Afternoon Tea

March Posy

March Posy Small-14

For this month’s Posy I wanted to create an image that represented the start of Spring and Easter.

March’s flowers in our garden have been a beautiful Spring colour palette of yellow, violet and fresh Spring Greens.

Spring Hues

 

I have chosen to grow a lot of native wild flowers. This month we have had a good show of native primroses – primula vulgaris. These are a beautiful pale cream yellow. Primroses always symbolise to me that Spring is on it’s way. My Uncle picked a small bunch of primroses from the woods for my mum when she was born in March. Now whenever I see primroses I think of mum!

Church House, Pitton near Salisbury

Primula

Primrose Hues

March Small-39
Primula
Primula

I have another variety of primrose in bloom in the garden called `Emily’ which is a slightly darker yellow colour. There are also creamy primula flowers.

Primula vulgaris

Primroses

 

As a child I dreamt of creamy yellow primroses in a posy as a wedding bouquet.  I am a very romantic soul!  I imagined myself picking woodland flowers and flouncing about in a Jane Austin inspired Regency Wedding dress. I hadn’t even read any Jane Austin aged 8! When we walked in Grovelly Woods to see the primroses as a child I remember a derelict cottage I dreamt of renovating and restoring. That’s where I would have flounced off to the church in my Empire Line Dress with my Spring bouquet of primroses and violets!

I did enjoy the grounds of The Baytree Hotel in my Empire Line Dress on my wedding day. In reality primroses were too small for my bouquet so I opted for yellow roses instead. The idea of something picked straight out of the garden arranged in an informal way stayed with me. I opted for informal jugs of Spring flowers on the tables including Spring Green Viburnum opulus and yellow Forsithia.

Spring Sunshine Bouquet
P&D (055)
Just Picked

Our March garden has also had a good display of vibrant yellow daffodils with dainty, minature Tete-a-Tete being my favourite.

Tete a Tete

The other flowers in bloom have been violet, mauve and blue in colour. We have clumps of the native woodland violet. The front garden has a beautiful carpet of Anemone blanda in shades of violet-blue and white and in the back we have purple crocus blooms and blue muscari.

Anemone blanda
Anemone blanda
Purple Crocus
Drayton Blooms

Anemone blanda

Purple Crocus

March Primula
March Primula

I’m also rather proud of my pink ranunculus flower. However this bloom was too precious to cut for my Posy of the month project.

Ranunculus

March Posy

March PosyMarch Posy Small-14

The vintage buttercup design fluted cup and saucer was manufactured by Henry M Williamson & Sons, based at the Bridge Pottery Works, Heathcote Road in Longton, Stoke on Trent. Williamson traded from 1879 – 1947. The name was changed to Heathcote China in 1928. H M Williamson & Sons

March PosyEaster Biscuits

I  enjoyed making Easter biscuits to photograph my Easter posy and they seemed to be enjoyed by my running club after a recent cross country run.

Spiced Easter Biscuits

Originating from the West Country, these lightly spiced biscuits were traditionally given as a gift on Easter Day. My mum always used to make them at Easter time.

300g plain flour

50g icing sugar

1 tsp mixed spice

175g cold butter, diced

1 medium egg, beaten with 1 tbsp cold water

125g currants

1 egg white

Caster sugar for dredging

Mix the flour, icing sugar, spice and butter together until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Gradually add the beaten egg until the mixture clumps together.

Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead in the currants. Flatten the dough into a disc and wrap in clingfilm. Chill for 30 minutes until it is firm.

Heat the oven to 180C (160C fan oven), gas mark 4.

LIghtly flour the worksurface again and roll out the dough until it is 4mm thick. Stamp out circles with a 6 – 7 cm fluted citter and arrange spaced apart on lightly greased baking sheets.

Whisk the egg whit e until frothy and brush over the biscuits. Sprinkle with the caster sugar.

Bake for 12 minutes until lightly golden. Cool on a wired rack.

They will keep for up to a week in an airtight tin.

March Posy

Easter Posy

For some reason primroses are the blooms I think of when I think of an Easter Posy. I always remember being read the Alison Uttley stories as a child and have never forgotten the second tale in which sensible Little Grey Rabbit makes primrose wine to cure Hare’s cold.

Little Grey Rabbit

March Posy

A Cup of Primroses

I tried another Spring arrangement of primroses in my H & R Daniel Etruscan shape teacup and saucer for a completely different effect. I thought the creamy primroses went well with the gilt details and the navy and lemon pattern. (Pattern 3860). Henry and Richard Daniel were manufacturers of high-grade decorative porcelain and earthenwares at Stoke and Shelton from c.1822-46. All Daniel porcelains are of very fine quality but are seldom stamped with a maker’s mark.

March would not be complete without an arrangement of cheerful Spring daffodils.

March Flower Arrangement

Do let me know which is your favourite – zingy yellow daffodils or softer creamy primroses?  I can’t decide!

 

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Creamy Apricot & Amaretto Swiss Roll

Creamy Apricot and Amaretto Swiss Roll

Inspired by the new series of `The Great British Bake Off’ I decided to make a swiss roll. Now I knew if I was going to bake in the style of Bake-Off I needed to make my own jam. Mr Smiles’ favourite jam is apricot and as apricots are in season at the moment apricot preserve seemed like a good choice.

Jammy Definitions

I am a bit confused about the terms jam, conserve and preserve. I thought preserve was just a posh word for jam. The terminology for preserve making is confusing. One person’s conserve is another person’s jam!

Jam –  a thick mixture of fruit and sugar that is boiled gently but quickly until the fruit is soft and has a gel consistency. Jam should be clear, well set but not stiff and should be spreadable. It should have a distinctive fruity flavour and a good colour.  Most people seem to agree that with jam the fruit has broken down during cooking.

Jelly –   made by a process similar to that used for making jam, with the additional step of filtering out the fruit pulp after the initial heating. The whole fruit is gently cooked, then left to strain. The resulting juice is then boiled with sugar until a set is reached. A jelly is a clear fruit spread that is firm enough to hold its shape.

Preserves – fruit spreads that have chunks of fruit surrounded by jelly.

Conserve –  similar to jam but the set tends to be softer. They can contain dried fruit and/or nuts.

Marmalade – similar consistency to jam but made with citrus fruit and peel.

 

Apricot and Amaretto Preserve

Apricot and Amaretto Preserve

2lb (900g) fresh apricots

2lb (900g) granulated sugar

Juice of 1 large lemon

Trace of butter

Large Dash of Amaretto liqueur

You need to start the day before you actually want to make the preserve. Halve the apricots and reserve the stones.

Apricot Halves

Place them in layers in a preserving pan, sprinkling the sugar in between the layers.  Add the lemon juice, cover with a cloth and leave over-night.

Easy Squeezer

Delia Smith says that `pre-soaking the fruit in sugar firms up the fruit, ensuring the apricot pieces stay intact when making the jam.’ I adapted this recipe from Delia’s Summer Collection.  I must admit I had a dilemma at this point. My apricots were large! So did I continue to halve them or quarter them?! I stuck with halving. I would actually advise quartering if you pre-soak in sugar and have big, juicy apricots like mine.

Apricot Jam Making

Crack the apricot stones with a nutcracker and save the kernels.  Blanch the kernels in boiling water for a couple of minutes.

Apricot Kernels

 Drain them, pat them dry and remove the outer skin. When I read this process I thought `What a palaver!’. I didn’t know the reason for using the kernels. I thought it was some mysterious ingredient which would aid the setting process. Then I learnt that apricot kernels are actually used as the main ingredient in amaretto liqueur. I thought amaretto was made of almonds. When I cracked open the apricot stones I got an aromatic waft of amaretto so I was converted to the idea of using the kernels. In fact I thoroughly embraced the idea and decided to turn my plain apricot jam into exotic amaretto preserve with apricot chunks and kernels.

Blanched Apricot Kernels

To make the conserve place the preserving pan over  a medium heat and let the sugar dissolve completely. When dissolved turn up the heat to the highest setting and boil rapidly. It took about 20 minutes to reach setting point.

Ready to boil

Stir in a knob of butter to disperse any scum. Add the reserved kernels and allow to settle for 15 minutes before pouring into warm sterilised jars.

Apricot and Amaretto Preserve

Apricot and Amaretto Swiss-Roll 

Creamy Apricot and Amaretto Swiss Roll

3 large eggs

115g (4 oz) Caster sugar

115g (4 oz) Plain Flour

Apricot and Amaretto Preserve

Double Cream

1 tsp vanilla extract

Icing Sugar

Preheat the oven to 200C (400F, Gas Mark 6). Grease a 33 x 23cm (13 x 9 in) swiss roll tin and line with baking parchment. The tin suggested in the recipe was a swiss roll tin 13×9 inches. I had 3 tins – a baking silicone flexi-sheet 14 x 10.5, a brownie pan 13.5 x 8 and a heavy duty Swiss roll tin 12 x 8.5 and didn’t know which to use! Why is it that whenever you follow or adapt a recipe the size of the tin is always different to what you have! I read reviews on the silicone sheet and made the decision it was too big. I would have crispy burnt edges. The browny pan seemed a bit deep. So I went for the heavy duty swiss roll tin and just had a bit of left over mixture. 

Lined Swiss Roll Tin

Put the eggs and sugar in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until the mixture is very thick and pale, and leaves a trail on the surface when the beaters are lifted out. The eggs should be at room temperature. It’s thick enough when it’s about three times the volume. 

Whisking Eggs and Caster Sugar

All whisked up!

Sift half the flour over the whisked mixture and gently fold it in with a large metal spoon. Sift over the remaining flour and fold in together with a tablespoon of tepid water. It is important to fold in the flour with a sure but light touch – you don’t want to undo all that good whisking by knocking out the air. 

Swiss Roll Mixture

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and give it a gentle shake so that the mixture spreads evenly into the corners. Bake for 10–12 minutes or until the sponge is well risen and pale golden, and springs back when pressed gently with your finger.

Swiss Roll MixtureJust out of the Oven

Turn out onto a sheet of baking parchment slightly larger than the sponge. Peel off the lining paper. Trim the crusty edges of the sponge with a sharp knife and make a score mark 2.5 cm (1 in) from one of the shorter edges (this will make the sponge easier to roll up). 

Roll up loosely from the short side, with the paper inside, and place seam side down on a wire rack to cool.

All rolled up!

When the sponge is cold, carefully unroll it and remove the paper.

Whip the cream with the vanilla extract and a few tablespoons of sifted icing sugar until the mixture forms soft peaks. 

Whipped Cream

Now we get on to the fun bit! I chose to spread my apricot preserve on first and then spread the cream on top. I was too generous with my filling! It is a good idea to leave a border at the edge. When I came to roll up my sponge I had a tidal wave of cream and apricot jam all over the kitchen work top and beyond. I had to keep scraping up the mixture to try to roll the cake up.  So the instruction to `Carefully roll up the sponge and place seam side down on a serving plate.’ was tricky! 

Swiss Roll in the makingReady to Roll!

A good swiss roll should be made of a light as air sponge. I do think I made a good sponge as it was light and moist. As Kate said on the Great British Bake Off `a dry sponge is never good!’.

However a well executed swiss roll should also have a tight, clearly defined roll. I was expecting a beautiful swirl of cream and golden apricot preserve.  What I  had was a sticky mess and no swirl!

Squidgy!

No matter –  I tidied up the ends, dusted with icing sugar and got creative with my camera! I must say the end result was not bad. I’m not sure Mary Berry would approve of my messy baking. However the end result was delicious even if I do say so myself!

Creamy Apricot and Amaretto Swiss Roll

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Taking Time Out to Smell the Roses!

Stop, Sit and Smell the Flowers!

Chelsea Flower Show 2014

RHS Chelsea Flower Show is one of the highlights of my year and this year was no exception. Chelsea 2014 fell in the middle of a very difficult week for me as a close relative was in the process of being diagnosed with cancer. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get up to London as I was staying in Dorset. However I made the decision I needed to go for my own well-being. So after a 3 hour train journey I finally arrived. This year was a different experience for me. I largely ignored the fancy, show gardens with their sophisticated high-falluting ideas. Normally I would pay more attention to them and would come back with a few ideas of my own. However this year I got irritated by the crowds of people trying to catch a glimpse of the Show Gardens and engage the designers in conversation whilst I was being `gently’ pushed out of the way. My garden is never going to be a `Show Garden’ with sleek lines and abstract concepts. What I want in a garden is an oasis of calm, a cottage garden full of pretty flowers spilling over in abundance. I want to create a lovely spot where I can take time to smell the roses away from the stresses of day to day life. Chelsea was good for me. I spent most of my day in the Great Pavillion `a horticultural haven of stunning floral displays’. I simply decided to let the beauty and the wonderful aroma of the flowers do my soul good and it did! So many times I found that I stopped and took time to drink in the smell and the exquisite beauty of the flowers and the whole Chelsea Experience became very restorative! I am therefore going to make no apologies for simply sharing the photos I took of beautiful flowers.  I hope they do you good too!

One of the things I loved about Chelsea this year is that there was a lot of naturalistic, cottage garden displays. I particularly liked the stately foxgloves in hues of pink, purple and white.

Pretty Pink

Gentle Foxgloves

Foxglove Forest

Whites and Purples

Digitalis purpurea `Excelsior'

Gentle Height

Foxgloves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apart from colour schemes of pinks and purples I saw a lot of naturalistic planting using vibrant yellow and orange and rusty hues. I liked Geum `Totally Tangerine’ so much I bought this wonderful plant when I got home. I already have a few verbascum which are more delicate in appearance than foxgloves but equally wonderful.

VerbascumSharp Green

Pimpinella major RoseaAllium let loose

 

 

 

 

 

 

Totally Tangerine (and yellow!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wild at HeartRusty HuesAntirrhinum majus ScrophulariaceaePedal PowerStatement Dahlia

One of the Exhibits I adored was the inspirational Hillier Nursery Display, simply because it was my kind of garden. I sat down in the midst of the bustle of the Grand Pavillion on a bench with 2 ladies on a trip from the USA. We had a lovely chat and I managed to help them with the settings on their camera. This is what good garden design is all about – providing an oasis of calm amongst all the bustle. Lovely!

Hillier Nurseries Display had several different styles of garden. Of course I loved the Hillier Rose Garden. This really did show how a small garden space can be transformed into a fragrant oasis; a lovely spot to sit and enjoy the fragrance of the flowers. Although I couldn’t sit on the bench I would have loved to sit there and enjoy a glass of pink lemonade!

PinkyStop, Sit and Smell the Flowers!

Queen of Sweden

 

The Hillier White Garden is reminiscent of Sissinghurst with it’s green and white planting scheme.  I actually agree with the concept behind the planting. The aim was to create a green and white planting scheme which was cool and calming and a relief from the activity all around. It works! The garden looked cool, relaxing and a thoroughly nice place to be.

White and GreenDigitalis purpurea f.albaThe White Garden

This elegant white planting scheme was echoed in Jo Thompson’s London Square Garden. A unique bench was a work of art in itself surrounded by white and green plants including Rose `Macmillan Nurse’ which has wonderful old-fashioned cupped flowers of a pale creamy yellow with a double centre.

London Square

 

The Hillier Bee Garden was so pretty, although I’m not sure I want to have a beehive in our garden! Actually one of our bird boxes seems to have been taken over by quite a few bees this year.  The Bee Garden struck me as a nice place to potter with it’s pretty pastel Summer colours. Planting included pots and containers and plants which are particularly bee friendly such as Philadelphus `Belle Etoile’.

Pink VerbascumHillier Bee GardenQuiet Corner

I’d love to potter about in that garden with a selection of these Garden Girl Accessories!

Gardening Kit fit for a Lady

Pink, Pink and More Pink! 

Pretty Seating

Aquilegia vulgaris Altrosa

Delightful Dahlia

 

Delightful Dahlias

Kelways’ Peonies 

I can’t decide if my absolutely most favourite flowers are roses or peonies. In some ways they are similar – really girly,flouncy frilly blooms which are short-lived but so worth the wait!  There are different ways of classifying peonies:-

The June-flowering varieties of P.lactiflora or Chinese peonies.

The herbaceous species. These flower in May or earlier.

Varieties of P.suffruticosa, the shrubby or tree peony.

Tree peonies are slower growing, but can grow up to 10 feet. They do not die back into the ground in Winter. The flowers of herbaceous garden peonies tend to be smaller than tree peonies at 3 to 4 inches across. Tree peonies can produce flowers up to 12 inches. An intersectional hybrid peony is a cross between the tree and herbaceous peony. The flowers look like a tree peony but the stems die back. I have recently bought Coral Sunset, a herbaceous variety and an unnamed pink tree peony. Both are yet to flower but I am hoping for great things next year.  I fell in love with Coral Sunset at Chelsea Flower Show last year.

Coral SunsetKelways BeautyRenown Tree Peony

 

Renown - Saunders Hybrid Tree Peony
Renown – Saunders Hybrid Tree Peony

Renown Peony has delectable blooms of a unique copper strawberry colour.  

Superb

 

Garden Treasure - Intersectional Peony
Garden Treasure – Intersectional Peony

 Garden Treasure is a semi double with bright yellow flowers and scarlet flares. This cultivar has a particularly long flowering season because the flowers do not develop all at the same time. 

Creamy

 

 Stop and Smell the Roses

I was in Heaven, as not only were there beautiful peonies in the Garden Pavillion, but also a plethora of roses. I spent a  long time enjoying both the David Austin Rose Stand and the Harkness Exhibit. There were also outstanding roses dotted throughout the Show. I currently have just under 20 different roses in my garden and I know them all by name! I’m not sure Mr Smiles thinks there is any more room for any more roses in our garden, however I’m sure one more won’t hurt! Which one would you choose?!

The Lark Ascending  

The Lark Ascending (Ausursula)
The Lark Ascending (Ausursula)

The Lark AscendingThe Lark AscendingThe Lark Ascending

`The Lark Ascending’ is a beautiful semi-double cup shaped apricot rose grown by David Austin.

The Poet's Wife
The Poet’s Wife ( Auswhisper)

The Poet’s Wife David Austin English Rose has flowers of a strong unfading yellow colour. It is an ideal rose for the front of the border.

Graham Thomas
Graham Thomas (Ausmas)

Graham Thomas is a short climber in a rich pure yellow colour. It has a fresh tea-rose fragrance.

The Lady Gardener (Ausbrass)
The Lady Gardener (Ausbrass)

The Lady Gardener has large rich apricot coloured  flowers. The colour pales towards the outside of the bloom.  The flowers are of a rosette shape and very full petalled. It repeat flowers quickly and stands up well to rain.

Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn (Ausecret)
Queen of Sweden
Queen of Sweden (Austiger)
Persian Mystery (Harkness)
Persian Mystery (Harkness)

Persian Mystery is an unusual rose in that it has a contrasting deep coloured centre compared to the outer paler pink petals.

Olivia Rose Austin
Olivia Rose Austin (Ausmixture)
Benjamin Britten
Benjamin Britten (Ausencart)

English RoseJune RosePinkyStop and Smell the RosesPink roses

 

Chandos Beauty (Harkness)

Chandos Beauty (Harkness)
Chandos Beauty (Harkness)

Chandos Beauty

Chandos Beauty is THE rose I would like to buy this year. It has a very delicate pale peach colour, although it was the scent that I adored. Chandos Beauty has an absolutely exquisite fragrance. This was the rose which stopped me in my tracks and made me `Stop and Smell the Roses’! Absolutely lovely!

Jacqueline du Pre (Harkness)

Jacqueline du Pre - Harkness
Jacqueline du Pre – Harkness

Jacqueline du Pre couldn’t match Chandos Beauty for fragrance. However I liked the unusual striking flower centre.

I just loved the David Austin Cut Rose Collection arranged in a beautiful afternoon tea setting showing off their English Rose Bone China.

Tea and Roses

Rose BouquetFreshly Picked RosesElegant Tea

I hope you have enjoyed looking at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2014’s blooms as much as I did. I thoroughly recommend taking time out to smell the roses this month. It has already been good for my soul!

 

 

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Winter Fruits

Spiced Fruit Semifreddo

 

SPICED FRUIT, MASCARPONE AND MUSCAT SEMIFREDDO

For New Years Day I served a wonderful dessert I found in the Christmas and New Year addition of delicious magazine. I do find at Christmas there can be an excess of rich dried fruit in mince pies, Christmas cake and Christmas puddings. This dessert was described as a `stunning semifreddo with rainbow-hued tropical fruits, sharp mascarpone and flavours of spice and sweet muscat. All the drama of a Christrmas pud, but with a lighter touch.’

INGREDIENTS

250g mixed dried tropical fruits and nuts. (I used dried cranberries, papaya, pineapple, apricots, glace cherries and pistachio nuts)

2 tbsp mixed peel

150ml muscat dessert wine (any sweet wine will work)

3 large eggs, separated

100g caster sugar

300ml double cream

large pinch of ground cinnamon, freshly grated nutmeg and ground allspice

150g mascarpone

METHOD

1. Line a 1 litre pyrex bowl with a double layer of clingfilm, leaving an overhang at the top. You need enough extra clingfilm so you can cover the dessert later.

Cling Filmed Bowl

2. Put the dried fruit, nuts, mixed peel and muscat into a small pan and simmer over a medium heat for a minute or two. Remove from the heat and leave to cool completely. I found that the mix was not cool when I needed it. I quickly put it in the freezer to chill as I didn’t want the dessert to curdle or separate if I added warm fruit. It would therefore be a good idea to simmer the fruit and leave to chill a few hours before needed.

Tropical Fruits and Nuts

Tropical Fruit Mix

Muscadet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. In a  large mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar with an electric hand mixer for 2-3 minutes until they have increased in volume and turned the colour of rich cream.

Egg Yolks and Caster Sugar

Egg Yolks and Caster Sugar

4. Add the cream, spices and mascarpone. Why is it that whenever I go to a supermarket to follow a recipe for a dessert there is some sort of creamy ingredient that proves elusive? In the past I have struggled to find soured cream, creme fraiche and fromage frais! It is always the ingredient that you need that hides in an unusual place with no shop assistant nearby to help. This time I have learnt that Mascarpone is a thick, creamy, soft Italian cheese. You will not therefore find it with the cream. However neither was it located with the cream cheese, but with the hard continental cheeses!                                                                                                                         MascarponeDouble Cream

 

 

 

 

 

Nutmeg

Whip into soft, billowy peaks. I have had a disaster with egg yolks and cream before where the whole thing has collapsed and gone watery again. I therefore made sure I had soft peaks and didn’t over whip.

Eggs, cream and mascarpone

 

 

5. In  a separate, spotlessly clean bowl and with clean beaters, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. If the equipment is not clean you will struggle to whip the egg whites and they will go watery.

Egg Whites

6. Gently fold 2 tbsp of the egg whites into the cream mix using a balloon whisk. Then gently fold in the remaining egg whites in 3 additions using a slow figure of eight motion. A whisk is gentler on the mix than a metal spoon. I made two desserts at one go. This was a challenge as I didn’t really have a big enough bowl to mix the ingredients and had to be creative with several bowls to prevent  a tidal wave of cream mix all over the work tops.

Folding egg whites into cream mix

7. Gently fold through the cooled fruit and muscat, ensuring the fruit is evenly distributed. (Big bowl!)   Be careful not to be too vigorous or you will knock the air out of the mixture.

8. Carefully transfer the mixture to the lined basin and cover the top with the excess cling film. Put in the freezer for at least 12 hours. I suddenly had to rush to the shops the day before I needed the dessert, as it had to be made the day before not on the day it was needed due to freezing time!

Semifreddo

 

9.  To decorate you will need to prepare crystallised fruit a few hours in advance. In a small bowl gently whisk an egg white with a fork until slightly foamy. Use a pastry brush to spread a thin coating of the whites over fruit and nuts.

Egg WhitesCrystallised FruitCrystallised Fruit and Nuts

Drop each piece of fruit into a saucer of caster sugar, then toss gently to coat. Once evenly frosted leave on a a wire rack to dry for 2-3 hours. The recipe advised leaving in a cool place. I put my beautifully frosted fruit in a plastic tub in the fridge. This was a mistake! The fruit ended up sitting in a sugary syrup rather than staying beautifully frosted! I would also add that harder fruit such as grapes and cherries seemed to frost more successfully than softer raspberries. Never mind I have learnt a valuable lesson and will be able to crystallise rose petals in the Summer.

10. Thirty minutes before you want to serve, transfer the bowl to the fridge. Just before serving, open up the cling film at the top. Invert on to a serving plate and peel off the cling film. Top with crystallised fruits and nuts to decorate and serve.

Spiced Fruit Semifreddo

 

So there you have it a lighter alternative to Christmas Pudding still packed full of Winter fruits and spices. Yum! It really was delicious. Good thing too as I eat it twice this week! I am thinking about adapting the recipe for Summer fruits later in the year….

 

 

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Rich Colours of Autumn

Autumnal Harvest

 

Autumn is in the words of John Keats truly `the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.’ I love the rich colours of Autumn –  deep red rosy apples and berries, vibrant orange pumpkins and squashes and not forgetting sunny yellow sunflowers. I had fun making this Autumnal still-life. The Daisy Chain Purse Vase is an Anita Harris design and was a wonderful wedding gift. I love it’s rich deep red lustre with the gold embellished daisies. The vibrant flowers include dahlias and sunflowers freshly picked from our garden.  The cup and saucer were a wonderful find. They are Early Derby London shaped with gold rims and handle dating from the 1800s. The pattern is the much loved Derby Traditional Imari Pattern 2451. This pattern was made over many years and is still in production today. It uses the traditional Imari colours of deep red, cobalt and gold and includes diamond lozenges and stylised floral motifs. The tea plate also has an Imari pattern. However the plate is later dating from the 1880s with a makers mark of Taylor & Kent (Ltd).

When I think of Autumn, pumpkins and squash immediately come to mind.  I am fascinated by the patterns on squash and painted this Autumnal still-life this week. I wanted to convey the structure and patterning of the fruit, whilst enjoying mixing the beautiful vibrant yellows and oranges.The striped fruit are Harlequin Squash and the deep orange one is a Kabocha Squash. Harlequin Squash are recommended by the RHS to be an excellent attractant and nectar source for bees and other beneficial insects. I haven’t grown any pumpkins or squash this year but will definately grow some next year to brighten up my vegetable beds. I included an old English Egremont Russet Apple with distinctive russet bronze fruits and some Autumnal leaves in my still life.

Autumn Fruits

 

October is a lovely month for celebrating the humble apple. Apples have been harvested in temperate Europe since prehistory. Downing’s Fruits, printed in 1866, has 643 varieties listed. Now we have over 5000 named apples. The oldest known variety of apple  is `Court Pendu Plat‘  which may go back to Roman times and is recorded from the sixteenth century. Raised in 1850 Cox’s Orange Pippin is one of the best dessert apples. However it is difficult to grow as it is disease prone and hates wet clay. It does best on a warm wall. `Beauty of Bath‘ was introduced in 1864 and fruits in late Summer with small sweet juicy yellow fruits stained scarlet and orange. Egremont Russet was bred in 1872 and has roughened greeny bronze skin with a crisp and firm flesh.

Autumnal Apples

I wanted to paint something Autumnal so chose a selection of apples from my local supermarket to paint in watercolour. I managed to find 5 different varieties all with different hues of red and green. I placed the green Granny Smith in the middle to give the painting some balance. I would have liked a Russet,  but there weren’t any available in the shops. Russets have quite a rough, unshiny texture which may have made more of a contrast in my painting. All my apples had quite a shine on them so I aimed to create shine as well as celebrate the different red hues. I really enjoyed painting my apples. I think I managed to use nearly all the reds in my paintbox! I used Scarlet Lake, Winsor Red, Permanent Carmine, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Permanent Rose, Brown Madder and Quinacridone Red. I included a useful guide to red pigments in my previous Ruby Red Bouquet Blog Post.

Quinacridone Red was great for the Pink Lady apple as it is a good vibrant pinkish red. The small Estivale apple needed a bright red so I used Scarlet Lake. Royal Gala is stripey and a deep almost maroon colour in places and more orangey in the highlights. I used Permanent Alizarin Crimson with a tough of Paynes Gray to darken it. On first glance the Cox and Royal Gala are both dark red apples. However they aren’t the same hue on closer observation. Royal Gala is more maroon or burgundy and the Cox is more orangey rusty red. I chose to use Brown Madder to create the main colour of the Cox with touches of Permanent Alizarin Crimson in the shadow.

Having made a close observational painting of my apples I was in the mood for cooking with apples. Mr Smiles had a birthday so I made some Apple and Oat Muffins in addition to a Birthday Cake.

Apple and Oat Muffins

My recipe for Apple and Oat Muffins was taken from `The Great British Bake Off Everyday Cookbook’. I have never made muffins before and I would highly recommend having a go, as this recipe is quick and easy.

 For the topping

50g porridge oats

50g demerara sugar

50g plain flour

50g unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the base

250g plain flour

25g porridge oats

175g caster sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

finely grated zest of 1 medium unwaxed lemon

150g unsalted butter, diced

2 medium eggs, at room temperature

100ml milk, at room temperature

1 large eating apple, cored and cut into small pieces

Heat your oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5. Make the crumble topping first. Put the oats, sugar and flour into a mixing bowl and combine with your hand.

Oat Mixture Cut the butter into pieces,Unsalted Butter add to the bowl and rub into the dry ingredients with your fingertips until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs.Then gently squeeze the mixture together until it forms pea-like clumps. Set aside until needed. Oat Crumble Topping( I must admit I found it hard to make small pea size clumps. Mine were more  like broad bean clumps).

Crumble Topping

Now make the base. Put the flour, oats, sugar, baking powder and lemon zest  into a mixing bowl and mix together thoroughly with a wooden spoon.  Gently melt the butter in a small pan. Leave to cool. Beat the eggs and milk in a small bowl with a fork until just combined. Add the melted butter and milk mixture to the flour mix in the bowl and stir gently until just combined. There’s no need to beat the mixture.

Muffin Mix

Spoon the mixture into 12 paper cases in the muffin tray so they are evenly filled. Top each with an equal amount of chopped apple and gently press the pieces into the muffin mixture. (they should remain visible). Cover with the crumble topping, dividing it equally among the muffins, and gently press down on the base.

Chopped Apple

Muffin Mixture

Place in the heated oven and bake for 30-35 minutes until golden and just firm when gently pressed in the centre. Set the tray on a wire rack and cool for 3-4 minutes. Carefully lift the muffins out of the tray onto the rack. They are best served warm the same or next day.

Apple and Oat Muffins

The apple and oat muffins went down well. I think they would be great served with lashings of cream or custard!

 

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Scrumptious Strawberries

Juicy RedStrawberries seem to symbolise the arrival of Summer. This year we have picked a good crop of juicy strawberries out of the garden. The variety we’ve grown is `Florence‘ which is a late Summer strawberry with good disease resistance and a wonderful flavour.  What a treat to have home-grown strawberries and cream for dessert!

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In June I spent a fabulous couple of days with Anna Mason on a watercolour painting course at RHS Wisley learning how to paint juicy strawberries.  Anna is a fabulous teacher and she certainly inspired me as an artist and as a cook!

Juicy Strawberry

Strawberry Vodka

One of the simplest recipes to preserve an abundance of fruit is to make a fruit vodka infusion. So far this year I have made strawberry, raspberry, peach and rhubarb vodka! The basics of a vodka infusion couldn’t be simpler – cut up the fruit and steep in the vodka, strain and drink!  The art, is in deciding how much fruit, and how long to steep. I am still experimenting! You can drink it neat with ice or use as the base for a cocktail.

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Strawberry Jam 

Summer wouldn’t be Summer without home-made strawberry jam. It’s worth a trip to the local pick-your-own just to have some in the cupboard.

1 kg strawberries

Juice of 1 lemon

1 kg granulated sugar

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Hull and wipe the strawberries.

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Put the strawberries into a large preserving pan with the lemon juice. Strawberries are low pectin fruit so require the lemon juice to set.

Easy Squeezer

Bring to a simmer, just until the juices begin to run – about 10 minutes.

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Mash the strawberries with a potato masher and simmer for a further 5 minutes until you have a thick puree.

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Add the sugar and stir gently until completely dissolved.

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Turn up the heat and bring the mixture to a rolling boil. Boil for 5 minutes before removing any scum. Test for a set. If necessary continue to boil until setting point is reached.

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Remove from the heat, skim off any skum, and allow the jam to cool briefly before pouring into sterilised jars.

Allow the jam to cool completely before labelling and storing.

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A lot of my jams are given as Christmas presents in beautiful presentation baskets. However I am particularly fond of Victoria Sandwich Cake sandwiched together with home- made strawberry jam and cream.

Victoria Sandwich Cake 

The Victoria Sandwich is a cake that was popularised in the reign of Queen Victoria and is still a classic today. It is made of melt-in-the-mouth sponge, sandwiched together with jam and dredged in sugar.

175g Butter

175g Caster Sugar

3 eggs (weighed in their shells)

175g Self Raising Flour

Jam

Caster Sugar to dredge

Heat oven to 190C/fan 170C/gas 5.

Butter two 18 cm (7-inch) sandwich tins and line the base of each with a round of buttered greaseproof paper.

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Now that’s all very well, but my tins are 8-inch tins and not 7-inch. I also didn’t know if it mattered whether the eggs were medium or large. The trick is to use the same weight of the eggs (weighed in their shells) for both the butter, flour and sugar. 3 medium eggs will weigh approximately 175g, so use 175g of flour, 175g of sugar and 175g of butter. If large eggs are used they may weigh 210g. If so make sure you use this weight for the other ingredients. I wanted a decent thick sponge so used 4 medium eggs instead of 3. I’m really glad I learnt that trick as it had been puzzling me for ages!

Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy.  When you beat yellow ingredients (butter and eggs) they get paler and paler the more air you incorporate. What you are looking for is a really pale and fluffy butter and the longer you beat the mixture the better. Keep scraping down the bowl to make sure it is all getting its fair share of air.

Butter

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DSC_2776The aim is to get as much air into the mixture at this stage as this will create a  nice, light sponge.

Beat the eggs and add a little at a time.

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DSC_2777 Beat well after each addition. It is important to do this slowly, to get as much air into the cake as possible and to prevent the mixture curdling. The mixture can ‘curdle’ if you add too much egg too quickly or if your ingredients are very different temperatures from each other. The moment you see the mixture change from being a lovely pale creamy mixture to looking like very runny scrambled egg, then you can add a tablespoon of the flour and everything should work out alright.  The secret is to get as much air as possible into the mixture, so that when it hits the heat of the oven it rises well and evenly.

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  • Sieve the flour and fold into the mixture with a metal spoon. Be gentle so that you don’t knock all the air out you have put in!
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  • Divide the mixture as evenly as you can between the 2 tins and level with a knife
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Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes until the cakes are well risen, firm to the touch and beginning to shrink away from the sides of the tins. Set your kitchen timer for 17 minutes and DO NOT be tempted to open the oven door before this time to peak as your cake will sink. When the timer goes off look very carefully through a crack in the door. The cakes should have shrunk away from the sides of the tin a little. A skewer or flat knife pushed into the middle of the cake should come out clean with no cake mixture sticking to it.

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Turn out and cool completely on a wire rack.

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When the cakes are cool, sandwich them together with yummy home-made jam and cream. Sprinkle with caster sugar.

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So there we have it – scrumptious strawberries at their very best!

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Citrus Celebration!

Citrus CelebrationMr Smiles made a slight mis-judgement with our supermarket delivery this week. Instead of ordering 4 individual lemons he ordered 4 bags of lemons and instead of 2 limes we have 2 bags of limes. My challenge therefore was to use 20 lemons and 10 limes and I rose to the Citrus Challenge!

My first recipe of the weekend was Lemon Curd,  closely followed by Lime Curd. Curds aren’t really preserves as they only keep for a few weeks. However they are used like preserves – spread on toast and as fillings for cakes and other desserts. I’ve never made any kind of curd before and I am converted! They are so easy to make. Even Mr Smiles enjoyed having a stir and helping pour into jars. Any fruit with a slight sharpness makes a good curd.

Lemon Curd

  • 4 x 225ml (8 fl oz) jars
  • 325g (11.5 oz) golden caster sugar
  • 4 lemons
  • 125g (4oz) unsalted butter
  • 4 eggs

Place the sugar in a large heatproof bowl on top of a pan of simmering water.

Golden Caster Sugar

Finely zest the 4 lemons and then extract the juice. I bought an amazingly efficient lemon squeezer at the weekend. Cut a lemon in half, place in the cup and squeeze the handles to make juice. Compared to my traditional lemon squeezer this is effortless juice extraction. The skin, flesh and pips can be removed in one piece for discarding and there is less mess.  No mopping up of fleshy bits and seeds, and much easier to clean afterwards. (My zested lemon is posing on top of the squeezer, which is artistic licence!) Add the juice and zest to the bowl with the sugar.

Easy Squeezer

Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the mix.

Unsalted Butter

Lightly beat the eggs and add them to the other ingredients.

Lightly Beaten

The heatproof bowl rests on a saucepan on top of the simmering water. Make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water.

Simmering CurdSwirls of Curd

Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture is thick and coats the back of a spoon. Coats the back of the Spoon

Pour the curd into hot sterilised jars, cover and seal. The curd will keep for up to 2 weeks in the fridge.

I made Lime Curd in exactly the same way although the quantities were slightly different and made 3 jars instead of 4.

Lime Curd Ingredients

  • 225g (8 oz) caster sugar
  • juice and finely grated zest of 5 limes
  • 150g (5 oz) unsalted butter
  • 2 large eggs and 2 egg yolks

Lemon & Lime

I had successfully managed to use 4 lemons and 5 limes. Only 16 lemons and 7 limes to go! I realised that Lemon and Lime Curd wouldn’ t keep like my jams for Christmas presents. I therefore decided to get creative using the Lemon Curd in another recipe.

Mary Berry’s Lemon Meringue Ice Cream

This is a fantastic recipe, very easy to make and tastes delicious!

  • 300ml/½ pint double cream
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1 jar good quality lemon curd
  • 4 meringues broken into chunky pieces
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh lemon balm
  • 3 passionfruit, halved, pulp and seeds scooped out
  • sprigs of lemon balm, to garnish

 

Line a 450g/1lb loaf tin with clingfilm, overlapping the sides.

Whisk the cream lightly until the whisk leaves a trail. Double Cream

 

Add the lemon zest and juice Easy Squeezerand half the jar of lemon curd then fold in the meringue and chopped lemon balm.

Lemon Meringue Dream

At this point I discovered I had no lemon balm and neither did 3 supermarkets or a garden centre! Lemon balm is a perennial herb in the mint family. It is often used as a flavouring in ice cream and herbal teas. Having asked around, a friend came to the rescue and gave me an off shoot of her plant. Beware it can spread and be invasive like mint. As I had no lemon balm I improvised and used a small piece of finely chopped lemon grass which I hoped would give a nice fresh citrus taste to the ice-cream.

Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin. Cover with the clingfilm and freeze for at least 6 hours.

Remove the ice cream from the freezer 10- 15 minutes before turning onto a plate. Lift the ice cream from the loaf tin, invert it onto a board and remove the clingfilm.Dip a sharp knife in boiling water and cut the ice cream into thick slices.

Mix the other half of the lemon curd with the pulp and seeds from the passion fruit to make a refreshing sauce. I’ve never used passion fruit before in a recipe. On the outside they are pretty boring, dark, ugly fruits. However I thought they were quite pretty when I cut them in half. The pink flesh matched the pretty pink saucer and the white pith looked lacy like the tablecloth.

Passionfruit Place a slice of ice cream on a plate and top with a spoonful of the passion fruit sauce. Decorate with sprigs of lemon balm if you have it.

Lemon Meringue Ice Cream

 

 

I still needed to find more delicious citrus recipes to use all the lemons and limes we’d bought. I found another Mary Berry recipe was quite easy to make and also delicious.

Mary Berry’s Lemon & Lime Cheesecake

  • 10 digestive biscuits, crushed
  • 50g (1¾ oz) butter, melted
  • 25g (scant 1oz) demerara sugar
  • 150ml (5fl oz) double cream
  • 397g can full-fat condensed milk
  • 175g (6oz) full-fat cream cheese (room temperature)
  • grated zest and juice of 2 large lemons
  • grated zest and juice of 1½ limes
  • 150ml (5fl oz) double or whipping cream, to decorate
  • ½ lime, thinly sliced, to decorate

This is a really, easy recipe which looks lovely and tastes delicious.

To make the biscuit base place the biscuits in a clear plastic bag. Lay the bag on a flat surface and run a rolling pin back and forth over the biscuits until they form crumbs. I actually used a mixture of digestive biscuits and ginger biscuits. I find digestive biscuits give a more crumbly texture and I like the taste of the ginger in the base.  Biscuits
Crushed Biscuit Base

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Place the crushed biscuits and the sugar in a bowl. Melt the butter and pour over the biscuits, stirring until thouroughly mixed.

Butter

Turn the biscuit mixture out into a 20 cm (8in) loose- bottomed tin and press firmly and evenly over the bottom and up the sides using the back of a metal spoon. Chill for at least 30 minutes until set.  Demerara Sugar

 

 

 

Double Cream

 

To make the filling place the double cream, condensed milk and cream cheese in a bowl with the lemon and lime zests. Mix thoroughly. Using a balloon whisk gradually whisk in the lemon and lime juices and continue whisking until the mixture thickens. You must use full-fat condensed milk and cream cheese for the recipe to work, as the filling won’t set if you use low-fat substitutes.

Citrus Fiesta

Pour the lemon and lime filling into the crumb crust and spread it evenly. Cover and chill overnight.

Up to 6 hours before serving , whip the cream and decorate the cheesecake with swirls of whipped cream and slices of lime. I must admit my swirls were more like thick blobs as I overwhipped the cream, but I was still pleased with the result! 

Lemon & Lime Cheesecake

 

The last recipe I followed to use up the lemons was Lemon Drizzle Cake. We were still left with 11 lemons and 3 limes, but I think I made a jolly good effort at using them!

Lemon Drizzle Cake

  • 250g butter, softened
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 250g self raising flour, sifted
  • zest and juice 2 lemons
  • 75g (3 oz) granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to Gas 4, 180°C, fan 160°C. Grease a (20cm) round, deep loose-based tin and base line with baking parchment.

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Place the butter, sugar and lemon zest in a large bowl. DSC_3887

Use an electric whisk to beat the butter and sugar together until they are pale and fluffy.

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Gradually add the eggs, whisking well between additions and adding 2 tbsp of the flour with the last egg – this will prevent curdling.   DSC_3890

 

 

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Sift over the remaining flour, then gently fold in with a metal spoon along with 1 tbsp hot water.   DSC_3892

Spoon into the prepared tin and level the surface.

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Bake for 50-60 minutes until it is shrinking away from the sides of the tin. A fine skewer inserted in the centre should come out clean. Cool in the tin for 5 mins.

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Squeeze the lemon juice, then sieve to remove the bits. Stir the granulated sugar into the lemon juice. Use the fine skewer to prick the cake all over, pour over the syrup – it should sink in but leave a crunchy crust. Leave to cool completely.

 

So here we have it – Mrs Smiles’ Finest Lemon Drizzle Cake.

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The Lemon Drizzle Cake went down very well at work. I still have 10 lemons and 3 limes left, but have run out of steam. I am leaving them for Mr Smiles to be inventive with…Do let me know if you have any favourite lemon or lime recipes.

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Rhubarb, Rhubarb!

Rhubarb & Vanilla

Our rhubarb has been growing fast and furious so I decided it was time to get cooking this weekend. DSC_9967I am good friends with a group of girls calling ourselves the `Domestic Goddesses‘. Every couple of months we meet up for a dinner party at one of our houses. One member cooks a main course and another makes a dessert. The rules are that it has to be something you have never cooked before and you are not allowed to have a practice run. We started the group over 5 years ago. We had been chatting about dating and how if we attracted a man some of us had a very limited repertoire of recipes to impress a future husband! My stock recipe was Boeuf Bourguignon. However if dating advanced beyond Boeuf Bourguignon I had no other fail safe recipe up my sleeve to fall back on! The Domestic Goddess group was born. The majority of us have now found partners or husbands and I must admit my Black-Eyed Bean Stew with Spicy Sausage which I first made at Domestic Goddesses was an instant hit with my future husband! He still raves about it!

This weekends cooking adventures proved I haven’t made the grade to Domestic Goddess status yet! Firstly I thought I’d make an `Easy’ rhubarb fool. Guess who was the fool?! The recipe required boiling up the rhubarb with sugar and orange  juice and enough water to cover the rhubarb.

Boiling Rhubarb

Well this made ever such a lot of juice so I think less water was required.

 

Rhubarb Bubbles

 

Then I needed whipped cream and egg white, beaten until peaked.

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I know that you should have spotlessly clean equipment  to get peaks when whipping egg whites, so why did I decide to re-use the whisk I had whipped the cream with and not wash it? Needless to say I couldn’t make egg white peaks just a liquid white froth that looked like the texture of a far off planet.

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I ploughed on regardless thinking this was an easy recipe so everything would work out. I was then instructed to fold in the cream and egg white mixture into the rhubarb. At no point did the recipe say `Wait for the rhubarb mixture to cool’. So I did as instructed and put cold whipped cream into boiling hot rhubarb. I could have predicted the runny,curdled mess. Oh well I put the disaster in beautiful dessert glasses and hoped a miracle would happen in the fridge and it would set. It didn’t and my husband refused to eat his as it looked like cat sick. So definately not a Domestic Goddess moment!

The next recipe of the weekend was a trusty favourite, or so I thought!

Rhubarb and Vanilla Jam 

1kg rhubarb

1kg granulated sugar

1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise

Juice of 1 lemon

For this recipe try to use early forced rhubarb – the bright pink variety. It’s less watery and much sweeter than later season rhubarb, which produces a sludge green jam.

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After having recently spent time experimenting with mixing various shades of red for my Ruby Red Bouquet I was fascinated by the different  red colours in the stalks of rhubarb from deep crimson to speckled light pink. The end pulled out of the ground is truly a bright magenta pink. A vivid almost flourescent colour.

 

 

Shades of Red

The Colours of Rhubarb

 

1. Trim, wash and wipe the rhubarb and cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces. Put into a large bowl, toss with the sugar, cover with a clean tea towel and leave overnight to macerate.

Macerating Rhubarb

Maceration is a process which softens or breaks up food. When fruit is sprinkled with sugar and left to sit the fruit releases its own juices and softens.

Unfortunately I forgot this recipe needed the rhubarb to macerate overnight. I decided to be `clever’ and speed up the process by putting the covered bowl in the sunny garden. Big mistake!   I knew the clean  tea-towel would stop any flies landing in the bowl. However I forgot that ants like sugar! An hour later the bowl was covered with ants. So I had to start again.

I chose to use preserving sugar. I was a bit confused between preserving sugar and jam sugar which were sat side by side on the supermarket shelf. Preserving sugar is a very large crystal white sugar. It dissolves more slowly and does not settle on the bottom of the pan, reducing the risk of burning. It reduces the need for stirring and skimming. Jam sugar contains added pectin, making it ideal for use with low-pectin fruits.

Pectin

Pectin is a naturally occurring carbohydrate found mostly in the skin and core of fruit, when combined with acid and sugar it forms a gel, the essential process for setting jam. Different types of fruit have different levels of pectin content, and it is at it’s highest levels in slightly under-ripe fruit. When making jam or jelly with a fruit high in pectin it will set easily. Low pectin fruit can still be made to set, but will need help. Rhubarb is low in pectin. To make it set you could use jam sugar with added pectin, combine with fruit high in pectin content (such as orange) or add lemon juice to the rhubarb. The acid lemon juice helps extract the pectin.

2. Next day, pour the rhubarb mixture into a preserving pan. Most of the sugar will have dissolved.

Vanilla Pod

Add the vanilla pod and the lemon juice. Bring slowly to the boil, stirring occasionally, until any remaining sugar has dissolved.

Lemon & Vanilla

 

 

 

 

3. Boil rapidly until darkened and thickened and the jam has reached setting point.

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Boiling Jam

4. Remove from the heat, skim off any skum, and allow to cool briefly. Carefully pour into hot sterilised jars. Seal and allow to cool before labelling and storing.

I then set to and made some delicious home-made scones. We then sat in the garden enjoying a lovely tea of fresh scones with rhubarb and vanilla jam and clotted cream. Rhubarb and Vanilla is a fantastic combination and was voted the best jam I made last year amongst all my friends and family.

Rhubarb & Vanilla

 

Tea in the Garden

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