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.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Seven Random Facts

African Sunrise - White River, Mpumalanga

This is just a fill in post while I wait for inspiration to strike. Patty from Morning Ramble tagged me ages ago to post seven random facts about myself so here they are. Incidentally White River is where my son and daughter-in-law lived for 3 years. The photo is there simply because I love it, it's about the best I've ever taken.

1. I've visited Dracula's castle in Transylvania. It's called Bran Castle and it's a lovely place perched on top of a hill just like a castle in a fairytale. In spite of its reputation it has no unpleasant atmosphere at all - quite the reverse in fact.

2. I love Reeses chocolate peanut butter cups and saltwater taffy.

3. My favourite wild animal is the wolf. In spite of all the bad press they undeservedly get I have always felt a strong attraction to them. I sponsor one called Madadh at a sanctuary in Herefordshire, I've visited her and her companions and been up close to them.They aren't tame but one or two of them are sufficiently socialized with humans to be strokable. It was a wonderful experience to do that. I've also been wolf watching in Romania though we got much closer to bears than wolves there.

4. I can't stand salad cream or mayonnaise so this is an image of saltwater taffy instead:)

5. I'm really scared of lightning, I came close to being struck a few years ago and have never quite got over it. Thunder doesn't bother me at all though. The image is not mine - I wish it was.

6. I am a really bad sailor! Lord Nelson of the Battle of Trafalgar fame was too, so at least I'm in good company.

7. I was in Kruger National Park when a really large herd of elephants with lots of babies crossed right in front of our car. I raised my lovely new digital camera to take photographs and got the message 'Battery Empty' - and I didn't know enough then to carry spares! So those pictures are all in my mind but not anywhere else unfortunately. The buffalo is pretty good though isn't he?

I've been having problems with my computer this week, it keeps having periods of erasing everything I write so if there are no posts or I'm not commenting or answering e-mails that will be the reason why.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Tudor Stillroom

There are quite a number of words in the English language that I find very evocative, two of them are Tudor and stillroom - put them together and I am transported to another world filled with the scents of roses, herbs and spices, where gentlewomen and their maids used skills and recipes learned over centuries and passed on from one generation to the next. I think that monasteries were the first places to have herb gardens where they grew herbs which were used to prepare medicines for treating the sick and they had dispensaries and stillrooms. Readers of Ellis Peters' Cadfael novels will be familiar with this. With the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in 1546 this free medical service disappeared and the Lady of the Manor began to take on the task of preparing medicines for her household. The stillroom would already have been in use for distilling aromatic waters, preserving, making cosmetics (some of which were pretty lethal!), drying herbs for winter use and for strewing herbs which were used for pest control. To this was now added the preparation of ointments, cough linctus, rubbing oils for rheumatic joints and so on.
The photo at the top is of Tina, our tutor, gathering herbs in the garden at Bayleaf Tudor farmstead.

The results of her labours - by no means all herbs would be grown in the garden of course, many would be gathered from the lanes around the village - elder, hawthorn, cleavers, nettles, cowslips among them. Gathering herbs is such a pleasurable occupation, so many of them have wonderfuls scents, roses, various mints, lemon balm, rosemary, southernwood(opinions differ here, I love southernwood but not everyone does, it has a slightly musky edge to the lemon scent). Then there are the beautiful colours of the roses, pot marigolds, hyssop, borage and many others.

The contents of the basket were added to the herbs that Tina had gathered and brought from her own garden. One thing I've realised is that a simple jug filled with a mixture of herbs is a very attractive sight, perfect for a kitchen windowsill or anywhere else for that matter.

The start of a healing ointment - extra virgin olive oil with a selection of herbs including ribwort plantain, pot marigold petals, thyme, marshmallow, scarlet pimpernel and fumitory. This is put to heat gently for 3 or 4 hours then strained and melted beeswax added. At this point speed is required to pour it into small dark glass jars as it starts to set incredibly quickly.

If you don't have any muslin to strain it through no problem - you go out and gather a large bunch of cleavers, make two circles put one on top of the other lying in opposite directions and hey presto! or abracadabra or whatever you wish to say:) It works extremely well too.

Not everything that is made in the stillroom is purely for usefulness, some are decorative such as the various flower sugars. This is one of the ladies taking a turn at pounding marigold petals into sugar - quantities are simple,one cup of petals to one cup of sugar. I have to say that one or two members of the class, including this lady had obviously not used a mortar and pestle before. It requires a rather more robust action than this I'm afraid :)

We also used rose petals and this is the rose sugar spread out on greaseproof paper to dry. When it's dry you store it in an airtight glass jar and use it to decorate cakes - and very pretty too. The sugar retains the scent of the roses so has a wonderful flavour as well as a pretty colour.

These are the flowers of rosa gallica officinalis otherwise known as the Apothecary's Rose. The scent is divine and the uses are surprisingly varied - rose petal jelly, the rose sugar, candied rose petals, rosewater, rose honey and, of course, pot pourri.

Before using the petals they need to have the white heel at the base cut off and then to be washed and dried. Here they are spread out on muslin to dry.

This is another use for the rose and marigold sugars - people in Tudor times loved sweet things and the shape was made using the sugars mixed with rosewater and gum tragican. The rose and marigold are done individually, rolled into thin sausage shapes and then plaited together. After this they are sliced into rounds and left to dry out and the finished product looks very pretty.

Finally I have to bring to your attention Peppermint Liqueur. I can only say that if you have never tasted this you haven't lived!! It is so simple to make and the result is out of this world but unfortunately you have to wait two years for it to mature properly:( This is Tina Stapeley's recipe from her lovely book Herbcraft Naturally. You need 1 bottle of brandy, a cup of roughly chopped or torn peppermint leaves, a cup of roughly chopped or torn lemon balm leaves, 1/2 tspn of dill seeds and 1/2 tspn of cinnamon. Use only perfect undamaged leaves, wash and dry them and add them to the brandy. The leaves don't need to be chopped that small, you are simply trying to release the flavour. Pound the dill seeds in a mortar, grind enough of a cinnamon stick to produce 1/2 tspn of powder and add them to the brandy and herbs. Screw on the top of the bottle or jar tightly, give a good shake then store it in a warm,dark place for 6 weeks, give it a gentle shake each day. After 6 weeks filter it through a paper coffee filter into a clean bottle or jar and add about a cup of sugar. The exact amount varies according to personal taste. Now comes the hard bit - put it away in a cupboard and forget about it for at least 18 months, preferably 2 years. The wait will be worth it. It's medicinal too as it's a good remedy for indigestion! Only a liqueur glassful at a time please:)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Well Dressing

This week is the annual Well Dressing in my village, it is one of many that will take place over the summer months from May to around the end of August. It is an ancient custom that is restricted almost entirely to villages in the county of Derbyshire, though there is one place in Staffordshire and one on Gloucestershire also I believe. I would imagine that in the mists of history the dressing of springs and wells was probably much more widespread though. Our village dresses two wells, above is the main one. Many of the present day Dressings are modern revivals but there are a few villages, including Tissington, that have an unbroken tradition going back for centuries.

This is the spring below the picture. The dressing of wells and springs has pagan origins of course, as a thanksgiving to the various water spirits and goddesses for the gift of water and in the hope of continued supplies. As with so many other things it has become Christianized - I often wonder how many people actually realise that they are taking part in a pagan ceremony when the wells are blessed by the local vicar :) You can see the coins which have been thrown into the stone basin 'for luck'.

This is the whole picture, the spring is on the edge of the village green. The pictures are made in a wooden frame which is filled with clay between 1/2" and 1" thick. Salt is added to the clay to keep it moist and prevent it cracking when it is exposed to the elements. Each village chooses a different theme each year and the design is drawn on paper which is laid over the clay and the design is pricked through with an awl or other sharp tool. The paper is then removed and the outline of the design is defined by using alder cones or holly or rowan berries. Then the picture is filled in using only natural materials - mosses, lichens, bark, leaves and flower petals. They take several days to complete and are the combined effort of many people. The results sometimes are absolutely stunning.

This is the spring which is dressed each year by the local guides - as in scouts and guides not taking you on a tour guides :) I think they've done a great job. I'll try and get to some of the other local villages and take photographs during the summer. The one that is usually best has already gone by unfortunately, Ashford-in-the -Water dresses 5 wells and they are always really beautiful.
Clicking on the photos will hopefully enlarge them so that you can see more detail.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Best Laid Plans

There was going to be a proper post today. After spending the morning doing domestic goddess stuff, packing, then reading and commenting on other blogs I planned to do a post this afternoon. Then guess who turned up?:) And looking at that photo perhaps I should add that the dark patches are shadow in the pile of the carpet, not dirt!! Really they are:)

Miss Kaitlyn started walking last week and came to demonstrate her new skills to granny and grandad (who appeared singularly unimpressed!) and when Miss Kaitlyn went home granny no longer had any energy left for blogging having had more exercise this afternoon than all the rest of the week put together:) Had to laugh at her as her trousers spent more time round her ankles than her waist which hindered things a bit:) Since I am off to Sussex again early tomorrow a proper post will have to wait until I come back. It's still pitching down with rain so I'm not sure whether I shall be driving or sailing back home to Sheffield at the weekend:) Steve and Hannah are close to the flooded areas and were on an island for a while with Catcliffe at one side and the River Rother on the other. Their house was OK but three days without power put paid to the contents of the freezer. Could have been much worse but fortunately they live at the top of a hill. I feel so sorry for all those people who have been flooded though. There isn't much sign of those lazy, hazy days of summer in the UK at the moment I'm afraid.