The Gumtree shed…

October 11, 2017

When we got our allotment, it didn’t take long to realise that a shed would be an enormous asset. The site is just under a mile away from home; close enough to walk up there, but not to run home to escape a shower. And that’s quite a way to carry tools; if we didn’t want to drive up there all the time, we needed somewhere to store them. In true Permaculture style, it would fulfill other functions, too; where we planned to put it, it could act as a partial windbreak, as we are in the southwestern corner of the site, where the wind whistles in over the river meadows, partially screened by a blackthorn hedge, but partly exposed. The roof would be a raised surface for capturing rainwater to store in our (wombled) water-butts, too.

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New allotment with an “open aspect”…

The maximum size we’re allowed on site is 8′ x 6′, on a slab base; no concrete, no decking. But we didn’t really want to give up that much growing-space, as our plot is an odd shape; triangular, with the hypotenuse facing south-west into the prevailing wind. We don’t have any power tools to store, just secondhand manual tools, so security wasn’t much of an issue. So an 6′ x 4′ wooden shed would be plenty big enough.

But a new shed would cost at least a hundred pounds, which kind of negates the money-saving aspect of allotmenteering, even if it’s a one-off investment. So I started looking round on Gumtree, allowing myself a budget of around £30, thinking there’d almost certainly be money to be spent getting whatever I found up to scratch. But most were far too big, and I kept missing the smaller ones that were offered. Except one, which was offered FREE as “might suit someone for firewood!” Half of one long side was missing, replaced temporarily by the door, but I went to see it anyway as it was only a few hundred yards away. Not great, but surely, salvageable… The lovely young couple giving it away had decided to replace it with something intact and also bigger.

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The Head Gardener surveys a pile of potential shed…

So we hauled it across town, the end bits, the door & parts of the framework inside my van, and the sides lashed to the roof-rack of the Head Gardener’s estate car. It sat for a week or so in a heap, beside where it was going to be put back together again, whilst HG laid & levelled the slabs. Then we spent a merry afternoon puzzling out what should go where, and screwing it all together; it had previously just been nailed. Some bits are a little rotten & have been replaced, and the roofing felt needed replacing altogether, and our allotment just isn’t quite the same shape as the ground it sat on before so the roof just wouldn’t quite sit properly, but hey! we have a shed, all screwed together firmly, and it hardly cost us anything!

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Oooh look, a shed!

It just so happened that a friend had recently had her conservatory roof replaced with something more permanent. It occurred to me that a piece of ex-roof triple-wall polycarb might just plug the gap in the wall and make a rather good window; Head Gardener moved the remaining slats down to the lower half, I cut the polycarb to the right length and lo and behold! it just slotted over the slats perfectly. Screwed into position gently, the windward side that looks towards the water-meadows actually lets the light in now.

The structure was probably never the sturdiest, and strong winds might have been an issue, exposed on the edge of the site. But HG had a stroke of pure genius; why not use some of the pallets that I’d wombled to make composters to brace the shed, inside the structure, instead? So there are three strong & heavy pallets resting on the floor slabs, screwed to the wall supports & each other, and acting as shelf supports & tool racks.

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A pallet serving as a brace and a tool-rack

There’s a triangular shelf made from pallet-wood at the end for all the things you might need a work-surface for, like potting, or making a cup of tea, and two shelves running across the end over that for all those little pots & tins of stuff we seem to need. Like biscuits…

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Pallet-wood shelves, and conservatory-roof window!

There’s a shelf at the bottom of the window; whilst it doesn’t let full daylight in, I think there’s enough light to start the odd window-box propagator-tray of seedlings in there. There are hooks and nails to hang small things like trowels, string, netting and dibbers, and I’ve even cobbled together a somewhat flimsy welly rack from an old curtain pole and a spare bit of wood. It’s not “finished” yet, in that we have yet to trim the roof felt, put up the “bug box” and add the guttering; in fact I’ve yet to source some of that. And it’s far from luxurious, and there are no gingham curtains or bunting (yet!) but we haven’t found a single drip of rain inside, and it’s stood up to winds that have brought branches down elsewhere in town. So, so far, so good!

 

 

 

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Full of (very tough) beans!

October 7, 2017

So, it turns out that if you wander off on holiday for the best part of 3 weeks in September, your runner beans get very, very stringy & tough. The plants are still flowering, and the bees are still dancing round them, so I’m not ripping them up just yet, but I think they were basically under the impression that they’d done their job – loads of rock-hard stringy pods full to bursting of plump pink beans!

I had a “Bag For Life” full of them. I asked one or two experienced gardeners what I could do with them, but they shrugged; once you’ve saved your seed for next year (if you want to bother) all you can do is chuck them on the compost heap, apparently. But I was convinced there must be something I could do… so I brought them home and Googled like mad.

A couple of chutney recipes came up. I’m not a huge fan of chutney, but the household does contain one, so I made a big batch. Which used up nearly a quarter of the bag, and a whole evening; those pods really were very tough and razor sharp.

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Three-quarters of a bag of stringy beans!

This morning I woke up with a little revelation running through my mind; the pods might be beyond all sensible use, but the beans themselves might not be… So I spent a merry hour this morning shelling the beans, which was not as hard as I’d expected. If you pull the “strings” off, you’ll see that one of the resulting grooves in the side of the pod is deeper than the other. Sometimes you can split it open just with your fingernails; if not, run a sharp knife down that side & you can pull the pod open and remove the beans. No worse than shelling peas, or broad beans.

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I ended up with 2 pints of beans:

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I popped these into the slow cooker, along with 4 cloves of garlic, chopped up with two medium onions, half a large sweet potato, a quince, about a quarter of a very large courgette/zucchini, and a pint of vegetable stock. Two teaspoons of Ras-el-Hanout, one of salt, a sprinkle of freshly-ground black pepper and a heaped spoonful of coriander leaf/cilantro seemed about right for seasoning.

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After two hours on “High” I turned it down to “Low” for the rest of the day. On tasting it, I added some tomato passata, a dash of Worcester Sauce and some more salt; just before serving a sprinkled a little more veggie stock on it, too, as there still seemed to be a little something missing.

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I also mashed it a little, which seemed to absorb some of the stock, but left many of the beans intact. I have to report that it went down very well, with at least one “customer” coming back for seconds. I’m hoping there’ll be enough left to freeze some.

The pods have indeed gone into the compost heap, but not all of the beans made it into the casserole. Although I already have some seed saved for next year, and have bought (on offer!) another pack of the same seeds I used this year, it seemed unfair not to save a few more, after all the plants’ hard work!

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So hopefully we’ll be off to a flying start next year, and I’m not worried about producing too many now I know there’s something different I can do with them.

And for my next trick: finding something tasty to do with several giant, and I do mean giant, chemical-free pumpkins…

Do the maths!

October 4, 2017

I was at the market in our County Town this morning when I saw a small crowd of people round a fruit & veg stall. They were inspecting a little tower of boxes dubiously. I sidled over, and saw a notice: whole box of strawberries – £2!

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A slightly-depleted box of strawberries!

Well, irresistible! I checked with the stallholder; it really did mean a whole box, 20 good-sized punnets, for £2. “They’re going over,” he said. “You’ll need to pick your way through.” But the crowd were shaking their heads and wandering off. “Half of ’em are mouldy!” one woman huffed indignantly. Another lady & I looked at each other and laughed; the woman evidently hadn’t worked out that if half of them were no good – and it certainly wasn’t anywhere near half – you would still be getting 10 punnets for £2. Which is quite a bargain!

So I somehow managed to carry the box, mostly balanced on my head, back to my van, whilst dragging my shopping trolley behind me. My mother & I polished off most of one punnet for lunch, and I gave two more to one of my brothers, who happened to appear at an opportune moment. So 17 punnets came home with me.

What to do with 17 punnets of strawberries? I rounded up every jar I could find a lid for and made a massive pan of jam; 11 jars, 4 of them 2lb-ers. I didn’t have any preserving sugar, and strawberries are low in pectin, but I did have these:

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Apples & quinces…

…which are full of the stuff. So I boiled up a pan of apples & quinces until really soft, then strained them through a muslin, then chopped the strawberries into the resulting juice and added an equal weight of sugar. Discarding the bad ones as I went, 9 punnets-worth half-filled the pan (it’s a BIG pan) which is enough as I didn’t want it to boil over.

6 punnets-worth have been sliced into my dehydrator; dried strawberries are good in muesli, or yogurt. There’s one punnet of decent berries left in the fridge, and one punnet made its way to a friend.

Altogether, from the 17 punnets I brought home, there were 2½ punnets of debris to throw out – mostly into the chicken run, as they love strawberry tops. So the best part of 14½ punnets, plus the 3 that went elsewhere, were good to use; way more then half! 11 pots of jam for £2, a bit of sugar and some energy… still seems like a good deal to me!

 

Busy again…

August 22, 2017
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New allotment!

I know, I know, I’ve been rather quiet for rather a long time… but I’ve been busy! I moaned to a friend that I don’t have any space to grow veg here at home; we grow a lot of fruit & herbs, not to mention being almost self-sufficient for eggs, but there’s no space left for veg. And the two Offspring left at home are both pescatarians, surviving mostly on vegetables. Turned out that she desperately needed help with her large kitchen garden, her Other Half having gone walkabout. So I volunteered to help, and got stuck in.

But I’d also sent my annual “any chance of an allotment?” email to the Powers That Be. You could have knocked me down with a feather when I actually got a reply, not as usual reminding me that there’s a 20-year waiting list, but in the affirmative. They were opening a new site in town at the end of the week… so I went & inspected a plot, and with my Other Half, agreed we’d like to take it on.

Two plots, separated by a couple of miles, neither of them very close to home, is too much. Other Half doesn’t want to help with my friend’s garden, as he thinks we might lose it all at a stroke of a lawyer’s pen. Added to which, my elderly mother has been unwell, necessitating lots of visits – not that these are begrudged! – and waiting in for doctor’s phone calls. And the usual day-to-day dramas of a busy household, and my attempts to declutter after 25 years of large-family life, and the necessity of earning some money…

So now I’m desperately behind with everything! And I can only apologise to my friend; the weeds are galloping away up there & I’m failing heroically to keep on top of all the things that need doing . But we are eating well; better than we have for years, and I have her to thank for that, as the allotment is only just coming into production. There’s a recycling story to tell in a day or two, but in the meantime, here’s a pic of our beans 6 weeks down the line…

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And some of the gleanings from my friend’s kitchen garden…

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A little sad, a little happy…

June 2, 2017

Well. Been busy again… a few weeks back, we had some frantic emails round the Committee of our local Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers, of which I am a member. Some looms and spinning wheels from an old weaving workshop, including a very-historic original Huguenot silk loom, had been stored in a thatched rural loft, which had fallen in. If we couldn’t do something to rescue them fast, they would have to go into a skip…

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So off a couple of us trotted, into the wilds of beautiful rural Dorset, where we found a muddle of loom parts in the loft, wherever the thatchers had stacked them, and some spinning wheels, in varying condition, stashed away in a tent on the lawn. Most of these things were hardwood, 30 or more years old, but in fair-to-middling condition, all apart from one wheel, made of softwood & ply, which had been rather well-nibbled. My colleague teaches spinning, with as many pupils as she can handle, most without wheels of their own yet, so she took the wheels. And the owner’s family & I arranged for the truly massive & very historic silk loom to go to the Huguenot Museum in Rochester.

Which left the rest… There were 4 complete looms; a big Harris upright rug/tapestry loom, which I got very excited about, as I’ve always wanted to weave Scandinavian-style rag rugs, an 8-shaft 3′ Harris table loom (and a stand & treadles which it will fit on, although not original) a 4-shaft 2’6″ Dryad floor loom and a curious little 8-shaft beastie with a very innovative system of pulley-operated shafts & upright split-metal heddles.

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The rug loom came home with me, and the other three, and some oddments, went to a Guild friend’s barn. With the help of some of my fellow Ravellers, we’ve now identified the little sample loom as a Pioneer, from the NorthWest Loom Company . I got in touch with them; they reckon it’s about 50-60 years old, one of their originals, and should clean up nicely! So the Guild will be renovating that one & keeping it for shows and demonstrations. The other two are awaiting new homes…

Sad to relate, the upright Harris rug loom is just plain too massive for the only space in this house I could possibly keep it… as soon as we got it into place, I realised that it just wouldn’t be fair to my family to hang onto it; they’d be forever clonking heads on the bits that stick out, and our 24’ conservatory just seemed to have vanished! But it’s found a new & enthusiastic home already, I’m happy to report, with someone who is just back from studying tapestry weaving in Peru. So I shall be saving up like mad for one with a smaller footprint and a “lighter” presence.

And that’s what I’ve been up to, quite apart from the hurly-burly of everyday family life and running a micro-business, and that’s why I’ve been a little bit quiet for a while. Trying to house the loom forced me to clear a lot of the mess and excess stock lurking around in the conservatory, so there have been benefits in this little escapade for all the family. And now I can see my way clear for where to put the next one…

Not following the crowd…

April 9, 2017

I’m just back from a delightful mini-break in Cornwall, with my second darling daughter. It was only a couple of days, but we had a lovely time and great weather. We walked a lot, and explored a few old haunts and new-to-her corners. On the way back, we stopped at Cotehele House, a gem of a medieval manor house in a stunning setting that I’m well-familiar with, having grown up very close by until my early teens. It was pleasantly uncrowded and relaxed, despite the glorious sunshine. When the time came to leave, I took the little back roads up to cross the river at Gunnislake, to the north…

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Cotehele House

We passed mile after mile of glorious green hedgebank, splashed with primroses, violets,  campions and the odd late daffodil, nodding drowsily in the sunshine. These are mostly single-track roads, with passing places, but there are also plenty of wide verges where it would be perfectly safe to park out of the farmers’ way and spread your picnic cloth, as we used to back in the Dark Ages when I grew up there. Kites and buzzards wheeled lazily overhead, spooking the well-fed pigeons, and cock-pheasants wandered along the roadside, gazing at the van in mild perplexity. Despite it being school holidays for most of the country, we hardly saw another car, until we reached the main road.

Then – mayhem! Almost the first thing we passed was a roadside hostelry, with a well-packed car park and a long queue to get into it, reducing the road to a single track at a most-inconvenient point. Grizzling children who’d clearly spent hours cooped up in a car, and mightily-stressed adults obviously on the verge of tearing their hair out. Yet within a couple of hundred yards, there’s all the lovely countryside you could wish for. I know it doesn’t come equipped with loos and hygienic hand-driers, but hedges take no harm for a bit of extra watering, and taking your own picnic means that your children do get to eat what they like, and your money gets saved for more worthwhile purposes than yet more chips for lunch. A wet flannel in a plastic bag keeps hands just as clean as a well-used public tap. Just remember to respect the country code; clear up after yourselves, take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints, as the saying goes.

It’s something we often notice here too, living in a holiday area. The main roads are jam-packed, sometimes gridlocked, in summer, the “attractions”, well-known beaches and eateries full to bursting and not much fun at all. But stray a little off the beaten track, and you can walk for miles in some of the loveliest countryside these islands have to offer, liberally sprinkled with ancient monuments, and hardly see another soul. Visit a beach that doesn’t have an ice-cream kiosk, equip your kids with I-Spy books, buckets, spades and shrimping nets, or teach them to skim stones, and enjoy some space and peace. (Possibly even without anyone whining that they haven’t got a mobile signal.) Go to a stately home, rather than an over-priced adventure park with hour-long queues; they’ll have play areas, quizzes, and farm animals, and quite probably proper food at not-unreasonable prices rather than burgers, fries and nachos. Almost certainly there’ll be somewhere congenial to eat your picnic, too,  and plenty of space to let off steam.

I’m the first to look at Tr1p Adv1sor before going anywhere new, to get an idea of the area & what’s available locally. But I also look at physical maps, and “drive” around a bit on Google Maps, to recce likely stops and shops. Following the herd and sticking to the main roads means safety and convenience, but also crowds, queues, stress and noise. Straying a little off the beaten track often leads to delightful surprises and unsuspected loveliness…

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Primroses & violets in a Cornish hedge-bank…

 

A riot of colour…

February 5, 2017

Another little tale from yesterday… I went down to the local market, which always has a very good car boot section on a winter Saturday. Although I just needed some ham ends and some garlic for the household, I had my “work” purse with me too, so I strolled through the stalls on my way to the food area. One stallholder, who has a house-clearance firm based down in a town on the coast, called me over; “I have something you might like… a bag of Indian stuff, I think.”

Oh yes…! A big bag of jumbled old saris. Some clearly in fairly bad way, but others didn’t look too bad. I estimated there would be at least 9 or 10 in there – saris are long, usually about 6 yards/5.5m of fabric – and most were of decent quality originally, many of them silk, and in a riot of glorious colours. I asked for his best price and was instantly able to see that this was a good bargain, although it involved handing over all of my “working” cash and some of the housekeeping too! But I would still have enough left to buy what I’d actually come for.

When I got it home (thanks to a lift from a kind neighbour, also on the hunt for bargains) I was delighted to discover that there were actually 17 full saris, plus a decorative offcut from a sari “fall” or pallu. One or two of the chiffon or thin silk crepe lengths were beyond use “as is” but have beautiful trims, which are worth rescuing in their own right, and much of the fabric is rescuable and has other potential uses. Most of the loveliest woven or beaded saris have some stains, alas; I think what I have here is another crafter’s stash, going by the cut-off pallu, rather than someone’s actual wardrobe. And three of them were “spoken for” by one member of the household or another, straight away. None of them are the sort that I normally buy in, i.e. traditionally-patterned printed silks. But some were instantly saleable, either as inexpensive party-wear or decent fabric with lovely trims, so they’ve gone straight onto my stall at a very-reasonable price, to cover my costs.

I shall say no more, except to say that if I’m quiet for the next few days, it’s because I’m either dealing with yards and yards or fabulous fabrics, or I’m dreaming of what I can (and must!) do with them…

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A riot of colours and textures…

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Stunning contrasts…

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Fabulous trims…

A huge pat on the back…

February 4, 2017

… to local firm Stoate & Sons! I enjoy baking, and particularly like to make long-fermented breads and traditional fruit cakes. And as far as I’m concerned, the most vital factor in how my baking turns out isn’t the temperature of my oven, how long I’ve kneaded it (or not, as my current favourite is a no-knead sourdough) or how fresh my eggs are, but the quality of the flour. And Stoates flour is always absolutely excellent.

I can buy small 1.5Kg bags at our very-excellent local health food shop, but sadly they will only last us a week or so. But we’re lucky enough to live less than 20 miles from the mill at Cann, and often have reasons to go up that way, so when I’m passing and the mill is open, I’ll pop in and stock up on the 8Kg bags, which will last us for about 3 months. However, when my mother was very ill, I ran out of time to go up there, so placed my first order online, which most impressively arrived the next day. Since then, I’ve worked out that if there is no other reason to go up there and combine errands, it is actually marginally cheaper to buy it online, as my van, though wonderful in many ways, is not the most fuel-efficient beastie on the roads. And it also saves me some time, which always seems to be in short supply just now.

Anyway, I placed another order one evening earlier this week, and received an email the next day saying that it had been dispatched and should arrive the next day. I was at home all day, but the doorbell never rang. And though I was in and out the next day, one or other of the girls was in all day, and again, the doorbell just didn’t ring. However, this morning, we found a very soggy cardboard box on the doorstep… the box disintegrated when I picked it up, and sadly the flour sacks inside were damp too.

So I rang the mill and left a message saying what had happened; not blaming them at all, but despairing at the lack of common sense shown by their carrier. The weather forecast was terrible, and there wasn’t a moment when the house was left unattended, and both doorbells work perfectly well. For a while, I thought I might have to rely on supermarket flour until I could get up to Cann again. But as I was unpicking a fabulous metal trim from a lovely but damaged vintage sari this afternoon (more about that soon) the doorbell rang…

There on my doorstep stood the miller himself! His wife had an errand to run down our way, so when he heard my message, checked the order and realised where we were, he popped some sacks into the back of the car & dropped them off directly to us. It’s not often you get service like that these days; well and truly above and beyond the call of duty. So I’d just like to say a huge thank-you to Michael Stoate; that’s what I call good customer service!

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No-knead slow-risen sourdough made with 2 cups Stoates Organic Strong White and 2 cups Organic Maltstar, a tablespoon of salt and half a jar of sourdough starter. 

Why my Mum doesn’t cook…

January 22, 2017

It has always been a puzzle to me, how much my lovely, intelligent, adaptable & creative mother hates cooking… but I’m beginning to understand now. The other day, she casually mentioned that until she married my father, back in the immediate post-war years and aged just 21, she had never cooked or prepared a meal in her life. On the first morning of their married life, she woke up in a blind panic because she had no idea what to do about breakfast – not a clue. She had never even fried an egg.

I was somewhat amazed at this revelation; she grew up in a multi-generational household, as her mother died soon after she was born and her father was away on the North-West frontier most of the time, and re-married before too long. So she was raised mostly by her grandmother, who had grand ambitions for her; her grandfather was Chief Engineer at the local paper mill, and her aunt and uncle both had good clerical jobs, so by the standards of the time, they were solid middle-class citizens. Old photographs show a lovely dimpled child who was clearly everyone’s pet, and she went on to grammar school, where she excelled at music in particular. But sadly she failed the Matriculation, by just one point (in art, of all things) so dreams of university had to be shelved. She spent some time pursuing her musical talents, but by that time she had met my father, curate at a local church, and was sternly told that she could either sing OR marry. Luckily for us, she chose to marry…

But no-one ever taught her how to cook. It may well have been that my great-grandmother was living a little in the past, and thought that cooking should be something that cooks did. It’s certainly true that for most of my mother’s teenage years, rationing made ingredients hard to come by, and even harder to stretch, and as they lived in a town, they didn’t have access to the large & productive rural garden that my other set of grandparents had, or the time to work it; running a paper mill in wartime was a dawn-to-dusk, and sometimes beyond, commitment. My great-grandmother pooled the family’s rations to keep them all fed, but discouraged any “help” that might lead to wastage. Thus she failed to pass on the basic skills that would have kept my mother afloat when she suddenly had to feed two people, and sometimes entertain, too, on strict rations and a pretty low income.

However, she persevered; she tells tales of surreptitiously buying recipe magazines, despite not even knowing what half the ingredients were. And plunging into despair when the recipes started with sentences like, “First bone and roll the joint” or “Rub in the lard” – rub it into what, exactly? Your hands? The chopping board? How do you “bone” a joint? The bone doesn’t just pop out… To someone raised to be a blue-stocking, 1940s cookery books might as well have been written in a foreign language; they assumed a level of basic knowledge that she just didn’t have.

But then, rationing dwindled away; my parents spent some years abroad, and along came the “new” cooks – Elizabeth David, Prue Leith, Josceline Dimbleby and the like, who explained things much more clearly, with pictures, and cookery started to become more than just trying to get the most out of very basic ingredients. But just as everyone else was discovering that food could be fun, and “exotic” ingredients and recipes were becoming easily available, my father died, leaving her with just £11 in the bank, living in “tied” accommodation which she had to vacate very swiftly, and with two young children still at home. She found a job, and kept a roof over our heads, but buying & cooking food were just chores she could have done without at the end of every tiring day…

She has always done her best, in every way, and we are all immensely proud of her and grateful to her. But our childhood wouldn’t have been the same without the cries of, “But it doesn’t look like that in Delia!” or “No-one said you had to turn the oven on!” I’m glad that now she’s 90, she has the option of buying good, nutritious meals ready-made, to just heat up. But I’m also sad for her, that something should be a fundamental and creative skill became such a panic-inducing chore. And I think there’s a lesson to be learned; never assume that your kids just won’t need basic skills. Things like knowing how & what to buy and cook can turn a boring necessity into an interesting challenge; knowing to knit, crochet, sew or do basic maintenance on your car can save you lots of money as well as being very satisfying and even creative, and knowing how to swim, or tie an appropriate knot, or what or what NOT to pick in the wild, can save your life.

Life may not turn out the way you’ve planned in every detail, for you or for your loved ones…

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Wild-gathered comfrey fritters… surprisingly delicious and more-ish!

Knit your own tree, part II…

December 24, 2016

Just a little festive tale, hopefully to amuse you all… every year, my kids always express a nostalgic longing for a “real” Christmas tree. And every year, being not only the skinflintiest of skinflints, but also someone who doesn’t like to feel responsible for encouraging the aimless slaughter of innocent trees, I say, of course we can have one, provided it doesn’t cost more than about £10 less than any “real” tree actually available in our neighbourhood…

I went to pick up Dear Son no.3 from his university city on Tuesday. I needed some lightbulbs and one or two other small things, and by this point in the festive season I’m always very short of time, so I decided to leave half an hour early & pop into a well-known Scandinavian emporium en route, rather than make a separate trip down to our nearest city, which would have taken over an hour.

For the last few years, they’ve done an offer of “buy a tree for £25, receive a £20 voucher” to spend in the New Year. Which makes the tree very reasonable; basically £5, provided you can get back there in January/February & spend the voucher on things you actually need. And indeed I will be going back there, and there are things  – like lightbulbs – which they do very well, and it does no harm to have a few extra in stock. But being so close to Christmas, I assumed they would have sold out of their very-reasonable trees long ago.

But whilst I was hurtling round the store, a voice announced over the tannoy that the offer had become rather better, as they’d been left with a fair number of trees & it was getting rather late to sell them. The trees were now just £5, but buyers would still get the £20 voucher. Which means, in effect, that they were (potentially) paying us £15 to take them away!

That, of course, was easily inside the arbitrary limit that I’d set. So a beautiful little Nordmann fir came home with me (little because our living room is little; they had bigger ones but I don’t have a bigger room!) and has been decorated with 1001 precious little memories, and is gracing a corner of our lives for the next 12 days.

We do have a very nice “fake” tree, from the same source, also bought for much less than the original price. But it will still be in the loft to be used next year, if I can’t track down a tree for free (or very little) that isn’t otherwise going to be used. But I doubt that I will ever again effectively be paid to take one away…

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Wishing you all a merry, lighthearted & peaceful Christmas – or Yule, or Hanukkah, or Midwinter festival.