Green fruits and shoots

The last day of the month is the time for me to catch up with how the garden produce is coming along.

The weather, here in Perthshire this month, has been a real mixed bag. A few sunny days along with some pretty miserable and wet ones. We have had several blustery winds and a couple of much cooler nights. All that said, the garden is looking good.

I keep a sowing and planting diary from year to year, and take a few pictures of the garden each month in order to keep a progress record. Compared to previous times, most of my edibles are at about the same stage as usual, but the runner beans and potatoes seem to be a bit more advanced – fingers crossed, I may get an earlier harvest! The fruit trees are bearing much more fruit than ever before as they become more established in the garden – last year was a poor season with no apples on the miniature trees, only a handful of plums and a solitary pear. I have much higher hopes for this year’s harvest.

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From top left: Concorde pears; miniature “Solo” apple tree; Glen Ample raspberries, Hinnonmaki Red gooseberries. From bottom left: Brodie F1 Brussels sprouts; Scarlet Emperor runner beans; and in the greenhouse: Gardener’s Delight tomatoes, and Beth Alpha cucumber

My favourite flower bed at this time of year is full of colour, fragrance and delicate petals. It is home to a combination of peonies, Welsh poppies, white and blue campanulas and foxgloves. Sadly the flowers often get windblown and damaged by heavy rain, but there has been nothing too destructive so far.

I have managed to capture a little of its beauty in the image below.

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My favourite flower bed. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

I adore peonies; their perfume is quite overwhelming – I only wish I could post the aroma via my blog. I inherited 4 varieties in this bed, they were very well established when I got here. I have no idea of their varieties, but these are my favourites. They have bloomed without fail for the 12 years I have had the garden; I hardly ever do anything by way of maintenance, except give them an occasional feed.

Peony perfection. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

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Scottish Shortbread (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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I’m sta2019 Burnsrting my blog post with one of my favourite bakes of all time. I learnt how to make shortbread at school and I have been making it ever since. My teacher taught us to remember the quantities of ingredients as “2, 4, 6” back in the day when pounds and ounces were the only unit of choice. Nowadays I do the conversion subconsciously each time I make a batch.

Since moving to Scotland, the motherland of this well known bake, I have acquired a number of traditional shortbread moulds which help transform something that looks a wee bit on the plain side into a real show-stopper. The one in the middle of the picture above was recently given to me by a friend. It’s a real beauty and the mould I used to make the shortbread in the image below.

So, to the recipe. If you don’t have a mould, press the dough into an 18cm square tin. You can also roll it out to a thickness of about 1cm and stamp with cookie cutters (picture below) – this quantity of dough will make 12 x 6cm rounds. I’ve also added some steps for making 8cm rounds if you have a smaller shortbread mould. I used this mould to make the shortbread on my 2019 Burns Night post.

Makes: 1 x 15 x 20cm slab; 12 x 6cm rounds or 6 x 8cm rounds

Ingredients

  • 50g caster sugar + a little extra for dusting
  • 60g white vegetable fat or coconut oil, softened
  • 40g dairy-free spread (For non-vegan, replace the quantity of fats above with 100g good quality lightly salted butter, softened, if you eat it, and omit the salt)
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 175g gluten free plain flour blend (such as Dove’s Farm) + a little extra for dusting (for a non-gluten-free version use white spelt or plain wheat flour)
  1. Put the sugar in a bowl with the fat and spread and mix together until soft and creamy. Add the flour and gradually work the ingredients together until well blended, then bring the mixture together with your hands to form a soft dough.
  2. Lightly dust a 15 x 20cm shortbread mould with extra flour and press the mixture into the mould, making sure it is packed snugly into the corners. I usually start to gently peel the dough back from the mould edges before turning it over onto a lined baking tray and giving it a bit of a thump to remove it from the mould.
  3. Prick the top with a fork and chill for at least 30 minutes. If you don’t have a mould, form into a 15 x 20cm rectangle. Neaten all round, then press the edges and prick the top with a fork. Prick and chill as above.
  4. If you have an 8.5cm shortbread mould, divide the dough into 5. Lightly brush the mould with flour and press a piece of dough on top until it reaches just beyond the edge of the mould – the dough should be ¾cm thick when pressed out .
  5. Carefully peel the dough from the mould, and neaten the round using a 8cm plain cutter. Place on a lined tray. Repeat the dusting, pressing and trimming using the other pieces of dough, then gather up all the trimmings to make your 6th round. Chill for 30 minutes.

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    Making thistle embossed shortbread rounds. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  6. Preheat the oven to 180ºC (160ºC fan oven, gas mark 4). Bake the shortbread slab for about 35 minutes until lightly golden all over (smaller cookie shapes like the 6cm shortbread buttons below will take about 20 – 25 minutes, and the 8cm rounds between 25 – 30 minutes). Cool for 10 minutes, then dust lightly with extra sugar and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Break the large slab into small (or big) pieces to serve. Shortbread keeps well if you can leave it alone long enough – over a week in an airtight container or tin.
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Traditional Scottish shortbread with a gluten-free and vegan twist. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins
gluten free shortbread rounds
6cm shortbread buttons. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins