Stir Up Sunday – and make a wish

We are entering that wonderful pre-Christmas season where there is still plenty of time before we panic about shopping and presents. It feels wintry enough to start getting in the mood by making advent calendars and pomanders. So put another log onto the fire, if you have one, or light up the scented candles if you haven’t.

At Riverside we have revived one of winter’s best pre-Christmas traditions – Stir Up Sunday – which this year falls on Sunday November 25th, tucked in nicely between Thanksgiving (November 22) and the first Sunday of Advent (December 2). It is the day families make their Christmas puddings with each member of the family getting a go to have a stir and make a wish as they do. The puddings, so they say, should be stirred from west to east to represent the direction the Three Wise Men travelled to Bethlehem, but I don’t think it will have any bearing on the flavour. What you must do, of course, to keep the wishes coming, is to include a silver sixpence.

When families were big enough and hungry enough to plough their way through three or four puddings over the festive season it made economic sense to buy all those packets of dried fruit, muscavado sugar and treacle, but nowadays, when most of us struggle to finish one Christmas pudding, it makes sense to go for quality rather than quantity. Apart from all the half finished packages of dried fruit and glace cherries there are only so many times you can move a barely touched tin of treacle round the kitchen cupboard until you lose it. So, with that in mind we at Riverside have come up with the perfect compromise, a Christmas pudding that you can make yourself but comes all measured out with nothing left out – we’ve even included a silver sixpence – with no half empty packets to clutter up your cupboards until next Christmas.

The Make A Wish Christmas Pudding is on sale now – why not buy it in time for Stir Up Sunday or you could leave it closer to Christmas Day (as long as we don’t run out), we know it will taste just as rich, moist and delicious either way.

To order simply click here

And so to Autumn – Welcome

Riverside Cottage is always a wonderful place to come home to, but as the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness arrives it becomes even more magical. The light softens, the garden gives up its harvest of blackberries, apples, quinces and lavender, and every riverside walk brings a little more of a glow to our cheeks.

It’s the perfect time of year to dream and plan? Can you downsize, up size or just squeeze your work into a more civilised three days a week? Or perhaps you just want to press into some heels and a little cobalt dress, as Vogue is now describing as this season’s must have blue.

Can we help you share that dream, whatever it is. Every fortnight we will bring you up to date with a little bit of something that makes life that little bit more pleasurable, and invite you to enjoy it with us.

This month we’ve been blackberrying and picking up windfalls. There’s nothing like a bit of foraging for giving you a virtuous frugal glow. You can gather the ingredients in one afternoon’s walk and the scent in your kitchen as it bubbles away will intoxicate you all evening.

We managed to pick 1kg of blackberries, which we paired with just over half as much again of peeled cored and quartered apples (just over 500g). As a general rule you should use as much sugar as fruit and about a 100ml of water for every 1kg of fruit.

Combine all the ingredients and heat gently until the sugar is dissolved then boil away until setting point is reached, roughly ten minutes but test it by dropping a blob of jam onto an ice cold plate  – if it wrinkles when cool it’s done. If not, keep going, but take the jam off the heat as you test for setting point so you don’t over do it.

While your jam is bubbling away sterilise the jam jars in the oven (put them in a cold oven and heat up slowly to 180C – it reduces the chance of them cracking). Pop them in the oven just as the jam reaches setting point then as the jam is cooling slightly the jars can sterilise, it takes about twenty minutes. Fill the jars as they come out of the oven and make sure the jam and jars are roughly the same temperature to avoid cracking the glass. Leave the jam to settle for a few minutes then seal with a circle of waxed paper and a (sterilised) screw top lid or cellophane and rubber band. You can play around with gingham circles and raffia later.

And voila, a shelf full of jewel-coloured gorgeousness to see through to Christmas, all you need to do now is splash out on a £3.20 ciabatta from the farmer’s market and a pot of tea and your day is complete.

What a Tree

Last year I had the opportunity to participate in the annual olive harvest in Andalucia while staying with a Spanish family.

It was truly a family affair with every member of the group related in some way and taking pride in bringing their crop to market, while chatting, shouting, laughing , and sometimes ranting while the job was underway.

In one day we collected hundreds of basket loads of Olives. We beat them off the trees with big sticks causing the olives to fall into the nets below. We then removed the twigs and any random dirt and placed them into clean baskets ready to put on the truck and into the mill the next morning.

We had to be at the mill as early as possible in order to secure the first cold press of the day so the olive oil retained its flavour and quality.

From that day, I wanted my own olive tree grove and if I couldn’t, I could at least pretend and dream!

Well yesterday… I achieved it. I had a 150 year old olive tree delivered to my door.  It looks so beautiful with its wide girth and twisted trunk – I wonder what it is about olive trees that makes them appear to have such authority, as if they deserve to be respected. They each seem to have a personality of their own with a rich history to tell.

If you’d like your very own olive tree check this out.