Aug 13 2022

Summer Heat!

And still the heatwave grips us, a drought, a hosepipe ban, no rain for weeks! The stream still trickles through the garden, but oh so low: the river creeps by, mud glistens. Temperatures rise daily, sun or cloud but no rain.

The garden fries, but worse still, no grass for livestock. Lambs and ewes, separated now, all hide in the hedgerows, occasionally creeping out to graze the yellow offering in the top fields, already hay!

Is this 1976 all over again, how long can it go on?

The farmyard is silent now, but for lamb shearing today, cooler at last.

Donkeys gone. Oh, how I miss them but I know they are in safe hands. They are back at the Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary where Tiny Freddie is getting the very best possible long-term veterinary care he needs. It is the sad legacy of neglected rescued donkeys. Thank goodness for the Donkey Sanctuary.

My mind goes back to childhood when my grandmother let her two small fields to a Miss Green who cared for six donkeys belonging to Violet Philpin’s donkey sanctuary near Reading in Berkshire. My love of donkey’s began then!

Some years later Paul and I lived with our small children in Granny’s cottage for a while. One summer night when Paul was away sailing in the Irish sea, the doorbell rang very late. Alarmed I ran down in my nightie to see who it could be. A young policemen stood on the step. My heart raced; an accident at sea, a shipwreck, widowhood?

“Excuse me, madam” he laughed “Could you identify this donkey” I almost cried with relief! And, of course, it was scruffy little Treacle who had recently been moved up the road to keep a lonely pony company. Treacle had other plans. He simply brought the little chap back to join his pals here with us! Quietly policeman and I led them back to the meadow to join the other donkeys!

A couple of years later in 1974 Elisabeth Svenson received a letter from the executors of Miss Philpin’s estate informing her that she had been left all 204 donkeys cared for all over Berkshire by Mis Philpin’s charity! Granny’s donkeys, including dear Treacle, were to become some of the earliest residents of the now famous Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth Devon! Hence my lifelong attachment to donkeys! How I miss my boys!

In June, while gentle rain still fed the valley, our open garden went with a swing this year! Warm sunny afternoons, not yet too hot, and a cream tea brought visitors from far and wide. Over four wonderful days we were able to make a big donation to the National Garden Scheme Nursing Charities. Worth the effort!!

 And in mid-July four wonderful gardens opened just nearby in the valley for the N.G.S. Despite the ferocious heat, people flocked to the little hamlet of East Cornworthy to see four big, beautiful and very different gardens. Hats off to the gardeners who managed to keep their gardens looking so amazing despite the weather!

But still we pray for rain! The vegetable garden fries in the drought as do the fields. I know I must not water my struggling little crop. Never has rain been so sparse! But surely, I ask myself, it’s better, isn’t it, to water a little and pick my tiny harvest than buy veg from the supermarket with a huge tag of air miles……But I’m so conscious of the oncoming serious water shortage!

Meanwhile I return to the kitchen. Summer is the time for wonderful salads.

My version of Salad Niçoise is my favourite; our own little lettuce, rocket, tiny French beans, wisps of fennel, mint, sorrel. Our smallest new potatoes and, of course, my own little tomatoes! Top with gently boiled eggs from my chucks and topped with anchovy fillets, black olives , capers maybe, and a really good homemade classic salad dressing: olive oil, garlic, a touch of French mustard ,mixed herbs, salt pepper and a dash of white wine vinegar.

All sorts of things may be added. Tuna is the classic. A tin maybe, but, oh so much better, a slice of fresh tuna quickly seared in butter and a little olive oil. Sometimes I add chicken breasts or quickly seared sardines.

French beans, red peppers artichoke hearts, chives, tarragon all go well too: the variations are endless but always delicious!

There are so  many versions of this “classic” salad !

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