I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Christmas at Rachel’s Pudding Pantry by Caroline Roberts
Also by this author: The Cosy Teashop in the Castle, The Cosy Christmas Teashop, The Cosy Christmas Chocolate Shop, Rachel’s Pudding Pantry
Series: Pudding Pantry #2
Also in this series: Rachel’s Pudding Pantry, Summer at Rachel’s Pudding Pantry
Published by One More Chapter on 31st October 2019
Genres: Chicklit, Christmas, Contemporary, Humour, Love & Romance
Source: from Netgalley
Cosy up with the new novel in the Pudding Pantry series, full of love, laughter, kisses under the mistletoe, and plenty of delicious pudding!
The first snow is falling over Primrose Farm, the mince pies are warming, and Rachel can’t wait to share a kiss under the mistletoe with her gorgeous new flame, Tom.
If only it was all comfort and joy . . . The arrival of Tom’s ex brings an unwelcome chill to the farm. And despite Master Baker Mum Jill’s valiant efforts, the new pudding pantry business is feeling the pinch.
With a spoonful of festive spirit, a cupful of goodwill with friends, and her messy, wonderful family by her side, can Rachel make this a Christmas to remember?
Thank you to One More Chapter for letting me take part in this tour and for my copy of this book via Netgalley. I enjoyed Rachel’s story in the summer and I have been waiting ever since to get my Christmas fix at Primrose Farm.
Before you start this book I recommend doing some baking (or shopping for some bakes). This book is full of sweet treats and there are 12 recipes for you to try! I am definitely going to make the Toffee Apple Crumble. I quite like the sound of the Baileys cheesecake too.
Caroline has created 4 generations of Swinton women that are strong, hard-working and easy to love. From the eldest with Granny Ruth to the youngest with little Maisy. These women are fighters.
Not only do we see the ups and downs of the Pudding Pantry we also see how tough it is to run a farm. Especially at this time of year. Rachel and Tom go through some really tough times in this book. It’s something that most people wouldn’t even think about let alone experience.
The Swinton girls are still struggling with the loss of Robert, Rachel’s dad. Robert took his own life more than 2 years ago. Grief is a funny thing. One minute you are doing just fine and the next something sets you off. A memory, a smell and you are right back where you were when you first lost that person or animal.
This book is a deliciously festive treat. The Pudding Pantry is cosy and warm. I would love to spend a few hours there with a hot drink and a cake or two.
Rachel was teetering up a ladder with a strand of fairy lights in her hand.
‘Just a touch more to the left, love, that’ll even up the loops.’ Jill, her mother, was poised at the base of the ladder, keeping it steady and giving directions.
‘Okay . . .’ ‘Careful, now.’
‘I’m all right.’ Rachel leaned from her perch to give them a tweak. She was used to doing far riskier things out on the farm, not that she would have enlightened her mum about that.
Rachel was fixing the twinkly white lights to the guttering of the old barn, ready to give the Pudding Pantry – their new business venture – a festive facelift and a touch of winter magic. From her vantage point, Rachel could see down across the yard and into the farmhouse kitchen window, glimpsing the large pine table and chairs that had been there for as long as she could remember. Memories of Christmases past suddenly came flooding back.
Sitting there on her father’s knee, aged about six, the scrumptious turkey dinner now eaten, festive crackers snapped, corny jokes read out and Robert, still wearing his bright red paper hat – now a little skewwhiff – bouncing her up and down boisterously, while singing ‘Jingle Bells’ loudly. Granny Ruth and Grandad Ken, as well as Grandma Isabel, were sitting there at the table, looking on merrily, with Mum busy at the Aga preparing pudding, scolding him with a smile on her face, telling him that all that bouncing about would make Rachel feel sick after her big meal.
Jill was busy steaming her Christmas pudding ready for dessert, and Rachel, who as a little girl wasn’t that keen on the rich fruity pud, was looking forward to a slice of the treat made especially for her and, ready on the side, a Chocolate Yule Log, with thick cocoa frosting covering a rolled chocolate sponge. Rachel loved the little robin that was brought out annually to pop on the top as decoration along with some sugar paste holly leaves.
Smiles and laughter, festive fun and full tummies. Gifts had been given, nothing too lavish but always much wanted – hmm, that might have been the year when she’d got her Jessie doll; the feisty, smart cowgirl from the Toy Story films. That was the only doll she’d ever asked for, preferring model tractors and farm toys in the main, and soon after, the real things. Jessie was still there upstairs in her room somewhere.
Oh yes, Christmas at the farmhouse, she remembered the warmth of the Aga, and the warmth of their hearts: the family together.
‘Rachel . . . are you all right up there?’ Mum’s voice broke her reverie.
‘Ah . . . yes, fine.’
Life had changed so very much, and Christmas had felt empty these past two years, as though they were just going through the motions. Her father’s death had cast a dark shadow over them all, but it was time to recapture some of that festive magic for her daughter Maisy’s sake – in fact, for all their sakes.
Life had shifted in ways they could never have imagined, and just this summer they had transformed the derelict stone barn into a gorgeous little tearoom where puddings were very much their ‘thing’. Stepping inside the Pudding Pantry, you’d find a counter filled with a mouthwatering selection of Sticky Toffee, Chocolate, Ginger and steamed Syrup Puddings, crumbles galore, lusciously moist Carrot Cake, an Autumn Berry Pavlova, gluten-free banana cake and a selection of home-baked scones, not to mention crisp, buttery shortbreads and frosted cupcakes. Everything was made here at the farm. The Aga in the farmhouse kitchen was always on the go, with delightful baking aromas drifting over the farmyard – guaranteed to make your tummy rumble. They’d had a good start over the summer season, but business in the Pantry had started to slow worryingly during October. It was time to get themselves ready for the build-up to Christmas, and to try and boost trade. The fairy lights were a festive nod in the right direction.
Once again up the ladder, at the far end of the barn now, with the lights all in place, Rachel looked across the hawthorn-hedged fields where their sheep and small herd of cattle grazed happily. The leaves on the trees in the nearby copse were drifting down on the breeze, leaving jumbled heaps of golds and copper beneath them, ready for Maisy to tumble through in her wellingtons with a giggle. Further, into the distance, the high moorland hills of the Cheviots rose majestically, bracken bronzed with short grassy banks, rising to purple peaks. This view, this place, held so much of her heart.
Job complete, Rachel climbed back down the ladder. She and Jill looked up, admiring their handiwork, the lights strung in loops along the old stone wall, just under the eaves.
‘Well, that’s added a bit of festive cheer, hasn’t it? It looks really pretty,’ commented her mum.
‘Yes, just a soft twinkle. I love it. It’ll look great as the dusk comes in.’
‘It’ll not be that long either, the way the evenings are pulling in these days.’
Rachel glanced at her watch. It was nearly three o’clock. ‘Blimey, is that the time already? I need to go and fetch Maisy from the school bus.’
Within minutes, Rachel had jogged down the farm track and was standing at the farm entrance, waiting for for the minibus to arrive. She wasn’t the only one who was in a rush; Eve came dashing down the lane from her cottage, her dark hair tumbling from its ponytail, in a half-jog. ‘Blimey, I got so caught up in making wooden stars and hearts for Christmas decorations, I hadn’t realised the time. I was trying to come up with festive phrases to paint on them…’ She was panting between words, ‘All I’ve managed so far is “Ho Ho Ho!” and “Merry Christmas” – very original, not.’
Eve was Rachel’s closest friend and craftsperson extraordinaire. She made the most gorgeous soft-toy felt animals and children’s knits, as well as turning her hand to woodwork, greetings cards, and much more. Crafting was her passion, and in addition to her online Etsy store, she kept a selection of gifts for sale at the Pantry, which had proven popular with their customers. With Christmas on the horizon, it was all go for her with the festive crafting.
‘Well, that’ll be keeping you busy. Hmm, the wooden hearts and stars sound pretty and they’d be ideal for the Pantry. Do you think you can make enough so we can have some to sell, too? I want to start making the tearooms really festive now. I’ve just been putting up the outside lights, and some Christmas crafts in there would look great, don’t you think? It is October, after all.’
‘Ooh yes, I can just picture the barn, with that gorgeous old dresser filled with Christmas gifts. I’m planning on making some pretty tealight holders and hand-painted glass baubles as well. Oh, and, I’ll soon be making my Christmas knits and toys. So yes, of course, I’ll make some extra ones for your display.’
‘Gosh, Eve, I don’t know how you fit it all in. Superwoman! But that sounds brilliant.’
With that, there came the low rumbling, more like grumbling, sound of an engine pulling up the hill, announcing the imminent arrival of the school minibus. And minutes later, after it pulled to a halt, out spilled Maisy closely followed by Amelia, Eve’s daughter and Maisy’s best friend. Maisy’s attire was typically half-mast, one sock up, one down, with her school coat-trailing from her arm.
‘Hi, Mummy.’ She ran to Rachel, planting an affectionate kiss on her cheek and rounding off with a hug.
‘Hey, petal. Good day?’
‘Yes, we’ve been painting leaves and doing prints with them, and we’ve been learning all about squirrels and we’re helping to save the red ones.’
‘Oh, that sounds good. Did you know that where we live, here in Northumberland, is one of the few counties in England that still has red squirrels?’
‘Yes, Mrs Brown told us all about that – and they have four fingers and five toes, and their babies are called kittens.’
‘Well, I didn’t know that,’ said Eve.
‘And they have no teeth and no hair when they get borned,’ added Amelia.
‘Hah, they’ll look funny little things,’ said Maisy.
‘Hmm, yes I bet, all bald. Well, you two have learnt a lot today,’ said Rachel. ‘That’s great.’ It was nice that her daughter was happy and had settled in well in her first year at the local school. ‘Time for home then, Maisy?’
‘Yep. Has Grandma been baking?’ asked the little girl hopefully.
‘Oh yes, there’s bound to be a little something waiting at home for you.’ The smells wafting from the farmhouse kitchen had been delicious as she’d left, so there had definitely been plenty of goodies baking away in that Aga.
Rachel had been covering in the Pantry this afternoon before taking a break to fix up the fairy lights; worryingly, the only custom had been an elderly lady and a couple who’d been out hiking in the hills.
They said their goodbyes to Eve and Amelia and set off up the farm track, walking past the field where their small herd of black, Aberdeen Angus cattle were out to pasture, making the most of the late-growing grass. Macduff, the sturdy bull, gave them a stare and one of his ladies mooed. The autumn had been mild so far, but who knew when that might change. Winter could be hard in the Cheviot Hills, as Rachel well knew. Soon enough they’d have to come into the shelter of the cattle shed.
‘Can we go and see Petie, Mummy?’
Petie was Maisy’s favourite pet lamb from this spring. He’d joined the other sheep out in the fields several months ago, but was still the friendliest of the bunch by far. Maisy (plus Rachel, she had to confess) had a soft spot for him, so much so that when the other male lambs went off to market recently, they couldn’t bear to send him. So, he was still here on the farm, even though he was nearly fully grown, full of bounce and cheeky affection. Rachel swore he thought he was a dog at times, chasing about after the quad and their Land Rover, and he loved playing with Moss, the farm’s border collie.
‘Yes, I don’t see why not. We could go and have a check of the sheep before it gets dark.’ There had been that bother with the ewes stuck in the fence yesterday, so it’d be good to check the others were all right and that the fence repair she’d made had stayed sound. ‘We could jump in the Land Rover and go before tea. It’ll be muddy, mind, so you’d better get changed out of your school uniform and get your wellies on.’
They popped in to say hello to Grandma Jill, who was now keeping an eye on the Pudding Pantry which was disappointingly devoid of customers. With it being nearly four o’clock, it seemed unlikely there’d be any more. Jill was still baking like a trojan, but the customers weren’t there in the numbers they had been over the summer. Rachel might have to have a word. She didn’t want to dim her mum’s baking enthusiasm, but they really couldn’t afford to waste all those ingredients.
Jill was already starting to pack up. ‘I’ll be across to the farmhouse soon, love. I’ll just get tidied here and pop back and check on the crumbles I have in the Aga. Then, we can have a quick cup of tea before I start organising supper.’
No wonder it had smelt so good – Mum’s crumbles were divine.
‘That sounds great. But first, Maisy and I are going out to quickly check on the sheep.’
‘We’re going to see Petie, Grandma.’
‘Ah, how nice. Well, give him a pat from me.’
‘We won’t be long.’
‘That’s fine. See you later, then. Oh, here, take a couple of these oat flapjacks with you. You might fancy a little treat whilst you’re out and about.’
Rachel rolled her eyes – Jill was unstoppable when it came to feeding them up with her delicious wares – but couldn’t resist a smile as her mum popped the syrupy flapjacks into a paper bag.
‘Thank you, Grandma.’ Maisy broke into a gappy grin, having recently lost her two lower front teeth.
‘See you soon, my loves.’
Maisy bounded into the passenger side of their slightly battered Land Rover as Rachel took up the driver’s seat. Moss, the collie dog, was in the back, more than happy to join them, and little Maisy was soon chattering on about school and squirrels once more. After a bumpy ride over the fields that made Maisy giggle, they were soon up at the Top Field, where Petie and the hoggs, as the lambs selected for breeding were called, were grazing. Rachel had taken a couple of cobnuts from the lambing shed store to give their fleecy friend a treat. There was no need to call out to him, as he was already galloping across the field to meet the vehicle as they slowed to a halt on the rise.
‘Hello, Petie boy!’ Maisy was out of the Land Rover in a dash, rubbing his nose and ears affectionately, and feeding him the cobnuts.
The little (well, rather stocky now) lamb was so familiar and friendly. He nibbled happily at the treats. It was lovely to see the bond he had with Maisy, but it had meant a difficult decision a couple of months ago when Rachel should have been pragmatic and sent him to market along with the others. She just hadn’t had the heart to do it, nor to have to explain his fate to Maisy. They’d had enough sorrow in their lives. On this rare occasion, Rachel had let her heart rule her head, even considering the farm’s very limited finances.
On a quick drive around, they checked the other sheep, who thankfully seemed to be fine and were keeping away from the fences and out of trouble – for the moment, anyway.
‘Can we have Grandma’s flapjack now?’ a rather hungry Maisy asked.
Rachel slowed the Land Rover and pulled up near a rocky outcrop at the top of the hill. They got out and walked up the last of the rise, with Moss at their heels. As they reached the top, Rachel popped Maisy onto a large, flat mossy stone that made the perfect seat, and clambered up beside her. They sat perched together with the sheepdog at their feet.
‘Here you go, petal.’ Rachel took out the golden-baked flapjacks.
Rachel’s first bite was a toffee-crunchy delight that melted in the mouth – scrumptious.
‘Yummy!’ Maisy announced her approval. ‘Ooh, look, Mummy, the farm’s gone all fuzzy.’ Maisy was pointing down to their valley where, sure enough, you could only just make out the dim golden lights of their farmhouse.
And there, further in the distance, was the soft glow from the buildings of Tom’s farm next door. It matched a soft tender glow within Rachel too.
Since they’d left the house, an autumn mist had swirled in across the lower fields and the stream that ran through the valley, and the view looked as though it was in soft focus. That gentle glowing scene of Primrose Farm made Rachel’s heart lift. It had suddenly got chillier so the two of them sat side by side, keeping closely snuggled for warmth, eating their flapjacks. Moss was keeping alert beneath them, on the lookout for the odd tasty crumb that might drop his way.
Dew was beginning to form on the rocks and the grass as dusk crept upon them, the sky deepening to a purply grey. Rachel was looking forward to heading back down to a warming supper, eaten sitting around the old pine table in the farmhouse kitchen. Mum would be there now, having closed up the Pantry for the night. Rachel could picture the golden-topped crumble puddings sitting there tantalisingly, cooling on the side.
She tightened her arm around her daughter as they gazed down at their farm. And though Rachel’s heart had been shredded these past couple of years – with losing her dad so devastatingly – this legacy of Primrose
Farm, though not always easy, warmed her soul. Keeping it going for the three of them, and especially for Maisy and her future, this gave her purpose. This was home.
The Second Bake of Christmas
Jill’s Toffee Apple Crumble – 1997 and Present Day
In autumn, Rachel used to pick the apples with Dad from the big old gnarled tree in their garden. He’d lift her up in his strong arms so she could reach the fruit, and they’d fill a wicker basket with the large Bramley cooking apples. Mum would keep some to use straight away for her crumbles and apple sauce, the rest they’d lay out on the big kitchen table, the very same table they had now, and wrap them in old newspaper ready to store in boxes under the bottom shelf in the walk-in larder.
Toffee Apple Crumble:
450g/1lb cooking apples
75g/3oz soft brown sugar
For the crumble:
75g/3oz butter, cubed
25g/1oz caster sugar and 75g/1oz demerara sugar
Dice the apples into large chunks and place in a pan with the butter, sugar and cinnamon. Cook gently until the apples just start to soften but are still mostly whole. Remove apples from the pan with slotted spoon and place into baking dish. Pop the pan back on the heat and reduce liquid by half, stirring with a wooden spoon, and pour over the apples.
To make the crumble, sift the flour into a bowl, rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in sugar keeping a heaped tablespoon of demerara to sprinkle over the top. Sprinkle crumble thickly and evenly over the fruit and press down lightly with the palm of your hand to smooth.
Bake at 180°C Mark 4 for 30–40 minutes until the fruit is bubbling and the crumble golden.
Serve with cream, custard or ice cream!
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