Category Archives: baking

Parsnips – the unsung heroes of the winter vegetable plot

Parsnip

Parsnips are a very underrated vegetable in my opinion; indeed, many of our fellow European countries regard parsnips as animal fodder, not fit for human consumption. They clearly haven’t enjoyed the delights of a roasted parsnip with their Sunday lunch or a mound of creamy mashed carrot and parsnip accompanying virtually any meat, but particularly the slightly gamey cuts of venison or lamb. I wouldn’t be without them, in the kitchen or in the plot. They are in the ground a long time, admittedly, but they also come into their own in the dog days of winter/early spring, when there are very slim pickings to be had from the kitchen garden. What’s more, you can leave them in the ground all winter and dig them up as you require – unless you live in a very cold area, when you might struggle to break through the frozen soil in the winter months! In these cases, you can lift your root crops and store in sand in a cool place like a garage or shed. Temperate Britain doesn’t usually warrant such extreme measures, though.

I usually sow my parsnips in late March/early April, depending on soil temperature. If you can remember to cover your chosen bed with enviromesh or fleece for a few weeks beforehand, that can give you a start too. Just weed the bed and rake thoroughly to a fine tilth, removing any stones; don’t add manure as this can cause root crops to fork, reducing your crop significantly. I usually plant parsnips in a dedicated root crop bed as part of my 4-year rotation scheme, sowing three rows of parsnips along with successional sowings of carrots and beetroot. Parsnips take a long time to germinate – up to three weeks – so if they don’t germinate for whatever reason, it’s often too late to plant more. Germination isn’t normally an issue, however – I rarely have a complete crop failure with them, unlike carrot seedlings which can get annihilated by slugs overnight if you’re not careful. Interplanting the rows of parsnips with fast-cropping radish can be a good idea, as it reminds you that the parsnips are there, but the radish can be done and dusted by the time the parsnips are big enough to need the space. As they start to grow, thin out as you would with any root crop, and remember to water them occasionally in dry weather. Then just (!) wait until after the first frosts to enjoy them in their full glory. The cold turns the starch into sugar, enhancing the taste in the process. You can eat the thinnings or young roots earlier on, but they taste very mild at that stage. Parsnips may be huge, they may be scabby, but, after you’ve peeled and chopped them, the flesh is always delicious. You’ll be glad you made the effort in December when you can serve your own roast parsnips with your Christmas dinner.

Christmas parsnips

Most of the parsnip recipes I’ve shared here have been side dishes such as the unctuous Parsnip & Leek Dauphinoise or parsnip scones based on my trusty Cheese & Apple Scone recipe. I’ve always struggled to find a good parsnip soup recipe, as they can be quite cloying unless you add a lot of spice – and then the spice can overpower the taste of parsnip. However, I recently discovered a delicious parsnip soup recipe in an American cookbook called Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden. As ever, I’ve tweaked it based on my years of soup-making experience, but what gave this one the edge was the delicious, zingy garnish, which really lifted the soup to a whole other level. Try it and see!

Parsnip Soup – serves 4-6

Parsnip soup

Olive oil (or butter if you prefer)
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
500g parsnips, peeled and chopped (you can add potato if you don’t have enough parsnips)
2-3 celery sticks, chopped (reserve the leaves for the garnish)
1 litre vegetable stock
Freshly ground nutmeg
1 bay leaf
Seasoning
Milk (or water) to taste

Garnish:
50g currants (or sultanas)
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
50g sunflower seeds, toasted (or pine nuts, almonds or cashews if you prefer)
handful parsley, chopped (or coriander)
1 tsp lemon zest, finely grated
1 tsp lemon juice (or lime, if that’s what you have!)
1/4 fresh red chilli, finely chopped (to taste)
seasoning
olive oil

Add a glug of olive oil (or a knob of butter) to a large soup pan and add the chopped onions, garlic, celery and parsnips. Cook gently for about 10 minutes until starting to soften. Add the freshly ground nutmeg, seasoning and stock, bring to the boil and cook for 20-30 minutes or until all the vegetables are tender. Remove from the heat and purée with a stick blender, or transfer to a liquidiser and blend until smooth. Return to the pan if necessary and adjust the consistency by adding milk or water if too thick. Reheat to serving temperature.

While the soup is cooking, prepare the garnish: put the currants or sultanas in a small bowl and pour over the red wine vinegar. Allow to soak for at least 15 minutes. Then toss the currants and their soaking liquid, toasted pine nuts, chopped parsley (or coriander) and reserved celery leaves, lemon zest and juice, finely chopped chilli and seasoning together. Add a glug of olive oil to finish and apply to your soup with a decorative flourish!

My final parsnip recipe comes from the same book, heavily adapted to adjust the US cup measurements for an English audience! It’s a parsnippy take on a carrot cake and quite delectable: lusciously soft, yet decadently crumbly at the same time. Even confirmed parsnip haters won’t detect its presence…

Parsnip, Date & Hazelnut Loaf

Parsnip loaf, slice

250g parsnips, peeled and roughly chopped
150g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
100g chopped dates
100g hazelnuts, coarsely ground in a food processor
150g caster sugar
50g dark brown Muscovado sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp cinnamon
150 ml olive oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon zest

For the icing:
100g icing sugar, sifted
Juice and grated zest of half a lemon, setting aside some zest for the cake

Grease and line the base of a standard loaf tin. Pre-heat the oven to 150°C fan (Gas 3).

Put the chopped parsnips into a food processor and process until finely chopped, or grate if you prefer. Place the sifted flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Add the chopped dates and finely chopped hazelnuts (you can chop these by hand if you haven’t got a food processor, but they have a habit of rolling all over the board because they’re round!).

Place the eggs, caster and Muscovado sugar, vanilla extract and 1 tsp lemon zest in a large stand mixer, or beat with a hand mixer. Add the finely chopped parsnips, then gradually pour in the olive oil until well mixed. Fold the parsnip mixture into the dry ingredients until completely incorporated.

Transfer to the prepared loaf tin and cook in the pre-heated oven for 1 hr to 1 hr 10 minutes. This will vary considerably depending on the age/texture of your parsnips and your oven temperature. The original recipe said 35 to 45 minutes, but mine was nowhere near ready by that time (homegrown parsnips perhaps?) and took nearer 1 hr 10 minutes. Do keep checking with a skewer (it should come out clean when inserted in the centre of the loaf) and touch with a finger to make sure it springs back to the touch, rather than still looking soft.

Meanwhile, prepare the lemon glaze by mixing the sifted icing sugar with the remaining lemon zest and a tbsp or so of lemon juice until the consistency is thick enough to coat the cake. You can add more icing sugar or lemon juice to adjust if necessary. Set aside.

Cool the loaf in the tin for 15 minutes, then carefully turn out onto a cooling rack, place greaseproof paper beneath (to catch drips) and pour over the glaze, making sure it covers the top surface and runs prettily down the sides.

You could, of course, go down the traditional carrot cake route and top with cream cheese frosting, but bear in mind that frosting won’t keep as long out of the fridge if it’s not all going to be eaten straightaway.

I found the glazed version keeps for a good week in the tin – the perfect afternoon treat!

Parsnip, date and hazelnut loaf

The February Blues

When I booked a trip to visit my son and daughter-in-law in Boston at the end of January, I envisaged snow and arctic conditions across the pond, followed by a return to early spring in the UK when I got home in February. But no. It was not to be. New England was experiencing its mildest winter for some years, with temperatures hovering around freezing, but brilliant blue skies and sunshine – a far cry from the wettest autumn/winter on record (or so it seems) we’ve experienced at home. So far, so welcome – and a delightful break, lovely to be reunited with family and spend time together, of course. Plus we got to see some snow in a trip to beautiful Vermont, so that satisfied my snow longings.

Unfortunately, my son had a nasty cold while I was there and my throat was starting to feel suspiciously tickly on my night flight back. It quickly developed into a decidedly croaky voice, followed by a full-blown stinker of a cold – just what you want when you get back from holiday. Nearly two weeks on, and I’m gradually shaking it off, although now my 86-year-old father has it and I’m feeling bad about passing it on to him in the brief time I saw them between landing and picking up my car.

Needless to say, gardening has been off the agenda over the past two weeks, even had the weather been kinder, but no, we’ve been battered by storms, mirroring my mood. I did manage to venture out to the allotment last weekend, while Storm Chiara (my name in Italian – how apt!) was doing her worst, and my poor shed is definitely on its last legs. Only the clematis is holding it up, I suspect – a new one will have to be on the agenda very soon, when I feel up to doing the research, that is! More torrential rain is on the way this weekend in the shape of Storm Dennis, so we’ll see whether that finishes it off – it hasn’t been as bad as last weekend so far, although the main road to Tunbridge Wells is flooded again. For the time being, my tools – and, more importantly, my little stove! – are covered and I daren’t try and rescue them in case the whole thing collapses on my head!

Poorly shed

Cooking from scratch is another thing I haven’t really felt up to, most unusually for me, but this is where a well-stocked freezer and all those soups transformed from bumper harvests last season come into their own. Tomato soup, carrot & coconut and turkey broth have gone down particularly well: all those vitamins doing my throat good on their warming way down, even if my sense of taste and smell isn’t all it should be either. Hot drinks have been my salvation: copious amounts of tea (even more than usual, which is pretty good going, even for me!), hot blackcurrant and lemon, plus Lemsip at bedtime. I’ve even gone off coffee and alcohol – it must have been a really nasty bug! Herbal remedies from my friend have really helped, though: andrographis compound, plus eucalyptus and thyme for my chesty cough and eyebright (euphrasia, who knew? Augentrost, or eye consolation in German, which is also rather nice) & calendula for my streaming eyes. Oh, and beetroot juice to boost my immune system.

Carrot & Coconut soup

Before I lost my sense of taste and appetite, however, I did manage to make a batch of chocolate chip oat cookies – having returned post-holiday to a house with empty biscuit and cake tins! That would never do… As it happened, we’d made some American-style choc chip cookies in Boston from a new cookbook borrowed from their excellent local library. They were very good (especially when we’d halved the amount of sugar in the original recipe!), but it reminded me to dig out my old recipe, adapted from a magazine many moons ago. Mine are definitely more traditional crispy biscuits than the American softer cookie-style ones, but try both and see what you think:

English Chocolate Chip Oat Cookies – makes 24

Choc chip oat cookies

4oz butter, softened
3oz soft light brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
3oz oats
3oz self-raising flour, sifted
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
4oz dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Pre-heat the oven to 150°C fan (Gas 4) and grease two baking sheets, then line with baking parchment.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and creamy, then gradually beat in the egg and vanilla extract. Stir in the remaining ingredients and mix well. Place heaped teaspoons of the mixture on the baking sheets, spaced apart to allow for spreading during baking. Bake for 15 minutes, cool for a minute on the trays and then remove to wire racks to finish cooling. Enjoy with a steaming hot cup of tea.

And the American version appeared in this book, duly adapted for a less sweet English tooth:

Book cover

American Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies – makes 24

8oz butter, softened
4oz caster sugar
4oz soft brown sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp golden (or maple) syrup
4oz self-raising flour
4oz oatmeal
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
6-8oz dark chocolate, roughly chopped
4oz oats

Pre-heat the oven to 150°C fan (Gas 4) and grease three to four baking sheets, then line with baking parchment.

Cream the butter and sugars until light and creamy, then gradually beat in the egg, syrup and vanilla extract. Stir in the remaining ingredients and mix well. Place heaped teaspoons of the mixture on the baking sheets, spaced apart to allow for spreading during baking – these will spread more than their English cousins! Bake for 12 – 15 minutes or until just cooked: American cookies are usually softer than their British counterparts. Cool for a minute on the trays and then remove to wire racks to finish cooling. Enjoy with coffee (if you must!) or still excellent with a steaming hot cup of tea.

American choc chunk cookies

The suggestion in the original recipe is for these to be served as ice-cream sandwiches, with homemade raspberry ripple ice cream – now there’s a thought for the balmy days of summer at the height of the raspberry season…

In the meantime, I think I need another holiday to recover from my horrible decennial cold – just as well I have a restorative week in the Alps (not skiing this year, sadly) lined up in March 🙂

Frozen blackcurrants

 

 

 

 

An apple a day….

An apple a day – or more, actually. At this time of year, I still have bags full of apples in the garage and overflowing fruit bowls in the house, so my thoughts tend to turn to apples when baking or making desserts. All my apples are long since safely gathered in, but they still need monitoring every so often to make sure that any rotten ones don’t spoil the rest. With so many creamy and/or chocolatey desserts in the run-up to Christmas, apple-based dishes are the ideal antidote to all that excess, nice though it is – think a simple mincemeat-stuffed baked apple, or apple compote topped with a refreshing oatmeal yogurt cream, to say nothing of a simple apple pie or a good old apple crumble, perhaps mixed with mincemeat or cranberries for a festive touch – or an added banana just before it goes in the oven is a nice twist too.

Earlier this autumn I made some dried apple rings, a perfect addition to my bowl of breakfast granola, and easy as pie to make, especially if you have a mandoline for ultra-thin slices – but hand-cut is fine too, if you haven’t.

Dried Apple Rings

Apple rings pre-cooking

Eating apples
Lemon juice
Ground cinnamon
Vanilla extract

Wash and core the apples and cut away any damaged areas. Slice into even rings about 2.5mm thick – a mandoline makes this extremely quick and easy, but you can do it by hand too.

Fill a large bowl with water, add a squeeze of lemon juice and a teaspoon of vanilla extract, then let the apple rings soak for 5 minutes to stop them discolouring.

Place the apple rings onto a clean tea towel and pat dry, then transfer them to baking trays lined with greaseproof paper making sure they don’t overlap. Sprinkle with a dusting of cinnamon powder, then transfer the trays to a cool oven (90˚C) for one hour, then turn the slices over before returning to the oven for a further hour and a half. Finally, turn the oven off and leave the rings to cool inside the oven.

When cool, store in an airtight jar, where they should keep for a good few months to brighten up your breakfasts.

apple rings in jar

Another favourite recipe that I can’t quite believe I haven’t shared here before is the nutty apple cake I’ve been making since time immemorial. This recipe is a hand-written scrawl in one of my very first recipe notebooks – so old, I can’t even remember where it came from in the first place, and of course the measurements are imperial, always a bit of a giveaway! The only thing I would add is that, as with other cakes containing fresh fruit (or veg), it does go off if you don’t eat it within 3-4 days, so either freeze half or make sure you serve it for a crowd.

Nutty Apple Cake

Nutty apple cake

1 large cooking apple
1 tsp lemon juice
1oz walnuts
6oz caster sugar
8oz self-raising flour, sifted
6oz softened butter (I use the spreadable variety)
1 rounded tsp mixed spice
3 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp milk
1 heaped tbsp demerara sugar

Pre-heat oven to 150˚C. Grease and line a round, deep 8″ cake tin with a loose base. Peel and core the apple, and cut off 6 even slices, placing these in cold water and sprinkling with lemon juice to prevent discolouring. remove the core and roughly chop the rest of the apple. Finely chop the walnuts.

Place the sugar, butter, sifted flour, mixed spice, beaten eggs and milk in a large bowl and beat with a hand whisk for several minutes until the mixture is smooth, creamy and lighter in colour. Fold in the chopped apple and walnuts, then transfer to the prepared tin. Level the top, then place the reserved apple slices neatly around the edge and sprinkle with the demerara sugar. Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hr 20 – 1 hr 30 mins, checking towards the end as ovens vary. A skewer inserted in the centre should come out clean. Remove from the oven, allow to cool, then eat in generous slices with a lovely cup of tea.

My final offering is an adaptation of a gooseberry & pecan flapjack recipe I discovered earlier this year. I’d thought for a while that it would work well with apples, and sure enough, it did. You can ring the changes with walnuts or hazelnuts rather than pecans here, of course. Blackberries would work nicely with the apples too.

Apple & Pecan Flapjack – makes 12-16

Apple & pecan flapjack

200g butter
3-4 large cooking apples
1 tsp ground cinnamon
150g light soft brown sugar
200g spelt flour
150g oats
1 tsp cinnamon
100g pecans, chopped (or walnuts or hazelnuts if you prefer)
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 180°C fan (Gas 5) and grease and line a rectangular baking tin – mine measures 28cm x 18cm x 3.5cm, but the original recipe from Waitrose uses a 20cm square tin.

Peel, core and roughly chop the apples, sprinkle with lemon juice, then place in a pan with 50g of the sugar (or to taste), a tbsp or so of water and 1 tsp ground cinnamon. Cook over a low heat until the apples start to fall. Turn up the heat and continue cooking, stirring regularly, for 10-15 minutes until you have a thickish, jam-like mixture.

Take off the heat and set aside.

Mix the flour, ground ginger, oats, salt and chopped pecans (or nuts of your choice) in a large bowl. In another pan, melt the butter and remaining 100g sugar, then pour over the flour mixture. Mix together until you have a rough dough.

Press half of the dough over the bottom of the baking tin, then spread the apple mixture on top. Sprinkle the remaining dough on top – I found it easier to crumble it with my fingers, so it didn’t cover the jam layer entirely and was quite chunky.

Place in the preheated oven and cook for 25-30 minutes until nicely browned. Cool in the tin, then cut into 12-16 bars (depending how hungry you feel!) and enjoy with your morning coffee. Delicious! They should keep well in an airtight tin for several days.

 

 

 

Pumpkin party

At this time of year, the amount of fresh stuff coming back from the allotment is much more limited: leeks and parsnips certainly, rocket and parsley of course, plus spinach and chard too. I even managed to pick a few side shoots of calabrese, but the main purple-sprouting broccoli won’t be ready until the New Year and the kale is slow this year, not helped by being attacked by caterpillars in the mild September weather. I haven’t checked on my flower sprouts (kalettes), and have only just realised that they grow up the stem like Brussels sprouts, so I really ought to look. However, the Crown Prince squash I harvested in October are still going strong in their basket in the conservatory and make a beautiful addition to autumn recipes, sweet and savoury. That said, I actually used a tin of pumpkin purée in the recipe I’m going to share today, mainly because my son and daughter-in-law brought a couple of tins over from the US when they visited in November, which just happened to coincide with this recipe appearing in the Weekend magazine.

I’ve made carrot, courgette and even beetroot cakes before, but never pumpkin, so I was pleasantly surprised by the texture and taste of this one. I tweaked the recipe slightly, mainly by using a different frosting to the rich double cream version suggested in Martha’s original recipe. Unless you’re catering for a houseful, I’d suggest you want something that keeps a little longer than a cream-based topping. In the end, I adapted an Ottolenghi cream cheese frosting – and froze half the cake (unfrosted), as the end result was quite large! I think it would also be good made as a traybake, adapting the cooking time accordingly. Here’s what I did:

Spiced Pumpkin Latte Cake – serves 10-12

Spiced pumpkin latte cake

½ x 425g can pumpkin purée (you could use steamed and puréed fresh squash too)
2 large eggs
100ml vegetable oil (I used groundnut, but sunflower would be fine)
100ml strong coffee
125g caster sugar
125g light brown sugar
250g self-raising flour, sifted
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
1 tsp mixed spice
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger

Coffee syrup:
50ml strong coffee
50g caster sugar

Frosting:
180g cream cheese
70g butter, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
50g icing sugar, sifted
2 tsp espresso powder (for dusting)

Preheat the oven to 180ºC, gas mark 4, and line a 900g loaf tin with baking parchment. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the pumpkin purée, eggs, oil, coffee and both sugars.

In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and spices. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix until a smooth batter forms, with no flour visible. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 50 mins to 1 hour or until a skewer comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the tin while you make the syrup.

Stir the coffee and sugar together in a small saucepan and warm over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Turn the heat up and simmer for 2-3 minutes until thick and syrupy. While the cake is cooling, brush the top with the warm syrup.

To make the cream cheese frosting, whisk together the cream cheese, butter and vanilla extract using an electric whisk until smooth. Add the sifted icing sugar gradually until soft and fluffy. Pile on top of the cooled cake and dust with a fine sprinkling of sifted espresso powder (or more cinnamon if you prefer, as used in the original recipe).

Having made the cake, I was left with half a tin of pumpkin purée, but what to do with it? While I was deliberating, Rebekka Gross, a breadmaking colleague on Foodie Translators, suggested pumpkin bread and passed over her tried and tested recipe. It makes a huge loaf, so once again, I froze half – it freezes beautifully and is good fresh or toasted. Quite delicious with today’s carrot and coriander soup. Leave out the spices if you don’t want quite such a savoury taste, although I served it with peach and basil jam for breakfast and it worked really well. I proved it in a basket overnight in the fridge, according to Rebekka’s instructions, but it deflated when I turned it out, so I suspect it had overproved. Fortunately, it still rose again in the oven and tasted great, but I think it needs to be moulded and put in its baking receptacle first if you’re going to go down the overnight proving route! I also chickened out of baking it in a Le Creuset casserole, as suggested, but here’s what I did instead:

Spiced Pumpkin Bread – makes one large loaf

Pumpkin bread

200g wholemeal spelt flour
400g strong bread flour
1.5 tsp dried yeast (I like Dove’s Farm)
280ml lukewarm water
1.5 tsp salt
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp olive oil
200g puréed butternut squash (or 1/2 x 425g tin)
1/4 tsp ground cumin (optional)
1/4 tsp ground coriander (optional)
Pinch ground cloves (optional)
Grated nutmeg

Mix the dough using the dough setting of a breadmaker – or mix in a KitchenAid or by hand if you prefer. Shape and place on a baking tray or in a large bread tin, then prove overnight in the fridge (or at room temperature for 1-2 hours). The following morning, remove from the fridge, allow to stand at room temperature for 30 mins or so while you heat the oven to 180ºC, Gas 5 (it should have risen quite dramatically!). Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the bread is nicely brown and sounds hollow when you tap underneath. Cool on a rack and enjoy!

(Rebekka suggested the Le Creuset method: heat a large Le Creuset casserole at full whack for 20 minutes – only heat the lid if it has an ovenproof handle. Bake for 50 minutes altogether: 30 minutes at 225ºC with the lid on, 20 minutes at 180-200ºC (depending how brown it is) with the lid off.)

Pumpkin bread, cut

Baking aside, I even managed to snatch an hour up at the allotment on Sunday afternoon: finally planting out the tulip bulbs from last year’s containers in the new cutting garden beds. Of course, I had to clear the beds of the spent sunflower stems and cosmos plants from the summer first – surprisingly tough to get out of the ground! Those sunflowers must have been well over 15 feet tall and had extremely thick stems that required a pruning saw to cut through them, to say nothing of the effort required to extract the roots… All done at long last, with two strenuous treks up to the bonfire site pushing an overladen wheelbarrow over muddy ground – phew! I cut back the blackened stalks of this year’s new dahlias too, and mounded them up with compost from some of the tomato pots from home – waste not, want not. Hopefully, it will help the tubers come through the winter, whatever the weather….

Crochet workshop
Crochet workshop in Tenterden – a lovely way to spend a December afternoon

 

 

Old favourites are often the best

Sunflowers and cosmos

Having recently returned from a fabulous holiday in the US, visiting my son and daughter-in-law in their new home just north of Boston – and just about recovered from the trials and tribulations of the flight cancellations triggered by British Airways’ industrial action: see my language blog for the gruesome details – I’m still trying to catch up with the allotment and garden produce that accrues when you’re away for over a fortnight at this busy time of the gardening year!

Three types of toms

This has clearly been an exceptional year for tomatoes and apples, leaving me with kilos of both to deal with. No wonder I’ve already made 32 individual portions of soup for the freezer (three different tomato varieties and broccoli and blue cheese soup using the calabrese heads that were nowhere to be seen before I left, yet threatening to flower by the time I arrived home!). The sweetcorn has virtually gone over, and, while I harvested a good number or reasonable-sized courgettes, I also left five monster marrows on the allotment sharing table along with green and purple French beans that were fatter than I usually like to eat them! The Marjorie plums were also ready, although sadly some of these are still infested by plum maggots, despite the plum moth trap that worked so well with my early plums; better than last year, certainly, so I’ll definitely try again next year with the greasebands and traps and hope to eradicate them next season.

Produce after hols Sept 2019The allotment flowers too were simply amazing . It had clearly been warm and dry in my absence, but most things were flourishing and blooming away in gay abandon. The sunflowers are still heading skywards, albeit with a bit of a lean, but my Heath-Robinsonesque supports had done their job and held them largely in position. Cue armfuls of flowers for the house, including some of those amazing sunflowers, along with dahlias, asters (now known as Callistephus – ugh!) and zinnias, which have to be my flower of the year. They were everywhere in New England too, especially the giant varieties which I already have on my must-grow list for next year…

Zinnias and astersWhile I was frantically dealing with all my own produce, a friend brought round some autumn raspberries, which of course I couldn’t turn down, especially as mine are always pretty sparse. I do brilliantly with summer raspberries, but I suspect my autumn canes are planted in too much shade and don’t get enough water. No matter: my friend has the opposite problem so we are able to share our successes and compensate for the other’s relative failures.

Autumn raspberries have a richer, mellower taste than their sharper summer cousins and I always used to make them into a raspberry & cinnamon torte in the days when we lived in Scotland and had plenty of berries in the damper climate and peaty soil. For some reason this recipe had slipped out of my repertoire and I was only reminded of it a few months ago when reading a magazine in which a journalist described a very similar recipe and said he too had stopped using it – probably having done it to death, as I did! With this now at the forefront of my mind, I decided to revisit this old favourite and the scent of it cooking in the oven brought it all flooding back – how on earth could I have let this one lapse? I hope you’ll agree that it is a stunning late summer pudding/cake. I can’t remember where the original recipe came from, possibly Good Housekeeping magazine, but it’s very, very good.

Raspberry & Cinnamon Torte – serves 6-8

Raspberry and cinnamon torte

150g butter, softened (I use organic spreadable butter)
150g caster sugar
150g ground almonds
150g self-raising flour, sifted
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp ground cinnamon
250g fresh raspberries
icing sugar, sifted

Grease and base line a 20 cm springform cake tin with greaseproof paper.

Place the butter, sugar, ground almonds, self-raising flour, egg and cinnamon in a large bowl and beat well. Spread half the mix over the base of the cake tin, using a fork to flatten lightly. Sprinkle the raspberries on top, then dot over the remaining almond mixture to almost cover the fruit. I tend to do this with my fingers, then pat it down with a fork again.

Stand the tin on a baking sheet, then bake at 160°C fan (Gas 4) for about 50 mins – 1 hour, until just firm to the touch with a springy texture. Cover if it is browning too much but not yet done. Cool in the tin slightly, but try to serve warm if you can, dusted with icing sugar and served with crème fraîche, clotted cream or whipped cream. Ice cream would probably be pretty good too. Inhale the heavenly cooked raspberry and cinnamon aromas and tuck in – bliss!

Raspberry and cinnamon torte_slice

If you haven’t got enough raspberries – and I’m aware that 250g raspberries is a lot if you have to buy them from a supermarket, where they always seem to come in miserly little punnets – I’ve made this with half raspberries, half sliced dessert apples before and that works well too, if slightly less luscious than the all-raspberry original. This is still good cold if you have any left over, or you can warm it in the microwave to recreate the just-cooked sensation.

Beverly by the sea

 

From plums to peaches

Perfect plums

This season’s bounties just keep on giving. My early Opal plum, which tends to be a biennial bearer, producing a good harvest every other year, surpassed itself this year with an amazing crop of sweet reddish-purple plums for a couple of weeks at the end of July/early August. Sadly, they often coincide with the arrival of the first wasps and once the striped devils discover the plums, I know their days are numbered… Even hanging a glass beehive trap filled with lemonade only delays the effect, but is definitely worth doing to distract them from their juicy targets.

Wasp trap

I still managed to harvest plenty of perfect plums – not a maggot in sight this year, thank goodness. The grease bands I put around the trees last autumn and the pheromone trap I hung in the orchard in May seem to have done the trick in deterring the dreaded plum moth. Extremely successfully, judging by the number of moths caught in the trap! Here’s hoping the later Marjorie plums, which were virtually inedible last year as every last one contained a maggot, are as good.

Plums are always a delight in the kitchen and many of my standby plum recipes came out again: sticky upside-down plum & almond cake, a heavenly plum frangipane tart and roasted plum compote, to say nothing of plums eaten straight from the fruit bowl, or sliced on my breakfast granola. Needless to say, I gave loads away too. Every year I try and experiment with at least one new recipe when I have glut situations: this year, I adapted my gooseberry flapjack recipe to make a plum & almond flapjack, which was good, but perhaps missed the tanginess of the gooseberries despite using much less sugar. Try it and see – but be careful, as bakes made with fresh fruit go off very quickly at this warm and humid time of year: freeze half if you know it’s not all going to be eaten within a few days!

Plum & Almond Flapjack – makes 16 bars

plum flapjack

200g butter
450g plums, stoned
125g light soft brown sugar
200g wholemeal spelt flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp almond extract
150g oats
100g whole almonds, chopped (or hazelnuts if you prefer)
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 180°C fan (Gas 5) and grease and line a rectangular baking tin – mine measures 28cm x 18cm x 3.5cm.

Stone and halve the plums, then place in a pan with 25g of the sugar and cook over a low heat until the sugar melts and the juice starts to flow. Turn up the heat and continue cooking, stirring regularly, for 15-20 minutes until you have a thickish, jam-like mixture. Take off the heat and set aside.

Mix the flour, cinnamon, oats, salt and chopped almonds in a large bowl. In another pan, melt the butter and remaining 100g sugar, then pour over the flour mixture. Add the almond extract. Mix together until you have a rough dough.

Press half of the dough over the bottom of the baking tin, then spread the plum mixture on top. Sprinkle the remaining dough on top – I found it easier to crumble it with my fingers, so it didn’t cover the jam layer entirely and was still quite chunky.

Place in the pre-heated oven and cook for 25-30 minutes until nicely browned. Cool in the tin, then cut into 16 bars.

I also experimented with plum ice cream, although I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the results and will tweak further before I share my recipe here. I’d tried Jamie Oliver’s quick plum sorbet before (from Jamie at Home), where he just freezes the stoned plums, skins and all, then blitzes them in a food processor with orange and sugar before serving, but found the skins far too obtrusive, if not downright unpleasant! This time I found a recipe for Plum Ripple Ice Cream, but again it wasn’t quite right: it takes far too long to reach a scoopable consistency, although if you can wait an hour, the taste is delicious! Watch this space…

Unfortunately, the plums are no more, but just as I’d resigned myself to the end of the Opals this year, friends brought around some delicious English peaches from their glasshouse – just superb! The skins are suprisingly fuzzy and are in fact better peeled – perhaps shop-bought specimens have had the fuzziness bred out of them?! Suffice to say that these peel easily and the stone pops out with ease too, making them ideal for serving on crackers and cream cheese for a light lunch, in salads with feta or halloumi, and lightly roasted with maple syrup and thyme or lavender (and a dash of Amaretto if you’re that way inclined – which I usually am!) to create a fragrant compote.

Peaches

This week’s treat to take to an open-air theatre production of Ikarus Inc. (by the excellent Rude Mechanicals) on the village school playing fields was a cobbled-together invention to make the most of my unexpected bounty. Based on my rhubarb shortbread recipe, this peach and marzipan shortbread tray bake is quick to make and simply divine – peaches and almonds are a match made in heaven.

Peach & Marzipan Shortbread Bites – makes 16 small squares

Peach and marzipan shortbread

Shortbread:
125g butter, softened
125g plain flour
25g cornflour
2 level tbsp icing sugar, sieved
1/2 tsp almond extract

 Topping:
3-4 peaches, stoned, peeled and roughly sliced
Juice of half a lemon
2 tbsp Amaretto
125g marzipan, preferably homemade
Few sprigs of lavender flowers (optional – to taste)
Icing sugar to dust

 18cm square tin, 4cm deep, lined with foil or baking parchment

 Preheat the oven to 180°C, gas 5.

 To make the shortbread, mix the butter, flour, cornflour, icing sugar and almond extract together in a food processor or by hand if you prefer. If the mixture seems very soft and sticky, you can add 1 or 2 tbsp ground almonds at this stage. When it comes together to form a dough, press evenly into the tin, prick with a fork and cook for 20 mins until starting to look pale golden brown.

 Combine all the topping ingredients in a bowl and tip onto base. Return to oven and cook for 35-40 mins until the topping is set and golden brown. Allow to cool, then cut into 16 small squares and dust with icing sugar just before serving. These are very rich, which is why I serve them as bitesize squares – you can opt for bigger bars if you prefer though!

Finally, the arrival of another crate of peaches had me reaching for the ice cream maker to concoct a peach sorbet – just peaches, sugar, lemon juice and Grand Marnier – what’s not to like?

Peach Sorbet

Peach sorbet

4-6 ripe peaches, peeled and stoned
125ml water
3 tbsp granulated sugar
Juice of one lemon (or lime)
1-2 tbsps Grand Marnier (optional)

Put the water, sugar and lemon juice in a small pan and simmer gently for 5 minutes or so until the sugar has dissolved. Leave to cool.

Roughly chop the peeled and stoned peaches, then put in a blender with the cooled sugar syrup and blend until well mixed. Add the Grand Marnier if using – this helps make the sorbet easier to scoop when frozen. Pour into an ice cream maker and churn until starting to freeze, then place in the freezer to complete the process. Of course, you can also make this the old-fashioned way by freezing for an hour or so, then whisking in the ice crystals and repeating until softly frozen.

Apricot begonias

Yet more rhubarb….

Shed under clematis

Another holiday weekend, and while the weather hasn’t been as glorious as the Easter weekend, it has at least been dry and sunny in parts, if cold for the time of the year, so limited gardening has been on the agenda. Having mown the lawn – and neatened the edges with a half-moon spade – last week, and paid someone to cut the over-long grass and edges at the allotment, I’ve been able to concentrate on weeding the raised beds and potting on my chilli and aubergine seedlings at home. For some reason, my sweet pepper and basil seeds have failed to germinate in the propagator this year. While I can sow more basil (from a new packet), it’s too late to sow pepper seeds in May. I’ll either have to do without, or buy a couple of plants. Strange how the chilli and peppers seem to germinate better in alternate years… I also dead-headed my hellebore flowers to give other plants more room and stop the plants putting energy into producing seed. I have quite enough self-sown hellebores around the garden after all!

At the allotment, I spent a good hour yesterday painstakingly prising the dreaded couch grass out of my existing strawberry bed, where it has really taken hold. I’ve already planted up a new bed earlier this year, so if I can just keep this one going this season, I can empty the whole bed over winter and really blitz this pernicious weed. I also cleared my sprouting broccoli beds: most of the plants have gone to flower by this stage and I need the tunnel structure to protect my peas, sown last weekend, from the pigeons. The sprouting broccoli has done amazingly well this year, so the individual plants took some removing – four-feet tall triffids with yellow flowers everywhere! The stalks are too chunky for the compost heap, so up to the communal bonfire pile they went. I still have a couple of plants with edible shoots, but I suspect they won’t last more than a couple of days. Just in time for the asparagus to come on stream 🙂

Needless to say, the rhubarb is still going strong and more experimentation has been in order to keep up with the flow. I hosted another four-generational lunch this weekend with my parents, my elder son and his wife, plus my granddaughter of course, and inevitably rhubarb had to feature on the menu, this time in the guise of a rhubarb & ginger trifle, perfect for my gluten-intolerant daughter-in-law. You could also make it with plain sponge if you felt so inclined, or, if you are catering for coeliacs, make sure you check that the Amaretti really are gluten-free – homemade macaroons would fit the bill in that case too.

Rhubarb & Ginger Trifle – serves 8

Rhubarb and ginger trifle

500-600g rhubarb, trimmed and chopped into 1cm slices
3-4 tbsp demerara sugar
Juice and rind of 1 large orange (or 2 small)
2 tbsp syrup from a jar pf preserved stem ginger
2 pieces preserved stem ginger, finely chopped
2 tbsp rhubarb gin (or Grand Marnier / liqueur of your choice)

4 egg yolks
2 tbsp caster (or vanilla) sugar
2 heaped tsp cornflour
300ml milk
few drops orange blossom water
Rind of 1 orange

15 or so Amaretti biscuits, plus extra to garnish
300ml double cream (or mix whipped cream and mascarpone)

First, trim and cut the rhubarb (unpeeled unless really thick and woody – shouldn’t be necessary with early-season produce) into 1cm pieces, halving the stems first if really chunky. Place in a shallow, rectangular baking dish and sprinkle with the brown sugar (to taste), orange rind and juice, plus the chopped preserved ginger and 2 tbsp syrup from the ginger jar. Roast in a pre-heated oven at 180°C (Gas 5) until tender, but still whole, for about 30-40 minutes. Leave to cool, then add the rhubarb gin (or alcohol of your choice)

Combine the egg yolks, 2 tbsp caster sugar and cornflour in a small bowl. Stir in the cold milk, then strain into a small pan. Cook gently until the mixture starts to thicken, stirring constantly. Add the grated orange rind and orange blossom water to the custard. Allow to cool slightly.

Place the cooked rhubarb into a trifle bowl and place the Amaretti biscuits on top to cover, pushing partly into the liquid to allow them to take up the juice. Pour over the cooled orange custard and place in the fridge to set for a couple of hours.

Whip the double cream and spread carefully over the custard, making generous swirls with a large spoon. Crumble a few extra Amaretti and sprinkle on top, adding pansies or other spring flowers to garnish if the mood takes you! Trifle fans will be in seventh heaven…

You’ll have four egg whites left over from this recipe, so you can either make macaroons or, as I did, lemon & almond ricciarelli, which conveniently use precisely 4 egg whites and are also ideal for gluten-free guests. In actual fact, I adapted the recipe to make lime & almond ricciarelli and they were equally good.

lime and almond ricciarelli_landscape

Then again, if you decide to turn the egg whites into meringues, either one large pavlova, or smaller rounds or individual cases (using 225g caster sugar to 4 egg whites) to keep for another day, you could consider combining crushed meringue and rhubarb to make a wonderful Rhubarb Eton Mess.

Rhubarb Eton Mess – serves 2-3

300g rhubarb, chopped
Juice and rind of 1 orange
2-3 tbsp demerara sugar
150ml double cream, softly whipped
2-3 tbsp natural yogurt
2-3 meringues, roughly crushed

Place the rhubarb in a shallow ovenproof dish and add the grated rind and juice of the oranges, then sprinkle with the demerara sugar. Roast in the oven at 180°C (Gas 5) for 30-40 minutes or until tender. Leave to cool.

Whip the double cream until soft peak stage, then fold in the natural yogurt, followed by the roughly crumbled meringues – aim to leave some big chunks for texture.

Spoon into 2-3 glass dishes and swirl the top, decorating with toasted flaked almonds or crushed biscuits depending what you have at hand.

A variation on this theme when you haven’t any rhubarb is a Blueberry Mess: Sainsbury’s had large punnets of blueberries on offer recently, so I stirred a large handful, washed but uncooked, into the cream and yogurt mixture above along with 1 tbsp Chambord raspberry liqueur and crushed Amaretti rather than meringue. Grated white chocolate and blueberries to decorate – to die for…

Blueberry mess_cropped