apples

Weekending: Home Harvest

Planted Wellies

Are you having a lovely weekend?  I hope so.  It’s been 48hrs of sunshine and woodsmoke here; the epitome of seasons on the turn and the kind of weather that has you itching to be outside, sleeves rolled up, doing nature-y things.  We planted up an out-grown pair of wellies with vibrant autumnal chrysanthemums, and they now stand proudly outside the door to The Little House.  I lined them with plastic beforehand so that they can be worn again by the feet of smaller cousins in due course, but for now they will be perky sentries at the playhouse door until first frosts arrive.

We bought a new gadget and immediately tore off the packaging and set to work; a telescopic apple picker which makes light work of plucking the biggest and juiciest apples from the top of our ancient apple tree.  A family production-line ensued, with Harry-the-fearless given the task of checking for bug holes and nasties, whilst I cagily packed the safe ones into plastic plant-pot trays salvaged from our local garden centre.  Wrapped in newspaper beds and stored deep in the cellar, I’m dreaming of endless apple crumbles and pies through the winter.

The Apple Harvest

Walking to our local coffee shop for sustenance, we stumbled across this beautiful tree; the only one on a footpath of green which was beginning to turn.  It turned our thoughts to New England and our eagerly-awaited trip (not long now..).  After admiring it, we stuffed our pockets with fallen leaves, and inspired by this picture, had a go at making leaf table confetti with craft punches from my art cupboard.  (The leaves still look lovely at home, but it’s funny how nothing quite compares to seeing them outdoors – I can’t wait for Vermont).

Fall Leaf Table Confetti

Our hedges are full of rosehips, and I filled a trug with them, mostly just so that we could put them in a bowl and admire them.  My brother mentioned that you can cook with them (“I think they taste like cranberries”), so I searched briefly online for recipes, most of which cautioned gravely about the need to remove all seeds from them to avoid ‘significant gastric disturbance’ and ‘problems of the bowel’.  Hmmm.  As a fairly slap-dash cook this was warning enough, so instead I trimmed them and tumbled them into a vase for a welcome splash of colour.

Hedgerow Foraging

Rosehips

If you thought rosehips in vases were a little surreal, then may I introduce you to my tomato hat;

Tomato Hat

Around this time every year my friend Lou holds an Annual Tomato Festival, which is essentially an excuse for an evening of alcohol-fuelled, competitive merry-making under the guise of a genteel event.  Categories this year included Most Oddly Shaped Tomato, Best Wine to Drink with Tomatoes, and The Crafty Tomato, as well as the more conventional Best Tomato Dish.  Last year’s category of Most Adventurous Tomato was won by a cherry tomato which found itself tied to a sky lantern and set on fire, and was last seen floating over the Thames.  On safety grounds, the category was rested for 2013.

My hat was made with ping-pong balls, red spray paint and the tops of real tomatoes, and that is probably detail enough; I don’t think it could be classed as a mainstream crafting project, after all.  I won a Highly Commended certificate, and as a consolation prize was invited to judge the food, which of course meant tasting every dish.  Delicious, but not without consequence; 24 tomato-based dishes represent a culinary marathon rather than a sprint.  I write this evening cresting on a wave of mild acidic discontent, with  - whisper it – a distinct hangover.

Tomato festival

Good times…

Have a great week!

Kate

 

 

 

The Great Blackberry Caper

Homemade Blackberry Jam (and other recipes)

We’ve been mercifully distracted from preparations for the start of school, and have spent all our free time over the last few days foraging in hedgerows.  The unusual combination (for England, anyway) of endless sunshine interrupted by intense downpours of rain has ensured that nature is putting on a glorious show as the seasons turn; blackberries are everywhere you look; acorns are likely to fall from the sky and render a nasty ding to your forehead should you be foolish enough to stand still, and the air is perfumed with cider as a million windfall apples quietly ferment in the grass. (Do I sound a little tipsy and effusive?  Blame it on the apples..).

blackberry picking

Harry has proven to be a stoic and unflappable blackberry-picker; whilst I bumble along, shrieking and tossing my pail in the air with fright every time a bug walks over my hand, Harry tuts gently and gathers our fallen harvest before starting over again.  We returned home a little sweaty and scratched up, but with enough blackberries to fill several baskets and make for a weekend of berry-tastic cooking.  We started with our favourite… JAM!!

blackberry jam recipe from katescreativespace


I’ve found through trial and error that presentation is everything when it comes to homemade jam, and minimises the chance of recipients gingerly clutching their gift whilst stealthily examining the jar for mould, unconventional ingredients or smeary fingerprints. I made berry coloured labels for ours and then cut disks to cover the lids from a print-out of the photo above (at least there’s no doubt about the contents..).  Sparkly thread covered the rubber band and completed the look.

decorating jam pots

with approximately a bathtub’s worth of berries leftover we decided to invent a new recipe; blackberry crumble bars, which combine sponge cake, blackberries, jam and crumble, and thus contain all the main food groups.  All the ones we’re interested in anyway..

blackberry crumble bars

blackberry bars recipe

Exhausted – and deliciously full – we decided to abandon all further attempts in the kitchen and instead to package up our leftover berries and take round to friends and neighbours.  I found these pretty trays on sale and added labels with recipe suggestions, and then Harry practised his balance and co-ordination skills with moderate success…

blackberry gifts

And now, in a further fit of procrastination as I avoid all school-related thoughts; what to do with our first apple harvest?  We taste-tested these, and once we’d managed to un-shrivel our taste-buds, roll back our eyes and breathe without gasping, decided that they are probably a little too tart to be eating apples.  If you have any to-die-for recipes for cooking apples I’d love to know; at the moment I’m just enjoying their beauty and scent as they adorn our kitchen table (but I know I need to act soon….).

apples on kitchen table apple harvest

Have a great weekend, when it arrives!

Kate

Food for friends: Sunshine Apple Crisp

apple crisp with fork

It’s a glorious morning; the sun is shining, I’m surrounded by hungry boys (some borrowed, some home-grown), and we’re feeling in need of a treat.  Something quick, decadent and portable, that can be eaten on the lawn with fingers and requires little washing up.  Those of you who come here often will know that I don’t feature heaps of baking, but when I do it’s always simple food that requires almost no skill or experience; I know my limits.

A lightening quick post this week, therefore, with a lightening quick dish for Sunshine Apple Crisp.  It takes just a handful of minutes but will look as though you have slaved away for much longer – do not disabuse anyone of this notion.

Gala Apples

We found puff pastry in the freezer and apples in the fruit bowl; everything else you’ll probably have to hand.  You can use different kinds of sugar or different kinds of jam; you can even substitute apples for peaches or pear and it’s equally delicious.  Finer chefs than I might peel the fruit, or use a mandolin for finer slices, but I am a slapdash, carefree cook with scant concentration so you won’t see such guidance here.

Easy Apple Crisp Recipe

apple crisp cooling on tray

Eat in the garden where sticky fingers don’t matter and where spilled sugar and pastry crumbs can fall without consequence.

apple crisp serving ideas

Enjoy, enjoy!  … and I’ll see you after the weekend.

Kate

The Apple Game; making the most of Autumn!

This could be my last post before I go to jail.  A solemn occasion, therefore, because once I enter the local Correctional Facility I doubt I will emerge the same person. It is Harry who has introduced these Draconian threats and warnings, as he passes through a very literal phase where life is governed by rules, warnings and consequences.  Thus it is he who will exclaim loudly in shocked tones in a restaurant; ‘Mummy!! Are you talking with food in your mouth?? We don’t do THAT in our family!’.  He’s right of course, and I hasten to add that I don’t make a habit of it – but still, I am ashamed.  My latest misdemeanour was to switch off the television and refuse to say sorry for doing so.  ’If you don’t say sorry’, Harry announced, staunchly and a little regretfully, ‘you will go to prison with lots of naughty men’.  Now, naughty men may occasionally be appealing, but jail is less so, so I am attempting to distract from my shortcomings with a new family game; Pick An Apple.



12 small paper bags hang from this eye-catching board, each with a different mystery seasonal activity and the equipment we need to do it. On weekends or days when Harry and I are free from work and nursery, Harry gets to choose an apple bag at random and that’s what we’ll do for the day.  I’ve picked a number of age-appropriate and interesting things – mostly outdoors but with a few bad-weather alternatives – which include collecting leaves, choosing and carving pumpkins, apple-bobbing and helping Daddy to make a big bonfire.  The content of each bag varies accordingly; for our pumpkin picking there are just enough coins for Harry to buy the right size pumpkin, and a list of tips I found online about how to choose a good one, which will require us to squeeze, juggle and weigh our way around the field as we discard lesser pumpkins in pursuit of the most magnificent.  For our toffee-apple making activity (below), the bag holds lollipop sticks for Harry to push into each apple, wipes for sticky fingers and the recipe itself.

I bought the brown paper bags cheaply at a local stationery store, then cut out apple and leaf shapes and glued together with a small piece of twig to form each apple.  Tiny wooden pegs hold these on the bags and keep each bag closed to avoid peeping.  The bags I hung from pushpins on an old cork pinboard which I painted black and stencilled.  If you don’t have a convenient pinboard or canvas, the bags would look equally good strung along a wall or fireplace like bunting, pegged to a piece of ribbon.



And here’s the result of our first activity; making windfall toffee apples. No danger of talking with your mouth full with these beauties; our industrial-strength caramel effectively seals your jaws together and prevents conversation for several minutes after consumption…genius! Perhaps I should market these as a budget-conscious and appealing alternative to the gastric band.  We’ll work through our activities between now and Halloween as the days grow shorter and the seasons change in technicolour.  I’d love to hear what your favourite activities are at this time of year, and anything we should add to our list…