Autumn harvest

With fruit continuing to ripen earlier than the last few years, this week is becoming my ‘Processing Damsons’ week.

My other half loves Victoria plums and is very happy picking huge quantities of them but he prefers to eat them as they are. So, last Sunday, we went to our local pick your own fruit farm and picked a few pounds to keep him happy. Some were ripe, but most needed an extra week.

We also found a few Damson trees with lots of ripe fruit, so picked about 30 pounds!

This week, I am making loads of Damson chutney, Damson cheese and various other Damson recipes to use these small delicious plums. These should be available to buy in the run up to Christmas as well as at the Chiddingstone Castle Country Fair on Sunday 9 September, along with other preserves that I have been making.

I’d better get back to my preserving pan!

Advertisements

The hot summer

I went fruit picking this week as I wanted to make more redcurrant jelly and blackcurrant jam. Even though we went early in the day, it was still very hot – the blackcurrants were significantly smaller but still have that lovely concentrated flavour.

Having picked the fruit, I then spent the following day making the jelly and jam – perhaps not the best job to be doing on such a hot day! However, I have 18 jars of Spiced Redcurrant Jelly and 22 jars of Blackcurrant Jam ready to be labelled and then they will be available to buy.

Other fruits seem to be ripening earlier than the last couple of years (I made redcurrant jelly in the middle of August the last two years) – I have seen blackberries in the hedgerows already looking ready to be picked – so I think my preserving pan will be getting lots of use in the coming weeks.

Enjoy your summer 🌞

A change of emphasis

About a year ago, I started making cakes for The Earl Grey Tearoom in Southborough. To begin with, I made just Victoria sponges, then we added carrot cake, coffee and walnut and lemon drizzle cakes. Numbers have increased as their business goes from strength to strength and most weeks I am baking at least eight cakes plus some flapjacks or butterscotch brownies.

New favourites include lemon and blueberry, white chocolate and raspberry and a cherry Bakewell cake. I love trying out new recipes so it is always fun being set a new challenge by Roz and the team. Some recipes need tweaking so they produce a three layer cake, some are adapted after tasting to produce something that the customers will enjoy. Some have to be translated from American cups to metric but with my trusty balance scales, electronic scales, measuring spoons and calculator, anything can be done. I just have to remember to write everything down so I only have to calculate it once.

Since mid-March, I have also been making some cakes for the Riverhill Himalayan Garden. They mainly order gluten free chocolate fudge cakes, gluten free cocoa, courgette and pistachio cakes, Rocky Road and traybakes in a variety of flavours including white chocolate & raspberry, blueberry & Demerara, pear & hazelnut and plum & almond.

In addition, I occasionally make other cakes for special orders such as birthdays.

This increase in cake production has kept me busy but I am still trying to find time to keep up with preserve making, building up stocks of marmalade, chutney, jam and jelly to see me through to Christmas and making the most of seasonal produce like elderflowers, by making cordial. The delicious soft fruit season is starting so I will be making the most of as many different fruits as I can, including them in my baking as well as preserving them for the months and years ahead.

Apple jelly

After a very busy end to 2017, I was left with just a few jars of chutney and jelly and no marmalade or jam for sale. So, in the early months of 2018, I have been restocking the larder.

So far, I have made my Apricot apple and hazelnut chutney and Lime marmalade and today’s job is to start a batch of apple jelly. These apples are being cooked up with some white wine vinegar and lemon zest. When the apples are soft, I will strain them overnight and then add sugar to make a savoury jelly to which I’ll be adding chillies. I will also be making another batch which will have mint added to it instead.

When ready, some of these will be delivered to my local butcher in Southborough, for them to sell. I will also keep a few to sell at Farmers’ Markets in the coming months. If you would like to buy any, please contact me via Facebook or email.

Thank you for reading.

Christmas baking

It is that time of year again. As well as baking cakes for The Earl Grey Tearoom in Southborough (a spiced Victoria sponge cake is the current favourite), I have been making Panforte to sell at various markets and fairs. It is a delicious combination of dried fruit and nuts with honey, sugar and spices. This year, I have been using gluten free flour to make this a gluten free alternative to my traditional Christmas cake.

I make it in three sizes – 300g, 800g and 1200g, and prices are £6, £12 and £17.00

Please contact me as soon as possible if you want to buy one of these. I am accepting orders until December 20th (Wednesday) and will have all orders ready by December 22nd (Friday).

Pumpkin time again

Yesterday I gathered these pumpkins from the field at Four Winds Farm near Bidborough. I will be spending the next few days making them into chutney, soup, cake and other meals – they work well in savoury and sweet recipes.

I know there are pumpkins in the supermarkets but why not support a local farmer and gather them yourselves. It’s a fun half term activity and you can carve a pumpkin for Halloween while enjoying the flesh in your favourite recipes.

Four Winds Farm have pumpkins ready to pick on Friday 27 and Saturday 28 October, from 10:00 until 16:00 both days. 

Biscotti and roasted almonds

I have been baking biscotti this afternoon, getting ready for the Penshurst Farmers’ Market this Saturday, 7 October. These are pistachio and flaked almond flavour with mixed spice – try them with a cappuccino or a cup of tea, or with a creamy fruit fool.

They keep well in an airtight tin if you can keep them out of reach. I usually find they evaporate – how else would I explain the tin emptying so quickly!

As well as these biscotti, I will have wheat free oat and walnut biscuits (try with some blue cheese), gluten free seeded biscuits (great with cheddar) and gluten free very cheesy biscuits (great with a dry sherry or g&t before dinner). Also good as a pre-dinner nibble are the roasted almonds with smoked paprika.

The Farmers’ Market is open from 9:30 until 12:00 this Saturday in the car park by Penshurst Place – I hope to see you there.

Even more cake baking

When I started making cakes for The Earl Grey Tearoom in Southborough, they were asking me mainly for Victoria sponges with the occasional carrot and mascarpone or coffee and walnut cake for a change.

This week, I have delivered eight cakes, some flapjacks, rocky road and cookies. New cakes include the Dundee cake, which always used to be my favourite (I love fruit cakes!) and a gingerbread cake made with fresh grated ginger and treacle (which I forgot to photograph so I’ll have to make another!). I think I am getting quicker at making some of these cakes but others take time, such as the gluten free chocolate fudge cake which needs chocolate to be melted and cooled for both the cake and the buttercream icing. However, the smell is divine so I’m happy to make it regularly.

If the supermarkets are analysing my recent shopping habits, they will notice a huge increase in my consumption of eggs, flour, sugar, butter and olive spread. I have also been getting through the baking parchment circles very quickly – a pack of 100 will only last a month now! 

I’m hoping to try out a few new recipes over the next few weeks including some different gluten free cakes. The Great British Bake Off caramel week has inspired me to try that as a flavour although I’m sure mine won’t look as spectacular as some of their creations!

Ingredients and quality


When I started making foods to sell, I was very aware that my prices might seem quite high. However, I hoped that once people had tasted them, they would agree that they were worth it!

Balancing the cost of the ingredients and the selling price has always been tricky. In the same way that supermarkets have loss leaders, I have one or two products that my percentage mark up is greater than others. But then I must add in the increased gas and electricity bills, the cost of packaging and something for my time as well as the cost of the ingredients.

By buying jam jars in bulk, I can keep the unit cost down but I have to store both the empty and full jars. I make all the biscuit packaging so it fits the biscuits I make – so when I am baking for the local Farmers’ Market, I also have to allow extra time to weigh, pack and label all the biscuits I have made. 

I try to use the best quality ingredients I can afford as I believe flavour is so important. I always use organic free range eggs and organic flour, and cakes and biscuits are made with either butter or an olive oil spread. When possible, I pick fruit at a local farm to make my chutneys and jams. Other ingredients like dried fruit and nuts are bought regularly so they are always fresh. I know I could buy cheaper elsewhere, but I want my foods to taste good.

I have also invested in better quality baking tins, a new hand mixer, triple tier cooling racks and loads of baking parchment – ready cut discs are an essential when I am baking in bulk! My trusty Rayburn is great for cake baking but I can’t fill the oven too full as it affects the cooking time. I still have my electric cooker but I rarely use it as I think it dries cakes out too much. My next investment will be a banner to use at Farmers’ Markets and maybe a gazebo and table (although I need to sell a few more cakes and biscuits to be able to afford those!).

I am in this business because I enjoy cooking and I enjoy making foods for others – even when I am finishing labelling biscuits at 2am before a Farmers’ Market! 

I hope that you enjoy eating them!