If it’s September then it must be…Blackberries


I know it is no longer September but I’ve been having technological issues – beside the blackberries round us were very late this year. In Reading where I work they were starting to appear in mid July but in Warwickshire they weren’t worth eating until mid September…

Which is when a neighbour (I guess I should call him Flapjack King since he is the Flapjack Queen’s other half) challenged myself and the rest of the road to a “Hedgerow Bake Off”…after that is he had picked all the blackberries within immediate reach. This gave him a significant time advantage…not that it helped as Fate took a hand and evened the playing field for the rest of us.. FJK misread his recipe, failed to add enough gelatine and ended up with a blackberry flavoured sauce instead of the Pana Cota he’d been hoping for !

The entrants to the Itchy Bishop Hedgerow Challenge included:

– Pumpkin Pie,

-Pecan Pie (yes I know they don’t grow in Warwickshire, but they were selling them in the local tesco so I guess it counts !)

-Blackberry and Raspberry Roulade

-Blackberry Syllabub,

-a liquid Pana Cota and his back up Bakewell Tart

– a moist chocolate cake with a blackberry compote filling (Chocolate Ganache icing)…

and my contribution which was a blackberry bread and butter pudding (Nigel Slater Tender II) as by the time I’d finished my gardening and gone out and found some blackberries I only had an hour left…and to be frank wasn’t in the mood to do the Madeleines I’d planned (Madeleines…far too much effort for such small cakes !)

Unfortunately we forgot to pace ourselves with the sampling, by the time they got to mine no one could manage more than a small spoonful…maybe we made a mistake in combining the bake off with the last barbecue of the summer…

I forgot to get pics but O Mighty Tim snapped the one above…which I’ve had to pinch from his facebook as he is  also having a week where technology is biting him on the bottom…

The winner was unanimously declared to be 9 year old Flapjack Princess’ chocolate cake

My Bread and Butter pudding unfortunately became my breakfast and lunch the next day as it turned out that neither Spider or OMT eat it…wish they’d mentioned that before I’d made it  😦

So there you go, a new memory to go along with the hundred I already have of fun in the sun and blackberries including

Memory  2006 – We are in the process of buying our current house and we take a sneaky peak of the road from the “country” bit of the lane…the hedges are full of sloes and blackberries and an 18 month old Spider keeps leaning from my arms, pointing stuttering out the words  “Black-Black, Black-Black”…

Memory  1993 – It is September, students are not yet back at university but postgraduate and masters students haven’t stopped. I go to visit a friend who is doing a masters in psychology of something or other…her household is the welcoming sort where a friend of one is a friend of all. We go for a walk in the countryside round Cardiff before heading back for a house family Sunday dinner of  roast chicken. The walk is one of glorious autumn sunshine, climbing trees and kicking through the first fallen leaves. As we reach the car we spot blackberries and after a quick search of pockets for a plastic bag forage enough to take back for crumble and custard.

Memory July-ish  1980 or 81 Malvern Railway station, we are waiting for someone after school, it may be Dad or Mum can’t remember who but there was only 1 of my parents there and my brother…bored we roam the car park until we fall on some amazingly early blackberries rambling over a wall…but then the summers of your childhood are always warm enough for early blackberries to appear…

This weekend we managed to rustle up enough blackberries to go in a crumble to follow our roast…which I am sorry to say is the usual fate for my foraging other than the occasional jam, compote or simply scoffing them straight off the bush…but then I love the wonderful jammy perfume of a crumble filling the kitchen

Maybe next year I might manage something more ambitions…but I doubt it…

Mrs 54’s Autumn Chutney


Last year I made chutney and gave several jars of it away as presents. A number of people have since asked me for the recipe but, because I am so useless when it comes to putting things in the post I thought it would be best to post it here.

 The recipe is based on one from a Sarsons preserving booklet but has been tweaked out of all recognition over the years. The most recent innovation is grating vegetables instead of chopping them (small children tend to object to lumps!) we’ve also increased the cooking time as grating it tends to make it runnier…


450ml malt vinegar

675g green or red tomatoes chopped small

450g cooking apples (peeled and grated)

225g onions (peeled and grated)

2 cloves crushed garlic

7.5ml  (1.5 tsp) salt

100g sultanas

2.5cm fresh root ginger (grated)

400g muscavado sugar

1tsp  Allspice

1tsp Turmeric

½ tsp mustard powder

5-6 cloves (crushed)

5-6 peppercorns

½ tsp Nutmeg



Place all the ingredients except the sugar in a large saucepan or preserving pan. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 30 minutes or until the quantity is reduced by 1/3 and the vegetables are soft and pulpy. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved, then simmer, stirring occasionally for about 1 hour until the chutney is a thick pulpy consistency or with no watery liquid noticeable on the top of the chutney.

 Pour into warm sterilised jars, seal, label and store for 3 weeks (or 2 months if using green tomatoes) before use.



Bananas present an interesting problem to those in the UK who try to eat both seasonally and locally. Unless you have a super heated and large greenhouse it is highly improbable that you will be able to grow your own bananas, even if you do manage it they are unlikely to fruit. Furthermore, as far as I can establish there appears to be no one trying to do so in this country on a commercial basis.

As for seasonal, well once you’ve accepted the fact that bananas have to be imported then they are pretty much available all the year round… So what are you to do ? Well you either ban the carbon traitor from your diet or you accept that fact that you are unlikely ever to achieve carbon neutral nirvana and salve your conscience a bit by buying fair trade. The other thing you can do, having accepted that you’d rather not live without bananas in your life (which my friend Wingnut is more than happy to do, considering them as “the evil yellow devil herb”) is to make sure that you don’t compound the carbon sin by letting them go to waste.

If I haven’t got the time to incorporate banana into muffins, cake or breakfast pancakes prior to freezing then I have been happily skinning them, quartering them and sticking in a plastic bag for several years now. What I had not tried until recently was to follow the Economy Gastronomy trick of freezing them whole, skin and all. For those that try it please note, if you are in a hurry the skin is difficult to get off, and if you leave them to defrost you end up with a nasty black slime all over your work surface….they also take up more room then their quartered brothers.

We are ODing on bananas at the moment as in addition to buying a large bag of bananas at the weekend I decided to start clearing out the freezer prior to Christmas and the first thing I was confronted with was a number of EG style frozen bananas. So I have been working my way through recipe books. I didn’t try on this occasion, but I have in the past tried Nigella’s healthy banana muffins. (the original recipe doesn’t have the chocolate)  My recommendation is “don’t”; they sacrifice taste in the pursuit of healthiness, would rather eat less and enjoy some flavour (interestingly her Banana and Butterscotch muffins are nice).

Alternatively a healthy muffin that is surprisingly nice are the Banana Bran Muffins from “Economy Gastronomy” – yes there is a reasonable amount of sugar in them, but they do make over 24 reasonably sized muffins and the mixture keeps in the fridge so you can make them in advance and cook them when ready and freeze your leftovers. Disadvantages are they are more complicated than usual muffins and take longer to cook. Recommendation from Spider is that they are nicer warm.

Nigella’s Banana Bread is nice, thought Tessa Kiros’ banana bread from “Apples for Jam” would be nicer due to use of brown sugar but there was no marginal difference. Susan Austin’s Banana Pancakes are what breakfasts were invented for, and they freeze. I’ve also tried the Banana and Oats Smoothie from Leon:Allegra Mcevedy which…I am hoping to tempt Spider with at the weekend.

Finally this is more a serving suggestion than an actual recipe and has been known in my family for at least 35 years as “Banana’s Valentine”. Take a skinned banana. Sprinkle with dark brown sugar. Pour over a reasonable amount of evaporated milk, leave to stand for a few minutes. Eat with enthusiasm.

In season now: Pears, believe it or not but only just

I’ve mentioned before that I am am trying to firstly eat seasonally and if possibly eat locally. Eating locally currently is restricted to this country  rather than this county, partly because I’m not yet organised enough,but mainly ‘cos I’ve delegated the shopping to Husband for budgetary reasons (he’s better at getting bargains).

[When we had more money I did try an organic box via River Nene which was good from a seasonal and localish point, but  bad as you didn’t get much choice in the contents of the box (think they may have changed the system now) and since my guys are picky about their vegetables I ended up eating a lot of weird soups to use the veg up…there was also the period when I got Kale 3 boxes in a row – not good !]

Anyway I was floating around the net this morning and came across the Pink Fairy cake blog (their actual website is a good resource for cooking with children). I  discovered that Pears are in season now.  Having grown up in Worcestershire the home of apples and pears I was very surprised to learn this as I’d always assumed they were ready the same time as the Apples (Sept-Dec) but no, on checking the BBC website (you can tell I’m British, I always head for the BBC for the low down !) it would seem that they are in season January.

I love pears. They are not something, pre Spider I bought very often (except perhaps in tins) as usually when you buy them they are rock hard, take so long to get ripe and by the time they are ripe they go over and get mushy so quickly – and don’t ever ever consider putting a ripe pear in your lunchbox ! But when it came to weaning Spider they were one of the first things I gave him (apparently they are gentle on small people’s tummies) and it was then I discovered that cold pear puree is probably one of the closest things to “food from heaven” you can get !

I am also very fond of pear juice and have happy memories of hot days travelling round europe by train with lunches of bread and cheese and glass bottles of pear juice…don’t ever try putting a ripe pear through a juice extractor – as Nigel Slater points out in Thirst, all you get is a few pathetic dribbles of juice !

So I am on the look out for some pears to kick start my interest in cooking – I suffer quite badly from lack of motivation in the winter months and all I want to do is hide under the duvet, as you may have gathered from the lack of activity here recently (that’s also partly due to lack of cash)…if nothing else there is a tin of pears in the cupboard !