On avoiding and cherries

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At eight years old I thought the height of sophistication was a Snowball in a champagne saucer topped with a cocktail cherry. I’d sit up at the bar sipping my frothy yellow drink, my feet swinging limply from the high stool, my shoulders twitching in time with the jukebox. I knew full well my cocktail had barely a wiff of alcohol – just enough Advocaat to tinge the lemonade pale-yolk-yellow – that I’d be whisked off to bed just as soon as the pub got busy. But that didn’t bridle my joy at sitting up at the bar, Snowball in one hand, cheese and onion crisp in the other listening to the Kinks.

My granny ran a pub on Durham street in Oldham called the Gardeners Arms, a traditional free house serving Robinson’s ale, bitter and stout. It was an almost handsome, heavy-set place, with patterned carpets, brass topped tables and a curved wooden bar. Two or three times a year we’d surge – my parents and three small children – up the M1 motorway to Oldham. Arriving late, besieged by over-tiredness and over-excitement, there was invariably whining and weeping. So my dad would scoop us out of the car, whisk us through the bar, up the stairs and straight into bed above the pub. We’d resist sleep with all our might, before falling deeply, the faint pulse of the jukebox below, the smell of clean sheets not quite masking that of park drive cigarettes, Robinson’s bitter and my grannies Lancôme face cream faint on our just kissed cheeks.

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The next morning we’d charge down the stairs. The air thick with Brasso and the howl of the Hoover, my aunty May and granny – all slippers and house coats – would already be hard at work. While barrels of beer rolled off the brewery lorry, down the hatch and into the beer cellar, and crates of stout and Schweppes were brought clinking-in to replenish the shelves, we’d eat bacon butties with Uncle Colin. Thick slices of white cottage loaf and best back bacon. The trick was to squash the sandwich between both palms to make it manageable. Then we’d run, like excited terriers, around the pub, brandishing pool cues, pestering for jukebox coins.

In the days before continual everything, English pubs would open for lunch and then from 7 until 11 20 with last orders at 11. When the Gardener’s Arms opened it’s doors at 11, my brother, sister and I would scramble up onto bar stools and pummel our fists, as thirsty regulars do, on the bar. Until the age of ten I thought anything in an individual bottle was exciting. Add a straw and it was even better. Add cocktail cherry on a stick and I was beside myself. So we would sit, Rosie with orange, Ben with Cola and me with my Schweppes ginger ale, our bottles spouting straws, umbrellas and sticks on which flourescent cherries were impaled. We’d slurp and crunch, we’d put another coin in the jukebox and sing along to songs we didn’t really understand.

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Although I’m still partial to a cocktail cherry or three – ideally the real thing but I’ll happily gobble a luminous one for old times sake – these days I prefer my cherries warm from my friends tree, straight from the brown paper bag on the way home from the market or chilled until they’re so cold and taut they burst between your teeth. Then once I’ve had my fill of cherries hand to mouth, I poach a few, soak a few in alcohol and make some jam.

Given the choice between boxes and jam, I’ll take the jam. I am also genetically opposed to moving house in an organised fashion. Rogue packing fueled by anxiety and too much caffeine is more my style. Also I’d run out of jam and was eating chestnut honey on toast. Which was fine for a day or two, but by the third day breakfast was disappointing, which isn’t a good start.

Satisfyingly simple jam. Having washed, stalked and stoned your cherries, you leave them to macerate with sugar and curls of lemon peel for a few hours. You then bring the fruit to the boil, skim away the purple tinged froth – that reminds me of my aunty May’s purple rinse, then lower the heat and leave the deep purple jam to bubble and burp quietly for just over an hour. Your jam is ready when it is thick, clinging to the back of the spoon and decidedly sticky. We had it for breakfast, on toast primed with almost white butter made with cream I really can’t afford. Dark, intensely cherry-sweet and lemon edged, we were not disappointed.

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Then seeking further avoidance, I made a cherry jam tart or Crostata di ciliegie. My granny Alice was not only a good landlady, one who kept an immaculate beer cellar and pulled a good pint while looking rather lovely, she was also a deft pastry maker. Cold hands, cold butter and iced water she would remind me. I can picture her cold, clean hands with neat well-scrubbed nails rubbing the diced butter into the flour, the fine breadcrumbs spilling back through her fingers into the bowl. I can also picture her behind the bar, making pint pulling seem effortless – which it isn’t – her hair set and secured with lacquer, her girlish smile.

Back to Rome and my avoidance tart. I put barely any sugar in my pastry yesterday knowing the jam was sweet enough. After leaving it to rest for an hour in the fridge, I rolled the pastry thinly and then manoeuvred it into my tin pie plate. Which again made think of Alice, and in turn my Mum, both fond of a tin pie plates. Having spooned the jam into the case I then crisscrossed the top with pastry strips. Egg yolk glue and a firm hand ensured sure they stayed in place even in the oven.

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A tart like this needs 35 minutes or so in the oven. You need to keep an eagle eye on it, especially during the last five minutes. You also need to let the tart rest for 30 minutes or so, longer if possible, so it settles and slices neatly. Some very cold, thick cream would have been nice, but we ate it just so, the buttery scantly sweetened pastry at that nice point between crisp and flaky (but not crumbly, I’m not a fan of crumbly when it come to pastry) and contrasting nicely with the sticky, sweet, lemon-edged cherry jam. It was even better this morning.

Now I think I have well and truly run this to the wall, I have to be out of here the day after tomorrow, I haven’t even collected enough boxes and my removal man has disappeared again. It’s ridiculous, even for me! I am not sure what’s going to happen about the internet, I didn’t fully understand what the operator was saying, but it sounded complicated. Which means I can’t be sure when I will next be here. I could do with a snowball or a pint, but I’ll make do with another piece of tart.

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Marmalata di ciliegie  Cherry Jam

Adapted from the Silver Spoon

The addition of lemon peel gives the cherry jam a sharp-lemon edge which is reminiscent of sour cherries. I love this, you may not, in which case omit the lemon peel and be frugal with the lemon juice.

Makes 2 jars.

  • 1.5 kg cherries, washed with stalks and stones removed.
  • 750 g fine sugar
  • a unwaxed lemon

Put the washed, stoned and stalked cherries in a heavy-based pan suitable for jam. Pare away five thick strips of lemon peel with as little pith as possible attached. Add the strips of lemon peel to the pan. Cover the fruit with sugar, stir and leave to sit in a cool place for 3 hours.

Squeeze the lemon juice over the cherries. Stir and cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally until the jam is thick, coating the back of the spoon and of an even consistency. I also do a saucer test to see if the jam has set. That is: put a saucer in the freezer for a few minutes, then put a spoonful of jam on the cold saucer, wait a minute and then run your finger through the jam. If the jam wrinkles, remains in two parts and doesn’t run back into a single puddle it is set.

Ladle the jam into warm sterilized jam while still hot. Screw on lids immediately and then leave the jars to cool upside down which creates a seal.

Crostata di ciliegie  cherry tart

Adapted from the Silver Spoon and inspired by Emiko

  • 200 g plain flour
  • 100 g cold butter, cold and cut into 1 cm dice
  • 20 g icing sugar (optional)
  • 1 small egg
  • a glass of iced water acidulated with 2 teaspoons of lemon juice
  • pot of cherry jam
  • 1 egg yolk for sticking egg white for glazing

You will need a shallow 20 cm flan tin or pie plate.

Put the flour and cold, diced butter in a large bowl, With cold hands, using your fingertips rub the butter into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add sugar.

Beat the egg in a small bowl and add to the flour and butter breadcrumbs. Add the teaspoon of iced water. Using first a metal spoon and then your (cold) hands to bring the ingredients together into a smooth even dough. Add more iced water if nesseasry. Cover the dough with cling film and chill for at least an hour in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 180°. Set aside a third of the pastry. Flour the work surface. Sprinkle the rolling-pin with flour. Roll the other two-thirds into a round just larger than the tin or pie plate. Use the rolling pint to lift the pastry over to the tin or plate. Leave a small overhang as the pastry will shrink. Spoon the jam into the pastry shell. Roll the remaining third of pastry out, then cut it into thick strips and criss-cross them across the tart painting the ends with egg yolk and pressing them firmly into the pastry case. Paint the criss-cross strips with egg white. Bake the tart for 30 – 40 minutes. Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing.

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53 Comments

Filed under cherries, jams and preserves, rachel eats Italy, rachel eats London, Rachel's Diary, recipes, spring recipes, tarts

53 responses to “On avoiding and cherries

  1. What a great description of your childhood pub experience. Really made my afternoon! Am partial to a cherry myself but they are far too hideously expensive here to make jam from. Have a good move – well once you’ve located the removals man…..!!

  2. How much can I pay you for a bowl of home made cherry jam? Seriously If you need a hand with the italian bureaucracy, you can count on me!

  3. What a wonderful post and can I just say you are much more productive when procrastinating instead of packing? I just seemed to get caught up on the latest happenings on my favourite blogs and TV series! I wish I could point to some jam jars and a crostata and say, “well, I could have been packing, but I made this instead. Isn’t this so much better than packing?”

    As for the boxes – we learned the hard way that the best time of day to get empty sturdy boxes from supermarkets (for free!) is to turn up between 8.30 and 9.30am when the supermarket is busy filling their shelves.

    • rachel

      You are brilliant and I am now (thanks to a trip to the supermarket yesterday at 9) the proud owner of many boxes. xx

      • Glad I could help and hope the move went alright – we are doing ours in two stages, first bit this weekend and then picking up stuff we left with family next weekend. Cannot wait to be all done! At least the weather (minus the rain) is not too bad – much better than moving boxes in 30 degree heat!

  4. Shout if you need boxes. We have a storage locker full of them.

  5. I love this story and share your current sentiments on the purity of cherries fresh, in jam and with pastry. Lovely writing, as always!

    • rachel

      Thanks Stacy and we clearly share a love for cherries three ways (four if you too like a neon one in a cocktail)

  6. sara

    Rachel, this was a great read. Good luck with your move. I’m also in the middle of one and today had a disapointing bagel with cream cheese from a cafe. Dreadful and dreary, actually.

    One question: does this turn out like a sour cherry jam?

    • rachel

      Great question and, yes, the lemon peel does give the jam a sour cherry quality and sharp edge, which I have added to the post thanks to your comment. x

  7. A great post: lovely childhood memories, and I’m jealous that your cherries are around in enough quantities to make jam with. Here in southern France we’ll need to wait another couple of weeks I think. And even then the constant cold and rain may well ruin our crop. Good luck with your move, and please don’t be internet-less for too long. Your readers need you!

    • rachel

      Thanks margaret, all this good move cheering along really is nice. I had a surprisingly good conversation with the internet people yesterday – I am hopeful. x

  8. Your pub tales are great reading — I love the image of your gran hoovering the pub, and the smell of Brasso. That crostata looks heavenly and beyond a doubt preferable to filling boxes. Moving is never an exciting process, and I’ve done it enough times to truly despise it (actually I think you only need to do it once to hate it). At least you have some decent jam to keep things rolling.

    • rachel

      I think I despise. I am commenting avoiding now but then I will begin flinging desperately (after more toast and jam).

  9. I was thinking of my gran today, so this post hit just the right note. Her house used to smell of Natty Boh (National Bohemian beer–I think would be a nice addition to a certain pub in Trestevere) which is where my pop-pop Bill used to work. Ah, flourescent cherries impaled on sticks…I have those memories too. Must be our generation.

  10. Hilary

    avoidance tart, ha, love it! You were procrostatastinating today!! Good luck with the move – nothing like a looming deadline to get things done!

  11. This looks delicious! I love reading your blog and your little one is adorable. Good luck with your move!

    • rachel

      thanks tara. The aim problem now is that everything I put in a box is then removed by my 20 month old who thinks moving is a hilarious game.

  12. Amy

    Good luck with the move. I hope you’re back soon, but if not, you sure left us a damn good post to mill over! The Kinks!! Geez, that made my day. Loved the snippets of your past in this post.

    • rachel

      Hi Amy, thanks, and I hope I am back soon, the thought of life without free skype calls, the kinks on Utube and you all here is disappointing.

  13. Lovely memories of what a British pub was like. I can also remember the bell being rung along with ‘time gentlemen, please’. Good luck with your move.

    • rachel

      My granny had a bell and could call a good, time gentleman. thanks so much, this moving cheering along is great x

  14. Of course making jam is the best way to avoid packing, I did a similar thing when we moved recently too only with budini di ricotta. Marco protested it was no time to be baking, I claimed I was using up things in the fridge (not exactly, I had to go out to buy the ricotta), but I have to say they did mighty fine as a snack on moving day! So you see, it all is for a good purpose. And oh cherry jam, don’t mind if I do…

    • rachel

      I feel in good packing avoidance company. Luca thinks it is all hilarious and the best game ever. Hope you are all well xx

  15. My girls love a straw in a bottle, and if there is an umbrella then they are pushed over the edge. Wishing you the very best with the move. I hope you have lots of extra hands to help you. I also hope that you have better luck with the broadband transition than we ever have.

    • rachel

      I do. I also have Luca making mischief. I found my man again, it is happening tomorrow. I hate cardboard. x

  16. Over my morning coffee, I was transported to that bar stool in Oldham. What wonderful memories you have. And you left me yearning for a cherry crostata. xo

  17. laura

    AH! “My Avoidance Tart” – would that we all had one! “The Kinks” … “almost handsome” … “we’d surge” … “hard at work in slippers and housecoats” … “bacon butties with Uncle Colin” … “in the days before continual everything” [This one deserves an Oscar or a Pulitzer or SOMETHING!] … “rogue packing” … “we” (anxious but optimistic approach!) … “deft at pints and pastry Granny Alice” … oh, Rachel, you have “superata te stessa”. IBAL galore for the move!

    • rachel

      IBAL gratefully received. I feel a bit odd, I think I might be allergic to cardboard or lifting. I need a pint and it is only 8 09. x

  18. Best of luck. Always look forward to reading of eating and cooking in Rome, but especially your echoes the food of my Lancashire childhood.

  19. Pingback: with gusto | Delightful Crumb

  20. I’ll do ANYTHING to avoid packing. Then I’ll repeat the pattern with unpacking. I can come dangerously close to just throwing everything away. Lovely post, great narrative. “…wining and weeping…” in the email version made me smile. Sometimes the mistakes tell all. (In the email of our last post I’m drinking albarino, but in the post it’s assyrtiko.) Ken

    • rachel

      I wish i could blame spell-check, but no, it is all me and my dreadful sp. Wining was appropriate though. I found my removal wan and it should happen tomorrow now, not that that is propelling me into any sort of real packing. I am in box hell and need a very large glass of assyrtiko.

  21. Whenever you pick this up, hope the move went well. G*d, the things we used to eat. Cheese and onion crisps with a snowball – remember it well. Adored The Kinks too!

  22. I think cherry jam has got to be my favorite- so this is right up my alley; and that tart looks divine! Love Luca’s barely perceptible little fingers in that fourth picture. Hope your move is going well…

    • rachel

      It was a pretty rough move but I am here with nearly unpacked boxes, the internet (on loan from my sweet neighbors) and a glass of wine. I think cherry jam is my favourite too.

  23. Carolle

    My personal motto when moving is think charity shop, a new home deserves new things! Good luck Rachel.

  24. Hi Rach–we fly away home in the early morning. it’s been a remarkable 2 weeks here in Roma, and parts beyond. (went to the boot heel-Lecce and coast-brilliant sun wind and sea-a bit wild) Wishing you a smooth transition with this move, and looking forward to all the good things that will come your way.
    love to you and Luca xox

    • rachel

      Thanks N, it was so nice to spend time with you. I look forward to lots more occasions there and here again. many many baci Rx

  25. i am there, in that pub, inhaling Brasso, hearing the howl, a dizzy-happy terrier. and i’ve never bean nearer than london.

    wonderful.

    m

    • rachel

      I just wish more of my Granny’s industrious nature and knack with brasso and a duster had rubbed off. Ate the last of the peel the other day – a small jar I had forgotten – and thought of you.

  26. Lindsey

    Hello Rachel,

    I usually read these posts passively, but this one (the food and writing) was perfect so I thought I’d finally comment.

    I’m an architecture student from Seattle, and I spent this past fall studying in Rome. I lived in Trastevere, I went to school up by the Campo de Fiori and my three-month project was sited in Testaccio (it was a new culture center on a decrepit corner of the Mattatoio across the new market). The latter was by far my favorite neighborhood to spend time in, and it tugs at my heartstrings to see the beautiful courtyards out of your kitchen windows, or even just beautiful produce that I haven’t seen since I left…

    I’ve been reading your blog for about a year now — through pre-, during, and post- study abroad in Rome. I hope I make it back someday soon, it is truly a beautiful city with beautiful people.

    Just wanted to say hello, and thanks for being such a source of nostalgia, inspiration, beauty.

    ciao,
    Lindsey

    • rachel

      Hi Lindsey,
      I am so happy you enjoy reading. I wonder if we passed each other unknowingly when you were here, I spend lots of time in Trastevere and near the study Center in the Mattatoio.
      It is a beautiful city although a perplexing one at times. But I expect you remember that.
      I hope you make it back soon! If you do, we could have a cafe.
      Rx

  27. That’s Amazing! Thanks for Sharing!!

  28. Thanks for your sharing!…. I am sure that I will continue to follow you in the future.

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