The wonderful Theresa Storey tells us her fruitful tale .
In every group of friends, there are specialists: there’s the one you call if your computer has the blue screen of death, the one you call when your kid just ate that weird berry, or the one you call when water pours from the ceiling or a tap just came off in your hand. I’m the food and gardening specialist for our gang. If you have wilting trees, an aphid infestation or a glut of berries you don’t know what to do with, I’m your girl. And I’m not just the adviser to my friends – people often come up to me at my stall in the Limerick Milk Market to ask how to use their wild fruit, for help in identifying plants, or to tell me their stories and recipes. I also get phone calls from strangers asking me how to fix non-setting apple jelly, or what to use their redcurrants for. I’m happy to talk and share what I know, and I’m happy to learn. Just last week, one of my customers told me that the ginger mint plants I sell are called ‘eel herb’ in Belgium, because they’re eaten with jellied eels. He didn’t know it was a ginger mint, and I didn’t know it was eel herb – good knowledge exchange.
That’s pretty much why I started my blog, www.thegreenapron.ie: to share some of what I know and to start a conversation.
The logical extension from the blog was to write a book. A seasonal fruit cookbook. I wanted to show how we use fruit through the year, so I put in lots of preserve recipes – that’s what we specialise in at The Green Apron – but also other recipes using both fresh and raw fruit to make both sweet and savoury dishes.
Writing a recipe book felt a lot like writing a thesis in college. Lots of research, lots of notes, and then cutting the information down and deciding what to include and what to discard. Lots of experimentation too – why does it work with that fruit but not this other one? What happens if you substitute this or change the temperature? Why didn’t it work that time? How can I make it better?
While many of the recipes in my book are ones we’ve been using in the family for years, there were some challenges in getting them into a useable format. I had to rewrite our single-line recipes into something anyone could use. ‘Bang it in a pot and cook for three hours’ isn’t enough instruction! I also added lots of whys and why nots, and lots of substitutions. What seems obvious to one person leaves someone else baffled, but thankfully after years of teaching workshops on cooking, growing and foraging, I have a good idea of what gaps people have in their knowledge, and what kind of questions they usually need answered. I also sent the recipes to my friend Barry – who doesn’t cook. I figured if he could follow them, anyone could.
Many of the recipes in Fruit on the Table are American, and translating their measures to metric and imperial was an exercise in exciting mathematics. American fluid ounces aren’t the same size as imperial, nor are their pints. American recipes are often in cups, and since that’s a volume measurement, I had to weigh cups of everything. That was another interesting exercise, since, for instance, a cup of sliced strawberries weighs more than a cup of whole strawberries. Anyway, after much weighing and second-guessing and research on the net, I converted the American measurements to metric and then converted metric to imperial. Another problem then reared its head: the metric measurement might equate to an unwieldy number of ounces (like 4.75oz rather than 5oz), so I had to round up or down and then remake the recipe a few times to be sure it worked perfectly. We ate a lot of cakes and pies that month.
Most of the photographs for the book were taken last summer, for two reasons: I wanted to wait until the summer fruit was in season, and I also wanted the best natural light (though it seemed to drizzle every day through the summer). On Sundays, the girls and I would cook a selection of the recipe dishes (thank goodness for my diligent daughters). Val O’Connor, our photographer, would come on Monday morning, and we’d style and photograph until late in the evening. For the rest of the week, I would experiment and write recipes, work in the garden and orchards, pick fruit, and make jam and chutney for the Saturday market. That was a pretty hectic few months.
Then came the editing. Thanks go to Liz Hudson, my editor, who tightened and streamlined everything and caught all the silly omissions and mistakes I made. (I sometimes forgot to add in tin-size or temperature or left out a step.) And who encouraged me when I was mithered from editing.
So now I have a shiny new book in which I share my recipes and my foraging and growing knowledge. I hope it expands the reader’s fruit-recipe repertoire and encourages them to grow their own – or at least to pick some wild fruit. I know writing it encouraged me to experiment with using fruit in ways I hadn’t thought of before, and I learned a great deal.
Now it’s time to write the vegetable version.
Theresa Storey, July 2016.
Fruit on the Table is available here and in all good bookshops!