I’ve been meaning to write a post about books for gluts, the best cookery books to have on hand if you have a lot of garden produce and are running out of creative ways to use it up. But I never get any further than these two essential volumes.
One is Lindsey Bareham’s Big Red Book of Tomatoes, probably the most stained and spattered cookbook in my collection. It is crammed with recipes to seduce the appetite, whether you’re a vegetarian, fish- or meat-eater. It has some really useful tips, too. Did you know the jelly-like substance around tomato seeds is where most of the sugars are?
If you are de-seeding large quantities of tomatoes, don’t throw the seeds away, says Lindsey: sieve them and the liquid you’ll get will be a sort of essence of tomato, useful for adding fresh last-minute flavour to your cooking, perfect for whisking into a vinaigrette for a tomato salad and high in pectin, handy for setting jams and chutneys.
The other is Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book. For years, I have been making her pickled pears. Friends have begged me for the recipe, thinking it’s a closely-guarded family secret and I have to ‘fess up.
The pears are good with cold cuts, especially ham, and really come into their own on Boxing Day to tart up the Christmas leftovers, which between you and me I like even better than turkey with all the trimmings. They are meant to be bottled to preserve them for the winter but they are just as good eaten straight away, warm, with something like gammon steaks or bacon chops.
If you can get your hands on some old-fashioned Warden pears, the hard cooking variety, they are ideal. Otherwise use ripe but firm pears – it’s a personal opinion but I think pears which are ripe enough to eat raw become too soft and slithery to be entirely pleasant once cooked.
This recipe is best begun 24 hours before you want to eat.
Gammon with Spiced Pears
This allows a whole pear per person, but if that’s too much the leftover pears will keep in the syrup, please see below.
6 gammon steaks
6 ripe but firm pears
250 ml white wine vinegar
1 tspn whole cloves
1 tspn whole allspice
Small piece of nutmeg or 7cm piece of cinnamon stick
Peel, core and quarter the pears (or cut them again into eight if you want to be daintier). Cover with about 750 ml of water with a squeeze of lemon juice. Boil hard for five minutes then strain off the liquid and measure off 600 ml.
Add the sugar, vinegar and spices, pour the liquid over the pears and simmer until they are cooked and translucent. Mrs Grigson says 20-30 minutes but it depends on the variety and degree of ripeness, so keep an eye on them and test after 10 minutes.
Once they’re done, put them in a bowl and leave overnight. (You could eat them now but the flavours will be more developed if you can make them ahead.)
Next day, brush the gammon with some of the pear syrup and quickly grill or griddle. I gave ours just three or four minutes a side but it depends on how thick the meat is. Re-heat the pears gently and serve them alongside. If you would prefer to bottle the pears, drain off the liquid into a shallow pan and boil it hard for 5-10 minutes to reduce it slightly. Pack the pears into warm sterilised jars with the spices and pour the boiling syrup over to cover.
Seal while warm and keep for a month before using to intensify the spicy flavours. Mrs Grigson doesn’t heat-treat them and nor do I, but if you feel safer doing so, there are guides readily available online.