Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Samhain

It is the Celtic New Year tonight - so I wish those of you who walk my path a very Happy Samhain! To those who don't I wish you a happy and fun Halloween.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Kaitlyn's Big Day

Not much time for blogging today, it was my grand-daughters dedication which takes the place of a christening for her. The church my son and daughter-in-law attend is full of really delightful,friendly people but must be one of the ugliest church buildings in the country! Consequently the background to the photos is less than great.The pastor is an Irishman,charming and very funny which compensates for the lack of pretty surroundings. Above is Kaitlyn with her mum Hannah, my daughter and her partner to the right and 'my husband and I' as the Queen would say,to the left. No disrespect intended, I'm a staunch Royalist. Incidentally we aren't all a foot taller than Hannah - it's just that we are standing on a grassy bank and Hannah is on the path!

Kaitlyn with both sets of grandparents, mum and dad,her two aunts and four uncles.Also on the photo but invisible is Kaitlyn's cousin to be, due in March!
Great grandma was also there and it's only just occurred to me that she should have been on the photo as well.
Afterwards there was 'a bit of a do' at Hannah's mum and dad's house, it's been a really good day and the star of the show was as good as gold the whole time.

Friday, October 27, 2006


This is a series of photos that I took this morning as dawn broke, the slight differences in the skyline are accounted for by me rushing up and downstairs - some are taken out on the terrace, some are done by me hanging out of the bedroom window at rather alarming angles! They are in the order in which I took them,there must have been slight differences in the angles of the light which accounts for the sky appearing to go from deep to light then back to dark colours.I missed what would have been the best shot as a big flock of black rooks flew over and were silhouetted against the pink sky. Maybe tomorrow I'll get that one. It's one of my favourite things on a winter morning - the swirl of wings and the cawing of the huge flocks of rooks as they call to one another on the way to the day's feeding grounds. It always seems to me a quintessentially English sight and sound. Even better is the evening flight as they come in from all directions to roost in the woods - the noise in incredible. I often walk there as dusk is falling in winter just to see and hear them.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Weald and Downland Museum

These are just sundry images that I took around the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum where I did the courses I've written about.There is no particular theme or order to them, they are simply things that appealed to me. The photograph at the top is of Bayleaf Farmhouse which is probably the most famous of the buildings at the museum. It's the only thing that has a separate guide book all to itself. It's 15th century and has replica furnishings and a garden from the period. The garden was designed by Sylvia Landsberger and is as authentic as it could be made.

This is Neville, one of the Shire horses who live and work at the museum. They are used for ploughing, carting, haymaking and all the other farm tasks that they would have done when horses were used for everything. The museum also has a pair of oxen which are used as well but they weren't around to be photographed while I was there. I love all the big working horses and Neville is particularly patient and friendly.

This is one of the Southdown sheep, this breed is native to the Sussex Downland country and produces very fine meat and wool, they are also very attractive and friendly, this one was very keen to speak to me!

The calf is a Sussex and again a native breed to this county. They were originally used as plough oxen rather than for meat only being slaughtered when they were too old for work. A full grown animal is very powerful but when young they are simply pretty and very shy.

This is an 18th century waggon shed, I absolutely love these old farm waggons, I find the curved line so pleasing to my eye and I could stand and just look at them for hours.

Southdown sheep sheltering from the rain under another of the lovely old pieces of farm equipment. It was pouring down at this point.

Walderton, a 17th century brick and flint cottage with medieval origins.

Boarhunt is a 15th century hall house ie one large central hall open to the ceiling with a couple of bays at each side,one an inner room and the other used for storage. The hall would have had a fire in the centre which would have been used for both heat and cooking. No chimney, the smoke made its way out through the windows and the roof. Pretty to look at, pretty uncomfortable to live in I should think!

This is a lovely wild flower that you see everywhere in this part of England, it's a type of wild clematis with lovely country names the most common of which are old man's beard and traveller's joy. It was so beautiful I had to have a photograph of it.

Back at the stables - Neville and friend again.

Another nostalgia trip for me - a small haystack, something you never see in this coutry any more and so much more attractive to look at than a field full of black plastic rolls. They do still have them in Romania, I saw them in the Carpathians when I was there, it was like stepping back a hundred years, the hay was cut by men using scythes and little old ladies dressed in black were raking it up with wooden hay rakes. However I digress!

This is the dairy in Pendean cottage, the volunteers had been making cheese and it is hanging up to drip overnight seperating the curds and the whey.I'm hoping to do a dairying day course next summer, the idea of buttermaking especially appeals to me.

A Tamnworth boar, the old cottagers pig. They are my favourite breed mostly because I love the rich chestnut colour. Alas, this particular one is no more, all that remains is a selection of bacon, hams and sausages!There are other Tamworths at the Museum who will make it through the winter though.

This is a granary from the early 1700s, I love this building, the lovely mellow colour of the bricks, the thatched roof, the staddle stones that support it - there is something totally satisfying about the whole thing.

This is a walking wheel that stands in one of the bedrooms in Bayleaf. It must have been tiring work to spin on this. I'm not a spinner so I don't know exactly how it is used but the name indicates considerable input of energy! Even though it is displayed upstairs I imagine it would really have been kept in the living area downstairs so that the lady of the house could spin whenever she had some spare time while waiting for food to cook etc.

This is the same room showing the truckle bed and a storage chest where clothes would have been kept. The bed had mum and dad in the main bed and assorted children in the pull out truckle.

Another view of the medieval garden at Bayleaf. I'd love to have a garden like this.

More representatives of the livestock, these I think are Light Sussex and Dorking hens, both traditional breeds. I like hens, their clucking and sqawking is somehow a very comforting sound. If anyone ever has chance to visit the Weald and Downland Museum it is well worth going, it's interesting for both adults and children and is set in beautiful surroundings. The courses they offer are very wide-ranging and open to anyone who wants to take them. The ones I've done have all been connected with herbs and cookery but there are also crafts, traditional building techniques, learning to plough with heavy horses, bee-keeping and more besides. You can learn to make your own longbow, carve a Green man, do blacksmithing, there are drawing and painting classes - the list is endless.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Tudor Kitchen Again

This course on preserving food in the 16th century was just for one day, there were eight of us again including one of the young men,Chris, who was on the Bakehouse course. I was really pleased to see him again because he was so enthusiastic and willing to have a go at things. Preserving food was far more than an engaging pastime in the 16th century, it was vital to the survival of families through the hard winter months, especially the lean months before the new seasons crops in the garden became available. The main methods were salting, smoking, pickling and using sugar to make preserves. Ruth spent some time talking to us about the various methods and also about life in general during this period, then we made a start on the practical side of things. There were three things going on at once, my partner and I were pickling shallots,another group pickled beetroot and the third lot salted and brined kale leavesand stalks. We had to prepare our spiced vinegar, deciding which spices we would use then putting it in the fire to boil up while we peeled the shallots. No measuring jugs of course so we had to decide by eye how much vinegar we would need - we got it wrong first time and had to prepare a second lot as well! By the way, when I say we put the pot of vinegar IN the fire to boil I do mean that quite literally, it isn't a typing error! These are my finished pickled shallots.

All these processes are time consuming and so by the time it was all finished it was lunch time. It was nice enough to sit outside by the lake and enjoy the sunshine and the lovely scenery. We were joined by a group of mallard anxious to assist with any leftovers!
In the afternoon we moved on to salting and drying or smoking fish, sousing a piece of pork, doing spiced beef and finally making a sweetmeat with quinces which is rather like a fruit jelly when it's finally finished.
Again we split into groups so I didn't have anything to do with the spiced beef but I gather that it is first rubbed with salt and the dry spice or spices of your choice - pepper,cinnamon and ginger were among the possibilities but it is a purely personal choice.It's then put in a bowl with a heavy weight on top to press out as much liquid as possible. While this is going on you boil the wine vinegar and then leave it to go cold. The liquid from the pressed meat is poured off, the cold vinegar poured over,weights put on again and there you are. Two of us did soused pork which is a short term method and will keep the pork for maybe two or three weeks. We prepared our spiced vinegar first(we used rosemary, thyme and ginger) and left it to go cold after it had boiled. Meantime the pork is washed in vinegar or rubbed all over with salt then put in a dish and covered and weighted down like the beef and from then on the process is the same. This is the pork just before the weights were put on.

This is cod which has been rubbed with salt and laid over sticks to drain as much liquid as possible off, eventually they will be hung in a part of the kitchen with good air flow and away from the smokiness of the fire and they will dry out completely. The finished object looks highly unappetizing!

Oily fish take smoking much better than other kinds so that is what we did with the mackerel - heads were cut off and then the backbone removed before they were put in a very strong brine to soak.

After soaking they each had a hole poked in the end and a piece of string threaded through with which they were tied onto a long stick varying the lengths so that the fish would smoke evenly without getting in each others way. Then they were strung up in the corner by the fire in the same place that bacon and hams were hung.

Large pieces of pork are salted every day for a week and left to drain, turning them each day. Then they are salted once a week for 6 weeks before eventually being put up in the rafters over the fire to smoke.

While all this was going on the quinces which we had peeled and prepared immediately after lunch were cooking away in their pot on the fire along with the peel and cores tied up in muslin. When they were done the pieces of fruit were taken out of the liquid and pounded to a paste in a huge iron mortar and pestle and the contents of the muslin bag discarded. The paste was returned to the liquid along with half the volume of water in sugar (still with me here I hope!). This is all done by eye of course - no measuring jugs in those days. This never actually got finished because of the time element but would have been boiled up again next day and finished by whoever was volunteering in the Tudor kitchen. When it's ready it is ladled out out onto boards and spread and left to cool.Then it is turned regularly over a period of time until sugar crystals form.Then it can be stored for up to 3 or 4 years or eaten straight away. It's a luxury item of course, only a rich household would be able to afford the sugar to make it and it would be kept for high days and holidays. As a matter of fact I've made this before on another course using damsons and the end result is very good.

This final photograph is at the end of the day, the jug is filled with water and weighing down the soused pork, the wooden bucket (which is very heavy)is weighing down the spiced beef and the figure to the side is Chris testing the quinces to see how they taste! Very good according to him. This was the most enjoyable course I've done yet at the Weald & Downland, I really felt I'd learnt a lot that was new to me.

Sorry the photos aren't that great, as before the low light level in the kitchen doesn't help and also I seem not to have taken many this time, must have been too occupied actually doing stuff!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Memories of a Summer Garden

A last look back at the garden this summer - autumn is definitely here now with a completely different palette in her hands and the pinks, whites and blues are a distant memory .The picture above is a part of the front garden in mid May.

This is my lovely Scotch burnet rose grown from a single tiny 6 inch high rooted cutting. It came from a beautiful garden in Norfolk.

White iris and blue hardy geraniums in early June.

Rosa 'Reine des Violettes' beautiful to look at and with a wonderful perfume too.

The geranium is standing in a circle formed by not quite triangular bricks which once formed part of a pillar that supported the upper floor of an ancient granary barn in Lincolnshire. They came from a reclamation yard and I loved the shape and the wonderful soft pink of the brick as soon as I saw them. Now I wish I'd bought more! The geranium is still flowering.

This is the border opposite the back door with white Goat's Beard, yellow Welsh poppies, one of my rosemary bushes and sundry other bits and pieces.

This would repay a double click on the photo, it's just one of the borders in mid June - I appear, rather like Picasso, to be in my blue period here!

A lovely campanula. They tend to collapse and lean drunkenly about but I love all of them.

The best of all memories, my younger son and my lovely daughter-in-law were married in the garden in June under the oak tree and we had a marquee for the reception. The weather was marvellous and we had a fantastic Argentinian guitarist/singer in the evening who played latin american, swing and jazz music. It was a wonderful day.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Misty Autumn Morning

I haven't had much time to write this week so far but here are a few images I took on my walk this morning, it was a misty, damp and humid day but the woods looked rather beautiful and one or two things caught my eye. The only sounds were the constant patter of raindrops from the wet leaves that were being disturbed by squirrels scampering through the tree tops, the constant thud of acorns and sweet chestnuts falling to the ground and the occasional sweet sound of robins singing

This was an old log covered in lichens and various bits of greenery, I just liked the way it all looked as a still life.

Another log covered with a thick carpet of moss and two different kinds of toadstools

I saw this fallen tree and it made me think of a huge primeval insect!

This was a single brilliant patch of colour on an otherwise still completely green bramble bush

Here the changing leaf colours make it look as though the sun was shining although it wasn't. Even though I walk these woods every day I'm always finding new interesting or beautiful things to look at as the wheel of the year turns.