Do you remember my beautiful plum tree I showed you back in the spring? No matter if you don´t. I knew back then from the enormous amount of blossom it had, following the rainiest winter for over 80 years in Andalucía, that we would have lots and lots of plums.
Of course, we did and we´ve been eating and enjoying them, giving a lot away, and the chickens have thoroughly enjoyed pecking away at those that fell to the ground.
A couple of weeka ago the plums really were coming to an end. The last few clinging on to the tree were looking a little sad and soft, so I decided to turn them into a kind of compôte (rather like a jam) to drizzle over my porridge, or oatmeal, in the winter months. It´s also delicious with ice cream!
You can either peel and stone the plums first, or do as I did – boil and squish! I put them in a large pot and on a gentle heat for about 30 minutes, by which time the skins had popped and the plums were soft.
On with the kitchen gloves and I removed all the stones and skin, then passed the fruit through my trusty mouli. You could also use a stick or regular blender. The prepared fruit weighed 2.3 kgs, so I added just under half the weight of sugar (1kg) and the juice of one lemon. As this started to warm and the sugar dissolved, I added 2 teaspoons of vanilla essence and 2 sticks of cinnamon.
I let it boil quite hard for 5 minutes, removed the cinnamon sticks then poured it into sterilised jars. Now I´m ready for the cold weather and already anticipating my first bowl of porridge with Perfect Plum Compôte!
And now, a confession. I made this last year too (minus the vanilla) and earlier this year I was making ragú for my pasta and fumbling around in my despensa (that´s a little Spanish larder) when I grabbed a jar of this instead of tomato conserva. Can you believe I didn´t notice the difference? We even ate the pasta, initially saying things along the lines of “gosh, you can really taste the sweetness of the tomatoes coming through”. Eventually we decided that the taste was overly sweet (even the minced meat, garlic and red wine couldn´t compete) and the realization of what I had done dawned on me. Not a recipe I´ll be repeating….still can´t believe that we ATE it!!!
When I was a child, summer holidays were extra special. We joined the great exodus of Italians “going home” for August. My father, like many Italians, started his working life in London as a waiter. Sometimes the restaurant he worked in, usually Italian, shut for the month to allow staff to be with their families. Other times, it didn´t, which often meant a return from holiday at the start of September with no job for my father. I´ve only recently thought about this and how difficult and precarious things must have been for the family financially at times and the sacrifices they made for us children.
My family, however, thought it was important for my brother and I to be in Italy with our many cousins and aunties and uncles, spending time being free on the beach, eating meals late at night, talking Italian and sharing that special love that comes from a huge extended family. I thank them for it, I´m sure much of what I experienced in those summer holidays helped make me the person I am today.
We often drove to Italy as putting the car on the overnight train from Calais to Milan was expensive. Then we faced a further day or two of journey to the very south, the “toe of the boot”, to Calabria. It was an epic journey, but it was made fun with plenty of food, books to read, songs to sing in the car (no DVDs or Playstations then!) and stops along the way to visit more family and friends.
We always stopped in Roma, where my father had spent a portion of his youth and visited Zia Sara and Zio Angelo. Roma has some wonderful food markets and I have strong memories of someone going out in the morning to buy focaccia for breakfast – that typical flat white bread drizzled with olive oil, coarse salt and sometimes rosemary. I don´t know if it was a Roman thing, or a family thing, but if we were lucky we also got a bag of juicy figs to go with it. An extra sprinkle of salt, a little drizzle of olive oil and it was heaven on a piece of bread. Sweet, salty and peppery all at the same time.
Now I try to recreate it with griddled bread, a sprinkle of coarse sea salt and a drizzle of our very own olive oil. It´s not quite the same, but the memories make it all the sweeter.
A beautiful sunny, Sunday morning. All the more surprising because it´s the penultimate day of January. But just warm enough to brew a pot of coffee while I feed the dogs and get myself a little breakfast sorted out before Big Man and I head off for a walk. It´s been dry for two days with rain before that. Perfect weather for heading up the mountain and looking for wild asparagus. I have to confess I´m not the biggest fan of these beautiful fronds. Although I love strong flavours, they´re just too bitter for me. But Big Man loves a little tortilla made from these for a light supper and I enjoy a simple poached egg on toast – so everyone is happy and minimal cooking for those evenings when you just don´t fancy spending time at the stove.
I do enjoy my breakfast. I don´t go all faint and feeble if I miss out on it, but my favourite quick and easy breakfast here in Spain is fresh bread, drizzled with olive oil (from our olives if I´m lucky) with crushed fresh tomato and seasoned with sea salt and a good grind of pepper. All you need to do with the tomato is blitz a ripe tomato with the hand blender – remove the skin or not, your choice and that´s it. It´s usually tastier in summer when the tomatoes have more flavour, but if I come across a gorgeous specimen outside of the warmer months, it´s earmarked for my breakfast. If the bread is a little stale, it´s toasted lightly on my griddle pan. If I fancy some spice, it´s sprinkled with little fresh or dried chili at the end (not so Spanish), and if I´m extra hungry a few slices of jamon are added. But the truth is, the simpler the better.
That´s not to say I don´t enjoy a Full English, or a Bacon Buttie when the mood strikes. Come to think of it, a bowl of porridge in winter always goes down well too.
So in 2016 I turned 50. I was in Italy for my 21st, 30th and 40th. To keep this birthday tradition going I always knew I'd be in Italy for my 50! This blog starts with my 5 week adventure in Puglia but my love affair with Italy continues.....