The arrival this month of damsons and puffball mushrooms has finally killed any hope of a decent UK summer. These two ingredients are true season indicators, and even if we tried to ignore the paltry weather, they brought the message home. Or maybe I should stop complaining!
I love puffball mushrooms – they are nature’s way of saying that a mushroom doesn’t always have to look like your average parasol toadstool. They give us a bit of a relief with vegetarian options on the menu, because the thick, spongy slices are quite meaty and filling, even if they only, as one slightly disappointed customer said, “taste like mushroom”. Eh, yeah.
Our specimens come from Norfolk, and I suppose the main fascinator is that they are almost abnormally large. We buy mushrooms up to the size of a man’s head, weighing in at about 1-1,5kg. A geeky fact that I like is that the puffball can contain up to 7 trillion spores, and when they are ready to be dispersed, the dry puffball cracks open and they are released with the wind. Other cap-type mushrooms “drop” their spores on the matter they subsist in. Pretty cool, or maybe just to me.
Damsons on the other had, don’t provide any cool facts, but do bring a sense of old fashioned autumn activity to the kitchen. (At the risk of sounding like Elizabeth David) These versatile little plums have a very high pectin content and cook up beatifully into jams, compotes, cheese (like spanish membrillo) all with the most exquisite dark purple-red colour. We pickle them as well, a very traditional english way of preserving, as the fruit arrives in a glut and then their season is over for another year. They pair very well with cinnamon, allspice and cloves.
Compote can be served with any ‘neutral’ desserts such as vanilla panna cotta’s, cakes or ice cream, and damson cheese compliments british blue cheeses particularly well. We usually use pickled damsons with terrines, game and dark poultry, as their vinegary spiciness add another flavour component to these strong savoury dishes.
With all the Picallilli, pickled artichokes and pickled cherries also made, I’m a little over standing at the stove stirrring vinagary mixtures, although next up are greengages, elderberries and quinces…