Family commitments caused me to fall a little behind with the advent calendar but here are the last three photos. On the 22nd of December I spotted this Wintersweet’s tiny flowers in the sunshine. This shrub has only every flowered once, last year, when it produced one flower. This year it seems to have finally matured
Only two flowers in this photo but there are at least a dozen on the plant.
On the 23rd I spent the whole day doing my ‘annual’ housework and didn’t get out until after dark, so the photo for that day was rather enigmatic. There was a bit of light in the sky and it was rather beautiful but hard to capture.
Christmas Eve brought a beautiful frost, showing up the loveliness of these self-seeded teasels. Much nicer than anything that you spray with silver paint:
I was fortunate to get out to the allotment to harvest my long-awaited Brussels sprouts, the single plant to have survived from my seed sowing earlier in the year:
The allotment was lovely and frosty and I was joined by the resident robin, posing festively on the apple tree:
So we had home grown sprouts on Christmas Day. Other home grown offerings included the holly on the Christmas pudding:
rosemary and thyme in the roast potatoes, and a specially made Christmas smoothie. A few days earlier I had found a prodigal apple, lurking in the undergrowth in the garden. It survived the winter and was untouched by vermin or slugs so was added to the Christmas smoothie:But the stars of the show were the award winning autumn raspberries, which I had been keeping for the occasion:
Belated Happy Christmas to all my readers.
Thanks to the tomato, apple and courgettes gluts, there have been mutterings lately about ‘too many vegetables’ and that ‘vegetables with vegetables and vegetable sauce is not a proper meal’ at Reclaiming Paradise. So, when it came to making a start on the annual birthday cake marathon (everyone here except me has birthdays in October), I had to think of a way of making a cake that would help to use up the glut without being too obvious. The result was Chocolate Apple Cake*:
(Pictured, partly hogged, complete with some birthday music)
Chocolate Apple Cake
*recipe based on one from Ruth Ward (1988) A Harvest of Apples
- 450g apples
- 50g raisins
- 50g dates or apricots or similar dried fruit
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1/tsp mixed spice
- 1/tsp ground nutmeg
- 225 g plain flour
- 1tsp baking powder
- 2tsbp cocoa powder
- 350g sugar
- 100g butter
- 2 eggs
- 50g chopped walnuts
- Peel and chop the apples
- Add the spices, and the dried fruit.
- Stew in a little water until soft
- Mash up with a wooden spoon
- Add the butter and mix until melted
- Leave to cool slightly
- Mix in the flour, cocoa and sugar
- Add the beaten eggs
- Beat the whole mixture for a couple of minutes
- Add the walnuts
- Pour into a large greased and lined cake tin
- Bake for 50-60 minutes at 180c
To make the chocolate fudge icing
- 50g butter
- 150g icing sugar
- 1tbsp cocoa powder
- Melt the butter in a small pan
- Add the icing sugar and cocoa powder
- Mix well together until smooth
- Add a little water to thin and mix well
- Spread over the cake
The cake went down well and has just had an additional endorsement from my brother, who dropped in for coffee and insisted on having two pieces. Praise indeed and it used up a few apples – only about two hundred left to go.
I didn’t feel brave enough to put tomatoes in the cake so am contemplating other possible uses. We have had a lot of tomato soup, tomato sauce and tomatoes, with tomatoes and tomatoes (not a proper meal) lately. The freezer is now full so I need to come up with more old fashioned methods of preserving them. As a birthday outing we had a little trip to Dundee. (To do this properly, I should have made Dundee cake but that wouldn’t have used up any of the gluts). We had planned to go to the new V and A exhibition but it was absolutely crammed with visitors intent on learning about design, or possibly just sheltering from the teeming rain. We avoided the crowds and went instead to visit Captain Scott’s ship Discovery, next door. We had been many times when our small people were small and we were happy to have another look. The rain continued to teem, giving the ship a certain maritime authenticity. I noticed, as we went round the ship, that they took ‘preserved tomatoes’ with them to the Antarctic – I have just noticed that these boxes say preserved potatoes but they did have preserved tomatoes too:
I may need to check how they did their preserving back in 1901.
..really. It was the allotment annual show on Saturday. I thought I’d better enter some of our plentiful produce, although I wasn’t expecting any prizes. I entered:
courgettes and runner beans, apples and rhubarb, raspberries, some not quite ripe yet tomatoes and a big vase of flowers. I knew the rules were all about perfection and submitting identical specimens. I had checked with the organisers whether unripe tomatoes would count – they said ‘no’ but thought I’d try anyway. We could have entered our monstrous marrow, if only it hadn’t been carved, stuffed and eaten by musicians a few weeks ago, or possibly some of the stunning peas, but they have all gone now
It was all about joining in though, so I did my best with what we had. I was delighted that we won three prizes!
My first ever allotment prizes. I was a little chuffed. Then I brought all the vegetables that hadn’t won any prizes home and the musicians turned them into an allotment feast:
It was a very satisfying day. Really it was about taking part but we will be proud to have those rosettes adorning our shed until next year.
There have been a couple of late night cakes this week, brought about by a combination of allotment gluts, visitors, resident musicians and Friday nightitis. So we had a raspberry and apple flapjack earlier in the week, made from the windfall (well broken branch fall) apples in the allotment and a handful or so of autumn fruiting raspberries. pictured here in mid-preparation:
And here once completed:
The recipe is based on the rhubarb (or plum) flapjack here
It seemed to work and it got hogged very quickly by the resident musicians. There is nothing like having a bunch of young people in your house for getting food eaten, although even they are struggling a bit with the marrows, despite their valiant efforts.
Tonight’s attack of Friday nightitis was brought about by getting a long overdue work thing finished and needing to celebrate. I don’t know what other people do when they want to celebrate on a Friday night but it was pouring with rain and we couldn’t be bothered going out so making a cake seemed like a good idea to me. So here is a Danish apple cake (also from the allotment windfalls).
The musicians have gone out for the evening, so we have a chance to have some before it disappears.
It was the last night of the holidays and there were three Howgate Wonder apples left from this year’s crop. I had been saving them for an apple strudel for some point over the festive season. This seemed to be the night. There was the added dubious advantage of a full house of assistants, ready to mock as I nobly struggled with a recipe, which included such instructions as ‘Don’t worry it’s not as difficult as it looks’ and ‘don’t panic’. I didn’t worry and I didn’t panic, but my efforts were rewarded with unhelpful comments: ‘It looks like one of those creatures from Star Wars’, ‘It reminds me of that UFO they saw in space last year’. It maybe wasn’t the most beautiful strudel, but it more or less worked, and it wasn’t as difficult as the recipe looks. Here’s the recipe if you’re feeling brave.
- 150g flour
- 1 egg
- pinch of salt
- 1 tblsp oil
- 3 tblsp warm water
- 15g butter
- 25g breadcrumbs
- 500g cooking apples (the original recipe said 675g but I think that was a little too much, contributing to the alien effect so have adjusted the quantity here)
- 25g flaked almonds
- 25g raisins
- 25g sugar
- 25g melted butter
- a little icing sugar
First make the pastry:
- Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl
- Add the egg, mixed with the oil and water
- Mix with a wooden spoon until the dough forms a ball
- Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for about five minutes, adding a little extra flour if too sticky
- Put back in a bowl, cover with a damp cloth and leave for 30 minutes
Make the filling
- Melt the butter and fry the breadcrumbs until golden brown
- Peel, core and slice the apples finely, leave in a bowl with a little lemon juice until ready to use (I didn’t peel the apples as these are so beautiful but you may wish to if using a tougher variety)
- Weigh out the sugar, almonds and raisins
Construct the strudel
- Take a clean tea towel and lay it out flat on a work surface
- Sprinkle flour all over the towel
- Place the dough in the middle and roll it out with a floured rolling pin until it covers the whole towel (the recipe in the book says here ‘don’t panic’ – I agree, the dough will stretch)
- Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly across the pastry
- Cover with a layer of apples, spread evenly across the pastry
- Sprinkle the almonds, sugar and raisins on top
Assemble the strudel
- Grease a large baking tray
- Taking one end of the tea towel, lift it and gently let the strudel roll over itself like a Swiss roll – don’t panic at this point either
- When it has completely rolled up, carefully transfer it to a greased baking tray
- Bake in an oven at 180 degrees/gas mark 4 for about 25 minutes
- Take out and brush with butter and return to the over for 5 minutes
- Sprinkle with sieved icing sugar
*based on a recipe from ‘The Apple Book’ by Jane Simpson and Gill MacLennan, 1984
My charming assistants admitted in the end that it was really rather good, an appropriate celebration of the end of (some of) our holidays, a fitting use for the last of the Howgate Wonders and definitely enhanced by candlelight.
After my post yesterday about the unusual apple cake, I though I’d better let you see the results:
and the recipe:
Dutch apple cake*
Makes one loaf or use double quantities for two (see picture)
- 100g butter or margarine
- 225g sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla essence
- 225g plain flour
- 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 75ml orange juice
- 225g cooking apples, diced – in this case my own Howgate Wonders but I’m sure any apple variety would work
- Cream together the butter and sugar
- Beat in the eggs and vanilla essence
- Chop the apples, leaving to soak in orange juice to stop them browning
- Sieve the four and bicarbonate of soda and fold into the mixture
- Add the apples and the orange juice
- Tip into a large loaf tin
- Bake in the oven at 180 degrees (gas mark 4) for about 50 minutes
*Based on a recipe from ‘A Harvest of Apples’ by Ruth Ward
I usually make double quantities as it seems an awful waste to heat the oven just for one loaf. The things about the recipe that I was unsure of were the quantities which didn’t seem quite right and the volume – this almost overflowed two loaf tins but they turned out ok. I line my loaf tins with baking parchment to make the business of getting them out easier. I used wholemeal flour and some quite dark sugar (that’s what was in the cupboard) which makes the whole thing rather darker than was probably intended. The cakes were also a little ‘well fired’, a euphemism in this house for leaving them in the oven a little longer than planned – but there are more stories to tell about that another day.
One loaf has travelled southwards with an assistant gardener, en route to various family members. The other is here at home for me to finish with my remaining assistant.
but first an advent calendar update. Here’s what the garden store cupboard has brought us in this first week of December. In no particular order (because there is no order in the world), we have had apple gingerbread, peas, marrow pickle,
tomatoes, rainbow chard, chillies
garden apples and purple radish seed pods
In honour of the apples and, since it’s Friday night, I made some apple cake. It’s in the oven now. It was a new recipe for me and at several stages looked most unlikely to work. I’ll let you know.
Earlier this week I made the Christmas pudding – it was a little late but it should be fine.
Once I’ve made the advent calendar and the Christmas pudding, I reckon I’ve got the festive season sorted, even if I do nothing else between now and the 25th. Meanwhile; the garden is frozen over. We don’t have snow or wind but we do have ice and darkness so not much is happening out there.
After my pessimistic blog about growing tomatoes in Scotland, we’ve had two days of glorious autumn sunshine. Today I’ve been in the garden, clearing up and playing with Bella. She took particular pleasure in a piece of string which had been holding up my peas:
Then I tackled the strawberry bed. It has done well this year but it was getting rather weedy and there were lots of runners with lovely baby strawberry plants attached. I pulled back all the Bella-deterring brushwood and got to work. A tiny frog leapt past, and then a big one appeared
I took a photo and bustled Bella inside to give the frogs a chance to get back into the long grass. She is a great garden companion but just a little too interested in the wildlife for my liking. Then I went back to the strawberry tidying:
And here’s how they looked in March (complete with Bella):
There’s whole family of frogs living in the fairy mound next to the strawberry patch, keeping the slugs and vine weevils and other nasties under control. Here’s looking forward to next year’s strawberry crop.
Meanwhile I’ve had a lovely day, enjoying the late autumn sun, I’ve tidied up the strawberries and the bed with the broccoli and swiss chard, I sowed a few late salads to keep this bed of lettuce company, covering it with a cloche :
We had a couple of the Red Falstaff apples
And then a flock of wild geese flew overhead, making it just perfect.
I’ve written before about my struggles with radishes You know the thing when they beat the slugs and then they go all woody and start flowering and are never just right for eating? But you can eat the seed pods, making it probably worth while.Well this year I must have had a mental block when I did my seed ordering and ordered what looked like exciting radishes: radish purple plum But as usual, they got eaten by slugs, dug up by cats, went woody and then produced lovely purple flowers;
The flowers are truly lovely but I think it would be true to say that I didn’t achieve a single actual radish and the flowers looked as if they weren’t even going to produce decent seed pods. But last night I was out gardening in the dark (as you do), looking for some kick to add to some marrow chutney and harvested a bunch of seed pods. it was only when I got inside that I realised that the purple plum radishes had also produced purple seed pods
It makes it all worth it.
Meanwhile I did make the chutney:
and an apple and raspberry cake:
and for tea we had an ‘everything grown in the garden’ stew thingy
.. made from marrows, green tomatoes, red tomatoes, rainbow chard, radish seed pods and runner beans. There were no radish seed pods in the cake.
I know I say this every year but I just can’t get over the wondrousness of Howgate Wonder apples.
We bought this tree as a little stick seven years ago and it has produced a joyful bounty every year since.
Here it was four years ago when it was three years old and produced ten apples. This year it is a little bigger and has about twenty grapefruit sized fruits. They taste wonderful raw but they are too big to just eat like, well, apples. We had the first of these stewed with a little sugar and cream yesterday evening, and even better, on breakfast cereal this morning. It’s astonishing that such a little tree can produce such amazing fruit with absolutely no effort from me at all, other than digging a hole seven years ago. I still can’t get over it really.