Friday 30 March 2018

Back to Horncastle

A few days ago we headed for the small market town of Horncastle - for centuries this town was known for the annual horse fair but nowadays it is known for being a centre for antiques businesses.

I wasn't there to amble around antique shops, fun though that is, I was heading to see my chiropractor.

I had spent the weekend in pain, not just a niggling pain, full-on pain of the kind which wouldn't go away.   I couldn't stand for more than a few minutes, sitting was equally painful and as for lying down, forget it.    I was in perpetual painful motion.   Ice packs, hot packs, warm baths, painkillers - nothing took more than the edge off the pain and that only very briefly. 

You don't want to know about the journey in the car. 

The photograph of the stile gives you some idea of how 'unfriendly' a few farmers are towards walkers.    On one of my long walks I encountered a couple of difficult stiles which had been fully decorated with elevated strands of barbed wire.   I am generally pretty fit and fairly agile, but I am not 20 years old.  I am in my mid sixties.   I struggled.   I got over the stiles, but I injured my back.

A visit to the chiropractor gave me about an hour of pain relief, then the pain came flooding back, with bells on.   It was worse than ever.      The adjustments and massage had triggered even more of a flare-up of the muscles and nerves.      She assured me that it should settle down in two or three days.

During that time I haven't visited any blogs, read any books, or done anything more than deal with the pain.    I have lost almost half a stone, because I couldn't eat, didn't feel like eating, it was enough just dealing with the pain.        The fact that I am here typing this post tells me that I have turned the corner. 

These are old photographs of Horncastle, taken three or four years ago. 

Yesterday I made some hot cross buns, using my food mixer.   I just marked them with the sign of the cross as I too tired to make the paste ones.

It is so good to be getting a little normality back.

Our two London grandsons aged 15 months and 4 years are coming this weekend.   I won't be able to pick them up but at least I can give them some hugs on my lap and watch them as they race around Owl Wood on their Easter Egg Hunt.

Enjoy the long weekend.

ps   Apologies to anyone who has left comments recently.   I will catch up on writing my replies, though it may take a few days. 

Saturday 24 March 2018


This is what I planned to do today.

But this is what we did instead...

Cleared the vegetable garden pathways and turned over the beds.

It was chilly and damp, as well as hard work.

Spring seems to have gone back into hiding.
Thank goodness for flowers,
and cake.

Friday 23 March 2018

An Owl Wood Tale

We won't be hearing the flutter of tiny owl wings this year.       Disappointing.  I still wonder whether there is something about the 'new' owl box that is putting them off.    The 'Owl Men' supplied it, so I guess they must know their stuff but the box which had been made by someone's father, many years ago, always got the right kind of tenants, Tawny Owls.       The Jackdaws have it this year, again.

I think perhaps we'll build an alternative one and see what happens next spring.

Meanwhile, in another part of Owl Wood, these two are test driving their Grandpa's latest creation.    It has a long way to go, lots more magic, to make it blend into the trees, is required.     It is a tree house and slide.   One way up and a slide down - a long slide, we can only see half of it here.

It is about seven or eight feet above the ground, high enough to be exciting, not so high that it will give me nightmares.

Strict rules apply...

These two love being outdoors, although they are as ready as any other children to become couch potatoes or electronic device demons. 

Luckily lighter evenings and slightly milder weather draws them outdoors to play, to kick footballs, bounce on their trampoline, play hockey, and so on.    This will be another bit of fun and adventure.

Thursday 22 March 2018

"Broth for the Broth-el"

  One of the joys of reading old recipe books is finding little gems like this.

  There was a well-meaning old lady who, after enjoying a cup of particularly good broth, felt so sorry for people who lacked it, that she left her money to found a 'brothel' for the poor.

Among her papers was found the following broth recipe, above which was written in elegant Victorian script:  'Suggested Broth for the Brothel.'

The author of the recipe book (more about her another time) suggests that an alternative title could be:

Philanthropic Pottage...

Compose an oatmeal stock, well seasoned with salt, pepper, a blade of mace, a clove, some dried mint, dried parsley, and plenty of bruised onions, and serve very hot with toasted snippets of bread.

The author also suggests the addition of plenty of cream and grated cheese, so I am guessing that the basic broth is a bit underwhelming. 

Wednesday 21 March 2018

Boxing Hares

A heavy frost was quickly burned away, by the early spring sunshine, to reveal blue skies and a surprisingly mild day.     Housework and gardening can wait, so can the spring cleaning, there will be plenty of wet or chilly days when indoor chores can be done.  Conscience salved, I set off with Toby dog.

image from woodland

Not far into my walk I saw four hares cavorting and boxing in a field of stubble.     Toby was busy following a delicious scent;  they didn't spot him, and he didn't see them.    For three or four minutes that sight was mine to behold and enjoy.

This image: the guardian

Then I remembered my camera - too late, they spotted the movement and off they went across the field.  Glorious, beautiful creatures.

I'm  including this lovely photograph, it is exactly as it came off the camera disc.       It was a dazzlingly beautiful morning,   no wonder the hares were out having fun.

We were cutting through farmland, to visit this beautiful little glade.    In a few weeks it will be looking even more beautiful, with lots of new growth and flowers.     Wild garlic grows in abundance here.   

We climbed up a steep hillside, skirted another field and came to this farm. 
Up over another hilltop, down the other side, we came to the village of Swaby, lovely whitewashed cottages, quaint outbuildings, very narrow roads.

There were sheep and goats bleating on one side, a dog frantically barking at Toby on the other side and an oil tanker was blocking half the lane and making a horrible noise.   

It could have been tricky, there were so many scary things, obstacles, distractions, I didn't know how Toby would cope with the overload.     I needn't have worried.         He looked neither left nor right, but trotted beautifully along at my side.     Phew!   

We had to cross the occasional lane, but we didn't see any other vehicles, or walkers.  The track took us along the side of this river.

Nice old buildings, gently running water, and still we had that blue sky and sunshine.

I called in at the church, once again the door was locked.   I must have a chat with the churchwarden, it always used to be left open during daylight hours.    I really wanted to try and take a better photograph of the crusaders statue.    I have almost finished deciphering the 1837 poem which someone wrote about him. 

Down past the old dovecote, through the farms and on to home.   

And the housework.   

Monday 19 March 2018

Still Standing

Since my early twenties I have had numbness in my toes.       

Without going into details, I was told it would become steadily worse, which it has, but luckily it has done so very slowly.   I can still get out and about and do my six or seven mile walks, so I'm not complaining.     I just have to wear sensible shoes, watch where I am walking, and take extra good care of my feet.

I can't trip the light fantastic, but then I never could. 

There are days when the toes are painful, rather than numb, but other people deal with much worse.

Today the wind had dropped a little, although it was bitingly cold.  I needed to get out and about to blow the cobwebs away, so did Toby.

Our first stop of the day was a visit to this lovely old chap.   I don't know how old he is, but pretty ancient.   He was well and truly snuggled up in his blankets and feeling sociable so we stopped for a chat.

The paddock across the way holds these two and several of their chums.   I think Toby was saying that they are a bit whiffy.

We set off across the fields - a rough ploughed field.     The ground was rock hard, otherwise I wouldn't have taken this shortcut.

Once we cleared the muddy field, the going was much easier.   We went over the next little footbridge and on towards the dark mass you can see on the horizon...that is the Wild Wood.    We only skirted it though, I wanted to head for a particular ditch.   I was on a mission.

I wanted a few sprigs of pussy willow.    They always say "Spring is coming" to me, I hope they are right.     

They were part of my childhood and I want to make them part of my grandchildren's too.

Homemade Cleaner & Wild Garlic Cheese on Toast

'The hilltop hollows still hold their snow
And the wind comes keen and wild.'

That was certainly true of this weekend. 

Come on Spring! 

I am impatient to get out there to pick young nettles for soups and wild garlic for all manner of delicious treats, like wild garlic bread and I don't want to be freeze dried while I am doing it.

Wild garlic bread (totally different to garlic bread)
delicious as bread, or made into sandwiches,
  even more delicious on a cold spring day
when it is made into cheese on toast.
Crisp, slightly garlicky and meltingly cheesy. 
Comfort food.

Wild Garlic Bread recipe can be found on my Cottage Kitchen Blog (here)

I want to pick dandelion leaves for adding to salads and sandwiches,  and elderflowers for champagne,  should winter decide to leave us.

I also want to try making another brew of Dandelion Cleaner.      I found the recipe in one of my old books a couple of years ago.       Intrigued, I made a batch to see whether it was any good.    It worked a treat.   It doesn't keep well, so if you make some,  use it up within a couple of weeks.

Simply boil four or five roots, leaves, flowers and tendrils of the dandelion in about 3 pints of water.  Boil it until it reduces to about one pint, strain and then bottle when cool.   Be sure to put it out of the reach of children and animals!

It can be used for windows, mirrors, paintwork.     Just apply with a soft cloth, then wipe off with another dry soft cloth. I found that it worked really well, leaving no smears or grease marks, everything sparkled. 

Sunday 18 March 2018

From her Shelf to Mine

Image found on Google
Lady Lee Miller-Penrose, in her early days.

Most of the books I buy have already lived a life,
so by the time I buy them they are tattered and worn,
stained and splashed,
 often  wearing only half a jacket
many are totally naked!

 I sometimes find myself idly pondering about the people who had them before me,
what their kitchens were like,
which, if any, recipes they used
who they entertained
where they lived

Occasionally there is a name, an inscription, or a label,
 more often than not, there is no indication at all
as to who owned it previously.

I was very happy to find this pasted inside one of them.
The name Lee Miller Penrose meant nothing to me at the time
 I just thought it was a very attractive bookplate.

This was below it:

My interest was definitely piqued, I had to do some research!

It didn't take long.

What a woman!

She was born in 1907,
was a successful fashion model and fine art photographer
before going on to become
a war correspondent,
documenting the front line,
as well as
the liberation of

She saw some horrific things.

No surprise then
that after the war she suffered from PTSD,
clinical depression,
alcohol became her refuge...

Until she took up cookery,
not just any old cookery though.
She became a Cordon Bleu cook,
training first in Paris
then doing the advanced course in London.

She was married to a surrealist artist, had one child, and lived in East Sussex
in this beautiful of farmhouse.

image found on

This is where she became a legendary hostess
the likes of Picasso and Miro
to gourmet meals.
Cooking was her salvation.

It all makes for fascinating reading.

Lady Lee Miller-Penrose  had a collection of 2,000 cookery books.

They were her bedtime reading
as well as being used for inspiration and reference.

I am so chuffed that I have one of them on my shelves.
Admittedly, it is one of the lesser ones,  donated as part of her collection,
 to WCL,
 then eventually sold on.

It is battered and worn - probably from all those years in the library
at Westminster College...
I prefer to think that she spent many a happy hour browsing these recipes,
concocting menus,
possibly even cooking something from it for Picasso!

A book with a hidden tale.

Saturday 17 March 2018

Miss Read's Wartime Memories

The pile of papers in the corner kept waving to me, snagging my eye, stealing my attention, weighing me down.   Instead of spending some time simply relaxing with a good book I decided it would be easier just to get to work on them.

click to enlarge

They are the reminiscences of "Miss Read", not her real name, but it will suit her admirably for blogging purposes.   She is a retired schoolmistress and could quite easily be the  "Miss Read"  of  the "Village School" books fame.

Over the last months she has been kind enough to give us a series of talks, memories of her childhood -  of growing up in the manor house (the one with the green man) and of going to school in this village and her memories of the war. 

She has helped to bring books like 'Feeding the Nation' to life,  although food was much less of a problem for those living in the countryside than for town or city dwellers.


We have listened, enthralled, to her memories about life in the villages during the war.   

Stories and details about wartime rationing, foraging, transportation, lots of farming history, health care before the NHS was founded, the wonderful village women who cared for people when no other help was available,  community spirit, keeping a pig in a sty - and the rules and regulations pertaining to that, communications... and so much more.

Her recall is astounding.

It falls to me to type up the notes, including the additional ones  (reams of them!) which Miss Read kindly wrote out the last time she was kept housebound by 'The Beast from the East' and the subsequent snowfall.

click to enlarge

Yesterday was a bitterly cold day, in this part of the country, although I believe that it was much milder elsewhere.   I suppose we were having an early blast of those cold easterly winds from Siberia. 

The kitchen was warm and cosy, the big table made the perfect place for sorting out all those notes and pieces of paper...but the main reason I chose to work there is because the cats and Toby hate it when I disappear down the hall to my work room.   They are not allowed beyond the hall doorway.

I typed for an hour, then abandoned it for the day.   It was time to get some food ready for my grandchildren and my back was beginning to seize up anyway.     We (my little animal entourage and me)  took a quick and chilly circuit of Owl Wood,  it blew away the cobwebs and helped relax my back.   Then it was time to get back indoors, rattle a few saucepans and conjure up a meal for two hungry grandchildren.

Once they have eaten, they love to sit around the table a bit longer, not for conversation, they love to play a memory game.   Their favourite is "I went to the zoo and fed..."  predictably, my granddaughter always begins with a cub of some sort, she loves the big cats, her older brother goes for animals with difficult names, he is very competitive.     No doubt memory games like this are doing wonders for us, too!

Luna, these photographs of the kitchen are for you.   I'm sorry to say that I didn't take the time to tidy up or stage anything. 

It is what it is, warts and all.


Friday 16 March 2018

Rhubarb and Gnomes

Yesterday two sticks of rhubarb were beautifully pink and ready for harvesting.   Hardly enough for one serving, but too good to leave behind. 

I decided to make a tart.

Photograph borrowed from  -  my other blog!

Rhubarb and Ginger Lattice Tart -  I didn't have enough rhubarb...

so I added a large cooking apple to make up the difference. 

The first photograph of a tart is one I took from my other blog (Parsonage Cottage Kitchen)   but these are  photographs of the tart I made yesterday - photography is definitely not my forte.

As you can see, my lattice-work hasn't improved any over the last year, either.  The taste is what matters.

The smell of the rhubarb was so strong that my self control crumbled, so I had a slice, and it was worth every calorie.

I didn't sweeten the fruit at all, the only sugar went into the crust (3oz brown sugar), so the tart was deliciously sweet/slightly tart. 

The full recipe can be found here, on my other blog.

Now that we no longer have any hens, I have to buy eggs. 

Luckily our next-door-but-one neighbour has a young and productive little flock and now sells them at her gate.   

One pound for six eggs isn't the cheapest, but the eggs are so young and fresh, the yolks so beautifully golden,  that they are well worth the money.

I shall miss our little flock. 

They used to roam around the Owl Wood, curious about everything that went on there, as you can see in the first photograph which was taken a couple of years ago, when I made a Queen Mab Pudding, also on my other blog.

A wild wind is blowing and we shall have snow, or so they say.

I'll be hunkering down with a pile of good books. 

I hope you all have a lovely weekend.

ps  For anyone who has nipped over from Sue's blog   The Cottage at the End of a Lane    please rest assured, I do NOT own any garden gnomes, nor do I intend to buy any for Owl Wood.   They are not my taste at all, I was joking. 

Owl Wood is not home to gnomes...well, not the last time I looked!

Thursday 15 March 2018

The Little Green Man and a Crusader

Tucked away around the corner there lives a little green man. 
He's not much to look at these days, decidedly weatherbeaten and worn...

but that's because he dates from the 16th century and was originally part of an arch in the  gatehouse to the (now demolished) manor house of a neighbouring village.   

The green man, the dovecote and the great hall are all that remain.

A green man is a representation of a face with vegetation spouting from nostrils, eyes, etc.     They are often to be found in churches, although people think of them as a pagan symbol of fertility, a nature spirit.   

As this carving was part of the entrance to an important manor house, many people of note will have been caught in his stern gaze.    I always think he looks poised and ready to dish out a beating.

(This is the same green man which has been made into a beautiful work of raised embroidery by a woman of 90+ years of age.    I can't wait to see what she has made of him.)

Just beyond this building there is a bubbling spring, the source of a chalk stream river which meanders  through our villages.  Crystal clear water which bubbles up out of the ground.    I often think about the many people who had to come to collect their daily water from here.        The little bridge is tiny, a narrow footbridge no more than two or three feet above the water.

Just around the corner is this lovely little church.   It was built around 1320, but was restored in 1867.  There was a much earlier church on the site.

Alas!   the door was locked - something which I have only found once before, and that was on the day of my granddaughter's christening!   

The vicar didn't have a key, the churchwardens were both away - so we had a very simple service out in the churchyard.    It was actually much nicer than normal, we were out in the sunshine, the birds sang and everyone was relaxed and comfortable outdoors.

My mission today was to photograph the crusader, the one I mentioned a couple of days ago.    I have been spending some time trying to decipher the difficult handwriting on the letter I was given..

this is a tiny sample, there are two full pages.    Just to make life more interesting, it has been ripped to pieces and then stuck together again, many years ago.    The writing is fading, some words have been half lost in the tears...    I'm getting there, but it isn't easy.

The 'letter' is a poem, written to request that the crusader be moved to a more suitable location. 

 From the condition of him, I would think that he had been left outside for quite some time.    These days he slumbers in a corner, just to the left of this lovely old door.

I had intended taking off my boots and coat, leaving Toby to look after them for me while I went inside to take a better photograph of the effigy.    It wasn't to be.    Luckily I have some old photographs of the poor chap.

As you can see, he has suffered over the centuries.   The two angels holding his pillow have lost their heads, his nose has all but disappeared and his leg has has been broken!

His monument was found on the site of a Cistercian Priory.    The priory was founded before 1153 but little is known about it.   I can tell you that before Michaelmas, 1536,  the priory was dissolved and the ten nuns who lived there were paid off, sent back home or cast adrift.

Nothing remains of the priory now except this monument and a few documents.

He is in terrible condition, compared to some of the wonderful ones I have seen.   Such a shame, but at least he is indoors now. 

Wednesday 14 March 2018

Life in Soaps

British Matrons who love their homes seek to make them the brightest spots on earth.     A snow-white table cloth laid with shining cups laid with shining cups and saucers, and a bright clean fireside greet the breadwinner as he returns from his daily toil.   A smiling welcome from a happy wife is his, and the children make music at his coming.

The secret to this happiness and harmony?  Sunlight Soap, of course!

Published in 1899, by Lever Brothers, Port Sunlight. 

(A bit of family history here, we were robbed!   Someone back in our family line allegedly had inheritance rights to part of the Sunlight  fortune, they didn't receive it, thanks to chicanery - or so the story went!  We never did find out what that was all about, too late now, my mother and her sister are dead and they were the only ones from that line.)

Back to the Almanac, it seems that Sunlight soap is the answer to almost everything.

It is a fragile little book, but a great read.    It has articles ranging from Ankles (weak) right the way through to Worms, with far more interesting ones on Dressmaking, Cottage Gardening, Keeping House on Small Means, with menus and recipes,  Military History and Liver Derangement, to name but a few.

One hundred and sixty pages of delight, with charming old advertisements. 

It seems that Lifebuoy soap is the Grace Darling of the soap world - and perhaps it was, being the first soap made with carbolic acid, in a time when life expectancy was so much lower than it is today, poor hygiene being one factor.

Just remember:

"Slavery to dirt and to disorder, to work and to worry is abolished, and of such freed and comfort

The Secret is SUNLIGHT SOAP!