Tag Archives: Mouth-watering

Berry Bonanza

allotment haul July 2015Summer in the allotment is a fabulous time for soft fruit and this year is no exception. From the end of June through to the end of July, there’s a constant stream of delicious berries to harvest, starting with strawberries, closely followed by currants, white, red and black, and on to raspberries. This week I’m also looking after my neighbour’s allotment whilst she’s on holiday and she has jostaberries too: a German hybrid of blackcurrants and gooseberries (hence the name: Jo-hannisbeeren (blackcurrants) and Sta-chelbeeren (gooseberries)). This makes a huge bush – my neighbour’s must be at least 8-10 feet across and this year, secure in its fruit cage, is absolutely dripping with fruit. I’m under instructions to help myself, and so have jam in my sights, but for now have just picked enough for a delicious compote to top a cheesecake – tangy and delightful, tasting of both its parents, but unique too – definitely one to try again! I usually make this recipe with fresh strawberries (as shown in the photo) or raspberries, but it was equally good with jostaberries and would work beautifully with blackcurrants too.

Strawberry (or Jostaberry) Cheesecake – serves 6-8

Strawberry cheesecake 75g butter

250g HobNob or digestive biscuits

150ml double cream

200g full-fat cream cheese

200g crème fraiche

Juice and zest of 1 lime

75g caster sugar

Few drops vanilla essence

Fruit to top: 500g strawberries (sliced) or raspberries

or 500g jostaberries or blackcurrants

50-75g sugar (to taste)

1 tsp arrowroot

I make this in a shallow 30cm x 20cm rectangular tart tin with a loose bottom, but you can use an equivalent round tart tin if you prefer. Grease the tin with butter.

Melt the butter in a small pan and add the crushed biscuits (the old-fashioned way using a plastic bag and a rolling pin, or food-processor if you prefer, but don’t overprocess: a chunky mix is good). Mix and turn into the base of the tin. Spread out and refrigerate while you make the filling.

Whip the cream lightly with the sugar, then add the lime zest and juice, cream cheese, crème fraiche and vanilla essence, continuing to whip until the mixture makes soft swirls. Turn into the base and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight for the best set.

Top with fresh berries if using, garnishing with borage flowers if you have any.

If serving with compote, cook the jostaberries or blackcurrants gently with the sugar until just cooked. Don’t be tempted to add water as the fruit will produce plenty of juice as the berries burst. Pour some of the juice into a small bowl and mix in the teaspoon of arrowroot, then stir the resulting mixture into the cooked berries over a gentle heat, until the mixture thickens slightly. Do not allow to boil, otherwise the mixture will turn runny again! Cool overnight and use to top the cheesecake just before serving.

My summer raspberries are just about coming to an end, and my autumn raspberries (along with many others on the allotment) have succumbed to a mystery virus this year, so I won’t be enjoying my autumn breakfasts of muesli, yogurt and fresh raspberries this year, sadly. It’s been a great season, though, and I’ve used raspberries in so many ways, including the following delicious summer pudding, great for a dinner party. This recipe originally came from the Beechgrove Garden TV show when we lived in Scotland, but I’ve adapted it slightly and it has been part of my summer repertoire ever since:

Meringue Roulade – serves 8

Meringue Roulade4 egg whites

225g caster sugar

25g flaked almonds

1 dsp cornflour

1 tsp lemon juice

150ml double cream

150ml natural yogurt

Fresh raspberries or strawberries (at least 250g)

Line a Swiss roll tin with baking parchment. Set oven to 160°C (fan) / Gas 4.

Whisk egg whites until firm and gradually whisk in the sugar until glossy and stiff peaks have formed.

Fold in the cornflour and lemon juice using a metal spoon, then transfer to the prepared tin using a spatula and gently level the surface. Sprinkle with the flaked almonds, then bake for about 20 minutes until just starting to turn golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Cut a piece of greaseproof paper a little bigger than the roulade, place on a large chopping board and gently place over the roulade. Invert the whole board gently so that the roulade is upside down on the paper. Carefully peel off the baking parchment.

Whip the cream until the soft swirl stage, then whisk in the yogurt. Gently spread over the meringue and top with the fruit of your choice. The more fruit you add, the more challenging it will be to roll, but the more delicious it will taste! You can always add more fruit on the side if you’re not sure…

Finally roll up firmly, using the paper as a guide. Think positive! Transfer onto a serving platter and serve to much acclaim!

The original recipe suggests serving this with raspberry sauce, but I don’t think this is necessary if you add enough fruit to cover in the first place….

The starting point for my final berry recipe was a recent Waitrose recipe leaflet that coincided with a glut of raspberries in the kitchen. I misread the recipe when I first tried it (more haste, less speed!) and forgot to separate the eggs. I also used gluten-free self-raising flour (Dove’s Farm) and halved* the mixture – they were delicious! This morning I experimented again for my weekend house guests, separating the eggs, and using the full quantity and standard self-raising flour: they were even better! I also changed the proportions of yogurt and ricotta as I only had half a pot of ricotta left after the first time. Just goes to show that you can sometimes deviate from the recipe with great success….

Raspberry and Redcurrant Ricotta Pancakes – serves 4 hungry people!

raspberry and redcurrant pancakes

125g self-raising flour (gluten-free works fine)

50g caster sugar

100ml natural yogurt

250g ricotta

1 tbsp milk

3 large eggs, separated

Zest of 1 lemon (or lime)

½ tsp vanilla extract

100g raspberries or redcurrants (or a mix of both)

Sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl and stir in the sugar. In a separate bowl, beat together the egg yolks, yogurt, ricotta, milk, lemon or lime zest and vanilla extract until well mixed. Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Gradually beat the wet yolk mixture into the flour, then fold in the egg whites, followed by the fruit.

Heat a knob of butter and a splash of oil in a large frying pan, pour off excess and place small ladlefuls of the mixture into the pan, in batches. I cooked four at a time in my large pan. Fry on a medium heat for a couple of minutes each side, turning with a spatula or fish slice when golden brown on each side. Keep warm (or serve to impatient breakfasters!) while you continue with the rest. Serve on their own, or with butter or maple syrup. Any leftover (ha!) are delicious toasted the following day….

*If, like me, you decide to halve the mixture for 1-2 people, use 1 whole egg and 1 egg white, but you can add 75g fruit without any adverse effects 🙂

Bluebells, tulips and wild garlic – a bounty of bulbs!

What a fabulous season it’s been for bulbs! The bluebells on my daily dog walks have been absolutely heavenly this year, obviously relishing the heavy rains of winter. That scent as you walk through them is just knockout – making you inclined to linger and not return to the desk at all!


As for the tulips, well, they’ve been brilliant too. I’m lucky to have (at least) two beautiful tulip events to visit round here, with the deservedly renowned Pashley Manor Tulip Festival (http://www.pashleymanorgardens.com/) last weekend for stunning drifts of tulips in an immaculately maintained country garden setting and the backdrop of a wisteria-clad manor house. Bliss….


The weekend before I’d made time to go to the tulip open day at Sarah Raven’s Cutting Garden (https://www.sarahraven.com/perch-hill), just south of Burwash and not very far from here either. I always look forward to Sarah’s open days, especially the tulip one, as she grows her tulips in amongst the vegetable and flower beds and I always come away inspired.


This year I’d ordered the Brandy Snap mix shown in the image above for my own tubs, but mine didn’t all flower at the same time for some reason, so whilst they were gorgeous, they didn’t look quite as spectacular as Sarah’s. This mix contained tulips Ronaldo, Bruine Wimpel, Belle Epoque and Cairo and was a really sensational smoky blend of colours. I think in future I might revert to having one colour per tub, though, as I’ve done in previous years, just for the sheer massed effect of one colour. Sarah offers both tulip mixes where you get a mixed bag of 4 different tulips, and collections, where each tulip variety is bagged separately and I think that’s the way to go – for me at least.


I adore bulb-planting time in the autumn and am like a child in a sweetshop when it comes to choosing new bulbs each year. I always buy new tulips for my five large oak barrels, and then, when it’s time to empty the barrels of their winter offering ready for the summer planting, I look at the bulbs to decide whether to keep them. If they have split into lots of tiny bulbs, it’s not worth saving them as they’re unlikely to flower again, and I just compost them. If, however, the bulb is still a good size, I plant them out in the garden and enjoy them for years to come. The bulb growers never give any guidance about which ones are perennial and which ones aren’t – and indeed it varies according to your soil and the position they’re planted in! I have colonised the communal island opposite my house (as viewed from my study window!) as the perfect spot for tulips and Mediterranean-style plants. The soil is pretty poor – I suspect it was the builders’ soil repository when they built the three new houses next door to my plot back in 2000 – but it is south-facing and banked and the tulips love it! The varieties I have found to be reliably perennial include Purissima (early white – always the first tulip to flower here), Doll’s Minuet (as shown in the foreground above, a delightful fuchsia-pink lily-flowered tulip which has really bulked up in the ground) and red Oxford, which has a striking yellow base, visible as it opens fully. There’s also a beautiful pink variety, tipped with silver, but the problem with planting them out and seeing what comes up is that I’m not sure which variety it is! I suspect it’s Pink Impression, although I’ve also had Menton, which is similar, and Judith Leyster, another potential contender. Motto: keep better records of where you’ve planted what! Either way, it’s a fabulous tulip and comes reliably year on year. There’s also a deep burgundy tulip, but mysteriously I’ve no records as to what that might be! It’s always worth a try, in any event – as long as the bulbs are a reasonable size. I’m due to start emptying my spring pots next weekend and am hoping that at least some of this year’s beauties are suitable for planting out…


I’ve actually run out of space on the front beds, unless I dig up yet more lawn (!), so my thought this year is to plant some (fingers crossed!) down at the allotment, between my asparagus rows. That bed is pretty empty at this time of year, apart from the burgeoning asparagus shoots which are cut down as soon as they reach 8” tall – mmm! I thought it might be a nice idea to have some tulips there as a cutting crop – especially as I can never bring myself to cut the ones at home, even though they make a prolific show nowadays. I’ll report back on how I get on!


Final bulb of the season has to be the wild garlic, which has also had a good year. It seems to arrive all of a sudden, and I find myself heading back from my bluebell walks with a rucksack full of wild garlic leaves (prompting the postmistress to ask what the smell was one day last week! Oops…). Wild garlic pesto is delicious and allows you to steal a march whilst you’re waiting for this year’s basil seedlings to grow. Thanks again to Sarah Raven for the recipe, from her Garden Cookbook, one of my favourites:

Wild Garlic Pesto

  • 2 handfuls (about 100g) of wild garlic leaves with flowers
  • 200ml extra virgin olive oil, plus a bit more for sealing
  • 50g pine nuts
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 50g Parmesan cheese, grated
  • salt and black pepper

Blanch the wild garlic leaves in boiling water for about 10 seconds. Refresh in cold water and pat dry on kitchen paper. Put the wild garlic, olive oil, pine nuts or walnuts, together with the garlic cloves, into a food processor and blend to a puree. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the grated Parmesan. Season carefully and put into a sterilised jar. Pour over a little extra virgin olive oil to seal and cover tightly.

I must admit, I don’t think you need to add the extra garlic cloves as it packs quite a punch anyway! Certainly don’t add them if you’re freezing it. I found it kept in the fridge for a good week, ideal for use in pasta sauces and, sublimely, in risotto.

I often adapt Delia’s oven-baked risotto these days, just so I can get on with other things as it cooks and don’t need to stand by the stove, stirring away. You can use any other vegetables you like, of course, but here’s my suggestion for a delicious wild garlic, leek and bacon risotto:

Wild Garlic, Leek and Bacon Risotto

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 thyme

2 tbsp wild garlic pesto (see above)

2 tbsp Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, grated

salt & pepper

To serve:

50g Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, grated

Chopped parsley or toasted pine nuts to garnish.

Pre-heat the oven 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 thyme, a couple of good spoonfuls of pesto and seasoning and bring to boiling point. 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 pine nuts as a garnish – or parsley if you prefer.


I find this makes enough for two (hungry) people and enough left for arancini (risotto balls) for lunch the next day – just roll the leftover risotto into balls and put a cube of cheese – Taleggio or Gorgonzola are ideal – in the middle of each one). Either cook in a preheated oven at 180°C as they are, or, if you want to do it properly (as when my perfectionist and budding Masterchef student son is home!) dip alternately in flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs, fry off briefly, then finish in oven. Either way, they are delicious, served with homemade tomato sauce if you have any (or passata with appropriate seasoning and herbs will do otherwise).


Sticky Toffee Heaven

Sticky Toffee Pudding

AND STILL THE STORMS, the wet and the wind of this dreadful winter rage on… Flooding over a huge part of the country, no chance of getting out in the garden, dogs returning mud-bespattered from every walk – definitely time for some comfort food!

My son was back from university this weekend with his American girlfriend and they put in a request for his all-time favourite winter pudding: Sticky Toffee. It certainly hits the spot on these dank, sunless days, all the better for being served with some homemade ice-cream – honeycomb or amaretto are two of my favourites. Well, it WAS his birthday, so what could I do but rise to the challenge?

I believe my Sticky Toffee Pudding is the original Sharrow Bay recipe from the famous Lake District hotel of the same name. My version is now recorded on a very scruffy magazine cutting in my well-worn recipe scrapbook, but it has certainly stood the test of time!

Tempted? Here’s how:

6oz stoneless dates, finely chopped (I snip them with scissors)

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2oz unsalted butter

6oz caster sugar (or Muscovado sugar works well for a more treacly result)

2 medium eggs, beaten

6oz self-raising flour

1 tsp vanilla extract

Toffee sauce:

7oz light Muscovado sugar

4oz butter

Small pot double cream (1/4 pt)

1 tsp vanilla extract

7” square cake tin, greased and lined

Pour ½ pt water over the chopped dates in a small pan and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, add bicarbonate of soda and set aside for 10 mins to cool.

Set oven to 180˚C, Gas 4.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then gradually beat in eggs. Carefully fold in the flour, then the date and water mixture and vanilla extract. The mixture will look very loose and sloppy at this stage: this is quite right! Do not be tempted to add anything else to thicken it up!

Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 50 minutes until springy to the touch and dark-golden in colour.

While it’s cooking, prepare the sauce: mix all ingredients together in a pan over a gentle heat until they come to the boil, then simmer gently for 3-4 minutes until toffee-coloured.

When the pudding is cooked, drizzle a little of the sauce over the top and return to the oven for 5 minutes.

To serve, cool slightly, then cut into generous squares and serve with the hot sauce.

Leftover sauce can be stored in the fridge and reheated in the microwave: you may find you need to add more cream in this case to keep a runny consistency. The sauce is also delicious with ice-cream and/or profiteroles!

AS FOR THE ICE-CREAM, good vanilla is always acceptable but I like to make a very simple honeycomb ice-cream (no  ice-cream maker required!) or an amaretto ice-cream which I do make in an ice-cream maker, but you could always part-freeze and re-whip in the time-honoured manner.

The Honeycomb is simplicity itself: place 5 tbsp granulated sugar and 2 tbsp golden syrup in a pan and cook over a low heat until the sugar melts, then boil quickly until it turns a mid-gold caramel colour. Remove from the heat and quickly sift 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda over it – it will froth up dramatically, so stir gently to combine any loose powder, then pour onto a greased baking tray and leave to cool and set. Meanwhile whip 1 pint of whipping cream with a large tin of condensed milk (not the light version) until quite stiff. Fold in the honeycomb pieces and place in a freezer container. Freeze overnight until set: enjoy!

And last but not least, the Amaretto for a more sophisticated treat: make a syrup by dissolving 4 oz granulated sugar in 4 tbsp water in a small pan and cooking for 5 mins until syrupy. Allow to cool completely. Whip 1 pt whipping cream with the cold syrup and 3 tbsp amaretto liqueur until it thickens and begins to hold its shape. Pour into an ice-cream maker (mine is a basic Magimix Glacier model where you have to freeze the bottom bowl in the freezer overnight beforehand: simple but effective – and not very expensive to buy if you make a lot of ice cream (or have made the mistake of making your own and are unable to revert back to the shop-bought stuff like me!). It should take about 30-40 minutes to churn, then turn into a freezer container and stir in about 12 crushed amaretti biscuits – or more according to taste! Freeze overnight and serve as desired. The alcohol content keeps this one relatively soft, but you may need to get it out of the freezer 10 mins or so before serving for ultimate unctuousness.

There: probably most of your sugar quota for the month, but worth every mouthful. And just what’s needed whilst we wait for the first shoots of spring….

Springing spring