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For home-grown treats, plant fruit trees | Life and style

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Growing your own is often touted as a quick, cheap and easy route to self-sufficiency, but even as someone who makes their living helping people do it, I have to tell you that it is really none of those things. But the good news is that the incredible flavours, enormous range of varieties, fresh air, exercise and sheer joy of the process more than make up for the considerable investment in time, effort and cash that it requires to grow food for yourself.

However, there is one type of crop that is a notable exception, providing you with harvests for decades to come and giving you access to many hard-to-find varieties in exchange for very little outlay: fruit trees. And right now is the perfect time to plant one.

I think people are often put off growing fruit trees because of all the confusing pruning rules and hard-to-follow diagrams you find in gardening books, but here is the simple truth – dig a hole, plant an apple tree in it, water it regularly for the first year or so and then, without doing anything else, you will enjoy a harvest of apples for anything up to the next 50 years.

The trees will, of course, grow bigger and produce more fruit if you get the pruning right, but this really isn’t essential. The trees will do just fine if left to themselves. All you have to do is look at the fruiting apple trees growing on the verges of many of the country’s motorways, which must have sprouted from the pips in cores chucked from car windows, to know that these trees absolutely do not require teams of dedicated horticulturists to stay alive.

Too sweet? Sour cherries used to be so popular.



Too sweet? Sour cherries used to be so popular. Photograph: Nenov/Getty Images

I’d go for an unusual variety, such as something from the Redlove group, created by ingenious Swiss breeders. They are not just a brilliant vermilion on the outside, but even stained blood red to their core. Their good sweet/tart balance makes them great for eating either fresh or cooked. They give pies, compotes and fruit salads a wondrous red hue.

If you want something even quirkier, try a quince. These curious fragrant little fruits, like a cross between an apple and a pear, can be grown in exactly the same way as either of their close relatives. You can use them as you would a cooking apple, too. With a beguiling aromatic “pear drop” perfume and slippery texture, they are indescribably delicious in everything from jams to crumbles.

Finally, sour cherries are definitely worth a mention. Before the Second World War at least 50 sour cherry varieties were commercially cultivated in Britain; now we barely have one. With a hefty dose of acidity that contrasts against the avalanche of sugar used in pies, jellies and compotes, they are superior in every way to the bland supermarket types. Don’t be put off by their “sour” name either because, in fact, fully ripe sour cherries contain just as much (if not more) sugar as so-called “sweet” ones – they are just paired with a bright, fresh acidity, making for more flavour all round.

If you have space, plant one of each, and thank me for years to come.

ollow James on Twitter @Botanygeek



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Boozy poached pear trifle by Ravneet Gill | Christmas food and drink

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Christmas is for decadent food and enjoying simple traditions, like watching classic films, catching up with family and playing games. When you have a million other things to do, putting together a trifle is such an easy option. I mean, who doesn’t like a bowl of custard, cream and fruit? The best thing is you can adjust and adapt to suit your taste, no booze? Less cream? Different fruit? Totally fine!

Makes enough for 1 x large trifle for 8, or individual glasses
For the trifle custard
double cream 850ml
vanilla extract 1 tsp
egg yolks 3
whole eggs 3
caster sugar 125g

For the poached pears
pears 4 large, peeled
caster sugar 150g
water 700ml
star anise 1
cloves 2
cinnamon 1 stick

To assemble
sponge fingers 1 pack (200g)
sherry to your taste
double cream 500ml
caster sugar 20g
flaked almonds 20g, roasted

Begin by making the custard so it has enough time to chill. Gently warm the cream and vanilla until it begins to steam. Remove from the heat. Whisk the yolks, whole eggs and sugar together. Pour over the warmed cream and whisk. Pour the combined mixture into a large bowl, and sit it on a saucepan of gently simmering water on the stove, making sure it doesn’t directly touch the water. Stir with a whisk frequently until thickened. Transfer to a container and allow to cool completely before placing in the fridge.

Place the pears, sugar, water and aromatics in a large pan making sure the water is covering the pears. If not, top it up. Place a circular piece of parchment directly on the surface of the water to keep the pears submerged. Bring to a gentle simmer until the pears are cooked, around 25-30 minutes, until a skewer placed in slides straight out. Allow to cool before cutting – slice the pears into strips, removing the core, or dice up, depending on how chunky you want the fruit. Keep the liquid to poach more pears.

To assemble, place the sponge fingers into the bottom of the chosen dish. Drizzle over the sherry, being as generous as you like – but not TOO much or it will be too wet. Place the cooled sliced pears on top. Spoon over the cold custard. Gently whip the cream and sugar to soft peaks and top the custard. Finish with a sprinkling of roasted flaked almonds. Serve immediately or keep in the fridge for 2 days.

Ravneet Gill is a pastry chef and the founder of Countertalk


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Nigel Slater’s recipe for pappardelle, mushrooms and harissa | Food

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The recipe

Put a deep pan of water on to boil. As it boils, salt generously then lower in 150g of pappardelle and cook for 8 minutes.

Thinly slice 300g of chestnut mushrooms. Warm 6 tbsp of olive oil in a large frying pan, then add the mushrooms. Let them fry for 4 to 5 minutes until they start to toast, then add 2 very finely mashed cloves of garlic. Thinly slice 4 spring onions. Let the garlic and mushrooms cook for 1 minute or until the garlic is fragrant, then add the spring onions and continue cooking for another couple of minutes until soft. Stir in 3 tbsp of harissa paste.

Lightly drain the pappardelle, toss with the mushrooms and serve. Grate a little parmesan over at the table. Serves 2

The trick

Mushrooms drink an amazing amount of oil. Be prepared to add a little more as they fry. It is important to get them to the right colour – a deep, toasty brown – before you add the mashed garlic.

The twist

This is the sort of recipe that can take a bit of tinkering. Add some crumbled sausage to the pan before you add the mushrooms or perhaps a handful of chopped streaky bacon.

Follow Nigel on Twitter @NigelSlater



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My stunning wife makes no effort with our sex life – and I’m losing all interest | Life and style

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My wife and I have been married for several years. Over the past six months, I have felt my overall sexual attraction to her diminishing to the point that, even though she is absolutely stunning (she could be a model, which I am reminded of by strangers almost every time we go out together), I no longer find myself sexually attracted to her at all. At the start of our relationship, the sex was OK and we were very sexually active for the first two years. I have explained to her that she lacks passion, no matter how much energy I bring. She rarely initiates sex, and when she does, she simply says: “We should have sex tonight,” which is a turn-off. In our last conversation, she said she is just shy. After several conversations, she said she understood what she needed to do and would work on it, but shortly afterwards she asked for sex outright without any real effort with mood or energy, so I just didn’t feel up to it and turned her down again. Two months on, she has settled back into just avoiding it. She is a lovely, caring woman, but my patience has worn thin, which sucks in such a young marriage. I don’t know what to do.

When a person feels judged – especially as frequently as you have described – they can lose confidence and withdraw. As a rule, positive reinforcement is the best way to teach a person. In your situation, that would mean praising and rewarding even small achievements and never again finding fault. I suspect she is feeling confused – especially if you have not been sufficiently specific with her about what you like. It is not enough to complain: “You never initiate sex!” Instead you could, say, mention a video you once saw, where a woman unexpectedly walked through the living room wearing “X” or “Y”, then invited a man to follow her upstairs – and ask her to consider doing something similar. Your wife cannot read your mind, and I believe she does not really understand how to be seductive the way you would like. So, she may need very specific requests such as: “Would you mind doing this, saying this, wearing this?” If she addresses any of your requests in even small ways, be sure to praise and reward her amply. Eventually she will regain confidence. But in terms of her own libido, it is up to you to kindly and non-judgmentally encourage her to share her own interests and tastes with you. This might be uncomfortable for her, so do not push – again, praise her and act on anything she does reveal. Your job is to discover how she likes to be pleasured – that is the best way to fix this.

  • Pamela Stephenson Connolly is a US-based psychotherapist who specialises in treating sexual disorders.

  • If you would like advice from Pamela on sexual matters, send us a brief description of your concerns to [email protected] (please don’t send attachments). Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions: see gu.com/letters-terms.

  • Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure discussion remains on topics raised by the writer. Please be aware there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site.


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