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Peach Time

It’s summer where I live, and there’s an abundance of delicious summer fruits. A friend texted me recently to say their peach tree was laden with fruit — more than they could use, and if I wanted any peaches to come around and pick them. So I did. 

The tree was heavy with fruit — far more than I could use. I ate loads fresh — is there anything more yummy than ripe peaches warm from the sun and fresh off the tree?  The peaches in the pic above became peach cobbler and I made jam as well. I was reminded of my childhood, when my mother bottled masses of fruit every year. (I think in the US they call it “canning fruit” — which always confused me, cans being tins to me, not jars.)

It was a regular summer ritual, and a group event. The whole family would be roped in, my godmother included. Dad and my brother (and later on my older sisters’ boyfriends) would do the picking, and the females would wash, stone or slice and bottle the fruit. And make jam.

I was always jealous of the guys — I wanted to be outside, up in the tree picking, but being the baby I was in high demand for placing fruit (especially apricot halves) just so in the tall jars — my mother was picky about the arrangement of the fruit and my little hands could reach right down to the bottom of the tall, narrow jars.

We bottled and preserved all the excess fruit and vegetables. My parents were living in a “back to the land” style — self sufficiency as far as possible, so we had no electricity, no freezer, water was collected in a tank, and we had hens, geese, a couple of cows and goats and all sorts. And a giant vegie patch as well as lots of fruit trees. My parents were teachers, but they’d grown up on farms, and knew how to grow food. So we did. And nothing was wasted.

We left that life when I was four and we moved into a town with electricity and all the mod cons. I remember my fascination with the fridge, the washing machine, ice blocks — ice cream!!!!!! We still had a big vegie patch, and fruit trees, but I missed the animals. 

If ever I go to the annual Agricultural Show, one of the exhibits I always visit (apart from the animals, the horses and the woodchopping) is the preserving display, where home-bottled fruit in glass bottles is as much about art as edibility and preservation.  I remember how hard it was to get the apricot halves arranged just right. And I remember the taste of home bottled apricots which knocks the taste of supermarket apricots in cans right out of the park. But these days I don’t do much preserving, even though I have my mother’s old equipment (somewhere). But I did recently make picked cucumbers, and that was easy and delicious, so maybe I’ll get around to expanding my repertoire.

I draw on memories of that early life in my books sometimes. I remember the way my mother did the washing, boiling the sheets in a big copper kettle, wringing them out with a wooden wringer and hanging them out on the line. And oh, the smell of sheets dried in the sun. This was long after everyone else had washing machines that did it all for you. She was pretty amazing my mother, living like that, teaching full time and caring for a family of six. 

 

 

A trifle for Christmas

It’s Christmas Day and all over the world people are celebrating. And feasting.

Here, it’s summer time, but because so many of us have ancestry from the northern hemisphere, we all still dream of a white Christmas (though many of us have never experienced snow) and the shop windows are full of fake snow — even while we’re roasting in the heat.

A lot of people still eat the full traditional Christmas dinner, with roast (baked) meats and vegetables, followed by the traditional plum pudding. 

I love plum pudding, but this year I made trifle instead. If you’ve never made trifle, it’s easy — more a case of assembling a dish, rasher than cooking. In this case, I bought sponge cake, sliced it thin and made a kind of sandwich with lemon curd (home made — also easy)

Put a layer of cake in the bottom of the bowl, sprinkle it with sherry (or orange juice), then layer in fruit, custard, fruit, jelly (jello) and repeat the process. I always use fresh fruit –  for this one I used mostly mangoes and lots of blueberries, strawberries,  youngberries and raspberries, but I’ve also used other fruits in the past — bananas, passionfruit,  peaches, apricots, kiwifruit — anything yummy, really. Mostly I try to use fresh fruit, but if fresh fruit is in short supply, a little added good canned  fruit, like sliced peaches, is fine. 

The final layer is freshly whipped cream topped with fruit. It’s light and yummy, and even nicer the second day.  (In fact I did all except the final whipped cream and fruit layer the night before.) And perfect for dessert in the warm weather.

Do you like trifle? Do you usually have plum pudding for Christmas dinner or not?

Wishing you all the best for the festive season.
Anne xx

Edible gifts

I’m very fond of making edible gifts — really it’s just an excuse to make something fun, and then give it away so that I’m not tempted to eat it myself.

This year I made “Christmas crack” and white chocolate nougat. Both are quite easy to make but look pretty and, wrapped in cellophane, make lovely small edible gifts. The nougat is on the right. I use a “cheat’s recipe” passed on by a friend. Her recipe only used almonds, but I switched it to almonds, pistachios and dried cranberries to make it more Christmassy. When I put it on my Facebook page, so many people asked me for the recipe, I thought maybe it ought to go here, as well. So here’s the recipe.

 

The other thing I made—and I often make this for Christmas, as it’s so yummy and people always love it — is called “Christmas crack”. It’s a layer of salted crackers with toffee baked over (and into) them, then chocolate melted over that and sprinkled with toasted nuts – I use flaked or slivered almonds. It’s made as a slice, and you chill it in the fridge and then break it up.

It’s toffee nutty salty chocolatey goodness — and be warned, it’s addictive.

Here are two of the little bags  of Christmas Crack that I gave to friends at a pre-Christmas author dinner. There are heaps of recipes on the web, and here’s one.

All the very best for the festive season. I hope you have a peaceful and happy time, with good food and good company.