Upside-down plum and marzipan cake (dairy-free; vegan, with gluten-free variation)

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Upside-down plum and marzipan cake. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

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.

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This year’s Victoria plum harvest. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

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.

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Freshly picked ripe Victoria plums. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

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.

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Perfect flavour paring of plums and almonds. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

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.

Serves: 10

Ingredients

  • 300g golden caster sugar
  • 550g plums
  • 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
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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    Preparing upside-down cake. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  4. 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.
  5. To serve, turn the cake out on to a serving plate and sprinkle with flaked almonds to serve.

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    Sliced and ready to serve, plum and marzipan cake. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

Spring, glorious spring

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Snakeshead Fritillary under a blue spring sky. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It really was a glorious day today. After a few April showers this morning, it was a sunshiny blue-sky afternoon. It was very pleasant to take a stroll, breathe in the fresh air and enjoy the sunshine. Out of the sun, it is still chilly, and the night-time temperature is low, but the spring flowers are at their best right now, and I couldn’t resist another post showing how the garden is looking at this very colourful and fragrant time of year. The scent from some of the flowers is intoxicating, I only wish there was some way of posting the aromatics as well as the images!

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Bold and brash, candy-striped tulips. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Pale lemon Narcissus, each tiny stem has 4 very fragrant blooms. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I’m in the throes of a very busy period with my work and subsequently, I have had little time to spend trying new recipes in the kitchen. I will have a recipe post ready for next week though, so in the meantime, I hope you enjoy the glorious multi-colours of my Scottish spring garden. See you next week.

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Pale pink rhododendron. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Grape hyacinths (Muscari) by a privet hedge. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Highly fragrant, double-blooming pink and magenta hyacinths. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

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November blooms and berries

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Early November blooms. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Last weekend in the garden, at times, it was a little hard to believe that it was actually the beginning of November. There was a biting wind to remind me, but the sun was out, the sky was blue and in just about every corner of the garden, there were flowers in bloom. The dainty, pale-pink cranesbill above with the rose-bush in the background, are plants on their second flowering of the year. The darker pink flowers are Nerines, a glamorous, lily-like autumn flowering bulb, which I planted in late spring and have been flowering since the end of September.

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Second flowering of Rosa Felicia. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Autumn flowering Nerines. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It’s not only pink flowers. There are bright yellow Welsh poppies here and there, and a seasonal reality check: the first flowers of Winter Jasmine are just opening out.

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November blooming Welsh poppies. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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First blooms of Winter Jasmine. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Flowers aside, there are also various berries adding splashes of colour. The holly trees are stacked out with berries this year – both red and yellow berried varieties – and the native iris, Foedissima, which flowered so prolifically a few months ago has now become laden down with bright orange berries. It looks very curious indeed, the berries are bursting out of pods which open out to match the exact formation of the iris petals earlier in the year. With all the berries around, there is clearly going to be plenty of food for the birds this winter.

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Yellow and red holly berries. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
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Bright orange iris foedissima berries. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

And finally, one more berry to report: it looks like I may have another crop of strawberries this year. I’m not getting my hopes up on the jam-making front, but I am curious to see if they do actually ripen.

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Second strawberry crop. 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 shades in a Perthshire garden

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Autumn shades in a Perthshire garden. Image by Kathryn Hawkins

This time last month, I was wondering what I would be sharing with you in November. But having had an unseasonally mild October, with no high winds or frosts, we are being treated to a magnificent Autumn, here in central Scotland. As I type this, I am looking out on to the copper beech in the front garden which is a blazing coppery-orange in the setting sun.

All around this part of the country, trees form the backdrop of the scenery. Autumn is a time for getting out of doors and celebrating the glories of natural colour. I’m fortunate in the fact that I don’t have to travel very far to experience this, my garden is alive with different shades of foliage, and even a few flowers.

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Japanese Maple. Image by Kathryn Hawkins
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Japanese Maple foliage. Image by Kathryn Hawkins
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Red blueberry bush leaves. Image by Kathryn Hawkins

Back in the Summer, I shared my white Hydrangea flowers in a post. The plant is still producing, and now as a bonus, the foliage is starting to turn wonderful shades of blue and purple; I thought it was worth another outing.

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White Hydrangea with peacock-blue leaves. Image by Kathryn Hawkins

I’ll draw this piece to a close (the light is rapidly fading outside) with a splash of colour from one of my favourite garden plants, the nasturtium. This variety is called Empress of India and the leaves are a blue-green when they first open, and the flowers a deep red. It’s been blossoming for a few weeks now and has gone a bit “blousy”, but still offers an eye-catching display at the front of the house. I wonder what I’ll be posting next month; fingers crossed the garden’s not covered in a pile of the white stuff……

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Nasturtium: Empress of India. 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.

Growing aubergine (eggplant) fruit
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