Rhubarb and orange streusel cake (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

Drizzle_iced_spring-time_rhubarb_and_orange_streusel_cake
Rhubarb and orange streusel cake. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It’s time for a rhubarb recipe this week on my blog. Spring is well under way now and rhubarb is plentiful. In the garden at the moment, my own early rhubarb plant is coming along nicely and looks very healthy. Not quite ready for picking just yet, but I don’t think it will be long.

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Early variety home-grown rhubarb. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

This week’s post is a dense-textured, delicious rhubarb cake that can also be served warm as a pudding. You do need a fair bit of rhubarb to make the cake – 600g. Cut the rhubarb stalks to the same thickness for even cooking during the first part of the recipe, and take care not to over-cook  in order to retain some texture in the finished bake.

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Spring rhubarb stalks. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The orange adds a subtle flavour to the cake, but leave it out if you prefer. Bake the rhubarb with a little water instead of the juice. For a spicy twist, replace the orange rind in the cake mix with ground ginger and/or mixed spice.

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Rhubarb streusel cake with a hint of orange. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Serves: 8-10

Ingredients

  • 600g fresh rhubarb stalks
  • 1 medium orange
  • 3 tbsp. caster sugar

For the streusel mix:

  • 85g gluten-free self raising flour
  • 75g jumbo oats
  • 50g cornflour
  • 50g dairy-free margarine, softened

For the cake:

  • 200g dairy-free margarine, softened
  • 200g caster sugar
  • Finely grated rind 1 orange
  • 200g plain dairy-free yogurt (I used plain soya yogurt)
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 100g gluten-free self raising flour

To decorate (optional):

  • 100g icing sugar
  • Fresh orange zest
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C fan oven, gas 6.  Trim the rhubarb and cut into even  thickness pieces, 3-4cm long. Place in a roasting tray. Pare the rind from the orange using a vegetable peeler, and extract the juice. Stir both into the rhubarb and sprinkle over the sugar. Bake for about 15 minutes until just tender, then leave to cool in the tin.

    Prepared_rhubarb_with_orange_rind_and_juice_sprinkled_with_sugar
    Roasting rhubarb. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  2. Reduce the oven temperature to 180°C, 160°C fan oven, gas 4. Grease and line a 23cm cake tin. For the streusel, mix the dry ingredients in a bowl and rub in the margarine. Set aside.
  3. For the cake mix, put all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk everything together until well blended.
  4. Drain the rhubarb well, reserving the cooking juices, and pat dry with kitchen paper. Put half the cake mix in the tin, spread smoothly, sprinkle over half the streusel mix and top with half the rhubarb.
  5. Spoon over the remaining cake mix and spread smoothly. Sprinkle over half the remaining streusel mix and arrange the remaining rhubarb on top.
  6. Finally, sprinkle the rhubarb with the remaining streusel, stand the cake tin on a baking tray and bake for about 1 ¾ hours, covering with foil after an hour or so to prevent over-browning. The cake is cooked when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin to serve cold as a cake, or stand for about 30 minutes to firm up before removing from the tin to serve warm as a pudding with dairy-free custard  and the reserved juices spooned over if liked. Assembling_rhubarb_and_orange_streusel_cake

    3_final_steps_for_assembling_rhubarb_and_orange_streusel_cake
    Assembling the streusel cake ready for baking. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  7. To decorate and serve as a cake, carefully remove from the tin and place on a wire rack. Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and mix in about 4 tsp of the reserved cooking juices to make a soft, dripping icing. Drizzle over the top of the cake using a teaspoon and scatter with orange zest. Leave for about 30 minutes to firm up before slicing to serve.
    3_steps_showing_the_finished_cake_and_how_to_decorate_it
    Decorating the streusel cake. Images: Kathryn Hawkins.
    Overhead_image_of_iced_and_decorated_rhubarb_and_orange_streusel_cake
    Streusel cake, ready to serve. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

    I keep the cake in the fridge and bring to room temperature for a few minutes before serving. You can also heat up a slice in the microwave for a few seconds to take the chill off. The cake freezes well without the icing. Have a good week 🙂

     

 

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The end of winter

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In full bloom at the end of February, white Pieris Japonica and pink Rhododendron. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Today is officially the meteorological end of winter, which means that tomorrow is the first day of spring; hoorah to that! It has been a very warm and sunny end to a month that has been one of the mildest Februarys on record across the whole of the UK. It has been a pleasure to be out-of-doors, so many birds are singing and there are many insects buzzing all round the garden.

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A busy bee in the sunshine collecting pollen from a dogtooth violet. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Looking back over previous blog entries, I can see that every image I am posting this week is 2 to 4 weeks earlier than in previous posts. The snowdrops have been glorious this year, and have grown in thick white and green carpets both in the garden and in nearby hedgrows. For the first time I can recall I was able to detect their sweet and spicy fragrance as the sun shone on the blooms. I took this image a few days ago just as the fine weather started in earnest. The snowdrops in the sunny parts of the garden have gone over now, but there are a few clusters still lighting up the shady corners of the borders and under the thickest hedges.

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Snowdrops enjoying the sunshine. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It has been a good year for crocus too. The bulbs I planted last year in an old wooden barrel have put on a very colourful display. They have recently been joined by Tête-à-tête, which are also growing all round the garden, giving a sunny glow and a sweet aroma to many of the flower beds.

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Large wooden barrel of crocus. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Narcissus Tête-à-tête. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Last weekend I spotted the first tiny blue dot in one of the paths which was a sign that my favorite of all spring flowers, the Chionodoxa, were on their way. Sure enough, over the course of the next few days, small electric-blue clumps of star-shaped flowers have sprung up all over the place.

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Striking blue Chionodoxa. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

It’s not only the flowers that are excelling themselves this year, the rhubarb patch is very much alive and kicking. I love the bright red stems of the new shoots and curled leaves. The stems look tempting enough to eat already, but I will resist and be patient.

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A fairy ring of young rhubarb shoots. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I have posted plenty of Hellebore pictures in the past, and I end my post this week with another one. This beauty was new to the garden last year and has only 3 flowers, but the blooms are delightful. I hope it thrives in its new location, and look forward to seeing more blooms in the future. Until next time, happy Spring 🙂

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Double white speckled Hellebore. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Rhubarb and raspberry jelly preserve (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Home-made jelly preserve. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

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.

Home-grown_rhubarb_and_raspberries_after_a_rain_shower
Rhubarb and raspberries after a heavy shower of rain. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
Oval_basket_of_summer_raspberries_and_a_bunch_of_rhubarb_stems
The last of my raspberries make a perfect match with some freshly pulled summer rhubarb. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

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

Ingredients:

  • 450g prepared raspberries, washed
  • 450g prepared rhubarb, washed and chopped into small pieces
  • Approx. 500g granulated sugar
  • Approx. 25ml fresh lemon juice
  1. 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.
    3_stages_to_cooking_rhubarb_and_raspberries_for_jelly_preserve
    Cooking the fruit. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

    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_steps_showing_equipment_and_process_for_straining_fruit_for_making_jelly_preserve
    How to strain fruit for jelly preserve. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

    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 🙂

    2_spoonfuls_of_rhubarb_and_raspberry_jelly_served_on_a_Welsh_cake
    Spoonfuls of freshly made jelly preserve on a home-made Welsh cake. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Rhubarb and almond jalousie (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Iced and sliced, rhubarb and almond jalousie. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

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.

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My first harvest of home-grown rhubarb. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

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.

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Iced and ready to serve. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

I gave a recipe for a Gluten-free rough puff pastry (with dairy-free & vegan variation) on my blog last year which you can use for this recipe, but if you don’t have time to make your own, SillyYak make a very good gluten-free, vegan-friendly pastry. Alternatively, for wheat eaters, roll out ready-made traditional puff pastry thinly and 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.

Serves: 6

Ingredients

  • 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
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

    3_stages_to_assembling_a_jalousie
    Preparing the bottom layer of the jalousie. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

    3_further_stages_to_making_and_baking_a_jalousie
    Finishing and baking the jalousie. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  6. 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.
    Jalousie_freshly_drizzled_with_almond_icing
    Freshly drizzle-iced jalousie, sprinkled with toasted flaked almonds. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

    Slice_of_rubarb_and_almond_jalousie_ready_to_eat
    An iced slice, ready to eat. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

 

Rhubarb crumble and custard muffins (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Rhubarb crumble and custard muffin. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

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.

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April rhubarb. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

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.

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Chopped fresh rhubarb ready for muffin making. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

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.

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Making tulip-style baking cases. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Makes 7 large muffins (or 12 traditional size)

Ingredients

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
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

    Filling_muffin_cases_with_batter_and_custard
    Filling the muffin cases. Images: Kathryn Hawkins.
  5. 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.
    Freshly_baked_muffins_cooling_on_a_wire_rack
    Straight out of the oven. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

    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!

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Rhubarb ruminations and recipe ideas

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Spring rhubarb. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

At last, my forced rhubarb was ready to pick this week! Now I feel the season of Spring has begun. Long before all other fruits in the garden are even formed,  forced rhubarb gives us a flavour of all the sweet delights yet to come.

To me, rhubarb is associated with fond memories of my childhood. My grandparents used to grow “forests” of the thick, leafy stems in the summer – no summer holiday was complete without one of Grannie’s rhubarb crumbles.

If you fancy having a go at growing your own, now is the best time of year to buy yourself a  rhubarb plant (or “crown”) and get it in the ground ready for next year.

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My first rhubarb harvest of 2017. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Rhubarb grows best in an open site, ideally in the sun, but it will grow anywhere. It likes a good mulching and needs plenty of soil depth as the roots, once established, run deep. Give it a good feed once in a while and it will do well. It is very easy to grow and a single plant will provide a good yield for a small family. Rhubarb is really a vegetable, but most of us regard it as a fruit because we serve it mostly for pudding. Only the stalks are edible – the leaves are high in oxalic acid and are, subsequently, very toxic.

Hold yourself back and avoid picking any stems in the first year of planting a new crown. In the second year, pull a few stems, leaving about half of the plant untouched. Once a plant is established – after 3 years – you can pick as many stems as you want. A rhubarb plant can be “forced” at this age, ready for an early crop in spring. You can buy special rhubarb forcers – very tall, slim, terracotta pots – which go over the crown in late winter. These are very expensive; I use the tallest pot I have and this works fine – as you can see in the image above. Although the pot covering doesn’t produce really long stems, they are good enough for me. I’ve put the pot back over the crown again, ready for the next batch of stems to grow – usually the plant produces four good batches of stems before I leave it to recover and rejuvenate for next year.

I have 3 rhubarb plants in the garden now. Each year, I rotate a plant for forcing, and the other 2 are left for summer eating rhubarb, and for freezing. Here are a few tips and ideas for cooking and serving rhubarb:

  • High in acidity, there are a few flavours that help temper the tartness of rhubarb: ginger, cinnamon, orange rind and juice, coconut, banana, angelica and liquorice.
  • Trim the leaves from spring rhubarb and discard, then rinse the stems well and slice off the base. Cut into 3cm pieces for really quick cooking, but leave in longer pieces for gentle poaching and using to top tarts or desserts. Spring rhubarb takes barely 4-5 minutes to cook. I usually place the pieces in a frying pan and sprinkle with sugar and add 1 – 2 tablespoons of water. Once it begins to steam, cover with a lid and cook gently.

    Chopped_fresh_rhubarb
    Preparing spring rhubarb. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
  • For a tangy sweet and sour sauce, cook rhubarb in a little water with sufficient sugar to make it edible, then add a dash of raspberry or balsamic vinegar. Served cold, it goes well with roast duck, smoked mackerel or pan-fried herring.
  • A favourite simple dessert of mine is to mix mashed banana, coconut (non-dairy) yogurt and vanilla extract together and layer in glasses with poached, vanilla sugar-sweetened rhubarb. It is absolute deliciousness guaranteed!

    Poached_rhubarb_with_banana_coconut_yogurt_and_vanilla
    Rhubarb, banana and coconut pots. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  • For an easy pastry, bake-off a sheet of (gluten-free) puff pastry and allow to cool, then top with thick (dairy-free) custard and lightly poached stems of sweetened rhubarb. Always a winning combination…..rhubarb and custard.
    Rhubarb_and_custard_tart
    Rhubarb and custard tart. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

    I have posted a couple of other rhubarb recipes in my blog over the months, here are the links Rhubarb, raspberry and custard crump (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan) and Rhubarb and custard ice lollies (gluten-free)

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    Tender pink stems of forced rhubarb. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Rhubarb, raspberry and custard crump (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan)

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Rhubarb, raspberry and custard crump. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

For me, one of the signs that Spring is on its way is the first harvest of my forced rhubarb. I love the rich colour of the stalks, their tenderness when cooked and the mild astringent, tartness of flavour that really packs a punch on the palate. Sadly, my rhubarb is not ready for picking just yet as you can see below, but I couldn’t resist the fresh stalks I saw in the local farm shop this week.

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My homegrown forced rhubarb in late February. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Spring rhubarb. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

One of my favourite pairings with rhubarb is raspberry. Whilst it seems like a long time ago I had raspberries ripening in the garden, I have a few packs in the freezer, and this recipe is the perfect opportunity to delve into my supplies.

I love the name of this dish. I assume it comes from the hybridisation of the pudding called “slump” and the one called “crumble”. The recipe works fine with any cooked fruit baked underneath the glorious, melt-in-the-mouth topping. The custard is a recent addition to my recipe and brings an extra spoonful of comfort at this time of the year.

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Last years homegrown raspberries. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Serves: 6

  • 350g fresh rhubarb, trimmed
  • 50g vanilla sugar (or you can use plain caster if you prefer)
  • 175g frozen raspberries
  • 115g dairy free margarine (or butter if you eat it), very soft
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 175g gluten-free plain flour blend (I use Doves Farm)
  • 5ml good quality vanilla extract
  • 500ml gluten-free, dairy-free custard
  1. Trim the rhubarb and cut into 5cm lengths. If you have thin and wider stalks, cut the stalks down so that they are all roughly the same width – this helps the rhubarb cook more evenly.
  2. Arrange neatly in a large, lidded shallow pan. Spoon over 2 tbsp water and sprinkle with the vanilla sugar. Heat until steaming, then cover with the lid and simmer gently for 5-6 minutes until just tender but still holding shape.
  3. Remove from the heat, sprinkle the frozen raspberries on top and leave to cool completely. Transfer to an ovenproof baking dish, about 1.2l capacity. If the fruit is very juicy, drain off a few spoonfuls and keep as a separate serving syrup.

    Cooked_rhubarb_and_raspberries
    Rhubarb and raspberries, a winning combination. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  4. For the topping, put the margarine (or butter) in a bowl and beat in the caster sugar until smooth and creamy. Mix in the flour and vanilla to make a lumpy, sticky mixture, resembling a soft cookie dough. Cover and chill for 30 minutes until firm.
  5. Preheat the oven to 200°C (180°C fan oven, gas mark 6). Spoon over about half of the custard in small dollops. Break up the chilled topping into clumps and scatter over the top, covering the fruit and custard as much as possible. Stand the dish on a baking tray and bake for about 35 minutes until lightly golden, bubbling and the topping has merged together. Serve hot or warm with the remaining custard and the fruit syrup.
    Final_steps_of_crump_preparation_and_baked
    With custard; with topping, and the freshly baked crump. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

    Portion_of_freshly_baked_rhubarb_raspberry_and_custard_crump
    A spoonful of comfort: hot crump pudding. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

New year garden

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In the garden, New Year’s Day 2017. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Happy New Year everyone! Hope you’ve all had a good holiday, and are looking forward to the year ahead. Let’s hope it’s a good one for us all. It’s been a sunny, blue-sky start to the year here in central Scotland – a very uplifting day.

I have had a good, relaxing festive break at home. The weather’s been quite kind and I’ve managed to get outside every now and then. We did have a little snow on Boxing Day, but it cleared by the end of the day, and didn’t cause any damage. On the whole, the garden’s looking a wee bit dull at the moment but there are signs of new life about if you look lard enough. Lots of bulbs are pushing their way through the soil, and the rhubarb plants are shooting up. I have put a large pot over the top of one clump, with the hope of getting some fine pink shoots next month.

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First rhubarb shoot of the new season. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

For me, the late December holiday is a good time to do some cutting back and pruning, and if the weather permits, I undertake my annual attempt at getting the old apple tree back in shape, ready for the year ahead. I had a good crop of fruit last year; I am keeping everything crossed so that the tree does just as well in 2017.

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Before and after, apple tree pruning. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

On the floral front, the Winter jasmine is lovely and vibrant and has a delightful sweet smell; there are also a couple of hebes in flower. One much-treasured little gem, is a perennial primrose which is in bloom for most of the year. I didn’t plant it, it appeared a couple of years ago in a shady, damp part of the garden. The delicate blooms and foliage add some welcome colour and interest through all the mulch and undergrowth that surrounds them.

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Winter flowering jasmine. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
Winter_flowering_hebes
Light pink and purple flowering hebes. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
Perennial_primrose
Perennial primrose. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Rhubarb and custard ice lollies (gluten-free)

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My final rhubarb harvest of the year. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

Another sign this weekend that summer is fading fast, I picked my final stems of rhubarb for the year. Rather than freeze it for later use, I decided to cheer myself up and make a batch of delicious rhubarb and custard ice lollies. Here’s the recipe.

Makes: 6 x 100ml lollies

  • 250g prepared rhubarb stems, washed and chopped
  • 75g granulated sugar
  • 6 tbsp water
  • 150ml ready-made (gluten-free) custard – at least double the sweetness of your usual custard (you need the extra sugar to prevent the custard from freezing too solid and icy)
  • 150ml double cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
  1. Put the rhubarb in a shallow pan with the sugar and water. Heat gently, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved and the rhubarb is beginning to steam.
  2. Cover and simmer gently for 7-8 minutes until soft and collapsed. Remove from the heat and mash with a fork. Leave to cool completely. If preferred, blitz in a blender for a few seconds to make a purée.
  3. Mix the custard with the cream and vanilla paste, and chill until required.
  4. Using a long-handled teaspoon, divide the rhubarb between 6 x 100ml ice lolly moulds. Pour in the custard mix and then marble the 2 layers together a little using the spoon or a skewer.

    Spooning_in_stewed_rhubarb_and_custard_mix
    Assembling rhubarb and custard ice lollies. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins
  5. Place the lolly moulds in the freezer for 1 ½ to 2 hours until semi frozen, then push a wooden lolly stick into the centre of each. Put back in the freezer for at least 2 hours until frozen solid.
  6. To unmold, dip the lolly moulds in very hot water for a few seconds, and then pull out by the stick. Serve immediately or pop back in the freezer on a tray lined with baking parchment until ready to serve.

    Frozen_rhubarb_and_custard_ice_lollies
    Rhubarb and custard ice lollies. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

End of July harvest

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Home-grown rhubarb, tomatoes, runner beans, cucumber, raspberries, Morello cherries, yellow courgettes and red gooseberries, all harvested in the past fortnight.

Time for a recap on what’s been happening in my fruit and veg garden. It’s been a mixed bag of weather this month, although it doesn’t seem to have affected anything I’ve been growing for the kitchen. In fact, even though the sun hasn’t been shining as often as I’d have liked, I have never had tomatoes ripen so early in the year – it’s usually September before I get my first taste!

Home-grown tomatoes, above all else, are the best produce to grow for flavour and sweetness, and remain unrivalled by any tomatoes you can buy. I grow them in my unheated greenhouse, planted in grow-bags. I never put the picked fruit in the fridge, I store them in a cool part of the kitchen and eat them as soon as possible after picking. Served simply with some fresh pot basil, a little salt and pepper, and drizzle of balsamic vinegar, this is one of my greatest foodie pleasures.

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My first harvest of Gardener’s Delight tomatoes with fresh pot basil leaves. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

I have been picking runner beans for a couple of weeks now and, with lots of flowers still blooming, I hope to be enjoying them for a few weeks longer. I don’t usually do much with them, other than chop them up, cook them lightly, and enjoy them as a vegetable in their own right. Occasionally, I make a frittata with any leftover cooked veg and combine runner beans with cooked potato, onion – sometimes a little bacon if I have any – some seasoning and chopped fresh thyme. Delicious served warm or cold with salad.

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Runner bean and potato frittata (gluten free). Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

Most of the fruit I grow gets made into jams and jellies, or I freeze it for cooking later in the year. The cherries were made into a compote – I didn’t have enough for jam this year. Rhubarb is cooked in muffins, stewed as a simple dessert, or cooked as pie filling. I have just made rhubarb and custard ice lollies for the first time, so it will be interesting to see how they turn out.

The yellow courgette plants are growing like triffids in the greenhouse. Thank goodness I only planted 2! They are both producing heavily, so it looks like I will have to get creative with my courgette cookery. I prefer the yellow variety as I find the flesh firmer and there is slightly more of an earthy flavour to them. I also love the colour. I have been chopping them and simply frying them in butter with smoked bacon and black pepper, and then stirring in a little bit of maple syrup before serving. Very tasty with just about anything.

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Pan-cooked yellow courgette with bacon and maple syrup (gluten and dairy free). Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins