Thursday, April 14, 2011

Getting ready for guests

Here at 42rvh we've had a bit of a break from guests for the past ten days, which was a shame for them because they have missed the best weather of the year so far.

Well that all changes this weekend with the arrival of two couples on Saturday. Thereafter, we have guests every night into the foreseeable future and life is going to get very busy - so I thought I'd better get prepared.

We have always tried to source the best fresh seasonal ingredients and to prepare ourselves, as much as we can, the food that we serve at breakfast and dinner. Over the Winter and into Spring the fruit supply for the breakfast trays becomes a bit predictable; with no fresh soft fruit available we rely on Spanish oranges and locally grown kiwi fruit, apples and pears - all very good but missing the zing of sun ripened sweetness.

That's all about to change. There have been strawberries in the market now for 4 weeks - and what's more they are grown in France or driven up from Spain, not flown in from another continent. For an English boy like me, local strawberries in April is a miracle.

And they are good too. The first market arrivals are clearly forced and probably grown in polytunnels but just to see the injection of bright scarlet onto the predominantly green market stalls is a joy in itself and lifts the spirits in anticipation of treats to come. The variety, whose name I sadly don't know, is big and brash and ideal for making compote or jam. It is swiftly followed by smaller, more delicate varieties bursting with the flavour of Spring, such as the gariguette - a French secret for so long but now sadly escaped from the borders of France to the shelves of supermarkets like Waitrose in the UK.

As with all new arrivals to the market, the first supplies are few and expensive - the price will drop and the supply become more plentiful as the weeks go by - and the taste will get better too because the first arrivals are not quite ripe or have been forced in the rush to get them to market to make a profit. The secret is to wait - but how painful is the wait and how long does one wait before you give in and buy?

I use the big early strawberries for making jam and compote and my cut-off point is €4 for 2kg. They start at €7.50 but today in the market they had dropped to the price I'd been waiting for - and just in time for the new guests.

Have you ever topped and hulled 2kg of strawberries? It's a lot of strawberries, very time consuming, very repetitive and makes your back ache a lot. I put half in a pan with the juice of two lemons and a quantity of sugar that made Debrah cry and the other half in a pan with the juice of one lemon and a tiny bit of sugar, which made Debrah a lot happier. The first pan was bubbled and boiled and became strawberry jam and the second was cooked for no more than ten minutes, until the sugar had dissolved and became strawberry compote. Four jars of jam, three jars of compote, ready for the breakfast trays.

More will be made as the season progresses using all the many and varied varieties of strawberry that will come and go throughout the next six months - each with their own subtle flavour characteristics.

I also noticed that our stock of granola was down to the last jar too, so whilst I was in the mood decided to make a new supply of that as well. It's a recipe from a Nigella Lawson cookbook so as far as I am concerned it can't be faulted - but it can be varied to your own taste with more nuts or less fruit or vice versa - it works though*.

Larder stocks replenished, I'm ready to face the new season and guests can look forward to freshly made breakfast goodies and then there will be cherries and then melons and then apricots and then peaches and then figs and .....

* Feast by Nigella Lawson p199

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