THE first snow of the season has fallen. The clocks have gone back. City centre stores have been playing Slade, Band Aid and Mariah Carey on an endless loop for weeks – it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

I read an eyewatering statistic recently that the average parent spends £204 on each child at Christmas. It brought back memories of Christmas past when my niece and nephew were small. They both franticly tore the wrapping paper from their presents – pausing briefly to acknowledge what the gift was before snatching another parcel from the teetering pile of brightly coloured packages. My wonderful, patient sister-in-law tried in vain to slow the process down; she started a list and encouraged the children to make a record of the item and who sent it, in preparation for the obligatory thank-you letters on Boxing Day. It was futile. Just like millions of other children (and adults) they were gripped by Christmas consumerism.

I would like, at this point, to make it clear that I am not a misery. I love Christmas. Before our barn conversion had electricity (or a roof for that matter) I had already decided where the Christmas tree was going. I will happily belt out a rendition of Little Donkey or O Come all ye Faithful with very little encouragement. But on my wish list this year is a Christmas free from landfill.

There’s a growing campaign for all of us to stop buying each other unnecessary presents. Presents, if we’re honest, that will find their way into the ‘re-gifting drawer’ (be careful not to return to sender!) or charity shop come January. We all have enough ‘stuff’, but feel duty bound to exchange spangly tat at Christmas time.

As we push through December you can actually see the terror in shoppers’ eyes as the gift list grows and the bank balance shrinks. Perhaps it’s time we called a halt to this senseless spending. Buy less, but buy better. We have a wealth of clever artisans on our high street, buy something handcrafted that will be treasured, something that’s useful, practical, or an experience. Just not more junk.

I’m sure its age related but I am overwhelmed by random acts of kindness. When I had my café, we had a table we called ‘Jesus’ as it was large enough to host the last supper. It often became a sharing table and unlikely friendships were formed. I lost count of the times that a customer secretly paid for the lunch of someone they had only just met.

I feel privileged to receive boxes of pears (thanks Sue) quince (thanks Jane) and apples (thanks Caroline) from neighbours new and old. I’m beyond grateful when the tea fairies appear at market.

Presents don’t have to cost the earth. A kind thought or the gift of time can be the greatest offering of all.

This month’s recipe is a delicious pear, bramble and rosemary tarte tatin; made in the first instance with gifted fruit. A guaranteed crowd pleaser and deceptively easy to pull off.

Pear, Bramble and Rosemary Tarte Tatin

You will need a 10-inch frying pan that can go in the oven.

Preheat the oven to 190°C


5 or 6 pears, peeled, halved and cored

50g butter

50g runny honey

50g caster sugar

3 sprigs rosemary

1 cinnamon stick

100g fresh or frozen brambles

1 sheet ready made all butter puff pastry


Unroll the puff pastry on to a surface dusted lightly with flour.

Using the upturned pan as a template, cut out a circle slightly larger than the rim if the pan. You may need to roll the pastry out a little further to do this.

Roll the circle of pastry on to a dusted rolling pin and set aside in a cool place.

In the base of the pan, place the butter, sugar, honey, rosemary and cinnamon. Heat the pan over a medium-high heat, until the butter and sugar has melted and started to bubble.

Gently place the pears in the pan, simmer for five minutes or so, turning now and then, until the pears begin to soften and caramelise.

Take the pan off the heat. Remove the rosemary and cinnamon. With tongs, arrange the pears, cut side up, in a circle around the pan. Squish the brambles into the gaps. Once you’re happy with the arrangement of pears, unroll the pastry so it covers the pears. Tuck the edges in. Pierce the top of the pastry a couple of times with a sharp knife.

Bake in a hot oven for 35 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and the caramel is licking up the sides of the pan.

Resist the temptation to turn out immediately, you’ll end up with a gooey mess and third-degree burns. Leave the tarte to rest for 15 minutes. Place a large plate over the pan before turning the whole caboodle upside down. The tarte should plop out. If it has cooled slightly too much and stuck, turn the pan back on its bottom and heat on the hob for one minute before repeating the process.

Serve with Greek yoghurt, mascarpone or crème fraiche.

Sophie runs Bakehouse in the Barn at Hovingham