Thursday, 10 September 2015

Making My Way Into Autumn Via Aprons and Apples

So it's September. And the summer is gone. The swallows knew it weeks ago and had made themselves scarce before August struggled to its bedraggled end here, but I've been slower to catch on, I think. Sometimes the ebb and flow of life sits harmoniously alongside the ebb and flow of the seasons and sometimes it doesn't and I find myself trying to catch up, slightly out of synch. I've found that recently anyway.

There are special joys to be found in September even though I find the deep golden light that is characteristic of a nice day at this time of year somehow carries a feeling of melancholy that always makes me feel wistful.

I've not wanted to go looking for any extra melancholy and wistfulness however and have been concentrating instead on the uplifting qualities of the following:

1 A new sewing project that was originally going to be a one-off but looks as though it might be set to replicate itself, possibly more than once. It started with me playing around with bits of fabric from my fabric boxes that were having some difficulty closing. They seemed to me to murmur a little autumn poem.

Then I unearthed a bunch of old lace and trimmings that have sat in my sewing basket for years. Some of the lace, like the two bits, in the bottom centre of the pic above, have lain there for at least forty years, to my certain knowledge. And a happy idea was born to make an autumn apron out of strips of all these fabrics, sewn together, and trimmed with the oddments of lace. The plan was to evoke some of the browns, russets and hunting greens of autumn leaves together with the filigree adornment of those lacy spider-webs, you see in the garden, beaded with dew on early, autumn mornings. No, I was not tempted to add an embroidered eight-legged resident or two!

There is a nice large pocket sewn out of the off-cuts, with the strips going vertically, instead of horizontally and the top edge of the pocket is trimmed with a bit of grey lace.

A pair of wooden buttons (that came free, a while ago with an issue of Simply Crochet, I think) finish off the top. They are purely decorative but I like them.

To hide all the seams and to give the apron a bit of extra strength, it's lined with the cream, dusky pink and soft green fabric that you can see  in the pic below, where the apron is turned back. It reminds me of end of-the-summer roses lingering in the September sun - still blooming but in slightly more muted tones than those of June.

The ties are deliberately mismatched; stitched together using two spare strips for each, before turning out and pressing and sandwiching between the outer and the lining fabrics to secure them in place.

Almost all the strips are pieced together, some in several places, as I only had a few fabrics in large enough widths to cut the strips in single pieces but that doesn't matter - it's part of the joy of the thing that it's been made from odds and ends. It's been a delightful, frugal make that has made going into the autumn seem a good deal more appealing. 

2 Baking with berries from the hedgerows and pears from a friend's garden.

It's a tweaked variation of Ruby Tandoh's Pear Blackberry and Coconut Cake which was featured in The Guardian last weekend. I tweaked it by replacing the coconut oil with almond oil and the desiccated coconut with ground almonds to make a Blackberry, Pear and Almond Cake.

I do like cakes made with oil that only require you to get out a whisk and a bowl rather than the whole faff of the food processor. Life is never too short to make cake, I feel, but sometimes, when time is short, a quick cake-making fix is better than a long one!

3 Drying apples from our elderly apple tree. It is so weighed down with fruit this year that I am wondering whether it needs crutches under its low-slung branches. Most instructions tell you to dry apples in slices but I want chunks for using in bread, porridge, buns and cakes over the winter.

I haven't treated the cut fruit with acidulated water or anything so it's inevitably gone a bit brown in the drying,

but that doesn't worry me - it's the flavour and consistency I am after, particularly for adding to bread recipes where fresh apple is too wet and too fragile to hold together under the kneading process. I could probably have dried these a bit longer but I don't want them too leathery, as an ingredient, so I'm freezing what I am not using immediately, in case they have not lost quite enough moisture simply to store in jars, or paper bags, in the larder. An initial experiment in using them in these spiced apple buns promises rather well - the apple pieces remain definite but are neither hard nor dry and the apple flavour is very good.

I am making a lot of these kinds of fruited, yeast-raised buns at the moment - they satisfy my need for something sweet to nibble on around 4.00 pm without being too heavy on the old sugar (and fat). They would also be rather good in lunch-boxes should you find yourself needing to fill same or, for that matter, lightly toasted for breakfast.

If you want to have a go, my recipe is as follows:

Spiced Apple Buns

3tsp active dried yeast
350 g strong white flour
150 g strong wholemeal flour (you could just use white flour but I quite like the nuttiness of a bit of wholemeal in here - means they qualify as health food!)
1 tsp salt
2 tsps ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground mace (or nutmeg)
1/4 tsp ground cloves
50 g unsalted butter cut into pieces
50 g runny honey
2 large eggs (or 3 bantam eggs) whisked with c 100 ml whole milk and enough water to make up the liquid total to c 380 ml
100 g home-dried apple pieces (or you could use commercially dried apple rings snipped up)
100 g sultanas (or raisins)

For the glaze: 1 egg whisked with a teaspoon of water
pearl sugar or demerara sugar to sprinkle on top

I've used an assortment of spices that I think go well with apple - I've got a particular fondness for ground mace at the moment which I think is made from the outer casing of the nutmeg seed. Its taste is similar to nutmeg but slightly warmer and stronger. It works very well in breads like this one anyway. But you can vary the spices according to what you like / have in the cupboard. The same applies to the fruit. You can change the make-up of the liquid as well, so long as you end up with the about the same quantity of liquid overall so feel free to use all milk and no water and one egg rather than two if that suits you. Some egg and some milk is needed though so I wouldn't simply replace with all plain water if you want the same tender-crumbed results, especially for eating just as they are.

I make the dough for these buns in my automatic bread-maker on the wholemeal raisin dough programme. Not all the fruit will go in the fruit-and-nut dispenser of my machine so I just add the extra by hand when I hear the portcullis-like trap on the dispenser fall and know that the automatic hopper has released its payload at the right moment. You can, of course, make them by hand following any fruited bread or hot cross bun recipe for the method.

Once the dough is risen and ready, preheat the oven to 200 C (195 C for fan ovens). Shape the dough gently  - it's quite loose and tender - into twelve nice, round, cushiony buns and place on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Brush each one with the slightly diluted, beaten egg and sprinkle with pearl or demerara sugar. Bake for around 13 - 14 minutes until well-risen and golden. Watch them carefully towards the end of the baking time to make sure they don't overcook. You might need to turn the baking tray around if some of the buns seem done before the whole tray is ready.

Cool the buns on a wire rack before eating just as they are ...

... or may be with a bit of unsalted butter. Any leftover buns freeze beautifully.

4 Mastering a knitting pattern for a vintage-style tea cosy for my big enamel teapot that pours beautifully but is too big for any of my existing tea cosies. There's a gorgeous pattern in Handmade Glamping for a tea cosy like this made with five colours, rather than just two, but I got in such a pickle trying to follow the (somewhat elliptic) instructions and keep five balls of yarn separate and in the right places that I gave up and found a simpler pattern for the traditional two-colour version here.

I love the Handmade Glamping book, it's one of my favourites and full of inspiration but I do find the technical instructions for how actually to make the projects are sometimes insufficient. It's fine, if you're fairly confident with the required crafting skill and can supply what is not explained from your own experience but trickier if you aren't. And with knitting, I am not at all confident, and should only really be let loose under the watchful eye of a minder!

But this has, in the end (and perhaps despite me), worked OK. It keeps the tea as hot as can be. The design of these vintage-style cosies with their self-pleating folds, means that the teapot is effectively wearing something like an eiderdown, with a pocket of insulating air trapped in each fold. Perfect for brewing up tea to go in a flask, without the tea losing its heat, as well as keeping a pot of tea alive and well, some time after making it, even when you're not "taking it out." Do you use a proper teapot and a tea cosy when you make tea? I'd got rather lazy and had fallen into bad tea-bag-in-a-mug habits that were quite wasteful really, both of electricity and tea.

5 Photographing my late summer sunflowers in the early morning sun which despite being planted quite late, have come good and cheered these late summer / early autumn days with their wonderful, yellow, mop-like heads.

6 Changing up breakfast a little by switching from porridge to a very simple, but oh-so-good, homemade granola. Just oats and chopped almonds turned in maple syrup, honey, vanilla extract and a spoonful of rapeseed oil and baked on a tray in a slow oven before being cooled and nibbled, stored in a large jar for quick and easy, nutritious breakfasts served with with ice-cold, unpasteurised, whole milk. Absolutely deeelicious and popular with the whole household.

Small things, but good. 

And hopefully providing momentum for navigating the rest of the autumn, 
regardless of what falls from the trees, 
either literally or figuratively.

E x


  1. Love the apron, it's just gorgeous, especially the lace trims! I'm also pinning your recipe, DD and I made our very first loaf last weekend, it was... not to bad but we need a bit of practice I think. I'll add this to my list of things to try.

    S x

    1. Thank you so much, Sandra! Good luck with your bread-making - there's something so satisfying about producing one's own bread and actually there's not as much mystique to it as is sometimes made out - go for it! E x

  2. The apron was stunning, a real delight, inspirational such a beautiful use of oddments. I too, was also impressed with the buns recipe I will definitely be giving them a try.

    1. Thank you - it's always nice to find ways to use up odd bits of fabric that would otherwise lurk unused, I think. The buns are good - do try them. The considered verdict here was that they need a bit more cinnamon than I used so I've updated the recipe to reflect that. I think I might even use 3 tsps next time. Hope they work for you if you give them a go. E x

  3. You have unpasteurised milk! Lucky you. Your tea cosy reminds me of the one my grandmother used. I always use a teapot but never have a tea cosy that fits - I shall have to follow the link. Do you use a special dehydrator for your apples?

    1. Yes! Unpasteurised milk is wonderful stuff. A local farmer used to keep me supplied with it but then he sold his dairy herd, like so many others, and so my supply dried up. I missed it and have managed to track down a supplier by mail order and although it's expensive, it's amazing! Freezes perfectly so you can order in quantity to cut down the unit cost and defrost as required. The company in question is Hook and Sons - they're based in Sussex and if you will forgive the pun, we're hooked! Makes fabulous ice cream as well as using it just as is on cereal. Also the website has a design for paper cows which you can download, make up and customise....!! I am sure you have better things to do with your time but D and I spent a happy evening making a couple up! Yes, I do use a dehydrator - came from Lakeland. Not too expensive and works very well - better than the oven on a very low setting. E x

    2. They sell butter too! I was brought up on a dairy farm so we only ever drank raw milk - looks as though we may be doing it again.

  4. I was wondering about a dehydrator too. Your apron is gorgeous as is your tea cosy. Though I do sometimes use a teapot rather than just a bag, I don't have a tea cosy. I think I'll have to add one to my 'to do' list, although it would have to be a very simple one! xx

    1. I bought my dehydrator last year - didn't use it much in fact last year but this year it's coming into its own. Just done a batch of pear pieces in the same way as the apple. I really like the flavour and texture it produces. Happy tea cosy making - there's something very friendly about a tea cosy, I think! E x

  5. Your apron is lovely, what a great use of bits and pieces. The buns look delicious too. Hx

    1. Thank you so much - it was fun to sew and didn't cost me a penny! I like projects like this! The buns are good but need more cinnamon according to my testers so i've amended the recipe to reflect that! E x

  6. Dear E
    Your apron is beautiful and unique. The rest of the post is filled with so many good things which are perfect for tis time of year.
    Enjoy all your autumnal pursuits.
    Best wishes

    1. Thank you so much, Ellie! It's been therapeutic to find things to enjoy about the autumn this year. E x

  7. Je suis contente de te relire sur ton blog !...Ton tablier de cuisine est superbe, c'est une astucieuse façon d'utiliser tous les bouts de tissus que nous gardons précieusement. Il est presque trop beau pour risquer d'être sali à la cuisine :-)
    Contrairement à toi, notre pommier a donné juste quelques pommes cette année...J'ai quand même déshydraté des pommes, mais ce sont celles que j'ai acheté au marché !
    Have a nice week-end .
    A hug from

  8. Merci Christiane! Je garde tous les morceaux de tissu même ceux qui sont trop petits pour être vraiment utiles, alors ça me fait grand plaisir trouver un projet où ils peuvent prendre leur place de bon effet. Tu as raison, je ne veux pas salir mon nouveau tablier - peut être porterai-je un autre tablier par dessus!! Je le sais, je suis folle! Bon weekend à toi et à la famille, Christiane! E xx

  9. Dear Elisabeth,
    a wonderful post you have written. Your apron is just gorgeous, it is much too nice to use in when working in the kitchen. Again I wish I could sew... I also think about buying a dehydrator, it is such a versatile kitchen aid when you like fruits and vegetables, isn't it? Your buns look delicious, I will try the recipe this weekend. My family likes raspberry muffins these days because we have so many raspberries in the garden this year. Your tea cosy is beautiful, I have not yet made one, though it is one of the things I already want to do for ages. I only drink green tea and I just put some leafs in a mug, hot water to it and wait until they are lying on the ground. It is a very lazy way of drinking tea but it is okay for me. I hope that you will enjoy autumn with all its beauty. Viola

  10. So glad to see this post, as I have been missing you! Your apron is delightful, and is so YOU. Makes me want to break out my sewing machine again. And your tea cosy has the perfect colors. You have a gift for colors. Your rolls look yummy! A wonderful post, Mrs. E.

  11. Dear E - your apron is so gorgeous! Beautiful fabrics and expertly put together (as always)! Reminds me of the bag you sent me which is used for school daily! xxx

  12. Hi dear! What a sweet teacosy, so pretty. And the apron is a real masterpiece! Wonderful colors that are lightening the autumn days. Thanks for the recipe, the apple buns sound and look delicious! Sunny weekend greetings, Nata

  13. Hi, Elizabeth! I hope that the change of season brings better times your way. Your post made me long for a trip to the NC mountains to buy apples and look at the changing leaves. Your pictures of the apple buns took me back to this past summer, when I so much enjoyed your wonderful home-baked goods. Also, your tea cozy (or cosy--in your part of the world) turned out great. Love the pastel colors. Let me know when your package arrives. Love, Liz

  14. I've loved reading this post. Your new apron is beautiful - far to lovely to wear! I've seen those Simply crochet buttons on another blog today but I can't remember where. I've been mulling over what to do with all my apples and thinking I might dry some. But I didn't want to dry them in slices and wondered if I could do chunks. And look, you've dried your apples in chunks and it's worked brilliantly. I have that tea cosy - knit many, many years ago in brown and orange. I have a picture of my son, sitting in his high chair, wearing it like a hat!

  15. Love the apron! Aprons always make me feel "homemakerish" (pretty sure that's not a word)! If you put on an apron it signifies a purpose and a plan, an intent to spend time in the kitchen being productive. I have a dehydrator and this year we dehydrated cantaloupe for the first time. Don't laugh it is very sweet and wonderful in my granola/trail mix. Dehydrating becomes kind of addicting. Hope you enjoy your fall, it is my favorite time of year!


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