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.

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!