Soft fruit special: how to make the most of the summer glut

soft fruit
Strawberries, cherries, blackberries and raspberries are all coming into season over the next few months. Valentina Jovanovski looks at how to make the most of the soft fruit glut

Ripe, fresh and plentiful, the abundance of soft fruit is one of the best things about summer. Just the smell of a ripe strawberry is enough to make your mouth water and thanks to the warm spring, this year’s crop looks set to be a good one. Soft fruit doesn’t just taste good either: it also contains a multitude of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that have been shown to boost weight loss and reduce the risk of disease. According to the World Health Organisation, eating just 400g of fruit and vegetables every day can dramatically reduce the threat of heart disease, stroke, type two diabetes and obesity.

One person who knows all about fruit’s culinary, as well as nutritional, value is former MasterChef contestant Jackie Kearney, who also works as a research scientist for the NHS. Jackie, well known on the show for her vegetarian dishes and love of Asian cuisine, came fourth in MasterChef 2011 and is currently working on the launch of her restaurant, the Hungry Gecko.  A vegetarian, she loves cooking with the produce grown in her garden at her Manchester home. ‘I grow a lot of fruit in my garden, like raspberries, strawberries and gooseberries. And I keep my garden organic. I think that fruit, and especially soft fruit that can’t be peeled, is more important to have organic because when you consume the skin you can be eating something you don’t want to be eating. Plus, if you grow something organically, you’re not using additives to speed up the growing process so the fruit is given time to grow the way it should. I think it tastes more like it’s meant to taste.’ As an NHS employee, Jackie is also getting behind the institution’s five a day recommendation. ‘The point of five a day is to get you to eat colourful food because that intense colour is a sign that it’s nutritious,’ she adds. ‘That’s the great thing about summer fruit – it’s very rich in colour.’

Hard to find out of season, the summer cherry glut is a once-a-year treat so make the most of it. Although supermarket cherries can be expensive, growing your own cherry trees is easy, although as Jackie points out, it will be a while before you get to enjoy the fruits of your labours. To speed up the process, she suggests removing the fruit and flowers from cherry and other small fruit trees when they blossom in their first year. ‘You need to be tough,’ she says, ‘but you’ll be rewarded.’ Baking enthusiast and manager of delicatessen, Verde and Company, Harvey Cabaniss says one of his favourite fruit recipes is a Jack Daniels Cherry Pie. ‘Pit the cherries and macerate with lots of dark brown sugar and Jack Daniels. Then, sift in some flour and bake pastry-lined pie dish,’ says Harvey. ‘I quite like using what is called a ‘ruff puff’ pastry that doesn’t rise as much as true puff pastry for this,’ he adds. If you’re looking for a less alcoholic treat, Sarah Calcutt,, Chair of the National Fruit Show, suggests a toothsome cherry custard tart. ‘Start by greasing the pie dish with butter, then pour in the cherries. Place in the oven to soften before mixing in crushed digestive biscuits and pouring on custard. Bake until the pudding is set in the middle and the top is golden and puffy around the edges. Dust on a little icing sugar and serve.’

This spring included the warmest April for 100 years, which means there’s an abundance of British strawberries on the market. British Summer Fruit, an industry body that represents 90 per cent of domestic fruit suppliers, sent 1,600 tonnes of British strawberries to supermarkets in just one week in May - four times the amount it delivered a year ago. And the health benefits of strawberries are just as plentiful, with your RDA of vitamin C provided by just seven strawberries. While eating them raw or with a little sugar and cream is always popular, once you’ve tired of unadorned berries, there are plenty of culinary ways to make the most of them. Strawberry jam is always a hit and relatively simple make. Add some crushed strawberries to a pan with whole strawberries and some lemon juice. Add a dish of warmed pectin sugar and mix until the sugar dissolves, then boil, stirring in some butter. If you prefer to avoid pectin, which helps the jam thicken, you can use traditional sugar but you’ll have to stir and boil the substance for longer. For storage, heat jars and lids in hot water and fill them, while still warm, with the jam leaving a little space at the top. If you’re feeling more adventurous, try making a strawberry sorbet for a healthier alternative to ice cream or an iced strawberry punch, with a splash of your favourite liqueur or white wine.

In season from early June until October, raspberries are loaded with antioxidants, which help fight heart disease and cancer and boost your immune system. According to Jackie, raspberries are easy to grow yourself even if you don’t have a garden or outdoor space. ‘It’s incredibly sustainable for people to grow them themselves,’ she says, ‘and it’s so easy, you don’t need much room and you can grow them in a pot.’ One of her favourite raspberry recipes is her very own ‘Posh Manchester Tarts’ [recipe below]. ‘In honour of the amazing spitfire pilots and RAF heroes on this year’s MasterChef, I created these cute little Northern inspired tarts, with a few tips from [French-born chef] Michel Roux,’ she comments. The miniature tarts are made from puff pastry and filled with raspberry puree and custard, and topped with fresh raspberries, toasted coconut and icing sugar. Raspberries are also great for making jams and sorbet. If you’re pressed for time but need a fruit boost, smoothies are a great time saving option. Simply blend a handful of fresh or frozen raspberries with some organic yogurt and apple juice. Add other fruit such as blueberries to make a delicious mixed berry smoothie.

In season from June until late September, blueberries are one of the healthiest fruits around. While the UK does produce a small number of blueberries, the majority are sourced internationally, which means choosing organic is even more important. Rich in flavour and colour, they’re packed with antioxidants, which are great for your skin and have been shown to help prevent Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Blueberries are also high in vitamin C and fibre. Blueberries also freeze well, so bulk buy now for a year-round supply. Before freezing, all excess water should be removed before storing them into a zip lock bag. Because of their miniature size, blueberries make a healthy addition to cereal, adding a touch of flavour and a boost of fibre to your diet. Try including them in muffins or pancakes or using them to top some crepes, yogurt or a bowl of cereal.

The blackberry season starts in July and peaks in late August but can extend to the end of October. With similar properties and bold colouring as their raspberry cousins, blackberries contain many of the same nutrients, including vitamin C and fibre. They also contain salicylates, an active substance in aspirin. But the big advantage of blackberries is the price: wild blackberries, found in abundance in the UK, are free. ‘British blackberries are everywhere, no matter whether you live in urban or rural areas,’ says Jackie. ‘And apples are also easily foraged and make a great accompaniment to blackberry dishes, especially crumbles and pies.’ Also try making a blackberry cocktail by putting a couple of handfuls of fruit into a blender and straining out the seeds. Mix with lemonade and a shot of vodka. For a child-friendly version, leave out the alcohol and add some crushed ice.

Redcurrants are one of the best fruit to grow in your own garden because they’re low maintenance, durable and don’t need a lot of sunshine. In fact, too much sun can stunt their growth, so if you live in an area that gets a lot of sun in the summer, make sure you plant them in a shady spot. When planting, allow enough room for the roots of the redcurrant bush to spread, as they tend to expand quite a bit. Since redcurrants are fairly tart, they usually taste better as part of a pudding. Try using them to decorate a cheesecake or a bowl of ice cream, or serve them with French toast and drizzle maple syrup on top. If you enjoy their tartness, spread a handful on a salad – their bright red colour will brighten up even the plainest of salads. Redcurrant jams and jellies are also favourites and easy to make.

Pick your own
According to the Soil Association, over 29 per cent of British adults have never been to a farm. Getting your hands dirty at a pick-your-own farm is a great way to learn more about how your food is grown and where it comes from. You also come away with fruit that’s much fresher than the supermarket equivalent. Containers can usually be purchased at the farm but it’s a good idea to bring your own, as it will save you money. To find your nearest pick-your-own farm, see


Jackie Kearney’s Posh Manchester Tarts
‘Traditionally, Manchester tarts are made with short crust pastry, but the light flakiness of the puff pastry is like a little cloud of raspberry custardyness which works really well. It's just a matter of taste I guess.’

2large punnets of fresh raspberries
400ml organic double cream
1pt whole organic milk
1 vanilla pod
125g caster sugar
6 large free-range eggs - yolks only
40ml Chambord raspberry liqueur
50g desiccated coconut, re-hydrated in hot water
50g desiccated coconut, lightly toasted
Icing sugar for dusting
1 block of puff pastry

Grease 24 small miniature cupcake cases with melted butter.  Roll out puff pastry to 2mm thickness.  Cut out 12 rounds using 2" cookie cutter and press gently into cases. Prick the bottoms of pastry cases with a fork, and line with circles of baking parchment, then fill each case with ceramic baking beans.  Bake at 170 degrees for 15mins or until light golden colour.  Remove parchment and beans, brush with egg wash and bake for another 4-5 minutes until golden in colour. For short crust pastry, use these quantities for a light crumbly texture: 300g plain flour, 125g of unsalted butter, 30g sugar, 1 free range egg and milk as needed. Unless you have cool hands, place the flour, butter and sugar into a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add one of the eggs and pulse until the mixture comes together to form a rough dough. If the dough is too dry, add a bit of milk. Shape the dough into a ball and wrap in cling film, then chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Raspberry puree
Add 2 cups of fresh raspberries and 1 tbsp of caster sugar to small pan and heat gently until fruit breaks and you reach jammy consistency. Add 2-4 tbsp of raspberry liqueur and blend with hand blender. You can add more sugar to taste, but keep the coulis quite sharp to cut through the sweetness of the custard.

Creme anglaise with chambord
Split the vanilla pod and scrape the seeds into 1 pint of whole milk in a small pan.  Add in pod, and heat gently to infuse. Leave to stand for 10 minutes then strain through sieve. Whisk 6 eggs yolks with 125g caster sugar until light and creamy.  Then add very slowly to warm milk, whisking vigorously. Heat gently until custard thickens, add 2-4 tbsp of raspberry liqueur (to taste, but don't add too much or it'll be too runny). Set aside to cool. Whisk double cream until forms firm peaks, then fold gently into cooled custard. If the custard isn’t cool enough, the mixture will become too runny.

Once pastry cases have fully cooled, spoon a small amount of jam into bottom, and sprinkle generously with re-hydrated coconut. Then using piping bag or small spoon, fill each case (about two thirds) with the custard filling. Top with three fresh raspberries, then sprinkle generously with toasted coconut. Lightly dust with icing sugar just before serving.

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