Christmas preparations

 

The apple harvest always heralds the start of Christmas as I make the incredibly simple seasonal mincemeat with home-grown fruit.

I’ll be demonstrating this and other apple basics on Monday 13 September at 1030.   You can sign up for a free ticket at:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/167476539839

If you have any problems, one of the Open Sight staff can help with registering: 02380 646 378

This week, I’ve been experimenting with honey cake.   I think that the last effort was in San Francisco using the recipe of Steve Edwards, winner of Professional Masterchef.   This weekend, at a gathering of local beekeepers, I learned about their “Hampshire honey cake” https://drive.google.com/file/d/1a3vl4wLeIcanNKMusmMAU0ph5SNCb0T2/view?usp=drive_open
I confess, having checked it out, I wouldn’t waste the ingredients.   One of the issues with using honey instead of sugar is that it contains about 17% water (23% for heather honey) which can make a much wetter mix.   One way to offset the water is to add more flour whereas my alternative here is to use some gentle heat to try to persuade the dry fruit to absorb the liquid.   The honey-soaked sultanas, even when coated with flour, still had a tendency to sink but I was too mean with the honey to rinse them.   The orange zest is just to offset the sweetness.   Using a ring mould means that the heat can get to the centre of the cake more easily but the wetter mix still needs longer cooking time to reach the cooked temperature – I prefer something over 95C (in this case, 98C).

And cooking with warm honey, sticky fruit and wobbly cake moulds is particularly testing when you can’t see!   Lots more cleaning up.

 

175g sultanas.

475g honey.

250G butter (one pack).

4 eggs.

250g self-raising flour.

zest of one orange.

 

Place the honey and sultanas in a pan and heat until warm (still comfortable for a finger).   Cover and leave to cool and the sultanas to absorb water from the honey (overnight) – repeat the following day.

On day three, gently reheat the honey until warm enough to drain the honey into the mixing bowl.   Allow to cool.

Whisk the butter into the honey until light and fluffy.

Whisk in the eggs, one at a time.

Fold in most of the flour, leaving a tablespoon or two to mix in with the sultanas.

Fold in the sultanas, coated with flour and the orange zest.

Place the mix in a lightly buttered and floured silicone ring mould.

Cook in a preheated oven at 180C, Gas 4 for 20 minutes before turning in the oven.

Cook for a further 20 minutes, covering loosely with foil if the top is getting too brown.

Allow to cool before turning out.

Next time, I might ignore the sultanas, add 100g chopped walnuts with the flour and top the cooked cake with a warmed honey glaze and walnut halves dry-roasted in a pan with a little honey added to make them sticky at the end!

 

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Harvest exhaustion

Up to our ears in it all.   The honey is progressing through the conditioning into jars and we have even experimented with putting some into bag-in-boxes.   Should be good for ensuring the honey is stored in the dark and easier for me to dispense into recipe mixes using the tap.

But now we are getting overwhelmed with windfalls.   Luckily, another beekeeper produced five large punnets of blackberries so now there are bottles of our own bramble juice (just the apple and berries steamed to release their juices) that should keep for at least a year.   It will be delicious hot with a spoonful of honey and a pinch of cinnamon in the winter months.   And there’s another huge bucket of grapes: more delicious juice.

Alongside, I’ve started Christmas preparations: raisins, currant and sultanas for cakes, puddings and seasonal mincemeat all weighed out and steeping in brandy.

It sounds very domestic and the major challenge is where to store all the preserved produce when there’s lots more to come.   We are starting to view each cupboard longingly and wonder where we can relocate the existing contents.   But it is so satisfying to make the very best of what has been carefully nurtured and grown.

Did you know?   According to the Daily Telegraph, if a domestic TV Licence is in the name of a blind person, they are entitled to it at half price.

Something much simpler, easy and needs no attention: courtesy of Heston, this is my standard roast chicken recipe.   It just needs short preparation and time to cook.

 

1 litre warm water.

60g salt.

1 fresh chicken, any trussing removed.

1 lemon, juice and zest.

freshly chopped herbs of your choice.

1 or 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped (optional).

salt and pepper.

55g butter.

a large glass of white wine.

 

Dissolve the salt in the warm water and allow to cool.

Place the chicken in the water, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Mix the lemon juice and zest, herbs, garlic (if using), seasoning and butter to make a paste.

Drain the chicken and push the paste between the skin and breast meat.

Push the left-over lemon halves and any spare herbs into the chicken cavity.

Place the chicken in a roasting pan, season and add the wine.

Cook in a preheated oven at 95C, Gas Slow or a quarter for 180-210 minutes or until the thickest part of the thigh has reached 70C.

Remove from the oven and cover with foil and a kitchen towel to keep warm and rest for an hour (while you roast potatoes).

Return to the oven at the highest temperature possible for 5-10 minutes to brown the skin.

Serve and enjoy – wonderfully moist, excellent cold and always a winner.

 

 

 

August windfalls

Local fellow beekeeper, Peter, turned up with a bucket of his grapes.   Each one had been individually hand-picked and, although some were instantly consumed, the rest wasn’t going to last long.   They went into the Scandinavian steamer which is, bottom to top: hot water tank to produce the steam; juice reservoir with natty tube for decanting into bottles; large container for raw fruit; lid.   The steam comes up through the middle, heats the fruit cells until they burst whereupon the juice drips down into the reservoir where it is heated by the water.   The result: virtually pasteurised fruit juice that will last a year.

His bucket made 15 bottles of precious homemade grape juice and then we topped up the fruit with windfall apples.   It’s steaming away to make apple and grape juice for homemade granola, and we can hardly keep up with the apples dropping from the trees!

The blustery winds and sharp showers brought down even more apples from the exceedingly venerable fruit trees.   They are probably at least 130 years old and a good mix of eating and cooking varieties.   This very moist apple cake is ideal for using any of the windfalls.

 

340g self-raising flour.

1 rounded teaspoon baking powder.

1 teaspoon salt.

340g soft brown sugar.

170g butter, cubed.

100g dates, chopped.

30g walnuts, shelled and chopped.

650g prepared mixed apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped.

4 eggs, beaten.

1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste.

 

Spray a silicon ring mould with oil and dust with flour.

Rub the butter into the dry ingredients.

Add the dates, walnut pieces and chopped apples and mix so that the apple is well covered with flour.

Beat the vanilla with the eggs and gradually stir into the mix.

Stir thoroughly then place in cake mould.

Bake in pre-heated oven at 165C, Gas 3 for 90 -120 minutes, covering with a double layer of foil with a steam hole after 60 minutes.

Allow to cool before turning out.

 

I like my cakes to reach an internal temperature of at least 95C.   The quantity of cold, wet apple means that this cake takes a longer time than expected to bake.

Mixing by hand is a good way to feel how well everything is combined before placing handfuls in the mould.   Messy but I’m easy to clean afterwards.

A ring mould allows the heat to reach the middle of the cake but you could halve the ingredients and cook in a loaf tin lined with parchment paper.

My next experiment is to replace the sugar with honey – not sure what proportions will work.

 

 

Waste not, want not.

 

The apple trees in the garden here are at least 130 years old – the house was built in about 1890 on part of an orchard.  There’s a Worcester Pearmain, Cox’s Pippin, Bramley, another cooking apple and an intriguing Golden Delicious that produces fruit with one or more “seams” – ridges from top to bottom.

Every year I’m overwhelmed with windfalls so have a nifty piece of kit to transform them into Juice.  It’s a Scandinavian aluminium pot comprising (bottom-to-top): a water tank, a juice reservoir with a funnel through the middle for the steam to pass plus spout for the rubber hose and clip, a basket for the apple pieces and lid.  It is supremely simple to use just chop up the apples, extracting the worse bruises and any wildlife.  Toss the apple into the basket, switch on the hob and let the water boil to steam them.  The juice drips down into the reservoir where it, in turn, is heated by the water – nearly pasteurised, ready for drawing off through the rubber pipe, controlled by the clip.

Reusing plastic water bottles is the ideal storage.  Not only are they saved from landfill but the hot apple juice makes them collapse a little, just about vacuum packing the juice.  This is where I need a hand: managing wilting bottles of very hot liquid isn’t safe when you can’t see what’s going on!  The bottled juice needs to be kept out of the light and I tend to store it in the fridge.

My goal is to use the juice within a year but I have had some several years old and it was still delicious.  It is an excellent thirst-quencher when diluted with fizzy water (keep the bottle for next year) or we use it in the homemade granola.

I try to use every apple: dried in the dehydrator for the granola or cakes; frozen as puree; in crumbles, pies and puddings; the Cox’s sautéed in a little butter and sugar until caramelised are the base for many a Tarte Tatin.  And I haven’t even started on all the chutneys and other preserves …I’ve even used an apple press and made my own cider.

 

 

 

 

Glut of apples.

Do you know? • What to do with a glut of apples?

A deluge of apples is falling in the garden – the trees are well over 100 years old.  We haven’t got round to picking them all yet but are trying to use the windfalls first: despite being battered, it seems just too wasteful to toss them in the compost.  The longest bit of this recipe is peeling and chopping the apples to get all those odd bits that are worth using.  I also managed to get hold of pullet eggs (much smaller than the usual eggs that the hens will go on to lay).  This mix uses extra flour to offset the moisture released from the apples – and you could add a further tsp or so of baking powder if you like).

140709 - Apple tree

225 gm butter

280 gm sugar

8 pullet eggs (or 4 large)

2 generous tsp vanilla extract

350 gm self-raising flour (or plain with some baking powder)

450 gm peeled apples – chopped in to about 1 cm cubes

Process the butter and sugar until light and fluffy then add the eggs and vanilla extract slowly until a very light airy mix.  Pulse in the flour.  Gently fold in the apple.  Spoon in to about 2 inch muffin-type tins – I made about 24 individual little cakes.  Bake 20 minutes Gas 6.  Sprinkle on some extra sugar before or after cooking if the waistline permits!  You could add some ground cinnamon (a tsp or so) with the flour but I found that the delicate apple flavour became a bit blunted.

I am also extracting pasteurised apple juice from the peelings and other windfalls to make apple juice with a rather esoteric Scandinavian steamer pan.  A stack of tartes Tatin has gone in to the freezer.  I’m planning to dry apple slices in the dehydrator but think I’ll skip pressing juice for cider this year.

Damsons are destined for months soaking in gin or brandy to make liqueurs while all the small, less ripe ones have already been transformed in to a very good savoury chilli and ginger jam – delicious!