Friday, 11 December 2009

It may be nearly Christmas but there are still pumpkins to cook!

Things tend to get a bit manic at this time of year. On top of preparing for my own Christmas, I always arrange to do a few craft fairs in order to sell my jams and chutneys. Last weekend I had one on Saturday 10 till 2 and one all day Sunday. I don't know if it is something to do with the "current economic climate" but the number of people attending was down on last year and the number of sales was down too. Funny really because most of the time people are quite keen to buy jam and chutney. It is one of those universal presents, right up there with slippers, that you can buy for that relative you hardly know - you don't even need to know their shoe size! And, people usually like to buy something a bit different to go on the Christmas table too. Not this year! I didn't sell one jar of cranberry sauce. Still, I shouldn't grumble, I came home with a pocketful of cash that will help to pay for my Christmas.

Cranberry Sauce

Should you need to buy cranberries for this recipe, it is worth knowing that they tend to appear in the supermarkets from about the third week in November.

Makes 2-3 jars
2 Oranges
12 oz (275g) granulated sugar
5 fl oz (150ml) port
1lb 5 oz (600g) cranberries
2 eating apples
Grate the zest from the oranges and squeeze out the juice. Put the juice, sugar and port in a pan and heat gently, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Stir in the cranberries, orange zest and grated apples. Cook, uncovered, for 10-12 minutes until the fruit is soft and the juices are thick. Ladle into warmed jars and seal immediately.

And what a relief to get the craft fairs out of the way so now I can concentrate on my Christmas. I'm intending to spend the whole weekend being festive. I may even have another go at making fudge, something that has alluded me in the past. Then there are hampers to make up for relatives, a wreath for the front door to fashion from trimmings from the herb garden, and plans for the last gardening club of the year to sort out.

Still, I am going to need to spend a little bit of time in the garden too. I spotted in the gloom as I went to get some more potatoes from their sack earlier this week that some of the stored marrows and pumpkins have gone mouldy. Pretty spectacular stuff - all runny and sloppy. So I'll have to transport the remains to the compost bin. I managed to catch one pumpkin just as the top started to turn furry so I've been forced to find yet more new and inventive ways to use pumpkin this week. I started with some pumpkin achar - spiced Indian pickle, using the River Cottage recipe

Then I made another pumpkin ginger teabread for Steve. We have been eating thin slices of pumpkin all week too, fried with mushrooms, onions, garlic, ginger and a splash of Balsamic vinegar. Then yesterday I made a pumpkin lemon meringue pie. All the glory of a normal lemon meringue pie but healthy! Despite all that I still have some of the pumpkin in the fridge and more in storage. Hmm... what next? Someone suggested pumpkin on toast but I'll have to give that more thought.

Pumpkin lemon meringue pie

For the pie crust:
3 oz (85g) plain flour
3 oz (85g) wholemeal flour
3 oz (85g) margarine

For the lemon filling:
1 lb (454g) pumpkin
2-3 lemons (depending on size)
1 oz (25g) cornflour
2 oz (55g) caster sugar
3 egg yolks

For the meringue:
3 egg whites
1 oz (25g) caster sugar

Preheat oven to 190°C (gas 5) and grease a flan case. To make the pastry, sieve the flours into a bowl and add the margarine. Use finger tips to rub the margarine into the flour until it forms a breadcrumb consistency. Use a little cold water to bind it into a dough. Roll the dough out on a floured surface and then transfer it into the flan case and trim the edges. Place a piece of greaseproof paper in the pie crust and weight it down with something like rice or baking beads. Bind bake the pie crust for 10-15 minutes until partially cooked. Then turn the oven down to 150°C (gas 1).

In the meantime prepare the lemon filling as follows. Remove the skin and seeds from the pumpkin and dice. Steam for about 20 minutes until very soft. Mash, or better still, blend the pumpkin until smooth. Tip it into a measuring jug. You will need about half a pint. Grate the rind off the lemons and squeeze out the juice. Use a little lemon juice to mix with the cornflour. Heat the remaining lemon juice, pumpkin puree and lemon peel in a saucepan until just boiling. Remove from the heat and stir in the cornflour. Return to the heat and stir constantly for about 2 minutes until thick and smooth. Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool a little. Add the caster sugar to the lemon filling, stir in and taste, adding more sugar if required. Separate the eggs and beat the yolks into the lemon mix.

Next prepare the meringue. Whisk the egg yolks vigorously until very stiff – an electric whisk is best for this. Then carefully fold in the sugar.

Pour the lemon filling into the pie crust and even out. Top with the egg white mix and sculpt into an attractive shape. Bake the pie for about 45 minutes until the meringue is brown and crisp to the touch. Cool in the tin. Serve hot or cold.

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