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.

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)

Sunday 26 October 2008

Well . . . hello! (200th post)

Three days after starting this blog we collected our four new hens from Kirsty of Hens4Homes, the under-gardeners (Ruby, Sylvie, Phoebe and the much missed Dawn), have delighted us and their many admirers ever since. Our garden, and the deluxe hen-house they live in, is big enough to accommodate more than just three birds, so I've been looking around for junior under-gardeners to join the team.

On Saturday we returned to Hens4Homes to select three birds from Kirsty's beautiful 17 week old 'Heritage Skylines' – that's a very naff name for a hybrid based on the Crested Cream Legbar. A melange of Brown Leghorn (Italian), Barred Rock (North American) and Araucana (South American). With that mix they can definitely strut their stuff!

It's been rainy and dull all day so it's been tricky taking decent pictures – but you can see their smart hair-dos!

And their super-model posture!

Over the next week or so I'll gradually introduce them to the senior under-gardeners and they'll move into the hen-house. There will be feather pulling and girlie fights before the 'pecking-order becomes re-established. Phoebe is so looking forward to not being bottom of the pile – she's already had first peck of a junior under-gardener!

To celebrate my 200th post on Purple Podded Peas I'm inviting suggestions for names for our junior under-gardeners . . .
Come one all those lurking – say hello!

Wednesday 22 October 2008

Situations vacant

Brrrr! a frosty start to the day but the under-gardeners are already busy. There's so much to do in the garden this autumn. The mild yet excessively wet summer has resulted in rampant borders and overgrown shrubs. There are plans to redesign parts of the garden so more help is needed . . .


To assist three senior under-gardeners
working in a walled garden in Suffolk.
Duties will include raking leaves, pest control,
trimming grass and compost turning.
No previous experience necessary –
a training programme and shared chalet-style
accommodation will be provided.
Applicants should be enthusiastic
and hard working.

Apply to Magic Cochin before Saturday 25th October.

Friday 17 October 2008

Name that veg

Another glorious sunny day and another chance for an outdoor photo shoot. This time I was taking photos of the painted garden labels I made last week. A trip to the local timber yard – a great place to shop with helpful staff who round down the price – and a few happy hours cutting and painting and I have a basket full of bright labels to cheer anyone's vegetable plot.

The tags feature scans of my 'Leaf Doodle' papers in different colours and space to write inside – all ready to go in the Christmas stocking. They will be for sale on my stall at the Christmas Bazaar in Withersfield and the Mayor's Appeal Arts Fair in Saffron Walden at the end of November . . . oh, and they're for sale in my Etsy shop too.

I've kept one of each colour for myself and written the names of some of my favourite vegetables on them so they are ready for next spring.

Thursday 16 October 2008

The squash report (part 1)

When I posted a photo of our 2008 squash harvest from the Three Sisters bed, someone asked if I could post photos of the insides of the squash. An excellent idea! Here are the two squash we have already cooked and eaten . . .

First is the long yellow squash, grown from saved seed from last year's 'Winter Festival' squash – a delightful prettily striped and spotted yellow green and white acorn shaped squash. At first I thought I had muddled up the plantlets and planted one of the 'Gold Rush' courgettes in the Three Sisters bed by mistake. But as the fruit developed I realised last year's 'Winter Festival' had cross pollinated with the closely related courgette and had produced a hybrid. We used one of the 'squourgettes' chopped up in the Picallili (a triumph!) and left the other to fully mature into a large dark yellow marrow shaped squash. I was concerned that it may be more courgette-like than squash-like and so it was the first to be taken to the kitchen . . .

. . . and here it is cut in half, oozing juices and a beautiful pale orange in colour!

I used half to make soup. I softened some chopped onion and a few chopped sage leaves in some olive oil and then added the roughly cubed squash flesh and some ground mixed peppercorns.

I then added some home-made chicken stock and simmered until the squash was tender. A quick whizz with the stick blender and we had a delicious light squash soup. There was a hint of cooked courgette flavour alongside the light nuttiness of the squash, the colour was a glorious sunshine gold – an excellent Saturday lunchtime soup. The remaining 'squourgette' was boiled until tender and served as a tasty side vegetable with the Sunday roast.

Now for the 'Marina di Chioggia', grown from seed saved from last year so maybe not quite true to the original. This isn't the most attractive of squash, being green and warty but the smooth texture and intense flavour of the flesh was my favourite of last year's harvest . . .

. . . here it is cut in half

Lack of sun this summer probably accounts for the flesh having a tinge of green rather than being deep golden orange, but nevertheleass a fine squash!

I made soup with half of the 'Marina di Chioggia', as above but using pheasant stock and thickening it by adding two broken up rice cakes (thank you Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall – top tip!) just before blending. The colour wouldn't win any prizes – a sludgy ochre – but shut your eyes and the flavour and texture was wonderful. With the remaining squash we mashed some with potato to top a Shepherd's Pie and roast the rest to accompany pork chops. The texture of the flesh is quite dry and would suit recipes needing a firmer flesh – risotto or gnochi maybe

We have another larger 'Marina di Chioggia' squash and the nameless giant orange one (earmarked for Hallowe'en) left. Recipe suggestions welcome!

Monday 13 October 2008

Autumn sunshine

Thank you for all your suggestions for recipes for our Saffron harvest. The one that tempted me most was Zoe's suggestion of Cornish Saffron Cake. I found a recipe on that wonderful blog Baking for Britain.

I'm afraid my efforts didn't live up to the brioche-like fluffiness of texture I was hoping for and eagle-eyed domestic goddesses will notice it's a tad under cooked, BUT it tastes pretty darned good with a nice cup of tea in the autumn sunshine in the garden.

I've just harvested more Saffron and there are at least three more flower buds emerging :-) There will be enough Saffron to try a savoury recipe too.

Thursday 9 October 2008

Hens, bears and angels

It was a perfect sunny day today – just right for taking photos of the tree decorations I've been making. They are linocut designs printed on some lovely Indian and Nepalese papers, I designed them last summer and they quickly sold out! This year they have the 'Leaf Doodle' paper on the reverse. They look lovely on a Christmas tree or a tree branch, and they looked great in sunshine in the garden – so they're not just for Christmas!

I'm selling them in packs of four different designs – each pack will have at least one angel, bear and hen plus one more. I had fun selecting the colours and designs that looked good together.

And here they are, all packed and labelled and for sale on Etsy.

Wednesday 8 October 2008

Growing gold

A few years ago I spotted a little bag of tiny crocus corms in the tourist information shop in Saffron WaldenCrocus sativus, the flower that gave it's name to this market town in north Essex. I bought them and planted the six tiny corms at the end of our asparagus bed.

Each autumn I wait for the tufts of crocus leaves to break through the soil like upturned green paint brushes. How many will be hiding a pale sheath from which a flower will emerge. and when it does will the slugs or birds see it before me!

Those firey dragon tongues are the prize, the reason why for over 3,000 years Saffron has been cultivated and the precious stigmas traded for untold riches. Golden cloth, exquisite illuminations, medicinal potions, culinary delights, sweetmeats . . . all gilded with the aromatic gold.

You will need a field of crocuses the size of two football pitches to collect one kilo of Saffron! In the supermarkets Spanish Saffron sold in those teeny weeny packets inside a glass jar, costs £2.50 for 0.4g!

A precious pinch of fragrant Saffron and more to harvest . . .
what shall I make?

Monday 6 October 2008

Tea time treats

On Saturday we met friends for lunch at The Dyke's End in Reach, the pub lived up to it's glowing recommendations. We wanted to try all the 'light lunches' on the menu – so we did! We ordered all six and shared them between the four of us and we had room for 'afters' – sticky date pudding with butterscotch sauce. The waitress probably spotted we might be 'trouble' when I was egged on to wear my birthday present . . . a Gisela Graham felt hen tea cosy.

Later in the afternoon we went to Anglesey Abbey to see the water mill. Although the mill was still open the millers were just packing up for the day, so we missed seeing the corn being ground, however we did buy some of the flour freshly milled from Hereward winter wheat grown on the Wimpole Estate south of Cambridge. The bag of flour came with a recipe leaflet, one in particular sounded especially delicious:

Patrick Anthony's Sultana & Pecan Nut Bread
This was demonstrated on 8th July 1996 in Anglia TV's live broadcast from Anglesey Abbey commenmorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of the 1st Lord Fairhaven. It also celebrated his rescue of Lode Watermill from dereliction, it's repair and landscaping. This recipe celebrated his American roots.

mix together in a large bowl:
400g wholemeal flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon mixed spice
75g sultanas
50g chopped pecan nuts
50g brown sugar

then add:
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 tablespoon honey
500ml buttermilk with 2 teaspoons of baking soda mixed into it.
(I used semi-skimmed milk as that's what I had at hand)

mix thoroughly and pour into an oiled loaf or cake tin
and bake at 180C for an hour

serve buttered

Even better, serve toasted and buttered with a nice cup of tea :-)

Saturday 4 October 2008

Cracking the code

I had set myself a date for when my life should be getting back to normal – 2nd October (easy to remember as it's my birthday). The hospital consultant told be to be careful but otherwise everything is fine and signed me off – hurray!!!! We celebrated with a meal at Alimentum in Cambridge, I can thoroughly recommend the Bramble cocktail (Plymough gin, blackberry liqueur, lemon juice and sugar served over crushed ice) Yummy! Clever fine dining isn't usually my scene, but my first visit to Alimentum last year dispelled my preconceptions as the food was simply great ingredients, beautifully cooked and stylishly presented. Things have now changed and the new head chef 's style is to make unfashionable cuts of meat look like works of art - cylindrical shapes predominated. The food was undoubtedly very good, but apart from the cocktail I didn't exclaim 'oooh that's delicious'.

So, as normal service on Purple Podded Peas has now resumed, I'll tell you about our day out yesterday . . .

If I were to ask you to imagine the 'National Museum of Computing' what would come to mind? Steel, concrete, a glass atrium, hi-tech lighting, lots of gadgets and buttons to press, crowds of excited young visitors . . .

. . . er, no!

Yes this is the building that houses the proud history of Britain's contribution to the invention of computers. Sadly we couldn't look at the more up to date exhibits because the elderly gentleman looking after the museum was on his own and could only keep an eye on half of the museum. It's fascinating and deserves better.

The National Museum of Computing is part of Bletchley Park, if you saw the film Enigma or read the book by Robert Harris, you'll know all about this amazing place. If you visit you get a year's pass for the entry fee, which is just as well because there's so much stuff on display and there's so much to to take in you'll need to go back for another visit.

The story of the people who worked at Bletchley Park during the war and how they managed to crack the codes is what makes this place so fascinating. Some of the best mathematical brains from Oxford and Cambridge universities were recruited, alongside those called up who had happened to admit to an interest doing the crossword puzzle at breakfast.

This contraption was called the Bombe, it was one of the vital code breaking devices built for cracking the coded messages sent by the Germans in WWII using an 'Enigma' machine.

And here's what it looks like inside – this is a working replica . . .

One of the foremost brains behind this was Alan Turing. Like all the others who worked at Bletchley Park his work was top secret until the truth about what went on at Bletchley was revealed in the 1970s. Tragically Alan Turing commited suicide in 1954, his homosexuality was considered a mental illness and a crime and to escape imprisonment he had undergone hormone treatment, his security clearance to enable him to continue his work on code breaking had been withdrawn.

Alan Turing is commemorated at Bletchley Park with an intriguing slate statue by John Herring.

Tips on saving fuel and money aren't new – the posters and information leaflets in the 'Home Front' exhibition had some tips that could be handy for all of us today! I love this useful advice about how to make a new frock out of two old ones, and you can make a pair of knickers out of the leftover material!

Wednesday 1 October 2008

Sunny delight

This is our 2008 squash harvest from The Three Sisters bed (not a bumber crop). What will the giant yellow 'squarrow' be like inside? We'll try this one first.
The other three will provide lots of lovely nutty squash for risottos, mash, soup, muffins . . . what's your favourite squash recipe?