In these viral days – virtual and actual – we could probably all do with some regular infusions of lemon balm tea. Medical herbalists prescribe it for anxiety, shock, insomnia and all round jangled nerves. Simply brushing your fingers against the stems fills the air with a lemony minty freshness that lifts the spirits. Last night as I was standing at the kitchen door, waiting for the couscous to fluff up, I saw these sprigs among the montbretia leaves, briefly lit by the last of the sun – a glow to savour then between our present squalls of wintery rain and high winds. Last Saturday it was all heat and high summer here in Shropshire. This Saturday the weather clock has regressed to early March. Strange times all round. Time to brew some lemon balm methinks.
There are times when the forces of good culinary outcomes are all in alignment, and yesterday in the Sheinton Street kitchen was one of them. The cake worked and the loaf worked. The first, a gluten free orange spice cake, is one I make every now and then, though I keep changing the constituent parts; the second I rarely ever make. I am thus inordinately pleased with this spelt flour creation. It not only looks beautiful it also makes brilliant toast; especially delicious with homemade marmalade.
The cake started out as a Delia Smith recipe from her classic cookery book, but I’ve made so many changes, I think I can claim it as my recipe. In yesterday’s version I replaced the flour with ground almonds and polenta, the butter with coconut oil, the castor sugar with coconut sugar, and the mixed peel with a table spoonful of homemade marmalade and some chopped stem ginger.
Orange Spice Cake
You need an 8 inch/20 cm loose bottomed cake tin – greased (I usually line the base with parchment). Oven 325 F/170 C/160 C Fan assisted. Cooking time around 1 hour.
5 oz almond flour (140 gm)
5 oz polenta (140 gm)
4 oz coconut oil (110 gm)
3 oz coconut sugar (or sugar of choice) (75 gm)
ground ginger – rounded teaspoon
ground cinnamon – rounded teaspoon
ground cloves – a pinch
grated zest of large orange
2 eggs beaten
3 oz runny honey (75 gm)
1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda dissolved in 3 tablespoons cold water
1 heaped tablespoon of marmalade or 2 oz (50 gm) chopped mixed peel
1 piece of stem ginger finely chopped
Gently melt honey and coconut oil in a pan over a low heat. Set aside.
Sift ground almond flour into large bowl with polenta. Add sugar, spices and orange zest. Stir in melted oil and honey. Add marmalade/or mixed peel/stem ginger, beaten eggs, dissolved bicarb and beat well. The resulting mix is slightly sloppy. Pour into tin and bake. It will probably take about an hour but keep an eye on it. When cooked, cool in the tin and then turn out. And eat!
Yesterday, 20th September 2019 when young people around the world were on strike to urge politicians to start telling the truth about climate emergency and to take action NOW to save their future, I looked out on this view across Cardigan Bay in West Wales. And I thought: isn’t it time we all stopped killing the planet and thus everything we truly value?
On the 23rd September 2019 the United Nations Climate Action Summit takes place. Let’s hope the world leaders attending have their brains switched on. It will cost us a lot otherwise – the earth in fact.
Bye bye Siberian icy blasts, hello summer! It’s been all change here in Wenlock and all go, go, go out in the garden. Tulips bursting, crab apple blossom unfurling, Spanish bluebells shooting up, euphorbias at their vibrant, greenest best, pesky weed oxalis suddenly a haze of soft pink flowers just to stop me pulling it up, columbines on the cusp, perennial Centaurea cornflowers showing off their best blues, Sweet Cicely all lacy umbels (and a good addition when cooking fruit to reduce the amount of sugar needed). Ladybirds on pest patrol. Bees on the forage. Cloudless blue above. Hot sun. It’s just all too exciting.
copyright 2019 Tish Farrell
Six Word Saturday (that would be in the post title!) Pop over to Debbie’s for more 6-worders.
One of the very best things about living in a rural town like Much Wenlock is that you can be setting off for the shops to buy ordinary stuff like a local newspaper or half a dozen eggs, and come upon small happenings of one sort or another. So here we are. As we slipped and slid down the muddy path that brings you first to the Priory ruins, and thence to the town centre, we met up with a new batch of Highland Cattle recently ensconced in the Cutlins meadow. Teenage moos, I should think. Not fully grown anyway. They were certainly most curious, and so posed nicely to have their photos taken. Or at least two of them did. The third was too busy eating breakfast.
Yum! Lovely crunchy hay. So important to keep well stoked up in this cold snap.
Six Word Saturday Pop over to Debbie’s at Travel With Intent for some truly striking photos.
January can be a dreary time up at the allotment: cold claggy soil, weedy peripheries, bare trees and a general sense of neglect and of plots too long abandoned. And yet…and yet…when I slip-slide around my raised beds I find there is still plenty to harvest: leeks, parsnips, Tuscan kale, Swiss chard. The slugs have even left us some carrots (the voracious little gastropods are especially fond of the sweet and stubby rooted Paris Market variety), but I manage to find a bunch that have not been too gobbled.
There are also some golden beetroot to pluck, some as big as turnips. From the outside they do not look too promising – over-weathered and their skins suggesting woodiness within. But to my surprise, they are still good – delicious chopped into cubes and roasted till they start to caramelize, and even better with added quartered onions (Sturon still going strong from the summer cropping) and cloves of garlic kept in their papery jackets (so they can be popped out later, if squidgily, and accompanied by much finger licking).
Down by the raspberry bed, the purple sprouting plants, long nurtured through the summer drought and now wrapped in netting against pigeon attack, are looking stout and lush-leaved. I see that they are beginning to yield, and manage to find half a dozen fat florets. Hopefully, the plants will keep cropping now into the spring.
And then as I make for home with my muddy bag filled with veggies, I spot the marigolds (Calendula officinalis). There they are, back in flower after their December lull, and making their own sunshine on a dull and chilly day. I feel a bit guilty about picking them, but then I think some sunshine on the kitchen table would be a cheering sight for He Who Is Presently Coughing His Socks Off. And of course a scatter of petals, therapeutic little entities that they are, would be just the garnish for a dish of roasted golden beetroot.
copyright 2019 Tish Farrell
Photo taken this week on All Hallows Eve on the path to Croft Ambrey hillfort.
We have to test our environment, both built and elemental. We are the only animals that choose to live in an environment that is entirely articulated through Euclidean geometry, but at what cost?
After all the displeasing extravagance of the interiors, I was pleased to find this Antony Gormley work in the Chatsworth House grounds. Here it stands so internally and externally grounded – overborne if not overwhelmed by Joseph Paxton’s Rock Garden. I believe this is indeed its creator. I remember seeing a TV documentary, Gormley in his studio being plastered over by his assistants to create the casting mould. To me he is always an artist whose work we can meet head-on, even when it is as stupendous as the 30 metre high Angel of the North.
You can see more of Gormley’s work HERE
In the last post I queried the large perforations to be found in the tops of some Derbyshire stone gate posts or stoops. I thought they made handy viewfinders, but could find no other explanation. Then I found some more photos I’d taken at Callow Farm. These are a pair – one with a partial orifice, the other without.
And it’s at this point things may become as clear as Derbyshire mud. But I have found an explanation. The only problem is I don’t wholly understand it.
It comes from a worthy volume published in 1813 and available for free from Google. (How I hate it that they have laid claim to all the old books in the universe, but how I love being able to access such works without leaving my desk, this despite the fact that much of the scanning is often execrable.)
The book in question is volume 2 of General View of the Agriculture of Derbyshire by John Farey senior, Mineral Surveyor of Upper Crown Street, Westminster. This is what he says. I’ve increased the font in hopes comprehension might strike:
Anciently, the Gates in the Peak Hundreds were formed and hung without any iron-work, even nails, as I have been told; and some yet remain in Birchover and other places, where no iron-work is used in the hanging: a large mortise-hole is made thro’ the hanging-post, perpendicular to the plane of the Gate, at about four feet and a half high, into which a stout piece of wood is firmly wedged, and projects about twelve inches before the Post; and in this piece of wood, two augur holes are made, to receive the two ends of a tough piece of green Ash or Sallow, which loosely embraces the top of the head of the Gate (formed to a round), in the bow so formed : the bottom of the head of the Gate is formed to a blunt point, which works in a hole made in a stone, set fast in the ground, close to the face of the Post. It is easy to see, by the mortise-holes in all old Gate-Stoops, that this mode of hanging Gates was once general.
From this it seems clear that any iron hinges and latches were later additions to such old stoops. John Farey goes on to praise this kind of improvement:
A great contrast to these rude Gates, is exhibited, on the Farm of Mr. Thomas Harvey of Hoon Hay, who has four sets of hooks and catches, all adjustible by nuts and screws, fixed in his Gate-Posts, which are very stout, in the line of a private and bridle Road thro’ his Farm ; so that from whichever quarter the wind may come, in blowing weather, the Gates can readily be shifted, so as to be shut too by the wind, instead of being forced open thereby : there is also a screw for adjusting the top thimbles of these Gates, for making them shut more perfectly.
So there we have it – a loopy length of ash or willow used to do the job of a gate, though I still can’t quite picture it. But then instead of wondering about that, I found myself distracted by Mr. Farey’s genuine enthusiasm for more efficient gatery with all its iron trappings.
In this modern era we all assume a well functioning gate is a good thing – guarding property, keeping out vagrants and cold callers. But this notion of privately controlled land is fairly new. And to my mind it has had every one of us hoodwinked. Simon Fairlie puts it succinctly at the start of his very enlightening essay A Short History of Enclosure in Britain from The Land magazine:
Over the course of a few hundred years, much of Britain’s land has been privatized — that is to say taken out of some form of collective ownership and management and handed over to individuals. Currently, in our “property-owning democracy”, nearly half the country is owned by 40,000 land millionaires, or 0.06 per cent of the population, while most of the rest of us spend half our working lives paying off the debt on a patch of land barely large enough to accommodate a dwelling and a washing line.
He then explains that from Saxon times, and continuing under Norman rule into the Middle Ages, the Open Field System was the norm. It was also the norm in much of Europe until modern times, wherein each family had its own plot within a communally managed ecosystem.
The notion of one man possessing all rights to one stretch of land would have been unthinkable to British medieval smallholders. The king or lord of the manor owned an estate, but not in the way we understand ownership. The peasant population also had rights and, at specified times of the year, could graze stock, cut wood or peat, draw water or grow crops on various pieces of land, often in a number of different places. English farmers also met twice a year at the manor court where land management issues were discussed, and those taking more than their fair share of communal resources challenged.
The benefit of the Open Field System is explained as follows:
A man may have no more than an acre or two, but he gets the full extent of them laid out in long “lands” for ploughing, with no hedgerows to reduce the effective area, and to occupy him in unprofitable labour. No sort of inclosure of the same size can be conceived which would give him equivalent facilities. Moreover he has his common rights which entitle him to graze his stock all over the ‘lands’ and these have a value, the equivalent of which in pasture fields would cost far more than he could afford to pay. CS and C S Orwin The Open Fields, Oxford, 1938
A group of peasant farmers could also share equipment such as a good plough and a full team of oxen to haul it, a facility that would benefit them all. One herdsboy could supervise the daily grazing of the community’s cattle, taking them out after family milking, bringing back in for evening milking at their individual homesteads, so leaving farmers free to carry out other income producing pursuits. Everyone’s sheep could also be driven out to the common moorland to graze, each animal identifiable to their owners by a sheep mark.
Somewhat strangely I have learned that the sheep mark of my Callow Fox ancestors was still in existence in 1930s, when the fiery right-to-roam campaigner G H B Ward, editor of the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers’ Handbooks went to interview my great uncle Robert Fox about the history of the Callow Foxes. Ward visited him in his cottage at Foolow and there saw the sheep mark belonging to an earlier Robert Fox (1780-1863), who used it to mark the horns of his sheep communally grazed on the Longshaw pasture. Enclosure took place there during the early 19th century, the Inclosure Act commissioners awarding the Duke of Rutland nearly 2,000 acres. And so the former sheepwalk used by William and Sarah Fox of Callow during the 18th century, and by their son George and grandson Robert into the early 19th century was turned into the headquarters of the largest grouse-shooting estate in the Peak District (David Hey The History of the Peak District Moors).
For nearly a century this former common land was policed by gamekeepers, and the general populace denied age-old rights including access to paths and bridleways. It was only with the mass trespasses of ramblers like G H B Ward during the early 20th century that the countryside began to be opened up once more. One cannot help but cheer when one learns that the decline in Rutland fortunes led to the sale of the estate in 1933. Ramblers and other members of public raised the necessary funds to buy the park and then handed it over to the National Trust. Sheffield Corporation bought the moors, which are now part of the Peak District National Park. Humanity is now free to roam there once more, as we saw on our recent visit – hundreds of families striding out in the fresh upland air.
The fact remains though that Britain’s big landowners exploited the Inclosure Acts to enrich themselves by taking for their own use alone (and still hanging on to them) thousands of acres that were once communally used for centuries by their tenants. But I leave the last words on the Commons land rights to Simon Fairlie. At the risk of sounding totally reductionist I contend that this is how we ended up where we are now; the wretched state of the planet; and the current tax-haven millionaires’ mortal fear of any notion of communal rights or shared resources. If we continue to let such people control and grow rich on resources which should benefit all – more fool us.
Britain set out, more or less deliberately, to become a highly urbanized economy with a large urban proletariat dispossessed from the countryside, highly concentrated landownership, and farms far larger than any other country in Europe. Enclosure of the commons, more advanced in the UK than anywhere else in Europe, was not the only means of achieving this goal: free trade and the importing of food and fibre from the New World and the colonies played a part, and so did the English preference for primogeniture (bequeathing all your land to your eldest son). But enclosure of common land played a key role in Britain’s industrialization, and was consciously seen to do so by its protagonists at the time.
copyright 2018 Tish Farrell
This sheep popped over the cattle grid so fast, I didn’t actually see it in action (one second it was on the far side, the next it was among the pink geraniums), but all its friends and relations in the next-door field saw. Goodness, what a commotion they kicked up. How did you do that! Wait for us! BAAAAAAA!
We’d just had lunch in the Apple Store Cafe on the Brockhampton Estate (see previous posts), and were about to head home. But at the last minute I thought I’d like a photo of the parkland with its grazing sheep, although the light wasn’t promising. And that’s when it happened – the great escape – ovine-style.
A couple of other sheep who had been paying attention to how it was done, soon followed their leader. The rest stood at the fence and whinged. BAAAAAAAA!
In the Pink #8 Today Becky is truly ‘in the pink’.
Six Word Saturday While over in St. Albans, Debbie’s climbing high – a three towers challenge. Go for it, Debbie!