mellow fruitfulness & focaccia

Rampant storms seem to have taken over from all those misty mornings and mellow fruitfulness. Soon all the russet leaves will be on the ground, so before I forget what an utterly stunning Autumn it’s been, I thought I’d recap. And in true “hygge” style, savour the cosiness of wintry baking.

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I can’t remember an Autumn when Keats’ words were more apt. This season of “mists and mellow fruitfulness”  has been exactly that: so many mornings eating breakfast while the sun attempts to break through the mist hanging low over the fields. The coppery, golden and amber hues have been more vivid than ever, stunning as a bright blue sky replaces the mist as a backdrop. And as for the mellow fruitfulness, many of the Quince have been made into membrillo and jars of jelly, Ruby and friends collected rose-hips for syrup and apples are in plentiful supply.

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The wood-burning stove is lit most days and it’s time for slow-cooked stews and baking. Quince and Apple cake from Sarah Raven’s fab ‘Garden Cookbook’ (one of my most-used cookbooks) is my new favourite cake, quince has been used in a Venison, Quince and Cider Stew today and the smell of baking bread draws me into the kitchen. More tempting than venturing outside this week.

I’m still loving using the sourdough starter (offspring of Priscilla Queen of the Refrigerator) kindly sent to me by Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, while Ruby and friends are ever niftier at cake-baking. I can let them get on with so much weighing and mixing, even chopping these days without chaos but it’s good to see that cleaning the bowl from chocolate cake is still the preferred baking activity. And although rapidly growing up, my daughter still has fingers that are the perfect size for those dimples in foccacia.

This is the focaccia recipe I generally use:

500g strong white bread flour

1 dessert spoon Maldon sea salt + extra for sprinkling

I x 7g sachet dried, fast-action yeast

2 tablespoons olive oil + extra for drizzling

3 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves chopped

 

Mix together the flour and dessert spoon of salt in a large bowl and add the yeast along with 350ml warm water and the 2 tablespoons of oil. Bring together into a dough and knead on a floured surface for 10 minutes until the dough loses its stickiness and becomes nicely pliable. Put it in an oiled bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and leave for an hour or so until doubled in size. Knock back the dough and leave to rise again for another hour then press into a lightly oiled rectangular baking tin. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to prove for 1/2 hour (close to the oven) while the oven heats to its highest setting.

Use your own fingertips (or borrow some from a child as I often do) to poke rows of dimples. Well, maybe not quite as orderly as rows if you’re anything like my daughter – or me. Drizzle liberally with olive oil (it will collect deliciously in those dimples) and sprinkle with sea salt and rosemary. You can vary your focaccia each time, maybe pressing halved cherry tomatoes into the dough or some olives.

making focaccia

Of course I haven’t just been gazing at leaves and baking lately – it seems as if our lives are ever busier, particularly with work and school. All the more reason to make focaccia!

in my garden november

In my garden this month there’s lots of clearing to do….

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The ubiquitous calendula, and a few borage along with a few late verbena adding colour, but not much else. On sunny days, there are still a few more vibrant patches though….

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Well, vibrant may be stretching it, but I love those gently sunny Autumn days when you’re suddenly reminded how much life there still is in the garden – thanks to our late, mild weather. I have to remind myself that scruffy though this garden is, this time last year, post-pigs, it looked like this:

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We’d not long sown grass seed on the lawn that’s been played on and eaten on so much this year and marked out paths and beds.

And the flowers may be fading fast but I’m loving the colourful veggies. Rainbow chard is as plentiful and useful as ever, carrots in a few different hues too and then there’s the borlottis…

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They’re one of my favourite beans, growing well even in poor ground, so tasty, and it’s debatable which are most beautiful, those crimson speckled pods or the creamy beans. We picked all of the remaining pods (I had some good help as you can see) as they were planted amongst the squash. This area  has all been cleared and as it’s next to where the potatoes grew, it gave us a good sized cleared area to empty the contents of one of our three compost heaps onto, with a view to next year’s planting.

My favourite way of cooking the borlottis has been simply with garlic, olive oil and chopped tomatoes, adding a little water as they slowly simmer if it gets too dry. They made a lovely Autumn supper one night with our own pork chops (marinated in a maple brine from a Diana Henry Salt Sugar Smoke recipe) and chunks of our Mother Hubbard squash roasted with garlic, rosemary and olive oil.

I still have bulbs that I’m keen to plant once I’ve made some sense of the area just at the back of our house; Spring flowering bulbs including Alliums and Grape Hyacinth should add some easy colour early in the year. We made a late sowing of clover (various colours of flowers) and grass on a new area of ground we’d cleared and it’s thriving after a few weeks of growth. Hopefully next year it’ll prove attractive to bees and beneficial insects and when we mow it, we’re thinking it may be good for the compost heap too – I like the idea of the prettiness of a patch of clover lawn too of course.

It’s mostly food that interests me in the garden at the moment though.

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As the balance swings between kitchen and garden (the warmth of the kitchen is often winning) I’m very grateful to the garden for providing me with plenty of food to pop out and gather. Swede are being brought in lots at the moment (love them just mashed with butter and black pepper) along with purple sprouting broccoli, beetroot, spinach, carrots and handfuls of parsley from that still-thriving hedge. Waiting for frosts before we start on the parsnips but we didn’t want to take any chances with the quince. With a storm heading this way at the beginning of the week it would’ve been a shame to lose our first, precious harvest so they were all picked.

Would love to join in again with Lizzie Moult’s great Garden Share Collective. As we bring squashes in to store for the winter and gather quinces for quince cheese, quince ratafia and warming tajines, it’ll be lovely to have a look at the Spring/Summer bounty in gardens on the other side of the world.

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quincemeat and membrillo

The first tree I planted when we moved here 2 years ago was a Quince. Their lovely mellow yellow appearance, tendency to resist pruning and organization (great excuse to be lazy and leave them be) and wonderfully fragrant fruit were the main attractions. I was seduced by the idea of a beautiful bowl of them making the kitchen smell wonderful in Autumn. And being able to make my own membrillo jelly to go with salty manchego cheese, olives and almonds definitely appealed.

So far the tree has produced one fruit. I haven’t exactly had to face the dilemma of whether to make jelly, quince cheese or add them to crumbles and pies yet.

Luckily I have a great neighbour who turned up with a bag of fruit from her own more mature and productive quince tree.  So I’ve been able to enjoy them heaped in a bowl in the kitchen, looking and smelling like the quintessential Autumn fruit.

It seemed a shame to disturb them and their fabulous scent, and apparently their waxy skins can preserve them for many months. But yesterday was the sort of day made for roasting quince.

Rainy, cold and drab, I had to face up to the fact that pleasant though the sound of the rain on the velux while I lay in the bath was, I couldn’t stay in there all morning. Downstairs I could see the cows sheltering under the oak tree in the field next to us as the rain lashed down relentlessly. I lit the woodburner and put the espresso pot on top, one of my favourite weekend morning treats. After I’d made drop scones to go with coffee, I couldn’t resist making more use of the woodburner. It was definitely a day for roasting quinces.

I’ve been enjoying Diana Henry’s latest book ‘salt sugar smoke’ with its fabulous recipes for preserving fruit, vegetables, meat and fish.  So for my membrillo I followed her recipe for quince cheese, chopping quinces and simmering them on top of the woodburner before pushing the puree through a sieve and simmering with sugar. It was a lot easier than I thought to make, quicker and less fiddly than jelly. No fussing about suspending jellybags to strain juice through. I lined a ramekin with clingfilm for a little membrillo and also used a Lakeland greaseproof paper liner for a loaf tin before pouring the jelly in and leaving it in the fridge. I thought they’d be easier to unmould like this, and the ramekin has worked a treat. It’s wrapped in greaseproof paper for a present, while I’m leaving the loaf tin version wrapped in the fridge. Looking forward to glistening slices of it, although it does look sticky to slice. Should be good with salty Spanish cheese, but does anyone have any ideas of British cheeses to go with my membrillo?

Meanwhile quinces and cooking apples roasted, ready for adding to dried fruit, brandy, lemon juice and brown sugar for my Christmas mincemeat. I just added a few quinces to a regular mincemeat recipe, imagining that less is more when it comes to their fabulous fragrance. And I substituted cranberries for some of the raisins and sultanas, liking the rich look of the crimson berries.

As is often the case in the kitchen and garden, as the quinces roasted and simmered I felt like a big kid marvelling at the wonder of it all. When I sow a tiny seed and it grows into a huge, healthy and tasty plant (well, sometimes!) it never ceases to amaze me. Similarly, it always seems miraculous how heat transforms food and how some simple cooking can completely change the feel of a room, adding warmth, comfort and even a decadence. As the quince puree turned from amber to russet by simply simmering with sugar, thoughts of how I would use the membrillo and quincemeat filling my head. I couldn’t make up my mind as to whether I was creating the smells and feel of a Spanish tapas bar or an Elizabethan feast. Both were more tempting than the lashing rain outside.

And I saved two quince to enjoy in my bowl – well, until I can resist using them to add a heady exotic twist to an apple crumble or pie. Or is heady exoticism too much to hope for from a crumble?

Quincemeat

Makes about 3.2kg

2 cooking apples

150g quince

2 lemons

200g vegetable suet

2 tablespoons orange marmalade

450g sultanas and raisins

225g dried apricots, chopped

225g dried cranberries

700g dark brown sugar (preferably fairtrade)

80ml brandy or whisky

Core and bake the whole apples and quince in a moderate oven (180C/350F/Gas 4) for about 45 minutes. Allow to cool. When they are soft, chop. Grate lemon rind and squeeze out the juice. Mix all ingredients together, put into sterilised jars (I use them straight from the dishwasher) cover with jam covers and leave to mature for 2 weeks before using. Keep in a cool, airy place and it should keep for at least 6 months.

 

ps at least someone enjoyed the rain:

I preferred the Autumn sunshine today, and the cows appeared to feel the same.

 

 

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