The weather is cold and most days are wet although there are some bright interludes of piercing low winter sun which lights the gardens, dazzling in its brightness. The leaves on tree and shrub have turned from forty shades of green to as many autumnal hues of russet, crimson and gold as they gently fall to carpet the ground at our feet.
The gardeners are kept busy with ‘winter work’ clearing vegetable beds of earlier crops leaving leeks, cabbage, kale and neeps to harvest over the next few months. Any surplus fruit and vegetables are donated to the food bank in Elgin.
In the cut flower beds all is activity as the gardeners unearth and divide several of the herbaceous plants such as bright starry flowered rudbeckia and traditional old garden favourite anthemis. Known more commonly as camomile it produces a profusion of attractive daisy like flowers and fronds of aromatic foliage. The colourful display of dahlia flowers is long past so the gardeners are lifting the precious tubers to store over the colder months.
With spring 2022 very much in mind, the planting of 10,000 bulbs is well underway and we look forward to a fabulous display of aliums, anemones, daffodils and tulips. Numerous tulip filled tubs are planned to surround the café and placed as ‘sentries’ at the entrance to display a profusion of vividly coloured blooms to welcome visitors.
Special care is given to the cut flower beds to ensure a supply of early flowers for local florists to cut and for the gardeners to prepare the ever popular flower bouquets so that visitors can take home a little piece of the gardens to welcome the first days of spring.
Earlier in the Autumn, the well known BBC Television programme Landward came to the gardens to film part of Episode 20. Click the image below to view the visit!
Nick Nairn waxed lyrical about the garden produce most especially the deep golden Gordon Castle plum. This rare fruit caught Nick’s interest; he described it as ‘ juicy sweet, with a complex flavour almost sweet and sour all at once.’ The plum was propagated by John Webster head gardener here from 1850 till his death in 1890 when his son Charles took over the role.
Nick so enjoyed the plums that he took some away with him to create a pudding on his cooking stage at Cullen Harbour. The programme was screened on Thursday 4th November. If you missed it you can catch up on BBC iplayer.
This year Ed, the head gardener had a quest to find out how large a marrow could be grown in the garden. He definitely succeeded and the largest, weighing in at a whopping 35kg has been officially named ‘leviathan’!
We are spoilt for recipes this month. It is amazing what you can make out of just one marrow from cake, to jam, to chutney and soup, even a delicious dairy free lemon curd. Not forgetting Nick’s special Gordon Castle Plum Claffoutie!
The restaurant uses garden produce as much as possible and is open from Wednesday through till Sunday from 11am till 4 pm. Takeaways are available on Monday and Tuesday. To celebrate Autumn and Christmas to come the café is serving Tipsy Afternoon Teas from 5th to 20th November followed by Christmas Afternoon Teas from 24th November until 23rd December. Remember to book in advance
The gift shop is open Wednesday to Sunday. This year featuring a special book ‘ A Taste of the Highlands’ by Ghillie Basan which features a piece about Gordon Castle and the famous Gordon Castle Plum Gin Christmas cake recipe– time to get baking I think!
Ghillie will be signing her book on Friday 17th December between 2-4pm.
Gordon Castle marrow and tomato relish
1.2 kg courgettes or marrow – de-seeded and chopped
1 red and 1 green pepper – de-seeded and chopped
1 large onion – peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic – peeled and crushed
1 tablespoon salt
900g granulated sugar
1 tin chopped tomatoes
300mls white wine vinegar
20g mustard seeds
10g ground coriander
15g ground ginger
10g ground cumin
2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons chilli flakes
30g potato starch
Put the courgettes/marrow, peppers and onion into a large pot, sprinkle with sale and just cover with cold water. Leave to soak overnight in a cool place. Drain well and put into the pan along with the sugar, tomatoes and spices. Stir together and bring to the boil. Simmer till the liquid is greatly reduced. Thicken a little with slaked potato starch. Jar while hot, seal and label. Leave to mature one week and then enjoy. Once opened store in the fridge for up to one week.
Marrow lemon curd
1kg (2.2lbs) marrow – de-seeded and roughly chopped
Simmer in a little water till tender then blitz smooth
Add 225g (8oz) granulated sugar
The rind and juice of 2 lemons
85g (3oz) butter
Bring slowly to the boil stirring all the time. Simmer slowly till the mixture thickens – it takes a while so be patient and stir to make sure it does not stick. Thicken with a little slaked potato starch if it does not thicken enough, this will depend on the texture of the marrow. Pour into clean jars while hot, seal and label. Store in the fridge and use within two weeks.
For those who are dairy free you can omit the butter.
Spicy marrow soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1.2 kg marrow – chopped
1 large onion – peeled and chopped
2 carrots – peeled and chopped
2 large potatoes – peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 stock cube
2 tablespoons tomato puree
Salt and ground black pepper
Heat the olive oil and then sweat the vegetables and curry powder together in the hot oil for a few minutes to soften. Barely cover with water and add the stock cube. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour. Add the puree and simmer a few minutes. Blitz smooth and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Fudgy spicy marrow chocolate cake
75mls (2 ½ fl oz) sunflower oil
60mls (4 tablespoons) milk
140g (5oz) soft brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 teaspoon ground ginger
45g (1 ½ oz) oz cocoa powder
175g (6oz) self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
30g (1oz) blitzed sunflower and pumpkin seeds or chocolate chips
200g (7oz) grated marrow
Heat the oven to 180C (160C fan) 350F, Gas 4. Oil and line a baking tin 20cm square.
Mix the eggs, oil, milk, sugar and essence together. Sift the cocoa powder, flour and baking powder into the wet mixture, add the seeds and courgettes and mix together. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes till risen and firm and the point of a skewer inserted in the middle comes out cleanly. Cool in the tin. Dust with vanilla sugar or cocoa. Cut into squares and enjoy freshly baked. Store in the fridge and eat within four days.
Nick’s Gordon Castle plum clafoutis
I have taken this down from the demonstration on the programme where Nick and Dougie cooked the clafoutis in a barbecue at Cullen Harbour!! Nick used individual dishes and I reckon the amount of batter he mixed would do four such dishes of you could use a shallow 25cm ( 10in) diameter oven proof dish instead.
450g (1lb) ripe plums – stoned, each fruit cut into 6 pieces.
Put into a bowl and sprinkle with a little caster sugar
80g ( about 2 ½ oz) plain flour
Beat this together then beat in 150mls ( 5 fl oz) full fat milk
100g (3 ½ oz) caster sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla.
Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan) 400F, Gas 6. Butter the inside of the dishes you plan to use then sprinkle this with caster sugar. Add plenty of fruit into the base then pour over the batter. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes for individual dishes or 35 minutes for a larger pudding. Till risen, firm and golden on top. Serve warm sprinkled with caster sugar.