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“Hold on, hold on, hold on…let me go and see, I know there is one tree out there with sweet fruit on it.” My father-in-law pulled on his wellies and rushed out the kitchen door to what Geoffrey and I like to privately call the baby orchard.

I had ambled in moments earlier after checking the gooseberries and black currants (sadly, very sparse this year) along with the young apple, pear and plum trees that he and Peggy planted about six years ago only steps from the scullery.

When I explained that I noticed one tree with a gang of green plums and wondered out loud if they were Greengages, Michael scratched his head and told me he couldn’t be sure, “Peggy wrote the names of all those new trees down when we planted them, but I can’t recall where that list might be now.” These are things you don’t think a second about until someone is gone and you can’t ask them anymore.

He just wanted to get to the sweet. Who cared about those sour green plums. We needed to plunge into a sugary candy-like plum, like the ones he and Geoffrey shared the week before. I couldn’t shake the subtle hint of metaphor between sweetness and sorrow.

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Michael came back into the kitchen with one piece of deep purple fruit, opened the cupboard and pulled three more from a brown paper bag. We stood in front of the kitchen sink eating those perfect plums. No words, just the sounds of bite-slurping into the fleshy fruits followed by the telltale mmmm’s and ahhh’s of pure taste ambrosia. When we finished our impromtu picnic, I thanked Michael and he suggested that I head out to the back orchard to check on the older fruit trees.

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This “old” orchard, which dates back about one hundred years, was heaving with ripe fruit. When I say heaving, this is partially due to the tremendous storm earlier this year that downed several large beech trees and blew over the fruit trees with such a vengeance that they mostly now look more like arched Espaliers than Bramleys; the whole scene suggestive of a fine Dr. Seuss story.

I filled a basket with plums, most of them ripe, and a few with a way to go. And, in the spirit of summer fruits, this sweet surprise was born.

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Orchard Plum + Black Currant Madeira Cake with Mascarpone-Cassis Icing

Madeira Cake did not originate in the Madeira Islands, rather from the Portuguese Madeira wine that would have traditionally been served with this tea cake in Ireland and the UK many years ago. This wildly popular (and, once new-to-me), beautifully buttery, dense cake is normally prepared with just a touch of lemon zest, but I’ve pushed the limits and made it rich with summer fruits, balanced with a creamy mascarpone, cassis-spiked icing. I added black currant jam and a touch of smoked sea salt to the frosting, which is lovely, but definitely optional and not necessary if you prefer a less profound flavour profile. The pretty green plums in the photos were not used in the cake mix; sweet, ripe plums are a must for this recipe. You could cut the recipe in half and leave out the layers + icing altogether for a simple summer fruit Madeira. 

Ingredients
350g/12oz butter, at room temperature
350g/12oz caster sugar
6 free-range eggs
500g/18oz self-raising flour
6 tbsp milk
300g/10 oz peeled, pitted, thinly sliced sweet plums
200g black currant conserve
Method
1. Pre-heat oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Grease two 18cm/7in round cake tins, line the base with greaseproof paper and grease the paper.
2. Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl until pale and fluffy about 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating the mixture well between each one and adding a tablespoon of the flour with the last egg to prevent the mixture from curdling.
3. Sift the flour and gently fold in, with enough milk to give a mixture that falls slowly from the spoon. Fold in the sliced plums.
4. Spoon the mixture equally into the prepared tins and lightly level the tops. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 40-50 minutes, or until golden-brown on top and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
5. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, turn it out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.
6. Level out each cake layer with a serrated cake knife so that they easily lay flat on top of one another.
7. Spread a thick layer of black currant conserve on top of bottom cake layer.

Cassis-Mascarpone Icing
Ingredients
450g/1lb mascarpone cheese, softened
350g/12oz unsalted butter, softened
450g/1lb confectioners’ sugar, sifted
3/4 tsp. oak-smoked sea salt (optional)
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3-4 tbsp crème de cassis
1 tbsp black currant conserve (optional)
Method
1.In a large bowl, beat the mascarpone and butter with the mixer on medium speed until very smooth and creamy, about 1 minute.
2. Add the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, crème de cassis, optional sea salt and black currant conserve and beat on medium high until blended and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
3. Cover the frosting and set aside at room temperature until ready to frost cake.
4. Dab a bit of icing on the cake plate. Carefully set the bottom layer of cake (the piece with black currant conserve spread on top) down on the frosting. Sandwich second layer on top.
5. Using a metal spatula, evenly spread a thin layer (about 1/3 cup) of frosting over the entire cake to seal in any crumbs and fill in any gaps between layers. Refrigerate until the frosting is cold and firm, about 20 minutes. Spread the entire cake with the remaining frosting.
6. Refrigerate the cake for at least 4 hours or up to 2 days. This cake is best served slightly chilled or at room temperature.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Recipe, Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2014

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Yes, yogurt is usually spelled yog-hurt on this side of the pond. Not just in Ireland, but often throughout Europe. I discovered that the word yogurt is derived from the Turkish: yoğurt, and is related to the obsolete verb yoğmak which means to be curdled or coagulated; to thicken. Why the H is added, we will never know, I’m just glad it’s not called yoğmak anymore.

It was imminent….had to be done….I could not bear to go on without my frozen yogurt for one day longer. Long gone are my days of Pinkberry or TCBY. I’m in Ireland, baby. For a brief period, I could find plain frozen yogurt in the supermarket freezer section, but one day not toooo long ago, it suddenly it disappeared without even saying a proper frozen yogurt banana split goodbye. You see, frozen yogurt was one of those lovely, healthy standby treats that I could get the little farmer to eat. He couldn’t tell the difference between frozen yogurt and ice cream especially when it was covered in fresh berry coulis or a dab of marshmallow fluff and pecans…and neither could I. *tissue please*

Once again, I plunged into farmette mode and wondered if I could make my own frozen yogurt using dairy from the farm. I pondered + pondered until this past weekend when I stumbled upon a recipe for gooseberry & elderflower frozen yoghurt which looked positively delicious! As it happened, gooseberry picking was also on the books for the weekend so we kept 500 grams aside for my little frozen yogurt experiment. I had a batch of Elderflower cordial on hand for the occasion, another seasonal + local treat that I had planned on blogging about this week until the greatness of gooseberry frozen yoghurt presented itself. {Stop by these sites for a little Elderflower love: Edible Ireland and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall }

The recipe is very simple and you don’t need an ice cream maker, although it would be far easier as I had to remember and stir the mixture a few times to get just the right consistency. For the maiden voyage, I opted to use Glenisk natural greek style yoghurt which is a staple in our house. I also added the puree of two pears simply because they needed to be used up and while I believe it enhanced the flavour somewhat, they are not necessary. The flavour and texture are both incredible…I had no expectations and I have to say this frozen treat is a real taste sensation!

This certainly won’t be my last attempt at making frozen yogurt; next time I will try my hand at making some farm fresh yogurt and experiment with other flavours.

Pinkberry Shminkberry.

Give it a go!

Green Gooseberry + Elderflower Frozen Yogurt

500 g green gooseberries

2 ripened  and peeled pears

150 caster sugar

4 tbsp undiluted elderflower cordial

500 g full natural greek yogurt

1 tsp vanilla extract

Put the gooseberries and pears into a small saucepan with the sugar and 3 tbsp water. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, then cook gently for a few minutes until all the berries have popped and softened. Whizz to a puree with a blender, then push through a sieve with a ladle to get rid of the pips. Stir in the elderflower cordial and vanilla and allow to cool. When it’s cool, fold in the fruit puree. Either churn in ice cream maker or put into shallow metal container in the freezer for a few hours, until mixture is solid, then break up and blitz in food processor until totally smooth. Return to freeezer for an hour or so. Eat while soft-ish. Scoop up and serve!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell…assisted by Master Geoffrey McDonnell


 

 

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Irish Farmhouse Salad

11 Aug 2010

I’ll never forget the first time I visited the farm and met my future Irish family. R and I had planned a spectacular trip to the Amalfi Coast and decided it would be perfect to meet everyone before we took off on our holiday. I would fly into Ireland first and we would head to Italy from here.

After the grand introductions and formal-ish conversation in the sitting room, I was politely asked if I would like a bite to eat, and despite the fact that I was completely famished, I eloquently replied, “Sure, just a little something would be nice, thank you”.  We made our way into the kitchen where Peggy presented me with a traditional plate of cold salad like the one pictured above.  While I found this to be a slightly unusual offering, it was very charming and welcoming just the same. Since it was about six o’clock in the evening and therefore their traditional “tea” time, it meant that a cold salad or something similar would be entirely apropos on an Irish farm.

This comforting country plate consists of mashed potato salad, egg mayonnaise, sliced boiled ham, vine ripened tomatoes and perhaps a piece or two of warm brown soda bread *. We nibbled away while swapping sentimental stories and having a good laugh or two. Afterward, we shared a warm cup of tea and then retired for the night…the jet lag had prevailed.

*There are variations to this dish. Many people will add spring onion, cucumber, cole slaw or perhaps a bit of freshly sliced fruit.

Enjoy

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo by Imen McDonnell. Assisted by Master Geoffrey McDonnell

Mashed Potato Salad

Ingredients:

6 white potatoes

1  cup mayonnaise

1 cup sour cream

1 tablespoon green onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon fresh chives finely chopped

1 tsp flat leaf parsely, finely chopped

salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

Place peeled and sliced potatoes in a large pot and boil for 20 minutes, or until tender. When potatoes are cooked, drain and let sit for 5-10 minutes to cool. Once cooled, add in mayonnaise, sour cream, green onion, chives, parsley, salt, and pepper.

Egg Mayonnaise

For the egg filling:

3 eggs

4 tbsp mayonnaise

1 tsp lemon juice

Freshly milled pepper

cayenne pepper

For the mayonnaise:

2 whole egg yolks

1 tsp Dijon mustard or mustard powder

280 ml ground nut oil or vegetable oil

salt pepper

2 tsp lemon juice or white wine vinegar

Preparation

Method for the mayonnaise 1. In a bowl whisk the egg yolks and mustard

2. Start to gradually pour in the oil a drip at a time very gradually, whisking after each go until it becomes think and emulsifies

3. Check the seasoning and add a spoon of lemon juice or white wine vinegar if needed. Method for the egg mayonaise 1. Boil the eggs for 7 minutes in boiling water

2. Remove form the pan refresh allow to cool and peel

3. Lay on a plate and pour over the mayonnaise

4. Finish with a sprinkle of cayenne pepper

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To my greatest delight, I have a mother-in-law who cooks absolutely heavenly things…whether it be a tender roast dinner or a sweet apple tart baked on a plate, she never, ever disappoints.  When I popped in for a chat a few days back, she had a large bowl of freshly picked gooseberries on the table that she was “top and tailing”, i.e. removing the top and bottom stems.  I marvelled over these berries as I’d never experienced this fruit before in America. At first glance they appeared to be larger-than-life green grapes or teeny-tiny watermelons. Let’s just say, I hadn’t a clue about the greatness of gooseberry. (pronounced gooze-berry) up until then.

A few days later, a gorgeous jar of gooseberry jam was offered up and as I excitedly packed it into my bag and trotted back to our house, I contemplated how fast I could bake up a dozen scones and slather one, or perhaps even two, with this delicious new treat. An hour later, I pulled out a piping hot tray and searched for a container of Glenilen clotted cream in the fridge. After a bit of a cooldown, I carefully broke apart one golden scone and began spooning the gooseberry greatness atop followed by a sweep of fluffy clotted cream….what ensued after could only be described as pure bliss.

Gooseberry jam is perfectly tangy and sweet at once. I find most preserves to be either too much of one or the other, but for me, this berry indulgence is above reproach.

Here is Peggy’s tried and true recipe:

Gooseberry Jam

1 lb green gooseberries (topped and tailed)

1 lb Sugar

Simmer gently until the fruit is soft (this may take 30 minutes or longer).

Add the sugar and stir over low heat until dissolved.

Return the jam to the heat, bring to a rattling boil and boil steadily for 10 minutes

To test if the jam is ready, place a spoonful on a plate in the refrigerator and allow it to cool slightly. Drag a spoon across the jam and if it leaves a line the jam is ready.

Put the jam in warm, sterilized jars.

Allow to cool, then cover and place jars into the cupboard.

I hope you will enjoy this special Irish conserve as much as I.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photograph by Imen McDonnell. Assisted by Master Geoffrey McDonnell

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