If there was a time to convert to seasonal cooking, it would be the summer. Classes would take place in a cook’s cathedral: a greenhouse ripe with the heady smell of homegrown tomatoes. Pilgrimages would set out to Kent and Sussex, where hay-strewn rows glimmer with ruby berries and orchards are festooned with precious stone fruit. The possibilities these natural gifts present are quite literally Christmas come early for a cook.
Summer reminds why natural, intense flavour is worth waiting for. One could certainly eat strawberries all year round, even British ones thanks to the clever technologies of hydroponics and temperature-controlled tunnels. But their pallid, watery flesh will never match up to the flavour explosion of a field-grown, deep red crop. The same goes for tomatoes, raspberries, blueberries, cucumbers… at this time of year, the list of sensational homegrown produce is endless. While it might sound like a list of year-round fridge essentials, the very act of eating these strictly-speaking summer varieties every day renders them ordinary in both flavour and appeal.
The taste of a sun-ripened British cherry, one that has struggled against the unpredictable elements to produce deep, dark flesh and an intensity of sweetness so profound one must close one’s eyes to savour it, is an experience that cannot be replicated outside of its natural season.
I call this my chameleon cake, one that adapts to whichever fruit you have in the bowl. I’m making it now with the very last of the British cherries, but one can substitute the same weight for chopped apples, halved strawberries, sugar-dredged gooseberries or chunks of rhubarb in the spring. Always keep the lemon zest in the mixture, as it gifts a nice lift to an otherwise quite sweet cake. You could also add a handful of chopped or ground nuts; walnuts go particularly well with apples.
You’ll need a 9 inch, springform cake tin
200g caster sugar (with apples I use light brown)
2 tsp of baking powder
275g of plain flour
100ml of milk
Zest of half a lemon
350g cherries, stoned
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Grease and line your cake tin.
- In a separate bowl, zest half a lemon over the cherries and mix together with a couple of tablespoons of the flour. This will help to stop them sinking in the mixture.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar until white.
- Gently fold in the sieved flour with a pinch of salt and the baking powder.
- Just before you transfer to the tin, fold in all but a handful of the cherries. Pour into the prepared cake tin and then gently scatter the remaining fruit on top of the mixture, pressing down lightly so they’re half submerged in the batter.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the centre of the cake is springy to the touch.
- Leave to cool in the tin, dredge with icing sugar and serve.