Saturday, 22 October 2016

Haybox Construction - A Really Slow Cooker

I have long been fascinated by the idea of hay box cookery - ever since I was a child and read about it in one of the Fell Farm series of books.         Food could be put into a box of hay and hours later it would still be hot and perfectly cooked?  How could that be possible?   It seemed incredible to me then and I still like the idea now.

I know we don't really need one, the Rayburn does all the cooking while also heating the house and the water.   It is simply to satisfy my curiosity.  

My long-suffering husband is going to make one for me, using the instructions from an old book on Haybox construction and cookery.

This illustration gives one method.   It is slightly different from the old book which I have, but the basic principle is the same.

Image borrowed from:

You simply need a strong wooden box with a tight-fitting lid, make sure there are no open cracks.
The box should  be well lined to keep it as airtight as possible.    You could use old newspapers covered with old blanket and lined with calico - or modern insulating materials.   Definitely not the asbestos sheets which this book recommends!

Pack the box really tightly with small balls of newspaper, almost filling the box.  To go on top of the filling, make two calico cushions which should be tightly stuffed with balls of paper.

The lid of the box should be hinged on one side and the other fixed with a hook so that the inside of the box is as well insulated as possible, so the two cushions should press well down on top of the filling.

The idea is to make sure that the hot food put into the box continues to cook as long as possible in its own heat.     Therefore it needs to be as hot as possible when it is put in.     In general it is suggested that food should be cooked for a third of the time that it would normally take to cook by heat, then it should be quickly transferred to the hay box.    It should then be left in the closed hay box for at least twice as long as you would normally cook it, although you could leave it for longer.

Other uses of a haybox.

Washing - stains can be removed if cloths are put in cold water with a little borax, brought to the boil and then left for six hours in the hay box.

Shaving water can be ready first thing in the morning if it is boiled at night and then left in the haybox.

Chicken Food can be cooked through the night, ready for a warm feed in the morning - just don't mix up which pan has the hens' mash and which one holds the porridge.

Note:  It is essential that the saucepan transferred to the hay box should be nearly full and the contents brought to boiling point before they are put in, which must be done as quickly as possible so that the minimum amount of heat is lost.

I just need to find a suitable wooden box; for some reason he is reluctant to let me experiment on the little wooden trunk which he uses as a bedside cabinet.   Meanie!

It is also worth pointing out that we should be careful about what books we give to our children...

Happy Birthday to my youngest.     Thirty-four years old, today!    See you later.  xxx

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Fun and Games with Angels, Pickles and a Mince Pie Bake-Off!

The nights are drawing in and I am fighting my natural inclination to go into hibernation mode.   

This is made worse because the two cats and Dobson seem determined to wake me early each morning.  Yesterday was even worse than normal as Dobson's frantic scratching at the kitchen door got me out of bed at 5am.       

Naughty Miss Pinkerton had brought a mouse into the house and was throwing it around with glee.   No amount of first aid could help it.

Last night I myself forced to get out of my cosy nest to go along to the chilly village hall, for a meeting.    

The Little Bunting Village Hall Committee had been asked to meet the Dovecote Dell Church Committee, in order to hash out some plans for a Christmas Bazaar.   I know this will send some people over the edge, talking about Christmas in October!   Well it has to be done if people are to be entertained and fed, funds raised and the heart of the village kept beating.

The event will only last for two hours, which should give us just about enough time to create a little jollity, spread the word about other events and raise some funds for both causes.

The chill in the village hall soon receded and we got down to some serious discussions and planning.        It was also felt that we needed something which would provide an element of fun and entertainment, without making people feel that they were simply being 'fleeced' of all their cash...

Ideas and suggestions were bounced around, nothing seemed quite right until we decided to tap into a rich seam of real energy and enthusiasm.

Little Bunting folk have a dark secret - they are very competitive when it comes to baking...

Image is jamie oliver mince pies,
borrowed from his website.

Drum roll........   Our new event is a Mince Pie Bake-Off!    

We hope that some keen local bakers will roll up their sleeves and enter a dozen home made mince pies, bearing in mind that it is highly unlikely that they will get any of them back.   

The idea is that they are to be blind-tasted,  judged and then voted for by the public.     I haven't quite worked out the finer details yet, but I hope the local bakers, especially well known food blogger, Dominic of Belleau Kitchen,  will pull on their aprons, take up their wooden spoons and enter their yummy mince pies.

Also on offer will be a raffle for three beautiful hampers, home made pickles, crafts,  angels, games, tombola and let us not forget that there is a beautifully decorated Christmas Cake waiting to be won.    

Save a little room from sampling all those mince pies though, because refreshments will be available at the back of the hall.

Cue the dancing angels!

Monday, 10 October 2016


This afternoon, Poppy was kind enough to give a cookery demonstration at Little Bunting Village Hall.   She freely gave up her time, her food,  and her skills to amuse, entertain and inform a group of us, golden oldies, silvertops, call us what you will.

On second thoughts, village elders will do.

The hall quickly filled with tantalising aromas as garlic, ginger, onions, star anise, chillies both wet and dried and yellow bean paste cooked merrily in the (extremely heavy) wok.

There were two dishes - a deliciously spicy beef one and an extremely popular mixed vegetable dish, all served with perfectly cooked rice.

Chopsticks were offered round and everyone got stuck in.   Some people with slightly less dexterous fingers soon abandoned the chopsticks and used a fork, but other people got a free lesson in how to use chopsticks correctly and were soon proving to be very adept and cleared their plates right down to the last grain of rice.

Fair to say that we all really enjoyed our plate of food and several people came back for seconds!

I don't think our little village hall has smelled so wonderful for many a year, if ever.   The atmosphere of gentle friendship and simple fun was very special.    This small gathering, designed to winkle people out of their own homes and into the company of other people for an afternoon of social chit chat and new interests, has definitely started to fulfill the brief.  

Poppy, you are a brilliant cook and a superstar for producing such delicious food, especially under these difficult conditions, and for being so generous with your skills and time.  

Thank you.  xxx

Sunday, 9 October 2016

The Remarkable Oak Tree and the Alderman

Nothing scary about this photograph,  the ghostly forms are simply raindrops on the camera lens.      I wanted to get a photograph of this particular tree, though, so I nipped out of the car to get one.   I sank up to my oxters in mud, but at least I got the shot!

It is an oak tree, a most remarkable oak tree, because it is reputed to be over a thousand years old.   In 1841 it was measured as having a trunk circumference of 33' with the trunk being a mere shell, yet here it still is, almost two hundred years later.  

Even the earliest Ordnance Survey maps had it shown as  'Remarkable Oak', so safe to say, it is an ancient oak and has been witness to great changes since it was a sapling.   They reckon that oak trees grow rapidly for the first 120 years, not producing acorns until they are about 40 years old, and continue to grow until they are about 300 years old.

They mature for another 300 years and then gradually decay for 300 years, or more, as in this case.  It is a truly ancient oak, that's for sure.

Moving on, I visited a small country church dedicated to St Oswald.

There has been a church here for over 800 years, although this is the 1856 restored church, which retains some interesting earlier windows and monuments.      The restoration and rebuilding cost £500, with another £400 being spent  a couple of decades later on restoring the chancel.

This monument got my attention - it is fairly high up on the wall, so difficult to take a good photograph.

It portrays a family group.   The man is William Ballett who was an Alderman of London.    Facing him are his two wives and above them, their nine children.    He died when he was 99 years of age, in 1648.    Remarkable, when you think that in those days the average expected lifespan was about 40 years!

This long-lived man lived just a few miles from this church, at Woodthorpe Hall, which is located right next to the field in which the Remarkable Oak is located!   He and his family could well have sat in the shade of this tree, which would simply have been in its' mature stage at that time.  Could there be something in the water around there, I wonder.

There are lots more interesting snippets about the church and the people who used it, which I'll share another time.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Life in a Small Village

I love living in the back of beyond, on the edge of nowhere, most of the time.    

However, there are occasions when petty squabbles and misinformation create something of a bubbling witches cauldron of high emotion and one can be splashed and scalded for simply standing too close to the pot.

Little Bunting is a tiny village.   We have three roads, although one is a small street, another, a lane, and the main road through is nothing more than a country lane.   No church, no shop, just a pub and a very small village hall.

Even a very small village hall needs a committee to run it.
A committee needs meetings,
and committee meetings require that the people on the committee are willing to give up their time to sit in a village hall and talk/listen, plan, volunteer and commit yet more time and, often, their own money to make things happen for the people who live in the village.

The local pub enjoy doing Halloween, so we are not planning to do anything for that, wouldn't want to encroach.    However, they don't really do anything for Bonfire Night.   So we are organising a good, old fashioned, Bonfire Night Party.

Nothing fancy just a huge bonfire, a very few fireworks,  and some simple food - jacket potatoes, vegetarian chilli, and possibly some parkin if I get around to making it.    One committee member has kindly agreed to let us use his paddock and barn for the occasion, others are using their contacts to get lots of wood for the bonfire, and the rest of us are providing gazebos, food, etc.   All the details which go into making an event happen.

What would really make it a great experience is if some people turn up to support us!

*   *   *

Little Bunting is on the verge of losing our street lighting.    Soon the men from the council will be around to dismantle it and take away the poles and we shall be plunged into darkness.

This was dealt with by another committee, the Parish Council.   I'm glad I don't have to take the flak for that one.    

We live right at the end of the village and our street light has often been out for months at a time, so it doesn't really make much difference.   I have got used to taking my torch out with me and "wearing something white at night" even if it is just a big scarf because there are no footpaths to our end of the village, so we have to walk along the lane and there is no verge to speak of.  

Some drivers are very courteous; some even pull over to the other side of the lane and slow down as they pass, many don't.  

Last night I walked to the committee meeting in the village hall, it's not far... less than half a mile.    It was dusk when I walked into the village and I was treated to the sight of the lovely barn owl patrolling Arnold's old paddock.    I saw the owl and rejoiced; I saw the empty paddock and the house and felt sad.

Onward, to the village hall.   The Chairman and another committee member were struggling to open the door.   It is always like this, the lock has been a problem forever.     Eventually, the door was opened and we trooped in to set up a couple of tables and pull out the chairs.

Almost two hours later, a meeting which could really have been concluded in less than half that time, finally ended.   We went our separate ways.

My route takes me past Owl Wood.

A wonderful, joyful place in the daylight but by nighttime it become the Witches' Wood.    Trees creak and groan, their long bony fingers reach out and tap one another and mysterious rustlings make one think there is something there.   I speed up and think of home and hot chocolate, anything but witches or bubbling cauldrons.

*  *   *

The photograph shows our village last night.    I took it as I was making my way to the road which takes me home.   Soon those lights will be gone and the village will be plunged into darkness once again.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Triplets in the Owl Wood

Our little patch of woodland is known in 'Blogland'   as   Owl Wood.      That's not the name you will find on any map of the area, but there are three very good reasons why we call it that.  

These three little Tawny owlets were hatched there, a few years ago.

This is one of the licensed 'owl men' who came to weigh and ring the little owlets.   We felt like proud parents!

This is how they looked the first time they were removed and recorded - we felt so privileged to be able to watch this happening.

A short time later they had grown to this size and looked so much more ... fluffy!

Eventually, they grew to look like this - so beautiful!

Each evening, as I take Dobson out for his final walk, I hear the owls calling round and about and I often wonder whether they could possibly be descendants of one of our owls.  

Since that time the owl box has been home to Magpies and squirrels, but the Tawny Owls seem to avoid it.    We keep our fingers crossed, perhaps one Spring the 'To Let' sign will attract them back again.

Unfortunately, Owl Wood has become home to far too many rats, no doubt attracted by the hens food.     We cannot risk poison, of any kind,  so we are having to resort to other methods.

Life and death in a small patch of woodland.

(Linda of  local-kiwi-alien this one is for you.)

Monday, 3 October 2016

A Room of my Own

It has finally happened, I have a room of my own.   A craft room, sewing room, hideaway, call it what you will, it is all mine!

At the moment it is still very messy but in time it will be neat and ordered - or maybe not.  

It is such a joy to have most of my 'toys' in one place.    

So many of these things have been tucked away in cupboards and boxes, on top of the highest shelves in the dressing room and generally hidden away.

I am gradually becoming reacquainted with old projects which I can't wait to get my hands on again.

I also managed to find a corner for my beloved painted bureau.    It is full of old letters to and from my parents and other relatives, family memorabilia from fifty or more years ago and boxes of ancient family photographs.

Many more bookshelves are needed, hooks for paintings, an armchair, and my radio.

If I go missing, this is the first room you should check.