Tim Maddams: Unusual distractions
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Former head chef at River Cottage, Tim Maddams is a private chef, author, teacher and presenter
Finally the strawberries are really at their best, courgettes are kicking off and the tomatoes are just about on the way. This is high summer and from here through to November, like pedlars at the market, there are so many things to distract us that I fear I will miss something. I have tried to be less worried about this and just enjoy everything that comes my way, but I did wonder if I should look at a few less obvious choices for the table; so here is an ‘alternative’ list for July. I hope you like it....
1. Love-struck coriander
Now this one is definitely ‘out there’. If you have grown coriander you will know that it goes from leaf to flower almost immediately. Bolting faster than the proverbial horse with the unlocked stable door, its desire to reproduce is second only to that of a love-struck teenage boy. This is a good thing though, as the green seeds have just the most pungent crossover in flavour between the soapy-fresh and pungent leaves and the brilliantly spicy, aromatic seeds. Used in fresh salads they pep things up like little cluster bombs of exuberance. Cooked into curries, stews and soups they can’t fail to impress.
2. Zingy jostaberries
If you have never met this charming fellow, do allow me to introduce you. If you like either gooseberries, blackcurrants, or indeed both, then the jostaberry is the season’s berry of choice, as it’s a cross between the two, with a hint of the American black-gooseberry thrown in for good measure. Used in any way you like, these fellows really add zing to life: sorbets, granitas, crumbles, fools or messes, the choice is yours. However, I would strongly advise the experimentation with a not-too-sweet but strongly flavoured syrup which you can make from jostaberries, served over ice with a good, light and sparkly cider. It’s out-of-this-world classy and so far removed from a cider and black of old that no one will raise an eyebrow. Class.
3. Sea salty samphire
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You may not know it but if you are able to get hold of marsh samphire commercially, either via the fishmonger or the veg shop, it’s quite likely it’s come all the way from Israel or indeed a European country such as France or Holland. This seems a little crazy when it’s there for the taking down by the seaside. Not that I want to encourage a region-wide harvest of this tender plant. For one thing it often grows in protected habitats where you’d need permission to collect it; secondly it’s very easily up-rooted by mistake and so care and a pair of scissors are needed for a sustainable harvest. I love this succulent plant, with its mineral-rich, salty taste that seems the most natural of veg for the time of year and, as is so often the case, it works very well with its seasonal bedfellows like wild mushrooms, rabbit and pigeon. They’re all on the cards, as well as the more fishy companions that it’s traditionally associated with. The season is only just getting under way, but it’s best picked early on as it goes tough and very stringy once it starts thinking about flowering. (The stringiness is impossible to get around as the tough fibre runs right to the top of the plant.) Toss it raw into tomato salads (seriously good) and add a small amount of chopped tomato leaf too, along with a few anchovies. Heaven!