Sunday, October 29, 2006

Surprise d'Halloween

This gorgeous dessert came from our local French patisserie, Maison Blanc. Its rich, orange chocolate, pumpkin shaped case is filled with the most delicious truffle topped with squirls of dark chocolate. These are serious desserts - death by chocolate springs to mind. You can't rush these, so take your time and indulge, if you can.

Pumpkin Soup

Last week we visited A Taste of Autumn at RHS Garden Wisley. While there we tasted their delicious pumpkin soup and now I can blog the recipe.

Wisley Pumpkin Soup
700g Pumpkin, peeled, deseeded and cubed
25 g butter
100g onion, peeled and finely chopped
10g tomato puree
250ml whole milk
800ml good vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt butter in pan adding onion to fry gently until soft
Add pumpkin and tomato puree (for colour rather than flavour), stir and season
Cover and allow to sweat over a gentle heat until softened
Add milk and stock and simmer gently for 10 minutes
Blend to a smooth puree in a blender or food processor
Pass through a fine sieve; check seasoning and serve.
You could add a little panache with a swirl of yoghurt and a sprinkle of finely chopped parsley. Posted by Picasa

Friday, October 27, 2006

A Taste of Autumn

Friday to Monday last was RHS Garden Wisley's celebration of the season with their Taste of Autumn Fair. This used to be a simple apple tasting day with some activities for children, but like Topsy it has grown.
A marquee is erected on the lawn beside the new grasses border and a great collection of exhibitors are invited for the four days. There are activities for children as the dates coincide with autumn half term and this year a special trail through the autumn and winter trees was launched - the Barking Mad Trail!
Alan and I went to visit TOA on the opening morning, early. We know that Wisley events are very popular and get busier and busier as the day wears on. We arrived in a really heavy rainstorm - even running to the coffee shop wasn't an option for ten or fifteen minutes, but eventually we did get our cappuccinos before we entered the garden. Luckily the rain had cleared completely and the sky was blue-ing up nicely as we walked passed the Laboratory. Just by the front door is the apple mosaic, which this year is a lovely lion with a lopsided face and an impressive red mane. A children's competition is held annually for the design of the mosaic.
The entrance to the marquee was round the corner near where the advisory service and library are situated. We joined the small crowd heading up the walkways across the grass to enter the marquee. A wonderful sight greeted us, as the trials department had put on a wonderful display of chillies and pumpkin type vegetables. It was so colourful and quite surprising to see the vastly different chillies anyone can grow at home. Not just the classic red supermarket variety, but spikey long ones called Pinnocchio, colourful small ones ranging form pale yellow to red and purple, minute red ones, long thin yellow ones. The pumpkins were also surprising; not just Halloween carving ones, but small stripey ones - one called Pyjamas; and another small variety called Microwave. I wonder if you can just microwave it whole! In the centre of the area was the apple tasting table. Here some of the staffof Wisley were busy cutting up samples of the varieties of apples grown in the orchard for visitors to taste. This is a very popular stand, as everyone loves to try the apples. Some even decide to grow their favourite variety; after first checking that they have the correct conditions for growing it. The advisors are on hand to help with this.
Apart from the several RHS displays, around the marquee were the stalls of the exhibitors. These are all apple or autumn related - apple juices, cider, jams and preserves, cheese, wine, nuts and seeds. There was an area set up for demonstrations, and we were able to attend one of these. The first demonstration on Friday was from the Good Housekeeping chefs. They cooked pigeon and duck salad, with caramelised apples. The aromas were mouthwatering and we gladly complied with the chef's request to come up and taste their efforts. Delicious!
This wasn't our only tasting! As we walked around, many of the stalls were offering samples, which were irresistable and we just had to buy jam, wine, apple juice and more. One stall was roasting nuts and another toasting seeds and yet another was cooking vegetarian sausages. There was even a tureen of pumkin soup to sample. So you can imagine the marquee filled with tempting odours.
In a separate area, children's activities were getting underway. Here the young ones could draw apples, write a wish and hang them on the Apple Wish tree as well as carve pumpkins for Halloween and other crafts - what better way to spend and hour or so. And when all the 'in tent' activities have been exhausted, there were guided walks around the Fruit Field. Once again RHS excelled and I'm sure all who visited A Taste of Autumn over the weekend had a wondeful time.
There will be the Crafts for Christmas Fair 21st -24th November as well as a visit from Father Christmas nearer Christmas, and the shopping weekends at the Shop and Plant Centre before Christmas. So plenty to do and see at RHS Garden Wisley.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

The Pagoda at Kew was designed by the famous architect William Chambers; completed in 1762 it was the tallest reconstruction of a Chinese building of its time in Europe, nearly 50 m and having 253 steps. The ten-storey octagonal structure tapers, with successive floors from the first to the topmost being 30 cm less in diameter and height than the preceding one. The original building was very colourful; the roofs being covered with varnished iron plates, with a dragon on each corner. There were 80 dragons in all, each carved from wood and gilded with real gold. Although there have been several restorations, mainly to the roofs, the original colours and the dragons have not been replaced, even though replica dragon were discussed in 1979. In 2006 the Pagoda was opened to the general public for the first time in recent memory. Those who climb its 253 steps are rewarded with spectacular views across the gardens and across London, with the London Eye, the new Wembley Stadium, and as far as Canary Wharf all visible.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Another new innovation this year is The Sackler Crossing, open 17 May 2006. It is designed by architect John Pawson and spans the lake at the western end of the Gardens, contributing to a new route through the Capability Brown landscape, and providing the first passage across water on the World Heritage Site.