I love autumn, but it’s hard to predict what the weather is going to do from one day to the next! We’ve had a very mild spell recently down here in East Sussex, so the gardens are still full of late bloom and the autumn colours have been spectacular. Last weekend we managed to fit in a trip to nearby Sheffield Park (above), a National Trust property renowned for its fantastic foliage at this time of year and were rewarded with a fine sunny afternoon and plenty of photo opportunities. This weekend, it’s still unseasonably warm, but we’ve had so much rain, so no photo shoots today. Yesterday it poured all day long, just letting up in time for our annual village bonfire and fireworks – we didn’t need gloves or hats to watch the spectacle, but wellingtons were definitely in order to negotiate our way through inches of mud and slurry combined! Pity the poor girl I saw tiptoeing through the quagmire in her Ugg boots…..
Today’s been a typical November day: dank and gloomy, but at least dry enough for me to venture out and finish planting up my winter pots. I started a few weeks ago, but the remainder were full of nasturtiums and fibrous begonias and still flowering merrily away. Tulips, too, don’t mind waiting until November to go in, so I wasn’t unduly worried, but I’m glad to have that job ticked off my list now. This year, I’ve gone for two doubles, Antraciet (dark red) and Chato (a deep magenta-pink paeony-flowered beauty), and singles Jan Reus (deep crimson), Request (a scented deep blood orange) and Atlantis (ivory with purple feathering), all ordered from Sarah Raven as usual. I’d kept my daffodil and crocus bulbs from last year, so just mixed them in too. Next year I really will have to order some new oak barrels, as my faithful bulb planters must be getting on for 20 years old now and are definitely showing signs of wear…. I finished the pots off with violet pansies, still going strong in the mild weather, and primroses divided from the garden. Should be a lovely show in spring!
There’s very little time for gardening at this end of the year once the clocks have gone back, especially by the time I’ve fitted in two dog walks in the limited daylight hours. Still time, though, to nip down to the allotment and bring back handfuls of fresh rocket, coriander, parsley and dill, a perfect head of calabrese, some giant leeks and yet more windfall apples. The beans have all but finished, after a late start, but we really need a frost before I can make a start on the parsnips!
Time, instead, to head back into the kitchen and make some cake for afternoon tea in the late afternoon – I won’t say in front of the fire, as it’s far too warm! This is one of my sons’ favourite tray bakes, originally from a Delia Smith recipe booklet issued in the early 2000s for Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day. Perfect with a cup of tea…
Marbled Energy Bars
150g dark chocolate, chopped
150g white chocolate, chopped
100g pecan nuts (or nuts of your choice)
125g dried apricots, chopped (or dried cranberries are nice)
25g Rice Krispies
25g bran flakes, lightly crushed (or use corn flakes for a wheat-free option*)
75g raisins (or sultanas)
1 tsp maple syrup
½ can (approx. 150 ml) condensed milk
Heat the oven to 160°C / Gas 4. Toast the pecans on a baking tray for 7 minutes, leave to cool, then chop roughly. Mix together the oats, chopped apricots, pecans, Rice Krispies, bran flakes and raisins in a large bowl. Warm the condensed milk and the maple syrup in a small pan and pour over the dry ingredients. Mix together well and turn into a baking tin measuring 30 cm x 20 cm x 5 cm, pressing down firmly. Cook in the pre-heated oven for 20-25 mins until golden. Leave to cool.
Melt the chocolate separately in bowls over simmering water as usual (or use the microwave with great care, heating for minute-long burst each time!). Put spoonfuls of each molten chocolate dotted over the cake, alternating the white and dark chocolate. Make sure there are no gaps, then take a skewer and swirl the two chocolates together using a zigzag motion to create a marbled effect. Chill in the fridge until set, then cut into 16 bars. Scrumptious!
* Note that proprietary corn flakes are not guaranteed wheat-free, so make sure you buy special gluten-free ones (and oats, for that matter) if baking for coeliacs.