Hop to it

I harvested my hops this week. I’ve got three hop vines crawling over the stables, where they’re battling for supremacy with the grafted passionfruit vine, but only two have flowered (perhaps the other vine is a male?).  My entire harvest came to half a bucket, which weighed in at just 100g. (Hop flowers are as light as air!) But 100g is enough to make 10 litres of home-brewed beer, so I’ve been boiling them up in a big  pot of water to extract all their flavour. The smell is just incredible. And as hops are a natural sedative, I bet I’m going to sleep well tonight.

The apples of my eye

Pregnant women should be banned from cookbook stores. I can’t resist a home-cooked pudding at the moment, so when I came across the apple dumpling recipe in Monty and Sarah Don’s new book, The Home Cookbook ($59.99, published by Bloomsbury and distributed in New Zealand by Allen & Unwin), I immediately headed out to our orchard to grab a few ‘Granny Smiths’.

My Mum used to make apple dumplings, just as her Mum did. Encased in pastry and swimming in a simple caramel sauce, they’re one of our family’s all-time favourite autumn desserts. (Oddly, baked apples – you know the ones that come stuffed with raisins and sugar – are one of my all-time least-liked desserts.) 

I was all set to try Monty and Sarah’s recipe for apple dumplings until I read the ingredients: 500g plain flour, 250g unsalted butter, 125g caster sugar, 2 eggs, 1 tablespoon iced water and 4-6 apples. A quarter of a kilogram of butter?!

The Edmonds Cookery Book recipe only uses 50g of butter, so I figured it was safer to stick to that as my belly is already bulging at the seams! The Edmonds recipe doesn’t use eggs though, and as we’ve got plenty of those at the moment, I figured I’d drop one in for a little protein in my pudding.

To make apple dumplings, sift 2 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 3 teaspoons baking powder together. Chop in 50g cold buttter and rub it into the dry ingredients until they have the consistency of breadcrumbs. Now break in a large egg (if desired) and add up to 1 cup milk (enough to bind the mixture into a soft dough). Divide the dough into four pieces and roll out into a large circle shape. Then peel and core a whole apple and place it in the centre of each dough circe. Drop a spoonful of brown sugar down the apple core hole, then fold in the pastry and press the seams together. (If you’re feeling creative, trim off a little excess pastry and cut out some leaves and a stalk to decorate the top. And don’t laugh at mine: they look like they’ve sprouted nipples!)

Grease a deep baking dish (it needs to be deep to accommodate the sauce) and pop the dumplings in. Then make the sauce by combining 1 cup boiling water, 1 cup brown sugar and a generous knob of butter. Pour this around the dumplings and bake at 190C (or 180C in a fan bake oven) until the pastry is puffy and golden (about 30-45 minutes). Baste the pastry with the sauce a couple of times during the cooking process. Then serve hot with as much custard or ice cream as you can squeeze into the pudding bowl beside each dumpling! Delicious!

Handsome quinces

Quince paste: just like the bought stuff!

It took an hour to peel, chop and core the quinces and another to simmer them until they were tender enough to puree, then eight hours in the slow cooker and about the same again in muffin tins in the oven at 100C… but in the end my quince paste turned out just like the bought stuff.

Would I make it again? Hell no! Now I understand why it costs so much for those tiny tubs at the delicatessen. My advice? Just make quince jam and spread it on your cheese and crackers instead of slicing it up on your cheeseboard. It tastes the same for about 10 per cent of the hassle.

(Although having said, I’ve just switched the slow cooker on again to have my first crack at making nier beurre, or black butter. Traditionally made from cider and cooking apples on the island of Jersey, this molassses-coloured preserve is cooked in a cauldron over an open fire for three days, all the while being stirred continuously. I read about it Country Living magazine last year and have been willing my apples to ripen ever since.)

Flower power

The simple charms of summer daisies

I took my secateurs for a walk today. My intention was to harvest the hop vines on the stables and chop back the triffid-like tendrils of the passionfruit vine to let a little light in to ripen the last fruit, but I got sidetracked picking flowers instead. Though our wedding garden is now a bit of a shambles (the lawn’s still in fine shape but the cosmos is falling over on itself, I haven’t dead-headed the dahlias since February 18 and sparrows have stripped every seed from the sunflowers, leaving only hollow husks in varying states of decay), there are plenty of flowers to pick.

I’ve still got single-flowered dahlias, white, pink and burgundy cosmos, Shirley poppies, zinnias, coneflowers and shasta daisies in pastel shades, as well as orange cosmos, coppery coreopsis and red gaillardias in the wildflower border. Most only last a few days in a vase (or jug; I’m a compulsive jug collector), which doesn’t matter a toss because there’s plenty more where they came from.

I’m going to go mad for flowers next spring and plant a proper “picking garden” on the terraced hill behind our house. It’s such an old-fashioned concept, a cut flower border, but I’m not sure why. After all, a vege patch is really just an edible picking garden.

My must-haves? Well, I’ve only just started planning but I know I definitely want:

1. Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, for its rusty-red blooms at this time of the year.
2. Masses of Russell lupins. They’re a bit borderline in terms of the climate but I’ll give them a go anyway.
3. Honesty, for its papery seed pods.
4. Orlaya grandiflora ‘White Lace’. I just adore this plant; and was amazed that the delicate lacy flowers last for well over a week in the vase.
5. Love-in-a-mist. It’s probably hopeless for picking but it’s so pretty I don’t really mind.
6. White clary sage. I’d forgotten this gorgeous plant existed until I went to Southland in March and was given a glorious little tussie-mussie posy with it in it. Now I can’t wait to grow it again!
7. Fragrant sweet peas. I’m going to sow them along the farm fence and hope the cows don’t chew them.
8. Solomon’s seal. Another perennial I used to grow but haven’t in years. Mum was complaining to me tonight that her clump is getting out of control, so that’s easily fixed. I’ll take to it with a spade and steal all the extra bits for my garden.
9. Pink, purple and white echinacea.
10. ‘Shaggy’ astrantias.
Plus the new Parva Plants catalogue arrived on my desk this week. I’m afraid to open it. I fear for my credit card. So many gorgeous perennials… and so little time to get them in the ground before I can no longer see over my belly to plant anything!