Tag Archives: autumn

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!

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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

A taste of Crete in an unseasonally warm English autumn

Paleochora crocodile

Although it’s now nearly 4 weeks since I returned from my late autumn sunshine week in Crete, it’s hard to believe that temperatures in London yesterday were in the early 20’s, yet crisp, golden leaves were falling all around. Crazy weather! Very pleasant, though, for planting out the last of my spring pots with bulbs and violas, and continuing with the autumn tidy-up. I even found some alarmingly fat caterpillars on the shredded stalks of my purple-sprouting broccoli this afternoon when I made a hasty visit to gather some spinach and salad leaves for tonight’s dinner. It was too dark to do much more than puff a little organic pyrethrum dust over them and pick off the most obvious offenders, but I shall definitely be taking a closer look tomorrow – not what you expect at this time of year!

Other jobs on the agenda tomorrow, after a few weekends being too busy socialising to do much at the allotment, include clearing the beds of squash, courgette and sweetcorn plants, general weeding after all this warm and humid weather, and planting my broad bean seeds to overwinter for an early crop next spring. I’ve not planted any spring or winter cabbage this year as they always seem to get decimated by the combined forces of slugs and caterpillars, plus they take up an awful lot of room in the ground when there’s only me to eat them. Kale and broccoli provide a crop over a longer period, especially in March/April when there’s not a lot else around, and seem less affected (usually!) by pests as long as you net them from the ever-hungry pigeons. I’m giving garlic a miss too – the last three years have been blighted by fungal rot, so I can only conclude there are spores throughout the soil, despite careful crop rotation. The elephant garlic I trialled this year didn’t seem to be affected, but the individual cloves were far too big for one (or even two), so not really practical unless you have a large family to feed. Fortunately, Mr Waitrose does a nice line in organic garlic, so I think I’ll manage!

One thing I loved about Crete was the huge variety of vegetable dishes on offer. My hotel had its own vegetable garden and each evening we were regaled with a range of different and unusual vegetable side dishes, including okra, aubergines, peppers and pumpkins – delicious! I ate out at some lovely restaurants at lunchtime too, including a lovely find in Anidri, a tiny village above Paleochora, where my cousin lives. The Old School Café serves fabulous home-cooked food and the two of us dined like queens for the princely sum of €23 including wine and raki! My favourite dish was a pear and Graviera tart, closely followed by stuffed and baked aubergines in a tomato sauce, but it was the pear tart that intrigued me – I’d never thought of using pears in a savoury tart, although I adore the classic French combination of pears and blue cheese as a starter.

anidri cafe

I couldn’t find any similar recipes to recreate the dish when I got home, so I’ve experimented with my own and was delighted with the results. Graviera is a hard Greek cheese and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get it here, so I opted for Gruyère instead, to give it that mature, tangy flavour – a good Cheddar might work too. See what you think:

Pear & Gruyère Tart

Shortcrust pastry case, 7-8” diameter

1 red onion, sliced

1oz butter or olive oil

2 pears (I used Conference, not too hard)

Juice of ½ lemon

2 eggs

1 small pot natural yogurt or crème fraiche

Fresh nutmeg, grated

Few sprigs fresh thyme, stripped from the stalks

2oz Gruyère (or to taste, plus extra to sprinkle on top)

Pre-bake the pastry case as usual.

Cook the sliced onion slowly in the butter or oil for about 15 mins, then add the pears, peeled and cored, then sliced thinly lengthwise (sprinkle with lemon juice while preparing to stop browning). Cook gently for a further 15 mins, then remove from heat.

Beat the eggs, then add small pot of natural yogurt, a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg, chopped thyme and seasoning. Stir in 2oz grated Gruyère and mix. Place the onion and pear mixture at the bottom of the pastry case, distributing evenly, then pour over the egg mixture. Sprinkle with extra Gruyère.

Cook at 180°C/Gas 5 for 25-30 mins or until golden brown. Serve with salad and enjoy!

Pear tart and salad

I served mine with fresh leaves and tomatoes from the garden, along with roasted beetroots and a splash of balsamic vinegar – the earthy taste of the beets really complimented the sweet, yet savoury taste of the pear tart.

I imagine the recipe would work equally well (if not better?!) with blue cheese, such as Gorgonzola or Blue Stilton, and perhaps with walnut pastry rather than standard shortcrust. Certainly worth a try next time…

Butternut squash and a blustery day…

Euonymus in full autumn gloryIt’s been an unseasonally warm, but blustery day here in the South-East – the perfect weather for walking dogs through autumn-hued forests and starting the great garden (and allotment) tidy-up. Having been on holiday the first week of October, then back to a change-of-season head cold, I feel as though the change from summer to autumn has happened almost overnight! All of a sudden the nights are drawing in, leaves are changing colour and the harvest definitely needs bringing in.

All my apples are in already, beans have finished and the last few courgettes are not really ripening, despite the residual warmth in the sun. On the plus side, the late-season sowings of salad and herbs I made in September are romping away, looking promising for winter greens if I can keep the slugs and frost at bay – I think a judicial application of organic slug pellets and a fleece overcoat might be in order!

Autumn raspberries are still producing, albeit at a slower rate, but still enough to top my breakfast muesli and yogurt a couple of mornings a week – which can’t be bad for October. The dahlias are also magnificent still, producing vases full of deep magenta, fuchsia pink and claret red blooms, with some spidery white cactus flowers for good measure. The stalks are shorter this year, but I can’t complain and I have so many vases for every eventuality that they always look good.

My Sarah Raven tulips finally arrived this week, so I made a start, late this afternoon, on empting my summer tubs in the garden – doesn’t seem two minutes since I planted them up for summer! The tuberous begonias I bought as tubers have been phenomenal this year, so I’m going to attempt to keep them over the winter. For now, I’ve just shaken off any loose soil and left them to dry out in a tray in the shed, but before the frosts arrive, I shall wrap them in newspaper and store in the garage overwinter.

I’m going to do the bulk of my tulips next weekend, when the weather will hopefully be a little colder. I’ve ordered orange Ballerina, deep-purple Recreado, deep red Couleur Cardinal and red and black Pimpernel – should be a sight to behold! And this year I’m reverting to planting single blocks of colour in each pot for maximum effect, rather than mixing them and risking them not flowering at the same time, as happened this spring.

Pickings from the allotment this weekend included calabrese, beetroot, kale, mixed salad leaves, coriander, parsley, leeks and butternut squash, the latter now being left in a capacious basket in the conservatory for winter use. Indeed, most of them are so huge, they are enough for several meals in one go (such hardship!). Recipe ideas to follow:

Butternut squash, leek and bacon risotto

Serves 3 (or 2 with enough left for arancini the next day…)

Half a large butternut squash, peeled (easiest with a vegetable peeler) and chopped into large chunks

Olive oil

1 tsp coriander seeds

100g smoked bacon, chopped

225g leeks, trimmed and sliced

150g arborio risotto rice

50g butter

1 small onion, chopped

75 ml dry white wine

approx. 500 ml homemade stock (vegetable, chicken or ham)

1 dspn chopped fresh sage

2 tbsp Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, grated

salt & pepper

To serve:

50g Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, grated

Chopped parsley or toasted pumpkin/squash seeds to garnish.

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C, Gas 6. Roast the chopped squash in olive oil, seasoning and crushed coriander seeds for 30 minutes. Turn oven down to 160°C, Gas 4. Cook the bacon and the onion in the butter until soft and golden – 5-7 mins. Place a 9” square baking dish (2” deep) into the oven to warm up. Add the leeks and the rice to the pan and stir through to get a good coating of butter. (It will look as though there’s not nearly enough rice at this stage but it swells during cooking.) Add the wine and the stock, then the sage and seasoning and bring to boiling point. Finally stir in the roast squash. Transfer the contents of the pan into the warmed dish, stir and bake, uncovered, for 20 mins. Then stir in 2 tbsp Parmesan and add more liquid if it’s all absorbed – I find it always needs more, so make sure you allow extra. Return to oven and cook for a further 15 mins, before serving with extra cheese and toasted pumpkin or squash seeds as a garnish – or parsley if you prefer.

(Don’t forget to make arancini with any leftover risotto – delicious! See https://rhubarbandraspberries.wordpress.com/2014/05/11/bluebells-tulips-and-wild-garlic-a-bounty-of-bulbs/ for instructions.)

Butternut Squash Dauphinoise squash dauphinoiseThis recipe is courtesy of my BBC Good Food kitchen calendar, slightly adapted to the contents of my fridge. I often make potato or parsnip dauphinois, but had never tried it with squash and was pleasantly surprised. No. 1 son was home for the weekend and this made a delicious accompaniment to roast chicken, roast potatoes and home-grown calabrese.

150 ml double cream

150 ml milk

Bay leaf

Sprig of thyme

1 clove garlic

Grated nutmeg

½ large butternut squash, peeled and thinly sliced

Butter to grease dish

50 g Gruyère cheese, grated

Place milk, cream, bay leaf, thyme sprig and crushed garlic in a pan, bring to the boil, then switch off and leave for 10 mins to infuse.

Heat oven to 200°C. Grease an oblong, shallow ovenproof dish with butter, then add the thinly sliced squash in layers. Season, then pour over the milk and cream mixture including the herbs. Cover with foil and cook in the oven for 30 mins. Then uncover, make sure all the squash is submerged and add more milk if you think it looks a little dry. Scatter over the grated cheese. Return to the oven for a further 30 mins until the squash is tender and the whole dish is golden. Serve with roast meat, sausages, etc. This amount makes enough for 3, but can easily be doubled to feed more.

And finally:

Stuffed butternut squash with sausage, onion and kale

Serves 2

1 medium butternut squash, halved and deseeded (but NOT peeled)

50g pearl barley

200g kale, thick stalks removed, finely chopped

2 good-sized sausages

Olive oil

100g halloumi or feta

1 onion, chopped

1 tsp harissa paste

100g cherry tomatoes, halved

½ Jalapeno chilli, finely chopped

Gruyère or Parmesan cheese, grated, to top

Roast the squash halves, cut side up, on a tray in the oven at 200°C for 50 mins – 1 hour, depending on the size of your squash. Meanwhile, cook pearl barley in a pan of water for 40 mins until tender, adding the chopped kale for the last few minutes.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and cook the onion slowly for 30 mins, adding the skinned and chopped sausage for the last 15 mins. Add to the pearl barley, along with the chopped feta or halloumi, tomatoes, chopped chillis and harissa paste, then season well.

Scoop out the tender flesh from the squash and add to the barley mixture, mixing lightly. Return to the squash shells, sprinkle over Gruyère or Parmesan to taste and return to the oven for 15 mins until nicely golden.

Enjoy!

This was based on a recipe from my Sainsbury’s Cook’s Calendar – obviously a good month for calendar recipes. My squash was so huge that I could only eat a quarter of it in one go and I did find that it wasn’t as good re-heated for lunch the next day: the barley seemed to have absorbed all the liquid so it was a little dry. Perhaps serve with tomato sauce if re-heating? First time round it was delicious however!

Leo and the logpile

 

 

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

 

 

Passion for Preserving

Jars, backlit

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

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

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

Chilli dipping sauce

400g granulated sugar

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

5 garlic cloves, crushed

250ml cider vinegar

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

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

Thanks to Sarah Raven for the recipe!

Chilli dipping sauce

Cucumber Relish

3lb cucumbers

1lb onion

2 green peppers

1 ½oz salt

1pt distilled white vinegar

10oz granulated sugar

2 tsp turmeric

2 tsp black mustard seed

2 tsp ground allspice

1 tsp ground mace

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

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

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

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

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

And finally, my younger son’s favourite:

Spiced beetroot and orange chutney

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

3 red onions, chopped

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

Zest and juice of 3 oranges

2 tbsp black mustard seeds

1 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tbsp ground cloves

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp salt

700ml red wine vinegar

700g granulated sugar

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

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

Store cupboard

Plum Perfect

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

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

Plum Bakewell Tart

Pastry:

8oz plain flour

2oz butter

2oz lard or vegetable fat

Water

Salt

Filling:

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

6oz butter

6oz caster sugar

6oz ground almonds

3 eggs, beaten

1 tsp vanilla extract

Grated rind of one orange

3 tbsp self-raising flour

Topping:

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

2 tbsp Grand Marnier or other alcohol of your choice

1 tbsp vanilla (or caster) sugar

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

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

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

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

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

Plum Bakewell