Oh dear, how on earth has it been over a month since I last wrote here?! A fortnight in San Francisco, stealing a march on the descent from autumn into winter, probably didn’t help, but I certainly feel as though winter has arrived with a vengeance now I’m back in the wet and windy UK. From temperatures of 22°C to just above freezing was quite some shock!
On the positive side, at least there’s not much to be done in the garden at this blustery, damp and dank time of year. I planted most of my spring bulbs and planters before I left and just had a late arrival, a bag of Orange Emperor tulips from Sarah Raven, to go in on my return. I also managed to squeeze in half an hour at the allotment on Sunday afternoon to plant out last year’s saved tulip bulbs along the front of one of my raspberry beds. I’m hoping they’ll give me a nice show of colour before the raspberries get going in earnest – but I won’t hold out any hope that I’ll be able to bring myself to cut them for the house as intended originally! They always look far too lovely in situ!
The courgettes and dahlias have finally succumbed to frost, although I still managed to pick a couple of bunches of sweet peas in my first week home – unheard-of in November! Now we can look forward to the first parsnips and the leeks will come into their own, plus I can see some of the calabrese have sideshoots forming where the main stems were cut. With kale and beetroot, spinach, chard and parsley bringing up the rear, there’s plenty of green stuff to keep me going for the foreseeable future.
This weekend saw two sides of the weather divide: glorious chilly sunshine on the Saturday, followed by torrential rain and gales overnight and into Sunday morning. Cue two very different walks on the Ashdown Forest en route to my parents’ house to escape the newly laid and treated oak floor throughout the ground floor of my house as it dried.
Having had the upheaval of the new flooring all week, I hadn’t had time to bake and had made a plea to my mum for a homemade cake to take home. I hadn’t baked since my return from the US and the cupboards were looking decidedly bare! Good thing I had a freezer full of soups/casseroles, although with the microwave out of action in the conservatory, I had to be sufficiently organised to get them out in advance. Mum came up trumps (are we allowed to say that nowadays?!) with a delicious rich pineapple cake, one of my recipes from my friend Moira from way back when, in my early days as an in-house translator. It still tastes as good as it ever did – just what you fancy with a cup of Earl Grey on these cold and dark winter afternoons…
Rich Pineapple Cake
2oz chopped glacé cherries
7oz self-raising flour
8oz can crushed pineapple, drained
4 ½oz dark brown soft sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
12oz mixed fruit
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tbsp marmalade
Brandy to taste!
Cream butter and sugar, beat in eggs, add flour, then marmalade, mixed spice, cherries, drained pineapple and dried fruit. Stir until blended, add brandy if using, then transfer to a greased, lined loaf tin. Cook at 150°C for 1 to 1 ¼ hrs, covering after 1 hour if it looks to be turning too brown.
Double up the mixture using a large tin of pineapple if making two cakes at once. Freezes well. Can be marzipanned and iced as a light Christmas cake.
I did manage to scramble together an easy traditional pudding for Sunday dinner when I got home to a beautifully dry oak floor. Still no furniture in the kitchen as yet, but at least I could access the basics. All-in-one sponges are a godsend when you haven’t much time and you really can’t beat a good, old-fashioned Eve’s pudding, especially when you still have a surplus of fluffy, tangy Bramley apples to use up.
Eve’s Pudding – serves 4-6
40z butter, softened
4oz caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
4oz self-raising flour, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Bramley apples, peeled, chopped and stewed with a little water, a modicum of sugar to taste and a squeeze of lemon juice
Peel the apples, chop into a pan with a few dsp of sugar – to taste: I like it quite tangy – and a squeeze of lemon juice to prevent browning. Cook until fluffy, beat until smooth and set aside to cool. Transfer to a greased 8″ round Pyrex dish.
Place the butter, sugar, flour, beaten eggs and vanilla extract into a bowl and whisk until light and fluffy. Spoon carefully over the cool apple purée to cover.
Bake at 180°C for 1/2 hour – 40 minutes until golden brown and well-risen. Serve warm with homemade custard – or Bird’s if you must!
I use an adaptation of Delia’s “proper” custard and very good it is too. It really isn’t much trouble to make and tastes incomparably better than the powdered stuff; try it and see!
150ml double cream
150ml semi-skimmed milk
3 egg yolks
1 tsp cornflour
1 1/2 tbsp vanilla sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Warm the milk and cream in a small pan until it just comes to the boil. Meanwhile mix together the egg yolks, cornflour, vanilla sugar and vanilla extract in a small bowl. Add the hot milk, stir well and return to the pan over a gentle heat, stirring constantly. Continue to stir until the mixture thickens, taking care that it doesn’t curdle – the addition of the cornflour should help to stabilise it.