End of the month review. Some photos from my garden and thoughts for Ukraine

Early Crocus Tommasinianus and Galanthus nivalis in the front woodland garden

Ukraine is constantly in my thoughts. I will not say much, as I’m sure you have arrived here for gardens, flowers, peace and tranquility – much needed in current times. But rest assured, although I am small and insignificant I am doing all I can in the background to support the people of Ukraine in any way I can. It’s easy to think that we are powerless, but often if many people come together then their efforts can be great. Think of one small thing you could do today to make a difference. We are not helpless- and we are not without hope.

Meanwhile, here’s some photos of my garden today for anyone who needs the restorative power of plants. Here’s Galanthus Madeline at the foot of the willow and hazel trees.

Wild primroses poking through the leafmould path. The scent is honey-like and delicate. The very essence of spring.

Wild daffodils are just emerging too. This one is Narcissus pseudonarcissus. There are drifts of the Welsh wild flower, the Tenby daffodil, in honour of my Welsh grandmother. But the little lobularis daffodil is the first to open.

The winter aconites are just going over now. The are making a nice swathe of colour in the woodland corner at the end of the pergola.

Cyclamen Coum flowers are popping up all over the garden- not necessarily where I planted them. Apparently the seeds have a sticky substance much-loved by ants which then carry the seed far and wide. They must have carried them off into the back fields as there’s a thriving collection of plants on the other side of the fence.

Some of the cyclamen have come up with these bright silvery-leaves. These are worth growing for the foliage alone. Both white and purple flowers are emerging from the leaves.

There’s also Cyclamen persicum flowering in the greenhouse. These have been making a display since last October; really good value long-lasting plants. They are not hardy in my garden, coming from the Eastern Mediterranean region. But they thrive in a greenhouse or cool room, just watering them when they droop – and not before.

While we are in the greenhouse, I’ll show you the citrus trees which have produced the best ever crop of lemons and oranges here. We have had a relatively mild winter and the plants have been kept at 4C in the heated greenhouse. To be honest, the heater has hardly been on. A well insulated cedar-wood greenhouse keeps plants cosy. I’m just starting to water them again and top dressing with fresh compost. They are too big now to be repotted, but topdressing with new compost and adding liquid fertiliser in the watering can will perk them up and bring them into flower again.

And this is what I made with the orange zest; citrus shortbread. The recipe will be in Garden News Magazine next week, and I’ll copy and paste the article here for anyone who would like it. It’s part of my new ‘family favourites’ column for the magazine. Quick recipes anyone can make. There won’t be long lists of ingredients and fancy products you have to search high and low for. It’s mostly about simple ingredients and home grown produce, and all the recipes that have been passed down to me from my mother and my grandparents and friends.

Strawberry scones will feature in the coming weeks too, as I’m talking about bringing my strawberry plants, growing in containers, into the greenhouse to get an early crop. I grow my strawberries in 10” pots and windows boxes. They are easy to pick up and move under cover. Also easy to protect the fruit from birds and slugs as well.

Daphne and the other hens have just started laying again, so there will be plenty of eggs for cooking. The bantams are undercover in a new run, specially made to protect them from the bird flu epidemic. Usually they would be out foraging in the orchard by now, but until we have the all-clear they have to be kept in.

Walking from the hen run, out past the fruit trees and along the perimeter fence, there are more snowdrops. These are double and single types.

The doubles flower just a few weeks before the singles.

These have green tips. I believe they are a variety called Viridapice.

This one is called Walrus. It has elongated, green-marked outer petals.

A small patch of Galanthus Robin Hood.

It’s called Robin Hood because of the crossbow markings on the inner petals.

A small patch of Galanthus Jessica. I bought these because I have a niece called Jessica.

Have you all seen the news about the most expensive snowdrop ever? I think I would have been crying if I’d paid £1,850 for a single bulb of Golden Tears. Pretty as it is, it’s a staggering amount to pay. I saw the above photo on the Alpine Garden Society social media pages.

Here’s the view through the gap in the hedge. The field has been sown with winter wheat. I think the variety is Skyfall which is hardy and disease resistant and therefore requires less spraying.

And finally, just a few steps from my garden gate, here’s the view on the lane, looking across the back fields to ancient Bunny Woods on the horizon. Sometimes we walk across the footpaths to the woods. Today, I’m taking this photo in a welcome gap in the rain, but the clouds still look ominous, so I hurry home for a warming cup of tea. I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour of my garden and surrounding fields. Take care everyone and keep safe and well. And let me know what spring flowers are emerging in your gardens today.

Sarah Raven’s Grow, Cook, Eat Diary – Book Review

From Sarahraven.com

ISBN: 9 781529816617

I’ve never kept a gardening diary before, but I’m enjoying making daily notes in my new Sarah Raven diary. The diary is sturdy enough to take outdoors; the paper is thick, good quality so can stand up to being taken into the greenhouse and potting shed. I’m making lists of seeds I want to sow, dahlias I want to pot up, and general maintenance jobs about the garden. I love making lists- and I love ticking things off the lists! There’s a sense of satisfaction in ticking them off, especially when the list seems never-ending.

There are some beautiful and inspiring photos relevant to each month in the diary. For January, there’s a winter container planting of a terracotta long tom pot with Sarah’s favourite hellebore ‘Maestro’ which is often seen in her flower arrangements.

For March, there’s Fritillaria ‘Early Sensation’ which has a pale, greeny- yellow flower, much more delicate and easy to site than the brash bright golden variety usually found. It’s growing here in a galvanised metal container next to a patch of rosemary.

September’s photo is bright and cheerful. Just what’s needed for a cold, windswept February day as I’m making plans for lots of summer colour. Here’s Zinnia ‘Giant Dahlia Mix’, Tagetes ‘Linnaeus’ and Thunbergia alata ‘African Sunset.’

There’s recipe suggestions for each month. I’ve made these spiced ginger and oat biscuits and can report they are absolutely delicious. The family demolished them in just one day. They are quick and easy to make, which is just as well as I’ve have had another request for some more. I made the vegan version by using dairy-free margarine.

I used the chickpeas for a red onion hummus dip, which is also fast to make. Just cook a sliced red onion in 1 tbsp olive oil, add a tin of chick peas and 150ml water. Simmer for 10 minutes with the lid off. Add 2 tbsp lemon juice, garlic salt and pepper. Few tbsp of fresh parsley and chives if you have any. Whizz in a food processor and serve with toast or on jacket potatoes. Another recipe suitable for vegans, if you have any in the family as we do, or unexpected visitors. Which we also often have. They sit around the kitchen table while I quickly make this dish.

Here’s my spiced oat biscuits. Delicious with a cup of tea or coffee.

I’m intrigued by this basil icecream recipe for summer. As Sarah says, it sounds odd, but I’m going to give it a try and report back.

I’m going to have a go at these dried allium and poppy seed head decorations as well. Such a beautiful and cheerful Christmas scene from the fireplace at Perch Hill.

Other features of the book I liked: The fold-out ‘when and how’ guide on seed sowing for cut flowers. The guide to sowing and planting edibles, wild flowers, fruit, potatoes, herbs and salads. A guide to sowing and planting ‘pollinator super’ plants to attract bees and butterflies. There’s a useful ruler for seed sowing spacing. And the metal ring binder design means the diary can easily be folded back on itself.

There are not many books I carry around with me all the time, but the Sarah Raven diary is robust enough to slip into my garden tool kit bag, and is proving a joy to dip into on a daily basis.

https://www.sarahraven.com/products/sarah-raven-diary-2021

Sarah Raven also sent me a wall calendar to try, and this too has beautiful photos for each month and plenty of space to write appointments and events. Both will be ordered for 2023 as I’m thoroughly enjoying using the calendar and diary.

Do any of you write a garden diary? My father in law used to keep a perpetual diary. Sadly he died last summer, but he gave me his diary with all the daily notes about sowing dates and varieties he preferred. I check each day to see if I am keeping up with his impeccable timetable. It’s a lovely way to remember him and a reminder of all the flowers he grew for his wife Joan, and the fruit and vegetables he grew for the family.

Info from today’s BBC Radio Leicester Gardening Show -Saturday 4 December 2021

Here’s some links to the recipes I mentioned today, and ideas for home-made and home-grown Christmas decorations and presents.

Thanks to everyone who listens in on a Saturday morning at 11am, and thank you also for all your kind and encouraging comments. Many thanks to Tracey from Melton who says she feels like rushing out into the garden to do some gardening every time she hears us talking on the radio. It’s much appreciated.

We talked about:

Planting tulips

As regular readers know, I love to save money. If you wait until December, many tulips have been reduced in price. If you are looking for a bargain, try well-respected suppliers. I recommend:

Dutch Grown: (now sold out- but keep a note for next year)

https://www.dutchgrown.co.uk/collections/tulips

GeeTee Bulbs

https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/

Peter Nyssen

https://www.peternyssen.com/autumn-planting/tulips.html

If you are buying from garden centres, tulips will be sold in plastic bags with a cardboard front showing the photo of the variety and information about growing them. These are usually hanging up on racks. Gently squeeze the bulbs to make sure they are firm. Any soft mushy bulbs will fail to grow. They need to be firm and dry. Don’t buy any with a blue mould growing on them. Nice large, plump bulbs with the brown papery skin intact are best. I wouldn’t buy any that have been stored and displayed outside either, incase they’ve got frosted or wet. Choose ones stored inside the garden centre instead.

Here’s some inspiration for bulb planting from a previous blog I wrote. I’ll be planting my tulips up until the first week of January:

https://bramblegarden.com/tag/tulips-parrottulips/

MAKING CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS FROM THE GARDEN

Dogwood hearts are really easy to make. Take two pencil thin stems of dogwood or coloured willow. Bend each side over to form the heart. Tie with florists’ reel wire or string to secure. Decorate with foliage and berries. I’ve used cotoneaster here. Add some fluffy seed heads, such as. ‘old man’s beard’ or wild Clematis Vitalba. I’ve used string, but you can use any type of ribbon to hang the decoration. These hearts can be any size. I make a giant one with four stems to create a double heart for decorating our five bar farm gate.

Some more ideas for using natural materials from the garden. I’ve threaded inexpensive, mouldable wire lights from Wilkos to these dogwood and willow stems. I sprayed hydrangea heads with florists’ silver spray.

My front door wreath also has flowers and foliage from the garden. The flowers are hellebores from the Gold Collection. There’s a whole range of them, all recommended. Hellebore Jacob flowers for Christmas and is pure white. This one is Winter Gold, with white hydrangea flowers which have dried lime green.

I learned how to make these willow wreaths on a course by the highly respected florist, author and social media/ you tube star Georgie Newbery. Workshops in flower farming, creating a cut flower patch, growing sweet peas, and floristry, are highly recommended. Would make a perfect present for a gardener. There are also many on-line courses. Have a look at the you tube channel and on instagram to get some wonderful, original ideas.

https://www.commonfarmflowers.com/

BEETROOT

We talked about growing beetroot today. Most of my beetroot is stored in dry sand or recycled, dry compost over winter in the frost free potting shed. I grew it in the spring and summer. I’ve left some in the ground, but it’s easier to lift and store, as it can’t be harvested from frozen ground. The best variety to grow is Bolthardy, which does what it says; it grows well without bolting or running to seed. Did you know you can eat the leaves? You can use them in salads and stir fries. You can grow just leaves now on the windowsill. Look out for Bulls Blood variety sold as windowsill growing seeds. Mr Fothergills (Johnson’s seed) sell them on-line and in garden centres. You can grow them in 9cm pots on a sunny window and harvest shoots and leaves when they are 4” tall. They will re-grow several times, making a tasty addition to salads and sandwiches.

BEETROOT CAKE

We talked about baking with beetroot and making chocolate beetroot cake. Here’s my recipe for a rich fruit/ beetroot cake. It’s tasty and good for you!

https://bramblegarden.com/2017/12/21/fact-sheet-bbc-down-to-earth-gardening-programme-recipes-and-home-made-presents/

JOAN’S CHRISTMAS APPLE CHUTNEY RECIPE

Regular readers will know that my much loved wonderful mother-in-law Joan is in a care home in Oadby, Leicestershire. She suffers from mixed dementia. Before she became ill, I wrote down all the family favourite recipes and at Christmas I make them for her children, grand children and great grandchildren. It’s a wonderful way to ‘keep her with us’ even though, sadly, she can’t remember who we are.

Here’s the link for the blog piece with the recipe

https://bramblegarden.com/2020/11/21/joans-christmas-apple-chutney-recipe/

CUTTING GRASS IN WINTER

We talked about cutting grass in winter. Twenty or thirty years ago we used to send our lawn mowers off to be serviced in October and we didn’t see them again until March. It’s an indication of climate change that nowadays we are cutting our lawns all year round. Grass grows when the temperature is above 6C. There is no harm in ‘topping’ grass if it needs it, providing the conditions are dry. Set the cutters high for winter, and don’t scalp the lawn. We don’t cut the grass if the ground is wet or frozen, as it damages the lawn and makes muddy skid patches where weeds will grow. Never walk on frozen lawns as it damages the base of the grass stems and leads to fungal diseases. I would collect clippings over the winter too, and not leave them lying on the grass. Best not to walk on very wet ground as it causes compaction, which grass doesn’t like. Remember to leave some areas of the garden with long grass as a winter habitat for caterpillars and insects – these will be food for frogs, birds and mammals. Just a strip down the edge of the lawn will help.

HOME MADE CHRISTMAS PRESENTS

I mentioned my mint sugar and rosemary salt recipes which make lovely home made presents. Nearly all my presents are made from things grown in the garden.

Take 5 stems of mint, thoroughly dry leaves on kitchen towel. Strip leaves from the stems and layer them in a clean jam jar with 350g sugar. Stir every day for two weeks. Tip the contents into a sieve and remove the leaves. Pour sugar into clean jam jars and use within a year. Lovely for hot chocolate and cakes.

I recommend Stephanie Hafferty’s book The Creative Kitchen for seasonal plant-based recipes for meals, drinks, garden and self care.

https://bramblegarden.com/2018/11/18/the-creative-kitchen-book-review/

More recipes from the garden:

https://bramblegarden.com/2020/12/08/garden-news-magazine-recipes-for-december/

And finally, Arun mentioned that I had been shortlisted for Columnist of the Year for my Garden News magazine column, and Blog of the Year by the prestigious Garden Media Guild. I was delighted to be shortlisted in two categories. A really wonderful end to another challenging year. Thank you, every one of you, for reading this blog, listening to the radio on Saturdays, getting in touch and leaving encouraging comments, it is truly appreciated. Have a great gardening weekend!

You can listen back to the gardening show on BBC Sounds. It’s at 11.12.35 on the timeline. Or ask your smart speaker to tune in to BBC Radio Leicester on Saturdays from 11am. Questions are welcome via e mail, phone, text or WhatsApp. Start your message with the word Leicester, else it goes to other radio stations.

Prize draw winner: ‘herb/a cook’s companion’ by Mark Diacono

Thank you everyone for reading my review of Mark Diacono’s latest book and for taking part in the prize draw.

The winner is Suzanne! Names were placed in a hat and the winning name was selected randomly.

There are more book give-aways to follow and some gardening tools and equipment too. Thanks again for reading and leaving comments.

My book review was posted here: https://bramblegarden.com/2021/04/30/herb-a-cooks-companion-book-review/

Some photos from the book: Herbs to grow. Fenugreek
Bread and butter pudding- with a herb twist to the recipe
Ice cream

Herb/ a cook’s companion. Book Review

By Mark Diacono

Published by Quadrille, an imprint of Hardie Grant Publishing

RRP £26 Published spring 2021. Hardback. 272 pages

ISBN 978 1 78713 6359

Reading corner in the orchard, currently under cherry and pear blossom

At about five or six, I was given the task of ‘collecting the mint.’ My grandmother, who was cooking lunch, had a huge patch of mint in her farm garden. Basket in hand, I carefully plucked the sprigs of mint and laid them neatly in rows, tips all the same way. No higgledy piggledy stems for me. Even at that young age, I took things seriously. Given a task, I wanted to do it right. I smile now, looking back at what a serious little girl I was. The first grandchild, surrounded by adults, there were no siblings or cousins for five years. I listened intently to all the adults talking and took in every word. Through their conversations, I formed a view of the world. Many years later I can still hear their voices quietly reporting the day’s events, whispering a neighbour’s misfortune, a sadness, a death. Murmuring sorrow for some, and joy for another- a wedding, a birth, some good fortune achieved. Conversations at the kitchen table brought the world into the home. I listened and learned, but cocooned in the routine of work, gardening, farming, cooking and eating, nothing appeared to change for us. It seemed as if everything happened to other people, but my world stayed the same, stable and safe.

The scent of fresh-picked mint still has the power to transport me back to happy childhood days. My mint was sprinkled over home grown new potatoes, tiny and white, as shiny as pebbles, with creamy home-churned butter and a sprinkle of grainy salt. Something so simple, delicious and ultimately, memorable.

This last 12 months, many of us have found comfort in baking. Focussing on the past, perhaps I’ve attempted to bring back the security and safety I felt as a child. I’ve found myself cooking hearty soups, casseroles, and vegetable pies. The spicy, buttery Welsh cakes my Welsh grandmother cooked on a griddle. Rice puddings, fruit crumbles and sponge cakes. Separated from family and friends, these old favourite recipes have been a comforting presence. Sights, sounds and scents of cooking, recalled as if they were only yesterday.

However, we have now emerged from lockdown, and I’m looking for a new way forward. I’m keen to try new recipes and new ideas. I’m eager to welcome family and friends back into my home and garden and I’m looking forward to making new memories for them- and for me. While not forgetting all the echoes from the past.

Mark Diacono’s new book ‘Herb, a cook’s companion’ is a good starting place. Recipes such as Lemon Thyme and Leek Tart have a rich butter and egg pastry base with a leek and cream filling. Lemon thyme leaves and nutmeg add a delicious twist to a familiar recipe.

Here’s my first attempt. I must admit, it’s not perfect. My pastry needed to be folded over more firmly, as the lovely egg filling escaped over the side. My second attempt was better and everything held firm. I’ve never thought of adding herbs to the pasty base before, and it was a triumph. The lovely buttery lemon-thyme pastry melts in the mouth. A perfect complement to the leek and creme fraiche filling. Again, adding nutmeg and bay leaves lifts this recipe out of the ordinary. It looks beautiful too. Presentation is something I’m trying to improve on. This looks as good as it tastes and received thumbs up from the family.

Greek Herb Pie.

Mark says: “This Greek summer favourite, aka Spanakopita, is so worth making a delicious regular. Heavy with spinach, salty feta and crisp laminations of filo, it’s as good cold as hot, early in the day as late. This version nudges the spinach (which can be a bit of a grump at times) towards the cheerful with the brightness of dill and mint in generous quantities, and parsley anchoring the leeks to the cheese. A delight.”

Herb Soda Bread

A buttermilk, oat and wholemeal flour bread, with a small bunch of chives or sweet cicely, or either of the savories, finely chopped.

Lemon Lavender Meringues

A twist on the usual meringue recipe. Between 5 and 8 lavender heads are whizzed with caster sugar in a spice grinder and added to whisked egg whites and lemon zest.

Fig Leaf and Lemon Verbena Rice Pudding.

Even my family favourite rice pudding is given a new lease of life with the addition of fig-leaf infused milk and lemon verbena leaves. Such a lovely change from the usual.

The book covers how to grow and harvest herbs and how to preserve them in sugar, vinegar, oil and salt, and how to dry and freeze them.

There’s comprehensive coverage of choosing what to grow, how to grow herbs from seed, taking cuttings, propagation and planting out. There’s full plant descriptions of many popular herbs such as anise hyssop, Korean mint, basil, bay, chervil, chives and parsley for example. Then there’s suggestions for more unusual plants such as shiso or perilla – which I’ve always grown as a purple ornamental bedding plant. Seems it can be added to salads and used with recipes containing aubergines, grilled or barbecue prawns, and with eggs and avocado. I shall experiment!

Following the growing section, there’s recipes featuring soups and side dishes, main meals, puddings, biscuits and drinks. There’s something surely to please everyone – especially people like me, looking for a special dish to make for friends and family, as we start to reconnect.

The publishers have kindly offered one copy to give away. Please leave a comment in the box below to be included in the prize draw. A winner will be randomly selected. International entries are welcome.

Please look back on Wednesday 5th May to check if you have won a copy. I’ll announce it on the blog. (Please do not give out your address or any other details to anyone. Be aware of scams.)

Have you found cooking a source of comfort over the lockdown times? Are you, like me, looking to try something new this year, as we start to feel more positive and move forward. Get in touch and let me know your thoughts. And thank you, as ever, for reading my blog. It’s always appreciated.

* comments box is right at the bottom of the blog, past all the hashtags. Or click on ‘comments’ under the headline.

Lemon Crunch Triangles Recipe

Temperatures are reaching 16C here today, just a week after snow and lows of -5. I’m working in the garden in shirt sleeves. Heavy coats and warm jumpers are left indoors. My lemon trees in the greenhouse have started to grow and I’m feeding and watering them now. They have been relatively dry over the winter. To promote more flower and fruit, I’m harvesting all the lemons and making cakes and biscuits. Spare fruit can easily be frozen whole and microwaved when juice and zest is needed.

Here’s a tasty recipe for a February pick-me-up. You can eat these lemon crunch triangles on their own with a cup of tea, or add vanilla icecream. They can also be frozen. I’m making some for now, and a batch for when we can open up the garden for visits from friends and family. I can hardly wait to see everyone! This has been a long winter and one we will never forget. I’m making videos of the garden to send to my mum, and to relatives and staff in the care home, to give them a flavour of spring. They can’t get out to see any flowers are the moment, so the videos of our snowdrops, hellebores and crocus are an escape to the outdoors for them. You can see the videos over on instagram where I am karengimson1.

Let me know what spring flowers are growing in your gardens. Are you cooking anything new this week? Freezing temperatures are due to return by the weekend, so I won’t be putting anything delicate outdoors just yet. But it’s lovely to see all these jewel-like spring flowers, and fresh lemons from greenhouse are very welcome indeed.

Here’s a link to my recipe for lemon crunch triangles:

https://bramblegarden.com/2019/02/08/lemon-crunch-triangles-family-favourite-recipes/

Apple and Berry Crumble Cakes – Recipe

If you are reading this week’s Garden New Magazine (February 6 edition) here is the recipe I mention for apple crumble cakes. Our stored apples usually last until the end of February, but the autumn, and winter up until Christmas, was so mild the fruit started to go soft. I sliced and froze some of the apples, and turned the rest into delicious little cakes. These too can be frozen and will thaw within a few minutes, or defrost in a microwave. Let me know if any of you try the recipe, and how you get on with it. I’ve added frozen blackberries and raspberries to my cakes. Or you can just make them with apples on their own. All equally tasty. It’s lovely to have something reminding us of summer – right in the middle of winter.

You’ll need three or four apples, and a handful of berries, if using them. Use what you have. Equally good using tinned or fresh peaches, plums, blueberries, apricots, pears. It’s a very versatile recipe, using up store cupboard and frozen fruit.

I’ve made mine in silicone muffin trays, but you could just make one large cake and slice it. Use oat milk and egg substitute for vegans.

Muffins cook in 25 to 30 minutes. But check they are cooked through.

We store the apples wrapped in newspaper in the unheated glass porch and potting shed.

There was a good harvest from the orchard last autumn. Plenty of apples and pears.

I’ve been making apple crumbles all winter. Such a simple dish, so lovely and warming on a cold day.

Thanks for reading and getting in touch. I’ve started doing live videos from the greenhouse over on instagram as a way of keeping in touch with family and friends.

I’m karengimson1 on instagram

And @kgimson on twitter

Update: Sue Appleton on twitter used blackberry jam instead of berries and sent this message:

Garden News Magazine recipes for December

If you’ve received your copy of Garden News Magazine this week, here’s the recipes I mention in my column. Above is the summerhouse where I write my pieces, and where I sit and make my cherry marzipan chocolates.

The recipe link for Cherry Marzipan Chocolates is here :

https://bramblegarden.com/2018/12/04/family-favourite-recipes-chocolate-marzipan-cherries/

They are very quick to make and children love creating them. They make tasty home-made presents for Christmas.

I also write about Chocolate and Orange Panettone. Start saving your tins now to make these delicious treats. They are very easy to make and look beautiful. Get the children to make potato stamp labels. Be as creative as you like. Everyone can get involved.

Here’s the link: https://bramblegarden.com/2019/12/02/christmas-recipes-chocolate-panettone/

I write about turning my satsumas from the greenhouse into a liqueur. The recipe comes from Bob Flowerdew, replying to me on twitter when I asked what I could do with this year’s prolific harvest. It’s been a good summer for growing citrus. Bob always has great suggestions for what to do with produce from the garden, and is generous with his advice.

Here’s Bob’s recipe for Satsuma Liqueur :

And finally, I was talking on the radio last week, when I mentioned I was making Sloe Gin. Here’s the recipe, with thanks to garden writer Barbara Segall, who inspires me on a daily basis to try something new.

Sloe Gin

450g sloe berries -or whatever you can find. If you only have 300g, use those.

350g caster sugar

710ml gin

Kilner jar or lidded jar

Place the ripe sloe berries in the freezer to break the skins. Add all ingredients to a large kilner jar. Swirl the contents every day for a week, every week for a month, and every month for a year. Strain the gin. Use the berries for cakes or trifle.

It’s wonderful to have a bottle on the north-facing kitchen windowsill. Mine has changed colour now and it’s a joy to see. Almost like a stained glass window.

Barbara Segall has written many garden books, all highly recommended. One of my favourites is The Christmas Tree. A beautiful stocking-filler. Find out more here : https://thegardenpost.com/category/christmas-tree-book/

https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/The-Christmas-Tree-book-by-Barbara-Segall-NEW-/174501320740?_trksid=p2349624.m46890.l49292

For more suggestions on books, I also recommend The Creative Kitchen by Stephanie Hafferty. I reviewed the book here:

https://bramblegarden.com/2018/11/18/the-creative-kitchen-book-review/

Here’s a link for Georgie Newbery at Common Farm Flowers for growing cut flowers, floristry and Christmas wreath workshops and courses, in person, and on-line. Vouchers make a great present for any gardener. https://www.commonfarmflowers.com/collections/workshops

Thanks for reading! Have a great week.

Candied Orange Peel for Christmas

This year, more than ever before, we are rolling out the Christmas family favourite recipes. It seems more important than ever to have reminders of all the happy celebrations from the past.

Candied orange peel is easy to make and fills the kitchen with a wonderful, comforting scent. If you need to get into the Christmas spirit, take some oranges and sugar and turn them into these irresistible treats. You can add dark chocolate and give them as little gifts to friends and family. You can’t buy anything as good. Honestly.

INGREDIENTS

4 large oranges (unwaxed if available)

300g caster sugar

Water

Granulated sugar to coat

Dark chocolate (optional)

METHOD

Scrub the oranges in hot water, especially if they have been waxed.

Peel wedges of orange skin from the top to the bottom of the fruit.

They should be 5mm thick and include the pith as well as the skin.

Lay the wedges down and flatten. Cut them into matchsticks 7mm wide.

Place peel in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to boil and simmer for 5 minutes.

Drain and throw away the water.

Cover peel with fresh water and simmer for 30 minutes.

Drain and reserve the liquid. You’ll need about 300ml. Add 300ml of sugar and heat until dissolved.

If you have more peel, the ratio is always 100ml of water to 100g of sugar.

Return the peel to the syrup (sugar/water mix) and simmer for 30 minutes.

Drain and place the orange peel on a wire rack set above some baking paper to catch drips. Put the rack and paper in an oven on the lowest setting for approx 30 minutes to dry.

You can use the reserved syrup in orange drizzle cakes, sponges and trifles.

Put some granulated sugar in a basin and add a few strips of peel at a time. Use a fork to toss them in the sugar and liberally coat. Lay on a clean wire rack to dry in a warm kitchen.

Optional: after adding the sugar, you can coat half of the sticks in dark chocolate which makes a delicious treat. Wrap in little packets of foil to give as home-made presents.

Variation: use lemon. Simmer and discard the water three times to remove bitterness.

Store candied peel in an airtight container. It will keep for 6-8 weeks.

Use for Christmas cakes, or toppings for sponge cakes, muffins and biscuits. Or just on their own as a teatime treat with hot chocolate or coffee. Utterly delicious. Enjoy 😊

Let me know what family favourite recipes you are cooking this year.

We have decided not to mix the households – even though the rules say we can. We can’t risk the health of elderly relatives. Especially when there’s a vaccine on the horizon. We must just be patient for a little longer. Everyone must decide what is best for them. Visits to the care home are still currently barred as we are still in tier 3. No flowers can be sent to my darling mother-in-law, J. But we can send jars of jam and home made treats and chocolates. So I’m concentrating on making this a Christmas we will all remember- and hopefully the last one we have to spend separated from one another.

More recipes to try:

Chocolate Panatone https://bramblegarden.com/2019/12/02/christmas-recipes-chocolate-panettone/

Chocolate marzipan cherries : https://bramblegarden.com/2018/12/04/family-favourite-recipes-chocolate-marzipan-cherries/

Apple Chutney: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/11/21/joans-christmas-apple-chutney-recipe/

Joan’s Christmas Apple Chutney Recipe

It’s going to be Christmas-with-a-difference this year. We are all going to stay at home and not mix the households. After making this sad decision, it’s full speed ahead to make this Christmas full of our usual food and special treats. We will just be enjoying them in our own homes – and not all together around the same table.

Here’s a recipe my mother-in-law Joan used to make every Christmas for as long as I can remember. The aroma of apples, spice and vinegar instantly makes me think of Christmas preparations. I feel quite tearful, standing here chopping the apples on my own. It only feels like yesterday when I was standing in Joan’s tiny kitchen chatting away, watching her cook. We were the ‘young couple’ then in our 20s, too busy to cook, with such a lot to talk about. Such busy lives. So much to say. We never stopped talking. Now I suddenly realise how silent I’ve become. Still busy lives, but somehow I have become the ‘listener’, and my children and their partners, the ‘young couples.’ I really hope it’s not too long before they can be here, standing in my kitchen, bringing the world into my home, with all their news and conversation again.

INGREDIENTS

900g eating apples

450g onions

225g sultanas

450g brown sugar

1tsp each of ground ginger, salt, cinnamon, mixed spice.

1tbsp whole pickling spice -tied in a muslin bag (optional)

450ml vinegar

METHOD

Chop the apples and onions into small 2cm pieces. Put all ingredients in a large saucepan or jam pan and bring to the boil. Gently simmer until the apples and onions are cooked ( about 35- 45 minutes). Remove the muslin bag of spices. Pour into clean sterilised jam jars.

This chutney keeps for about 1 year and is a perfect for cheese and festive meals. It’s a lovely quick-to-make present too.

For Joan and Keith, it will be Christmas at the care home for them this year, when they should be sat at the head of a very large table full of children, grandchildren, and two new great-grandchildren- born in the last few months. We are not allowed to visit, and they are not allowed out. Such a sad state of affairs for us, as it must be for many. But there’s hope on the horizon with news about a vaccine. And that’s what I’m holding on to this year. Hope.

What traditions are you keeping this Christmas? Do you have favourite recipes that make you think of Christmases past. Take care, and thank you for reading.

Joan’s favourite Christmas decoration that she’s treasured since she was a child. She’s 91 now. The little bell inside still rings.

Pear and Almond Pastries- family favourite recipes

It’s been a bumper year for fruit. There’s crates of pears in the spare room, and little piles of rosy red apples all along the windowsills. The whole house smells like pear and apple crumble! I’ve never managed to reach the top of the fruit trees before. Our old ladders were too wobbly. But this year I’ve a fabulous new addition to the garden- a Henchman tripod ladder. It’s made everything easier – and safer. All the best, tastiest fruit- always at the top of the tree- has been harvested. This year, more than ever, it feels as if nothing should be wasted. Spare fruit has been distributed to friends and family in little paper bags. Damaged, over-ripe fruit has been enjoyed by hedgehogs and blackbirds, so wildlife has not been forgotten either.

One of our favourite autumn recipes is Pear and Almond Pastries. As usual, just a few ingredients are needed, and the little parcels of tasty pears only take minutes to make. Have a go at making them, and let me know how you get on.

INGREDIENTS

1 pack of ready rolled puff pastry

3 or 4 ripe pears

1 tbsp dark brown sugar

3 tbsp ground almonds

1 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2tbsp flaked almonds for the top

1 egg, beaten (optional- use almond milk for vegans)

Icing sugar for dusting (optional)

Baking tray with baking paper or silicone sheet.

190C oven 15-20 minutes

METHOD

Unroll the pastry and cut into squares. Lay them on the baking tray.

Peel and halve the pears. Place slices on top of the pastry squares.

In a bowl, mix the sugar, ground almonds, ground cloves, cinnamon together. Pile spoonfuls of the mixture on top of the pears.

Take the corners of the pastry and draw them together to make a rough parcel. The pastries will stretch and turn out all shapes, and it doesn’t matter. They will still taste the same.

Brush the top with beaten egg (or almond milk) and sprinkle over the flaked almonds.

Cook in a preheated oven for 15 -20 minutes. Check them after 10 minutes to see how brown they are. The pastries will be ready when they are risen and light brown. They burn easily, so keep an eye on them. 20 minutes might be too long for fast ovens. Dust with icing sugar, if you have some.

Can be eaten cold or warm. Can be frozen for 3 months. Delicious with clotted cream, or custard. We also love them with home-made vanilla icecream.

Thanks for reading. Have a great gardening week and keep in touch.

Links: Henchman ladders https://www.henchman.co.uk/

Fruit trees: Six Acre Nursery, Costock, Leicestershire.

Silicone sheets are reusable from http://www.kitchenrangecookshop.com/

Photos above show two packets of puff pastry.

Tomato and Thyme Tart – family favourite recipes

Suddenly, at this time of the year, the kitchen windowsill is covered with tomatoes. All sizes from giant heritage beefsteak Marmande to tiny cherry types such as Sweet Million and Red Robin. Some are bright sealing-wax red, soft and ready to eat. Some shine like emeralds, green and firm. They will ripen over the coming weeks.

Here’s a favourite recipe, perfect for utilising your tomato harvest. As usual, it’s a quick and simple idea. It takes 10 minutes to make, and 15 minutes to cook. Tomato and herb tarts travel well and are suitable for picnics too. Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS

1 pack ready rolled puff pastry

1 egg yolk -beaten

7oz /200g cheese ( can be Cheddar, gruyere-or whatever you have)

14oz /400g tomatoes, thickly sliced

Few sprigs of thyme – leaves only

1tbsp olive or rapeseed oil

Salt and black pepper

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 210C /190C fan/ gas mark 7

Cover two baking trays with either re-usable silicone sheets or baking parchment to prevent the tarts sticking.

Roll out the pastry. Use a 7” tea plate as a template. Lay the plate on the pastry and use a sharp knife to cut a circle.

You’ll get two 7” round tarts, or one 7” and four 4” tarts from a roll of pastry. The off-cuts of pastry can be used for cheese straws. Just add grated cheese and twist to incorporate.

Transfer the circles of pastry to the baking trays. Use a blunt knife to score an edge to each circle, 1.5cm or 1/2” wide.

Brush each border with the beaten egg. Use a fork to prick over the base of the tarts to stop them rising.

Pile grated cheese into the centre of the circles. Take care not to get any filling on the edges, or they won’t rise.

Arrange slices of tomato in concentric circles on top of the cheese.

Season with salt and pepper and scatter over the thyme leaves.

Drizzle over a few drops of olive or rapeseed oil

Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes or until the pastry edges have risen and are golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Garnish with some fresh herbs.

Can be served warm or cold. Can be frozen.

For a vegan alternative, omit the egg and use melted vegetable margarine and use vegan cheese.

Some of the 4” tarts, fresh from the oven

My Marmande tomatoes were prolific this year. I sowed seeds in February, pricked seedlings out in March and planted them in their final 12” pots in May. I grew mine in an open-ended poly tunnel, which protected them from the worst of the weather.

Pictured above, some of the tomatoes we’ve grown here. Recommended varieties include blight -resistant Crimson Crush. Also Gardeners Delight, Tumbling Tom, Sweet Million and Golden Sunrise.

I listened to a podcast called Fresh from the Pod this week. Gardener and writer Tamsin Westhorpe was interviewing Chris Collins. Tamsin is the gardening world’s version of Michael Parkinson, in my opinion. It’s fascinating to get a real insight into the lives of our gardening personalities. Anyway, half way through the interview, Tamsin says she never turns any opportunities down. She never says no to anything. Always has a go, because you never know where it might lead. So, this gave me courage to try something new this week. As you know, I love cooking. My happiest memories are sitting around a table with my parents and grandparents and just being fed the most delicious meals. Just that feeling of being loved and cared for. It lives on in my memory like an indelible photo album. Well, it’s gradually become my turn to produce memories for other people. I’ve loved cooking for my children and the recipes here are written down for them, incase they ever need them. And today I also recorded my first “grow it, cook it, eat it” for Ben Jackson at BBC Radio Leicester. They have a ‘Food Friday’ segment which I’ve always wanted to have a go at. Remembering Tamsin’s words, I ventured forth! It was a shaky start, as we were cooking outdoors (social distancing) and the wind was blowing my bits of baking parchment about. The cat wanted to join in. He usually “helps” when we are gardening. And the neighbour’s dog started barking. Ah well, nothing is perfect in real life, is it. It was a fun thing to do and I hope you enjoy listening. It’ll make you laugh, I’m sure.

At 2.08.26 in the timeline. https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p08nvhpx

Comfort Food for a crisis – five minute microwave fruit pudding

If you’re struggling to put your mind to much at the moment, here’s a fast pudding you can make with store cupboard ingredients. You don’t even need to switch the oven on. It’s cooked in the microwave and is ready in five minutes.

INGREDIENTS

3oz margarine ( we use palm-oil free Lurpack)

3oz sugar

5oz SR flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 egg

4 tbsp milk

Sprinkle of mixed dried fruit (optional)

1 apple (optional)

Sprinkle of Demerara sugar for the top.

METHOD

Use an electric hand whisk or food processor to mix the sugar, margarine, egg and milk. Add the flour, baking powder and dried fruit and whizz to incorporate.

Chop one apple and place in the bottom of a glass Pyrex deep dish. You can use any fruit you like. This is also nice with drained tinned peaches, apricots, mandarins, pears, pineapple. Or you don’t have to use any fruit at all, just the sponge mixture.

If using fruit, place the sponge mixture on top.

Cook in a microwave for five minutes. Remove promptly or the pudding will steam. The pudding will carry on cooking for a few minutes after you’ve taken it out of the microwave. Insert a knife into the centre to check that it’s cooked. The knife will be clean if cooked. If not put back for another minute. The pudding shrinks from the sides of the dish as another clue to check whether it’s cooked.

Sprinkle a tablespoon of golden or Demerara sugar over the top. Place under a hot grill for a minute to caramelise and brown the top.

Serve with ice cream, custard, fresh cream.

Serves 6 people and lasts 2 days if kept cool.

VARIATIONS

Instead of dried fruit add 1 heaped tablespoon of cocoa powder. You do not need the Demerara sugar topping as the cake will be brown. This is delicious with mandarins.

This recipe came from my mum and is a family favourite. I’m especially sharing this here for my youngest daughter who is buying a house in the middle of this corona crisis. As if life wasn’t stressful enough. And she will be cooking in her own kitchen for the first time in two weeks. Good luck Rachel xx

Fred, from the FrenchGardener blog (see comments below) suggests making caramel before adding the apples.

150g sugar and 50cl water in the dish for 2.30m to 3 minutes on 900w power. Then add the chopped apples followed by the sponge mixture, sounds delicious. Thanks for the idea.

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread or Muffins (Vegan & egg-free)

Family favourite recipes

Absolutely delicious cake. Good for anyone with egg / nut allergies.

INGREDIENTS

3 very ripe bananas

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 tsp vanilla essence

1 cup sugar

2 cups plain flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda ( baking soda in the USA)

1 cup vegan chocolate chips

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 350F/ 170C. Line a loaf tin with non stick paper. Or re-usable silicone muffin cases.

Mash the bananas well. Add in the oil, vanilla and sugar. Mix well. Add flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda.

Add chocolate chips. Can use white and dark chocolate chips.

Mix until incorporated. Do not over mix.

Pour the mixture into the loaf pan.

Cook for between 45 and 60 minutes. Cover the cake if it is browning too much. Check with a knife to see if the cake is cooked right through.

Cook muffins for 20- 30 minutes. Check carefully as they burn quickly.

Cool for 10 minutes in the tin and then carefully turn out on to a cooling rack.

Options :

You can omit the chocolate chips and just have banana cake.

You can add nuts – pecans, walnuts.

You can add a handful of blueberries instead of chocolate. Very delicious!

Enjoy 😊

Here’s a useful conversion chart for American cup measurements. It’s from the Doves Farm flour website. https://www.dovesfarm.co.uk/hints-tips/cheat-sheets/us-cups-conversion-table

Apple and Almond Slice- Family Favourite Recipes

At this time of year, my kitchen work surfaces are covered with piles of apples. Little pyramids of golden cooking apples, tiny rosy red eating apples, giant Bramleys. My family complain. There’s nowhere for anyone to put anything down. I usually store them wrapped in newspaper in the potting shed, but I’m still trying to evict the mice, making many trips back and forth to the woods with my tunnel-like humane traps baited with peanut butter. I can’t kill them. They will take their chances in the leaf litter under the trees. I’m trying to ignore the tawny owl fledglings in the branches above, still being fed by harassed parents. I feel slightly guilty. But watching the mice run when I let them out, I think they stand a fair chance of surviving.

Meanwhile, I’m steadily working my way through the apples. My mother always says, if you’ve got an apple, you’ve got a pudding. It can be an apple pie, a crumble, a cake, or if you are pressed for time, just apple purée with lashings of creamy custard, or Devon clotted cream. A special treat.

Today’s recipe is another family favourite, an apple tray bake which is quick and easy to make and tastes of autumn. As usually, I’m recording it here for my children, in case they can’t find the scraps of paper these recipes are written on. It’s so lovely to see my grandmother’s best copper plate hand writing, as she lovingly wrote these recipes for me. Food, and cooking, bring back such special memories, don’t they.

 

APPLE AND ALMOND SLICE:

INGREDIENTS – FOR THE TOPPING

 

30g butter or vegan margarine

30g SR flour

25g golden caster sugar

2 tbsp. Jumbo oats

1/2 tsp cinnamon

25g flaked almonds

METHOD

Mix the butter, flour and sugar together. Fold in the cinnamon, oats and flaked almonds to make a crumble topping. Place in the fridge while you make the base.

INGREDIENTS FOR THE BASE

150g SR flour

200g golden caster sugar

200g butter or margarine

3 eggs ( or use 6 tbsp. soya oat drink if vegan)

100g ground almonds

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp almond extract

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 large apples slices and tossed in lemon juice

100g any other fruit you have; blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, plums,

METHOD

Mix the flour, baking power , sugar and butter together. Whisk. Fold in the ground almonds and cinnamon. Add the beaten eggs.

Put half the mixture in the base of the tin. Put apples on top. Add the rest of the base moisture. Press the blackberries or other fruit on the top.

Cover with the crumble topping mixture.

Cook for 40-50 minutes, or until a skewer come out clean.

Gas mark 4, 180C oven, or 160C fan oven.

You’ll need a 20cm tray bake tin, at least 4cm deep, lined with baking parchment.

Put baking paper on top if it is browning too quickly. Leave to cool and slice into fingers.

Can be frozen for 3 months.

Enjoy!

 

You might also like : Review of Orchard Odyssey by Naomi Slade here :

https://bramblegarden.com/2019/09/27/an-orchard-odyssey-book-review-and-prize-draw/

 

Also The Creative Kitchen by Stephanie Hafferty https://bramblegarden.com/2018/11/18/the-creative-kitchen-book-review/

I’ll leave you with a photo of my 1930s summerhouse, looking autumnal today. There’s heaps of blankets to keep us warm when the temperatures start to dip. It’s quite cosy in here though.

Gardening On the Menu -Book Review

MARTIN AND Jill FISH

2QT Ltd (Publishing ) rrp £15.99 -or £12.95 plus £3.95 postage direct from Martin.

ISBN: 9781912014569

This week I made the most delicious chocolate cake I’ve ever tasted, and it had a surprising ingredient: Beetroot! You couldn’t taste the beetroot, but it created a really moist and flavoursome cake.

Here’s the recipe, taken from Martin and Jill Fish’s new book Gardening on the Menu.

Ingredients

30g cocoa powder

180g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

225g caster sugar

Pinch of salt

225g beetroot, boiled until tender and left to cool

200ml sunflower oil

1tsp vanilla essence

3 eggs, beaten

100g plain chocolate, chopped small in a food processor

2lb loaf tin, greased and lined.

Method

Sieve the flour, salt and cocoa powder together in a bowl. Stir in sugar and chocolate.

Peel and finely grate the betteroot. I whizzed it in a food processor then added the oil, eggs and vanilla essence and whizzed some more.

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients. Pour in the beetroot mixture. Fold in slowly and don’t over-work.

Pour the batter into a prepared loaf tin and cook at 180C, 160C (fan oven) gas 4 , for 1- 1 1/4 hours. It is cooked when a skewer comes out clean. I placed tin foil over the cake after 45 mins as it was burning on top. Leave to cool in the tin for five minutes, then turn out on a wire rack to cool. Sprinkle top with icing sugar.

I found mine kept for 2 days – it was so tasty everyone dived in and ate it! I froze some to see if that worked, and it was fine.

Here I am adding the beetroot mixture to the dry ingredients.

Looks a lovely colour

lovely for a picnic in the garden. Travels well, wrapped in foil.

I’m going to try the next recipe in the book – beetroot chutney, which looks delicious.

Martin Fish, who ran his own nursery, and presents gardening programmes on tv and radio, gives talks all around the country on growing all kinds of fruit and vegetables. For the last few years, his wife Jill has joined him for a talk called Gardening on the Menu. The cookery and gardening book is based on their talk.

Martin has been growing vegetables since he was a teenager and he draws on his many years of practical experience to give easy-to-follow tips and advice on getting the best from your crops.

Jill shares her selection of family favourites with recipes including roasted feta stuffed onions, red onion marmalade, parsnip cake, chilli jam, apple flapjack trifle, and raspberry chocolate pots.

Strawberry and Chocolate Muffins with a Cheesecake Topping

Toffee Apple Pie

Tomato Soup

Martin gives expert advice on choosing the varieties to grow, and how to get the best crops. There’s useful advice on what to do when things go wrong including how to deal with pests and diseases.

Here they are, giving a growing/ cookery talk and demonstration. I met them last summer when they spoke at a Rainbows Hospice fund-raising festival lunch.

Photo credit: the last five photos are by Jill and Martin Fish.

A really useful book, helping you grow better crops and showing you what to do with bountiful harvests. Highly recommended.

Links: www.martinfish.com

E mail : Martin@martinfish.com

Martin was show director for Harrogate Flower Show for five years, and now writes for various publications including the weekly Garden News and broadcasts for the BBC Radio Nottingham and BBC Radio York.

I have one free copy to give away in a prize draw. Please leave a comment below to be included. Do also say if you don’t want to be included in the draw. All comments are welcome. Please feel free to share this post.

Book prize draw winner- The Creative Kitchen

It’s been a good year for new books. One of my favourites recently arrived in the potting shed is The Creative Kitchen by Stephanie Hafferty.

The publishers kindly offered one free copy for a prize draw for this blog. I’m always grateful for a chance to pass on goodies to readers. And I’m delighted to announce that the winner is June at https://thecynicalgardener.com/ .

Please take a look at the discount code on my review which gets you the book for £16 including postage. Here’s the link for the review https://bramblegarden.com/2018/11/18/the-creative-kitchen-book-review/

I’m making peppermint creams for Christmas presents using Stephanie’s idea for mint sugar. The kitchen smells divine, and the mints look really pretty.

Thank you for reading this blog. Keep popping back for more news. A whole pile of books have just arrived in the potting shed and I’m just starting to work my way through them, so keep an eye open for more prize draws and offers.

Are you making any Christmas presents this year? Get in touch and share your favourite recipes and ideas for gardeners and cooks. It’s great to share hints and tips with each other.

I always look forward to your comments. Please also feel free to share this blog on any social media platform you like. It all helps to spread the news.

The Creative Kitchen – Book Review

By Stephanie Hafferty

Published by Permanent Publications. November 2018

*Win a free copy in the prize draw by leaving a comment at the end of the blog. And there’s a discount code for readers.

New reading in the potting shed this week is Stephanie Hafferty’s latest book on seasonal recipes for meals and drinks and making items for the garden and home.

I have to admit, I have a passion for cookery books. Many of my favourites have been handed down through the family. I’ve got Bero baking books from my grandma Betty, which bring back happy memories of delicious cakes. She never ate them herself, but just liked to make everyone smile. All our trips to the seaside- and local beauty spots such as Bradgate Park – would be accompanied by her butterfly fairy cakes. Her trifles were liberally sprinkled with hundreds and thousands. And I bet my brothers remember her home-made toffee apples. It’s amazing our teeth survived, but they did.

When you think about it, many of our strongest memories relate to sitting around a table together, sharing food. All our celebrations, birthdays, anniversaries- and Christmas being the highlight of the year- revolve around food.

With my own family and friends, I’ve tried to carry on the cooking and nurturing tradition. Although, it’s not always easy to get everyone together at the same time. We live such busy lives. When I do manage to corral the family together, I’ll usually make a massive pot of soup, a casserole, a cheese and potato pie, a vegetable lasagne, or similar. And for afters, there’s nearly always something involving apples- we have them in store all winter, and they’re free.

My cooking revolves around what I’m growing. And this is where Stephanie’s new book comes in handy; all the recipes are seasonally based. So they are relevant to what I’m growing all year round. I always start with what I’ve got available, rather than choosing a recipe. Stephanie helps by suggesting what I can do with the gluts of the season. I often have that “what-on-earth-am-I-going-to-do-with-all-this-kale” moment. Hearty bean and vegetable soup might be the answer.

I’m very keen on throwing everything in a pan together and just leaving it to cook. It gives me more time to garden- and chat. My two favourite pastimes! Stephanie must have written this book specially for me. Her Bean Stew with Red Wine is simple to make, fabulously tasty, and looks pretty too.

Alongside the main meals, soups and salads, there’s recipes for store cupboard ingredients such as flavoured salts, vinegars, herb mixes, and infused sugars. I’m definitely going to try making mint sugar. Imagine adding it to hot chocolate. Such a treat on a freezing cold day.

I’ve been thinking about what to do about vegetable stock powers since my favourite brand decided to add palm oil to its ingredients. There will be no palm oil in my house. Apart from not trusting the “ethically sourced” statement, we do not want or need palm oil. Only if we reject it will the rainforests be saved. I am just one person, but it seems the message is getting stronger. People are picking up packets of food and reading the labels and realising that palm oil has insidiously crept into so many food and household products. Anyway, now I can make my own stock powers with Stephanie’s recipes for wild herb, mushroom and tomato bouillon. And there’s a fruit bouillon for adding to yoghurts, cakes and biscuits. Such a clever idea, and easily do-able.

I’ve had a go at making herb teas, but never tried gin or brandy recipes. Stephanie’s Rhubarb and Sweet Cicely Gin sounds- and looks glorious. And wouldn’t it make a fabulous present for someone.

Sugar Plum Brandy looks equally divine. Apparently, this makes a lovely after dinner liqueur as well as a cocktail base. I’d probably add it to fruit cakes as well.

You wouldn’t think you could fit so many good ideas into one book, but Stephanie seems to have thought of everything. I particularly love her Gardeners’ Hand Scrub, Floral Bath Bombs, and Herb Candles. I’m going to be busy for the next few weeks, trying all the recipes and making presents for friends. And I’m going to enjoy every single minute of it.

Stephanie’s book is paperback and £19.95 from https://shop.permaculture.co.uk. There’s a discount code for blog readers purchasing from the shop which is BRAMBLE. Apply the code in the discount section at checkout to obtain the book for £16. Postage is extra. The book is also available via Amazon here https://www.amazon.co.uk/Creative-Kitchen-Seasonal-Recipes-Drinks/dp/1856233235 . There’s one copy available in the prize draw. Names will be randomly selected. Publisher’s decision is final. There’s no cash alternative. Worldwide delivery, for a change. Usually it’s UK only. Nice to have an international prize.

Meanwhile, the view from the potting shed is sunny today. As well as reading, I’ll be deciding what to grow next year, and Stephanie’s book will come in handy while I’m making my seed lists. What books are you enjoying at the moment? What are you planning to grow on your plots for 2019? Get in touch and let me know.

Chocolate and raspberry pots -Family Favourite Recipes- and how to plant autumn raspberries

Autumn raspberries are easy to grow and so prolific. I’m growing a variety called Polka – much earlier, and larger fruiting, than Autumn Bliss. Now is the perfect time to plant raspberries. They are sold bare-rooted, mail order, or from nurseries and garden centres. They are grown in nursery fields and lifted for sale at this time of the year. In garden centres, you’ll find them bundled together and plunged into 10″ pots with some compost to keep the roots moist. Tip up the plants and separate them out. Roots are fibrous and need to be planted shallowly in well-drained soil. I plant mine no deeper than 2″ and incorporate lots of well rotted home-made compost to improve drainage. It’s possible to buy soil improvers in bags from garden centres. There’s also composted maize fertilisers which I recommend as they are easy to use and weed free. Plant Grow is the one I use most often at Bramble Garden. Choose a sunny, or semi-shaded site and plant the canes 2ft apart, with rows 6ft apart. If space is limited, it’s no problem to grow them in pots on the patio. There’s dwarf varieties bred specially for containers and small raised beds. New variety Yummy grows to 45cm and fruits on the first year’s wood. There’s also a new variety called Ruby Falls which is very compact and prolific.

Here’s a favourite recipe, quick to make and cooks in just a few minutes in the microwave. It’s great not to have to turn on the oven, saving electricity or gas. It’s ready in a flash.

INGREDIENTS

3oz SR flour

3oz caster sugar

3oz butter (or vegetable margarine for a vegan recipe)

1 egg (or 2 tbsp oat milk for vegans)

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp milk (or milk substitute)

1 tbsp cocoa powder

Handful of fresh or frozen raspberries

You can use small mugs, cups – or a deep glass Pyrex soufflé dish as long as they are microwaveable.

METHOD

Throw all ingredients apart from raspberries in a food processor and whizz, or use a hand whisk to incorporate.

Place some raspberries in the base of the containers and top with the sponge mixture. Reserve some raspberries for the top.

Cook for 3 minutes. Open the door promptly and let steam escape. The sponge carries on cooking for another 2 minutes. They will be cooked when the sponge shrinks slightly from the sides of the dish. Use a skewer to check the mixture has cooked. If the skewer is clean, they are ready. If the skewer comes out with some liquid mixture, pop the dishes back in the microwave for another minute.

Serve hot with custard or double cream. Or allow to cool, sprinkle with reserved raspberries and icing sugar.

Makes a wonderful recipe for picnics and parties. Easily transported. Can be dressed up for a party with chocolate leaves.

This recipe can be used for any fruit. I use blueberries, pear, apple, blackberries, mandarins, whatever you can get your hands on. If you have no fruit, the sponge on its own is wonderful, or you can add a spoon of berry jam at the base instead as a change. To change it again slightly, omit the cocoa powder and you have a plain vanilla sponge. Add golden syrup to the base, if you like. Quick, easy and affordable. Just what’s needed to get us through this difficult time and with winter on the horizon.

Thanks for reading, and let me know if you make the recipe and how it turns out.

I’m talking on BBC Radio Leicester every other Wednesday at 1.10 am just after the news. Have a listen in on BBC Sounds, or DAB.

I’m also on twitter @kgimson and karengimson1 on instagram

More reading! I also write for Garden News Magazine. Here’s my most recent column.

Some listening as well….. Garden Chat At 13.12 on the timeline on BBC radio Leicester with Rupal Rajani. https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p08v54lm

Links:

Raspberry canes Six Acre Nurseries : https://www.sixacrenurseries.co.uk/

Plant Grow fertiliser: https://www.plantgrow.co.uk/shop

Greenfingers charity : https://www.greenfingerscharity.org.uk/

Rainbows hospice for children: https://www.rainbows.co.uk/

Open gardens NGS: https://ngs.org.uk/

Garden News magazine: https://www.greatmagazines.co.uk/garden-news-magazine?gclid=Cj0KCQjwreT8BRDTARIsAJLI0KI75BpU1bb-p70Y54fdPoRq0TWoQw5dLmfJxEBPn2reluyg7pQCC70aAuWtEALw_wcB