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Archive for the ‘Fruit’ Category

Just as I was thinking that there was nothing interesting in season, I remembered oranges.  Oranges, synonymous with walnuts in Christmas stockings, bringing colour and cheer to the winter months.

Today I’m bringing two very different recipes for oranges.  The first is a gorgeous and surprisingly low fat cake.  I urge you to try this if you haven’t already.  It works every time and it always tastes special.

Nigella’s Clementine Cake (with Maya Gold)


4-5 clementines, skin on, to weigh 375g (13oz)
melted butter for greasing
6 large eggs
225g (8oz) sugar
250g (9oz) ground almonds
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
100g Maya Gold Chocolate

Put the clementines in a pan, covered with cold water, then bring to the boil.  Simmer for 2-3 hours, then drain and set aside to cool.  Cut the clementines in quarters and discard the pips.  Pulp the rest (skins, pith, fruit) in a blender.

Beat eggs, add sugar, almonds and baking powder, mixing well.  Add clementine pulp then stir together.  Pour the mixture into the cake tin, then bake for approx 1 hour, covering with foil or greaseproof paper after 40 mins to prevent burning.

When done, take out of the oven and while still hot, dot squares of chocolate over the top.  These will melt, then use a spatula to spread the melted chocolate over the top of the cake.  Leave to cool.

As you can see from the photo above, the cake didn’t even get a chance to cool before we had a couple of slices!  This is a moist, adult kind of cake, which adds a bit of sophistication to an afternoon tea or coffee.  It is lovely to make for house guests as it is a bit different and feels like you have gone to some effort, without taking too long such that you spend all day in the kitchen.

Seville Orange Marmalade


Every year Fanny’s Farm Shop have a marmalade competition.  Every year I mean to give it a go, but this year, buoyed by the success of two years of home-made jam, I decided to take the plunge.

I bought a kit which included a recipe, all the jars, fruit and sugar.  However, as soon as I opened it up I realised I needed a muslin bag, so this took me a fortnight to sort out.  In the end I made do with a clean facecloth that had come with Liz Earle hot polish (which incidentally is really good).

The recipe said 5 honey jars, but I filled a lot more.  To be on the safe side, I would have 7 or 8 normal sized jam jars available and sterilised in the dishwasher (just run them on a normal cycle with their lids, and leave them in the closed dishwasher till the minute you use them.

1kg/2.2lbs Seville Oranges
1 large lemon
2.5 litres or 4 1/4 pints of water
2kg of sugar

1.  With clean fruit, halve each one and squeeze out the juice and pips into a muslin sack over a bowl.  I used a sieve to hold the muslin bag aloft.   Remove some of the pith from the citrus peels and reserve, then cut the fruit into half again.  Slice the peel into narrow strips.

2.  Add the reserve pith into the muslin sack with the pips and tie loosely together.  Allow plenty of room in the bag so that the water can bubble through the bag and extract the pectin from the pips and pith.

3. Place the shredded peel, juices and muslin bag into a large preserving pan with the water.

4.  Slowly bring the mixture to the boil, then simmer for 1 1/2 – 2 hours or until peel is very soft and the contents have reduced by half.  The photo below shows it half way to being done.

5.  Remove the muslin sack from the pan, set it aside to cool down.  Once cool, squeeze as much of the liquid back into the pan as possible.

6.  Add the sugar to the pan over a low heat and gradually dissolve sugar.  Bring to boil, then boil for 10-15 mins.  It will set at 105C, 220F.

7.  Leave to stand for 15 mins, then give it a quick stir to distribute the peel evenly.

8.  Pop your jars out of the dishwasher, fill, seal and cover.

The end result with this recipe was floating pieces of peel in clear gold coloured jelly.  I was very impressed with the colour and taste of the batch, and will be saving the spares for serious marmalade lovers only!

Fanny’s Farm Shop are having a marmalade competition in February, details of which can be found on their website.

 

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After all the snow, illness and Christmas in December, it’s no surprise to be starting January with a renewed vigour and energy.  This has been helped by the brighter, less frozen weather.  We went to the Stanley Road plot today, and what a wonderful sight.

Firstly and unusually for us, the shed was still in the same place on our plot, instead of half-way across the site crushing someone else’s plot.  Secondly the site looked lovely bathed in cool winter sunlight, showing to best effect how much effort has been put in on the part of many plot holders.

Finally, we managed to get loads of digging done before the whingeing started.  Maybe the novelty effect was at work, or it could have been the picnic lunch that kept the girls going for longer?

Tonight it’ll be time to get out the crop rotation plans from previous years, and work out the plan for this year.

Current thoughts are that we will dig out even more of the couch grass paths.  The stuff is relentless, and never stops spreading either by invasive roots, overhead suckers or seed.  Once dug, the size of the beds shrinks every couple of months under constant pressure from the sides.

It’s also decision time for the strawberry patch.  It was such a disappointment last year, the crops were so puny and it now takes up almost half of the main growing area.  One option would be to dig them all up and go for something else.  Alternatively we could dig them up completely, pick the very best looking plants, manure the bed, cover it with weed membrane, replant the best along with some new vigorous ones and hope for a better year.  Not sure which one we will do at present.  Tempting to give it up as a bad job.

Other ideas are to use the beds for a Sarah Raven type “Cutting Garden”,  or to give annual crops another go.  One lesson I have learned is that I need a proper dedicated annual bed, with no perennials or shrubs which just make weeding too difficult.  Time to get those seed catalogues!

Decisions, decisions.

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I have to confess that I prefer most of my food fairly plain and unadulterated.  Apple crumble is a case in point, because I normally like to keep it plain.

However, I’ve spent the last two weeks being ill with flu and a chest infection, so I decided I needed a few more vitamins to fight off the winter germs.  We have got a wealth of red fruit in the freezer, just waiting to be put into pies and crumbles, so I decided on a change.

I sprinkled a load of sugar on to taste.

The red fruit adds a nice pink colour to the mixture.

I included coarse oatmeal in the crumble to add a bit of bite:

The result was pleasantly tart, and a very vivid red colour!

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Despite trying my best to grow strawberries and raspberries year after year, we have never really had much success (see picture below for this year’s harvest!)

We have a relatively huge space dedicated to them, and have painstakingly planted, weeded, watered and checked the crop.  We got a handful this year, but it was all very disappointing.

Things came to a crisis point when we recently ran out of the 2008 supply of homemade jam.  As we used the last drop, with no sign of our own glut, something had to be done.  So we went to Garson’s pick your own farm, in Esher, Surrey.  What a find!  There are as many as 40 crops you can pick throughout the year, depending on season.  They have popular crops such as strawberries in succession, so you can pick them more or less any time from spring to autumn.

I can’t quite put my finger on why our home-made jam is so special and so essential in my kitchen.

It could be that the jam is made with fresh and ripe fruit, usually on the same day as picking?

It could be the dash of balsamic vinegar that Nigella recommended?

It could be the gooey lumpiness which it has, rather than the pert jelliness of shop bought jam?

Whatever it is, it makes it well worth the hours of picking, preparing, cooking and putting into jars.  I am so looking forward to that first batch of scones with cream and jam.

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This has seemed like a year off tending the allotment.  Although we have visited often, the daily/weekly visits have not been possible.  Aside from mowing the lawns and paths weeding (of course), there hasn’t been a vast amount to maintain.  We definitely aren’t aiming for prize-winning standards, or even keeping up appearances.  The plot has to take its place alongside the other demands on our time.

We have also had a very odd year of weather for gardening.  It started off with a freezing cold spring (May), then overnight turned boiling hot and dry (June to mid-July), and late summer (Jul/Aug) seems to have been a monsoon (good old St Swithun).  In early summer, our crop plans were defeated by the difficulties of watering through a drought, whilst accomodating two full time jobs, two kids and a full calendar of holidays and long distance family celebrations.  We have had a fantastic year as human beings, but less so as gardeners!

So we were thrilled to find that the apple trees have been busy while we were away.

Every year seems to bring something special from luck rather than judgement, and here it was.  Jamie has promised to make a tarte tatin later, so I will post photos of the results later.

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The House of Dun is near Montrose in what I think of as “Golf” Country (Carnoustie and a billion other golf courses).  The Montrose Basin is nearby, with the nature reserve.  However, what I found most impressive about this National Trust property was the espalier fruit trees against the kitchen garden wall.

I have honestly never seen such amazing fruit.  The leaves were dark and glossy.  The fruit looked sumptuous – rich, ripe and plentiful .  My garden envy was at an all-time peak.  I want their secret!

It must be the climate, and I was quite prepared to up sticks and move to Scotland that instant.  That day, my eyes were opened to the possibilities for fruit trees, and one day I will fulfill those.

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I  sometimes think I should change the name of this blog to the Lazy Gardener, (watch this space actually….)  My gardening efforts have been regularly rescued from disaster by my husband, a well timed shower of rain (thank you British climate, I could never survive anywhere else!), the sheer persverance of nature and sometimes just pure luck.

It is now on the brink of May and I have so far done absolutely NOTHING towards this season’s crops.  And although there is part of me that feels terribly guilty, there is also a part of me that knows that in the UK, this doesn’t really matter.  Not terribly much growth happens earlier than now, except indoors, and there are always plenty of crops you can get in.

So, my saving graces this year have been:

My amazing darling husband who has been keeping the plot mowed and ‘sort of’ weeded.  He loves his perennials like asparagus, strawberries and rhubarb, so at this time of year he is there more often than me.  I do look after the kids meanwhile, so perhaps I am doing my bit?

The fact that someone tipped me off about the tradition of sowing potatoes on Good Friday.  Inspired by this folk tradition we sowed them Good Friday morning before the heavy thunderstorms of the afternoon.

Also, hubby has been planting his crops of the year, cherry tomatoes (he’e gone for Gardener’s Delight) and butternut squash, as well as some rocket.

As for now, I am frantically sowing sweet peas and beans.  I am also setting up a herb and salad box outside my back door, now we have a space with some light at the house.  I am planting lots of flower seeds accumlated over the last year.  Hoping for a good year of flowers for the house.  And I have bought some fabulous perennials for the garden.  All very exciting.

The lemon tree at the top of the post is now in our conservatory.  After many, many, many years we have got a conservatory which means we can grow citrus plants and indoor bananas.  There really is no way to express how exciting this is for us.  Twelve years ago, Jamie and I lived in a small flat with a huge south facing window from ceiling to floor.  The whole of our very small living space was filled with tropical and indoor plants of many types.  For the last ten years we have watched our once impressive indoor plant collection dwindle.  We still have one hardy yucca and a Musa Cavendish banana from this era, being kept alive in a greenhouse at Jamie’s work.  After a very long wait, they can finally come home!

And now as I sit down for my evening scan of everyone’s blogs, I fully expect to get lots of inspiration for this year. It’s time to put the knitting down and get outside!!!!

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