Windfall apple jelly (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

 

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Collecting windfall cooking apples. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

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.

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Lord Derby apples, just before picking earlier in October. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

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.

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Jelly making kit. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

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.

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Homemade herb apple jelly. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

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

Makes: 1kg

Ingredients

  • 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
  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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    Herb apple jelly preparation in pictures. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

    Small_tin_of_hot_smoked_paprika_spice_with_2_jars_of_homemade_apple_and_hot_red_pepper_jelly
    Apple and hot red pepper jelly flavoured with hot smoked paprika. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Apple and hot red pepper jelly

Makes: 900g

Ingredients

  • 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
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
    Preparation_steps_for_making_apple_and_hot_red_pepper_jelly
    Making apple and hot red pepper jelly. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

     

  4. 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.
  5. 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!

 

 

Tattie scones (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Freshly cooked tattie (potato) scones. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The best things in life are often the simplest. These wise words certainly apply to my recipe this week. There aren’t many dishes more straightforward than a tattie scone. Just 3 ingredients, plus some oil to cook them in, and that’s it.

The tattie (potato) scone is synonymous with Scotland. Just about every self-respecting baker makes his or her own, and no supermarket bakery aisle is complete without them. The scones are a good way of using up leftover boiled potato which is mashed and bound with wheat flour, but gluten-free works fine. Tattie scones are  usually quite thin, but I make mine a bit thicker  (about 1cm) as I find the mixture easier to work with. Eat them warm as part of a savoury meal (often served as part of a hearty breakfast) or  as a snack spread with butter and jam. The scones make a great alternative to bread as an accompaniment to a soup or stew as they are perfect for mopping up gravy or a sauce.

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A tea-time favourite: tattie scones and jam. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I dug up the last of my home-grown potatoes this week, and decided that there was no better way to enjoy them, than by making up a batch of my own scones.  I’ve been growing the same main crop variety (Pink Fir Apple) for a few years now, and haven’t found any other to rival it in texture or flavour. The potatoes are pink-skinned and can be very knobbly indeed. The flesh is creamy-yellow in colour, sometimes flecked or ringed with pink, and when cooked, it becomes dry and floury in texture. The flavour is slightly sweet and earthy. Pink Fir Apples potatoes are perfect for crushed or mashed potato. and also roast well. They can be cooked and eaten peeled or unpeeled.

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My last harvest of Pink Fir Apple potatoes. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Here’s my recipe.

Makes: 6

Ingredients

  • 400g main crop potatoes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 40g gluten-free self-raising flour blend (such as Dove’s Farm)
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  1. Peel the potatoes thinly, cut into small pieces, and place in a saucepan. Cover with water and add half the salt. Bring to the boil and cook for 8-10 minutes or until completely tender. Drain well through a colander or strainer, and leave to air-dry for 10 minutes.
  2. Return the potatoes to the saucepan and mash finely with a potato masher. If you have a ricer, use this to achieve a super-smooth texture.
  3. While the mash is still fairly hot, add the remaining salt and sift the flour on top. Gently work the ingredients together to make a pliable dough.
    Potato_preparation_for_making_tattie_scones
    Ricing the potatoes. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

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    Making and rolling the potato dough. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  4. Turn the dough on to a lightly floured work surface and roll to form a round about 18cm diameter – roll to 20cm for slightly thinner scones. Cut into 6 triangular wedges.
  5. Brush a large frying pan or flat griddle pan generously with oil and heat until hot. Cook the scones for 2-3 minutes on each side until lightly golden. Drain and serve warm. You can reheat the scones successfully, by either popping them in the frying pan again or under the grill to lightly toast them.

    Serving_of_tattie_scone_with_jam
    Straight out of the pan and spread with my favourite topping: homemade raspberry jam. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Sweet baby sweetcorn – growing your own baby corn and serving suggestions (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Freshly picked baby corn. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The month of May seems like a long time ago now, but this is when my quest to grow my own sweetcorn began. I am quietly astounded that I managed to raise 12 plants from seed to fruit in an unpredictable Scottish climate, yielding their first harvest this very week. It seems that Mother Nature’s combination of a mild spring, intermittent sunshine and showers, along with my interventions – fussing like an old mother hen, protecting the plants from the slightest breath of wind and giving them an occasional feed – has paid off.

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Sowing sweetcorn seeds in early May, and planting out one month later. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

I chose a hard variety of baby corn called Snowbaby. All varieties of sweetcorn need to develop a firm root structure in order to grow to the height they needs to produce cobs. If you take this into account from the very beginning, you will find the crop easy to grow. Pack the sowing compost firmly into compostable pots – using biodegradable pots will enable you to plant the young seedlings into the soil without disturbing the roots. From sowing the seeds at the beginning of May and keeping them sheltered in an unheated greenhouse, it took 4 weeks to develop seedlings with 5 or 6 leaves which were then ready to plant out after acclimatization.

Sweetcorn likes a nutritious, well-draining soil; a sheltered spot; plenty of sunshine, and frequent watering. I put 6 plants in an old barrel and the other 6 went in a suitable spot in the garden. Sweetcorn requires little maintenance and is virtually pest resistant. Triumphant, some 4 months later, I picked my first bunch of cobs.

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Mature baby sweetcorn plants and cobs. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
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Home-grown baby corn. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The tall sweetcorn stems with their draping, long, ribbon-like leaves and fine feathery flowers make an attractive architectural plant display, and the way the baby corn cobs develop is very intriguing. The cobs form in the gap between stem and leaf. Once the cobs are large enough, the silky threads protecting the cobs inside the leaf wrapping, burst out of the tops to indicate that the baby corn cobs inside are ready to be picked. Simply twist the cobs from the stalks or snap them off outwards. Cook them quickly as they are prone to drying out, although I have kept the cobs, still wrapped in leaf, in a jug of water in the fridge for 3 or 4 days, and they stayed perfectly fresh.

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Preparing baby sweetcorn. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Carefully strip away the outer leaves and gently pull away the silky strings to reveal the mini cob in the centre. Either steam or boil the cobs for 3-4 minutes and serve immediately. For best results, don’t salt the cooking water but add a pinch of sugar instead to bring out the sweetness. Freshly picked cobs have an earthy, sweet flavour so avoid over-seasoning in order to appreciate the difference between home-grown and mass-cultivated crops.

Serving suggestions:

  • Strip away a few leaves from the cob but keep a few in place so that you are able to wrap the cob up again; carefully remove the strings. Secure the remaining leaves round the cob again with string and blanch in boiling water for 1 minute. Drain well and cook over hot coals for 2-3 minutes until tender and lightly charred. Remove the string and leaves and serve as part of a barbecue feast.
  • Simmer baby corn cobs in coconut milk with a little chilli and garlic and serve sprinkled with chopped coriander and toasted sesame seeds.
  • Slice into chunks and stir fry with shredded leek, pak choi and chopped garlic for 3-4 minutes until tender. Dress lightly with soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and a spoonful of honey or sweet chilli sauce.
  • Blanch sliced baby corn pieces for 1 minute; drain, cool and mix with cooked sweetcorn kernels, a handful of raisins, and toasted pine nuts. Dress with olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar.

No recipe pictures from me this week. I enjoyed my first harvest of freshly picked baby corn cobs steamed and served with a dollop of lightly salted butter and a sprinkling of black pepper – nothing fancy but completely and utterly delicious. I couldn’t resist taking this last picture though. I hope “she” makes you smile.

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My sweetcorn fairy. Image: 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…….

    Close-up_on_slice_of_lemon_soaked_cucumber_cake
    Sliced and ready to serve. 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.
    Ready_to_bake_and_fresh_out_of_the_oven_blueberry_and_marzipan_cake
    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
    Echinops
    Shades of silvery-blue, Echinops (globe thistles). Image: Kathryn Hawkins
    Bee_and_Echinops
    A very busy bee. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

     

French (Green) beans – tips and serving suggestions

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My first French beans of the season. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I haven’t grown French beans for a few years. I like the vegetable very much but have preferred to grow runner beans instead. This year I fancied a change. I decided to make holes in the bottom of an old wheelbarrow, fill it with compost and raised a few plants from seed. Much to my delight, my first harvest was ready to pick this week, and there are plenty more to come. I had my doubts about the barrow; we have had so much rain on and off over the past few weeks, I was convinced it would become water-logged and the beans would drown. In fact,  I have been fussing around them like an old mother hen for weeks. But all to the good, the plants seem very healthy and my efforts have paid off.

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My barrowful of beans. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I grew a dwarf variety, which doesn’t usually require support. However, I did tie each plant to a thin cane as the barrow is quite shallow and the plants were beginning to sway around in the wind. Ideally, French beans thrive at their best in a sheltered spot; they love the sunshine, plenty of feeding, and whilst they like a lot of water, they need a free-draining soil – hence my worry over the barrow becoming water-logged.

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French bean plant in flower and in bean! Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Once the dainty, cream-white flowers have formed, the young beans develop quite quickly, and the full-grown beans are ready for picking in 4 to 6 weeks – the perfect bean for the impatient gardener! Pick the beans young to enjoy the super-tender texture, and also to encourage the other beans on the plant to grow. In spite of their name, it appears the beans originated in South America, although they have long been associated with the cooking of France. If you leave the bean pods on the plants, they will form beans inside the pods which can be picked, shelled and eaten as flageolet beans (another French delicacy and favourite of mine). Leave them longer still, and you’ll have your own haricot beans for drying and storing. Sadly, I don’t have the climate for haricots, or for that matter, the ability to resist picking the pods!

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Preparing French beans. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Preparation is simple, just nip off the stalk end and cook the beans whole, either steaming them for 6-8 minutes, or cooking in a little boiling water for 4-5 minutes. They freeze well: just blanch them in boiling water for barely a minute and then refresh, dry and pack as for any other freezer-destined vegetable.

Serving suggestions:

  • All beans are best picked, cooked and served as fresh as possible. Dress with a knob of butter or a drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper and a few freshly chopped, soft-leaved herbs sprinkled over the top – basil, mint, parsley, coriander, tarragon and chives are great flavours for all beans.
  • Once cooked, chop French beans into short lengths and mix with lightly cooked and mashed butter beans. Season and mix in lots of chopped parsley, then dress with a lemon and honey vinaigrette. Perfect served on freshly toasted bread.
  • Add chopped, cooked French beans to a frittata, omelette or scrambled egg, and flavour with chopped chives.
  • Dress a plate of freshly cooked warm beans with a few shakes of balsamic vinegar and a light dusting of brown sugar.
  • This is one of my favourite French bean recipes: heat 2 tbsp. olive oil with a finely chopped garlic clove for 1 minute over a low heat. Add a chopped ripe tomato and a few chopped, pitted dry-pack black olives. Season with a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar. Heat through gently for 2-3 minutes. Pour over freshly cooked warm French beans, and serve sprinkled with freshly ground black pepper and a few tarragon leaves. Bon appétit!
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    A favourite warm French bean salad. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

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    Home-grown French beans. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Cucumber conundrums and recipe ideas

 

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Freshly picked cucumbers. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I think it’s safe to say that growing cucumbers is one of my fortes. Every year I raise a bumper crop from seed, without really trying very hard. As with any watery vegetable (or fruit) that doesn’t freeze well, you have to get creative in order to make the most from your harvest when it’s fresh. Over the years, I have accumulated a few recipe ideas which I am happy to share with you and anyone else in a similar “glut” situation.

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Home-grown grow-bag cucumbers in my unheated greenhouse. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Originally, the cucumber was a wild plant with origins in India. Now it is cultivated and grown the world over, and  few salads are complete without it. If left to their own devices, cucumbers will grow to enormous proportions. Just a couple of weeks ago, I discovered one hiding at the back of a plant, behind a very large leaf; it looked more like a marrow than a cucumber, and I have no idea how the plant was supporting it! In general, the bigger they grow, the less flavour they have. As with all watery produce, cucumbers are best cut and used immediately. For slightly longer storage, wipe them dry and then wrap individually and tightly in cling-film, and this way they will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days without losing texture.

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Cucumber preparation. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

To eat raw, all you need to do is rinse, dry, and then trim away either end, and that’s it, you’re ready to slice, dice or grate. Peeling is unnecessary unless the skin is tough – some varieties have rough, knobbly skins (ridged varieties) which can get tough on larger fruit – you can just whip off the skin with a vegtable peeler. If the seeds are a problem, cut the cucumber in half and scoop out the centre using a teaspoon before slicing.

For cooking, the skin can become bitter. You can temper it by blanching the cucumber in boiling water for a few seconds, or simply peel the cucumber before cooking.  Prepared chunks of cucumber will cook in lightly salted water for 2-3 minutes, or steam in 5 minutes, depending on thickness. Strips or ribbons of cucumber (pared using a vegetable peeler), make a delicious and healthy bed or wrapping when steaming fish.

Because cucumber has such a delicate, mild flavour, it can easily be overpowered by strong flavours. Some of the soft-leaved fresh herbs go very well with the crisp texture and fresh flavour of cucumber. As well as the herbs below, dill and fennel also make tasty choices. The herb salad burnet (below) does have a mild cucumber flavour and is the ideal herb for flavour enhancement.

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Cucumber-loving herbs: tarragon, salad burnet, chives flowers and stems, parsley, and mint. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Cucumber recipe suggestions

  • Peel and chop cucumber, then blitz in a blender with chopped green melon or kiwi fruit, yogurt, mint and a little unsweetened apple juice. Pour over ice and enjoy as a cooling smoothie.
  • Add a few slices of cucumber to a glass of iced water or a spritzer for a refreshing taste. A few slices also make a good addition to a gin and tonic!
  • Finely dice peeled cucumber and simmer gently in a little stock and white wine. Stir in cream and chopped tarragon to finish. Makes a great sauce to serve with fish, chicken or over roasted vegetables or pasta.
  • Bake peeled cucumber in thick slices in a baking dish, drizzled with olive oil (or dotted with butter). Season lightly and add some fresh dill or fennel. Cover with foil and bake at 190°C (170°C fan oven, gas mark 5) for 25-30 minutes.
  • Add slices or small chunks to a prawn stir fry for the last minute of cooking.
  • Grate fresh cucumber and mix with a little grated root ginger. Sprinkle with rice vinegar, a little sugar and light soy sauce. A tasty, instant relish to accompany sushi.
  • Replace grated courgette in a cake, bread or muffin recipe with grated cucumber, just reduce the quantity by a quarter as cucumber is much more watery. I have  a cucumber-enriched cake recipe to share in a later post – Lemon-soaked cucumber cake (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan option).
  • For a tangy salad to accompany smoked or barbecued food, try this recipe for gremolata-style cucumber salad: mix 150g finely chopped cucumber with a little crushed garlic. Stir in 40g chopped pickled cucumber or gherkins, 25g pickled capers, 40g chopped, pitted green olives along with 2 tbsp. each freshly chopped parsley and chives. Mix in a little white balsamic vinegar and serve. Delicious as a sandwich filler too!
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    Cucumber gremolata salad served sprinkled with chive flowers and leaves of salad burnet. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

    To make your own cucumber pickle, see my post from last year In a bit of a pickle

Savoury courgette and corn cakes (gluten-free with dairy-free and vegan alternatives)

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Courgette and corn cakes. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

My supply of courgettes is coming to an end now. For several weeks, I’ve had a plentiful supply of produce from the four plants in grow-bags, in my greenhouse. Not only do home-grown courgettes taste delicious, I love the large, bright yellow, star-shaped flowers that the plants produce; they are a very cheery sight even on the dullest of days.

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Homegrown courgette flower and yellow, globe-shaped fruit Images: Kathryn Hawkins

These muffins are full of golden coloured ingredients and are based on a classic American cornbread recipe. Easy to make, delicious served warm, and perfect for freezing – they will only keep fresh for a couple of days, so freezing is the best option for longer storing.  The chives add a mild oniony flavour, and you could try adding a pinch of chilli flakes or some hot smoked paprika for a bit of a kick. They make a good accompaniment to a bowl of soup or stew, or just as a tasty snack on their own.

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The main ingredients. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Makes: 10

Ingredients

  • 115g gluten-free plain flour (such as Dove’s Farm)
  • 2 level teasp gluten-free baking powder (such as Dr Oetker)
  • 150g polenta or fine cornmeal
  • 1 medium egg, beaten, or 50g soft tofu, mashed
  • 225ml dairy-free milk (I used soya)
  • 50g butter or vegan margarine, melted
  • 100g cooked sweetcorn kernels
  • 150g grated courgette (yellow or green)
  • 4 tbsp. freshly chopped chives
  • 50g grated Parmesan cheese or vegan alternative, optional
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven, gas 4). Line a 10-cup muffin tin with paper cases. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a bowl and stir in the polenta or cornmeal. Make a well in the centre.
  2. Put the egg or tofu in the centre and pour in the milk and melted butter or margarine. Gradually mix the ingredients together until well blended, then stir in the remaining ingredients.
  3. Divide between the cases, smooth the tops and bake for 25-30 minutes until lightly golden and firm to the touch. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Best served warm.
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    Freshly baked courgette and corn cakes. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

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    Ready to serve, sprinkled with fresh chive flowers. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

Morello cherries – cherry compote and chocolate blancmange (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

 

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Morello cherries, ripe and ready for picking. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Picking the cherries from my espalier Morello cherry tree is one of the highlights of my fruit growing calendar. Having had such a mild Scottish spring this year, all the fruit in the garden seems to be ripening a bit earlier than in other years. The cherries are no exception. Usually I pick them in the middle of August, but this week, they were ripe and ready.  The harvest was pretty good too: from one small tree, I picked ¾kg.

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This year’s Morello cherry harvest. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I’m not that adventurous when it comes to cooking with cherries. I suppose it’s because I never have that many to play with, therefore, I want to make sure I enjoy what I cook. Morellos are a sour cherry and are too tart to eat as a fresh fruit. This year I made a large pot of jam and, my favourite, a compote flavoured with vanilla and lemon – recipe below.

I use a cherry stoner to remove the pits; I’ve had it for years, and it does the job perfectly. This years cherries were so ripe, the pit just plopped out without any effort. Wash the cherries first and then prepare them over a bowl to catch the stones and the juice that falls; you can then easily drain off the stones, keeping the juice. If you don’t have a specialist stoner, a small knife with a pointed blade should enable you to prise out the stones with ease. After preparation, the final weight of the cherries I picked this year, along with the juice from the bowl, was around 650g.

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Vital piece of kit: my cherry stoner. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Pitting cherries. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Flavours that go well with cherries are: almond (especially marzipan); citrus fruit; vanilla; cinnamon (just a pinch); coconut, and chocolate. I often make something chocolatey to go along side the compote, and this year, it was a nostalgic chocolate blancmange, deliciously velvety and thick. A perfect combination. So here are my recipes for both compote and blancmange. By the way, if you are using sweet cherries for the compote, you’ll need to reduce the quantity of sugar you add to the compote by at least half.

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Fresh Morello cherry compote. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Serves: 4

For the compote:

  • 300g prepared ripe Morello cherries (about 350g with stones)
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 level teasp cornflour
  • ½ vanilla pod, split
  • Juice of ½ small lemon or half a lime

For the blancmange:

  • 50g cornflour
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 50g vanilla sugar (use plain caster if preferred)
  • 500ml non-dairy milk (I used soya milk)

1. To make the compote, put the cherries in a saucepan and gently mix in the caster sugar and 3 tbsp. water. Heat gently, stirring until the sugar dissolves, then bring to the boil, reduce to a gentle simmer, and cook for about 3 minutes until just tender – take care not to over-cook, ripe cherries need very little cooking.

2. Blend the cornflour with 2 tbsp. water to make a paste, then stir into the cherries. Bring back to the boil, stirring, and cook for a further 1 minute until slightly thickened. Remove from the heat, push in the vanilla pod and leave to cool completely. Remove the pod and stir in the lemon juice. Chill lightly before serving – about 30 minutes.

3. For the blancmange, mix the cornflour, cocoa and sugar in a saucepan, and gradually stir in the milk, making sure it is thoroughly blended – I find a balloon whisk is good for mixing powders into liquids.

4. Keep stirring the mixture over the heat, until it reaches boiling point and becomes very thick. Continue to cook for 1 minute to make sure the cornflour is completely cooked then spoon into small individual heat-proof dishes – there is enough to fill 6 x pot au chocolat dishes (it is quite rich, so these little dishes are the perfect size for me). Leave to cool completely, then chill for an hour until ready to serve.

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Chocolate blancmange and Morello cherry compote. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
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My espalier Morello cherry tree with spring blossom, and in fruit earlier this week.             Images: Kathryn Hawkins