A tsunami of soft fruit is about to break. The gooseberries are first and so this weekend I’ll be crouched on a milking stool in the cool shade of the blackcurrant bushes picking ‘Hinnomaki Green’. As I pick, the blackcurrants brushing my shoulders will be a constant reminder that soon there will be consecutive weekends of picking. We have three varieties, each with different fruiting times to extend the season and the harvest. Last year around this time I found our dear friend Sophie (AKA Champion Picker) among the bushes at daybreak on a post heatwave misty morning, picking and breakfasting in tandem. A whole bush stripped before coffee time is par for the course for Sophie. This year it will be down to me, Dan and the lucky birds.
The gooseberry ‘Hinnomaki Red’ take a little longer to reach maturity than the green, which is a relief, since a Kilner jar full of the remainder of last year’s harvest has been judging me silently from a shelf in the pantry for a while now. We always reach this point in the year when the approaching harvest starts to throw a very different light on the frozen ends of last year’s crop in the freezer. A quick stock take this week revealed two half carrier bags full of gooseberries (green) and blackcurrants respectively, a huge Tupperware full of redcurrants and damsons. Just enough to stew for a week of breakfasts, unlike last year’s June’s freezer clearance which resulted in a memorably messy and sticky summer’s day making damson ketchup, damson chutney, damson shrub and damson fruit leather, again with Sophie, and other willing helpers.
Now that the kitchen garden is beginning to produce in earnest we are really missing our regular weekend housefuls to help harvest, prepare and cook food from the garden together, then share it at a large and usually raucous table late into the evening.
The absence of visitors in this unusual year has also meant that I have found far less reason to make puddings in recent months. When we do end a meal with something sweet it is invariably with some variety of stewed fruit and a spoonful of yogurt, sometimes cream. However, with that jar of red gooseberries on my conscience, a quick pass through the kitchen garden revealed that the whitecurrant and tayberry were dripping with jewel-like fruit, and a summer pudding of this and last summer’s fruits started to materialise. Sweetened with some elderflower cordial made last week and using up the end of a stale loaf of bread that was consigned to the freezer for breadcrumbs several weeks ago and is now taking up valuable space. Space that will very soon be filled by a new generation of soft fruit.
750g mixed soft fruit – raspberry, blackcurrant, strawberry, gooseberry, bayberry, loganberry, redcurrant, whitecurrant
3 tablespoons elderflower cordial
3 tablespoons light honey or caster sugar
A couple of heads of elderflowers
7 slices 1cm thick of slightly stale good white bread
Put any fruit that needs cooking (blackcurrants and gooseberries) into a lidded pan on a very low heat with two tablespoons of water and the honey or sugar. Cook until they start to burst and release their juices. Remove the pan from the heat and add the rest of the fruit. Remove the elderflowers from their umbels by dragging the tines of a fork through them over the pan of stewed fruit. Stir, return the lid and leave to stand until cool.
Cut a circle from one slice of bread to fit the bottom of a 1 litre pudding basin. Cut all but two of the remaining slices of bread into triangles of the same height as the pudding basin and use to line the inside of the basin. Fill any gaps with smaller pieces of torn bread. Once the basin is lined pour all of the stewed fruit (reserving three tablespoons) into the cavity. Press down with the back of a metal spoon and smooth level. Cut the remaining slices of bread into as few pieces as possible to make a lid that fits on top of the stewed fruit.
Take a side plate the same diameter as the top of the basin and put it on top of the pudding. Then secure the plate well. I use extra strong elastic bands or well-tied string to exert pressure on the pudding, but you can weight the plate down with a heavy jar. Stand the pudding basin in dish to catch any juice and put in the fridge overnight or for a minimum of 4 hours. Put the reserved stewed fruit into a small pan with a couple of tablespoons of water and one of honey or sugar and bring to a simmer. Press through a sieve and reserve.
When ready to turn out slide a blunt knife between the pudding and the basin until it is loosened. Take a deep serving dish and invert it over the pudding basin. Holding the basin and plate tightly together with both hands invert the whole lot and shake gently but firmly. You should hear the pudding slip out of the basin and onto the plate with a satisfying slurp. Carefully lift off the basin. Pour over the reserved fruit sauce. Decorate with more fruit if you like and serve with cold pouring cream.
Recipe and photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 27 June 2020