Friday, September 13, 2013

The Old Rectory by Julia Helene Ibbotson On Tour

I’m delighted to be participating in author Julia Helene Ibbotson’s Pump Up Your Book Virtual Book Tour today featuring her charming book, THE OLD RECTORY: ESCAPE TO A COUNTRY KITCHEN.

As part of the tour, I’ll telling you my thoughts on the book, a bit about the author, including a book trailer and have a First Chapter Reveal to share with you that also includes delicious recipes.

THE OLD RECTORY by Julia Helene Ibbotson

9781909593756_p0_v1_s600This book could fall under so many genres - memoir, cookbook, how-to, and inspirational to list a few.

THE OLD RECTORY: Escape to a Country Kitchen chronicles author Julia Helene Ibbotson and her husband, Clive, as they search for their dream home, purchase it and begin restoring it back to its original grandeur. Their discovery was an old Victorian rectory in the midst of the English moorlands just outside a charming village.

Ibbotson has broken the story into seasons describing the events of the family’s life, as well as the progress of the renovation. In addition, she has included a menu suited to the season complete with recipes. While these are English inspired recipes, the author includes American conversions for the measurements. 

Pencil sketches by the author’s daughter, Mel Adams, highlights the beginning of each chapter. The drawings enhance the charm of this delightful book.

THE OLD RECTORY is a quick read that flows smoothly. The trials and triumphs of the renovation, as well as the family, pull you in making you feel a part of the process. 

Ibbotson’s detailed descriptions of the setting and landscape adds depth to the story. Her love of cooking, family and friends comes through her writing. She also includes bits of history about the rectory and the surrounding community to give a sense of her fondness for the place.

THE OLD RECTORY will make you long for a picnic lunch with Lord Woolten Pie in the garden to enjoy the summer breeze and a cup of Spiced Mulled Wine by the fireplace on a cold afternoon in the fall. 

The Old Rectory: Escape to a Country Kitchen by Julia Helene Ibbotson, New Generation Publishing, @2013, ISBN: 978-1909593756, Paperback, 128 Pages

FTC Full Disclosure - A digital copy of this book was sent to me by the tour promoter as part of the author’s virtual blog tour in hopes I would review it. However, receiving the complimentary copy did not influence my review.

      Julia Ibbotson is the award-winning author of The Old Rectory: Escape to a Country Kitchen, first published to acclaim in the USA and now re-launched with a brand-new cover by her new English publisher in the UK. Julia has been writing creatively all her life (unpublished!) but her day jobs to pay the mortgage have been as a school teacher and latterly a university academic, gaining her PhD at the age of 57.
    She delights in being a wife and mother to four, with four little grandchildren. She loves reading, gardening, growing food, cooking for family and friends and country life. Having published many academic texts and papers, she came late to actually publishing her creative writing, at the age of 60 plus, when she was persuaded to write the story of the renovation of her Victorian rectory in THE OLD RECTORY.
    Julia has combined memoir, history, research, story and recipes in this first published book, which has won a number of international book festivals in the biography category, gained 5 star reviews on Amazon, and has been widely featured (along with her house) in the media.
    She has begun to delve into the world of blogging, Facebook and now has her own website at  at which she also posts blogs regularly, about writing, life and her passions. Her new project is a trilogy of novels following the life story of a new character, Jess, through from fleeing to West Africa as a volunteer teacher/nurse in the 1960s to the millennium. The first of the series, DRUMBEATS, is due to be published later this year.

For more on Julia and her writing, visit her website and on her author page on Amazon, as well as connect with her on the following sites: Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.


Now for your viewing pleasure here is a book trailer for THE OLD RECTORY.



To entice your reading a bit more, here’s the First Chapter Reveal for THE OLD RECTORY. It begins the story of how this couple comes to live in an old Victorian rectory and includes yummy recipes. Thanks so much for stopping by today.

     Winter: A Country Dream
Lamb Shanks Braised in Mint Gravy
Hot Oranges in Vanilla Caramel Syrup
Scrumptious Sticky Toffee Pud
Apple and Blackberry Crumble

    We first saw the rectory on a cold day at the end of January. Our car bumped down the rough, broken drive, a long-overgrown farm track. On either side of the track, wild branches shook themselves angrily in the wind that howled around the car. It was a bitter Sunday afternoon, and the old beech trees along the side of the cracked and patched tarmac stood resolutely against the grey sky. Even the birds had fallen silent, the only sounds those of branches snapping under the car tyres and stones flirting from the wheels.
    At last, we saw it in front of us, emerging from the tall trees that surrounded it: the house, white with black timbers, seeming to shiver before us at the end of the farm track. It had a desolate but imposing beauty, and it stood proudly behind its big iron gate, a wide and sweeping gravel drive before its pitched roofed porch and white front door. The trees that surrounded it were stark and brittle, like witches’ fingers laced cruelly with the hoar frost of winter, a vision before us as our car jarred into potholes and rocks as we headed towards our appointment with the vendors.
    My husband and I had already sold our current house, where we had lived for twelve years, in the expectation of being in the best position to find the place where we wanted to stay for the foreseeable future. A second marriage for both of us, we had four grown-up children between us who had flown the nest and were now (relatively) independent from us. At least, they were all living with husbands/partners away from home, two of the daughters with little children, our fabulous grandchildren, and we were free now as a couple to make decisions about where we wanted to live for the rest of our lives. We had always wanted a house with character and with land so that we could extend or make room for a decent-sized vegetable garden. Or, indeed, whatever we might fancy doing!
    We had put our current big “family house” on the market before Christmas, knowing (we thought confidently) that nobody in England even started house-hunting until well after the New Year, maybe February at the earliest. But we would be ready for them. The form filling would be done, the estate agent and the solicitor briefed and ready to go.
    Unfortunately, it didn’t quite go according to plan. We sold our detached modern home more quickly than we had ever imagined; in fact, the very first couple who came to view it phoned through an offer straight away. They were retired farmers from the next village and knew the house and environs well, so there was no mulling over of facilities and local services to be had.
    Of course, that meant that we were in a position where we needed to find the right house to buy or risk homelessness.
    Our home at the time when we saw the rectory had been improved over the years we had lived there. We had added a conservatory, which I loved, as it almost made me feel as if I were in the garden. The kitchen and laundry room were equipped with quite expensive (it seemed to us) medium oak units, both attractive and functional for someone like me who enjoys cooking but, with a demanding full-time job, had little time to do it. The garden, albeit small, had been beautifully landscaped, with rockeries, steps, gravel paths, and a stone waterfall splashing into a fish pond. It was a calming and relaxing place to potter in, and I loved it. I spent many hours (when I had a vacation at home, “a staycation” as we now call it after the financial collapse of 2009) reading or – yes, I admit it – working beside the pond, soothed by the gentle sounds of the waterfall.

    We lived in a large old village. Although it had a long history as a rural community, the village had been developed over the years and now had three or four small new housing complexes. The time had come when we felt that we had done all we could to make the house the home we wished for, but there were still reservations about the character of the house and its environs. It was in many respects a commuter village, located as it was between a market town and a city. We wanted to move to the real country, a little village, and live a rural life, feel more a part of the changing seasons.
    We also wanted a home that had a real sense of the past, which resonated with families of long ago, living and growing in lives very different from our own – and maybe with more simplicity and spirit than modern life allows most of us. I wanted to be able to imagine families of a different era sitting by that same fireside, walking in the same garden and fields, and sense the continuity of life that represents. I dreamed of a Georgian or Victorian house, maybe two hundred years old, with the spirit of a bygone romantic age seeped within its stones.
    Duly, we scoured the sale documents of so many totally inappropriate properties that I lost count and became increasingly anxious that we might not be able to either find or afford the one we truly wanted; if we were lucky, a particular property fitted one or two of our requirements, but it usually had glaring issues, most of them being price. One was exciting with great potential, but its status as a Grade 2 listed building would prevent us from making the renovations we needed just to be able to live there in some kind of comfort. In the UK, a Grade 2 listed building is one which is of particular historical interest to the nation, and the owner cannot make any alterations or even restorations without a long process of gaining permission from the authorities.
    Another property was an excellently restored cottage with beamed ceilings, inglenook fireplace, and old French doors opening onto a wonderful garden with mature trees, waterfalls, and a vegetable patch. The downside was that it was right on a main road, with little or no frontage and a tiny “drive” on the side for parking off the busy road. Another had marvellous views of the surrounding hills but was in fact built into a hill itself and only approached by steep steps up to the front door.
    Yet another property, this one in a lovely village right up on the moors, allowed our hopes to rise. The village was within a fifteen minute drive to a market town we knew and loved. Drystone walls abounded, as did rolling hills and deep precipitous valleys, and a charming little English village green and inn were at its centre. The sale documents showed impressive photographs of the front of the stone-built house, with a sweeping drive and two gates, and of the garden, woods behind, and a stream running through.
    “Wow!” I exclaimed to Husband, waving the estate agent’s sale listings in my hand. “This one looks great. Hope at last. This could be The One!”
    But Husband seemed strangely unimpressed. He frowned.
    “But it’s got a lovely large conservatory!” I cried. “And look at this photo. There’s a beamed vaulted room that maybe we could make into a library!”
    “Mmmm,” Husband murmured. “I’ll search Google Earth and investigate that road; I don’t like the look of it. It looks like it runs immediately in front of the property.”
    Of course, it did. And not only that, but the house was on a corner, surrounded by roads on three sides, busy ones at that.
    “Well … the stream and the woods and the garden … It looks so peaceful,” I pleaded. “Let’s just go and have a look!”
    Husband humoured me by going up there one morning and sitting in the pub across the road from the house, counting and recording all the traffic that passed. Apparently, there was a quarry farther down the lane, would you believe, and heavy lorries laden with sandstone passed at the rate of one every three minutes (he timed them all), most of them grinding gears at the corner right outside the house before turning onto the main road through the village. If they turned left, they then drove past the two other sides of the house and garden. On his return, Husband searched the Internet for the website for the quarry and, horrors of horrors, found that there were planning applications to extend the quarrying even closer to the village, just down the lane from the house on the corner. Another hope bit the dust, or rather the sandstone.
    Time was running out, and our buyers declared that they wanted to move in by the end of March. It was now the end of January, and we had nothing to move into, not even any shortlist of possible properties. Nothing was right. We wanted a house we could feel was The One where we could settle. Should we put all our worldly goods into storage and live in a rented place while we continued our search? But that could get expensive and leaving us feeling insecure. What if we never found the right house?
    In desperation, I took to scouring the Internet property sites as well as the brochures sent to me via mail and e-mail from the various local estate agents. I searched everywhere I could think of. But I just couldn’t get the picture of that village on the moors out of my mind.
    One last try on one last website. And then I found it. Unbelievable.
    A Victorian rectory with, the photograph showed, a sweeping drive and a frontage to die for. What was even more incredible was that it was located just a mile out of the village, on the moors that I had fallen in love with …

    “Jules,” Husband sighed patiently, “look at the asking price. It’s far more than we’ve budgeted for.”
    “I know, but, well, let’s just go and look at it,” I said. “There’s no harm in that.”
    “Mmmm, but that could just be our downfall,” he responded, “if you fall in love with it and we can’t afford it. I know what you’re like …”
    “Yes, but … I have to know,” I said, “for sure … There’s just something about it that calls out to me. It would be a dreadful mistake to miss out on it.”
    Husband reluctantly agreed to my making an appointment with the vendors for us to view the property the following weekend.
    And so it was that on a cold but crisp Sunday afternoon towards the last days of January, we turned into the drive and first glimpsed the rectory ahead of us, amidst tall trees, some way down the driveway from the road. As we approached the white-walled, black- timbered house, bumping over the rough farm track, it certainly didn’t look quite as impressive as the pictures had indicated; the walls were peeling, and there was a huge dark wooden garage at the side. But somehow it caught my imagination. There was so much that we could do to the place to make it the wonderful home we wanted. I could see myself living here, pottering in the garden, pruning the roses, pulling the weeds from the rockery. I could imagine sitting in the large bay window, watching the plants growing and the world going by.
    The setting of the rectory was wonderful, the countryside beautiful, even on such a winter’s day as this. The gardens had awe-inspiring potential, laid out as they were on two levels, with wide steps and drystone walls on either side. Large white stone urns, planted with pruned bay trees, stood sentinel at each side of the steps and at the front door.
    I opened the car window to hear the sounds of the countryside. Even through the gusts of wind, we could hear the peaceful sound of running water from the streams that bordered the property. A paddock that also belonged to the house ran right down to the road, so there was an unimpeded view from the house to the hills beyond. There was an intriguing-looking rock outcrop on the hills to the side of the house beyond the gardens. Woods surrounded it. It felt as though the whole place were in the middle of nowhere, quietly standing strong against the wild and beautiful land that surrounded it.
    Truth be told, it was not as isolated as this might suggest; there were a couple of farms in sight of the property and another behind it. But the feeling the rectory exuded was one of gentle independence, a haven from the world outside.
    As we drove through the large heavy gates and onto the sweeping gravel drive, the vendors opened the front door to welcome us. They were a friendly couple in late middle age, and as we followed them into the hall, I noted the high ceilings, the large imposing light fittings, the late Victorian or Edwardian carved plaster covings, and the wealth of wood in the banisters, spindles, and panelling. It was clear from the first sight that the interior was much in need of renovation and loving care, but as I gazed around me, I truly felt that the house had a quiet, contented feel about it. Perhaps this was due to its religious past as the home of a series of rectors and vicars. Maybe their spirituality had imprinted itself upon the very bricks and stones. I was already feeling a desire to get in touch with the history of the house: who had lived here before … and what were their lives like here many years ago?
    The vendors took us into the drawing room with its blazing log fire. A real fire after the gas imitation we had been living with. There was no comparison. I wanted to collapse on the couch at the fireside and doze away my Sunday afternoon after a busy workweek. I imagined family and friends coming to visit, feeling welcome an warm by the roaring fire, with happy conversation and laughter, an antidote to the stresses of a busy professional life.
    As the vendors led us round the rest of the house, I glanced at Husband with raised eyebrows. He smiled back and nodded. Yes, I knew that we both felt that it was what we had been looking for.
    In addition, the vendors had news for us about the quarry beyond the village. Apparently, when the quarry owners submitted the plans for the extension right up to the village hall, they had not bargained on vociferous and passionate opposition. After all, the quarry company was a well-known and respected national body, the need for the quarried sandstone was great, and their current land had exhausted supplies. The extension, they thought, was a foregone conclusion with all the financing and might of this multinational. But the villagers had joined forces and embarked on a forceful campaign to prevent the acceptance of the plans.
    Aided by various villagers whose professional expertise could be brought to bear (solicitors, lawyers, councillors, local historians, landowners, environmentalists, and so forth; it’s a well-connected village!), the Opposition to Quarry Extension Group researched to the point of exhaustion, set out their opposition rationale in a clear and indisputable fashion, and took their arguments to the local and regional councils. We were told that the quarry owners, a large multinational company, imagining that a small village would not be able to muster any valid opposition to their plans for extension, failed to even send a representative to the final meeting in the village hall. Sadly for them, they faced defeat, as the council found for the villagers. This was a true David and Goliath situation.
    So the quarry was to close down, having exhausted the riches of the land around it, and the owners had to be true to their original declaration that when they had exhausted the land for quarrying, they would redo the landscaping and make good the site as a woodland reservation with a lake and walking trails. Inevitably, however, there were some villagers who had welcomed the extension plans, as they worked at the quarry. Their livelihoods were now damaged.
    Much of this we learned later, when we came to know the tensions and infighting that rose to the surface. At the time, as we looked round the rectory, however, we were cheered by the news, and although we would not have been personally affected by any quarry extension, as the house was a mile out of the village, our spirits rose with the hope that this could only improve the village environment and its desirability. We did feel strongly about the landscape of the village; it was certainly an area of beauty, which we wanted to be preserved.
    However, nothing in the world is ever perfect, and I guess we wouldn’t want it to be, for where would our challenges be then? As we looked carefully and thoughtfully around the house, trying to surreptitiously peer into what perhaps the vendors didn’t want us to notice – the dark corners (was that dampness on the wall there? Was that mould?) … the suggestion of rotting timber (could that be repaired without too much expense?) – I realised that Husband and I were murmuring to each other in the register of those planning work rather than dismissing the prospect. So many features of the house needed work. It was going to be an enormous project.
    The décor was, although chosen in a desire for authenticity to the Victorian origins of the house, hideously dark. The rooms were smallish, certainly compared with our current bright and spacious modern house, and dark walls worsened the effect. Dark crimson seemed to be the favourite in the drawing room and the hall and stairs. There was a sickly deep yellow in the room the vendors called the sitting room and dull beige in the room they called the dining room. The bedrooms were jazzy, with wildly flowered wallpaper.
    A rickety cupboard probably hid a multitude of sins in the corner of the drawing room, its doors hanging off despondently. The internal doors of the entire house, probably once a rich walnut, were now thoroughly dried out and splitting from neglect. The galleried staircase, which was once probably magnificent, was the same: dried out, uncared for, and sad.
    The house needed love; it cried out for care and attention. It cried out to shine and glow again.
    But it was the atmosphere of the house that drew us. The vendors had loads of “stuff” everywhere. But in the midst of the chaos were Victorian gems. There was a stone fireplace with a cast iron woodburning stove, a farmhouse kitchen range in the brick chimney. There were steps on the landing to the front bedrooms, and a step down to the bedroom at the back of the house. This was a lovely cottagey room with its low ceiling, its tiled open fireplace and old ceiling beams, and its window seat set into the thick stone walls. There was a little dressing room off the main bedroom and a Juliet window and balcony off another bedroom. The vendors had a passion for Victorian articles, and there were delightful Victorian bisque dolls in velvet coats, hats and muffs, and wooden handcrafted dolls houses. Potted palms and bell cloches covered dusty plants in the parlour.
    At the front of the house, at each side of the hall, in the drawing room and the sitting room, there was a large square bay window, and the view from there was magnificent. The house looked out onto an upper and lower lawn with somewhat overgrown shrubberies and borders. A farm gate at the end of the lower lawn opened out onto the extensive paddock with huge chestnut, oak, and beech trees. All you could see from the windows were trees, fields, hills, and a couple of farmhouses a quarter of a mile apart across the lane. The land was bordered with the drystone walls characteristic of the moorlands, and there was a fast-flowing stream running over the rocks, between low walls, along what seemed to have once been a small railway.
    I have to admit that something about the house and the area brought to mind the Lakeland fells of my youth, where we took our holidays in the family’s seventeenth-century farmhouse and garth. We enjoyed long, satisfying walks in the fells and round the becks of Cumbria, drying out walking jackets by a roaring log fire in the evening and toasting thick hunks of bread and crumpets or fruity buttery teacakes in its heat. We’d doze into blissfully cosy sleep by the comforting gently lapping flames, just letting the world go by at its own pace. It seemed that all anyone needed was a healthy body, a full stomach, and warm toes.
    Flooding my mind as I gazed out the windows were memories of making warm, soothing suppers after a long fell walk. Mmmm … Lakeland lamb shanks in hot fresh mint gravy, one of my favourite recipes and a staple of the Langdale area of the Lakes. Oh … and baking hot oranges in vanilla caramel syrup (scrumptious and simple) or sticky toffee pud, again a dish of choice in the Lakes. Relaxing my aching muscles over a hot stove in the farmhouse kitchen as Husband made a roaring fire in the inglenook fireplace in the parlour, ready for us to eat and rest … bliss!
    So maybe it was because I was reminded of those days in the Lake District at the farmhouse, and of holidays, fresh air, and feeling at peace with the world, that I yearned to live in this rectory. Maybe that was what I wanted to re-create, a purposeful but simple life, where satisfaction and fulfilment comes from simple pleasures and not from hectic pressures of other people’s forceful demands in an increasingly competitive and technically complex business world.
    And as I looked through those large bay windows out at the neglected but somehow, in my mind, magnificent gardens, I felt at home and at peace. At the time, it would have been hard to explain why I felt that this was The One that we had been looking for. It was all about feelings and emotions – and a million miles away from common sense.
    On that Sunday, the day of our first viewing with the vendors, we knew little about the history of the house, except that it had been “the big house” of the land estate at one time, with many acres of land, now mainly sold off. It had then fallen somehow into the hands of the Anglican church when it functioned as the rectory for the benefice of local parishes, of which there were five, representing the four tiny nearby villages, each with its own little church, plus the larger village with its much larger, rather splendid, church.
    It seemed to us that day that the house must have been blessed; we could feel the gently happy and contented atmosphere in the very air of the house. It was truly, we felt, a happy family home.
    As we drove back down the track to the road and to home, we looked at each other and both said together, “Yes! This is it! We’ve found it!”
    For an hour, we couldn’t stop talking about what we could do with the property; we had such plans. My head was full of pictures of how the house, and the life it represented, could be for us.
    Then we lapsed into quietness as we collected our thoughts, and it was only after a quiet and thoughtful final stretch of the drive home that Husband gently turned to me and said, “The problem is … there is so much work to do to it. Could we undertake all that, and could we afford to do it?”
    He was right, sensible and practical as ever, and I knew it. Oh dear.
    So near, yet maybe so far. That night I sought solace in the kitchen, making a warming and comforting pheasant casserole in rich red wine in the slow oven of my gas range at gas mark 4. It had been marinading since the morning in 600 ml. (20 fl oz.) of red wine,freshly ground sea salt and black pepper, a tablespoon of virgin cold -pressed olive oil (the one with white truffle is lovely), and a handful of selected fresh herbs (marjoram, thyme, basil, fennel, and oregano). As I chopped an onion and winter vegetables (a couple of peeled carrots and parsnips along with sliced leeks) on the wooden board and lifted the pheasant and its marinade into the pot, I wondered how we could possibly manage to buy the rectory. As I waited for the gentle two hour cooking of the pheasant, I thought that we surely could not let the rectory go.
    Comfort food on a cold winter’s night when you are troubled is a wonderful soother of the spirit. I threw into the oven some crusty bread wrapped in silver foil, which had been made overnight in the bread making machine, for convenience on our busy day, so that we could tear off warm chunks to eat with our pheasant casserole. I had taken some apple slices and blackberries from the freezer earlier in the day, and I began making a fruit crumble and fresh custard. We lit the candles at the table and sat there in the glow, sporadically voicing our thoughts, and, I suppose, beginning to plan. How could we make this dream a reality?
    Over the following days, we churned over in our minds how we could possibly do it. How could we manage to buy the rectory and renovate it to its former glory? We needed to know how much work was required on the house to make it fit for purpose and how much this might cost. We needed to hire a surveyor and get estimates. We knew the loss this would entail - financially, practically, and otherwise - if we found that it would not be possible for us to buy it in the end.
    It wasn’t until we had debated and decided all this that we found an answer.
    Not necessarily the answer we sought …
In case my readers would like comfort food to soothe the spirit and care to make some of the foods I mention in this chapter, here are the recipes. Bake and enjoy together with friends and family! 

Lamb Shanks Braised in Mint Gravy
serves 4

    Best slow cooked for four hours in the Crock-Pot so that the deep flavour of the mint seeps into the meat. Large shanks from lambs bred free on the fells are even more delicious if coated with mint jelly and marinated in mint and red wine for a few hours before cooking. The marinade can be used as the stock base for the braising. Succulent from the slow cooking, these shanks are so tender that the meat literally falls off the bone. Heaven!
You’ll need:
4 lamb shanks, as large as possible
3 large carrots, peeled and finely sliced
1 Spanish onion, chopped finely and sautéed in butter until transparent
2 parsnips, peeled and finely sliced
600 ml. (10 fl. oz.) fresh gravy, can be made from the meat juices with gravy thickening
Sweet mint jelly
    Marinade the lamb shanks for 2–3 hours before cooking, in seasoned red wine mixed with sweet mint jelly and sprigs of fresh mint. Drain off the liquid but use for the braising juice. Lightly brown the lamb shanks in a pan, then place them in a slow cooker (Crock-Pot) and coat them with more sweet mint jelly. Add the vegetables and about 3 cups of the marinade liquid. Add more when necessary but avoid drowning the meat. Cook (braise) slowly on low for about 3–4 hours, depending on the size of the shanks. If using an oven, cook on a low setting (180ºC, 350ºF/gas mark 4). When the meat is beginning to fall off the bone (but not disintegrated into the liquid), it is ready. It’s a bit of a trial and error strategy the first time. Make the gravy using the wine and mint liquid from the pot. Delicious!
    I like to accompany them with fresh green vegetables from the garden and, oh so English, a handful of homemade thick-cut farmhouse chipped potatoes, fried in good vegetable fat, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Or maybe big chunks of potatoes roasted in the oven in goose fat (graissed’oie): the brand La TruffeCendree, which is simply goose fat and a little salt, is excellent. A good thing about this is that you can store any leftover liquid fat in an airtight Kilner or Le Parfait jar in the refrigerator for up to two months, not that it lasts so long in my household! I like to parboil the potatoes first, drain, and then gently shake the pan (with the lid on) to “rough up” the outside surfaces, which, when they are roasted in goose fat, become deliciously crispy and crunchy with a soft centre. Bliss!
    And to finish the meal and evoke memories of Lakeland spicy fruity puddings, we like hot oranges in vanilla caramel syrup:
Hot Oranges in Vanilla Caramel Syrup
serves 4
You’ll need:
4–5 large oranges
150 g. (6 oz.) caster sugar
3 tbsp. water
250 ml. (8 fl. oz.) fresh orange juice
1 vanilla pod
Optional orange liqueur such as Cointreau
    Heat the oven to 150ºC, 275ºF/gas mark 2. Peel the oranges, removing all pith and cores, and arrange in a shallow dish. Dissolve the sugar with the water gently in a pan over low heat. When it becomes clear, turn up the heat and cook until the liquid is a light caramel. This should take about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in orange juice. To avoid splashing yourself as the hot caramel burns, use a long-handled wooden spoon. Split or gently slice open the vanilla pod and scrape the seeds out into the pan of syrup with the tip of a sharp knife. Pour the syrup over the oranges and bake for about 15–20 minutes, until the fruit is soft. You will need to spoon the syrup several times over the oranges during the baking. Add a dash of Cointreau if desired. Leave to cool a little so that it doesn’t burn mouths. It’s also lovely chilled.
    So simple, so gorgeous! It needs nothing else to accompany it, although I have seen certain members of my family top it with a little freshly whipped thick cream. Extremely sinful, but who am I to argue? I have said that this recipe serves four, but the portions would be generous, so if you were serving a cheese board afterwards, for instance, you could use the same quantities for six. Quantities are always difficult to generalise upon, and I have myself followed recipes for four, which have been barely enough for healthy appetites, especially after a long, healthy walk in the hills.
    Another Lakeland recipe I love to make is what we call scrumptious sticky toffee pud, which is as easy as it is sinfully rich and gooey. The full recipe, which is the traditional one from the Lakes, is a family secret, with a secret ingredient I put in my puds. But here is the basic recipe:
Scrumptious Sticky Toffee Pud
serves 6–8 (But if there are fewer, be sure that none will be wasted! You can gently heat it up the next day too.)
    Utterly gorgeous! And if you want, you can freeze the pud after baking and cooling, so you can make the most complicated bit in advance and just do the sauce just before you serve. SSTP reminds me so much of the Lakes that it transports my mind back to those wonderful holidays in an instant: healthy rambles, glowing cheeks, roaring fire, family laughter round the table. However, often, in the Lakes, we compare the SSTP on offer at different restaurants: is it as good as our homemade one? The answer is always “no”. Try for yourself.
You’ll need:
150 g. (6 oz.) dates, stones removed and chopped
1 level tsp. of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
50 g. (2 oz.) butter
150 g. (6oz.) caster sugar
2 medium eggs (free range), beaten
150 g. (6 oz.) self-raising flour
0.5 tsp. vanilla extract, Madagascan if possible
For the sauce:
175 g. (7 oz.) soft brown sugar
6 tbsp. double cream (naughty but yummy)
100 g. (4 oz.) butter
0.5 tsp. vanilla extract
    Preheat the oven to 180ºC, 350ºF/gas mark 4). Grease a 7-in. square loose-bottomed cake tin. Pour about half a pint of water over the dates and bring them to a boil, then remove the pan from the heat. Add the bicarbonate of soda and leave the pan to stand while you prepare the pud. Cream the butter and sugar together, add the beaten eggs a little at a time, and beat well. Fold in the flour and stir in the dates, the liquid, and the vanilla extract. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Bake for 30–40 minutes.
    For the sauce: Mix the sugar, cream, butter, and vanilla extract in a pan. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 3 minutes. Pour a little of the sauce over the cooked pud, then pop it back into the oven for a few minutes to help the sauce soak into the sponge. I usually prick the top of the pud to expedite matters. Cut the pud into squares and serve it with the rest of the sauce. Absolutely divine!
    If by any remote chance it is not all devoured in one go and you want to heat it up the next day, just wrap silver foil around it and heat it gently in a warmed oven. The sauce also heats through very well in a pan on top of the stove. Or you could freeze part of it. I personally have never had occasion to do this!
    Another pud we like is fruit crumble. Even Husband, who has to be gently persuaded to eat fruit, will drool at the sight and smell of a rich aromatic crumble, hot from the oven, especially if served with custard. Men seem to love what I call “nursery puds”, those gloriously filling puddings of childhood that Mother or Grandma used to make.
    Crumbles are a great and easy way to use fruit in season, whether from your garden or the market. In the spring, I love to make rhubarb crumble because I grow it in the garden, and I just adore its mouthwatering sharpness. But I also freeze suitable surplus fruit like blackberries, which will defrost and bake excellently in a crumble pudding. I try to freeze suitable fruit in 450 g. (16 oz. /1 lb.) quantities, which is the basic amount to pop straight into a dish (after defrosting) for a crumble.
Country Apple and Blackberry Crumble and Homemade Custard serves 4

You’ll need:
450 g. (1 lb.) mixed, peeled, and sliced cooking apples and
150 g. (6 oz.) Demerara or soft brown sugar
75 g. (3 oz.) butter
175 g. (6 oz.) plain white flour

    Preheat the oven to 180ºC, 350ºF/gas mark 4. Sprinkle the fresh lemon juice over the apple slices. Wash the blackberries. Mix the fruit together carefully and spoon into the bottom of a 900 ml. (1.5 pint) baking dish, ovenproof or the old-fashioned enamel kind. Sprinkle half the sugar over the top of the fruit. To make the crumble, crumble the flour and butter together between your fingers, until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, and then stir in the other half of the sugar to sweeten it. Spread the crumble over the top of the fruit. Bake in the oven for about 35–40 minutes, or until the crumble is golden. Test with a sharp knife to ensure that the fruit is soft and well cooked
    Even better is to use half flour and half oats for the topping. This is delicious eaten with homemade custard. This is the real thing, not from a tin or packet but made with milk, egg, and a little sugar to taste, beaten over a low heat until thickened – even more gorgeous with vanilla (the real McCoy from the pod or, failing that, Madagascan vanilla extract).
For the custard:
600 ml. (20 fl. oz.) milk
50 g. (2 oz.) sugar
4 egg yolks
A few drops of Madagascan vanilla extract (or soak a vanilla pod in the milk after heating; remove and scrape out the seeds to add to the milk)
    Heat the milk gently over low heat until warm to the touch. Beat in the sugar, egg yolks, and vanilla. Heat gently again to thicken. Serve immediately.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for hosting me today and for such a lovely review!


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.