Jams and Preserves

Flower Shows and Village Fetes

Spring Show 2016

I spent a wonderful time recently exhibiting at the Abingdon Horticultural Society Spring Show. The Abingdon Horticultural Society is a friendly club for gardeners, cooking enthusiasts and handicraft lovers. It holds two shows a year where flowers, fruit and vegetables, preserves, baking and handicrafts are all exhibited and judged.  Exhibiting brought back so many memories. In the 1980’s Mum and I used to enter the Harnham Flower Show in Wiltshire. I even won the Children’s Cup twice!

1980 Cup Winner
1980 Cup Winner

 

It really is my cup of tea – baking, jam making and growing flowers, fruit and vegetables!  I was keen to enter the floral arrangement class as I was a proven winner even in the 1980s!

 

1982 Harnham Flower Show

Harnham Flower Show 1982

Abingdon Horticultural Society Spring Show 2016

Spring Show 2016

The Spring Show celebrates the arrival of Spring with flowers and Easter Cakes in abundance.

In Section A – Flowers and Plants there are 25 classes to enter and 10 of them are for Narcissus including trumpet daffodils, miniature narcissi and double narcissi. There is a strict clause that for the trumpet daffodils the trumpet must be longer than the outer petals. I was keen to enter the blooms from my garden this year. However I discovered there is quite a skill in getting your daffodils in peak condition for show day. I knew I would have some in flower, but hadn’t got a clue as to whether my daffs would have big enough trumpets and whether they would be more than 7.5cm across.  I just knew they always look cheerful! I can see that this is serious stuff. How do you get your trumpet to grow bigger I ask myself?! I entered a class for multi-bloom narcissi naively thinking this was just a vase of 5 stems of one or more varieties. At the last minute I realised it actually meant narcissi with more than one bloom to a stem. I swiftly changed my entry and entered 1 stem more than 7.5cm across.

Spring Show 2016 - Trumpet Daffodils
1. Vase of Trumpet Daffodils

The trumpet must be longer than the outer petals.

5 stems – one or more varieties

Spring Show 2016 Minature Narcissi
Spring Show 2016 - vase of minature narcissi2. Vase of Miniature Narcissi

5 stems – one or more varieties with flowers less than 5cm across

I loved the frilly Rip Van Winkle Narcissi. The judge gave first prize to the Tete a Tete miniature daffs.

Spring Show 2016 - bicoloured narcissiSpring Show 2016 - bicoloured narcissi
5. Vase of Narcissi

5 stems- any one bi-coloured variety with flowers more than 5.5cm across

Spring Show 2016 - multi-bloom narcissi
7. Vase of multi-bloom Narcissi

5 stems – one or more varieties

I have some beautiful multi-bloom narcissi planted in my garden called Bridal Crown and Winston Churchill. However they are slightly later blooming and failed to make an appearance in time for the show.  

Multi-bloom Narcissi
Multi-bloom Narcissi

 

9. Narcissus 1 stem – flower more than 7.5cm across

I entered one Narcissus bloom in Class 9. However I agreed that my dainty Pheasant’s Eye variety didn’t really meet the grade compared to the others. I did pick up a nifty tip though. If you put moss round the stem you can support the bloom so it stands up and can be more easily seen by the judge. I was a bit forceful and ended up with moss floating in the water and not supporting the bloom! I’ll know for next time.

Pheasant's Eye

 

There were only 2 classes for tulips. One being a single tulip and the other being a vase of 3 tulips of one or more varieties. This surprised me at first. A couple of years ago there was a fabulous display of tulips at the Spring Show. However in early April tulips are only just starting to bloom so it’s always a bit of a gamble.

 Abingdon Spring Show tulips 2014

Tulips at Spring Show 2014

 

Tulips at Spring Show 2014
Spring Show 2014

I didn’t have much choice in the garden. There were a few small pink tulips, but some had been nibbled by garden predators. My best tulips were rather nondescript white varieties. However the size was more of a competitive standard I felt. I learnt that the hall where the show takes place gets quite warm on show day. It’s best to choose a well formed, but in tight bud bloom. My tulips started out in bud and were wide open within an hour of setting up. You can be in danger of dropping the petals before the judging!

Spring Show 2016 - 1 tulip
10. Tulip

1 stem

I received a Third Prize for my pink tulip. Janet Moreton I felt deserved the First Prize with her red and gold tulip.

Spring Show 2016 - single tulip

Spring Show 2016 - 3 tulipsSpring Show 2016 - Vase of Tulips 3 stemsSpring Show 2016 - vase of tulips 3 stems
11. Vase of Tulips

3 stems – one or more varieties

I was awarded a second prize for my white tulips which I was chuffed with. Particularly as I thought they were a bit boring and had wanted to exhibit more flamboyant, frilly blooms. The red tulips won the First Class Award. I find it interesting that red tulips seem to do well. In 2014 my favourite tulip was the deep pinky, purple tulip in a matching stone grey pink vase. However the judges favoured the yellow and red tulips giving the first prize to them. I guess it all comes down to personal taste if the blooms are perfect. However I might grow more red tulips next year as a tactical move.  

12. Vase of Hellebores

My Narcissi had let me down as I only had a few blooms in the garden. However I had plenty of Hellebore flowers to choose from. Hellebores can be tricky to arrange in water as they flop easily. There are a few handy tricks.

Cut the flowers directly into a bucket of water. Take them inside to condition them. Strip the leaves from below the likely water line. Sear the hellebores as soon as you can by lowering the stem ends (about 2cms) into boiling water for 30 seconds. The flowers should then be placed in clean, cold water.

I was pleased that having followed this procedure my flowers still looked perky in the afternoon of the Show. Flowers which have set seed are also easier to use and less likely to flop. I decided to try to exhibit blooms at several stages of development.

Spring Show 2016 - Vase of Hellebores

Spring Show 2016 - Vase of Hellebores

I received a Third Prize for  my efforts.

Other floral exhibits included wallflowers, auriculas and primulas.

Spring Show 2016 - primula

Spring Show 2016 - blossom or shrub flowers
16. Vase with up to 3 stems

Blossom or shrub flowers

I must admit I was disappointed to find I had no shrubs in flower in the garden and have now rectified this for next year! I do think some of the exhibits were lacking in flowers though.

Spring Show 2016 - Spring FlowersSpring Show 2016 - Spring FlowersSpring Show 2016 - 5 stems of Spring FlowersSpring Show 2016 - 5 stems of Spring Flowers
17. Vase of 5 stems of Spring flowers

One or more varieties not included elsewhere in the Schedule (no shrub flowers)

I exhibited the Snakeshead Fritillary and pink Ranunculus. My Fritillary flowers were awarded a Third Prize, however my Ranunculus failed to win any prizes. I thought they were rather marvellous! However maybe the judges thought they were bought for the event. They weren’t! They have been giving me much joy in pots in front of our front door for weeks. There was a lovely selection and I rather liked the cowslips in a turquoise vase.Ranunculus

There were also categories for various pottted flowering plants and vases of Spring flowers not included elsewhere in the Schedule.

 

18. Container of Hyacinths

Spring Show 2016 - container of hyacinths

19. Hippeastrum (Amaryllis)

Spring Show 2016

 

Amaryllis-1

Spring Show 2016

23. 1 pot, cactus or succulent

Spring Show 2016 - cactus

 

24. 1 pot for the patio

Spring Show 2016 - pot for the patio

25. Spring flower arrangement in a vase.

May include purchased flowers or foliage. NO ACCESSORIES.To be staged in a niche 60cm wide and 76cm high.

Spring Show 2016 - Spring flower arrangement in a vase
Spring Show 2016 - Spring flower arrangement in a vase
Spring Show 2016 - Spring flower arrangement in a vase

This was the one class I really enjoyed entering and went to town on the Spring theme. I wasn’t quite sure how big to go and how to construct my entry. I was therefore found with a car boot full of flowers and foliage in the car park constructing and arranging my flower arrangement to great amusement from other entrants.

Spring Show 2016
Spring Show 2016
Spring Show 2016
Spring Show 2016

Spring Show 2016 - Spring flower arrangement in a vase

 

I was awarded a Third Prize. There was no indication as to what the judge was looking for and why the First and Second Prizes were awarded. I am sure that I was marked down for the size of my exhibit as my pussy willow was escaping from the designated niche! I had a good look at the others and saw that they had been constructed in advance with floral foam. One of them had placed the floral foam in a dish on top of the vase. Strictly speaking I feel that this was against the criteria as it was stated that the flower arrangement was to be in a vase. Not that I’m a sore loser! I can see that the other arrangements fulfilled sound design principles and mine was much wilder and ecologically friendly with the use of water and no foam.

I enjoyed the challenge and have loved having the house full of Spring flowers. I was amazed at the yellow tulips I purchased from Fabulous Flowers. They lasted a whole week and became more beautiful as they opened out.

Sunshine Flowers

Sunshine Flowers

Sunshine Flowers

 

Section D was the Photography Section. 

A Photograph on a Spring theme (Taken in 2016) mounted on white card.

Spring Show 2016 - Spring themed photograph

I had so many photographs to choose from I didn’t know where to start! In the end I selected a couple of images of Spring garden flowers which I felt were the most technically proficient. I did have some cheery daffodil images I could have used, but felt my focus wasn’t pin sharp. I opted for primroses and Anemone blanda. I was disappointed not to be recognised with any award as I really did feel my images were well photographed and it was a photography competition! Personally I felt some of the other images were over exposed and out of focus. However in this case maybe the judge was looking for an image which conveyed `a sense of Spring’, rather than technical expertise. This was in contrast to the judging for the Spring Flower Arrangement where the judge seemed to favour technical proficiency rather than my arrangement which was designed to convey a sense of exuberant Spring.

Section B was the Cooking Section with a wonderful display of preserves, decorated Easter Cakes, Hot Cross Buns and tea bread made to a given recipe.

Spring Show 2016 - Spring Cake

Spring Show 2016 - Spring Cake

The Spring Cakes were judged purely for creative decoration and not on the taste of the cake. The Fruit and Marzipan Teabread  was made to a specific given recipe.

33. Fruit and Marzipan Teabread

It proved quite a challenge to make. I made three attempts. One sunk in the middle, one didn’t rise much and the other was rather stodgy! I settled for the slightly sunken one as it looked the right colour and hadn’t got any cracks. Although the Judge felt my teabread had `a good texture’ I didn’t win any prizes for my efforts. Maureen Cook was awarded a well deserved First Prize as her teabread looked appetizing and hadn’t sunk in the middle.

Spring Show 2016 - Fruit and Marzipan Teabread
Spring Show 2016 - Fruit and Marzipan Teabread

I had done better as a child as my rockcakes were `just the right size and shape’ and came First in 1982.

1982 First Prize Rock Cakes
1982 Rock Cakes

 

 

32. Spiced Fruit Buns

Spring Show 2016 - Spiced Fruit Buns

I was pleased to see that it wasn’t just women who won prizes in the Domestic Classes. David Bingley was awarded a First for his spiced fruit buns made with a yeast recipe.

There was a fine display of marmalades, lemon curd and chutney.
In the schedule there was a useful instruction for exhibiting preserves. `Use either wax disks and cellophane tops, or new screw lids without wax disks. Labels on preservatives must include the day, month and year they were made.’

Spring Show 2016- Marmalade

30. Lemon Curd.  Home Made 2016. One 8 – 16 oz jar.

Spring Show 2016 - Lemon Curd

I entered a jar of Lemon Curd which won no awards, but was noted to be a `good flavour’ by the judge. We enjoyed a dollop with yoghurt and fruit for dessert.

 Harnham Flower Show 1980

1980 Harnham Show-1

 

I regularly exhibited at the Harnham Flower Show Spring and Summer Shows during the 1980s, together with my mum. The Summer Show was a grand affair held on the fields near The Old Mill with big marquees to show the exhibits. The event was officially opened by the Mayor and the Wilton British Legion Band was there to entertain everyone. I remember these Shows as real community events with tombolas and games in addition to the actual judged exhibits. Home-Made Teas were organised by the Women’s Institute.

1980 was a good year for me as I won the Children’s Silver Cup and even got my picture in the paper! I won 1st Prize for my `Animal Made out of Vegetables’ which was the Loch Ness Monster with a cucumber body and a jaunty tartan hat.

1980 Cup Winner

I chose to use a crab shell for the Flower Arrangement in a Shell. Some of the flowers I had grown myself in my little patch in the garden.

We always had a photo of our Prize Winning Entries when we got home.

1980 Exhibits
1981 Exhibits

I failed to keep the Children’s Cup in 1981, hence the frown on my face! However it looks like a good effort was made. Mum made a quiche, red wine, biscuits, cakes and marmalade. I remember cycling off to Britford Lock for the afternoon and her painting the picture of the Lock in watercolour.

I got 3rd Prize for my rock cakes, 2nd Prize for my Minature Garden, a 1st for 6 Fancy Cakes and a 1st for Mr Rubbish which I am holding up for the camera.

Harnham Flower Show 1982

1982 Flower Arrangement

1982 Flower Arrangement in a Basket
1982 Third Prize Flower Arrangement

Ah back on form and won the Children’s Cup again! I got my picture in the paper with my Flower Arrangement in a Basket. The judge commented that I should have made the handle visible so the basket could be picked up. I remembered this when I constructed my Posy of the Month recently!

The judge noted that my four Rock Cakes were just the right size and shape and awarded me a 1st Prize. An improvement on the year before when I only got a 3rd Prize! Mum had a very good year winning 1st Prize for both her sweet white wine and her dry red wine. She also won 1st for a Machine-Made garment, which was a pair of green knickerbockers made for me. I HATED them! I really had my eye on a new pair of pedal pushers in Dorothy Perkins and these were not the same. I had to wear them to a birthday party and felt very self-conscious. In the picture I am modelling a new Rah-rah skirt which I loved!

1982 Harnham Flower Show Exhibits

The Dorset County Show

The Dorset County Show is run on similar lines to the Harnham and Abingdon Shows, but on a much grander scale with animals. I regularly enjoyed a day out at the Dorset Show with my Uncle as a birthday treat. As this is a large County Show farmers also exhibit their Prize animals and there are sheep shearing competitions and rural crafts.

Dorset County Show-9
Dorset County Show-7
Dorset County Show-1
Dorset County Show-6
Dorset County Show-2

I love Flower Shows and Village Fetes. They have been going on for generations and connect us to our heritage. I found some interesting articles showing my ancestors competed in very similar events. William Jackson, my 3rd Great Grandfather, farmed 31 acres in Throrpe Salvin, Yorkshire. Farming was a way of life for him as he came from a long line of farmers. In 1881 William entered the Kiveton Park Flower Show Agricultural Produce Section. He won 1st prize for his potatoes, red wheat and barley. I’ve got a lot to live up to with my potatoes then!

Kiveton Park Flower Show

Kiveton Park Flower Show 1881

W Jackson 1881I also found another interesting article. My 5th Great Grandfather Robert Hills was awarded a prize at the Northallerton Cattle Show in 1844 for `the Labourer in Husbandry who brought up the greatest number of children without seeking parochial relief.’ Well done Robert!

Newcastle Journal Sat 25 Sep 1841 - Robert Hills

Robert Hills, Northallerton Cattle Show 1844

I hope you have enjoyed my jottings about Flower Shows and Village Fetes. I loved the moment in Downton Abbey where Mr Molesley’s roses finally were awarded Best in Show on merit rather than the Dowager Countess’s blooms.

Downton Abbey Flower Show 2

In keeping with family tradition my entries were duly photographed for posterity when we got home after a wonderful day at the Show.

1980 Cup Winner
Spring Show 2016

 

Spring Show 2016 - Vase of tulips 3 stems

 

Spring Show 2016

Abingdon Spring Show 2016 Exhibits

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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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Flower Shows and Village Fetes

Abingdon Horticultural Society Spring Show 2014 - Vase of TulipsI spent a wonderful afternoon this weekend at the Abingdon Horticultural Society Spring Show. The Abingdon Horticultural Society is a friendly club for gardeners, cooking enthusiasts and handicraft lovers. It holds two shows a year where flowers, fruit and vegetables, preserves, baking and handicrafts are all exhibited and judged.  It brought back so many memories. In the 1980’s Mum and I used to enter the Harnham Flower Show in Wiltshire. I even won the Children’s Cup twice!Harnham Flower Show 1980 - Children's Cup  I didn’t know these kind of clubs still existed and am so excited to have become a new member. I was too late to enter today, however  I will try to plan ahead for the next big show in September. It sounds just my cup of tea – baking, jam making and growing flowers, fruit and vegetables! I’m quite confident in my cookery skills and will happily enter the art and photography classes. I am very excited about the flowers I could show. I am hoping there will be classes for dahlias as I have now planted 12 different varieties and I have even more roses. I will definately want to enter the floral arrangement class as I was a proven winner even in the 1980s! Harnham Flower Show 1982

However vegetables still fill me with a slight apprehension. My aim this year was to get to grips with veg. Well I have made a start. Manure was dug into the raised vegetable beds. I have broad beans and peas in flower and the rhubarb is doing magnificently. The swiss chard and spinach are doing well. I particularly like the Bright Lights chard with their colourful stems. Main Crop potatoes are chitting and the 1st and 2nd Earlies have been planted. I also have garlic with green leaves.PeasBroadbean Aquadulce Claudia

However my green savoy cabbages have been nibbled by pigeons and the red cabbages are going to seed before they have reached eating proportions. I really am unsure whether just to eat the tiny leaves like purple sprouting broccoli or to let the cabbages set seed so I can collect the seed and try again next year. The cauliflower just went mouldy when we had all the floods.

Swiss Chard - Bright LightsSwiss Chard - White SilverSwiss Chard - Bright LightsRed Cabbage - Gone to Seed

Bolted Red Cabbage I do have squash seedlings growing from a squash I bought in the supermarket. I have also sown tomato, aubergine and cucumber seed in the greenhouse. However how on earth do you make sure you have something decent to exhibit at exactly the right time? I am presuming as I have grown 12 dahlia tubers a few will be in bloom in September. I really am not sure about veg though. It always seems a bit pot luck to me depending on the weather. I often find my vegetables go to seed, are eaten by caterpillars or pigeons or fail to germinate. So watch this space….!

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

Garlic

Purple Sprouting

Rhubarb Harvest

I’ve also discovered I’m scared of slugs! It’s ok if I encounter them in the garden as I’m well protected with gardening gloves. However I’ve just harvested purple sprouting broccoli and chard for dinner and the two slugs I found made me squeal as I prepared them. Oh well next time Mr Smiles can be my Knight in Shining Armour and prepare the veg or I resort to wearing gardening gloves in the kitchen!

Green Savoy Cabbages

Abingdon Horticultural Society Spring Show 2014 

The Spring Show celebrates the arrival of Spring with flowers and Easter Cakes in abundance. In Section A  – Flowers and Plants there are 25 classes to enter and 10 of them are Narcissus including trumpet daffodils, miniature narcissi and double narcissi. You might like to check out my previous Blog Post `Heralding Spring!‘ where I talked about varieties of narcissi.  There is a strict clause that for the trumpet daffodils the trumpet must be longer than the outer petals. I haven’t got a clue as to whether my daffs have big trumpets I just think they look pretty! I can see that this is serious stuff. How do you get your trumpet to grow bigger I ask myself?! I’m sure Monty Don from Gardeners World would say mulch and manure, but that might just give me big leaves!

Abingdon Horticultural Society Spring Show 2014 - narcissiAbingdon Horticultural Society Spring Show 2014 - narcissiAbingdon Horticultural Society Spring Show 2014 - narcissiThere were only 2 classes for tulips. One being a single tulip and the other being a vase of 3 tulips of one or more varieties. This surprised me at first. However thinking about it my tulips are only just starting to bloom this week.

Abingdon Horticultural Society Spring Show 2014 - Vase of tulips (3 stems)Abingdon Horticultural Society Spring Show 2014 - inspecting the competition!Abingdon Horticultural Society Spring Show 2014 - 1 tulipAbingdon Horticultural Society Spring Show 2014 - 1 tulip

Abingdon Horticultural Society Spring Show 2014 - Vase of tulips 1st prize

My favourite was the deep pinky purple tulip in a matching stone grey pink vase. However the judges favoured the yellow and red tulips giving the first prize to them. I guess it all comes down to personal taste if the blooms are perfect. The striking yellow and red tulips are very reminiscent of a Dutch Masterpiece. You may like to check out my Tulip Mania Blog Post which includes the History of the Tulip Flower.

Ambrosio Bosschaert - Tulips in a Wan-Li Vase c. 1619Other exhibits were wallflowers, auriculas and primulas. I was rather fond of this chartreuse coloured auricula which was very striking in colour.Abingdon Horticultural Society Spring Show 2014 - Auricula, Primula or Primrose

There were also categories for various pottted flowering plants and vases of Spring flowers not included elsewhere in the Schedule.

Abingdon Horticultural Society Spring Show 2014 - vase of Spring Flowers Abingdon Horticultural Society Spring Show 2014 - Bowl of planted flowers  The bowl of planted flowers with primula vulgaris, violets and cowslips looked very Spring like. I think I could give this Category a good go next year with my primroses and violets in the garden.

Section B was the Cooking Section with a wonderful display of preserves, decorated Easter Cakes, Hot Cross Buns and Marmalade Cakes made to a given recipe.

I was interested in this lovely Easter Cake decorated with sugar frosted primroses. I’ve discovered that both primrose flowers and leaves are edible, the flavour ranging between mild lettuce and more bitter salad greens. The leaves can also be used for tea, and the young flowers can be made into primrose wine. I’m not sure I fancy primrose wine if it tastes like bitter salad greens! However I have very fond memories of being read the story by Alison Uttley where Little Grey Rabbit makes primrose wine to cure Hare’s cold.

Abingdon Horticultural Society Spring Show 2014 - Decorated Easter CakeAbingdon Horticultural Society Spring Show 2014 - Easter Cake

The Easter Cakes were judged purely for creative decoration and not on the taste of the cake. The Marmalade Cake was made to a specific given recipe. I don’t have photographs to show you as the cakes were covered in cling-film and the photos don’t do them justice. I had a lovely conversation with a lady who had won 2nd prize for her cake. She was absolutely chuffed to bits. We had quite a chat about cake baking and our chat really did bring back fond memories of baking cakes with my mum and entering competitions like this as a child.

There was a fine display of marmalades, lemon curd and chutney.

Abingdon Horticultural Society Spring Show 2014 - Preserves

In the schedule there was a useful instruction for exhibiting preserves.  `Use either wax disks and cellophane tops, or new screw lids without wax disks. Labels on preservatives must include the day, month and year they were made.’ I entered The World’s Original Marmalade Awards this year and was marked down for using wax discs with a screw top lid. Now I know the official rules! Also I have re-used jam jar lids, but have sterilised them. I must remember to buy new lids for competitions in future!

Abingdon Horticultural Society Spring Show 2014 - Seville Orange Marmalade

The World’s Original Marmalade Festival 2014

Marmalade Awards Pic

In the true spirit of aspiring to be a Domestic Goddess I entered my home-made marmalade in `The World’s Original Marmalade Competition’  this year. Marmalade Competition 2014

The Amateur Category for home-made marmalades has grown from 50 jars to over 2,000 jars posted from all over the World. There are 13 categories to choose from. I entered the `Merry Marmalade Class’ and the `Citrus Marmalade, with interesting ingredients.’ Each jar is tasted and marked by the Cumbrian W.I. together with a team of Artisan judges and where it attains sufficient marks is then awarded a Dalemain Gold, Silver or Bronze. Each entrant receives a mark card with the judges feedback, a certificate designed by the artist Mungo McCosh and a thank you letter.

Seville OrangesSeville OrangesIf you need a Marmalade Recipe do check out my previous Blog Post. This year I tried two different methods. For my Merry Marmalade I softened the whole fruit in a lidded pan of simmering water first, before cutting up the peel. For the other variety I cut the peel up first and then softened the peel in water. My conclusion was softening the fruit first made much more of a sticky mess, but enabled the pith to come away much more easily. Pot of Gold

It was so exciting when I received my certificates in the post. I won Bronze for my Merry Marmalade made with Drambuie. So chuffed! My Seville Orange Ginger Marmalade received a Certificate of Merit. Merry MarmaladeMerry Marmalade MarksCitrus Marmalade AwardCitrus MarksI think I played a bit too safe with my interesting ingredient of Ginger. Beer, honey, chocolate, yellow mustard seed and even seaweed all featured in the jars of marmalade entered from across the globe. The Top Award for best homemade marmalade was awarded to Sarah Byrne from Chiddingstone, Kent who used beer from her small family brewery in her ‘Seville Orange Marmalade with Beer’ concoction. Sarah added two pints of Larkins Half & Half (half porter, half traditional ale) to her grandmother’s traditional marmalade recipe. Her marmalade will now be stocked on the shelves of Fortnum & Mason in Piccadilly.  Marmalade Awards

Harnham Flower Show 1980

 

Harnham Flower ShowHarnham Flower Show 1980

I regularly exhibited at the Harnham Flower Show Spring and Summer Shows during the 1980s, together with my mum. The Summer Show was a grand affair held on the fields near The Old Mill with big marquees to show the exhibits. The event was officially opened by the Mayor and the Wilton British Legion Band was there to entertain everyone. I remember these Shows as real community events with tombolas and games in addition to the actual judged exhibits. Home-Made Teas were organised by the Women’s Institute.

1980 was a good year for me as I won the Children’s Silver Cup and even got my picture in the paper! I won 1st Prize for my `Animal Made out of Vegetables’ which was the Loch Ness Monster with a cucumber body and a jaunty tartan hat. Harnham Flower Show 1980 - An animal made out of vegetables

I chose to use a crab shell for the Flower Arrangement in a Shell.  Some of the flowers I had grown myself in my little patch in the garden.

We always had a photo of our Prize Winning Entries when we got home.

 Harnham Flower Show 1980

Harnham Flower Show 1981

Harnham Flower Show 1981

I failed to keep the Children’s Cup in 1981, hence the frown on my face! However it looks like a good effort was made. Mum made a quiche, red wine, biscuits, cakes and marmalade. I remember cycling off to Britford Lock for the afternoon and her painting the picture of the Lock in watercolour.

I got 3rd Prize for my rock cakes, 2nd Prize for my Minature Garden, a 1st for 6 Fancy Cakes and a 1st for Mr Rubbish which I am holding up for the camera.

Harnham Summer Fete and Flower Show 1982 

Harnham Flower Show 1982

Ah back on form and won the Children’s Cup again! I got my picture in the paper with my Flower Arrangement in a Basket. The judge commented that I should have made the handle visible so the basket could be picked up. I remembered this when I constructed my Posy of the Month recently!         Harnham Flower Show 1982 - Basket of flowers

 Harnham Flower Show 1982

Easter TreatsThe judge noted that my four Rock Cakes were just the right size and shape and awarded me a 1st Prize. An improvement on the year before when I only got a 3rd Prize! Mum had a very good year winning 1st Prize for both her sweet white wine and her dry red wine. She also won 1st for a Machine-Made garment, which was a pair of green knickerbockers made for me. I HATED them! I really had my eye on a new pair of pedal pushers in Dorothy Perkins and these were not the same. I had to wear them to a birthday party and felt very self-conscious.  In the picture I am modelling a new Rah-rah skirt which I loved!

Harnham Flower Show 1982

Harnham Flower Show 1982 - Rock Cakes

The Dorset County Show 

The Dorset County Show is run on similar lines to the  Harnham and Abingdon Shows, but on a much grander scale with animals. I regularly enjoy a day out at the Dorset Show with my Uncle as a birthday treat. As this is a large County Show farmers also exhibit their Prize animals and there are sheep shearing competitions and rural crafts. Dorset County Show 2012 - cattleDorset County Show 2012

Dorset County Show 2012 - Cattle judging

As usual I enjoy looking at the wonderful flower blooms, particularly the big, blowsy dahlias. Dorset County Show 2012 - dahliaDorset County Show 2012 - 6 dahliaDorset County Show 2012 - dahliaDorset County Show 2012 - dahliaDorset County Show 2012 - dahliaDorset County Show 2012 - flowersDorset County Show Veg

What wonderful vegetables. Hope mine grow like that!

I love Flower Shows and Village Fetes. They have been going on for generations and connect us to our heritage. I found some interesting articles showing my ancestors competed in very similar events. William Jackson, my 3rd Great Grandfather, farmed 31 acres in Throrpe Salvin, Yorkshire. Farming was a way of life for him as he came from a long line of farmers. In 1881 William entered the Kiveton Park Flower Show Agricultural Produce Section. He won 1st prize for his potatoes, red wheat and barley.  I’ve got a lot to live up to with my potatoes then!Kiveton Park Flower Show 1881Kiveton Park Flower Show 1881William Jackson Kiveton Park Flower Show 1881I also found another interesting article. My 5th Great Grandfather Robert Hills was awarded a prize at the Northallerton Cattle Show in 1844  for `the Labourer in Husbandry who brought up the greatest number of children without seeking parochial relief.’ Well done Robert!

Robert Hills Northallerton Cattle Show 1844

I hope you have enjoyed my jottings about Flower Shows and Village Fetes. I loved the moment in Downton Abbey where Mr Molesley’s roses finally were awarded Best in Show on merit rather than the Dowager Countess’s blooms.

Downton Abbey Flower ShowDownton Abbey Flower Show

`The Village Flower Show’ and  `A Country Fete’ make fabulous wedding themes, especially if you are getting married in the country or using a Village Hall for a Reception. If you want some more inspiration do check out my Village Show Board on Pinterest. There is also a fantastic Blog Post by the talented Squib Photography entitled `A Vintage Wedding in Bampton’ which is set in the fictitious village near Downton Abbey.  What a great theme for a wedding with bunting, informal flower arrangements and afternoon tea with vintage china Lovely!

Squib Photography - a Vintage WeddingVintage Style Country Garden Bunting

BuntingPeaches and Cream

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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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Marmalade Making

Seville Orange Marmalade

January is the time of year to make marmalade. As I look outside at the cold snowy landscape what better way to embrace the short cold days of January than to spend a few hours in the kitchen make pots of glistening gold marmalade?

I inherited my preserving pan from my mum. I have vivid memories of mum making jams, marmalade and jellies in this pan. It wasn’t until I got married in 2011 that I re-discovered the pleasure of jam making. It was my mum who encouraged me in all things creative. She enrolled me in an art class and encouraged me to make things as presents. At School the one subject she insisted I took was Home Economics as she felt if I could cook a meal I was set up for life.

For my wedding Bridal-Favours I made Crab-apple Jelly in mums’ old preserving pan.  I gathered the apples with my Uncle in the New Forest in the Autumn. It was my way of including mum in my wedding day.

Bridal Favours

 

It’s the slow process of marmalade-making which is pleasurable. It is much more economic to buy a jar from the local supermarket, but that’s not the point! The very process of marmalade making – juicing, cutting the skin into fine shreds, simmering the fruit slowly and then boiling fiercely while the whole house is filled with the rich bittersweet aroma of Seville oranges is just worth doing for the experience alone.

History of Marmalade

Marmalade is thought to have been invented in Scotland, in the port of Dundee in the late 18th century. A local victualler, James Keiller discovered a cargo of oranges being sold cheaply from a ship which was seeking harbour from a winter storm. The boat was on its way from Seville and due to the storm the oranges were already less fresh than they ought to have been. Seville OrangesThinking he could sell the oranges for profit in his shop, he bought the whole cargo, only to discover the oranges were bitter and therefore unsellable. His wife took the oranges home with the idea of making orange jam. The resulting “jam” was a success and became named Marmalade after Marmelos, a Portuguese word for a quince paste similar in texture to this new orange preserve. Marmalade is still produced today by the Keiller Company in Dundee.

Seville Orange Marmalade

Seville oranges have a much stronger and more sour taste than ordinary oranges and are therefore great for marmalade making as the sharp, bitter oranges conquer the sweetness of the sugar.  Unlike sweet oranges, the pith of Seville oranges becomes transparent and glistening when cooked with sugar, resulting in a bright, sparkling preserve if you are lucky or skilled in the art of preserve making! The season for Seville oranges is short – they are only normally around for a few weeks in January.

 Ingredients                                Seville Oranges in Morrocan Blue Bowl

1kg Seville oranges

1 unwaxed lemon

2kg Preserving Sugar

Method

Wash the oranges and lemon thoroughly, then dry them in a clean tea towel. Pour 2 litres cold water into a large, wide pan or preserving pan. Juicing SevillesSqueeze the oranges and lemon and add the juice to the water. Reserve the pips and orange rind, but discard the squeezed lemon.

Cut the oranges in half again and, using a metal spoon, scrape the pith and pips into the centre of a large square of muslin. Tie the muslin with kitchen string to form a bag. Add to the pan and tie the ends of the string to the pan handle to make it easier to remove later.Scrape the Pith and Pips

Seville oranges have thick, rough skin so are not as beautiful as regular oranges. The flesh is tart and they are packed with seeds. Most of the pectin that sets marmalade is found in the pips and pith which is why the pips and pith are placed in a muslin bag and boiled with the marmalade. In this way as much pectin as possible is extracted which ensures a good set.

Cut the orange peel into strips – chunky for coarse cut and thinner for a fine shred. It is easier and quicker if you place 2 pieces on top of each other and slice with a sharp knife. Softening the PeelAdd to the pan and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 2 hours, until the peel is very soft and the liquid reduced by about half. Cooking the peel until soft is important to release the pectin which helps the marmalade to set. Remove and discard the bag with the pips and pith, squeezing as much juice as possible back into the pan with the back of a wooden spoon. This was quite fun as it was all gooey. I ended getting my hands on the bag and squeezing it as much as I could. I then created quite a sticky mess all round the kitchen! Mr Smiles loved me!

Add the Preserving Sugar and stir over a low heat until it has dissolved. Preserving sugar has larger crystals which dissolve slowly. This minimises scum and hopefully results in a bright, clear marmalade.

Dissolving Sugar

Increase the heat and boil rapidly until it reaches setting point. This usually takes about 15 minutes but can take longer.

Rolling BoilRolling Boil

To test, remove the pan from the heat and spoon a little marmalade onto a chilled saucer. Allow to cool for a few seconds, then push with a finger. If the surface wrinkles it is ready. If not, boil for a further 5 minutes and test again. To be honest I forgot to chill a saucer so relied on guess work!

Leave the marmalade to settle for 20 minutes, then skim off any scum from the surface with a  spoon. Apparently this part is quite important. Leaving the marmalade to stand for 20 minutes stops the peel from sinking in the finished product.

For an extra special marmalade I decided to be a bit inventive and added a good measure of Grand Marnier just before potting.  Grand Marnier is made from a blend of Cognac brandy, distilled essence of bitter orange, and sugar so seemed an appropriate addition! Grand Marnier

Stir the mixture and pour into warm, clean jars, using a jug. Place a waxed disk on top immediately. Cover when cold, then label and date.

I made two batches. The first batch is rather soft and syrupy. However I love the glistening bright translucent orange colour. It has fine peel suspended in the soft jelly. My second batch is more like darker Oxford-Style marmalade. Although this is firmer I think I over-bolied it. This one is a darker, opaque marmalade with thicker tougher chunks of peel. If you over-boil marmalade it looses the lovely tangy flavour.

So here it is my first ever marmalade ready for breakfast tomorrow:-

Home-made Marmalade

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Christmas Preserves

Christmas Gifts

As a child I remember my Mum and Gran always baking and making things for Christmas. There was a quite a ceremony when the Christmas puddings were made. `Stir Up Sunday’ is the traditional day for everyone in the family to take a turn at stirring the Christmas pudding whilst making a wish. I remember it took ages! For some reason the dried fruit needed de-strigging unlike now when the fruit can be used straight out of the packet.  The puddings and Christmas Cake were made at least a month before Christmas and this formed part of the excitement of waiting for Christmas. A coin was traditionally added to the ingredients and cooked in the pudding. It was supposed to bring wealth to whoever found it on their plate. The traditional coin was an old silver sixpence. We stopped the tradition when my Gran nearly broke her false teeth on the coin.  I did try making my own Christmas Pudding a few years ago but had a bit of an accident with a cracked work top when the steamer had boiled dry and I put the boiling hot pan straight down on to the worktop!

 

My first home-made Christmas Cake
My first home-made Christmas Cake

Last year I made my own Christmas Cake for the first time. I was very proud of it. However the cake was so boozy the reindeer decorations collapsed with the alcoholic fumes! I was amazed how much it cost to make your own cake. It is much cheaper to buy one. However it’s not half as much fun.

We always had a good spread at Christmas tea and it was all home-made – sherry trifle, Christmas Cake, mince pies, chocolate log and my shortbread Christmas tree biscuits with illuminous green icing!  On Boxing Day the chutney and pickles  to go with the cold left over turkey and ham were always home-made.

I like the tradition of baking and making things to share at Christmas. This year I have made a selection of preserves throughout the year to give away as gifts to friends and neighbours. I made rhubarb and vanilla, rhubarb and ginger, strawberry and gooseberry jams earlier in the year. I wanted to add something Christmassy so this weekend made Cranberry and Port Jelly which is great in a cold turkey sandwich.

                                                                                                         

      Cranberry and Port Jelly

  • 1.5 kg cranberries                    Jellypots
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • a few juniper berries
  • a few cloves
  • strips of orange zest
  • preserving sugar
  • 500ml ruby port

 

1 Put the cranberries, cinnamon stick, juniper berries, cloves, orange zest and port into a preserving pan. Add enough water to barely cover and bring to the boil. Simmer over a gentle heat for 30 minutes, until the cranberries have burst and become tender. This is one of the best bits of the recipe. It smells divine. There is a gorgeous Christmas aroma of fruit and spice like mulled wine. It made the house smell very festive as I sung along to Christmas songs on the radio. Mash well, using a potato masher, to extract as much juice as possible.

Cranberrymix

2 Strain through a jelly bag over a large bowl. Do not be tempted to press the fruit or squeeze the bag, as this will cause the jelly to become cloudy. Leave overnight. Handy hint – make sure the jelly bag is secure! I didn’t, and the bag fell off. We had red juice all over the floor and walls. Luckily I could rescue some to finish off the recipe.

3 Next day, when the dripping has stopped measure the resulting liquid and return it to the pan along with 275g preserving sugar for each 600ml of liquid. ( I needed about 350g of sugar, but had lost quite a bit of juice on the floor!). Stir well over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. The liquid is a lovely deep, magenta colour.

4 Increase the heat and boil rapidly for 15 minutes until the jelly has reached setting point.

CranberryBubbles

 

5 Remove the pan from the heat and allow the jelly to cool briefly. Carefully pour into hot sterilised jars. Seal the jars and allow the jelly to cool completely before labelling.

When I had finished making the jelly I parcelled them up in baskets and gift bags with pretty tissue paper to give as Christmas presents. Christmas GiftsThe `proof of the pudding’ is in the eating. So we sat down with a nice turkey sandwich and enjoyed a good dollop of home-made Christmas Preserve!CranberryJelly

 

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