A little bit of seasonal pottering in the kitchen and a round up of our favourite Yuletide recipes…..

almond biscuits 005

I know not everyone likes pottering about in the kitchen but I’ve always enjoyed using my time in there to mark the seasons…we try to eat seasonally with our vegetables and I find my baking or jam making shifts accordingly too…..I’m always happy to try out new recipes but over the past some years I find myself returning to the following tried and trusted recipes, which for us, have become a big part of our seasonal celebrations….I’m currently writing up a selection* of our favourite recipes as part of a Christmas/New Year present for some friends that live a really long way away which means we only get to see them very occaisonally… (I thought they could add to what we send with favourite recipes from their family)….I’ve gone through the things we like the most and thought I’d round them all up and put links to them here tooo which makes it easier to share them with other people too….

Citrussy almond biscuits…..(light and delicate and all citrussy, these aren’t only nice and refreshing but if you get a gippy tummy at all or wake up a bit nauseus due to overindulging rather the night before then they seem to very good at helping to calm down the flutters)

marmalade 006

While you probably won’t see the seville oranges pre Christmas, for some reason I always think of this as a Christmas make…..the smell of those oranges is so wonderful and fresh…just watch out for little bears who may want you to make them a sandwich…..

A slow simmering marmalade…..

gingerbread man 003

You can’t catch me I’m the gingerbread man…sticky and dark or crisp and biscuitty…I love both versions of gingerbread…the spicier the better….

dark and sticky…slowly filling the house with good smells while it bakes….

crisp and biscuitty…good for building houses and cutting little figures from…

homemade mincepies

I love mincemeat, the smell of it wafting up throughout the house while the fruit is simmering away on the stove is such an evocative Christmassy smell….while I have a really silly amount of different recipes for making it, these are the two I find I use more than any other…..

mincemeat made with cider…..

mincemeat made with vegetable suet….

breakfast buns

And I don’t just save mincemeat for the mince pies….. a good old dollop or two of mincemeat makes for an instant fruity loaf if you fancy baking some bread, and if you enrich the dough with butter milk and eggs you can easily make a sort of panettone style mufffin…..I also like adding a heaped spoonful or two of mincemeat into a plum or apple crumble……

It also works well in this recipe for fruity breakfast buns…..so good with salty butter and a smear of dark jam…..but you could also use it in a dough mix for hot cross bun style buns…..

And if you have bits of pastry left after making any mincepies then this recipe for tiny spiced biscuits makes use of every last scrap……

cinnamon swirl biscuits…..

Hope you enjoy baking and cooking these as much as we do……….

*The book will include recipes that we regularly cook and bake such as casseroles and breads, cakes etc but will also include recipes for jams and jellys, furniture polish and hand salves…..

Seasonal smells and simmering spiced fruits…..


Last year I wrote a lengthy old post about marvellous mincemeat and how I like to use it in the kitchen and also included one of my various recipes for it but a few weeks ago I found up this recipe which I used to use all the time, it’s a little bit different in that it uses vegetable suet and doesn’t use cider which, at the time I was using this recipe didn’t use to drink…well even now, I’m not like a real cider quoffing Worzel but am just happy to have a small glass (anymore then that and I’m sound asleep on the sofa)…. generally  when it comes to making mincemeat you’re just mixing some chopped fruit with something sweet to preserve it so there is a lot of scope for having a tinker with it….It’s really easy to make as it’s just a big pan stir of chopped apples and fruits, plenty of spice and a few generous glogs of something warming to add festive spirit and Yuletide cheer….

I always think this makes for a really nice and fairly easy on the pocket gift if you have friends who like homemade jams and chutneys, it makes a change from those and apart from using it to fill little pastry tarts it also comes in handy with other Wintery bakes…..a generous dollop or so in an apple crumble or plum crumble right lifts those up and I’ll often add a couple of heaped spoonfuls to a bread sponge for a spicy loaf (so good for toasting when it’s chilly out) and have used it to make mini panettone style breads…

I say Wintery bakes but even in Summer I can smear this over puff pastry and quickly make pain aux raisins for breakfast.

homemade mincepies

This will make a generous amount of jars (it depends how large they are but you should get at least 6 x 450g/ 1 Ib jars)…the ingredients list does look rather colossal so you might want to buy them over a couple of days if you have to carry them home…and if you make this in the Autumn (something to try and remember to do next year) then it is a very good recipe for using up windfalls or wildlings that are foraged……

In my last house I used to make a big pan of this, while it was gently simmering and filling the house with it’s spicy aroma, I’d sit on the kitchen step (I had steps leading down to it…no room in there for a chair so a cushion on a step sufficed) and would start making my Christmas present/Christmas card list…..it’s a nice way to ease into the festive season…..admittedly I’ve left it a bit late this year but just taking a few minutes away from a long list of things that need doing to make this always helps me catch my breath and feel calmer…..

cinnamon and fruit sourdough loaf


2  1/2 to 3 lbs of sharp apples (cooking or wildlings or windfalls) peeled, cored  and chopped into tiny cubes

12 oz currants

12 oz raisins

12 0z sultanas

6 oz almonds, blanched and finely chopped (note you might need to check no-one who eats these has a nut allergy…though you could just leave out the almonds if you want)

3 oz mixed peel

3 oz glace cherries

14 oz dark muscovado sugar

6 oz vegetarian suet

grated zest of a large un-waxed orange

grated zest and juice of a large un-waxed lemon (or 2 small ones)

1 heaped tablespoon of mixed spice

4 or 5 tablespoons of a good dark rum (I like Lamb’s Navy Rum)

4 fl oz Brandy


In a very large pan, throw in the chopped apples and cover them in the sugar, spices and a splash of brandy to stop them from sticking….on a gentle heat gently warm through and allow the apples to simmer…add all the dry fruit, suet and nuts (if you are using them) also add the zest and lemon juice and simmer for about half an hour …

The fruit becomes rather mushy….allow to cool and add the alcohol, I like to use Lamb’s Navy Rum as that is what my dad liked at Christmas, me and my sisters would always have a sip and shudder and go “ugh”…so a few sploshes of that go into remember Dad…..the resulting mincemeat is burnished and beautiful, all in a sticky and spicy dark syrup….

Spoon into sterilized jars and cover…store in a cool and dark cupboard..if you can remember to turn the jars over every few days then so much the better, it will allow the liquidy mixture to permeate better.

If you don’t use the vegetable suet then I would suggest using about 9 fl oz of a medium dry cider……the fruit needs a little lubrication and the suet melts into the sugar to form the dark sticky syrup….

This stores well for a year, however once the jar is opened it needs to be kept in the fridge and used within 4 weeks.

Marvellous and magnificent mincemeat…or a little of what you fancy does you good

homemade mincepies

One of my favourite foods to eat in the winter months is mincemeat, the combination of mixed fruit in spices and sugar always makes me happy regardless of the weather outside…..I know most people only eat it at Christmas in little pastry pies but I would (and have done) happily eat this all year round.

This year I cheated and bought a big jar of mincemeat from my local supermarket (just a basic one but then added a generous slosh of brandy to add a little festive spirit)…I really ran out of time while I was getting ready for fairs and finishing commissions, but most years I make my own as it’s not very hard to do and I find I end up using it an awful lot when baking puddings and breads over the colder months….it’s a bit of a big shopping list and if you were only going to eat these a few days of the year then it would be a bit daft, however there is loads you can use it for so I think it’s worth having a few jars stored away in the cupboard (and if you are more organised than me and make it in say, October or November, then I think it would be a much appreciated present…especially if you include a couple of other uses for it apart from mince pies)

The version I make is vegetarian (so no actual minced meat) and it keeps really well….I’ve had jars in my cupboard, from when I made massive batches,that kept fine for a couple of years but I think you are supposed to use them up within 12 months. Obviously once opened then keep them in the fridge and use within 4 weeks.



1.25 kilo of baking apples

500 g of mixed fruit (a good mix of raisins, currants, sultanas)

50g of glace cherries

50 g of mixed peel

250 g dark soft sugar

250 ml cider (something medium dry)

100 ml brandy or dark rum (spiced rum is very good)

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1 teaspoon of mixed spice*

juice and grated peel of a lemon


In a large pan, (I use a preserving pan) tip in the sugar and pour in the cider.  On a gentle heat allow the sugar to slowly dissolve in the cider, stir a little.

Chop the apples into 1 cm sized cubes and add then to the sugar and cider syrup.

Chop the rest of the fruit, (not fussy fine but a few chops with a big knife kind of thing) and add to the pan along with the spices, lemon peel and juice, and allow to simmer for 30 -45 minutes.

You want everything to look mushy and pulpy.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool down a little before adding the brandy or rum, give it a few good stirs and spoon it out into some sterilised jam jars.  Seal with a screw top metal lid not a waxed disc like with jam.

This makes about 2 kilos of mincemeat.

*I often make my own spice mix, and use variations of nutmeg, a few blades of mace, dry ginger, a star anise flower, clove, a few black peppercorns…….if I’m making gingerbread/spiced biscuits then I make up enough spice mix to use in various things over the Winter festivities.

As I mentioned at the start, mincemeat doesn’t need to be saved just for mincepies…..a few heaped desert spoons added to bread dough before you start the kneading makes for a lovely aromatic spicy bread (delicious toasted with lots of butter)…and if you’ve got some of those deep American muffin tins, line them with little baking parchment squares, add an egg to the dough mix, a couple of tea spoons of melted butter and warm milk instead of water, allow to rise then shape the dough into balls and place in the lined muffin tins, allow to prove and bake at gas 7 for around 25-30 minutes for panettone style bread rolls (very nice for breakfast)

Apple crumbles, cobblers and pies also benefit from a desert spoon or two of mincemeat mixed in around the fruit, you don’t need to add any extra sugar as the mincemeat adds the sweetness.  (I’ve also used this for a plum crumble in the Autumn and had lots of compliments)

I’ve also made bread and butter pudding with the mincemeat spread over the buttery sliced bread, cooked in a milky egg custard this is a lovely smelling pudding, perfect for rainy and cold winter evenings.

I’ve even seen recipes for home made ice-cream using a few spoonfuls of sweet sticky mincemeat….it isn’t something I’ve tried as we don’t have an ice-cream make and the recipes I’ve read all seem to require one……..

I’d love to know if you have any interesting ways you use mincemeat.

Finally, I know everyone is making new year resolutions, all “I will eat more healthily” or “I won’t eat this,that, whatever”…….whenever I’ve done this I always end up pigging out on what I’m not supposed to eat (the year I tried to not eat cheese saw me eating so much of it Christmas day that I spent the afternoon drooling on the sofa with cheese sweats and could barely manage any of the Christmas dinner the Arpette had been so carefully cooking in the kitchen……so I’m much more about “a little of what you fancy does you good”……we’ve still got festive foods left (it’s just the two of us and there are no small children in the house to eat all the chocolates and sweet foods) so we try to balance one thing off against another.  (and it makes the walk home on a blustery cold afternoon that much nicer knowing there is spicy toast waiting at the other end)