September Sampler


Friday, 30 September 2011

Ode To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'erbrimmed their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, -
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing, and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies. 

John Keats, 19th September 1819

 I used to read a lot of Keats when I was younger. But now I find that reading Keats is a bit like eating a whole bowl of syllabub. I prefer plainer fare. That said, you can't beat his Ode To Autumn on a day like today. The last two lines of the first stanza are particularly apposite.

Quince Jelly for a Quarter Day


Thursday, 29 September 2011

Bronze group of St Michael and the Devil

St Michael and the Devil, Coventry Cathedral by Jacob Epstein

And there was a war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
Revelation 12: 7-9

Splendid stuff.

Today is Michaelmas Day, the feast of St Michael and All Angels. Michaelmas Day is one of the four old British Quarter Days.

Lady Day 25th of March 
Lady Day is the feast of the Annunciation when the Angel Gabriel visited Mary, it also corresponds to the spring equinox when day and night are equal.

Midsummer Day 24th of June
The feast of St John the Baptist. It also corresponds roughly to the summer solstice on 21st of June.

Michaelmas Day 29th of September. 
The autumn equinox is on 23rd of September.

Christmas Day 
It also corresponds to the winter solstice or midwinter's day on 21st of December.

Quarter Days were the days when rents were due and servants hired. Michaelmas was the time when hiring fairs were held, when farm labourers and domestic servants could offer their labour. These fairs were called mop fairs in Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Gloucestershire. Many survive as funfairs and are still held around Michaelmas. There is one in Kings Norton in Birmingham where I used to teach. The arrival of the mop would send the children into a frenzy of excitement. Michaelmas is also the traditional start for university terms and the autumn term is referred to as the Michaelmas term at many universities. Michaelmas is a traditional time to eat a goose. Geese fattened up on the gleanings left by the harvesters would be served with apple sauce made from the new crop of apples. Following my altercation with a goose at Christmas I have decided not to uphold that particular tradition. However, I have been indulging in a bit of dangerous cooking today. More boiling pans of jelly. Quince this time. This method of making jelly can be used for other fruit such as crab apples, elderberries, damsons, plums, currants, blackberries.

The fuzzy down covering the quince rubs off easily.

I used about 6 kg of quinces and made the jelly in two batches.
Cut the washed quinces into chunks and add water to just cover the fruit.

Simmer for at least an hour until completely soft.
Leave to cool before you strain in a jelly bag or cloth suspended over a bowl like Concha uses here.

You are usually advised to let the cooked fruit drip overnight but as I have an abundance of quinces I let it drip for a couple of hours and still had plenty of juice. You can extract more juice if you squeeze the bag but then you risk producing a cloudy jelly and who wants a cloudy jelly? Not me.

Once you have your juice measure it. Then pour it into a preserving pan or very big saucepan (preserving pan is best because of its shape). Add one pound of granulated  white sugar for each pint of juice.
Heat gently stirring to dissolve the sugar. When it has all dissolved whack up the heat and bring to the boil like this.

Fun isn't it? Look how much it climbs up the pan. This was why I made my jelly in two batches. I had three and half pints of juice and three and half pounds of sugar in the pan. Be careful and keep your hand on the temperature control. If you have toddlers under foot it's probably best to postpone this sort of thing until they are school age or in bed. Start timing when it is at full pelt. Test after five minutes to see if it has set by dropping a little jelly on a cold saucer (pull the pan carefully off the heat when you do this). It will wrinkle slightly if it is ready. Mine took fifteen minutes but don't worry if you've been boiling forever and it doesn't seem to have set. Pot it anyway and you will probably find it is perfect by the time it has cooled right down. Store it somewhere cool. I put mine in my garage and store in the fridge when we are using it.
When ready pot into sterilised jars. I sterilise mine in a 100 degree oven for about 20 mins. I put them in the oven just before I start heating the juice and sugar.

Six kg of quince yielded ten one pound jars of jelly.

Sorry if you are fed up with photos of my jars of jelly but how could I not take a picture of something this beautiful? My very own stained glass windows.

Just Now I am.....


Tuesday, 27 September 2011

~ Enjoying the autumn sun in my garden.

On the spiderwebs.

and behind the peeling bark of my prunus serrula.

~ Eating pie in eager anticipation of this book arriving any day now.

Fish pies

Chunks of salmon, cod and smoked haddock cooked in milk. The milk used to make white sauce. Cooked fish and sauce combined, topped with bought puff pastry and baked.

~ Joining in the fun on Pinterest again. I couldn't stay away, too many lovely ideas and images. Now if only I can stop being irritated by all those weird newborn photos where the baby appears to be resting its chin on its hands. 

~ Guiltily enjoying this programme on (I can't believe I'm saying this) CBS Reality. Katie loves it and the rest of us have been sucked in. This is mainly due to the likeability of Australians and their laid back sense of humour.
These guys are just great. In every episode they end up having to rescue someone who either goes swimming when they can't actually swim or when they are drunk. Sometimes both. There's always some bloke who has dislocated his shoulder whilst surfiing to sort out as well; 'Look mate you need to go to the hospital', 'No, no, I can pop it back myself.....if I just.... aaagh...just push....aaagh aaaagggh!'
I'm not at all tempted by Bondi Beach though, with its rip currents, sharks, thieves and an average 30 000 people on it each day in summer. No, it's a Cornish fishing cove for me.

The Quince Tree in September


Sunday, 25 September 2011

Not the sunny September day it was this time last year.

This fruit-picker is such fun to use.

 And extremely efficient.



Thursday, 22 September 2011

I'm really looking forward to next year.
I can't wait to start using my 2012 calendar.

These pictures are based on my monthly samplers which you can find on their own page under my banner picture. They aren't exactly the same as those pictures, some are, but most are new creations.
I make them using this tool
To make the calendar I used Vistaprint. They had a half-price offer last week and one calendar cost me £13.
As I was making it Vistaprint kept telling me my photos weren't of high enough resolution to print well. I decided to take a chance and see what happened. I'm glad I did because they have turned out really well. The paper is of good quality and really glossy. 
I will certainly be ordering a few more calendars for Christmas presents and .........maybe a little Quince Tree giveaway. What do you think?

Give Me Strength


Monday, 19 September 2011

At an airshow on Saturday we sat near this. 
When I am prime minister I will make the misuse of apostrophes illegal.
Especially if they appear in the word photos. 
The misspelling of definitely will also be an offence.
It isn't difficult.

The Damascene Plum


Saturday, 17 September 2011

'Damsons mark the point in the year when I start to relax, my shoulders unhunch, I can begin to feel the safety of dark nights and damp mornings, the supreme comfort of a favourite holey jumper. Just as so many are saddened at the end of the summer, I feel curiously rejuvenated, my sap rising as others' does in the spring,'
Nigel Slater, Tender Volume II

I do so agree with with Nigel.

Each September I become ever so slightly obsessed with this spicy, little, blue plum, just as in October I become obsessed with the large, golden quince. Both fruits have their origins in the same part of the world. The quince comes from the Caucasus and  the damson from the Levant, Damascus to be precise, hence its older name, the Damascene plum.
If you don't like cooking then you won't get much joy from a damson. Sometimes they can be sweet enough to eat from the tree but mostly they are extremely sour. The alchemy of heat, sugar and fruit transforms the damson into the very essence of purple; winey, spicy, rich, intense.

Damson jelly. 
Less trouble than jam. Cook the damsons whole with enough water to just cover. When completely soft strain it overnight in a jelly bag. Measure the juice and for every pint add a pound of sugar. Heat gently and stir to dissolve. Bring to a full rolling boil and test for setting after five minutes. Mine took twenty. Pot into sterilised jars.

A jelly bag and stand like this is well worth buying if you want to make jellies.

Damson purée.
Damsons cooked with sugar until soft then rubbed through a sieve to get rid of the stones.
Lovely to have tucked away in the freezer to cheer up your morning yogurt or to stir into softly whipped cream for a fabulous fool. I do this with quince too.

Damson and plum crumble.
Nigel Slater says life is too short to stone damsons, but I would rather spend a little time doing this not difficult task than deal with a mouthful of stones, and for children, stones in your pudding are a deal-breaker.
Ground almonds in the crumble make this particularly gorgeous.
Cream is pretty much essential.
Sweet, sharp fruit, buttery, crunchy crumble and thick cream.

Reading the Telly


Friday, 16 September 2011

Well, blow me down, Neil Kinnock's daughter-in-law is the new prime minister of Denmark.
Helle Thorning-Schmidt is Denmark's first female pm and I do hope for the Danes' sakes that she isn't planning on emulating the British example.
Two things struck me as I read the story. One, she is, like David Cameron, younger than me and when prime ministers start getting younger than oneself it's time to face the fact that middle age is knocking on your door.
And, two, she doesn't seem to be wearing a faroese jumper.
My recent experience of Danish females is that they wear faroese jumpers. For twenty days at a time.
I'm talking about this.

The Killing, Danish crime drama shown on BBC4.
The jumper-wearing woman above is Sarah Lund the detective who leads the investigation into the murder of 19 year old Nanna Birk Larsen. She wears that jumper all the way through the series. I think it must be the source of her crime solving powers as she pursues suspect after suspect through Copenhagen.
 I missed The Killing when it was first shown earlier this year and I cursed myself because I do love a bit of Scandicrime, a bit of Nordic Noir. I adore the Swedish Wallander and think Krister Henriksson is just wonderful in the role, better than Kenneth Branagh although he is good too.
 Last night the rerun of The Killing concluded. Charlie and I have been mesmerised by it. That Charlie watched something from 10 till 11 every evening for four weeks (except Fridays and Saturdays when it wasn't on) without falling asleep once is a measure of how gripping this drama is. He's usually in bed by 10.30 and has little patience with TV you have to read. 
At the end of each episode you are sure you know who the murderer is. Ten minutes into the next episode and you know you were completely wrong. The twisting, turning plot is kept up right until the end.
The acting is superb, particularly the two actors plating the victim's parents, Pernille and Theis.
 I annoyed Charlie by continually repeating my suspicion that one of the actors- Lars Mikkelson must surely be the brother of Mads Mikkelson, 'You know, Le Chiffre in Casino Royale, yes, you do know who I mean. No, I'm not saying it just because he's Danish. No, I do not think all Danes look alike. Look at his cheekbones, they're just like Mads'. Oh damn, what did that just say?'
I was right.

The cast of Engrenages, Spiral in English

Now it has finished I am consoling myself with Spiral also on BBC4. This time the crime is in French.
My French is infinitely better then my Danish or Swedish, although I have picked up a few words in those languages. Well, alright, I can say one word- 'tak', which means thanks in both Danish and Swedish -which is handy. Despite being reasonably competent when reading French I'm completely lost with the high speed Parisian French employed in Spiral. I get a few swearwords now and then but other than that it's incomprehensible. Spiral is a classy, well-paced drama which explores the way the police, judiciary and criminals are interlocked. Je l'aime.

And, for when we're tired of reading the telly, joy of joys, there is a new series of Spooks beginning this Sunday on BBC1. The final one sadly. If Harry and Ruth don't get it together then there's no justice in the world French, Danish or otherwise.


Ruth/Harry 9.1
'Marry me Ruth'
Marry him for goodness sake!

Random Deliciousness


Wednesday, 14 September 2011

It's been a while since I posted some random deliciousness.

Below is a fishy  pizza bianca (no tomato sauce) I made for Charlie and myself on Saturday. It has onions which I had fried very gently first, chunks of sardine al limone and mozzarella on top. Very good it was too.

Smoked mackerel with baked potatoes and salad is one of my favourite easy midweek meals.
This was Monday's supper. I served the mackerel with some of my bread and butter pickles and a salad of grated beetroot, carrot and apple doused in a mustardy vinaigrette.

Smoked mackerel paté
We didn't eat all the smoked mackerel. I made the leftovers into paté by simply mashing the fish up with big spoonful of cream cheese and a couple of teaspoons of horseradish. A lovely lunch spread on oatcakes with some pickles.

Below is an idea from The River Cottage Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. If you stew courgettes slowly in olive oil and butter with some thinly sliced cloves of garlic

they become melting and delicious.

If you then add a handful of grated parmesan  and a big dollop of crème fraîche or cream and mash it up you will have a gorgeous sauce for pasta. Add some crisp bacon and you'll be in heaven.

We didn't eat all the courgette sauce. I beat the leftover sauce together with three eggs and about 12 fl oz of milk. I added a small bowl of leftover sweetcorn I found lurking in the fridge and poured it into a pastry case. I threw on a couple of handfuls of grated cheese and baked it.

It went very well with the beetroot salad.

Thank you, by the way, for your continued comments, especially all the garden advice. Much appreciated.

New Season: New Plans


Tuesday, 13 September 2011

I am not alone in feeling that September is the beginning of a new year, Charlotte agrees and so does Nancy. Holidays over and done with, a fresh new school term under way and a wonderful new season begun. So strongly do I feel a sense of new beginnings in September that I buy a new diary. This year I have bought a bigger, better version of my favourite Moleskine 18 month weekly planner. It has plenty of space to write appointments and whatnot and a lined page for my lists, menu plans and acoounting. The children have their new exercise books and I have my new diary.

The new school year has brought with it many new demands on my purse.
Fed up of being greeted with  'I need new football socks/a copy of The Odyssey/sketching pencils/a Spanish dictionary/a drum syllabus/ trainer socks/a rubber' each time they walked through the door I put a piece of paper on the fridge with 'Stuff We Need' written across the top. I took it shopping with me this morning and was relieved to see that they hadn't added 'an iphone/an xbox/ a Superdry coat' to it.

I have made a new year's resolution too. It is, to do the ironing every day. Every day. I don't know why I never worked this out before, but if you iron every day you never have to spend two hours on Sunday afternoon standing at the ironing board ironing shirts. I probably only iron about a third of all the laundry I do but it can quickly build up. Now, the most I have to iron at a time is five things, it's so liberating.

In my garden new plans are being developed and pondered. I have neglected my garden badly.

My garden seen from my back door

Looking towards the house

A bed of weeds

 Although it is very small I find it quite overwhelming to contemplate how much needs doing in order for it to become the flower and fragrance filled sanctuary of my dreams.
I have, therefore, come to the realisation that I must not make big plans for my garden but little plans, tiny little plans. I will tackle one small area at a time.

This is the area I am going to begin with, between these two trees; a prunus serrula and a himalyan birch. It's only about four foot by two foot. I have in mind a woodland spot. The untidy, uninteresting shrubs will be removed, the raspberries will be removed, compost will be applied and bulbs will be planted. Lily of the valley and woodland bluebells. Possibly aconite and snowdrops too. Maybe something tall against the fence would be a good idea? There is ivy already but perhaps foxgloves would add to the woodland theme? I'm not a gardener, I will be consulting an expert (my mum).

Lowering the Tone


Saturday, 10 September 2011

Katie asks 'Who's that woman?'
'It's Susan Bullock'
'Susan Boyle?'
'No, Susan Bullock, she's an opera singer, she's going to sing some Wagner'
'Wagner? He was on The X-Factor too'
Then Tom starts drumming in the other room.
I turn the volume up and sigh. 
It's just as well that Wagner isn't really my thing.

I picked these magnificent branches of hawthorn berries from the hedgerow this morning.
I've never seen so many berries. 
You can make a jelly with them to eat with meat. I'm well supplied with crab apple jelly and will soon be well supplied with quince jelly so I'll leave the haws for the birds.

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