Friday, 9 October 2015

Autumn Delights

1 Pumpkins. I really do love pumpkins and when their bright orange faces first appear in October, I always feel buoyed up.

I bought one of those beautiful duck-egg blue ones the other day (although I think technically it's a Crown Prince Squash and not a pumpkin at all) but felt that on balance it was a bit like the idea of wearing blue lipstick. Fun, in theory, but better to stick to the more tried and tested classic colour zone, in practice. I roasted the the flesh in its blue-green skin and found the skin turned the beautiful vivid orange flesh disconcertingly murky; the flavour was a bit murky too. One lives and learns these things. In case you're wondering, I have not actually worn blue lipstick to live and learn that, but I can probably anticipate that particular "learn", without bothering!

Back to the pumpkins. I always make roasted pumpkin soup at this time of year. Simple; delicious and full of vitamin A.

This version was about as simple as you can get. A splash of olive oil, an onion, two sticks of celery and a pile of roasted (classic orange) pumpkin, water, salt and pepper. Thick. Satisfying. Cheerful.

I also make spiced pumpkin muffins with grated, raw pumpkin. The pumpkin flavour is subtle and unobtrusive but it makes the muffins deliciously moist and sticky. I look forward to making these every year and they never disappoint. Ever.

You can find my recipe here, if you're interested - just scroll down past the crochet slippers.

This year I wanted to experiment with making pumpkin scones. I'd seen a few examples around on the Interwebs and loved the idea of a bright yellow scone hit. The first version I made was disappointing - not enough pumpkin purée and too many spices so that they tasted wonderfully of "pumpkin spice" but were a very miserable brown colour. I can make spiced, plain, brown scones any time. What I wanted was the colour pop! (Is it the blue lipstick thing again, perhaps?!) So I had another go, using my own family scone recipe as a base and "pumpkinising" it, if that's a word. It worked. These yellow jobs are vivid, to say the least, even on the outside.

And on the inside? Well, see for yourself... Sunny side every side! Even allowing for the fact that it had got dark by the time I took this photo last night and the light had to be lamplight.

To make these, you need 250 g cooled roasted pumpkin purée on hand for which you'll want about a quarter to a half of a culinary pumpkin weighing approximately 1.5 kg  to 2 kg in the hand. Cut the raw pumpkin into wedges and cut out all the woolly fibres and seeds. Don't peel it. Roast, skin-side down, in a baking tin for an hour at 190 C until the flesh is beautifully soft. Cool and then peel off the skin before mashing the flesh with a fork or whizzing to a rough purée in a food processor.

For the scones, put 500 g white self-raising flour, a generous pinch of salt, half a teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg, two teaspoons of cream of tartar and one teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda into the food processor, Whizz briefly to aerate and mix. Add 50 g cold unsalted butter in pieces and whizz to the consistency of breadcrumbs. Tip the mix into a big bowl and when you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 220 C and line a baking sheet with baking parchment.

Whisk 250 g of the cooled, roasted pumpkin puree with enough natural yoghurt to make about 350 ml of liquid overall. Pour into the bowl of dry ingredients and mix with a knife to a dough. It makes a nice well-behaved kind of dough, I found. Roll out thickly, (or just press out with well-floured hands which is what I do) and cut into rounds or triangles. Brush with milk and bake for 10 - 12 minutes until well-risen and golden.

I omitted adding any sugar because I fancied them as savoury scones with cream cheese but you could add a tablespoon of sugar or two, if you wanted to serve them with jam. They are very good. A hint of nutmeg but not too spicy and the colour is just glorious. A brilliant, unshadowed, sunflower-yellow. Not remotely a blue lipstick experiment! The marriage with cream cheese works beautifully and I think they'd also be very good with soup.

And because every home needs a pumpkin or two that aren't roasted, but sit cheerfully on the window-sill on grey, wet autumn days, I made these.

Not remotely functional, but completely charming and I love them. They are weighted down with plastic, bean-bag pellets tied up in a little nylon stocking bag stuffed inside the filling to give them a bit of authentic heft - the best real pumpkins feel heavy for their size. So actually, they work as paper-weights should they need usefully to earn their keep! You can find the pattern here. It's in German but very nice and straightforward to follow. When you come to the decrease part, the pattern only specifies the first couple of rows. Don't worry - just keep on decreasing in exactly the reverse order in which you increased on the way up. You can alter the number of rows you do in the middle (without increases or decreases) to vary the size of your finished pumpkin. My pale green and lighter orange pumpkins are done with eight of these rows (as per the original pattern) and the larger, darker orange one is done with twelve rows instead of eight to make him a bit bigger than the other two. I made up the leaves and curly tendrils myself, using this pattern here as a starting point and adapting it, as I went, to suit.

Lurking in the pumpkin patch is not just a toadstool or two - hooky or otherwise - for luck, but also one of the hedgehogs I made a couple of years ago. Clearly enjoying a bit of autumn rootling before hibernation calls!

2 Potatoes. While we are talking vegetables. Not for eating, this time, but printing.

Inspired by the turning leaves in their vivid reds, russets, and yellows against the evergreen ivy in the hedge, I turned some potatoes into leaf-stamps for printing wrapping paper. Fun. And easy. I used real leaves for the templates and water-based printing ink to print with.

I find it works best to paint the ink on with a brush rather than dip the potato in a pool of ink as printing ink is quite thick and you risk overloading your design area and wasting ink. It's also a good idea to cut a couple of wedges out of the wrong side of the potato stamp to make something to grip them by when you're printing as they can be slippery customers to manipulate otherwise.

Some of the prints are more imperfect than others but somehow they work OK all together, I think.

I started off trying to print in some kind of ordered pattern but the potatoes had other ideas. And when potatoes have their own ideas it's best to go with them. The overall effect reminds me of autumn leaves eddying and floating to earth in a sunny, autumn breeze.

3 Crab Apples. I promised myself that I would make no more jam this year. The larder shelves are full and there is only so much jam one household can eat. But my little crab apple tree, planted only eighteen months ago has been unexpectedly dripping with tiny, rosy, crab apples and I couldn't resist. I will give it away at Christmastime, I promise! (Well, some of it, may be!)

4 Dulce de leche. I thought I would have a go at making my own dulce de leche to spoon on, well anything really, pancakes, fruit, yoghurt, whatever. H tasted my efforts cautiously but when I told him how I made it, he went off the idea. Can't think why - it's just boiled milk and sugar, but there you have it. Feeling that as a result, the temptation of it sitting uneaten in a jar, in the fridge, might lure me into secretive, midnight spoon-raids, and that temptation might be less, if it were incorporated into a composite dish, I wondered how to use it. Various possibilities proffered themselves but I opted for swirling it into freshly churned, homemade vanilla ice cream. I am not sure however, that the tub of finished ice cream is not a substantially more powerful temptation than the original jar was of the stuff, neat! What was I saying about living and learning?!

You can buy dulce de leche ready-made, of course, and if you do want to make it, you can go an easier route by simply boiling up an unopened tin of condensed milk. However, making it from scratch was, although time-consuming, not at all difficult. I didn't want to go down the boiling tin route - comes out a bit too dark and thick for my liking and then there's always the risk of the tin exploding "in media re" which, although potentially exciting, would also be messy. Anyway, I wanted something slightly more gooily runny but still unctuously thick, and you can control that much more easily if you use the fresh milk method. I used Claire Thomson's recipe from The Guardian which you can find here.

Claire specifies that you need to cook the milk mixture for about an hour and a half and up to two. I cooked mine for an hour and twenty minutes. Couldn't wait any longer as I had to go out but you could go on a tad longer, if you want it sit-up-and-beg-stiff. Get a good book or go through your emails on your laptop to wile away the time usefully, as you stir. The precise time will depend in part on the size and shape of your pan as well as the vigour of your heat source. If you have an extractor fan over your hob, use it - speeds up the evaporation. Do not leave the mixture unattended. You want to avoid it catching and burning at all costs. The beauty about this method is a) you can see the milk begin to caramelise and progressively change colour which, if you like seeing a bit of kitchen chemistry in action, like I do, is fun and b) you can control the timing of the process to end up with the consistency you prefer. A little less long and a lighter, caramel shade, for a runnier sauce and slightly longer and a darker, more treacle-toffee shade, for a stiffer one. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Carefully spoon and scrape the cooled dulce de leche into a jar; cover and store in the fridge.

Lick the spoon and that spatula you used to scrape the sides of the pan - it would be wasteful not to! - yes, it is as delicious as you hoped it might be! Apparently keeps for several weeks but I doubt if I will be able to road-test that.

Swirl into freshly churned, homemade, vanilla ice cream, if you want to taste the ambrosia of the Homeric gods come to life, from the pages of myth!

5 Late blooming of flowers in the garden that I thought had gone to their eternal rest for good. In the golden autumn light the colours are peculiarly intense and alive.

6 And finally, a delightful autumn visitor to my apple tree earlier this week. I apologise for the blurry quality of the pic but it had to be taken through a window to avoid disturbing him. I think he is not after apples, but earwigs and other creepy crawlies in the bark of the tree, to which he is very welcome. If he would care to venture inside and see off the enormous house-spiders which currently seem to be launching a takeover bid here, I'd be even happier.

Autumn delights. 
In many ways. 
Wishing you a pumpkin-shell full of them!

E x


  1. What a wonderful post, packed with Autumn delights. I loved the idea of pumpkin scones that is one recipe that I will be trying and the knitted pumpkins are a real delight. Happy Autumn.

  2. You have been busy - so many lovely autumn things. Your pumpkin scones look glorious and thank you for the reminder to make crab apple jelly. Have a great weekend. xx

  3. Wishing you the happiest of Autumns!!! xxx

  4. My goodness you have been busy. I bet your house smelled delicious as you were making those yummy things to eat. Gorgeous pumpkins, both crocheted and real.

  5. A lovely, thoughtful post, as always. Thank you. x

  6. A lovely celebration of autumn. Thank you.

  7. What a gorgeous post full of yummy foods I love, I bought pumpkin yesterday to make pie and muffins but may have to make your scones now too. It's half term here so this week's holiday will also include picking brambles and crab apples for jelly. Hx

  8. Crab apple jelly is such a joyous colour that it's hard to resist making it, regardless of current supplies of other jams on the shelf. We only have one pumpkin in the garden but it's reaching such a size that I shall be able to make soup and your scones several times over.
    Fab wrapping paper :)

  9. Wow. You have been busy! I need to clear a weekend or two to experiment with some of these recipes. I love the idea of making dulce de leche at home. I love tres leches cake but haven't attempted to cook it at home, either. I laughed about H's being scared away by the idea of cooked milk and sugar. My boys have always been a bit hesitant about eating my homemade pudding (what you would call custard)--I think it has something to to with the creamy consistency--but I have finally managed to sway James a bit with chocolate versions.

    It's difficult to find good pumpkins here that are suitable for pie making. Years ago I bought something called a "cheese pumpkin" at a road stand, and this particular variety made the most delicious pumpkin pie I have ever eaten. I haven't seen anything like it since, but I'm still looking.

    Hope you are doing well. Love, Liz

  10. Delicious, provocative pictures of your culinary creations you have provided here. I have revisited this post three times now to see if I can gather up enough energy to look into a recipe for pumpkin "something" to bake up. I am thinking pumpkin cookies, with canned pumpkin because the second half of the can will perhaps do for pumpkin scones that you mentioned. Sunny side up, always, that phrase tackles me. Continue n with your fantastic creations and photos!


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