Tuesday, 9 February 2010

I can't say I care much for February, despite it being the month of my birth and having the highlight of pancake day. It is a cold, bleak month. In fact, it is often the coldest month of the year. Even when it snows, the snow is somehow just inconvenient rather than magical or festive. It is a difficult month for the kitchen gardener. Like the first snowdrops, February brings with it the first itching feeling that it is time to start growing again, yet it is too cold, dim and damp to get much growing. If you pick up a February edition of a gardening magazine they talk enthusiastically about getting started under cover but this merely irritates those among us who don't process a greenhouse. And the windowsills in my house are too gloomy to grow anything at this time of year. Experience has taught me to be patient and wait until March before attempting any serious sowing.

The other thing about February is that the things in store really start to deteriorate too. Onion, garlic and potatoes all decide it is time to start growing again. Other things such as squash and pumpkin decide it is just time to give up and rot sets in. If you have any squash or pumpkins in store then go and check them because they are easier to transport to the compost heap when the first patches of mould appear than when they have turned to a sloppy blob of goo. I don't have any pumpkins left without rot now so it looks like my 101 things to do with pumpkin quest has been scuppered. How many did I manage? Maybe 20.

As it happens, I had put a small portion of pumpkin puree in the freezer and labeled it "pumpkin for Swiss roll". I came across this at the weekend and decided it would be a good time to finally get round to trying the Swiss roll recipe. I had found it on the Internet originally but it was a poor recipe. Firstly the ingredients had been written in the order in which the author had remembered them rather than the order of use. Secondly, it was an American recipe so it was measured in cups and spoons. Why spoons? Why would you measure butter in tablespoons when it comes out of the fridge in hard blocks that don't mould readily around a spoon? And finally, the method seemed bizarre and unlikely to work successfully. Nonetheless, there was just enough information to provide me with the inspiration I needed to try my own version. So on Sunday afternoon when my eldest daughter declared she was bored I suggested she helped me out in the kitchen and we made the pumpkin roll.

Pumpkin Swiss Roll

60g butter, softened

175g caster sugar

3 eggs

100g plain flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

180g pumpkin puree

100g cream cheese

100g icing sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

100g plum jam

Grease and line a Swiss roll tin - that's just a baking tray with rim all the way round. Preheat oven to 190°C, gas 5. Cream together the butter and sugar then stir in the eggs. Sift in the flour, spice and bicarbonate of soda then add the pumpkin puree and stir well. Pour this mix into the lined tin and level out. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until springy to the touch. Remove from the oven and carefully maneuver the cake on its paper backing onto a clean tea towel then use the tea towel to roll it up into the Swiss roll shape. Leave it like this to cool completely. Mix together the cream cheese, icing sugar and vanilla extract. Once cooled, unroll the cake again and spread the cream cheese icing and the jam over it. Remove the baking paper as you roll it up again then sprinkle with caster sugar.

In the same freezer rummage that had uncovered the pumpkin puree, I also reminded myself that I still had about 2 pounds of gooseberries in there too. I took out 12 oz of them on Sunday morning and let them thaw out. Whilst waiting for the Swiss roll to cool down my daughter and I had a go at making gooseberry flapjacks - now that's something you can't buy in the shops!

Gooseberry Flapjacks

12 oz fresh or thawed gooseberries

3 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon lime juice

2 tablespoon granulated sugar

1 oz corn flour

7 oz oats

2-3 oz light brown sugar

4 oz butter

1 tablespoon golden syrup

Preheat over to 190°C, gas 5 and grease a shallow tin or tray. Place the gooseberries in a saucepan with the granulated sugar, water and lime juice and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 20 minutes until soft. Force the gooseberries through a sieve to remove the skin and pips. Return to the pan. Add enough water to the cornflour to make a liquid then pour this into the gooseberry puree. Heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat and set aside. In a bowl, mix together the oats, sugar, butter and syrup until sticky. Tip half the oat mixture into the tin and firmly press into an even layer. Spread the gooseberry paste over the oat layer then add the other half of the oat mix, pressing down firmly with wetted finger. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden. Cool in the tin the cut into pieces.

So later that day I cut off slices of pumpkin Swiss roll for my daughters and me and offered Steve a flapjack. The Swiss roll was beautifully moist and the filling gooey and squidgy - yet another pumpkin success. I think next Halloween this might make the perfect centrepiece for a Halloween party. Steve bit into a flapjack and said, "Wow! What flavour is that?" Gooseberry flapjacks turned out a surprise success too.

As the fresh vegetables slowly deteriorate I can at least comfort myself with the contents of my freezer and make a proper attempt to empty out the stored produce before June. On the plus side, February is the shortest month of the year and soon it will be March and time to start the growing cycle all over again.

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