Late September colours

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Looking down the driveway from my office window I can see the wonderful shades of an Acer tree. As the seasons change the foliage turns from bright, lush green in spring, to more coppery tones in summer and now, the leaves are shades of rich red and brown.

There is still a lot of green in the garden, but now that the pinks and blues of the summer borders have faded, it is the time of year when the reds flowers and shrubs really stand out.

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Antirrhinum. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The fine specimen above was planted last year and has been producing flower stems for several weeks. It’s still going strong, adding a splash of colour to a flower-bed which was alive and vibrant with lupins a few weeks ago. The Antirrhinum is a nostalgic plant for me; we had them growing in most of my family gardens as I grew up. I used to think that the flower heads looked like little faces staring up at me from the borders.

The Fuchsia bushes have also been in flower for a while. This dainty variety grows in front of a magnificent Cotoneaster horizontalis, which is splayed out against a wall. Together the two plants look very bright and bold, one in front of the other. The Cotoneaster is laden with berries which tend to stay in place throughout the winter – for some reason the birds aren’t that interested in them.

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The ballerina-like petals of a Fuchsia. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Cotoneaster horizontalis. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Another later flowering plant in the garden is Lyceteria, more familiarly known as Pheasant Berry. Occasionally there has been a pheasant in the garden but I have yet to see one anywhere near this bush. The unusual flowers last a long time, and look like a succession of dark red lampshades hanging from a thin red cord.

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Lyceteria Formosa (Pheasant Berry). Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Apart from the flowers and foliage, there is also red colour from late ripening fruit. The Autumn raspberries are not as prolific as the earlier variety I grow, but it is lovely to be picking berries at this time of year. The last of my blueberry bushes is in fruit, but it is the leaves and stems that offer so much at the moment; on a dull day, the vivid red is a sight to behold. The little red apples were picked just after I took the image. Just five small fruit on a miniature tree, but crisp, sweet and delicious with every bite.

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Autumn raspberries, blueberries and miniature eating apples. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

To finish my red-themed post this week, while I was taking these pictures, I came across two aptly named butterflies having a bit of a stand-off on the white Hydrangea bush. One clapped its wings together as soon as I got the camera out and couldn’t be tempted to open them again. The other fellow was more obliging and sat there for quite a while as I clicked away. It wasn’t until later on that I realised the poor thing only had one antennae. Until next time, enjoy the Autumn shades 🙂

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Red Admiral butterflies. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Home-grown tomatoes – recipe for fresh tomato sauce, a salsa, plus other serving suggestions (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan)

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Freshly picked tomatoes. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

With the fine, warm spring weather we had this year, my tomato plants have done very well. The fruit started to ripen earlier than usual, and I have been picking a steady supply tomatoes since the end of July. By this time of the year, I’m usually left with a greenhouse filled with hard, green fruit, wondering how on earth they are all going to ripen as the days shorten and the weather turns.

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Ripe and ready to pick. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Of all the fruit and vegetables you can grow yourself, the tomato has to be in my top 5 as having the most marked difference in flavour compared to most commercially grown varieties, and it is one that I never tire of; I would happily consume a plateful every day if given the opportunity.

To preserve the flavour, avoid putting tomatoes in the fridge as this seems to destroy a lot of the taste – the unique fragrance also seems to disappear. I try to pick only what I need for eating or cooking that day, but if there are a lot that are ripe, I store them in a cool place in the kitchen and use within a couple of days.

Last month I made a batch of my favourite tomato preserve: Smoky Tomato Jam (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan) and semi-dried a batch which I have preserved in olive oil – Preserving the Summer (Semi-cuit tomatoes – gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan) If preserving isn’t your thing, and you have too many ripe tomatoes to eat, you can freeze them whole in bags for use in sauces and soups later on. Making a batch of tomato sauce is a good way to use them up too, and it also freezes well. Homemade tomato sauce makes a deliciously intense flavoured base for soups and pasta dishes, or as a tasty pouring sauce for meat, fish and vegetables.

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Homemade tomato sauce. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

To make about 450ml fresh tomato sauce: simply wash and pat dry 1 kg tomatoes; cut in half and place in a large lidded frying pan or saucepan. Try and keep them in a single layer if possible, for even cooking. Season lightly with salt and pepper and add a bunch of fresh herbs – I use rosemary, thyme, oregano and a bay leaf. Place over a low heat until beginning to steam, then cover with a lid and continue to cook very gently for about 40 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of the tomatoes, until soft and collapsed. Cool for 10 minutes, then discard the herbs and push the tomatoes through a nylon sieve to make a pulpy juice.

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Preparing tomato sauce. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Pour into a clean saucepan, add 25g butter or vegan margarine, 1 tbsp. good quality olive oil, and 1 tsp caster sugar. Taste and add more seasoning if necessary. Heat gently until the butter or margarine melts, then raise the heat and simmer steadily for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened, but still thin enough to pour. Use as per recipe or allow to cool completely, then cover and store in the fridge for up to 3 days. Freeze in sealable containers for up to 6 months. Note: you can add garlic to the tomatoes before cooking – peeled, whole cloves work fine and will cook into a pulp with the tomatoes. I prefer to keep the sauce plain and add my garlic when I use the sauce in a recipe.

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Homemade tomato sauce, ready to serve. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Here are a few other ideas for serving up fresh tomatoes:

  • Dress a plate of sliced fresh tomatoes by simply seasoning with a light dusting of white sugar, a little salt, freshly ground pepper and a few toasted and crushed cumin seeds.
  • For a quick “chutney”, gently fry 2 finely sliced red onions with a crushed clove of garlic in olive oil. Add a pinch or 2 of chilli flakes and cook until very soft. Add 225g chopped fresh tomatoes, 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar and 2 tbsp. caster sugar. Season and cook gently, stirring occasionally, until thick. Leave to cool, then store in the fridge for up to a week. Lovely with barbecued meat, vegetables and as an accompaniment to cheeses.
  • Roughly chop a few ripe tomatoes. Blitz in a blender; push through a nylon sieve into a jug. Season with Tabasco sauce and/or Worcestershire sauce. Put ice in a tumbler, add a slug of vodka and pour over the seasoned juice.
  • Bake halves of tomato, side by side in a shallow dish, in a moderate oven with a topping of fresh breadcrumbs, capers, slivers of garlic and a drizzle of olive oil, until tender. Serve scattered with lots of freshly chopped parsley.
  • Small pieces of sweet tomato make and interesting addition to a citrusy fruit salad. Pour over a plain sugar syrup and scatter with chopped, fresh mint to serve.
  • For a delicious salsa to go with Indian food: combine chopped tomatoes, cucumber, and fresh mango with a little finely chopped red onion. Sprinkle with black onion seeds and toss in a little white balsamic vinegar. Serve at room temperature for the best flavour.
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Tomato and mango salsa Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

Lemon-soaked cucumber cake (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan option)

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Lemon-soaked cucumber cake. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

This week has seen the end of my home-grown cucumber supply. I picked the last one yesterday. The greenhouse is beginning to look a wee bit shabby and tired. I have only the tomato plants bearing fruit and still standing proud alongside the withered vines of the once productive cucumber plants.

I love experimenting with vegetables in baking. Carrots and courgettes get a lot of coverage in cake making, as do beetroot and sweet potato, but the humble cucumber doesn’t get much of a look in, until now.

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Fresh cucumber. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The delicate, refreshing flavour of is just about detectable in the finished bake, and the texture of the cooked skin gives a little bite to the mix, but above all else, cucumber as a cake ingredient, gives a lovely moist consistency to the cake.

There aren’t many flowers left on cucumber plants at this time of year, but in the height of the season, you can pick off a few male flowers (the ones without the fairy-sized fruit attached) and add the to salads or a mild cucumber flavour. They make pretty edible decorations, and look good floating in a glass of Pimms of a gin and tonic. Don’t pick off too many otherwise you won’t get any more cucumbers.

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Male and female cucumber flowers. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Here’s my recipe for a lemon and cucumber cake. Let me know what you think.

Serves: 10

Ingredients

  • 1 lemon
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 2 medium eggs, beaten, or 100g silken tofu, mashed
  • 150ml sunflower oil
  • 225g gluten-free plain flour (such as Dove’s Farm)
  • 2 level teasp gluten-free baking powder (such as Dr Oetker)
  • 8g arrowroot
  • 115g grated cucumber
  • Cucumber flowers to decorate, optional
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven, gas 4). Grease and line a 1kg loaf tin. Using a vegetable peeler, pare away 2 strips of lemon rind, and put to one side. Finely grate the remaining lemon rind and extract the juice.
  2. Put 150g sugar in a bowl and whisk in the eggs or tofu and sunflower oil until well blended. Sift the flour, baking powder and arrowroot on top, and gently mix all the ingredients together until combined. Stir in the cucumber and lemon rind.
  3. Pour into the tin and bake for about 55 minutes until risen, golden, and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  4. While the cake is cooking, prepare the lemon glaze. Very thinly slice the reserved strips of lemon rind and place in a heatproof bowl. Cover with boiling water and leave to soften for a couple of minutes. Drain. Mix the remaining sugar with the lemon juice and stir in the blanched lemon rind to make a sugary glaze.
  5. As soon as the cake is cooked, skewer the cake all over, and spoon the lemon glaze all over the top of the cake. Leave the cake to cool completely in the tin. Then remove, wrap and store for 24 hours to allow the flavours to develop.
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    Preparing the cake mix. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
    Pared_lemon_rind_and_lemon_and_sugar_glaze
    Preparing the lemon glaze. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

    The next day, your delicious cake is ready to serve. Decorate with cucumber flowers if you have them, then simply slice, sit back and enjoy! Until next week, I’m off to the greenhouse for a tidy up…….

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    Sliced and ready to serve. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Victoria plums, baked with fresh bay and red wine (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan)

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Freshly baked home-grown Victoria plums in red wine, scented with fresh bay.               Image: Kathryn Hawkins

My first harvest of plums in the year marks the end of summer in my mind. There is, of course, something to celebrate in having such lovely fruit to pick, and yet, I feel a bit sad that autumn is approaching. I managed to get a head-start on the wasps this year, picking about 1kg of unblemished fruit. There are plums a plenty yet to ripen,  so I need to work on my timing over the next few days and harvest them before the wee sugar-seeking beasties move in.

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Ripe and ready to pick, home-grown Victoria plums. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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My first plum harvest of the year. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

My plum cookery isn’t very adventurous or fancy. I usually make jam or a plum sauce. Sometimes I make a compote. Baking them in wine is another very simple way I enjoy the rich, distinctive flavour of this particular fruit. Fresh bay-scented orchard fruit is something I tasted for the first time in Cyprus. The familiar glossy-leaved herb has become a flavour I use a lot in my kitchen, both in sweet and savoury cooking, and now that I have a bay tree in the garden, I use the herb all the more. Fresh bay gives a refreshing, herbal taste to fruit. You can use dry leaves, but as the flavour is much more intense than the fresh, you may want to experiment by reducing the quantity of leaves by at least half. If you don’t have any wine, or prefer not to use it, cranberry juice makes a good alternative in this recipe. If you don’t have plums, the recipe works equally well with apricots, peaches or nectarines. The baked fruit also freezes well too.

Serves: 6

Ingredients

  • 750g fresh Victoria plums
  • 60g Demerara sugar
  • 4 fresh bay leaves
  • 300ml fruity red wine or unsweetened cranberry juice
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven, gas 4). Wash and pat dry the plums. Cut in half and remove the stones. Arrange the halves neatly, cut side up, preferably in a single layer, in a baking dish or tin.
  2. Sprinkle with sugar and push in the bay leaves, then pour over the wine or juice. Bake for 30-40 minutes, basting every 10 minutes, until tender.

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    Baked plums with bay and red wine preparation. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  3. Discard the bay leaves. Carefully strain off the cooking juices into a saucepan . Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for about 5 minutes until reduced and syrupy. Pour over the fruit and leave to cool. Cover and chill for 2 hours before serving. Best served at room temperature for maximum flavour. Delicious accompanied with coconut yogurt or rice pudding.
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    Glazed plums cooling in the tin. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

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    Baked plums served with coconut yogurt. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Autumn blues – Blueberry and marzipan cake (gluten-free; dairy-free)

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Blueberry and marzipan cake. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It’s been feeling a wee bit autumnal here in central Scotland for the past couple of weeks. Some of the leafy foliage in the garden is on the turn and the nights are drawing in fast. I also have blueberries ready for picking.

Home-grown blueberries are a delight to behold and eat. The skin is much bluer than any variety I can buy, and the skin has a silvery, almost downy bloom. The fruit is firmer in texture and has a slightly tart, more pronounced flavour. The plants are easy to grow, require little maintenance, and love the acidic Scottish soil. The leaves turn pink as the season progresses, and make a wonderful display in the fruit beds.

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Freshly picked, home-grown Scottish blueberries. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Mid-season blueberries ripe and ready for picking alongside a later variety. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

I planted 3 blushes about 5 years ago. One fruits end of July/beginning of August, one is in full ripening mode now, and the other has fruit that is just turning pink. It is unusual for me to be able to harvest enough berries to make anything substantially blueberry flavoured in one go. Usually I keep adding to a bag of berries in the freezer until I have enough to make jam – blueberries do freeze very well and make very good jam from frozen fruit. This year has been an exception, and I have harvested sufficient fresh berries for this unbelievably easy blueberry cake.

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Slice of homemade blueberry and marzipan cake. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Serves: 8

Ingredients

  • 115g dairy-free margarine, softened
  • 115g caster sugar
  • 115g gluten-free self raising flour (such as Dove’s Farm)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 100g marzipan, cut into small pieces
  • 200g fresh or frozen blueberries
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven, gas 4) Grease and line an 18cm square cake tin. Put the margarine, sugar, flour, eggs and ground almonds in a bowl. Using an electric mixer on a low speed, gently whisk the ingredients together until loosely blended. Increase the mixer speed and continue to whisk for a few seconds longer until creamy and smooth.
  2. Gently stir in the marzipan and blueberries and spoon into the tin. Smooth the top and bake for about 45 minutes until lightly golden and just firm to the touch. Leave to cool in the tin, then slice into 8 portions and serve. If you can leave it alone, the cake tastes even better the next day. It is also delicious served warm as a pudding.
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    Easy to make, blueberry and marzipan cake. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

    There are other signs of Autumn in the garden. The Autumn Crocus opened out this week, and the globe thistles (Echinops) are in various stages of blooming. I was delighted to see so many bees still hard at work when I was taking these pictures. Until next week, enjoy the late summer/very early autumn sunshine.

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    New season Autumn Crocus. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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    Shades of silvery-blue, Echinops (globe thistles). Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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    A very busy bee. Image: Kathryn Hawkins