Great Aunty Dorothy’s Marrow & Ginger Jam

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Great Aunty Dorothy wasn’t my aunt but a cousin of my grandmother’s, as the most senior member of my Granny’s family, we (my brother and I), were told to refer to her as such. Dorothy was tiny and lived in an equally tiny 2 up 2 down cottage in Uckfield, Sussex, with lupins, roses and delphiniums in the front garden. No mod cons to be found, no bathroom, an outdoor loo covered in ivy and honeysuckle and water pumped from the well. In the mid 70’s in midsummer this place was just the best, a garden full of soft fruit to nibble on, a compost heap full of shed snake skins and beetles to captivate my brother and a riot of flowers in all colours as well as butterflies for me to marvel and chase. Dorothy shared the cottage with another elderly lady (name escapes me!) and they made the most fabulous teas. Pretty china laid out with 3 types of immaculate triangle sandwhiches, scones and a variety of cakes. They bottled and preserved everything from the garden including cordials and wines. But it was the marrow and ginger jam spread on to thick butter on to homemade malt loaf slices that was my favourite and reminds me of trips to Sussex usually after a day on the beach. Granny asked for the recipe and would make a batch each year and passed it on to me. My family love it with duck, ham, cold sausages and pork pies. It is the most requested Christmas gift, my sister in law was convinced it alleviated her morning sickness and there is always a harrumph when the last jar is finished.

So sweet or savoury whichever is your preference here it is ~

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Like most jams same weight of marrow to sugar. Dorothy’s recipe said 6lbs but my marrows peeled & deseeded weighed 3 lbs, so halved the recipe. Steam the cubed Marrow in steamer (or microwave) till soft, drain put in large bowl and add the grated peel and juice of 2 lemons and 3 lbs sugar. Leave covered for at least 8 hours, best left overnight. Do not skip this it just doesn’t turn out the same. Next day transfer to preserving pan, add either crystallised or dried ginger but I prefer fresh root ginger. I broke off a chunky piece as long as my thumb peeled and grated (don’t add the stringy flesh left on the grating side only the juicy flesh that’s come through the grater). Bring to boil and simmer to setting point stirring occasionally & pot up. Put away for 6 weeks for the flavours to develop.

Enjoy :-}

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Where Rustic Somerset Meets Cutting Edge Contemporary

I met Debra some 3+ years back along on a Tweet Up, a get together of Twitter account holders, when I was a property finder and we meet up now and then for coffee and a natter and art exhibitions.  Encouraging and supportive of my rather slow move towards writing and blogging about property and interiors, Debra invited me to her home:

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Sensitively converted, The Old Mill still looks every bit from a distance like a rustic working water mill, the olive trees and lavender squares in the gravelled front garden give a hint of an altogether more 21st Century interior.

Debra and Mark Finn left their Victorian terraced home in SE London for the watermill with 5 acres in a hamlet called Sea, near Ilminster in 2007, when their children Lorcan and Ariana were 3 years & 9 months old respectively. A place to watch and embrace the changing of the seasons as The Old Mill is set within open countryside with lovely views from all around. Rural but far from remote as minutes from town, yet peaceful enough for visits to the leat beside their home from herons, egrets and kingfishers!

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[Quite a contrast to Debra’s occupation as one half of Cavaliero Finn, contemporary art and design curators of affordable art, ranging from £20 to £3000. With her business partner Juliana Cavaliero, they run regular exhibtitions and an online gallery. The first exhibition over 10 years ago was financed through an entrepreneurial grant held in Dulwhich. Last year (October 2015) The Old Mill played host to their inaugural Somerset show including 20 artists and design-makers, many from the South West. Most recently, Cavaliero Finn curated After Parkinson , a sculptural response to the works of Norman Parkinson by Cavaliero Finn artists Kathy Dalwood and Alice Mara, held at the Union Club, Soho.]

Much to my surprise Debra told me I was also going to have a go at styling, I could choose which pictures I wanted hung where. This was great fun and brought out my bossy side directing picture and mirror changes as well as shuffling furniture. Amazing people get to do this as their day job, but as I discovered rather more to it than that, the camera finds what the eye doesn’t see. Hence the use by professionals of Polaroids, which would have highlighted, the stray flex, mobile phone in shot and the reflection of a body in the mirror – argh!! So a few wasted photos but a lot of fun and laughter had (a terrifying moment when the Gill Rocca slipped off its pin, deftly caught by Debra) and still plenty of images to show for our efforts.

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Perfectly Imperfect Stool by Galvin Brothers. Seen in the mirror, Anatomically Correct dining chair by Sam Edkins. Framed work by Gill Rocca

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Footstool by Sam Edkins, circular sculpture by Matthew Chambers

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Potato painting by Tony Beaver, Ali Miller UK Map tea set, My Last Duchess 2 – a series of 12 colourful paintings inspired by Goya by Kate Noble. Tea Cup chandelier by Madeleine Boulesteix.

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Hrisey 23.06 (large grey and yellow painting) by Catherine Knight

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Wallpaper, hand painted by Custhom, porcelain vessels on windowsill by Sophie Cook

The house is something of a tardis with huge rooms you wouldn’t think possible from the outside, 3 receptions: the impressive mill room, sitting room and massive playroom + large kitchen, utility and office, as well as 4 bedrooms, bathroom and en suite. You’d wonder then why Debra would want to leave such a wonderful showcase for her artist’s work? Now that their children are 10 and 13, schools have changed and both enjoy sailing club in Lyme, it makes sense to move closer to the coast and town where as teenagers they can gain more independence, and who knows may be a new gallery is on the horizon?

http://cavalierofinn.com/

http://www.rightmove.co.uk/property-for-sale/property-54673894.html

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We’ve landed in Dorset!

It’s been a blur getting the house market ready, the launch and first day of viewings [I even took my own advice in the blog I wrote in Nov ‘15 for Vendors preparing for each and every viewing] & first to view offered and accepted by that evening! Frenzied search for suitable rental as no time to buy and keep our buyers, all came good in the end with a dog friendly rental, with lots of footpaths and bridleways close by to explore and many more a short ride away in the car.

The first week was a sea of boxes and wrapping paper, the dogs took to lying on them in protest of our lack of attention in them (in their heads). I kept losing/not finding where I’d put things, that I wondered if I’d left my brains in Somerset. By the end of the second week it finally felt like home and I found my equanimity again, time to have fun in the most unusually glorious August sunshine, its been terrific weather since we’ve been here bar 2/3 days. Felt quite on holiday! Steve now has a 10 minute commute, he still leaves at 7am (crazy man!) but gets home in time to go on a long walk or trip to the beach each day ~ terrific!!! Lots been going on in the area too with open arts, festivals, carnivals and agricultural shows, even had the excuse to buy a new dress so I didn’t get seen wearing the same thing too often *yay*

I’ve barely had time to miss the old house and my beloved garden, only when I catch glimpses of dahlias in my social media timelines do I get a twinge in my tummy and recollect how splendid they were this time last year.

Anyway time marches on and the August honeymoon is about to end, I will embrace September and turning another year older and possibly think about work again…. well this is a start!

Its June and the hedgerows are full of blousy elder flowers free for the picking for Elderflower Champagne!

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So much more interesting than cordial

 

Today is my daughter’s 23rd birthday and am remembering her 21st birthday (my how the last 2 years have whizzed by!), I made a vast amount of elder flower champagne (alcohol free) which went down very well with all including the non drivers. So I thought I’d share the recipe with you ~

Firstly for you horsey types to save on all those expensive sprays to keep the flies off your pony, tuck sprays of elder blooms into their bridles. Apart from deterring flies, the flowers are supposed to keep witches and evil influences at away, the last thing you need on a quiet hack, not sure it will prevent the terrifying crisp packet from blowing across your path, but I digress…

A large colander full of fat elder flower heads in full bloom, bug free & snipped from the stems

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1 ½ lbs white sugar

Juice and thinly peeled rind of 3 lemons

2 tablespoons of white wine/cider vinegar

4.5 litres of water, preferably spring water, to avoid the fluoride tainting the flavour, there’s so much sugar in it beyond the help of fluoride anyways!

Put everything into a large bowl, the sort you make the Christmas pudding in and steep for 48 hours in a cool place.

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Sterilise several flip top bottles and strain the liquid through a jelly bag or muslin cloth firstly into a clean jug then into the bottles, saves on wastage. It is very sticky if it gets splashed but delicious to lick when tidying up. Seal the bottles and put back in a cool dark place for at least 2 weeks after which it should be very fizzy. The fizz declines after a month or 2, but is still delicious if you mix with prosecco/cava to pep it up.

You can also

Mix with gin, sugar and lemon rind and steep for a couple of months, then strain and bottle for Christmas presents

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Dip the flowers in whisked egg white & then caster sugar and air dry to decorate puddings and cakes.                                                                                                                                                         Flavour your G&T with a sprig and slice of lemon, saves on expensive tonic.                               Dip in pancake batter and deep fry for delicious sweet treat dusted with icing sugar.

More fun to be had later in the year with the berries!

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All Change On The Hill

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Fifteen years seem to have whizzed by, but when I stop and think about what ALL we’ve crammed into those fifteen years: becoming a shepherdess (sorry John and Jane Vigar! Who came to my rescue on many occasions), the pursuit of the perfect pony (10 years of being a mAd woman!), transforming derelict hedgerows full of dead elm, planting 100s of trees, copses and whacky hazel snail spiral + gardening, gardening and gardening! Enjoying it all along the way with our friends and family. This has definitely been the most substantial chapter in my life, but now it is time for the next project.

My husband has been offered a partnership in Bridport, too far to commute indefinitely, the time is right with our youngest off to uni in the autumn and the house and land are too big for just us and 2 pointers.

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Have just read through my first blog giving advice to vendors about preparing for each and every viewing, am scanning my home with new eyes, fortunately as neither a fan of the selfie or nudes [seen too many in my property search years], there are none of Mrs Vendor to be removed!

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Anyway prepare yourself for blogs about house search/sale and new beginnings post 50, we’re still spring chickens!

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Visit gardens in winter and early spring for behind the scenes inspiration

 

P1050217I’ve always been potty about growing plants since I was a little girl. Starting with sunflowers and indoor hyacinths when about 5/6 and then being given a small patch to grow annuals and courgettes when I was about 10, in my teens I also grew sweet peas and tomatoes. I had my first garden at 22, a small strip on the back of a Victorian terraced house with larch lap fencing, a lawn and patio. It was all straight lines with borders to the side where I grew foxgloves, larkspur, nigella and cornflowers and veg at the bottom, very pretty in summer but bare earth and stark in winter. My grandmother gave me RHS membership that first Christmas (clever lady) as we lived near Wisley Gardens, my eyes were opened! I quickly realised the importance of creating year round interest with evergreens, interesting bark colours, winter flowering shrubs and climbers, bulbs followed by herbaceous perennials. Becoming a mummy and moving to our next house with a large overgrown jungle, I designed a garden without straight lines! Still regularly visiting Wisley for inspiration and conveniently, exhausting lively toddlers in pursuit of ducks at the same time. Moving to Somerset in 2001 I was delighted to discover so many beautiful gardens open to the public within 30-40 minutes of home: Lytes Cary, Montacute, Barrington Court, Hestercombe, Bishops Palace Gardens, East Lambrook Manor Gardens, Cothay Manor and Forde Abbey.   So much inspiration!

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I visited Forde Abbey the other day, a gloriously sunny March morning, I was immediately struck by the contrast of the golden glowing ham stone and the huge green yew topiary forms and hedges. The lawns were bursting with swathes of crocus and narcissus, but what caught my eye was the way the shrub roses had been trained in the long borders and park garden, rather than pruning as an upright shrub, the new vigorous arching stems that you would normally prune back to shape, are bent and tied down on to coppiced hazel hoops. This allows one rose to cover a much greater area and encourages the tied stems to generate lots of buds, creating many more flowers than the traditionally pruned rose. I’d admired the flower display last summer and assumed wrongly that there were a group planting of several of the same rose, now I could see it was just the one rose ~ genius! Beneath the roses, tulips breaking through the soil, the tulips flower, then the roses take over as the tulips die down.

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On a previous visit to Forde Abbey last summer, I had admired a spotted laurel smothered in a beautiful purple clematis, I wondered if it was accidental, had it escaped from its intended frame? No it was intentional, here in March I found the laurel and behind it the shoots of the clematis being directed into the shrub with canes.

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Inspired I’ve purchased clematis EtoilleViolette and coppiced hazel rods, watch this space….

When you move to the countryside you might encounter the occasional uninvited guest… and I don’t mean the human ones!

 

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When we moved to the hill in Somerset 15 years ago, we discovered in our excitement on arrival 2 sitting tenants. Not totally unwelcome, I’d always wanted a horse or pony of my own and here were a chestnut cob mare with flaxen mane and tail + a thoroughbred bay mare. I didn’t know whether to clap or cry! My husband marched off to call the solicitor and I followed, but was quickly distracted by the removals men wanting to know where to off load which boxes where. The largest sofa had to come through the French windows and just as the removals men positioned it a young blonde woman [v slim, long legged, clad in jodhpurs and black knee length riding boots] appeared through them. Well the removals men and my husband were all struck dumb, eyes on stalks “Hello I’m Christina I’ve come to apologise about the horses and introduce myself I’m your neighbour”. Turns out Christina lived with her parents and her sister next door and their move to Exeter had been delayed hence the ponies in the stables. The lovely Christina and her equally lovely sister Catherine got us hooked on horses in the 3 months they were here, even giving my older two (7 & 11) lessons. This is where the rot set in according to my husband, who himself became a passionate equine enthusiast, and would often be off somewhere on the levels when I woke up of a weekend morning, on my bay roan gelding Oz. I’ll leave further details of our horsey sagas to another time, you couldn’t make it up!!

Aside from horsey squatters there are a vast number of welcome and not so welcome to downright unwelcome critters who decide your abode is decidedly dezrez…

The Welcome Visitors:

Swallows, swifts and house martins ~ the bats of the day,  herald warmer weather appearing in April/May, huge aeriel exhibitionists, they also like to congregate on telephone lines and chat to each other! They do occasionally make nests where you might prefer they didn’t – the house martin will nest under balconies, eaves and cornices, and swallows prefer outbuildings, swifts nest in holes in buildings rarely visible. It is illegal to destroy their nests, the little bit of mess is worth it for their company and antics, as well as watching their young fledge.

Bats ~ there’s nothing more pleasurable of a warm summers evening where there’s just enough natural light at dusk , to watch them emerge from under roof tiles and trees and flit & fly. Night scented shrubs and plants like the honeysuckle attracts the moths, which in turn attracts the bats. They do not suck blood, are not vermin and not a health hazard and it is illegal to disturb their roosts.

Snakes & slow worms ~ non venomous grass snake and slow worms love the heat and great care must be taken when turning the compost heap as I discovered. I’d re-sited several slow worms to the next heap, thought was safe to fork the compost into the barrow and the worst happened, out came the fork with the grass snake impaled on the spikes! Initially I yelped a girly scream of surprise followed by profuse and concerned apologies as I tried to extract the poor thing without it biting me. I tried easing it off with my gloved hands but it kept writhing, I finally prised it off and it wriggled slowly and ungracefully, like a cartoon snake, concetinaring off into the undergrowth. I was mortified, but relieved a few weeks later, when I found the shed skin of a similar sized snake with two holes in it! Slow worms are slow (till you pick them up!) and tend to get run over or teased by dogs and cats, so keep an eye out for them and transfer to denser planting where they’ll be safe, be warned they really wriggle when you pick them up. They usually appear from small holes round the garden and crevices amongst stones. Both are a gardener’s friend eating slugs and snails, so try to avoid slug pellets and weed killing sprays. Adders prefer heath land, moors, marshes and grassland rather than domesticated land and are very shy, so unlikely to be found in your garden.

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The Not So Welcome Visitors:

Squirrels ~ usually build drays in trees, but occasionally decide four walls and a roof is preferable. They can make a lot of noise in the roof and chew through cables. We have 2 pairs that have taken over our party barn ( just the one pair previous years), one in each corner at the top of the wall, a pile of moss, leaves, grass and my dried flowers gathered and made into drays. I wouldn’t mind so terribly but they trashed the rest of the bundles of flowers I had had hanging to dry and appear to have deep seated hatred of bunting! Along each beam and down the sides of the barn we had hung several sets of bunting and a few strands of fairy lights. All but one of the bunting have been thoroughly vandalised beyond any aesthetic repair and one of the fairy lights has fallen foul, chewed at both ends. Evicting squirrels isn’t easy, you need a humane trap and something they want to eat in it to trap them. Our party barn is surrounded by walnut trees and there are walnut shells littered everywhere, so safe to say they like walnuts, but they will quickly depart back to the trees as soon as the BBQ  season kicks in and we start playing 80’s music.

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Rooks & crows ~ will try to nest on chimney pots, making a terrible din chatting and calling to each other. During the nest building process plenty of material will drop down the chimney, occasionally a young bird covered in soot will be found confused in your fireplace, best to find before they come to and try make their escape out of a closed window, with all the ensuing chaos that creates whilst covered in soot – messy! To avoid this nuisance have a cowl fitted to your chimney pot and they won’t even bother to congregate on your roof.

The Unwelcome Visitors:

Rats and mice ~ you will have encountered them before in suburbia, but in the countryside mid autumn all the rodents in your garden want to move into your home. Older properties with natural stone walls (like mine) where missing pointing and cavities between stones act as a path upstairs, are more susceptible. It’s best not to encourage them in the first place, as their droppings and urine are a health hazard. Don’t keep hens or compost bins near the house and don’t put citrus peelings into the compost it attracts rats and smells awful . We all want to help feed the birds and watch them in the process, but mice and rats love the bird food too, better to site the feeders further away and watch with binoculars. If you keep chickens don’t feed them cooked kitchen leftovers, rats will arrive in a flash. If you can, move your hen run often, you will hopefully avoid them, but you will know when they have visited as they create rat runs, holes or grooves into/under your hen run. They are most active at dusk and dawn and can be most nonchalant. As soon as you see signs of droppings either contact your local pest control or visit your local agricultural/hardware shop for bait and bait trays or tubes. The bait is toxic so always use the tube where pets and children are concerned. You can set traps but then they need to be emptied and who wants to do that? Plus once in a while it catches a tail and you are then kept awake at night by a mouse dragging a trap round your loft and clattering through the cavities in your walls – been there!

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