Pear, pecan and maple crostata (dairy-free and vegan)

 

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Pear, pecan and maple crostata. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

A few weeks ago, I promised a new pear recipe, and now I have harvested all the pears from the garden, I have been back in the kitchen, cooking up something suitably fruity for this week’s post.

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Pastry leaf border. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

My small Concorde pear tree produced a bumper crop this year. I picked all the fruit at the end of last month, just before a cold snap. It was a beautiful warm and sunny Autumn day and the colours in the garden looked rich and golden.

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Autumn pear harvest. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I put most of the pears in storage, apart from the few smaller ones which were ready to eat. Unlike apples, pears don’t need to be wrapped for storing; just pack them, not touching, in a tray or crate, and keep them in a cool place. When you want to ripen them off, bring them in to room temperature and, in about 3 days, they should be ripe and ready to eat – you can tell if a pear is ripe by gently pressing the flesh at the stalk end, if it gives a little, then it is ripe.

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Just before and after picking on a sunny Autumn day. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

On with the recipe. A crostata, one of the easiest forms of pie or tart you can make because you don’t need a tin and it doesn’t matter if you’re not very good at rolling pastry to a neat edge. I made a vegan pastry using white spelt flour, but any short-crust pastry will work – you’ll need about 500g ready-made pastry if you don’t have time to make your own. Pecans and maple syrup give the flavour and sweetness in my recipe – walnuts or hazelnuts would be good too – as would clear honey if you eat it. Choose pears that have some firmness to them for cooking – perfectly ripe pears are best for enjoying as they are 🙂

Serves: 8

Ingredients

  • 450g small pears
  • 1 unwaxed lemon
  • 300g white spelt plain flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 85g white vegetable fat (I use Trex), cut into small pieces
  • 100g dairy-free margarine, cut into small pieces
  • 6 tbsp. + 1 tsp maple syrup + extra to serve
  • 4 tsp dairy-free milk
  • 100g chopped pecan nuts + extra to decorate
  1. First cook the pears. Peel the pears, cut in half and remove the core. Pare a few strips of rind from the lemon using a vegetable peeler, and extract the juice. Brush the pears with lemon juice all over to help prevent discolouration.
  2. Put the pears in a shallow pan with the remaining lemon juice, pared rind and 2 tbsp. water. Bring to simmering point, cover and cook gently for 5 -10 minutes, depending on ripeness, until just tender. Leave to cool in the lemony liquid, then drain well and cut each pear half into 4 slices. Cover and chill until required.

    3_steps_to_cooking_fresh_pears
    Preparing fresh pears for crostata. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  3. For the pastry, sieve the flour and salt into a bowl. Add the fat and 85g margarine, then rub the flour and fats together with your fingertips until well blended, and the mixture resembles a crumble topping.
  4. Make a well in the centre, and add 2 tbsp maple syrup and 1 tbsp dairy-free milk. Stir with a round bladed knife to bind together, then turn on to the work surface and bring together with your hands to make a smooth, firm dough. Leave to rest for 10 minutes on the work surface.

    Steps_1_to_6_preparing_shortcrust_pastry_for_pear_and_pecan_crostata
    Making vegan shortcrust pastry. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  5. Meanwhile, put the pecan nuts in a blender or food processor and grind until fine. Mix in 2 tbsp. maple syrup to make a spreadable paste. Put to one side. Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C fan oven, gas 6.

    3_steps_to_preparing_pecan_and_maple_paste
    Pecan paste preparation
  6. Place a large sheet of baking parchment on the work surface and dust lightly with flour. Cut off a 100g piece of pastry and set aside, then roll out the remaining pastry to make a round approx. 30cm diameter.
  7. Spread over the pecan paste, leaving a 3cm space round the edge of the pastry circle. Arrange the pear slices on top of the pecan filling.
  8. Carefully fold up the pastry edge to cover the edge of the pears – I find a small palette knife useful to help flip the pastry over the fruit. Transfer the crostata on the parchment to a large baking tray, and trim the parchment as necessary to fit the tray. Roll out the reserved pastry on a lightly floured surface and cut out leaves to decorate the edge.
  9. Mix 1 tsp maple syrup with the remaining dairy-free milk and brush over the pastry edge. Arrange the leaves on top and brush with the maple/milk glaze. Dot the pears with the remaining margarine and drizzle with remaining maple syrup.

    Step_by_step_preparation_to_pear_and_pecan_crostata
    Assembling the crostata. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  10. Bake for about 50 minutes until lightly golden and cooked through. Best served warm, sprinkled with chopped pecans and accompanied with extra maple syrup.

    Slice_of_pear_and_pecan_crostata_with_maple_syrup
    Sliced and ready to eat. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

October oddities

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Nerine. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The weather has been perfect for spending time in the garden this past week. Fresh and breezy, with the sun shining most days. There are leaves everywhere, and plenty of tidying up to do before the weather changes.

This time last year, I had 3 beautiful Nerine bulbs in bloom. Sadly the snails ate the shoots from the other 2 a few weeks ago, but this beauty survived. It looks like a plant that should be out in late spring or early summer, but at this time of year, it is very welcome and a stunning splash of colour.

Another favourite with the slugs and snails is the Perennial primrose, which also looks out-of-place in Autumn. I was lucky to capture such a perfect bloom for my photograph before the beasties started their lunch.

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Autumnal Perennial Primrose. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

On the whole, there is not much going on in the garden in Autumn, just leaves tumbling everywhere. However, there are a few plants having one last hoorah before the winter weather begins. All round the walls of the garden, creeping Campanula grows from spring and throughout the summer. This little patch of greenery on a sunny part of wall has just burst into flower again this past week.

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Creeping Campanula. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Back in July, the cotton lavender was ablaze with tufty yellow flowers. After cutting it back to remove the dead heads at the end of summer, there is still plenty of  fragrant, silvery foliage to enjoy when the sun shines on it. Here we are a few weeks later, and the plant has bloomed again, but this time, with just one solitary flower.

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Cotton Lavender bloom. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I think I mentioned in my last garden round-up that I was hoping for more rose blooms this Autumn. The heat and the dry weather didn’t seem to suit them earlier in the year and the petals faded very quickly. I was delighted to see fresh buds on my very fragrant favourite rose, and now the blooms are fully open, the garden around them is smelling sweet and aromatic again.

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Rosa Felicia. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

There are several Hebes around the garden. It was a good year for blooms, and like the cotton lavender, these 3 bushes have started flowering again this past week, each with only a few small clusters of flowers.

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Blooming again, Hebes. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

These eye-catching seeds or berries are all that’s left of the native Iris (Iris foetidissima) apart from the green, spear-like foliage. I don’t recall that many flowers this year, but the seed pods develop and open out to form the exact same pattern of the Iris flower-heads. You can see that there are quite a few pods, so I must have missed a lot of flowers.

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Iris foetidissima seed pods. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

To round off my post this week, something suitably spooky for the end of October. With Hallowe’en just round the corner,  this image fits the season perfectly. This small espalier Comice pear tree only produced 4 pears this year. The small ones fell off a couple of weeks ago, but the largest one has been clinging on ever since. Now all the leaves have blown away from the tree, the bare branches made an eerie shadow against the wall this sunny afternoon. Have a good week.

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One Comice pear on a pear tree. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Early autumn garden

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Still blooming, white Japanese anemones. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

When I posted my last garden round-up back on August 9th, only one or two of these beautiful white Japanese anemones were in bloom. Here we are some eight weeks later, and they are looking magnificent in the flower-beds. Having survived the storm of last week, and the breezy weather we have had recently, they continue to flower when most plants around them are dying back.

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Meadow cranesbill enjoying the afternoon sunshine. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I have a lot of meadow cranesbill (hardy geranium) in the garden. I love the fragrant bright green foliage which trails over just about every wall. I cut back the first flowers when they started dying back a few weeks ago, and now there are new fresh pink blooms about the flower-beds to keep summery thoughts alive.

However, it is autumn, and these lilac crocus are popping up all over the place to remind me of the change of season. I love these strange, top-heavy flowers that poke out of the bare soil with no leaves and long mauve stalks. The rich, golden stamens smell of saffron, and on a warm day, the aroma is truly delicious.

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Fragrant Autumn crocus. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
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Old fruiting Lord Derby apple tree. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

It’s been a fantastic year for fruit. The old cooking apple tree is laden. I’ve been busy cooking up the wind-falls while the main crop still remains on the tree. I have two miniature eating apple trees in another part of the garden. These rarely produce more than half a dozen apples, but this year, I have enough to fill a large fruit-bowl,

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Mini eating apple harvest. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I am particularly pleased with the crop of Concorde pears on a small tree at the top of the garden. I have had the tree for about a decade, and it hasn’t fruited very well until this year. The pears keep very well, so I will be able to enjoy them over the next few weeks. I’m sure there will be a pear recipe posted from me in the next few weeks.

In the same part of the garden, the Autumn-fruiting raspberries are ripening. I never have very many at a time, but a few berries ripen every two to three days, and are just enough to occasionally scatter over my morning granola.

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Concorde pear tree laden with fruit. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
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Early Autumn-fruiting raspberries. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It’s not been a good year for the roses in the garden. Too dry I think. However, there are a few second buds forming now, so if the sunny weather continues a while longer, I may get a few more blooms like this beauty. Until next week, my best wishes to you.

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Second time around, Gertrude Jekyl rose. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Baked vanilla pears with chocolate “butter” (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Home-grown Comice pears. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

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.

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Just before harvest. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

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.

Bowl_of_baked_pears_with_chocolate_"butter"
Vanilla baked pears with chocolate “butter”. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

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.

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 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
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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    Preparing baked pears with vanilla. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  6. 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.
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    Making chocolate “butter”. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

    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.

    Single_serving_of_vanilla_baked_pears_with_chocolate_"butter"
    Vanilla baked pears with chocolate “butter”. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Pear gingerbread cake (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan)

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Homegrown Concorde pears. Image by Kathryn Hawkins

The pears I picked a couple of weeks ago are fully ripe now. Most usually, I enjoy them fresh, peeled or unpeeled; occasionally I use a few in cooking. One of my quick “comfort” desserts is to chop pears and mix them with grated marzipan to use as a filling for a gluten-free puff pastry jalousie or plait. Quite delicious.

Today, I’m sharing a recipe for what I call a “proper cake”. In other words, a dense textured cake, neither spongy nor light, but something substantial, and just right for this time of year. Keep it for at least a day after baking to allow the fruit juices to soak into the cake and for the flavours to develop. I use coconut oil and coconut milk a lot in my cookery because I love the flavour; but in this recipe it isn’t noticeable by taste, it simply adds to the richness of the texture. Use another vegetable oil or vegan margarine if you prefer, and a nut, rice or soya milk will work fine as an alternative to coconut milk.

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Ingredients for pear gingerbread cake. Image by Kathryn Hawkins

Serves: 6 to 8

  • 75g coconut oil
  • 75g light brown sugar
  • 75g golden syrup
  • 75g treacle
  • 6 tbsp canned coconut milk
  • 150g gluten-free, self raising flour (such as Dove’s Farm)
  • 2 tbsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp ground allspice
  • 4 small pears
  • Juice ½ lemon
  1. Preheat the oven 170°C (150°C fan oven, gas mark 3). Grease and line a deep, 12cm round cake tine. Put the oil, sugar, syrup and treacle in a saucepan and heat very gently, until melted together. Remove from the heat and stir in the coconut milk. Cool for 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, sift the flour and spices into a bowl and make a well in the centre.
  3. Thinly peel the pears, leaving them whole. Trim away a small slice from the base of each so that they sit upright, and arrange in the cake tin. Brush all over with lemon juice.
  4. Pour the melted ingredients into the spiced flour and mix together to form a thick, smooth batter. Carefully pour into the tin.
  5. Cover the tops of the pears with small pieces of foil to prevent burning. Put the cake tin on a baking tray and bake in the oven for about 1 hour 40 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Discard the foil and leave the cake to cool in the tin completely.

    Pear_gingerbread_cake_in_tin
    Just out of the oven, freshly baked pear gingerbread cake. Image by Kathryn Hawkins
  6. Remove from the tin. Wrap in foil and store in a cool place for 24 hours to allow the texture and flavours to develop. Enjoy cold as a cake or, warm slightly and serve as a pudding with dairy free custard.

    Pear_gingerbread_cake_whole_with_slice
    Pear gingerbread cake. Images by Kathryn Hawkins

 

Pear perfection

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October pear harvest. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The temperature has been dropping these past few days so I decided it was time to pick the pears before a frost spoils them. It’s been a good year for most of the orchard fruit in my garden, and although I only have 2 small pear trees of differing variety, both produced 7 or 8 fruit each. One tree is a Doyenne de Comice which grows against an old wall, espalier-style, and the other is a Concorde pear, more of an upright tree but still sheltered by a wall.

Most pears ripen off the tree but I find it a challenge knowing exactly when to pick them, some time between the wasps disappearing and the cold weather arriving. If you want to store your harvest, unlike apples, pears don’t require wrapping, just arrange them in a single layer, not touching, on a shelf or tray, in a cool, dry place. You will need to check them frequently, and once the fruit begins to soften at the stalk end, keep them at room temperature for 2 to 3 days to complete ripening.

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Comice pear tree growing against a wall. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
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Pear: Doyenne de Comice. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Small Concorde pear tree. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
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Pear: Concorde. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

5 recipe ideas for pears:

  • Peel and core firm but ripe pears, sprinkle with butter, cinnamon and brown sugar and bake along side a ham or pork joint for the last 30 minutes of cooking; baste occasionally to prevent them drying out.
  • Mash soft, ripe pear flesh into freshly prepared mashed potato along with salty, sharp blue cheese – delicious served with roast chicken or ham.
  • Blend chopped pear with fresh blueberries, unsweetened apple (or pear) juice and plain soy or coconut yogurt for a creamy smoothie.
  • For a decadent sandwich, toast gluten-free bread and fill with freshly sliced pear, a few marshmallows and chocolate chips. Spread butter or margarine on the outside of the toast and press the sandwich into a preheated hot griddle pan for a couple of minutes on each side – or pop in a sandwich toaster if you have one – to heat through and melt the chocolate.
  • Halve a perfectly ripe pear and scoop out the core. Brush with lemon juice and fill the centre with grated marzipan. Flash under a hot grill for a few seconds to melt the marzipan and serve immediately, scattered with toasted almonds and chocolate sauce – my favourite!

My harvest festival

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Today’s harvest of homegrown apples, pears and raspberries. Image by Kathryn Hawkins

Today has been my first opportunity to get into the garden for a while. Work has got in the way, and the weather has been pretty grim, so I seized the opportunity this morning and spent a couple of hours getting some fresh air and taking stock.

I was delighted to pick a bowl of late ripening raspberries – a delicious breakfast treat for tomorrow morning. I had expected that the birds would have been tucking in during my absence, but they are obviously feeding elsewhere.

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Autumn Bliss – late fruiting raspberries. Image by Kathryn Hawkins

We have had an unusually mild September, and it’s really only been these past couple of weeks that the temperature has gone down a few degrees, but we have yet to have a frost. As a result, my runner beans flowered again, and tonight I will be enjoying freshly picked, homegrown beans with my supper – a first for me at this time of year.

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Second time around, October runner beans. Image by Kathryn Hawkins

Scotland has an ideal climate for growing potatoes, and the Pink Fir variety I planted this year have done very well. Not usually a high yielding potato, I have been pleasantly surprised by how many potatoes the plants have produced so far, and I have plenty more to dig. Their cream coloured flesh is flaky and dry, and the pink, knobbly skin adds nuttiness to the flavour; they boil and roast well.

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Trug of freshly dug pink fir potatoes. Image by Kathryn Hawkins

Last year, I didn’t get the chance to try any eating apples from the garden. One of my trees produced no fruit at all, and the apples from on other tree were enjoyed by the birds before I got a look in! I have victory over my feathered friends this year, although I did leave a few of the really wee ones on the tree for the colder weather, when the birds do finally get peckish. I am looking forward to trying the apples; they are quite small but look very enticing with their shiny scarlet blush.

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Cute little eating apples – variety unknown. Image by Kathryn Hawkins