The Kitchen Garden: Rich pickings
PUBLISHED: 13:26 17 October 2016 | UPDATED: 13:26 17 October 2016
Linda Duffin leaves the hard work to him outdoors and cooks up a delicious autumn dessert, straight from the orchard
I heard Norfolk-based gardening expert Bob Flowerdew talking recently about weeding. He said he found it much less of a chore once he realised weeds made good compost. The same could be said of that tiresomely regular October task, raking up dead leaves. Gathered up and rotted down they make a very good, free mulch.
Unlike Mr Flowerdew I don’t embark on either of these things with a happy heart and a song on my lips, but I grit my teeth and tell myself I’ll be glad I did it in the end. Oh, who am I kidding? I usually hide in the kitchen and cook things while my husband does all the hard graft.
October in the kitchen garden tends to be a time of tidying the beds and cleaning the greenhouse, although you can also plant out spring cabbage, autumn garlic bulbs and onion sets, and harvesting your pumpkins before the first frosts. But my favourite place to be in October is in the orchard. This is a good time to plant fruit trees and, if you have established trees, to protect them with glue bands to ward off moths. Also, pick off or pick up any diseased fruits to prevent infection next year.
You can be harvesting apples, pears and grapes, and any nuts the squirrels haven’t already made off with. Quinces should also be ready to pick around now. As with any orchard fruit, the best way to tell if they are ripe is to give them a gentle twist. If their stalks part easily from the tree, they are ready. This month’s recipe marries our locally grown pears with Norfolk saffron and Spanish oranges. It’s a very happy union and a tried and tested one, as it uses ingredients and methods that would have been familiar to our Tudor forebears.
Saffron and Ginger Pears with Orange Posset (serves 4-6)
Ingredients for the pears:
6-8 firm and almost ripe pears,
1 litre white wine, 100g granulated sugar,
1 or 2 tbsp clear honey, to taste,
about 100g fresh root ginger (weight before peeling) chopped,
1 or 2 pinches of saffron, depending on strength,
the juice of 1/2 lemon.
Ingredients for the posset:
1 orange, zested and juiced,
70g caster sugar,
1 tspn orange liqueur (optional),
425 ml double cream.
extra zest and/or a little Seville orange marmalade
Make the posset first as it takes up to 24 hours to set. Scrub the orange under warm water to remove any wax coating. Zest and juice the orange – you’ll need about 100ml of juice – and place with the sugar in a small pan. Heat until the sugar has dissolved, add the liqueur, if using, and keep warm. In another pan bring the cream to boiling point over a gentle heat and pour it, whisking gently as you go, into the orange juice. The acid in the juice will cause the cream to start setting. Pour into small glasses or ramekins, allow to cool, then refrigerate to set completely, preferably overnight. Don’t garnish until just before you serve.
Now make the syrup. In a pan big enough to hold all the pears, pour in the wine and add the syrup ingredients. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a fast simmer then turn the heat down and cook gently, partly covered by a lid, for 20-30 minutes or until the ginger flavour has permeated the syrup. Strain and keep warm. Peel, halve and core the pears (try to retain the stalks) and drop them straight into the hot syrup as you go, so they don’t turn brown. When they’re all done, scrunch up some greaseproof paper and place it on top of the pears to stop them floating. Put on a tilted lid, bring to a simmer and cook gently until the pears have softened, but stop before they go limp and soggy. Mine took about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and allow to cool completely before refrigerating.
About 10 minutes before you want to eat, remove the pears from the fridge. Garnish the possets with a little grated orange zest, or a small amount of Seville orange marmalade, and serve alongside the pears. A crisp shortbread biscuit for dunking into the posset is a good addition.