Monday 30 April 2018

Miss Read and Wooster

I have almost completed typing up the notes for the booklet about Miss Read's memories...people,  villages, wartime memories, rationing, rural occupations, life.

Some time this week I will call in and leave the notes with her, then she can get out her blue pencil and make any alterations or additions.      The mobile library is due to call by, tomorrow, so perhaps I'll drop the notes off after I change my books, if there is time before the grandchildren come back from school and want their tea.

No, that wouldn't work, things will be too rushed.   I'll have to think it through.  I can't do it in the morning, that is already booked out on errands in Louth.   Another day then.

The new regime of having the grandchildren, morning and evening, is wonderful but I struggle with my loss of freedom.   I'll get used to my new split-shift life.

This handsome old boy lives at the far end of the village, or just across the barley field and over the stile, from us.     His name is Wooster and he is 30 years old.    Admittedly this photograph was taken last summer, but doesn't he look wonderful?

This is his field companion,  Jeeves.   

Poor old Wooster, he really doesn't like the cold damp weather.       Some days he comes out of his stable to have a chat and to blow his warm breath over Toby, Jeeves doesn't bother, he prefers to play Statues.

Talking about statues, it is time I got a move on.   The grandchildren will be here, for breakfast at a quarter past seven.     

I'd better get the day started instead of sitting here talking to myself.

Sunday 29 April 2018


Pip couldn't wait to welcome them...

It was sold as a hen house, but we bought it to house two rescue cats. 

We were advised to keep them together, in a quiet room, for at least three weeks - quite difficult with two dogs in the house.     This hen house was our solution.   The cats could stay together, have a little privacy, but they would also get to meet the dogs and become used to our comings and goings.

Pip thought they were wonderful and would spend hours just watching them - eagerly anticipating the day she would be able to snaffle their food.

The cats eventually settled and came into the house.   The hutch was abandoned.

Then we got a small flock of rescue hens.

It became their home, along with the freedom to roam in Owl Wood during the day.   They soon feathered up and became fabulous layers and cheeky little characters.

Time passed, so did the hens.   

We decided to get six more.    The little hut seemed a bit snug, so the new girls were given a much larger shed and the small one was just used occasionally, as an isolation or recuperation ward.

The final remaining hen fell off her perch last winter. 

These days the old cat/hen house has another purpose. 

Our two grandchildren have bought some guinea pigs.

Ginger and Ninja.     

It is the turn of the two cats to sit and watch the entertainment.     I think water pistols may be needed -     just until our son-in-law caves in and allows Ginger and Ninja into the house.

This was beautiful Bennie
before she was given her freedom.

Teaching the Cat to Hustle

Sweet and innocent, or slightly smirking and smug?     

He certainly has a  secret skill...

Here he is  in training.     

There is another video which was taken the following day doing the same trick, but with opaque beakers thereby removing the visual clue, unfortunately I can't get that one to upload.

Judging from this expression I think he earned enough to buy a big fat fish for his supper.

Saturday 28 April 2018

The First Celebrity Chef on Television

This photograph shows Moira Meighn, the very first 'Celebrity' cook to have a television programme,  in a BBC studio.     This was 1936 - two decades before Fanny Cradock and her long-suffering husband.

I have a couple of her books on my shelves and if they are anything to go by, she was a very interesting character.

'The Magic Ring for the Needy and Greedy' was published in the interwar years.    These were difficult times, money became tight, and she had to let her marvellous cook 'go'.         Unused to doing her own cooking, she struggled to use the cooking facilities, both the range and an enormous gas stove defeated her.    Then someone advised her to adapt her recipes and cook on a single ring...

That sounds like a whole different nightmare to me, but she embraced the idea and the book is the result.

I haven't yet been able to uncover exactly what her background was,  but there is a clue in this:

 "My only real hardship, when I first went completely servantless, was having to get out of bed to make my own early tea in the morning...".

She says she and her family had to move into a bed-sitting-room, a minute place for which they paid the price of a Park Lane Palace.    "it had every drawback, including rats and no washing-up facilities". 

Her new kitchen consisted of two upended sugar-boxes, a large tin tray and a single-burner oil stove plus  a spirit-gas picnic stove on which she regularly cooked meals for three - often six or eight grown-ups and sterilized the baby's bottles, heated the water for baths and made toddy when the nurse, who slept with the baby in an adjacent 'hutch' woke us during the night to help her fight hordes of rats. 

They were still able to afford a nurse to look after the baby, and to do lots of entertaining.   Not quite that impoverished, then.

There is a paragraph in which she states that "Every girl child should receive a cookery thermometer as a christening gift.    Children should also be be given real tiny pots and pans and a workable methylated, or oil-stove, gas or electric ring.     They should all be assembled on a white enamelled tray and the child should be taught to use them before the age of seven.

"A child trained sensibly will soon realise the danger of fire..."

My daughter will be gratified to learn that I am not going to give our six-year-old granddaughter such a gift. 

Thursday 26 April 2018

March 1899 - Notes from a Mistress

March 1899


Clean Drawing Room
Silver and Brasses first - passage after Drawing Room is finished.
Clean attic in afternoon.

N.B.   Brass plate and bell to be cleaned every day.
Bake Tuesday and Friday.    Clean tins.



One week Drawing Room is turned out, the other the Dining Room, so that each room is turned out once a fortnight.
Before breakfast clean grate and fire irons well.     Cover furniture with dust sheets.     Cook and housemaid help each other in finishing room after breakfast, after the housemaid has finished the bedrooms.
Clean stair rods once a fortnight.

These notes were tucked into one of my old recipe books.

Seeing as I am both Cook and Housemaid around here, I guess that is my day filled then... 

Luckily, we don't have a Drawing Room, a Dining Room or a staircase.       

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'.

Tuesday 17 April 2018

Bridges, Baking, Rayburn and Chimney Sweeping

It is almost impossible to walk anywhere, in this area, without encountering a bridge of some sort.   Most are not as ancient and lovely as this one, which was built in the 14th century -  it was almost certainly a replacement for an earlier one.   

Although it looks quite large that is just an illusion.   In reality it is a small bridge built over a stream  on a salt route and is just large enough to permit one packhorse to cross at a time.   It is definitely too small for a cart to use.    Salt would be transported from the coast and traded.

Most of the ones I come across are in beautiful settings, but are not beautiful in themselves.

This one is crossing the same river as the one above, just a few hundred yards further along.   The river bends and twists through the fields, so a typical walk will see me cross it three or four times.

When I take photographs of the watermill I am usually standing on yet another bridge,  quite a strong little bridge, because it is part of the lane which runs along there.     Not terribly photogenic, but it works hard.   I must take a photograph some time.

We are being promised plenty of sunshine and temperatures of more than 20C, in the next day or two.    Fingers crossed.   

Meanwhile, today is very chilly and there is a strong wind blowing.   No rain though.

I am planning to fill the kitchen with warmth and the smell of baking.

My beloved Rayburn will be taken out in the next month or two.    It is a solid fuel one.   Unfortunately age is catching up with my husband and I.          All that tree felling, log hauling, sawing and chopping has been great fun and wonderful exercise, but the constant flue cleaning, soot, and need to keep the fire burning, and we have to admit defeat.     The Rayburn has been wonderful, a real workhorse and I have loved cooking with it over the last twelve years.

What people don't tell you about is that you have to lift the extremely heavy top plate off each month, sweep down all the soot and do the same with the water heating section at the back, sweep everything into the firebox - creating dust and sooty havoc all the way.    Every few months we also have to add in cleaning the chimney and sweeping it down the same way.

When that has all been done, no matter how carefully, the whole of the kitchen must be cleaned because tiny particles of soot and dust get everywhere.

A range cooker will not be the same - and it definitely won't heat the water or the radiators.    It is a time of change.   We have to be practical.


Monday 16 April 2018

Changing Shape

The shape of my day has changed, which means that for the next few days I may be late in replying to comments and visiting blogs.

We now have two of our grandchildren here for an hour on school mornings.         They are not difficult children, but it does mean that we now have to rearrange our morning, ready for the 7.15am visitors...

Then we do it all again when the school bus returns and drops them off.   Teatime, playtime and hand them over sometime between 5.30-6.00pm.

I struggle a little with having almost four hours of each day 'spoken for', but I will adapt!

Sunday 15 April 2018

Roly Poly Hedgehogs - Caught on Camera

My two naughty cats woke me very early on Friday morning.    The black and white one, Sparky had decided that she wanted food - NOW!

After I had fed her I opened the back door to let  her go outside.     To insist that she go outside, my small revenge.    As I opened the door  I saw a big hedgehog run past - and yes, they can certainly run.     It disappeared into the darkness.

That night we decided to set up a camera and put out a dish of hedgehog food  -  fully expecting the food to be eaten by rats - we live in the country, they are a fact of life.

But no, the night film showed two hedgehogs having a dispute over the food bowl.

I'm sure there is a better way to get it from the house camera system and on to You tube, but this was the best I could do.

The action begins within seconds of the video playing.   I hope you enjoy seeing watching this little clip of them.   We'll put extra food out tonight, two bowls.     Fingers crossed both hedgehogs will benefit.

Saturday 14 April 2018

Dining with Toffs

Tucked inside one of my old recipe books was this gold-edged dinner menu card, dated 8th November, 1883.

Uffington House

Potage aux profiteroles
Merlans Guilles tartare"
Riz de veau en cassis
Quenelles de Volaille fareau
Gigot de Sept heures
Celeris a la Creme
Perdreaux rotis
Gateaux Gunois a la Creme
Oeufs en Sardines
Glace aux Ratafias

A little investigation (last year, for my other blog click to see the post) showed me that Uffington House was built in 1688, with an additional wing added to the back of the house in 1809.      

Unfortunately the house burned down on 23rd December, 1904.

Location - near Stamford, Lincolnshire, which is about 60 miles away from here.

I was doing some research on another house, a few days ago, and came across some photographs of the interior of Uffington House, one them is of the dining room.    Unfortunately it is not very clear, but thrilling to think that this is where the meal was eaten.

The number of chairs lined up in front of the sideboard shows that the table could be greatly expanded when necessary.

Uffington House was the seat of the Earl of Lindsey - a peerage title which was created for Baron Willoughby de Eresby.    

What makes this so interesting to me, is that the manor house which was home to 'Miss Read' was also once a seat to the Lords Willoughby de Eresby,  later Earls of Lindsey.

I have no idea who wrote/collected all the recipes in my old book, where she may have lived, or why she had the menu card in her collection, but I do like those tenuous links.   

The big leather bound volume is full of mystery, as well as many hundreds of recipes.     Although it was stamped with the name 'A Johnstone' and the year '1840', the first recipe was written in there in 1848, probably not by A. Johnstone.     

There are lots of notes on the food provided for occasions which demanded large scale catering, some written directly into the book, while others are written on notepaper, embossed with the names of some grand houses.  

Most of the recipes are for cakes, puddings, pies and biscuits, but there are also lots of savoury dishes too.   Some of the most interesting are the recipes for treating ailments.

I bought the book at auction, many years ago, so know nothing about where it came from, other than these little clues.

So many stories, if only it could talk.   

Little snail trails through time and space.

Friday 13 April 2018

Misty Gardens with the Ginger Cat

Here's Millie, doing gate duty.   Come on in, but please remember to shut the gate.

Photograph taken one day last year, hence the sunshine.

The last couple of days have been cold and foggy with barely a hint of spring in the air.   Luckily, the plants and trees are there to remind me that it will happen, eventually.

This is a twig on the quince tree, I am so looking forward to seeing the blossom.   The second quince is less active, enjoying a bit of a lie-in, not convinced that it is spring yet.    The apple, plum, pear and cherry trees are all thinking about it.

The rhubarb is wide awake and growing more vigorously than ever.   

Lots of daffodils, but the trees and hedges are still bare.     The greenhouse is full of seedlings, and needs a jolly good wash, one of these days.

As I walked around this part of the garden I had two companions following my every move - Toby and Millie, the little ginger cat.     She would like to be a dog.        Every morning she goes out with him first thing, just sitting on the wall and waiting until he is ready to come inside for breakfast.    Then in she comes, gobbles a quick bite before demanding to be let out of the other door.

Down in Owl Wood there is a little green showing on one of the hurdles - Millie is there investigating a rodent hole.     

This is the newer patch of wild garlic.   It makes me smile every time I see it.    The original patch is spreading like wild fire, so last year I asked my husband to transplant some into another area of Owl Wood.

He did, bless him.    They are in regimented rows.   Once a Royal Marine, always a Royal Marine.    I could show you a some daffodil bulbs that he planted for me, you can't miss them, they are marching in single file, neat and orderly.       I love him to bits, but I wish he would remember that plants are not soldiers and they look better when they look like happy ramblers.

The rosemary is still in flower and the chives are sprouting, mint is beginning to wake up.  Things are happening, slowly.

The old brick pathways are covered in moss, with tiny clumps of primroses to add a little interest.

The plants, trees, shrubs are all waiting for sunshine and warmth. 

Steps which lead to nowhere.   

A dull and dismal garden, but that is life under a cold fog.   

Bring on the sunshine and then the flowers and blossom will burst forth and all will be well in this tiny bit of Lincolnshire.