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It’s the middle of the seed ordering season – well for me it is anyway. While the more organised folk out there have probably got their orders sorted out and filed away, I’m still fretting over whether the old seed will germinate (and some of it is very old) and how many varieties of tomato we really need. And while we’re on the subject, do you organise your seed packets – and if so how? Is there a foolproof method for keeping seeds so that you don’t forget to sow things until it’s 3 months too late?

Seed packets

Last week my order of cut flower seeds arrived from the Higgledy Garden shop. Beautifully packaged and accompanied by a handwritten letter – now that’s the way to win customer loyalty! And while I was searching for seeds of the tomato ‘Tiny Tim’ (as recommended by Liz at Suburban Tomato), I came across another seed company that was new to me. Today an envelope arrived from Seedaholic in Ireland, filled with a lovely collection of seeds (including ‘Tiny Tim’) and some really clear sowing and growing instructions. So that’s another seed company to add to the list of favourites.

Half squash

While I’m planning for a new year of seed sowing, I’m still using up some of last year’s harvest. There are leeks and parsnips in the garden, and squash stored indoors. One of the best squash varieties I’ve grown is ‘Crown Prince’. It has a lovely grey/green skin and vivid orange flesh which tastes really good. Like many things, it didn’t do so well last year, but was still the most reliable of the different varieties I grew.

Squash 'Crown Prince'

This morning I used some of the squash to make spiced cupcakes, adapting a recipe for spiced apple cake from The Vegetarian Gourmet (the original recipe is worth trying too if you have a copy of the book). The kitchen smelt delicious as the cakes cooked, and they are now cooled, iced with a sweet orange icing, and ready for when the children get home from school.

Cupcake

The orange zest in the cakes and juice in the icing should qualify these cupcakes for January’s Tea Time Treats, with a citrus theme. The challenge is jointly organised by Karen at Lavender and Lovage, and Kate at What Kate Baked…, and this month it’s Karen’s turn to host.

I’m also entering the recipe into this month’s One Ingredient challenge.  For January the ingredient is orange and the challenge, which is jointly hosted by Laura at How to Cook Good Food and Nazima at Franglais Kitchen, is currently to be found on Laura’s blog – if you’re looking for more ideas for recipes using oranges, this is the place to go.

Spiced Squash & Orange Cupcakes

Squash and orange cupcakes

For the cupcakes –

200g pumpkin (weight when peeled and deseeded)

150ml water

125g dark brown soft sugar

75g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 large free range egg

1 tsp grated orange zest

175g plain flour

½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

½ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ground ginger

For the icing –

100g unsalted butter, softened

4 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice

250g icing sugar

A few gratings of orange zest (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180oC, 350F, gas 4.  Line 10 holes of a muffin tray with paper muffin cases.

Chop the squash into small pieces and put in a pan with the water.  Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the squash pieces are tender.  Remove from the heat and mash the squash until it is smooth.  Add the sugar and butter to the warm squash and stir until they melt into the mixture, then allow to cool a little.

Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and spices into a large bowl.

Beat the egg and orange zest into the squash mixture, then add the whole lot to the dry ingredients.  Stir everything together until well combined.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases and bake for 15-20 minutes – they’re ready when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack.

While the cakes are cooling, you can make the icing.  Beat the butter until it is smooth and creamy.  Add the orange juice and start beating in the icing sugar, a little at a time, mixing well until you have a smooth icing.  Spread the icing over the cooled cupcakes and sprinkle some grated orange zest on the top for decoration.

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