Friday, 3 August 2012

Pick Your Own - and make ice cream, jam and meringues

The summer holidays are going well. It’s Friday, week 2, and I have only really lost my temper once. True, last week we were on scout camp and I hardly spent any ‘one to one’ time with my delightful children, but even so, this is pretty much a record for me. That’s not to say it’s not been without its stresses. I am fitting in 6 hours work a day along with all the rest of it, but I have a great job which allows me to work early in the morning, late at night, from home, so I can be fairly flexible. I’ve been getting up early to break the back of the day’s work while the kids watch TV, and then we can see what we feel like doing.

And yes, at the moment, we have la baby-sitter francaise staying. Despite her tendancy to sleep till 10.30 in the morning, she has been pretty handy. She made a delicious chocolate cake with the kids yesterday and has been keeping them occupied for either a morning or an afternoon while I work.

This morning, once la BF had surfaced, we went off to the BourneValley Pick Your Own a few miles away. Now I’m not the first person to go off into raptures about PYO, and how they are a great way to spend some time in the holidays, but I bet I’m not the last. The kids, who will drag their heels at the merest suggestion that they might help in the garden, consider this to be one of the high points of life.

What might be considered slave labour in other less fortunate parts of the world, constitutes a great morning out, and the best bit about it is that you get all that entertainment at essentially a nil cost. I mean, yes, you pay for the fruit you & they have picked, but you get to bring home loads of lush, local fresh fruit – at considerably less the price than you’d pay in the supermarket, with the attendant benefits that the kids get to run around in the fresh air, scoff the odd surreptitious raspberry, and not once do they pester you to buy the revolting cheese strings or whatever other hideously processed food item of desire that might take their fancy should you venture into the supermarket with them.

Our local PYO is situated in a lovely setting in North Hampshire. In addition to the lovely fruit, there is also a ‘playground’ updated, Blue & Pink were delighted to find today, by the addition of a trampoline. We picked up our punnets and headed off for the fruit on a promise of time in the playground post-picking. The kids have clearly grown up because this visit, they actually picked fruit and it ended up in the punnets – although perhaps I should have had them weighed in and out.

As always, I got a little carried away – I just can’t help myself – and in truth, came away with far too much fruit. However, the good news was that I over-picked on raspberries, which freeze very well.

So what did I do with all this bounteous produce?

Well, the first creation was raspberry jelly. No, I didn’t make it using leaf gelatine and juice from the actual raspberries we’d picked. Pink found a pack of jelly in the cupboard and so we made up the jelly and the kids filled pudding bowls with fruit, then we poured the jelly over the top and set it in the fridge. I didn’t take a picture, but I’m sure you can imagine. There was enough for a small ramekin’s worth for la BF. I needn’t have worried about feeding her. She thought it was brilliant and we have scheduled a trip to a supermarket (oh dear) so that she can stock up to take many flavours back to France. So much for sophisticated palates of our Gallic cousins, although in her defence, she has younger siblings.

The next thing I embarked on was strawberry ice cream. I had fixated on this recipe in Forever Summer, since reading this entry from The Marmalade Project in the recent Forever Nigella event that I entered (and won one of the prizes – get me!). After a slight panic and a ‘splitting custard’ moment, which I recovered from with what I like to think was ‘aplomb’, the ice cream made it into the freezer, and 3 hourly magimix whizzes later, we will have lush strawberry ice cream tomorrow.

With the ice cream doing its thang in the freezer, I turned , my attention to the raspberries, glorious ruby jewels that they are. To be honest, I just didn’t have time to do anything particularly exciting with them, and I froze the bulk of what we picked for another day, but I did use 500g worth along with 200g of redcurrants from the garden to make jam courtesy of Sarah Raven’s Garden cookbook.

Apart from the fact that the recipe promised 5 jars and I got half of what I was expecting, it’s good jam – tastes delicious – and the addition of the redcurrants mean the setting anguish is pretty much extinguished because of the high pectin levels (if you don’t believe me, just take my word for it).

And finally. Well, the ice cream required 10 egg yolks. Which leaves 10 egg whites going begging. Egg whites do freeze well, but meringue is also easy to make. A quandary. In the end, 10 egg whites worth of meringue seemed excessive so I froze 5 egg whites. This is what I created with the rest: my tower of inelegant but delicious meringue.

If you are interested, pre-heat the oven to 1100C. Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt till stiff but still looking ‘wet’.  Assuming 4 egg whites, add 2 tablespoons of the sugar (for 4 egg whites, you’ll need 8 oz/225g caster sugar. For my 5 whites today I used 10 oz sugar) and carry on whisking till very stiff. Then spoon the mixture onto baking sheets lined with baking paper, swirling artfully if you can – some people might pipe at this stage. Not me. I don’t get on with piping bags. Bake the meringues for 2 hours or so – until dry and lift easily off the baking paper.

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you how to eat  meringue, but tomorrow, I am leaving the bosom of my family to go on a hen night, and to assuage the guilt, they will be eating the meringues with homemade strawberry ice cream...


  1. You are amazing- really! The meringues look fabulous. Very curious as to what you do for a living which allows you to work from home flexibly? Ideal job by the sounds of it.

    1. Basically it's admin on academic journals during the peer review process. Many of the publishers no wuse online peer review systems - the authors upload, the editors consider and send out to review and then make their decisions using the web based system, but there;s a degree of checking manuscripts, dealing with author queries, liaising with publisher and helping out the editors who are often confused by the technology. It can all be done from home, and because the journals I work on are international, it doesn[t matter (pretty much) when the work is done.

  2. Wondermum! Enjoy the hen do x x Will be off to Bourne Valley next week x x

  3. Wow! I'm not working at present and have no kids, yet thought I'd done well just making the ice cream by hand as that took me all day!

    I do hope you enjoy the ice cream, though I must say I'm hankering after an ice cream maker to get the very best texture next time.


    1. Yeah - I'd like an ice cream maker too - it was a bit messy transferring the mix backwards and forwards from the freezer to the processor - slopped quite a lot around the kitchen.

  4. Yummy yummy! Your bounty makes ours at "Fresh air and lots of fun" look a little pitiful! But since I wouldn't have had the first clue about jam and icecream we had to eat ours how they came.

    I am in total awe of your cooking! And congrats on the prize by the way. If you ever want a job feeding my family let me know. I can do your accounts in return! ;-)

    1. see it was there - I just had to 'publish' it. Might need to change my blogger settings... I'm liking the sound of having someone do my accounts I have a tax return growling at me on the desk...

  5. Oh my RJ, this all looks wonderful, we have a PYO near us, you have inspired me! I am scared of making meringues though, yours look fabulous :)

    1. Go to the PYO!! meringiues are one of those things aren't they. My mum was always 'just making them' to use up egg whites left over from other things (usually lemon curd - slurp) so I've grown up with them being something that's just in the cupboard so it holds no mystery for me. I'm scared of pastry, though.

      Hope you had a lovely time in Italy. x


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