Dec 21 2010

Arctic December


Snow, ice, sleet, fog, gale force winds, rain, more heavy snow; only once in the mid 1980’s do I remember anything like this in South Devon. Thick snow, huge drifts and frozen pipes, and here we are again, a second year running, early frost followed by ice and snow and it’s only December.
For nearly thirty years we have lived in this valley unthreatened by harsh weather. Winters are mild; grass usually continues to grow, slowly of course and sugar free, throughout the coldest months. Our hardy Dartmoor sheep graze happily on the hills all year round.

I leave dahlias in the ground, risk the odd geranium by the back door, the pond never freezes, chicks hatch in January, donkeys rarely have to stay in stables during the day. Rain and mud are our usual winter companions,
OK, yes, we West Country people are very spoilt, and that’s why we stay here. My neighbouring farmer flagged me down on icy roads last week to pass the time of day. Chatting in the lanes is a local tradition.
“Alright?” he says, a local greeting.
“Cold”, I say
“They’s got snow in Scotland”, he continues cheerfully “They like it and they can keep it.”
Alas, next day more heavy snow fell here.

What has happened to that Gulf Stream that’s supposed to whirl so warmly round us and keep the west coast of the British Isles safe from Canadian winters; we do share the same latitude, oh dear. The Gulf Stream has been responsible for rendering us our mild weather in this, our southernmost British peninsular since time began. Where has it gone?
Pondering, I Google Gulf Stream. I am told this warm Atlantic Ocean current, one of the strongest in the world, starts in the Gulf of Mexico, bringing warmth northwards towards us, as it flows past Florida driven by the prevailing south west winds. As it flows north the warm water evaporates and becomes increasingly salty. In the north Atlantic the warm water meets the Artic cold, the heavy salt water sinks forming a deep current which sets up a pulling mechanism splitting the Gulf Stream and drawing it to the north west coast of Africa and towards the western part of the UK and Europe warming us and thus stopping us experiencing our rightful lot of those icy Canadian winters. Are you with me so far? I think I’m somewhat out of my depth.
Now, some scientists say Global Warming is causing the melting of the Arctic and disrupting this pattern and, ironically, causing colder winters. The science, I have to admit, is hard for me to grasp but as I tramp unaccustomed, across fields of ice and snow, lower buckets into an icy stream, stamp on frozen water troughs hoping to release just a tiny trickle for the sheep and donkeys, I know something is afoot. It just isn’t usually like this! The valley is transformed into a sparkling white alien wonderland backed by an azure sky, bathed in the golden glow of a low winter sun which, in turn, casts wild distorted shadows on the ground. A flock of Redwings are feeding on frozen windfall apples and Bluetits jostle for the bird feeders.

The farmyard is an ice rink, the lanes resemble the Cresta Run, most of the villagers are snowed in at the bottom of steep South Hams hills. I watch children hurling themselves down a neighbour’s field on a wobbly toboggan.
Suddenly the sun vanishes, the sky turns black, a north easterly wind swings in across the hills bringing yet more snow. Even the dogs look dejected as we slide down Steep Field into the valley.

After such a dry summer, hay and straw prices are at a premium so careful feeding is essential; no margin for waste this year. Today we brought the ewes down from the top of the hill to Sunday Orchard, the big steep field nearest the farm yard.

So enthusiastic were they, they nearly had us off our feet. From here we will feed them every day and keep them in tip top condition till lambing starts on St Valentine’s Day.

Well done Chris, our handsome Whiteface ram. Having given us wonderful lambs for the past two years, he will go to pastures new this year so that we may introduce new blood and avoid in breeding. We will miss such a gentle chap so expertly bred and raised by Claire Butcher, our Whiteface Dartmoor chairman.
Meanwhile up the road, the brown crossbred ewes are with our home grown ram, the grumpy Cliff. His fate rests with the configuration of his progeny; I fear his temperament might influence his future.
Seven hogget came back from the abattoir last week, beautifully butchered this time. It hasn’t always been the case and is somewhat depressing to have to hand my faithful customer’s meat that is not presented as well as I would like. But until I master the art myself I must put up and shut up! However I have a plan a foot; a deer farming friend in Cornwall has promised to give
I am always amazed at how quickly our lamb sells. Once they have tried it, people love it and keep coming back. Whiteface Dartmoor sheep are an old fashioned breed and the lambs mature slowly. They reach maturity much later than commercial breeds. This has its drawbacks; we must keep them and feed them for longer. But the result is meat with the depth of flavour of mutton without the fat; rich dark tender meat.
Last week a friend gave a big birthday party and asked several of us to cook a Lamb Tagine with Chick Peas and Apricots. Our Whiteface lamb was just right for the recipe.

Moroccan Tagine
To feed 8 people cut up a kilo of lamb from a shoulder into large cubes removing any fat or sinew. Put the meat in a bowl and add a teaspoon each of ground cumin, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper and paprika. Gently turn the meat over until it is thoroughly coated in the spices. Leave in the fridge or a cool larder for at least two hours to allow the flavours to penetrate.
Chop 2 large shallots, crush 2 cloves of garlic, peel and dice a small butternut squash.
Heat 4 tablespoons of oil in a heavy pan and brown the meat in batches. Remove each batch into the Tagine. Soften the shallots, garlic and squash in the remaining oil.
Stir in a tin of chick peas, 500grams of dried apricots. Add to the Tagine with just enough good (homemade) stock to just cover the meat.
Cook gently for 1½ hours until the meat is tender and the sauce thick and reduced. Taste and add salt and pepper; always best to leave the salt until the end of cooking as it has a tendency to toughen even the most tender cuts of meat. Sprinkle with flaked almonds and serve with rice, couscous or Quinoa and a green salad.

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Nov 09 2010

A Week on Bryher


Nothing but sunset from Scilly to the USA….!
The autumn sun is setting as we sit quietly outside Hillside Farm looking east to the islands of Tresco and St Mary’s and west across a flat Atlantic peppered with the crocodile teeth of the Norrard Rocks. In the distance the Bishop Rock Lighthouse sits like a tiny black pin on the horizon. In front of us in the fading light is a patchwork of little green fields, each protected from the Atlantic’s fury by neatly clipped hedge of pittisporum, escallonia and senecio. A Cypress tree stands majestic beside a still productive polytunnel, its plastic glistening pink in the last rays of the sun. It is October and Ruth’s stall in front of the farm house is still stacked high with tomatoes, butternut squash, peppers, broccoli, onions, cabbage, courgette, freshly dug potatoes and eggs laid by hens still scratching around beneath us in a fox and badger free heaven.

Tiny clouds and white sand……………
The next day tiny clouds spatter the sky, the sea really is Bahamian blue edged with white sand. Each year the beauty of Scilly takes my breath away; each year friends ask why we keep coming back. “Go there” I say “and you’ll see”. We left home at 5.45 am. It was dark and cold and the dawn was a long time breaking. At Land’s End aerodrome we climbed aboard a tiny gnat and flew high into the mist. In just fifteen minutes we landed on St Mary’s, were scooped into a tiny bus and deposited on the quay at Hugh Town to await the boat to Bryher. A lazy wind bit deep as we sat and waited, watching the bustle of boats coming and going. The sea is Scilly’s motorway.

The sea is the Scilly’s motorway
Ruth met us at the quay with a warm welcome and drove us the tiny distance to Hillside Farm. The wind dropped and we set off across the hill in watery sunshine to Hell Bay; the rocks explain the name. We returned dazzled once more by the breath taking beauty and lit the fire. I cooked chicken and Ruth’s vegetables and we began to relax, to allow the magic of the islands to enfold us once more.

It is the emptiness of Bryher I find so captivating. No cars, no noise, no bustle, nobody, just the sound of the sea and birds soaring overhead, the occasional Shetland pony grazing precariously on the edge of the cliff.

Grazing precariously on the cliff
I set off alone round the Great Pool, and struck out to Gweal Hill past Sinking Porth. No one, nothing. I stopped and stared once more across the sea towards the Bishop Light trying to take in the three thousand miles of emptiness from here to America.

I looked across the seductively glassy flatness of the water and tried to imagine the raging storms that have wrecked 800 ships around the islands across the centuries. When the sea was the highway of the world, Scilly provided a place of pivotal importance between nations, a refuge for fleeing kings, a base from which to plan invasion, a shelter from battle, even a treacherous haven from a storm.

we’re watching you watching us………
I turned north towards Hell bay and the Great Popplesstones and it was here that my solitude abruptly ended as I came upon a migrant flock of the ubiquitous birdwatchers that land on the islands every autumn.

Afraid I’d startle some rare feathered exhibit I scuttled back to Hillside Farm, then a beer in the Fraggle Rock bar and supper in the quaint little Vine Cafe.
The café opens twice a week in the evening and there is never a choice! We ate huge plates of homemade Lasagne followed by Blackberry and Apple Crumble on our first visit and Steak and Kidney Pie and various gateaux the second time, both simple and delicious. We found a cottage advertising fresh crab on their vegetable stall which made another wonderful supper. At present Bryher has no shop but a five minute boat ride took us to Tresco for lunch in The New Inn and a chance to stock up in the island’s excellent store.

Bryher Harbour
One evening we called in to the luxurious Hell Bay Hotel, a beautiful setting in startling contrast to the refreshing simplicity of the Vine café and Fraggle Rock Bar. With a glass of wine in hand we took time for another look at their fabulous collection of Cornish art
We went to St Agnes for lunch and pondered at the gentle landscape of this the most southern island as we walked its perimeter of gentle grassy slopes and strange rock formations.

Horse Rock
We travelled around all the islands by boat, watching gannets diving for fish and seals lounging on the beach and snorkelling around us. We explored St Martins and visited deserted Samson, walking among the derelict cottages and pondering the Spartan lives of those forced to leave in 1855.

“Our rock!”
The tourist season was closing round us as we left Bryher to travel at low tide right round all the islands for the last time on our way back to St Mary’s, the tiny plane and the shocking reality of mainland Britain.

…just another fabulous sunset…!
To Make Lasagne
Like so many classic Italian dishes, lasagne varies from region to region. Internationally, of course, it has developed another identity altogether as a readymade dish available everywhere which, like Pizza, bears little resemblance to its country of origin.
We are most accustomed to a variation made up of a meat and tomato sauce, a simplified ragu, layered with a cheese sauce and sheets of easy-cook pasta. It does take time to prepare so it’s worth doubling up on the quantities for a big group of friends or for portions in the freezer.
500gms lasagne
750 ml Bechamel sauce….homemade or good quality ready made
150 gms grated parmesan cheese
Ragu; see below
The Ragu
200gms minced beef or mixed pork and beef
55gms chopped prosciutto or streaky bacon
1 chopped onion, carrot, celery stalk
3 tablespoons tomato puree
A glass of red wine
A little beef or chicken stock
Butter and oil for frying
Salt and pepper
Melt butter with a little oil in a heavy flat pan; the oil stops the butter burning. Fry the vegetables and bacon gently till soft. Add the meat and brown a further ten minutes. Stir in the wine and allow it to bubble to allow the alcohol to evaporate. Stir in tomato puree and a little stock to loosen the ragu to a sauce like consistency. Simmer for 1 ½ hours adding more stock if it becomes dry. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper.
To assemble the dish:
First carefully read the instructions for the lasagne: some need cooking in boiling water before assembly and some are ready cooked and can go in straight from the packet!
Spread a layer of béchamel sauce on the bottom of a large flat gratin dish. Follow with a single layer of lasagne. Nest some of the Ragu, then more lasagne and so on. Finish with Bechamel and a thick layer of the cheese. Bake in a hot oven for thirty minutes until golden on top. Remove from the oven and allow to set for ten minutes before serving.
In his wonderful book, Complete Italian Food, Antonio Carluccio adds fried courgette, aubergine, spinach balls and porcini between each layer of lasagne and ragu; a truly sumptuous version!

Good Night!

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Oct 12 2010

Annual Show & Sale

Exeter Livesock Market from Paul Vincent on Vimeo.

The Annual Show & Sale of Whiteface Dartmoor Sheep

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Sep 18 2010

Harvest Time

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The vegetable garden enters autumn
Buzzards circle overhead calling to their young; autumn flying lessons have begun. As geese arrive, so house martins and swallows leave. The trees are looking tired; the whole valley resembles a great fruit salad.

It’s been a funny year. A winter of relentless rain, ice and snow, was followed by a devastating spring drought; blazing sunshine but no grass for tired ewes and growing lambs. We fretted, we worried, we moved sheep from field to field following every tiny flush of green. Then rain arrived in August just as the holiday season dawned, lush grass appeared once more, sheep grew fat again. Now autumn days bring mixed fortune. Gentle mizzle soaks fleece and fur. A golden sun warms us briefly as it casts long strange shadows across the hills before slipping from the sky.
It is time for us to take stock, to go through the sheep to select ewes for next years’ breeding and send off hoggs for meat or market. This years lambs are sturdy now, plenty of ewe lamb followers to ensure the future of the breed. Chris has done a fine job. His new companion, Cliff or Gake, so named by our Japanese grandchildren based on some complicated pun, is developing into a strong young ram ready to join Chris for duty at the end of the month.
We plan a whole new chicken complex in the spring; a major undertaking requiring the manhandling of old sheds into the orchard and the creation of yet another anti-fox/badger fortification. Meanwhile all birds have been moved from what I feared was becoming a slum dwelling in the autumn rain. They are now in luxury dry winter quarters in the farmyard. Chicks are growing fast too; their beautiful varied colours tell me they are descendants of my dear old Aruacana chap who vanished several weeks ago.
Despite the draught the wild harvest is prolific. I have never seen such a glut of wild plums in the hedgerow. They glisten like big juicy marbles amongst the little sloe bushes. Their jam is rich and dark but somewhat irksome to make because of all the tiny stones. Finally I gave up with the mouli and simply rubbed them laboriously through a sieve; worth it though for the velvety, unctuous result.
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The famous “Dittisham Plum”
Our famous unique Dittisham plums were not such a success this year developing mould overnight in relentless warm August rain. I did gather enough to freeze, make a few pots of jam and the odd flan before they vanished into the grass. Apples trees are bowed low with the promise of a huge harvest in October. With the closure of our local cider press I will have to find another destination for our crop. I cannot bear to see them simply rot in the ground.
The fig trees have also surpassed themselves. I picked thirty fruit on just one day alone last week. Some I poached in vanilla syrup as last year, some I baked and lots simply disappeared immediately with slices of prosciutto. But my best find by far, is a recipe in The Cooking of South West France by Paula Wolfert. The combination of fig, lemon and walnuts is magical. Served with soft cheese it will be an ongoing winter treat.
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The delicous figs
French beans are in the deep freeze too; some just blanched, others blanched then tossed in butter with tiny red tomatoes. Tomato blight hit once again this summer destroying most of my crop but little Floridity seems strangely resistant. There will be no potatoes or tomatoes next year as we try to fight the blight once more.
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Majestic Cavalo Nero
Cavalo Nero stand majestic in the vegetable garden while carrots, parsnips, beetroot, chard await their turn in the kitchen. And the giant sunflower will soon give up her seeds.
mushrooms
Huge Horse Mushrooms
Huge Horse Mushrooms appear beside the little old barn on the top field, so large that just one makes a substantial meal with a sausage and a fried potato or two. I found parasol mushrooms too. I wasn’t sure so I gave some to my dear Czech friends who fell on them with glee. Confident now I cooked ours and regretted giving so many away! Fry in egg and breadcrumbs says Carluccio, very, very nice indeed.
Friends arrive from Brittany next week, an excuse for another feast or two. I’m planning that butterflied leg of lamb with samphire, lemon and mint again; it was such a success in the summer. I’ll make a Paella and cook a duck. We’ll eat more figs with clotted cream and bake the first quince. I’ll make chicken liver pate to have with bread from our wonderful French patisserie, coals to Newcastle for them, I know but still a treat for us and on our doorstep.
And then it will be time to tackle that pumpkin and make chutney.
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“A golden sunflower”
Fig Conserve with Lemon and Walnuts.
Take about sixteen figs or 1 kilo, 2 lemons, 750 grams sugar and 125 grams shelled walnuts, fresh if possible.
Take the zest from the lemons either with a lemon zester or potato peeler. If you use the latter slice the peel into tiny julienne strips. Remove and discard the lemon pith and cut the flesh into slices retaining all the juice. Save pips and put into a little piece of muslin.
Halve the figs removing the tough stem tip.
Make a syrup with the sugar and 300ml water. When the sugar has dissolved add figs, lemon rind and slices and muslin bag of pips (this aids setting)
Cook gently till setting point is reached. Test for this by putting a teaspoonful of liquid on a saucer; put the saucer in the freezer or fridge till cool. If it wrinkles as you touch it the jam is ready. Add the walnuts and stir in thoroughly.
Pot the conserve into small sterilised jars while still hot. Cover and seal. I prefer to use small kilner jars for this recipe. Store the jam in the fridge after opening.

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Sep 11 2010

A Midsummer Dream

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Tom, Noriko, I-Chan, Suzumi were here.

And Katy and Merlin, Bee, Harry and Flo

We went down to the river and kayaked and crabbed.

We played in the mud, and were cleaned with the hose

We ate at Claire’s cafe; we talked and we laughed

We were caught in the thunder, we raced paper boats.

We ate River Dart salmon, BBQ’d in the rain.

We built yachts in the workshop, found newts in the pond.

We swam to the pirate ship, swung on tyres on the lake.

We climbed on huge ropes and splashed as we fell

We were zipped into balls and spun round on a pond.

We put on orange helmets and climbed great big walls;

We fell and bounced back on big rubber mats.

We ate burgers and chips and went back for more.

We came home exhausted in need of a wash!

Then Tom had a birthday and Paella for lunch!

We went to the Circus and laughed at the clowns.

We saw acrobats, jugglers, went on the big wheel.

Bee and Flo made a camp and slept under the stars.

Katy joined them and rolled down the hill in the night.

It rained; we made pizza, played music and sang.

We went to the beach, saw a shark near the shore,

We ate burgers and lobster and masses of chips.

We fed chickens, found eggs, stroked donkeys and dogs.

We had a big lunch, they climbed into a car

Huge hugs, love and laughter, some tears and they’d gone.

They’d gone back to Bath, they’d gone back to Japan

The house is so silent it must be a dream……………………!

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Aug 08 2010

Bread

Last week brought a huge treat. My dear friend Felicity invited me to bake bread in her wonderful bread oven. Having cooked for years enthusiastically both professionally and for friends and family, my knowledge of bread making would fit tidily on the back of a large postage stamp. The reasons are twofold, or maybe three; first, I was given a bread machine years ago, second, we have a fantastic French Patisserie in our local town, as good as any you will find anywhere in France and lastly I’ve just been too idle to try! Just one day, and all is changed. My fresh yeast is already sitting in the fridge and a new enthusiasm has been ignited.

Felicity’s oven is a very large affair standing in a corner of her beautiful garden in mid Devon. It was built by her son, Fred, a couple of years ago. Fred has been the driving force behind Slow Food Devon for a number of years now and his enthusiasm and knowledge of bread making has culminated into this wonderful project.

..foccacia in the oven…
The day before my visit I dive into Tom Jaine’s “Making Bread at Home” and David Jones’ excellent bread making notes which I gleaned from a wonderful day’s cookery at Manna From Devon.
A Biga, that’s what I must make. I mix 8 grams of fresh yeast with 150 mil of warm water and 150 grams strong bread flour and I leave it overnight.
Next morning I use Tom Jaine’s Italian Country Bread recipe of 200gms of my Biga, 300ml tepid water, 15grm fresh yeast, 2 tsp. salt, 2 tablespoons olive oil and 250 grams each of white and wholemeal flour. I mix the dough, knead it for ten minutes and let it prove covered in a bowl in the car as I drive across Devon.
When I arrive Felicity is surrounded by huge quantities of proven dough in her glorious kitchen. My little bowl looks somewhat inadequate but I’m on a steep learning curve today so watch and listen. Together we knock down, shape and set bread to prove a second time in cotton lined baskets. Fred and Felicity’s husband, Simon lit the oven early in the morning so the temperature is already rising promisingly. Fred bakes Focaccia.
We have lunch in the garden. Tomato soup; “last year’s tomatoes and the contents of the bread bin” Felicity says. Eaten with the warm rosemary tinged focaccia, delicious I say.
Fred checks the oven; our dough is risen and ready. Fred rakes out the ashes, in go the loaves. The “door” is sealed. We sit around the oven in the sun listening to the sheep over the hedge and wait as the air is filled with the sweet smell of baking bread.

….the finished loaves…
Out they come one at a time on the great metal peel. We stand around congratulating each other and admiring the day’s work. I leave with my loaf and Felicity fills the still hot oven with a great dish of beans and deliciousness for their supper. I’ve had a wonderful day.

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Aug 03 2010

July in Jersey

big-gorilla-450
Gentle rain and the valley is green again. Soft weather mists the air, grass begins to grow at last. The sheep come home. Donkeys, sleek in their summer coats flourish on such meagre fare. Bantam chicks grow up fast and new hens settle in. A fine cockerel has gone missing, a feast, I fear, for hungry fox or badger with young to feed. Mid summer comes and goes.
meercats2300
Dear Briony arrives to take care of animals. We join friends in Jersey to quietly celebrate a birthday. A gentle old fashioned hotel enfolds us in its comfort, history even. The sun shines. We begin to relax. We swim in a deserted cove, the silence broken by oystercatchers calling overhead. We collect tiny shells, sit on warm rocks and gaze out to sea. There is time to read, to sit quietly, just be, to wander through the tiny fishing port and, best of all, to spend a day at the Durrell Conservation Trust.
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orang3-shy200sleeping2001
…..sitting quietly and just being!

Discover Durrell, Jersey from Paul Vincent on Vimeo.

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Aug 01 2010

Seville Orange Marmalade


My favourite marmalade recipe, the one I use year after year comes from Jane Grigson’s beautiful “Fruit Book” first published by Michael Joseph in 1982: the simplest, easiest and best-flavoured marmalade, she says, I agree.
Scrub 1 ½ kilos of Seville oranges and put them in a pan with 3 ½ litres of water. Simmer until skin is tender, about 1 ½ hours. Take oranges out of the water, cool, halve and remove the pips. Put the pips in a piece of muslin. Cut up the orange flesh or pulse in a liquidiser being careful not to reduce it to a mush. Return shredded fruit to water. Add 3 kg of preserving sugar and hang the little bag of pips over the side of the pan on a piece of string so they bubble along with the fruit and release their pectin. Stir gently over heat till sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil and boil vigorously till setting point is reached. Test for setting by placing a tiny spoonful of syrup on a cold saucer and putting it in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes. If setting point is reached a wrinkled skin will form.
Leave the marmalade to stand for 15 minutes to allow peel to settle, remove the bag of pips and discard, then pot the warm marmalade into warm sterilised jars and cover: so nice!

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Jul 02 2010

Heat Wave and Summer Food

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Day after day the sun beats down unblinking from a cloudless, rainless, azure sky. Grass has long since stopped growing and crunches brownly underfoot. The garden quietly fries and the fields are barren. We continue to move sheep from field to field as we imagine we see a tiny haze of green appear. Each day ewes and lambs follow me to the gate baaing to come through in case the grass really is greener on the other side but, alas, it is not. Day after day we look at the local weather forecast on the internet praying for rain; tomorrow and tomorrow it teases, only to drift away day after day like a mirage on the screen. Spring water still fills troughs in the fields and the pond pumps water from a trickling stream but for how much longer, I wonder.
Its weeks since it last rained and we should be so happy to have a beautiful summer at last. Instead we’re pondering the future price of hay and wondering if there will be any available for next winter. The whole valley has a brownish yellow haze. We are all in the same predicament.

The garden opening was a huge success. No lorries jammed the lane this year, no rain either. Visitors poured in basking in the blistering sunshine. Weeds almost eliminated, temporarily at least, lawns mowed, everything bursting into flower, all the effort really did seem worthwhile
A garden stroll completed, an afternoon-long queue formed for cream teas! We set tables and chairs in the now tidy farmyard amongst tubs of lavender and daisies. Plate after plate of scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam flew out of our make shift kitchen. Will, from the wonderful The Anchor stone Cafe in the village, had generously baked piles and piles of gloriously light golden scones. Of course the cream debate re-emerged; in Devon, jam then cream, in Cornwall, cream then jam or is that the other way round? My roots are Devonshire, my husband, a Cornishman; the debate continues! But the teas were a triumph!
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cream then jam, or jam then cream
Good friends pitched in to help; big thank you to Maggie, Edith, Debbie, Bee. Stephen and Callum. Peter, my neighbouring professional horticulturist acted as my plant memory for the afternoon giving us time to walked around talking to our visitors doing our best to answer so many questions about house and garden; we explained how the garden had gradually evolved from nothing over the last twenty eight years, about the origins of the house built in 1767, recounted the rumour that the Rev Francis Lyte wrote ‘Abide With Me’ during his brief tenure here. I wonder if he did!
We had two glorious afternoons after weeks of hard work and, best of all, thanks to the generosity of all our visitors, we were able to make a big donation to the NGS for Marie Curie, McMillan and other charities supported by NGS. A big team effort, thanks to everyone.
As vegetables burst forth in the vegetable garden in the relentless heat and the house fills with summer guests, I seem to have been swept up once more in a cooking whirlwind. Summer days lead me back to my much loved Elisabeth David, Jane Grigson and the River Cafe books.
As a result of the dry weather the strawberry crop is somewhat over whelming. I’m pondering how to use them having found in the past that freezing is not a success. So jam will be made and I will try a strawberry and rhubarb crumble. A good friend tells me it’s delicious.
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the strawberry crop is somewhat overwhelming
Broad beans abound, courgettes too. The pea plants looked so small and feeble but have somehow still produced a bumper crop. I’m not sure where all the slugs have gone this year, maybe they hate the drought too. The result is the brassicas are doing really well, Cavolo Nero majestic already.
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the pea crop looked small but….
And the sweet peas are so long stemmed and sweet smelling, a tribute to my daughters delightful neighbour who died recently and who told me to plant them in October. I shall always think of dear Miss Vaisey now when I pick sweet peas.
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sweet smelling sweet peas
I baked a huge Polenta Cake for Edith’s League of Friends. It looked so inviting it was hard to give away! I whizzed up 450 grams of unsalted butter with 450 of caster sugar, then stirred in 450 of ground almonds, a dash of vanilla essence, 6 eggs and the zest and juice of a lemon. A small teaspoon of baking powder, a good pinch of salt and, of course, 225grams of polenta completed the mix. It went into a 30 centimetre oiled and floured cake tin , then into the oven at 160C for about 45 minutes till firm and golden; very delicious!
Some friends from childhood arrived for a long weekend. We were fourteen for dinner so I “butterflied” a large leg of our own Whiteface Dartmoor lamb and served it pink and warm with steamed samphire, lemon, mint and olive oil; a delicious combination.
I made a big Terrine of Pork and Chicken with crushed juniper berries, green peppercorns and fresh herbs from the garden. We had a salad of broad beans, roasted peppers and, a small personal triumph, my own baby carrots!
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a green salad from the garden
A green salad from the garden, new potatoes with grilled artichoke and a big bowl of home made Aioli completed the feast.
For pudding I made Fig Flan with some of last years figs. We had such a glut that I froze batches in vanilla syrup. I made a Kissel of blackcurrants adding lots of strawberries and served both, of course, with local clotted cream.
Terrine of Pork and Chicken
Prepare the terrine at least a day in advance
Mince 5oo grams of belly of pork with 250 grams boneless chicken meat. Mix well adding 3 cloves of crushed garlic, 2 finely chopped shallots, a teaspoon of green peppercorns and 5 or 6 crushed juniper berries. Pour on a glass of red wine and allow to marinate.
Line a pound loaf tin or similar shaped oven proof pie dish with streaky bacon. Take each rasher and stretch it with the back of a knife on the chopping board. Then line the dish so that each rasher covers the bottom and one side with the end hanging over the edge.
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rashers hanging over the edge
Take half the minced meat and fill the dish halfway. Sprinkle with chopped herbs. Cut the remaining 250 grams of chicken into strips and place down the centre together with 100 grams of chicken livers. Add more herbs and cover with the rest of the minced meat. Press down gently and wrap the bacon over the top. Decorate with lemon slices and a couple of bay leaves, cover with tin foil and place in a bain marie; a roasting tin, in other words, half filled with hot water.
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…ready for the oven
Place in a moderate oven for an hour and a half checking regularly and topping up water in the Bain Marie when necessary.
To be sure it is cooked pierce with a long skewer, if the juice is clear the terrine is cooked, if it is still pink, cook a little more.
When you are confident it is cooked take it out of the oven and lift carefully from the bain marie. Tip water out and return the cooked terrine to the dish. Put a heavy weight on the top. I use a brick and the weights from Granny’s old fashioned kitchen scales, but improvise. The juices will overflow a little. When the whole is quite cool, refrigerate. Serve with salad and new potatoes the next day.
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…and ready to eat!
Fig Flan
Poach 10 figs in sugar syrup made up of a cup of water to an equal cup of sugar and a dash of vanilla essence or a vanilla pod. Keep an eye on the pan as the syrup thickens; don’t let it burn
Line a metal 26cm flan ring with pastry. I buy lots of wonderful ready made pastry from a French supermarket in Brittany and put it in the freezer.
Cover pastry with baking parchment and bake blind in a hot oven till golden and crisp. There’s nothing worse than a soggy bottomed flan; usually anaemic quiche! Leave to cool while you make custard of 50grams each of unsalted butter, icing sugar and ground almonds. Mix together with a large egg and a generous tablespoon of double cream. Spread the mixture onto the cool pastry base and arrange the figs in a neat circle, sprinkle with castor sugar and cook for twenty to thirty minutes in a moderate oven until the custard is set. Allow the flan to cool. Melt a tablespoon of redcurrant jelly and “paint” the cool plan and pastry with the shiny glaze. Serve with cream the same day.
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…just a trug full of delights!

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Jun 06 2010

Open Garden

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Our garden at Bramble Torre will open next weekend, June 12th & 13th, in aid of the National Garden Scheme. This is our second year. We passed the test again last year after following those strict instructions to “weed, weed, weed” and here we are in the Yellow Book once more. Oh my, have I weeded.
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The months and weeks have sped past and now only five days to go. Borders are trimmed, flowerbeds tended, vegetables planted out, polytunnel tidied, grass cut again and then again.
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Embothrium..flaming June
The Embothrium is delightfully late shining scarlet against a blue sky. Roses may be out in time if the sunshine continues. I beg the poppies to wait a while and the delphiniums to hurry up. Will the iris last the week and can the poor battered Ceanothus manage a few more blue clusters, maybe even a sweet pea or two might just show a flower.
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It’s been a difficult year. Everything is very late, later even than last year. The unusually cold winter hit so many plants; some struggled through and slowly, very slowly came into leaf and flower. Many plants simply vanished, turning up their toes as drought followed ice and snow followed torrential autumn rain. The lack of rain this spring has been bad for the garden but much worse for pasture. No rain means no new grass for the animals. And like our neighbouring farmers, we are moving ewes and lambs round and round as a little growth appears in each field.
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Pink Columbine
Needing to reassure myself once more just how far we have come in twenty eight years I kick off my boots and go to the book shelf to seek out old photograph albums. Surely my memory must be playing tricks but, no; there it all is, just as I remember, my recall accurate; no garden, no garden at all. I find pictures of the huge tumbledown derelict greenhouses which had housed my predecessor’s chickens and threatened me with serious injury from falling glass. There are the pictures of “garden fences” made from old gas cooker parts and corrugated tin, of towering brassica plants, as high as my shoulder, marching up the hill behind the house.A dark, dank tractor shed full of junk and buried treasure crowded out the sun, in its place now, the pond.
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There’s our son, Tom, as a teenage knocking down the breeze block walls, as a friend builds the pond, laying paths, building steps; there’s Paul driving a digger to move earth from the back of the house to make a path. There I am chopping my way through the undergrowth, laying cobbles, digging flowerbeds. There we all are taming the wilderness.
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the wilderness tamed
There are pictures of the felling of the great Wellingtonia in the front garden after the huge storm in 1989 and the eucalyptus swaying hazardously near the house, threatening the roof in another gale. We think we make progress but nature has her way and will take back the valley in no time when I step back and no one follows me.
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1982 no garden, no garden at all, and now….
I can hardly believe ten years have passed since we were ravaged by flood, water crashing through the valley devastating all in its path. I look with horror at pictures of the battered landscape when the water had subsided. I can still smell the rank mud as I look at the pages. I remember my old goose floating in his water filled house, banging his poor old head on the roof before rescue arrived, chickens quickly learning to swim, our huge old tractor sliding and aquaplaning in the yard, sheep fleeing safely up the hill and donkeys paddling in their stables, puzzled eeyores filling the air.
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White Centaura
Ten years on and a peaceful garden runs along the bottom of the valley. The stream, very low now, trickles beside the vegetable garden. Chickens peck happily in the orchard. All the while I do my best to hold on to my cultivated strip through the centre, holding back wilderness which will surely tumble into the garden the minute my back is turned. But it is the wildness I love; the contrast of the wild and cultivated thrills me as each harmoniously march side by side from house to farmyard. I love the silence, the shouting birds, fat clouds scudding on blue sky, long grass blowing in the wind, changing light, changing seasons, sheep grazing quietly, donkeys calling out for tea. And above all I love having the opportunity to share this small part of the valley next weekend
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