Tag Archives: Spring

When Nature can’t help itself

15 Mar

No discussion, the beginning of this week was slightly stressful. I spent most of Monday in various NHS waiting rooms (the GP’s surgery, the eye clinic’s outpatient’s in the old hospital, the emergency dept in the new hospital, the CT scan ‘preparation’ area in the new hospital and then finally Sub Wait G1 in the new hospital). But to cut to the chase, everyone is fine, and my Mum’s assertion that “I’m good at falling” remains true.

It may have been stressful, and frustrating and mostly boring (waiting, waiting, forever waiting) but our NHS is remarkable. I hope it can cope with the oncoming onslaught of Covid-19; I fear it has not been well funded for far too many years and the staff are already over-worked and under-resourced. And the staff we met were all kind, caring and competent (apart from one, who was brusque.. but she was efficient and gave us what seemed to be useful information, so I’m not complaining).

The chorus of birdsong was almost deafening the following morning as I walked across to Mum’s house, under low grey clouds, with a slight smirr of rain in the air. Two male blackbirds were singing competitively from the rowan tree. I guess it’s that time of year. Spring is springing, despite the wettest February in memory. Everything still looked grey, or that end-of-winter depressing brown. But if you looked close, there were the tiniest splashes of colour everywhere.

And then that afternoon our pond seemed to be boiling, the water bubbling up as the frogs got on with their Springtime froggie thing. And of course we now have great globules of frog spawn which will mostly end up as additional protein for the hens I guess.

Our Springtime frog spawn

So, there’s Nature doing its thing, and as sure as night follows day, here am I doing mine, back in the kitchen making treats to cheer our days. And what is more cheering than a wee slice of the most lemoniest of lemony cakes? I adore that zing of sharpness from lemons, and the soft moistness of this sponge complements it perfectly. I guess it would probably keep well, in an airtight tin, but how will I ever know? It’s lovely with a cup of tea or strong espresso, but would work equally well with a scoop of vanilla or dark chocolate icecream, or a big spoonful of creme fraiche on the side for an easy dessert.

The recipe is from my favourite of favourite cookbooks, Darina Allen’s The Forgotten Skills of Cooking.

The most delicious lemony polenta cake

Lemon polenta cake (gluten free)

  • 225g / 8oz butter, softened
  • 225g / 8oz caster sugar
  • 225g / 8oz ground almonds
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • grated zest of 2 lemons
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 110g / 4oz polenta
  • 1 tsp baking powder (make sure it’s gluten free if you want your cake to be GF)
  • a pinch of salt

Grease a 23cm / 9″ spring form tin, and line it with baking paper. Preheat the oven to 160C / 325F / GM3.

  1. Cream the butter till pale and soft, using electric beaters.
  2. Add the caster sugar and beat again until light and creamy.
  3. Stir in the ground almonds and vanilla extract.
  4. Add the eggs, one by one, beating thoroughly after each egg.
  5. Fold in the remaining ingredients: lemon zest and juice, polenta, baking powder and salt.
  6. Transfer the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake for about 50 minutes (but check after 45 to see if it’s ready).
  7. It’s ready when it’s a deep golden colour on top and your skewer comes out clean as a whistle.
  8. Cool on a wire rack
  9. When cool, dredge with sifted icing sugar, to cover any slightly well-fired bits.

My other Spring makes include Wild Garlic Pesto (obviously) and I’m really in the mood for making some chicken liver pate, so I’m delighted that Past-Shewolffe has provided me with a recipe. Or go browse here and see if anything takes your fancy.

Do let me know if there’s anything you want me to make. I’m thinking I might share a few recipes using some of the stockpile in your store cupboard.

May Bank Holiday Marmalade

4 May

So, I’m here in Galloway for 24 hours again. I love it here, especially in Spring. I probably say ‘especially in…’ every season, but it really is particularly gorgeous in Spring with the zingy lime green of the newly opened leaves on the trees, the wee calves and lambs boinging about in fields and everything just beginning to sprout. The whole countryside is full of hope, just bursting to get going. It’s almost as though it’s written itself the best list ever and now it’s ticking them off one by one: lambs – done; daffodils – done; primroses – done; magnolias – done; surprising late frost – done!

Yes, we had some lovely warm days a couple of weeks ago, fooling us into believing that we might have seen the last of the cold weather until the Autumn and then BANG! Several nights of relatively hard frost. A few of Mum’s shrubs were just beginning to poke their wee leaves out and now look as though they just might not bother at all ┬áthis year. And her magnolias had just flowered and now the flowers on them are all smooshy and ick, and the leaves haven’t appeared. So, despite it being beautiful, not everything is being ticked off on the list as it should.

So, we got here for lunchtime, which is always the best time in this house. The legendary Wolffe Lunch never disappoints. Today there was soup (of course) – a vegetable broth with barley – and then home-made bread with a choice of pates (smoked salmon, brussels or a ham hock terrine). There was green salad, olives, fresh beetroot in a delicate sweet vinegar, smoked salmon, cheese. And then coffee with madeira cake or mini pear cakes with white chocolate and gin frosting. Yes, I might have been responsible for that last element. They’re delicious. But more on them later.

After lunch I made some rhubarb marmalade. I think it’s really orangey rhubarb jam, but the recipe calls it rhubarb marmalade, so perhaps I should go with that.

The recipe is from my go-to preserves book: Jellies, Jams and Chutneys┬áby Thane Prince. Trust me, she knows her preserves. Having said that, I often find myself boiling things for much longer than she recommends in her recipes in order to reach a set, so perhaps I just don’t boil things hard enough?

So this recipe is only slightly adapted from Thane’s original.

Rhubarb orangey jam (or rhubarb marmalade in her world)

  • 2lb 4oz rhubarb, wiped clean and cut into 1cm chunks
  • 1lb 12oz jam sugar
  • finely grated zest and the juice of the most enormous orange I have ever seen
  • about 2cm fresh ginger, grated
  • about 50ml liquid pectin
  1. Put the rhubarb, sugar, zest, juice and ginger into a heavy saucepan. Put it on a low heat and bring gently to a boil. I put mine on the low side of the rayburn and then went and put the bedding on to wash. Then I came back and stirred it a bit and put it on the hotter side of the rayburn. Then I remembered I hadn’t sterilised any jars, so I went to look for some nice jars in Mum’s cupboard under the stairs (she now lives in a bungalow, but the larder has always been called the cupboard under the stairs, so it still is). I washed the jars and then popped them on a tray and put them in the rayburn. Then I remembered I hadn’t yet put the saucer in the fridge, for testing for jamminess later. So I did that. And then I went to see what Mum was potting on: dahlias mostly. Then I went back and the pot was just about near boiling, with the sugar all dissolved and at least three times the juice there was last time I’d looked at it.
  2. Once it’s boiling, allow it to simmer for about 10 minutes. The fruit should be soft, the sugar all dissolved.
  3. Now take the pot off the heat for a minute and add the pectin and stir it all in gently. Return to the heat and boil properly for another few minutes. Thane suggested two minutes might do it. But then she didn’t use jam sugar, and used more pectin. Anyway, keep testing for a jamminess, by putting a wee teeny wee spoonful onto the cold plate from the fridge. If it wrinkles when you push it with your finger it’s ready. If it’s still runny, it’s not. Don’t do what I did. Don’t jar it up anyway, in the hope it might really be ready when it’s not. You’ll realise after a couple of jars that it wasn’t ready and that you need to boil it all up a bit further.
  4. Anyway, once it’s boiled enough and you’re sure it will set when cool, take it off the heat, and pour it into the sterilised jars. If you’re at my mother’s house you might not have a jam funnel, but you’ll find that a jug dipped into the pot of jam works almost as well. And anyway, if you don’t like sticky stuff, don’t make jam.
  5. Now, remember to put a label on the jars. It’s like sowing seeds – at the time you can’t imagine that you’ll ever forget what you planted in those wee pots on that shelf in the greenhouse. But in 4 weeks time you won’t know if it’s asters or arctotis; if it’s basque chillies or ohnivecs. And it’s better to know which is rhubarb jam and which is rhubarb chutney. I guess.

If you want the real Thane Prince recipe, with her considerably less wordy instructions buy her book. If you like making preserves you’ll be glad you did. And it’s got other delicious sounding things like spicy plum ketchup, and frozen cranberry vodka. Surprisingly, I’ve never made either so can’t vouch for them.

If you want to know what else I’ve been making, go here: Shewolffe recipes. You’ll find another version of this same recipe, which I should have checked before I started writing this one out. And rhubarb chutney. And various cheese scones, each one tastier and easier than the last. And a scrumptious millionaire’s shortbread. And so much more.

There isn’t yet a recipe for that wee pear cake with white chocolate and gin frosting. But there will be soon, so keep looking back.

Let me know what else you’d like to see here. What ingredients should I cook with next?

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