to mush once defrosted - so they're no good for recipes where intact, pretty fruit is needed.

As an aside, if you do this - or buy frozen fruit - you can make a very nice sorbet in the Thermomix, and maybe in other powerful food processors/blenders too. Put a small amount of sugar into the machine, depending on taste, and blitz to icing (confectioners') consistency. Add the flesh of half a lemon or a lime, then the raspberries, and a few ice cubes if you want it a little less rich. Blend at the highest speed setting, stirring in an anticlockwise direction with the spatula - you may need to add a few drops of water to make it blend correctly - until smooth. Serve, or to lighten it and make it go further, add an egg white, insert the whisk attachment, and blend again, on speed 4, until it doubles in volume, usually just a few seconds.

The first thing I did with my raspberries was make a syrup. I suppose it's a cordial, too - if there is a difference, I'd say a syrup is maybe a little thicker (and used more for drizzling than diluting). This is simple and quick, but you do need to strain it properly, or it will go cloudy. I got the recipe for this, and for the jams below, from The Preserving Book by Lynda Brown, which is one of the best food books I've ever come across - clear, comprehensive, with nice pictures. It got me on to smoking food, but that's another story... Anyway, for this syrup, take 450g raspberries, and place into a pan with a little water (the books says 200ml, but I'd probably use less). Heat gently, until the fruit starts to break up. Crush with a potato masher or fork, then pour into a muslin-lined sieve or jelly bag over a bowl or jug. Leave it to strain - you can help it with the back of a spoon, but don't press too hard, or it might be cloudy. Return the strained liquor to the rinsed pan (or a fresh pan), and add 250g white sugar. Stir, and heat, until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, then heat for up to five minutes, so it thickens a little. Add a teaspoon of citric acid, or to taste (this adds a delicious balance between the fruitiness, acidity, and sweetness). I strained it again at this point, but you don't have to. Pour into sterilised bottles, seal. I didn't add a vanilla pod as the recipe recommended, partly because I didn't have one, and partly because I wanted the purest expression of the fruit.

The finished syrup

The syrup is excellent in sparkling wine - as is any fruit syrup. Otherwise, pour a little over ice cream, or serve with still or sparkling water for a cool drink.

Now the most classic way to preserve raspberries: jam. I must admit, I'm not much of a fan of jams and marmalades - I don't have occasion to eat them, since toast has never been a big part of my life (and when I do make it, I like it with savoury things, like poached eggs). However, it's an excellent way of preserving large quantities of fruit for long periods, and has a touch of kitchen alchemy - a bowlful of your garden is transformed into intense, jewelled flasks on your larder shelves. It's also a useful ingredient in baking - for sandwiching Victoria sponges, for examples, or serving with high tea.

In fact, the techniques for jams, jellies, and syrups are very similar - it's just a matter of straining or not, adding pectin or not (in fact, raspberries often don't need added pectin, but I'm a beginner, so I wanted to be sure of a firm set). Take 650g raspberries, place in a large pan, and add the juice of half a lemon. The recipe I used called for the addition of 150ml water, but I ignored it - I suppose it makes a less concentrated jam this way. Heat gently to soften the fruit, then add 500g sugar (either plain white, or jam/preserving sugar; if using the former, you may add a glug of pectin stock if you want to be sure it will set firm). Once the sugar has dissolved, bring to the boil, and continue to boil for 5-10 minutes - or until it has reached 'setting point', which is 105ºC (a sugar thermometer helps!). There are a couple of ways of testing if it's ready, with a cold plate, or methylated spirits, but I've never succeeded there, so I'll let you look them up yourselves. Ladle into jars (remembering that everything needs to have been cleaned and sterilised first), seal and label.

I also made peach and raspberry conserve - with is essentially a slightly softer-set jam. This stretches your raspberries further - a mere 175g are needed for 700g stoned, cubed peaches. Less sugar is added - just 400g - but the method is the same as above (including the lemon). It has the delicious fragrance of a peach melba, and appeals to me more than the standard recipe - probably great with croissants and the like.

Perhaps the easiest way of preserving the taste and aroma of raspberries is to make a flavoured vinegar, something I did last year. I took a bottle of white wine vinegar (you could use cider vinegar instead), poured a little away (I used it in other things, like mayonnaise), then topped up the bottle with as many clean raspberries as would fit. After a year, it smells astonishingly like the ripe fruit - and is much mellower than the original liquid. Use it in salad dressings or to make an unusual mayonnaise. I'm not sure if the fruits left in the bottle have a use - I'll let you know!

Lastly, ice cream. I've hybridised a Nigella Lawson recipe, from the book Forever Summer, and the standard vanilla ice cream from the Thermomix Fast and Easy Cookbook. It's so much easier to do a custard base in this machine, which stirs and heats to a set temperature for a fixed time. However, I used Nigella's quantities, as it was her recipe that inspired me. So, I put 600ml single cream, 6 egg yolks, and 200g white sugar into the machine, and cooked it at speed 5, 80ºC, for 6 1/2 minutes. It's then poured out into a shallow, greaseproof paper-lined, freezer-proof container, left to cool, then placed in the freezer overnight. I then use a knife to cut the frozen custard into blocks, return it to the machine, and blitz as for the sorbet recipe above. For the ripples, again I adapted the original recipe: I heated 150g raspberries with a little good balsamic vinegar, then sieved (I used a microwave for speed, but you could do it in a pan). This coulis was par-frozen, then blended to smoothness, and gently stirred through the ice cream. You could, of course, make it in whatever way suits you best.

Raspberry ripple ice cream

So that's a few ways of dealing with the glut - I'd better get cracking, as I have another 2kg to use up!


sally said...

Thank you - that's such a useful and inspiring post. I love the breadth of uses - from enjoying in the moment to preserving and keeping.
And the "showstopper" has to be that raspberry ripple icecream. I'd forgotten about it as a flavour - we used to buy it - along with the separate but blending as they melted blocks of Neopolitan - from the icecream van man. But looking at your photo I can see that nothing that he ever sold, or even the rose tinted memories of it - could come close to how delicious the genuine, homegrown, homemade version looks!

Scyrene said...

Why thanks! I wasn't actually very happy with the ice cream's appearance - it was more of a raspberry splodge than a ripple! But it tastes alright, and I thought it was worth adding a photo anyway ;)