Plums and berries and gout, oh my!

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The week has passed goutily.

I know. I’m sorry. There’s nothing more tedious than people moaning about their ailments. But the trouble is that as a result of said gout, I’ve been more or less housebound all week, and able to do little more than fester on the sofa watching cricket.

How does this differ from what I would have done had I not been so afflicted?, I hear you ask. Go away, you hear me answer.

Anyway, this week it’s gout or cricket.

Thought so.

The doctor asked me, when I went on Thursday to beg for stronger drugs, about my diet. The brief silence before I replied was eloquence itself. She knew. They always know.

Things gout sufferers are supposed to be careful about eating – because of their purine content, which raises uric acid levels in the blood, which causes excess acid to crystallise in your joints, which, well, you know, OUCH – include offal, shellfish, oily fish, red meat, red wine, beer, mushrooms, cauliflower (wut?), asparagus (double wut??) and many others.

Things from the list that I actually avoid include offal and shellfish, the really big hitters in the world of purine-rich comestibles. I love them but can manage without. But there, I’m afraid, it ends. I’m usually very good for a few weeks after a bout of gout (or, as Canadians pronounce it, a boat of goat), but my will is weak, and naughty things are delicious.

It’s not that you can stop being a gout sufferer with diet alone – there are drugs you can take to control the uric acid levels in your blood on a longterm basis, but my attacks have (so far) not been frequent enough to merit their prescription – but the evidence points towards certain foods and drinks acting as a trigger.

So, to paraphrase Sir Steve Redgrave, if you ever see me scoffing a lobster and kidney ragù topped with chanterelles and asparagus and swilled down with five pints of Dingwall’s Old Scrofulous, you have my permission to tut noisily. And not just on gastronomic grounds.

All this means that I’ve been eating more healthily. In truth, I’ve had little choice, because at the moment it seems as if every time Tessa goes to the allotment she comes back with what I believe is known as a metric fucktonne of green beans, beetroot, spinach, carrots, potatoes, lettuce and other distressingly healthy fare. And while we’re perfectly happy to let the cabbage that came in the veg box three weeks ago fester unto wilting at the back of the fridge, not to eat your own produce seems just rude.

At this time of year, and especially with London’s weather doing that warm and rainy July thing it does every year but that people still get uppity about, as if because it’s July they have the right to constant sunshine and for God’s sake HOW LONG HAVE YOU ACTUALLY LIVED IN BRITAIN ok I’ve calmed down now where was I?

Oh yes. This time of year. It’s easy to think of July as high summer, but the rotation of the seasons is constant, and the first harbingers of autumn have already manifested in the form of a further fucktonne of blackberries, foraged from the aforementioned allotment’s fringe areas, and a shitehundredweight of plums, donated by a kindly and plum-weary fellow allotmenteer.

A fraction of a fucktonne of plums
Free food! And no scratches.

I love a blackberry. And I love a plum. And at the moment there are a lot of both on which to lavish my affection. So yesterday, released from the worst of my affliction, I hobbled around the kitchen doing things to them to make them even more delicious than they already are. I share the recipes, nicked from Nigel Slater but tweaked a bit, below.

The cooking was fun, but the highlight of the afternoon was my first glimpse of our swifts for a few days. They swooped and swerved with such vigour that I’m convinced they were flying between the raindrops.

If I seem obsessed with swifts, it’s because I am. There are so many reasons to be obsessed with them. Their constant flight, for one thing; the brevity of their stay, for another; the fact that the ones that have nested under the eaves this year are almost certainly the same ones as last year and the year before that; and the simply mind-boggling distances they’re capable of flying (about 500 miles a day, they reckon – no, you get out of here).

Anyway, they were a welcome distraction from my plum-pitting and onion-slicing, and it makes me sad that they’ll be leaving in a couple of weeks.

Enough. Here are your recipes.

Plum Chutney
This should do you for a while. Or put it in posh jars with a bit of ribbon and give it to people for their birthday. I fiddled with Nigel’s proportions and doubled the amounts. We’ve still got another couple of kilos of plums.

750g plums
300g onions
150g raisins
250g muscovado sugar (light or dark, depending on tastes)
½ teaspoon crushed dried chilli
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
200 ml cider vinegar
100 ml malt vinegar
a cinnamon stick

Quarter the plums. Chop the onions. How large or small your various chunks are depends on what texture you like your chutney. I’d go for larger bits of plum and smaller bits of onion, but that’s me.

Put everything into a large pan, bring to the boil and turn down the heat so it’s all bubbling away gently. Nigel says to cook for an hour, but at that point it felt too liquid to me, so I let it putter away on the stove for another ninety minutes, which seems like a long time but on this occasion worked perfectly. The result is a nice sticky chutney, but you do have to stir and scrape from time to time to stop it from catching on the bottom of the pan.

Apple and Blackberry Betty
A kilo of apples, peeled and cored, obviously (I experimented with a mixture of apples and pears, which is what we had knocking about the place. It did quite nicely)

30g butter
A quarter fucktonne of blackberries (or about 150g, say)

For the topping
150g breadcrumbs
75g brown sugar, soft if you like
100g butter
4 tablespoons golden syrup, although how you measure golden syrup in tablespoons I’m not quite sure, because of sticky dribblage, but, you know, dip it in four times and then add a bit.

Oven to 190.

Cut the apples into good chunks, then give them a light-to-medium toss with the butter and enough water just to moisten. Add the blackberries when the chunks are beginning to take on a bit of colour. Don’t cook the blackberries for more than five seconds.

What I did at this stage was to whizz a couple of handfuls of blackberries and raspberries in the blender and stir the resulting coulis into the fruit. But you needn’t do this.

Tip the lot into a baking dish. Nigel says a 1.5 litre baking dish, but I don’t know how big that is, and we don’t actually have that many baking dishes, so use the one you always use for this kind of thing. Mix the crumbs and sugar and cover the fruit loosely with this mixture. Melt the butter and golden syrup in a small pan, stir, and pour over the crumbs, trying to make sure the breadcrumbs all get soaked. This is the bit I’m bad at.

Bake. Again, Nigel says for 35 minutes, but he’s probably got a better oven than I have, so I reckon 45 will do it. But you know how your oven works, and what it should look like when it’s done.

You’ll serve it with double cream, obviously.

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  1. Oh right – I am allergic to all forms of vinegar (and alcohol) but the Betty sounds good – try it with almond meal in the topping mix sometime. I promise you it is good!

  2. Reading between the lines, 1 fucktonne = 2.4kg. A shitehundredweight remains an intriguing mystery.

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