When you grow and eat your own fruit and vegetables, the natural progression through nurture, harvest and glut in the garden is matched by desire, fulfilment and surfeit in the kitchen.
Take our autumn-fruiting raspberries. The canes are cut back to ground level in winter and then we watch as they grow tall and leafy though spring and summer. White flowers appear and the tiny fruits swell and slowly change colour until, at last, in the heat of a summer day we spot a flash of crimson amongst the green foliage and triumphantly pick the first raspberry of the season.
For the first few days, we barely pick enough to fill a small dish but soon there’s raspberries galore. We eat them every day for pudding, sprinkle them on our breakfast and drop them into cocktails. Then one day I hear a sigh around the table as I plonk down another bowl of raspberries, so I scour my recipes for different ways to use them. Raspberries are added to cakes with gay abandon and we eat Lemon Surprise Pudding (the surprise being it’s Raspberry Pudding not Lemon). Visitors are pressed to take a container filled with raspberries home with them.
With raspberries still ripening thick and fast outside, it’s time to start preserving. A few raspberries are frozen, a couple of bottles of Raspberry Cordial are stored away and I make raspberry jam, though not in vast quantities as we barely eat a jar of jam a month.
Last of all, I make a few bottles of Raspberry Vinegar. The original recipe I followed was sweet, perhaps because they suggested serving it over ice cream or diluting it with lemonade or soda water. But, guess what. I never drizzle it over vanilla ice cream and I don’t enjoy it diluted with lemonade, so over the years, I’ve reduced the sugar.
Raspberry Vinegar is supremely easy to make. Roughly crush about 500g of raspberries in a glass jar (I use my spurtle to crush), tip in 500ml of white wine vinegar, give it a stir and leave for two or three days. Sieve out the raspberry grunge and put the bright red vinegar into a saucepan with 100g of granulated sugar. Bring to the boil, simmer for ten minutes, skim off any scum and leave to cool a little. Pour into sterilised bottles and store somewhere cool and dark.
Raspberry Vinegar seems such a throwback to the 1980s that I often feel the need to partner it with a suitably retro recipe like bacon salad. Otherwise, use it for dressings and marinades or to add a bit of oomph to casseroles. Dilute it with a little hot water to ease a sore throat; it’s eye watering but at least you momentarily forget how sore your throat was before. Drizzle over ice cream, if that’s your thing.
But, I digress. When we cannot face another bowl of raspberries and I’ve preserved all that I need, I pick the remaining raspberries in the garden and hand them over to Beth so that she can make them into Raspberry Gin, which is the very best way of preserving raspberries.
As the raspberries near the end of fruiting, do I miss them? No, of course not. I’ve been watching the greengages ripen and for the past few days, every time I’ve walked past the tree I’ve snatched a handful of those yellow green orbs of ambrosial deliciousness. Surely I could never tire of such a treat …