26.7.15

Blackcurrant Jamminess


When Jean and Brian invited us to help ourselves to however many blackcurrants we wanted from their garden, it was the perfect excuse to delve into a new activity. I myself prefer making chutney (less faff, more fool proof), but Joe had a hankering to try jam making.


There were certainly plenty of currants, and within 20 minutes of concentrated picking, we had 3 kilos.



The thing with so many currants, is that there is a lot of fiddly de-stalking to be done. We didn't bother with taking the dried flowers off, because as we later discovered, they simply disappear in the boiling process. I mention this specifically, as I searched the internet for ages trying to find this fact out, with limited results. So if you're reading about this via a search engine - don't sweat about the tops, just try to remove as many of the little green stalks as you can, without your eyes going squiffy.


Then we unearthed an ancient old pan of mine (now officially the 'jam pan') and began cooking. Had I realised how simple jam making is, I would have taken it up years ago. And it makes the kitchen smell delicious!




I even managed to find some waxed jam discs which had been lurking in a box for Lord knows how many years. Sterilised jars were filled.


And the next day, suitable labels were made. All a bit home-made, but pleasing nonetheless.



Bread and jam has become a very acceptable and affordable meal. We're about to make our third batch.



14.7.15

Whittling not Wooling


The day after my last needle felting workshop, I was invited to a workshop of another kind. My bete noir: wood. I have never been good with wood. I have no feeling for it, no magic in my fingers. But Ian the Toymaker was going to initiate me into the gentle art of whittling. I wished him luck.

 

We had limited time, so I was to start a little bird project, from an original design by a Czech puppet maker, Martin Lhotak. A little bird wired to a peg. It's the simplest of moving toys. How hard could it be? We started off with a block of lime wood and I drew out my design, with a little advice from Ian.


The next stage was to cut the lumps out, on a saw. I think it's a band saw, though I'm not very good with electrical stuff. Actually, I have a healthy respect (fear) of any moving sharp things, so Ian started me off, showing me how to gently guide the wood through the blade.



I managed to get the rest of it done on my own, with much deep breathing and concentration.



Then the next stage - the whittling. another sharp blade. A Swedish whittling knife. Again, I'm a bit lethal with sharp objects. Except felting needles, I'm ok with them.


This is Ian showing me how to polish the blade - you don't sharpen it, but it does need polishing, which helps shine up the wood as you work.


And off I went. Totally out of my comfort zone, feeling a little like many of my students must feel when they are picking up their first needle felting project.


The workshop is a wonderful treasure house.

 

Intriguing drawers and boxes full of useful things. Rather like my own studio, but less haberdashery.




And works in progress, displaying clever automata mechanisms which make things move. 


After less than an hour - and having been taught the correct way to hold the knife and carve - I had, to my amazement, managed to create a crude bird. Admittedly with some help from Ian. And even more miraculously, I had not cut myself.


I swapped a needle felting kit with Ian for a lump of lime wood, determined to go home and try some more whittling. It's a bit like needle felting; addictive once you get going.



So later, with my special new birthday whittling knife from Joe, I finished my wonky bird. He remains pegless, and resembles a shark without fins. I poked some bead eyes in him, so that he could see. I no longer fear wood. But I am much better with wool.

Ian was a fabulous teacher and often holds workshops with similar projects - the results of which can be found on his website, here.  


2.7.15

Shrewsbury Food Festival


My birthday treat was this year's Shrewsbury Food festival - it first started three years ago, with immense success, but (as some of you may know) I haven't been in the right mental place to enjoy such things. There were also wonderful birthday presents from Joe, including a Swedish whittling knife, of the type recommended by Ian the Toymaker. And a humungous bottle of my favourite (and rather expensive) perfume.


Summer had finally decided to arrive in the UK and we were glad we got there early - the Saturday country bus deposited us in town before 10am, so we arrived before the crush. The festival was held in Shrewsbury's beautiful Quarry Park, where the legendary Percy Thrower was the Superintendent gardener for 28 years.


We wandered about. It was crammed with mostly local small producers  There were cheese and pies and pickles and fudge and cider and bread and meat and stuff. And more stuff.




And rare lop eared pigs, from nearby Middle Farm.  This was part of the 'farm-to-fork' section, enabling people to make the connection between what they eat and where it actually comes from.




This is 'Beckfoot Damica' and her new calf, from Great Berwick Organics. She's an English Longhorn, one of the oldest breeds in the country, dating back to at least the 16th century.




We stopped for handmade venison pies, and in my case (what with it being my birthday and all) I had a pint of 'Steam Punk' beer from Shropshire's own Three Tuns Brewery. Dark treacle-y and delicious.



By now, the crowds were building up and as neither of us do people en masse, it was time to head off. So Joe bought some sausages...


...and I bought some bread. And we headed back to the cottage after a lovely day out. Full of pie.



Goodbye lovely Shrewsbury Food Festival, you were great - and good luck for next year!



24.6.15

Brooding topiary at Longner Hall

  
Is it just the British who have a penchant for pottering around stately homes when the so-called summer weather is typically 'iffy'? Not too far from here is the lovely Longner Hall, who were having a garden open day. 


So Brian and Jean from next-door, Joe and myself all crammed into one vehicle and bimbled across the lanes to have a little look and admire the topiary.



I do like a nice topiary bird.


 



But I like even better, sinister green domes who seem to be watching you as the rather grandiose 'big house' looms overhead.


 Some people like grand houses.


I am more taken with the ramshackle.


Such as this sweet little conservatory nestling between shapely hedges. 


 Or intriguing secret paths leading to who knows where?




And cunning doors which beckon you to enter...
 

 ...revealing the most beautiful Victorian walled garden.


 

And then the rain descended, as it had been threatening to since we arrived.


We all took shelter, packed like sardines in a funny little theatre shack and I passed round mints some found at the bottom of my bag. Jean found them a little strong and had a slight coughing fit.


Once order was restored and the rain passed, we carried on admiring the neat and orderly rows of vegetables, lined up like soldiers on parade.


 One of the old glass houses has been restored.


And already filling up with tidy rows of geraniums.




In the manner of these things, just as we were heading off, the clouds cleared to reveal beautiful Shropshire.


Back along the ever-so-long drive. It's time to return to our own humble but much loved homes, full of grandiose ideas for schemes which may one day come to fruition. Who knows?