The last of the apples from storage…

Party Frock

One of the things that amazes me most about writing this blog is how often I come to write about my gardening activities, only to find that it was exactly the same weekend the previous year I did the same jobs! Certainly not by design; I don’t have a gardening calendar I slavishly refer to, or follow any particular rules. I can only think that after 30 odd years of gardening, seasonal chores become deeply engrained and automatically come to the top of your brain at the appropriate time!

Last weekend was the turn of spreading my home-made garden compost around the beds, targeting those plants that needed it most and particularly any new plantings or extended beds. Yet again I’ve been nibbling away at the lawn in the front garden, so the newly extended bed in front of my house windows was one of the main beneficiaries, as well as receiving the contents of my tomato and pepper pots last autumn to loosen up my sticky clay soil. I also managed to mow the front lawns after a couple of weeks of dry weather – unheard of in March, but I was glad I did as it rained mid-week – cue very smug sensation!

Double white hellebore Hellebores in compost

Sorting out the compost bins caused me to check on the last of the overwintered apples hanging up in the garage and, sure enough, a good number were starting to show signs of brown rot. I threw the offenders into the newly emptied compost bin, in the knowledge that they have a good two years before being used as compost, and brought the remaining few in to use up this week. These were the last of the Bramley cooking apples and still deliciously flavoursome, although much mellower and sweeter than when freshly picked. I used them in a number of ways: for breakfast, lunch and dinner, in fact, although not all on the same day! Breakfast saw them grated into a scrumptious Bircher Muesli, one of my all-time favourite breakfasts, and so easy to prepare the night before you want it. Lunch saw them transformed in a hurry (no-bread-to-accompany-my-lunchtime-soup panic!) into cheese & apple scones, and dinner incorporated them in Apple & Almond Pudding, a Delia classic I’ve been making for years. Not bad to still be eating your own harvest six months after picking (and apple purée still in the freezer, of course!).

Bircher Muesli

Bircher muesli

100g porridge oats

150ml apple juice

4 tbsp natural yogurt

1 tbsp flaked almonds

3 tbsp sultanas

Freshly grated nutmeg

1 apple, grated

Squeeze of lemon juice

Handful of blueberries

1 banana, sliced

Mix together the oats, apple juice, yogurt, flaked almonds and sultanas. Add a generous grating of fresh nutmeg, stir, cover and chill overnight in the fridge. In the morning, peel and grate the apple, add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to prevent oxidation, and stir into the oat mixture with the blueberries. Add the banana and serve. This should serve at least two hungry people – however, if I’m just doing it for me, I find it makes at least four servings!

Cheese & Apple Scones

Cheese and apple scones

300g self-raising flour, sifted

½ tsp baking powder

75g butter, chilled and diced

125g mature Cheddar cheese, grated

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

1 apple, grated

1 large egg

About 100ml milk

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C, Gas 6, and grease a large baking sheet.

Rub the diced butter into the sifted flour and baking powder until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir 75g of the grated cheese, thyme and apple into the mixture. Break the egg into a measuring jug and add enough milk to make up to the 150ml mark. Pour the liquid mixture into the dry mixture and bring gently together with your hands until a soft dough forms. You may not need all the mixture depending on the juiciness of your apple, so add the last part carefully! Transfer the dough onto a floured surface and pat out gently, then roll until 2cm thick. Cut out 12-15 scones with a 6cm cutter, then space well apart on the greased baking sheet. Brush the tops with the remaining milk mixture and sprinkle with the reserved cheese. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 12-15 mins until well-risen and golden.

Serve with butter as an accompaniment to soup or as part of a ploughman’s lunch – delicious!

Baked Apple & Almond Pudding

serves 4-6

2 large cooking apples, peeled and sliced

2 tbsp demerara sugar (or to taste)

125g butter

125g caster sugar

2 large eggs, beaten

125g ground almonds

Pre-heat oven to 160°C (fan), Gas 4. Grease a shallow round or oval dish, about 1-litre capacity.

Cook the apples gently in the serving dish in the microwave for 4 – 5 minutes with 1 tbsp water and the sugar until soft. (Or stew gently in a pan if you prefer – they should retain their shape, not reduce to a purée.)

Cream the butter and sugar together in a separate bowl until light and fluffy, then gradually add the beaten eggs. Fold in the ground almonds. Transfer this mixture onto the cooked apples and cover the fruit as much as possible. Bake in the oven for 50 minutes – 1 hour until golden brown.

Serve warm with cream or crème fraiche.

This recipe is from Delia Smith’s original Complete Cookery Course, one of my kitchen bibles, and is perfect for gluten-free guests too.

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