So far it has been the most glorious summer in England that I can remember, and one of the great benefits is that classic English fruit has been ripe and sweet.
The strawberries growing in my garden at home, when cut, have the deepest colour I have seen and the nectarines and peaches growing in the glasshouse at work are coming along nicely – not long now before they’re ready to be eaten. The mulberry tree in a friend’s garden is swollen with fruit, its branches heavy and the fruit closest to the sun inky black and fat as butter.
The glut of fruit makes my mind turn to ways of using it – it’s such a shame to waste the bounty this year has so far produced.
Peach jam, along with fig, is my favourite jam and I’ve already made a vat – the jars are lining the walls of our pantry at work
The heat also makes me very thirsty, and sweet cool cordials taste clean and pure. Gooseberry, with its sharp, lemony bite, served in jugs piled high with ice and a sprig or two of mint more than does the trick, as does raspberry. Quick and easy to make, they store well in the fridge and will carry you through the warm summer months.
Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627, www.petershamnurseries.com
This is one of my favourite drinks. To me, it's the taste of an English summer.
Makes just over 1 litre
300g/10oz caster sugar
The juice of half a lemon
1 litre/13/4 pints water
Don't bother to wash the raspberries; they are too delicate for running water and will disintegrate. Instead, pick over gently with your hands, removing any other little things that sometimes find their way in.
Place the fruit in a medium-sized saucepan, cover with the sugar, squeeze over the lemon juice and pour over the water.
Place over a medium heat and bring to a boil. Stir once or twice so that the sugar dissolves. Turn down and simmer for about 6-7 minutes or until the raspberries disintegrate.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Pass through a colander to strain, pressing down on the fruit.
Most of the raspberry flesh is soft enough to pass through, leaving the pips behind. Allow to cool, then pour into a glass vessel and place in the fridge.
Gooseberry and lemon verbena cordial
Makes about 1 litre
Pale and translucent in colour, this cordial has a sharp and fragrant bite to it.
280g/9oz caster sugar
1 litre/13/4 pints water
6 sprigs lemon verbena
Wash the gooseberries under cold running water, then place in a pan with the sugar and water.
Bruise the lemon verbena by gently hitting it with a rolling pin or the handle of a knife. This helps to intensify and release the flavour. Add the branch to the pan and place over a medium heat.
Bring to the boil. Turn down and simmer for 10 minutes or until the gooseberries are tender.
Pass through a colander, pressing down firmly on the fruit as you do so to release maximum flavour.
Allow to cool and store in the fridge.
Makes 3 litres (5 pints)
Peach jam is one of my favourites: sweet, chunky slices of peach suspended in syrup are delicious on crusty sourdough toast with lashings of unsalted butter.
2.5kg/5lb just-ripe peaches
The juice and zest of 3 lemons
11/2kg/3lb caster sugar
3 vanilla beans
Wash and cut the peaches, then crack the stones of two and take out the kernels in the middle. Lightly crush the kernels to release their nutty flavour and set aside.
Place the chopped peach and the lemon juice into a saucepan. Add the salt – this will bring out the flavour of the fruit – and simmer very gently for 20 minutes. Add the sugar, stirring to combine.
Once the sugar has dissolved, turn up the heat and boil rapidly until setting point is reached. Once you think it might be ready, do the "wrinkle test". Place a spoonful of jam on a saucer in the fridge for a few minutes to cool. Run a finger through the jam: if the surface wrinkles, it's ready. If not, return to the stove and boil swiftly.
Add the cracked kernels and allow the jam to rest for 20 minutes for even fruit and juice distribution. Spoon into warm, sterilised jars.