Raspberry and apple kuchen

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I’ve been in a fug all week. No, longer than a week. Aimless, listless. Work feels like treacle, with contracts ending or not happening in the first place, a general feeling of tetchiness, and nothing new on the horizon. The state of the world seems to get worse. And this grey, humid, drizzly weather! Today I’ve decided to press ‘reset’, with time dedicated to Harry, a bit of cooking, staying away from Instagram and all the rest. I’m reminding myself of Elizabeth Luard’s observation that in peasant societies, money is a crop like any other…when it fails, it’s not the end of the world provided that there’s still other crops to fall back on. I love this idea as it reminds us that our professional lives are not our only indicator of worth, a notion that sadly is indoctrinated into us from Day 1 at university. To be a freelancer in the arts is to take the rough with the smooth.

And Lord knows there are PLENTY of other crops going on at the moment. Courgettes, of course, and amazing dahlias, sunflowers, achillea, cosmos, marigolds, blackberries, raspberries, a few potatoes. I was feeling pretty smug about my efforts until I was beckoned over to Martin’s plot last Saturday, to be greeted with a field of cabbages, purple sprouting, cauliflowers and sprouts. These are whopping prize-winning specimens! I was kindly offered a cabbage and cauli to take home, which are now taking up the entire top shelf of the fridge. There’s no room for them in the veg drawer because that is filled with my parents’ efforts – aubergines, peppers – and my courgette glut. I’ve spent the morning roasting sliced courgettes, peppers and aubergines in a blisteringly hot oven before bottling with olive oil, fresh marjoram, red wine vinegar and chilli flakes.

Martin with his whopping 10lb cabbage

I escaped from my desk for a few hours on Tuesday to take a look at the potatoes, which we planted in March and then completely ignored. No mounding up or watering or anything like that. And blow me there’s a crop! It’s not magnificent but there are few things more satisfying than forking up a mound of pale round spuds from black soil.

Digging spuds this week

The cut flowers are at their zenith now, with an incredible display of dahlias and the cheery sunflowers, their colours ranging from yellow and gold to copper and brown.

Sunflowers are the star of August cut flowers

This week the raspberries started cropping, along with the first blackberries of which we’re going to get a bumper crop. I was also gifted a bag of early apples, a sight that reminds us that summer will soon be on the way out. Carpe diem, seize the day: this apple and raspberry kuchen makes the most of late summer fruit but can be adapted through the year to use whatever’s in season (or use up whatever’s lurking in the freezer).

Raspberry and apples stud the top of the enriched-dough base

A kuchen is a Germanic sweet bake, not dissimilar in concept to a sweet focaccia, where an enriched bread base is glazed then topped with fruit and sugar before baking. It can also be iced or topped with a crumble or streusel. It’s lovely for breakfast but also as a snack during the day, and as it’s full of eggs and fruit, I consider it a health food. Do eat it up within a day or two, as it won’t keep well.

Raspberry and apple kuchen

Raspberry and apple kuchen
Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess

350g strong white bread flour
3g fine salt
50g caster sugar
5g easy blend yeast
2 large eggs
grated zest of half a lemon
grating fresh nutmeg
125ml milk
50g unsalted butter

For the topping:
1 large egg
1 tablespoon cream or creme fraiche
1 tsp cinnamon
2 apples
handful raspberries
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp demerara sugar

You’ll need an ovenproof dish – I use a 8 inch flan dish but a brownie pan would also be fine. Make sure it’s well greased with butter.

Mix the flour, yeast, salt, sugar, lemon and nutmeg together in a large bowl. Melt the butter into the milk, leave to cool slightly, then beat in the eggs. Tip the lot into the flour and use a plastic scraper to combine into a rough dough. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Form into a ball, cover with a cloth and leave to prove for about 2 hours, until puffy and risen.

For the topping, mix the egg into the cream with a fork, then stir in the cinnamon. Peel, core and dice the apples.

Preheat the oven to 200c. When the dough is ready, ease it into your prepared pan – gently does it – then press it in to reach the sides. Spread the egg glaze over the top, scatter on the fruit, then the sugar. Place in the oven and turn the temperature down to 180c. Bake for about 40 minutes, until risen and golden. Cool slightly before eating.

Also this week:

Harvesting: Courgettes, squash, a few beans, spinach beet, chard, blackberries, raspberries, dahlias, sunflowers, cosmos, achillea, chrysanthemums, delphinium, marigold, strawflower, last sweetpeas. Gifted harvests of green peppers, beetroot, tomatoes, aubergine, apples, cabbage, cauliflowers, runner beans.

Cooking and eating: Roasted courgette, peppers and aubergine which I marinate in olive oil, red wine vinegar, chilli flakes and fresh marjoram – great kept in the fridge for easy snacks. Moussaka with my Dad’s aubergine. Courgette cream pasta.

Reading: Normal People by Sally Rooney, a few years late on this one. Dipping into Buddhist texts to get me back on track.

Apple-maple turnovers

It’s cobnut season again. Every year I buy a big bag, forgetting just how hideous it is to prep a kilo of nuts, and so they languish on the kitchen counter for a week until it can be put off no longer. Cobnuts are cultivated hazelnuts and unlike other nuts they’re not dried but eaten fresh. Once you’ve got past the tedium of breaking through all the shells, you’re rewarded with a white, milky, mild-tasting nut.

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New season cobnuts

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Cobnuts in various states of undress

The prepped nuts can be toasted and dressed with seasalt as a snack, or use them in salads or baking. It took 45 minutes to prep about 750g – which was the precise same time as it took to bake a tray of maple-apple turnovers. That’s how multi-tasking works in this household.

These beautiful bramleys were gifted to my folks by their plumber, who lives on Castlemorton Common near Malvern. I know people say the best way to keep your apple harvest is by housing them in a shed or garage but it’s all nonsense: keep them in the fridge and they will last for weeks. This requires a big fridge of course.

Bramleys to me mean apple pie…and it’s not a great leap from apple pie to apple turnovers. Add in a bit of maple syrup and we have a lovely autumn pud.

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Castlemorton apples and maple syrup

First you need to make some pastry. I say this – ready-made puff or shortcrust would do fine, but sometimes it’s good to make an extra effort and make a flaky rough-puff from scratch. Don’t tell anyone, but it’s EASIER to make rough-puff than it is shortcrust; all you need is a cheese-grater. Really. By grating the butter in to the flour rather than rubbing it (as you’d normally do), you get large lumps of fat in the pastry. These melt in the oven, creating pockets of steam that cause the pastry to rise. Science!

While the pastry’s chilling, make the filling. I used a mixture of bramleys and eating apples as I like the firm texture of the latter, but really you could use whatever you like. Peel, core and dice the apples, then cook over a low heat with raisins, sugar, vanilla and maple syrup. It will cook to a golden mass, faintly flavoured with maple. If you want a REAL maple hit, consider using maple extract or maple sugar instead of syrup.

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Cook the apples with maple syrup, sugar, raisins and vanilla

Finally, we make up our turnovers. This is a mid-week snack so no need for perfection: roll the pastry to the thickness of a ten-pence coin then slice into rectangles. Pile a scant tablespoon of filling on one side, leaving a rim of pastry, then fold the pastry over and seal. Make little holes for steam, brush with milk, and bake. At this point, if inclined, you can prep a bag of cob-nuts…or not.

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Enclose the apples in flaky pastry and seal into turnovers

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Bake until golden, dust with sugar, then serve

They are crisp and light and you’ll see the layers of pastry. Serve up warm with custard (heaven) or cold with whipped cream for a retro special treat.

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Layers of flaky pastry

The basic recipe can be adapted for any filling you like – raspberries are good, as are blueberries. Simply freeze any leftovers for another day.

Maple-apple turnovers

For the rough-puff pastry:

300g plain flour

1 tablespoon caster sugar

150g salted butter, fridge-cold

Cold water

First, make your pastry. Place the flour and sugar in a large bowl then grate in the butter using a cheese grater. Use a dinner-knife to toss the butter around in the flour. We don’t want to cut the butter, just mix it into the flour. There should be discernible shreds of butter. Add cold water a tablespoon at a time until the pastry starts to gather into lumps. Use your hands to bring it together into a ball then knead briefly to form a smooth paste. Shape into a disc then chill until needed.

For the maple-apple filling:

3 small bramley apples

1 eating apple

handful of raisins

1 tablespoon sugar

3 tablespoons maple syrup

1 vanilla pod (split) or tsp vanilla extract

Peel, core and dice the apples, then place them in a pan with the sugar, syrup, raisins, maple and vanilla. Cook on a low heat for ten to fifteen minutes, until the apples are cooked into a golden mass. Add a little water if it looks too dry. Check for flavour and add more syrup or sugar if required. Leave to cool.

To make the turnovers:

Pre-heat the oven to 190c. Roll out the pastry to the thinness of a ten pence coin. Using a sharp knife, cut the pastry into rectangles – make them as large as you like, depending on how big you want your turnovers to be. Place a spoonful of filling on one side of the rectangles but leave a margin of pastry. Don’t overfill them else they’ll explode in the oven. Fold the pastry over the filling and seal the edges, use cold water to help the pastry stick together. Transfer to a baking sheet, prick each pastry with a sharp knife and brush with milk. Bake for about 35-45 minutes, until golden and risen. Dust with caster sugar to serve.

Thinking ahead

My time and attention has been sucked into a brochure-shaped vortex. It’s like that when you work on festivals. Rather like the pain of childbirth (so I’m told), you forget the intensity of concentration and negotiation and emails and headaches (both literal and metaphorical), start work on a new one, then fall into the rabbit hole once more until it’s all over and you emerge back into the light blinking. To organise an arts festival requires at least eight hands spinning 80 plates. There are perks to brochure creation though: I get to be pernickety about the placing of commas and apostrophes, and designers feed me fish-finger sandwiches and key lime pie.

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Key lime pie whilst brochure editing

It’s at these times when the allotment is a god-send: after a full-on day, the knowledge that I have to go and water the tomatoes gives a bit of structure, makes me step away from the computer. Fresh air blows a hole through the most hideous of bad heads. In these late afternoon wanderings, I’ve been spotting season’s changing: Autumn is rearing its head.

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Plumping blackberries

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Swelling hips

At the weekend, the fruit farm had the first plums and apples of the season. The plums gave off that particularly plummy-smell, at once sweet and spicy and vaguely rotting, but in a good way. The wasps buzzed around hoping for their next meal.

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The first plums are ready

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So too the first apples

On the allotment, our dahlias are out and that pesky artichoke has come good with particularly brilliant flowers. The bees dive into the purple spikes and get drunk on pollen, sloping around-and-around on their bellies in a satisfied stupor.

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Our first zingy lemon meringue dahlia

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Artichoke shows its punk credentials

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First tomato from the greenhouse

I’ve been thinking about my winter culinary wardrobe. The cavalo nero seedlings are plump and healthy, the thinnings great when wilted into chunky courgettes.

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Cavalo nero thinnings, lovely wilted with hot salty courgettes

Those rubbish corns were ripped out to make space for the cavalo nero, which I’ll plant out in a couple of weeks. Next to them I’ve put in more chard and spring onions, and in seed-trays I’ve sowed winter lettuce, mustard mix, mustard-spinach and red Russian kale. Fingers crossed for a decent crop to take us through the cold months.

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Winter lettuce, mustard, mustard-spinach & red Russian kale

Sowed: Winter lettuce, mustard mix, mustard-spinach, Red Russian kale, white stemmed chard, spring onion

Harvesting: Sunflowers, sweetpeas, calendula, green and purple beans, spinach, chard, red Russian kale, courgettes, blueberries, raspberries, first tomato

Apple and raisin buns

I have just made perhaps the most satisfying sweet bake I can remember. I wasn’t planning to blog it so didn’t photo the process but the results are so good it needs recording, so here goes.

This is based on the Autumn Chelsea Buns in the September 14 edition of Waitrose Kitchen magazine, but I’ve substituted dates for raisins, added in salt (bread always needs salt) and messed around with the proving and baking times.

The apples work really well but I think this would also be fine just with dried fruit reconstituted in some hot water or tea. Actually nuts could work here too, cob nuts, hazelnuts or almonds. The buns are well flavoured and nicely gooey without being too sweet, which can be the killing factor of their sister, the cinnamon bun.

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Swirls of bunny goodness

Apple and raisin buns


450g strong white flour

15g fresh yeast

8g fine salt

50g light brown soft sugar

2 tsp mixed spice

200ml milk

50g butter, melted

1 egg yolk


60g butter – half of it melted, half of it soft

2 eating apples, peeled and chopped into small dice. I used the ones I got from Clives last week.

Handful raisins (I use partially rehydrated)

1 tsp mixed spice

50g light brown soft sugar


The egg white

Water icing made with 3 dsp icing sugar

Make the dough the usual way: salt into the bottom of the bowl, flour on top, mix it all together to disperse the salt. Then rub in the yeast, sugar and spice. In a jug, melt the butter and add in the milk, warming it through if needed. The add the liquid plus the egg yolk to the flour and work to a dough. It’s quite hard which initially concerned me but on reflection the apples provide moisture – but add in more milk if needed. Knead it until elastic and then rest to double in size. This batch today (at 19c in the kitchen) took about two hours so don’t rush it. The more solid a dough, the longer it takes.

Prep the baking tray – I use baking parchment on top of foil inside a roasting tray. This avoids having to scrub baked caramel off the metal.

When the dough is ready, prep the filling: mix apples, raisins, spice, sugar and melted butter together.

Ease the dough to the work surface and gently work into a rectangle about 40cm x 30cm. Spread the remaining softened butter over the dough, then spread the filling over as evenly as possible. Roll the lot up into a tight swiss roll, then using a serrated knife, slice into even rounds – this recipe should provide 11 or 12.

Move them spiral-side up onto the baking parchment, close enough to meet when proved a little more. And then prove – 40 or so minutes should do it, they need to look noticeably larger. Meanwhile preheat oven to 220c.

When ready, whisk the egg white with a fork and paint onto the buns. Put in oven, immediately turn the temperature down to 180c and then bake for about 40-50minutes, until hollow sounding on bottom (you can test this because of the double layer of parchment/foil!) and generally looking done.

Cool, then drizzle icing on top.

Apparently these freeze well.

Taking it sloe

Last week I mentioned that I’d heard news of a sloe disaster. A sloe emergency, if you will. Shrivelling sloes. In September! This is baaaaad news. Usually I am late with my sloe picking, and that’s at the end of October. But to have them going over at the start of September? Well, that’s just nature turned on its head. Autumn is weeks early this year.

So to the shire for a morning of seasonal hunter gathering. First up, apples and pears. There’s only one place to go, Clives Fruit Farm. I love Clives. This is a farm shop in the old fashioned sense, with huge bins of fruit, chooks running around, and a few old men sporting overalls and boots that have possibly been in use since the 1940s.

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Don’t chase the chickens

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A few bins of their own fruit

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I leave with plums, bramleys, some other apples that I’ve never heard of, cider, bacon, pork, beef…it’s all good.

Next up: sloes.

Over the years I have had to learn the art of protecting oneself against the wickedness that is the blackthorn tree. This is one spiky bugger. There are three essential bits of kit: wellies, leather hat, leather gloves. Of these, the most important is the wellies – not for protection against mud, but against brambles that come up to the knees. Long sleeves are a given. You might look like an idiot, but better that than a scored arm. Though actually I love dressing up in my yokel country clothes.

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Essential sloe gathering kit

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This is why the kit is needed

The berries are abundant this year and I’ve come home with a trugful of fat, round sloes with a special bonus picking of blackberries. To be in amongst the brambles and grasses, with the sweet scent of autumn in the air…this is the essence of living.

Only a fool discloses their special place for foraging so suffice to say that I was near a hill, could hear the sheep having a chat amongst themselves and also the geese who appeared to be losing their minds at the dogs on walkies.

I was right to go out now – some of these sloes are already going over. The effects of an early spring, hot summer, dry early autumn combine, and in a week’s time they will be gone.

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Some are already rotting on the bough

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Thistles turning into cotton candy

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Bonus pickings

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Old man’s beard

I’m not a particularly patient picker and usually give up far earlier than perhaps I should. But today was a good picking. Next up: sloe gin.

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The trug full

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The day’s haul