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:

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”
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!






Home-made Christmas presents and pies

Here’s how to make your own Christmas mincemeat  Add a ribbon to the jar for a truly personal present or turn it into delicious treats to share with family and friends – or even the postman!

I was creating this traditional recipe, full of fruit and spices, for a seasonal special recording by the local Talking Newspaper team.   And the whole process is so straightforward that anyone can do it – it just takes talking scales for someone like me who can’t see.  And it’s the perfect recipe for using up those tail-ends of bottles of sherry, brandy, port etc.  If you have the time, it’s worth soaking the dried fruit in the alcohol for a few days (or more) before simply adding the rest of the ingredients, stirring and popping in the oven at the lowest temperature for three hours.   Remove the mix and let it cool a little before potting up in warm sterilised jars from the oven and its done.

Throughout I was chatting to Suzie, Chairman of Fareport Talking News, and Dee, her recording specialist.  Together with other volunteers, they create weekly recordings of the news and other articles to send to visually impaired people across our area of southern Hampshire.  Recordings are delivered on memory sticks that can be played on a computer or laptop.  For those who don’t use tech, there are special “speaker boom boxes” designed to be easy-to-use by anyone with little or no sight.  These boxes will also play audio books and have big buttons that can help anyone with limited hand movements.  Linking someone with limited sight to the local Talking Newspaper service could be a perfect Christmas present for them.

Suzie and Dee were enthusiastic about my kitchen equipment and particularly liked the electric lemon squeezer.  The only special “blind” equipment I have is the talking scales, thermometer and labelling system –all the rest are just mainstream High Street products.  But I do choose with care so the lemon squeezer isn’t just super-efficient but is much better at keeping the pips out of the juice; my “kettle” dispenses exactly the right amount of boiling water at the press of a button – no more pouring and guessing; the bread-maker produces the perfect dough or loaf but without all the mess of hand-kneading.

Blind people can be as good, or bad, as anyone else when it comes to cooking but a sharp knife in experienced hands, using all the senses and getting the best from kitchen gadgets makes everything so much easier.