Pear perfection

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October pear harvest. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The temperature has been dropping these past few days so I decided it was time to pick the pears before a frost spoils them. It’s been a good year for most of the orchard fruit in my garden, and although I only have 2 small pear trees of differing variety, both produced 7 or 8 fruit each. One tree is a Doyenne de Comice which grows against an old wall, espalier-style, and the other is a Concorde pear, more of an upright tree but still sheltered by a wall.

Most pears ripen off the tree but I find it a challenge knowing exactly when to pick them, some time between the wasps disappearing and the cold weather arriving. If you want to store your harvest, unlike apples, pears don’t require wrapping, just arrange them in a single layer, not touching, on a shelf or tray, in a cool, dry place. You will need to check them frequently, and once the fruit begins to soften at the stalk end, keep them at room temperature for 2 to 3 days to complete ripening.

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Comice pear tree growing against a wall. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
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Pear: Doyenne de Comice. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Small Concorde pear tree. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
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Pear: Concorde. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

5 recipe ideas for pears:

  • Peel and core firm but ripe pears, sprinkle with butter, cinnamon and brown sugar and bake along side a ham or pork joint for the last 30 minutes of cooking; baste occasionally to prevent them drying out.
  • Mash soft, ripe pear flesh into freshly prepared mashed potato along with salty, sharp blue cheese – delicious served with roast chicken or ham.
  • Blend chopped pear with fresh blueberries, unsweetened apple (or pear) juice and plain soy or coconut yogurt for a creamy smoothie.
  • For a decadent sandwich, toast gluten-free bread and fill with freshly sliced pear, a few marshmallows and chocolate chips. Spread butter or margarine on the outside of the toast and press the sandwich into a preheated hot griddle pan for a couple of minutes on each side – or pop in a sandwich toaster if you have one – to heat through and melt the chocolate.
  • Halve a perfectly ripe pear and scoop out the core. Brush with lemon juice and fill the centre with grated marzipan. Flash under a hot grill for a few seconds to melt the marzipan and serve immediately, scattered with toasted almonds and chocolate sauce – my favourite!

Apple crumble cake (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan)

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Lord Derby cooking apples. Images by Kathryn Hawkins

A couple of weeks ago, I picked a bumper crop of cooking apples from the old tree in my garden. I have no idea how old the tree is, but it’s gnarly and interesting to look at, and each year produces large, bright green apples with a slightly tart taste. The variety is called Lord Derby. The apples keep their texture when cooked and are perfect for thinly slicing and layering in a deep filled apple pie or peeled and quartered for a tart tatin. Kept in the cool and dark, this variety of apple stores for about 3 months – until about Christmas-time.

This is one of my favourite apple recipes. It keeps well if you can leave it alone, and becomes more cake-like as time goes on. Serve the cake hot or cold, for pudding or with coffee. I guarantee you’ll love it!

Serves: 10-12

  • 225g vegan margarine ( or lightly salted butter if you prefer),  softened
  • 165g + 2 tbsp Demerara sugar
  • 1 tsp natural vanilla extract
  • 350g gluten-free plain flour (such as Dove’s Farm)
  • 10g gluten-free baking powder (such as Dr Oetker)
  • 500g cooking apples
  • Juice 1 small lemon
  • 1 tbsp cornflour
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 50g thick milled oats
  • 1 tsp icing sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven, gas mark 4). Grease and line a 5cm deep x 23cm round, cake tin. In a mixing bowl, beat the margarine with 165g sugar and the vanilla, until well blended and creamy.
  2. Sift the flour and baking powder on top and bring together to form a crumbly mixture. Press about two-thirds evenly into the base of the tin to make a smooth, thick base. Prick all over with a fork and bake for 20 minutes until lightly golden and slightly crusty.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Put the lemon juice in a bowl. Thinly peel and core the apples, and chop into small pieces. Toss in the lemon juice to help prevent browning. Drain away the excess juice and toss in the cornflour and cinnamon.
  4. Spread the apple evenly over the baked base. Mix the oats into the remaining crumble and spoon on top, making sure all the apple is covered. Sprinkle over the remaining Demerara sugar. Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes until golden brown and firm to the touch.

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    Preparation of apple crumble cake. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

If you want to serve the cake as a pudding, leave it to firm up for 15 minutes before removing from the tin; otherwise leave it to cool completely and enjoy cold. Dust lightly with icing sugar just before serving. Enjoy!

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Homemade gluten-free apple crumble cake. Images by Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

My harvest festival

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Today’s harvest of homegrown apples, pears and raspberries. Image by Kathryn Hawkins

Today has been my first opportunity to get into the garden for a while. Work has got in the way, and the weather has been pretty grim, so I seized the opportunity this morning and spent a couple of hours getting some fresh air and taking stock.

I was delighted to pick a bowl of late ripening raspberries – a delicious breakfast treat for tomorrow morning. I had expected that the birds would have been tucking in during my absence, but they are obviously feeding elsewhere.

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Autumn Bliss – late fruiting raspberries. Image by Kathryn Hawkins

We have had an unusually mild September, and it’s really only been these past couple of weeks that the temperature has gone down a few degrees, but we have yet to have a frost. As a result, my runner beans flowered again, and tonight I will be enjoying freshly picked, homegrown beans with my supper – a first for me at this time of year.

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Second time around, October runner beans. Image by Kathryn Hawkins

Scotland has an ideal climate for growing potatoes, and the Pink Fir variety I planted this year have done very well. Not usually a high yielding potato, I have been pleasantly surprised by how many potatoes the plants have produced so far, and I have plenty more to dig. Their cream coloured flesh is flaky and dry, and the pink, knobbly skin adds nuttiness to the flavour; they boil and roast well.

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Trug of freshly dug pink fir potatoes. Image by Kathryn Hawkins

Last year, I didn’t get the chance to try any eating apples from the garden. One of my trees produced no fruit at all, and the apples from on other tree were enjoyed by the birds before I got a look in! I have victory over my feathered friends this year, although I did leave a few of the really wee ones on the tree for the colder weather, when the birds do finally get peckish. I am looking forward to trying the apples; they are quite small but look very enticing with their shiny scarlet blush.

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Cute little eating apples – variety unknown. Image by Kathryn Hawkins

Homegrown aubergine (eggplant)

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Freshly picked aubergines (eggplant). Image by Kathryn Hawkins

I have been working away from home for a few days so that means no cooking or enjoying homegrown goodies from the garden. Whilst I was happy not to cook for a while, I did miss my garden. No matter, what a fabulous treat awaited me when I got back: 3 ripe aubergine.

I only planted one wee seedling back in June, so these 3 fruits are a somewhat mammouth production for one plant. And, even better, there are a couple more fruits to come.

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Homegrown aubergine (eggplant) fruit.

The plant itself is a beauty with glossy black stems and bright green, soft, downy leaves. The delightful purple flowers of “scrunched up tissue paper” petals, appeared back in August, followed by the first tiny, fairy-sized fruit a couple of weeks later. The plant has thrived unprotected in my unheated greenhouse all summer.

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Aubergine (eggplant) flower. Image by Kathryn Hawkins

Aubergine is one of my favourite vegetables. I love the melting texture of the flesh once it is cooked, and the mild, nutty flavour. I don’t do anything special, no pre-salting or soaking, just trim, slice and griddle. Most usually I chop them up with onions, peppers and courgettes, scatter them with oil, fresh herbs and salt and pepper, and then roast them to serve hot as an accompaniment to serve with meat or fish, or leave them to cool and serve cold with fresh tomatoes and balsamic vinegar. Mmmm……

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Tray baked vegetables. Image by Kathryn Hawkins

October flowerings

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October foliage and flowers. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It has been a mild and reasonably bright few weeks since my last garden posting. I am pleasantly surprised that so much is still in bloom in the garden. In fact, there are very few signs of Autumn here at all, and the garden hasn’t changed that dramatically from last month, the colours are just a little faded and more muted. The large trees are barely turning, so I had to look to smaller bushes and shrubs for some typical October colour. The blueberry bushes have finished fruiting now and are the only real hint of the season, having turned from bright green to deep red-orange colour.

More Autumn crocus have found their way to the surface this week, and make a pretty splash of colour on the increasingly barren soil as the other foliage dies back.

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Autumn flowering crocus. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

It was also good to see that we still have plenty of bees around the garden. Yesterday, they were buzzing round the Hebe and dahlias as I took my photos, still busy gathering pollen from the flowers and shrubs.

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Hebe bee-bee. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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White petal dahlia with busy bee, and Burgundy pom-pom dahlia. Images:Kathryn Hawkins

Usually at this time of year, there is only one splash of colour in one a particular flowerbed in the back garden; it prompts me to think every year that I must plant a companion ready for next Autumn (and of course, I never do). Sedum “Autumn Joy” is very reliable, multi-headed with tiny pink flowerets and succulent bright green leaves, I think it must be very happy having its moment of glory every year, when it stands out alone amongst its fading neighbours, so who am I to spoil its fun?

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Sedum “Autumn Joy”. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I will finish this post with an image of a flower I spotted in bud a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday, it was in full bloom. It is a well established shrub and should have flowered back in June, when it is normal to do so, but for some reason it has decided to break flower now. Fingers crossed we don’t get any frost………

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Rhododendron in bloom in October. Image: Kathryn Hawkins