The South East has been very hot for the last 5 days. Trying to bake in this heat is difficult – cakes don’t rise as much, buttercream icing melts and I feel as if I’m working in a sauna. However, at least I’m not a dog or cat wearing a fur coat!
Since lockdown has eased, I have been baking again for The Earl Grey Tearoom in Southborough and business has been good. After all, why not treat yourself when so many other pleasures have disappeared. I have also been baking cakes for other customers who want a whole cake for a birthday or other celebration.
I have also been making chutney and jam – today it is strawberry jam which I use in the Victoria sponge. This is perhaps not the best pastime for such a hot day but it keeps me out of the sun. The chutneys were for Southborough Butchers – if you are local to Southborough, pop in and buy a jar from them. Jams can be bought directly from me – contact me via message or email and I’ll let you know which are in stock.
Thankfully, it has been easier to buy the basic ingredients for all the foods I make, although supply is still a little erratic. Icing sugar seems to disappear off the shelves very quickly so I have to bulk buy but flour and eggs are there every week now. Who knows what will happen in the autumn but for now, I will carry on making what I can when I can, making the most of the fruit harvest.
We are now into week 7 of lockdown and life has changed for everyone, for the better in some ways but not all.
I am very lucky that I didn’t have to rely on the small amount of money I used to make from selling homemade cakes and preserves as this has largely dried up. My husband has been working from home for the past 8 weeks and this is likely to continue for a while yet. My children are both in further education and are having to rely on the internet for remote lectures but who knows what will happen after their courses finish in a few months.
A few people have contacted me direct and I have been making cakes for their events (all local) and I have restocked the local butcher with chutney. The tearoom stayed open initially for takeaways but had to close at the start of lockdown. Hopefully, they can partially reopen soon although who knows how long it will be before people will be able to sit in for a meal or just a coffee.
Thankfully, I do not know anyone who has been badly affected by the virus and I hope it remains that way. I am also very glad I do not have to travel to work on public transport or go places where social distancing is difficult. My dog has enjoyed (most of the time!) having a long walk every day and I have enjoyed being able to take time to watch spring arrive, to do more work than usual in my garden and to finally get around to projects like finishing knitting another Aran jumper. I have even dusted off my sewing machine and have made face masks for my sister’s work force and some scrubs for a local group of volunteers.
I have got to know a few more of the neighbours and have enjoyed the community spirit shown on Thursday evenings during the ‘Clap for the NHS, carers and key workers’. (Remember when it was dark for the first one, pre BST Summertime? That makes it feel even longer ago!). Let’s hope that continues when we finally come out of lockdown.
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.
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.
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.
This year, the summer holidays started very early in our household. We collected our youngest from university in mid-June and our eldest arrived home from working in Spain at the beginning of July. As no one had any holiday plans, I hastily arranged a family break in Portugal (warm, sunny and very relaxing) but this has meant we were back home at the end of July, having already had our break, with most other people still with their holidays to look forward to. Never mind, we thought. August at home can be lovely – warm, sunny, places to go. However, this has not been the case.
After the deluge on Wednesday, Thursday had a distinctly autumnal feel to it. The plants in the garden look washed out and battered, as they tend to look in October just before the end of the season. The tomatoes on the plant on my patio are just not ripening.
I have had a busy time baking cakes for The Earl Grey Tearoom – eight cakes and some flapjacks since our return from holiday. As these are freshly baked to order, there is no problem with having leftover cakes to sell. I have also started making more chutney as I delivered another order to Southborough Butchers last week which used up my stock. The autumn fruits are ripening much earlier than the last few years so I ordered two more huge boxes of jam jars ready to be filled with various chutneys – rhubarb & coriander made this week, plum apple & chilli, pear & apple, apricot apple & hazelnut and other flavours to follow over the next couple of weeks and spiced redcurrant jelly, apple & chilli and apple & mint jelly to follow. I have seen cobnuts, rosehips, elderberries, sloes and blackberries already waiting to be picked on my walks in the area. This must be at least 3 weeks earlier than the last few years. I even made a blackberry and apple crumble at the weekend with fruit picked that morning.
When I started ‘Too busy to make’, I hoped it would give me a chance to make foods that I enjoyed making and to sell them to people who would enjoy eating them. Since I have had the regular outlets, this has certainly proved to be the case. I am looking forward to a busy late summer and autumn, making foods to sell at Penshurst, at the Country Fair and Christmas Market at Chiddingstone, at Southborough Butchers and other local outlets.
In order to make space for new chutneys and other preserves, I am having a stock clearance sale . All items are available on a first come first served basis, so if there is something you particularly want, please contact me as soon as possible.
Stock available : 300g jars
1 x Apple and sultana chutney £2.50
1 x Pumpkin and raisin chutney £2.50
1 x Apricot apple and hazelnut chutney £2.50
5 x Victoria plum jam £2.00 each
5 x Raspberry jam £2.00 each
7 x Luxury apricot and brandy mincemeat £2.00 each
4 x Seville orange marmalade £2.00 each
8 x Dark Seville orange marmalade £2.00 each
Stock available : 200g/190g jars
18 x Spiced Damson chutney £1.50 each
12 x Blackberry jelly £1.50 each
4 x Cranberry and orange compôte £2.00 each
1 x Spiced redcurrant jelly £1.50
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me via my Facebook page Too busy to make
The beginning of the new year has been a good time to do a thorough stock take and to start making more chutney.
Thank you to everyone who bought food from me in the run up to Christmas. I lost count of the number of Panforte and biscuits I made! Thank you also for the lovely comments – it is pleasing to hear that you enjoy eating the foods I have made as much as I have enjoyed making them.
I have made three chutneys so far this year
Apricot, apple and hazelnut which has cardamom seeds, ginger and mixed spice giving a crunchy texture and spicy fruit flavour
Plum, pear and apple with chilli and pepper giving a hot flavour
Pear and apple which is a classic chutney flavoured with cinnamon, ginger and cloves.
All three chutneys are maturing and will soon be ready to purchase. Those of you who are local to Southborough can buy a selection of my chutneys and jellies from Southborough Butchers on London Road. They all go well with cold meats and cheeses and can also be used to enrich casseroles and gravies.
One of our family Christmas traditions is the trip to Neals Yard in Borough Market to buy our selection of cheese .
It started many years ago, going to the Covent Garden branch, queueing outside in all weathers to buy some Stilton and maybe a couple of other cheeses. In recent years, we have switched to Borough Market because a change in job meant a different location. My husband used to make the selection on his own but nowadays it’s a family outing, often with workmates and friends tagging along.
We always buy half a Stilton which is eaten over the following month. There are a couple of family favourites which have to made with the stilton – a broccoli and stilton soup and pear and stilton bake, which my grandfather first made for us more than 35 years ago. It is worth tasting the individual Stiltons as if they are too ripe before Christmas, they won’t last until the end of January.
Other favourite cheeses include Cotherstone, Sparkenhoe Leicester, Applebys Cheshire, Hawes Wensleydale, Montgomerys Cheddar, Lincolnshire Poacher and Keens Cheddar. Soft cheeses like Innes Log are also excellent but we tend to favour the hard cheeses as they last longer.
To accompany the cheese, try a Spiced Damson Chutney flavoured with allspice, ginger, cloves and cinnamon, and some Damson Cheese – which is like a thick fruit jelly and goes really well with all the hard cheeses mentioned. Homemade oatcakes with thyme complete this selection. All can be ordered ready for Christmas – these three items would cost £8.50.