Saturday 30 November 2013

Fruit cake - melting method - update

Having blogged about my old Stork recipe here, I thought it was time actually to bake it. I couldn't resist a few minor changes - the dried fruit included chopped crystallised ginger and sliced dried apricots, I used tea instead of water, and I sprinkled a handful of flaked almonds on the top for the look of the thing. I used a teaspoon of baking powder with my plain wholemeal flour, as I didn't have self-raising. I cooked it for an hour and a quarter which was less than the minimum time in the recipe. This is the result.

Fruit cake by the melting method

It's definitely overdone, by at least a quarter of an hour. I would say start testing after 45 minutes. The mixture was very stiff, which may be a result of the ginger and apricots absorbing more of the water, and a couple more tablespoons of water would make it more workable.

We sampled the cake, and Tim thought it was excellent, but I thought it rather too sweet for my taste. The moist fruit means that the cake is not too dry. The fruit certainly did not sink!

Just a small slice please!

Wednesday 27 November 2013

The All-Green Pea

... is the name of the new Bio Co-op, Le Pois Tout Vert, in Châtellerault, in English translation.

Come inside!
Rather a meaningless name, n'est-ce pas? Not in French. Châtellerault is in the département of Vienne (no clue there) in the region of Poitou-Charente (aha!) and in the ancient province of Poitou (doubly aha!). Le Pois Tout Vert = Le Poitou Vert soundalike - another example of the French love of puns. The All-Green Pea means Green Poitou. They have three stores in Poitiers as well as the one in Châtellerault and you can find their web site here.

The store has all sorts of produce on display - fresh vegetables, preserves, cosmetics, teas, flour, beer... a terrible temptation! There's a good range of gluten-free products too. I particularly like the 'en vrac' facility where you can serve yourself with as much or as little as you want of all sorts of things like cereals, dried fruit, spices and detergent. The dry goods are numbered and you fill a paper bag, put it on the scales, type in the number and get a price sticker.

BioCoop itself is a cooperative project run by its members, and links together more than 335 organic shops across France, including l'An Vert du Panier in Chinon and BioCoop Salut Terre in Tours. More puns! L'An Vert = l'Envers meaning the Other Side [of the Basket]; Salut Terre = Salutaire meaning Healthy or Beneficial.

So here come still more puns! Chat-en-Oeuf = Chateauneuf = any one of thousands of lieu-dits across France, including the farm just up the road we call "Grundys'". It is also the name of a British importer of rather good wines from Languedoc, with a very slick website. Their label is simplicity itself, and a triumph of graphic design.

Wine Design of the Year 2007

And then there's a firm that specialises in fitting out lorries as mobile shops, such as Outiror (the Tool Drawer). It isn't compulsory to buy something every time the Outiror wagon pays a visit, but they do have some good stuff, and their free gifts are nearly as good as Damart.

The Outiror wagon in the market place, Le Grand Pressigny

Everything in a lorry... cinemas, medical units, displays, team support vehicles ... so what's the pun here?


This entry is in memory of Araucaria, the great compiler of crosswords and puzzler of monkeys like me, who posted a notice of his terminal illness as a crossword solution. The Reverend John Graham, who died on 26th November aged 92, RIP.

Tuesday 26 November 2013

Crown Prince becoming a Rarity

The last of 2012's Crown Prince, unblemished and still perfectly edible, became Spiced Pumpkin Ice Cream at the end of October, 13 months after it was picked! See below for the recipe.

Banana Split with Spiced Pumpkin Ice Cream, Crème Crue and Marrons Glacées
The harvest at the end of September stimulated the Uchiki Kuri and the Butternuts into further action! The incredibly late autumn meant that we had to balance the fact that the fruit were still swelling against the preparedness of the slugs and snails to attack them.

The additions bring Uchiki Kuri to seven fruits averaging just over a kilo, and the two varieties of Butternut to 22 fruits apiece, averaging 750 grammes (Harrier) and 830 grammes (Hunter). Harrier's batting average was distorted by the last two fruit, at 182 grammes apiece. The plants averaged seven fruits each, which is not bad at all. We have a total of 71 kilos of pumpkin and winter squash, 61 fruits altogether.

From the top - Uchiki Kuri, Sweet Dumpling, Crown Prince and Pomme d'Or from Tournon Fête aux Arbres

Some of my 2014 seed order has come from the Organic Gardening Catalogue. As a member of Garden Organic I get a 10% discount on my purchases. The bad news is that their advertised Crown Prince is actually a different F1 hybrid variety called Rarity. Some web searching indicates that Rarity produces smaller fruit (2 kilos instead of 3 to 4 - good) but that doesn't have so much flavour (bad). Compare the rounded smooth squashes in the picture below with the male flowers at top right to get an idea of the size, and with the lumpy, flattened, much bigger beasties on the stairs.

Rarity (the only picture I can find)
The OGC told me that their supplier maintained that Rarity is the same as Crown Prince, which clearly it isn't, though whether it is an improvement or not remains to be seen. They are reimbursing me, and I have ordered a replacement from King's Seeds (after telephoning them to make sure I wouldn't get Rarity again).

Spiced Pumpkin Ice cream
from Ices - the definitive guide by Caroline Liddell and Robin Weir
375ml / 12 fl oz milk
3 egg yolks
200g / 7 oz light brown sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
pinch ground cloves
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground pepper
250 ml / 8 fl oz thick pumpkin purée e.g steamed Crown Prince or Butternut
185ml / 6 fl oz whipping cream
2 tsp brandy
Makes about 1 litre / 32 fl oz.

Make a custard with the milk, egg yolks, sugar and spices, by your favourite method - for example see here
Allow the custard to cool completely, stirring occasionally.
Beat in the pumpkin puree and the cream. Add the brandy, taste and add more spice if preferred.
Cover and chill it in the fridge. It can be left overnight at this stage, if necessary. Pass the mixture through a sieve to remove odd lumpy bits of pumpkin (if you’re fussy).
If using an ice cream maker, set it going and pour in the pumpkin mixture. Freeze to the consistency of softly whipped cream. Scrape into plastic boxes, cover with greaseproof or waxed paper and a lid, label and freeze.
If you don’t have an ice cream maker, follow the standard ‘still freezing’ technique.

Sunday 24 November 2013

Boiled fruit cakes and things

My first shot at a Porter Cake led to a discussion on the origin of the method of cake making referred to as "boiled" - British, Australian? This procedure starts by boiling sugar, fat (butter, margarine or shortening), dried fruit and water (or dark beer) in a saucepan for a few minutes, cooling the mixture, adding a little bicarbonate of soda and eggs, stirring in flour with spices then baking in a lined tin for a good long time in a moderate oven. Sometimes the wet ingredient mixture is added to the dry mix, sometimes it's the other way round, and sometimes the bicarb is part of the dry mix, but the boiling bit is always the same.

The Porter Cake came from the BBC Good Food Cakes and Bakes recipe book (thanks again to Jean for this). It was published in the BBC Good Food magazine but is no longer on the web site. Lynn Burns's Fruit Cake is the only version I can find on-line. Needless to say it is wonderful. My dried fruit consisted of sultanas, giant golden raisins, currants and diced crystallised ginger. I reduced the sugar a little as the ginger was quite sugary. Like everyone else, I found that the cake needed another quarter of an hour to cook through.
To add my five penn'orth to the discussion, I recall my parents, not the most adventurous of cooks normally, making a boiled fruit cake in a state of high excitement, to an American recipe in a women's magazine (or the Radio Times perhaps). This would have been in the sixties, probably. Referring to my cooking bible (Good Housekeeping Cookery Book, 1966 edition) I find no recipes for such a cake. Indeed the gingerbread recipe states that the sugar and butter should be carefully melted together without allowing the mixture to boil.

However in my 1963 copy of the Stork classic The Art of Home Cooking there is a recipe for Fruit Cake (melting method).

Make that fifty years' service - we've knocked about a bit!
Cook books of this era tend to be rather less discursive than modern books of the Celebrity Chef era (although Celebrity Chefs existed in the 60s, such as Fanny Craddock, but does anyone remember Philip Harben? My first skillet, aka lidded frying pan, was Harbenware, one of the earliest non-sticks, and a real innovation in 1969). Anyway, there is no indication of the origin of the boiled cake in the Stork book. I reproduce the recipe as it stands, just with the addition of metric measurements.


100g/4 oz. Stork Margarine [other margarines are available, but it was propaganda for Stork!]
100g/4 oz. demerara sugar (4 rounded tablespoons)
200g/8 oz. dried fruit (currants, sultanas, raisins, etc.)
150ml/¼ pint hot water
200g/8 oz. self-raising flour (8 heaped tablespoons)
½ level teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 level teaspoon mixed spice
½ level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 egg (beaten)
Pre-heated to moderate (gas 4, 360°F, 180°C)


  1. Line a 20cm/7-inch cake tin.
  2. Put the Stork, sugar, mixed fruit and water into a medium-sized saucepan. Stir over a low heat until the Stork has melted and the sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil and simmer for three minutes. Remove and allow to cool to luke-warm.
  3. Sieve the flour, nutmeg, mixed spice and bicarbonate of soda into a mixing bowl.
  4. Make a well in the centre of the flour. Pour in the cooled mixture and the egg. Stir quickly together, mixing thoroughly.
  5. Turn into the prepared cake tin and smooth the top.
  6. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 1½ - 1¾ hours 45 minutes - 1 hour.
  7. Test [with a skewer] before removing from oven. Leave in the tin for 2-3 minutes. Turn out; remove paper and cool on a wire tray.

Let's travel forward in time from 1963 to the wonderfully-named Modern Fruit Cake from Baking with Stork (such exotic fruit! milk, not water! two eggs! but where's all the sugar?). Then back in time to Jean's 1940s  War Cake, a luxury at a time of rationing (so much sugar! lard! and water! no egg!). Then further back to 1920s Depression Cake, also called "Milkless, Eggless, Butterless Cake" and yet further to 1860s Civil War Cake. That refers to the American Civil War, 150 years ago. Yes, it's an American cake...or maybe German? Or Italian? The trail goes cold!

Many thanks to Susan for Daisy's Best Boiled Fruitcake (an Australian version).

Saturday 23 November 2013

Minted Apple Relish

In searching for ever further and different ideas for using apples, I turned once again to one of my favourites, Sensational Preserves by Hilaire Walden. She is a prolific author mainly of cookery books and many of her books are available in France - see Priceminister for more.

The French edition of "Sensational Preserves" - cover photo by David Gill

We brought two mint types with us from the UK - black peppermint and a particularly good strain of spearmint which we found originally growing on the side of our allotment manure pit! For this recipe I used the peppermint, which is extremely poky, although apple mint, which grows wild here, would provide an interesting combination.

The principle of the recipe is to brew up a poaching liquor using spiced vinegar, sugar and extra seasonings, to poach sliced apples in the liquor and to layer them in jars with the chopped mint. As there was a teeny quantity of mint to quite a lot of apple, Tim had the brilliant idea of mashing the mint with a couple of tablespoons of the poached apple. This extended the mint considerably and made it much easier to spread. The quantities below made two Le Parfait 350g terrines plus another small jar - you will need wide-mouthed, straight-sided containers, plus a selection of rubber spatulas to spread out the layers. You get a more even result if you work on two jars at a time.

Minted apple relish

225g/8oz onions, sliced
2 teaspoons English mustard powder (make sure this is 100% mustard and no other ingredients)
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick, cut in half (use a hacksaw with a new blade and cut up a batch)
¼ teaspoon ground mace (macis en poudre)
1 teaspoon salt
225g/8oz sugar
300ml/10fl oz spiced vinegar
675g/1½lb sharp apples,  peeled, cored and thinly sliced
15g/½oz fresh mint, finely chopped.

Put everything except the apples and the mint in a saucepan. Heat gently, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved, then bring to the boil and simmer gently for ten minutes. Add the apples, return to the boil and cook gently for a further ten minutes or so until the apple slices are tender but not falling apart. Remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool completely.

Place three scant tablespoons of apple mixture, including some free liquid if there is any, in a small bowl with the chopped mint. Blend the mint with the apple until an even mix is obtained. Spread a layer of apple mixture in the jar. Rap the jar smartly on the chopping board to eliminate air pockets. Smooth the surface of the apple mixture with a rubber spatula. Don't press hard! Spread a thin layer of mint mixture over the apple. Repeat alternating layers of mint and apple until you run out. Seal the jars and leave in a cool dark place for a month before serving. The green unfortunately goes brown very quickly - you could add a drop of green food colouring to the mint mixture if that bothers you.

Serve with smoked chicken or smoked pork. Or use it as a stuffing for a boned shoulder of lamb. Or make a rather fine potato salad with it. Lamb for Christmas dinner anyone? Doesn't do much for the Christmas imagery, I'm afraid...

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Les Graineteries RIP

One of the features of Le Grand Pressigny is the Graineterie in the Grande Rue, where you could buy anything in the "growing it / killing it" line from a hosta to a hen (point of lay) to a hunting knife. We've blogged about it previously here. We have bought many a plant there, and it was possible to buy young lettuces or cabbages by the half dozen, a most convenient quantity for the two of us when an individual cabbage weighs in at over a kilo.

Savoy cabbage (Chou Milan) from a Graineterie seedling
The store was run by a man-and-wife couple and at times their children, and she was their Interflora florist, Tim earned the gratitude, and hence recognition, of the proprietor by rescuing a bidon (jerry can) that fell off the back of his truck and returning it to him.

Then not long ago a sign went up indicating that the shop was closed for refurbishment.

Alas, now the graineterie windows are whitewashed, with a sign announcing "fermeture définitive" (closed for good and all). According to the rumour mill, there has been a family bust-up, someone has done something unforgiveable which they now regret bitterly. Everyone hopes it may reopen under new management, but meanwhile it's yet another empty shop.
Fermeture définitive
I can find no pictures showing the graineterie in better days, though thanks to Susan I did locate two postcards of Grande Rue, one showing a beast market in the Market Place in about 1906, and another from about 1950 judging by the clothes and the car. Both show goods outside the graineterie, in the older probably hunting clothing and chicken coops. The double doors in the archway post-date both postcards - they show an archway leading to a loading yard. Does anyone else have any pictures? I'd love to see them!

The sad fact is that the big garden centre chains, such as Jardiland in France and Notcutts in the UK, are killing off their rivals with a larger range of products (tho less quirky) and longer opening hours. These stores are in both countries at the forefront of the Sunday Opening movement, now almost the norm in the UK and increasing in pressure in France.

One of the highlights of my journey to and from Primary School four times a day was passing The Corn & Seed Stores, at the Yew Tree, Yardley, Birmingham. The array of brightly coloured flowers almost always on display played no small part in my love of gardening. That store is mentioned by name in Kelly's Directory of 1950 and must go back to days when "this was all fields" i.e. before the 1930s when the estates of semi-detached houses were built. No sign of cornfields nowadays for miles in any direction.
The former Corn & Seed Stores

It became the Pets & Garden Centre while my Dad was still living in Yardley and was still flourishing in July 2012 according to Google Earth. I idly googled it and found that it too had gone under, sold by auction at Aston Villa Football Ground with vacant possession on 23 October 2012. It feels like I've lost another old friend.

Monday 4 November 2013

It's an apple year

When we bought the house, we spotted the old fruit trees in the back garden - several neglected plums and a big apple tree, almost swamped by tamarisk.

Jerry under the apple tree
The Touraine Apple Munchers Association (les Croquers de pommes de Touraine) identified our apples as Reinette Blanche, an old variety suitable for both eating and cooking.  The ripe fruit is a lovely primrose yellow, sometimes flushed with pink, and with russet patches and/or nets of fine speckles. According to, it is also known as Reinette Blanche du Canada, Reinette du Canada and even just "Canada", and it is widely grown in France.

A windfall

Unfortunately, it's not a great keeper thanks to the birds and insects that constantly attack the fruit. No sprays, of course - even if we wanted to spray, the tree is next to the millstream and sprays are banned close to a watercourse (not that it stops the farmers mutter mutter....)

Last year, the year of no fruit, it bore nothing at all because an ill-timed frost wiped out the flowers here and in almost every orchard in the district. The tree is making up for it this year - the fruit are not overly numerous but they are extremely large, some specimens weighing over 350 grammes. Let's say 200 apples at 250 grammes apiece, about 50 kilos, that's a lot of compote. So far, only those apples receiving direct sunlight are ready to pick. One low-hanging fruit, sheltered by leaves and branches, is my barometer. I keep giving it the twist and flip treatment but it's holding on tight at the moment.

Low-hanging fruit

So far I have made and bottled mincemeat, three flavours of compote (plain, with grapefruit marmalade, and with honey), made cake, baked apples, eaten the things raw, grated with cereal, in slaw... Can't even give them away as everyone with an apple tree is doing the same. People seeing you approaching with a bag of apples tend to turn smartish in the opposite direction, or pretend not to be at home. One approach is to hang the bag from a door handle (house or car) and run for it. Could just work... bother, they spotted me!

Sunday 3 November 2013

Apple whisky citrus mincemeat

A British Christmas wouldn't be the same without mince pies. Once upon a time these would actually have contained minced meat, with fruit and spices to disguise the fact that it was salted months earlier. Today mincemeat still contains suet, which is fat from around the kidneys of a cow (there is a vegetarian version, ptui). It is possible to buy fresh suet in France, which comes in lumps from the butcher (if he knows you he will keep some) for nuppence and can be grated. This is fine for a suet-crust pudding but I wouldn't like to use it for mincemeat.

Apple whisky citrus mincemeat ready for potting
Here's a recipe from Hilaire Walden's Sensational Preserves which combines a whole lot of lovely flavours. It needs at least six weeks to mature, so make it now in time for Christmas. These quantities yield five jars of standard jampot size, though where the pack size of the ingredient meant that there was only a little left, I lobbed the lot in. And of course I used our own filberts and apples.

At the beginning...Reinettes blanches
550g/1¼lb cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped
15g/½oz unsalted butter
4 tablespoons water
85g/3oz almonds, blanched and chopped
85g/3oz hazelnuts, blanched and chopped
115g/4oz currants
115g/4oz cut mixed peel (aiguilles de citron /d'orange, chopped)
115/4oz dried apricots, chopped
225g/8oz raisins (I used jumbo golden raisins, which are gorgeous)
225g/8oz sultanas
115g/4oz suet
225g/8oz dark muscovado sugar
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
A pinch of nutmeg
150ml/5 fl oz whisky

Put the apples in a pan with the water and butter. Cook gently with the lid on for 20 minutes then stir to make sure there are no lumps. If the resulting purée is runny (i.e. you've used Bramleys), turn up the heat and cook, stirring all the time, until the mixture is quite stiff and all free liquid is gone. Allow to cool completely.

Mix all the other ingredients together in a large non-metallic bowl then stir in the apples. Mix until thoroughly blended and leave, covered of course, overnight.  At this stage, a gadget! The lid of this plastic bowl projects over the lip, sealing it completely. Thanks again LIDL!

Not that terrifying, surely?
Pack into clean dry jars, ramming down well to avoid air bubbles, and seal in the usual way. Store for at least six weeks before using.
What's the post called again?
Serve as a dessert with poached orange slices, or in pastries.