autumn granola with pumpkin seeds

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When I say pumpkin seeds, they’re actually squash seeds – from the monster Mother Hubbards that have been roaming all over my garden this year. Now that they’re harvested, squash are featuring heavily in our meals.

I’ve been using a potato peeler to make pumpkin crisps, chunks of my Mother Hubbards have been making an appearance in Thai curries as well as Noodles with Squash, Chard & Prawns and I’ve been cooking soup.

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Which all leaves lots of squash seeds. After making soup with leftover squash one evening, as the wood-burner was lit, I washed some of the seeds, laid them on a baking tray and roasted them in the oven part of the wood-burning stove. You could also pop them in a regular oven for 15 minutes on a medium heat. We ate some tossed in a little Soy sauce as a snack there and then. The rest I used the next day in a batch of granola. If you prefer, you can pop the seeds out of their shells once roasted.

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The recipe I used is similar to the Christmas granola here, but with Mother Hubbard seeds and with some chestnut honey I happened to have in the cupboard. I find too much of this is overpowering in granola, but mixed with regular honey it adds to the Autumnal taste (in my view!) but you can substitute your favourite honey.

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I’ve also omitted the dried fruit at the end, mainly as I’m savouring the home-grown and local Autumn fruit bounty at the moment and loving granola for breakfast with figs, blackberries, Autumn raspberries,  pear or apple compote. The apple sauce/compote in the granola is great for using current apple gluts too of course.

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Autumn Granola

450g rolled organic oats

240g squash seeds (your own collected seeds or bought pumpkin seeds)

175g apple sauce

2 teaspoons cinnamon and 1 teaspoon ground ginger

2 tablespoons chestnut honey (or honey of your choice)

4 tablespoons clear runny honey

100g light brown sugar

1 teaspoon Maldon sea salt

2 tablespoons rapeseed oil

Mix everything together in a large mixing bowl and spread the mixture out on to 2 baking tins.

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Bake at 170C for 20 minutes until golden, then mix with a spatula. Bake for a further 20 minutes until evenly golden. Allow to cool for 5 minutes or so to form crunchy clumps then loosen with a spatula (I find it sticks to the tin if you leave it to fully cool before doing this.) When fully cool, store in an airtight jar.

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 If, like me, you use fresh pumpkin seeds, this won’t keep quite as long as granola made with dryer, bought pumpkin seeds. As I love to nibble granola as a snack (Ruby does too) as well as scoffing lots with milk or yoghurt for breakfast, I don’t find this a problem but you can always make it in smaller quantities.

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I have to admit to being accused of treating my squash like last years pigs in my determination to use every bit of them. And after I made squash crisps, Ruby did suggest:, hopefully,: “Mummy, maybe you could try these with potato.” Do you think she could be on to something?!

Still, I do find there’s something very satisfying about growing something so versatile from little seeds, using home-made compost to feed those hungry squashes and then enjoying every nutritious bit of them (well, almost!). Some of the Uchiki Kui squash may even get carved up next week for Halloween decorations – doubt I’ll be able to resist making something with the scooped out flesh though.

The lovely photos in this post, by the way, are by my photographer friend Chava Eichner; we had good fun spending a morning cooking together and eating squash soup for lunch.

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Chava has started a great Vegan food blog and has a fabulous recipe for butternut squash and butter bean soup that I’ll be trying soon.

As both my squash seeds and granola are roasted, would love to enter this for Louisa of the fab Eat Your Veg and Anneli of the lovely Delicieux‘s Autumn Four Seasons Challenge, which has a roasting theme this month.

fsf-autumnAnd would also like to include my granola in Simply Sensational Food’s Cooking with Pumpkin recipes as I’ve just found more inspiration there for how to use my monster squash.

farmhouse chic and sticky fingers

 On Friday afternoon we picked Ruby up from school and, after giving her chance to change into a pretty dress, headed straight off for afternoon tea at the fabulous Dormy House hotel.

It had been one of those grey, rainy days when the only time I’d ventured outside was to grab a bundle of logs from the wood-store. A perfect day for afternoon tea. Especially as it was in one of the lovely rooms in this revamped 17th century farmhouse that manages to be both indulgently glamorous and very relaxing; comfortable sofas face the fire, retro lamps give a lovely glow and our window table was beautifully laid with crisp, white linen.

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Dodie Smith in one of my favourite books, I Capture the Castle (more shabby castle chic than farmhouse) sums up the cosiness of afternoon tea:

“I shouldn’t think even millionaires could eat anything nicer than new bread and real butter and honey for tea.”

Our afternoon was just as cosy but a bit more substantial than this. I was in the mood for the Lazy Afternoon, a classic afternoon tea including cucumber and smoked salmon sandwiches, pin wheel wraps, deliciously light homemade scones with preserves and mini cakes and tarts.

Guy’s chose the Farmhouse Tea which has more of a savoury bias and was perfect for an Autumn afternoon with its homemade butternut squash scones (obviously suggesting to me another use for my home-grown Mother Hubbards) sausage roll and mini pasty. There was lots of swapping and I can confirm that it was all delicious. My ‘homemade’ descriptions above are a little unnecessary for specific items too. Pretty much everything here is homemade from the preserves to the decadent little cakes and tarts.  I loved the fact that even the smoked salmon in the sandwiches is smoked over oak shavings in the kitchen of Dormy.

This lovely old hotel has only recently re-opened after extensive renovations and I love the mix of Cotswold stone walls and flagstones and an abundance of 17th century features mixed with contemporary touches, including lovely light flooding into the fabulous Garden Room restaurant. The Potting Shed bar is a cosy place to linger over a drink and I would love to have an excuse (a special birthday or family occasion) to fill the Tack Room with friends and family. The bedrooms are gorgeous too and I get the feeling that every little detail is thought through and done well here.

All in a very friendly, informal way too; it immediately feels as if you’re enjoying a glamorous treat when you enter Dormy, yet you would feel very comfortable kicking off your shoes and making yourself at home on a sofa too.

We did in fact. After Ruby had lingered over her Sticky Fingers afternoon tea, savouring every single crumb. Well, apart from the ones scattered around our table.

The presentation of her afternoon tea was as beautiful as ours, she was truly wowed by her jam fingers, scones, cookies, cake and strawberrry smoothie. Her verdict was:

“It was ALL yummy.”

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And she solved the classic scone dilemma; instead of deliberating over whether the clotted cream or jam should go first, piling it all up to create a sort of volcano effect.

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In the meantime, I enjoyed more of the very lovely Earl Grey tea, agreeing with Samuel Johnson that:

“Sir, I did not count your glasses of wine, why should you number up my cups of tea?”

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With lots of thanks to Dormy House for a wonderful afternoon tea. Our afternoon tea was complimentary but I wasn’t paid for this review; all rambling opinions are very definitely my own.

 

 

russets, crab apples & an easy peasy apple & cinnamon cake

Apples seem to be everywhere this month. Little rosy crab apples are urging me to make chilli jelly, we have bowls of nutty russets from my mother-in-law and cooking apples are being made into apple sauce, partly for my home-made granola.

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I have to admit that our own apple harvest will be exactly one large cooker. A generous sized cooker, one that Ruby has ambitious plans for;we read James and the Giant Peach recently and she’s christened it the Giant Apple. But still, just one apple.

Although our own apple trees were only planted last winter, we live in an area where there’s no shortage of apples.  The village that Ruby goes to school in has orchards right in the middle of the village and everyone’s garden seems to have a plentiful supply. I drive past the village church every morning and see apples falling on to the pavement. Sometimes I treat myself to a walk up the hill after school drop-off and apples litter the foot-path.

In recent years many of the apples in the villages around us seemed to go to waste. Lovely then that our nearest pub, The Ebrington Arms organised a family apple pressing day recently in their garden. It was one of those wonderfully bright, golden Autumn days (before the grey fog and drizzle!) and lots of people turned up with bags, baskets or wheelbarrows of apples to be juiced. Children held cups under the fruit press to have the first taste of the juice from their own apples.

We came away after a lovely afternoon with bottles of apple juice (from Granny’s apples) and two demi-johns of toffee coloured juice which will hopefully be cider. It seems to be bubbling away nicely under the stairs at the moment.

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My thoughts also turn to apple cake though at this time of year. Particularly when I walk across the fields to visit our Icelandic friends and glimpse the orchard next to their home.

A couple of years ago we borrowed an apple press from friends and had our own juicing session in our garden. We were joined by our Icelandic friends and their Rome-dwelling, contemporary opera-singing visitor Gulla who turned out to be super-human when it came to operating the apple press. She squeezed more juice out than we thought possible and, having previously joined in wine-making festivities in Italy, became just as enthusiastic about anything to do with apples. In fact every time I visited our friends that Autumn, Gulla seemed to be either picking apples in the orchard, juicing them, fervently peeling them or baking apple cake.

Her apple cakes were delicious, always different variations on a theme, sometimes with added almonds, maybe with vanilla adding to the flavour. I couldn’t pin her dowh to a recipe of course; Gulla seemed to be the sort of instinctive cook I envy who didn’t stick to any precise recipe, just adding what she felt like each time.

So the recipe for this apple cake is one I’ve baked in Autumn for years, is handwritten scruffily and I originally copied it from my Mum. Inspired by Gulla I do vary it according to mood, sometimes using wholemeal self-raising flour, sometimes substituting some of the flour for ground almonds if I have them to hand. A few drops of vanilla essence don’t go amiss either and sometimes it’s nice to add raisins or other dried fruit. Either way, it’s a very easy, bung it all in sort of recipe. The apple keeps it nicely moist and it stores well in a tin. A great one to bake with kids and, although it takes quite a while to bake (filling the kitchen with a lovely, comforting cinnamony aroma) it occupies very little time for the actual making.

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This time though, I made it without Ruby. Remembering the recipe came from my Mum, I also have memories of her baking cakes for us to come home from school to. Reminded of this, I thought I’d treat Ruby to cake still warm from the oven after school. Normally I feel she’s too young to be able to scoff cake and still eat a healthy dinner. But she needed extra energy for dancing, it’s been cold, foggy and drizzly for days and I thought we all needed a treat.

Apple and Cinnamon Cake

300g self-raising flour

1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

250g soft brown sugar

125g unsalted butter, melted

2 large eggs, beaten

175 ml milk

250g apples, peeled, cored and chopped. This time I used 1 large Bramley & a couple of russets but I vary cookers & eaters, depending what’s to hand.

Sift flour, cinnamon and salt, stir in sugar. Mix in melted butter, eggs, milk and apples, beat until smooth. Turn into a lined and greased tin (a 20cm square tin or equivalent) and bake 180C 1-1 1/4 hours until a skewer inserted comes out clean.

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And actually, who am I kidding that it’s all about after school treats. This cake is of course lovely with a coffee too. Or warm with ice-cream or greek yoghurt as a pudding.

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bread from the hearth

This week I met a baker in Lewes who makes the most medieval bread I’ve ever tried. Amazing pizza too, baked in a hand-built wood-fired oven in a very down to earth bakehouse above a bus station.

‘Medieval’ may be misleading though. It perhaps isn’t the ideal description for the freshly baked, warm loaves of bread that I walked away from Lewes with yesterday. One was seeded, both had amazing flavour and texture. Each looked as if they’d been torn at by starving medieval waifs by the time I got home. Lovely as they were with my home-made soup for supper, I obviously couldn’t resist tearing hunks out of the bread while it was still warm on my train journey home.

Sipping excellent coffee from the kiosk outside The Hearth when I arrived, I admired the rustic grissini, loaves of sourdough bread and slices of Sicilian style pizza that surely must offer irresistible temptation to passers-by.
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The take-away menu isn’t that of the average pizzeria; the pizzas range from Iberian (with organic chorizo and Majorcan sobrasado) to funghi (with local blue cheese) while Middle Eastern flatbread is on offer, served with a spicy Muhamara spread (spicy Syrian walnut paste – determined to make this to go with my own flatbread!) and local lamb, slow-cooked in the falling heat of the pizza oven is often on offer.
Back to the medieval bread though, I was introduced to Michael Hanson by John Letts, an archeobotanist who is also pretty handy at farming. He grows heritage wheat land-race style, with many different types of hardy grain growing together in one field, the way we used to do it before we became obsessed with monoculture, high yielding modern varieties of grain and bland, pappy white bread with a high gluten content. I wrote about John’s grain and the tasty flour it produces, as well as the potential health and environmental benefits here.
Michael is a third generation baker, who spent his early working life in the family bakery and was baking artisan bread before it was fashionable. Partly through his good friend, Dan Lepard, Michael worked at some of London’s finest bakeries and pizzerias, such as Franco Manca and St John’s Bread and Wine. Passionate about ‘honest bread’ made with real ingredients, Michael also learnt how to make earth ovens and tours the UK festival circuit with a pizza oven.
He calls his bakery/eatery in Lewes a “hostelry with a hearth or osteria” and I can see his point; the home-made bread/pizza oven creates a great, warm atmosphere as well as amazing pizza and the simple, down to earth decor with emphasis all on the food reminds me of the sort of places you normally find in Italy or Spain.
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The hearth is being used to create the sort of ‘honest’ bread that would’ve been eaten in a medieval hostelry. Michael is using ingredients that were commonly used to bake and leaven bread with until about 150 years ago – heritage flour (from John Letts) and wild yeast in the form of barm from the brewery they were usually next door to. In this case, the brewery is very traditional, family-owned, producing award-winning ales and can be seen from the bread oven.
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There’s something beautifully satisfying about this bread-making process, which makes excellent use of rivet wheat (originally grown in Sussex, brought over by the Normans), has a minimum of 12 hours fermentation, used barm from the local brewery and is baked in an oven that’s handmade by the baker. At a time when many people are beginning to tire of industrially produced, plastic wrapped bread that provides little nourishment for the body or soul, this is wholesome, satisfying bread to be companionably shared with friends at home or in Michael’s canteen style bakehouse.
Michael has some interesting views on bread as a “ferment for social change” that I’ll write about in more detail soon. In the meantime he gave me some great tips for baking good bread (he also teaches bread-making at the Brook Bakery School in Somerset) that I’ll share.
Apart from using great flour, Michael emphasizes that good bread needs time: “You need to leave it to prove for 5 hours minimum to make a half-decent loaf of bread, 5-10 hours for a fantastic loaf.” While I chatted to Michael at 2.30pm in the afternoon, the dough was already starting to prove ready for baking at 9am the following morning. He says that it won’t over-prove if you use less yeast – use a quarter of the amount of yeast you’d normally use if you’re opting for a long prove.
Secondly, temperature is vital during this long prove. I asked about leaving dough in the fridge and also admitted that I sometimes make dough on an evening and leave it on a cool bedroom windowsill ready for baking in the morning on a weekend. My dough behind the curtains may be okay but it seems I need to invest in a decent food thermometer/probe. Keeping the temperature low is as important as low yeast levels for a long prove apparently, but not too cold – Michael recommends 19 degrees is perfect.
In the meantime, I’m enjoying the leftover bread toasted and the tasty amount of rye flour in one of the loaves goes perfectly with smoked trout in my view (it reminds me of some of the quite dense, full of flavour, Nordic loaves I’ve tried from Trine Hahnemann recipes). I’m dreaming of those thin-crusted pizzas and only wish The Hearth were closer to home. Suppose I’d better get baking instead.

fig & walnut bread and my october garden

I may be missing dusk gardening. and all those summery meals outside, but my fig glut is reminding me that there are Autumnal consolations. There are squash in beautiful silvery blues and vivid oranges to harvest, root veg to use in warming stews and of course the cosiness of the woodburner to lure me in from the garden.

Which brings me to the woodshed. Cold Comfort Farm may be one of my favourite books, but I hadn’t seen myself in the role of Aunt Ada Doom until recently. “There’s something nasty in the woodshed” definitely sprang to mind after an afternoon of glitter, missing marrows and two girls playing in our garden though.

I did notice that Ruby and her friend seemed to be spending more time in the extra woodshed (the old pigsty is now a makeshift place to store more wood) than the tree-house, but as they seemed happy making up their own games, I thought nothing of it. Until we noticed just in time that a toddler brother who arrived later had picked up a large rotten marrow and was about to take a bite. I felt terrible that we had rotten marrows lurking and couldn’t work out how it had got within toddler reach. Although marrows are still taking me by surprise, they’re generally still growing, apart from a few rotten ones that I’d put in the wheelbarrow ready for the compost heap.

Then I noticed some telltale glitter. Pink glitter. And I remembered Ruby’s penchant for stinky potions. It didn’t take Inspector Montalbano (who would no doubt have some delicious ideas for eating my squash) to guess who’d transplanted the marrow.

I have plans of my own, involving roasting, garlic, chilli, pasta, risottos and soups, for these more attractive squash.

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Clearing and harvesting is making me think about successes and failures in the garden this year and already putting ideas in my head for next year. The Mother Hubbard squash (those silvery green and blue hued monsters) were definitely easy peasy to grow for such bounty. They grew so quickly and had so many huge squash on each plant, I just hope they’re as tasty as butternut squash, which I’ve previously struggled to grow up our hill. Apparently they store well, for up to 5 months – will report back on this.

I’ll also grow parsnips in a block with cornflowers or nigella again. I just mixed the seeds together and scattered over a bed, then planted beetroot around the edge. They all grew happily together, the cornflowers looked very pretty while the parsnips grew slowly. The cornflowers finished flowering a while ago but we’re now looking forward to eating the parsnips during the Autumn winter.

I tried the same method with Swede but, although the Swede grew well (we’ve started eating them) the flowers didn’t grow, maybe the Swede established quicker and the large leaves didn’t give them the flowers chance. So maybe flowers around the edge for Swede next time. Or more rainbow chard, which grows easily, looks vibrant and provides me with something to cook for ages.

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You can see from this view of our back garden that lots of things have finished flowering, have been cleared or are past their best and should’ve been cleared! Very grateful to the ever-cheery calendula, long-lasting cosmos and magenta coloured malva for some colour.

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 Also grateful for the very useful parsley hedge and a bonus late crop of broad beans. Although most have been cleared (I’ve planted chop suey greens for Autumn colour and eating and have over-wintering red onions and garlic to plant in some of the empty areas as well as in the patch soon to be completely vacated by squash) a few of the broad beans that I cut down are still providing me with a very late crop of surprisingly tender little beans.

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Away from my garden ramblings (which I’d like to link with Lizzie Moult’s lovely Garden Share Collective) and back to my fig bread, it’s the perfect energy giving snack for a gardener’s coffee break.  Great for a weekend breakfast too though, which is what I’m planning and it uses gluts from the garden plus walnuts from a walk. I have to admit to trying fig and cobnut bread first, thinking it would be a tasty combination. The cobnuts somehow gave my bread a bitter taste, would be interested to know if anyone has ideas why.

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Have just been reading how figs are really high in iron, potassium, calcium and zinc, and decided this definitely makes my bread feel healthy.

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I used the recipe here from my food hero, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall but substituted fresh figs for the dried ones. I also substituted a few tablespoons of the white bread flour for spelt flour for extra flavour.

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 It’s lovely with honey – we just tried it with the precious jar produced by the bees of Ruby’s great friend Grace’s Grandad, I wrote about his bees here. I’m also planning to try this figgy bread later with red wine and blue cheese and am looking forward to it toasted with honey and eaten with coffee in the morning.

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in my kitchen october

In my kitchen…..

DSC05924…..I’m loving the abundance of great ingredients at this time of year. There’s still plums, apples, and lots of veggies from the garden, including beetroot, swede, rainbow chard and squash. We’ve been enjoying the last few greengages from the farm-shop, while the hedgerows and fields keep tempting me to cook and eat far too much; blackberries, elderberries, sloes, walnuts, mushrooms seem to be everywhere I turn. Or at least everywhere I walk.

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We have our first fig glut too which I’m thoroughly enjoying. Our fig tree grows up against the south facing side of our house and does seem to flourish against the sunny wall, but until this year we’d only ever had a couple of ripe figs a day to pick. Partly because the birds seemed to get to them long before they ripened. A brutal pruning (it was growing across a window) two years ago and the arrival of Tiger and Mog may have had something to do with the plentiful supply at the moment.

 I’m loving figs on granola for breakfast, have made the fig liquer here and I roast them with honey to scoff with yoghurt. When a friend gave us a  large bag of cobnuts from their garden, I tried an Italian recipe too for figs with mascarpone and hazelnuts. I shelled and roasted the hazelnuts first (about 10 minutes in a medium oven) then chopped them, mixed with mascarpone and honey. Having made a cross in each fig and placed them on a baking tray, they were given a spoon of the mascarpone mixture and roasted for 10/15mins.

In my kitchen….

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…..there are some very prettty labels. It was my birthday in September and Ruby bought these for me – apparently she totally chose them herself. They touched me almost as much as the squashed tomatoes and stew card that she’d written beautifully. I’m obviously always pleased with any presents off Ruby, including the home-made ones and the novelty items she’s been adamant that I really need. But this is the first birthday that my daughter has given me something tasteful that I’ll actually use.

On reflection this gave me uneasy feelings. Was my 6 year old growing up so fast and getting all sophisticated? I could even read everything she’d written easily on the card for goodness sake, what was happening? How reassured I was when she told me tearfully that she couldn’t remember where the other present was, the special conkers that were all wrapped up in a bit of paper and THREE elastic bands.

In my kitchen…..

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…. there are field mushrooms. We’ve had quite a few warm but damp days and there seems to be a plentiful supply of mushrooms in the fields below us. They’re so tasty, even just used for mushrooms on toast.

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They’ve been going on homemade pizzas along with our courgettes and tomatoes, and I recommend this lovely roast mushroom version from Louisa of Eat Your Veg.

There’s also lots of pickling and preserving going on. Elderberries have lured me into making more cordial (runnier this time, the last batch is being used as a sauce for ice cream) and I’m trying elderberry wine for the first time; a demijohn is bubbling away under the stairs.

A jar of blackberry whisky is sitting in the sun on the windowsill (we obviously won’t go thirsty this winter) and I’ve made a few jars of piccalilli. Cauliflower,courgettes, onions and runner beans from the garden were the main ingredients for this while Autumn chutney used lots of plums, apples, figs and  marrow. Those labels will obviously be needed.

We took Ruby to London on the train at the weekend, she hasn’t been for ages and just seeing her marvel at the gradual change from little country toy-town stations to bustling cities with huge buildings and lots of trains was brilliant. She loved the dinosaurs and seeing a real Ruby jewel in the Natural History Museum, whiile we were all wowed by the London skyline from Embankment after stepping out of the tube station. But I did feel a bit of a chutney making country mum when my daughter asked, a few tube stops after Paddington, if we were getting off at PICCALILLI circus.

Would love to link this once again with Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial’s  In My Kitchen, where we get to enjoy peeping into kitchens around the world.

 

 

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