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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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lastone 2

I have been experimenting with milk again. How can I resist when I am surrounded by such mass bovinity in all of its glory? The dairy possibilities are endless in this kitchen. There is literally milk everywhere, clearly most notably on my brain.

Over the past few years I have performed my fair share of indulgent dairy experiments. I’ve churned butter. Strained farmer cheese. Clouted clotted cream. Creamed curd cheese. Condensed milk and evaporated milk. Dairy-ed fudge. Soured cream. Creamed cheese. Used the remaining buttermilk and whey for various experiments in baking. Hell, I’ve even made bread out of milk.

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Strictly speaking, when things get a little stressful; i.e. when the weather makes it difficult to farm, we DIY ice cream.  One of my favourite playwrights’, David Mamet exclaimed, “We must have pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.” Well, I agree, but I’d swiftly say the same for ice cream too.

When our ice cream is ready to eat, we quietly share fifteen family minutes together on the farm, scooping spoonful after spoonful of cold creamy glee into our smiling mouths. I suppose the flavour du jour is whatever strikes the fancy of a certain farmer’s mind at that particular time. Triple chocolate-chocolate, cookie dough, chunky monkey, red raspberry ripple, marshmallow cream, rhubarb-n-custard….if we are feeling extremely creative, and if the season is right, we’ll steep some fresh hay into the creamy base too. Just because.

This weekend, we happened to have a bit of extra crème fraîche in the fridge so we decided to make ice cream with it. Crème fraîche ice cream is not new. It’s been done before, but it’s new to my kitchen, to my Magimix, to our time-tested palates.

After getting an email from a friend telling tantalising tales of lemon sea salt ice cream at the beach, I decided to add that to the mix as well. The result is an ultra-creamy, tangy, zesty ice cream with the slightest hint of salt from the sea.

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Crème-Fraîche-Lemon-Sea-Salted Ice Cream

200ml whole milk
175g caster sugar
600g full-fat crème fraîche (Glenisk or Glenilen are both fantastic)
Zest 1 lemon
½ tsp vanilla extract
2-3 pinches sea salt (I love Irish Atlantic Sea Salt)

1. Whisk together the milk, sugar, crème fraîche, lemon zest and vanilla over medium heat until sugar is dissolved.
2. Set aside to cool completely. Place in fridge overnight.
3. Add in sea salt and churn in an ice-cream machine, following manufacturer’s
instructions, before freezing. Or freeze for 1 hr, then give a good whisk and return to
the freezer for another hour. Repeat 3 or 4 times until it becomes solid.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

{I am away from the farm travelling stateside due to a bereavement this week, so I am sharing this post adapted from my column + recipe recently published in Irish Country Living}

Photos + styling by Imen McDonnell 2013 

 

 

 

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