I was so tempted when I was Tescos earlier this week to buy a punnet of strawberries. Usually I have a strict rule about not buying strawberries as I think it is so important to enjoy fruit in season and at its best. But, these were in season British strawberries and it had been MONTHS since we last ate fresh strawberries. We even finished off the last of the strawberry & marshmallow ice-cream last week. Sigh... but with our own plants already bending with green fruit it seemed silly to spoil the moment by having shop bought ones a bit ahead of time.
And how glad I was that I didn't buy them in the end when on Wednesday afternoon a quick visit to the allotment revealed that several strawberries were already beginning to turn red. The girls were very excited by this and rushed round, checking for any signs of redness. Then this afternoon, with the girls slopping around the house lethargically, it was the possibility of ripe strawberries that enticed them out of the house and onto the allotment. They rushed straight to the ones that had been most promising on our last visit and a moment later they reappeared at my side with a beautiful perfect specimen. After months of waiting, I made them wait just a moment longer whilst I photographed it then they tore it in half and shared it. What joy! We have never had ripe strawberries in mid-May before. There is a lot of promise for the soft fruit this year.
Barring the occasional early strawberry, May is probably the leanest month in the kitchen from the kitchen garden but there are a few exceptions. Our asparagus is still going strong, despite the best efforts of the asparagus beetle. Rhubarb is still available, although we don't currently have any growing on our plot. We did, however, manage to do a mutually agreeable swap with an allotment neighbour for his rhubarb in exchange for our asparagus. Herbs, if they are not flowering, are at their best now so it is a good time to cut some for drying or to make herb mustard. Most of our herbs grow in our front garden and right now they on the verge of closing up the footpath. Still, brushing past them on the way to the door is an aromatic delight!
We have a few herbs on the allotment too - though this is less convenient. I noticed that the mint we grow as a marginal at the edge of out teeny pond was in danger of swamping the whole thing so this afternoon I took the secatures to it. Back in the kitchen I chopped the whole lot up and it is currently infusing in 10 fl oz of milk in the fridge. Tomorrow I shall add double cream, sugar and chocolate chips to make mint choc ice-cream - not like the stuff you buy in ice-cream palours, this stuff tastes of "proper" mint.
Mint Choc Chip Ice-cream
A big bunch of mint
10 fl oz (284 ml) milk
2 oz (55 g) icing sugar
10 fl oz (284 ml) double cream
Green food colouring (optional)
4 oz (110 g) chocolate chips
Remove the mint leaves from the stalks and coarsely chop. Pour the milk into a non metallic bowl and tip the mint leaves into it, pressing down so that they are covered. Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight to infuse. Pour the milk through a sieve to remove the mint leaves. Add the sugar to the milk and stir until dissolved. Add the cream (and food colouring if using) and stir. Pour into suitable containers and add the chocolate chips. Freeze the mixture for 2 hours until beginning to freeze then stir with a fork to break up the ice-crystals. Return to the freezer for another 2 hours then stir again, making sure to stir the chocolate chips through the ice cream. Repeat again 2 hours later than return to the freezer until solid.
On the school run earlier in the week I noticed the elderflowers were just beginning to bloom so before leaving the allotment we walked over to where the hedgerow grows over the fence and harvested some. Then we took a slight detour on the way home to harvest some more from the nearby hedgerow. The gorgeous smell alone makes me want to drink thirstily from a glass of sparkling elderflower cordial.
2lb 4 oz (1kg) sugar
1½ pints (900ml) boiling water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon lime juice
about 15 large elder flower heads
1 lemon, sliced
1 lime, sliced
Put the sugar in a non-metallic bowl with the boiling water and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the lemon and lime juices. Wash and flick dry the elder flower heads then snip off the flowers into the bowl. Add the sliced lemon and lime. Stir then cover the bowl with Clingfilm and leave to stand for 24 hours. Scald a jelly bag and drain the mixture through it into a clean bowl. Funnel into sterile bottles then refrigerate. Dilute to taste with chilled water (sparkling if you prefer).
So our mid-May harvest consisted of rhubarb, elderflowers, herbs and asparagus... and a strawberry.
Tonight I have mint and milk infusing in the fridge, elderflowers and lemons infusing on the counter, and rhubarb and ginger steeping in a bowl. I don't need a fortune-teller to know I shall have a busy day in the kitchen tomorrow but hopefully by the end of it I shall have mint choc chip ice-cream, elderflower cordial and another batch of rhubarb and ginger jam.