Savouring the seasons image


The fantastic summer we had resulted in a fabulous crop of pumpkins, especially the Cinderella-carriage of a pumpkin, ‘Musque de Provence’. Pumpkins and squash need 90-120 days of sunshine to ripen which is usually a tall order in this part of the world. A welcome Christmas gift, even to oneself, is a jar of Indian spiced pickle; the perfect accompaniment to leftovers and for adding some zing to winter fare. This is adapted from a recipe in ‘Salt Sugar Smoke’: a brilliant preserving book by one of my favourite cookbook authors, Diane Henry.


This will make enough to fill four jam jars

750g pumpkin/squash
2 red onions, roughly chopped
25g fresh root ginger, peeled
2 chillies – deseeded
6 garlic cloves, peeled
200ml rapeseed oil
1tsp fenugreek seeds
1tsp cumin seeds
3tsp yellow mustard seeds
1tbsp ground turmeric
3tsp mustard powder
Pinch of asafoetida
2tsp black pepper
Zest of 4 limes plus 100ml of lime juice
225ml cider vinegar
300g granulated sugar
2tsp sea salt

Sterilise your jam jars and lids by washing and covering in boiling water then place the jars in a low oven to dry. Peel and deseed the pumpkin and cut into even-sized chunks. Whizz the onions, garlic, chillies and ginger in a food processor with 150ml of the rapeseed oil. Put the rest of the oil in a large saucepan and, when the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds and fenugreek, cooking until they start to pop, then add the onion/garlic/chilli/ginger mix. Reduce the heat and cook for 10 minutes before adding the rest of the ground spices and stirring quickly for a minute, to ensure you don’t burn them. Add the lime zest, juice, vinegar and sugar and stir until dissolved; meanwhile boil a large pan of water and blanche the pumpkin pieces for 90 seconds then remove with a slotted spoon and add to the saucepan. Stir and bring the whole mixture to the boil for 5 minutes before packing into your sterilised jars. Tap each jar to ensure there are no air pockets and top up with a little extra oil if the pumpkin is not covered in sauce. This keeps for a month.


Apparently named from Latin ‘speculum’ meaning mirror to reflect the fact that these biscuits were traditionally pressed into carved wooden moulds and the resulting shapes turned out and then baked. Dutch children put out their shoes for St Nicholas on 5 December and, if they have been good, they wake up on St Nicholas Day to find them filled with gold coins whilst eating these spiced biscuits – a great excuse to eat biscuits well before Christmas but these have the added benefit of lasting really well for 2-3 weeks in a tin or they can be frozen.

250g plain flour
Pinch of bicarb of soda
175g unsalted butter, cubed
140g light brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp of grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp of ground cloves
Up to 3tbsp milk

Optional decorations: Blanched whole almonds and icing sugar mixed with water to form a thick icing that can be piped.

Put the flour, bicarb and butter in a food processor and pulse until breadcrumbs (alternatively rub in by hand). Stir in the sugar and spices and add as much milk as is needed to make a stiff dough. Press into a disc shape and wrap in cling film – chill in the fridge overnight. The next day preheat the oven to 180C. Roll out the dough between two well-floured sheets of baking paper until it is 1cm thick then, using a biscuit cutter (or a treasure of a hand-carved wooden speculaa board – on my Santa list!) cut shapes out and place on a buttered baking sheet. Press blanched whole almonds into the biscuits if desired. Bake for 20 minutes or until they are still slightly soft to touch – they will crisp up when cool. Ice when cold if wished.




Time to get a head start for next year. Clear all the old vegetation onto the compost heap and then spread last year’s well-rotted compost on top of the weeded soil in a thick mulch – leave the worms to drag it into the soil over winter. Lime the area where your brassicas will go next year- generally where your peas grew the previous year so the brassicas can benefit from the nitrogen-fixation by the pea roots. Leave six weeks between liming and then adding mulch to this area otherwise the lime will react with nitrogen in the compost to form ammonia and will be lost to the atmosphere.


It is a good idea to keep visiting the compost heaps and disturbing them otherwise ‘backpacking rodents’ will arrive for their winter break and set up home in your steamy sauna of a heap. Winter rains will leach valuable nitrogen out of the heap hence covering will conserve that nitrogen for your soil to make use of next spring when it will be in short supply. Old bubble wrap sandwiched in a large dustbin bag is a great insulator for the heap.


Time to dream of what we’ll harvest and grow next year. I’ll be ordering my ‘Lemon Drop Chilli’ seeds from the Real Seed Catalogue, Italian staples of Agretti, Puntarelle de Cicoria and a stripy red and green lettuce called Cicoria variegata di Castelfranco from Seeds of Italy.




16 Nov

In response to those who attended Bread Basics and wanted more! Join us on this one-day workshop and learn how to make perfect pretzels, crusty baguettes, delicious doughnuts, and Tarte Flambee.


21 Nov

On this course you’ll get a head start on Christmas: boozy mincemeat made, melt-in-the-mouth mincepies nestled in the freezer, and a sneaky selection of canapés and desserts ready to whip out for those impromptu drinks parties. We’ll touch on those old chestnuts: what to do with leftovers and how to woo your vegetarian guests with something other than risotto. But most of all this may be your last chance to relax before the chaos commences!


30 Nov

Join us for a day of festive bakes with not a Christmas cake in sight! Danish Christmas Kringle; spectacular Speculaas pretty enough to hang on the tree; light and airy stollen muffins and crisp Finnish sugar cookies that will last for weeks in a tin, perfect for those unexpected guests.


7 Dec

Make this Xmas a green one….your chance to work with Phil Bradley to create a range of decorations using natural materials. We’ll be working with willow, hazel and silver birch to make Scandinavian-inspired stars, garlands, gift tags and other creations.


13 Dec

Take the stress out of Christmas with this half-day workshop on gift wrapping techniques. Depart with the ability to wrap awkwardly shaped presents with style, make budget gifts look a million dollars and add some personality to presents for friends!