Lilly Higgins is a chef, food and wine writer; and the ultimate modern homemaker. In her latest book, The Homemade Year, she shares over 70 things to make, do and eat at home to welcome every season. Reflecting the Irish calendar, from St Brigid’s crosses in February to Christmas wreaths in December, The Homemade Year will help you move gently through the months and make everyday moments special. The Homemade Year by Lilly Higgins is published by Gill Books, RRP €24.99.

Apple butter

What you’ll need:

1.5kg apples, peeled, quartered and cored. Any Irish apples will be ideal for this

Zest and juice of ½ lemon

300g sugar

2 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ground cloves

1 tbsp molasses (optional)

Makes 4–6 jam jars

My mother once cut out an article for me from a magazine all about the traditional black butter-making that takes place in Jersey. Black butter is a rich conserve of apples, cider and spices. Traditionally Black Butter Nights were held after apple harvest each year. It was a really communal affair that I just love the sound of.

If you’re lucky enough to have access to plenty of homegrown Irish apples this time of year, then make the most of it. Locally grown apples can be bought cheaply by the bagful at farmers’ markets. Every year, I make huge batches of apple butter: a thick apple paste spiced with cinnamon and sweetened with a little sugar. Spread it over pancakes or serve with scones in place of jam. It’s also amazing stirred into hot cider for a perfectly spiced autumnal tipple.

Lilly Higgins is a chef, food and wine writer; and the ultimate modern homemaker.


1 Place the quartered apples in a large pot with the lemon juice. Bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes or until the apples are soft. Cooking apples will be wetter and break down faster; firmer eating apples may need some water to encourage them to break down. If the base of the pot is not covered in some liquid after a few minutes of cooking, add 100ml of water.

2 Work the apple mixture through a food mill or sieve and into a large bowl. You can also use a stick blender. Add the sugar, spices, lemon zest and molasses.

3 Cook, uncovered, in a wide, shallow pan, stirring occasionally to make sure none of the mixture sticks to the bottom. Cook this way for one to two hours, until the mixture has thickened.

4 You can place the apple butter into sterilised jars, freeze, or use immediately. Unopened jars will keep for six months. Once opened, store in the fridge for up to one month.

Lilly’s tips

To make in the slow cooker, add all ingredients to the slow cooker, and then cook on high for four hours, stirring every hour. Blitz till smooth.

A herbal tonic for sore throats

What you’ll need:

8 sage leaves, chopped

4 sprigs of thyme, chopped (leaves and stems)

4 thick slices of ginger

250ml apple cider vinegar

250ml raw honey

1 large jar

Makes 500ml

Lilly Higgins' herbal tonic for sore throats. \ Lilly Higgins

With the change in weather come the coughs, colds and sore throats. It’s inevitable each year once school begins that various different maladies will make their way home. I love having a traditional herbal remedy, oxymel, at hand as a source of comfort for those sore throats. I stir it through warm water or just have a soothing spoonful. Essentially it’s a honey–vinegar mix that can be infused with any herbs and spices you like. I’m focusing on sore throats here, so sage is instantly what comes to mind, along with thyme and ginger for warmth and to stimulate the immune system. You may have heard of fire cider: it’s an apple cider vinegar and honey infusion with turmeric, ginger, horseradish and many more fiery, immune-boosting components. There are many different oxymels and it’s great fun to experiment with them. I find them great as salad dressings too, with a little olive oil.

You can also use this oxymel as a soft drink by mixing it with soda water; that balance of sweet and sour is so refreshing.


1 Fill the jar 1/4 to 1/3 full with chopped herbs and sliced ginger.

2 Fill the jar to halfway with the vinegar, then top it up with honey. Fill the jar as full as you can. The less air space at the top the better, as you don’t want the sage turning brown. Place the lid on and shake well. The vinegar will dissolve the honey over time. Leave to sit in a dark place for a month.

3 Once the 30 days are up, strain the liquid and discard the leaves and ginger. Pour the tonic into a jar with a lid and store in a cool cupboard (or the fridge) for six months or more.

4 Adults can take one to two tbsp three times a day or whenever they’re feeling under the weather. I give one teaspoon at a time to my kids. It’s sometimes a little acidic for their liking, so I stir it through warm water with a little more honey as a soothing drink. It’s also great in salad dressings or drizzled over roast vegetables.

Lilly’s tips

Make a garlic and thyme oxymel by filling a jar 1/3 full with peeled garlic, then add equal parts vinegar and honey. Leave for two–three weeks at room temperature. The garlic is delicious and can be used as well as the honey mix.

Leaf wreath

What you’ll need:

Dried leaves in different sizes and colours

Twine or string


1 wreath base

Ribbon bow (optional)

Lilly Higgins' leaf wreath. \ Lilly Higgins

Going for a walk and immersing yourself in nature is a really nice way to celebrate Samhain as it’s all about the circle of life, respecting and appreciating what’s around us. Create a Samhain centrepiece at your dinner table with pinecones, leaves and chestnuts. Or collect leaves and make a wreath like I have here. The colours in nature this time of year are so beautiful.

Instead of a roaring bonfire on top of a hill, why not light a few candles? Let their warming lights flicker in your home.

Make a memory table honouring loved ones who have passed away. Decorate it with leaves, drawings, objects from nature or things that remind you of that person. On Samhain, light a candle and think of them with love.

I do love a wreath for every season and this wreath of colourful autumn leaves is really beautiful. I’ve used a shop-bought base here and attached my leaves. These bases are widely available and usually cost less than €5 in crafts or home stores. The beauty is that they can be reused year after year. Simply strip the leaves off and start all over again.

It’s really lovely to have a piece of the outside world inside your house this time of year and it helps to make you feel more connected to the seasons.


1 Group all of the leaves into similar colours or varieties. I like doing it by colour.

2 Make little bunches of 3–4 leaves and tie them together with the string, starting with the larger leaves first.

3 Layer the bunches of leaves on your base, tying them as you go.

4 You can work your way around the entire wreath or just do a burst of leaves at one side.

5 You can add a bow or keep it simple, making the leaves the focus of the wreath and acknowledging the season.