"Well, my dear, 'tis a true saying about an ill-wind, for it will be all the better for Colonel Brandon. He will have her at last; aye, that he will. Mind me, now, if they aren't married by Mid-summer... Delaford is a nice place, I can tell you; exactly what I call a nice old fashioned place, full of comforts and conveniences; quite shut in with great garden walls that are covered with the best fruit-trees in the country; and such a mulberry tree in one corner!"
Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen, Chapter 30
Sometimes, in writing this blog, I am encouraged to explore a specific book in anticipation of an event - a cake from a childhood favourite for a friend's birthday, for example. A few weeks ago, my friend Liz and I went to the Somerset House screening of Sense and Sensibility. I'm a huge Emma Thompson fan and, despite having watched the film countless times, a big-screen viewing was impossible to pass up. An outdoor film on a summer's evening demands a picnic and I was (of course) on dessert.
Sense and Sensibility at Somerset House
The challenge is that Sense and Sensibility doesn't really include many references to food. Austen wrote for her friends, assuming (quite rightly, I'm sure) that when she places her characters around a table, she doesn't need to describe the meal; her readers would have known precisely what the dinner consisted of. Two hundred years on however, I am left to search for a passing mention of Colonel Brandon's orchard... and the presence one mulberry tree.
I have vivid childhood memories of mulberries; of sneaking out of after school RE lessons with my sister and our friends to the beautiful tree that stood on the edge of the garden. Despite our efforts to not get caught, the berries stained our faces, hands and shirts, and inevitably gave us away. But we always agreed that being able to gorge ourselves on the delicious fruit was well worth the telling off.
Unfortunately, mulberries are not something you often come across in a greengrocer in England, even in high summer. The berries last for little more than a day once picked, and my search for a friendly neighbour with access to an obliging tree was unfruitful. I found mulberry jam equally difficult to get (it is available online for £10 a jar, but that seemed impossibly extravagant), until my boss cleverly reminded me that mulberries grow more prolifically in warmer climates. A a quick Google translate of 'mulberry' and a successful visit to my local Turkish supermarket followed, providing me with a jar of delicious 'dut' jam for less than £2. The resulting pastries, made from the shortest list of ingredients imaginable (the Dashwood sisters were economising, after all) were well worth the fruit-sourcing effort.
Ps. If you don't have ready access to mulberries, either in fruit or jam form, you can substitute blackberries in this recipe.
The wonderful Emma Thompson
Apple and Mulberry Pastries
220g spelt flour
5tbsp iced water
3 medium cooking apples
4tbsp mulberry jam (you can make your own, if you have fresh mulberries, following the instructions for jam making found in the recipe for the Chocolate Sponge a few weeks back)
1tbsp caster sugar + some extra for sprinkling
1 egg white
Baking tray and greaseproof paper
1. Place the butter in the freezer, and leave it for at least half an hour. Weigh out the flour and place in the mixing bowl. Grate the frozen butter over the flour and mix the two together. Add enough iced water to bring the mixture together into a dough (about 5tbsp). Don't add the water all at once - just a little at a time until the mixture comes together. Wrap the dough in cling film and place in the fridge for half an hour.
2. While the pastry is resting, peel and chop the apples into small pieces. Place in the saucepan with the jam and 1tbsp sugar and cook over a low heat. Stir it regularly, to ensure the fruit doesn't burn, and cook until the apples soften, but are still holding their shape. Place the fruit aside to cool.
3. Heat the oven to 200C. Remove the pastry from the fridge, and cut into six even pieces. Roll each one out into a circle around 5mm thick and 14cm wide, between two pieces of greaseproof paper to prevent it sticking to the bench.
4. Beat the egg with 1tsp of water in a small bowl. Take one circle of pastry, and brush the edges with the beaten egg. Place a couple of spoons of the fruit mixture on one half of the pastry, fold the other half over the top, and press the pastry edges together to seal. Poke two small holes in the top of the pastry, paint the top with beaten egg and place on the baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper. Repeat with the other pastry circles.
5. Place the pastries in the oven and bake for forty minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven, beat the egg white until lightly frothy, and paint it onto the top of each pastry, before sprinkling them with caster sugar. Return to the oven for three or four minutes. Serve immediately (being careful of the molten fruit filling), or pack away for a picnic; they're just as lovely cold.