I have been gorging on the last of the plums, the final few Victorias still in the fridge, their skins almost translucent, their flesh tender as a bruise. I made the tail-end of the greengages into soft, syrupy jam to eat with spoonfuls of white, labneh-like, snow-white fudge. And now it is the turn of the damson, the curtain call for the summer’s stone fruits, the dusky, diminutive plums whose brief season is gone in a flash.
I pounced on the first sighting of damsons last week – my favourite cooking fruit of all, more precious even than the first rhubarb or gooseberries – and froze them, ready for tarts and cake or to eat with roast pork in place of the usual apple sauce. This week, I baked a batch with a little sugar in a roasting tin, and served them warm, dipping crumbly hazelnut shortbread into the juice.
That shortbread had more than the usual pinch of salt, and was better for it, teasing out the flavour of the toasted nuts. I cooked my annual marrow this week, too – really, one a year is enough – grated and tossed into fluffy cakes with sweetcorn and served hot from the frying pan with a chilli tomato sauce.
Muscovado hazelnut biscuits
Makes 12 biscuits
golden caster sugar 75g
light muscovado 75g
skinned hazelnuts 125g, plus 50g
plain flour 175g
sea salt flakes ¼ tsp
You will also need a 20cm square baking tin, lined with baking parchment.
Cut the butter into cubes then put it in the bowl of a food mixer fitted with a beater attachment. Add both sugars and beat until light and creamy, regularly scraping the mixture down the insides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
Preheat the oven to 160C/gas mark 3. Meanwhile, toast all the hazelnuts – including the extra 50g – in a dry pan over a moderate heat, regularly shaking the pan to encourage them to brown evenly. They are ready when they are pale gold. Set 50g of the toasted nuts aside. Tip the rest into a food processor and reduce to fine crumbs, about the same texture as ground almonds. Cut the reserved nuts in half.
When the butter and sugars are light and fluffy, gently add the ground hazelnuts, the flour and the cornflour. Mix gently until all the ingredients come together in a soft dough. Transfer to the lined cake tin and gently smooth the surface. Scatter the halved hazelnuts over the surface and bake for 45 minutes.
When they come from the oven, score into 12 and set aside to cool in their tin, before breaking into pieces and storing in a biscuit tin until needed.
Another way to cook damsons is to put them in a medium-sized pan with sugar and water and bring them to the boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for 15 minutes until the fruit splits and the juices turn rich purple. Serves 4
damsons or plums 500g
granulated or caster sugar 3 tbsp
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Pick the stalks from the damsons, rinse the fruit briefly under running water, then tip into a baking dish. Sprinkle over the sugar, pour in the water, then bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes until the fruit has burst and is surrounded by purple juice.
Serve the fruit, warm or chilled, with its syrup and a plate of the hazelnut shortbreads above.
Marrow and sweetcorn fritters
I season these soft, tender cakes of shredded marrow and sweetcorn with shichimi togarashi, the Japanese powdered spice mixture of dried chilli, dried orange peel and sesame. If you prefer something hotter and less aromatic then use ½ to 1 tsp of ground chilli. Makes 8, serves 4
sweetcorn 2 x 250g heads
plain flour 75g
shichimi togarashi seasoning 1 tsp
nigella seeds 1 tsp
oil for frying
red chilli 1, large
Peel and seed the marrow – you should have about 600g of flesh – then coarsely grate (I use a food processor fitted with a large “remoulade” grating disc). Transfer to a colander or sieve, salt generously and leave to drain for 30 minutes.
Remove the sweetcorn from the cobs with a sharp knife – you should have about 250g. Put the sweetcorn in a mixing bowl, add the flour, shichimi togarashi seasoning and nigella seeds. Separate the eggs, lightly beat the yolks and stir into the sweetcorn.
Squeeze the marrow firmly with your fist to remove any excess liquid, then fold through the sweetcorn mixture with a fork. Using a large whisk, beat the egg white until stiff, then fold into the marrow and sweetcorn mixture.
Over a moderate heat, warm a thin layer of oil in a large frying pan. Place four large spoonfuls of the mixture – one for each fritter – in the hot oil, then let them cook for 3 or 4 minutes on each side, until golden and firm. Lift on to a serving plate and keep warm while you repeat with the remaining batter.
To make a quick tomato sauce to go with the fritters, slice in half 500g of tomatoes, place them cut side up on a grill pan or baking sheet, then scatter over a finely chopped large red chilli and a seasoning of salt and black pepper. Cook under a hot grill for 12-15 minutes until they are soft and starting to brown here and there. Crush with a fork and serve with the marrow cakes.