Monday 28 September 2015

From my Chaise...

For the last eight days I have been ill.  So ill that I have hardly stirred from my bed, where I was wrapped in a cocoon of misery, pain, and dreadful feverish chills.    At times I have felt as though, despite the duvets and quilts, I was sitting naked in a deep freezer, this moderated at times so that I felt that perhaps I was in a salad crisper drawer...

My mind has been all over the place, giving me deeply unhelpful short dreams of immense craziness, a product of the fever, I guess.  

I feel as weak as a newborn, but then I have been unable to eat for almost all of that time.   Last night I managed to nibble on a slice of dry toast.   This morning I crunched a Golden Delicious apple which tasted pathetic is that?  Golden Delicious?

Enough of all that, though.   I still feel dreadful but at least I don't feel as though I'm about to check out from life, although the toast and the apple may have been a mistake, nausea is returni

After an exhausting morning of bathing and dressing, I have permitted myself half an hour on the computer before I head back to my bed.   A week of not reading my emails has resulted in more chaos in my inbox than I feel up to, so I thought I'd have a chat instead.   Trouble is, now I feel too cream crackered to continue.

Time for bed.


Saturday 19 September 2015

"You're Fired!" and 'Digging for England'.

They were hired to keep our home free from rodents.

They have failed.

They're fired!

Between them, and the electronic rodent repeller, we haven't had a rodent in the house for years,   which is why it was so shocking that as I rummaged for some cleaning cloths, a large brown mouse jumped out of the box and ran over my hand to disappear into the dark space between the Rayburn and the saucepan cupboard.

These two snoozed on, unaware.

Their attitude seems to be that they deal with the vermin outside, anything indoors is for me.

I'll cut their rations if they don't deal with the problem soon.

Meanwhile, humane mouse traps have been set.   Mousey could find himself going on holiday.

Max, under the watchful eye of Dobson, has been digging up the old fruit garden.   Nasty, spiteful, gooseberry bushes and assorted spikey things have been dug up and rehomed.  

The area will be returned to grass and we'll be planting another apple tree, along with a plum tree.

The rhubarb will be left in situ, it thrives there, probably because of the septic tank, although we won't talk about that one!

Meanwhile, over at The Old Parsonage, the attic bedrooms have been invaded by a swarm of hornets.  Pest control have been called to deal with it and the top floor has been sealed off.     Perhaps one little mouse in the kitchen isn't so bad after all.


Thursday 17 September 2015

A Tale of Two Grandpas.

This morning I received a surprise delivery - a large pile of books which had been loaned to the aforementioned someone, several years ago.   Amongst them was one book which I have searched the house high and low for.   I am thrilled to have it back, I knew it was good, but it is even better than I remember.  

It is a simple soft cover A4 size book on local history, which was put together by the village hall committee for the millenium, then distributed to every household in the parish.   It gives details of the history of Little Bunting and the villages which surround it and is full of old photographs, names and faces.  Some people I know, some I don't,  and others who are now alive in memory only.

So, the tale of the two Grandpa's...

I don't think it is being too unkind to say that the people we purchased the house from were party people.   They even had a party here the night before they left and we moved in.    It was obviously a really good party, for they were not nearly ready to move out, despite the waiting vans and removals men.

We had to wait outside in our cars and with our own laden removals vans,  as they packed, and prepared to leave for their new life in France.   They were slow, hampered by hangovers.    The grandfather of the family (he'd lived in the granny flat) was very apologetic.    My last sight of them was as they drove quickly down the road, giving us a merry 'toot' as they passed.

I'm sure you can imagine the chaos which awaited us within the house and outbuildings, so I'll stick to the story.

In their haste to leave they hadn't had time to begin clearing through the cart shed and garage - packed to the gunnels with suitcases, trunks, boxes, piles of this and heaps of that.

We gradually got it cleared out, all except for a small, strong cardboard box which had clearly been sent through the post at some time.   The top lid had been opened, but that was all.   Rather than just throw it into the skip, we investigated... was an urn full of ashes - their other Grandpa!

They had forgotten all about him and he'd been in the garage for years, judging by the date stamped on the box.     Poor old Grandpa.

I tried to contact the family to see what they wanted done with him, but to no avail.    In the end I decided to take the urn down to their solicitor's office and left him with the receptionist and hope they sent him on to his family.

The local history book had been left behind in the Granny flat, propped up on the mantle piece, where we would be sure to see it.  

A little farewell gift from the Grandpa they did remember to take with them.

Tuesday 8 September 2015

Elderberry Rob - a winter cordial

Each September I reach for my old family recipe books and search out the recipe for Elderberry Rob.

There are many versions but the basic ingredients remain the same.   Elderberries, sugar/honey, cloves/ginger.  

Before you begin I recommend that you cover your work surfaces with plenty of old newspaper and make sure you are wearing very old clothing.   Rubber gloves are a good idea, too.   The berries will stain everything they come into contact with, so wipe up accidental spills straight away.

You will need plenty of ripe elderberries, strip them from the stalks, then rinse and drain.     Put them into a large saucepan with a tiny splash of water to stop the base of the pan scorching them as they heat. Cover the pan and gently bring them to the boil, reduce to a simmer until they pop their skins.

Remove them from the heat and allow to cool, then either squeeze through a jelly bag, or rub through a sieve.   Discard the skins.

Measure the resulting juice and add about half a pound of sugar to each pint of juice, along with about 18 cloves.    Gently heat, stirring in the sugar,
until dissolved.    Bring to the boil, then turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool, this is when all that wonderful clove flavour will leach into the brew.

Finally, once properly cooled, strain the cloves out and then bottle the rob in clean, sterilised bottles.   It will keep through the winter and possibly for another winter or two longer!

The dose is one/two tablespoons in hot water.

It is said to help in the fight against influenza -   I'm not quite sure of the science behind it, although I know it is clearly explained by Marmaduke Scarlet,  ***here***  - and, if nothing else, it makes a wonderful winter cordial.

Monday 7 September 2015

A Country Cemetery

Yesterday afternoon I had some free time, the sun was shining, the outdoors beckoned.   I decided to visit a couple of local churchyards.

This cemetery doesn't have a church - for the 13th century church was dismantled in 1660;  the stone was used to build a manor house.   The man responsible for this lived in the next village which is just a couple of fields walk away.  

Judging by some of the large pieces of dressed stone which have turned up in our rockery, I wouldn't be at all surprised if some have found their way to Parsonage Cottage over the last 350 years!

This row of stones always gets my attention.

Unfortunately I haven't been able to read the wording so I don't know whether they were all related in some way.

It is a simple, rural cemetery.   Although reasonably well kept now, it obviously suffered many years of neglect.  Quite a number of stones have been hidden within enormous yew trees, self sown and left to grow as they will.

Many stones have been lost.   Yet it is a very beautiful, very peaceful place.   I'm always happy to spend time exploring.

In one far corner there is the grave of a tiny baby, he died over 60 years ago.   His grave has been almost totally hidden within the shrubs and lower branches of trees, I have to crouch and crawl in to see it - OK, so I'm barking mad!    So does someone else, for the plastic and silk flowers are occasionally supplemented with new.  

I make it my mission to seek out the forgotten ones.     It seems wrong that some stones are almost completely inaccessible and yet they are the stones which can be the most easily read for they have been sheltered from the elements.

Saturday 5 September 2015

Saturday at Parsonage Cottage

(This post is for Miles and Poppy in Shanghai.)

While I stayed home and tried to get on with a few household chores,  Max went down to your cottage to check on things - all was well down there.     No sooner had I got the hoover out, than Alice brought young Merry across, to borrow some eggs for making a cake...  which was not a problem as the hens keep us well supplied.  

The problems was that Merry decided she'd rather stay with Gran than go home!

How could I resist?   The housework won't run away, but little girls grow up and change.

After lunch Max and I went out to pick our first batch of elderberries.   We got two large carrier bags full.   That's plenty to get going, we'll get more through the week.  

Can you see the large plastic bowl on the table - that's about half the haul, they have been cleaned and stripped from the stalks.  Max is busy working on the rest.

Ha!   Just looking at that photograph of the kitchen shows me that I really should have a tidy round next time I decide to post a picture.    Poppy, can you see Miss Pinkerton?   She is curled up on my chair, next to the Rayburn.    It has been another cold day - cold, as in there is a very cold wind blowing.

This is where we went to pick the elderberries, right up on the Lincolnshire Wolds,  just across the A16 and around the corner from these old ruins..

another mile down the road we passed this wonderful church..

which has a fascinating churchyard and also has a door which was rescued from the ruined church.    I'll tell you the story and share the photographs some other time.

There was one more wonderful surprise for today.   As I was photographing the beautiful old ruins I became aware of the sound of an old aeroplane.  

I grabbed a couple of quick shots.   Max identified it for me, it's a Dakota.   Perhaps there was an air show on somewhere.  

Right, enough for today.   I have to get sterilising some bottles and brewing some rob.   Recipe to follow tomorrow.

Friday 4 September 2015

A Kitchen Supper

I'm please to report that the roasted garlic bread turned out really well.   The garlic is roasted before being added to the dough, so the taste is a lot more mellow than traditional garlic bread.    It males a great accompaniment to the pea and ham soup - almost any soup, really.   I got the recipe from James Morton's  book 'Brilliant Bread'.

The pea and ham soup was perfect for such a chilly day - although true to form, the weather is now forecast to turn milder.   Luckily I have a freezer and plenty of suitable containers.   It will make for some easy suppers later in the year.

Perhaps Max's favourite part of supper was the apple pie (I also made an apple and blackberry one), it was rich and crumbly,  the pastry was a new recipe to me (Dan Lepard's soft crust apple pie click for recipe) the dough was pretty tricky to work with, but the end result was well worth all the effort.

Again, plenty of slices of pie left to go into the freezer!

I am delighted with how it all turned out - and even more thrilled that so many portions will be frozen, meaning that I'll be able to cook less sometimes, thank goodness, have you gathered that I don't really enjoy cooking.?  ;)

Tomorrow I'll be going out harvesting the hedgerows, which means that I'll be seeing this beautiful little cottage, as I drive to our favourite patch of elderberries.

Just as well we didn't indulge in too much of this (elderflower champagne) made early in the year with the elderflowers, otherwise there wouldn't be any berries for the more winteyr drink...

...elderberry rob, said to help fight/protect you from the dreaded 'flu.     It is a deep, rich and spicy concoction, perfect to sip on a cold evening.     I'll give you the recipe in the next couple of days.

Have a good weekend.

Thursday 3 September 2015

My Kitchen in Autumn

Come on in and see my kitchen.   This is the cooker, it also provides endless hot water and heats the radiators.   It is a real workhorse and I love it - although it does have some quirks as it is fired by solid fuel.    This means that on days when there is little or no wind, it often struggles to draw properly. Max is pretty adept at getting it going though.

The weather today is much cooler than of late and I have felt cold, so Max lit the Rayburn.  Now the  kitchen feels warm and welcoming.  

A change of weather means a change in my cooking habits.   We both really like simple meals - home made soups and home made bread being a favourite.     So, those two enormous saucepans have been brought out of the pantry, one has a ham shank simmering within, the other has onions, celery and some potato softening.

Max adores pea and ham soup - I love pea soup, but I don't eat meat.   So I'm making both.    I have an enormous bowl of dried peas soaking,  I could use garden peas, but we prefer the old fashioned dried sort  

Traditionally, these dried peas had to be soaked overnight, nowadays you can buy quick-soak ones which are ready for cooking in only two hours, which makes for slightly more spontaneous soup-making!   Even so, the soup won't be used until tomorrow evening, by which time the flavours will have developed and melded.

I'm also roasting some bulbs of garlic ready for making roasted garlic bread.   I use an Andrew Morton recipe which recommends leaving the dough to prove in the refrigerator for 12 hours.  Then I'll continue with the bread making tomorrow.   Last time I made it, it got the thumbs up from everyone who tried it.

I'll also be making a couple of apple and blackberry pies with a soft crust.   This is a bit of an experiment, it's a recipe I haven't tried before.   I hope it turns out okay, because the second pie is for our dear old neighbour, Oscar.   He is 98 years old and still going strong(ish).

Max had to take him to the dentist today, so I took the opportunity to pop round to see Benedict, the old horse who lives in Oscar's paddock.    I haven't seen him for a few days, which means that no one has been there to give him his treats.

He was decidedly grumpy with me at first.   However, the juicy apple, followed by three peppermints soon had him eating out of my hand.

Oscar had urged me to pick the blackberries along one side of the paddock - there wasn't much on offer though, so I took a detour on the way home to supplement supplies of them.

Tomorrow I'll make two pies,  one for Oscar and we'll have the other one.  Benedict will no doubt be happy to make do with apple and mints.

Now, had the weather been milder, I would not have felt like doing any of this cooking and baking.  I love seasonality and I like to ring the changes.

This enthusiasm won't last long!

Wednesday 2 September 2015

Muffled hobnails and hushed echoes...

On the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds there is a small green sandstone, limestone, and red brick church.   It is plain and simple, much altered over the years.

There has been a church here for almost a thousand years, although this building only dates from the 15th century.     It was restored in 1780 and re-modelled in 1804.    The size has been reduced over the years, windows altered.       As you can see, the walls are like a patchwork of different building materials, but I like that.   At one time it was painted white, that is now fading and the history is revealed.

I was lucky enough to find a poem about this church.   It had been left on a pew and was written by Francis Robinson.  I'll just quote a few parts.

...Bereft of fancy stained glass windows

....Uneven old bricks line my floor

...hushed echoes of the children....muffled hobnails from the labourer's boots, the rustle of skirts....

The Victorian box pews are painted a surprising blue, but it works very well, once you get over the initial shocck.

It is a simple place, a peaceful place,  inside and out.

I always like to take a little look at the vestry of an old church, whenever possible.   This church is entirely open, so this is what lies beyond a simple curtain at the back corner...all the detritus and occasionally useful bits and pieces.  

The old strongbox is very typical of other churches in the area.

Later, I realised that I hadn't seen the ancient stone basin which is used as a font.   A treat for next time, perhaps.

The church is hidden away behind a lot of beautiful old farm buildings.    Hidden away it may be, but it has had an interesting past.

The most noticeable Rector to have served the little church was Simon Islip who went on to be Archbishop of Canterbury 1349-1366.   He was educated at Oxford and was regarded as one of the outstanding ecclesiastical lawyers of the time.  

His three predecessors for the post of Archbishop had all died in succession, from the Black Death.

Fascinating stuff.  

I much prefer to sit there and think about the hobnailed boots, the rustle of skirts and the hushed echoes of children.

Tuesday 1 September 2015

Wild Plum Coulis

What a year for plums!    The wild plum trees in the little Owl Wood are still offering up their delicious bounty.      

The mother tree is way too tall to harvest, so I simply collect the windfalls, leaving the squishy ones for the animals of the woodland floor and the wasps.

I love the wonderful bloom on them.  
As you know, something magical happens when you cook them.   The blue pigment turns to a deep, rich, plummy red.  The transformation is so amazing that I feel like an alchemist.   Okay, they are not the elixir of life, but the resulting coulis is totally delicious, as well as being beautiful.

We love the coulis swirled on top of natural Greek yogurt.    Heaven on a spoon!

Throw on a few walnuts and you have a dish fit for a king.

To make the coulis, all I do is wash the plums, drain them and then pop them in a good, heavy stainless steel saucepan.     Then I add the tiniest splash of water and gently bring them to the boil and  simmer slowly.   I let them do their own thing until they have changed colour and the plums are soft and luscious, the colour is deep red and the kitchen is filled with a wonderful plummy, jammy smell.

Once that stage is reached, simply push them through a sieve, to remove all the small stones.  Unless you have added too much water, you will be left with a thick and delicious, tart plum coulis.  If the result is too watery keep simmering it until it reduces down to a thick syrup.

No sugar is necessary, unless you wish to add some,  we like that plummy sharpness, you may have a sweeter tooth.

Cool it, and add a swirl to yogurt, as required.   It will keep for several days in the fridge.

We have had enough of plum crumbles to last for quite a while, so this makes a light and delicious change, mind you, if the weather turns cold again we may yearn for pie or crumble!   fliss&max

The Potting Shed

There was no sign of  Mellors or Lady C. *, just a few hens scratching around.

This wonderful potting shed is in the vegetable garden of a large manor house.

It may be a vegetable garden but it is well tended and bursting with variety and plenty of  cottage garden flowers growing too.   The lean-to building is simply made, probably a potting shed, a heated one, too, if that chimney is anything to go by.

This huge pair of pillars are at the small side gate to the formal gardens.

The manor house lies at the end of a single track road, a very beautiful valley set in the folds of The Lincolnshire Wolds,  a small hamlet consisting of, perhaps, four houses, including the manor house, one farm with outbuildings, plus a tiny church.

To reach the church you have to walk through the farm buildings and down a grassy lane.  It feels like trespass.   There are no signs, but access is permitted.

I'll keep the story of the church for another day.

This place is tiny, almost suitable for a fairy story.  So cute.

The small windows are almost completely covered by the shrub, the door practically inaccessible.  Again, it has a chimney, so it would have been heated.  

As usual, I digress.    When I saw the potting shed I had a passing thought of Lady C and Mellors, probably because of all the recent trailers for the new BBC production.

Way back in the very early 1960's I remember finding a copy of it at home.  I was drawn by the bright orange spine (Penguin publication), suddenly the book was ripped out of my hands and there was a great air of disapproval from my parents.    Mystifying, I hadn't even opened the cover.  I was 8 or 9 years old, hadn't heard of Lady Chatterley or Mellors and was much more into Enid Blyton books anyway.

I noted the title.  *Lady Chatterley's Lover, by D H Lawrence.   My interest had been piqued by the strong reaction of my parents.

Years later, as a teenager, I once again got my hands on the book.   I flicked through it, looking for the naughty bits.

I was deeply disappointed.