Currant Favourites

Currants galore

There’s a time of year when everything seems to come ready at once – everything in the soft fruit department, that is. Just as the raspberries were coming fast and furious, all the currants – red, white and black – AND the gooseberries suddenly reached peak ripeness and demanded to be picked and eaten. Cue many hours of harvesting and bowls of fruit borne home for freezing/processing, eating just as they are. A boon, really, but it is also a bit daunting to have so much in one go! Then , just as quickly as they come, you go away for a weekend (my future daughter-in-law’s hen weekend no less!) and come back to bushes stripped clean. I don’t know how the blackbirds do it, but they seem to find a way under the nets every year. Fortunately, I’d picked the majority by then, so I don’t mind sharing some of my bounty with the allotment wildlife.

What to do with all this produce? The usual suspects of jam and freezer, of course, but I also experimented this year with a couple of recipes I’ve been meaning to try for a long time. My younger son and his girlfriend are staying this month, between lets, so a great excuse to cook more elaborate dishes than I’d normally do for myself.

Blackcurrants are one of my favourite soft fruits and rather than stick to the standard pies, crumbles and fools, I had a couple of interesting recipes on my list: Nigel Slater’s blackcurrant trifle and a delicious-sounding blackcurrant & liquorice sorbet that took me right back to the sweet shops of my childhood.

Blackcurrant Trifle – serves 8

Blackcurrant trifle

500g blackcurrants
3 tbsp caster sugar
4 tbsp water

250g sponge cake (I used half a Victoria sponge I happened to have in the freezer, but you could use trifle sponges or bought cake)
100g amaretti biscuits
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 large egg, separated
vanilla extract, 1/2 tsp
300ml double cream
2-3 amaretti biscuits, crumbled, to garnish

Strig the currants and put in a pan with 3 tbsp caster sugar (or to taste) and the water. Cook gently for 7-10 minutes until soft and juicy. Remove from the heat.

Break the sponge into pieces and put into a trifle dish with the amaretti biscuits. Spoon the hot blackcurrants over the base and leave to cool.

Put the egg yolk and sugar into a bowl and mix, then stir in the mascarpone and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk the cream until it forms soft swirls, then fold lightly into the mascarpone mix. Finally whisk the egg white until it forms stiff peaks and fold that into the cream mixture.

Spoon the mascarpone custard over the cool blackcurrant base and refrigerate for a few hours before serving. Decorate with crumbled amaretti biscuits for added crunch.

Blackcurrant & Liquorice Sorbet

Blackcurrant and liquorice sorbet

200g granulated sugar
200g water
450g blackcurrants
Juice of 1 lemon
25ml aniseed liqueur (I used Marie Brizard, but ouzo or pastis would work too – or leave it out if you prefer)
1 tbsp liquorice powder (I ordered this online, but specialist Asian shops might stock it too)
1 egg white

Dissolve the granulated sugar in the water over a low heat and cook for 5 minutes or so. Leave to cool and form a sugar syrup.

Strig the blackcurrants (no need to remove all the stalks as they will be sieved afterwards) and put in a small pan with the lemon juice. Cook gently for 5 -10 minutes until soft. Add the aniseed liqueur. Purée the fruit mixture in a liquidiser, then press through a sieve.

Transfer to an ice cream maker and churn for 20 minutes, then fold in the stiffly whipped egg white for the last 20 minutes. (Alternatively, fold in the egg white straightaway and freeze in a container for 1-2 hours, whizz again in a food processor and return to the freezer until set.) The alcohol gives the sorbet a lovely texture and means it can be served virtually straight from the freezer. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

Super breakfasts

It’s at this time of year that breakfasts become a real treat with all the soft fruit from the garden. Such bliss to have a constant supply of strawberries, raspberries and currants of all hues to perk up my breakfast bowl of muesli and yogurt. This year, I’ve even had masses of alpine strawberries some days too. This week it’s the turn of raspberries to take the abundance top spot. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them so plentiful: the canes are weighed down with fruit, hiding under the leaves, dripping with crimson loveliness. I’ve been picking pounds at a time, with plenty for jam (one of my absolute favourites and ideal for beginners, as it is cooked for a very short and defined time, so no worries about getting the set right), desserts of all kinds and ample left over for breakfast.

This jam recipe is adapted from my ancient – and falling-to-pieces – Good Housekeeping cookery book. I still refer to it for staple things like jam-making and this must be one of the first jams I ever made when I started preserving soon after I got married in 1983. I’d like to say I still have the same preserving pan I bought as a set from Good Housekeeping, but I managed to burn the base irredeemably with a particularly sticky chutney some years ago, so now use by mother’s identical model. Now in her 80’s, she hasn’t felt the urge to make jam for quite some time, and is happy to have my frequent contributions to her larder! I do still have the jam funnel, jelly bag and stand, and long wooden spoon though – not bad after 34 years’ service!

Easy Raspberry Jam – makes 6-7 jars

Raspberry jam cooking

3lb raspberries
3.5lb granulated sugar

Simmer the fruit very gently in a large preserving pan until the juice runs – this has to be one of the most tantalising aromas ever! Then bring to the boil and cook for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, warm the sugar for a few minutes – I use the microwave. Add to the fruit and stir until dissolved, then bring back to a rollicking boil and cook for precisely 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour into sterilised jars (see here for method), then cover with waxed circles/cellophane as usual. Another perfect filling for a traditional Victoria sponge, or served with hot buttered crumpets for breakfast…

Raspberry jam jar

I usually buy Dorset Cereals muesli (Simply Nutty variety), but it seems to have been getting increasingly expensive lately, along with a lot of other food (gee thanks, Brexit 😦 ), so I’ve been thinking for a while about making my own granola. A quiet spell this week gave me the impetus to give it a go. Many of the recipes I found had honey in, a real no-no for me, so I ended up cobbling together my own recipe based on various sources: Nigella Lawson, BBC Good Food and various other websites. The result is scrumptious, not too sweet, but nutty and crunchy at the same time – and I’m sure it has a lot less sugar than the oversweet and ridiculously expensive bought varieties.

Granola

Granola

2 tbsp olive oil
125ml maple syrup
2 tbsp agave nectar (or honey if you’re that way inclined)
1 tsp vanilla extract
300g oats
50g golden linseeds
50g pumpkin seeds
4 tbsp sesame seeds
100g flaked almonds
1 tsp cinnamon
100g dried cranberries (or dried fruit of your choice)
50g coconut flakes

Put the olive oil, maple syrup, agave nectar and vanilla extract in a large bowl. Stir in the oats, seeds, nuts and cinnamon (but not the coconut and fruit) and mix well. Spread out on two greased baking trays and bake at 150°C/gas 3 for 15 minutes. Scrape back into the bowl, stir in the coconut and cranberries, then return to the baking sheets and bake for a further 10-15 minutes until starting to colour. Remove from the oven and cool on the trays. Transfer to a large airtight storage container when cool.

Serve with natural yogurt (or milk if you prefer) and lashings of fresh fruit of your choice!

Granola with raspberries

I’ve written before about the redcurrant & raspberry pancakes I make for breakfast in season, but a revelation last weekend, when my younger son was home and in crêpe-making mood, was how delicious normal pancakes are served with just-warmed fresh raspberries and a sprinkling of sugar – divine! We tried them with nutella and raspberries too, but the nutella detracted from the raspberries in my view; now a drizzling of melted dark chocolate might have been a completely different story….

 

 

And more salad…

Poppy in wild flowers June 2017

The hot weather may have come to an abrupt end and the water butts are now replenished, but the salad season continues here. It fits with the burgeoning cut-and-come-again lettuce that reshoots virtually as soon as you’ve picked it – I’ve given bags away to friends and family and still have plenty – with another row coming ready soon. Even so, now, when the heat is off temporarily, is the perfect time to do some more succession sowing of salad crops. Most seeds don’t germinate well in extreme heat and dry conditions, so now’s the time to take advantage of the respite and resow lettuce, rocket, carrots, beetroot, annual herbs and other salad leaves. My parsnip seeds have failed completely this year, both sowings, so I’ll use the space for more carrots and beetroot, both quicker to germinate and grow than parsnips, which need a long growing season. I usually find parsnips incredibly trouble-free, but every five years or so they refuse to cooperate, for whatever reason – growing conditions, the seeds themselves, who knows? Other plotholders have struggled too, so I know it’s not just me.

The tomatoes aren’t quite ready yet, although they are looking phenomenally healthy this year – another couple of weeks, I reckon. I’m growing just two varieties this year, the ever-delicious Sungold and old-fashioned favourite Ailsa Craig. In the meantime, I’ll just have to use bought tomatoes for this recipe, one of my go-to summer salads. I’m not sure where it came from in the first place, as it’s now a much-used page in my recipe scrapbook. I suspect it may have been a Good Housekeeping recipe, tweaked down the line, but basically anything goes.

Warm Mediterranean Chicken Salad (serves 6)

Med chicken salad

200g couscous
300g cherry tomatoes, halved
1 red pepper, chopped
50g black olives, pitted and chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tbsp capers, drained
2 tbsp pesto ( I use homemade broad bean pesto, or Delia’s basil pesto, but bought works well too)
9 tbsp virgin olive oil
1 small, hot cooked chicken (or use 3 chicken breasts, fried in strips for 5-10 minutes)
100g feta cheese, chopped (or use goat’s cheese)
Handful fresh basil leaves
Seasoning
Lettuce or salad leaves to serve

Put the couscous in a bowl, then add 225ml boiling water. Cover and leave to one side for 10 minutes or so.
Mix together the chopped tomatoes, pepper, olives, garlic, capers, pesto and 8 tbsp olive oil in a large bowl. If using a whole chicken, strip the meat from the bones and cut into bitesize pieces, then add to the bowl containing the tomato mixture. Toss gently together and season.
Add the remaining 1 tbsp olive oil to the couscous and mix lightly with a fork. Combine with the tomato mixture, and finally add the chopped feta or goat’s cheese. Sprinkle basil leaves on top. Arrange in a large salad bowl lined with salad leaves and serve so the chicken is still slightly warm, although it tastes good cold too the following day.

Another favourite salad for summer days is a Roasted Vegetable Salad, again served with couscous, although you could use rice instead. Simply chop courgettes, peppers, tomatoes, onions and garlic into chunky pieces (aubergines work well too), sprinkle with fresh basil leaves (or rosemary works well too), drizzle with olive oil and season, then place in a roasting tin and roast at 180°C fan/Gas 5 for 45 minutes or until just starting to brown. Meanwhile steam the couscous as above (100ml of boiling water per 60g couscous per person is my rule of thumb), leaving to stand for 10 minutes or so. Stir in 1 tbsp pesto, then spoon into a serving dish. Top with the roast vegetables, still warm if you like, and sprinkle over some feta or goat’s cheese. Delicious 🙂

Roast veg salad in bowl

Salad Days

Allotment harvest mid-June

We’ve been experiencing an unexpected heatwave here in the South of England for the past week or so, with temperatures over 30°C at their peak. Nothing unusual for many parts of Europe, to be sure, but pretty exceptional in the UK! My house has a north-south axis which works very well in these conditions, especially as my office and bedroom are on the cooler north side of the house, so working and sleeping aren’t too much of an issue.

Watering becomes of paramount importance to a gardener, though. I’m resisting watering twice a day, but trying to water pots and containers at home in the morning, and the raised beds at the allotment in the evening – to spread the load. It’s actually a very enjoyable process, as you can commune with Nature as you water and see what’s newly flowering/germinating/doing well. I’ve managed with water from my water butts so far, but two out of the three at home have now run dry and the allotment butt has been empty for a while – although fortunately water at the allotment comes from a trough and standpipe at the corner of my plot – very convenient! Our yearly subscription covers water costs too, so while it’s not metered to us (although hosepipes aren’t allowed), any huge uptake in usage could theoretically lead to a rise in subs for us all next year, as it is metered to the allotment association.

Allotment poppy June 2017

I love summer evenings up at the allotments: there are always a few people pottering around their plots, it’s incredibly peaceful (apart from my noisy dogs if people dare to walk past “their” plot – sorry, folks) and the sunsets are spectacular. A lesson in mindfulness at the end of a busy day…. This week I’ve managed to mow the grass (trying to keep on top of it so it doesn’t reach jungle proportions again!), get rid of some perennial weeds (docks, blackberries, the dreaded convolvulus) that were encroaching on the paths, do some weeding around newly planted beds and keep up with the harvesting: strawberries, raspberries and redcurrants have suddenly started to ripen at a tremendous pace, and the broad beans and lettuce are still going strong. Such a lovely time of year.

I’ve even made some comfrey tea for use as a fertiliser in three weeks’ time when it has steeped sufficiently. Having lost my comfrey patch a few years back, a healthy-loooking clump has sprung up near the communal bonfire site, so I swapped a wheelbarrow full of weeds for a barrow overflowing with comfrey leaves, stuffed them in an old chicken pellet container (with a lid to contain the stench!), covered with water and will leave to brew. It smells vile but the plants love it – and it’s free!

The strawberries have been epic this year – I’ve had enough for breakfast every day and to make strawberry ice cream, strawberry cheesecake, pavlova and Strawberry Coulis for the freezer (just blitzed in a blender with the juice of an orange and 1 tbsp of icing sugar). Yesterday there were even enough for the quintessential summer jam: strawberry & redcurrant to be precise, as the currants add pectin and make for a better set.

Strawberry & Redcurrant Jam – makes 5 standard jars

Strawberry and redcurrent jam

1.2kg strawberries
300g redcurrants (or gooseberries would work too), removed from stalks
1.5kg granulated sugar
Juice of 1 lemon

Hull the strawberries, chopping up any particularly large fruit and put in a preserving pan with the strigged redcurrants. Add the lemon juice and simmer over a low heat for 20-30 minutes or until very soft.

Strawberry jam making

Weigh out the sugar and add, stirring until it dissolves, then turn up the heat to a rollicking boil, stirring as you go. Add a small knob of butter to reduce any froth! Test after 5-10 minutes to see if it has set – I find the best test is to hold your wooden spoon over the pan and when the drips run together to form a bigger drop that breaks off sharply, the jam will be done. Otherwise, have a saucer in the freezer and place a little of the jam on the saucer, cool slightly, then push with your finger: the surface should wrinkle. You will need to take the jam off the heat while you do this test to stop the jam overcooking. Strawberry jam is notoriously fiddly to set, so test little and often. Mine was ready after just 5-6 minutes in yesterday’s heat.

When set, pour the jam into prepared jars (washed and sterilised in the oven on a low heat), cover with waxed circles and lids, then label when cool. Set aside for the perfect accompaniment for traditional Victoria sponges and scones with jam & clotted cream over the coming summer months…

When the weather is this hot, though, salads are the way to go. Quite apart from the fact that I’ve been getting back from the allotment so late that cooking isn’t an option, it’s really too hot to contemplate cooking. I love experimenting with whatever I have in the fridge or bring back from the plot, resulting in some delicious combinations. Lunch today was a refreshing Melon, Strawberry & Feta Salad served on a bed of mizuna with dill and mint to garnish – sublime! With Galia melon (not my own!), two kinds of strawberries (the large allotment variety and tiny alpine strawberries that run with gay abandon in one border at home), drizzled with a splash of extra virgin olive oil and a hint of balsamic vinegar, this really hit the spot for a cooling, yet tasty lunch. The salty chalkiness of the feta and the slight bitterness of the mizuna were a perfect foil for the sweet and juicy fruit.

Strawberry and melon salad

Other salad combinations have included Baby Broad Beans & Griddled Halloumi with toasted pine kernels and rocket, with a chilli, mint and lemon dressing, and my perennial favourite, Bauernsalat (farmer’s salad), inspired by one of our best-loved holiday hotels, the Tennis Hotel in St. Wolfgang, Austria, which simply consists of crispy fried bacon and potatoes scattered on a bed of fresh salad, with a herby yogurt dressing to accompany. So good – worth cooking extra new potatoes especially to make this! Anything goes – experimenting is half the fun. If something doesn’t work particularly well, just leave it out next time – but with fresh and homegrown produce, chances are it will all taste sublime.

Allotment sunset

Pasticcio – perfect ways with roast lamb

Storm damage June 2017

I was fully intending to go to dance this evening, but a trickily formatted text took longer than I expected and by the time I’d walked the dogs, I was already late. Instead, I decided to make the most of the sun that had finally appeared on this wet and windy June day – much needed rain for the gardens, I should add. It was just a bit of a shock after all the lovely sunny days of late!

Rather than leaping about to funky dance routines, I repaired the damage I’d wreaked at the weekend when dashing outside in the dark to pick some mint for a mint tea and clumsily knocking over one of the trays of leeks I’d carefully pricked out only the previous weekend. Typical! Then I salvaged some of the day’s storm damage by tying in madly waving clematis and climbing roses and harvested a top-heavy allium and some floppy rose stems that had been flattened by the wind. The upside of storm damage is a vase of beautiful flowers for the house. This particular rose, David Austin’s Generous Gardener, is a beautiful shell pink, but very vigorous in its growth habits, despite being cut down very low each spring.

I usually have an omelette or a meal from the freezer (made earlier by my own fair hands, of course!) when I go to dance, so today was an ideal opportunity to cook from scratch instead and use up the leftover meat from Sunday’s roast lamb. This evening’s dish is based on a recipe in a Milk Marketing Board leaflet I’ve had since the early 80s. A friend gave it to me then, so it may even date back to the late 70s, but I do still refer to it from time to time. Called “Clever with Cream”, it extols the virtues of cooking with cream and every page has a heading beginning with ‘C’ – tonight’s was Cashwise with Cream, for a supposedly economical recipe. Cooking with leftover roast meat is very thrifty, of course, but delicious too.

Pasticcio (or Pastitsio) is a Greek-inspired dish, although I don’t claim this to be in any way authentic. I’ve had it in Greece, certainly, but this is my take on the original recipe, tweaked and adapted over the years, to suit whatever I have available in the fridge. I usually make a large dish and freeze what I don’t use immediately, but it’s great for a crowd as you can prepare it earlier, then cook as you need it. You can use fresh meat, rather than roast lamb, and the original recipe suggests using a mixture of pork and beef mince – anything goes!

Pasticcio – serves 6-8

Pasticcio

2 onions, finely chopped
2-3 sticks celery, finely chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large carrot, diced
2 tbsp olive oil
2 bay leaves
1 tsp cinnamon
fresh herbs, finely chopped, to taste (I used rosemary, thyme and parsley, but the original recipe suggests dried oregano – very 70s!)
300-450g roast lamb (entirely flexible; use what you have! Or use fresh lamb mince if you prefer, but cook for longer initially)
1 large tin chopped tomatoes
red wine (to taste)
1 tbsp pesto (optional – I had some of last week’s broad bean pesto in the fridge, that’s all!)
2 tbsp tomato purée
250ml vegetable stock – as required
seasoning
225g macaroni (or penne/fusilli pasta)
60g butter
450ml milk
40g plain flour
freshly grated nutmeg
150g Cheddar cheese, grated
100ml single cream
1 egg

Fry the chopped onion, celery, carrots and garlic gently in a glug of olive oil until nicely softened and golden. Meanwhile, chop the roast lamb roughly in a food processor, then stir into the sautéed vegetables. Cook for another two minutes, then add the tinned tomatoes and tomato purée (and pesto if using). Stir in the cinnamon, bay leaves and herbs, then add a glug of red wine and some stock. Roast meat tends to absorb the liquid as it cooks, so you may need to top up as it simmers – with either wine or stock, as you prefer! Season and leave to simmer for 10-20 minutes while you get on with the rest.

Cook the macaroni or other pasta in a large pan of boiling, salted water for 10 minutes. Drain, then return to the pan with 20g of the butter and freshly ground pepper and leave to one side, covered.

Meanwhile, prepare the Béchamel sauce: I have to confess I don’t measure out the ingredients for a traditional white sauce, just do it by eye, but I have noted the quantities from the original recipe if you’re less familiar with the process. Melt the remaining 40g butter in a saucepan, then stir in 40g plain flour and cook for a minute or so. Gradually stir in the milk, using a small wire whisk to prevent lumps, then add grated nutmeg and 50g grated cheese and season well. Turn off the heat and stir 1-2 tbsp of sauce into the meat mixture.

Place half the cooked pasta in the bottom of a greased rectangular lasagne dish and sprinkle with 1 tbsp grated cheese. Top with the meat mixture, then spoon the remaining macaroni on top. Finally, stir the cream into the white sauce (can be omitted for a less creamy result – or use yogurt instead) and then the beaten egg. Pour the sauce over the contents of the dish, covering all the pasta, and top with any remaining grated cheese.

Cook in a pre-heated oven at 180°C (fan) / Gas 5 for 25-30 minutes until nicely browned on top and piping hot. Leave to stand for a minute or so to allow it to set a little for slicing into portions, then serve in squares with a green salad. Enjoy! Freezes beautifully too.

Pasticcio serving with salad

The worse part of this recipe is the washing up, as it uses so many pans, but no more than a traditional lasagne and very much worth the effort. I usually try and wash up while it’s in the oven, rather than leaving it all until afterwards. Unless you have a willing sous-chef, of course – cooking with my mother around is always a delight as she constantly washes and dries up :-). This is cooking with leftovers at its best. So good.

Germination Blues

Alliums

It’s been a funny start to the growing season – but then don’t we gardeners say that every year, no matter what the conditions?! This year feels to have been trickier than most, however, not helped by my having been away or otherwise engaged (son’s wedding plans gathering pace…) for the last three weekends. The second half of May is always the busiest in a gardener’s calendar, so things down at the plot had really run away with me.

Then there was the unseasonably warm weather over Easter, followed by an unexpectedly sharp frost at the end of April which decimated all my shooting dahlias at the allotment and seems to have had a disastrous effect on germination, both on the ground and in the propagator at home. No sign of carrots or parsnips, sown under fleece at the end of April, and those beetroot that did germinate have been chomped by slugs – unprecedented as beetroot are normally impervious to mollusc attack! In the conservatory, aubergines and tomatoes germinated as usual, as did my sweet peppers, but chillis have been a disaster, with one weedy looking plant, despite a second sowing. Peas and sweet peas too have been very poor, although I suspect the mangetouts sown in the open ground have been the target of mice, rather than solely germination problems. Courgettes and squash have fared little better, resulting in a meagre three courgette plants and four squashes in total, again despite a second sowing. I’m beginning to wonder whether there was something wrong with the seed compost!

Ah well, having returned from my various travels this week, I’ve managed to spend a couple of sessions down at the allotment on the balmy evenings we’ve been having and am finally feeling that order has nearly been restored. I’ve sown more root crops and peas, planted out the sweet peas I bought on offer in Homebase to make up for my poor showing and sown more mangetouts. I’ve weeded the salad crops which were being taken over by chick weed, horrible stuff that it is, and taken out the spent brassicas, flowering spinach and overblown winter rocket to make space for the courgettes, sweetcorn and French beans – this weekend’s job. Oh, and I’ve planted the new dahlias bought from Sarah Raven as tubers earlier in the season and all now making sturdy plants, alongside last year’s in the ground which have recovered, albeit slowly, from their premature frosting. Looking good…. I’m hoping to have some ready for the wedding flowers at the end of July, so fingers crossed.

Basil

On the plus side, the asparagus has been excellent this year and the broad beans are as good as ever. Tonight’s dinner saw me making the first broad bean pesto of the season, but with half mint, half basil, as the basil in the conservatory hasn’t quite reached jungle proportions yet. Delicious in a simple pasta dish with onions, bacon and a few extra broad beans. If you’ve never eaten freshly picked broad beans, there’s just no comparison with the shop-bought or frozen variety – I urge you to give them a go!

This weekend’s first task will be to sow my French beans straight into the ground (no runners this year; now there’s just me, I really prefer the finer taste of the French variety and I certainly don’t need the gluts that invariably accompany runner beans!). I also need to plant up my summer containers at home and mow the allotment grass, always last on my agenda, although it makes such a difference when it’s all neat and tidy. Here’s hoping the weather holds up – happy gardening!

Poppy in the wheat field

Quick bakes

Pett Beach April 2017

A busy bank holiday weekend with family home and my elder son moving house to just up the road (comparatively speaking!) meant I didn’t have much time for baking, but I didn’t want to let the side down with empty cake tins! Cue my very quick and easy rocky road flapjack: dead simple to throw together one evening after cleaning the house and makes enough to take half as a welcome offering. Also gluten-free, which is always a good thing as my son’s fiancée and her mum are both gluten-intolerant.

Saturday was forecast to be the nicest day of the weekend weatherwise, so we headed down to the coast to Pett Level, a fabulous stretch of pebbly beach backed by cliffs, and completely sheltered from the wind on this particular day. Followed up by tea with friends, it was the most perfect afternoon, but left very little time for baking/cooking when we finally got back home, so dinner was quickly assembled freshest Rye scallops on a spinach purée with crispy bacon, salmon fillets with homemade hollandaise sauce, roast asparagus and new potatoes, and a traditional rhubarb pie to finish. It may have been quick, and a joint effort between my younger son and me, but it was also absolutely delicious – and the perfect showcase for seasonal produce.

I barely need to offer a recipe for the pie: just (homemade) buttery shortcrust pastry, rolled out to fit an old-fashioned enamel pie plate, filled with chopped (uncooked) rhubarb – at least 500g, depending how high you want to mound it. It always loses volume when cooked. Don’t forget to sprinkle with 4-5 tbsp sugar, then top with the remaining pastry, seal and trim the edges, glaze with milk (or egg) and a sprinkling of granulated sugar and cook at 200°C (fan) / Gas 6 for 20-25 minutes. It’s certainly not elegant, but it remains one of my favourite desserts for all that; especially the soggy bottom (sorry, Mary) – rhubarb pie wouldn’t be the same without all that delicious syrupy juice at the bottom.

Rhubarb pie
Next day we were all off to my elder son’s to see the new house, and I knew there would be a house full of family and a need for cake as well as a picnic lunch for the workforce! With little time to prepare, lunch was going to be lovely cheese from my local deli, olive sourdough bread and sourdough crackers, and salad with fresh leaves and pea shoots from the allotment. Cake had to be quick, gluten-free and transportable, so with a couple of egg whites in the fridge, left over from last night’s hollandaise sauce, I hit upon these coconut macaroons, a taste from my youth – and ready to go in next to no time.

Coconut & Almond Macaroons – makes 20 or so

Coconut macaroons

2 egg whites
200g caster sugar
100g ground almonds
100g dessicated coconut
75 – 100g good dark chocolate to drizzle

Line 3 baking sheets with baking parchment (I used to use edible rice paper for these when I first made them in the 70s – but they’re much nicer without their papery backing). Set the oven to 160°C (fan) / Gas 4.

Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then gradually whisk in the caster sugar, followed by the ground almonds and coconut. Place heaped teaspoonfuls onto baking trays, spaced well apart to allow for spreading and bake for 15-20 minutes until a light golden colour. Allow to cool.

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate (I use a microwave in short bursts), then drizzle over the macaroons when cooled sufficiently.

Mission accomplished – quick and delicious!

The bank holiday itself was a gloomy day weatherwise, as they so often are, but an excellent opportunity to catch up on potting up and sowing seeds, chilling with the weekend newspapers and generally chatting. We all need days like that. It also gave me a chance to experiment with a recipe I’d been keen to try for a while, since buying  some bone and paw-shaped biscuit cutters in Jeremy’s, Tunbridge Wells’ Aladdin’s cave of a kitchen shop. And yes, I know, who bakes their own dog biscuits?! In my defence, I had some gram flour that was past its sell-by date and needed using, son’s dog, the adorable Ollie, has a sensitive constitution and also does better without gluten, so why not see what I could produce?

Cheddar & Rosemary Dog Treats

Dog bones

225g gram flour
50g grated Cheddar cheese
120ml milk
few sprigs rosemary, chopped leaves

Mix together all the ingredients in a large bowl until they form a soft dough. Adjust liquid or flour until it can be rolled out on a floured surface. Roll out to 1/2cm thick and cut out with your choice of cutter – I’m sure the dogs won’t mind if you haven’t gone a bone cutter!

Bake in the oven at 160°C (fan) / Gas 4, cool, then store in an airtight tin. My dogs seemed impressed – but then anything with cheese in was always going to go down well….

Poppy at Pett

My final baking of the weekend was a snap decision to bake some almond tuiles to accompany our Monday dessert of luscious rhubarb fool (obviously been watching too much Masterchef!). I used plain flour rather than the rice flour I used last time I wrote about this recipe, but both work well.

Rhubarb fool and tuiles_cropped

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