Autumn into winter

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The first ground frost of Autumn 2022. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

As another month draws to a close, it’s been a rather wet and dreary end to the season of Autumn here in central Scotland. Photographically speaking, there have been very few blue-sky days to capture the warm, glowing colours of this time of the year. Nevertheless, I have a few images which I hope convey the natural glory of the month just passing.

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Late Autumn, River Earn, Perthshire, Scotland. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

I took these photos a couple of weeks ago whilst out on a walk along the local riverbank. Even though the sky was a dull grey and the waters looked cool and steely, the colours of the leaves still clinging to the trees looked spectacular.

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Golden leaf colour. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Back home in the garden at the same time, the Japanese Maple (Acer) tree was ablaze with glowing yellow leaves. But following a few heavy downpours and some strong winds, the last of the leaves have fallen.

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November sun-rise and sun-up. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Usually, the month of November brings with it glorious sunsets and sunrises, but I have only managed to capture one sunrise, and that was during the last week. You can see the same Maple tree now bereft of leaves in the early morning sunshine.

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A welcome splash of vibrant pink. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Throughout the month, these Nerines have been giving a very welcome show of bright pink colour. They look so exotic and fragile but are incredibly hardy. Still going strong is the planter of Bidens and Astors I planted back in June. Such great value. Usually by now the planter is full of bulbs ready for spring but I can’t bring myself to dig these bedding plants up just yet.

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Still flowering in the Autumn sunshine. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

And so to a reminder that winter is just around the corner. The holly hedge is abundant with great clusters of berries this year, as is the snowberry bush in the back garden. I hope this isn’t a sign of a particularly cold winter ahead. It’s been a good year for blueberries as well. This late variety is still ripening at a rate of a small handful a week.

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Red, white and almost blue, late Autumn berries. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Thanks for stopping by. Until my next post, take care and keep warm 🙂

Upside-down ginger apple cake (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Upside-down ginger apple cake. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Hello again. We’re well into the season of Autumn now, and it wouldn’t feel complete if I didn’t share an apple recipe with you. It has been a bumper year for apples in the UK. Back at the end of last month, the old apple tree in the garden was groaning with fruit, and on a dry, bright day, it was finally time to relieve the tree of all its fruit.

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Lord Derby apple harvest 2022. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

With the very sunny and warm summer we enjoyed here, the apple crop was much sweeter than ever before, so as well as being used in cooking, the apples make good eaters this year. There were far too many for one household to cope with, I am pleased to say that several local families in the town were able to enjoy a bag full this year.

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Ginger apple cake with ginger syrup. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

On with the recipe. The main preparation for the recipe is the apples, after that there is only a very simple cake batter to make. I picked out the smaller apples for my tin. If you have larger apples, you may want to slice them into quarters or thick rings rather than simply cutting them in half.

Make the cake the day before you want to serve it because it will benefit from a few hours keeping. The flavour and texture will improve greatly overnight. The recipe makes quite a large cake, but it freezes well so you’ll have plenty for another day. Serve warm as a pudding with custard, or cold as a comforting cake.

Serves: about 10

Ingredients

  • Finely grated rind and juice 1 lemon
  • approx. 9 small cooking or eating apples
  • 2tbsp stem ginger syrup (I used the syrup from the jar)
  • 125g plant butter
  • 125g treacle
  • 125g golden or corn syrup
  • 125g light soft brown sugar
  • 250g gluten free plain flour
  • 250g gluten free porridge oats
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 4tsp ground mixed spice
  • 75g chopped stem ginger
  • 175ml oat milk or other plant-based milk

1.Put the lemon rind to one side. Add the juice to a bowl of cold water. Peel and core the apples; cut in half and place in the lemony water to help prevent browning. Leave aside until ready to assemble the cake.

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Preparing the apples for cake making. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

2. Put the butter, treacle, golden syrup and sugar in a saucepan, and heat gently to melt. Mix well then leave to cool for 10 minutes.

3. Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C fan oven, gas 4. Line a 20 x 30cm tin with baking parchment and drizzle the base with ginger syrup. Drain the apples, pat dry with kitchen paper and arrange over the bottom of the tin – see above.

4. Put the flour, oats, baking soda and spice in a bowl. Mix together and make a well in the centre.

5. Pour in the melted ingredients and add the reserved lemon rind and chopped ginger. Carefully mix everything together along with the milk, then spoon over the apples making sure they are covered.

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Making the ginger cake batter. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

6. Stand the tin on a baking tray and bake for about 50 minutes until firm to the touch. Transfer the tin to a wire rack and leave to cool completely. Turn out on to a large sheet of baking parchment. Wrap carefully and store in an airtight container overnight to allow the flavours to develop.

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Just out of the oven. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

I mixed some of the ginger syrup from the jar of stem ginger with plain carob syrup and drizzled it over the cake to serve.

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Up close on ginger apple cake. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

That’s me for another week. Until next time, happy baking 🙂

Italian round aubergine baked in tomato and garlic sauce (gluten-free, with dairy-free and vegan alternative)

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A vision in violet, Italian round aubergine (eggplant). Image: Kathryn Hawkins

My post this week is inspired by this wonderful aubergine (eggplant) I bought recently from an Italian deli. The size of a small football, it weighed in at just over 700g. The variety is Italian round aubergine or Melanzane to give it its authentic Italian name.

Aubergine is one of my favourite vegetables – I love the way it cooks down to a rich, melting tenderness – and my number one recipe for serving it is simply baked in homemade tomato and garlic sauce.

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Halved and sliced, Italian round aubergine. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Round aubergine can be prepared just as you would the standard black variety. I cut it in half and then sliced each half in half again and then into approx. 1cm thick slices. It looks like a giant purple bug don’t you think?

I always salt aubergine as I find it cooks more quickly and also cooks more tenderly. Simply lay the slices in layers in a large colander or strainer, sprinkling with salt as you go, and then leave to stand over a plate or bowl for 30 minutes. After this time, you should see water exuding from the slices. Rinse thoroughly and then pat dry with kitchen paper.

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Simple ingredients, wonderful flavours. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The sauce is made with ripe tomatoes, garlic and a bunch of fresh herbs tied together for flavour. It is seasoned with salt, pepper, and a little sugar and enriched with a dash of olive oil. I have outlined the cooking stages below but for more details, take a look at this previous post for some more illustrations on tomato sauce-making Pesto pancake and tomato layer (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

I topped mine with some grated Parmesan, but a non-dairy alternative works just as well. If you prefer not to use cheese at all, sprinkle the top with gluten-free dried breadcrumbs or polenta, or leave the bake untopped and cover the dish with foil when ready to bake.

Serves: 4

Ingredients

For the sauce:

  • 1.25kg ripe tomatoes, washed and roughly chopped
  • Large sprig each of fresh thyme and sage
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-2tsp caster sugar
  • 2tbsp good quality olive oil

For the aubergine:

  • 750g aubergine, sliced into 1cm thick slices
  • Salt
  • Approx. 150ml good quality olive oil
  • 50g freshly grated Parmesan or plant-based alternative, optional – or 3tbsp dry gluten-free breadcrumbs or polenta

1. Make the sauce first so that it is cold when you assemble the dish. You can make it up a day or two beforehand to save time on the day you want to serve it. Put the tomatoes in a deep frying pan or large saucepan and add the herbs and garlic. Season well. Cover with a lid and cook over a low/medium heat for about 40 minutes until soft and collapsed.

2. Discard the herbs, then push the tomatoes and garlic through a nylon sieve to extract as much tomato pulp as you can. Return the pulp to a clean pan and add sugar to taste; spoon in the oil. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook gently for 30-40 minutes until thickened and reduced – you will need about 450-500ml for this recipe. Leave to cool, then cover and chill until ready to use.

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Making tomato, garlic and herb sauce. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

3. For the aubergine, salt them as I described above, then rinse well and pat dry with kitchen paper. Heat 2-3tbsp oil in a large frying pan and fry a few slices at a time for 2-3 minutes on each side, until lightly golden. Drain well on kitchen paper. Repeat using more oil as needed to fry the remaining slices. Leave to cool, then cover and chill until ready to assemble the bake.

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Salted and fried aubergine (eggplant) slices. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

4. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C fan oven, gas 4. Spread one third of the sauce over the bottom of a 1.5l baking dish and top with half the aubergine slices. Add half the remaining sauce and top with the remaining aubergine slices.

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Layering up the bake. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

5. Spoon the remaining sauce on top and sprinkle with cheese or crumbs. Stand the dish on a baking tray and bake for about 50 minutes until tender, golden and bubbling.

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Sprinkling the bake with dairy or plant-based cheese. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Leave the bake to stand for 10 minutes before serving. I sprinkled the top with the last few leaves of homegrown basil from my greenhouse and accompanied it with a crisp salad and some freshly cooked rice. It was absolutely delicious 🙂

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Just out of the oven and sprinkled with fresh basil. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

I hope you have a good few days ahead. We will be into November the next time I post. I know I say this quite a lot but where does the time go? Until then, take care and best wishes to you. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

Apple and salal berry jelly preserve (naturally gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan)

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Homemade apple and salal berry jelly. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Hello there. I hope you are keeping well. It’s that time of year when I get the jam pan out and start making preserves and chutneys for the months ahead.

Back in August I harvested a lot of salal berries from the garden. I did compote a few but the rest went in the freezer for making preserves. There are still a few on the bushes now but I am leaving those for the garden birds to enjoy.

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August 2022 harvest of Salal berries. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

I haven’t picked all the apples yet, but I have been taking one or two as and when I need them for cooking. The old tree in the garden is looking heavy with fruit this year, so I think I will be gathering in the apples very soon.

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October 2022, cooking apples ready for picking. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

My recipe is a very simple jelly preserve. If you don’t have salal berries, blueberries or blackberries will work just as well. Salal berries can be quite challenging to pick as they are quite squishy when ripe so I usually pick short branches and then remove the berries when I get back into the kitchen. Have a look at this post from last year for an easy preparation technique Salal berries – jam and muffins (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Single jar. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The recipe below makes a small quantity of preserve and as such can be easily doubled or trebled should you have more berries and apples. Making a smaller amount means that you can strain the fruit through a sieve rather than in a jelly bag; it is quicker to strain, and it also cooks down in less time.

Makes: approx. 650g

Ingredients

  • 200g prepared salal berries, washed
  • 400g cooking apples, washed and chopped, but left unpeeled or cored
  • approx. 450g granulated or preserving sugar

1. Put the fruit in a large saucepan with 350ml water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes until soft and pulpy. Mash the fruit occasionally to help break it down.

2. Place a large sieve over a jug or bowl and line with clean muslin. Carefully ladle in the pulp and leave to strain for 3-4 hours.

3. Put the pulp back in a saucepan and the harvested juice in the fridge. Re-cook the pulp, this time with 200ml water, for about 5 minutes, and then strain again as above.

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Preparing and cooking the fruit for jelly making. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

4. Measure the juice and pour into a large clean saucepan. Add sugar to the ratio of 450g per 600ml juice – I had 575ml juice and added 430g sugar.

5. Heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved, then raise the heat and bring to the boil. Cook rapidly until the temperature reaches between 104°C and 105°C – this will probably take around 10 minutes.

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Making the jelly. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

6. Pour into small, clean, sterilised jars and seal immediately. When cold, label and store for 6-12 months, although the jelly is ready to eat immediately. Serve with cold cuts, cheeses or as a sweet spread on toast or crackers.

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Apple and salal berry jelly on oatcakes. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Well that’s the end of my post for this week. I will be back in the kitchen again next time. Until then, I hope you have a good few days ahead 🙂

Autumn vibes

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Blue sky and autumn leaves. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Hello again. It’s been a lovely weekend so far here in central Scotland. Lots of sunshine and blue sky which really shows off these Japanese maple leaves, slowly on the turn from green to gold, and finally to red before they fall. The temperature has dropped a few degrees, and the forecast is for a much cooler week ahead, so I think the new season has well and truly arrived.

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Scottish autumn-flowering heather. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

The garden is still looking quite flowery which is good news for the bees. It’s been a great year for all the heathers, with the autumn varieties looking particularly pretty and laden with tiny blooms.

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Fading white Hydrangea.. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

The well-established white Hydrangea shrub has been heavy with flowers this year. A victim of its own success, its thin stems and branches have bowed with the weight of all the flower-heads. Whilst most have a pinkish or brown tinge, there are still one or two perfectly white blooms visible with their pin-head-sized tiny blue centres.

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Late flowering Campanulas. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

The Campanulas have been out in flower for a while. I keep trimming away the spent flower-heads and new ones have been forming lower down the stems which is why they are still flowering so late in the year. The same goes for the deep-pink Verbascum which is now flowering for the third time this year.

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Deep pink Verbascum. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

When I was out in the garden today, I was happy to see so many bees and flying insects enjoying the flowers and sunshine as much as I was. All the lavender bushes in the garden have a few late sprigs of flowers which these insects particularly love.

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Autumn lavender flowers. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

It’s not all blue, purple and pink in the garden, the Rose of Sharon has produced a few more golden yellow flowers which have a waxy-look to the petals in the sunshine.

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Second flowers on Rose of Sharon (Hypericum). Images: Kathryn Hawkins

My final image is of my favourite Lupin which has broken my back garden record this year, with its third flowering of the year. It’s not fully open yet but it’s not far off. All the other Lupin bushes have died down completely yet this one has stayed lush and healthy. Alongside is one of my Borage flowers; these have only just decided to put in an appearance this week. Better late than never though 🙂

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Third flowering Lupin and the first Borage flowers of the season. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

I hope you have enjoyed my images this week. I will be back in the kitchen for my next post. Until then, take care and thanks, as always, for stopping by.

Pesto pancake and tomato layer (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Pesto pancake and tomato layer. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Hello again. What a mixed bag of weather there has been here since my last post. Plenty of rain to restore the water supplies with thundery downpours and a few sunny days here and there. The garden has bucked up again and the green grass has been restored.

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Homegrown orange tomatoes. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

My recipe post this week gives a little nod towards the change of month and season. The greenhouse tomatoes are ripening now. I planted only 3 plants this year, but I am enjoying a steady supply to eat in salads. The variety is called Golden Zlatava, orange on the outside with reddish flesh inside. Whilst I haven’t grown enough for cooking this year, there are plenty of delicious locally grown tomatoes around, like these fantastic small plum tomatoes, which are perfect for sauce-making.

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Fresh plum tomatoes. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The greenhouse basil really enjoyed the hot weather we had last month and has grown very bushy and bold. I love the flowers as well. Plenty of leaves to make one of my most favourite savoury sauces, pesto, which seems to be the best way to preserve the flavour of the herb once it has been frozen.

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Greenhouse basil. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

There are 2 main components to the recipe this week: making the pancakes and making a tomato sauce. Both elements freeze well in case you want to make the recipe in stages. I made pesto in a previous post, so if you fancy having a go at that as well, here’s the link to the recipe Runner bean and pesto fritters (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

Serves: 4

Ingredients

Tomato sauce

  • 1kg fresh tomatoes, washed and chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled
  • A selection of fresh herbs such as sage, bay, marjoram and oregano
  • 2tbsp olive oil
  • 1tsp caster sugar
  • 100g drained sundried tomatoes in oil, blotted on kitchen paper
  • Salt to taste

Pesto pancakes

  • 110g tapioca flour
  • 110g gram (chickpea or garbanzo) flour
  • 6g gluten-free baking powder
  • 1tsp salt
  • 65g fresh vegan pesto
  • 250ml plant-based milk (I used oat milk)
  • 160ml chickpea canning liquid (or other aqua fava)
  • Vegetable oil for brushing

1. First make the sauce. Put the tomatoes in a large pan with a lid and add the garlic and herbs. Heat until steaming, then cover, and simmer gently for about 45 minutes until very tender. Turn off the heat and leave to cool with the lid on.

2. Discard the herbs. Push the tomatoes and garlic through a nylon sieve, in batches, to remove the skins and seeds. Depending on the juiciness of your tomatoes, you should end up with around 700ml pulp.

3. Pour the pulp into a clean pan. Add the oil and sugar, heat gently, stirring, until boiling, then simmer for about 20 minutes until thickened and reduced to about 300ml. Leave to cool.

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Homemade plum tomato sauce preparation. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

4. Put the sundried tomatoes in a blender or food processor and blitz until smooth, then stir into the cold tomato sauce. Taste and season. Cover and chill until ready to use.

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Adding sundried tomato paste. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

5. For the pancakes, put the flours, baking powder and salt in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Add the pesto, and gradually blend in the milk to make a smooth batter.

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Making the pesto batter. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

6. In another bowl, whisk the chickpea water until very thick and foamy, then gently mix into the batter to make a bubbly mixture.

7. Brush a small frying pan (15-16cm base diameter) lightly with oil and heat until hot. Spoon in 4-5tbsp batter, tilting the pan to cover the base with batter. Cook over a medium/low heat for 2-3 minutes until set and bubbles appear on top. Flip over and cook for a further 2 minutes until cooked through.

8. Layer the cooked pancake on a sheet of baking parchment on a wire rack, and cover while you make another 7 pancakes. Stack the pancakes on top of each other, between sheets of parchment to help keep them from drying out. If you are making the pancakes in advance, leave them to cool, then wrap them well and keep in the fridge for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 6 months.

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Cooking the pancakes. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
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Pesto pancake stack. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

9. To assemble, spread a pancake with cold tomato sauce, almost to the edge of the pancake. Transfer to a lined baking tray and continue the spreading and layering with the remaining sauce and pancakes. If you have leftover sauce, keep it to serve with the pancakes.

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Layering before baking. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

10. Cover the pancake stack with foil and place in a preheated oven at 190°C, 170°C fan oven, gas 5. Heat through in the oven for about 45 minutes. Best served warm. Top with fresh chopped tomato and fresh basil to serve and accompany with wild rocket and any leftover tomato sauce.

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Tomato-filled pesto pancake layers. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

That’s all for this post. See you all again soon. Thanks for stopping by. Best wishes 🙂

Autumn is in the air

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The full splendour of Crepe Myrtle. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Hello again. How can we be at the end of another month already? When I wrote my last post, we had been having some very hot weather and a distinct lack of rain. Since then, the rain has started falling, the air has cleared and it has been feeling a lot cooler, with some mornings feeling positively chilly.

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Crepe Myrtle flowers. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

The garden is far more advanced this year with quite a few favourites finishing their display much earlier than before. The Himilayan Hydrangea is looking quite spectacular at the moment. Recently, I discovered that it is also known as Crepe Myrtle which is a charming name. The other Hydrangeas in the garden have started to fade from bright blue petals to mauve and pink.

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Blue Hydrangeas fading gracefully. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Another blue flower I captured at its peak about a week ago, is my potted Agapanthus, Regal Beauty. Last year it had 3 flowering stems, but this year, after splitting the plant in Autumn, I had a single, very large flower stem. it is such an eye-catching shade of bright blue.

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Agapanthus Regal Beauty, August 2022. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

More blue from the Globe thistles (Echinops) which grow alongside the bright yellow Golden Rod stems. Such a great contrast on a sunny day, and both are very popular with the bees and other flying insects.

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The blue and yellow of Globe Thistles and Golden Rod. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

It’s not all blue in the garden. For a few weeks now, the Japanese Anemones have been in flower. They seems to survive all weather conditions and haven’t been affected by the extreme heat or lack of rain earlier in the month.

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Autumn favourites: Japanese Anemones

At their best this week, the Star-gazer lilies which grow in 2 separate places in the garden, both nestling beside high shrubs which offer support for their very long stems.

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Blue sky Star-gazer lilies. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

It looks like I will have a good crop of apples this year, and the birds will be pleased that I managed to dry the head of the greenhouse sunflower successfully; they will have plenty of seeds to pick at very soon.

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Ripening apples on a blue sky day. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Dried and ready for the birds. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Apart from the birds and bees, the occasional frog, squirrel and the neighbours’ cats, the garden is quite quiet. Once every couple of years, a young deer, completely disorientated, has ended up in the garden. I am always unclear as to how they get in and get out again. This one visited one evening and took quite a liking to the flowers of several Japanese Anemones. Quite exotic taste-buds don’t you think?

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Unexpected garden visitor. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Until next time, thanks for stopping by and I will see you again soon 🙂

Chocolate cherry fudge brownies (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Homemade chocolate cherry fudge brownies. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Hello there. I hope you are keeping well and managing to stay cool in this very hot summer. The temperatures have been exceptional here in the UK and all over Europe which is great if you’re on holiday but not so good if you’re working. The garden is looking quite different this year due to the heat; many of the flowers are fading much more quickly than in previous years.

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Scottish wild cherry trees. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Last weekend, in an effort to stay cool and enjoy the outdoors at the same time, I went for a walk in some local woodland. I was looking to see how long it would be before the hedgerow blackberries (brambles) would be ripe enough to pick – I don’t think it’s going to be a good year for brambling sadly. Quite unexpectedly, I came across several wild cherries trees, completely untouched by birds, and laden with fruit as far as the eye could see.

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Wild cherry picking. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

I was completely unprepared for foraging. I had no bag other than the small holster bag I was using to carry a water bottle. Cherry trees are enormous in the wild, but there were quite a few fruits on the lowest branches and I was able to fill my bag with just under 1kg of fruit. The cherries were the sweetest, juiciest I have ever tasted. Such an unexpected treat. Apparently, it has been a bumper year for cherries because of the hot weather, but I am still amazed that the birds hadn’t been interested in them. If only I had gone walking with a ladder! 🙂

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Pitting ripe cherries. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Back at home, I pitted the cherries. The firmer ones were easier to pit using my faithful old Italian cherry pitter, but the ripe ones I sliced and pitted using the tip of a sharp knife. Some went in the freezer, others were cooked in a crumble for tea, and the rest went into this week’s recipe.

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Wild cherry flavoured fudge brownies. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Easy to make, just a bit of advanced prep – you need to line a cake tin and make up a flax seed egg replacement mixture. Then, you are good to go. The brownies keep well but in this warmth, I kept them in the fridge to stop them going too soft and sticky. They also freeze perfectly. Eat them as a sweet treat but they are also good served with more fresh cherries or compote and ice cream for dessert.

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Chocolate cherry brownies, gloriously fudgy. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Makes: 16

Ingredients

  • 175g dairy-free dark chocolate (I used 54% cocoa – if you use darker chocolate, omit the cocoa powder and add an extra 25g flour)
  • 150g lightly salted plant butter, cut into pieces
  • 25g ground flax seed
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 75g gluten-free plain flour
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 140g pitted cherries, halved (approx. 170g whole)

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C, 150°C fan oven, gas 5. Line an 18cm square cake tin with baking parchment.

2. Put 150g chocolate in a heatproof bowl with the butter and melt gently over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Remove from the water and cool for 10 minutes.

3. Make up the flax egg by mixing the flax seed with 110ml cold water and leave to stand for 5 minutes until thickened.

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Flax egg preparation. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
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Preparing chocolate brownie mixture. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

4. Mix the sugar and flax egg into the melted chocolate along with the vanilla paste, then add the flour and cocoa powder and stir well until everything is well blended.

5. Pour into the prepared tin and scatter the cherries on top. Bake for about 1 hour until the mixture is set in the middle – initially the mixture rises round the edges leaving the centre molten but after a longer time in the oven, the centre firms up. Leave to cool in the tin.

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Baking brownie batter. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

6. Remove from the tin and peel away the lining paper. Cut into 16 squares – you may find it easier to chill the brownie before you cut it as the texture is quite soft at room temperature.

7. Melt the remaining chocolate. Put the brownie squares on a board and drizzle each piece with a little chocolate. Leave to set before serving. Best stored in the fridge.

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Adding a chocolate drizzle. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

I’m off to enjoy another slice now. I’ll see you again towards the end of the month. Until then, keep well and stay cool 🙂

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Cherry brownies for tea. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Baked summer fruit (naturally gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Baked Summer fruit. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Hello again. I hope you are keeping well and are having a good summer. Since my last post, the UK, like the rest of Europe, has been subject to some very hot weather. Fortunately here, not for a particularly long spell as the high temperatures were unprecedented for this part of the world. It has cooled down again now and the air feels fresher and the sun less strong.

I was worried that the soft fruit in the garden would suffer in the heat. The rhubarb in particular likes a good soaking as well as the sunshine. I was pleased to see that it bounced back once the temperature dipped and we had some very welcome rain.

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Just picked, homegrown rhubarb. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

My recipe this week is a very simple one. I try to avoid putting the oven on in the hot weather, but I did make an exception for one of my favourite fruity combinations. Strawberries and rhubarb go together especially well, and when cooked with vanilla, I find the aroma and flavours is irresistible.

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Scottish rhubarb and strawberries. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

It has been a good year for Scottish strawberries. They have been juicy and have tasted fragrant and sweet. I didn’t grow these myself, they came from the local farm shop. I chose larger fruit to cook with the rhubarb as they hold their shape better in the oven.

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Homemade vanilla sugar. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I always have a jar of vanilla sugar in the cupboard. I chop up bits of vanilla pod that is past its prime or dried out too much and add it to caster sugar. I keep it in a glass jar with a screw-top lid. Every now and then I give the jar a shake to distribute the vanilla pieces. Sift the sugar as you use it to remove the pod pieces but keep the bits trapped in the sieve and put them back in the jar along with a top up of sugar ready for next time. You can replenish your supply more or less indefinitely.

On with the recipe. I allow the fruit to cool after baking as I prefer the flavours when they are cold and the fruit is more refreshing, but it’s personal preference. The fruit makes a deliciously light dessert or breakfast compote served with yogurt and toasted cereals.

Serves: 6

Ingredients

  • 450g rhubarb
  • 50g vanilla or plain caster sugar – white sugar helps retain the colour of the fruit, but you may prefer to use brown for a more caramely flavour
  • 300g large fresh strawberries

1. Preheat the oven to 190°C, 170°C fan oven, gas 5. Wash and trim the rhubarb. Cut into even-thickness and same-length pieces – this will help with even cooking.

2. Place in an oven-proof dish and sprinkle over the sugar. Cover the top with foil and bake for 40 minutes.

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Preparing rhubarb for baking with vanilla sugar. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

3. Meanwhile, wash and hull the strawberries and cut in half. Uncover the rhubarb and add the strawberries. Bake, uncovered, for a further 10 minutes until the fruit is just tender.

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Preparing Strawberries for baking. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Leave to cool, then chill until ready to serve. Remove from the fridge about 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavours to develop. Delicious served with coconut yogurt.

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Baked fruit served with coconut yogurt. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

That’s me for another week or so. I can hardly believe we’re just about to enter the month of August. Until next time, take care and my best wishes to you 🙂

Summer garden

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My Scottish country garden early July 2022. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Summer is in full swing as I sit down to type my post this week. There’s been plenty of sunshine this week and the garden is in full bloom. I haven’t been able to spend as much time outside as I would have liked these past few days but I have managed to capture a few highlights to share with you in my post this week. I hope you enjoy them.

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Summer lavender. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Along the front of the house and in several of the sunny borders, the lavender grows very well. The bees love it and the perfume in the warm breeze was heavenly as I took these pictures.

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Blue Hebe and Yellow Brachyclottis. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

These 2 shrubs have been sitting side by side for years. Both have done very well this year and are packed with flowers. I love blue and yellow combinations; the garden has quite a few plants in these colours. Below are Campanulas which grow all over the garden, and Lysimachia which takes over one whole flowerbed at this time of year with a blaze of sunny blooms.

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Blue Campanula and yellow Lysimachia. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

I’m not sure where this fine fellow came from. Perhaps a seed from the bird food brought in to the greenhouse by a mouse? For a while, back in the spring, I thought it was a self-seeding courgette plant (!) but as it grew taller, I realised what it was. Rather challenging to capture because of its position up against the glass, hence the sideways angle. I am going to leave it to dry out and then feed the birds with the seeds.

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My rogue sunflower. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

For several years I have been trying to grow Himalayan poppies in the garden. I have tried several spots, and only ever managed to achieve a flower once. So last year, I dug up my latest attempt and put it in a pot in the shadiest spot I could find. I kept it watered and, lo and behold, it has had 3 beautiful blooms from a tall and willowy single stem.

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Mecanopsis (Himalayan poppy). Images: Kathryn Hawkins

It’s not all blue and yellow in the garden, there are some pinks here and there as well. I grew this rather odd looking Dianthus from seed last year and was delighted to see that it has come back again with more blooms than ever. It’s called Superbus which I like to pronounce as Super bus 🙂 The pink Kalmia is a very old shrub in the garden, but it’s produced another fine display of flowers this year.

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Dianthus Superbus and Kalmia. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

More blue from these dynamic looking Hydrangeas. This one started life a deep red colour but has reverted back to the blue which I believe is because the soil here is acidic. I was surprised to see a couple of Japanese anemones out in flower already this week. Very early for this garden.

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Blue Hydrangea and an early pink Japanese anemone. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

And finally, I am rather proud of my barrel container of plants. Usually home to runner beans or potatoes, this year I decided to plant it with flowers instead. Planted at the end of May, they have been flowering non stop for 6 weeks, so I am well chuffed. There is a combination of Viola “Dawn”, Nemesia “Evening Dusk”, Brachyscome “Brasco Violet” and yellow Bidens.

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My barrel of bedding plants. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Enjoy the sunshine and I will be back posting again soon. Until then, my best wishes to you as always.