Shortening days and cooling temperatures bring both a sense of panic to gather in the last of the harvest and provide comforting warmth and reassurance for the coming winter. Last weekend we visited my parents and spent an hour or so picking quinces from the tree and off the floor and collecting calendula seed ready for next year’s planting.
There were also a number of sorry-looking red roses. Most of them were water damaged and past their best, but they all retained a strong rose scent. I couldn’t leave them, so I picked them all and brought them home. I wondered about making some more rose elixir, but there are still several full bottles from two years ago, so a syrup seemed more in order.
The original Farmer’s Weekly recipe for nettle and rose petal syrup suggested it be used for sore throats during the winter when added to milk. Neither plant are those I would normally turn to for a sore throat but the housewife who offered the remedy would not have done so if she hadn’t found it helpful. I love roses for their ability to raise the spirits – something I’m very much in need of at the moment- so I thought I would add another supportive nervine herb, evening primrose flowers and something to ease the throat/chest – marshmallow leaves.
The marshmallow and evening primrose were gathered from the garden and covered with cold water along with some dried nettle leaves. If I had had time and patience, I would have left them to macerate overnight, but this wasn’t possible as I was leaving for two days in London the following morning. The infusion was brought to a simmer for twenty minutes then strained. After washing out the saucepan, the liquid was replaced and slowly evaporated on a low heat to bring it down to two pints.
Then I added 2lbs of sugar and all the rose petals and brought it slowly up to the boil, stirring continuously for ten minutes while my bottles sterilised in a hot oven at 100 degrees C. Again the syrup was strained to remove the rose petals and could have been simmered further to thicken, but I decided it was fine as it was, so I poured it into the bottles and left it to cool. The taste, when added to cold milk, was very pleasant with a definite note provided by the evening primrose.
When we returned from visiting family in Woking on Wednesday afternoon, I set to work making a sloe and rosehip cordial. The rosehips came from the Sanctuary and the sloes from the farm yard. I covered them with cold water, adding 2 quills of cinnamon, a grated inch of root ginger, a grated nutmeg and several cloves. The mixture simmered for half an hour, then I removed the whole spices and blitzed the syrup in the saucepan until it was fully liquidised.
Then came the arduous task of sieving the entire contents to remove the stones and skins. I was surprised how thick the syrup was despite the amount of debris. After measuring the amount of liquid I added an equal amount of sugar and brought it back to the boil stirring continuously until the sugar was completely dissolved. It tasted wonderful, although a mug of boiling water required at least a tablespoon of syrup to make a really nice drink.
Ever since we returned from holiday, the tomatoes have been prolific. It’s wonderful when there is enough to make fresh tomato soup. The recipe I normally use is from my Good Housekeeping cookbook, but I’ve doubled the quantities and left out the rasher of bacon as I didn’t want to defrost a whole packet just for one rasher. The first recipe was the most delicious, but I’ve made others since which have been very tasty.
3lbs fresh tomatoes
1 large carrot
2 celery sticks
1 dessertspoon of sugar
Water or stock
Bouquet garni of fresh herbs – thyme, parsley, rosemary, winter savory
Salt and pepper to taste
Peel and dice the onion. Melt the butter in a large saucepan and sweat the onion for five minutes on a low heat, covered, until soft. Wash and dice the celery. Scrape and slice the carrot. Add the vegetables to the saucepan and mix in with the onion. Add in the tomatoes, chopped and the sugar. Cover with water or stock. Chop the herbs and add to the soup together with salt and freshly ground pepper. Bring the soup to the boil and simmer, covered, for one hour. Liquidise, then sieve to remove skins and seeds. Serve the soup hot with fresh bread.
One thing which really surprised me, was the profusion of fresh, young nettles growing in the garden. This was too good an opportunity to miss making fresh nettle soup for possibly the last time this year. I’ve also grown chillis for the first time this year so I experimented with a red one!
Spiced Tomato and Nettle Soup
1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped
3 lbs of fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 carrot, scraped and sliced
4 sticks of celery, washed and sliced
1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1 onion, peeled and diced
2 large handfuls of dried nettle leaves or one basketful of fresh nettle leaves removed from their stalks
1/2oz butter plus 1 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp sugar
Bouquet garni of herbs – thyme, winter savory, basil
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the butter and olive oil together, then sweat the onion and chilli until soft. Add the vegetables, herbs, sugar, salt and freshly ground pepper and cover with water or stock. Bring to the boil, simmering for forty minutes. Add nettles and simmer for a further 20 minutes. Liquidise. Sieve to remove skins, seeds etc. Reheat and serve with fresh bread.
This is a very tasty and nutritious soup with real heat which doesn’t impede the flavour.
For some time now, I’ve been adding vegetables to macaroni cheese. This lightens what can be a very heavy meal and adds extra flavour. I couldn’t resist sharing both the recipe and photo of the last offering as the fresh tomatoes made it so beautiful! The cheese sauce is made without fat and is the method developed by my mother when she had a duodenal ulcer. I use it to make all white sauces, including parsley sauce and brandy sauce.
Vegetable Macaroni Cheese
3oz of dried macaroni per person
8oz plus 2oz Cheddar cheese grated
1pt (UK) milk
1 tbsp. flour plus extra milk to mix
Bring a large saucepan of water plus salt to the boil and add in the macaroni and any vegetables, excluding the tomatoes. Simmer for fifteen minutes until cooked. While these are cooking, put 1pt milk into a wet saucepan and heat. At the same time, mix the flour and milk into a paste in a cup. As the milk comes to the boil, add the flour paste and whisk until the sauce boils and thickens. Add salt. Stir for two minutes until the flour is cooked. Turn off the heat. Add grated cheese to the sauce and stir until all the cheese is melted. Taste. Add more cheese if necessary. Strain the macaroni and vegetables when cooked. Mix with the cheese sauce and place in an enamel or glass serving dish or in individual bowls. Sprinkle grated cheese on the top of the dish together with halved small tomatoes. Place under a hot grill until the cheese melts and browns to your liking. Serve.