A new redcurrant recipe

I harvested most of the redcurrants today. They have been fabulous this year in the garden but not at the allotment. Another of the strange differences in microclimate between my two growing spaces.

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I remembered making some less than successful redcurrant relish last year but couldn’t remember where I found the recipe – just checked, it was a link on the blog – here , but I didn’t think of looking on my own blog! Instead I ploughed through my various recipe books, failing to find a suitable recipe, and so decided to adapt one for red pepper relish instead. Let’s hope it works. Here is the revised version:

Redcurrant relish

  • 1 kg redcurrants
  • 375ml vinegar
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 2 medium onions (or one monster onion from the allotment)
  • 4 gloves of garlic
  • a teaspoon of grated fresh ginger
  • 2 apples
  • 1 tsp of black peppercorns
  • 230g sugar
  1. Slice the onions finely and chop the garlic and apples into small pieces
  2. Put the onions, garlic, ginger, apples, and peppercorns in a pan with the vinegar
  3. Simmer for about 20 mins
  4. Add the redcurrants
  5. Simmer for a further 10 mins or so
  6. Add the sugar
  7. Simmer for about an hour until the mixture is thick
  8. Remove the peppercorns, which will float to the top
  9. Pour the mixture into warm, sterilised jars

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The redcurrants, onion and apple were all from the garden or allotment. The apples were a couple of the windfalls from the amazing Howgate Wonder tree. When they are mature they will be the size of grapefruits but today these were perfectly big enough for this recipe.

There are a couple of things that didn’t quite go right with this recipe. First of all I’m not sure I weighed the redcurrants properly and secondly I did not follow the recipe when it came to the peppercorns – you are supposed to put them in a muslin bag and remove it when you pot up the relish. I couldn’t be bothered with this but discovered the cunning trick of just removing the peppercorns at the end – only I had rather more than the recommended teaspoonful:

20190801_211924It just goes to show that precision is not necessary when it comes to cooking – not in my house anyway. The relish should keep so I’ve filed it away for festive use in the dark days of winter.

In the meantime, we had summer again today and I spotted butterflies all over the buddleia and lavender in the front garden:

Onion soup

Despite being June, it’s definitely soup weather. I’ve already made several of my classic green soups, mainly using Swiss chard, herbs and assorted bought vegetables but this week I’ve also been experimenting with onion soup. I’ve got a bit of an onion glut. The autumn planted allotment onions are absolute stunners. Here they are back in early May:

20190505_160930Since then they have grown even bigger and more beautiful and have been the subject of much admiration by passing allotmenteers. Meanwhile the overwintering red onions in the garden have also done really well, even though they were planted in the dark, back in November . However, they are beginning to go over a bit and are  in danger of some kind of nasty rotty, blight thing. So, anticipating serious onion glut, I thought it was time to think of a way of cooking the garden ones. Soup seemed the right thing and cream of onion soup seemed more appropriate for these lovely fresh things than French onion soup.  Recipe, adapted from several books, but very basic:

Cream of onion soup

  • A bunch of onions – as many or as few as you have to hand
  • A glug of olive oil
  • vegetable stock
  • a little cream or milk
  • assorted herbs: tarragon, chives, mint
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Carefully wash the onions to remove soil and wildlife
  2. Chop them up roughly, include some of the green shoots if you’ve grown them yourself
  3. Fling them in a large pan with a glug of olive oil
  4. 20190612_200505Simmer very gently with the lid on the pan, stirring frequently to stop the onions browning, for about 15 minutes
  5. Add hot stock and bring to the boil
  6. Liquidise
  7. Add a small amount of cream or milk (not necessary but makes it a little creamier)
  8. Throw in some random herbs – this one has chopped chives20190611_130249This is one I made earlier. The second one came out a little greener than this because of the added onion shoots but tasted pretty good, just the same.

The perfect recipe for a miserable cold June night or even a lovely sunny one.

Cottage garden

Warm sunshine, pouring rain, warm sunshine again – it’s party time for the weeds in my garden and allotment. This morning I tackled the weeds in the front garden, which if you’ve been paying attention, is a former paved over car parking space, converted to what can only be described as a ‘cottage garden’.  In other words it is full of herbs, lovely flowers, interesting wildlife and a lot of weeds. The weeds creep under the paving and up through the bricks unnoticed until I go out and get down on my hands and knees and haul them out. While down there I get to notice all the other fascinating things going on:

 

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that the Canterbury bells are flowering and so are the chives. The Canterbury bells are amongst the most prolific weedy things but they are beautiful. The chives are more deliberate and their flowers will adorn a few salads. I’ve just noticed the jolly snail underneath the chives.

20190519_174200The cherry tree is covered in fruit – I’ll wait and see if any of the cherries get to ripen before the birds snaffle them.

20190519_174645The ladybirds have been very busy all month and have now started producing babies, which, I hope, will eat even more of the aphids which are afflicting the roses. The roses are beginning to flower though – first of all the wild rose:

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and then the Gertrude Jekyll

20190519_174209The Benjamin Britten will be next, with lots of buds about to open. Underneath the rose bush and lurking behind the water butt, I found the other essential of the cottage garden:

20190519_174720Bella is losing the territory battle with the invasive Chelsea at the moment and so has taken to hiding behind water butts in the front garden in the hope that no one will notice her there.

Yesterday, while the weeds enjoyed the downpours, I didn’t do any gardening but we had a visitor, an old family friend from Denmark . I had made a big pot of green soup from the rainbow chard, a garden salad and a rhubarb cake,

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hoping she was the kind of person who would appreciate garden produce. It turns out she was a vegetable gardener herself. She loved the soup and the cake and went away with the remains of my rainbow chard seeds to grow herself.  The rhubarb cake is rather good, based on a tried and tested recipe for apple gingerbread but using rhubarb instead.

Rhubarb gingerbread *

(makes one loaf sized cake. Double quantities for a square cake)

  • 75g butter
  • 75g sugar
  • 75g golden syrup
  • 1 tblsp black treacle
  • 175g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1tsp ground ginger (or grated fresh ginger)
  • about 250g of rhubarb puree
  • 1 egg
  1. Grease and line a loaf tin (or use double quantities to make two small cakes or one large square cake)
  2. Melt the butter, sugar, syrup and treacle in a pan
  3. Sieve the flour and spices into a large bowl
  4. Beat in the syrup mixture, the apple puree and the beaten egg
  5. Pour into the cake tin and bake for about 50 mins at 180C /Gas Mark 4

*Recipe based on ‘The Apple Book’ by Jane Simpson and Gill MacLennan. Just as good with apples instead of rhubarb!

 

Juggling rainbows

It’s May and should  be the time to get lots of things going in the garden but the last week has been too nippy for me to dare put very much outside or even out to the seed palace.  The tomatoes are taking over the windowsill inside and I haven’t yet sown any courgettes, marrows or runner beans. I could get going with digging my runner bean trench but the raised bed identified for the beans is still full of onions which are not quite ready to harvest. That’s the trouble with rotating vegetables round a few raised beds.

However, at the allotment there is a little more room for manouvre . The allotment onions are also doing very well:

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There is currently no queue to take their place and a separate bed has been identified for the runner beans and peas so I got out the spade, soaked some newspapers in a bucket and got the the bean trench going. I’ll sow the beans in containers at home and take them along to plant out in a few weeks. For details of how I dig my bean trenches, see here.

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I usually plant rainbow chard in the middle of the runner beans as they seem to survive ok over the summer under the shade of the beans, slumber a little over the winter and the spring to life in the spring.

Last year’s gardens rainbows have just put on a growth spurt:

We had a visitor to entertain for tea tonight. Another veteran gardener who appreciates a home grown meal. There’s not much in the garden or allotment at the moment, other than the chard, rhubarb and some spicy salad leaves:

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So rainbow curry it had to be. Rainbow curry is a make-it-up-as-you-go-along dish, requiring nothing other than colourful vegetables and some spices. (Don’t add the rhubarb though. It is much better used as a pudding.  For details of an unsuccessful rhubarb curry, see here) Here’s what I did tonight.

Rainbow curry

  • A good armful of rainbow chard
  • 1 red onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • Spices as preferred: ginger, coriander, cumin, mustard seeds usually – add chilli if you like it hot
  • 3-4 potatoes
  • a handful of spicy salad leaves
  1. Scrub the potatoes, chop into rough chunks and parboil till just tender
  2. Wash the rainbow chard very well to remove any visiting wildlife
  3. Separate the stalks from the greeny bits
  4. Heat the spices in a large frying pan
  5. Add a splash of oil
  6. Throw in the chopped onion, garlic, and rainbow chard stalks
  7. Stir fry for 5-10 mins
  8. Add the parboiled potatoes
  9. Meanwhile, cut up the green bits of chard into manageable bits and bring through the boil in the potato water and leave to strain
  10. Once all the frying vegetables have cooked 10 mins or so, add the cooked chard
  11. Just before serving, add some chopped spicy green salad leaves

20190505_192212It got a little overcooked so not as colourful as it should have been but it tasted fine. Serve with rice, nan bread, chutney, or whatever other extras you have in the fridge.

There’s still quite a lot of chard to come and the spicy salad is looking very promising. What’s more, I’ve got next year’s rainbows started and ready to plant out when it gets a little warmer and once I’ve cleared the raised bed with the onions in it:

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Foraging

Last weekend I was away,  staying in a caravan, having a long lie while reading in a sleeping bag and listening to birdsong, then waking myself up by paddling in freezing sea. Here is a photo of fabulous gorse bushes with a wonderful coconut scent

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It was all lovely but there was no gardening or allotment activity. So far, there has not been much this weekend either. I found myself at the seaside again, though much closer to home, wandering along Portobello Promenade in the icy wind and not at all tempted to paddle, despite the sunshine.

In the morning, before my trip to the beach, I did some foraging, on the local cycle path. In Wordsworthian mode I was wandering lonely as cloud and saw a crowd, a host of wild white garlic flowers:

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I stopped to gather a rather large bunch, whisked them home, added a couple of handfuls of nettles from the garden and made weed pesto – for the recipe see here. except use wild garlic instead of ordinary garlic.

Spurred on by this culinary enthusiasm I harvested some rhubarb and have just put an ‘allotment cake’ in the oven. The recipe is from a book called ‘Bake a Difference’ by Bee Rawlinson and published by Traidcraft. I can’t find it online except through a well known international book sales outfit which I try to avoid, so it may be out of print.  The cake is a version of my tried and tested apple cake, except with rhubarb and grated carrots instead of apples. It’s still in the oven so we have yet to test it.  I have just been reminded by the younger generation that we haven’t had tea yet and cake (despite its healthy vegetable content) will probably not do. An offer of pasta with weed pesto was not greeted with enthusiasm so it may have to be something much more ordinary. Tomorrow, I hope, will be a gardening day.

Reclaiming Paradise awards 2018

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As the old year rolls on and we venture into 2019, it’s award season at Reclaiming Paradise. In a year of weather extremes and personal complications, we celebrate all that is great, good or frankly unsuccessful in my garden and allotment. This year I  cracked a bone in my arm, helped my mother move house, acquired a second cat and was overcome with day job commitments. But the garden, the allotment and the blog bring me joy, and the Reclaiming Paradise awards help me to celebrate that with you. Here are the award categories:

Most impressive garden developments; Most unlikely collection of sporting equipment found in a hedge; Most extreme weather; Most successful vegetables; Most unsuccessful vegetables; Most promising, but ultimately disappointing, fruit; Most unsuccessful recipe; Best use of garden produce; Most colourful vegetable;  Most awe-inspiring wildlife; Best cats.

Scroll down to find the winners:

Most impressive garden developments

This was the year that I finally got round to having the conifers and the giant sycamore removed from the garden. This was done, not by me, but by professional tree surgeons and a professional stump remover. It was expensive but necessary. The space left behind enabled me to have a go at creating a garden bench and several raised beds:

of which the bench was fun at best and hopeless at worst while the raised beds produced bumper cucumber and tomato crops. I still have plans to do more with the space left by the conifers but they were thwarted by the broken bone and other commitments.

The winner in this category, however, is the allotment, for which I got a key in February, moved my wellies and gardening gloves into the shed, observed flooding in April, found a use for my 25 year old hoe and entered a bumper crop of vegetables into the allotment show, winning a few prizes but it was the growing that mattered, not the winning:

Most unlikely collection of sporting equipment found in a hedge

This award goes to the footballs and other useful items which emerged during the giant conifer hedge removal:

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Most extreme weather

For 2018 we must reinstate the most extreme weather award, with the Beast from the East providing Bella with many photo opportunities:

and an unexpected use for a cow shaped boot scraper as a ‘cowometer’ to allow me to see the increasing depth of snow on the pond:

The impressive snow was followed by equally impressive ice on the pond in early April:

Most successful vegetables

Reclaiming Paradise is all about growing vegetables. As always there were several contenders, including courgettes and marrows:

which were very impressive, even though not enough to win any prizes at the allotment show. The peas were beautiful and very productive both in the garden and the allotment:

but they will qualify for another award, as we will see.

The amazingly hot summer certainly helped the cucumbers to flourish in their newly built raised bed/cucumber frame:

But the outright winners have to be the tomatoes:

which started slowly but then flourished in the hot sun and continued into November. They provided enough surplus to make soup which we were still enjoying in December.

Most unsuccessful vegetables

You may be beginning to believe that my fingers are so green that everything flourishes in my garden. Not so. My biggest disappointments this year were the onions, which I sowed in newspaper tubes in early spring and transported to the allotment:

They succumbed to the drought. A few of them made it but most did not. These, I admit, were meant to be autumn sown and I was taking a chance with them. We were compensated by a very successful crop of ordinary spring sown onions in the bed beside them. I learned something about how not to sow onions.

Most promising, but ultimately disappointing, fruit

The fig tree produced some fruit for the first time ever:

WP_20180804_09_42_56_Pro[1]I suppose I knew they would never get any bigger than peas but a gardener is ever hopeful. A close contender for this award was the cherry, of which there was only one, and it got snaffled by a passing bird between this photograph and going back to pick it:

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Most unsuccessful recipe

While dwelling on the year’s failures, I think the rhubarb curry was probably the least successful of my cooking experiments. On the other hand, the rhubarb did win a prize at the allotment show, and was very successful in cakes, crumbles and jam:

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Best use of garden produce

The summer gluts nearly overwhelmed us but we were assisted by visiting musicians, who moved in for the summer and helped to cook and eat a wide variety of fruit and vegetables. We made cakes and stews, soups, jam, chutney, pickle:

We made a wonderful Christmas Day smoothie, lemon curd (although not from the garden), a very successful summer pudding:

but the winner, out of these many, has to be the musicians’ giant stuffed marrow, so huge that it overflowed the serving dish and had to go in the oven at an angle :

giant marrow

Most colourful vegetables

The Reclaiming Paradise awards always include a most colourful vegetable prize. The purple radishes again produced lovely flowers but no radishes and the Swiss chard continued to provide rainbows:

For the third year running, however, the award goes to the peas:

with which I am now so besotted that I have saved the seed of the salmon pink and may need to venture into other varieties as well next year.

Most awe-inspiring wildlife

The annual awards cannot pass without an award for wildlife in the garden and allotment. This year we have outright winners. As well as the bees, robins, snails, foxes, ladybirds and other creatures, we had a multitude of frogs, congregating in the pond during the heatwave:

and bringing us joy.

Best cats

Finally, 2018 brought a second cat into the garden. Chelsea helped to build a pond in my mother’s garden but then moved in with us, leaving the pond to new owners and new cats. I won’t let her and Bella compete for this award as they have enough to fight about already. So the best cats award goes to them both for being awesome and in the hope that they will learn to share in 2019:

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So that’s the awards for this year. Much has been missed off but it is nice to look back and see what has happened in the garden and allotment over the year. Happy and productive gardening and best wishes for peace and happiness to all my followers for 2019.

Yet another apple cake recipe

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*:

WP_20181014_13_00_43_Pro[1](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
  1. Peel and chop the apples
  2. Add the spices, and the dried fruit.
  3. Stew in a little water until soft
  4. Mash up with a wooden spoon
  5. Add the butter and mix until melted
  6. Leave to cool slightly
  7. Mix in the flour, cocoa and sugar
  8. Add the beaten eggs
  9. Beat the whole mixture for a couple of minutes
  10. Add the walnuts
  11. Pour into a large greased and lined cake tin
  12. Bake for 50-60 minutes at 180c

To make the chocolate fudge icing

  • 50g butter
  • 150g icing sugar
  • 1tbsp cocoa powder
  1. Melt the butter in a small pan
  2. Add the icing sugar and cocoa powder
  3. Mix well together until smooth
  4. Add a little water to thin and mix well
  5. 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:

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I may need to check how they did their preserving back in 1901.

 

Tomato rainbow

This year’s tomatoes have probably been the best ever:

WP_20180608_17_20_16_ProHere’s how they looked just planted out in June in their shiny new raised bed 

Since then, what with all the hot weather in the early summer, they have grown massive and have long since caused the canes to collapse:

We’ve had a few red ones but there are now hundreds of fat, juicy green tomatoes, threatening to not ripen before it gets too cold.

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Last night the temperature dropped below 3 degrees – now that is already too cold for tomatoes. They seem to have survived that dip but today I needed to take some drastic action.  I made a big batch of green tomato marmalade – recipe here

WP_20180923_22_50_41_Proand some fresh tomato soup:

WP_20180923_21_36_48_ProBut there are hundreds of tomatoes left – I’ve put some on trays to ripen inside and I’ll race out to get some more tomorrow

In the mean time, we are experimenting with actually cooking with green tomatoes. Along with the fresh tomato soup, we had some green tomato salsa, which was rather good. Last week we tried roasted green tomatoes. One year we tried green tomato mincemeat – it did not go down well with the wider family.  I saw a recipe for green tomato cake and suspect it would be met with similar suspicion. So, mainly, I’m hoping that the tomatoes will ripen on the trays and we can use most of the rest in soup and pasta sauce.  Even if they don’t all ripen, it’s been a wonderful tomato year and I’m already planning what to sow next year. The lovely stripy ones are Tigerella and the long Italian ones are San Marzano.  I think I’ll go for Tigerella again as they are so beautiful. Here’s a close up so that you can seetigerella.jpg

Home

Back home from a little break involving much walking and talking and eating lovely things in the far north of Norway.  There wasn’t much gardening to be done but there was lovely scenery and good company. Northern Norway has the northenmost botanic garden in the world and it had some lovely things in flower in September

wp_20180906_19_15_46_pro.jpgI forgot to note down their names but I liked the colours.  We also had a couple of days in Oslo and spotted this unusual creature:

An important reminder to protect our natural world.  It was quite a short trip but now we are home and the garden is abundant.  The musicians have been looking after things at home, making serious inroads into the plum glut.  I felt a need to make some emergency plum jam to use up some more. This is ‘whole plum jam’, one of the easiest jam recipes:

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Whole Plum Jam

  • 2 kg plums
  • 2kg sugar
  • glug of green ginger wine
  1. Wash the plums, cut in half and remove most of the stones – you can leave a few in
  2. Place the plums and the sugar in layers in a large bowl and leave overnight or for a few hours
  3. Tip everything into a large pan (it needs to be very large for this quantity)
  4. Add the glug of green ginger
  5. Heat slowly until all the sugar dissolves
  6. Boil until setting point is reached
  7. Remove any scum that forms
  8. Any stones that you left in will eventually float to the top – remove these. Some stones may remain but that doesn’t matter so long as you warn anybody about to eat the jam!
  9. Pot up into warmed, sterilised jars – makes about 6-7 jarsWP_20180914_20_33_52_Pro

As well as eating plums and creating beautiful music, the musicians have been playing football in the garden (our neighbour noted that ‘they are much better at music than football’ ) and being quite careful with my precious vegetables, though ‘there may have been one or two ‘windfall’ tomatoes’:

WP_20180914_20_31_33_ProThe tomatoes are doing extremely well.  There have been a few ripe ones as well as all these ‘windfalls’ and I’m still hopeful that a few more will ripen before the frosts hit. Now I just need to get along to the allotment to see how it has fared in my absence.

Cakes

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:

WP_20180821_20_08_53_ProAnd here once completed:

 

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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).

WP_20180824_22_16_53_ProThe musicians have gone out for the evening, so we have a chance to have some before it disappears.