Not Halloween


Saturday, 31 October 2015

No pumpkins, no dressing up, no sugar hangovers. My family seems to have finally grown out of halloween. Hoo-bloody-ray. 

But if you are up to your elbows in pumpkin guts these posts might help. All the ideas will work with any kind of pumpkin or winter squash, butternut squash for instance, and will probably be nicer than a tasteless, watery carving pumpkin.

This year, halloween for me is all about the Rugby World Cup final. I'm backing the All Blacks because I like the haka and Dan Carter plus they're going to win (sorry Aussies).

Quince ratafia
I made quince brandy as a change from my usual quince vodka. The old-fashioned term for a drink made by steeping fruit and sugar in spirits is a ratafia. I rather like that. I made this ratafia exactly the same way as this substituting brandy for vodka.

Coconut and cherry cake

And here is another version of the cheap and cheerful cake, a coconut and cherry one. I replaced the cocoa with flour and added about 100g/1 cup of desiccated coconut and 100g of chopped glacé cherries (about 14). Sweet, stodgy deliciousness.

October you have been glorious.

Autumnal Updates


Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Blog Update
You may have noticed that The Quince Tree has had a little face lift. I know some readers don't like bloggers to mess around and change things but I felt that after my long break a fresh look was needed. I haven't changed much, just the font here and there. I've also moved my blog roll to the top the sidebar to give it more prominence. I'm using it to keep up with my favourite blogs because I wasn't lovin' Bloglovin' anymore. The kind of blogs Bloglovin' likes to recommend to me are precisely the kind of blogs I have no interest in (beauty blogs and shopping blogs mainly), they are also the kind of blogs which are made up entirely of sponsored posts and which never include any kind of blog roll. I'm not interested in growing my blog, I don't want to develop my brand (whatever that is) I just want to connect with like-minded people and having blog roll is one the best ways of doing that.

Family Update
A few readers have asked for news about my children. Only the youngest, Katie is at school now. She is 15 and will take her GCSEs in June and then we'll be done with school. Sixth form college will follow for a couple of years. Tom has done his A levels and is now taking a gap year whilst building up a portfolio of art work in preparation for doing a foundation course in art and design. At least, that's the plan at the moment. He has just got himself a job as a 'sandwich artist' at Subway and we are all very pleased about it indeed. George found a job at a local hotel in the summer and is now back in Hull studying for a degree in physics. He is sharing a tatty little terraced house with two friends and having a great time.

I am liking having grown up and nearly grown up children very much. I have never been one for  mourning the passing of childhood. I am always looking forward to the next stage, I am even looking forward to my rapidly approaching middle age, I'm fifty in five weeks time.

I would have got this post published a lot sooner if Tom hadn't distracted me with a new game he has found. Geoguessr plonks you down anywhere in the world thanks to google streetview and asks you to guess where you are. I'm already hooked.

In My Kitchen


Thursday, 22 October 2015

apple and quince pie
In my last post I listed the meals I was planning to cook for the weekend. I cooked them, photographed most of them and ate all of them.

The apple and quince pie was a great success. I cooked one quince and three bramleys with a little sugar and nothing else before piling it into pie dish lined with shortcrust pastry made with half lard and half butter. I brushed the top crust with egg wash and sprinkled it with sugar before baking.

The butternut squash soup with sage and honey was also a success. I used one squash which I roasted in chunks before peeling and adding to onions and garlic softened in butter. I added a couple of handfuls of chopped sage and enough vegetable stock to cover the squash and simmered until all was soft. Then I blended it, added a spoonful of honey, salt, pepper and a splash of cream. Finally I frizzled some more sage leaves in olive oil to sprinkle on the top of each serving.

butternut squash with sage and honey

the pie prior to baking

Simple sausage and bean stew
This simple sausage and bean stew makes a frequent appearance on our plates. I use some of my vegetable hash as a base with a pinch of ground cloves and a pinch of chilli powder. A clove of garlic usually goes in too, plus a tin of tomatoes or passata, some veg like peppers, carrots or mushrooms, a couple of tins of beans -any kind, and lastly a couple of browned sausages per person. Then it goes in the oven for 40 minutes or so. Jacket potatoes make the best accompaniment.

tarmac and cream
Tom said the chocolate fudge pudding looked like tarmac which I thought was an improvement on cow pats.

carrot-apple-sunflower cake
This cake is a variation on this recipe. I replaced the walnuts with sunflower seeds (because I had no walnuts) and I substituted 5 fl oz of vegetable oil for 5 oz of the butter (because I was running low on butter). It was good, moist because of the oil and very tasty. I'm about to make another one.

I'm also about to make a big batch of veg hash, a double batch of quince and apple purée (to use up my ageing bramley apples), a big jar of quince brandy (for Christmas) and a hotpot of minced lamb with rosemary dumplings or scones (not sure which yet).

just now i am.....


Friday, 16 October 2015

Taking....photographs of the lovely autumn light in my garden. Not today though, today is overcast.

Baking.... Welsh cakes

Listening to...... the test match in Abu Dhabi. It is very dull.

Planning...... the weekend's menu. For lunch tomorrow I shall make butternut squash soup with sage and honey inspired by one I had here. For supper there will be sausage and bean stew followed by apple and quince pie. On Sunday we will have turkey steaks in a tomato and basil sauce with pasta followed by chocolate fudge pudding which I haven't made for ages. That should make everyone happy.

Reading......The Pickwick Papers- still. I'm enjoying it but finding it best to read it as it was published -in instalments.

Rereading..... Jocasta Innes' The Pauper's Cookbook which was first published in 1971 and thinking it the perfect antidote to all those trendy, samey, bandwagon cookbooks published today. Even my updated 1992 edition is relievingly free from chia seeds, yuzu juice- I'm looking at you Nigel Slater- green smoothies and bleeding quinoa. Try her potato, bacon and onion hotpot  -delicious, cheap and unpretentious.

Looking a glass or two of wine later today. And tomorrow and Sunday. Hoorah for weekends.


view A - focus on the foreground

view B - focus on the background

for those with only a few quinces


Wednesday, 14 October 2015

A quince tree's first crop is likely to be meagre, two or three, maybe five, perhaps only one. I'm inclined to say 'be relieved your tree hasn't produced two hundred fruit'. I think between twenty and thirty is the ideal number of quinces to have; enough to make a good batch of jelly or jam, enough to make some interesting puddings and pies, enough to freeze and enough to give away. But if you are the proud owner of just a few quinces here are some ideas for making the best of them.

A single, perfect quince
Stroke it, fondle it, inhale its glorious scent. Take photos of it, share them on social media. Paint it. Put it on your mantelpiece and allow it to perfume a room for a few days.

Then peel it, core it, cut it up small and stew very gently with a very little water until tender. Sweeten and add to apples in a pie, or a crumble. 

Two, three or more quinces
Do all of the above but also consider making jelly. Three or four will make at four jars of delicious jewel-like jelly. The great thing about jelly is that you don't need a specific amount of quinces, just cook what you have in water till soft, strain and measure the resulting juice adding a pound of sugar for every pint (2½ cups) of juice.

Make quince and apple purée. I discovered the other day while making quince and apple meringue pudding from Jane Grigson's lovely book Good Things that a purée made of apple and quince is subtly nicer than one made from each fruit alone. The quince enhances the apple and the apple relieves the quince of its graininess and sometimes overpowering flavour.

Use one quince and three Bramleys (or any sharp collapsing kind of cooking apple). Melt over a low heat 2 oz (50-60g) of butter in a heavy bottomed pan. Peel and core the fruit, chop into chunks and add to the pan. Cover and cook very gently until there is about an inch of juice in the pan and the fruit is soft. I mashed mine with a wooden spoon but you can push it through a sieve for a more refined dish. Add sugar to taste -about two tablespoons seemed right for mine. You can also add a pinch of ground cloves and cinnamon although I am not sure anything with quince needs any additional flavouring and I won't add the spices next time I make it. You can, of course make a plain apple purée using this method in which case the spices would be very welcome. Here the quince is the spice.

Eat your quince and apple purée warm or cold, with or without cream, stirred into yogurt, swirled through custard, with rice pudding, on pancakes or topped with meringue as below. It would also be good with roast pork or goose. Make lots if you have lots of quinces and freeze.

Quince and apple purée

Topped with meringue

Baked and eaten

I think there are about thirty quinces on my tree, maybe less. I am not rushing to pick them all though. I shall pick as I need. I will not be making jelly this year as we still haven't begun last year's batch. I shall make more quince and apple purée and freeze some, and I shall be trying quince brandy as a change from quince vodka. Just now though I am enjoying the scent of the five quinces I have arranged on my mantelpiece.

For more quince recipes go to my recipe index on the black bar at the top of the page. You need to scroll down quite a bit.

In My Kitchen


Monday, 12 October 2015

In my kitchen last week.
There was green food, and red food but it seems that the food I chose to photograph was the orange and yellow food.

A particularly delicious coleslaw heavy on the carrot, light on the cabbage, with chopped apples, red onion and toasted sunflower seeds. The dressing was mayonnaise, cider vinegar, whole grain mustard and a bit of honey. Lots of black pepper and some salt. It made very good sandwiches with an equal quantity of grated cheese.

Potato, butternut squash, chorizo, onions and eggs all baked in the oven. The eggs are added at the last minute although I always manage to overcook them.

Enormous cheese scones to eat with soup.

Everyone's favourite -roast chicken and roast potatoes. The leftovers will be made into some sort of stew for supper tonight and the carcass will be made into stock, or 'bone broth' as I believe it is called  these days. I left some of the fat in the roasting tin to make the gravy but the rest I poured into a little dish and put it in the fridge where it will keep for several weeks if not longer. It will make fabulous fried potatoes.

An almond version of the cheap and cheerful cake on my previous post. I replaced the cocoa with flour, and the vanilla with almond extract and sprinkled the top of the cake with flaked almonds before baking. Very good.

Cheap and Cheerful Cake


Monday, 5 October 2015

My new favourite cake recipe happens to be one of the cheapest I've ever made. It also happens to be accidently vegan. No eggs, no butter, no milk. How I wish I'd known about it when Katie was little and couldn't tolerate eggs, it would have made the perfect birthday cake. It's an old American recipe dating from the depression era. Sometimes called wacky cake or crazy cake, or just depression cake. I promise it isn't depressing at all, it's very, very cheerful. It's a piece of cake to make as well.

Many versions of this cake instruct you to mix all the ingredients directly in the cake tin. I found it easier to mix them together in a roomy bowl rather than trying not to splash cake batter over the sides of the tin. Also if you stir in the tin you disturb the layer of butter or oil you have used to grease it.

The original recipe is measured in American cups. I like my American cup measures but I've weighed the ingredients for you in both imperial and metric.

Cheap and Cheerful Cake

Makes about 16 pieces depending how big you cut them.

Grease an 8'' (20cm) square or a 9''(22cm) square cake tin with butter, marge or oil.
Preheat the oven to 180°c (160°c fan oven)

Mix together in a bowl

1½ cups/9oz/250g plain flour
1 cup/9oz/250g granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
¼ cup/ 1oz/30g/4 tablespoons cocoa powder 


1 cup/8fl oz/240ml water
⅓ cup/3fl oz/90ml/ 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon of vinegar (any will do)

Mix well and pour into the prepared tin.
Bake for 30-35 mins. 
Leave to cool before turning out. Ice if liked once it is completely cool.

Wet ingredients ready to be mixed with dry ingredients

The batter is quite runny

After baking

This cake is incredibly moist and is delicious without any icing, but I like to smother it with buttercream. Of course this makes it not vegan but you could ice it with a simple water icing made with icing sugar and water, or you could make a chocolate icing using dairy-free chocolate.

Liberally iced with buttercream made with 3oz of butter, 6oz of icing sugar, 1 tablespoon of milk and a dash of vanilla extract


To make a plain cake omit the cocoa powder but increase the amount of flour by ¼cup/1oz/30g

Add chopped nuts or a handful of desiccated coconut. Glacé cherries, chocolate chips or dried fruit are other possibilities. Instant espresso powder added to the batter and the icing makes a lovely coffee cake.

The Missing Months


Saturday, 3 October 2015

Thank you Lucille, why didn't I think of recap samplers?

The following six samplers are made using my instagram photos because I stopped using my big camera while I was away. I only post photos I have taken with my phone on instagram - I think using a dslr is missing the point of instagram. So, apologies if you have already seen these images. By the way it is really easy to upload your instagram pictures onto your computer, I used Instaport.







To make my samplers/collages/mosaics -whatever you like to call them, I use PicMonkey which is a free photo-editing site which you can use straight away without having to create an account. I also use PicMonkey to edit my photos before posting them on the blog. By edit I mean I click auto adjust, crop if necessary, resize and occasionally lighten a bit.

How to make a photo collage using PicMonkey

1) Select the collage option at the top of the page which takes you to your photo files and from there  select the photos (click on the photo then click 'open') you want to use in your collage. 

2) When you have enough photos go to the little layout icon on the far left of the page, it's underneath the images icon (the one that looks like mountains). Select the 'square deal' option and click on the one you want, I use the 3x3 one. This layout will appear on the middle of your screen. 

3) Click on the images icon again to get back to your photo selection and then simply drag your pictures to the squares you want them to go in. Sometimes extra squares will appear but you can easily dismiss these by hitting the cross in their top right hand corners. You can move the pictures around as much as you want. 

4) When you are happy with your creation click save at the top of the page and follow the instructions to save it to your computer.

I hope that makes sense and is of use to someone. There are other photo editing sites worth having a look at. Big Huge Labs is one which I have used in the past but PicMonkey is my favourite..

Another fun thing you can do with your instagram pictures is to get them printed. Photobox is really easy to use, you don't even have to upload your pictures to your computer, just hit the instagram icon and there they all are. These 5''x 5'' prints cost 20p each. No idea what I shall do with them yet but I'm very pleased with them.

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