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It all started with a tweet, a tweet that  felt very much like a challenge.

Tweet

Naturally I clicked on the link. Jackie Cameron had just posted a selection of her savoury ice creams. How thrilling. The flavours just begging to be tasted.  There was the tweeted-about baked bean ice cream, biltong, red onion, Maltabella, Parma ham and Parmesan ice cream. All of them, except the Maltabella ice cream which is a breakfast ice cream, served with hot soup. Now I have eaten ice cream for breakfast but I haven’t ever dreamed of putting it in soup.

Who could resist the idea of savoury ice cream in a soup? The hot and cold mix, the element of surprise and the added blast of flavour. How brilliant.

Di couldn’t possibly have known that at the very minute that I got her tweet, I was surrounded by recipe books and was googling like mad trying to work out the menu for a drinks party. This was clearly the answer to my quest for something that would make the food a little different, something special, slightly unexpected.

Soup served in a glass would be the ideal addition to my menu.  But which flavour ice cream? I felt compelled to try the baked bean version. And because I’m on a mission to find ways of using lovage, I could make the recommended potato soup and flavour it with lovage. With maybe a garnish of lovage tempura.

Lovage DSCF7018

Good, but not good enough. This was a fattening soup, what about all the dieting, banting, no carb people? The mere addition of ice cream to a soup would be an affront to anyone watching their weight. Maybe I should make a second option that would be slightly less horrifying to a dieter?  I could make a consommé with granita. That would satisfy the dieters.

Nope, I wasn’t going to do that. It didn’t feel festive and of course I was drawn to the savoury ice cream.  A fresh healthy green option using some of the tons of mint in the garden at the moment would be nice.  Mint and pea, of course, is always good. So which ice cream would be best with it? I wanted to keep the soups vegetarian so I immediately eliminated the Parma ham and biltong ice creams.  Parmesan ice cream it would be. Jackie recommends serving the Parmesan ice cream with a courgette soup so I decided on pea, courgette and mint soup, drizzled with a mint oil.

Mint

I was a little worried about serving hot soup in summer but thought the evening could well be cool and the ice cream would of course mean the soup wouldn’t be piping hot.  It might even be raining. It’s summer on the highveld, after all. Maybe it wouldn’t even be warm enough to sit outside.

Friday was a searingly hot day. Much of the vegetable garden wilted in the heat. I could hardly bring myself to go outside. It was cooler standing at the stove frying multiple pans of blini. Maybe I’d been stupid to think of a hot soup in summer. I’d been seduced by the savoury ice cream and hadn’t really thought things through. The snacks were going to be a flop. Should I abandon the soup and dash out and buy something? A platter of antipasti? There was no time for this. I just had to make what I had work.

I spent the entire day vacillating between hot, room temperature, chilled, hot, room temperature, chilled. I didn’t want to ruin the drama of the hot/frozen contrast. What to do? I could wait until 5pm and then decide. Maybe it would have cooled down or poured with rain by then.

But then my guinea pig came into the kitchen for a quick late lunch. I served him the two soups – cold from the fridge – with the ice cream. He declared them delicious.

And later that evening all the guests did, too.

Pea Courgette Soup Parmesan ice cream sm

Today is much cooler, it might even rain. Hot soup with cold ice cream is definitely on the menu. Well, that’s if there’s any ice cream left after my mid-afternoon baked bean and Parmesan ice cream sundae. Wish I’d made the Parma ham ice cream too.potatoe  BB ice cream sm

Click here for the Parmesan ice cream recipe and here for the baked bean ice cream recipe.

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The history of the prickly pear, Opuntia ficus-indica,  seems to mirror the prickly pear itself –  a contentious fruit, both loved and hated – sometimes simultaneously, difficult but ultimately rewarding.

Native to Mexico and surrounding areas  it seems that the prickly pear arrived in South Africa in the mid eighteenth century  and is considered both a scourge as well as a godsend according to Luvuyo Wotshela and William Beinart in Prickly Pear – A Social History of a Plant in the Eastern Cape. I was so taken by the review I read, The phenomenal, pliable, palatable prickly pear!,  that I bought and downloaded the book immediately.

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The prickly pear has travelled through South African history on a roller coaster of popularity. From being a valuable protection against scurvy, a fodder for animals and an impenetrable fence to being an invasive alien that spread itself over millions of acres. And now  it is a gourmet food exported to food lovers in France and a crop that is likely to prove to be of huge value with increasing global warming. All the while the fruit has been prized as a typically South African ingredient used in beer and witblits, syrups and jams as well as medicinally.

My mother spent much of her childhood in the Eastern Cape and always spoke fondly of  eating prickly pears and swimming in farm dams overhung with Acacia Karoo. In my childhood we had a prickly pear plant at the bottom of our garden in Kyalami and my younger sister and I, out on one of our regular forays into the veld, decided to harvest some of the fruits as a surprise for our mother. We had no receptacle with us so we scooped up our matching floral skirts(cut down from frocks made for a special Volkspele occasion at our school)and gathered piles of the fruits into them. We raced up to the house yelling with excitement for our mother to come to the kitchen to see our wonderful harvest. No sooner had we tumbled the mountain of prickly pears onto the yellow Formica table than we were weeping with the pain of the hundreds of spines embedded in our legs and tummies.

That incident caused me to be wary of prickly pears. Although I was still infected with my mother’s fondness and nostalgia for the fruit that evoked what seemed like a perfect childhood. 

My most recent harvest of prickly pears landed on my black granite kitchen counter in a box, thankfully despined, courtesy of, and with great thanks to, my Limpopo friend Merle of Barok and her very generous sister. 

Prickly pears

Merle said prickly pears should really be eaten ice cold so into the fridge they went. That night we scattered the gem-like discs into a simple green salad that was the perfect accompaniment to roast chicken done the Nico Ladenis way – with honey, black pepper and tarragon. I have been using this recipe as my preferred method for roasting chicken since I first came upon it in an article entitled Cooking the Books by Phillipa Cheifitz in the November 1989 edition of South African Cosmopolitan. I have never actually followed the recipe slavishly. For instance, I never have and never will use just one sprig of tarragon. I stuff the entire cavity with as much tarragon as possible – more like six stalks of it. I often omit the butter and even forgot the fact that the recipe included garlic What I do is always use way more honey and black pepper than the recipe instructs.

Nico Ladenis chicken

A couple of days flew by and I started feeling guilty about the prickly pears in the fridge so I went to my usual resource, Google, to see what else I could do with them. None of my trusted online advisors, Hugh and Yottam, came up with anything – but Bonnie Stern did. The prickly pear with goats cheese, lime and mint salad that emerged for supper that night was the freshest, most delicious combination of ingredients you could imagine.

prickly pear with goat cheese

Sticking to the salad theme  the following night I stir-fried some chicken breasts and served them on a bed of lettuce, coriander, couscous and lentils. Then I added the gem-like discs of prickly pear and served the salad with a lightly curried honeyed dressing.

Prickly pear with lightly curried chicken

I turned the remaining prickly pears into a glorious golden jelly infused with rosemary, black peppercorns and bay leaves.

jelly - prickly pear

The jelly is delicious with:

  • Cheese
  • Lamb steaks. Glaze with the jelly and roast at a very high heat on a bed of fresh rosemary and bay leaves with generous grindings of black pepper and coarse salt
  • Mushroom ragout and polenta

prickly pear with lamb steaks

In the near future I’ll definitely  be trying a prickly pear cake! (p 232 of  Prickly Pear – A Social History of a Plant in the Eastern Cape) And I’m sorely tempted by these prickly pear jelly sweets.

The only challenge remaining – where is my next prickly pear harvest going to come from?