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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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Cider House Rules

14 Oct 2011

For me, autumn has always brought a sense of new beginnings and a giddy anticipation for exciting things to come. A new season, another school year, the excitement of fresh weather holidays….and now on the farm, cutting the maize and baby calves on the horizon. Something in the air changes, the wild Irish wind swiftly begins to kick up the all the newly fallen crimson leaves and proceeds to fiercely scatter them about the garden. Invigorating.

Without fail, at this time of year, I find myself consumed with sentimental expat memories of visiting pumpkin patches and apple orchards on a crisp autumn afternoon. A very popular fall tradition across many parts of America is to venture out of the city to admire the new colour and eventually arrive at an apple farm, pumpkin patch, or combination of the two. These family farms are transformed into literal jubilees of fun from about mid September to November, offering apple picking, pumpkins of every shape and size, freshly-baked apple pies, crisps or cobblers, chargrilled apple sausages, hay rides, wood-fired pizzas, small farm animal feeding, and the absolute best: mugs of warm apple cider with fresh cider donuts on the side.

It was a yearly ritual for myself and family or friends to take at least one trip to a country orchard each October, usually on a Sunday after brunch and the papers.  For me, the best bit was always the cider and donuts. American-style apple cider is something I have not (yet) come across in Ireland. Far different from what we consider cider in Ireland, this cider is not an alcoholic beverage. Pure apple cider is a made by crushing and pressing apples into a dark, cloudy juice and is never homogenized or pasteurized so it is much unlike the pressed apple juices found at markets or shops. I’ve also enjoyed a mug of cider with mulling-style spices, which is delicious. Spiced or plain, warm or cold, the flavor is sensational.

Last weekend, my father-in-law began harvesting apples and pears from the small orchard at the farm. He brought in a good amount to share with us. He also said to help ourselves to more because there is an abundance this year. When I went out the have a look the following day, I was astounded at the amount of fruit on the trees.

My first thought was: let’s make apple cider! This way we can use a good bit of the produce and at the same time, I can share a wonderful American tradition with my family here in Ireland.

We did our research and found a small apple press, which has just arrived! So, hopefully by this time next week we will be sitting by the turf fire, sipping apple cider and nibbling on warm cider donuts.

And then, autumn will be complete.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo by Imen McDonnell

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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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