Scotland the tasty

FOOD Bring on the raspberries I think that perhaps raspberries are best just picked straight from the punnet unadorned
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I have been told that the very best raspberries come from Scotland, and they are rightly considered to be a high summer tradition. "School holidays are timed to coincide with the six-week harvest," according to Jane Grigson in her excellent fruit book. She also goes on to say that, "Young heads bob up and down among the raspberry canes of Perth in the Carse of Gowrie and of Angus, all 7,94714 acres of them, as they pick what amounts to 90 per cent of all the raspberries we eat in Britain." I am also led to believe that the very best of the crop is to be found at the end of September, depending of course, upon the weather. Perhaps that missing ten per cent accounts for the very last - and best - of the bunch.

The very best raspberries I have ever consumed was a bowl I was given in late September by a very generous host during a late Sunday afternoon lunch in the garden. It was a long lunch and 5 o'clock seemed to be the most civilised time in the world to be having pudding. What was to be quite magical came in the form of a very cold bottle of Chateau d'Yquem 1967. It was the first time I had tasted this extraordinary wine and the combination with the raspberries was indescribable. Ever since that memorable occasion, I have thought that perhaps raspberries are best just picked straight from the punnet unadorned - so I hope the following recipes maintain a certain restraint.

Raspberry Creme Brulee - without the brulee, serves 4

The idea for this rich little number came to me when I wanted to make a creme brulee, but did not have access to a grill. In a way, I find it a nicer dish than creme brulee made with raspberries lurking at the bottom. I think they disturb the smoothness of the custard and come as an unwanted little surprise.

570mls/1 pint double cream

1 vanilla pod, split lengthways

4 egg yolks, from size 2 eggs

2tbsp caster sugar

450g/1lb raspberries

about 1tbsp sieved icing sugar

Heat the cream with the vanilla pod in a heavy-based saucepan, until hot but not boiling. Whisk thoroughly for a few seconds to disperse the seeds from the vanilla pod, cover, and leave to infuse for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, gently whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Remove the vanilla pod from the cream, shake well, lightly rinse and store in some sugar if you like, or, something I have recently taken to in a big way, buried in with the coffee beans - the subtle flavour once brewed is delightful.

Pour the warm cream over the egg yolks and sugar and whisk together. Return to the pan and cook very gently over a low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon. Everybody (well almost everybody) tells you to cook the custard until it coats the back of a wooden spoon. I think this is misleading, as the mixture almost coats the spoon from the start, resulting in an insufficiently cooked custard that won't set. I find - and it becomes easier and less risky with practice - that one can almost allow the occasional boiling blip to form on the surface, followed by vigorous whisking to disperse them back into the less hot parts of the custard. Finally, the consistency should be one of cold tinned Heinz tomato soup, which, as everyone knows, coats the back of a wooden spoon superbly well - and is not the daft analogy it sounds.

When you feel that the custard is ready, pour it into either one large shallow dish or, if you are in the neat and tidy dinner party mood, decant into generous sized, individual ramekins. The mixture should not be much higher than two thirds up the sides of whichever container you are using, so as to make room for the raspberries. Chill well for at least four hours. Carefully pile the raspberries on top and dust generously with the icing sugar. Serve immediately.

Raspberry Wafers, serves 6

These wondrously crisp disks of puff pastry are sweet and buttery and as light as can be. The process required to make them sounds a bit complicated, but in essence it is a simple operation with just a bit more rolling than is usual. I have made these most successfully using bought-in frozen puff pastry, but if you are an expert then, naturally, use home-made. Don't be too concerned about the disks not being perfectly round; a natural shape is infinitely more attractive to the eye.

275g/10oz puff pastry

about 10tbsp sieved icing sugar

450g/1lb raspberries

For the whipped cream (creme Chantilly)

150mls/5fl oz whipping cream, very well chilled

150mls/5fl oz double cream, also very well chilled

40g/112oz icing sugar

vanilla seeds scraped from a split 14 of a fresh vanilla pod

1tbsp raspberry eau-de-vie (optional)

A metal bowl kept in the freezer for 30 minutes

Pre-heat the oven to 400F/200C/gas mark 6.

Cut the block of pastry into four equal parts and, one at a time, roll them very thin. As you do this, put each sheet into the fridge between layers of grease-proof paper to keep cool. Take one of the sheets, lay it out flat and strew liberally with the sieved icing sugar. Take one edge of the pastry in your fingers and tightly roll up into a sausage shape. Put back into the fridge and repeat the same process on the other three sheets. Now, with a sharp knife, divide each roll of pastry into one-inch/2.5cm lengths. Turn them on their ends and roll thinly into circles, scattering with more icing sugar as you roll; it acts like flour and the pastry won't stick. Lay on to a buttered baking sheet, sprinkle with a little more icing sugar and bake in the oven for about 4-5 minutes, until slightly puffed and a shiny golden colour. It is advisable, once again, to keep these pastry circles in the fridge until you are ready to cook them. Bake in batches of six and then cool on a rack.

It is important that all is cold for making the whipped cream. This allows for the least chance of the cream separating while being beaten. Put everything in the bowl and beat the cream by hand using fluid motions until loosely thick and floppy, but just holding its shape. This will not take too long and it is interesting to see the marked difference between hand-whisked, as opposed to electrically beaten, cream. Add the eau-de-vie if using.

For serving the wafers, take one of them and put it on to a plate. Generously pipe or spread some of the cream on to it and cover with raspberries. Put another wafer on top and repeat. Top with a final third wafer and dust with more icing sugar. Do the same for the remaining five servings and eat immediately.

Raspberry Crumble

One final quick recipe. You might think that to cook raspberries goes against everything I have been saying. But a raspberry crumble - using very little crumble - sprinkled over fresh raspberries and baked, is something you should experience. The smell of the warm fruit wafting from the oven is worth their wilted appearance.

Make a zippity-quick crumble topping in the food processor using, for four servings, equal quantities (about 50g/2oz) of butter, flour, caster sugar and ground almonds, plus the tiniest pinch of salt. Make sure the butter is hard and cold, cut it into small pieces and put it into the processor with everything else. Switch on for 20 to 30 seconds, or until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Fill a large oven-proof dish with a pound or so of raspberries so that they will almost be in a single layer. Evenly sprinkle the crumble mixture over and bake in a hot oven (425F/220C/gas mark 7) for 15 to 20 minutes until the crumble is dotted with golden brown bits and the raspberry juice is flowing. Serve warm with more whipped cream

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