From flower to cake

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The pears, plums and apples have all done well this year and the branches are heavy with fruit.

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We have one pear tree in our garden growing against the south-facing back wall. I don’t know how old it is as it was already here when we moved in but it’s not a big tree. I think it’s a Conference – they look like Conference pears and they taste like Conference pears. Anyway, it’s been a good year for pears (and most fruit, I think) and we have lots and lots.

My family aren’t great pear fans, so I’ve been looking for different recipes to use them up. I made this Sticky Pear and Ginger Cake this morning and it’s been a big hit. (I didn’t follow the recipe exactly – I chopped all the pecans and added them to the cake mix and I omitted the syrup.) You could eat it warm as a pudding with yogurt or cream, but it’s delicious just as it is – moist, spicy and pear-y. I’ll definitely make it again.



My mum and I also made some pear and ginger conserve a few weeks ago. This wasn’t as successful. The taste is lovely but it doesn’t work as a jam; it looks a bit like pineapple chunks in jelly! If I make it again, I’ll chop the pears up much smaller and use grated cooking apple to increase the pectin. I think we’ll be eating this alongside ice cream.

Have you found any new ways to use up your produce? If you have a favourite pear recipe, I’d love to hear it!

You get out what you put in

The yellow of the oilseed rape fields caught my eye on this morning's walk.

Ok, there are exceptions but I endeavour to follow this general rule and try to instil in my children that it’s important to make an effort, to do one’s best. Obviously not all the time (who am I kidding!) but if you want good things to happen then it’s generally worth taking the time to do things well. Random examples:

  • Preparing for visitors – we had three girlfriends and their daughters to visit this weekend (great excitement) and I wanted it to be a relaxing, fun time for all. I cleaned, tidied and made up beds, cleared spaces and cooked in preparation which meant I could relax and enjoy myself while they were here. Which I did. Immensely. (The food highlight was a sticky toffee pudding – recipe at the end of the post.)
  • Studying for end of term exams – I try to tread a careful path between letting the children get on with it and frantic lecturing. The eldest has his GCSEs next year and that’s when things Get Serious. I’m forever trying to explain that it really is worth doing the ground work now and studying as you go along. He sits with one earpod in, one earpod out and a look of studied indifference, but I’m hopeful that it does filter through. (My parents will be laughing as they read this!)
  • Working the soil – our soil here is chalky. Very chalky. Dig down to a spade’s depth in some areas and you hit solid chalk. So we must add compost and lots of it. We’ve been weeding and mulching, weeding and mulching and that will improve the soil structure over time and the plants should do well.

David has been having a great time over the last few days mixing concrete, slapping it onto stones and rebuilding a wall. And I’ve been admiring all his hard work.

David's wall.
David’s wall.
The old cherry tree is heaving with blossom. A strong wind will scatter the petals over the garden like confetti and I'll find it inside the folds of laundry drying on the line.
The old cherry tree is heaving with blossom. A strong wind will scatter the petals over the garden like confetti and I’ll find it inside the folds of laundry drying on the line.


Sticky toffee pudding (which went down very well…)

This is my friend Helen’s recipe. I adapted it to make the sponge dairy-free so my daughter could eat it but I’ll experiment with the sauce another time (when we don’t have guests). I’m not sure about the cream substitute – perhaps oat or coconut cream will work. I’ll let you know. These quantities make enough for 12 people but Helen regularly makes it for more so it doubles easily.

For the sponge:
175g pitted dates, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
60g butter (I used dairy-free block margarine)
175g light muscovado sugar (I used 100g golden caster and 75g dark brown)
2 eggs, beaten
175g self raising flour

For the toffee sauce:
200g light muscovado sugar (I used 100g each of caster and dark brown)
100ml double cream
110g butter

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C. Line a tin or baking dish (approx 22x30cm) with baking parchment.

Put the dates, bicarb and 225ml water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. I then whizzed the mixture in a mini-blender until smooth but you can leave it as is for texture.

Mix the butter (marg) and sugar, add the eggs, then the flour and mix to combine. Add the date mixture and stir thoroughly. Pour into your lined tin, pop in the oven and bake for 40–45 mins or until springy to the touch.

To make the sauce, tip all the ingredients into a saucepan and heat gently, stirring all the while, until thick and glossy. This takes about 5–10 mins.

Cut the sponge into portions and serve with warm sauce poured over the top. We had ours with ice cream and the girls licked their bowls clean (and tussled over the last of the toffee sauce!).


Good husbandry…

I was busy making muffins in the kitchen earlier when David came in to put the kettle on.
‘Have you had a look in the greenhouse today?’, he asked with a studied, casual air.
‘Yes, there’s nothing growing yet,’ I answered equally casually.
‘Oh but there is! One of the seeds I planted has germinated!’ (Annoyingly gleeful.)
I shall ignore this blatant attempt to drag me into competitive gardening. I’ll suggest he enters some daffs or something into the forthcoming village spring show instead…

Anyway, back to the muffins. My 11-year-old daughter was very poorly a year or so ago and after many tests and medical consultations, it turns out she has become intolerant to dairy. I have since been experimenting with recipes and this very quick and easy one has become a favourite with all of us. It’s customised from my middle son’s Food Tech course notes!

Dairy-free banana muffins
(makes about 10)
150g self raising flour
75g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
100g dark soft brown sugar
90ml olive oil (bog standard, not extra-virgin – you don’t want any flavour)
100ml soya or almond milk
1 large egg
1 over-ripe banana (mashed)
50g sultanas

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.
Combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Beat all the wet ingredients together in a measuring jug and pour into the mixing bowl. Mix together with a wooden spoon, then add the banana and sultanas and stir gently until just combined. Don’t overmix or your muffins may be a bit rubbery. Spoon into muffin cases and pop the oven. Bake for about 25 minutes (but check at 22 if your oven is on the hot side).

Best eaten on the day they’re made, so I’m off to make a cup of tea and eat one in the greenhouse.