Saturday July 03rd 2010, 4:44 pm

freshly picked cherries in a basket

I grew up in a Lancashire mill town, in a brick built terraced house with a flag-stoned back yard. Apart from a short period when Uncle Tom and Aunty Nora owned a market garden, when I was about seven years old, I never saw first hand how fruit and vegetables grew. I can recollect a few occasions when cherries were in season and my Dad would buy a brown paper bagful from the greengrocer. Dad liked cherries. These bright polished berries were a thing of beauty. An essential part of this rarely played out ritual was to sort them into singles, joined pairs to hang over your ears like pretend fruity earings, and bunches of three or even four to balance on your head, Carmen Miranda Style. Then they were wolfed down with great delight and the stones and stalks discarded. As I’d never seen them growing on the tree I hadn’t the slightest inkling that this fruit could be British.
As I grew older I thought that France was the big cherry capital of the world as there was something about French style; cherry motifs stencilled on crockery and embroidered on cute shelf edgings that gave them assumed ownership. I’ve got an old Habitat catalogue from the 70’s which includes a feature on making cherry jam, tapping into that Elizabeth David influenced generation, when discovering all things French was the thing. It has only been relatively recently that I’ve realised we have a rich tradition of cherry growing here in the UK, albeit a dwindling one.

sweet black cherries for sale

According to Food Lovers Britain, who are behind CherryAid, a campaign to save the British Cherry, in the last 50 years Britain has lost 90% of its cherry orchards. Most of the cherries available to us are now imported. The campaign aims to encourage us to celebrate the British cherry, ask for British grown fruit where we can and plant a cherry tree, hopefully choosing an old-English variety.
A week or two ago, my rhubarb man (see my last but one blog post) gave me a big colanderful of sweet cherries from his tree. It had been a race to harvest them before the birds nabbed them all. An abundant crop is necessary to guarantee that after the birds get their fill there’s still some left for us humans. My haul meant there were handfuls to eat fresh but I wanted to preserve some as well so decided to pickle them.
I looked up ‘Cerises Au Vinaigre’ in Jane Grigsons Fruit Book, always a reliable reference book for these things, and also found ‘Spiced Cherries’ in The Perfect Pickle Book by David Mabey and David Collison. Pickling cherries is simplicity itself, you just make a sweetish, spicy vinegary syrup, pour it over the prepared fruit packed into a jar and wait for a month or two before eating. Both these recipes worked in this way, give or take a sprig of thyme here and a few juniper berries there. Easy as anything.

pickled sweet cherries

Then fellow CanJammer Leena posted her Chinese Five Spice Pickled Cherries for the June Tigress’ Can Jam, and the recipe is so simple I decided I’d give it a go instead. As is often the way with preserving, preparing the fruit can be the most time consuming part of the procedure; sorting the perfect fruit from the blemished, removing stalks and stones, topping and tailing. Readying my cherries was no exception. Years ago I’d bought my Dad a cherry pitter when he mentioned to me he was having trouble finding one and I’d bought another one for myself at the same time. I knew one day it would come in handy and twenty years later it at last had it’s first outing. You can dispense with pitting them altogether if you prefer.
So I pickled my cherries and canned them as well (just because I’m into canning), though the canning part may not be entirely necessary in this instance. You are supposed to leave the pickles to mature for at least a month but I opened a jar after only a week and they are heavenly. I’m now desperate to pickle more and stock the larder for when fresh cherries are just a vague memory of seasons past. I’m like a super sleuth on the trail for more cherries, sweet or sour. The CherryAid campaign is encouraging everyone to cook something during the British cherry season using British cherries, so do have a go at some pickled cherries. They aren’t too sweet or sour but just enough of both and even the syruppy juice is delicious drunk as a cordial. I can eat them straight from the jar but they do make a perfect pairing with goats cheese. If you have sour cherries they will have a bit more bite to work alongside stronger flavours.

pickled sweet cherries

I’m planning to plant at least one cherry tree this coming winter, now that this fruit has become my new best friend and I need my own supply.
CherryAid is holding a cherry themed FoodLovers Market in Soho, central London on Saturday 17th July (National Cherry Day).

Tuesday March 09th 2010, 11:43 am

tart bramley apple friands

Yesterday was my day off, which just means that I have a list of jobs need doing that call for being away from the shop. With a list as long as my arm it is business almost as usual, but somehow calling it ‘my day off’ creates a whole different vibe, so long as I tackle the list, I can do what I like and pretend I’m on holiday. Even better, the sun was shining, as if spring was really here.
With no bread in for making toast I decided to rustle up some muffins or perhaps blueberry griddle scones to have with my a.m cappuccino. I opened the cupboard where the tins live and didn’t relish pulling everything out to locate the muffin tin at the back and then the friand tin fell out all of its own accord. So friands it was to be.
I have written about friands before here, and I know from the daily stats how many readers find my blog by googling friand related keywords. And no, I don’t know where you can buy a friand tin in the UK! Someone was selling them for a while, but sadly no longer and I regularly trawl the web trying to find them to sell at The Laundry as I’m sure that I could sell perhaps one a month (shopkeepers irony).
Friands are supposed to be oval shaped. Why the shape of a cake should be so important, I don’t know and I am sure that they will taste just as good baked in regular round shaped muffin moulds. Feel free to make them any shape you like. So for my day off I looked at the ingredients to hand; some whole blanched almonds left over from Christmas baking (which I ground to a rough meal in my old Magimix for this recipe), 1 bramley apple and a little bag of fresh bantam eggs, my neighbour leaves me each week, and decided to rustle up some tart bramley friands. The ground almonds make a lovely moist precious cake and this recipe is tangy, fruity but not overly sweet. Don’t forget, a friand is not just for breakfast, it isn’t really for breakfast at all, but hey, it’s my day off.


Makes about 10

1 medium sized Bramley apple or other tart variety
1 1/2 Tbsp soft brown sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla extract
5 egg whites
125g ( 4oz) butter, melted
100g (1 cup) ground almonds
100g (3/4 cup) icing sugar or caster will do
60g 1/2 cup plain flour

Preheat the oven to Mk5, 190C, 375F and prepare a muffin tin by buttering the moulds.
Peel and core the apple and chop into small evenly sized pieces, then place in a small pan, sprinkling 2-3 teaspoons of water over it. Bring to a simmer and cook until it is soft and mushy, which only takes 3-5 minutes. Add the brown sugar, maple syrup and 1 tsp vanilla extact, stir and cook for another minute or 2. Add more sugar if you want it sweeter but a tart hit is what you are aiming for. Leave to cool.
In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites till just frothy. Add all the remaining ingredients and combine quickly to make a batter. Pour the mixture into the moulds, half filling them. Drop a heaped teaspoonful of the stewed apple into the centre of each friand. Bake for 20-25 minutes till risen and set and just starting to turn golden. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 5 minutes before turning them out onto a rack to cool.

tart bramley apple friands

Thursday April 17th 2008, 10:02 am

paper friand cases

I first came across friands when travelling in Australia and New Zealand. These little cakes seemed as common as muffins over there, served in coffee shops everywhere I went, and yet I had never heard of them before. Presuming them to be of French origin I thought I’d look them up when I got home, expecting to find them referred to in Elizabeth David or some such. After extensive research and unable to find any mention of them anywhere, I had to surmise that they are in fact an Australasian invention with a French sounding name.
They are similar to a little French cake called a financier, made with ground nuts as the main ingredient and very little flour. This of course results in a lovely moist cake. They are easy to make, thrown together with the butter melted not creamed (what can be easier than that?) and the mixture is barely combined. The nuts and egg whites make them slightly superior to a muffin ( whilst a muffin looks up to a friand but down to a fairy cake – the fairy cake says ‘I know my place’), but the extent of their variations with different nuts and added fruits means they are just as versatile. A perfect cafe cake or a special little treat to serve up when a friend calls round for tea.
They have become a bit of an obsession of mine and I have collected lots of recipes. Having said that they are a cinch to make, I am in fact starting with a recipe that calls for a fair bit of extra messing about, which isn’t usually what is required but it seems like a good opportunity to use up some more rhubarb.
For these rhubarb friands the fruit is added to each one in the form of an frozen cube made of rhubarb puree. Subsequently you have to think ahead, making and freezing the cubes beforehand. When the cake mixture is spooned into the tins a cube of puree is popped into the centre of each one prior to baking. It is an interesting idea as it keeps the filling together in the middle of the cake. Freezing fruit puree like this is a good way of preserving fruits when there is a plentiful supply for use later out of season. If you think this is just too much faffing about, you could try putting a teaspoonful of rhubarb compote in the middle of each one and hope it doesn’t ooze out all over the place.
Here is the recipe.

a rhubarb friand