Alternative Christmas Pudding


Thursday, 31 December 2015

December's sampler for you. Comprising of phone photos previously posted on instagram.
Top row~ a speckled yellowing quince leaf, the sun setting over the River Severn, a beautiful door hinge on the Tything in Worcester.
Middle row ~ Father Christmas on my christmas tree, alternative Christmas pudding, windfall apples
Bottom row ~ part of Worcester Cathedral, footpath along the river, pollarded chestnuts by the river.

You want to know about the pudding don't you?
It's from a little book published for Sainsbury's in 1978. It's called Cooking For Christmas by Josceline Dimbleby. I am indebted to Niki for telling me about both the book and the pudding. It was a doddle to make and made a delightful alternative to the traditional Christmas pud which a lot of people dislike. It is essentially a chocolate biscuit cake in pudding form. Here is the recipe.

Chocolate Crunch Christmas Pudding
from Cooking For Christmas by Josceline Dimbleby

6oz (150g) butter
3 tablespoons golden syrup
8oz (200g) plain chocolate
6oz (150g) crushed ginger biscuits
6oz (150g) crushed plain sweet biscuits (I used digestives)
1oz (25g) currants (I used chopped crystallised ginger)
3oz (75g) raisins
2oz (50g) glacé cherries, roughly chopped (I used dried cranberries)
1oz (25g) candied peel
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons rum or brandy

3oz (75g) plain chocolate
1 tablespoon water
1oz (25g) butter
2-3 halved glacé cherries
sprig of holly

Grease a 2 pint (1.2l) pudding basin

Melt butter, syrup and chocolate together in a saucepan.
Stir in all the other ingredients and pack the mixture into the basin. Refrigerate.
When the pudding has set completely dip it briefly in hot water to loosen and turn out onto a plate.
To make the icing melt the chocolate with the water and stir in the butter. Stir until smooth and allow to cool slightly before pouring over the pudding. Decorate with the cherries and holly. Keep the pudding in the fridge.

It would make a great celebratory dessert for New Year's Day or indeed any special day. You could simply press the mixture into a square cake tin and spread the icing over if you don't want the Christmas look.

Happy New Year to you all!

Christmas Decorations


Saturday, 19 December 2015

The tree is up and the mantelpiece is decorated with candles and little glass baubles in little glass tumblers. I scored a fabulous bunch of many-berried holly from the farmshop for £1.50.  Its leaves are the prickle-less kind so I supplemented it with some more traditional prickly holly from my garden plus some branches of bay. I think it looks wonderful in my cream jug underneath my new picture. The picture is Train Landscape by Eric Ravilious and was a birthday present from my parents. Thank you for all the 50th birthday wishes, it was a good one.

Just Now I Am....


Monday, 30 November 2015

Making Christmas preparations.
I've made my mincemeat and my Christmas pudding. I haven't made a Christmas cake and I'm not going to. Each year I seem to drop something from the long list of Christmas to-dos. My advent calendar has not made an appearance this year and George has been declared too old at 20 to have a stocking. I like the way Christmas evolves as the family does.

I have been making a collection of seasonal reading matter. I have; 

The Little House in the Big Woods and The Long Winter -books 1 and 6 of the The Little House On the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Hercule Poirot's Christmas and The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie

A Christmas Carol by Dickens

What are your favourite Christmas/winter reads?

Getting Old
Tomorrow I shall be 50. Bring it on.

Failing To Blog Again


Friday, 20 November 2015

Failing to blog again
Never wanted to
What I am to do
I can't help it

Apologies to Marlene.

I think I burnt my blogging self out in September and October when I came back from my break. I posted a lot and then felt guilty for not keeping up the pace. 

Why on earth I should be feeling guilty about not blogging I do not know. It is, after all, just a hobby, something I do fun. Who cares how often bloggers blog? I don't care how often my favourite bloggers blog so I've no reason to think my readers care how often I blog, and yet, there's a little voice saying 'you really should write a blog post'. It's an annoying little voice and I'm telling it now that I will blog when I'm good and ready. 

War On Waste


Monday, 9 November 2015

In my kitchen last week there was food that was past its best. There always is. It's inevitable. Unless you buy spanking fresh produce every day then some of what you eat will not be in tip top condition. Luckily we have fridges and freezers to help prolong the life of our food. There are also many foods which keep in good condition without the need for a fridge or freezer, such as dried beans and lentils, pasta, rice, tinned produce and anything preserved in lots of sugar, salt or vinegar.

I watched Hugh's War onWaste last week and like everyone else who watched it was angered by all those perfectly good rejected parsnips. I was also shocked to see people throwing away good food because it was a nanosecond past its use by date. Firstly because I couldn't understand why they'd bought more food than they could eat, and secondly because it was all almost certainly perfectly edible.

 Supermarkets love use by dates. They love it when you stand in front of your fridge throwing out all the old food to make room for all the new food you are going to buy because you are afraid you will die if you eat a yogurt that is two days past the date on its label. If you make your own yogurt it won't have a use by date on it and you can eat it for as long as it takes to go pink -several weeks. Or, you could use it up before then in muffins, scones, cakes or smoothies.

Four shrink wrapped baking potatoes from a supermarket will have a use by date of one week on them. A 20 kg sack of potatoes from a farm shop will have no date at all. I keep my sacks in the garage and they last well for two or three months if you are a big hungry family (I find the 10 kg sacks suit us better now there are four of us). Greengrocers also sell fruit and veg loose and date free but I concede that supermarkets are often cheaper and more convenient and I use them as much as anyone else.

The only use by dates I take notice of are the ones on meat and fish and even then I don't take much notice. I either cook it within a couple of days or sling it in the freezer and cook as soon as it's defrosted. It's pretty obvious when any food has gone off, that's what your sense of smell is for. Look and sniff.

Use by dates encourage waste and rob us of common sense.

 A bendy carrot was not thrown in the bin but grated and made into a sandwich for my husband with the last couple of spoonfuls of hummus and tapenade even though neither had been 'finished within two days of opening'. Husband survived.

On Tuesday I cooked too much rice -this time not on purpose, I cooked the recommended 300g for 4 persons and found it to be way too much. I didn't throw the rice away. I cooled it quickly by spreading it out in a shallow dish and refrigerated it as soon as it was cool. The next day I made tuna and rice salad and ate it for my lunch for the rest of the week. 

The onion leftover from the rice salad plus a couple of wrinkled peppers and some aging eggs, which incidentally I do not refrigerate, went into this sturdy Spanish style omelette. I ate the leftover piece for breakfast.

A softening sweet potato was made into a curried filling for pasties with chickpeas and frozen spinach (a marvellous ingredient by the way), a spoonful of curry paste and a chunk of creamed coconut. I grated up the end of a cucumber and stirred it with the last bit of yogurt to make raita.

And two spotty bananas were made into these little puff pastry parcels with some squares of chocolate and a spoonful caramel sauce from a jar. I bought the caramel especially for this because I really fancied trying this idea but I had all the other ingredients. My usual spotty banana rescue is muffins or banana cake.

I had a few bruised apples. I  cut away the bruised bits and cooked the rest in a little butter. Then I stirred the rest of the caramel sauce into them and spread them over the rest of the puff pastry which I had baked.

This morning my fridge contained these leftovers; four small chicken thighs from a casserole I made yesterday, a couple of spoonfuls of peas, the remaining liquid from the casserole and half a butternut squash. There was also the oil from a jar of sun-dried tomatoes plus half a block of feta.

From these somewhat random ingredients I made the delicious dish below.
I tossed the diced squash with the tomato oil and roasted it. I heated up the chickeny juices and used them to rehydrate some couscous. I stir-fried the chicken and peas with a couple of sun-dried tomatoes and the roasted squash. Finally I sprinkled it with crumbled feta and served it with the couscous and some out of date rocket, which as you can see was in perfect condition. There is a spoonful of couscous left and quite a lot of feta - lunch for me tomorrow.

Making Winter


Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Emma at Silverpebble has rekindled her Making Winter bloghop/hashtag affair. It's a brilliant way to combat the winter blues if you suffer from them or, if like me you positively revel in fallen leaves, dark evenings and gloom it's a great way to enhance the winter experience. 

My first contribution to Making Winter is this shawl. It came off the needles a few weeks ago and I finally got round to sewing in the ends and half-heartedly blocking it yesterday. It's not quite the 'quantum physics-like lace shawl' Emma may have been thinking of but it's perfect for wrapping around my shoulders first thing in the morning whilst waiting for the radiators to fire up.

The pattern is called Boneyard Shawl by Stephen West and was really, really easy. The details are here. The colour has not photographed well, it is a much warmer green than it appears here. I'd love to make it again in a multicoloured yarn.

My second contribution is a cake. Of course. I love to make gingerbread around Bonfire Night. Sticky and warm with spices it's perfect with a cup of tea on a late autumn afternoon. I made this one today but I'm not going to cut it until tomorrow when it will have developed its flavour a bit and become stickier.

The recipe can be found here . It's basically a halved version of this one made in a loaf tin. I thought it would be prudent to make a smaller cake seeing as I will probably eat most of it.

For more winter comforts hop over to the Making Winter blog hop here. See also this post.

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.

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