My earliest memories of the wonders of baking were in my grandmother’s kitchen. The aroma as you walked in the door spelled “Welcome. Sit down, have a chat and something nice to eat.” It was like you were enjoying a cuddle with food.
Her pantry was always stocked with all manner of ingredients so she could whip up something delicious at a moment’s notice. I loved her spirit of hospitality, her enthusiasm for daily baking and her generosity when happily sharing with others. I simply couldn’t wait to get my own kitchen to emulate all that she did.
When our own family of six children came along, we would often go for a drive in the country – in summer these would inevitably turn into a fruit hunt. Many farms or country homes had an honesty box at the gate, offering their excess fruit for a minimal price or free of charge.
There were innumerable instances when the farmer would come out for a chat. These were the most wonderful times – they taught us all about true passion for produce – its flavour, freshness, colour and texture. We learned about berries, stone fruit, apples and pears, and where to find wild growing treasures such as rosehip, quince and blackberries. We were avid foragers long before it became the fashion.
Once home we would experiment with the produce. It was a time of creative mayhem and fun in the kitchen, inviting anyone who came through our door to share a cuppa and enjoy what we had baked that day.
This habit is hard to break. To this day, I simply can’t go past a roadside stall. One of my favourite finds is nectarines. I love their flavour, the bite through the crisp red skin that releases exquisite juices that trickle down your chin. It is a celebration of one of the exceptional fruits of summer, the fruit hunts of decades ago, the creative baking with our children and a special tip of the hat and thanks to my Nan, whose passion for cooking and generosity with food became the inspiration for my lifelong love affair with baking.
Nectarine Crumble Tray Bake
For the filling
- 900g nectarines, stones removed and flesh cut into small cubes
- 60g white sugar
- 3 teaspoons lemon juice
- 3 teaspoons cornflour mixed to a paste with 40ml cold water
For the pastry
- 125g very soft salted butter
- 200g white sugar
- 2 eggs
- 300g plain flour
- 150g self-raising flour
- 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 1 egg white, lightly whisked
For the crumble
- 15g cold salted butter, diced
- 40g self-raising flour
- 55g soft brown sugar
To make the filling, place the nectarines and sugar into a saucepan with 60ml water, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the fruit is just tender. Stir in the lemon juice. While still simmering, gradually stir in enough cornflour paste to reach a thick custard consistency. Set aside to cool.
For the pastry, using a hand whisk mix the butter and sugar together until creamy, then whisk in the two eggs until well combined. In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients together. Then, using a large metal spoon, fold them through the egg mixture until well combined. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to firm up before using.
To make the crumble, place the ingredients in a food processor and process until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. (Alternatively, this can be achieved by rubbing the ingredients together with your fingers.) Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 170°C. Grease a 22 x 35cm slab tin, 8cm deep. Cut one-third from the pastry, cover and set aside. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the remaining pastry to the size of the tin and press into the sides and edges. Brush with some of the whisked egg white to seal. Spread the cooled fruit mixture over this. Roll out the reserved pastry and cut into long strips about 1cm wide. Place these in a lattice pattern over the top of the fruit. Sprinkle the crumble mixture into the spaces between the lattice strips.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until it is nicely browned. Leave to stand in the tin for at least 30 minutes before cutting into squares to serve.
This article first appeared in The Big Issue Ed#656.
Food photo by Samuel Shelley.