Oh so cordial cordial…

A few weeks ago I paid trib­ute to poor old Blood Orange Pos­set, the deli­ciously del­ic­ate pud­ding that got lumbered with the worst name in the world. As if we needed remind­ing that life isn’t fair, along swooshes the eleg­ant, beau­ti­ful, perfectly-named Apple Mint Cor­dial. If Blood Orange Pos­set and Apple Mint Cor­dial were guests at a wed­ding, BOP would be in the back row, behind a pil­lar and forced to wear a hat picked by Prin­cess Beatrice, while AMC would be in the front pew dressed entirely in Alex­an­der McQueen.

Not that it’s cordial’s fault. And I do love food that’s both a noun and an adject­ive. To drink a cor­dial that is cor­dial is very sat­is­fy­ing, although that might just be the cranky way my mind works. (While I’m on the sub­ject of gram­mar, food that’s both a noun and a verb is weirdly full of fat — think of lard, milk, but­ter and oil).

This par­tic­u­lar cor­dial will quench your thirst at a glance.

Apple Mint Cordial

Makes about 1 litre

1kg apples — Cox’s are best, although I used Royal Gala here

320 grams caster sugar

Finely pared peel of one unwaxed lemon

1 litre water

2 large hand­fuls of fresh mint leaves plus extra for serving

Chop the apples roughly, but don’t bother to peel or core them. Place them in a large pan with the sugar, water and lemon. Bring to the boil and then turn down to a sim­mer. Add the mint leaves.

Sim­mer gently for about 20 to 25 minutes, until the apple is soft and mushy. Turn off the heat and pour the entire lot into a jelly-making bag and allow it to drip slowly through into a bowl for a couple of hours. You can squish it through with the back of a ladle if you like, but I prefer to leave it to its own devices so that it emerges on the other side as a clear rather than cloudy pink liquid. Pour into ster­il­ised bottles. It will keep in the fridge for about a week. Altern­at­ively, you can freeze it into ice cubes and use them at your leis­ure. Add about 1/3 cor­dial to 2/3 still or spark­ling water and serve with plenty of ice and a hand­ful of fresh mint leaves.

Drink your Apple Mint Cor­dial while mak­ing a con­sol­ing, slightly smug toast to poor old Blood Orange Posset.

A feast for Karen Blixen

There are many reas­ons to admire the writer Karen Blixen and Babette’s Feast is one of them. Her story of a french woman who cre­ates a mag­ni­fi­cent din­ner on which she lav­ishes her entire for­tune is one I’ve always loved. The two eld­erly sis­ters for whom Babette cooks are aghast to learn that she has spent everything she has and will be impov­er­ished for the rest of her life. Her san­guine reply is that ‘an artist is never poor’.

Early this morn­ing I found another reason to admire Karen Blixen. Read­ing a slightly whim­sical but magical book called Writers’ Houses, I dis­covered that ‘Karen liked to com­bine old roses with cab­bage leaves, or blos­soms from her garden with wild herbs gathered in the forest behind the house. On days when she received guests, she rose at five in the morn­ing to go out and gather flowers while they were still moist with dew.’

What? I’m all for mak­ing my din­ner guests feel cher­ished, but get up at five in the morn­ing so the flowers for the table still have dew on them? I’m sorry, but you have to be jok­ing. I admit though that I was so impressed by her exact­ing aes­thetic sense that I nipped out­side and gathered some rose­mary flowers for lunch. It was already 7.30 in the morn­ing, which is prac­tic­ally mid after­noon by Karen Blixen’s stand­ards — but look, they have dew!

Herb flowers are the finest part of the plant. They hold within them a whis­per of the fla­vour of the stems from which they came; a del­ic­ate, fra­grant memory of their more upfront, bossy, herby rel­at­ives. Karen Blixen liked to include herb flowers in bou­quets. I like to include mine on my plate.

Pea, Rose­mary Flower and Crab Risotto

Serves 4

3 table­spoons olive oil

2 knobs butter

1 large onion

2 gar­lic cloves

350g risotto rice

1 large glass dry white wine

1 litre veget­able stock

200g frozen peas

100g fresh white crab meat

Hand­ful rose­mary flowers — chive flowers are good too

Melt one knob of but­ter with the olive oil over a medium heat and gently cook the chopped onion and gar­lic until soft but not brown. Add the rice and a little salt and stir until coated and glossy. Pour in the white wine and stir until fully absorbed by the rice. Mean­while heat the stock in a neigh­bour­ing pan and once the wine has been absorbed, ladle a little hot stock onto the rice and stir. As soon as the stock is absorbed, add more, stir­ring all the while. If you run out of stock, add a little boil­ing water. Once the rice is cooked and creamy which will take about twenty minutes, add the uncooked and still frozen peas and stir them through for just a couple of minutes. Don’t over­cook them because the last thing you want are khaki-coloured peas. Stir in the second knob of but­ter, check the season­ing, put the lid on the pan and take off the heat. Divide between four warm bowls, sprinkle with rose­mary flowers and top with the white crab meat.

Pea, rose­mary flower and crab risotto is, to my mind, the per­fect lunch. I like to think the cre­ator of Babette’s Feast would have enjoyed it too, dew or no dew.

The perfect jug and a helping of serendipity…

I’ve found the per­fect jug. Designed by Emma Lacey, it has a thumb-sized dimple in just the right place. Pick it up and it feels as solid, safe and simple as a pair of sturdy shoes, brown bread and but­ter, a pic­nic on the beach or rhu­barb and custard.

Serendip­ity is both a fant­astic word and a bril­liant concept. My new jug had already made me think of rhu­barb and cus­tard — serendip­ity sor­ted things out so that I got to eat it too. My very clever friend, the one who knows how to grow things and even bet­ter loves giv­ing them away, left a bas­ket of home-grown rhu­barb and a batch of her hens’ eggs on the door­step this morning.

It’s vir­tu­ally a ready-meal from the super­mar­ket — the con­tents of the bas­ket are more than three quar­ters of the way to being a bowl of baked rhu­barb and vanilla cus­tard. And that is what they became.…

Rhu­barb Baked With Car­da­mon and Kaf­fir Lime Leaf and Served With Vanilla Custard

Serves 3 or 4

Pre­heat the oven to 175 degrees C

600g rhu­barb cut into slices

2 table­spoons sugar

5 or 6 car­da­mon pods

1 kaf­fir lime leaf

Zest and juice of a tangerine

6 egg yolks

125g caster sugar

600 ml milk

One vanilla pod

Com­bine the rhu­barb with the tan­ger­ine zest and juice, 2 table­spoons of sugar, the car­da­mon pods and the kaf­fir lime leaf and spread out in a shal­low oven­proof dish. I had been plan­ning to add a star anise to the dish instead, but spot­ted the lime leaves and the car­da­mon pods in the cup­board first. I dis­covered that they brought a deli­cious zingy per­fume to the rhu­barb — another dose of serendip­ity as it turned out. Bake for 25 minutes until soft but not mushy.

To make the cus­tard, whisk the yolks with the sugar until pale and glossy. Warm the milk with the vanilla pod to boil­ing point. Add the milk to the egg mix­ture. Tip back into a clean pan and stir over a low heat until the cus­tard starts to thicken slightly. Don’t stop stir­ring and don’t let the cus­tard overheat.

Heap the rhu­barb on a plate, add a gen­er­ous puddle of cus­tard and you will be as far away from school din­ner rhu­barb and cus­tard as it is pos­sible to be. And that too is serendipitous.

On Mother’s Day…

For those of us whose moth­ers are no longer here, Mother’s Day is slightly mourn­ful. The old rituals of mak­ing homemade cards, tying bunches of mis­matched wild flowers and car­ry­ing break­fast upstairs on wobbly trays have gone. It becomes a day of absence, rather than joy­ful presence.

But let’s make today a cel­eb­ra­tion any­way. Relive the won­der­ful memor­ies — the moments when you and your mum laughed uncon­trol­lably at some­thing that wasn’t even funny, the day she watched you win at sports day, the day she con­soled you when you came last. Because Mother’s Day is Mother’s Day whether your mum is here or not.

It seems to me that the per­fect thing to eat on Mother’s Day is after­noon tea — the meal that moth­ers never make for themselves.

So this after­noon I’m going to eat homemade scones with clot­ted cream and black­cur­rant jam and raise a cup of tea to my mum and to all moth­ers everywhere.

But­ter­milk Scones

This recipe is based on one in Brit­ish Bak­ing by Peyton and Byrne

Makes 8 scones

240g self rais­ing flour

50g caster sugar

2 tea­spoons bak­ing powder

Pinch of salt

60g cold butter

175ml but­ter­milk

Beaten egg for brushing

Pre­heat the oven to 170 degrees C and line a tin with bak­ing paper.

Sift the flour, sugar, bak­ing powder and salt into a mix­ing bowl. Add the cold but­ter, cut into small cubes. I use an elec­tric stand mixer to rub it in, but you can use your fin­gers if you prefer. Add the but­ter­milk and mix until it just forms a dough. Form into a ball and rest in the fridge for ten minutes or so. Roll out until 2.5 to 3 cm thick and with a 5cm cut­ter make 8 scones. Brush them with a little beaten egg. Cook for 25 minutes and then allow them to cool com­pletely in the tin before you remove them.

And as a little post­script.… my chil­dren have just brought me break­fast in bed, homemade cards and a bunch of mis­matched wild flowers. So it turns out that life really does go on…