Autumn goodness

Everyone looked at me like I was mad when I was asking for just a little rain when it was summer and 30 Celsius every day. Truth is, as much as summer is great with its soft fruit, flowers, sunshine and generally good growing conditions I have always preferred autumn – that moment when you wake up and have to move that bit quicker to the shower so you don’t get too cold. When you have to dig out that thick, woollen jumper in the evening because you don’t want to put the heating on just yet. When you go walking and think it’s a bit chilly so you put on layers but when you’re halfway you find that the golden sun is warming your back so much you can take the top layer off. And the food – game, sloes, damsons, mushrooms, apples, pears, nuts – all my favourites and all of these things I look forward to every year.

So on the first autumn forage of the year (when the mizzle stopped finally) we put on our waterproofs and went to the usual sloe spot…

Blackthorn in fruit

The bushes were full to bursting already! There hasn’t been a frost yet so I will be freezing them so the skins split and they soften enough to do something with – I haven’t quite decided what just yet so they can stay frozen until I do. I measured them and we have 1.4kg so enough to make a couple of things at least.

Young sloes

And a bit further along the path there was a road lined with Hazel. I can’t resist a green hazelnut so we started filling our pockets…and didn’t stop until they were full!

Fresh hazelnuts

I’m thinking a chocolate and hazelnut tart one night this week, and the rest…maybe a stuffing mix or another cake. Will follow up this one with another blog entry when I decide.

The other thing about autumn I like is preserving – jams, chutneys, jellies, pickling. Now my jam making is a bit hit or miss. I’m good with flavours but it’s the setting point that was always tricky for me. I had about two lots of elderberry from 2011 that ended up being thick elderberry syrup. One jar went into ice cream to make elderberry ripple which was lovely, but it was definitely no good as jam! Hence why the lovely, and ever-sensible, man brought me a jam thermometer last year. Much safer. But chutney is an easy one without a thermometer.

Chutney making

So I made some last night with the glut of cherry tomatoes from the terrace pots and some apples from my work boss’ orchard (his wife was kind enough to send me in a bag!) This was enough to make 5 jars…

Chutney in jars

It tasted quite sweet from the saucepan, but still with a kick of vinegar so I’m hoping when it mellows out it will keep the tang and not end up too syrupy. Will let you know the verdict when we open one in a month or so!

Mabel liked having lots of round, rolling fruit in the kitchen…

Mabel plays with an apple

So all in all, a productive autumn weekend – long may they continue. I still have another half crate of apples to use up so it’s either going to be more chutney, or if I can get my hands on the right yeasts then I might put an apple wine on the cards.

I forgot to take pictures of the raspberry tart from Thursday but I did get one of the brownies before they all got guzzled:

brownies

Dark chocolate (72% cocoa) and poached pear. They went down very well indeed. But I think it will be a while before I attempt that many bakes in one week again without taking more time off work! Exhausting (but tasty)!

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On baking duty

It’s been a while since I had a nice, homey Saturday of rest and simple pleasures. So that was what I designated this past weekend to be. 

I’d been meaning to make a focaccia for the last three weeks. No particular reason but I’d had it in my head to make a large one and freeze it in slices so when we wanted to make a garlic bread it would be easier, and nicer, than buying a baguette based, pre-garlic buttered version. I seem to be making my way through the Richard Bertinet book ‘Dough’ in the last few weeks, I think more for the fact it’s been out on the kitchen table all that time so an easy reference point. But making the olive dough from the recipe I found in there was very satisfying and seemed to work a treat. The texture was good but I think I over-proved it at the first stage as it wasn’t as olive-y and soft as I’d have liked it to be. Need to keep more of an eye on it next time. 

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Rosemary and sea salt. And for that extra special touch, I used the sea salt we had bought whilst staying in Reykjavik, Iceland. 

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Finally, for dessert to match a southern US style meal consisting of bourbon marinated short ribs, porcini macaroni and cheese and fried green tomatoes – a key lime pie (normal limes, not key limes, unfortunately)

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First time I’ve made one and it’s surprisingly easy – a crushed hobnob biscuit base mixed with butter and baked for ten minutes. Then whisk egg yolks, condensed milk and lime juice and zest and bake for another 15 minutes. Then cool. Lovely! Serve with whipped cream and some extra zest if you have any limes left. 

This week is going to be full of bakes; my grandparents diamond anniversary and I volunteered one bake, and ended up planning two: raspberry custard tart and pear brownies. And nominated for a Friday bake at work too so who knows what they’ll end up with! 

Next weekend I need to revisit my cat tree – it still needs to be reinforced so the top doesn’t wobble! But Mabel did voluntarily go and sit on the 2nd level by herself yesterday – no treats involved – so I’m still very proud of myself. I think it might be a while before I give up another entire weekend to a DIY project though, it’s too tiring! 

 

I’m not a cat person, but I’m a crazy cat lady

I don’t really know how it works. I have a love\hate relationship with our cat. I’ve never been a cat person – I just don’t understand how their brains work therefore find them a bit unnerving. Dogs – simple. Horses – also simple, to an extent. Cats – downright bizarre.

But the fact remains I now have one, and she is very cute and (usually) good. 

ImageBut she was used to being outside when she didn’t live in London and now, until our terrace is finished, she is an indoors cat. I get worried that she gets bored. So when I found some scrap plywood down the road, and some carpet offcuts in the corner of the spare room, an idea started formulating…

(This is how my ideas usually formulate)

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I wasn’t entirely sure it was going to work. But at least the materials for half of it were free. 

ImageAfter a long day, lots of sawdust, keeping the cat away from everything sharp and hot, stepping on an upturned screw (ow), very unprofessionally using ever-sensible man’s electric drill (I only dropped it once), and only stopping to make one call and plant some autumn potatoes, I ended up with this.

ImageNot quite finished in one day then. But most of the way there. I got Mabel on it with treats but the top wobbled and she wasn’t sure about that so some reinforcements are needed. And I’ve still got some sisal rope to wrap the planks to make them into suitable scratch posts, which I just couldn’t face at 9pm on a Sunday night.

So there you are. All because I was worried my cat was bored. She’ll probably only give it half a glance and never go on it, but at least I know I tried! I may not be a cat person, but I think I probably now qualify for a crazy cat lady. At least I can always say I try and keep my animals happy. Cats are just a bit more demanding than chickens. 

 

Bit of baking, bit of planting

After I had gone to do our weekly shop I realised I hadn’t picked up any bread. I usually get a harvest grain loaf from the supermarket which has good flavour, but I always feel guilty as we never finish it in one weekend, and by the end of the week its stale and has to be thrown out! So for breakfast I thought I’d get some dough together…

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A small loaf for toasting slices and a few rolls for my lunch during the week (plus they freeze well). This time I followed a kneading technique by Richard Bertinet – different from the usual knuckle and palm of hand method. You make a very sticky dough and really give it a good bashing before first proving. I mean really throw it down on the counter, stretch and fold and then throw again until it’s lovely and pliable. And no longer sticky, just elastic-y! Seemed to take less time and really got a good texture in the bread…

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I’d recommend his book ‘Dough’. I’ve tried the bread and the scone recipes now and I can safely say both are easy to make but with fantastic texture and taste.

Planted some more leafy greens today, for the late summer season. I was tipping the mixed salad leaves into my hand to sow and thought they looked like little sea-smoothed pebbles. What do you think? I liked the effect of their colours against my soil-ingrained hand.

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More Cavolo Nero, Rainbow Chard, Mixed salad leaves, Little Gem lettuce, carrots, radishes, runner beans and spring onions now in today. Fingers crossed the weather holds for a nice autumn crop!

Hurry up and ripen up!

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I spied these beauties in the garden last night, can’t wait for them to ripen up. There’ll be tomato salads all round; get the mozzarella and basil out! 

Also, massive excitement for me as my squash seems to be getting bigger everyday. I can’t even remember which type of squash it is as the first ones got eaten/squashed so I planted these as a last ditch attempt and they’ve finally done really well. One plant is smaller than the other – they might be different types but the baby plants forming all look the same – yellow and round. I think you’re meant to put the fruits on straw to stop them from rotting where they touch the ground so will look into that as I have no intention of losing them now.

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Must find time to do some more planning for a quick autumn crop and what will over-winter. Maybe a job for the long weekend, that and freezing the last of the blackberries on the garden for a guaranteed autumn full of pies, crumbles and booze experiments.

And finally, Mabel says ‘Hi’. A proper lady as always.

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In full swing…

And so busy with work, garden, and managing to catch some kind of yukky virus that it seems time has flown by and I’ve no time to fit in all the things I want to. I imagined my summer to be full of cordial experiments, baking and being healthy but so far it seems when I just about get one side of life sorted out – seeing family and friends more often, for example – then the balance tips and the rest of the fun and needed elements of everyday life sort of slide by unnoticed. 

But even with the garden suffering from mild neglect we’re getting a few bits and bobs…courgettes and tomatoes abound.

ImageThe chickens are also doing fine – but Sally has gone broody again. I don’t know much about broody chickens or rather, the reasons for it, but possibly something to do with abnormally constant warm temperatures? Anyway she’s happy enough being shunted off the nestbox every morning for a wing stretch and food and drink so we’re not too worried. Even partakes in a snail or two when I go on the hunt…

ImageAnd finally, look what we found in the garden…

ImageA PLUM! On a real, live, plum tree! It’s all overgrown and hidden behind what looks to be a pear tree. Plans are afoot to trim back the undergrowth and in the late Autumn or early Spring we’ll trim it up so it’ll grow back healthier next year.

Oh and one final update. A follow-on from my last post, this is what happened to the first blackberries of the year:

ImageBlackberry and apple crumble, with a twist (home made blackberry brandy, vintage 2012, drizzled on top of the fruit before baking). I can vouchsafe that it was delicious, especially with some fresh custard. 

Next up, deciding what to make with the lb of blackberries now in the freezer; wine, vodka, more pie, jam? Suggestions welcome…

 

 

 

Early blackberries

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I’ve been watching these swell and blacken for about a week now, not quite believing that I get to pick blackberries already – it doesn’t seem long since I had made elderflower cordial and already blackberries are out. I think it must be the weather, and that they are clinging to a nice warm wall that’s helping them ripen so quick. Birds don’t seem to have gotten too many yet, but there’s plenty left for both birds and us. I gave a couple to the chickens to see what they would make of them – I thought they weren’t meant to be too keen on fruit but so far I’ve discovered they like grapes, a slice of apple, and now blackberries! 

Now to decide what to make with them. I think this first batch will go to a pie or a crumble. I’m tempted to try another wine if I can get enough in the next couple of weeks, though in order to do that I think the method will have to be collect and freeze in batches. 

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