End of July harvest

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Home-grown rhubarb, tomatoes, runner beans, cucumber, raspberries, Morello cherries, yellow courgettes and red gooseberries, all harvested in the past fortnight.

Time for a recap on what’s been happening in my fruit and veg garden. It’s been a mixed bag of weather this month, although it doesn’t seem to have affected anything I’ve been growing for the kitchen. In fact, even though the sun hasn’t been shining as often as I’d have liked, I have never had tomatoes ripen so early in the year – it’s usually September before I get my first taste!

Home-grown tomatoes, above all else, are the best produce to grow for flavour and sweetness, and remain unrivalled by any tomatoes you can buy. I grow them in my unheated greenhouse, planted in grow-bags. I never put the picked fruit in the fridge, I store them in a cool part of the kitchen and eat them as soon as possible after picking. Served simply with some fresh pot basil, a little salt and pepper, and drizzle of balsamic vinegar, this is one of my greatest foodie pleasures.

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My first harvest of Gardener’s Delight tomatoes with fresh pot basil leaves. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

I have been picking runner beans for a couple of weeks now and, with lots of flowers still blooming, I hope to be enjoying them for a few weeks longer. I don’t usually do much with them, other than chop them up, cook them lightly, and enjoy them as a vegetable in their own right. Occasionally, I make a frittata with any leftover cooked veg and combine runner beans with cooked potato, onion – sometimes a little bacon if I have any – some seasoning and chopped fresh thyme. Delicious served warm or cold with salad.

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Runner bean and potato frittata (gluten free). Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

Most of the fruit I grow gets made into jams and jellies, or I freeze it for cooking later in the year. The cherries were made into a compote – I didn’t have enough for jam this year. Rhubarb is cooked in muffins, stewed as a simple dessert, or cooked as pie filling. I have just made rhubarb and custard ice lollies for the first time, so it will be interesting to see how they turn out.

The yellow courgette plants are growing like triffids in the greenhouse. Thank goodness I only planted 2! They are both producing heavily, so it looks like I will have to get creative with my courgette cookery. I prefer the yellow variety as I find the flesh firmer and there is slightly more of an earthy flavour to them. I also love the colour. I have been chopping them and simply frying them in butter with smoked bacon and black pepper, and then stirring in a little bit of maple syrup before serving. Very tasty with just about anything.

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Pan-cooked yellow courgette with bacon and maple syrup (gluten and dairy free). Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Rose and raspberry vodka (gluten-free, dairy-free)

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Home-grown Scottish raspberries. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

Raspberries grow very well here in central Scotland. They love all the rain we have! Unlike other species of berries I grow, raspberries seem to ripen without the sunshine, and I am always taken aback to see how quickly they turn from pale pink to rich pinkish red, even during the dullest days of the Summer.

The first plants I bought for the garden when I moved here were 6 raspberry canes. That was Autumn 2004, and here we are some 11 ½ years later, still enjoying their produce. The variety is Glen Ample; I chose this raspberry because the fruits are large and juicy, perfect for jam making. I have been picking the berries for about 3 weeks now, and already, I have packed away over 5kg in the freezer. I rarely have time to make jam in the summer, so I do my preserving from the frozen berries later in the year. Raspberries are one of the most successful frozen fruits for jam making, they lose little of their flavour or setting properties through freezing.

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Rose and raspberry vodka ingredients. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

Apart from enjoying the raspberries fresh and in jam, I do like to put some in sweet vinegar for salad dressings, and I also make flavoured tipples for a festive drink. This is one of my favourites.

Makes: 70cl

  • 4 small fragrant rose heads
  • A large handful of fresh raspberries
  • 70cl bottle gluten-free vodka (such as Smirnoff – look for a vodka that is made distilled from corn, potatoes or grapes)
  1. Carefully rinse and pat dry the rose petals and raspberries, taking care not to bruise or crush them.
  2. Break up the petals and put them in the bottom of a large sterilised, sealable glass jar along with the raspberries.
  3. Pour over the vodka, seal and label. Gently swirl the contents every day for 2 weeks.
  4. After 3 weeks or so, taste the vodka and see whether it is to your taste. If the vodka is flavoured sufficiently, strain completely and rebottle in a clean, sterilised bottle. For more flavour, strain and add fresh petals and/or raspberries, then continue to store as above. Store in a cool, cupboard to preserve the flavour and colour. You’ll notice that after a few days, the colour quickly fades from the petals and berries and begins to colour and flavour the vodka.
  5. Enjoy the vodka chilled over ice, or use as a base for punches and longer drinks. For a sweeter drink, add 25-50g caster sugar to the mix along with the petals and fruit.
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Rose petals and fresh raspberries in preserving jar. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins
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Rose and raspberry vodka. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Sugared rose petals (gluten-free, dairy-free)

One of my favourite culinary flavours is rose but it is a flavour that can easily overpower other ingredients, so you do have to use just the right amount in your cooking. One of the best ways to achieve this is to use the petals.

I couldn’t believe my luck when I realised that the  beautiful rose pictured above, Rosa Felicia, well established in the garden when I moved in, was not only abundant with flowers, but the fragrance and flavour is sublime.

Whilst I haven’t managed to make my own rose water with any success, I have put some in white balsamic vinegar to use as a dressing, and I usually steep some in vodka, ready for a festive tipple – post to follow soon. Most often, I use dried and fresh rose petals to decorate cakes and fruit dishes, and I coat some with sugar to keep as an out of season decoration.

To make sugared rose petals, always choose a rose with a scent otherwise there will be no flavour, and  choose smaller, softer petals as these will be nicer to eat. Choose rose heads higher off the ground so there is no danger of animal “spoiling”, and pick the rose once it has just opened – if it is too tightly in bud the petals will be difficult to break open; a rose that is too open will have lost colour and fragrance.

Gently wash the petals – I put them in a sieve or colander and dip them in a bowl of water to remove any dust – then lay them out on kitchen paper to dry. It is better to leave them to air-dry if it is warm, but if time is short, gently pat them dry using kitchen paper, taking care not to bruise them. All you need then is egg white, caster sugar, plus a bit of time and patience.

My preference is to use powdered egg white – a one egg sachet is more than sufficient to cover lots of petals. Alternatively, you can use a small fresh egg white, just beat it until it is fluid and frothy. Put the egg white on to one saucer or small plate, and sprinkle a shallow depth of caster sugar on another.

Using tweezers, dip a petal in egg white and then brush off the excess white using a small paint brush. For best results, brush off all bubbles or pools of egg white to achieve a smooth, thin coating. Gently push the lightly dipped petal into the sugar and sprinkle over a little more to coat the top. Lift out with tweezers, gently shake off the excess sugar and place on a board lined with baking parchment. Continue the process to coat as many petals you need.

Once you have coated a few petals, you will need to remove clumps of sugary egg white from the sugar, and replace it with fresh. Leave the petals to dry at room temperature, covered loosely with another sheet of baking parchment, for 24 to 48 hours until dry and crisp. The sugared petals can be stored in between sheets of parchment in an airtight tin for several weeks. After about 3 months, rather disappointingly, the colour will fade and the flavour will be lost, so make sure you use them up in time – they do make a lovely sugary, floral snack as well!

 

 

 

 

Salad herbs and edible flowers

 

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Summer salad herbs and edible flowers. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

It seems a bit weird writing a post about salads today when it’s gloomy, grey and lashing down with rain. No matter, it is the time of year when a salad is on my menu just about every day of the week, regardless of what’s happening with the weather!

I stopped growing my own lettuce and salad leaves a while ago because they were taking up too much space in my greenhouse. Instead, I started to grow some more interesting herbs and edible flowers that you can’t buy very easily. Now, I have a variety of lovely looking plants in the garden, with the added advantage of alternative flavours, textures and colours for my dinner plate.

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Scottish smoked salmon salad with sweet wild strawberry vinegar.          Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

At the end of my post, I have compiled an ID photo of the herbs and flowers in my salad above. Below is a brief description of what each one tastes like (by the way, you can make the strawberry vinegar by following the same instructions on my previous post for Sweet Lavender Vinegar):

  • Land cress (American cress) – looks and tastes like watercress; grows in small clumps of glossy green leaves; loves damp soil. Leaves are best eaten small (the larger ones can be bitter and very pungent).
  • Sorrel – larger leaves are cooked like spinach, but the smaller ones are delicious raw in salads. They have a citrusy, tangy taste.
  • Salad burnet – one of my favourites; serrated leaves and tufty pinkish-red flowers, both with a mild cucumber flavour. Makes a lovely potted plant. Prefers limy soil.
  • Nasturtium – you can eat the leaves large or small, and also the flowers if you like – I find them a bit big for my palate and I prefer their vibrant splash of colour in my garden. I prefer to eat the smaller leaves which have a cress-like, earthy flavour. Very refreshing.
  • Herb flowers – herbs with tougher leaves like thyme and rosemary are a bit chewy and pungent to eat with soft salad leaves, but if you pick the flowers, they will add a subtle flavour of the herb, and are much easier to eat.
  • Edible flowers – these add a splash of colour to any dish. Flowers from scented plants like rose geranium are often slightly sweet or earthy with a faint flavour of the plant scent. Flowers such as Viola or Garden pansy have very little flavour but do make a pretty addition amongst the green leaves and herbs. If whole flowers seem a bit daunting, break up the petals and sprinkle “confetti”-style over your plate – they make a beautiful natural decoration on iced cakes and cookies as well.
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An assortment of the Summer salad herbs and edible flowers from my Perthshire garden. Copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

 

A taste of Summer: Sweet lavender vinegar (gluten-free, dairy-free)

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Scottish garden lavender. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

We haven’t had the best of weather so far this month, here in central Scotland. Too much rain to be able to spend quality time outdoors, but it has been warmer, and we have had a few precious sunny hours. The lavender buds are just about to bloom, making them perfect for harvesting.

I have several lavender bushes all round the garden, ranging in colour from pale, pinky-lilac to deep, blueish-purple. Apart from looking delicate and pretty, the soothing scent that lavender brings to the garden is one of the true aromas of Summer.

One of the best ways to continue to enjoy this sensual memory, even when the gloomier months of the year set in, is to pop a few stems in a bottle of vinegar. In a few weeks, you’ll have the sweet smell of lavender and its delicate floral notes, preserved perfectly, in a bottle. It makes a lovely gift too.

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Sweet lavender vinegar ingredients. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

For best results, choose lavender stems with buds that have swollen and are about to break flower. Lavender keeps fresh in water for 3 days after cutting, but keep out of sunlight in order to prevent the buds opening. Change the water and trim the stems a little each day.

To make sweet lavender vinegar:

  • Wash and sterilise a sound, sealable glass bottle large enough to hold 250ml liquid.
  • Trim down 12 stems of lavender to fit neatly inside your bottle and discard any leaves. Gently rinse and pat dry – dip lightly in a bowl of water and dry on absorbent kitchen paper.
  • Gently crush the bud end of each stem between your fingers to release the aroma, and arrange in the bottle, buds downwards.
  • Slightly warm 250ml white balsamic vinegar (agrodolce white condiment) – place on a sunny windowsill, just to take any chill out of the liquid – then pour into the bottle using a small funnel. I use white balsamic vinegar because it is naturally sweet and enhances floral and citrus notes in herbs and flowers. For a more traditional vinegar, choose a good quality white wine or cider vinegar.
  • Seal with a non-corrosive, acid-proof lid or stopper. Label and leave on the kitchen work top for a couple of weeks, gently turning the bottle upside down and back each day.
  • After 2 weeks, taste for flavour and either strain and rebottle ready for long-term storage, or continue to store as it is, allowing the flavour to slowly increase. For an intense flavour, strain the vinegar after 2 weeks, rebottle with more fresh lavender, and store until required. Stored correctly, in a cool, dark cupbaord, your vinegar should last for up to 12 months.

You can use the same method with other fresh flowers and herbs. Rose and Calendula petals work well for flowery vinegars, whilst bay, fennel, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme are good choices for herbs to flavour vinegar.

 

Caramel “splatter” blondies (gluten-free)

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Gluten free caramel “splatter” blondies. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

With the weekend approaching, I thought a baking recipe might go down well today. One of my “turn to” bakes for entertaining is sweet and gooey blondies – a guaranteed winner. Very easy to make, quick to cook, and a bake that improves on keeping (although it doesn’t usually hang around long enough to test this theory to the full!). Here’s the recipe:

Makes 24 pieces

  • 200g good quality white chocolate
  • 115g salted butter
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 115g light soft brown sugar
  • 225g gluten free plain flour blend (such as Dove’s Farm)
  • 1½ tsp gluten free baking powder
  • 1-2 tsp caramel or butterscotch flavour (such as Dr Oetker Caramel Flavour or Beau Concentrated Butterscotch Flavour)
  • 150g white chocolate chunks
  • 300g your favourite caramel sauce or canned caramel
  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C (150°C fan oven, gas mark 3). Grease and line a 20 x 30cm rectangular cake tin. Break up 150g white chocolate into a heatproof bowl and add the butter. Sit the bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water and leave to melt. Remove from the water and cool for 10 minutes.
  2. Beat the eggs and sugar into the melted chocolate mixture. Stir in the flour and baking powder, and add flavour to taste; then stir in the chocolate chunks.
  3. Transfer to the prepared tin and smooth over the top. Bake in the oven until risen, lightly golden and lightly crusted on top (for about 25 minutes if you want a very dense centre, or for 30 minutes for a more even and spongier texture – this is my preference).
  4. Whilst the cake is warm, score the top with a knife to make 24 equal pieces and then, using a wooden spoon handle, push the end into each portion of cake to make a deep indent – try to avoid pushing the handle right through to the bottom of the tin. Leave to cool completely in the tin.
  5.  Once the cake is cold, remove from the tin and wrap and store for 24 hours to allow the flavour to develop and the texture to moisten.

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    “Just filled” blondie pieces. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins
  6. The next day, unwrap the cake and cut through into the 24 pieces. Depending on your caramel sauce preference, either squirt  it straight from the tube; spoon it, or, transfer it to a piping bag and pipe sufficient caramel into each pocket to fill it.
  7. Melt the reserved white chocolate as above and, using a teaspoon, drizzle liberally over the top of each blondie. Leave in a cool plate to set, or until you are ready to indulge. Yummy!
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Caramel “splatter” blondies. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

Home-grown courgettes with chive butter (gluten-free)

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Home-grown courgette with chive butter. Images copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

One of the vegetables I have great success in raising is the courgette. This year I have a couple of varieties on the go: Tristar and Jemmer. My single Tristar plant has produced 6 courgettes already and there’s a few more to come. It is in a grow-bag on the floor of my greenhouse. Jemmer is a yellow variety; the first courgettes are just forming.

To enjoy the delicate, slightly earthy, flavour of my “home-grown” courgettes, I cook them very simply: either sliced and gently fried in sunflower oil, or as bigger chunks, lightly seasoned and roasted in the oven. The slices only take a few minutes on each side, just cooked until lightly golden round the edge.

To liven things up a wee bit, I make a herb or spice butter which I allow to melt over the cooked vegetable just before serving. At the moment, the chive bush in the garden is a combination of soft, juicy stems and pretty flower balls, and is the obvious choice for flavoured butter these past couple of weeks.

I make up a small batch at a time which will keep, well wrapped, in the fridge for 2-3 weeks or can be frozen for up to 6 months. Use half a pack of lightly salted, soft butter with 2-3 tablespoons of freshly chopped chives – snip the stalks into small pieces using kitchen scissors to avoid bruising the stems.

Beat the butter well to start with and then mix in the chives. Pile onto a small square of baking parchment and chill until firm enough to roll.

Pop the parchment square on a small sheet of cling film, and wrap the paper round the butter to make  rough tube. Continue rolling until you have made a cylinder of butter, to the thickness you prefer. Wrap tightly in the cling film and chill until required.

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Fresh chives in flower. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

Chive butter is lovely melted over grilled salmon, pan-fried chicken or tossed into freshly cooked seafood and pasta. Don’t forget the flowers: gently pull the flower heads apart and scatter the delicate lilac star-shaped petals over salads, pasta or your finished dish for a subtle oniony flavour.