Anna Jones’s maple toffee apple and pear crisp

This is everything I want in an autumn pudding. Melting orchard fruits spiked with ginger and cardamom and a topping that’s half crisp and half crumble, which reminds me of oatmeal cookies. I eat this with thick Greek yogurt mixed with a little honey and vanilla or, if it’s really cold, good hot vanilla custard.

Serves 4-6

  • apples 3
  • pears 3
  • maple syrup 2 tbsp
  • prunes 75g
  • dried figs 50g
  • candied ginger, 2 pieces, finely chopped
  • unwaxed lemon 1
  • vanilla pod 1, seeds scraped (or 1 tsp vanilla paste)
  • ground cinnamon ½ tsp
  • ground cardamom ½ tsp

For the topping

  • rolled oats 100g
  • ground almonds 50g
  • butter or coconut oil 100g
  • light brown sugar 75g
  • white spelt flour 100g
  • salt a small pinch

To serve

Greek or coconut yogurt whipped with a little vanilla and honey

Preheat your oven to 200C/gas mark 6.

Peel the apples and pears and roughly slice them. Toss them with the maple syrup in a roasting tray and cover the tray with foil. Roast for 15 minutes in the hot oven, then remove the foil and roast for a further 10 minutes until the edges catch and caramelise.

Meanwhile, roughly chop 50g of the prunes and all the figs, finely chop the ginger, and place the whole lot into the bottom of a 24cm round (or equivalently sized) baking dish. Grate over the lemon zest and add the juice of ½ the lemon, add the vanilla and spices and mix everything together. Cover the dish with a clean tea towel and leave to one side.

Make the topping by rubbing the oats, almonds, butter, sugar, flour and salt together with your fingers. It will feel wetter than a crumble topping and you’ll be left with larger pieces of butter, but you should have a very rough crumbly dough after about 4 minutes. Chop the remaining prunes roughly and mix them through too.

When your apples are ready, mix them with the fruit and spices in the baking dish, then sprinkle over the topping. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes, until deep golden.

I serve mine with some Greek or coconut yogurt, whipped with a little vanilla and honey.

From The Modern Cook’s Year: Over 250 vibrant vegetable recipes to see you through the seasons by Anna Jones (Fourth Estate, £26)

Apple Gingerbread Cake

Elise’s Apple Gingerbread Cake with some modifications by Jean
I think it was originally from Canadian Living


  • 13/4 cup (425ml) unsweetened apple sauce
  • 13/4 cup (425ml) unsweetened apple sauce
  • 1 cup fancy molasses  I use about ¼ to 1/3 cup corn syrup topped to 1 cup with molasses
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 ½ tsp cinnamon plus ½ tsp each of salt, ground cloves and nutmeg  I use less salt and cinnamon: ca. 1 tsp cinnamon plus 1 tsp mixed spice* and freshly ground nutmeg


Set oven at 350F I use 325F on fan setting

Bring apple sauce to boil in a small saucepan, remove from heat, whisk in molasses and allow to cool but remember it will pour more easily when slightly warm.

Beat eggs in large bowl, beat in sugar, continuing until pale and thickened. Gradually beat in oil until blended.

In a large bowl whisk together flour, salt, baking soda and spices. Stir into egg mixture alternately with apple sauce mixture. Ensure any lumps of flour are properly mixed in.

Scrape into 10 inch (3 litre) Bundt pan. I use a non-stick one lightly oiled.

Bake at 350 (325 fan) for about an hour until edges firm to touch and centre springs back. Fan setting cooks in 50 to 55 minutes.

* Mixed spice is a standard spice mixture available ready mixed in UK supermarkets. The precise mix appears to vary but I would blend cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, allspice and maybe caraway. Some mixes contain ginger but I always have that as a separate spice anyway.

Chocolate Oat and Nut Bars

Adapted from Chocolate Nourish Bars in “gather A Dirty Apron Cookbook” by David Robertson


  • 100g Hazelnuts*
  • 2 cups quick oats
  • 100g chopped pecan nuts
  • 170g unsalted butter**
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • 300g chocolate chips 70+% cocoa 
  • ¼ cup hazelnut butter*
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • ½ tsp Kosher (ie large flake) salt
  • 17g cocoa powder

Set oven to 350F. Toast hazelnuts on a baking tray until skins beginning to fall off and nuts golden. Transfer to cool plate so skins can be rubbed off between sheets of kitchen paper towel. Put oats on tray and start toasting before adding pecan nuts which brown more quickly. Nuts and oats should be golden. When hazelnuts are cool and skinned, chop coarsely.

In a heat proof bowl combine maple syrup, chocolate, butter, nut butter, vanilla, salt and cocoa powder. Place bowl over gently simmering water and stir until chocolate melted. Or use a heated bowl set to 120F. Remove from heat and add toasted oats and nuts, mixing in with a spatula.

Line a 9 inch square metal baking tin with parchment paper and pour chocolate mixture into it, smoothing to ensure no air bubbles are trapped. Chill in fridge for several hours or preferably overnight. Cut into small rectangles and store in fridge.  NB it is quite difficult to cut – use a sharp knife, possibly run under the hot tap and dried.

I think this would work just as well with mixed nuts.

*recipe uses sliced almonds (and almond butter) which are toasted with the oats

** recipe calls for coconut oil which I used first try but I think unsalted butter will work just as well if not better as it stays firmer at a slightly higher temperature. The butter must be unsalted as salted butter has a higher moisture content.

The original recipe uses twice my quantities and a pan 9 by 13 inches.

Chocolate orange GF cake

NB see the note about the amount of ganache, probably half quantity would be sufficient

** Chocolate orange truffle cake (Thomasina Miers)

A layered cake of citrussy zing and chocolate truffle ganache.

Prep 15 min
Cook 45 min
Chill 4 hr
– Serves 10 – 12


  • 2 oranges
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 125g ground almonds
  • ½ tsp baking powder (gluten free if needed)
  • 3 eggs
  • Candied orange, to top(optional) I didn’t bother, it’s quite enough with the orange base

Ganache try half quantities

  • 300g dark chocolate, plus extra to shave(optional)
  • 3 tbsp liquid glucose white corn syrup can be substituted
  • 3 tbsp Cointreau, Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
  • 400ml double cream

Heat the oven to 180C (160C fan)/350F/gas 4. Put the oranges in a pan, cover with water, bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes to remove the bitterness from the pith. While these are cooking, line a 22cm springform cake tin with greaseproof paper and cover the outside with foil to stop any leaks.

Once the oranges have simmered, take them out of the water, cut in half, scoop out the seeds and put in a food processor with the caster sugar, almonds and baking powder. Whizz for a minute, add the eggs and process for a minute longer – a few lumps are OK. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 12-14 minutes, until pale golden. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Meanwhile, break up the chocolate and put in a heatproof bowl resting above (but not touching) a pan of barely simmering water. Add the liquid glucose and orange liqueur, and leave to melt, stirring occasionally. Once melted, set aside.

Beat the cream until it has slightly thickened (but not so it’s stiff), fold half of this into the slightly cooled chocolate, mix gently, then fold that back into the remaining cream. Pour the mixture over the sponge, tap the tin gently to even out the filling, or use a palate knife, and refrigerate for at least four hours.

This amount of ganache seemed too much and I used only about 2/3 on the cake, reserving the remainder for serving with ice cream as she suggests.

To serve, run a hot palette knife around the torte and loosen. Transfer to a plate and decorate with shaved chocolate, or candied orange.

I found that it freezes well: cut into serving pieces on waxed paper, freeze on a metal baking tray, when frozen wrap in the paper followed by cling film. Store in a box in the freezer. To thaw: unwrap while still frozen because the ganache does not freeze completely solid  and leave at room temperature or store in fridge. 

Home made lactose free yogurt

We have plain yogurt with breakfast every day and both prefer a fairly thick style. I read that making yogurt at home is quite easy and own a KitchenAid heated bowl suitable for its incubation. One of the main reasons for attempting to make it is to reduce the number of plastic pots: two 650g pots per week seems like a lot of plastic which we might be able to avoid.


2 litres 3.25% Lactose free milk

½ cup Olympic Organic Balkan-style 3.5% MF plain yogurt (or Astro lactose free Balkan style)

This yields about two 650g pots. I read that converting milk to yogurt separates most of the lactose into the whey which can be mostly strained out so ordinary milk would probably be OK if the whey is discarded but I use some of it for baking and stir some back in if the yogurt is very thick.


Saucepan to scald milk, cooking thermometer accurate around 100C (200F) with probe which can be used to stir liquid, heated bowl


Heat milk in pan to 85C to 90C (185F), stirring while heating to prevent it burning. Leave at around that temperature for several minutes; this alters the protein structure so the yogurt will set. Cool milk to around 45C and set heated bowl to 110F. Pour most of the milk into the heated bowl. Stir the remainder of the milk with the half cup of yogurt and add to milk in the heated bowl, stirring gently to distribute it through the liquid. Leave to incubate for around 8 hours at 110F. The longer it incubates the thicker and more acidic it becomes.

After incubation it is set and could be used after chilling but we prefer it strained. I use an old worn, and therefore thin, linen teatowel but two thicknesses of cheesecloth is also recommended. I line a steel colander with the teatowel and place it over a large bowl before transferring the set yogurt to the lined colander. I leave it to strain for at least an hour before transferring the yogurt to storage pots in the fridge. I retain 2 cups of the whey (the yellowish liquid left in the bowl after straining) to use for baking muffins. It can be used in place of milk in baking recipes as it contains protein.

Whichford pots

For a birthday more years ago than I care to remember, but in England so more than 21, we had an outing to Whichford Pottery to look for a suitable present for me and the garden. We came home with three very attractive terra cotta pots which had been made by hand there. The largest was a “second” because it is slightly asymmetrical. Having attempted to master pottery on a wheel subsequently I can’t imagine making something this size.

They survived the journey across the Atlantic and are a welcome feature in our garden each summer; we store them carefully each winter because, although they may well be frost resistant in English winters, they are unlikely to survive the freeze/thaw of our Montreal climate.

I enjoy seeing them in a group; when the deck was larger (before the sunroom was built) I used to have the largest in the corner with the two smaller ones near it. For several years we kept a lovely standard hibiscus with apricot coloured flowers in the largest pot for the summer, moving  the plant indoors for the winter. It eventually became too big to manage and was gratefully accepted by a friend who had a large conservatory/sunroom. The smaller ones I planted with toning shades of Million Bells type petunias.

Since the deck was reduced in size we’ve placed the pots in front of some tall grasses to one side of the grassy area where they form an attractive feature. The biggest pot calls for something tall and structural so for the past few years I’ve planted it with Canna lilies which have orange and red flowers with nasturtiums in the smaller pots beside it. When I was growing and overwintering dahlias I put some dwarf ones in the smaller pots but decided dahlias were too much work a few years ago.

Last year we had another cool spring and the nasturtiums did not germinate well. I had to buy some more seed and have a second attempt so this year (2019) I am experimenting with a different approach: bought pansies in the small pots early in planting season with a packet of nasturtium seed to bring on indoors, for planting out later in the summer when the pansies are over. Mid to late summer it should be a reasonable temperature indoors for the nasturtiums to germinate but hot enough outdoors for them to grow fast. We shall see!

Victoria Day


“Victoria Day is a Canadian statutory holiday celebrated on the Monday preceding May 25 in every province and territory. It honours Queen Victoria’s birthday. In Quebec this holiday is called “Journée nationale des patriotes.”

The weekend when it falls is generally called The Long Weekend despite the fact that most statutory holidays are Mondays. Most importantly in Quebec it is when most people start their “gardening” for the summer, ie buy and plant “flats” (polystyrene rectangular boxes) of annual bedding plants such as petunias, impatiens, geraniums, marigolds and pansies. It is the busiest weekend of the year in garden centres and by the time everyone is back at work front gardens are transformed with colour. And apart from mowing the grass and a bit of weeding that seems to constitute gardening for many Montrealers.

The date around mid May means most chance of overnight frost has past and usually the weather has warmed sufficiently for comfortable working outdoors. Our first experience of this weekend transformation took us by surprise: we had noticed ready planted hanging baskets and tubs appearing outside supermarkets along with their outdoor tents for shelves of bedding plants but did not expect everyone to do their planting on the one weekend so Tuesday driving to work gave us a pleasant surprise of instant colour.

That year we had determined that gardening was something we’d done in England and we intended to spend the summer weekends exploring our new territory. Also our container of furniture and possessions was delayed until well into June (that’s another story) so we had no gardening equipment, but we gradually succumbed: a few geraniums when our nice big terracotta pots arrived and then a few more plants until we were digging a new pond the following summer.

After a few years we learned to shop for our annuals before the rush of The Long Weekend and started planting in early May, occasionally having to protect against a late frost but in 2019 everything was delayed. We had returned from a visit to England a few days before Victoria Day but the weather was cool and wet with daffodils and hyacinths in flower and tulips only in bud. Deciduous trees were only starting to unfurl their leaves and the magnolias were still in bud. A week after Victoria Day found trees almost fully in leaf, magnolia blossoms nearly finished, although they had been spectacular, and tulips blooming alongside the later narcissus.

In 2019 we went to buy our annuals after Victoria Day when it appeared that much of the usual rush had taken place as some of the shelves were quite depleted. However I found enough of my “usuals” and have spent the past few days planting up window boxes and other containers.  Cascade petunias in the window boxes as usual but a couple of experiments elsewhere: pansies in the small Wichford pots while it is cooler, to be replaced by nasturtiums later in the season, and some different shade tolerant flowers in the pots on the front steps: dark-leafed ipomea, mauve alyssum, purple-flowered lamium and a couple of dark pink violas. Since the magnolia grew so large and shades the front steps it has become more of a challenge deciding what will do well in these pots.

Now nearer the end of May we have restained the deck while it is still cooler and are enjoying the blossom on the sour cherry tree, not that we expect to eat any more fruit than usual. The Viburnam carlesii again has lovely pale pink, clove-scented flowers. It must be four years since the digger backed into it, damaging the base of the trunk but it has survived, propped on a rock, each year producing lovely blooms, more than before its accident.

Post Abbey career

For International Women’s Day 2019 The Abbey School, Reading, where I was educated from age 11 is adding details of alumnae’s careers to its website. This is their call for information:

“We would love to hear from our alumnae about your illustrious lives and careers to inspire the next generation of girls as they begin on this journey themselves.”

And this is my response:

I am sure you will hear from many women whose exciting and successful careers were launched from an Abbey education but wondered if you would also like to hear from a fairly average student whose career could not be described as illustrious but was nevertheless enjoyable.

I left The Abbey in 1967 with A-levels in Chemistry and Zoology which enabled me to follow a full-time HND (degree equivalent) in Applied Biology. For several years I worked as a research technician in Pharmacology and Zoology departments with Wellcome Research and Birkbeck College, London. I found the work interesting although I realised I did not have the brain to pursue a career in academic research. I even worked for a couple of years proofreading scientific reports.

At Birkbeck I had found myself involved in quite a lot of administrative work for our unit, liaising with the Bursar about our grant funding. I discovered a liking for financial administration and ended up training as an accountant with a small town practice. Not one of the Big Three but three offices and about ten partners. I specialised in personal taxation and trusts. This may sound like something of a career leap but in fact both lines of work require the compilation and evaluation of data.

The backgrounds in Biology and Finance also informed many of my outside interests in ecology, botany, habitat conservation and amateur drama. When people discover you are an accountant they ask you if you would “take on the books” for a variety of organisations. I have helped with administration of drama clubs, a dance team, Women’s Institutes, Church groups, charities and birding clubs.

In 1998 my husband’s work brought us to Montreal, Canada. My Abbey education once again stood me in good stead as my memory of French irregular verbs proved quite accurate despite giving up the subject after O-level. I was able to achieve a certificate of competence in French for the workplace which pleased me so many years later.

Apart from work, my Abbey education reinforced my life-long love of reading literature, especially Jane Austen. In Canada, our love of the natural world has been allowed full rein exploring our home province of Quebec as well as further afield, always based on my knowledge of Zoology which was started at The Abbey. My work in Canada used my accountancy skills in the financial administration of a bird conservation charity and helping to manage a shop catering to wildlife enthusiasts.

My advice to current Abbey students who are considering their future careers is to stay flexible; some of you will have clear career paths but for others it may appear confusing. I studied subjects I enjoyed and found interesting which enabled me to work in a variety of fields and change to different lines of work as circumstances changed. My choices at school were important but not irrevocable. I hope yours bring you as much enjoyment as mine have.

Summer 2015

By mid-July the construction work was just about finished and new turf laid so we appreciated the regular rainfall which followed more than we might have done other years. About 50 dahlia plants went into half of Richard’s veggie plot, sacrificed to my plants. The apricot-flowered bronze leaf ones (City of Ankmaar) mostly went into the bed we made last year in front of Tony’s wall, with maybe six plants in Wichford pots. I managed to squeeze some plants in odd places around the garden and about eight in the site where we had previously grown dahlias, in front of the deck, once the turf job was finished. Woody pieces of tuber and ones which had not produced shoots ended up on the old open compost heap in the shaded area behind the new extension, where they grew and – despite the lack of sunshine – produced 4 or 5 flowers.compost dahlia flwr

Eventually I got tired of picking dahlias from the veggie plot for display indoors and decided to drastically cut back on the number to overwinter. We’ll keep the apricot ones, some Caribbean Fantasy (white, yellow and dark pink) and any remaining Balthazar, but abandon Who Dun It and the pink dwarf ones.

We were able to buy some cheap junipers and other perennials for the new beds beside the front culvert, added some bits of Vinca and watered assiduously because the soil is not very deep. We gradually repaired the edges of beds where clay and sand got dumped and by the end of August it was looking like a garden again. Richard created a nice work area for me on the garage side of the house where I kept my pots of lilies after they had flowered. We bought new benches for the paved patio area outside the back door when we discovered it was such a pleasant shaded area while the deck was in full sun. It turned out to be a favourite spot for afternoon tea.


early June 2015

As the building work is using the site of my dahlia bed I have to decide where they will be grown this summer. R has kindly sacrificed one of the raised beds intended for veggies, but the dwarf (border) ones and short bronze leafed ones need homes….I am also suffering from an embarrassment of riches.

The lupin which hangs on but not really thrived is growing up through a volunteer Rosa rubrifolia which seems to work quite well: the colours set each off and the rose holds up the rather leggy and droopy lupin.

lupin & rose2