Welcome to my blog all about the things I love to grow and cook. You'll find a collection of seasonal gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan-friendly recipe posts, as well as a round up of my gardening throughout the year. I wish you good reading, happy cooking and perfect planting!
I hadn’t intended to write another post about plums this week, but after making several pots of jam with the largest, juiciest plums, I was down to my last kilo of the smallest fruit. Flicking through an old book on preserves, I happened upon a recipe for making damson “cheese”, and I decided to have a go. It turned out to be very similar to Spanish quince paste, so I’m calling it membrillo. And very delicious it is too 🙂
It takes a bit of time to make plum membrillo because you need to keep stirring the fruit mixture to stop it catching on the bottom of the pan, and it can’t be rushed otherwise you will end up burning the mixture. Other than this, there are just 3 ingredients and a little water. I like the herbal aroma of bay with stoned fruit, but cinnamon would work well, or you could omit the extra flavour altogether for maximum fruitiness.
The flavour is intense and fruity. It is very rich so serve in slices as a sweet treat or as an accompaniment to cheese and cold meats as you would quince paste. It needs to be stored in the fridge, but will keep for a month in a sealed container, or it can be sliced, wrapped and frozen. It would make a nice gift for a foodie friend – wrap in waxed paper for keeping at it’s best.
I also cut a couple of slices into small cubes and rolled in granulated sugar to make melt-in-the-mouth home-made fruit pastilles.
Makes: 8 slices
1kg small plums (damsons or apricots would also work)
4 fresh bay leaves or 2 dried
Approx. 500g granulated sugar
Line a 500g loaf tin with baking parchment. Wash the plums and place in a large saucepan (there is no need to stone them). Pour over 200ml water, bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently for about 20 minutes until very soft. Cool for 10 minutes, then rub though a nylon sieve to extract as much pulp as possible – I ended up with about 1l of pulp.
Pour the pulp back into the saucepan, add the bay leaves, and bring to the boil. Simmer gently, stirring to prevent sticking, for about 15 minutes, until reduced by half. I find a spatula is good for stirring preserves because it enables you to scrape the pan more thoroughly. Cool for 10 minutes, then discard the bay leaves.
Measure the pulp and pour back into saucepan. Add the equivalent amount of pulp in sugar – I had 500ml reduced pulp and added 500g sugar. Heat gently, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved completely.
Turn up the heat and cook the mixture until it becomes very thick – about 30 minutes – until the spatula leaves a clear line across the bottom of the pan. If you prefer, it needs to reach 105°C on a sugar thermometer. You need to keep stirring the mixture which will be very hot, so do take care. I find it easier to wear a long rubber glove when stirring, because the mixture can spit.
Scrape the thick, pulpy mixture into the prepared tin, smooth the top and leave too cool completely. It will set firm as it cools. Chill until required.
When ready to serve, remove the lining parchment, and slice the membrillo with a sharp knife – a warmed blade should make for easier slicing. Wrap and store in the fridge for up to a month, or freeze for later use.
The garden’s taken a bit of a battering this week. It’s been very windy since the weekend and yesterday the remnants of the recent US Hurricane blew through. Fortunately, there doesn’t seem to have been too much damage, but any plums that I left on the tree are no longer.
I had been picking the Victoria plums since the beginning of last week, and thankfully harvested the majority of what was left at the weekend. I’ve been busy making jam, and freezing a few in bags for later use. The tree is only small, but it has done very well this year in spite of the dry summer, although some of the plums are smaller than usual.
Stoned fruit like plums, apricots and peaches go very well with the flavour of almond. If you crack the stones open, the inner part of the kernel has a strong almond aroma – I always add the kernels, in a muslin bag, to jam as it cooks, to give it more flavour. I realise marzipan isn’t to everyone’s taste, but is one of my favourite ingredients and in my mind, is perfect for eating with plums. This week’s recipe will work fine without it, the cake will be lighter in texture and will cook slightly quicker.
You can make this cake with most fruit, just be aware that if a fruit is very juicy, the bottom of the cake will be quite sticky and may not completely cook through. The cake also makes a great pudding served warm with custard. I use spelt flour, the white variety, for this cake, but use gluten-free plain if you’re intolerant to wheat, and ordinary plain white flour if you don’t have spelt.
300g golden caster sugar
175g dairy-free margarine
175g non-dairy yogurt (coconut or soya work well)
175ml unsweetened non-dairy milk (I used soya)
190g white spelt flour (or gluten-free plain flour)
12g gluten-free baking powder
175g ground almonds
175g marzipan, cut into small pieces
20g flaked almonds, toasted
Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C fan oven, gas 4. Grease and line a deep, 23cm round cake tin. Sprinkle the base of the tin with 2 tbsp. sugar and put to one side.
Halve the plums and remove the stones, then arrange in the bottom of the tin to cover it completely. If you have any plums left over, chop them and sprinkle them over the layer of plums.
Put the margarine in a bowl with the remaining sugar and whisk together for 3-4 minutes until creamy and light in texture and colour. Gently whisk in the yogurt and dairy-free milk with half the flour until well blended. Sieve the remaining flour and baking powder on top; add the ground almonds and marzipan, and mix everything together until thoroughly blended.
Spoon the cake mixture on top of the plums and smooth over the top. Put the tin on a baking tray and bake for about 1 ½ hours until richly golden and firm to the touch. Leave to cool for at least 30 minutes in the tin before serving warm, or leave to cool completely in the tin if serving as a cake.
To serve, turn the cake out on to a serving plate and sprinkle with flaked almonds to serve.
I had planned a garden round-up for this week’s post. However, the long spell of fine weather has finally broken and I haven’t been able to get outside that much this past week. To be honest, the hot spell has left the garden looking a bit sad and lacking in colour. So, instead of a weekend in the garden, I got the jam pan out of the cupboard and made some jelly preserve with the last of my raspberries.
A jelly preserve takes a bit more time to make than most other jams, but if you do find yourself in a preserving mood, I can recommend having a go, as the reward is great and the flavour, intense and rich.
You will need some clean muslin if you don’t have a jelly making bag, but if you are only making a small amount, as per the quantity below, you don’t need any other special equipment, although a sugar thermometer will help take the guess-work out of judging when the jelly has cooked sufficiently. All you need to ensure is that all the equipment and jam-jars you use are very clean; this will enable you to store your preserves for as long as required.
Makes: approx. 650g
450g prepared raspberries, washed
450g prepared rhubarb, washed and chopped into small pieces
Approx. 500g granulated sugar
Approx. 25ml fresh lemon juice
Mash the raspberries to release the juices and place in a saucepan. Stir in the chopped rhubarb and 2 tbsp. water. Heat gently until steaming, then cover and cook for 6-7 minutes until very soft.
2. While the fruit is cooking, set up the muslin or jelly bag ready for straining the juice. I use a tall jug which I can suspend a jelly bag over the top. Otherwise, a large nylon sieve lined with muslin, suspended over a bowl will work well. The volume of liquid produced by following this recipe will not be much greater than 500ml, so you don’t need a massive collecting container. Make sure it is stable so that it can’t tip over when you add the fruit.
3. Carefully spoon the hot fruit and juices into the bag or muslin, and then leave undisturbed for several hours until the fruit stops dripping. Don’t be tempted to press or squeeze the fruit as this will make a cloudy preserve. Discard the pulp. Measure the juice and work out the quantity of sugar and lemon juice required. You need 75g sugar and 5ml lemon juice per 100ml juice.
4. Pour the juice into a large saucepan and heat gently until hot, then stir in the sugar and lemon juice, and continue stirring over a low heat until the sugar dissolves.
5. Raise the heat and bring to the boil, then boil rapidly until setting point is reached – between 104° and 105°C on a sugar thermometer. Skim away any scum that rises to the surface during boiling. Pour into clean, hot jars and seal immediately. Leave to cool, then label and store in a cool, dark cupboard for up to 6 months, but the preserve is ready to eat as soon as you want! Delish 🙂
All the fabulous sunshine we’ve been having has done wonders for the fruit this year in the garden, although it has meant a lot of watering.
I picked my precious harvest of Morello cherries last weekend. I had had the tree netted for several weeks and successfully managed to fend off the birds. One small espalier tree produced just under one kilo of cherries 🙂
So what to do with such a precious harvest. Decisions, decisions. Last year I made my usual compote and with the remainder I made cherry jam. Sadly, I over-cooked the mixture and ended up with cherry toffee! This year, I was determined not to be so fool-hardy. I got my old-fashioned cookery books out and bottled a jar for a treat later in the year. With the rest, I made this rice dish, based on the Iranian recipe for Alo-balo polo or sour cherry rice. Traditionally chicken is added and the dish is served at a celebration. I made my meat-free version to serve as a side dish. It is only mildly spiced so will go with anything.
I appreciate that not everyone will have access to fresh Morello cherries, but dried sour cherries are readily available, and cranberries will work well as an alternative. Just stir dried cherries or cranberries into the rice towards the end of cooking time – use about 150g dried. If you have fresh or frozen cranberries, you can follow the recipe below exactly, using 250g berries.
Serves: 4 as a side dish
250g basmati rice
Generous pinch of saffron strands
300g fresh whole sour cherries
65g caster sugar
1 tsp salt
5 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick, broken
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 large red onion, peeled and sliced
Handful of chopped pistachio nuts
Put the rice in a bowl and cover with cold water. Leave to soak for 2 hours, then drain and rinse well. Meanwhile, put the saffron in a small bowl and spoon over 1 tbsp. very hot water. Leave to infuse and cool.
Stone the cherries and place in a saucepan with the sugar. Heat gently, stirring carefully, until the sugar dissolves, then bring to simmering point and cook gently for 2-3 minutes until tender and juicy. Leave to cool.
Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Add the salt, and gradually sprinkle in the rice so as to keep the water boiling. Cook in the boiling water for 3-4 minutes until slightly opaque, then drain, rinse well and shake off the excess water.
Divide the rice equally between 2 saucepans. Stir the saffron water into one portion and level off the surface of the rice. Mix the cardamoms and cinnamon into the other and level off the surface. With the end of a wooden spoon, make indents in the rice and drizzle 1 tbsp. oil into each saucepan.
Cover each with a layer of foil across the top of the saucepan; put the lid on top, and cook over a very low heat, undisturbed, for 30 minutes. After this time the grains of rice will be tender and slightly crisp on the bottom of the saucepan. Fork through the rice in each saucepan to mix well. Discard the spices.
While the rice is cooking, heat the remaining oil in a frying pan and gently fry the onion, covered, for about 15 minutes until very tender.
To serve, drain the cherries, reserving the juice, and mix the cherries into the spiced rice along with the onion. Pile into a warmed serving dish. Spoon the saffron rice on top and gently mix the two rices together. Sprinkle with pistachio nuts and serve immediately with the cherry juice to pour over – reheat this if preferred.
It’s peak raspberry season here in central Scotland, and the juicy red fruits are coming thick and fast. I have bags of berries in the freezer already for jam making later on in the year, but right now, I’m enjoying them cooked in a compote with rhubarb on my breakfast granola and as an occasional treat in a fruity dessert.
My recipe this week takes me back to my childhood. We often had jelly for dessert as kids. Using fresh fruit takes a bit of effort but the flavour can’t be beaten. The variety of raspberries I grow are called Glen Ample. They are ideal for cooking because they are very juicy and flavoursome, but they do lack sweetness when eaten fresh. You may need to alter the amount of sugar and water in the recipe if you have a different variety.
To set jellies, I use the Dr Oetker product ‘Vege-Gel’, which is a gelling powder made from Carrageenan. It gives a lovely silky, smooth soft texture. You’ll need to alter the preparation instructions if you prefer to use another setting agent.
To finish the jellies off, I made a free-from white ‘chocolate’ and coconut ganache to top the jellies for an extra special indulgence. Use dark chocolate if you prefer something less sweet.
450g fresh raspberries
100g caster sugar (or amount to taste)
6.5g sachet Vege-Gel (Dr Oetker)
100g free-from white ‘chocolate’
50g dairy-free coconut milk yogurt
Fresh raspberries and raspberry leaves to decorate
Rinse the raspberries and shake off the excess water. Put in a saucepan with the sugar and 75ml water. Heat gently, stirring occasionally and carefully, until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes without stirring. Leave to cool for 10 minutes.
Place a nylon sieve over a heatproof jug and strain the raspberry mixture through. Leave to cool completely then discard the pulp. Try to avoid squeezing the raspberry mixture in the sieve as this will make the jelly cloudy.
Pour 200ml cold water into a bowl and sprinkle over the Vege-Gel powder. Whisk until completely dissolved. Pour into a saucepan and add the raspberry juice. Heat the mixture to boiling point and then leave to cool for about 30 minutes. As the liquid cools, the mixture begins to set, so keep an eye on it to avoid it setting completely in the saucepan.
Divide the mixture between tumblers or heatproof glasses – the glasses need to be at least 150ml capacity. Leave to cool completely, then chill for an hour until firm.
For the topping, melt the free-from chocolate in a small heatproof bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then stir in the yogurt. Spoon on top of each jelly and return to the fridge for a further hour to set. Decorate, serve and enjoy 🙂
I’ve been enjoying home-grown strawberries for a couple of weeks now. They have grown quite small this year, but they are still sweet and tasty. As usual, I never have more than a handful to use at any one time (jam-making is out of the question) and I usually end up eating them on their own. However, following a recent trip to London’s Edgware Road, where I was able to stock up on a few of my favourite, more exotic, ingredients, I felt inspired to try something different.
Pomegranate molasses make an ideal accompaniment to fresh strawberries. I love the thick texture and semi-sweet flavour. It reminds me of sherbet sweets as it has a light acidic fizz on the tongue. It makes a good ingredient for a salad dressing as it adds fruitiness as well as subtle sweetness and tempers any vinegar you may add. Its thick texture means you can cut down on the amount of oil you use without noticing.
Choose a fruit vinegar or white balsamic to add extra sweetness, and use a mild tasting olive oil or other vegetable oil to help bring out the fruit flavours without dominating the dressing.
One of my other purchases was sumac powder. An astringent, fruity powder made from dried berries. It has a high tannin content and reminds me of rosehips. It is the perfect seasoning for sweet berries. Just sprinkle a little on before serving as you would black pepper. A final note on seasoning, I didn’t add any salt to my salad as I didn’t think it needed any. Everyone’s taste is different, so add a pinch to the dressing or mix some into the quinoa if you prefer a more savoury note.
Serves: 2 as a main course; 4 as a side
250g cooked, cold quinoa
1 small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
Small bunch fresh parsley and coriander, roughly chopped
A generous handful of pomegranate seeds
2 tbsp. pomegranate molasses
2 tbsp. fruit vinegar or white balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp. light olive oil
150g fresh strawberries, washed and hulled
Sumac powder or freshly ground black pepper, to season
Mix the quinoa, onion, herbs and pomegranate seeds together, then whisk all the dressing ingredients together and toss half into the salad, and pile into a serving dish.
Halve or quarter larger strawberries, leave smaller ones whole, and sprinkle on top of the salad. Season with a little sumac and serve at room temperature for maximum flavour.
I pulled my first stems of rhubarb at the weekend. The 3 crowns I re-planted back in the Autumn are doing well in their new patch (watched over by 2 stone rabbits), and it is looking likely that there will be plenty more stems before the summer is over.
To celebrate my first harvest, I have a simple rhubarb recipe to share this week. It’s a pastry classic, and gets its name from a slatted louvre window because it has thin slits cut across its top which give a glimpse of the filling inside. I’ve combined the tartness of the fresh rhubarb with the sweet, richness of marzipan, but I realise this is an ingredient not to everyone’s taste, so if you’re not a marzipan fan, simply leave it out altogether or make a thick vanilla custard instead and spread this across the pastry instead.
Serve this delicious pastry warm as a dessert with custard or leave to go cold and enjoy a slice as a pastry with a cup of coffee.
300g fresh rhubarb
40g caster or vanilla sugar
325g gluten-free, vegan puff pastry (such as Silly Yak)
125g natural marzipan, coarsely grated
A little dairy-free milk, optional
50g icing sugar
A few drops almond extract
A few toasted flaked almonds
Trim the rhubarb and cut into short, even-thickness lengths. Place in a frying pan, sprinkle over the sugar and heat gently until steaming. Cover and cook gently for about 5 minutes until tender. Leave to cool completely. Cooking rhubarb this way means you will have little juice which is important in this recipe in order to keep the pastry crisp.
When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 220°C (200°C fan oven, gas 7). Line a large flat baking tray with baking parchment. Divide the pastry into 2 equal portions. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece of pastry to make a rectangle 28 x 15cm.
Sprinkle over the marzipan, leaving about 2cm pastry showing all round the edge, and spread the rhubarb on top. Brush the pastry edge with water or little dairy-free milk if preferred.
Roll the other piece of pastry to a rectangle slightly larger than the bottom piece and carefully lay the pastry on top. Press down the edges well to seal them together and slice off any ragged pastry to neaten the edge.
Using a sharp knife, cut thin slashes through the top of the pastry to make the slatted effect. Carefully transfer the pastry to the baking tray, brush with dairy-free milk if liked and bake for about 30 minutes until browned. Leave on the tray to cool for 30 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool further.
To decorate, sieve the icing sugar into a small bowl and mix in a few drops of almond extract and about 2 teasp warm water to make a smooth, drizzling icing. Use a teaspoon to drip the icing all over the top of the warm or cold pastry and then scatter with almonds. Transfer to a serving plate or board to slice and serve.
For the first time in a while, I didn’t have a clump of rhubarb to put under a forcer pot back in January. I had transplanted all my rhubarb crowns to a new bed at the end of last year, and I decided that I would be sensible and let them recover and leave them to grow in the open for a harvest later in the year. Now, of course, I regret not having the lovely pink, tender stems to cook, but, never mind, I look forward to a home-grown harvest whenever it is ready. Actually, the clumps are doing very well, so I don’t think it will be too long before I get to pull my first stems of the year.
In the meantime, I bought some rhubarb from the local farm shop this week and baked up a batch of muffins. Serve them hot with extra stewed rhubarb and custard as a pudding, or enjoy them slightly warm for a spring-time breakfast or tea. Best eaten on the day they are made, although they will freeze, and can be reheated successfully in the microwave for a few seconds.
I made my own tulip-style paper cases, which make large “coffee shop” sized muffins. You will need 15cm squares of baking parchment and a jar or glass the same size as a muffin tin, and then it’s just a case of pressing the paper into the tins to make the case shape. If you prefer, divide the mixture between 12 ready-made paper muffin/cupcake cases and cook for slightly less time.
Makes 7 large muffins (or 12 traditional size)
For the crumble top:
85g gluten-free plain flour blend (such as Dove’s Farm)
2g gluten-free baking powder (such as Dr Oetker)
55g dairy-free margarine, softened
55g caster sugar
For the muffin mix:
225g gluten-free plain flour blend
8g arrowroot (optional, but I find it does help bind the ingredients together and gives a chewier texture)
10g gluten-free baking powder
115g caster sugar (or half caster and half vanilla sugar)
60g dairy-free plain or coconut yogurt
115g dairy-free margarine, melted
150ml soya milk
2 teasp good quality vanilla extract
175g rhubarb, trimmed and finely chopped
150ml free-from custard
First make the crumble top. Put the flour and baking powder in a bowl and rub in the margarine until well blended. Stir in the sugar and mix until it all clumps together. Cover and chill until required.
Preheat the oven to 200°C (180°C fan oven, gas 6). Line a muffin tin with 7 large tulip-style paper cases or 12 traditional sized cases. For the muffin batter, sift the flour, arrowroot and baking powder into a bowl. Stir in the sugar and make a well in the centre.
Mix the yogurt, melted margarine, non-dairy milk and vanilla extract together in a jug. Gradually pour into the dry ingredients, mixing well to blend everything together. Stir in the chopped rhubarb.
Spoon half of the mixture equally between the paper cases, and spoon a dollop of custard on top, then cover the custard with the remaining muffin batter. Sprinkle the tops generously with the prepared crumble mixture.
Bake for about 35 minutes for large muffins, and 25-30 minutes for the smaller size. Cool in the tins for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool. Best served warm and eaten on day of baking.
The recipe works well with chopped apple or pear (add a little cocoa powder to your custard for a chocolate filling), or you can add fresh small berries like raspberries, blueberries or cherries. Until next week…….happy cooking!
Last weekend, I finally got round to gathering the last of the windfall apples from underneath and around the old apple tree in the garden. There were quite a few; some badly bruised, others almost entirely unscathed. I had picked a good harvest from the tree a couple of weeks previously and have these apples safely stored away in an old fridge for later use. In my kitchen, windfalls are destined for the cooking pot and for making preserves.
I find it very satisfying making chutneys, jams and jellies, although jelly making does take a bit of planning and time, and can not be rushed. However, the finished result is very rewarding and worth the wait. This apple variety (Lord Derby) isn’t particularly flavoursome (it is reminiscent of a very large Granny Smith apple), but it is a great cooking apple as it holds its shape and some texture when baked or stewed. It’s not the juiciest for jam making, but as I had so many to use up this year, I decided to get all the jelly making stuff out of the cupboard and get preserving.
I always keep a good supply of glass jars on stand-by throughout the year, ready for filling as different fruit and veg comes into season. I give them a good rinse with hot soapy water and then sterilise them along with the lids – I gave up boiling jars to sterilise them, I now use a sterilizing fluid followed by a thorough rinse. I haven’t had any problems with any preserves spoiling since I switched to this less time-consuming method.
The jelly strainer is a piece of kit I’ve had for a few years. The whole contraption stands over a bowl or jug to catch the juice. If you don’t have a purpose-made jelly bag, line a large nylon sieve or strainer with some muslin and suspend over a deep bowl. Make sure you thoroughly clean all the equipment that comes into contact with the fruit or vegetable juice to maximise the keeping qualities for your preserves.
I’ve written a couple of savoury variations on a basic apple jelly recipe I made with my windfalls during the week. Both jellies are delicious with cheeses, barbecue food or roast meats and cold cuts. If you want a plain, sweet apple jelly (the best choice if you have a really tasty apple variety), just follow the recipe for the herb jelly below, and leave out the herbs.
Herb apple jelly
1.5kg prepared cooking apples, roughly chopped – this is the overall weight once they have been thoroughly washed and all the bad bits taken out
Approx. 825g granulated sugar
A few sprigs of fresh rosemary and sage
Put the chopped apples (unpeeled, pips and stalks attached!) in a large saucepan. Pour over 1l cold water, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes, mashing occasionally, until tender.
Carefully ladle into a suspended jelly bag and leave to drip into a clean bowl or jug, in a cool place, lightly covered, overnight. Don’t be tempted to squeeze the bag, just let it drip through naturally. Jelly making is an excellent test of the patience!
The next day, remove the juice bowl, and cover and chill it. Scoop the pulp back into a large saucepan and add a further 500ml water. Bring to the boil, then strain again as above, for a few hours – there won’t be so much juice the second time around, so 5-6 hours should be long enough.
Measure both juice yield together and calculate the amount of sugar required as 450g per 600ml juice. My yield was 1.1l which needs 825g sugar, but if you have a juicy apple variety you will capture more juice.
Rinse and pat dry a large sprig of rosemary and sage. Pour the juice into a preserving pan or large saucepan, add the herbs, and heat until steaming. Stir in the sugar until it is dissolved, then raise the heat and boil rapidly until the temperature reaches 105°C on a sugar thermometer – this will take several minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the jars by adding a small sprig of washed rosemary and a sage leaf in each. Remove the jelly from the heat and let the bubbles subside. Skim away any surface residue from the top and discard the cooked herbs. This jelly begins to set quite quickly so ladle it into the jars and seal them while the jelly is piping hot. Leave to cool, then label and store in a cool, dark place for up to 12 months. The jelly is ready for eating right away if you can’t wait! Once opened, store in the fridge for up to a month.
Apple and hot red pepper jelly
1.25g prepared, chopped cooking apples (see above)
500g prepared weight chopped red peppers (capsicum) (approx. 4 medium peppers), seeds and stalks removed
6 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
60ml cider or white wine vinegar
Approx. 675g granulated sugar
2 bay leaves
1 tsp salt
1 tsp hot smoked paprika
Put the chopped apples, peppers and garlic in a large saucepan and pour over 1l cold water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, mashing occasionally, until tender.
Carefully ladle into a suspended jelly bag and let the mixture drip into a bowl or jug underneath. Leave in a cool place, covered lightly, overnight.
The next day, put the pulp to on side and measure the collected juice. You will need 450g sugar per 600ml juice. Pour the juice into a preserving pan or large saucepan and add the vinegar and bay leaves. Heat until steaming hot and then stir in the sugar until dissolved.
Bring the juice to the boil and boil rapidly until the temperature reaches 105°C on a sugar thermometer. While the juice is boiling, pick out 50g of the cooked pepper and garlic, rinse, pat dry and chop finely – discard the rest of the pulp. Divide the chopped vegetables between your prepared jam jars.
Once the jelly has reached the correct temperature, turn off the heat, discard the bay leaves and stir in the salt and smoked paprika. Divide between the jars – for even distribution of the vegetable pieces, wait for about 10 minutes before sealing the jars, then give them a quick stir with a teaspoon to suspend the vegetable pieces throughout the jelly before putting the lids on tightly. Cool, label and store as above. Best left for a month to mature before eating.
I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to spicy heat in my food, so, although I call this “hot”, it’s pretty mild. However, if you can stand the heat, this is a good recipe to add as much chopped red chilli to suit your taste. Just cook the prepared chilli with the apples and peppers at the beginning of the recipe – leave the chilli seeds in as well if you like!
I’ve had a very “light” pear harvest this year. In fact, just 4 fruit developed on one tree and the other had no fruit at all. Not sure why, the spring was fine, there was so much blossom and plenty of bees around to pollinate it. Perhaps the pear trees decided to have a bit of a holiday this year.
So with such a precious harvest, what to cook? I picked the pears a couple of weeks ago, and they have been ripening gently and slowly in a cool spot in the kitchen. They remained quite firm, so I decided I would cook them.
Vanilla is one of my favourite spices, and it is a particularly delicious flavouring for pears. This is a very simple recipe, but it tastes a little bit more special because the pears are cooked in Moscatel de Valencia – the floral notes of this sweet Spanish wine are a perfect match for both pears and vanilla.
Chocolate is another “must have” with pears as far as I’m concerned, and this easy “butter” makes an interesting alternative to the usual chocolate sauce. Moscatel is one of the few wines I think goes well with chocolate, so this is a “win win” recipe for me. Serve the pears very slightly warm or at room temperature so that the cooking juices don’t begin to set, and avoid chilling the chocolate accompaniment (unless the room temperature is very warm) as it will become very hard to spoon.
4 firm pears
Juice of ½ a lemon
1 vanilla pod
300ml Moscatel de Valencia wine (or white grape juice if preferred)
1 tbsp. agave syrup (or clear honey if you eat it)
40g dairy-free margarine (or unsalted butter)
100g dairy-free 85% cocoa chocolate
50g golden syrup
Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven, gas 4). Peel and core the pears, and cut in half. Brush lightly with lemon juice and place cut-side up in a shallow baking dish.
Split the vanilla pod and scoop out some of the seeds using the tip of a sharp knife. Push the rest of the pod into the dish of pears, mix the scooped-out seeds with the wine and pour over the pears.
Dot the pears with 15g of the margarine and drizzle with agave syrup. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil, turn the pears over, baste with the cooking juices, and return to the oven to bake, uncovered, for a further 20 minutes or until the pears are tender.
Cool for 30 minutes in the cooking juices, discard the vanilla pod, then lift out the pears using a slotted spoon and place in a heatproof dish. Pour the cooking juices into a small saucepan.
Bring the cooking juices to the boil and simmer for about 5 minutes until reduced by half. Pour over the pears and leave to cool.
For the chocolate “butter”, break the chocolate into pieces and put in a saucepan with the remaining margarine and the golden syrup. Heat very gently, stirring, until melted. Remove from the heat, mix well and pour into a small, heatproof dish. Leave to cool – the “butter” will solidify when it becomes cold.
Serve the pears at room temperature accompanied with the chocolate “butter”. If you prefer, leave the chocolate mixture to cool for about 30 minutes and serve warm as a thick, glossy chocolate sauce.