Just Go With The Season

Some things are my fault; others aren’t. I think rain comes into the latter category but it’s hard to be sure. I hope that the Queen can forgive me if my Lemon Almond Sundrops have inadvertently jinxed the weather for her Diamond Jubilee celebrations …

Today’s rain has come as a reflection of my own unseasonal cravings for deeply rich plum chutney and dark treacle toffee brownies this week. But perhaps it has also come as more than this. It would be easier for me to pretend that my kitchen has remained resolutely cheerful and sunny in the face of such an unsporting downpour however, that my children and I have whipped up storms of cream cheese frosting and hung the festive bunting from every muffin top and trifle – for telling you about the chutney and the brownies is also to tell a little of my own raincloud. Perhaps today’s rain has inched me towards this.

You see, my jar of plum chutney is a necessity. I know it’s not autumn and that we’ve barely made headway into the summer season of fresh plum tarts and salads. I know I should be embarrassed about posting a recipe for chutney in June. It’s just that … well … my jar of plum chutney has become a talisman of sorts in my painful daily battle against my ongoing anorexic voice – the internal voice that accompanies me everywhere, seeking to lock me in an eating disordered world. I developed my own recipe for this chutney, I chopped and stirred and boiled it, I tasted it, I potted it, and now it sits there in my fridge with ‘Eat Me!’ written all over it. And I do – eat it, I mean. It’s good.

But if I tell you this about my plum chutney, I also dare to show you a little bit more of my reality. The real person, the true ‘me’ that hides behind whatever face a blog is able to provide. If I share my plum chutney recipe with you now, in June, then I’m admitting my vulnerability. Being open is to be vulnerable – if I let you know me, I risk letting you reject me. And hurt me – the real me, that is. The one that feels the plugs in the heart. I have lashing rains of doubt and self-loathing already. I don’t want to encounter yet more.

And if I talk about these sinfully dark, sticky treacle toffee brownies I created, then the face will disappear. It’s just me there instead. I’ll tell you how treacle toffee reaches right back into my childhood, how it’s a taste that is at once both bitter and restorative. These brownies have tears folded inside them. But … “Jeez, Kate – it’s summer!” you’ll say. “Save them for the cold evenings of bonfires and frosts. Give us some meringues, some tipsy trifles, some cucumber sandwiches. There’s a party on, you know!”

You’ll be right though. There is a party on after all – and I didn’t set out to be a damp squib. Rain might have stopped play for a while but it’s brightening up now and there’ll still be time for a few overs before tea.

Just don’t mind me if I sit here on the sidelines with my pot of plum chutney and plate of treacle toffee brownies for a bit longer. Perhaps someone might like to join me – there’s plenty to share.

Ploughmans Plum Chutney

5 oz caster sugar
75 ml white wine vinegar
25 ml malt vinegar
3 large plums, stoned and diced
1 apple, peeled, cored and diced
1 1/2 oz sultanas
1/4 tsp salt

For the spice bag
1 star anise
1/4 oz fresh, peeled ginger
1 large clove garlic
1/2 oz peeled red onion
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp black peppercorns

Put the sugar and vinegars in a medium saucepan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved.

Tie the ingredients for the spice bag in a square of muslin and crush them all up a bit with your fist. Add the spice bag together with the other remaining ingredients to the saucepan.

Bring slowly to the boil, then simmer gently for an hour. Stir regularly so that the syrupy mixture doesn’t stick and burn.

Test for readiness by drawing a wooden spoon through the mixture – it’s thick enough when the chutney parts briefly to reveal the bottom of the pan.

Pot while still warm in a sterilised jar. The chutney will probably improve if left to mature a while, but I haven’t managed to test that theory so far – my jar is empty within a week or so …

Treacle Toffee Brownies

4 oz butter
8 oz dark muscovado sugar
5 oz light muscovado sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 oz wholegrain spelt flour
2 oz cocoa powder
3 eggs

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Grease and baseline a 9″ x 12″ pan.

Melt the butter, then stir in all the remaining ingredients until thoroughly combined.

Scrape into the pan and smooth. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until risen but still a little gooey.

Cool completely in the pan before removing and cutting into squares.

Toffee Pears

Remember, remember the 5th of November … it’s Bonfire Night, so hands up who thinks I’m making a quirky variation on toffee apples to munch along with your jacket potatoes and ginger parkin?

(Actually, that’s not such a bad idea … but), No! Unfortunately, my toffee pears started life as a recipe for pear jam. Needless to say, I’m not such a good jam-maker. When it comes to pears though, neither is my husband (which is my only slight consolation at the moment!).

Our fruitless hunt for the elusive pear jam started just over six years ago when we took a ‘last-chance-on-our-own’ holiday about two months before the birth of our first daughter. We travelled around Normandy in France, stopping for our final night in a beautiful old farmhouse near Barfleur. At breakfast, we were served a quite exquisite, homemade confiture de poire. I remember venturing into the kitchen to thank our host for providing such a delicious speciality, only to be shooed out with a wave of a tea-towel and a scolding for allowing ‘les mouches’ to buzz in through the open doorway!

My husband made the first attempt to reproduce this jam back home. Failing to reach anything resembling a setting point, it nevertheless made an excellent pear puree for our daughter. Several children later, I recently found a recipe for “une confiture qui me plaît bien” … a highly-recommended recipe for pear jam from France itself, the very place of our first encounter! I eagerly assembled a collection of Conference, Rocha, Comice and Williams pears and promised my husband a long-overdue re-acquaintance with the jam of his dreams.

To my chagrin, his doubts were confirmed. “Is it supposed to do this?” he asked, attempting to retrieve his spoon from the sticky caramel in the jam jars.


Hmmm. Perhaps not.

But … but, but but … it really is quite tasty, in a toffee-pear sort of way!

So, I now have 3 jars of ‘toffee pears’ to use.

Any suggestions?!


Jam-Making Day

We returned from holiday with a bag of damsons from my mother-in-law. Carrying these into the kitchen on Sunday morning, O announced that it was the day for his annual jam-making. This year we would be having damson and bramble jelly.

Blackberries and Damsons

He disappeared to ring the church bells for the morning service and returned with a second bag, full this time with blackberries he’d collected from the hedgerows. I was dispatched to buy some jam-sugar and the kitchen was soon filled with the glorious smells of gently boiling fruits.

So far, so good …

The first casualty was a pair of oven gloves that somehow managed to catch fire on a hot ring (I wasn’t around at the time, but apparently they subsequently smouldered for some time in the bin before being doused with cold water). Never mind … at least the children had a realistic demonstration of kitchen safety!

The boiled fruits were then strung up in a muslin bag over a pan set in the building site attached to the front of our house (it’s actually an extension, but it seems to have settled into being around in our lives in a permanent state of incompletion).

Fruit Hanging

It was at this point that the flash on my camera decided to stop working, so I was unable to take a photo of the deep blood-red stains that dripped onto the concrete floor when the bag was being taken down. I wonder what the builders will think … when they reappear.

Children can be very distracting when you’re in the kitchen. They often appear to be at their hungriest and thirstiest at the exact moment that a sauce needs continuous attention or your hands are covered in sticky dough. Or they surround themselves with their toys on the kitchen floor and play around your legs. Or they drag chairs across the room and stand on them so that they can ‘help’. Apparently, my husband experienced several of these distractions while the jelly mixture was boiling rapidly … which is why the mixture was suddenly reduced by at least half a pint as it escaped from the pan and why the kitchen floor was cleaned that afternoon.

My husband has made jam once a year for some time now. I can remember eating his bramble jelly at least 5 years ago, if not longer. The only batch that didn’t set was his first … and the batch he made this Sunday. What to do with nine jars of fruit compote? On Monday morning, I tipped the whole lot back into the pan and re-boiled it. 106 degrees later, it flaked off the spoon and wrinkled across the saucer. Bingo – jam!

Cream Tea

Damson and Bramble Jelly

1.8 kg/4 lb mixture of damsons and blackberries
juice of 2 lemons
450ml/ 3/4 pint water
sugar (see method)

Put the damsons, blackberries and lemon juice in a large pan. Bring to the boil and simmer gently until the fruit is soft (about an hour). Stir occasionally.

Using either a jelly bag or a large muslin square, hang the fruity pulp over a large bowl and leave for up to 12 hours so that the juices drip through.

Discard the remaining pulp and measure the juices. Return these to the preserving pan and add 350g/12 oz of sugar for each 600ml/ 1 pint of juice extract.

Heat and stir gently until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil rapidly until setting point is reached – about 105 degrees C, when the mixture will run off a wooden spoon in flakes and hang from it in triangular gloops.

Remove any scum then pot and cover.


225g/8 oz plain or all-purpose flour
15ml/ 1 rounded tablespoon baking powder
2.5 ml/ 1/2 teaspoon salt
55g/2 oz chilled butter
150ml/ 1/4 pint milk

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C/425 degrees F and set a shelf in the upper third.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. Cut the butter into small pieces and rub gently into the flour mixture. Work as quickly and as lightly as possible and stop as soon as the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

Make a well in the mixture and pour in the milk. Use a palette knife to stir the mixture into a soft dough. Do not over-stir.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface. Knead very lightly and quickly until it is smooth, then pat into a flat shape no less than 1 inch thick. Use a fluted cutter to stamp rounds. Make sure that you don’t twist the dough as you lift the scones. This recipe makes about 6 or 7 scones.

Place on a floured baking tray and sprinkle the tops with a little extra flour. Bake at the top of the hot oven for about 7 minutes. The scones should be well-risen and brown (but don’t be tempted to open the oven door too soon to check their progress).

Leave to cool or eat hot from the oven with cream and jam.