Sunday, 30 June 2013

Jam, Set and Match

It's a jam thing 
It's all about strawberries these days in the Holly Cottage. We've been watching them since February, minding them, more watching them, feeding and netting them, and so on it goes in the gardening way. And now that it's all happening, we're finding it hard to keep up with the harvest and keep ahead of the host of centipedes, slugs, ants and blackbirds that have suddenly appeared in a feasting army to unleash the magical strawberry elixir. Even Holly has been caught raiding the strawberry beds in previous years - she's being extra good this year though, although maybe we just haven't caught her in the act yet ;) 

What to do with this bounty? Well, the obvious delight is the jam thing - the easiest thing in the world since cutting a slice of homemade brown bread or a delicious fruit scone and making a cup of tea, all the things that go so well with the sweet, sticky magic of strawberry jam. And all while one is partaking in the entertainment that is Wimbledon and tennis - they take their strawberries straight - no mixers - with cream there (hence the Jam, Set and Match spin). Take a kilo of fruit, a kilo of sugar, all in the pot - melt the sugar down on gentle heat, then bring it all up to a boil and simmer until setting point is reached. The setting point can be a make or break moment, but if you really get it wrong - how bad? Strawberry sauce in a jar to pour over vanilla ice cream in the depths of winter - mmmm. If you have a lot of rhubarb to play with, like we do, then make a half and half batch of both fruits - its a really nice combination especially for those nervous of the rhubarb variety. 

dreamy, creamy, cheesy, strawberryyyyy....
The other creation of the day is a strawberry cheesecake, based on a blueberry cheesecake recipe by Rachel Allen. Take your favourite biscuit base - digestive and a melted butter was easiest for us this evening. Top this with freshly picked strawberries and leave to chill while you making the topping. For the top - now this is a half of the recipe since it's just the two of us - 225g cream cheese, 75g castor sugar, 2 eggs, half teasp vanilla essence all whizzed up together until smooth and creamy, mmmm ;) Pour this sweet and cheesy creamy promise over the biscuit and strawberry base and into the oven at 180deg for 40mins.....the result is waiting for us as we speak! It always shocks me really when I see the price of a slice of cake in shops and cafes especially when they taste so good straight from your own oven, and I guess what you're really paying for is service and atmosphere. Take my favourite cafe of the moment in Dublin city - Keoghs on Trinity Street - there's always a buzz of people coming in and grabbing coffee to go or one of their amazing selection of scones (brown raisin and cinnamon, and vanilla and pear deliciousness). And there is always a strange and eclectic mix - from the Samuel Beckett quotes on the wall to the cross section of native Dubs having their morning sugar fix. I like to think my odd splurge there is helping a bit to sustain places like that, however small that might be, but these small shops are the remedy to the one size fits all type of franchise cafes that seem to be squeezing out the last of the  brave, individualistic types. 

Shades of summer 
Having said all that and nodding my head to the buzz and vibrancy of an early morning coffee on the streets of Dublin city, there is such enormous satisfaction in being the master or mistress of your own sweet selection, and savouring each mouthful as you watch the sun gradually descend in the sky on the last day of June. Especially in the knowledge of: i. passing your practical yoga class exam the day before (phew), ii. having all the rooms in the Holly Cottage painted, iii. having all the outside windows and sills cleaned down and painted, iv. all the rubbish and clutter built up over the longest winter cleared, v . the array of colours in the garden - purple seems to feature a lot! vi. the first potatoes of the season dug and officially the best tasting spuds ever (again) and blissfully clear of blight (yay) and vii. it's lovely calm Sunday evening again ;) 

It's the simple pleasures that we bask in here...and oh yes, there is that deliciously creamy, dreamy, homemade strawberry cheesecake waiting to be to cut into as well.......

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