Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Official Inspection - Failed Again

The Hound of the Baskervilles began baying at the sound of a knock on the Boot Room door, an unfamiliar man stood there, requesting that he be allowed to access Owl Wood.      Time for the annual egg check in the owl box.

We let them through and the inspection began - we already knew what the answer would be - no owl eggs, Jackdaws in residence.

A lift of the hatch and a quick count revealed five Jackdaw eggs.       They were not surprised.   They have visited 15 other boxes today, only one has any Tawny Owls in residence. 

A bad year for Tawny Owls they say.   

Ah, well. 

We will clean the box out again in November, hope for the best.

Maybe next year.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

'Cold Turkey' on Bread

Bread is definitely the thing I most enjoy making - and, from childhood, it has been something I have  enjoyed eating - more than chocolate or cakes. 

A couple of months ago I challenged myself to give it up.    I wasn't sure that I would have the willpower, especially as I still had to continue baking it for the family. 

I survived the challenge and after the first couple of days it really was easy.     

By the way, I haven't given up eating bread, I had a slice yesterday.    It was really nice, but I ended up crumbling most of it for the birds.   

People tell me that they found it very easy to give up sugar or sweetener in their tea/coffee.      In that regard I am a complete failure.     I take one sugar cube in a mug of coffee, a sweetener in my tea.

I have tried the cold turkey trick and failed.    I hate the taste of tea and coffee without a little sweetness.

I am not going to attempt to go cold turkey on books and reading - though I am tempted to try it on housework...

Monday, 23 April 2018

Owl Wood Nettle & Wild Garlic Soup

Inspired by one of my favourite cookery books, Suffolk Farm Feasts (the book with the green spine)   I decided to take advantage of the abundant nettles and wild garlic which are growing in Owl Wood.

Arming myself with a pair of thick rubber gloves, I went nettle picking  -   making sure that I visited the areas which I know are not visited by Toby.     

I also picked plenty of wild garlic and some young dandelion leaves.

The last few leeks in the vegetable garden were leering at me, so I dug them up too.       I was beginning to feel that I should have a big black cauldron to throw them all into!

When I say that the book inspired me with the recipe, I must confess that I didn't stick to it very closely.   

The recipe called for the addition of a carrot and some cinnamon, but I was carrotless, and I really couldn't fancy the idea of cinnamon in with the greens...hence the wild garlic, which isn't listed as an ingredient in their recipe, nor are the dandelions, leeks or the handful of oats....... 

I made soup.     😀

I was worried that my Number One Taster wouldn't like it, but he loved it, so did I.     The taste was almost like an asparagus soup. 

I  tarted up his serving with homemade croutons, snipped chives from the garden and some bits of bacon.       He was a happy man.

Homemade bread really does make for the best croutons.

I had my soup with just dotted with chives plus a small dollop of cream.      Delicious. 

Suffolk Farm Feasts is an excellent and unusual book.    Recipes rub shoulders with old countryside lore.     

It is a real country book, so you needn't been fazed if someone presents you with the gift of a grey squirrel,  crow, woodcock, pheasant or pigeon..

Troubled by weeds?     Eat them!     There are lots of recipes here.

Chapters are very helpfully arranged according to farm habitat - Arable, Grassland, Farmyard, Hedgerows, Ponds and Woodland and the bounty they offer.

Unsurprisingly, the recipes were collected by people living in Suffolk - members of Suffolk Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group.       I live in Lincolnshire, not Suffolk, but that doesn't stop me from making the most of this excellent book!       

The small book with the really dark spine (middle photograph)  is a very old one.   I consult it every year, when I begin foraging.      Don't want any accidents.

The title is 'The Poisonous, Noxious and Suspected Plants of Our Fields and Woods' with 44 colour plates. 

More of this book another day.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

The Old Village Blacksmith

Yesterday I found an old horseshoe, it is bent, buckled and rusty, old.   It was in one of the local barley fields.   Treasure.
Our old village blacksmith died a few years ago, his family had been wheelwrights and blacksmiths for many generations, unfortunately he had no one to pass the business on to.
Everything was auctioned.

This is how the place used to look, back in the days when he was still able to make gates, weather vanes, etc.

This is the day before the sale, preview day.     
People came from all over, including me.
I admit I went out of curiosity, I wanted to see inside a forge.
It was a sad occasion, I didn't stay long.

Everything came with a fair bit of rust and the patina of past usefulness.

There were racks and stacks of this and that.  No doubt much of it will have gone for scrap.

Miss Read told us a little anecdote about the blacksmith - and how, during the war they had a contract to supply the Army with one thousand 'donkey-shoes'.   They all had to be exactly the same size, any that were even marginally different were not accepted.
Who'd have thought that every donkey came with standard-sized hooves!!!!!
They fulfilled their contract, but only once.   
It was far more trouble than it was worth.

The blacksmith's house has been bought and is in the process of being renovated.

The sheds remain, for the time being. 
They tilt a little more under the weight of ivy.
No doubt one of these days they will be removed and things will move on.
As they do.

I shall keep this rusty, bent, old horseshoe - cart horse sized (non-standard) - treasure it as a keepsake of the old village blacksmith, for almost certainly it would have been made just along the road, by Eric - or his father, possibly his grandfather, or an uncle...

Have a lovely weekend.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Make Dandelions do Your Cleaning

On Wednesday there was a major failure in the dustsheeting and screening of the kitchen alterations. 
I had gone out leaving a chaotic, but clean, kitchen and returned to thick dust and soot everywhere - and  my grandchildren were due  home from school and would be expecting their tea in little over an hour.

There was no way that I could possibly let them eat at the kitchen table or breathe the dusty air. 

Think, Elaine, think!

Ignore the mess.

I rummaged in the freezer - kept in the Boot Room - and came up with some frozen burgers and some brioche buns.    We have a little gas hob through there, so that was tea sorted.   Not quite up to normal standards of nutrition, but it would keep them going.

To make it more fun, I wrapped the cooked burgers and buns in some greaseproof paper and presented them with a 'Takeaway', to be eaten at the patio table.       Success!   They loved the novelty of it.   Pudding was an ice cream cornet, appreciated all the more because the only ice cream I could find was stripy strawberry, vanilla and chocolate mix.

Once their parents had returned to claim them, I had to face the horror of the kitchen.     It was such a mess that I had to disconnect my emotions and just plough through the jobs, doing basic cleaning and dust removal.

Unsurprisingly, my thoughts turned to cleaning products and how much I dislike all the chemical ones, I prefer using vinegar, bicarbonate of soda, and dandelions!

A couple of years ago I found an old recipe for Dandelion Cleaner.    It was on a detached, raggedy page from an old recipe book.      I didn't really expect great things from it, but I was curious to see whether it worked, so I made a brew. 

Fabulously frugal, it is made very simply by boiling dandelions in water.

You will need approximately five dandelion plants - roots, leaves and flowers.      Dunk them into some water to wash off the soil, insects, etc.  then put them into an old saucepan, along with two or three pints of water.     Bring to the boil and then simmer, until reduced by about half.      You don't need to be too precise.

I then let the brew cool right down  before straining the liquid.   Discard the dandelion plants and bottle the liquid!

Don't forget to label it and keep it out of reach of children and animals - just in case.

It keeps for a week or two, but after that it begins to smell quite unpleasant.

I find that it works brilliantly on mirrors, windows, paintwork and metalwork.    I simply apply it with a soft cloth, rub, then use another soft, clean cloth to dry things.   

The building work is ongoing, though not as messy as before (fingers crossed)    - the resident housework fairy is delighted to be able to clean the place up without chemical cleaners.  😎

Everywhere sparkles!

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Cooking with Violets

Spring may have taken her time arriving, but the violets don't seem to care.   They are growing in great numbers along the side of the lane, in the garden, and in Owl Wood.     White ones, all along the lane, pretty but unscented.        Blue ones are romping through the lawn - unscented.     

The white ones in the garden are scented!   They don't smell of violets, more like... incense, perhaps.

Owl Wood is home to lots of blue violets now - mostly unscented...but there is one small clump of scented violets.   They are spreading further afield, slowly. 

I have done a couple of posts about cooking with violets, using old and traditional recipes, over on Parsonage Cottage Kitchen, two clickable links.   

Even though it has been a good year for violets I'm not sure that I want to sacrifice them in the quantities required to make something special.   Maybe another year.

According to Lady Fettiplace, March violets are trebly precious because of their rarity, beauty and healing properties.
'The flowers of March violets applied unto the browes, doe asuage the heachache which cometh of too much drinking, and procureth sleep'.

The Country Remedies book suggests a Syrup of Violets - a gentle laxative which could also cure the ague, epilepsy, inflammation of the eyes, sleeplessness, pleurisy, jaundice and quinsy...

8 ounces  of fresh sweet violet flowers
1 pint of boiling water
1 pound sugar.

Pour the water over the violets and leave for 24 hours.  Strain into a saucepan, add sugar and bring gently to just below boiling point, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

My favourite book 'Flowers as Food' by the wonderful Florence White, offers many more suggestions and recipes - Violet vinegar, Salad Des Violettes, Salmon Salad and Violets, Conserve of Violets in the Italian Manner, Violets in Jelly, Crystallized Violets, Violet Marmalade, Syrup of Violets - two recipes and Violet Ice.

Florence wrote ' During my experience as cook in cap and apron from 1915 to 1921 in other peoples houses, I once had the run of an old-world flower, herb and vegetable garden (my kitchen windows looked on to a walled garden with flagged paths, herbs and  sundial).  There I tried out some flower recipes in small quantities, notably rose-petal jam, the results of which were much appreciated.'

Found on Pinterest

'It was easy to imagine the women of a bygone age walking in their gardens in petticoats of satin and gaily-coloured gowns, or at work in their still-rooms making delicious dishes from the flowers and herbs they grew'.