Posts Tagged ‘Autumn’

Apples, Bloody Apples And An Apple Cake Recipe

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

We only have three apple trees in our garden, but they have been massively fruitful this year.  In fact, they have produced so many apples I cannot even hope to use them all, even with friends and family taking them.  Nature has been so very fecund that even the quince bush outside of our front door has fruited; in the last 10 years, I reckon we have had had one quince on the bush in total, whereas this year there are seven.  It must be nature’s response to two harsh winters – up the reproduction and spread more seeds to survive.

Fruitful Apple Trees In Garden

Fruitful Apple Trees In Garden

Apples Picked From the Garden

Apples Picked From the Garden

Windfall Chutney 2010

Windfall Chutney 2010

So over the last two weekends, we have peeled for hours, then: picked and stored the eaters for later this year rather than chomp on out-of-season, flown in fruits from some high street chain; made apple puree, which has been frozen to lighten the fruitless days in the depths of winter; eaten baked apples using up leftover mincemeat for last Christmas that is now gorgeously matured and very boozy; made two types of chutney – General Gordon’s chutney and Windfall Chutney; and still made no dent in the apple harvest.

I love the plenty of harvest time, but I hate to see the waste when there is such an excess, while I know that in February/March I will be longing for fresh fruit in the knowledge that I was so wasteful in September.  And we have so little fresh fruit in this part of Northern England.

I have, also, cobbled together several different versions of apple cake, which both have a charmingly spiced, old world flavour to them.

Apple Puree Cake

Apple Puree Cake

Apple Puree Cake


175g / 6 oz / 1 cup apple puree – cooking apples, stewed, pureed then sieved
110g / 4 oz / 2/3 cup sultanas
1tbsp currants
1 mug strong black tea (optional)
200g / 7 oz / 1 cup Fairtrade organic caster sugar
225g / 8 oz / 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 large eggs at room temperature, lightly whisked
340g / 12 oz  / 3 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of sea salt
½ tsp nutmeg powder
½ tsp cinnamon powder

Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.  Prepare a 22cm / 9 inch cake tin by lightly buttering it and lining the base.

If you have not got any pre-made apple puree, peel some cooking apples then core and quarter them (weight will be more than the 175g / 6 oz but you can eat the balance with some sugar, while cooking the rest of the cake).  Place in a pan and put lid on; heat under a medium heat until hot, then reduce heat to a low heat and let the apples stew until soft.  Squash them through a sieve to give you your apple puree.

This next bit is optional and involves preparing the dried fruit.  I put the dried fruit into a pan, then brewed a strong mug of black tea.  The black tea was then poured over the fruit and I boiled the fruit for about 10 minutes until nice and plump.  Sieve off the excess tea and leave to cool.  You can ignore this stage and simply use the dried fruit, but I like doing this as it reduces that jaw-aching, chewiness of dried fruit, while adding another flavour dimension to your baking.

Sieve together the organic plain flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, sea salt, nutmeg and cinnamon.

Cream together the butter and caster sugar.  Add the eggs – half at first, followed by a tablespoon of the flour mix, then add the remainder.  Now add in the cooled apple puree and mix thoroughly.  Add the rest of the flour mix and mix together.  Finally add the sultanas and currants and make sure it is mixed well.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 50 minutes.  Towards the end start checking the consistency of the cake, by gently touching the top and feeling whether it is springy rather than liquidy.  If it is cooking too slowly reduce the temperature to 160C / 320F and cook for another 5 – 10 minutes.

Leave to cool in tin for about 5 minutes, then remove from the cake tin and let cool completely on a wire rack.

For the second apple cake recipe, this will be in my next blog…

Autumn Poems

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Perhaps Autumn is a time for poetry.  So here are a few poems that conjur up the period for me. 

I found the poem by Keats in an ancient copy of “The Golden Treasury” inscribed by my great aunt with the words “Elfie Steenberg July 1 1918″:

Ode To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run:
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With sweet kernel; to set budding more
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease;
For Summer has o’erbrimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen Thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twinéd flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Aye, where are they?
Think not of them, – thou hast thy music too,
While barréd clouds bloom the soft-dying day
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river-sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing, and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Or perhaps something more modern from Ted Hughes‘ book of poems “Season Songs”:


Who’s killed the leaves?
Me, says the apple, I’ve killed them all.
Fat as a bomb or a cannonball
I’ve killed the leaves.

Who sees them drop?
Me, says the pear, they will leave me all bare
So all the people can point and stare.
I see them drop.

Who’ll catch their blood?
Me, me, me, says the marrow, the marrow.
I’ll get so rotund that they’ll need a wheelbarrow.
I’ll catch their blood.

Who’ll make their shroud?
Me, says the swallow, there’s just time enough
Before I must pack all my spools and be off.
I’ll make their shroud.

Who’ll dig their grave?
Me, says the river, with the power of the clouds
A brown deep grave I’ll dig under my floods.
I’ll dig their grave.

Who’ll be their parson?
Me, says the Crow, for it is well-known
I study the bible right down to the bone.
I’ll be their parson.

Who’ll be chief mourner?
Me, says the wind, I will cry through the grass
The people will pale and go cold when I pass.
I’ll be chief mourner.

Who’ll carry the coffin?
Me, says the sunset, the whole world will weep
To see me lower it into the deep.
I’ll carry the coffin.

Who’ll sing a psalm?
Me, says the tractor, with mu gear grinding glottle
I’ll plough Up the stubble and sing through my throttle.
I’ll sing the psalm.

Who’ll toll the bell?
Me, says the robin, my song in October
Will tell the still gardens the leaves are over.
I’ll toll the bell.

Autumnal Leaves Falling

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

Autumnal leaves are falling everywhere.  They have hung on in there for quite a while longer as we have had a short spell of decent warm weather and very little wind.  But even so, nature cannot be stopped and even the delicate finger-like leaves of our wisteria have turned yellow and will soon have all gone until spring next year.

The River Skell at Fountains Abbey

The River Skell at Fountains Abbey

It’s a time of the year that makes you feel artistic.  I think perhaps the light is softer, making the edges of objects all fuzzy, rather than the sharp precision of winter and summer.   The smells are also old, ancient, the smells of decay; another year over.

Autumn Leaves

Autumn Leaves

I am reminded of a painting by Sir John Everett Millais that hangs in Manchester Art Gallery – “Autumn Leaves”.  John Ruskin wrote of Autumn Leaves that it was “the first instances of a perfectly painted twilight”.  I am not sure about the twilight but it does conjur up autumnal smells and sights.

In it, 4 girls stand around a pile of autumnal leaves piled up high – the 2 girls in the centre wearing deep black are Effie’s (Millais’ wife) 2 younger sisters and the others are local youngsters, Matilda Proudfoot and Isabella Nicol.  The setting is Annat Lodge in Perthshire, where the distant hills are a deep purple of twilight in the distance.

In the foreground there is a heap of papery fallen leaves, piled high having been brought there by the girls in whicker baskets.  Yellowish-green, bronze, red are the leaves, mimicked by the russet and deep purples of the younger 2 local girls as their clothes blend in with the colours of the season.  The youngest girl stares wistfully at the leaves and holds a chewed red apple in her hands.

There is a strong emotional intensity as these young girls stare out at us – it is twilight, the end of a year, yet they are just starting out.  The earth is perpetual cycle of renewal (spring) through to growth and beauty (summer) and ageing (autumn) before death (winter).  Then during winter, the earth is actively replenishing itself ready for another year of growth and death, in a perpetual cycle.

But maybe its more a time for poetry rather the visual arts; maybe poets are the more melancholic of the artists.

Recipe For Sweet Chestnuts Foraged At Fountains Abbey

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

We (that’s me and my 2 kids) have been enjoying a few walks this half term break – in the deer park at Studley Royal which is at the lower end of Fountains Abbey and at Brimham Rocks

Both are National Trust places and well worth the visit; in fact I reckon that Fountains Abbey must be one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited anywhere in the world and it’s packed full of history. 

You’ve got the beauty of a tamed natural landscape at the deer park with a small river Skell and seven picturesque little bridges (just where you could imagine trolls lurking beneath) while Fountains Abbey melds the formal landscape of early 18th century with the more natural, romantic-style landscaping around the ruined great Benedictine monastery, dating to the later half of the 18th century.  This site bridges the gap in English gardening from the formalised garden through to the more natural gardens of Capability Brown.

The leaves on the trees – chestnuts, oaks, beeches, limes – have turned to their autumnal hues – reds, yellowy-green, gold – and as they gently fall to the floor, they appear to gild the lush green grass.  

Fallow deer at Studley Roger

Fallow deer at Studley Roger

Fallow deer and red deer graze in decent sized herds throughout the deer park; we followed a small group of about 12 red deer along the higher valley banks of the Skell.  The stag had a magnificent set of antlers and would throw back his head every so often and utter their characteristic guttural bark, proclaiming his dominion over his small herd.

Along the way, we foraged amongst the leaves for sweet chestnuts.  These have a sea-urchin-like, very prickly outside, enclosing 2 or 3 little dark brown soft chestnuts.  The inside of the shells is amazingly soft to touch, just like silk.

Sweet chestnuts

Sweet chestnuts

We brought our small collection of sweet chestnuts home and have roasted them quickly in the oven.  This is a really simple process, stirring up feelings of the hunter gatherer deep inside my bones:

1.  Simply make small nicks/incisions in the sweet chestnuts
2.  Place on a baking tray in an oven pre-heated to 180oC
3.  Roast for about 20 minutes or until the shell is hardened and starts splitting
4.  Leave to cool for a few minutes, peel and enjoy

Recipe For Pumpkin Pie

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

What to do with all that lovely pumpkin that you’ve got after scooping out your pumpkin, or just because they are such good value discounted in those shops that have overstocked.  This year we’ve made a classic pumpkin pie – which was deliciously indulgent – and a warming pumpkin soup.

Pumpkin pie with cream

Pumpkin pie with cream

Here’s our Steenbergs sweet and traditional pumpkin pie recipe that has the texture of cheesecake with the warm spices of winter – cloves, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.   It uses Steenbergs organic Pumpkin Pie mix that I invented, so I make no apologies for using it in the recipe, however you can make your own using equal amounts of cinnamon and ginger and half of each nutmeg and cloves.


375g/ 13oz shortcrust pastry
3 medium free range eggs
425g/ 15oz puréed pumpkin (either canned or make it yourself – see later for making your own)
195g/ 6½oz Fairtrade golden brown caster sugar
¼tsp sea salt
3tsp Steenbergs organic Pumpkin Pie spices
335ml/ 11½ fl oz evapourated milk

1.  Preheat the oven to 200oC/ 400oF.

2.  Roll out the pastry and use it to line a 23cm round pie dish, to about 3mm thick.  Blind bake the pastry case for about 10 minutes. 

3.  Now mix up the filling.  Whisk the eggs lightly in a bowl.  Add the Fairtrade caster sugar, sea salt, Steenbergs Pumpkin Pie Spices, pumpkin purée and then evapourated milk.  Give it a good whisk after each ingredient to ensure that it has been mixed through thoroughly.

4.  Reduce the oven temperature to 170oC/ 340oF.  Take the part-baked pastry from the oven and pour in the filling.  Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the filling has just set; if you insert a skewer into the centre of the pie filling, it should come out clean.

5.  Allow to cool completely, then serve with cream.

6.  If you’re feeling indulgent, how about adding a smidgeon of Jack Daniels to the pie (about 2tbsp).

7.  To make your own pumpkin purée:

(1) chop up the pumpkin, removing all seeds and internal fibres and the skin and dice it into 3cm squares.  Boil with water for about 10 minutes.  Drain then process in your food processor until smooth; or

(2) chop up the pumpkin, removing all seeds and internal fibres, then place onto a baking tray and bake for 20 minutes at 180oC; now scrape out the cooked flesh and process until smooth.

Carving Your Pumpkin At Halloween

Friday, October 30th, 2009

Carving a pumpkin is really quite simple and (dare I say it) quite satisfying to do.  Here is how we do it in the Steenbergs household.

Firstly, choose a decent sized pumpkin with a good area on the face for you to do the carving.  A too small front face will be hard to carve and be fairly curved in shape.

Next, either draw a pattern onto the pumpkin using a marker pen or get a stencil and attach this to the pumpkin, using either tape or drawing pins.  You can download stencils from the web or buy them from good grocery stores – we bought a set of pumpkin carving safety knives from Booths in Ripon this year which came with some stencils.

I then usually mark around the stencil using a pin or the end of a sharp knife to mark out the pattern.

Marking out the pattern

Marking out the pattern

Put a read newspaper onto the table you are going to use as this makes tidying up much easier.  Now, using a knife cut a circle out of the top of the pumpkin and remove the top lid. 

Next, using a spoon and your hands scoop out all the seeds and the fibrous inner gunk.

Scooping out the gloop

Scooping out the gloop

Carefully and patiently cut out the pattern that you have marked out or drawn on the front of the pumpkin using safety knives if you’ve got them.  I use what looks like a slightly deadly array of pumpkin carving knives, sharp kitchen knives, metal skewers and bamboo skewers to cover all the possible bases while chopping away. 

Finished sea monster

Finished sea monster

The key thing is patience and perserverance.  Sometimes you also need to put your hand inside the pumpkin to give it further support as you are carving away as in the past we have broken off the more delicate bits of teeth or broomsticks and then have had to do emergency repair work using wooden toothpicks to put pumpkin flesh back onto the pumpkin!

As with all things in life, pratice makes perfect so every year you do it the better you will get.