Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Strawberries,Clotted Cream and more








Strawberries! I have made strenuous efforts with the strawberry patch this year, after last year's disaster, when I planted out the plants, they duly flowered but we got no strawbs, not a one! I put it down to a plague of rodents, though it may have been birds as well, so this year I have made an impenetrable (I hope) cage of chicken wire and netting, and treated the plants with my favourite nitrogenous fertilizer earlier in the season (diluted urine shock horror - don't tell the neighbours) and regular sprayings of seaweed solution. It's looking good so far with lots of flowers and fruit set.
However, as they are still green and it will be a week or two before we can enjoy them and I happened upon a huge display of half price strawberries in Tesco's yesterday, I decided to buy 8 pounds for only £8 (bargain or what), together with a big bag of sugar, and this morning have made a batch of jam. We had some of the strawbs after dinner last night, and although they were nice enough, I just don't think you can buy strawberries like you can grow. I think they have varieties that are chosen for their long shelf life, and transportability and so on, and not the best tasting ones that you can choose at home. Most of my plants are Cambridge Favourite, and they do taste wonderful (when I get any of course). But I have a mixture of plants from friends and various sources, and they're all lovely when you pick them at the peak of their flavour and ripeness, still warm from the sun, yum.

Here's my jam recipe - I use Certo for strawberry jam, it allows a fast set and so keeps the delicate flavour. I don't use pectin for any other preserves, but I do find it best with strawberries. It's the standard pectin recipe, taken from the Certo website.



Strawberry Jam
2 ¼ lb. Strawberries
3 tbsp Lemon Juice
3 lb. Sugar
½ bottle Certo

1. Prepare the fruit and crush thoroughly. Add the lemon juice and the
sugar.
2. Heat slowly until dissolved, stirring occasionally.
3. Add a small knob of butter or margarine to reduce foaming.
4. Bring quickly to a full rolling boil and boil rapidly for 2 minutes,
stirring occasionally.
5. Remove from the heat and stir in the Certo - skim if necessary.
6. Allow to cool slightly to prevent the fruit from floating. Pot and cover in
the usual way.


And while you're making strawberry jam, you may start to think about eating it, and what better way of eating it than a lovely Devon Cream Tea. I live in Wiltshire now, but I lived in Devon for many years, and when my children were small we used to make family trips to places for Cream Teas and give them marks out of 10. In fact we became quite exacting about it and in the end we had different categories for the scones, jam, cream, tea, service, and even toilet facilities, always an important consideration with small children, (and older ladies, come to think of it....)
Anyway, my daughter has just emailed me for a "proper" scone recipe, so here is my definitive one. I always use Cream of Tartar for scones as I think it gives a better result.

The Ultimate Scone!

one pound self raising flour (about 450gr in euros)
good pinch of salt
*1 heaped teasp bicarbonate of soda
*2 heaped teasps cream of tartar
3 oz caster sugar (about 2 good tablespoons)
3-4 oz butter (about a third of a packet)
about half pint of milk (I think that's about 250ml in modern)
*or you can use about 3 heaped teasps of baking powder instead of these two ingredients

Mix first five ingredients together. Quickly rub in the butter. Stir in the milk to make soft consistency. Press down gently and cut rounds. Bake in very hot oven about 10 mins.

Notes:
The main thing is to handle the flour as little as possible, so you get as little gluten forming as poss(as opposed to breadmaking where you want as much as poss gluten causes the chewiness in bread).

Don't bother using chilled butter as you might in pastry, it rubs in quicker if it's soft so you handle it less. Or whizz it briefly in the food processor

The amount of milk will vary with the absorbency of the flour - you want it very soft, softer than pastry, but firm enough to hold together and not turn into anything like a cake mixture.

Don't bother rolling it out, just pat it with your hand on a generously floured surface, you want it very thick, almost as deep as your scone cutters. I like a floury top so I don't eggwash. You can if you like. Once the liquid is in, the raising agent starts to work, so you need to get them in the oven as quick as you can. If you haven't got some proper cutters, use a sharp knife and cut them into squares. Just as nice, and you don't have no leftover bits to re-cut. Don't use a cup or a glass, sharp cutters really help the rise.

I have a feeling that cream of tartar goes "off" well not really off, but less effective, after a while say a few months so is best used fairly fresh, a good excuse for baking loads of scones!

Storage Because the raising agent only starts to work when it's wet, you can make a bag of the mix and store it in the fridge (or freezer) until you need it. So in true Domestic Goddess fashion you can have a plate of home made scones on the table in 15 mins start to finish. Label the bag (as if you wouldn't) to avoid UFO syndrome (Unidentified Frozen Object). Far quicker than going out to buy some and about a tenth of the price. I've done this and people are amazed!! They don't keep very well, best in a plastic bag for a day or so, but they do freeze very well and refresh in a warm oven in 10 mins or so.

So all you need now is a big (and I mean big) pot of Devon Clotted Cream. There's little in life so dispiriting as a small pot of clotted cream. A Devonian would say you could get away with Cornish cream if it's all you can find, but it's not the same...

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