Take 7 – A Tripbase project

Being a rummager by nature, I was thrilled to be nominated by Jeanne from the hugely successful blog CookSister to revisit seven of my previous posts. It’s part of Take 7, the internet project that invites bloggers to dust down seven old posts and drag them into the light. The categories are these: most popular post, most controversial, most helpful, a post whose success surprised you, a post that didn’t get the attention it deserved and finally, the post you’re most proud of.

As I took a metaphorical pitchfork to Eggs On The Roof’s haystack in search of those seven silver needles, I unearthed all kinds of retro treasures I’d forgotten that I owned. I hope you enjoy my vintage finds…

MY MOST POPULAR POST

One of my most popular posts is my discovery of the pink elderflower bush that produced pink elderflower cordial. But just nudging it out of the way to take first prize is my slightly perverse attempt to make a chocolate palimpsest. The whole palimpsest saga was a rather daft literary joke. As my children will tell you slightly despairingly, literary jokes are the kind I love best. They say I’m in a minority of one, but I think the popularity of the post has proved them wrong.

MY MOST CONTROVERSIAL POST

In its truest sense, controversy is something that opposes the norm. That being the case, my most controversial post could be my Black Olive Chocolate Truffles. Olives and chocolate shouldn’t go together, should they? But if you’re an Italian politician you may have found my post When Not In Florence slightly more controversial. Readers certainly seemed horrified by my fight with a spurned Italian MP who threw me out of his car in the middle of a busy roundabout.

MY MOST HELPFUL POST

My most helpful posts have been those that encourage readers to make things that sound difficult but are as easy as can be – like my DIY miso soup or my home-made cream cheese. The irony is that the recipe for cheese is the easiest formula you will find anywhere on Eggs On The Roof.

THE POST WHOSE SUCCESS SURPRISED ME

I’m still surprised by the huge popularity of my post titled Plum Jelly and Hot Baths, in which I bemoaned the lack of hot water in my house while making plum and chili jelly. I freely admit that I am an incompetent gardener and my post about my miserable strawberry harvest seems to have captured an audience that shares my failings. Either that, or you all feel sorry for me.

THE POST THAT DIDN’T GET THE ATTENTION IT DESERVED

I’ve always had a fondness for my slightly taxing post Exercises in Scones. It didn’t get the attention it deserved, but as one visitor to the post commented, it gave her a headache! My post With Love From Lovage deserved more attention than it got, for its crucial concluding paragraph – how to make drinking straws out of lovage stems. How have you managed without them all this time?

One of the first posts I ever wrote was about my glamourous grandmother, Peggy, and her rice pudding. I’d love her to get a little more attention – being the life and soul of the party, so too, I’m sure, would she!

THE POST I AM MOST PROUD OF

The post I’m most proud of has to be my story about green gazpacho and blue borage Ice. It was a creation that stemmed from a fleeting glimpse in New York and turned into something rather beautiful, I think. But given that today is the seventh anniversary of my wonderful mother’s death, I would like to nominate my post On Mother’s Day as the one that I am quietly proud of. It is honest, simple and, most important of all, it’s from the heart.

So that’s my little vintage pop-up shop…… I now nominate Pascale from the beautiful Extra-Relish, Jamie from the sumptuous Life’s a Feast and Mary from the quirky Mrs Miniver’s Daughter to do some rummaging of their own.

The Quince And The Cordial

Aesop really should have written a fable about the quince, in which this concrete wrecking ball of a fruit is enticed into loveliness by the intervention of a little loving care.

I’ve always admired the truculence of the quince. Its exquisite perfume and plumply yellow fruit give the impression of easy, yielding grace. But circle your fingers around a quince and you will find it as hard and unwelcoming as a winter’s morning. Never was there such a mismatch between looks and character. Once you know how to cajole it, though, a quince becomes the thing you always thought it was going to be from the start – sweet, delicate and fragrant.

So to make up for the fable that Aesop forgot to write, here is the tale of The Quince And The Cordial.

QUINCE CORDIAL

  • 12 quinces, left whole
  • 850ml water
  • 350g caster sugar

I have the brilliant chef Skye Gyngell to thank for this idea. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C. Wash the quinces and rub them dry with a cloth, to remove the soft fuzz that adorns them. Don’t bother to peel or core them, but simply line them up in a baking tray. Sprinkle over the sugar and pour in the water. Cover with aluminium foil and bake in the oven for between 3 to 4 hours.

My quinces were very large and needed the full 4 hours to be rendered soft and for the juice to be richly pink. Allow the quinces to cool in the liquid. Remove the fruit and tip the juice into a jug. My quinces made 1 litre of cordial. It will keep for up to 2 weeks in the fridge, but I prefer to decant mine into small plastic bottles and freeze it. That way I can pluck a bottle triumphantly out of the freezer whenever needed, for an impromptu, showy cocktail. The rule is 50/50 of cordial to prosecco, sparkling apple juice or fizzy water with ice.

The really clever part of this fable is that having extracted your cordial you are still left with the cooked fruit themselves. Slice the quinces and serve them with Greek yoghurt, maple syrup and perhaps some toasted hazelnuts. Or tuck pieces of cooked quince amongst the apples when making an apple crumble.

The moral of this fable is, of course, that you should never judge a quince by its cover.

Call It Anything, So Long As It’s Figs

It’s astonishing the number of food books that include the word ‘fig’ in the title: A Platter of Figs & Other Recipes by the wonderful cook David Tanis, Roast Figs, Sugar Snow by Diana Henry, Realm of Fig and Quince, Girl & the Fig Cookbook, Fig Heaven, Fabulous Figs and From the Lands of Figs and Olives.

Book titles are crucial of course. Just think what would have happened to a 20th century literary classic if F. Scott Fitzgerald had stuck to his working title for The Great Gatsby – the shockingly awful Trimalchio in West Egg. The worst fig title has to be the revoltingly-named Fish and Figs which neither makes me want to cook or even to eat.

But terrible names aside, what is it about the fig that drives writers and editors to get it into the title somehow? The fig seems to combine great beauty, ancient heritage and simplicity, as well as a certain exotic mystery. I’ve just bought the most glorious-looking figs, partly for their looks alone. I could simply have eaten them on their own and they would have been delicious. But a while ago I was given a jar of Earl Grey Tea Jelly, which is a sweet, perfumed, slightly smoky, clear fruit jam. And its perfect elegance seemed the ideal partner for the figs.

FIGS BAKED IN RED WINE AND EARL GREY TEA JELLY, WITH CREAM CHEESE BRIOCHE

Serves 4

  • 4 figs
  • 200ml soft, fruity red wine
  • 4 dessert spoons Early Grey tea jelly – essentially, it’s a sweet apple jelly, so you could try infusing a couple of Earl Grey teabags in a fruit jelly for the same effect.
  • 1 vanilla pod split down the middle
  • 8 small slices brioche, toasted
  • Home-made cream cheese – make my earlier recipe, but omit the salt
  • Handful chopped pistachio nuts

Heat the Earl Grey tea jelly gently in a small frying pan, with the red wine and vanilla pods. This would be the time to add the Earl Grey teabags if you’re using a simple apple jelly. When the liquid is hot and the jelly has melted, remove the teabags and add the halved figs to the pan, cut side up. Spoon the liquid over the figs and place under a moderate grill for ten to fifteen minutes. Don’t allow the figs to burn and keep spooning the liquid over them. This will both bake them and intensify their flavours by grilling them at the same time.

Remove from the grill and with a slotted spoon take out the figs and put them on a serving plate. Put the frying pan on the heat and reduce the liquid by half, to a deliciously rich red syrup. Allow to cool, while you toast the brioche and spread with the home-made cream cheese. Sprinkle the brioche with the chopped nuts and decorate with the vanilla pods if you like. Spoon the reduced syrup over the figs and the brioche.

On the subject of terrible names, my recipe title isn’t too great either. It’s far too long for a start. So, on reflection, I’m simply going to call it Figs. Heaven. Always…. and leave it at that.