The Home Grown Sweet Shop
As every glossy magazine & middle class dinner party conversation will tell you, the newly-cool ‘grow your own’ movement is going from strength to strength.Yet as an allotmenteer with an unplacatable sweet tooth, I have always thought the WI-style jams & pre-war pie recipes a slightly predictable, even mundane, fate for the crops I spend all year lavishing attention on.
Surely there is something a little quirkier or unexpected to really celebrate the excitement of that first harvest?
Well to me there is. It comes in the form of fulfilling a geeky childhood fantasy and playing a horticultural Willy Wonka, concocting up all manner of sticky, sweet shop favourites from the contents of your bedsand borders.
You don’t need fancy sugar thermometers, a bank of E-numbers or a team of Umpa Lumpas either, as there are a few cheat sheet ways you get great results with minimal effort.
Making your own sweets from the stuff you grow is also a brilliant way to store your crops (sugar is a remarkable natural preservative) and for the horticultural newbies, make a modest harvest go an awful long way. In fact many of those Victorian sweet shop favourites were ordinarily designed as a way to preserve the flavours (& medicinal benefits) of summer right up into the depths of winter.
Think aniseed balls (originally taken to reduce flatulence), crystallised ginger to help reduce nausea and marshmallows (made from the slimy root of this once common wildflower) originally a popular cough sweet. Of course, making these at home also means the ability to be a little more creative with flavours, letting you improve on old classics with your own little twists. Here are a couple of my fool-proof favourites.
Salted Caramel Toffee Apples
- Simply melt down a handful of toffees in a saucepan with a splash of milk on a low heat, giving the pan a good stir.
- Once this forms a smooth unctuous liquid, impale a home grown apple with a lollipop stick (or better yet one of the sticks you lopped off the same apple tree during its summer pruning) and dip the apple into the goo.
- A couple of twists of the wrist will ensure a smooth, even coat.
- Whilst still slightly sticky, sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt and leave to cool on a sheet of grease proof paper and voila, you’re done.
Fizzy Lavender and Lemon Sherbet
- Tip 1 tsp of fresh lavender flowers and the thinly sliced peel of ½ lemon into a 250g bag of caster sugar.
- Give the bag a good old shake and leave to stand for 1 week.
- Fish out the now spent lavender and lemon peel by sifting these out through a colander and pulse the sugar in a food processor to give you a really fine powder.
- Now all you to do is stir in 5 tbsp of bicarbonate of soda and 2 ½ tblsp of citric acid (available at most chemists) and you will have a wonderfully zingy sherbet that can be sprinkled on your tongue or stirred into still water for a effervescent fizz.
Spiced Quince Fruit Pastilles
Quinces have such a sophisticated, exotic flavour and are borne on such a beautiful, easy-to-grow tree it is a mystery why they aren’t grown more often.
- If using a traditional Membrillo recipe you simply add a chopped red chilli and the juice squeezed from a 1 inch piece of grated ginger root just before pouring the mix out to set.
- Slice the set membrillo into squares and dust in caster sugar.
You have a cool, grown-up take on the fruit pastille. Make these as a Christmas stocking filler and everyone will love you for it, except perhaps your dentist.
James Wong is a botanist, gardener, broadcaster and natural remedies obsessive.