Is there anyone who doesn’t like cheese biscuits, I wonder? As a child, one of the most exciting things about Christmas was the prospect of those that my grandmother’s made. A huge plateful would emerge from the kitchen on Christmas evening, fresh baked and warm, just at that time when everyone was starting to feel a tiny twinge of hunger again on emerging from the post-lunch slump. Nothing else hit the mark quite like those little pastry bites packed full of umami.
Reminded of them as I was recently by a friend’s blogpost and recipe, I bought some local cheeses and made my own. I used a mix of the Canterbury Cheesemakers’ distinctive, sharp Cheddar-style cheese, Ashmore, together with an interloper from across the border – Twineham Grange, a Sussex-made parmesan-type cheese. And, instead of using black poppy seeds, I used white – which, to me, have a greater affinity with cheese. But use whatever you have – the virtue of this recipe is that it’s infinitely adaptable. Hard, sharp cheeses tend to work best, however.
Serve warm or cold. Either way, they’re irresistible – and far too good to make only at Christmas.
When life gives you kilos of damsons, you need to do something with them pretty quickly. Jam is an obvious choice (I already have 16 jars), but – since trying Gloria Nicol’s delicious rhubarb ketchup earlier this year – I also wanted to have a go at making a batch of damson ketchup. I used Marguerite Patten’s own variation on her blackberry version, and added some fresh red chilli for a little extra vavavoom. It produces a wonderful deep purple and intensely fruity ketchup, which I suggest you eat with the finest porky sausages you can buy. Sandwich between a couple of slices of fresh bread on a lazy weekend morning, and you’ll have the best start to your day.
Damson and chilli ketchup
1/2 pint water
fresh red chillis, to taste (1-2), stalks and seeds removed
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Wash the damsons, put in a pan with the water, and simmer until the fruit is very soft. Rub through a colander, leaving just the stones behind. Add the chillis. Purée the lot with a handheld blender.
Measure the purée, and to each 1 pint of purée add 4oz sugar and 1/2 pint of spiced vinegar (plus seasoning). Pour into a preserving pan. Simmer steadily until you obtain a fairly thick consistency, and then pour into hot bottles and seal down.
Loosen the lids (to allow for air expansion) and place in a steriliser or deep pan of boiling water, and boil for 10 minutes. Remove the bottles from the pan, and tighten the lids.
This blogpost is also featured on the Shropshire Prune website. The Shropshire Prune is the variety of damsons I used for this recipe.
For me, one of the very great joys of moving to the countryside has been (re)discovering the richness of the hedgerows. I have already picked pounds and pounds of blackberries and elderberries, but last weekend I came across what I’d been particularly yearning to find – a rich seam of damsons. So now, for the moment, my kitchen is overrun with them, and I’m struggling to cook them all – and turn them into jam, ketchup, chutney, and gin – before they deteriorate. I’ll be back as soon as I can.