End of April in the garden

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Flaming Pierus under a clear blue Scottish sky. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Hello again. Thank you for stopping by my blog. I hope you are keeping well. Not so many words from me in this post, I am letting the glories of the spring flowers speak for themselves. I hope you enjoy looking at them.

Like the rest of the UK, we have had a wonderful month of weather here in central Scotland. In fact, it has felt more like May than April, with several flowers, shrubs and blossoms a couple of weeks ahead than this time last year.  Funnily enough, as I sat down to write this post today, the skies clouded over and we have had some much needed rain. It is also cooler, and the forecast looks set that way for the next few days ahead.

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6 of the best tulips. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

The bold and brassy tulips are early this year by about 2 weeks. The classic upright varieties have been planted for a few years now, but the multi-petal, peony-like ones, I put in last Autumn. The colours are so bright, they take on an almost day-glo look in bright sunlight.

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Snakeshead Fritillary in white and deep pink. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

More sedate-looking are the Fritillaries in white and in deep pink. They don’t grow in huge clusters, just a few dotted here and there, but year on year, they are slowly increasing in numbers all round the garden.

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Morello cherry and Conference pear blossom. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
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Apple, my favourite fruit blossom. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

The fruit trees are laden with blossom. Fingers crossed that this means a good harvest of fruit later in the year. The bees are certainly busy, so the signs are looking promising so far.

Now that the daffodils have finished flowering in the raised bed, the Forget-me-nots are free to take up the space left behind. This is a very sunny spot in the garden, and they thrive here.

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Dainty baby-blue clusters of Forget-me-nots. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

My final image this week is of another early appearing flower. These last few days of warmth and sunshine have brought out the bluebells in front of my greenhouse. Their sweet, spicy fragrance hangs heavy in the air, and their vivid blue-lilac, little pixie hat-shaped flowers are popping up all over the flower-beds and paths.

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Scottish garden bluebells. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Over the past few weeks, I have been feeling more fortunate than ever over to have such a wonderful garden to escape into, and with beautiful weather to boot, these strange times we find ourselves in have been so much easier to deal with.  My best wishes to you, and I look forward to catching up with you again soon 🙂

Tutti frutti coconut bars (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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All fruits coconut bars. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Hello again. Here in the UK, we are now in week 3 of lock-down, and whilst the weather has been wonderful this week and the garden has been very well attended to, I have also spent some time in the kitchen creating this week’s post.

I looked in the fridge at the weekend and noted a few bits and pieces that needed to be used up. The combination before me made me think of a sweet treat from yesteryear, Paradise Slice, which was a combination of dried fruit and sweet fudgy coconut mixture baked with a layer of chocolate underneath. And so, this week’s recipe was born.

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Paradise slice revisited. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

You can use any dried fruit you have in the fridge or cupboard – sultanas, raisins, dried apricot, cranberries will all work fine. I had the remnants of a bag of Trail Mix and some glacé cherries to use up, and they have created a very colourful combination.

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A filling of candied papaya, mango, pineapple and cherries mixed with coconut. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The original bake I remember contained eggs to bind the ingredients together, but in this recipe, I use a vegan meringue-style mixture which works very well and helps keep the coconut filling moist and pure white in colour. There are a few stages to the recipe, but if you haven’t got time to do it all in one go, you can bake the base first and then make the filling and topping later on. I hope you enjoy it.

Makes: 12 slices

Ingredients

For the base:

  • 100g white vegetable fat (such as Trex) or coconut oil, softened
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 175g gluten-free plain flour mix
  • 20g cocoa powder

For the filling and topping:

  • 90ml chickpea canning water
  • ¼ tsp cream of tartar
  • 75g caster sugar
  • ¼ tsp xanthan gum
  • 150g dried or candied fruit, chopped
  • 150g desiccated coconut
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 150g dark dairy-free chocolate
  1. First make the base. Grease and line a deep 20cm square tin. Beat together the fat and sugar until well blended and creamy. Sift the flour and cocoa on top and mix everything together well. Bring together with your hands to form a soft dough and then press into the bottom of the tin. Smooth with the back of a spoon, prick all over with a fork and chill for 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C fan oven, gas 4. Bake the chocolate base for 20 minutes until just firm to the touch. Leave to cool, the cover until ready to make the filling.

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    Making the chocolate base. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  3. For the filling, pour the canning water into a large grease-free bowl and whisk until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue whisking for a full 5 minutes.
  4. Gradually add the sugar, tablespoon at a time, whisking well in between, and then add the xanthan gum. Continue whisking for a further 2 minutes to make a thick, glossy meringue.
  5. Add the fruit, coconut and vanilla and gently mix everything together. Pile on top of the chocolate base, smooth the top. Bake at 170°C, 150°C, gas 3 for about 40 minutes until just firm to the touch, puffed up and lightly browned – cover the top with foil if it browns too quickly. Leave to cool in the tin – it will deflate on cooling.

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    Making the fruit and coconut filling. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  6. When the coconut layer is cool, melt the chocolate and spread it over the top of the filling, right to the edges. Leave in a cool place for a few minutes until the chocolate is just about to set, then score with a sharp knife into 12 bars – it is important to do this before the chocolate sets otherwise, without scoring, the chocolate will shatter when you come to cut the bars through.
  7. Leave to set completely. Chill if necessary. Note: I have kept the bars quite large for easier cutting (and because I’m greedy!), but you can score the chocolate with 2 more lines and cut into 24 for small portions.
  8. To serve, carefully remove the cake from the tin and peel back the lining paper. Use a large sharp knife to cut through the chocolate, filling and base to make 12 bars – it is quite a crumbly mixture but a good blade should get through it easily.

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    Covering with chocolate and slicing. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

The slices keep well in a cake tin, but if the room temperature is warm, they are best stored in the fridge.

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A slice of paradise. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

That’s me for another week. My best wishes to you all until my next post. Keep healthy and stay safe 🙂

This weird spring

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Chionodoxa, Spring’s little gem. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Hello again everyone. I hope you are keeping well. The weather has turned fine these past few days since my last post and it has been a joy to be able to escape into the garden. Whilst the world is in shut-down, Mother Nature is carrying on as usual.

This very week, 16 years ago, I moved to Scotland and took over a much neglected garden. There was not much in flower back in April 2004, but by the following spring, with a little TLC, the first Chionodoxa magically appeared (I didn’t plant them) and have been coming up each spring ever since. They love the sunny flowerbeds and paths and are poking through everywhere at the moment. In contrast, their relation, Scilla, prefer the cooler, damper, shadier part of the garden. In the low light, their bluish-lilac flowers seem to glow with a luminous quality.

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In the shade of a tree, Scilla flowers blooming. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Another shade lover, is the primrose. There are 2 varieties in the garden at the moment. The bushy yellow one flowers just for spring whilst the paler variety is in bloom and and off for several months of the year. There are several primrose clumps now; they seed themselves and multiply every year, and really do brighten up a dark corner.

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Scottish primroses. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

There were a few tasks to get on with at the weekend. One of which was to prune the bay tree-bush which has got a bit wild. I ended up with a huge trug full of bay leaves – they will keep me going for a very long time!

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Springtime bay pruning. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

One of the first tasks I can remember tackling in the garden that first spring, was to dead-head the Hydrangeas. The papery flower heads act as a natural frost protector for the buds and leaves forming on the stem below. This is one of my most enjoyable annual tasks in the garden mainly because it doesn’t involve too much bending 🙂

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Bucket of dry Hydrangea flowers. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

My final image this week is of a Ribes Sanguineum or the flowering currant bush. It has been looking a bit sad for the past couple of years, but after a rigorous pruning last Autumn, it has come back to full flower and is looking much healthier. I love the blackcurrant aroma that the flowers have.

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Flowering currant bush. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

That’s me for another week or so. Enjoy the outdoors if you are able, and keep safe. Until next time, take care.