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.