Friday, 31 December 2010

Why Mums Don't Need To Go To Iceland

Just a short post about some easy to do party nibbles that I've tried recently which seemed to go down well. I've noticed that there's a great trade in so called Party Food at the supermarkets these days. You can  buy a ton of "party food" at Iceland for a couple of quid, but I dread to think a) what's in it, and b) what it tastes like, so whether you're a Mum or not, save yourself the effort of trailing round the aisles and try this simple recipe that you can knock up in the time it would have taken you to drive to Iceland and back, (for overseas readers that's the supermarket not the country) plus you'll  use up what you've probably already got, and have something that tastes great and contains no rubbish.

Using greek filo pastry means you don't have to go to the effort of making your own pastry, which is beyond the call of duty at this time of year. I recommend keeping a packet of filo in the fridge over Christmas as it can be pressed into mini muffin tins and filled with all sorts of things should the need arise. It's not that I think it's particularly delicious, in fact it's quite bland, but filled with Christmas type luxury goods it works really well.  You also have the advantage of being able to lever yet more food out of the fridge and into people's stomachs, thus using up some of the Christmas leftovers such as smoked salmon, stilton, and cream, before they spoil and are wasted, which is of course, a criminal offence.
The bases
You'll need a packet of filo pastry, and a tin to make the little tarts in - I used a mini muffin tin which has makes two dozen at a time.
Melt a large knob of butter and use it to brush on yourtins and your  filo pastry sheets before you cut it up roughly with a pair of scissors into small squares suitable for your tins, .Scrunch about three layers of buttered filo into each tin, you can be as rough as you like with the finish - it adds to the appearance it bits are left sticking up.
The fillings
I used three fillings because that was what I had in the fridge. You may well think of others.
1.Several ounces of chopped smoked salmon,  (use inexpensive trimmings if you're buying it)
2. Chopped walnuts with crumbled stilton cheese
3. Onion marmalade, with a slice of goats cheese or brie on top

Lightly beat together two medium eggs with a good half pint or so of double cream. Season with salt and pepper, except for the smoked salmon ones, which will be salty enough. It's difficult to give exact quantities as it rather depends on how much filling you put in each tartlet. But I would try to fill the cases and use the cream to fill in the spaces and you won't go far wrong. Bake in a hot oven till golden brown and slightly puffed.  You can serve them straight away, or more usefully cool them and store in the fridge for later.

Go upstairs and do your hair, put on the frock, and the shoes. Teeter into the kitchen and reheat your homemade canapes on an oven tray for a few minutes when you're ready to serve.

Happy New Year!

Friday, 24 December 2010

When Icicles Hang By The Wall


When icicles hang by the wall
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail
And Tom bears logs into the hall
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipp'd and ways be foul,
When nightly sings the staring owl, Tu-whit;
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot,

When all aloud the wind doth blow
And coughing drowns the parson's saw
And birds sit brooding in the snow
And Marian's nose looks red and raw,
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
When nightly sings the staring owl, Tu-whit;
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.
William Shakespeare
From Love's Labours Lost, Act V. Sc. II

This was a poem we had to learn by heart in our English lessons at school, and at the time it seemed  very boring to us, and indeed, recited as it was at our leaden pace, it certainly lacked the tour de force of a great Shakespearean performance.  Gielgud it wasn't. But it does come into my head every winter at some juncture, especially when I see things like this on the roof of the house

so I'm glad now that we did have to learn it. Even though we spent more time making silly schoolgirl jokes about "greasy Joan" than was strictly required.

Even in the depths of winter the wisteria manages to give us seasonal delights.In fact these two foot long icicles are something of a ghost of the summer flowers when you think about it.  I did endanger life and limb to get these shots though - if there had been a sudden thaw I could have been impaled!
Anyway, the Met Office advises us now that no more snow is expected in the Wilts/Glos area before Christmas, - we have got quite enough to be going on with thanks very much, so I'm spending some time making mince pies, wrapping presents, and generally catching up on all the stuff I should have done last week before what will henceforth be known as The  Log Basket Incident. And on that subject, many thanks to all those lovely people who left kind comments about our little incendiary moment, which really cheered me no end when things were looking a bit bleak last week. Our Lady Decorator, Sharon, and her other half is doing a sterling job, and assures me we will all be ship shape again before Christmas day.
Merry Christmas to one and all!
from Kathy and all at Carters Barn

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Change of Address

I've changed my address. I no longer live at Carters Barn in the lovely Wiltshire countryside. I now reside at twenty seven Catastrophe Mansions, Disaster Avenue, Slough of Despond, Hades.

There's a rule of life that says If Something Can Go Wrong, It Will.  So if a fire is going to break out, it will do so a week before Christmas when your rellies are about to arrive, and your decorations are just going up.

I also find that one never looks one's best when a burly fireman is bursting through the front door, hose in hand. I love a man in uniform as I think I've said before, and yet when you should be wearing your best Nigella style black satin dressing gown, floating back elegantly from the kitchen, wodge of chocolate cake in hand, you find yourself in fact wearing your slightly shrunk in the wash cotton nightie, a pair of wellies, and a dog walking coat that's let's face it has seen better days. No make up and a hair style reminiscent of Bill Clinton's worst excesses, where the hair appears to be growing at an angle perpendicular to the head. I'd jumped out of bed and grabbed the first thing to hand before dialling 999. And thank goodness for the Swindon Fire Brigade, and the Cricklade Retained Fire Service. Lovely men, fantastic service. Could not have asked for more. Thanks guys.

I can see the funny side of this now, but only because no one was hurt, thank goodness, when an ember set fire to a log basket in the early hours, and I know that the damage can all be put right. The man from NFU was quick and helpful, and we just have to find a carpet fitter, a decorator, and a builder who can restore us to some normality this side of Christmas. "Stuff" is all replaceable. The only thing I was really upset about was a little thing that's not reallly replaceable

My children made a set of partridges/doves/calling birds(not quite sure which)  many years ago from card and tinsel, following instructions from  Blue Peter, and I have brought them out every Christmas since. So I was particularly sad to see that they had gone in the fire, all but this little charred remain. But I will continue to treasure this single  little partridge/dove/calling bird with it's singed tail as a reminder of good fortune, and wait until my grandchildren are old enough to make me another set. Things could have been a lot, lot worse. So maybe it's not quite Catastrophe Mansions, maybe it's more like twenty seven Lucky Lane, Therebut-Forfortune, Wiltshire.

Black satin on the Christmas list maybe?

PS Please check your smoke alarm batteries, they could save your life.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Kathy's Homemade Christmas

If you're a fan of homemade stuff in general Kirsty's TV series on how to make things yourself will come as no surprise to you, and pretty, homespun and folksy as it may be, lots of us have been doing things like this for years. But it is good to see these easy tideas brought to a wider audience. At least now you don't have to apologize for it, and since it's now vaguely fashionable to have home made stuff around the place, you can even give it to people as presents, and they might even be pleased to get your home produced jar or preserves, or hand knitted scarf, or whatever. The older ones among us may remember the wonderful  Joyce Grenfell's monologue "Useful and Acceptable Gifts" where a lady from the WI lectures on the acceptability of some truly terrible home made items. Crinoline ladies astride the spare loo roll, spring to mind. It was very funny,but it's probably a sign of the times nowadays when people are so time poor, and many of us just collapse on the sofa in front of the tv in the evenings when in times past we might have amused ourselves with a bit of knitting, sewing or craftwork.

All of which brings me to the point - salt dough. Many people think of this as cheap play dough for children but there's no need to relegate this cheap and cheerful stuff to the children's playgroup, although children will love doing it with you. Salt dough is quick and easy and can be made into durable and attractive decorations for Christmas.  Now I really do sound like Joyce Grenfell.

Just mix one cup of salt to each two cups of plain flour, and add about one cup of water to make a dough. Don't use expensive sea salt here, you want the cheapest bag on the supermarket shelf for this. Knead it to a smooth dough and roll out and cut using appropriately Christmassy cutters, remembering to make a small hanging hole at the top.

Bake the decorations in a very cool oven for several hours until dry and hard. The bottom oven of the Aga is ideal or around 200 degrees F.When completely dry allow to cool and paint and decorate as you wish. You can use any kind of paint you like, I happened to find an old tin of red gloss paint at the back of the garage which worked well, but it's a good idea to cover the finished item with a waterproof varnish of some kind, so that your ornaments will keep from year to year.

And remember you can always embarrass your children in years to come by lovingly bringiing out the creations they made when they were three.

Decorate your  items in seasonal colours, glitter, and tie with raffia or ribbons. A bit of gold or bronze paint rubbed on gives a suitably distressed effect if that's what you like. Or you can go for the neat and tidy like the one at the top of the page.

I've made a job lot this year, as we have the village hall to decorate, and can't afford to spend much money on it. So it's home made, homespun, and, to my eyes at least, even prettier.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Disappearing species?

Wow, look at this amazing rarity

yes, I hear you say, it's a greengrocer's shop. Whoopee do.  So what? Well, this is Bramley's - it's the only greengrocer's shop in Cirencester and it's new. The last small greengrocer closed some years ago, leaving the almost the entire fruit and veg market to the supermarkets. There is a farmers market of course, for local seasonal produce but that's not there every day, and fine as it is, it's some way from any parking area, so people tend not to buy large amounts of heavy stuff, like potatoes and oranges.

It may seem amazing to people like my daughter say, who, living in London is surrounded by fine shops selling all kinds of British. European and Asian greengrocery, but in many English towns small shops have, one by one, fallen victim to the overwhelming buying power of supermarkets and closed down. They tend, by the way,  to reopen as coffee shops, I had a quick count up and there are at least eleven cafes and coffee shops in Cirencester at the moment. At least most of them are independents though, and some of them are really good, but I can't help wondering how much coffee people can drink?

Anyway it does seem like perhaps the tide is turning, we now have a fishmonger in the town, and I also noticed a new butcher's shop has opened too, maybe people are at last getting tired of one stop shopping, and some variety will be returning to our town centres at last. And one of the best things about this shop is that it's in the middle of the Brewery car park, so you can buy your potatoes, oranges, swedes and other heavy items and put them straight in the car, without giving yourself a hernia. So hopefully people will use it. I was in a hurry when I snapped this pic on my phone, so didn't have time to go in, but it all looked good and I will certainly be giving it a try very soon.

I'm sorry if this seems unneccesary jubilation over a simple greengrocer's shop, especially coming from someone who bangs on about home grown fruit and veg, but I can't grow lemons say, and the salad's a bit thin on the ground in November, so it's great for those things, but most of all it's a resurrection of some kind of choice and variety in the high street that I'm so pleased to see. Well done Bramleys and good luck!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Robin's Bounty

Robin sent me these knobbly chaps recently

The true quince, Cydonia oblonga, (as opposed to Chaenomeles japonica the ornamental or japanese quince) is something of a rarity in English gardens, so can usually only be obtained if you have, or know someone who has, a quince tree. Ornamental quinces are often seen in gardens and indeed do produce a quince like fruit in the autumn, but in my experience this is nothing like the fruit of the proper quince. They look a bit similar, in that they are both hard and completely inedible raw, but the true quince, when cooked has the ability to be transformed  into a fragrant amber puree, quite unlike anything else. Incidentally it's said that the "apple" of the Garden of Eden was in fact a quince, though it speaks volumes for Eve's powers of temptation that she could lure anyone with such a sour knobbly thing as a raw quince! Maybe it wasn't really the fruit he was after....

Anyway, Robin was kind enough to send me quite a lot of quinces, so I've been playing about with various recipes and ideas for using them. They are famously partnered with apples, and bring a special fragrance to a traditional apple pie which lifts it quite out of the ordinary. But it has to be said that the flavour is fairly intense, and even if you like it, as I do, it can get a bit overpowering after several days of experimental simmering and stirring. So I intend to set aside my creations for a day or two and then come back and see what works best. So far I've made Quince and Apple Jelly, Quince and Cranberry Preserve, Quince Cheese, or Membrillo, and Quince Mincemeat.

Quinces are hard and curiously downy, so first of all you need to wash off the downy covering, then chop them roughly and either boil them until soft and strain through a jelly bag, or steam them in your Mehu Maija hot juice extractor machine if you have one. 
 You will end up with a quantity of clear juice for making jelly, which should be sparkling clear

and quite a lot of pulp that can be seived and boiled with sugar to make quince cheese, which the Spanish dry and eat with cheese, apparently. I've never tried it so I will see how it turns out.

I found I had rather a lot of quince cheese, so I tried mixing it with some of my home made mincemeat, and it's quite delicious. It adds a rich flavour and moistness to the mincemeat which I really like. And finally from an idea I saw on Marisa's blog I cooked up some of it with cranberries to make a Cranberry and Quince preserve. I quite enjoy a dollop of Cranberry sauce with a cold turkey sandwich, but the addition of the quince lifts it out of the everyday and into the seasonal luxury, and even though it's a lot of trouble to go to, as they say on the adverts,
You're Worth It

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Frosty Mornings

Mo and I were setting off for the morning walk, when I found myself sidetracked into looking at the effects of the overnight frosts. She is used to delays, it happens a lot, for one reason or another, and here she is standing pointedly by the gate, waiting patiently.

 Often it's feeding the chickens, or breaking the ice on the pond, or some little job that presents itself on the way from the back door to the gate.

This frost edged rose looked so pretty

and this verbena bonariensis 

Of course, what I really should be doing (apart from walking the dog) is setting out my winter bedding plants in the pots by the back door.
I should have had this job finished by now, but I find it hard to make time for garden duties at this time of the year, apart from the approach of Christmas, it's pretty damp and chilly all the time, and although I know I will really appreciate a few pots of colourful violas during the winter, I find it a real effort to go out and do it.  But I'm pleased to say James and I made a start yesterday and I intend to finish off later on today. So well done me.

Just a couple more Jack Frost pictures, and then I really will walk the dog. 

Monday, 15 November 2010

The Scotch Egg Society

Every Friday morning, the Ancient Order of Scotch Eggers meets at a secret venue near Bristol,  to celebrate the ancient and apparently secret art of the Scotch Egg. It must be secret because it's almost impossible to buy an edible version of this lovely old fashioned food item, under normal circumstances. Dry, mass produced, and all but inedible to anyone but a starving trucker, the Scotch Egg lines up in the petrol station chill shelf alongside the Cornish Pasty in the roll call of Abused Foods of Britain.  If Scotch Eggs could use a phone they'd be ringing a helpline. But  more cheeringly, the home made Scotch Egg can be a truly delicious and portable delight, and like many other simple foods it's down to the quality and freshness of the ingredients. So once again you have to either do it yourself or know where to go. And if you're a member of the Ancient Order you'll know that the bakers in Westbury-on-Trym who make their own Scotch Eggs will be just putting them out on the counter fresh from the pan at precisely o nine hundred hours and Our Man in Westbury will be dispatched to obtain this week's Friday morning supplies.
Scotch Eggs
If you don't live in Westbury-on-Trym you may have to make your own. I know you're thinking, boiled eggs, breadcrumbs, deep frying, takes too long, too much faff for me. But I urge you to have a go. The ones I made took no more than half an hour start to finish. And if you followed my advice last week about  not chucking out your stale crusts of bread, and blitzing them in the processor, you will have a jar of dried crumbs ready to hand anyway.

Fresh medium size free range eggs
2- 3 best quality sausages for each egg
1 egg beaten
Dried breadcrumbs
First put your eggs on to boil, and while they are boiling take your sausages, slit the skins with a sharp knife and remove them.
Press them into a rough ball and flatten out onto a floured surface.
Don't boil the eggs to death, a good five minutes or so should do it, then run them under the cold tap and remove the shells.
Place egg onto sausagemeat and mould around to encase the egg to make a cricket ball sized sphere.
Now dip the ball into beaten egg and coat in breadcrumbs, and deep fry for about five minutes.

And now I suspect you're thinking "but Kathy, I don't have a deep fat fryer, I'm far too health conscious " well neither do I - I just use a small sturdy saucepan with about an inch of oil in the bottom. This means I have to go to the trouble of turning the Scotch Eggs over when one side is done, but I calculate the calories expended in this effort completely offset those incurred by the deep fat frying, so problem solved.

This simple recipe makes an excellent family supper served with salad, leftovers ideal packed lunch. If you want to gild the lily you can use dinky little quail's eggs to make cocktail sized scotch eggs for a party.
Of course, Our Man is also an active member of the British Pickle and  Chutney Appreciation Society, an important sub section of the Ancient Order, who always maintain a selection of appropriate pickle type accompaniments, provided, it's rumoured, by the  chairman's mother. If he should read this he might want to advertise the name of the baker's shop, which eludes me.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Poppy Day

Today is Remembrance Sunday in the UK, or Poppy Day, when red poppies are worn in commemmoration of Armistice Day when peace was declared at the end the First World War, the war to end all wars. I found this touching footage of the Battle of The Somme.

I have no fear nor shrinking. I have seen death so often that it is not strange or fearful to me. I thank God for this ten weeks' quiet. Life has always been hurried and full of difficulty. This time of rest has been a great mercy. They have all been very kind to me here. But this I would say, standing in view of God and eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.
Last words of Nurse Edith Cavell, shot before a firing squad,  October 1915

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Doing Something Useful

I've noticed that I have a tendency to write about useful things you can do with this, that or the other. But sometimes you just don't feel like doing anything very much, so here's a post about not doing anything much. When we went to Surry last week, and collected the acorns I told you about, we also collected these

lovely sweet chestnuts. My husband hails from Surrey and has fond memories of collecting chestnuts as a child. I was quite amazed at how prolific they were - I don't know about other areas of the country, certainly a sweet chestnut in this part of Wiltshire is uncommon, but Surrey is heavily wooded and seems to support the growth of this lovely tree and its equally lovely fruit.  Naturally the nuts you pick in the wild are not so big as the ones in the shops, most of which are imported, in fact I think they are all imported. If you want English ones you have to go and get them. French chestnuts are delicious though. I'm starting to see that the further south you go the better the chestnuts seem to get. Anyway, don't despise the humble english offering, it's fresh, wild and free.

We collected quite a lot in the space of half an hour, and I had intended to do something useful and clever with them. But on Saturday night, it was cold, we lit a fire, David roasted the chestnuts, and we just ate them, What could be nicer than a roaring fire, the Guardian supplement, a glass of something, and a plate of roasted chestnuts.

PS Should you wish to do something more imaginative with chestnuts I can highly recommend Hugh Slightly- Annoying's chocolate chestnut truffle cake recipe

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Fashion Extra

An item by Rachel Johnson in Saturday's Guardian about the  latest fashion for city types to dress in "country clothes" made me smile - "It's only the City types who dress up like the royal family at an Edwardian era shooting party" she says.

And my recent encounter with a country estate agent confirms that this is not only a city trait, as I watched him bounce around a nice old Cotswold house in his Barbour and Hunters pointing out the dual aspect fenestration.

Proper country types, says Johnson wear "Dunlop boots lined with acrylic fluff, ancient fleeces, and their grandfather's tweed trousers with a huge rip in the crotch".

So good to know that I'm still the height of sartorial elegance.

Friday, 5 November 2010

How To Never Throw Bread Away (Hardly)

A good housewife/person will never throw away bread, it's just not done. There's so much you can do with stale bread. The Italians make a lovely salad with it, but you need a decent sour dough type of bread for that. Here in England we tend to make breadcrumbs out of our stale bread and use it for either savoury stuffings, or best of all Treacle Tart. Of course, sometimes the bread gets away. You open the bread bin and there's a big green hairy monster trying to get out. There's nothing to do with mouldy bread but compost.

But most times, you don't have to be Superwife to notice that although  the bread's too stale to make a sandwich  you can still whizz it up into crumbs and store in the freezer in plastic bags ready for use. And with Christmas only seven weeks away, you'll be needing plenty for all that lovely stuffing you'll be making for the turkey.

My freezer tends to be full of plastic bags containing all manner of odd looking things. I don't have many bought items in there, so it looks to the innocent browser like a large collection of Bits in Bags.  Which is what it is.
This is not because I am Superwife, it's because I think my food is better than Tesco's (not saying much) and I find that having a supply of basics in the freezer makes it much easier to produce good things than if you have to start from absolute scratch, making breadcrumbs, and then making the pastry, you tend not to bother, whereas if you already have the pastry case in the freezer and a bag of breadcrumbs, the Treacle Tart, for example very nearly makes itself. So I never throw away pastry either, but use what's left from what I'm making to line a tart tin and stash in the freezer for another day.

Treacle Tart adapted from Rosemary Moon's recipe
1 8 inch/20cm flan tin lined with shortcrust  pastry
3 oz/75gr white breadcrumbs, fresh or frozen. You need reasonably soft breadcrumbs for this, save the dry ones for stuffings
12oz/350gr golden syrup
2oz/50gr ground almonds
grated zest and juice of half a lemon
quarter pint/150ml double cream
1 egg beaten

If you use a solid metal flan tin you don't need to pre bake. But you can if you prefer. Mix the filling ingredients together and pour into the case. Bake in a medium oven for about 30 minutes, covering with foil if it starts to get too brown.
Serve just warm, with clotted cream.

I always used to make treacle tart with just golden syrup, breadcrumbs, and lemon in the traditional way until I discovered Rosemary Moon's more exuberant version, since when I, and my bathroom scales, have never looked back...

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

From Tiny Acorns..

We were walking in leafy Surrey last week and found ourselves ankle deep in acorns, so, having read recently on Kate's blog that acorns make good chicken feed, I thought I would gather some and bring them home. It seemed a shame to leave them all to the squirrels. So I taking the plastic bag from my pocket, - being a responsible dog owner I find all my coat pockets are stuffed with plastic bags these days, -we gathered quite a few handfuls, including leaves and other detritus, tied up the bag and brought them home. As we also gathered some chestnuts, food for people took precedence over food for chickens when we got back and the acorns languished in their plastic bag on the countertop for several days. When I opened the bag this morning, I was amazed to see this

virtually all of the acorns had germinated, some with shoots three or four inches long.Now it comes as no surprise to me that, as all small children know, from tiny acorns, great oaks will grow, but I didn't realize that they would do so quite this readily. So I took them out to the greenhouse and put them in a tray of compost, and will wait to see if they grow into little seedling oak trees next year, I could have my own forest  Obviously this rate of germination can't happen with all the acorns that fall from the tree, since if this were the case oak trees would be crowding out stockbrokers and bankers in Surrey. And what a shame that would be. 

I started to wonder if there's some way that they"know" when they're in a new environment, and can germinate away happily, so I looked it up, and rather more prosaically,  apparently they tend to dry out when they just fall to the ground, and only germinate when a squirrel carries them off somewhere and buries them in damp ground, or when he ties them up in a plastic bag and leaves them on his countertop for a few days.I prefer to think they just know..

Monday, 1 November 2010

Chateau Rita

My past efforts at producing a drinkable alcoholic beverage have not been amongst the greatest of my acheivements. I've many a time produced an excellent and eco friendly drain cleaner, and very occasionally something that you could put into a casserole if you were really pushed, so it was with some trepidation that I promised my friend Rita that I would call round to pick up the two carrier bag fulls of red grapes she had picked from her garden and kept for me, and that I would try to make them into something drinkable. Rita said that she had categorically no other possible use for them, so it was either me or the compost heap, and that being the case, I thought I might as well give it a go. Again.
They have produced almost a gallon of juice, rather sharp and acid, and so I topped it up with some of my pressed apple juice, which is quite sweet. It's certainly fermenting away like the clappers, so let's hope that the end product is something drinkable. I've already got the cleanest drains in the area.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Autumn colour

Victoria plum and Stella cherry trees in veg garden
It really has been a corker of an autumn this year. I don't know what the weather conditions are that make it so, but this year every field and hedgerow is ablaze with wonderful reds, and golds. Westonbirt, the National Arboretum, is only a few miles from here, and I often visit at this time of year to see their amazing display of autumn colours, which is predominantly provided by the collection of Acers. You can see some of them from the road as you drive by, even without going in, and lovely as they are I have to confess that this year, the display along the A419 as I was driving from Swindon to Cirencester the other day seemed almost as good! And all our own wonderful native plants. Unfortunately the local police take a dim view of people trying to take photos whilst driving by, not to mention the blur factor, so I can't show it to you, but I have every reason to believe that many other parts of the UK has had similar displays. Even my wisteria looks a picture with its leaves turning a greeny gold.
Enjoy it while it lasts though, as a couple of days of gusty autumn winds will sweep it all away in a big russetty carpet.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Bed Of Roses

My lovely son, the Professional Gardener, brought me home an armful of roses that he had taken from the last of the summer's display, and I've been enjoying them in a jug on the kitchen table for several days. You simply can't beat garden roses - nothing you get in a florist will ever approach the naturalness and sweet scent of garden roses. And they are all the more enjoyed now, being the last armfuls we are likely to get, - many roses continue with sporadic flowerings during the early winter, but this is the last month for really generous bunches.

As I was drinking my coffee this morning a clump of petals fell off onto the table with a soft thud, and it struck me how they are still lovely, even after they have fallen, and in fact it put me in mind of a line from Shelley "Rose leaves, when the rose is dead, Are heap'd for the beloved's bed".

Let's hope old Percy was thinking rose petals, not "leaves" in the sense that we know them, as the leathery and rather prickly leaves of the rose would make a considerably less attractive proposition as a bed. I expect it's poetic licence or something, what do I know. What I do know though, whilst we're on the romantic theme,  is that you can make your own wedding confetti from dried rose petals very easily. I did it for my own wedding quite successfully. Just gather the petals as they fall and put them in a single layer in a warm place to dry for a few days, if it's a shotgun wedding and you're in a hurry you can dry them on a paper towel in the microwave, but be careful not to overcook and brown them. And if you're not thinking of getting married, they make good pot pourri too.

The Shelley poem I mentioned is a well known favourite about the impermanence of physical things and yet how such things live on in the memory. Funnily enough I know it more as a song than a poem as I used to sing a setting of it in the school choir. Here's the full text

Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory,
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the sense they quicken.

Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
Are heap'd for the beloved's bed;
And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
Love itself shall slumber on.

Percy Byshhe Shelley

Friday, 22 October 2010

Best Cream Tea Ever

I'm a bit of a Cream Tea Connoisseur.  When my children were small and we ran a pub we used our precious Sunday afternoons off trying out the local teas in South Devon, and we all became quite expert, even marking the establishments out of ten. And then we got even more obsessive about it, and marked the scones, the jam and the cream separately, and eventually even the loos!

In recent times the best cream tea I knew of was to be had at the Corn Dolly  in South Molton in Devon. We went there last week during our week away in Cornwall, and very good it was. But I'm afraid it has had to be demoted to number two in my list, as we also found this lovely place, entirely by accident as we disembarked from  King Harry's Ferry on the Fal Estuary.

The Tea House at Tolverne is a pretty thatched cottage, where you can enjoy your tea overlooking the estuary, or on summer days, outside on the many tables in the gardens. From the number of tables I'd guess they must be pretty busy in the summer season, but when we visited it was a quiet October day so there were just a handful of customers. 

It was a bit chilly to sit outdoors, so we sat by the window and enjoyed the lovely view

The scones were fresh and warm, tea was loose leaf in a proper china tea pot, - no tea bags here - and the jam was as close to home made as I have found anywhere. It tasted like damson to me and when I asked the waitress she told me it was "Key plum" or maybe that was "Quay plum", I don't know, as she airily waived her arm in the general direction of an old plum orchard that "they are renovating and we get the plums". So, good for "them" whoever they are, and well done the jam maker, delicious.  We had to ask for more cream, and they were happy to bring us some, but that's probably because the scones were big, and we are greedy.

As we waddled off down the garden afterwards, to look at the beach and get a breath of fresh air,
I spotted this plaque commemmorating the departure of thousands of American soldiers from this beach for the D Day landings in 1944. And indeed, as you drive away, you can still see among the trees, numerous remains of places used by the American troops during the war. An interesting historical and poignant footnote to our visit.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Heritage Apples

Whilst we were in Cornwall last week we popped into the National Trust Garden at Cotehele, to give the dogs a walk and have some tea and delicious carrot cake. And we were also able to have a quick look at the recently planted Mother Orchard, well, fairly recent I think it's two or three years old, but the point is it's eight acres planted with all kinds of old traditional westcountry apple varieties. The kind you rarely see anymore, and which are in grave danger of dying out completely. It's quite staggering to realize that some English counties have lost almost all their traditional orchards, Devon for example has lost 95% of it's orchards since 1945. But it's not all bad news, and the establishment of the Mother Orchard at Cotehele is intended to provide cutting stock for other National Trust properties around the country which can then be used to bolster the numbers of these old cultivars.

It's often thought that apples won't grow well in the wet mild climate of the westcountry, or that they won't grow in the east because it's too and windy, or in the north because it's too cold, but there's an apple for all situations, and you just have to do a bit of research to find the best apple for your garden. Many of the ancient varieties are very local indeed, and are unknown in other parts of the country. Ashmeads Kernel is a great local Gloucestershire variety, or how about a Pigs Snout or a Devonshire Quarrenden, maybe a lovely old cider apple tree like Kill Boys (a particularly crispy variety said to have killed a boy, presumably as a missile, not poisoning one hopes - I feel an HSE warning coming on) or Hens Turds, (not recorded how it got it's name, thank goodness) There are thousands of known cultivars listed as grown in the UK, and many more are unlisted local varieties. I wonder then, why we can only buy about four or five from our supermarkets? Don't get me started...

The ground under old fruit trees was often tended by livestock, poultry, sheep, or pigs, giving extra benefits to the farmer and to the wider natural environment. I noticed however at Cotehele that they were trying out a more 21st century option

This little gadget was running around the place all on its own, cutting the grass, its area of activity defined by electronic markers under the grass, and when it ran out of energy it just goes back to the docking station to recharge itself. And then it sets off again, I could really do with one of these! Goodness knows what it must cost.

And finally I must mention the famous Cotehele Christmas garland, which they make every year from dried flowers grown on the estate and display in the Great Hall. I think it goes up about a month before Christmas. Quite magnificent, and well worth a visit.  Carrot cake's pretty good too.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Bengal Relish - Hot Stuff!

This is the time of year for finishing things up, clearing away the last of the summer crops, (and thinking of things to do with them). I left my outdoor tomatoes a few days too long, and many if the fruits have the tell tale browning of exposure to too cold overnight temperatures. So I gathered them all in yesterday, and spent a hour or so sorting out the undamaged ones to keep indoors for ripening,** and chopped up  the damaged fruits for chutney making.

I've adapted an old WI recipe from a 1970s book I have for the green tomatoes this year. It's actually quite some years since I had any green tomatoes to use up so I'm looking forward to tasting the results of this old recipe. It's called Bengal Relish, - I think that's probably because it's a bit spicy, and in the old days anything spicy was thought to be Indian, hence Bengal. I somewhat doubt that they have green tomatoes to use up in Bengal! Anyway this is a relish, rather than a chutney, the difference being mostly in the amount of time that the mixture is cooked for. Relishes are usually more firm or crunchy in texture, whereas chutneys are long, slow cooked mixtures with a softer texture. You'll need to start the day before as you have to salt the vegetables for a day. This draws out the moisture and helps keep the relish firm.

**even the greenest of tomatoes can be encouraged to ripen up if placed in a drawer with a banana for company, apparently the ethylene gas given off by the banana encourages the toms to ripen.

Bengal Relish

obviously halve or double the recipe according to how many green tomatoes you have, I happen to have about four pounds, so..

4pounds/2kg  green tomatoes, chopped
1 small white cabbage, shredded
2 red peppers, chopped
1lb/500gr chopped onions
4 oz/100 gr salt
 2 chillis 
small piece of horseradish grated
cider vinegar
1 lb/500grsugar
spices -1 teaspoon each of cinnamon,nutmeg,alllspice,celeryseed, and mustard seed

Chop up the vegetables and sprinkle with the salt. Leave overnight.
Tip the veg into a colander to drain and rinse with fresh cold water to remove the salt.
Place in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and drain.
Almost cover with cider vinegar, add the sugar and spices and bring to boiling point. Simmer for 7 minutes stirring occasionally.
Pot into warm jars and cover. Keep for 4-6 weeks before use.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Mo The Foraging Dog

The last few mornings have seen a sheen of silver frost on the lawn and the field beyond, which means, not only is it time to turn on the central heating, but it's the end of the outdoor tomatoes, time to gather in the last of the apples and pears, and the blackberries in the hedgerow have mostly blackened and shrivelled. This last is a bit of a disappointment for my dog Mo, as she has developed a habit this year of helping herself to blackberries. I can rarely pass by a laden bramble bush without stopping to gather at least a few pocketfuls of berries, and instead of standing by with a somewhat pained expression suggesting we should be getting on with the real reason for the expedition, ie walkies, she's taken to nibbling the berries growing low down on the hedge whilst I gather the ones from further up. Blackberrying isn't easy for a dog, having just the wet nose to select the berries - she tends to nibble one or two rather gingerly,  before the prickles on the stems set off a sneezing fit! Very funny to watch, and I've never noticed her doing it before. I wonder if anyone else has a fruit eating dog?

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Major George Wilkinson MBE

My dear father in law, George Wilkinson, has died at the age of 94.  I've only known George during the last 12 or so years of his long life, but it was a privilege. I can't tell you about his military career, of which he was so proud, - he would regale any audience with reminiscences of his life in Germany during and after the war. I can't tell you about his early life, born as he was into a very modest Yorkshire mining family and destined to go down the pit, until the army opened up an entirely new life and unimagined opportunities for him. I can't even tell you much about his later career as a gun dog trainer, and country sports enthusiast. Suffice to say that his son, my husband, has to this day a somewhat ambivalent attitude to roast pheasant, born he says of the many ever-so-slightly-past-it's-best, game dinners he endured as a child in the post war years.  And we will draw a veil over the apocryphal Roast Swan I Thought It Was A Goose incident.

What I can tell you is that George was one of the Old School. He was a gentleman and a charmer to the end.  He was engaging and funny to talk to whether you were young or old, humble or grand. Because there was no silver spoon for any baby born into George's family back in 1915, he appreciated and enjoyed the good things that had come to him in life, perhaps like only those who have known a degree of deprivation can do. A potter in his pristine garden, followed by a good dinner with a glass of red wine, (or two), and a dog at his feet, and life was good. And although I only knew him in his later years, I can truly say I never heard him say a bad word about anyone.

Ninety four year olds are not often known for their witty riposts, but George would often surprise you, even in the last months of his life when you thought he wasn't really listening, or able to take things in, he would suddenly add some little aside, make some little joke. Just a week before he died, he and Marjorie celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary, there was a write up in the local paper, since 70 years together is pretty special, and amid the cards, photos and congratulations George was heard to ask "Do I get a long service medal yet?"

We will miss him.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Style Makeover

In case anyone thought I'd disappeared into thin air, I am in fact still here, but have undergone an inadvertent style makeover. I thought I would try one of Blogger's new template designs, just for a bit of a change, and of course, it made my blog almost unreadable. So I had to spend ages messing about trying to make it ok again. Whilst I enjoy blogging, messing about with computers is not my most favourite occupation, in fact it seems like a bit of a waste of time when you're already up to your eyes in apple based  harvesting activities viz

Amazing how those Ikea bags do come in handy isn't it?

So it was easier to put it to one side as one job to do "later on", like say, hoovering under the spare bed. Fortunately I did eventually get round to sorting it, and it didn't turn into one of those many jobs at Carters Barn whose appointed hour never arrives, like ironing underpants and stuffing mushrooms, or you may never have heard from me again. What a lucky escape you almost had!

Not to mention these vast quantities of climbing french beans that I never got round to picking green, and had consequently produced a harvest of these

I've never had home dried beans before, but there were too many to allow them to go to waste, so they're in the kitchen finishing the drying process, and I will see what they taste like in casseroles and so on. Worst case scenario I'll have a home produced supply of chicken feed!


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