Week 2 – what I did, what I didn’t, and what’s new…

August 24, 2014

Having set myself this little challenge, how did Week 1 go?

Most of it has been used up. The marrow’s still waiting to be curried, but doesn’t appear to be in any hurry. Nor are the shallots, which are scheduled to be used up in tomorrow’s Bank Holiday supper. Two small aubergines from the tray of 6 are still waiting too, but haven’t developed any bad patches so are still good to go.

This week’s haul includes 3 more lots of tomatoes; one of 50p salad toms, for lunches, and two 50p lots of the big vine tomatoes for (yet more) soup. 4 corn-on-the-cob for £1, more celery – can you have too much? Surely not! – for 50p, 5lbs of Jersey Royal potatoes for 50p, 10 lemons & 10 limes for £2, which will make lemon & lime curd, with some home-laid eggs. I also bought a big butternut squash for £1, as last week’s has already been used. I could have bought either of two varieties of cabbage, but didn’t; I still have an uncut one from Friday. There were no carrots or parsnips on offer, but I have enough carrots & one big parsnip should keep us going all week, unless I want to do a rosti, in which case I’ll visit the greengrocers. Two punnets of small strawberries were down to £1 each and will go into jam with the blackberries I’m about to go & gather in before the stormy weather makes them rot in the hedgerows. If no-one’s eaten them already, that is! The 50p peppers will almost certainly be eaten whole & raw, like apples, by our tame vegetarian, and one of the 50p leeks has gone already.

I’ve also made a big jar of kimchi, started off a ginger beer plant, and made 3 bottles of blackberry & apple cordial. Plus I bought two full carrier bags of apples towards the end of the car boot sale on Tuesday, reduced down to 50p each, to make apple butter with this week, as our crop isn’t going to be up to much this year.  And another trader has offered me a sack of windfalls, from her mother’s garden – lovely jubbly! The more the merrier.

The downside? I’m running out of reclaimed jam jars already…

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Week 2’s haul of reduced fruit & veg…

The 50p veg challenge…

August 17, 2014

Lately I’ve taken to popping down to our local market close to closing time on Sunday, the last of the three days it’s open. The two fruit & veg stalls have a habit of offloading anything perishable that hasn’t yet sold for 50p a pot or punnet, or sometimes a mixed bag for £1, or two bowls for £1.50. Since one of The Offspring has become a vegetarian, this has been a bit of a good moneysaver…

I hasten to add that I actually buy everything I can foresee needing for the week at full price & peak freshness on Friday morning, chosen to match whatever fish & meat I’ve found best value for this week & bearing in mind any special events. It’s still a darn sight cheaper than buying it all in the supermarket. What I’ll pick up on Sunday is supplementary to this; sometimes there isn’t very much left, or what’s there isn’t something that any of us will eat, so it would be daft to rely on it. And sometimes it’s a challenge to know how to use up what I’ve found. But also, fun…

This week’s haul includes celery, which is something I use a lot, as a fresh savoury herb in cooking, rather than raw in salads. If I have an absolute glut, I’ll pop some into my dehydrator; it dries quickly & the taste is concentrated. Dried celery is a great standby for soups, as are carrots, which also found their way into my trolley. There’s spring onion, which goes well in stir-fried veg, a tray of aubergines, which a friend gave me an excellent tasty, inexpensive recipe for, and 4 large ripe mangos. They’ll be in my slow-cooker tomorrow turning into chutney, with a couple of large apples from our tree. I picked up two trays of vine-ripened tomatoes, and popped over to the butcher’s stall for some soup bones for £1. That’ll make a lovely middle-Eastern-style soup for our lunches for the week, as the bones are lamb. There was a butternut squash, much loved by our vegetarian, and a marrow; I have plans to try out curried marrow or marrow bhaji…

Not to mention garden produce – the apples are coming down fast now, the quinces are almost ready – and what I can forage from our local hedgerows and even sometimes other people’s gardens. With their permission, of course! Blackberries feature strongly in my plans for the week, mostly fresh or as jam, as does the first “run” of apple butter with windfalls, possibly also using some crab apples from the riverbank; they looked just ripe for picking when I walked my friend’s dogs earlier. The lurcher clearly thought the windfalls were just perfect for eating, too… It’s not going to be a great crop of apples this year, but what’s there has had the grace to ripen up when I actually do have the time to deal with it, for once.

Anyway, the plan is, to record here what I find each week & what I plan to do with it. Then the next week, to report back on whether I did actually stick to my plans, or whether, shame of all shames, we just have some very well-fed chickens… It’s a bit of a challenge to myself, to keep me on track & keep unnecessary expenditure down, but please feel free to join me, in the comments, with suggestions for me, or tell us what you yourself have found or grown, & what you’re going to do with it.

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Home grown Blenheim Oranges.

Phew! What a summer!

August 7, 2014

My feet haven’t touched the ground… We’ve “done” the Larmer Tree Festival and I’ve opened a second, smaller stall, at Toad Hall Country Vintage, which is closer to home and has a very different atmosphere to Molly’s Den, as well as all the normal whizzing around associated with having a bigger family. Especially in wonderful weather, when you live close to the beach… So I haven’t managed to find much time for writing lately, but now I may, just may, have a few calmer weeks in prospect.

Yesterday the weather forecast was grim, so I’d planned a day of catching up at home, but by the time I got up (reasonably close to the crack of dawn) the sun was merrily blazing away, so I hauled the girls (Elder Daughter, Younger Daughter & my Trainee-Daughter-in-Law) out of bed, packed them into the car & we set off to a little town about 35 miles west that’s well known for its “Vintage” scene, as well as excellent local food. We had a great day; the weather held up, we had a treat of a lunch very cheaply at a cafe a friend had recommended, and we found some lovely stuff amongst the “overpriced tat” just like the things that I find & sell!

But my pride & joy for the day is a large yellow & orange insulated water carrier, found at the Household Recycling Centre on our return, for £1. We already have a red & white one, which is slightly smaller & originally belonged to my brother when his children (now parents themselves) were tiny. It’s marvellous; keeps water cool all day (longer if you add ice, which is easy as it has a wide mouth) and holds a useful amount, with a push-tap that even youngsters can operate. Because there were & sometimes still are 7 or more of us, I bought a more recent one a few years back, which needless to say sprang a leak after a couple of years & is now pretty useless, but the old one is still fine. I tested the new-to-us one yesterday evening; it’s clearly seen a fair bit of use & is probably about 5 years older than our original one, going by popular colours, but there are no leaks or drips & the tap works well. So I’m a very happy bunny, having more than doubled our cool-water-carrying capacity! Brilliant for the beach or picnics – or even for days out to places with interesting Vintage Quarters!

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More treasure – with an interesting twist.

June 15, 2014
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Warne’s Model Cookery and Housekeeping Book

The autoharp wasn’t the only treasure to come my way yesterday. This elderly cookery book, from 1895, also found its way into my bag. I rather like old cookery books, as much for the social history aspects as for the actual recipes: “The footman is required to make himself generally useful, though, of course, the number of men kept will diminish or increase his work…” I was surprised to find that it, too, is probably worth much more than I paid for it, but I’m not going to part with it until I’ve “mined” it for useful recipes, if ever! There are sections on preserving, pickling, cheesemaking and winemaking as well as everyday cookery, and although I will happily use modern aids and methods, old-fashioned methods have their place in my armoury too. Especially when the modern ones don’t actually work.

Whilst the pages are mostly in good condition and the cover is pretty clean & bright for its age, apart from a few fingermarks, the spine is very worn and only attached by a sliver at the back. And I was intrigued and entertained to find proof that our ancestors didn’t waste anything much:

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Recycling 1895-style!

The adverts are as much fun as the recipes:

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Fancy cooking on one of those?

But some of them would cause hilarity rather than improving sales, in this day & age…

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I hope Her (previous) Majesty enjoyed…

Off now to find out what some of the more arcane ingredients are in modern parlance, always supposing they are available – or indeed legal – today! Saleratus, anyone? Lambstones? Puff paste…?

Another dilemma…

June 14, 2014

A quick whizz round the car boot sale at our local National Trust property this morning brought me this little treasure at a very reasonable price:

autoharp

 

I know they’re not worth a fortune, as they were made in East Germany under communist rule, mostly in mass-production factories, and any of the traditional craftsman makers who may have been involved were not allowed to sign them. Many of them look very pretty but are too cracked or warped to play, or have loose pegs. But the only fault I can find with this one, now I’ve removed large amounts of dust & replaced a couple of the springs which had wandered off under the strings, is that it’s out of tune. It’s entirely possible that a harp-tuning wrench will do the job, and we just happen to have one of those in the house, as one of the offspring is currently learning to play the harp.

So, the dilemma is, sell it, or learn to play it? It’s a very pretty item & I have a feeling it would sell very fast, quite likely to someone who just wants it for its undeniable good looks. And I know that they are far from the best autoharp for new beginners. But – it’s the one I happen to have! And it’s something I’ve had a hankering to learn since I was in my late teens. I think I’ll have to give it a go…

Booty!

May 17, 2014

Any day that brings me five new-to-me fans, is a good day!

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Fans, gloves, scarves = vintage glamour!

Elder daughter and I went out hunting at a big local car boot sale and the market, and came back laden with little – and not-so-little – treasures. Certain things always seem to spell glamour to me; fans, gloves, bags, hats, scarves & jewellery spring to mind, and there was plenty to go around, which was just as well as we met several of our fellow-traders out a-hunting too, all well-laden.

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Real value for money!

Different types of stall attract different buyers; I glanced over plenty of stalls offering more modern, big-name bags, and none of them looked half as smart as the much-older patent leather one I’d found, once I’d cleaned it up. It even came with a pair of navy-blue lacy gloves inside.

But my best bargain today had to be the little blue Olivetti typewriter for £1. It looked very, very sad; mildew on the keys, and no, you’re not mistaken, it is bent sideways. “I don’t think it actually works,” the vendor said doubtfully.

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All folorn…

But a couple of hours later, with the aid of WD40, the judicious application of a mallet (I kid you not) some Swarfega, tweezers, a good stiff brush and a hoover, it not only looks a whole lot better, it actually works, and works well! Someone’s going to get a real bargain, and I’m chuffed to bits to have returned a decent bit of kit to good working order.

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Restored!

 

Just in case you were wondering…

May 11, 2014

…where I’ve got to, I’m still recycling like mad & will be posting here again shortly. But I’m also trying to blog, mostly in pictures, a year in our little urban garden. Find it at A Year of Old-Style Gardening.

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This spring’s blossom on the big old Blenheim Orange apple tree…

So: define “Vintage”…?

April 5, 2014

Here’s a subject that comes up quite often: what is the actual definition of “vintage” and how do you know if something really should be described as such?

 

Google’s definition, which I rather like, is, “denoting something from the past of high quality, especially something representing the best of its kind.” Really the word belongs to the world of wine, and simply denotes the year a particular wine was produced, but like many another good & useful word before it, it’s leaked out into other areas and the connotations of quality and age have gone along with it.

Not wine, but surely vintage?

Not wine, but surely vintage?

There is no official “age” that an item (or a style) should attain before it can be considered vintage. At the market I regularly trade at, the agreement is that things should be, to the best of our knowledge & belief, 25 years old or more. Which brings the huge shoulders of the 1980s firmly into the “vintage” rearview mirror, but to someone of my age, that’s hardly any age at all; it was only yesterday! And that, I suppose, makes me too somewhat vintage, provided I can dredge up a bit of quality from somewhere. But to the young fashion students who often buy from us, the 1980s are out of the Ark – practically prehistory!

 

All of us will sometimes have items that we don’t know the age of; we can’t (economically!) carbon-date clothing or fabric, for example. But we do know quality, or quirkiness, or classic styling, so we will usually describe things as “retro” rather than vintage if we know or suspect them of being less than 25 years old. However we could, with justification, use the word “vintage” to describe something only 5 years old, if it ticks the “high quality/best of its kind” box. Needless to say, some vendors elsewhere exploit this to the fullest & will happily label any old secondhand stuff as “vintage” which rather muddies the waters & is in danger of bringing the whole game into disrepute. And there are things, and plenty of them, which may well be more than 25 years old but will never be vintage, just old tat. Mind you, I’m assuming that that phrase probably originally comes from the use of “tatting” as an inexpensive substitute for more complex & expensive bobbin lace, so I’d actually be very interested in genuine old “tat” anyway!

Old tat? A tatted doily from a 1970s Golden Hands craft compendium.

Old tat? A tatted doily from a 1970s Golden Hands craft compendium.

 

I have some “Golden Homes” magazines from the 1970s somewhere; you could swap many of the room sets into a current IKEA or Habitat catalogue and I genuinely doubt that anyone would even notice, because good design doesn’t have a sell-by date or built-in obsolescence. Not that everything IKEA sell is good, but we have things we bought from them way back when they first opened in the UK, over 25 years ago, and they are still doing the job we chose them for, and still look good. They have now, in my understanding, become vintage; perhaps they always were.

Classic 1970s styling from Golden Homes magazine.

Classic 1970s styling from Golden Homes magazine.

 

When I’m challenged about the exact dating of something, I have now learnt to say that vintage isn’t about an exact date; it’s about quality, design & style from the past. Quality doesn’t vary, but each stallholder will have different ideas about style, and that’s just how it should be; each of our customers will have equally different and equally valid ideas too, and will combine, wear, use or display the treasures that we’ve found for them in a myriad of different ways. Many of those undreamt-of when the item was new, and often mixing & matching the best of old & new. The best of both worlds, in effect, carrying our past forward into the future…

Lace? Tatting? Actually, crochet - and definitely vintage!

Lace? Tatting? Actually crochet – definitely vintage!

 

Viva vintage!

 

Synchronicity at work…

March 21, 2014

Wikipedia’s definition of synchronicity:

Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events as meaningfully related, where they are unlikely to be causally related. The subject sees it as a meaningful coincidence, although the events need not be exactly simultaneous in time.”

Well…

I often get asked, “Wherever do you get all these treasures? You must spend all your weekends at car boots & jumble sales!” Which I would love to be able to do, but alas, life doesn’t always work out like that; I have lots of other calls on my time, though I do have two jumbles on my “hit list” this weekend. So in order to maintain some kind of flow, some continuity on the stall, from time to time I resort to buying stuff in from the wholesalers. It doesn’t necessarily work out cheaper, and I’m always aware that they will have cherry-picked the really good stuff for their own “headline” stores, so although they are reliably good value, I’m not getting the very best bargains, and am thus not able to pass them on. However sometimes I strike lucky… this little lot arrived today, from the wholesale arm of a well-known charity:

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50 magnificent vintage hats, which should keep my stall buzzing all summer long! Provided, that is, that not too many of them end up on my daughters or my trainee-daughter-in-law… This elegant confection has already made its debut on Facebook:

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and they are clearly going to provide us with days of entertainment!

I’d already decided to make some major alterations to the layout of the stall at Molly’s Den; books are selling steadily down there, but aren’t very visible from the aisles. And the kitchenalia on the shelves at the back might as well be in Outer Mongolia; despite being clearly visible, things just stay put there, but usually sell within days when I move them forwards towards the aisle. So I thought I’d find some bookshelves, put them along the back with some interesting vintage titles & reasonable prices clearly visible, and possibly some of the more dramatic hats too, and see if that tempts people further in. But no inexpensive bookcases turned up, for weeks on end, on Ebay, Gumtree or Freegle/Freecycle. Reluctantly, I decided to invest a whole £30 in a pair of cheap & cheerful bookcases from that well-known Scandinavian emporium, which I happened to be virtually driving past yesterday. They had 16 in stock when I checked online a couple of days beforehand, but by the time I got there, they were all gone, and they’re not going to have any more in for weeks! So, back to the drawing board… 

Luckily, last night, there was a small pine bookcase, just the right height, for £10 on Gumtree, which I was able to pick up this morning. It was close to Molly’s Den so has gone straight onto the stall, although it’s not yet in its final position and won’t be filled up until after the weekend. And an hour or so later, you could have knocked me down with a feather when I found the following Scandinavian item, marginally damaged but perfectly safe & sturdy, in the wood skip at the Recycling Centre – and look what else was there, too!

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Cat not included!

More hats! And all for less than I’d have paid for one new bookcase. If that’s not synchronicity at work, I don’t know what is.

Ooops, I may have committed sacrilege…

March 10, 2014

orientalfan

I was hurtling round our local market yesterday hunting for something to supplement a handmade birthday present, when I happened to pass a house-clearance stall we’ve bought from many times. I asked after the stallholder’s wife, who I know is unwell, and we were chatting away when I spotted something in one of his boxes; an old and very tatty paper fan. Being a  bit of a magpie, I couldn’t resist the bright colours, and couldn’t help asking how much. “Just take it!” came the reply; one end was literally hanging off. Delighted, I thanked him & scurried off clutching my “treasure”, completed my errand and went off to the party.

It was dark by the time we got home, and I knew I’d need to wait until daylight until I could see whether I stood any chance of repairing it. Then a family health-related issue gobbled up most of my day, so it was late afternoon by the time I was able to sit down & look at my fan, though I should have been elsewhere by then, but had had to cancel. Anyway, it seemed as if it would be repairable; it’s a pretty thing and I could see that it wasn’t a mass-produced item. There was a huge rip, crossing several staves, at one end and a smaller rip at the other, but just about all of the paper was still present & the staves unbroken.

I’ve hunted before now for information on repairing fans online, as I have a bit of a fascination for them (not to mention a small collection) but without much success, so I just set to and did my best. I used cigarette paper as I know it’s good strong stuff but almost invisible, with Gum Arabic glue edges, which is pretty natural stuff and probably not far removed from the glues originally used in the fan’s construction. It looks to me as if someone had attempted a previous repair to the big rip, using a glue which had discoloured & left a brownish stain, and clearly hadn’t worked for very long as there’s a lot more rip there now, and I soon found that Gum Arabic didn’t seem to stick very well; there’s some kind of finish on the paper. So I used careful smears of Mod Podge to stick the cigarette paper down. I’m quite pleased with the result; I now have a fan which looks reasonably complete, still folds easily and works, and would otherwise have ended up in a bin.

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BUT soon afterwards, having got the bit between my teeth & looking for some information to help me repair another fan, I finally managed to stumble across the International Fan Circle’s website… which advises using a starch-based glue with no additives. Mod Podge, I’m pretty sure, is posh but very effective PVA. Oh dear! And reading their history pages, the fan might well be rather older than I’d originally thought; it’s clearly not a mass-produced item from the time of the People’s Republic or the days of heavy industrialisation since, but hand-painted, with delightful little birds & rounded mountains painted on the 30-odd staves and drawn in ink up the guards. (And oddly, “6¾” written in pencil on the top of one guard.) It seems to me Chinese rather than Japanese, though I don’t know why; the mountains don’t look like Mt. Fuji is the best reason I can think of! So I hope I haven’t ruined something of real interest & value, but in my defence, I did rescue it from an almost certain doom. And I will know better next time, and hopefully do a proper job…

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