Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

A Tudor Kitchen

At last I'm getting to the final part of my visit to Sussex and, as I'm fighting off a migraine, this is likely to be fairly short and sweet but I want to get it done before I go again next week for another course, this time on preserving food in Tudor times. Fortunately I kept a journal of sorts otherwise I'd be struggling to remember what happened by now!. The photographs will be mostly of the Weald and Downland Museum as the ones I took inside Winkhurst kitchen of the breadmaking etc turned out very badly, there is no electric light, only the light from the door and tiny windows plus candles and I'm not a good enough photographer yet to make the right adjustments.

There were eight of us doing the Tudor Bakehouse course, four men and four women. It's very unusual to get an even balance like that, usually there are only one or two men at most. The men were very useful as they did all the playing with fire to get the oven heated up and had a thoroughly good time doing it. Did their masculine egos no end of good as we ladies looked on admiringly! In the morning we made just plain household bread using flour as it would have come from the miller ie wholemeal - really wholemeal which makes a very solid and filling loaf. It's possible to make finer flour by sieving which removes a good portion of the bran but still leaves what we would consider a wholemeal flour and then it's possible to boult it which is incredibly hard work.The wholemeal flour is rubbed through a muslin cloth using a large wooden ladle and it takes forever to produce quite a small amount of fine white flour. As you can imagine this sort of flour was used only on special occasions and in wealthy households. The photo isn't very clear and was taken on the second day when we were all women, only two of us did both days.
We made bread with two doughs, one left overnight to rise in a cool atmosphere and the other made that morning and using the traditional warm rise.

The overnight rise actually made much nicer bread and I'm going to give that a try in the near future. While the dough was rising the oven was fired up, it took 5 large bundles of sticks to heat it to sufficient temperature to bake bread. When you judge it is hot enough, the fire embers are raked out and the inside is given a quick once over with a damp bundle of rags on a stick and the loaves are loaded in with a paddle. The wooden oven door, which has been soaking in water is then quickly put in place and sealed with a mixture of flour and water mixed to a sort of sticky pastry consistency - my job for this particular time and as I always make my pastry by hand rather than machine I was able to judge the consistency pretty well.The term the 'upper crust' comes from this process as, of course, the bottom of the loaves tends to be rather black fom the residue of the ashes, consequently the bread was sliced horizontally and the wealthy family members got the nice clean upper crust and the servants and also rans got the grotty bits off the bottom - so now you know!

By the time the bread came out of the oven it was time for lunch which we had sitting in the warm sunshine by the lake. Then it was back to the kitchen to prepare dough to make fancy breads, we divided into three groups and one lot made a panettone type dough, another did a herby bread and my group made something similar to Scottish Black Bun - a heavily fruited and spiced dough enclosed in a plain dough case (Black Bun actually has pastry as the outer case). The oven was fired again - more good times for the boys - and the various breads were baked. Of all of them I liked the herb one best, that group had used a lot of fennel among their herbs and as I love the taste of aniseed it really appealed to me. Then came the really hard work as we had to clean all the utensils and scrub the wooden tables using salt as a scourer and a disinfectant.

The next day we made all kinds of pastry and pies. We split into groups again and my partner and I made a bean tart using butter beans as the main ingredient. It neither sounded nor looked particularly appetizing but those who tasted it said it was actually very nice. Other things made were a jam tart, apple dumplings and custard tarts. As on the previous day the oven was fired twice, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. In the afternoon we all made hot water crust pastry which is something I like to eat but have never tried to make before. It was surprisingly easy and I shall certainly have a go at the filling I concocted for mine using apples, raisins, brown sugar and cinnamon topped off with walnuts of butter. Others made savoury fillings using fish and herbs or cheese and onions.Unfortunately the course finished before these had baked so we never got to try the results of our labours. I just know that apple-y/cinnamon thing of mine was good though. It will all have been eaten the following day by volunteers and visitors to the museum.

As I was leaving I took these photographs of Romany caravans and the traditional piebald horses as well as the colourful miniature Romany caravan below , both were part of the preparation for a weekend about Romany people and their way of life. I wish I could have seen that, it must have been fascinating.

OK Bloggger is at it again, it's says it has uploaded photos but they are not appearing. It's been like this since last night so I'm going to publish this now and keep trying to edit the photos in during the day. I'm going to be at home baking and writing letters so I can do it in between things - I hope!

Success! Thanks to those who reminded me about Mozilla Firefox, it's worked the oracle. The photos have all turned out to be of the course after all so I'll put up some of the rest of the Museum tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

String of Pearls

On Sunday evening I got to use my birthday present from my younger son and his wife - tickets to a concert by the Glenn Miller Orchestra UK in Buxton. They couldn't have come up with anything better for me. I discovered Glenn Miller when I was about 13 in the midst of all the Tamla Motown era - I was and still am a big fan of The Temptations and Marvin Gaye etc - and I can't really remember how I came across his music now. I've been a huge Miller enthusiast ever since though and have a fairly big collection of CDs, LPs (do you all remember those!?) and tapes. I very often do my housework to the strains of Chattanooga ChooChoo, In the Mood etc etc. One of my favourites is String of Pearls though, hence the title of this post and the photo at the top. I inherited the pearls from my dear mother-in-law and don't wear them that often but thought this was the perfect occasion for them. The band was really good and I thoroughly enjoyed my evening out especially the rendition of Tuxedo Junction which was the best bit of the whole thing as far as I'm concerned. The last photo is of me wearing the pearls and looking rather pensive! I am a bear of very little brain tonight so the continuation of the Sussex story will have to wait until I'm feeling rather more awake.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Oh! My Aching Wheels and Axle Rods Moaned Henry!

I've been working nearly all day on a deceptively small and innocent looking bed in the garden. It can only be cleaned up by crawling about bent double or squatting on your haunches because it contains shrubs and is very narrow and has a tall beech hedge on one side. It's finished now and so am I! Everything aches now but tomorrow I shall be really glad I did it. The title of this post will be familiar to anyone who has ever read Thomas the Tank Engine books to their children - Henry is the big green engine! My boys both loved these stories.
The photograph was taken last week when I was driving home from a funeral in Cheshire, this is on the road from Congleton to Buxton in Derbyshire. It's a high,narrow,winding road through some really beautiful countryside and I coudn't resist stopping several times to take photographs. The little black and white dots in the foreground are cows and the white dots on the top left are sheep!

Friday, September 22, 2006

More of Winchester and on to Sussex

This was my favourite building of all those that I saw, it's Cheyney Court in The Cathedral Close, it dates from the late 16th century and that period of history is the one I find most attractive as far as buildings are concerned. The home of my dreams would be a small Elizabethan manor house somewhere in Sussex in a fold of the South Downs.

This is The Kingsgate, it is one of two medieval gateways that are still standing in Winchester and the stairs in the small building to the right lead up to the tiny church of St Swithun which is actually over the city gate. I didn't have the time to go inside unfortunately but that is something to look forward to on another visit. Just think of all the scenes of daily life that these gates must have witnessed, they are of Roman origin and must have seen not only the Benedictine monks coming and going (they are an order who mix with the community to some extent I believe),but merchants, labourers, Cavaliers and Roundheads and above all the great Anglo-Saxon and Norman kings such as Alfred the Great, my King Ecgbert, Henry III ,Edward I and almost certainly Charles II who was a regular visitor to Winchester for the horse racing! I've always had a soft spot for Charles II, there's never been any doubt about whether I was a Royalist or a Cromwellian! From the Kingsgate I walked down College St where I saw the house in which Jane Austen spent the last few weeks of her life. Roz, in her blog Autumn Cottage Diarist has a very much better photograph of the house than this one.

Jane actually lived with her mother and sister in the Hampshire village of Chawton and the house is open for visitors to look round. That was one of my detours on a previous visit to Sussex and it is well worth going to see, it's a lovely house with a delightful garden and it's a pretty village too.Jane only came to Winchester during the last few weeks of her life when she became ill with Addison's Disease. Right next to Jane Austen's house is Winchester College which was founded in 1382 and is the oldest public school in England. There are guided tours to the College but that is also a treat for a future visit for me.

From here I followed the path by the River Itchen and eventually came to the City Mill. The first mill on the site was built over 900 years ago and the present one bears a sign saying that it was rebuilt in 1744!

Lastly on my way back to the car park I passed this lovely old building called Old Chesil Rectory which dates back to 1450 and is one of the oldest houses in Winchester, now in a new role as a restaurant.

After a fascinating afternoon I continued my drive to Midhurst in Sussex where I was to stay for the next three days at the Spread Eagle Hotel.

This was a wonderful old place which has been an inn since 1430 though it had buildings added on in the 1650s and then yet more in the late 20th century. I was lucky enough to have a room in the oldest part of the hotel due to them messing up my reservation. As an apology I was upgraded to the Courtyard Suite with a four-poster bed!

Before dinner I had a little walk round Midhurst and took a few photographs. Across from the Spread Eagle is the annexe to the hotel which is another lovely old Tudor building.

These were originally 5 cottages but now house the public library. I love the name of the street they are on - Knockhundred Row

This is Wool Street with it's timber jettied 16th century cottages, wouldn't you love to live in one of these?

Finally these lovely houses are a little way up the street from the hotel and on the other side of the road

Next instalment will be at the Weald and Downland Museum but I think we may have a break from history for the next post. Just to finsih with here is my little grand-daughter who was 5 months old yesterday. She spent the day with me on Thursday while her mum and dad had a day out together. She was as good as gold but boy! had I forgotten how tiring babies are!!

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Slight Detour

My route to Sussex takes me down the M1 as far as Northampton then along the A43 towards Oxford and down the A34 towards Newbury and Winchester. Winchester is just about my favourite of all English cities and as I was down in that area by lunchtime I decided to spend the afternoon there instead of carrying on towards Petersfield. Everyone thinks of London as being the capital city of England but originally this honour lay with Winchester, it was the capital city of Wessex when Alfred the Great was king and was also the chief city of the kingdom from the time of the Norman conquest until the early 1300s. All that remains of the castle built by the Norman kings is the Great Hall which was part of the virtual rebuild done during the reign of Henry III during the early 13th century.

The Great Hall has three claims to fame - Sir Walter Raleigh stood trial there in 1603, it housed the first of Judge Jeffreys' Bloody Assizes after the Monmouth Rebellion and guess what hangs on the wall there? The first time I went to Winchester I went in the Great Hall simply because it was right across the road from where I parked, it's free and it has 'facilities' so I wandered in and picked up a leaflet and to my amazement I discovered that I was about to see King Arthur's Round Table!! I practically ran into the Great Hall and there it was

It has been dated by tree rings and carbon dating to the 13th or early 14th century and it has always been in the Great Hall, originally as a standing table but for the last 600 years it has hung on the wall. It was plain to begin with but Henry VIII had it painted with King Arthur and the names of 24 Knights of the Round Table. Oddly enough King Arthur looks remarkably like the young Henry VIII!

As a slight aside 1) I really need to learn to hold my camera level! and 2) you can get a larger version of each photo by clicking twice on the image. Hope I'm not teaching my grandmother to suck eggs here!

Another delightful surprise on my original visit to Winchester was that if you go out of one of the doors of the Great Hall you find this which is Queen Eleanor's Garden. It's a re-creation of a 13th century ornamental herber and is named after Eleanor of Provence wife of Henry III and her daughter-in-law Eleanor of Castile wife of Edward I. I knew it existed but didn't know exactly where it was so to find it so unexpectedly was a delightful surprise. It is quite small but full of lovely little corners and features such as a vine arbour, a lovely fountain topped by a bronze falcon and of course all the lovely old-fashioned plants which are all from the period. It was much earlier in the year on my first visit so there was much more colour but even so the garden was beautiful and tranquil - at least it was until a large tour group arrived at which point I left!

I walked down through the city to the cathedral which has some interesting things to see - one of the fascinating things to me with my particular spiritual beliefs is the fact that it is absolutely stuffed full of Green Man images, there must be hundreds of them carved into the woodwork and stonework! There are several other things that are worth seeing too - Jane Austen's grave is one of the first things you come across, she is buried actually inside the cathedral. The photograph at the top of this post is of the High Altar and Great Screen which I think is rather splendid. The screen was desecrated during the Reformation and what is there today is late 19th century but still very impressive.

There is a rather lovely 12th century marble font

and some 12th and 13th century wall paintings, quite a rare thing as they were all either painted over or destroyed during the Reformation when Henry VIII started the Church of England.

St Swithun was buried here and his shrine was visited by thousands of pilgrims until it was destroyed also during the Reformation. This modern memorial marks the place of the shrine.

The objects that really interest me are the six mortuary chests which contain the bones of a great many Anglo-Saxon kings including King Ecgbert. The place where I live has a strong connection with this king:

The written history of Dore can be traced back to the year 829 and an entry (wrongly recorded as 827) in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle - “And Ecgbert led an army to Dore against the Northumbrians and they offered him obedience and concord and thereupon they separated” and thus King Ecgbert became “Our Lord of the whole English speaking race, from the Channel to the Firth of Forth”.

The importance of Dore was its position on the boundary of the Anglo Saxon kingdoms of Mercia, recently conquered by King Ecgbert of Wessex, and Northumbria, the second most powerful kingdom. At the time, Northumbria was under pressure from Viking raids and unable to fight on two fronts, leading to the acceptance of Ecgbert as overlord and effectively the first king of all England.

When I first visited Winchester Cathedral I had absolutely no idea that King Ecgbert was buried there or in fact that he had any connection with the city. I was really thrilled when I read his name on the list of kings whose bones are contained in the mortuary chests

At this point I am going to stop and get this posted while Blogger is in a good mood, I've been trying to finish it on and off for the last two days and either I couldn't upload photos or it wouldn't even let me edit. I'll carry on in another instalment.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Autumn Days

I'm back from my trip to Sussex - more on that later. At the moment everywhere I look I can see more tasks that need to be done NOW! I'm beavering away getting the garden ready for winter - something that always takes much longer than I expect. Partly this is because I'm always being distracted by robins following me around looking for juicy tidbits or singing away on an apple branch, or by startled toads who've been snoozing under the thick growth that I'm cutting back. That results in both of us leaping into the air because we are taken by surprise, then I have to speak gently and usher it towards a bit that is going to stay undisturbed. Apples are also awaiting my attention, they are falling early and in great numbers before I've had chance to pick them so being windfalls they have to be dealt with quickly. Not easy as my damaged thumb still objects in no uncertain terms to long sessions of peeling and chopping. Nevertheless last night I managed to produce a couple of cinnamon apple crumbles to go in the freezer and later on today I'll try for some more plus an apple cake. I'll have to see how my thumb is feeling about it! For now it's back out into the garden.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Sussex By The Sea

I've been gardening as much as I can over the last few days trying to get everything ready for the winter to come. Not that I'm under the illusion that this is the end of my efforts for the year, my garden is full of trees and once the leaves start to fall they'll all have to be gathered up and put into wire cages to rot down into leaf mould. There will still be stuff to cut back as well but at least the greater part of it will be done. The weather has been wonderful, warm and sunny - just perfect autumn gardening days but there's no telling what is waiting up ahead and I've been caught by wet, windy autumns before - then the following spring all my little bulbs and plants are struggling up through piles of debris and dead stems. Some of the plants will be left anyway - teasels, fennel, sedums,echinops and similar seedheads will be left for the birds - I have great hopes of getting goldfinches on the teasels. The photograph is of my rosa rugosa alba, the hips are fantastic this year, huge and glossy like enormous red jewels in the sunlight. The picture doesn't do them justice.

I shan't be around for a few days as I'm off to Sussex in the morning and will be there until the weekend. I'm going to be doing a course at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum on the Tudor Bakehouse - we'll be making bread on the first day and pies and pastries on the second. The museum is a wonderful place - I've been there before on various courses and also to the Tree Dressing ceremony at Christmas and a couple of other events. Hopefully there'll be some nice photos to go with the story of my little adventure. Singleton is on the South Downs which is a very beautiful and historic part of England - just hope the weather is OK, we've had a pretty big storm here this evening and the forecast is for more of the same. Not a lot of fun when you're on a motorway!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Words of Comfort

This post is inspired by the poem that Tea with Margaritas put on her blog a few days ago. It reminded me of the one that helped me when my mum died and that I want to have read out at my own funeral when the time comes. I hope it may also bring some comfort to anyone who needs it now.

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glint on snow,
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain,
When you wake in the morning hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight,
I am the soft stars that shine at night
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there - I do not sleep.

I think these are beautiful and inspiring words.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Now We Are Sixty!

Today is my 60th birthday and as I was born at 7.20am I can't even say I'm still 59 until whatever time! Actually being 60 feels exactly like being 59 but I've decided that from now on I'm going to make the most of every day - there are still so many places to go, things to learn, books to read and adventures to have. Probably more than I've got time to fit in! I told my children some years ago that if they ever hear me saying things like 'when you get to my age you can't...' to speak sternly to me and put me back on track. I really admire these old ladies who fly to Australia or go sky diving to celebrate their 90th birthdays, none of this 'when you get older' for them. Mind you I wouldn't have gone sky diving to celebrate even my 20th birthday! It would need to be a very serious situation indeed to get me to jump out of a plane with a parachute on!! So here we are, it's a lovely sunny day and I'm going to spend it gardening and then tonight I do my Cinderella act and get all dressed up for dinner at a lovely restaurant with my husband and all three children and their other halves. There will be a beautiful full harvest moon tonight as well.And from today I get a pension, a free bus pass and reduced rates for all sorts of things - this being 60 stuff has a lot going for it!
The photograph was taken in Florence this time last year, I'm standing on the terrace of our hotel room looking rather serious! My daughter and I had a wonderful week together and I still look just like that even though I'm 60 now......

Monday, September 04, 2006

In The Green Valley

The magnum opus is finally published but for some reason it is dated Sep 2nd so has positioned itself underneath Spitting Feathers for those who are interested in reading it. And there I thought I'd finally passed the finishing post successfully. It still had one more little setback waiting for me. Right now I feel if I never see that post again it will still be too soon!!

Spitting feathers!

I have been struggling a lot of the weekend with the second part of A Step Back in Time and it has nearly driven me demented! I had it nearly done once and it totally deleted itself and I had to start again as I hadn't saved it.Lesson learned! Firefox is downloaded now but of course I still have to learn how to use it and my husband has been out all weekend at cricket matches so lessons haven't started yet. The weekend wasn't actually as bad as I'm making it sound - Saturday afternoon was my Knit and Crochet Guild meeting which is always fun and interesting and I also had a visit fom my elder son and his wife and my little grand-daughter so here is Kaitlyn with her granny.
I'm going to get this uploaded before anything else goes wrong, be back later with the magnum opus hopefully. I need to get outside and work in the garden now though.