Full steam ahead to Christmas

November 23, 2012

Christmas cakes are underway

Christmas cakes are underway

We have been making the Christmas cakes to the same recipe we have been using for years. A medium fruit cake which does not take weeks to mellow.We put halved, split almonds, on top of the cake instead marzipan and royal icing. Many friends and family members always seemed to leave both on their plates’.

The Christmas Pudding is made.

This year we have used a recipe I was given …. years ago. Miss Campbell was a lecturer at the college I attended. Warwick makes both the pudding and the mincemeat. We plan to make the mince-pies  tomorrow. As they are time consuming to make, we make them a couple of weeks ahead of Christmas and freeze them.


Last of the Apples

The apple harvest was not as good as in the past two years.

We actually had masses of small tasty apples which were windfalls. A neighbour and her children came to help pick the last of the apples on the trees; and to gather the better windfalls.. Tedious to wash, scrub and peel. Nevertheless, we persevered and we made some delicious apple chutney and just one batch of apple butter.

Last of the windfalls

Last of the windfalls

Even mum helped picking

Even mum helped picking

Apple chutney

Apple chutney

Nanny Mac’s Apple Chutney

Recipe (Makes 12 x 325 gm. jars)

48         oz      Apples -prepared

24         oz      Onions

24         oz      Brown Sugar

16         oz      Cider Vinegar

8            oz      Raisins

8            oz      Sultanas

0.25      oz      Fresh ginger – peeled and grated

1            oz      Salt

0.25      oz      Dried Chillies

0.25      tsp     Cayenne Pepper-ground

2-3 Cloves garlic- crushed *


  1. Peel and chop onions
  2. Grate fresh stem ginger
  3. Cook apples and onions together in vinegar.
  4. When soft add brown sugar and remaining ingredients.
  5. Cook until chutney ‘mounds’
  6. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary
  7. Fill pre-heated jars
  8. Screw on lids firmly.



If you were offered a ticket to go to an Olympic event, which event would you choose?

No 1 hubbie aka Warwick chose ….. Beach volleyball!

So whilst great jollifications were had on Horse Guards Parade, back in the garden the marrows and courgettes were getting bigger, the mangetout and beans needed picking, tomatoes and peppers in the greenhouse were being overrun by  weeds. whilst those in the garden were in ‘take-over’ mood. Then to cap  it all, we both took a brief break to catch up with family  in England. So weeds took over the garden!!!

Whilst in England we took the opportunity to visit some properties once owned by W’s great, great grandfather. One is now a business centre and the other a housing estate.

A summer’s day or The Irish get everywhere.

Picture a typical hot summer’s day in an English village, even the duck’s are taking a rest. A sign in front of the ancient church saying, “Cream teas from 3-6pm” Who can resist the next cup of tea? Ignoring the pub lunch eaten just two hours before, in marched the men! Needless to say we followed. Or at least I was pulled up the path and pushed into the  cool of the ancient interior. We are welcomed by other participants. Pews had been turned to allow tables to be set up. Inevitably we are asked where we are from. My husband’s reply” Ireland”, elicited an exclamation  and response of “So are we”! from two ladies at the same table.

Animated conversation followed. One lady had been a music teacher at Mercer’s school. (one of the schools which had been subsumed into King’s Hospital School.)  I mentioned that I had worked at Wilson’s Hospital School; the same lady asked whether Jimmy McKeon was still alive. The lady in question had taught ‘little Jimmy’ to play the piano. The ladies were Mrs Rachel Young and Mrs Agnes Curtis

Cream Tea

Cream Tea on a sunny Sunday afternoon

 The ducks from the village pond were snoozing

Ducks snoozing on a sunny afternoon

Ducks snoozing on a sunny afternoon

As Mornington and it’s garden have been been whipped back into shape so we are beginning the annual round of jam and chutney making. A friend advised us to dig the whole potato crop to avoid damage by worms.

Cutting tomatoes for chutney

2012 crop of potatoes

2012 crop of potatoes in Nocholas Moss bowl.

2012 potatoes in Stephen Pearse bowl

2012 potatoes in Stephen Pearse bowl

Potato Soup

5-6 large Potatoes

Centre of head of celery – roughly chopped

2-3 Onions – diced

2-3 Leeks (if available) – cut up

Chopped Parsley

2 litres Chicken stock


Salt & pepper


  1. Bake potatoes in moderate oven or cook in micowave oven
  2. Cut potatoes in half lengthwise
  3. Scoop cooked flesh out of potato with a spoon or melon baller.* *Keep potato skins and flesh separately.
  4. Sauté onions and celery heart until soft but not brown.
  5. Add cooked potato flesh and chicken stock.
  6. Simmer for 5-10 minutes.
  7. Add chopped parsley and chives.
  8. Process with soup gun or food processor until smooth
  9. Season to taste and adjust consistency.

Meanwhile, back in the garden the marrows have been picked and will be made into chutney and pickles.

Courgettes and marrows

Courgettes and marrows heading to the kitchen

Tomatoes grown in the greenhouse some chopped for chutney. The cherry tomatoes cut, brushed with olive oil and dried for salad and pizza toppings.

Preparing tomatoes for chutney and relish

Watching as the sun rises and its rays creep across the meadow, bathing the old oak in golden light is magical. Knock Eyon comes into view, appearing out of the mist which settles over the lake like a blanket of cotton wool.   Bats, late to bed, are still flying around; whilst the blackbirds, thrushes and other birds  announce their presence with a tuneful dawn chorus . Meanwhile guests  sleep,  unaware of the world awakening outside their window.

Herbaceous bed with hay meadow in the background

Herbaceous bed with hay meadow in the background

“A parcel has just arrived in the post and it’s for you.” To my delight it was the ‘sea kale” plants I had ordered from Sutton’s Seeds a few months ago. Ordering plants when the weather is cold and frosty is the sign that spring and summer are just round the corner.

Eating a plateful of freshly cooked sea kale, drizzled with butter and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice has to be one of  life’s guilty pleasures.  This year, we were only able to serve it once as the bed had been ravaged by the freezing temperatures of the winter of 2010-2011. When I saw plants advertised by Sutton’s seeds, I jumped at the chance to purchase some new plants. I had planned to work in the garden again today. However, the ‘light’ showers turned into ‘heavy’ ones so there has been a slight change in plans.
Gardeners must be optimists by nature. We plan, purchase and plant seeds and plants. On the way through the garden, up to the hens, we peep under the fleece to see if the peas have germinated. This year we have found germination rates have been low and growth has been a little slow. However, the lawns and weeds are still growing fast!

A kitchen garden staple
The rhubarb has  grown  in the garden for many years. We rely on it to emerge, without fail, each spring. This year, growth came early. It appeared to have ‘died back’ and we thought growth was finished. However, surprise surprise! The rhubarb has had a ‘second growth spurt’  in recent weeks as we have received more rain. Rhubarb can be oven poached for pie fillings or for breakfast. served with home-made granola, and plain yoghurt, it is delicious.

When cutting it is important to cut off the leaves, however, they cannot go on the compost heap as they contain a chemical which inhibits growth. we put it out for the halloween bonfire.

Rhubarb stalks washed and trimmed ready for use.

Rhubarb stalks washed and trimmed ready for use.

Cut rhubarb into bite-sized pieces

Cut rhubarb into bite-sized pieces

Adding sugar to rhubarb prior to cooking.

Adding sugar to rhubarb prior to cooking

  1.  Add sugar to cut rhubarb and toss to coat fruit, add 1/2cup water. cover with lid and put in oven for 30-45min. or until rhubarb is barely cooked. Check texture with point of sharp knife. Allow rhubarb to cool before use.
  2. Bake pie shell blind for approx 20-30 mins. at 160°C
  3. Coat base of pie with 1-2 Tbsp. softened apricot jam.
  4. Fill pie shell with partially cooked rhubarb.
  5. Thicken resulting liquid with a little arrowroot.
  6. Pour over rhubarb in partially baked pie shell.
  7. The topping is a crumble topping pre-toasted on a baking sheet in the oven for 20-30 mins.                                                                                            Putting topping onto pie
An Apology
I was planning to put up a photo of the finished lusciously juicy pie, however, with guests waiting in the dining room and the butler becoming edgy it was cut and served. I served it with small hazelnut meringues, a mixed fruit sauce and home-made strawberry ice-cream. Clean plates came back!

Learning To Cook
Last weekend, a guest asked me where and when I had learned to cook. In hindsight I was fortunate that both my mother and my grandmother’s were great cooks. My father was a natural forager. Bilberries and blackberries were picked on the hill behind our home, then ‘bottled’ for use in pies in the winter. Rabbits or hares snared, pheasants, partridges or pigeons shot, all were used to feed the family, supplementing such meat as was available from our local butcher, as rationing was still in place  during much of my childhood. There were always vegetables and fruits from the garden. My grandfather would travel up to Yorkshire from his home in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire and double dig our garden for my mother; plant the potatoes and sow the parsley.

Here at Mornington, two gardeners worked full-time in the garden. The house was fully staffed with cook, scullery maid, parlour maids and chauffeur. The cook prepared the meals for the family and staff.

As a child, there was always room at the kitchen table for me. Space cleared, presented with the scraps of pastry I was told to get on with making my pie! The results were probably inedible, but were always presented with pride, to parents, grand-parents or indeed anyone who was visiting. They always went along with the game, pretending to eat the offerings. In truth, the scraps of grey pastry ended up feeding the birds or hens!

I have since learned to make pastry!

Sweet Pastry
12 oz. Plain flour
6 oz. Butter-cold
1-2 level tablespoonfuls castor sugar
1 Egg yolk
Cold water. I usually allow 1 level teaspoonful per oz. flour


  1. Cut fat into flour and sugar, using two dinner knives or rub in with fingers*
  2. Add egg yolk and cut in water, using table knife. Or use a food processor.
  3. Avoid over handling pastry. Pull pastry together and shape into circle.
  4. Wrap dough on cling film. chill in refrigerator. This allows pastry to ‘relax’ prior to rolling.
Sweet pastry shaped and ready for rolling

Sweet pastry shaped and ready for rolling

Our donkeys rolling in the dust

Spring sunshine is always welcome, it can uplift the spirits; but it can also show up the windows that need cleaning and the dust hidden in the corners. Is that really a piece of Christmas wrapping paper I can see tucked behind the sideboard in the dining room? The beginning of another season of guests is just round the corner.

Daffodils in full bloom

We have been taking advantage of the milder weather to work in the garden. In particular, to plant vegetable seeds. Warwick takes pride in producing many of the vegetables, fruit and herbs used here in the kitchen. Last year, we were particularly successful with our crop of leeks. Being a ‘careful’ yorkshire woman, I wanted to make sure none went to waste. So I am madly including them in my dishes. Some were used for a pot of leek and potato soup, others were used for the chicken pot pie we served to the Irish Georgian Society last Saturday. See below for the recipes.

Leek and Potato Soup

2 large onions
Centre core of head of celery, including leaves.
2 cloves garlic
6-8 Leeks; depending on size and availability.
6-8 Potatoes, peeled.
Chicken stock; fresh or use a good quality stock cube*
Parsley, sprig fresh thyme, chives. Washed in cold water.
Butter, olive oil
Salt*and Black pepper.
* If using a commercial stock or stock cube taste before adding additional salt. Many commercial products contain significant quantities of salt.

1. Peel onions and potatoes.
2. Remove outer/damaged leaves of leeks.
3. Wash well in clear, cold running water
4. Cut vegetables into large chunks.
5. Sauté onion, leeks, celery and garlic in heavy based skillet /saucepan until soft but not brown.
6. Add potatoes to onions and leeks, toss together.
7. Add stock, sufficient to cover well, add roughly chopped herbs.
8. Bring to boil and simmer over low heat until potatoes are very soft or are breaking up.
9. Using a soup gun or food processor puree the vegetables.
10. Add additional stock and cream until desired consistency is achieved.
11. Adjust seasoning to taste.
12. Reheat before serving
** N.B. Be careful not to burn bottom of saucepan when reheating

Chicken Pot Pie

1 large Chicken
2 Onions
3 Cloves garlic
3 Sticks celery
2 large Carrots
4 Leeks use outer leaves in stock keep centre for pie filling
Parsley stems* use leaves for filling.
2- 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 Tablespoons Black Peppercorns
Fresh Marjoram
Bay leaf

1. Put chickens in a large saucepan Cover with water.
2. Cut vegetables into chunks. Add to saucepan with chicken.
3. Bring to boil.
4. Simmer until chicken is cooked. Approx 1-11/2 hours
5. Chicken is cooked when internal temp. in thickest part of chicken is 75◦C
6. I always check with temperature probe.
7. Remove chicken from saucepan and allow to cool.
8. Reduce stock by boiling until liquid is reduced by half.
9. Put through sieve to remove vegetables.
10. Cool sieved chicken stock quickly by sitting saucepan in sink of cold water and ice cubes. Once cooled, refrigerate until required. If not needed same day the freeze in clean, shallow plastic boxes. Mark box with date of production.
11. Meanwhile remove flesh from bones of chicken and cut into large dice. Reserve.

Chicken Meat Cooked Diced
1-2 large Onions Peeled and diced.
2 cloves Garlic Peeled, crushed
4 large Carrots, Peeled and cut into small batons or slices
8 oz Mushrooms Washed and quartered
Core of a head of celery, (Including leaves.) Chopped
1-2 Green and Red Peppers Diced or cut into small strips
2-3 Leeks Sliced in rounds
Chicken stock Use stock retained from cooking chicken
Parsley, thyme, marjoram Chopped
Salt & Black pepper
Butter and olive oil
Glass Dry White wine*

Pre-heat oven to 160◦C

1. Sauté mushrooms until they have release most of their water content and are beginning to brown.
2. Remove from pan and reserve in a separate heatproof casserole.
3. Cook carrot batons in boiling water 3-4 minutes. Add to casserole
4. Add peppers and celery and leeks to casserole.
5. Add diced/sliced chicken to casserole
6. Sauté onions and garlic in a little butter and dash of olive oil until soft and golden brown. Add sufficient flour to absorb fat and fry to cook flour. Add retained stock, bring to simmering point to thicken and cook sauce. You may need to add additional roux to thicken sauce.
7. Add chopped mixed herbs, wine and a little cream
8. Adjust seasoning to taste
9. Pour sauce over ingredients in casserole.
10. Put casserole in pre-heated oven.
Make savoury scones.

1lb Self Raising Flour or
1lb Plain Flour and 2dessertspoons Baking Powder 4 oz. Butter or Margarine
2 Eggs well beaten
Chopped Parsley
Pinch salt
Milk or water to mix.

1. Sieve dry ingredients together before adding fat.
2. Rub fat into flour until mix resembles cake crumbs.
3. Make a well in centre of mix and add three quarters of required liquid
4. Add beaten eggs and a little milk toss together with either knife fork or fingers.
5. Add more milk until mix will easily combine together.
6. Turn onto floured board. Roll quickly or press out by hand to about ¾ inch thick.
7. Cut out with small cookie cutter.
8. Brush with beaten and egg and a little milk.
9. Place on top of chicken casserole.
10. Bake casserole until scone topping is cooked and scones are golden brown.

Noddy in the Ladies Walk wood

Noddy in the Ladies Walk wood

Visit of Irish Georgian Society to Mornington House