Health-conscious but sweet toothed? Skye Gyngell has the perfect ingredient for you: the greengage

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Indy Lifestyle Online

The last of the season's greengages are now growing on the trees along the north-facing wall of our vegetable garden. Considered more an autumn fruit by many, greengages actually appear during the height of the summer months, but run into mid-autumn. It's just that they are often overshadowed in the mind by the soft, sweet summer berries so abundant in July and August.

A variety of plum, greengages are the most beautiful shade of pale olive-green with just the slightest hint of lime. When ripe, they come away easily from their kernel, are sweet and clean, and have just the slightest hint of tartness to finish.

They are delicious eaten on their own at room temperature, where their flavour can best be appreciated; gently poached and folded into softly whipped cream as a fool; or simply served alongside yoghurt in the morning.

Greengages also make lovely jams, ice-creams and compotes. Try flavouring custard with the leaves and blossoms – they impart the flavour of bitter almonds.

I love all the stone fruits, but just now the greengage is my favourite. Next week they will probably be replaced in my affections by the arrival of damsons, but for now they are just perfect.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627

Greengage fool

Serves 6-8

1kg/2lb greengages
1 vanilla pod, split in half lengthwise
The peel of one unwaxed lemon
One-third of a cup of water
250g/8oz caster sugar
300ml/10fl oz double cream

Start by slicing the greengages in half lengthwise, remove the seeds and place in a heavy-based saucepan along with the vanilla pod, lemon peel, water and sugar. Place over a low-to-medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved and the fruit is soft. This will take about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Place in the fridge until well chilled. Softly whip the cream. Remove the cooked greengages from the fridge and fold through the whipped cream. Serve immediately.

Greengage upside-down cake

Just about any ripe seasonal fruit makes a good upside-down cake. Replace with apples, pears or quinces (in season right now) if you prefer. I like to eat this best when it is still warm from the oven.

Serves 8-10

8 ripe greengages, split in half, stones removed
11/2tbsp caster sugar

For the sponge

375g/12oz plain flour
2tsp baking powder
1/4tsp salt
75g/3oz unsalted butter (at room temperature)
250g/8oz caster sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, separated
125ml/4fl oz whole milk

Place the halved greengages in a bowl and sprinkle over the sugar. Set aside while you make the sponge batter.

Butter and flour an eight-inch round cake tin and line with parchment paper. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. In a second large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Stir in the vanilla, then add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually add the dry ingredients from the other bowl, and the milk in stages, alternating between the two and stirring well. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks have formed, and fold into the mixture.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4. Line the base of the cake tin with halved gages, arranging them cut-side facing up and pour over the batter. Place on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 50-60 minutes or until the top is golden-brown and the cake pulls away from the side of the pan. Remove and allow to cool for 15 minutes in its tin before inverting on to a plate. Serve in generous slices on its own or with spoonfuls of softly whipped cream.

Almond tart with poached greengages and crème fraîche

Serves 8-10

For the pastry

250g/8oz plain flour
125g/4oz unsalted butter, chilled
1tsp caster sugar
1 whole organic free-range egg
1 egg yolk
1tbsp water, if necessary

For the filling

300g/10oz whole blanched almonds
300g/10oz caster sugar
300g/10oz unsalted butter
1/2tsp pure vanilla extract
3 organic free-range eggs
For the poached greengages
1kg/2lb greengages
120g/4oz caster sugar
1 vanilla pod, split in half lengthwise
The peel of one unwaxed lemon

Start by making the pastry. Place the flour into a food processor, grate the chilled butter into the mixer, add the sugar, whole egg and yolk. Turn on the machine and pulse until you have a dough that is the consistency of wet sand. At this point add a tablespoon or so of cold water – if needed – and continue to pulse until all the ingredients form a soft but cohesive ball. Turn the engine off and remove the pastry. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes while you make the filling.

For the filling, heat the oven to 150C/ 300F/Gas2. Place the almonds on a baking tray and toast gently for five minutes on the middle shelf. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly then grind to a coarse consistency in the food processor. Now simply add all the other ingredients and turn on the engine and combine them together. Remove from the machine, place into a bowl and set aside.

Roll out your chilled pastry on a well-floured work surface until it is 1/4-inch thick. Line a 10-inch tart tin with it, pressing firmly with your thumbs into the corners. Prick the base with a fork and return to the fridge to chill for a further 30 minutes.

Turn up the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4 and blind-bake the pastry for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and fill with the almond mixture, return to the oven and bake for 30 minutes – until the filling is firm. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature.

Split the greengages in half and remove the kernels. Place in a heavy-based pan, along with the sugar, vanilla and lemon peel and place over a low-to-medium heat. Bring to a gentle simmer, stirring once or twice and cook until just soft. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Remove the peel and pod. Slice the tart, spoon the soft fruit alongside and finish with a dollop of crème fraîche.

Poached greengages, peaches and strawberries

This is the simplest dessert; it should be served very cold – we chill it in the freezer for an hour or two before serving so it's nearly icy. It slips down the throat, perfectly refreshing, a really nice end to a meal.

Serves 4-6

4 ripe white peaches
4tbsp icing sugar
The juice of one lemon
12 ripe greengages
3tbsp caster sugar
1 vanilla pod, split in half lengthwise
1tbsp rose water, optional
1 punnet ripe English strawberries

Split the peaches in half and place in a saucepan with the icing sugar and lemon juice. Place over a gentle low heat and cook, stirring occasionally until they fall apart – about 20 minutes. It should almost be a purée, with large chunks of whole peaches. Remove from the heat and spoon into a bowl. Allow to cool completely then chill in the fridge for an hour or so.

Do exactly the same to the greengages, adding the vanilla and sugar, and cooking gently until soft and falling apart. Remove, cool, add the rose water (if using), then freeze. To serve, wash and gently pat dry the strawberries. Slice in half lengthwise.

Divide the chilled peaches among four plates, spoon the greengages alongside, scatter the strawberries over and serve.

The Forager by Wendy Fogarty

Petersham's food sourcer on how to get your hands on greengage products...

Sadly, greengages are now difficult to buy from greengrocers, and the best way is to grow your own. The good news is that they require very little tending

Blackmoor Nurseries sells one-year-old Cambridge greengage bare roots (www.blackmoor.co.uk), while Trees Online sells six varieties of the fruit www.trees-online.co.uk

The East of England Apples & Orchards Project runs fruit-tree growing classes for beginners on organic fruit-tree management and creating an orchard www.applesandorchards.org.uk

Bowden's Local was set up to provide people in Dorset with regular deliveries of local produce, including greengage jam www.bowdenslocal.co.uk

Raydale Preserves greengage jam is available from The Pantry at the 450-year-old Rams Head Inn, in Saddleworth www.ramsheaddenshaw.co.uk.

Tiptree is owned by the Wilkins family, who have been making jam from trees on their estate since 1885. Buy greengage jam from its visitor centre and watch jam-making in its museum www.tiptree.co.uk

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