Saturday, August 05, 2006

Summer Pruning Stone Fruit in the Glasshouse & Nectarine Conserve

I pruned out all the summer growth on the peach and nectarine fans in the glasshouse this week. This revealed a huge number of fruits, beautifully coloured and attracting the wasps like nobodies business! Time to prune. The summer prune is simply the removal of most leaves to about three sets of leaves per branch, thus revealing the fruits to the full force of the sun and offering them up to be baked until they are fat and luscious and full with sweetness.

I left the fallen fruit scattered under the fans as a horticultural offering to my gardening companions, the wasps, insects, ground-feeding blackbirds and mice. Plenty of time in the autumn to clear away the debris of stones. The leaves etc were cleared to the compost heaps. Newly shaved fans always look a bit bald and scary, and make me think, "uh-oh, I might have gone too far this time," but luckily, so far, the stone fruit in the glasshouse has thrived. Maroon coloured cricket balls of juice are thus revealed! Carefully holding each fruit I gave each a quarter turn on the stalk - if it comes away easily in my hand its ripe, if not, I leave it a day or two longer. I brought the nectarines into the kitchen and laid them artfully onto a pale blue platter on the table.

Soft Set Nectarine Conserve

Consulting Delia, Frances Mayes, Elizabeth David and the BBC's recipe section under the "Lifestyle / Food" section, I came up with the following mish-mash of a recipe. It may not keep so well, due to the reduced sugar content, so be scrupulous with hygiene and store in the fridge. Eat rapidly after opening... (as if that needs to be said).

4lb / 2k assorted nectarines
2lb / 1k icing sugar
1 lemon

Wash nectarines then cut into rough chunks. The purpose here is not merely to cut up fruit, but to enjoy the dripping juice on your hands, and the snap of hard-as-bullets fruit as you pull the halves from the stones. Pile into a large basin as you go. You should be left with a small pile of stones, and a very large basin of nectarine chunks, that smell just lovely.

Tip nectarines into a large heavy based pan, and add the icing sugar. Halve the lemon and squeeze over the fruits. Add no other liquid. Stir a bit to mix (this looks lovely, maroon and pink fuits coated in white icing, a bit like the very best Turkish delight), then bring slowly to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring to release the heavenly scent into the kitchen. Give a final stir, then turn off heat and leave to settle. Drop a knob of unsalted President butter into the pan to clear any scum.

Using icing sugar means that the preseve doesn't become gritty and magically doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. It also leaves about half a pint / 400ml of throat-catchingly sweet nectarine syrup. Bottle and throw into the fridge for a Bellini base...

Carefully pour the nectarines into your prepared jars using your jam funnel, seal and when cool store in the fridge. Delicious poured over icecream and all manner of pies. Best eaten on warm toast for breakfast. Makes enough to fill five 400g Bonne Maman jars.