Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Thursday 25 December 2008

All is calm, all is bright . . .

I'm not sure how things came together, but in between the chaos of the phones ringing constantly for three days and an endless procession of people in and out and through our house, I managed to decorate the cake and make (with a little help from my Mum) some mince pies.

My Italian Renaissance fruity extravaganza just seemed to happen unplanned! Using things that I found in the kitchen cupboard and some marzipan fruit I bought from a local sweet shop all stuck together and glazed with home-made crab apple jelly. It needed something else – Bay leaves trimmed off the branches we'd cut for decorations and ready to use in the kitchen; Mum had the idea of dipping the leaves in egg-white left over from the pastry making and then in crushed preserving sugar and drying them in a low oven. I found a scrunched up piece of ribbon, after ironing it was just right for the finishing touch!

The big lesson I've learnt this week is that Christmas happens whether you've stressed over comparing Delia's recipe with Nigella's or not. The goose is cooking and I've delegated vegetable preparation to others – so, cheers everyone! Here's to a peaceful and happy Christmas Day.

Hope the cake tastes as good as it looks :-)

Monday 22 December 2008

Merry Christmas everyone!

Well, the planned PPP Christmas eggtravaganza (sic) has been cancelled. I had my lists written, and all was on schedule. In fact we'd commented that between Christmas and New Year we didn't have any excitement scheduled. Anyway, I'm recovering from 'that cough' everyone in Suffolk and possibly the whole country, has – so on Sunday an early cuppa and a lie in might have been in order . . .

. . . then the power went off. We became aware in the quiet and dark that something was 'going on' outside and a peek through the curtains confirmed lots of lights on the Village Green. 'A lorry's taken out the electricity pole' we guessed and went back to bed. With the power still off, Cliff ventured out to the workshop to retrieve the camping stove and gas cylinder, moments later he was back shouting "it's world war three out there!!!!!!"

The narrow lane leading into our village was full of emergency vehicles – at least 10 fire engines plus a mobile control room and the Salvation Army Mobile Response Unit serving tea and sausage sandwiches :-O :-O

Fire had ripped through one of the picture post-card thatched cottages on the top of the high bank along the steep hill leading down into the village. The fire men and women battled to save the cottage but soon realised it was more important to contain the fire and prevent it spreading to the thatched roofs either side. They pulled the blazing thatch to the ground and doused the flaming reeds on the ground, the neighbouring roofs were kept under a constant spray of water to stop sparks igniting their thatch too.

The pretty cottage was the home of the first person we got to know when we moved here 10 years ago, she was the Parish Clerk and there wasn't much she didn't know about the working of the community! She loves cats and our 'Charlie Cat' soon became one of her favourites. In recent years she has joined us for Christmas dinner – this guarantees a relaxed and chatty atmosphere round the table. Today she's in hospital recovering from smoke inhalation and in shock that her little pink cottage is a pile of cinders.

So . . . I've ripped up the old lists and written many new ones; our house seems to have become the incident HQ with the whole village rallying round – where do we start when a neighbour has lost everything? I'm sure you'll understand that blogging will be the last thing on my mind for a week or so.

Merry Christmas from me to all readers of PPPs
and from the studio assistants and
senior and junior under-gardeners :-)

See you in 2009!

Thursday 18 December 2008



and being a style-conscious chick
she's matched the shape and colour
with a certain luscious cook's
ceramic kitchenware

Wednesday 17 December 2008

On this day, in this room . . .

Like Little Dorrit, I was born in the workhouse. Well to be accurate it was no longer a Victorian workhouse, but had been converted into a maternity hospital – the irony intended or not, probably wasn't lost on the thousands of women who had their babies here between 1934 and 1983. I took a photo through the railings as I passed by, walking along Mill Road in Cambridge at lunchtime today.

I turned down a side street and along a very familiar path to a red brick building behind a row of terraced houses. There were signs to the theatre and the Student's Union Shop (closed!) and huge new buildings which loomed all around. But I found a familiar door . . .

. . . this was and still is the entrance to the Cambridge School of Art, now it's part of Anglia Ruskin University. Like a nucleus it remains at the heart of a shiny new campus and inside it's much the same as I remember. The School of Art is 150 years old and there is an exhibition of especially commissioned drawings inspired by a quotation from John Ruskin, here's an exert:

There were many familiar names on the walls: past and present tutors and esteemed ex-students – all had produced a pen or pencil drawing inspired by the art school or it's locality. Some chose to illustrate Ruskin himself, others scenes of students at work; there were views of the bustling multi-cultural Mill Road and the quiet oasis of the Mill Road cemetery a stones throw from the college. All are masterful examples of observation and drawing.

I sat on the squashy brown leather sofa and looked through a sketch book I'd got in my bag – I made this book in December 1979 in this very room during the first term of the Foundation Course in Art & Design. We used a selection of papers – cartridge and sugar paper – and learnt how to make a bound book with a linen cloth cover; I could picture the pile of paper on a table and the guillotine for trimming the pages; the wooden floor splattered with ink and ground-in charcoal; the wooden easels and donkeys smeared with paint. The floor has been polished and the walls painted white, there are modern gallery lights hanging from the ceiling. How many students have sat here and learnt to look?

I found the page in my sketchbook for 17 December 1979 to see what I'd been doing 29 years ago. Some studies of Japanese fans – I remember, the fashion and textiles module! This took place in an annexe in a maze of little back-to-back houses a short walk from the college (probably now under the foundations of the Grafton Shopping Centre). We studied Japanese design and made patterns and textures inspired by lacquer work and kimonos; then we made a miniature folding screen using the papers we'd painted. I've been fascinated by Japanese art and design ever since.

Maybe I'll share more pages during 2009.

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Here come the girls!

It's been a cold month, so I have a little routine with the under-gardeners – when I make myself a mid-morning cup of tea I also make some warm 'porridge' for them. Grains and seeds soaked in hot water with oat-meal and Poultry Spice (it smells lovely and Christmassy).

'Here come the girls' . . .
(sing along, you know you want to)
they come running across the grass :-)

. . . they peck from my hand as I make sure they all get their share :-)

. . . the Spices (Nutmeg, Ginger and Saffron) are growing fast and learning to join in :-)

BUT . . . WHAT THE ****!!!!!! :-O

This is a UGP too far girls! I had always thought the large patch of Bergenia was bomb proof; the hens occasionally searched under the leaves for snails and the cats often lose mice among the dense foliage, but it always looks good . . . well it did.

OK girls, it's no use blaming the squirrels or the studio assistants or the blackbirds!
I saw you from the kitchen door and have photographic evidence . . .

. . . the little monkeys heard me and moved away as I pressed the shutter!

Monday 15 December 2008

Bang, bang . . . don't panic!

Yesterday I went to Audley End to re-visit the servants' wing, after such a successful visit in the summer with the Cottage Smallholder I thought it would be a fun place to go at Christmas. I invited my Mum and my cousin and her mum came along too.

We missed seeing the cooks making Christmas pies and puddings in the kitchens (but to be honest my Mum and Aunt are already pretty knowledgeable about mince pies and Christmas puds!). The kitchen maids were giggling over mugs of tea and chatting up the errand boy when we walked through to the scullery and pantries.

There had obviously been a demonstration of butter making earlier, but there was no-one around to explain how it had been done. No problem – Mum and Auntie knew exactly what to do and gave us a demonstration of butter patting – so if English Heritage need more dairy-maids give them a call! I loved this display of plates in the dairy – something to copy, I think :-)

We were on time for a performance by the story-teller in the great hall. He entertainingly regaled the packed room with tales of Christmas traditions – Yule logs, Christmas Trees and Crackers. Christmas dinner wouldn't be the same without pulling crackers – a particularly British tradition. When I supply illustrations for publishers one of the common 'rules' is: no crackers in the Christmas scenes. This is so the book can be published in co-editions for an international market.

The story-teller told us about the origin of the Christmas Cracker and how during World War II supplies of Tom Smith's cracker snaps were used for the war effort to make gun-fire simulation devises for the home guard. I love this idea, why wasn't there a Dad's Army episode featuring cracker-snaps? Godfrey's sister Dolly could have crocheted the snaps together and Pike and Corporal Jones would have enthusiastically volunteered to set them off with choatic results . . . but maybe the BBC didn't want to confuse the international audience!

I went to the Post Office in the next village today and, inspired by the Chritsmassy tales, I bought a small box of smart silver patterned crackers for Christmas Day. When I returned home I set off on foot to hand-deliver more cards around the village – only to be handed a giant box of glamorous deluxe crackers by a neighbour who will be joining us for Christmas Day! Enough fire power to simulate an artillery bombardment!

Wednesday 10 December 2008

Bargain hunt

I love auctions and often surf through online catalogues to see if there's anything worth viewing and perhaps bidding for. Last week I spotted a lot which definitely got me interested and after visiting the auction rooms I was determined to bid – but I would be on the road up to Liverpool on Saturday! I'd have to put in a 'commission bid' and trust the auctioneer to bid for me. I've never done this before, I cautiously filled out the form and hesitated over the price to put as my limit. The upper estimate might not be enough but I didn't want to pay too much.

On Sunday evening I checked the auction web site, the price realised for 'my lot' was below the figure I'd put on the form – I must have won!!!! Hurray!!!! So on Monday I collected my bargain buy . . .

. . . a couple of tatty old picture frames . . .

containing two Japanese woodcuts :-) I'm chuffed to bits! (it doesn't take much)

The first one is by . . .

Hiroshige! Well, probably it's Hiroshige II (1829 - 1869) or Hiroshige III (1842 - 1894) – not the main man Ando Hiroshige (now that would be amazing). Hiroshige II was the talented pupil of Ando Hiroshige who became his master's adopted son and married his daughter. When the couple divorced Ando Hiroshige's daughter married another pupil of the master who took the name Hiroshige III. The confusing thing is that all three artist's signatures are very similar! Lot's more research is needed!
see below

In the background of this print is a crowd standing on a bridge watching a firework display. I love the woodgrain texture across the night sky and the sense that the crowd is brightly lit from behind.

In the foreground a woman (I think?) crouches in a covered barge – why is she hiding? I wish I could read Japanese and translate the title! It's so clever how the hair is printed first in a translucent dark grey and then a solid black. That little wisp of hair at her temple is so cute, is it to show she is slightly dishevelled? And the way the fabric pattern is printed is gorgeous.

The second print is a bigger puzzle. There is a note on the mount saying it is by Yoshichikaan artist I can find little about. Prints I've found purporting to be by him have a signature which don't match this . . .

The scene of sumptuously dressed ladies walking by a river in which there are half naked men, is cheeky and extremely decorative. I'll have to get the title translated and find out what it's all about! There is so much going on in the design, the detail in the fabric patterns is awesome – amazing skilled work.

A bargain!

Postscript: 18 December 2008
This is what I've discovered so far:

The first print is most likely to be by Hiroshige II, the apprentice and adopted son of Ando Hiroshige. He carried on the master’s great themes and scenes and produced high quality work but not designs of great originality. The signature, mid right, is definitely ‘Hiroshige’ but this was used by all three ‘Hiroshiges’ at some point in their careers. However the style of the signature panel and the lozenge seal seem to be that of Hiroshige II 1829-1869.
The subject is a popular one for printmakers: watching fireworks on the Ryogoku Bridge and from pleasure boats on the river below. Beautiful women in the pleasure boats is another favourite. My hunch is that this is the central panel of a large triptych, as this is is the central part of the boat. Stylistically I would think this dates from about 1860. Each of the three prints would have the title and signature and stand alone as a design – of course the chance of all three images staying together and in good condition for 150 years is slim so a complete set would be far more valuable! But it’s a lovely image by a well known printmaker. I would guess the title refers to the Ryogoku Bridge, pleasure boats, beautiful women, fireworks, or something of that ilk!

The other print, showing a grand lady and attendants beside a river is supposed to be by Yoshichika. But I can’t find out much about him – his signature is shown lower left but I haven’t been able to check this against an authenticated print. I found a reference to an artist called Ichi Yoshichika 1787 – 1872 and a note saying nothing more is known about him!
But I love the depiction of different textile designs and the ‘Onna norimono’ or noblewoman’s palanquin
great reference for one here. The title of the print, top right, might refer to a woman by name with her attendants and bathers. Or it may refer to a well known story of the time.

With a bit more delving I hope to find out more!

Postscript 20 June 2017
While watching an excellent programme about Japan on TV last night, I was inspired to search on google for more information about the 'Horoshige' print. I know that the image must be part of a triptych and depicts people watching fireworks of Ryogoku Bridge. To my surprise in google images I spotted this!

Enjoying the evening cool with fireworks, Ryogoku Bridge (Ryogoku noryo ohanabi)

Utagawa Hiroshige
Japanese, 1797-1858
Yamadaya Shojiro, publisher
Enjoying the evening cool with fireworks, Ryogoku Bridge (Ryogoku noryo ohanabi), 1847-1852
Polychrome woodblock print
Plate: 37.3 x 24.3 cm (14 11/16 x 9 9/16 inches)
Gift of Marshall H. Gould 46.293.11B

So the mystery is solved, I have one third of a  Utagawa Hiroshige's triptych

Corn circles

A performance art event by the under-gardeners
inspired by Andy Goldsworthy . . .

Featuring Phoebe, Ruby, Sylvie, Saffron and Ginger
(Nutmeg was too shy to take part)

Monday 8 December 2008

All sparkly

This was the view from our bedroom window on Sunday morning . . .

. . . you've probably already realized we weren't at home, this is the view from the top floor of the swanky new hotel which opened a few weeks ago on the seafront in Southport. This was a fleeting visit and sadly I didn't get time to explore Liverpool, but just north of the city, the resort of Southport is continuing it's reputation for style into the 21st century and it was sparkling with Christmas lights and glittering with a -7C frosting!

I knew that 'dressing up smart' can be interpreted in different ways and had memories of feeling very under-dressed when eating out at an Italian restaurant near Wakefield last year, so I made a big effort and wore my new boots (which actually have heels!) and my posh silk top I'd been persuaded to buy in Ladytron in Saffron Walden (dammit, that guy always recommends clothes I'd never take off the rail and they always look spectacular when I put them on). I'd even chopped 25cm off the bottom of a skirt so I could show off the buckles on the sides of my new boots.

So we stepped out of the lift intending to saunter into the bar and peruse the hotel restaurant menu, to be faced with a crowd of glittering gowns accompanied by blokes in DJs! We were the only people in the hotel NOT wearing black tie and full evening sparkle and there wasn't even an 'event' on in the hotel. We stepped back into the lift and pressed the button for pavement level, even there we felt dowdy as couples swept past on their way to parties. We found an Indian Restaurant in a road just off the renowned Lord Street (this street is sign-posted miles away in Ormskirk!) with it's Edwardian covered pavements, vast stone obelisk and grandiose architecture – rumour has it Napoleon III was dead impressed too, so much that he decided Paris needed a 'Lord Street Southport' too; Paris got one, it's called the Avenue des Champs Élysées. So if it's 'sparkly' you crave, go to Southport.

Wednesday 3 December 2008

Winter sun

We haven't had snow, just icy sleet and freezing grey fog. So today's sunshine felt like a surprise gift. There's nothing like winter sun to lift the spirits; the temperature may still be 3C but the world is transformed, the subtle colours of winter sing out against the clean blue of the sky. I marched out across the fields at lunchtime with the grasses crackling under my boots to take some photos. This was my favourite – the spiky dry Teasel heads among the pale ochre dry grasses and the purpley, greeny, browny hedges and woods on the horizon.

Working in the studio late this afternoon I noticed that the setting sun was illuminating the giant Miscanthus grass just outside the studio window, I grabbed the camera and dashed outside to try to capture the burnished colours . . .

Also glowing in the fading sunset were the Dogwood 'Midwinter Fire' and the skeletal framework of the Hazel archway.

The under-gardeners had eaten their fill of mixed corn and were promenading around the icy pond before retiring for the night. That's Ginger camouflaged behind the iris leaves, safely out of pecking reach from the senior hens!

Tuesday 2 December 2008

Saffron Walden Arts Fair 2008

If you couldn't get along to the Arts Fair at the
weekend, you can see what you missed by looking at
Gordon Ridgewell's photo's of all the exbitors here

Thank you Jill for keeping us all in order!
We'll be back next year!

Monday 1 December 2008

Come on the 'Stutes!!!!

I'm not not a big fan of football, occasionally it's diplomatic to 'support' Liverpool because I'm married to a Liverpudlian, apart from that I rarely watch a match on TV. BUT had I not been behind my stall at the Saffron Walden Arts Fair yesterday, I would have been watching 'THE MATCH' on the telly yesterday afternoon. I'm talking about the FA Cup second round match between Histon FC and Leeds United. If you were around in the 1970s and took a vague interest in sport you will know the mighty Leeds United - not quite what they were but still a force to be reckoned with. But Histon . . . "who? what? where?" you are probably asking, is a village just west of Cambridge with a football team which has been climbing up through the lower rungs of the English football league tables and is riding on a wave of local pride.

A phone call to a neighbouring stallholder spread the news round Saffron Walden Town Hall like wildfire - Histon 1 - Leeds 0. Smiles all round and fists punched the air, we forgot that we were a bit chilly and that punters had dwindled during the usual lunchtime lull. Well done the 'Stutes (short for Histon Institute) this was the most exciting day in Histon's history since Mr Chivers opened his jam factory. I loved the poetic match report in The Times today. The village can keep the flags up alongside the tinsel and Christmas lights – the next round is also at home against Swansea City in the new year.

So why do I support Histon ? . . .

This is a picture of the Histon Branch of the Co-op in about 1930. The man on the far right wearing a long white apron is the grocery manager Kitchener Hart, my paternal grandfather, he set up home in Histon after he married. The shop looks fabulous - look at the window displays!

These rather serious portraits were probably taken just after his engagement to my Grandma. I wonder what the badge is that he's wearing? Sadly Kitchener died aged only 35 from infection after appendicitis. My Grandma never remarried; her neice still lives in Histon.

Postscript: After a few minutes searching on the web I found this medal (above right) on the Red Cross website, it looks very similar to the one Kitchener is wearing in the photo (above left). The discription reads:

British red cross society
County/Branch badge

Instituted: 1911
Discontinued: 1956

These badges were awarded to officers and members of any Branches of the British Red Cross or its voluntary aid detachments (including Overseas Branches) while a connection with the Branch was maintained.

The badges are worn on the left side with either uniform or civilian dress.

There is more about the work of the 'Voluntary Aid Detachments' or VADS here.

Wednesday 26 November 2008

To do today . . .

1. Write a checklist of things I must not forget to take to the Saffron Walden Arts Fair on Friday.

2. Write a list of prices of all the things on my stall.

3. Write a list of things to do before Friday.

4. Make the Christmas cake*.

* I intended to make the Christmas Cake at the weekend, there was a delicious sounding recipe in the newspaper the other week. I'd bought all the fruit and spices from Daily Bread and appropriately on Stir-up Sunday** I weighed out all the fruit as discribed in step one of the instructions. Step two was "leave for a minimum of two days" . . . oh! So I changed that to read: "add to Wednesday's 'to do' list". The cake is now in the oven, and as my cake tin is slightly smaller than the one recommended in the instructions, the mixture has already risen right to the top of the tin! The uncooked mixture tasted divine :)

**Stir-up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people;
that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works,
may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The collect for the last Sunday before Advent in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer

Thursday 20 November 2008

Ring out the bells for St Edmund

Today, November 20th, is St Edmund's Day. I'm listening to BBC Radio Suffolk this morning in my studio, and apparently Suffolk is ringing out the bells from steeples all over the county for our patron saint. If the wind's in the right direction I might hear distant peals, but the bells in the tower I can see from the window have long been silent.

The Martyrdom of St Edmund by Brian Whelan
which hangs in St Edmundsbury Cathedral

Edmund ruled East Anglia between 855 and 869, during a period we used to call 'The Dark Ages' and skip over in the history books, but we now know it was a time of great creativity, trade and culture which were shared across Europe; as well as a time when Kings and Queens vied for power. In the 9th century Danish raiders attacked East Anglia, there were horrific massacres and the rulers of the various English kingdoms tried to defend their lands. Edmund king of the East Angles probably died in one of the battles, but a more interesting version of his death turned him into a Christian martyr. The story said that during one raid Edmund hid under a bridge, but his shining golden spurs reflected in the water below and he was captured. The Danes (or Vikings as we used to refer to them) tied Edmund to an oak tree and fired arrows into him so he resembled a hedgehog. They then cut off his head and threw it into the woods.

The story gets more fabulous in the next episode . . . Edmund's friends came looking for him and heard something calling "hic, hic" (you all knew that means 'he is here' in latin, didn't you!) and they found a wolf protecting Edmund's head between her paws! There's more – when they reunited Edmund's head with his body it welded together with just a faint red scar – must be a saint then! The king's body was buried in a monastery in a small town called Bedericesworth, pilgrims traveled from far and wide to visit his shrine and began to call the place 'St Edmund's Bury' (a nice little earner for the abbey church and the inn-keepers).

My first task today is to do my bit for the community in this far corner of St Edmund's realm – wearing my 'Editor's hat' I'm completing the pages, and sending the file to be printed, for the bumper Christmas and New Year edition of our village's magazine. After that I have to make sure that everything is ready for my stall at Saturday's Christmas Bazaar in the local Village Hall.

Friday 14 November 2008

The archers

Dum-dee-dum-dee-dum-dee-dum . . . "Er, hello Ruth, that sheep's looking a bit off colour if you ask me." "Oooooh noooo, Bert" . . .

NO NO NO !!!! Not those Archers, I'm talking about this sort of archer . . .

The Luttrell Psalter (Brit. Library), c. 1325-1335

or to be precise, THESE archers . . .

The huge Yew tree just outside my studio door has been admired by many visitors, not least those whose hobby is archery. One visitor to my studio last July was convinced the tree must have been especially coppiced to grow bow wood – I'm not sure whether this can be true, but there's no doubt it's got some long straight branches and that's just what a bow maker needs. So when we obtained planning permission to have some branches trimmed from various trees in the garden some long-bow enthusiasts were able to have one of the long, dead-straight branches for bow making.

This Yew tree is like a cage of giant poles surrounding its ancient stump. The experience of climbing up within the tree will probably give the tree surgeon nightmares of being trapped in a wooden cage and being swallowed by the Druid's tree – hope he doesn't have cheese for supper.

The branch was carefully extracted in 3.5 metre sections between large knots. Now the wood needs to season for three years before work can start on the bows – a long term project, you can't just knock up a bow in five minutes! I've requested an archery lesson using a long-bow made from our Yew wood – in 2012!

Wednesday 12 November 2008

Peck! . . . you've been tagged

Phoebe used to be bottom of the pecking order among the under-gardeners, she is now revelling in the fact that there are three young, naive pullets for her to put into line – and she can peck all three of them! She supervises meal times like a strict governess and makes sure 'The Spices' don't eat until the second sitting. She chaperones their walks around the garden and watches them with her beady eye. Sometimes she becomes 'missile-hen' and in a blur of beak and feathers homes in on one of 'The Spices' to give her a sharp peck. Things are calming down a little each day, but who can blame Phoebe, she's had life-time of being bullied and knowing her place. She has endured Bumblefoot and had the misfortune to have a thin-shelled egg break inside her (something she was lucky to survive).
Then she moulted – two months ago she looked like this . . .

. . . now she's a girl with a brand new frock and a new job, you go girl!

Peck! – you're it!

I've been tagged by not one but two bloggers! Thank you Nan (and furry friends) and Karen. And not only that, Brenda has presented me with an award – Brilliante Weblog Premio 2008. Thank you! I accept the award, it's a huge thrill that PPPs inspires you!

Now I'm supposed to list 7 random things about me in no particular order:
1) I like mushy peas
2) I like to walk across the fields humming The Lark Ascending to myself
3) I think Jools Holland is a national treasure
4) I can happily listen to Test Match Special on my little personal radio while I'm gardening without knowing the score
5) I love the smell of Angelica
6) I love Autumn – my favourite hedgerow colours are Field Maple leaves and Spindle berries
7) I listen to The Archers

I tag and award anyone who is listed on my 'blogs I love to read list'

I'm supposed to post the rules and let you all know and stuff, but I'm doing some illustration corrections this morning and then printing the designs for new Christmas cards – so if you find you've been pecked, I mean tagged, then play along if you fancy – no obligation.


Friday 7 November 2008


For the past two days I've been working in my studio to the accompaniment of the whine of chain saws and the grind of shredders – the local tree surgeon has been working on some of the trees in our garden. Two large side branches have been removed from the huge Yew tree in our courtyard, you'd hardly notice because the tree still looks majestic, but there are two large log piles under the tree. Among the logs I found this beautiful disk of Yew wood – my Dad was a joiner so I have a thing about wood. I brought it into the studio to count the tree rings: 105, that's back to 1903.

This year is the 90th anniversary of the Armistice after the World War I, not many years ago there was talk of Poppy Day dying out, despite recent conflicts it seemed irrelevant to most young people. For many reasons the 90th anniversary seems to have a resonance as it never had before.

Here's just one remembered story traced across the tree rings . . .

c. 1908
a boy (left) helped in the fields cutting flowers for market

war broke out and his brothers went to fight

at home with his sisters he helped
his widowed mother in her grocery shop

c. 1916
he too joined the regiment and went to war

he saw things in Belgium and France he
chose to keep unsaid

he was lucky, he came home

he married a young school teacher

they grew flowers and fruit
they worked hard and lived through another war

they were my Grandparents

(and yes, that's me looking very thoughtful c. 1963)

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Some beans

I hope you enjoyed watching that clip from Blackadder II. I hunted it out, not just to see Rowan Atkinson with a beard and wearing a rather gorgeous black leather doublet (although that was quite a treat) but to introduce these . . .

top left:
Mrs Fortune's (thank you Rebsie for the seed swap) you can read a thorough review of this bean here. The mature beans (fresh and dried) have a deliciously full flavour and great meaty texture – definitely one to grow for casseroles and vegetarian recipes.

top right:
Negritos this was my 'lucky dip' packet from the Heritage Seed Library this year. From the name and the appearance I assume it's a Mexican turtle bean. I tried the green pods and they were OK but not special, I haven't tried cooking the beans – they deserve a good Mexican recipe I think – any ideas?

Vermont Cranberry another HSL acquisition, I saved seed from 2007. I like the idea of this American Heirloom borlotti-style bean – the pale creamy green and red streaked mature pods and the beautiful cranberry red dried beans, but it hasn't been productive in my garden. It probably needs a nice open position and sun and as it's a low growing dwarf variety it has suffered in the dull damp summers of 2007 and 2008 with rampant chickweed competing with it too. I'll plant the few beans I have next year and give them another chance, I don't know why I'm persisting with it, I think I'm seduced by the name!

bottom left: San Antonio (spot the little monks!) these were one of my selected packets from the HSL this year. I'm saving the seed to grow more in 2009, the pods were huge and I like the look of the beans. I've just cooked a few San Antonio mature fresh beans (with the Poletschka beans which had split skins and wouldn't be good for storing) they have a silky smooth texture and pleasant delicate flavour; good for purees maybe and they might be nice as a salad bean flavoured with herbs and a good olive oil.

bottom right: Poletschka home saved seeds from originals from the HSL a few years ago, these are a Ukrainian variety and they do fantastically well in my garden. I've discovered that the mature beans (fresh or dried) are better than the green pods for flavour – and they are delicious. Sadly the amazing indigo colour disappears when they are cooked, they become pinky brown, but the flavour and texture are excellent!

Friday 31 October 2008

The squash report (part 2)

I ALMOST!!! made a Hallowe'en lantern out of our big orange coloured Squash. But then I came to my senses and realised that I wanted as much of the flesh as possible to use in soups and other warming autumn suppers. This Squash shouted "I am full of dense deep nutty orange gorgeousness!"

So last night I stabbed our biggest carving knife into it and sliced it clean in two. I scooped out the pithy flesh and seeds and put the two hemispheres, cut sides down, onto a large baking tray and popped them in the oven. (I did try to take photos of the uncooked stage but they came out rubbish!)

While I was busy making pork meatballs flavoured with sage and chili from the greenhouse, the Squash was busy in the oven turning into this . . .

. . . and inside was loads of the richest, densest, tastiest Squash flesh . . . mmmmmmmm!

After supper there was lots and lots left – we're not that piggy! Three generous bags have been put into the freezer, the rest is in the fridge ready for my lunch today (with a couple of the meatballs in a pitta bread), for supper tonight (not sure how it will be served yet) and for soup for lunch tomorrow. Seeds saved for growing more next year.

Tuesday 28 October 2008

Introductions . . .




(The Spice Girls)