I stared down. Bits of strawberry and nectarine and globs of semi-set jelly lay strewn all over the work surface. It had been supposed to be “fruit terrine”, which used to be something of a dinner party stunner way back in the Seventies.
The idea was that you made a jelly with a bottle of dessert wine, in which carefully sliced sections of fruit floated. I used to make mine in a bread tin lined with clingfilm, which made it easier to turn out. Then I would freeze it slightly to make it easier to slice into trim mosaic tiles of jelly and fruit, before laying each one on a plate and sploshing a little orange custard – sorry, crème anglaise – around for artistic effect. It was one of those puds you could make well in advance, keep the plates in the fridge and serve up with throwaway sang-froid. Actually, it tasted pretty good, too, I seem to remember. Only, this time, the jelly hadn’t jellied. It had only semi-set. Worse than that, it happened in a room full of people watching me. This was the one and only time I ever gave a cookery lesson.
Oh yes. I have learned to embrace failure as an old friend, and ride the slings and arrows of culinary fortune. Why is it that people remember your disasters with a relish and clarity that they never apply to recalling your triumphs? Nothing I have done in recent years has given my friends and family quite as much joy as my starring role as one of Rick Stein’s Food Heroes? I whipped the top off a pot of brawn about which I had been boasting perhaps more than was wise, only to reveal a fine crop of chinchilla-coloured mould to his startled gaze and the camera’s unblinking eye. Ah me, happy days.
So there I was, staring at this blobby mess and fruit bits in a room of tittering ladies. Then I remembered my own words –“Do not be afraid of failure. Only you know what the dish is supposed to look like. And if things get really bad, just call it something else.”
I reached for a bowl. I scraped all the jelly bits into it. I took a few leaves of basil from a plant on the windowsill and rapidly cut them into thin slivers. I called for a soup plate and carefully late a few slices of nectarine and strawberries over the bottom of it. I scattered the basil on top. Then I ladled some of the semi-set jelly into the bowl. It winked and blinked like a rock pool of golden seawater.
“There,” I said triumphantly, “consommé de vin au fruit d’êté – consommé of wine with summer fruits.”
The effect of this concoction is exquisite. The cool, semi-set jelly trembles for a moment on the tongue before the heat in the mouth begins to melt it and it returns to its pure liquid form as it slides down the throat. I haven’t specified the amount of fruit. You don’t need a lot – one nectarine or peach will easily do four people, for example.
1 75cl bottle of the cheapest sweet white wine (Spanish moscatel does very nicely, as does a grapey Asti)
1 tsp gelatine
Mixed fruit – strawberries, nectarines, peaches, pears, blackberries, blueberries
16 basil leaves
Pour the wine into a saucepan and bring to a gentle heat. It shouldn’t get too hot or it will lose some of its flavour, but it must be hot enough to dissolve the gelatine. Add the gelatine and stir to dissolve. Pour the mixture into a bowl and leave in a cool place to set.
Some time before you need to serve, peel and slice the nectarines/peaches/pears and divide up the slices and other fruit among the plates. Slice the basil leaves into thin strips and scatter over the top. Stir the jelly to break it up, and divide up among the plates.