PUBLISHED: 06:42 11 August 2014
With July comes an abundance of locally grown soft fruit, which I think can be one of the best and easiest puddings to serve. Picked ripe and in perfect condition there is nothing better than a bowl of fresh strawberries or raspberries with cream or ice-cream, and a sprinkle of sugar if you are so inclined. Months of ignoring those tasteless, imported berries are repaid by that wonderful burst of summertime when you get to bite into your first strawberry of the year.
I often say how spoiled we are in Norfolk with the supply of amazing ingredients we have available, but sometimes I think we underestimate the work, time and understanding that goes into this incredible source of fresh produce. There is a real science to growing soft fruit and, wanting to understand more, who better to go and chat to than Tim Place, managing director of Place UK at Tunstead, north of Norwich.
Tim is the third generation family member to run the company, which was started in 1922. His father John built the soft fruit enterprise of the business and recollects in 1937 supplying raspberries and strawberries to King George’s garden parties at Buckingham Palace. They grow soft fruit crops of strawberries, raspberries, redcurrants, cherries, plums and gooseberries. Growing a staggering 2.5 million punnets of fresh strawberries and 2 million punnets of raspberries each year.
Looking to grow the best sweetest fruit with a good shelf life, irrigation is controlled within a droplet, and quite extraordinarily less water gives better quality and flavour. The crops are fed and watered with nutrients through trickle irrigation pipes laid directly by each plant, monitored continually, so the risk of nutrient and water loss to the soil is greatly diminished and kept to a minimum.
Place family strawberry jam recipe
This recipe comes from Tim’s mother Shirley. One of the best varieties of strawberry to use for jam making is Cambridge Favourite, with a wonderful sweetness and it holds its structure too.
1.6g (3½ lbs) Cambridge Favourite strawberries, hulled and sliced if large
Juice of a lemon
One tsp citric acid
1.3.kg (3 lbs) granulated sugar (some people use commercial pectin or special preserving sugar)
Put the strawberries, lemon juice and citric acid in a large saucepan.
Simmer gently until the fruit is soft and the liquid reduced.
Add the sugar and boil rapidly until setting point is reached, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Test for setting point on a cold saucer.
This recipe yields about 5lbs of jam.
Lemon and vanilla buttermilk sponge with fresh cream and strawberries
To complement the strawberries I have chosen a buttermilk sponge; my version originally comes from the excellent Australian cookery writer Maggie Beer. I serve it sometimes topped with fresh cream and strawberries and other times with a summer fruit compote and crème fraiche.
A little butter and oil for greasing
225g self-raising flour
¼ tsp salt
1½ tsp baking powder
One tsp pure vanilla extract
275g caster sugar
Two large whole eggs and three large egg yolks
Finely grated rind of three lemons
80ml of a light rapeseed or olive oil
1 Preheat oven to 180C/Gas mark 5. Grease and line a 23cm/9ins loose bottom cake tin.
2 Weigh out all the ingredients. Sift the flour, salt and baking powder. In a measuring jug, mix together the buttermilk and vanilla extract.
3 Using an electric whisk, cream the butter until light and fluffy, then with the machine still going slowly, add the sugar and mix for three minutes.
4 Add the whole eggs and then the egg yolks one at a time, beating for a few moments before adding the next. At this point I finish the cake by hand, stir in the lemon rind and oil and mix well, fold in half the flour, then half the buttermilk and vanilla mix, followed by the rest of the flour and finally the remaining buttermilk. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin.
5 Bake for approximately 30 minutes until the cake is firm and the edges are starting to come away from the sides of the tin; if the cake starts to brown too quickly turn the heat down slightly. When cooked, cool the cake in the tin for 15 minutes, then turn out on to a wire rack.