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For the last few weeks we have been meaning to get out and enjoy the Pick Your Own season – it’s just been a matter of finding the time. Yesterday we found ourselves with the morning free before heading to a birthday BBQ in the afternoon so we headed out to Stanhill Farm which was bursting with blackberries & raspberries along with a slightly smaller crop of strawberries (still coming through) and gooseberries. I have never picked gooseberries and the plant itself is pretty protective of the berries so I have a fair few scratches on my hands to show for my efforts! However we came away with a good stash of summer berries that will be / have been put to good use – jams, crumble, summer pudding, cupcakes, smoothies …and my personal favourite – just a simple bowl of summer berries with some natural yoghurt – yum!

When we got home I decided to try out a Martha Stewart recipe for Strawberry cupcakes – James was a willing helper and so it became a joint effort. My friend Mer made these for her daughter Isobel’s birthday last year and they were delicious so thought these would be nice to take over to Tina’s birthday BBQ. These would also help make a dent in our bowl of freshly picked strawberries!

Our PYO stash!

Strawberry Cupcakes (courtesy of Martha Stewart Cupcakes)

Ingredients:-

2 3/4 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup cake flour (I have no idea what this is and what to substitute so I just used plain, not self raising, flour)

1 Tbsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature (1 stick = 113g)

2 1/4 cups sugar

1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

3 large  whole eggs, plus 1 egg white

1 cup milk

2 cups finely chopped strawberries (about 20) plus about 10 more for garnish

Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.

With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter, sugar and vanilla until pale and fluffy. Add whole eggs and the white, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated , scraping down the side of bowl, as needed.  Reduce speed to ow. Ad flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the milk, and beating until well combined. Fold in chopped strawberries by hand.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until golden and a cake tester inserted in centres comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool 15 minutes, turn out cupcakes and let cool completely. Cupcakes can be stored up to 1 day at room temperature in airtight containers.

To finish, fill a pastry bag with a large open-star tip with buttercream. Pipe buttercream onto each cupcake, swirling tip and releasing as you pull up to form a peak. Just before serving, thinly slice remaining strawberries, and tuck a few pieces into buttercream.

Strawberry Meringue Buttercream

Ingredients:-

1 1/2 cups fresh strawberries (8 oz) rinsed, hulled and coarsely chopped

4 large egg whites

1 1/4 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into Tbsp, room temperature

Puree strawberries in a food processor (oops missed this part – so that would explain why my small bits of strawberry kept blocking up the piping nozzle!)

Combine egg whites and sugar in a heatproof bowl of a standing electric mixer set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly by hand until mixture is warm to the touch and sugar has dissolved (the mixture should feel completely smooth when rubbed between your fingertips).

Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Starting on low and gradually increasing to medium-high speed, mix until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Continue mixing until the mixture is fluffy and glossy, and completely cool (test by touching the bottom of the bowl), about 10 minutes.

With mixer on low-medium speed, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition. Once all butter has been added, scrape down sides of bowl with a flexible spatula and switch to the paddle attachment, continue beating on a low speed until all air bubbles are eliminated, about 2 minutes. Add strawberries and beat until combined . Stir with a flexible spatula until the frosting is smooth. Keep buttercream at room temperature if using the same day, or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 1 month. Before using bring to room temperature and beat with paddle attachment on low speed until smooth again, about 5 minutes.

I really liked the meringue icing – the absence of the icing sugar took away alot of the sugar sweetness that can be quite full on with cupcakes. The recipe states that it makes 34 but I found that it made 24 standard size and 12 mini size which are perfect for little people!

Happy Birthday Tina!

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After a fun packed Saturday we decided to keep with the ‘FUN’ theme on Sunday and head out early(ish) to pick raspberries & strawberries.

At the beginning of the summer I set myself the goal of learning to make jam and so headed straight to Lakeland to get the ‘stuff’ needed (jars, lids, funnel, preserving pan, labels, jam thermometer) and scoped out the book market for the right instruction. The decision was easy – who knows better than the W.I (Women’s Institute)?. So, here I was all prepared and waiting on the PYO (Pick Your Own) season to begin!

Back in May we headed down to Surrey to Crockford Bridge Farm (which we discovered last year when we were in search of pumpkins!) and started the PYO season with Asparagus & Rhubarb. Until this day I had never even contemplated how asparagus grew and I learnt that it grows straight up out of the ground as a stalk – looks quite odd. It was a great day out and Izzy enjoyed helping cutting the asparagus & rhubarb straight from the field. In fact, that night she ate asparagus for the first time and I attributed that to recognising it from that day.

Picking asparagus with Daddy.

Picking asparagus with Daddy.

Picking rhubarb with Mummy

Picking rhubarb with Mummy

We came home with a large bundle of rhubarb and I found a rhubarb chutney recipe in a Sainsbury’s magazine (contributed by Matt Tebbutt) and it was oh so simple and oh so tasty……definitely one worth trying out. Works really well with pork.

Rhubarb Chutney (makes 1 litre)

Ingredients:-

2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced into half-moons

1 large knob, about 5cm, of root ginger, peeled & halved

3 tablespoons olive oil

1kg trimmed rhubarb, cut into chunks

500g soft light brown sugar

200ml red wine vinegar

In a heavy-based saucepan, gently cook the sliced onions with the ginger in the olive oil. Add the rhubarb chunks, brown sugar and red wine vinegar and stew down gently, uncovered, for 1 hour 15-20 minutes, until jammy in texture, stirring now and again to prevent it sticking.

Season with salt and pepper and remove the ginger. Serve the chutney warm or cold, or cool and store in Kilner-style jars in the fridge.

See – couldn’t be easier!!

So, back to last Sunday! We headed out to Lathcoats Farm in Chelmsford (meeting Mer & Isobel there) and we filled our buckets with delicious raspberries, strawberries and plums. Perfect start to a Sunday. It did not take long for the girls to start stuffing their mouths with more fruit than was making it into the basket!! It is definitely a great family day – you get to do your shopping outside (cheaper than the supermarket too!) and also teach the kids where food comes from while having fun – perfect! One of the highlights for the girls was the chicken coop where they were able to help collect the eggs. The staff gave them the resulting 2 eggs and they were still warm – was sch a lovely lesson for them about where eggs come from.

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So, a mountain of strawberries means a perfect opportunity to make strawberry jam….

Strawberry Jam (courtesy of Book of Preserves – Women’s Institute)

Ingredients:-

1kg strawberries, hulled and wiped

juice of 1 large lemon

1kg granulated sugar

Makes – 6 x 225ml jars

Put the strawberries into a large pan or preserving pan with the lemon juice. Bring to a simmer, just until the juices begin to run – about 10 minutes.

Carefully mash the strawberries with a potato masher and simmer for a further 5 minutes until you have a thick puree.

Add the sugar and stir gently until completely dissolved. Return the mixture to a rolling boil and boil for 5 minutes before removing any scum. Test for a set (I used the thermometer test – ‘set’ is at 105C) and if necessary, boil for a minute more, then test again. Continue testing at 1-minute intervals until the jam has reached setting point.

Remove from the heat, skim off any scum, and allow the jam to cool briefly before carefully pouring into sterilised jars). Allow the the jam to cool completely before labelling and storing.

The verdict? Well I think I need to work on the set as don’t think I got that quite right. Still need to try it on toast so the jury is still out…..

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