A Pillow Book

I wanted a blog to reflect my life and, as with most people, I do and am many things, decided to create a Pillow Book. It will have thoughts, ideas, observations and little snippets of my day to day life. So, thank you Empress Consort Teishi....... I bow to you and your great work and hope, in some small way, mine might be great too.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Do we really only miss things when they are gone?

'The blossom opens slowly, slowly on the apple tree. One day the boughs are grey, though with the swellings of the leaves to come visible if you look closely. The next day and the next, here and there, a speck of white, and then a sprinkling, as though someone has thrown a handful of confetti up into the air and let it fall , anyhow, over the branches.'  from 'The Magic Apple Tree' by Susan Hill.

At the bottom of my garden an apple tree has stood for many years, it was, I think, part of an orchard that ran across the land between my house and Melancholy Cottage, but over the time plots have been sold and new dwellings built so the orchard was sadly depleted, leaving my tree and two more in a neighbouring garden. 

When we moved in I was pleased find the tree, I had left a very large garden and two apple trees behind.  This one was to be the post to one end of my washing line, a shady spot to sit in for a largely pregnant lady (me) then a lovely spot for a sleeping new baby the following summer.... bountiful apples to make cakes, pies and sauce with, and mistletoe for my Christmas decorations.  The blossom was beautiful in early spring and many times I  sat with a child on my lap silently watching the blackbirds, that nested yearly, feeding their babies.  Years passed, pies and sauces made , apple and mint jelly stirred, cakes baked and shared. Occasional cursing at the mess the windfalls made and  sighing at the mounds of leaves to be swept. When the trampoline arrived we  took the washing line down, terrified that a bouncing child might be garrotted on it, instead a whirly line installed, but that has never dried the washing as quickly or as well.  There it stood, part of the garden, part of my life, taken for granted? Yes. But do we ever give much thought to our trees? I occasionally pulled the ivy off its trunk as I remembered someone once telling me that if ivy grows to the top of a tree the tree will die! And gave it the  occasional caress and thanks for another year of fruit, but that is all, never a moment when I thought it might no longer be there. Then yesterday a phone call from my neighbour asking where I was (getting Euros and toiletries with my son for his holiday) she said not to be alarmed but that a branch had fallen off the tree and into her mother's garden......well what we found was a little more than a branch...more like half a tree.....a call to a friend and early this morning the tree men arrived, a quick stop for cookies and coffee and that was it. All that is left a pile of logs for winter fires and a pile of apples for freezing.  It has totally changed the feel of my garden, I am open and exposed to the world now, neighbours will be able to see me coming out of the bathroom or nipping in at night, if I forget and turn the light on..... But more than that, more than anything, is my sadness at no longer being able to pop into the garden and pull off a few apples for a pie, or sauce for the roast pork.... now all I shall have is sweetly scented fires for the next couple of years, on cold evenings I shall watch the flames and think of the years gone by and miss my apple tree now that is has gone......

Apple Pie
I was given this lovely book for my birthday one year by my sister-in-law, it is full of wonderful recipes and after many trials with various recipes this is now my favoured one for apple pie, it works, is brimming full of fruit, as a good pie should be, and is delicious, a perfect family pie!

4 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, quartered, and cored
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup sugar, plus 1 teaspoon to sprinkle on top
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water for egg wash

(I often use good quality frozen or chilled sweet pastry)

Perfect Pie Crust
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) very cold unsalted butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup very cold vegetable shortening
6 to 8 tablespoons (about 1/2 cup) ice water
Barefoot Contessa Family Style
  Look Inside
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cut each apple quarter in thirds crosswise and combine in a bowl with the zests, juices, sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.

Roll out half the pie dough and drape it over the pie pan to extend about 1/2 inch over the rim. Don’t stretch the dough; if it’s too small, just put it back on the board and re-roll it.

Fill the pie with the apple mixture. Brush the edge of the bottom pie crust with the egg wash so the top crust will adhere. Top with the second crust and trim the edges to about 1 inch over the rim. Tuck the edge of the top crust under the edge of the bottom crust and crimp the two together with your fingers or a fork. Brush the entire top crust with the egg wash, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon sugar, and cut four or five slits.

Place the pie on a sheet pan and baPerfect Pie Crust

Cut the dough in half. Roll each piece on a well-floured board into a circle, rolling from the center to the edge, turning and flouring the dough to make sure it doesn’t stick to the board. Fold the dough in half, place in a pie pan, and unfold to fit the pan. Repeat with the top crust. ke for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, or until the crust is browned and the juices begin to bubble out. Serve warm. 

Posted by Picasa

German Plum Cake

Posted by Picasa

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Plum time......

I have a tree in my garden, it has been there since I moved to this house 14 years ago. In early spring it has delicate blossom, I usually cut a branch or two for my Easter eggs to hang from. In July, if I am lucky, fruit, round jewels in abundance and in the autumn leaves that turn scarlet to brighten up the gloomiest day.  The fruit bounty does not happen every year or even every other but it seems my tree likes to give up its gift after a cold winter. Now this winter was colder than ever known, in fact a white Christmas was had, a rare and magical occurrence. To that end my tree has fruited like never before, sweet juicy cherry plums bursting with flavour after just the right proportion of rain and sun.  So, the last few weeks have found me collecting and bagging fruit for friends, colleagues and neighbours. Baking German plum cakes for eating and freezing, making plum jam and chutney. My window cleaner knocked on the door and asked if he and his family could have some, and I have spied many a dog walker pick and pop one into their mouths. But as the supply far exceeded my own requirements I was more than happy to share.  The last time this happened my youngest daughter set up a plum stall selling them by the pound but this no longer seems fun as now a teenager, friends and horses are much more interesting.  
Last Saturday my friend and I spent a wonderful afternoon in the sun picking all we could reach, with breaks for tea and cake, so she could take them to work on Monday, she runs the garden at Holton Lee, http://www.holtonlee.co.uk/, where one of the lady volunteers makes jams and chutneys to sell for fundraising.  Seeing as much of the fruit used as possible makes me happy, I also love to see the blackbirds clearing the path daily of windfalls. Sadly my apple tree has fallen foul of its own abundance this year, so heavy are its boughs that the trunk has split in two and is un-savable.....
Here is the recipe for the cake, it is easy and good, a friend who had a German Granny took a bite and said it transported her back to childhood and her Grannies kitchen where everything seemed to be made of plums!

German Plum Cake
Feeds 6 Takes 50 mins

Plum cake is the sort of everyday cake you see throughout Germany and Austria, usually baked in a humble pie dish or tray tin, or even a small roasting tin I use a 25cm square tin. Serve warm as a pudding with cream, or cooled as a cake.

180g butter
160g sugar
4 eggs
½tsp vanilla essence
100g plain flour
125g self-raising flour
Pinch of salt
10 small plums or apricots
2tbsp icing sugar

Heat the oven to 180C/Gas 3. Butter and paper a baking tray or pie dish measuring 28cm x 20cm.

Cream the butter and sugar together until pale. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Stir in the vanilla essence. Sift both flours and salt together, then beat the flour into the batter until well mixed. Spoon the batter into the baking tray or pie dish.

Cut the plums or apricots around their circumference, twist apart and remove the stone.

Arrange the fruit, cut side up, in neat rows on top of the batter. The fruit will sink a little and the cake will rise and puff up around it.

Bake for 30 minutes or until a thin skewer inserted in the cake comes out clean. Cool, dust with icing sugar, slice and serve.

Friday, 22 July 2011

A very English affair.......

Posted by PicasaDoes any other nations love  tea in quite the way we do? My mother is not a tea drinker, my father was, and I have reared three BIG tea drinkers, they were all weaned on Grandad's milky tea with three (yes three!!)sugars, but to that end not a filling to be seen.... They are all now down to one sugar but are tea addicts....I buy Dorset Tea in sacks of 1500 and pack a quarter off to Cornwall for my eldest daughter. My youngest came home with pride saying she was now the official tea maker at the stables because of her photographic memory enabling her to make perfect cups for each person there.  And then there is my son, who is off to Uni in the Autumn, 'mum' he said, 'do you know what I will miss most when I am away?'  'Me?' said I 'No! The cup of tea you bring me every morning!'........

 But with tea must most certainly go cake or at least a biscuit, a pause in the day to sit and enjoy a little quiet sustenance.  In my village for many years Saturday and Sunday afternoons sees  'Dorset Cream Teas'. From Easter to September a large banner hangs from my fence proclaiming we are open for business and directing passers by to our church hall. Here various local people host the afternoons proceedings, having made (or called in favours from friends) cakes, scones and tea breads.  You never know who will come in the three hours or how many.  The first ten minutes are always nerve wracking but then in they roll. The partially sighted gentleman with his daughter (both days) big groups of Lycra clad cyclists (tea and toast for them) passing motorists, friends and often the great and good of the village will pop in for a slice, or two to take home.  There are twins who come weekly tanned, in freshly pressed slacks and polo shirts arriving in their vintage motor from the big town far away. They have made friends with other regulars and can now be seen at village events throughout the year. It is an exhausting but wonderful two days, a glow surrounds us when the last customer has gone and we can sit and have a pot of tea and a scone, knowing that money will go to the church and a good cause of our choice.Shall we do it next year, we ask, it is so exhausting....but we will, we know because making and sharing tea with friends, neighbours and complete strangers is a very English affair and a delightful one indeed.