Monday, 31 October 2011

Halloween and pumpkin soup

October 31st. Halloween! Witches and ghosts and goblins and evil spirits stalk the night...even if it is unseasonably mild and most of them wish they'd left their cloaks and pointed hats at home. The pumpkin is carved and sat facing out of the bay window, its mad grin ready to scare any small children brave enough to come near! From inside all we can smell is the gentle waft of singed pumpkin as the candle slowly cooks the top of his head.

Pumpkin in our house also means delicious pumpkin soup. If you've never made this before it is very simple and tastes great. First of all, you need a pumpkin. Growing them takes up a fair bit of room but the supermarkets have them by the barrel. Don't worry that they call them 'carving pumpkins' or some such rot. It will still taste just fine. Cut a lid into the pumpkin and scoop out all the seeds and stringy bits. Most recipes will then tell you to carve out the flesh from inside. If anyone knows how to do this easily then answers on a postcard please. The inside of a pumpkin is concave. My knives are not! The easiest way I've found it just to scrape it out with a spoon. Might not be as big chunks but you're going to boil it down into mush anyway. Finely dice a couple of onions and chuch them in a pan with half a packet of butter and soften for 10-15 mins. Throw in the pumpkin flesh and cook for another 20 minutes. Then pour in about 3 pints of chicken stock and add some grated nutmeg, a cinammon stick and salt and pepper. And simmer until it's all very soft. Let it cool and whizz it up with a stick blender, remembering of course to remove the cinnamon stick (which I forgot to do and had to fish the remnants out). And that's it.

Happy Halloween! Now I must go and check that bumping noise in the cellar............

Tuesday, 18 October 2011


Autumn always feels like a reflective time of year to me.  The weather is cooling down, the days are shortening and I start to take stock of everything around me. I've never bothered with new years resolutions and dislike the false bonhomie of new year intensely, but this time of year feels like a natural time to make new starts and plan ahead for the future.  We have spent the last few weekends harvesting, bottling and preserving and although we have used the harvest to make mincemeat, we are trying to keep Christmas out of our thoughts for a while yet and just enjoy the seasons as they turn. 

As I'm in a thoughtful mood, I thought I would share one of my favourite quotes, by Jerome K Jerome

"Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need - a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing."

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Japonica Quince Jelly experiment

Just sat down from several hours of work turning hard green/yellow uninspiring looking Japonica quinces into a quince jelly.  They were boiled for some hours on a low heat, strained, strained again through muslin and then boiled with sugar until reaching a setting temperature.  At the end of all this is a rather beautiful red/golden colour jelly...

Monday, 3 October 2011

My first try at making mincemeat...

I mentioned in an earlier post that we had decided to make our own mincemeat this year, so I wanted to post the during and after pictures.  I used Delia Smith's recipe which was pretty simple to follow, I just adjusted it to add hazelnuts instead of almonds as we have a glut of hazels.   If anyone has any interesting ideas of what to do with hazelnuts, do let me know!

Here is the mincemeat before it was cooked:

And here it is after being bottled:

I had to do a quick taste test and it tasted rather good, so here's hoping it is splendid by the time we make our pies at Christmas.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Michelmas madness

During the past week was the day of Michaelmas, the Feast of St Michael and traditionally the beginning of Autumn. The "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness" according to Keats, although he may have had second thoughts if he'd been around this Michaelmas. 23C at Hazel Cottage (that's 73F in old money) and bright blue skies!  

Venturing forth into the garden at this time of year you run the risk of walking smack bang into one of the dozens of spider webs that the crab spiders spend each night spinning across our gateways, paths and hedges. We've taken to keeping a stick by the back door so we can clear a path.

In the veg garden we pulled the last few beetroots and carrots. The beetroot has been a great success despite a dose of beet leaf miner early in the season. We've several jars of lightly pickled ones in the store cupboard and the rest went into chocolate and beetroot cakes. Cabbages, onions, squashes and the unending supply of silver beet are still providing colour and even the courgette is making the most of the late warmth to provide a few more fruits.

Making mincemeat on an record-breakingly warm October day is quite a surreal experience.  All around us are piles of apples and pears and the japonica quinces and hazelnuts have taken over the spare bed to ripen.  As we chopped nuts and mixed spices into the glistening mincemeat, the sun was beating fiercely upon the window and it felt like mid summer.  Although its lovely to see people enjoying the sun, we can't help but yearn for more seasonal autumn weather.