Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Quince Jelly

This week in the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan we are getting to grips with our quince harvest. The Nation's jam pan has come off the shelf and been dusted down for some jelly-making action.
Of our 3 small trees, all of which we planted not quite 4 years ago, 2 have fruited abundantly. The furry, yellow fruits hang heavily and with this week's windy weather have been ripe enough to fall. Time to get picking. Just gathering those from the ground and those within easy reach yielded a good sized basketful. I dust off the curious downy coating and chop them into chunks. No need to peel. Cover with water and lob in a squeezed lemon or two. (Just In Case. I can't remember if they are rich in pectin or not.) Let them bubble away gently until they 'fall'. The kitchen is infused with their sweet honeyed perfume - far prettier and more exotic than that of the apple.

The Quince is a fruit with history, greatly revered in ancient times - its cultivation may well pre-date that of the apple. Were quince the 'golden apples', the paradisal fruit, in the Garden of the Hesperides or the apples in the Song of Solomon? Even in Britain, not too many centuries ago its taste and fragrance were much admired - but like so many things which take time and patience in preparation quince seem to have gone out of fashion. What a shame that is - they are the most wonderous of fruit. I treasure our little trees - not only at this time of year when they reward us with fruit but in the springtime too when delicate, papery, pink petals unfold over waxy dark leaves. Heavenly.

I've gone off at a tangent....

What next? We let the softened fruit drip through a jelly bag overnight - the resultant juice is pink and clear and fragrant. Sugar is added, stirred and dissolved. It takes about 10 minutes at a wonderful rolling boil to reach setting point - at last the jelly flakes off the spoon. I know it will set now. All is well. But just why does a golden yellow fruit become a crystal clear red jelly?

My basket of fruit makes 12 jars of Quince Jelly, now neatly labelled, to go on the shelves to eat with scones or toast, or alongside pork or poultry - something bright to lighten the long dark days of winter.

Monday, October 19, 2009

How to cook one's goose...

Go on. Ask me a question. Anything. (Well, try and avoid anything mathematical, scientific or about cars obviously.)

How about something to do with roasting meat? Thanks to my new useful little gadget I can probably come up with the answer. Temperatures, cooking times and suggested accompaniments. My teensiest complaint is that the temperatures are not in celsius - but back in the day no one trusted foreign muck like olive oil, garlic and metrification.
Doesn't it just knock spots off the give-aways in today's papers and magazines? CDs and DVDs, multi-size summer flip-flops, Directories of Decorating Ideas, Free Seeds and gee-gaws galour - all transient dross. Look, it even has a little hole so it will hang on a handy nail next to the cooker. How old is it? Something about the graphics suggests Festival of Britain - those brave new world Formica colours, neat tri-colour pointer and charcteristic type face. (I think it's one of the Modern family of fonts - can anyone confirm that?) So 1950s perhaps. Perhaps though, having read 'Woman and Home' magazine and concluded it's never actually been at the forefront of trendy living I could confidently add 2 decades to that.

Still, 50p well spent I think.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A walk in the woods - or where the wild things might be.

Alan says 'Take a stick'.

I don't think I'll need to fend anything off but I ask the question anyway, 'Why? Do you think there might be tigers or something in there?'

'No,' he replies 'but it's useful and will make walking easier. Take one of my beating sticks.'

Whatever. I forget.We've lived here for more than 4 years now and been around for something like 7 but I don't think in all that time I've hopped over the fence at the bottom of the field and done a proper bit of exploring in Badnage Wood. I've lurked around the edges and dabbled in the stream that forms its boundary. I've listened to the wind sighing through its dark conifers and watched twists of cloud wind across its face, I've heard the birds and beasts that make it their home and basically, well - just loved it being there.

We'd like to believe its name 'Badnage Wood' came from that of St Padarn. A native of France’s Bretagne region, Padarn journeyed to the British Isles, and settled in Wales as a monk sometime in the 6th century - not hereabouts but at Llanbadarn Fawr, Aberystwyth. The link is tenuous and hard to prove. More certain is the fact that this area has been associated with religious practices for well over a millenium. The little church at Trelystan which sits alone, way across a field on the edge of Badnage Wood, was most probably founded in the 9th century, and, we might speculate on a site of a pre-Christian significance. It feels to me like a place which has secrets and holds them close. Old too. Who did walk this land? There is more to tell of course - but this is not for here. You'll have to buy The Book.*

Sorry, sorry. Got waylaid by a bit of history. Anyway, today I promised myself I'd get amongst it and explore.
Over the little stile and into the dingle - don't get confused - there are loads of dingles round here. Think steep wooded valley (any size) and stream (s, m or l) therein.
I decide against walking along the stream which would be the best route. Wet feet and all that. I struggle up onto the slope and try and make a path there. It is my plan to follow the dingle and discover what lies in the hidden clefts and hollows of our landscape; the bits we do not see from the road. It's hard going - I stumble over fallen and felled branches and am tripped where brambles have taken hold and thrown out snaky grabbing tendrils which snatch at my ankles. Pitfalls are many; mouse and vole have made runs through the forest bed of soft pine needles and when I am not being tripped I plunge into their holes and tunnels. There is little to grab - sticks and stalks are either rotten of spiky. My route takes much planning and much studying of potential paths. There is time to stand and lean and look up through the tree canopy to the sky.

I know I am not alone. I just sense it. Little eyes, ears and noses, hunkered down for the day are tracking my passage most certainly. I think I am creeping along but this is a quiet place and each step I take snaps a twig with an earthshattering CRACK. I alarm a couple of buzzards and a raven which wheel and cry above me. Reassuringly there is nowhere for anything large, and with sharp teeth, to hide. I think.
Away from the stream and the light it's a dead place - little grows in the gloom beneath the conifers. Under the canopy of these tall slim trees is a thick acidic bed of pine needles. A few deciduous trees cling to life - ash, birch, and mountain ash - others have given up and fallen like a mega-game of 'pick-up-sticks'.

It's quite interesting here but I must say that after about 100m of this environment I'd had enough. By 50m in I'd decided that I'd be crushed by a falling tree in the next storm, nibbled by voles or starve to death if I found myself here post-apocalypse. Nothing for it then but to trudge on...
The conifers gave way - after what seemed like miles but in reality was only metres - to grassy broadleaf woodland, to oak and holly and, over a rickety fence, pastureland. I stroked this tree for a while. Just how often does one meet a woolly tree? Bless.

The way home - the easiest way home that is - was over the stream and up a logging path to the road. We're in shooting country here and young pheasants were in abundance, hanging around the release pens. I did my best not to alarm them too much, hating the idea of a wood-full of shrieking terrified birds taking off around my head. There were guinea fowl as well - a rasp? a confusion? - the watch dogs of the bird world and here to give voice if the fox comes too close I imagine. I crept around them too.
Finally there is a gate to the road and these bits of wood awaiting collection. Can anyone suggest a better collective name than 'Things wot to stand a Christmas tree up in'?

Yes, we have them here. In October. In Badnage Wood. Christmas is coming folks!

* 'Marton - The Story of a Shropshire Village' to be published spring 2010.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bird orchestra

6.43pm. Dusk, time to shut the hens in. Grey fleecy clouds puff about overhead. There is a gentle 'plip' or two as leaves fall from the sycamores in the dingle and my feet scuffle through those already fallen. Do I need a torch? I have one anyway.

In essence the evening is still, but what is that racket? Over in the dark conifers of Badnage Wood it sounds like a birdie riot has broken out. The panicky cries of a thousand pheasants going to roost and the metallic 'caws' and 'gronks' of rook and raven split the air. In the nano-seconds between screech, caw and gronk there's the merest 'whoo' of owl too. I listen carefully - this time to the sounds from the garden. The whistle of a wren in the logpile and unidentified tweets from titmice in the trees are delicate grace notes in this crazy bird symphony.

I listen up for the mew of a buzzard - but that's the sound of daytime and here we are at dusk. On some nights like this a vixen yelps too; an eerie, eerie sound that makes me shiver at the thought of the wildness out there.

We, who are so clever, think we have this world tamed, but even in this small corner the night is still a terrifying place for the denizens of field and forest; the prospect of sharp tooth and claw ever present.

I shut my hens in most carefully.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Catch it while you can...

Now you see it........and now you see through it.
...and probably tomorrow it will be gone. Flattened. A space where a shape used to be. Marton Village Hall, loved but unlovely; the scene of many happy memories for village folk. Can't really count myself amongst them but I do know what ghosts a musty, dusty space can muster.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A weekend in Harrogate

'Don't do it kids' we say, 'How d'ya know that the cyber chums you've chatted with over the months won't turn out to be axe murderers and/or perverts?' After all, tales of sweet young things being beguiled by horny old geezers off the internet are the stuff of legend.

We've all warned our children and yet here we are, not heeding our own advice.....

'Here' was Harrogate, for a weekend with a group of intelligent, witty and kind fellow bloggers who turn out to be as good company as anticipated. We are by no means strangers, having blogged about most things over the past 3 years - homes and families, the happy, the sad, the tragic and the embarrassing. Some of us have met already and have fitted faces and real names to avatars and blog titles but there are still some surprises; the little blond lady who should be tall and dark and the brunette I envisaged as a slinky blonde. No matter. Those names now have real faces and personalities.

There was a morning for shopping and an afternoon strolling through the gardens at RHS Harlow Carr where the the autumn colours were rich and glowing. (I resolved to try harder in my own garden.) So much to see, so much to do and so much left undone. I am now a Harrogate fan.

The wonderful Betty's Tea Room drew us like a magnet. SBS and I drank tea on arrival and drooled over the patisserie and Halloween treats in the window. We had tea and cakes at Betty's Tea House at Harlow Carr and finally, on Sunday morning back in Harrogate, indulged in a big Betty's breakfast accompanied by a tinkling piano. How very, very civilised.
Then all too soon it was time to zip back to Shropshire which basked in a gloriously sunny afternoon. Back in the reality of home it was as if the weekend had never been - as if it had existed only in the vague-ness of cyber-space.

Did it really happen? Was I really there? Well yes, and I have the little felt bracelet to prove it.

Monday, October 05, 2009


There's always something to be found out isn't there? This and that - and why?

In our case it's the line of a road, the shape of a field or that field's name that provide the clues and starting points.

A question.....and we're off, off on another quest.

Which is why, at the end of last week, my patient fellow sleuth and I were at the Powys County Archives in Llandridod Wells anticipating, if not answers, then some very good questions. Does that make sense? I don't think we actually know what we want to know - but what we discover will very well help us to find out. What a conundrum indeed.

The seat of government in Powys, while not exactly marble-halled, is a very fine building indeed. Modern and functional with nod to the grand hotel it replaced, its grounds landscaped with pools, pebbles, water spouts and luscious leafy planting. I am reminded in a small way of the visual might that the medieval cathedral builders achieved - huge and powerful edifices overshadowing the hovels of the peasantry in the surrounding countryside. There was and is, no doubt who was in control. We were not quite in the right place however - 'Reception' waved a vague Friday afternoon hand and directed us 'Over there - the flat building across the way'. We wandered 'over there' in the direction of a low brick-built building, perhaps the old gardeners' bothy, rang bells and were admitted. Is this it then? At first glance 'this' seems to be couple of desks with the instructions 'Pencils Only' sellotaped to them and a wall of books. There are some micro fiche and film readers too. Hopefully somewhere in the bowels of this place are the real treasures.

Well, there are and there aren't. Sadly we were not to get our mitts on anything original but fairly good photocopies were produced. Oh look, here it is: the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan circa 1844; The tithe map and accompanying schedule.

I'm vaguely disappointed - larger than the Vatican city but probably smaller than Andorra. Ambitious, avaricious and land grabbing? Moi? No definitely not - it's the most perfect little township a person could wish to see depicted. I recognise woods, lanes and field shapes - were I a bird or an angel flying over, then or now, I would know exactly where I was.

The field outside our bedroom window (currently home to convalescent cows and calves) and which we know as 'The Little Triangle Field' turns out to be formerly known as Wainhouse Meadow. Its neighbour is White Leasow and beyond that, Marlin Piece - descriptive names - as are Broomy Leasow, Brick kiln Piece, Pant y Maes (field in the valley/hollow) and the less prosaic Cow Pasture and Eight Acres. My garden is called 'Patch' - a name which holds true even now, 150 years later. It is just that, still defying more detailed definition.

The little farm whose barn we now live in comprised a little over 139 acres and tithes of £8 19s 6d were payable to the Rector of Worthen. But Wainhouse? Where was the 'wainhouse'? Hardly likely to be way up the field but neither do I think where I am sitting right now was a cart shed back in the day.....or what about the hovel Alan so lovingly reconstructed? Hardly big enough there either. So where? I think I need to keep looking. We leave with photocopies of photocopies to pore over on the long winter evenings.

So. I've spent a soothing half hour, pencil in hand putting names to numbers - wondering how much or how little is still known by those names. I obviously need to get out more. If only to ask farmers questions about field names....

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Magical moonlight with owls.

Tonight there is a full moon in a mackerel sky over the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan. Owls too. Magic.
24 shots of magical moon - each one a bummer. Sigh.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

On Toast.

The Toast catalogue dropped into our ├╝ber cool stainless steel mailbox this morning. Kerplunk.

Anybody familiar with Toast? No, no, not the stuff you put under poached eggs or slather with marmalade. It's 'mail order' clothes and stuff; accessories for the home too in a nicely produced little booklet, silky to the touch and promising the benefits of the simple life for a king's ransom. Hard to categorise but Laura Ashley meets Johnny Boden perhaps. Country clothes I think but not for country sports - rather stuff for drifting wistfully and enigmatically in.

Flicking through the pages I fancied me a little dress - perfect with opaque tights and sturdy boots, a 'boyfriend' cardigan and leather bag; the perfect 'look' for rambles through crisp autumn leaves under cold clear skies. Then home, I imagined, to sit in front of a roaring fire snug in my sensible PJs, wrapped in a merino Braemar blanket before hopping into bed where a hot water bottle warms those candy striped sheets. Ah, bliss.....

I go online to buy the dress that will make my autumn perfect. It only takes a few clicks to discover that for some unfathomable reason it is currently available only in size 8. Sigh. I could never diet fast enough to get into that. Size 8 doesn't seem a very 'country' size - apart from elves and will 'o' the wisps us country gals are made of sturdier stuff.

I flick through the catalogue again - perhaps something else will take my eye. Something cosy for the home perhaps.

That candy-striped bed linen needles me slightly. It's the candy striped bed linen of my childhood. (Cosy flannelette from before the days of sparky-slidey-ezee-care Brentford Nylon sheets - another nightmare.) Except Toast's candy striped bed linen is made from organic cotton and has two rows of satin stitch on the pillow cases.

Slowly I begin to understand Toast. Like all the others it sells the dream. Is this one the shabby chic and country cottage dream? I've been here before though in my childhood homes - and don't get me wrong, they were the best of times - but the clothes (with the exception of my velvet party dress) were horrid and houses draughty.

Layers of wool and wellies, sheets, blankets and hot water bottles were necessities and not life-style choices. I'm not sure we did life-style choices back in the day, not in size 8 anyway. We've come a long way and I don't want to go back. Give me warmth and light and choice - lots of it.

But it doesn't stop me wanting part of that dream. A pair of felted wool slippers perhaps. If they have my size.