Perfect Picnic Fare – Apple-icious!

Apple treeLast weekend’s Radio 2 Festival in a Day in Hyde Park was the perfect opportunity to pack up a picnic and relish the delights of outdoor eating. We always take a “posh” picnic to this kind of event, along with Wimbledon and Eastbourne tennis championships, and once you’ve set the standard, there’s no going back. Cheese sandwiches and a bag of crisps just won’t cut the mustard!

At this time of year I’m invariably inundated with apples, both at home – Katy – and down at the allotment, where I’ve an ever-bountiful Bramley tree, Greensleeves (my least favourite), a Cox type (variety unknown, but also a prolific fruiter with lovely, large, red/green fruit) and a small Spartan with its characteristic deep red to purplish apples. After last year’s bumper harvest, I thought this year wouldn’t be anywhere near as good, but I’ve had surprisingly healthy crops. The Greensleeves is the only one with very few fruit, and as I’m considering taking it out over winter to make more room for soft fruit on my downsized plot next year, it’s probably no bad thing.

With plenty of apples to go at, my menu for last Sunday was self-evident: a delicious sausage and apple plait, which is one of my family’s favourite picnic treats, and a spicy apple shortbread, which always goes down well with a flask of tea mid-afternoon. Take a box of salad (do NOT add dressing beforehand if you want to avoid soggy leaves!), fresh ciabatta, some upmarket crisps, olives (sadly left behind in the fridge in our case…) and a bottle of nice, chilled wine or beer, and you have the makings of a veritable feast!

Sausage & Apple Plait

350g ready-rolled puff pastry

3 tbsp semolina

500g good sausagemeat

75g Cheddar cheese, grated

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 large cooking apples, grated (add lemon juice to stop browning)

Pinch of paprika

Handful of sage leaves, chopped

Seasoning

1 egg, beaten

Sesame or poppy seeds (optional)

Preheat oven to 200°C/Gas 6. Roll out pastry to a rectangle measuring 26 x 26 cm, neaten edges. Gently mark 3 strips lengthways without cutting through the pastry. Cut the side strips in diagonal sections at 2.5 cm intervals, leaving the centre strip intact. Sprinkle the centre with semolina to stop the pastry becoming soggy during cooking.

Mix together the sausagemeat, onion, apple, cheese, paprika, sage and seasoning. Place the mixture evenly down the centre strip. Dampen the outer strips with water and plait over the filling, folding each strip alternately over the next from each side. Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle over sesame or poppy seeds if wished. Transfer carefully to a greased baking sheet.

Bake in the hot oven for 20 minutes, then lower the temperature to 150°C and cook for a further 40 minutes. Serve warm or cold – delicious!

Spiced apple shortbread

75g butter, softened

40g caster sugar

75g plain white flour

40g semolina

1 large cooking apple, grated

125g sultanas

½ tsp mixed spice

2 tbsp soft brown sugar

1 tsp lemon juice

Icing sugar and lemon juice to ice

Grease a shallow baking tin (18 cm square).

Mix first four ingredients in a food processor or beat with a hand whisk until the mixture forms a ball. Press into the greased tin and prick with a fork. Bake for 15 mins at 180°C or until just golden.

Mix the grated apple, sultanas, spice and brown sugar and spoon onto the cooked shortbread. Cook for a further 15 mins or so, then remove from oven and allow to cool.

Mix up a simple glacé icing with a couple of tbsp sifted icing sugar and lemon juice added until a drizzling consistency is reached. Drizzle in diagonal lines over the shortbread and set before serving, sliced into squares. Leo and Popy in long grass summer 2014

 

 

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Passion for Preserving

Jars, backlit

It’s that time of year again, when the dew stays on the grass until mid-morning and the evenings start getting chilly. Despite pleasantly warm days, it’s feeling undeniably autumnal in the garden as shrubs are starting to colour and the late-season flowers are in full bloom: Aster Mönch has been at its splendiferous peak of lilac perfection for weeks, set off spectacularly by the golden yellow stars of Rudbeckia and the wands of orange and brown Crocosmia. Down at the allotment the harvest is in full swing: plums and apples aplenty, and lots of vegetables just calling out to be preserved for the dank, dark days of winter.

I love preserving: ever since I had my very first house and took to cooking and gardening like a duck to water, I’ve adored the alchemy of converting harvested goodies, preferably grown and picked by my own fair hands, into gleaming jars of jewel-like preserves for the store cupboard. It must be nearly 30 years ago that I was tempted by a Good Housekeeping offer of a preserving set with capacious pan, long-handled wooden spoons, a wide-angled funnel, jelly stand and muslin jelly bag. Bar the pan (which came to a sticky end after an ill-fated and ultimately burnt-on encounter with plum ketchup a few years ago…), I still have the rest – and they come out like clockwork every year. The jelly stand has been worth its weight in gold for straining elderflower cordial and redcurrant and blackberry & apple jelly, all three staples of my kitchen year.

At this time of year, though, it’s the vegetables that are calling out to be preserved. I ring the changes depending on what I have in glut proportions, but here are the three preserves I’ve made in recent weeks:

Chilli dipping sauce

400g granulated sugar

3 chopped chillis (mine are Apache, which I find germinates reliably and produces in abundance in my conservatory, hot but not too hot!)

5 garlic cloves, crushed

250ml cider vinegar

250ml fresh orange juice (3-4 juicing oranges)

Put all the ingredients in a saucepan (you don’t need a preserving pan for this, just a large saucepan will do) and cook over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 20 minutes until syrupy – i.e. when the drips run together when you hold up the spoon over the pan). Leave in the pan for a few minutes to let the chopped ingredients settle, then pour into warm, sterilised jars and seal. I find this makes just enough for a standard 450g jam jar, but you could use two smaller jars if you prefer.

Thanks to Sarah Raven for the recipe!

Chilli dipping sauce

Cucumber Relish

3lb cucumbers

1lb onion

2 green peppers

1 ½oz salt

1pt distilled white vinegar

10oz granulated sugar

2 tsp turmeric

2 tsp black mustard seed

2 tsp ground allspice

1 tsp ground mace

Peel and dice the cucumbers, finely slice onions and finely chop the pepper. Place in a large bowl, sprinkle with the salt and leave overnight, covered with a tea towel. Drain in a colander, rinse in cold water and drain again thoroughly.

Place remaining ingredients in a preserving pan, stir until sugar dissolves, then bring to boil and simmer for 2 mins. Add drained vegetables, bring back to boil and simmer for 4-5 mins, stirring constantly.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer into warm, sterilised jars (using a wide-necked funnel makes life a lot easier!), then top up with any remaining liquid. Seal with cellophane and lids.

Should make 4-5 jars. Ready in one week, but keeps for ages – delicious with cheese and cold meat.

I’ve had this recipe for years (as you can tell by the Imperial measurements!). It’s in my hand-scribbled recipe book, but my notes tell me it came originally from my friend, Bridget, a home economics teacher and keen fellow gardener.

And finally, my younger son’s favourite:

Spiced beetroot and orange chutney

1.5kg raw beetroot, trimmed, peeled and grated (much easier with a food processor; otherwise wear disposable gloves!)

3 red onions, chopped

3 apples, peeled and grated – you can use cooking or eating; whichever you have available!

Zest and juice of 3 oranges

2 tbsp black mustard seeds

1 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tbsp ground cloves

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp salt

700ml red wine vinegar

700g granulated sugar

Mix together all the ingredients in a large preserving pan. Bring to a gentle simmer, then cook for at least 1 ¾ hours until the chutney is thick – or when you draw your spoon down the middle of the mixture, the resulting channel doesn’t immediately fill with liquid. Leave to settle for 10 mins or so off the heat.

Spoon into warm, sterilised jars and seal with cellophane and lids while hot. I find this makes 5 standard jars. It can be eaten straight away, but I think it’s better kept for a few months to mature and then keeps for ages in a cool, dark place. Again, perfect with cheese and cold meat.

Store cupboard

Plum Perfect

It was the allotment barbeque today, an event that always falls “plum” (sorry) in the middle of the main fruit harvest, so I inevitably find myself cooking a plum or apple dessert to take along. I love this annual get-together; despite the fact that there are a good many plots, I often don’t see a soul when I go down, so it’s great to catch up with other plotholders and compare notes, as well as sharing our bounty and tasting others’ delicious recipes from their home-grown produce. I loved the beetroot, bean and toasted hazelnut salad that one friend had prepared today, and the roast vegetable and halloumi kebabs were as good as ever.

I often make an upside-down plum cake with my late-season plums, but fancied a change today, and ended up making a plum Bakewell tart inspired by Sarah Raven’s party plum tart from her “Cooking for Friends & Family”. On checking out the recipe, I realised it used a much larger tart tin than I had available, and probably more ground almonds and eggs than I had lying around on a Sunday morning too. I therefore adapted the recipe with a slight nod to John Tovey’s frangipane tarts in “Wicked Puddings” and more than a hint of my ex-mother-in-law’s original Bakewell tart recipe. I was hoping that there would be some left to have for dinner this evening, but no such luck – it disappeared at the speed of light, although I was able to have a little taste to confirm that it was as good as I’d hoped!

Plum Bakewell Tart

Pastry:

8oz plain flour

2oz butter

2oz lard or vegetable fat

Water

Salt

Filling:

3-4 tbsp jam, preferably homemade – I used plum and blackberry from last year, but any good jam would work.

6oz butter

6oz caster sugar

6oz ground almonds

3 eggs, beaten

1 tsp vanilla extract

Grated rind of one orange

3 tbsp self-raising flour

Topping:

10-12 plums (mine are bluey-purple Marjories, but use whatever you can find!)

2 tbsp Grand Marnier or other alcohol of your choice

1 tbsp vanilla (or caster) sugar

Make pastry by rubbing fat into flour and salt, then adding water as usual and chilling in fridge for 15 mins before using to line a 10” deep flan tin. Bake blind for 10 mins at 200°C, then remove beans and bake for a further 15 mins. Trim pastry to ensure a neat edge.

In the meantime, halve and stone the plums and place in a bowl with 2 tbsp Grand Marnier (or whatever you have in the drinks cabinet!) and 1 tbsp vanilla sugar. Set aside to macerate.

For the filling: whisk the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then gradually whisk in the eggs, vanilla extract and orange rind. Fold in the ground almonds and self-raising flour. Spread the jam evenly over the base of the baked pastry case, then spoon in the almond mixture to cover and level the top. Press the halved plums, skin-side up, into the mixture so that they just touch and form a couple of concentric circles.

Bake in the oven for at least an hour at 160°C, covering if it starts to get too brown. I found mine needed at least 1 hr 20 mins, but much depends on your oven temperature and the juiciness of your plums! When done, the frangipane should feel just springy to the touch and look sponge-like, not liquid.

Sift icing sugar over the top and serve warm. Mmmmmmm….

Plum Bakewell