We’re jammin’

Some of the best recipes, I reckon, are the ones with the least ingredients. Granted, the ingredients therefore stand out more, so the result is highly reliant on how good these are in the first place… you’re not going to make an omelette delicious if you use eggs from battery hens, no matter how good your method, or a scrummy salad using limp lettuce from a sweaty plastic bag and hard, tasteless tomatoes out of season. But a few corking ingredients can make the best meal ever – one of my favourite dishes uses fresh white crab meat, creamy avocados, plump cherry tomatoes and zingy pink grapefruit. Add a few herbs, seasoning and top-notch olive oil and you’ve got an absolute winner on your hands (which is why I made it recipe of the month in July).

Crab, avocado, tomato & pink grapefruit salad

Crab, avocado, tomato & pink grapefruit salad

Jam and preserves are perfect examples of simple, top notch ingredients yielding fantastic results. At Treverra Farm, we have had some gorgeous fruit already this year: strawberries, raspberries, rhubarb, currants of all colours… The charms of strawberry jam are utterly obvious, but not any less appealing, all the more so when you’re eating the jam just metres from where the fruit was picked. Early in the summer, before our own strawberries had arrived, I made a batch using bought (yet still Cornish) strawberries. It’s good… but the batch I made a few weeks later using our own fruit was worlds apart – dark, oozy, juicy strawberries that hadn’t been subjected to polytunnels, packing or travel, their flavour and plumpness was out-of-this-world.

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Next up, the garden rhubarb. I decided to pair this tart treat with vanilla, which turned out to be a lovely combination and worked very deliciously spread on toast, but also with natural yoghurt, cheese and – as Charlie observed – by the spoonful from the jar (the gluten-free option, he proffered).

The heatwave rolled on through July and, come August, the currants were ready for action. Red and white currant jelly is a brilliant condiment to have on hand for roast lamb and other meats and also for using as a glaze on slow-roast pork and in sauces to give piquancy and sweetness. My blackcurrant sorbet was almost too intense (almost), the blackcurrant jelly is syrupy, dark and divine (jelly as in smooth jam, not the wobbly kind, but that’s given me an idea for next summer…) The blackcurrant vinegar is my personal favourite – I use it as I would a syrupy balsamic (find out how to make it in the August recipe of the month).

Even if you don’t have a garden of fruit to pick, I would heartily recommend getting stuck into a bit of jamming, bottling and preserving right now with seasonal, local fruit. The long, hot summer has given the fruits a lovely flavour and ripeness and there’s loads to choose from: blackberries, plums, apricots, bilberries, blueberries, figs, greengages, loganberries, raspberries, redcurrants, strawberries… Take advantage of what’s plentiful and in season now, get jamming and you’ll be thankful for every summery spoonful and delightful drizzle throughout the colder months ahead.

The raw truth

So my mission to find a better way of eating has continued throughout the summer… my initial forays into free-from cooking weren’t great, from my disastrous xylitol meringues to the rather disappointing dairy- and sugar-free wholewheat & courgette muffins. I did manage to make some delicious sorbets with lemon juice and a syrup made with xylitol and infused with herbs, but after 48 hours in the freezer they had all taken on the consistency of a glacier. An ice pick is not a good look when you’re trying to serve dessert.

But, nevertheless, fuelled by some excellent writing by cancer survivors and scientists, juicing enthusiasts and raw food cooks – and even a Michelin-starred chef turned vegan convert – I’m learning more about how and why foods affect our bodies in certain ways, and how to go about cooking and eating to make life not only healthier, but also tastier. The right diet and lifestyle may not be able to eliminate all chances of getting diseases like cancer, but I’ve realised that it is undoubtedly possible to significantly lower the odds.

Despite all my jibes about soy chai lattes, mung bean pancakes and tree hugging… I am steadily cutting out cow-derived dairy from my diet – and even the Big Swede (from a nation of dairy devotees) has followed suit. Instead of cow’s milk, we now buy either almond, soya or coconut milk (rice milk is fine if you like skimmed milk, but we both find it too watery) and, though I still have been using a bit of butter when cooking and on toast (out of habit more than anything), I am increasingly ignoring it in favour of olive, coconut and vegetable oils.

A big incentive to eating far better is the juicer we bought – it’s got a chute big enough to fit whole apples (so there’s not the faff of peeling, chopping or coring – we just chuck ’em straight on in there) and it’s a doddle to clean, which means that we actually use it at least once a day, instead of it gathering dust. Well, I say “we”… Big Swede has taken to juicing with a fervour bordering on the religious. His latest creation was called “Swamp Juice”, which was ridiculously healthy and a deep, rather lurid shade of green, but he’s a sucker for berries, so each morning I’m often handed something akin to an all-natural, virgin cocktail. It’s only a matter of time until there’s a cherry and umbrella on top…

Today is the start of another week cooking for the clients who set into motion my quest for a healthier diet. In anticipation of their arrival, my head is full of ideas, while the fridge is bursting with fruit, veggies and herbs, the larder is stocked with my Norwegian crisp breads, buckwheat noodles and cookies I’ve made without resorting to sugar, butter or white flour, and the freezer has about five different flavours of totally sugar- and dairy-free ice creams, including Brazil Nut & Vanilla, Rasbperry and Coconut. I really, really hope they’re hungry…

Packing up and moving on

Gentianes

There’s been a distinct lack of blogging over the past few months, but I can sum up the food side of things pretty quickly: the weekend meals for my Swiss family have been overwhelmingly Valaisan (of Valais, the canton we are in) usually involving terrifying quantities of Bagnes cheese, jambon cru, Gruyère, viande sechée, Fendant, Pinot Noir (the latter two aren’t even food, but are very local, nonetheless) plus some comforting homemade lasagnes, pies and pizzas, too.  But there have also been a few seasonal highlights where I’ve been able to do something a bit different: roast leg of spring lamb from Savolèyres (one of the mountains that rise over Verbier) with garlic, lemon & herbs and capretto (kid goat) braised with tomatoes, black olives & thyme, served for Easter Sunday lunch (another family tradition from the Italian side) with griddled polenta and roasted Provençal vegetables.  For desserts, I’ve often chosen well-loved classics from all over the world that have now become firm family favourites: Pavlova with berries, apple or pear Tarte Tatin, crème brûlée, chocolate fondants with vanilla ice cream…  In the quest for new, it can be easy to forget the sheer brilliance and universal appeal of these wonderful dishes, so it has been good to spend the winter tweaking and perfecting a few of them.

Pear Tarte Tatin

Fresh snow up on Bâ Combe

On the glacier at Les Diablerets, 3000m up
We have just one week left in Verbier and yet, amazingly for late April, the snow still falls, giving us as much as 30cm of fresh powder overnight and huge grins on our faces as we continue to enjoy skiing conditions more typical of late January.  This has, on balance, been the most incredible season for skiing… yet already the Big Swede and I find ourselves yearning for Cornwall.  For the Swede, I know that the lure of the ocean and his quiver of surf boards are the main draw.  Yet, while I long to feel the rhythm of the waves and smell the sea air, it’s the anticipation of the Cornish summer ingredients that is getting me going.  First of all, the seafood: bass, bream, mackerel, crab, oysters, squid, monkfish, sole… served with salty Samphire, the pure essence of the sea.  Endless possibilities for salads and side dishes, with a kitchen garden at my disposal and limitless combinations of ingredients, drawing inspiration from all over Europe and across the Mediterranean to the Middle East, even as far as south-east Asia.  There are also the fruits of last autumn’s labours to enjoy: the 10 litres or so of damson gin (not just a good warmer for the colder months, but also delicious with tonic water in the summertime), chutneys and damson ketchup, which has spent the past few months maturing and mellowing, ready to enjoy with Cornish cheeses, sausages and local cured meats, not to mention the barbecues (thinking positive here: we WILL have plenty of sunshine this summer!)

Dreaming of Daymer Bay, Cornwall

But before we arrive in Cornwall mid-May, we have a few other treats to look forward to: a one-night stop in Épernay to enjoy Champagne’s eponymous tipple, a few days at Mother Chef’s in Dorset and then a long weekend in London, including a dinner at Jamie Oliver’s restaurant Barbecoa, a celebration of wood-fuelled cooking in its many guises.  After five straight months of Alpine stodge, our tastebuds will think all their Christmases and birthdays have come at once.

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