Apple and Blackberry Loaf – youth hostels, ballet and a mighty fine pie

One of my aims for #50in50 was to spend more time with friends and I recently spent a weekend with a group of girls I have known for many years. We spent a day walking – fortified by a large number of snacks – and although the weather forecast for the weekend was terrible, we managed to stay dry, if a little windswept. I feel I should share the delightful picture below, which nicely illustrates the problems with middle aged eyesight – how to juggle reading glasses and a map in a howling gale?

We had planned to stay in a bed and breakfast for the night but by the time we actually organised ourselves everywhere was booked up. One of the girls suggested we could try a youth hostel, so we booked ourselves into the YHA in the Derbyshire village of Eyam. I had last stayed there while on a walking holiday when I was 19, when we snuck off into the local village to go to the pub in the evening. Youth hostels have certainly changed – back then I seem to remember there were dormitories, self-catering facilities only and you had to do some jobs before leaving (though I can’t quite remember what these were). This time the five of us were booked into two rooms (with bunk beds), the hostel was warm, clean and there was a lovely hot shower. They also served food (cheap and cheerful, but filling) and there was a bar, serving all the usual – and some very nice local ale!

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The village of Eyam has a fascinating history. An outbreak of the bubonic plague began in the village 1665 when a local tailor received some cloth containing fleas carrying the bacteria which causes the plague. The disease spread through the village, and a decision was made to isolate themselves from the outside world so as not to spread the disease. Families had to bury their own dead and church services were held outside to reduce the spread of infection. The plague lasted around 14 months, with many of the villagers dying – the local church has a record of 273 victims and there are plaques outside many of the houses with details of the victims. There is also a stone outside the village, in which money soaked in vinegar was left in exchange for food and medicine. Despite its sad story, it is a very pretty village and worth a visit.

On a cheerier note, I recently had the chance to tick off something on my bucket list – watching Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake ballet. We managed to get last-minute tickets right at the front of the stalls and it was just spell-binding. I’ll certainly be booking to go again.Swan Lake

Finally, it is quite definitely autumn, so Mr McGregor’s thoughts have turned to pies. He made a delicious steak and ale pie last night, using some ever-so-slightly out of date ale from one of his favourite breweries – the Blue Monkey Brewery, on the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border. I’m not sure how he came to have a bottle of out of date beer in the pantry, I imagine it must have been hidden from view by some less interesting stuff…..

Anyway, it makes a mighty fine pie!

I still have hundreds (literally) of cooking apples to use up, so here is a recipe for an apple and blackberry loaf….

Apple and blackberry loaf (pdf Apple and blackberry loaf)Apple and blackberry loaf 3

150g unsalted butter, softened
60g light brown soft sugar
2 eggs
185g self-raising flour, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp baking powder
3 Bramley Cooking Apples, peeled and chopped into 1cm cubes
180g blackberries

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160 fan, gas mark 4. Grease and line a 900g loaf tin. Beat together the butter and sugar. Then beat in the eggs, one at a time, alternating with a spoonful of the flour. Once this is all combined, mix in the vanilla extract. Mix in the remaining flour and the baking powder. Stir in the apple.
  2. Spoon 1/3 of the mixture into the tin, then add ½ the blackberries. Add another 1/3 of mixture, followed by the remaining blackberries, then finish with the rest of the mixture.
  3. Bake for ~60 mins, or until a skewer inserted in the loaf comes out clean; you will probably need to cover it with foil after about 40 minutes if the cake is browning too quickly.
  4. Leave cake to cool in its tin for 10 minutes before cooling completely on a wire rack.

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