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

February Recipes : Pear and Almond Pastries

I’m making these again today. I opened the kitchen cupboards and there was literally nothing cheerful in there! No biscuits, chocolate, cake. We’ve run out of everything. I wonder if we will look back on these times and ponder how we lived through this pandemic and learned to appreciate the simple things in life. I shall certainly never take for granted being able to just pop to the shops. Everything has to be so well organised. Lists on top of lists. All food is being delivered, for which I’m extremely grateful. But, oh, the dismay at discovering that I’ve forgotten something- just as I’ve pressed the button to order supplies. It’ll be a week before I can get another delivery. We do see an end in sight with vaccines on the way, so keep going everyone. Keep smiling. And make pastries, as there’s nothing nicer to cheer you up than the sight of these lovely tasty treats. Any fruit can be used, they are just as lovely with apples, frozen plums, raspberries, tinned peaches – any combination you like. Let me know what recipes are keeping you cheered up, and report back if you make any of these delicious pastries too.

Here’s the link for the recipe: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/11/02/pear-and-almond-pastries-family-favourite-recipes/

And a photo of spring flowers to bring some joy as well:

White primulas. My favourites. Though I have seen some deep red double varieties mixed in with burnt orange which might look lovely in a blue China casserole dish…. if only I could get out to buy some.

Narcissi Geranium and cut flower collection tulips from last spring. All my tulips are poking through the ground now, and daffodils are in bud and flowering early. The veg patch is covered in forgetmenots. I use them as a green mulch to protect the soil and keep down weeds. Some are potted up to stand on the summerhouse steps. They are very easy to dig up as they have a shallow, fibrous root system. They do well when lifted and grown on in containers.

Daffodils make a very welcome return. I’ve watered them with potash or tomato fertiliser, having taken advice from a medal-winning grower. The liquid feed helps to strengthen the stems and enhances the colour, making them stronger and brighter. A good tip as we regularly seem to be getting stormy spring weather. It’s so sad to see daffodils flattened by the wind.

Eranthis hyemalis – winter aconite in the woodland garden. They won’t last long as temperatures are currently 13C.

Green-tipped Galanthus Viridapice looking pretty on the potting shed window. Snowdrops too have been a very welcome and joyous sight. But in the mild weather, they have opened right out and will be going over sooner than usual. I shall water these too with weak tomato fertiliser in the hope of boosting the size of the bulbs and increase the number of flowers for next year.

Have a lovely weekend everyone.

*I’m trying something new- doing Instagram live sessions from the greenhouse every day, essentially to keep in touch with my Mum and MIL Joan, and also to show my daughters how to grow plants from seed. Under normal circumstances I would be by their side helping them with their new houses and first gardens. But I can’t while we are in lockdown, so I’m doing what I can from home. I’m karengimson1 on instagram.

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:

Herbs, cooking and reading blogs. Keeping cheerful through lockdown.

One of the ways I’m keeping upbeat at the moment is reading blogs. Barbara Segall writes about the Japanese rice recipe Seven Herbs of Spring in her ‘Garden Post’ blog. I was immediately inspired to go out into the garden and find seven herbs to make my own revitalising rice dish.

Barbara explains that the severn herb dish is a kind of porridge eaten during the first weeks of January as a way of detoxing and giving the digestive system a boost. Simple food after all the excesses of Christmas. I didn’t quite have the herbs Barbara mentions, but rather than just giving up, I searched out and used what I could find. I was delighted to discover small amounts of mint, fennel, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, Welsh onion, and chervil. Most were in self-watering containers placed in the greenhouse for winter protection. Rosemary grows by the back door, and perennial Welsh onions are in the polytunnel. They are a good source of fresh onion-flavouring when chives have died back for the season.

Just searching about the plot and discovering small amounts of herbs was a joy. The scents released as I snipped the herbs into a colander made me think of summer when I planted these containers. I perhaps use fresh herbs more in summer than I do in winter. It requires more of an effort to go out in the cold, ice crunching underfoot and wrapped up against the chill wind. Much easier to reach for the dried herbs (dare I admit to using such a thing). But the taste was worth it. Every mouthful was a burst of flavour – transporting me back to sunshine and summer heat.

I boiled some organic long grain brown rice to go with my herbs. A nice easy meal, in contrast to all the complicated, lengthy cooking of the festive season. The rice was ready in 25 minutes. I roughly chopped the herbs and sprinkled them over the steaming rice. I found some tiny emerging spring broccoli and nasturtium leaves to add to the dish and yellow broccoli flowers, which are edible and should not be wasted.

Delicious! Using what I have about the place and keeping things simple. It made me feel as if I was looking after myself. Which is no bad thing just at the moment when we are all rather stressed and in lockdown.

Do read Barbara’s blog and learn more about Japanese cooking traditions. Barbara’s writing is like silk. It’s a joy to read. And you never know, it might inspire you to grow more herbs and cook something delicious and good for you. Let me know if you do!

Thank you for reading. Take care.

Barbara’s blog is here : https://thegardenpost.com/a-new-dawn-and-it-is-2021/

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.

Strawberry Cheesecakes- vegan family favourite recipes from my daughter, Clare

Try these tasty treats. They are perfect for summer picnics and special occasions. And vegan friends and relatives will love them.

INGREDIENTS

Makes 3 small ramekins. We re-use the glass ones from Gu.

Base:

190g cashew nuts

1 tbsp. vegan margarine

1 to 2 tbsp. maple syrup

Topping:

150g Creamy Violife – original flavour (cream cheese substitute)

1 tbsp. icing sugar

1 tbsp. caster sugar

1/4 tsp. Vanilla essence

1 tbsp. soya milk

strawberries to decorate

1 tbsp. maple syrup to drizzle over strawberries.

METHOD

For the Base:

Roast the cashew nuts in the oven at 190C for 5 to 10 minutes. Keep checking and remove from the oven when the nuts have turned light brown. They easily burn, so keep an eye on them.

Whizz the cashew nuts in a food processor. Add the margarine and maple syrup.

Spoon the mixture into glass ramekins and place in the fridge to cool.

For the topping.

Cream all the ingredients together and spoon on top of the base.

Slice the strawberries and place on top of the cream mixture. Drizzle the maple syrup over the top.

Delicious! And very quick to make. The cashew nut base makes a change from biscuits and is healthier.

Enjoy!

Plum Cake. Family Favourite Recipes

These delicious little cakes travel well and are perfect for picnics and parties. We always make them if we are invited round to a friend’s house. They are quick and easy to make and really tasty.

INGREDIENTS

Makes 12

12 plums, stones removed and fruit chopped into chunks.

For the sponge:

85g (3oz )sugar

85g (3oz ) margarine or butter.( I use Lurpack which doesn’t contain palm oil.)

1 egg

113g (4oz) self raising flour

1 level teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon milk

1 teaspoon good quality vanilla extract

Few blanched almonds for the top.

METHOD

Cream together the sugar, margarine and egg with an electric hand whisk. Add the flour and baking powder and whisk. Add the milk and vanilla extract, and whisk.

Place the chopped plums in the base of a silicon cup cake mold which has 12 ‘cups.’

Top with the sponge mixture. It will be about one large heaped tablespoon per cup. Sprinkle blanched almonds on top.

Cook for approx 15 mins at 180C, 356F gas mark. They are cooked when a knife comes out clean from the sponge. Take csre not to burn the almonds.

Leave to cool in the trays. Use a pallet knife to remove them. Sprinkle with sugar. Serve warm or cold.

Can also be frozen on the day of baking.

Enjoy!

You might also like Plum Crumble : https://bramblegarden.com/2019/08/20/plum-crumble-family-favourite-recipes/

Please feel free to share this on any social media. Thank you.

Summer Lemon Biscuits Recipe

If you were listening in to the radio for Garden Hour, these are the biscuits I took in for the team. I made the lemon and white chocolate version yesterday. Today I made them with dark chocolate. Delicious!

Recipes featured here use produce from my garden. I’m always looking for ways to use up my citrus fruit from the greenhouse. This is a favourite recipe. It only takes ten minutes to make. Perfect if friends turn up unexpected and you want to give them a quick home-made treat.

Ingredients

180g biscuits ( I’ve used home-made Scottish shortbread, but you can use any biscuits. Custard creams are delicious, as are chocolate bourbons.)

3 tbsp lemon curd. Home-made (recipe below) is totally delicious, but any will do.

100g best quality dark chocolate, or white chocolate.

Few bits of fine lemon peel for decoration

Recipe

Crush the biscuits in a food processor, or in a plastic bag, bashing them with a rolling pin.

Add the lemon curd and mix to combine.

Use a melon baller or a 7.5ml measuring scoop to form balls. Press them slightly while in the scoop so they hold together.

Tap out on to a tray covered with foil. Place in a fridge.

Melt the chocolate in a Pyrex bowl suspended over a pan of boiling water. Ensure the water doesn’t get into the chocolate mixture. Or melt in a microwave in several 10 second bursts. Take care not to over cook.

Drizzle the chocolate over the biscuits in long lines. Add some fine lemon peel to decorate. Return to the fridge to set.

Will keep in the fridge for 3 days. But they won’t last that long. They are truly delicious!

Lemon Curd Recipe

Makes 1.15kg

Ingredients

6-8 large lemons (unwaxed, organic, or home-grown)

225g butter

575g caster sugar

5 large eggs

Recipe

Grate the zest from the lemons on the finest setting. Squeeze the juice and strain into a jug. You will need 300ml of juice.

Cut the butter into small pieces and put into a glass bowl along with the sugar, zest and juice. Set over a pan of hot water and stir until the sugar has dissolved. The bottom of the bowl must not touch the water which must simmer and not boil.

Lightly beat the eggs in a bowl but don’t whisk them. Strain the eggs through a sieve into the lemon mixture. Simmer on a low heat, sitting continuously until the mixture thickens. Will take about 20 minutes. Do not allow to boil or it will curdle.

Pour into warmed sterilised jars. (pop the washed jars in an oven for 10 minutes until sterilised).

Place wax disk over the lemon curd ( wax -side down). Smooth down the disk to remove any air.

Cover with dampened cellophane circles, label and store in the fridge.

Makes a lovely filling for cakes and scones.

Can also be orange, lime or grapefruit curd.

Enjoy!

BBC Radio Leicester Gardeners’ phone-in recipes

CITRUS MARMALADE AND ORANGE FLAPJACK

February is a cold, dark, short month. But everywhere there’s signs of spring. Wild violets and the first primroses pop up by the front gate. And snowdrops cheer up the hedgerow, pushing up through hats of curled, brown leaf mould.

It’s traditionally a month of self-denial and fasting. Many people give up something for Lent – chocolate, wine, or favourite foods. Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day is a way of using up egg supplies before the fasting period begins. I make orange curd to use up eggs and butter.

But I also like to make marmalade now. An antidote to winter. I line up pots of marmalade along my kitchen window. A kind of ribbon of orange light. My own stained glass window. Here’s my favourite recipe, which I make with Seville oranges – and some citrus fruits from my heated greenhouse. Tucked up indoors and standing over a steaming pan of oranges makes for a heart-sing moment. And we need plenty of those in February. My grandmother’s old saying is usually true. As the days lengthen, the cold strengthens. I highly recommend staying indoors, keeping warm and making marmalade.

ORANGE MARMALADE

2lb or 900g fruit ( I used Seville oranges, and some kumquats and calamondin fruit from the greenhouse.)

1 lemon

4lb or 1.8kg granulated sugar, warmed

4 pints water

6 x 1lb jam jars

Square of muslin

Cut the lemon and oranges in half and squeeze out the juice. Put any pips or pith that cling to the squeezer into a square of muslin placed over a pudding bowl. Now cut the peel into quarters. Scrape off the pith and add to the muslin. Cut the quarters into thin shreds. Add the juice and peel to the water in a heavy-based preserving pan. Tie up the muslin square and tie loosely to the pan handle with the bag suspended in the water. The pith contains pectin which will help the marmalade set. Simmer gently uncovered for 2 hours until the peel is completely soft. Remove the muslin bag and set aside to cool. Put a plate in the freezer. Pour in the sugar and heat gently until the sugar crystals have melted. Squeeze the muslin bag to extract the jelly-like pectin. I used plastic gloves, or you can press it between two saucers. Increase heat. As soon as the mixture reaches a fast boil, start timing. After 15 minutes, spoon a little of the marmalade onto the cold plate and pop in the fridge. If it has a “set” the marmalade will crinkle when you push it with your finger. If not, continue to boil for another 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat and stand for 20 minutes. Add a tsp butter to disperse scum. Pop the jam jars in the oven to warm for five minutes. Pour the marmalade into jars with the aid of a funnel, cover with wax disks and seal while still hot. Label pots- and enjoy!

A visit to my mother-in-law’s house would always find us searching the pantry for the cake tin. Over the past 50 years, you could pretty much guarantee to find some flapjack in there. Joan recently gave me all her treasured recipe books. Here’s my own version, adapted from Joan’s family favourite. It travels well and is ideal for picnics.

ORANGE AND WALNUT FLAPJACK

250g or 9oz unsalted butter, chopped into pieces

250g or 9oz golden caster sugar

175g or 6oz golden syrup

425g or 15oz porridge oats

50g or 2oz walnut halves,slightly crushed.

Grated zest of 1 orange.

3 tbsp orange marmalade

160C gas / mark 4 for 30 minutes

28cm x 18cm shallow baking tin

Melt together in a microwave the butter, sugar, and golden syrup. Stir into the oats, walnuts, and orange zest. Tip the mixture into a lined tin and level it off. Bake for 30 minutes or until the edges are golden brown and the centre is still slightly soft. It will firm up as it cools. Mark into 12 pieces while it’s still warm. Leave to cool and then brush the top with melted orange marmalade. Keeps for a week in an airtight tin.

Each week on BBC Radio Leicester there’s a Gardeners’ Phone-in programme between 11am and 12 noon. I like to take in a posy from my garden, showing what’s in flower all year round. And I also take in something I’ve made using produce from my plot. This week it was a jar of marmalade and some flapjack. Tune in on the i player to listen to the programme which starts at 2.11.31 on the timeline at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05t8n69. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a photo of my greenhouse from last summer. A reminder of lovely warm weather to come.

Blackcurrant Cheesecake

Just dashed in from the garden. Picked some hellebores for the kitchen table. Now for some cooking……

I’m standing at the cooker stirring a cauldron of blackcurrants. Outside the temperature has dipped to 1C and there’s a bitter north wind. But in the kitchen, it’s summer again. The scent of the blackcurrants transports me back to sunnier times. I’m making blackcurrant syrup. It is roughly equal amounts of fruit and sugar. The blackcurrants are first cooked and sieved. And then the sugar is added and the mixture simmers for 15 minutes. Add the justice of a lemon. When cooled, it can be added to yogurt, fruit sponges, or made into jam tarts. Today I’m making lemon cheesecake and topping it with the rich, full of flavour syrup. It will do us the world of good. We have been ill since Christmas, and the thought of all that vitamin C is cheering me up already.

Blackcurrant Cheesecake

500g packet of digestive biscuits

4oz or 113g butter. 1/3 cup in USA

4oz or 113g cottage cheese. 1/3 cup

8oz or 227g cream cheese. 2/3 cup

1/4pint or 142ml double cream.

3oz or 85g sugar. 1/4 cup

Juice and rind of one lemon

First whizz the biscuits in a food processor. Melt the butter and add the crushed biscuits. Press this mixture into the bottom of a glass Pyrex flan dish.

Sieve the cottage cheese and add the cream cheese and sugar. Whisk the double cream until it is firm and fold in to the mixture. Add the lemon juice and rind. Spoon the mixture on top of the biscuit base.

Drizzle the blackcurrant syrup over the top. Or you can add any fruit you like. It is lovely with strawberries, peaches, pineapple, raspberries, blueberries- anything you have spare.

Place in the fridge for at least four hours to set.

Growing Blackcurrants

Blackcurrants are easy to grow. The fruit forms on young wood, so now is a good time to prune out some of the old stems. I remove about 1/3 of the stems each year, leaving around 7 of the newer stems to develop. Mulch with well rotted compost, manure or mushroom compost. Blackcurrants can be grown in sun or semi-shade, but they hate being too dry. Incorporating humus into the soil will help. Plant deeply- about 6cm deeper than the plants were growing in their pots. I’ve found the best varieties to grow are anything with the prefix “Ben” – so Ben Connan, Ben Sarek, Ben Hope and Ben Lomond.

Today’s syrup was made from frozen fruit. They freeze well and are free flowing, so you only need to defrost a few at a time. A tip for preparing them. Freeze them straight from the garden. And when they are frozen, take them out and roll them carefully in a tea towel. All the stems and bottoms will come off easily and you can pop the fruit back in the freezer before they thaw out. This is much easier than trying to top and tail fresh, squashy fruit.

I’ll leave you with another view from the garden just now. I’ll be glad when the light returns. Meanwhile, every time I look in the freezer there’s a reminder of summer. It’s like opening a box of jewels.

Peaches and Plums – Crumble and Plum Jam

It’s been a brilliant year for stone fruits. We’ve had a record number of plums and peaches at home. They are the easiest fruit to grow- just plant them and harvest delicious home-grown organic produce.

Here’s my favourite recipe for fruit crumble cake. You can use any fruit – peaches, plums apricots, apples. Takes only minutes to make, and can be frozen. The mini crumbles look fantastic for a party- or even a picnic.

FRUIT CRUMBLE CAKE

350g self-raising flour

2 level teaspoons mixed spice

175g butter

150g golden caster sugar

8 tablespoons milk (buttermilk if you have it)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 peaches or a handful of plums

Icing sugar for dusting

A 12 hole pan, or 18 x 28cm tin lined with baking paper, or any 7″ pie dish

20 mins at 190c /gas mark 5

Using only 3 tablespoons of the milk – Put all the ingredients – apart from fruit- in a food processor and whizz to form crumbs.

Tip out into a bowl, and put two thirds of the mixture- and the rest of the milk- back in the machine. Blend to create a smooth cake-consistency.

Spoon the cake mixture into the pans and arrange chopped fruit over the top. Add the reserved crumble mixture on top, leaving some of the fruit uncovered.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cut into chunky squares, if using the tin. Dust with icing sugar.

Note: You can used canned or frozen fruit, if fresh isn’t available

PLUM JAM

900g fruit

900g sugar

150ml water

Put all ingredients in a jam pan and cook gently until all the sugar is absorbed and the plums are soft. Gradually bring to a rolling boil. Check carefully to see that the jam isn’t burning on the bottom of the pan. After about 10 minutes put a tablespoon of the mixture onto a cold plate from the fridge. Leave to cool slightly and press with your finger or a spoon to see if the jam ripples. If it ripples it will set. If it stays soft and liquid it needs more boiling. This will fill about 4 or 5 jars which have been very thoroughly washed and warmed in the oven before filling. There are recipes with larger amounts of fruit, but this one works for me and is a manageable amount to cope with in one go.

Enjoy! Have you had a good year for fruit in your garden? And don’t forget to share your favourite recipes in the comments below.