Book Review – 10-a-day, the easy way

JAMES WONG

Published by Mitchell Beazley

Hardback £20

ISBN 978-178472-476-4

I’m always looking for new ways to add more fruit and vegetables into our cooking. We grow much of our own veg in the summer, but often run out of ideas, especially when there’s masses of kale or courgettes, for example. I enjoyed James Wong’s How to Eat Better book, so when I saw his new title, 10-a-day the easy way, I had to try the recipes.

I tried the Haddock with Ratatouille recipe which is easy to follow and quick to make- very important after a busy day at work. I cooked diced onions, aubergines, courgettes, red pepper in 2 tbpsn olive oil. Then added a can of tomato passata and a tin of chickpeas. 2tbspn soy sauce, 2 tbsp herbs de Provence, and 4 garlic cloves (crushed) added flavour. I wouldn’t have thought of adding finely-grated zest and juice of half a lemon, but it’s the twist the recipe needs to make it different from anything I’ve made before. I didn’t have any bay leaves, but 2 were mentioned in the recipe. The pan was covered and simmered for 15 minutes while I baked the fish in the oven and added boiling water to a pan of couscous. It was delicious! A nice speedy weekday dinner, incorporating lots of veg, with the minimum of fuss. Sorry there are no photos of the finished meal. It was so tempting- we ate it straight away!

Here are a few sample pages from the book. First there’s an explanation on the science behind 10- a day. There’s no doubt that eating more fruit and veg is good for us. The book is split into sections on breakfast, lunch, dinner, deserts, snacks, sauces, cakes and bakes.

I am going to make the peanut butter cookies next. They sound delicious.

I could see us starting the day with these light and fluffy banana and peanut butter pancakes. Breakfast can be quite boring in our house as we just grab a box of cereal each day.

Fruit crepes with cottage cheese, blueberries and kiwi fruit. Looks and tastes amazing.

Triple Berry Hotcakes- using frozen berries. I have a freezer full of home-grown blueberries and raspberries . Frozen fruit is just as nutritious as fresh, and sometimes cheaper to buy. Incorporated into batter for a pancake – genius idea. Breakfasts will never be the same again!

So, what is a portion? James says it’s 80g of whole fruit or veg or 30g dried fruit or veg. I am surprised to see 30g of tomato purée is 1 portion. I’m now adding it to soups and stews and topping up pasta dishes. Easy. James says people tend to misjudge how small an 80g portion is. When it comes to apples, pears, peaches and avocados, a single fruit is actually 2 portions. Even dried foods count. So you could snack on raisins or add dried mushrooms to a risotto to boost your intake.

I’ve enjoyed working my way through the 80 recipes in James’ new book. His message is clear- eating more fruit and veg is good for your health. But he’s never preachy. He says, if you can’t manage 10 a day, that’s ok. Just eat more than you do at the moment. And that’s what I’m aiming for. The recipes are certainly tasty, and quick to make.

The publishers have one free copy to give away in a prize draw. Please leave a comment below and let me know if you’d like to be included in the prize draw. It’s ok if you don’t wish to be included as well. The publishers will pull a name out of a hat to randomly select a winner. There’s no cash alternative and the publisher’s decision is final. The book can be sent to international addresses as well as UK.

Lemon Crunch Triangles – family Favourite recipes

If you were listening to Radio Leicester this week for the Gardens Hour, you will have heard us munching on Lemon Triangles. It’s a nice quick recipe that everyone seems to love. It keeps for a week in a tin, or can be frozen. But to be honest, it disappears quite fast in our house ( and at the radio station). Lemons come straight from my greenhouse. It’s been a good winter for them, with plenty continuing to grow and ripen. Now is the time to re-pot them or if they are in the maximum size pots, remove the top inch or so of soil and top dress them with fresh compost. Start to increase watering and add feed every time. I’m still battling scale insect. It’s a slow task of removing them with a washing up sponge and warm soapy water. I just turn on the radio and settle down to the task. At least it’s warm in the greenhouse. And the citrus flowers smell divine.

INGREDIENTS

175g butter or margarine

175g soft light brown sugar

175g self raising flour

2 medium eggs

Grated rind of 1 lemon

TOPPING

Juice of 1 lemon

100g caster sugar.

METHOD

Heat oven to 180C gas mark 4. Grease and line a 19cm x 29cm shallow tin.

  1. Melt butter and sugar together in a saucepan and stir to incorporate.
  2. Remove from heat and beat in the flour, rind and eggs using a wooden spoon, until smooth.
  3. Pour into the tin and bake for 25-30 minutes.
    Stand for a few minutes and then remove the grease proof paper. Return cake to the tin and cool slightly.
    Mix juice and sugar together and pour evenly over the cake. When cold, cut the cake into squares, and then halve to make triangles. Perfect for morning coffee, or afternoon tea.

I wrote about my citrus trees and greenhouse here https://bramblegarden.com/2019/02/02/six-on-saturday-photos-from-my-garden/.

Leek and Potato Pies -Veg from the Garden

I love the quiet time after Christmas. It’s so peaceful here. No rushing about trying to keep up with the world. I hold on to that feeling of calm for as long as I can. I’m reluctant to drive to the shops. So I look about the house and garden. Leeks and potatoes are plentiful, so I make one of my favourite recipes, Leek and Potato pie. They are easy to make, and it’s lovely to come indoors from a session in the garden and find tasty little pies for tea. Dashing about, dealing with shopping, parking and self service tills that never seem to work, can all wait for another day.

INGREDIENTS

A quantity of shortcrust pastry, or 2 rolls of filo or 2 packs puff pastry, rolled out and cut into approx 12cm squares.

800g potatoes, chopped into approx 2.5cm chunks

2 leeks

2 red onions

25g butter

1 heaped tbsp plain flour

200ml milk

130g cheddar cheese

Pinch of salt/black pepper

Optional. If you have them:

Pinch of paprika and cayenne pepper

Half tsp Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce

Pinch of mustard powder

Chopped chives, sage, thyme, marjoram, parsley.

1 beaten egg for glazing

METHOD

Boil the potatoes until they are just cooked, but still slightly firm. Drain and set aside to cool.

Melt the butter and add the leeks and onions and cook gently until soft.

Add the flour and cook gently for 2 minutes, stirring the mixture so it doesn’t burn.

Remove from the heat and add a few tablespoons of the milk and stir well to incorporate. Add the rest of the milk, a bit at a time, stirring well.

Return to the heat and cook for a few minutes until the sauce thickens, stirring to prevent burning.

Remove from the heat while you grate the cheese.

Add the grated cheese, the seasoning and optional ingredients.

Gently fold the sauce mixture into the cooked potatoes.

Divide the mixture between the pastry squares. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking tray.

Pull the four corners inwards to meet in the centre, folding one corner over the other like closing an envelope. Pinch along the folds to hold the folds together. Some beaten egg will help the pastry to stick together.

Brush the pies with beaten egg.

Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the pastry is puffed and the filling is piping hot. The parcels may open up a little as they bake.

Sprinkle over some reserved fresh herbs.

TIP

Make picnic versions by using silicone muffin trays.

Vary the recipe by adding whatever vegetables you have in store. If you eat fish, you can add tuna. If you are vegan, use soya margarine, soya milk and brush the pies with almond milk. Add chestnut mushrooms and chopped nuts instead of cheese.

PASTRY RECIPE

300g plain flour

1tbsp or 15ml baking powder

150g butter or margarine

3-4tbsp or 45-60ml water.

METHOD

Put the flour and baking power in a basin. Rub in the fat until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add sufficient water to give a soft but manageable dough.

Note: use warm water if using wholemeal flour.

The photo below shows filo pastry pies, made in muffin trays.

They don’t have to be perfect shapes. Enjoy!

Family Favourite Recipes – Chocolate Marzipan Cherries.

When I started this blog, my intention was to write down all our family favourite recipes in one place. It occurred to me that our much loved recipes exist on tatty pieces of paper. My children might want to find Aunty Betty’s toffee apple recipe, or the Gimson Christmas trifle. Stained and ripped pieces of paper might be difficult to find. So recipes are deposited here for future reference. Today I’m sharing my home made cherry chocolate recipe that I make every year. It’s a money saving recipe if you use your own fruit. And it’s simple to make. Even little children can have a go.

Ingredients

Home grown cherries, preserved in brandy. Choose good quality fruit that is slightly under ripe. Only preserve the best fruit, and none that has any blemishes.

Or

200g glacé cherries

500g marzipan

200g good quality dark chocolate.

Method

Soak the glacé cherries in cherry brandy overnight. Drain and reserve the liquid for adding to cakes.

If using your own preserved cherries, drain and gently pat dry with a clean tea towel.

Break the block of marzipan into four, and microwave for a few seconds to soften.

Take tablespoons of marzipan (about 13g).

Roll into a ball, and then flatten to enclose a cherry. Roll gently in the palm of your hand to smooth the marzipan. Leave to dry for a few hours.

Melt the chocolate in the microwave. Drop each marzipan cherry into the chocolate and use a spoon to roll them about to coat.

Stand the chocolates on foil until set.

Keeps for about 1 week in a cool dry place. If you can resist them that long!

Enjoy 😊

I made mine in the summerhouse, with the radio on and sunshine streaming through the open doors. It’s amazingly mild for December. We’ve had 12C for days, although last night it was -2 and we woke to a frost.

Here’s the ingredients. It’s a really simple recipe. Wonderful if you have a cherry tree in the garden.

I used white marzipan, but you can use golden if you like.

Drop into the chocolate. Make sure you don’t get any water in the chocolate, or it will go dull.

They take about an hour to set. The recipe makes about 35 cherry chocolates. There’s enough marzipan and chocolate to make another 30 if you buy more cherries. Or make 30 almond marzipan chocolates.

Simply enclose one whole blanched almond in the marzipan as above, and coat in the chocolate. Delicious! You can also use whole Brazil nuts and use milk or plain chocolate.

How to Preserve Cherries

450g cherries

75g sugar

2 drops almond essence

600ml brandy.

Remove the cherry stalks and stones and prick all over with a sterilised needle or cocktail stick.

Layer the cherries with the sugar in a large sterilised preserving jar, fill to within 2.5cm of the top. Add almond essence.

Pour the brandy to cover the cherries. Seal the jar and shake well.

Keep in a cool, dark place for at least three months to allow the flavours to develop. Shake the jar from time to time.

Strain the cherries through a funnel lined with muslin. Put the cherry brandy into sterilised bottles to give as presents. Use the cherries in the chocolate marzipan recipe above, or in pastries, ice cream and other winter treats. Enjoy 😊

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.

The Almanac – A Seasonal Guide to 2019

Book Review

Lia Leendertz. Illustrated by Celia Hart

Octopus Books/ Mitchell Beazley. Hardback £10. September 6 2018.

Captivated from the first page, I keep dipping into the new Almanac, published this week. I loved Lia Leendertz’ first seasonal guide created for 2018. The new version for 2019 is just as magical, if not better.

I’ve made a kind of nest in the summerhouse, heaping cushions and old quilts on a comfy armchair. It’s peaceful in here, only the sound of thrushes tap taping snail shells on the stone path. It’s just the place to settle down and delve into Lia’s book.

There’s something comforting about being in tune with the natural world around us. Checking the times for sunrise and sunset, sea temperatures, tides, moon phases. I haven’t tried planting by the moon, but there’s dates and times to get me started. It seems to make perfect sense. I love the little moments of joy. Reading that day length increases by 1 hour and eight minutes during the course of January. It gives hope when it’s needed most. Here’s the page for January. Plough Monday is included in the dates listed. I heard my grandfather talk of Plough Monday- traditionally the start of the agricultural year. The book is like a siren call leading me back through time to my farming family ancestors. A reminder to keep in my heart their customs and celebrations.

There’s recipes such as Epiphany tart, a kind of jam pastry, with a star made with overlapping triangles and each “well” containing a different flavour. I hadn’t heard of this; it sounds delicious. There’s a tradition dating back to the 1600s of creating tarts with intricate pastry patterns, coloured with different jams. I wonder if my great grandmother Annie Foulds – who was head cook at Bradgate House- would have made such a dish. She made the most delicious cakes at home at Carters Rough Cottage, Groby.

Lia’s writing is perfectly complemented by illustrations from artist Celia Hart. The prints are so beautiful they draw you in, much as a photograph of a glorious scene makes you want to step into the landscape. It’s impossible not to stare longingly at Celia’s drawings- and wish you could step into the page. I’d like to see those swifts and swallows soaring above my head and turn over the seashells she so wonderfully captures.

A mesmerising read, totally spellbinding. A beautiful month by month companion for me. For anyone, like me, who tries to weave the stories of the past into the journey to the future.

The publishers have kindly offered one copy to give away. Please leave a comment below if you’d like to be included in the prize draw. The publishers will pick a name and send out a copy. The publisher’s decision is final. Sorry UK entries only.

Please share this review on any social media platform you like. Thank you.

Here is the Amazon Link for The Almanac.

Summer fruit harvest and making garden jam

What a summer! My poor garden is burned to a crisp and everything’s wilting, including me. But the fruit garden is producing bumper crops. You’d think they would shrivel in 32C heat, but the black and red currants, gooseberries and blackberries are sweet and juicy.

Last night I wandered round the garden collecting a basket of fruit to make jam. I had planned to make strawberry jam from the pots of runners planted in April. But the tiny plants only yielded a handful of fruit. So delicious though. The plants only cost 60p each, mail order. I wrote about planting them Here. I’m hopeful of larger crops next summer.

The blackberries were the best I’ve ever seen though. A bumper crop and large fruit. Sometimes wild blackberries are so tiny they are hardly worth picking. But these soon filled a basket.

I threw the whole lot in a heavy based pan to make garden jam. Wow, what a scent. If it’s possible to capture sunshine and summer in a jar, this is the way to do it.

Garden Jam

To make 2 jars I used 500g fruit, 500g sugar 75ml water, juice of 1 lemon.

Method:

Place a saucer in the freezer for testing the setting point later.

Put fruit, water and lemon juice in a heavy based pan. Cook the fruit gently until soft.

Add sugar and simmer carefully until all the sugar crystals are absorbed.

Increase the heat to a rolling boil. After 10- 15 minutes, put a teaspoon of jam on the plate and gently push. If it wrinkles, it has reached setting point. If not, cook for another 5 minutes, taking care not to burn the jam.

Stand for 15 minutes

Pot into sterilised and warmed jars.

Fresh scones :

3oz butter

1lb plain flour

Pinch salt

1oz caster sugar

1.5 tsp. baking power

2 eggs and 6floz milk beaten together.

Add all the dry ingredients and rub together. Add liquids and mix carefully. Don’t over handle the mixture

Roll out thickly and cut into circles. Brush top with a little of the reserved egg/ milk mixture.

Bake for 10 mins until golden, oven temp. 230C, gas mark 8

Eat whilst still warm – or as soon as possible. Can be frozen as soon as cooled, to keep fresh.

I often ask twitter friends for recipes and gardening advice. Here’s a reply that came from Bob Flowerdew. I’m looking forward to trying his recipe.

And this came from June Girvin, which is similar to the recipe I ended up with. It’s absolutely delicious.

After all that foraging and cooking, we sat in the 1930s summerhouse, turned to face the cool woodland and pond and feasted on the jewels of the garden.

Surrounding us, there’s sounds of harvesting and baling. There’s a scent of new hay and oats on the breeze, and we watch entranced as barn owls swoop across the empty fields, like ghosts. They don’t notice us sitting quietly amongst the trees.

Here’s this week’s Garden Hour on BBC Radio Leicester where I chat away about what’s happening in my garden. Put your feet up and have a listen in sometime. The programme starts at 2.10.27 on the timeline. And the music’s not bad this week too.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06cd1bd

I am @kgimson on twitter and karengimson1 on instagram. Please share this on any social media platform you like, and don’t forget to leave a comment below. Thank you.

Fact sheet for growing strawberries /recipe for ten minute strawberry jam biscuits

If you listened in to the gardeners’ phone-in programme this week on BBC Radio Leicester you’ll have heard us giving hints and tips on planting and growing strawberries. Here’s a list of do’s and don’ts to get the best from home grown crops.

Buying bare-rooted runners, or root stock, is an affordable way to buy strawberries online or via seed and plant catalogues. It’s a good way to buy named varieties and virus free stock.

I’ve chosen the Plant Heritage Collection from Marshalls. 30 runners for around 66p each.

Royal Sovereign : A well-known mid season strawberry famed for flavour. Large juicy fruit. Crops in early summer- and again in autumn.

Cambridge Favourite : Reliable and popular variety. Good for jams and preserves.

Red Gauntlet: Mid season, heavy cropper. Fruit is held well above the ground. Good for damper soil, or for growing under cloches or in tunnels. Some resistance to botrytis.

1. When the plants arrive, take them straight out of the Jiffy bag and either plant into 3″ pots or straight into the garden, if soil and weather conditions are suitable.

2. Choose a sunny, well drained spot – not in a frost pocket

3. Enrich the soil with well rotted garden compost, organic Plantgrow fertiliser, or peat-free sheeps wool and bracken compost from Dalefoot Compost.

4. Planting depth is crucial to success of the runners. The crown, the thickened area where the leaves are attached to the roots, should be resting at soil level. Too high and the plants will dry out. Too deep, and they will drown.

5. Don’t plant where tomatoes, chrysanthemums or potatoes have been grown. The soil may harbour wilt disease.

6. Watering techniques are important. Do not drench the leaves and leave them wet overnight. The plants are more likely to suffer from moulds and the fruit will rot. Either use a leaky pipe, or push the watering can through the leaves to water at ground level.

7. Feed every 7-14 days with a high potash liquid fertiliser. I use seaweed extract, but you can also use tomato fertiliser. Plantgrow also has a handy liquid fertiliser in its range.

8. Protect the flowers from frost using a layer of fleece. The flowers are easily damaged and turn black. A whole crop can be lost to frost overnight.

9. Cut back all leaves and remove straw mulch after fruiting to prevent a build up of pests and diseases. We use chopped mineralised Strulch.

10. The plants will naturally produce runners. Stems will arch over and where they touch the ground, new plants will grow. Pot these up and renew your strawberry beds every 3-4 years. The old plants are best discarded after this length of time as pests and diseases start to take hold.

11. Vine weevils love strawberry plants. There’s a new organic nematode treatment that can be bought off the shelf. Previously treatments had to be posted out and used fairly quickly. The new nematodes from Neudorff are easier to buy and use.

STRAWBERRY JAM ALMOND BISCUITS

These are a family favourite and only take 10 minutes to make. Lovely with morning coffee, or for afternoon tea.

Ingredients: whizz together

200g caster sugar

115g butter

115g ground almonds

115g plain flour

1tspn baking power.

1 egg

3 drops almond essence.

Rest dough in the fridge for one hour if you want biscuits to retain their round shape. I was in too much of a hurry, so mine turned out flat.

Take teaspoons full of dough and roll in the palm of your hand. Place on a baking tray. Make a well in the centre with a spoon handle or little finger. Fill with strawberry jam. Top with slivers of almond.

Cook in oven at 200C for 10 minutes. Keep a close eye on them as they soon burn.

Will last for three days in a sealed container. If you can resist them that long.

Here’s a link to the radio programme. Have a listen in at 2.08.18 on the timeline.

bbcleicester http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p063rcnf

Here’s some fruit tarts I also made with the home-made jam. Totally delicious! Wonderful after a hard day working in the garden.

Click on the highlighted links for more information. These are not affiliate links.

What new plants are you trying out this spring and summer?

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.