Fruits of labour from the garden

BERRY BLISS: Summer crumble with berries.
BERRY BLISS: Summer crumble with berries.

A huge effort has reclaimed my garden from a lazy summer death.

Those bits that were brown have been plucked out, with flowers, lettuces and favourite herbs dropped into bare spots.

The stifling Auckland humidity - coupled with the scorching sun and a bonny baby - has led me to dubious luxuries.

TASTE OF SUMMER: A little effort leads to a berry tasty result. 
TASTE OF SUMMER: A little effort leads to a berry tasty result. 

I have been sneaking out to the hardware store under the guise of work, pushing Rosa through the pretty flowers while drinking coffee and loading up the pushchair with seedlings.

In the evenings, it is weeding - baby monitor tucked in belt - grateful for a squeak of personal space. Having another member of the family to feed has reinvigorated my enjoyment of the garden in more ways than one.

On top of this, our house is about to be sold. The old transient me has swung into action.

Again I hope for a tolerant landlord who might allow a bit of scratching in the dirt by me and a few chickens. Fearing the worst, planter pots (purchased on my morning sojourns) have sprung up about the place, crammed with plants to travel with us.

A full complement of herbs in window boxes by the kitchen has made me realise how reluctant I am to walk 15 steps to my vegetable plot. Twice as many herbs grace our meals now that I have only to lean out the door for a handful of tasty leaves.

What I will miss next year is my established berry plants.

Some may argue, but from my experience strawberry plants are best in their second year.

I will also miss our raspberry canes as a fresh, plump raspberry runs rings around a plastic-packed, bought one.

Therefore, as a final celebration of berries before the season ends, I have created this divine custardy pud, which was inspired by a dish of the same name on the menu at The Duke of Marlborough in my home town, Russell. The namesake is clever, with foams and a creamy vanilla soup, but my homemade version is firmer and easier for the home cook.

It does involve making creme patissiere (also known as confectioner's custard), a thickened custard useful to the home baker, especially good when piped into a chocolate eclair. This is the one instance when it is OK to put flour or cornflour into a custard as it is supposed to be very thick. For a lighter thickened custard, fold through whipped egg whites instead of cream. Crushed amaretti biscuits and maple-roasted pecans form the crumble.

As a farewell to summer berries, it is almost too good for words.

Summer crumble recipe


1 cup milk

Seeds from ½ vanilla pod

2 free range eggs, yolks only

2 Tbsp caster sugar

1 Tbsp flour

1 Tbsp cornflour

½ cup cream, whipped until soft

3 cups mixed fresh berries, hulled and cleaned

70g pecans

½ tsp flour

2 Tbsp maple syrup

6-8 small amaretti biscuits


In a small saucepan bring the milk and vanilla nearly to the boil - you will see little bubbles forming around the edge. Remove from the heat; do not let it boil.

Whisk together yolks, caster sugar and a little of the scalded milk in a large bowl, whisk until pale. Beat in flours, then the remaining hot milk.

Clean the pan used for the milk. Return the mixture to the pan and, stirring continuously, bring to the boil. Keep stirring even if it gets lumpy, give it a good quick stir and don't worry too much as you'll blend it up later.

Pour into a bowl to cool and lay a piece of baking paper on the surface to prevent a skin forming. Chill for about two hours (it can be made the day before).

Whiz custard mixture in a blender until smooth and then fold through the cream. Chill for two hours or until ready to serve.

Coat the pecans with the flour and maple syrup and spread on a lined baking tray. Bake at 180C for 7-10 minutes until caramelised. Cool. Chop roughly. Layer custard into glasses with the berries and sprinkle with crushed amaretti biscuits and pecans.

Makes: 4 large or 6 medium desserts

Preparation time: 25 minutes (includes cooking time)

Chilling time: 4 hours

Sunday Star Times