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.

Tuesday 30 June 2009

Berry shades

Luscious reds, purples and pinks on lips, cushions and frocks

– and in my garden . . .

And there are berry shades wherever you look this year – Sweetpeas,

lovely to keep cutting every day and filling all my favourite pottery jugs

Even the spuds want to be purple – 'Edzell Blue'

That's as spectacular as those spuds get – I was seduced by the colour again. I forgot that a) I'd grown them before and they were rubbish; and b) Rebsie's review wasn't that enthusiastic about their culinary qualities either. I decided to use Fiona's recipe, in the hope some of the colour would remain – it didn't. They took ages to cook, frustratingly delaying our supper; and they didn't even taste like new potatoes :-) If anyone can suggest a recipe for small very floury potatoes, I'd love to hear from you.

And, before I go, there are a few hours left for you to enter the opening of my online gallery prize draw. Just leave a comment in the guestbook (lots of you have already done so – thank you so much) and tomorrow I'll draw a name from the hat to receive a selection pack of my cards.

Entry for the raffle is now closed - the draw will be made shortly, with the help of my glamorous assistants . . .

Sunday 28 June 2009

Didn't we have a luv-er-ly time!

A light shower got everyone in the mood for defying the weather and enjoying our village fete, whatever the English weather was going to throw at us . . .

Defeated by our defiance the showers went on their way and the sun shone for the rest of the afternoon – Hurrah!

The sausages were sizzling . . .

Hilary and I had spent hours setting up a plant stall to be proud of . . .

There were mini-muffins containing a mystery ingredient* . . .

And games and competitions requiring skill and accuracy . . .

The book stall spotted a money making opportunity which would have made Mary pround . . .

Of course there was tea and cake . . .

And a band to get our toes tapping . . .

And afterwards? – everything's now packed up and the pennies and pounds counted; until we do it all again next year. Right now I want to put my feet up and have a snooze :-)

* answer: frozen mashed potato

Friday 26 June 2009

The fate of the fete

Tomorrow afternoon is the Village Fete in our village – tents are being erected, bric-a-brac sorted, cakes have been baked, plants have been potted up, games dusted down and bean bags/balls/bowls/darts located, the band has been booked and the archery club persuaded to come along, balloons are being inflated, bunting untwiddled . . .

But will it be sunny?

Now, that is the big question! The weather is the wild card in any outdoor summer event in England, our weather is so unpredictable. We're assured that forecasting is getting more accurate, but that just means that people might stay at home only to realise, too late, that it was sunny anyway! It's best to be relaxed about it and hey! if it rains, just put on your mac and wellies and carry on having fun. Don't get too serious about the forecast, as BBC weatherman Tomasz Schafernaker demonstrated beautifully yesterday.

So, wherever you are this weekend, and whatever the weather, have fun.

I'll be back after the fete :-)

Thursday 25 June 2009

Pea progress

When I check the hit counter I sometimes notice that some visitors to PPPs stumble into my blog after googling 'peas purple podded ', obviously wanting horticultural information . . .

so whether you're here for the peas or for another reason, this afternoon we're talking peas in all their glory.

I've just taken a tea-break after spending the afternoon baking sponge cakes for the village fete (one cake is sort of fun, more than two in one afternoon is so tedious, I've got no chance of being the Queen of Cakes, – how does she do it?). I wandered out to the vegetable garden where the high red-brick wall shades half the plot in the afternoon, it's here that this year I'm growing the peas – ten varieties on five rustic arches over the side paths between the raised beds.

I've noticed that other English veg-garden bloggers are well into their pea harvests, mine are just coming into pod – the result of growing them in semi-shade. The up-side is that they haven't needed watering even though we've had some scorching weather already this spring. Here are my 'original' PPPs - the first 'Purple Podded Pea' that I grew and it always puts on a show . . .

This year it's sharing an arch support with 'Golden Sweet'. I first grew this pea four years ago from seed obtained from the Heritage Seed Library. It didn't do well, getting shaded out by neighbouring crops. But the next year I found one little self-seeded pea plant among the broad beans and it had pretty golden pods. I carefully saved the seed and planted them last year, only to have snails munch through most of them in last year's dull, damp summer. In the autumn the weather improved and I was able to save a good quantity of seed. At long last I can see why Daughter of the Soil gave them such a glowing report.

One of my favourite peas from last year is 'Victorian Purple Podded', it doesn't get top marks for flavour or texture but it's an elegant looking pea – here is a close up of one of the flowers . . .

Each year I try to grow some pea varieties I haven't tried before, this one is 'Tutankhamun' – one of my selected seeds from the HSL this year. This pea is said to have originated from the gardens at Highclere in Berkshire owned by Lord Carnarvon; the very chap who financed Howard Carter's discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb. Allegedly Carter and Carnarvon found some dried peas among the artifacts in the tomb . . . could these be the descendants of the peas from the tomb? Who knows! but it's a nice tale and they're nice looking peas with lovely white flowers, a good contrast to all the pink and purple flowers on the PPPs.

Here's another newbie in my garden – 'Carlin', a seed swap with a fellow pea-enthusiast over on the Suffolk coast. Mmmmmmm?! not sure this one's going to win me over with its looks, it's a thumping big pea plant which has already engulfed it's side of the eight foot high arch and is only just showing the first flower. But, I'm not being put off by it's less than dainty appearance, this pea has pedigree – it's history in the north-east of England goes back to 1644 when Newcastle was under siege from the Scots, the townsfolk were at the point of starvation when a Dutch ship evaded the blockade and reached the port – it was laden with dried peas, hurrah!!! Similar peas were probably common fare in monastery gardens throughout the middle ages. Up there in Tyneside, the Sunday before Palm Sunday is known as Carlin Sunday and the traditional plat du jour is Carlin Peas, served with salt and pepper, brown sugar and vinegar or rum (!?). We'll have to give it a try!

Wait a minute . . . what's that in the stripy shadows under the artichoke leaves . . .

Monday 22 June 2009

Mug Monday

The other day acornmoon suggested sharing a picture of a favourite mug for her Mug Monday posting.

This is the mug my tea is in today, it's the latest addition to our collection of Emma Bridgewater 'Bird' mugs – the Yellowhammer. We're gathering quite a collection – useful when friends call in for a cuppa "Remember which bird is yours" we say, when we take the tray round for refills. The latest designs have interesting facts about the bird on the bottom of the mug (just don't look while it's still full of hot tea!) . . .

The ferocious shaving of
the winter grasses at
the base of hedgerows
robs the brightly coloured
Yellowhammer of its nesting
sites. They can manage a
second brood higher up in the
hedge when the leaves afford
protection from predators.

I hope that the current farming practice of leaving wide grassy headlands between the hedge and the crop will help Yellowhammers and other farmland birds to thrive in the English countryside.

The photo should give you a clue to the Yellowhammer's distinctive song

A little bit of bread and no cheeeeeeeee - eeese!

It's one of my favourite sounds when we walk the local footpaths – a little bright mustard yellow flash and flutter of feathers and the Yellowhammer moves along the hedgetop and settles on a the topmost twig . . .

A little bit of bread and no cheeeeeeeee - eeese!

And on the breadboard is the sourdough loaf I made at the weekend. Making sourdough is a labour of love, it's like owning a new pet – the soughdough starter needs to be fed and treated with TLC. After much reading of books and web sites I plumped for a recipe from Jamie Oliver's book Happy Days with the Naked Chef, I decided that if Jamie and his mate had experimented until they had the best recipe it was good enough for me. I was also glad that somewhere along the way I'd read that the first loaf isn't the best and it's when you get past loaf number four that things fall into place and you get a loaf to be proud of. We ate our first loaf on our picnic last month, "What were those bread plates they used in medieval times called?" Cliff said after munching thoughtfully on the solid dark sour crust, "Trenchers" I eventually said when I'd finished chewing.

Well I hung on in there and look at that crumb . . . it's coming along nicely.

A little bit of bread and no cheeeeeeeee - eeese!

Saturday 20 June 2009

Have garden will cook

One of the first blogs I found was The Slow Cook – it's still a favourite for thought provoking articles and down to earth good sense and good recipes. I noticed the other day that PPPs is on The Slow Cook's list of links under the heading 'Have Garden Will Cook' – that sums me up pretty well, so I hope that Ed doesn't mind me nicking it as the title to this post.

I love to collect recipes that can be adapted to use whichever vegetable is in season in my garden, the other day on TV I saw Jamie Oliver cook a scrumptious looking filo pastry tart, he used asparagus but it seemed an ideal basic recipe that can be adapted to use other ingredients. This evening while the potatoes were cooking I picked some of the largest pods from the Crimson Flowered Broad Beans and the biggest mange touts from the Golden Sweet and Reuzensuiker Peas – these went straight into the steamer over the potatoes for a few minutes. I assembled the tart as in Jamie's recipe, arranging on the top the peas and broad beans instead of the asparagus. I used four eggs laid by the under-gardeners and semi-skimmed milk instead of double cream. As I was adding broad beans I added chopped summer savoury instead of the nutmeg.

This is rich and very filling, we ate it with a salad of mixed lettuce leaves freshly picked just before serving. There's more than enough leftover for tomorrow's lunch – ideal for a picnic I think!

Monday 15 June 2009

Park life

Like all big capital cities London can always surprise, however well you think you know your way around. Round corners and down paths you never explore are hidden parks and gardens, one weekend in June each year these breathing spaces in a bustling city are celebrated with Open Garden Squares Weekend. If, like us, you've never been along – put a note in your diary now (that's what I did last year).

London is huge and there are about 200 garden to choose from, so I recommend doing your homework by studying the website and planning a route before you set off. Early yesterday we drove into London, with a swarm of Lambrettas setting off for a Big Rideout as our out-riders and the sun shining North London seemed a smiley and happy place to be. We found a place to park in Regent's Park and set off to see our first garden

The Royal College of Physicians Medicinal Garden

We were lucky that a tour of the garden, with Dr Henry Oakley the Garden Fellow, was just about start – this made the visit fascinating. At first sight the garden is small – raised beds by the parking area and terraced beds by the main doors, a little lawn surrounded by borders; it also includes a series of eight tiny front gardens of the stylish Georgian terrace opposite and a modern courtyard; but there is something a bit different, so many different plants – in fact over 1000! And every plant is there because of it's medical connection, either it has been or still is of medical use or it is connected to an eminent physician. For instance the Oriental Plane tree in the photo is from a cutting taken from the tree on the Island of Cos under which Hippocrates taught his students. I'm sure Dr Oakley could talk at length about every single plant, he chose one or two from each area of the garden – still far to much to relate here! but the website has lots of information if you are interested. Like many of the gardens open at the weekend, you can arrange to visit and to have a tour.

That was such a good start to our day! We needed lunch after all that thinking, so we bought goodies in the Brunswick and set off to find a suitable picnic spot – we selected

Brunswick Square

This is a delightful little park laid out in 1795 was originally alongside the, now demolished, Foundling Hospital. The Friends of Brunswick Square were celebrating The Great Tree, one of London's oldest and most majestic London Plane trees, under which a trio of musicians played some suitably summery city jazz. Suitably refreshed we walked south to . . .

Queen Square

Another elegant little garden in a Georgian Square in Bloomsbury, this one has layers of history which could fill a book! Fanny Burney lived here when she wrote Evelina, William Morris's interior design company was located here with his workshop around the back. Air-raid shelters below the gardens kept 2000 people safe during World War II and many local residents are commemorated within the garden, including Sam the cat.

Some gardens only open after 2pm, so we took the opportunity to stretch our legs and walk down to the Embankment – from the shade of the trees beside the Thames we could see the sunny South Bank teeming with people enjoying the excitement of the city. We walked through the grand gates of

Middle Temple

This is one of the Inns of Court, I'm not sure if you're allowed to wander in this area of London during the working week if you're not a lawyer or a client, but I'd never ventured in before. It reminded me of the Cambridge colleges, a cloistered world with it's own traditions – neatly lettered names beside doors, 'Keep of the grass' signs. The roses were the colour of claret. We made our way along cobbled lanes and through courtyards where Dickensian clerks wouldn't have been out of place taking bundles of papers tied with red tape from the chambers of Filtchitt and Flummery. There were grand buildings

The Maughan Library and Garden

This was originally Clifford's Inn and is now part of King's College, London; beside the grand architecture is a small formal garden – a contemplative space for students. This was a brief stop on our way to

Lincoln's Inn

One of the City of London's historic Inns of Court, Lincoln's Inn's history goes back to before 1422. There are six gardens in among the historic buildings, in New square there is a delightfully splashy fountain designed by William Pye in 2004. It's hard to believe you're right in the centre of London, opposite Tate Modern, a stone's throw from The City; like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, you're in a parallel world. At the end of another wonderfully shady avenue of London Planes was this 'country cottage with roses round the door', no doubt the residence of a well heeled legal gent and his good wife.

The other great Inn of Court that we knew the name of but have never stepped foot within is

Gray's Inn

Sir Francis Bacon (a contemporary of Shakespeare), depicted here in the rather smart black statue surrounded by lavender and pink roses, was responsible for designing 'The Walks' as the Gray's Inn gardens are known.

Of course 'The Walks' are yet another avenue of London Planes, they maybe a clich̩ but the shade is most welcome when it's 'a scorcher' like yesterday. At the end of the avenue are two Indian Bean trees, they are old and collapsed on the lawn because they are 400 years old Рplanted as rooted cuttings by Bacon, a gift from his friend Sir Walter Raleigh, who'd brought them all the way from the new colony of Virginia in America.

I don't mind admitting that my feet ached! So when we emerged into Fleet Street we hailed a cab and enjoyed the ride back to Regent's Park – a surprisingly long way! So, definitely the right decision. We'll make a note on the calendar for next year, and explore another secret section of the city – want to join in?

On our way home we stopped at Alexandra Palace, North Londoners' favourite place to chill out, enjoy a 99 or a cold beer and look out over the city; to look at the skyline and remember visits before the Gherkin and Canary Wharf when the only high rise were The Post Office and Nat West towers; to people watch on the grassy slopes around our much loved old aunt of a building – Ally Pally. It's London's Sunday Afternoon in the Park with George. Click on the photo to enlarge it.

Thursday 11 June 2009

Going live . . .

I now have a new online gallery which links to my main web site – and it's just gone live – ta-dah!!!

It's early days - so I hope it all works as it should. If you sign the Guestbook during June your name will go into the hat for a little 'giveaway' to celebrate the opening of the online gallery – the lucky winner will receive a selection of cards from Magic Cochin at the beginning of July.

Wednesday 10 June 2009

A deluge wasn't going to stop me . . .

Aaaaah! that's more like it – a proper English June!

May was all very lovely – al fresco meals, too hot to garden, water butts empty already, wildlife pond shrunk to a puddle . . .

Not any more! This afternoon we had yet another massive downpour – the water butts are probably now overflowing! It was still pouring down, but I couldn't wait any longer – I got soaked, but we have home-grown Gariguette strawberries for 'afters' :-)

Thursday 4 June 2009

An urgent announcement . . .

by Saffron Spice:


I've laid an EGG!

Did you hear that? I've just laid an EGG!

I'll just say that again – AN EGG!!!

Wednesday 3 June 2009

Crop circle

The crop circle season has started – no, not that sort! I'm talking about our Three Sisters circular mound, which is now planted up and ready to grow, grow, grow!

Here's this year's plan:

Last year's Three Sisters taught me one major lesson – if you put the bean supports at the edge of the circle the rampant growth of the beans shade the sweetcorn (not a good thing especially in one of the dullest summers on record!). The result was massive leafy corn but only one descent sized cob.

This year the corn is in the outer ring with a tall slim wigwam of beans in the centre. In a mad moment I planted dwarf beans Negritos around the outer edge among the corn – A: because they haven't been planted anywhere else and there's not much space left; and B: because they're a Central American bean and I thought they'd get on well with the corn. All the beans have just been pushed into the ground, not germinated and planted out as little plants – an experiment, I've a hunch they'll do just as well if not better.

With apologies for the quality of the picture, this is the result . . .

This years 'Three Sisters' are;

Mrs Fortune's – green pods with purple streaks, reputed to have been a favourite in the vegetable gardens at Windsor Castle
Poletschka – a Ukrainian bean with beautiful indigo coloured beans
Negritos – a dwarf bean with slim green pods producing small black 'turtle beans'

Sweet Nugget and Royalty – both new varieties for me

Chicago Warted Hubbard – an American heirloom variety introduced in 1894, it has browny-orange wrinkled skin and fine-grained orange flesh (my selection from this year's Heritage Seed Library catalogue)
Dulce de Horno – a Spanish variety with green warty skin and very sweet yellow flesh used for desserts (I bought the seed when we were in La Palma)

I decided against growing the seed saved from previous year's home grown squash, they cross pollinate and it's hit and miss that they produce a good crop. Squash take up lots of room and I didn't want to gamble this year, so it's two new varieties – I'm looking forward to testing these :-)

Bean tops - what do you do with yours?

One of the bonuses of growing your own vegetables is that you can use all the edible parts of the plant instead of just the parts that are on offer in shops and on market stalls – salsify buds, beet tops, courgette and squash flowers . . .

and one of my favourite things, broad bean tops:

The Crimson-flowered Broad Beans are setting little pods and it's time to nip out the top cluster of leaves; I take them down to the topmost flower bud that's showing colour. Last night I picked a couple of handfuls of broad bean tops and steamed them over a pan of new potatoes (bought Jersey Royals, ours won't be ready for a few weeks), the broad bean tops are ready when they start to smell of beans. Take them off the steam and drain then.

I added the bean tops to an ovenproof pan in which I'd cooked chopped smoked bacon, onion, garlic and diced sweet red pepper. Sprinkle with chopped savoury (the perfect partner for any beans) and chive florets, make sure everything is spread evenly over the bottom of the pan. Scatter over broken up feta cheese, then add the eggs – I used five eggs and a splash of semi-skimmed milk beaten together – pour evenly into the pan and gently shake to get it mixed in. Bake in the oven until it smells delicious and looks golden and gorgeous, like this . . .

Served with a potato salad made with the Jersey Royals I cooked the broad bean tops over, mixed into plain yogurt with a spoonful of mayonnaise and lots of freshly picked and chopped Moroccan mint.