Tag Archives: Apples

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

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

Advertisements

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.

Juice is the best medicine…

Autumn walk, into the sun

It’s that time of year when everyone starts to get colds and sniffles, it’s wet outside more than it’s dry, daylight hours are limited and the gardens have started to take on their drab late autumn/winter coats as the last of the brilliant leaf colour fades. I’ve had a persistent tickly cough since returning from Crete with a heavy cold in mid-October, although my fruit and vegetable-intensive diet normally means I miss the worst of the bugs. I blame the Italian tourist sniffing and sneezing next to me on the bus down to the South coast of Crete….

When you are feeling under the weather, there are certain foods you seem to crave. I love hot blackcurrant with a squeeze of fresh lemon to soothe my throat and if you have a juicer, fresh juice goes down a treat: you can feel it doing you good and fighting all the germs as it slips down! Another dark red superfood is beetroot, which always grows brilliantly, whatever the vagaries of the season, on my allotment. I have it roasted, often with a dash of balsamic vinegar, throughout the summer, served as a side dish with salads or most meat dishes. At this time of year, when I only have a few little roots left in the ground, I throw a couple in the juicer with some home-grown dessert apples, the juice of one orange and a thumb-sized piece of root ginger – divine! The beetroot imparts a pleasant, slightly earthy tone and jewel-like colour, but otherwise it’s a delicious pick-you-up. And herbalist friends of mine rate beetroot extremely highly in terms of its infection-fighting, immune-system-building properties… It is so good for you! Juicers aren’t cheap, but if you grow a lot of your own produce, they are an amazing way of making vitamin-rich, goodness-packed juices for next-to-nothing. Yes, there are lots of pieces to wash up, but I would never make just one glass at a time, so it’s worth the little extra washing-up effort. I like to strain the resulting juice through a sieve lined with a muslin cloth too, for a completely clear juice – but that’s just my personal preference. If you don’t mind the juice cloudy, just serve it straight from the juicer.

Beetroot, apple, orange and ginger juice

I also have a simple electric citrus press that I bought for less than £10 in the January sales one year, and it’s great for juicing oranges for breakfast. You can put whole oranges through the juicer, but if you leave the skin and pith on (other than on the odd slice of lemon or lime), it can leave a bitter aftertaste and make the juice excessively (and unpleasantly) frothy. Easier by far to juice citrus fruit separately and add to other juice as you require. I do it by hand for the odd one or two, of course, but an electric press is handy for a houseful…

My last piece of juicing equipment is a blender: this comes into its own in the summer when I have a glut of strawberries. The taste of liquidised strawberries with just a hint of sifted icing sugar and maybe the juice of an orange, served over ice, is sublime – and the ultimate luxury for those of us who grow our own! Pineapples, too, are delicious liquidised with orange juice and ice in the winter, when they’re at their cheapest in the shops. Funnily enough, if you put them through the juicer, you lose the texture and with it the taste, but unsieved, just whizzed in the blender, they make a fantastic smoothie with a real zing of the Tropics.

The shops are full of the latest wonder juices combining weird and wonderful ingredients like kale and chard. The beauty of growing your own is that you can experiment and see what you like. I find apples always make a good base (and I always have plenty), as does the odd spritz of lemon juice or cucumber, but thereafter just add whatever you crave, or is lying around in the fridge. It’s a great way of using up fruit and vegetables you don’t know what else to do with too – and if you don’t particularly like the results, well, you can always add other ingredients until you do – or at a pinch, feed the compost heap (which is where it would have gone anyway!).

Enjoy! Juice is definitely one of nature’s best medicines…

Autumn walk

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