September 26, 2020


We have been enjoying Mary Berry's new TV series called "Simple Comforts".  With so much uncertainty about the coming months I need simple and comfort more than ever.  Mary is such a genius at what I would call proper home cooking.  Designed for us ordinary folk for every day meals and the special family occasion.  You really can't go wrong with her recipes.

However, I did with this one!

Here we are back in the UK for the next six months, pining for the lost months that we didn't have in France this year but at the same time feeling so thankful that we managed to get there at all and enjoy eight glorious weeks of almost uninterrupted sunshine.  Back home we are almost through our quarantine period and the weather has been perfect.  Some would call it an Indian summer.  It's been wonderful to be able to sit in our little garden and enjoy some fresh air, even on rainy days the sun has come out in the afternoon.  Quarantine could have been so much worse if it was cold and wet most of the time.

Nick has nurtured our flowering plants back to life so that we have been able to enjoy some colour in the garden.  I picked some of our flowers to cheer us up indoors.  To our delight we have also found that our rhubarb plant, only one year old, continues to keep on giving.

In the first episode of her new series Mary made an apple dessert called "brioche frangipane apple pudding" which looked both delicious and easy to make.  For the base she used slices of brioche and it just so happened that I had brought a sliced brioche back with me from France.

I also had loads of rhubarb from the garden so I decided to use that instead of apples.

Unfortunately it didn't work out quite right as I used the wrong size of dish.  Mine was slightly smaller in diameter and a bit deeper.  The upshot of this was that when the cooking time was up, the middle of the pie was still uncooked, positively liquid in fact.  So I had to cook it for much longer and in spite of covering it with foil to try to prevent burning it did end up being rather crozzled around the edges.  Which does go to show that size does matter!

I was disappointed to say the least and didn't do the extra step of brushing with an apricot glaze and sprinkling with flaked almonds.

However, it was yummy!  Ignoring the occasional rather dark tasting bits, it was quite delicious.  I will definitely be making it again, either with apples or with rhubarb.  Possibly even with sliced pears or plum halves.  But next time I will use a larger, shallower dish.

I especially like the idea of using a layer of brioche for the base of the pie (or pudding).  It worked really well and is a nice change from a pastry bottom.  (Although mine was a touch overdone.)  I shall be doing that again!

The episode with the recipe is currently still available on BBC iPlayer and you can see it on the internet here and here.


4-5 slices of brioche loaf
175g spreadable butter (I used Lurpak spreadable)
175g caster sugar
1 tsp almond extract
175g ground almonds
3 eggs
25g plain flour
about 6 sticks of rhubarb, washed and cut into 5cm lengths


Preheat the oven to 200° C / 180° fan / gas mk 6.  Butter a large, shallow baking dish about 28cm dia.

Press slices of brioche into the bottom of the dish, filling in gaps but not overlapping.

Put the butter and sugar into a food processor and whizz until light and fluffy.  Add the extract, almonds eggs and flour and whizz again until nice and smooth.  Spread the mixture evenly over the brioche base and arrange the fruit on top.  

Bake for about 40 minutes until golden brown and the centre is firm.  Serve warm.

Cuts into 8 generous slices.


I made it again using a larger, shallower dish and it worked better.  It was cooked perfectly in the 40 minutes stated in the recipe.  I also used slightly less ground almonds and more flour; 150g and 50g.  This was because that's all the ground almonds I had in stock but it was still delicious - if anything I preferred it.

I later made it in an even bigger dish, 28cm, using apples as per Mary's original recipe and that worked even better!  You can read about it if you go here.

September 23, 2020


We are now into week two of our two week quarantine and eating our way through a hotch potch of food items.  Some are the contents of our fridge in France, hurriedly cleared before we departed.  Some are what we equally hurriedly thought to put into a Sainsbury's delivery.  Some are what neighbours, my brother and Nick's sister brought and left on the doorstep.  So we will not starve, even if some of the food combinations are a little out of the ordinary, and we haven't yet had to resort to the contents of the freezer.

When I was little a salad was lettuce, tomato, cucumber, spring onions and beetroot, all home grown.  The beetroot would have been pickled in malt vinegar and there might also be home pickled red cabbage, home pickled onions and home made piccalilli if we were lucky.  The meat would have been a thick slice of boiled ham, hand carved from the butcher or sliced on one of those huge slicing machines, some tinned salmon or, if we were very lucky, some tinned corned beef.  On special days it would be tongue and if we were very good a slice of boiled egg.  We always had salad for Sunday tea in the summer (having had a huge Sunday dinner of roast lamb at lunchtime).

The only dressing would have been Heinz Salad Cream.  I remember the furore when, possibly in the 90's, Heinz threatened to stop making Salad Cream due to poor sales caused by the increase in popularity of other, more fashionable dressings, such as mayonnaise and vinaigrette.  The public revolted and Salad Cream remains on our supermarket shelves!

How things change!

This salad was a glorious mixture of French and English items that needed using up.  The main event was some sliced leftover duck breast.  Every week or two we treat ourselves to a prepared duck dish from Sainsbury's; Gressingham duck in plum sauce.  We had joyfully added it to our rushed order for delivery (although forgot more sensible staple items) and the portions were huge.

There was the equivalent of one whole breast left over, some of which we had one lunchtime in a wrap and the rest in this salad.

So, salads these days have little resemblance to those I ate in my childhood and up to my forties.  Even in the scotch egg years (home made of course) of the 70's salads were nothing like as exotic as the salads we eat nowadays.  I don't think I encountered a real avocado until well into the 80's!  And as for putting anything warm in a mum would have detested the way it wilted her lettuce!

Another favourite is homemade coleslaw and I had remembered to put the ingredients into the Sainsbury's basket.

This salad contained

Brought from France:

red lettuce

feta cheese cubed


a few black olives

From the UK:

hard boiled eggs

sliced leftover cold duck


cherry tomatoes

sliced leftover cooked new potatoes

For the coleslaw

a chunk each of white and red hard cabbage, shredded

1 large carrot, grated

a handful of sultanas

*I often add other ingredients if I have them in stock, such as shredded fennel, sliced celery, finely sliced spring onions, chopped chives or other fresh herbs, whole grain mustard, chopped walnuts.

All mixed together with just enough mayonnaise (from France) to bring it together, a dash of French mustard and a splash of white wine vinegar, plus salt and pepper.

Not a pickled onion in sight!!  But I confess to adding a blob or two of Salad Cream.

September 18, 2020


 I'm trying again, after Nick suggested I use Google Chrome.

That seems to work.

I have even been able to edit the post!
Woo hoo !!

However, having randomly selected the first picture for experimental purposes, I have no idea what cake it was.  It looks rather good to me.  Rhubarb cake of some kind by the look of it, baked on 8th Feb this year.  So much for my idea of taking a picture of the recipe each time....grrr.......

September 12, 2020

A SUMMER FRUIT CAKE (apple, pear and strawberry cake)

Until not very long ago the only fruits I used to put in a cake were raisins, currants and sultanas.
Certainly as a child a fruit cake meant just that, a cake with dried fruit in it, an occasional Sunday treat.  I can't imagine my mum contemplating putting anything else in a cake, not even apples.  Apples only went into pies or crumbles, as did rhubarb or blackberries. 

More recently I have made all kinds of cakes containing fresh fruit.  This turned out to be one of the best.  I spotted it in a blog somewhere and remember that it was adapted from a Nigel Slater recipe for a summer cake.  You can see that recipe here.  He used peaches and blueberries but I used what I had in stock; one apple, one pear and a few strawberries.

I also added a dash of something I got in Waitrose for extra fruitiness - raspberry flavouring.  It was a lovely cake, nice and fruity with a good crumb, not too moist or crumbly, just right in fact.
175g unsalted butter or spreadable butter
175g caster sugar (I used half golden and half white)
2 large eggs
175g self raising flour
100g ground almonds
1 tsp vanilla extract

½ tsp raspberry flavouring (optional)
300g fruit - I used apple, pear and strawberries but a mixture of stone fruit or berries would be fine.


Peel and core the apple and pear and chop into 1cm dice.  Put into a bowl and sprinkle with a little lemon juice to prevent them from discolouring.  Wash and cut the strawberries into similar sized chunks.

Butter and base line a 20cm round cake tin.  Preheat the oven to 180C / 160 fan.

In a large bowl cream the butter and sugar using an electric whisk until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time and beat in.  Beat in the vanilla and flavouring.

Sift in the flour and fold in, followed by the ground almonds.  Put the chopped fruit into a sieve and drain off the lemon juice then add to the mixture and stir in.

Transfer to the tin and level the top.  Bake for about an hour until done.  Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Dust with icing sugar before serving.

Cuts into 8-10 slices.

Thanks to the New Blogger system for writing a post I no longer seem to be able to update the "pages" section in the blog.  Which is more than just a nuisance, having spent hours compiling it not very long ago.  It's really, really annoying and I am close to giving up.

September 8, 2020

A QUICK PLUM PIE and la saison du brame.

We have had several barbecues since we got to France six weeks ago, just because we can and because the opportunities for it are so rare in the UK - especially in September. 

When we were kids we only ate outdoors if it was a family picnic.  Then it would be sandwiches from a biscuit tin lined with greaseproof paper, buns from another, all washed down with flasks of tea or bottles of pop.  No alcohol was involved unless we stopped at the pub on the way home; parents, aunts and uncles sipping respectively pints of beer and Babycham outside at wooden benches while kids and cousins waited in the car, satisfied with more pop and a bag of crisps.  It was the 1950's and 60's and "al fresco" was a term we were yet to hear.

In my twenties I only ate outdoors if there was a barbecue.  Munching crozzled sausages and burgers in buns before they got too cold, scarves and cardigans handy as the air grew chilly.  I was 28 when I got my first British Visitor's Passport from the Post Office in order to go to Paris for a long weekend.  That was the first time I actually ate a proper meal outdoors, served by waiters at a table on the pavement.

The vendage (grape harvest) has come early this year, starting as soon as the last week of August in some vineyards to the north of us.  To our delight so has le brame - the rutting of the deer.  A week ago we were finishing our meal outdoors, thinking of donning our jumpers, listening to the crickets and the foxes in the surrounding fields.  It was a full moon and we heard the first call not long after the sun had gone down and the moon still rising.  It's an unmistakable, deep and mournful mooing noise.

The very first time I heard it was a few years ago, on moving to our house in the middle of a field, the noise woke me up at about two in the morning.  My first thought that there were no cows anywhere near us but soon more deer joined in, the noise coming from all sides, from every bit of forest surrounding us.  It took me a few sleepy minutes to work out what it was.  It went on for hours and we climbed out of the bedroom window in our pyjamas onto the roof of the well house to hear it properly and see the shadowy shape of a stag moving about in the moonlight.  Magical stuff.

For this outdoor meal I rustled up a quick plum pie.  A couple of days before I had baked in the oven some nectarines and a few odd plums of all colours that were left over and past their best, rather than throw them on the compost heap.  I used a pack of ready made, ready rolled shortcrust pastry (pâte brisée) to line a deep Pyrex pie dish, spread the plums into it and topped it with a quick, all-in-one sponge made with 4ozs flour and 2 eggs.  Delicious.

approximately 500g of mixed plums and nectarines
2 tblsp demerara sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 pack of ready made, ready rolled shortcrust pastry
4oz spreadable butter
4oz self raising flour
4 oz caster sugar
2 eggs
Preheat the oven to 180C / 160 fan.
Halve the plums and quarter the nectarines.  Lay in a single layer in a baking dish and sprinkle with the demerara sugar and ground cinnamon.  Bake for about 30 minutes or until tender.
Line a deep 20cm pie dish or tin with the pastry.  Spread the plums on top of the pastry.
Put the butter, caster sugar, flour and eggs into a bowl and beat with an electric hand mixer until smooth.  Beat in a splash of milk if the mixture seems stiff. 
Spread the sponge mixture over the fruit and level the top.  Bake for 30-40 minutes until the sponge is golden brown and done. 
Serve warm or cold, dusted with icing sugar if liked, with cream, custard or ice cream.
Cuts into 8 slices.