Tag Archives: Apples

Flowers in October

flowers-in-oct_cropped

It was time for the autumn tidy-up this weekend as I’ll be busy for the next few weekends. Despite mixed weather – sunshine and showers – I managed to tick practically everything off my to-do list and can turn my back on the allotment with a relatively clear conscience now!

Despite it being mid October, the dahlias and the sweet peas are still going strong, and will no doubt carry on until the first frosts. Admittedly, the sweet peas were extremely slow to get going this year, but I don’t think I’ve ever picked such healthy bouquets this late in the year! There’s no doubt that having a cutting garden at the allotment makes for one of the most cost-effective – and delightful – crops, from May right through ’til November. Bliss. I’d extended my flower production to two raised beds this year and it’s worked better than I could have hoped: more dahlias, armfuls of ammi majus and a surprising star in the form of Achillea Summer Berries, sown from seed earlier this year and excellent for picking in a range of soft pinks and creams. The plants I planted out in the garden at home were devoured by slugs the minute they went in, but the allotment ones escaped unscathed and I’m hoping for an even better display next year. The bupleurum and euphorbia were disappointing, but more than compensated by the self-sown dill flowers (and alchemilla mollis from home) which provide that yellow or green zing for arrangements. I currently have no less than 11 vases of blooms dotted around the house, some admittedly just single stem posies, but for mid-autumn that really isn’t bad going…

As well as harvesting yet more glorious flowers, courgettes (also still coming aplenty!), leeks and the last of the main stems of calabrese, I also picked all my apples on Sunday to pre-empt the frosts. I thought there wouldn’t be as many this year, but as I filled bag after bag, I see I was mistaken! All now safely hanging in the garage, but I suspect I’ll have to give some away – far too many for one. As it was, I left two bags of windfalls on the allotment sharing table and there are quite a number of prime specimens still on the trees, out of reach without a long ladder. I may leave those for the birds…. Oh, and this is where I’m glad I pay 40p for the privilege of having my fortnightly online shopping delivered in bags! I’m all for saving on plastic bag use (and re-use canvas bags/bags for life wherever I can), but short of investing in an old-fashioned apple store, I’m not sure how I’d store apples without my good, old, sturdy Waitrose bags.

red-apples-2016

Other tasks crossed off my list included taking out the spent sweetcorn haulms and shrivelled squash plants for the compost. The squash have been a complete write-off this year, one of the few crops that haven’t done well. I can only assume it was the late, cold spring and not a long enough growing season. In their place I sowed next year’s broad bean seeds, Aquadulce as usual. Such a lovely thought that they will start growing now, while the soil is still warm, hibernate through the winter, and then produce their delicious bounty as one of the first crops of next spring/summer, with very little interference from me. I also planted some Oriental salad leaves under an Enviromesh tunnel, more as an experiment than anything else. I had intended to plant them at the end of September along with the rocket and hardy lettuce, but time ran away with me. We’ll see. When I’ve tried planting salad crops under fleece at this time of year before, I had a great crop of early salad leaves the following spring – definitely worth a go!

 

exotic-emperor-tulip

I’d ordered my new-season tulips from Sarah Raven (my annual treat!) a few weeks ago and most of the varieties bar one have arrived, so I finished planting up my spring barrels, taking out the old tuberous begonias (far too top-heavy this late in the year) and storing the dinner plate-sized tubers in brown paper bags in the shed for next year. I’ve tried to opt for earlier varieties in this year’s selection, so that I get more of a splash of colour at the same time: Vanilla Cream and soft pink Design Impression for my pair of tubs by the front arch, pale lemon lily-flowered Sapporo near the front door and Spring Green and Exotic Emperor, both white with green, in the back garden. I can hardly wait!

tulip-sapporo

I also lifted some of the wallflowers (peachy-pink Aurora) I’d sown from seed in May and planted some of the sturdy little plants in the barrels too – hoping for an impressive display next April/May. Blue pansies bought en masse (and on offer) from my local garden centre, Tête-à-Tête daffodils and Cream Beauty crocus complete the mix. Now to stop the dog digging up the pansies in search of the deliciously-scented (to him at any rate) chicken pellet fertiliser I’ve obviously used far too liberally!

leo-at-richmond

 

 

 

Another wet weekend…

Poppy in the forest
Poppy in Ashdown Forest

Another weekend in February creeps damply past – no chance of venturing out in the garden, yet again: when will we feel the tide has turned? Fortunately, I’ve been far too busy the past few weeks to have any time to spend outside, even had the weather been more forthcoming – probably just as well!

Roast tomatoes_cropped

I set up the Foodie Translators Facebook page just a few short weeks ago, and have seen it grow from a tentative idea to a group with over 570 members – amazing! Lots of fabulous foodie photographs, delicious recipes and food-inspired tales later – and a not inconsiderable time spent drooling over them – and it’s hardly any wonder that I haven’t had chance to either garden or update my blog lately! The inception of the group has led in turn to another new initiative with Translators Without Borders, creating a translator cookbook as a fund-raiser for the ongoing refugee crisis. Amazing how little seeds grow into fully-fledged fruit-bearing projects….

I’ve also been out in Barcelona, attending a conference, but finding time to sight-see and explore the city too – a mecca for foodies and Gaudi aficionados alike. The fabulous La Boqueria market was a feast for the eyes and there were stunning pastelerias on every corner – I shall definitely be back!

Boqueria market

Returning to the UK after the delights of a sunny Mediterranean city has come as bit of a shock – and arriving back on a Sunday meant that my fridge was rather bare too. As a result, this week’s meals have centred on the contents of my well-stocked freezer, supplemented with staples from the allotment: parsnips, leeks and the ever-faithful apples in storage in the garage. Where would I be without them?!

A delicious Parsnip Gratin one night was simplicity itself: thinly-sliced parsnip placed in a buttered gratin dish, topped with cream brought to the boil with seasoning, nutmeg and thyme and Cheddar cheese grated on top, cooked in a bain marie in the oven at 180 degrees C for an hour or so – mmmmm….

Leeks roasted thanks to a tip from a colleague in Foodie Translators with chunky slices of pear, drizzled in olive oil, thyme and seasoning and sprinkled with crumbled Feta (or goat’s) cheese were sublime and only took 20-30 minutes in a medium-hot oven.

And then a variation on a trusty Apple Crumble: roughly chop 2-3 cooking apples, add a sprinkling of brown sugar (my stored apples are quite sweet this late into their storage time) and a dash of water and microwave for 4-5 minutes until starting to soften. Crush 5oz Amaretti biscuits, then add 2oz melted butter, 1 tbsp Demerera sugar and mix before sprinkling over the semi-cooked fruit. Cook in the oven at 180 degrees C for about 10-15 minutes until golden brown and crispy – serve with crème fraiche or cream for a heavenly and extremely easy winter pud. In autumn fresh dessert apples can be softly cooked and combined with blackberries from the hedgerow to make a Blackberry & Apple Amaretti Crumble – or freeze the blackberry & apple mix to knock up a quick pudding any time of year 🙂

Tonight’s classic roast chicken will be served with my favourite Oven-Roast Veg using my own potatoes, parsnips, rosemary and bought (sadly) carrots, celery, garlic and onion – I parboil the potatoes, carrots and parsnips, cut into 2-3 cm chunks, mix in the remaining vegetables and herbs, drizzle with olive oil, then roast in a hot oven for 35-40 minutes. Sometimes, the simplest recipes are the best – and after a busy (non-gardening) few weeks, that’s just what I need.

Oven-roast veg

Still hoping spring will soon be round the corner and I can get out in the garden again….

 

 

Waste Not, Want Not

Sheffield Park pools

Inspired by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s excellent programme, Hugh’s War on Waste, on television recently, I thought I’d share some of my favourite recipes for using up leftovers. It’s always been a theme of mine, ever since I first had a house of my own and a beginner’s vegetable garden – having gone to all the trouble of growing your own, it always seems criminal to waste it! Plus, money was tight in the early days, so wasting food was doubly questionable. Delia Smith’s Leftovers section at the back of her “Complete Cookery Course” was my bible, along with Jocasta Innes’ “The Pauper’s Cookbook”, dating back to my student cooking days. Delia’s cottage pie and rissoles were stalwarts of my early forays into cooking and Jocasta’s chapter on programmed eating, based on cooking a joint or a casserole and then using the leftovers over the following days, seemed to make perfect sense. It still does! I often think the leftovers from a joint can be almost as good (if not nicer!) then the joint itself; think roast chicken followed by a chicken & ham pie or a chicken risotto, with plenty of stock to make soups over the coming weeks…. Or a gammon joint, followed up by ham and tomato pasta, a delicious quiche or as a pizza topping, plus ham and lentil soup for the freezer…. I pride myself on being able to stretch a joint for at least two, if not three meals after the main event and not including the essential stock. Definitely no scope for waste!

Halloween pumpkins

A couple of weeks ago my son and his American girlfriend came home for the Halloween weekend, bearing not one but four pumpkins! The intention was for them to decorate them for the Halloween festivities, and for my elder son and his girlfriend to do their own too. Unfortunately they didn’t get home in time, so I had two rather large pumpkins going spare. My own squashes down at the allotment have been a miserable washout this year, with only two smallish pumpkins to show for a whole season of growth – I blame the late start and not enough days of sunlight. Anyway, although the large orange pumpkins you buy at Halloween don’t have quite the depth of flavour of the home-grown squashes, I had no intention of letting them go to waste!

Cue several roast pumpkin risottos (see Butternut Squash, Leek & Bacon Risotto for the basic recipe), a delicious oven-baked pumpkin, tomato & feta frittata and the following soup recipe, adapted from October’s Waitrose Food magazine.

Roast Pumpkin, Apple & Stilton Soup – serves 6-8

½ large pumpkin, peeled and chopped into 5 cm chunks

4 Cox-type apples, peeled, cored and quartered

1 tbsp chopped sage leaves

1 tsp ground cinnamon

4 carrots, peeled and cut into 2 cm lengths

2 sticks celery, cut into 2 cm chunks

2 leeks, sliced

1 onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped,

2 red chillis, finely chopped

Olive oil

25g butter

1 l vegetable or chicken stock

125 g Blue Stilton, crumbled

Milk or extra stock or white wine to taste

Pre-heat oven to 200°C / Gas 4. Toss the pumpkin and apple on a large roasting tray with the cinnamon, chopped sage and olive oil to coat. Roast for 35 minutes until tender and golden.

Meanwhile, melt the butter and a dash of olive oil in a large pan. Add the onion, garlic, leeks, celery, carrots and chilli and cook over a gentle heat for 8-10 minutes until softened.

Add the roast pumpkin and apple to the pan with the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until tender. Allow to cool slightly, then liquidise until smooth (in batches). Add milk or extra stock (or a dash of white wine!) until the desired consistency is reached. Add the crumbled Stilton and reheat to serve.

Still on the waste avoidance theme, I often end up with brown, spotty bananas in my fruit bowl and have a number of delicious ways of using them up, so I really have no excuse for them ending up on the compost heap. One such recipe is Banana Cream, simplicity itself and also delicious with perfect yellow bananas if you can’t bear to wait. Banana & Cherry Buns are another delicious use for past-their-best bananas – cooking bananas somehow transforms them into another taste dimension. One thing I don’t advise is following the advice of a certain TV chef and freezing brown bananas whole, then whizzing in a blender for instant ice-cream; I tried this the other day, admittedly with bananas that I’d put in the freezer and forgotten about for quite some time, but the resulting mix tasted revolting – like cold banana mush, just as you’d expect really!

These recipes I can vouch for, however: a perfect use of over-ripe fruit!

Banana Cream – serves 2-3

Banana cream

2-3 ripe bananas

Juice 1 lemon

125 ml double cream

125 ml natural yogurt

1 tbsp caster sugar

Chopped walnuts, grated dark chocolate or blueberries to garnish

Chop the bananas into a bowl with the squeezed lemon juice and 1 tbsp caster sugar. Mash roughly with a potato masher. Stir in the yogurt until blended. Whip the double cream until the soft peak stage and fold into the banana mixture. Spoon into 2-3 sundae dishes and top with a garnish of your choice.

Banana & Cherry Buns

175g butter, softened

150g caster sugar

175g self-raising flour

2 eggs, beaten

1 ripe banana

Lemon juice

125g glacé cherries, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 180°C fan, Gas 5. Place 24 bun cases in bun tins. Mix butter, sugar, flour and eggs together using a hand-held mixer until the mixture is light and creamy. Mash the banana in a small bowl, adding lemon juice to stop it browning. Fold in the banana and cherries. Spoon into the cases and cook in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes until golden brown and springy to the touch. Absolutely delicious warm from the oven with a cup of tea – although the banana flavour intensifies the longer you leave them – allegedly! They certainly don’t last long in my house…

Now I just need to find homes for all the windfall apples under my allotment trees – I’ve picked loads, given lots away, advertised them on Facebook and e-mailed my fellow plotholders to help themselves, but there are still lots on the ground. Sorry, Hugh….

Apples galore!

Bramleys on the treeYou know autumn is upon us with a vengeance when the apples start falling from the trees faster than you can pick them! It’s been an excellent year for apples and the trees down at the allotment are laden. I seem to have been picking windfalls forever, but all of a sudden I realised I’d better start taking the good fruit off the tree as it’s all threatening to fall.

Having spent the past three weekends up in London at networking or social events, I just haven’t had time to do much in the way of gardening, so it was bliss today to have a lovely day of autumn sunshine to finally try and get the plot tidy before the onset of the winter weather. I managed to pick 12 bags of apples – carrier bag charge notwithstanding! I use the strong Waitrose online delivery bags, proven to withstand hanging in the garage on strong hooks until the spring. Worth paying a lump sum of 40p for bags with my shopping delivery – I honestly don’t know what I’d do with the apples for storage otherwise! There are still plenty of windfalls on the ground too – think I’d better post offers on Facebook and Freecycle, as it’s a shame to let them go to waste…

Windfalls on the groundAs well as harvesting my apple bounty, I managed to sow my broad beans (Aquadulce) for next spring – always worth doing at this time of year – and cut down my sweetcorn and asparagus plants. The asparagus had made their usual jungle of growth, but tend to get battered by the wind if you leave the spent foliage through the winter. Plus I had no problem with the pesky asparagus flies this year, having read that cutting the foliage down in autumn removes their overwintering habitat – which definitely worked!

Asparagus pre cutting downThe dahlias are still going strong, so I was able to pick armfuls to bring home for the house, and the kale, purple-sprouting broccoli, leeks and parsnips are looking good for the winter too. The runner beans are just about holding on, but not for much longer, I don’t think. Rocket, coriander, dill and parsley are still looking good, too, so another bag of salad for the fridge! Carrots and calabrese made up the rest of my haul this evening – plenty to accompany next week’s dinner menus…

Purple sprouting broccol and kale

Tonight’s dessert is going to be that old stalwart, baked apples – one of my favourite easy puddings. So simple, yet so tasty. I barely need to give a recipe, as with my other apple ideas below; they really are more of a reminder of good combinations of ingredients majoring on apples, just in case you’re tearing your hair out, wondering what to do with them all!

Baked Apples

1 large Bramley apple per person
1 good tbsp mincemeat, preferably home-made
1 tbsp demerara sugar
Knob of butter

Wash the apple and gently pierce the skin all the way round the circumference of the apple with a sharp knife in one continuous line. This stops the apple exploding as it bakes. Core the apple using an apple corer, then place in a small square roasting tin and stuff the cavity with mincemeat. Sprinkle with the sugar and put a knob of butter on top. Add a couple of tbsp of water to the tin to make a sauce as it cooks, then cover the whole thing with foil and cook in a pre-heated oven at 200°C / Gas 6 for 45 mins to 1 hour. Serve with pouring cream.

This also works beautifully with autumn raspberries instead of mincemeat if you have any – unfortunately my autumn canes all died this year, so I can’t treat myself, but it is very, very good…

Another useful apple dessert is one I based loosely on the Scottish cranachan. I’ve been making this for years, but it always goes down well and again is child’s play to prepare:

Apple Oatmeal Cream – serves 4

2-3 Bramley apples, stewed to a purée with sugar to taste – you can add cinnamon and/or sultanas too if you like
150ml double cream
150ml natural yogurt
50g ground oatmeal
1 tbsp demerara sugar
Juice of ½ a lemon

Make the apple purée and leave to cool. Toast the ground oatmeal under the grill or in a hot oven, turning frequently to brown on all sides – but watch it like a hawk as it can catch and burn very easily! Allow this to cool too. Whip the cream until soft peaks form, then fold in the yogurt, sugar and lemon juice, then stir in the oatmeal when cool.

Spoon some apple purée into the bottom of a sundae dish and top with the oatmeal cream. Chill before serving – tastes even better if left overnight for the flavours to meld!

Yet another apple “combination” is one of my favourite lunch dishes at this time of year. It brightens up plain old cheese on toast, good though that is, and is another delicious way of working through that apple surplus…

Apple, Cheese & Walnut Toasties

Cheese, apple and walnut toasties

1 dessert apple (any will do, but this is particularly good with a Cox-type apple)
Chopped walnuts ( no need to be exact, just a sprinkling!)
Grated cheese (Cheddar, Lancashire or Cheshire would be my preference here)
Dash of milk to bind
Granary bread for toast

Just toast the bread on one side under the grill as usual. In the meantime, grate the apple and cheese, add a dash of milk to bind, then stir in the walnuts. Spoon onto the untoasted side of the bread and grill again until melted and golden brown. Take care that the walnuts don’t catch – best to try and submerge them under the cheese!

My final suggestion is actually a recipe “proper”, this time from the National Trust magazine earlier this year. It’s an interesting variation on an apple cake and one I really enjoyed when making it back in September. I’d just returned from Normandy at the time, where I’d tasted delicious French cider, so I made a point of buying good French cider to make this – but I’m sure any would work!

Apple, Raisin & Cider Tea Loaf

9oz self-raising flour
5oz butter
Pinch salt
1 level tsp mixed spice
4oz light Muscovado sugar
4oz raisins, soaked in 2 tbsp cider (or apple juice)
I medium Bramley apple, grated, sprinkled with lemon juice to prevent oxidation
2 eggs, beaten

Glaze:

2oz light Muscovado sugar
2 tbsp cider

Pre-heat the oven to 160°C / Gas 4 and grease and base-line a large loaf tin.

Rub the butter into the flour and stir in the salt, sugar, mixed spice, grated apple and the raisin and cider mixture. Then mix in the beaten eggs.

Transfer to the tin and bake for about 1 hour until golden and cooked through when tested with a skewer.

Boil together the glaze ingredients for 3-4 minutes and brush onto the warm loaf while still in the tin.

Allow to cool, turn out, and serve buttered with a nice cup of tea. Mmmmm….

See also The Last of the Apples from Storage for yet more ideas of what to do with all those apples. Or check out the Ingredients Index for even more suggestions. And enjoy! You know what they say about an apple a day….

Gardening Angel mug

Tomato Soup, Three Ways

Tomato soup has to be my all-time favourite. I think it goes back to the Heinz cans of tomato soup of my childhood, delicious on a cold winter’s day, even out of a Thermos flask. We never had home-made soup when I was a child, yet I’ve always prepared my own ever since I first started cooking in earnest and there really is no comparison! It’s so easy too, just a case of browning off your vegetables, adding (good) stock and away you go.

I love to stock up the freezer with tomato soup, as the tomato season here in Britain is so short, especially when you’re growing them without a greenhouse. I confess I do cheat and make tomato and lentil soup or minestrone with tinned tomatoes in the winter months, but for me the best tomato soups are those made in the fleeting months of August and September, when fresh, juicy tomatoes come straight off the vine. I don’t have a huge crop of tomatoes these days, and I do favour the cherry varieties like Sungold and Gardener’s Delight which I love to eat just as they are for their incomparable, sweet taste. This year, like last, I’ve also grown the stripy Tigerella, a small standard tomato, which is delicious cooked in soups and sauces, and lends itself to growing outside too. However, I don’t grow nearly enough for full-scale soup production and I’m very lucky this year to have been given bags full of huge, ripe tomatoes by friends with a smallholding and a very large and productive glasshouse!

I can never decide on my favourite tomato soup recipe and have three in contention – so I usually make all three at some point and fill the freezer accordingly for the darker days ahead. They are Delia’s Roasted Tomato Soup, which has a divinely rich and concentrated flavour, but uses a lot of tomatoes for a relatively small end quantity; Tomato, Apple & Celery Soup, another of Delia’s recipes, which originally came from the legendary John Tovey of the famous Miller Howe restaurant in the Lake District; and a simple Tomato Soup made in the slow cooker, originally taken from my very old Tower Slow Cook book. I’ve adapted them slightly, as ever. See which you prefer!

Delia’s Roasted Tomato Soup – serves 6

Roast tomatoes for soup1.5 kg ripe tomatoes

1 large onion

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Handful of fresh basil leaves

200 – 250g potato, peeled and chopped

1 litre boiling water or vegetable stock

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

Olive oil

2 tbsp tomato purée

Seasoning

Cut the tomatoes in half and place cut side uppermost in a large roasting tray with the onion cut into chunky wedges. Sprinkle the roughly chopped basil leaves and chopped garlic on top, season and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Roast at 180°C fan (Gas 5) for 50 minutes to 1 hour until starting to brown at the edges. In the meantime, place the chopped potato in a pan with the boiling water or stock and tomato purée, and simmer until the potato is cooked – about 20 minutes.

When the tomatoes are ready, scrape the contents of the roasting tray into the potato pan and purée the lot in a liquidiser in several batches. I’ve doubled Delia’s recipe here, as I found the original only ever made enough for three – perhaps I’m just greedy or maybe we have bigger appetites these days?

You can now sieve the soup if you wish, or leave it as it is if you don’t mind the slightly chunky texture. It will be even chunkier if you use a hand blender or food processor rather than a liquidiser, but none the worse for that.

Serve with good bread and savour the deep, rich taste – mmmmmm.

The next soup is ideal if you don’t have huge amounts of tomatoes to play with, as it uses equal quantities of apple and celery and gives a really fresh and vibrant flavour as a result. I always have plenty of windfall apples lying around at home and at the allotment this time of year, so it’s definitely on my must-cook list. Once again, I’ve doubled the original quantities – it’s really no effort to make more, fills my trusty Le Creuset casserole and makes plenty for the freezer. This soup is a much lighter colour than the other two, probably because of the apple and celery content.

Tomato, Apple & Celery Soup – serves 6-8

Tomato, apple and celery soup250g onions, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

4-500g tomatoes, quartered (leave on the skins and stalks)

350g apples, dessert or cooking, quartered (remove any damaged parts if using windfalls, but otherwise leave stalks and cores)

350g celery, including leaves, chopped into 3cm lengths

60g butter

120 ml dry sherry

Freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp chopped fresh thyme

1 tbsp tomato purée

1 litre home-made chicken stock

Seasoning

Melt the butter in a large pan, then add the chopped onions and garlic and cook gently until golden – about 10 minutes. Add the prepared fruit and vegetables, sherry, spices, thyme, tomato purée and seasoning, then place a double thickness of greaseproof paper, dampened with cold water, over the contents, cover with a lid and simmer gently for 1 hour. This method of cooking keeps in the flavours and allows the vegetables to cook really slowly; I’ve never found that it sticks, but you might like to check from time to time in case your heat source is particularly fierce!

After 1 hour, add the stock to the contents of the pan (removing the paper first, of course!) and stir thoroughly. Bring back to the boil for a few minutes, then allow to cool. Liquidise the soup in batches and then you will need to sieve this soup, as it contains all the stalks, pips, etc! Return to a clean pan and reheat.

Serve with good bread or cheese & apple scones. So fresh!

My final tomato soup recipe is made in the slow cooker for convenience, but you could equally well cook it on the hob for 45 minutes – 1 hour after the initial preparation. I often make it overnight, then it has time to cool before being liquidised for lunch. In my original recipe book I’ve noted down to add flour – how times have changed! I wouldn’t dream of adding flour to a soup recipe these days, but tastes were obviously different back in the early 80’s. Another sign of the times was the addition of dried mixed herbs – I really can’t remember the last time I didn’t use fresh herbs in a recipe, but they just weren’t as available in the shops 30 years ago… It works perfectly well with dried herbs if that’s all you’ve got to hand, of course, but fresh are definitely better. This recipe also includes bacon, which I think gives it a nice savoury flavour, but you could always leave it out and use vegetable stock if you’re cooking for vegetarians. It makes quite a thin, but delicious soup, since most of the vegetable content is rather watery; if you’d prefer a thicker soup (and trust me, flour is not the way to go!), just add a medium potato, peeled and diced, with the rest of the vegetables. Alternatively, you could add cream at the end for a cream of tomato soup.

Traditional Tomato Soup

Tomato soup50g butter or olive oil

2 medium onions, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 large carrot, chopped

3 sticks celery, chopped

(1 medium potato, peeled and diced if you prefer a thicker soup – optional)

4 rashers streaky bacon, chopped

1.4kg tomatoes, quartered

1 tbsp tomato purée

1 bay leaf

1 sprig rosemary, chopped (or herbs of your choice – basil, parsley and/or thyme are also good)

1 litre home-made chicken (or vegetable) stock

1 tsp sugar

Seasoning

If using a slow-cooker, pre-heat on high if necessary.

Heat the butter or olive oil in a large pan and cook the onion, garlic, carrot, celery and bacon gently for 5 minutes until starting to soften. Stir in the remaining ingredients apart from the stock and cook for a further 5 minutes, then add the stock and bring to the boil.

Transfer to the slow cooker if using and cook for 8 – 10 hours on Low – or overnight. Otherwise, turn the pan down to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Remove the bay leaf, allow to cool, then liquidise in several batches. (I say this advisedly – I once asked my teenage son to liquidise some soup for me, but he didn’t read the instructions, didn’t allow it to cool and poured it all into the liquidiser in one go. Result: one extremely messy kitchen – not a pretty sight!) Again, you can sieve if you feel it necessary, but I don’t usually for this one.

Once again, serve with good bread and enjoy the taste of summer!

Feast of plenty

Poppy and Leo with the apple treeReturning home from a 10-day working trip in France this weekend, the garden seems to have been ultra-bountiful in my absence. The Katy apple tree, a delicious red eating apple along the lines of Discovery, has shed most of its fruit now, always an early arrival, and friends have kindly left bags full in my fridge. The tomatoes have also ripened beautifully, despite, or perhaps, because of the plentiful rain, and I haven’t dared check out the allotment yet, but the rather large courgettes taking up residence in my fridge suggest they have been productive too! I’m hoping to spend the day down at the allotment tomorrow, so will doubtless have even more bounty to process then….

Having eaten at rather strange times in France due to my working hours, I’ve been really looking forward to simple fruit and vegetable meals again – just as well, really! For tonight’s meal, after a day getting straight with unpacking, washing, sorting out paperwork and generally relaxing, I had the urge to make something akin to Aubergine Parmigiana, but sadly my only remaining aubergine is just a couple of inches long and probably won’t come to anything this late in the season. I decided instead to create a tomato dish, inspired by the aubergine recipe, but using just tomatoes. I served it with pork and leek sausages from my local farm shop and it was everything I’d imagined: see what you think!

Baked Tomato & Gruyère Gratin – serves 2 or 4

Tomato Gruyere Gratin450g tomatoes (amount not crucial – just use what you need to fill the dish!)

Handful fresh basil

Olive oil

2 cloves garlic

Balsamic vinegar

200g pot creamy fromage frais (not the 0% stuff!)

About 80g Gruyère

Couple of handfuls of breadcrumbs

Halve the tomatoes and line up in neat rows in a gratin dish. I used cherry tomatoes as that’s what I had most of, but you can use standard tomatoes too – just increase the initial cooking time in that case. Sprinkle with chopped garlic, chopped basil, then drizzle with olive oil and a dash of balsamic vinegar. Roast in a pre-heated oven at 200°C / Gas 6 for 20 – 30 minutes depending on size of tomatoes. They should be starting to soften and release their juices.

Top with spoonfuls of fromage frais, spreading out as best you can; it doesn’t matter if it’s not all covered. Then add thin shavings of Gruyère and top with the breadcrumbs (I use frozen for ease, prepared in the food processor when I have excess bread to use up).

Turn the oven down to 180°C / Gas 5 and cook for 30 minutes or until golden brown and crispy on top.

Serves 4 as a vegetable side dish with meat and potatoes or 2 if just serving as a substantial side with sausages or chops.

Pudding had to be apples of some description, so I looked to Nigel Slater’s Real Fast Puddings for inspiration and adapted one of his deliciously simple apple creations:

Pan-fried apples with Calvados – serves 2

Calvados apples24-5 red eating apples such as Katy or Discovery – choose apples that will hold their shape when cooked

Lemon juice

Knob of butter

2-3 tbsp vanilla sugar

Sprinkle of cinnamon

Dash of Calvados

Peel and core the apples, slicing each apple into 8 or so segments. Sprinkle with lemon juice to stop browning as you prepare the rest.

Melt the butter in a small frying pan and add the apples. Cook over a relatively gentle heat for 15 minutes or so until starting to soften. Add the vanilla sugar and a sprinkle of cinnamon to taste, then cook for a further 10 minutes until the liquid looks syrupy. Add a dash of Calvados and cook for a further few minutes.

Serve warm or cold with crème fraiche or clotted cream. Heaven…

My final recipe is one I shall cook tomorrow night to make inroads into the courgette stockpile. It was suggested by a very good friend of mine after we’d shared a foodie/garden-visiting weekend together earlier this year and makes a scrumptious and substantial vegetarian feast. The first time I made it, I adapted it slightly to use up the remains of a Puy lentil and beetroot salad I had in the fridge, but you can equally well use lentils from scratch. Just cook in water for 20 minutes or so according to the instructions on the packet.

Stuffed Courgettes with Puy Lentils & Cheese – serves 2

Stuffed courgettes22 large courgettes

1 large onion

1 clove garlic

1 red chilli, finely chopped

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

Handful chopped basil

½ tin chopped tomatoes

1 tbsp tomato purée

100g cooked Puy lentils

Cooked beetroot (optional)

Cheddar cheese to top

Halve courgettes lengthwise and hollow out flesh with a sharp spoon. Chop the flesh and reserve. Blanch the courgette shells in boiling water for 1 minute, then drain and place in a rectangular gratin dish.

Sauté the chopped onion, garlic and chilli until soft, then add chopped courgette flesh, cumin and coriander, chopped tomatoes, basil and tomato purée. Cook down for a further 10-15 minutes, then stir in the cooked lentils and beetroot (if using). Cook for another 10 minutes or so until well blended; fill courgettes with the lentil mixture and top with grated Cheddar cheese.

Cook in a hot oven (180°C / Gas 5) for 25-30 minutes or until golden.

Serve with a green salad and enjoy!

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.