Modern magic – The Wireless

I came across this treasure in another little recipe book, this time it is Atora beef suet’s little offering for 1933!

While we are recounting the joys of Christmas, we must not forget those that come from the possession of a wireless set. How our forefathers would gasp with amazement could they visit us for an evening in our homes, and note the magic wrought by the touch of a finger. The house is flooded with melody – an orchestra playing in Vienna! A beautiful voice rings through the room – a prima donna is singing in Madrid! The Prime Minister talks gravely to us as we sit and warm our toes! A London band sends us gaily dancing round the room! How beautifully they speak to us, sing to us, play to us, and what good fun they are – those aunts who are never cross, those uncles who are never grumpy!
To dwellers in the city, to villagers in the dale, most of all perhaps to the cottagers on the distant fell, the “radio” is a blessing and a joy.

Beach combing

We went to Burnham-on-Sea the other day; we parked at the south end of the promenade and strolled a little way along the coastal path. We had come upon it unexpectedly, we hadn’t known it was there, and we would have explored it more except we were chased back to the car by menacing rain clouds.

As we had meandered along, I noticed there was a holiday park on the shore side of the trail, a holiday park with caravans and park homes; it was just across a mass of sedges, brambles, buckthorn and other small shrubs and there was obviously a stream running along the bottom of this rough space between the sea wall and the park fence. From where we stood it looked mysterious and secluded – no doubt from the other side it was just an ordinary holiday camp! I remembered a scene from a John le Carré book, somewhere in the north of Germany in an area of marshes and lakes, with houseboats, shacks and old caravans hidden and concealed among the trees in a remote wilderness…

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There was no-one on the sandy shore, except one elderly man; he had parked his bike and was wandering along the tide line with a plastic bag and one of those grabbers, an extended rod with a pincer on the end to pick up stuff you don’t want to touch. Was he a good citizen picking up rubbish, plastic bottles, old cans, bottles, plastic bags, stuff… or was he a beachcomber looking for things of interest? At one point he picked up what looked like part of a tree and started banging it on a rock, as if to see whether it was rotten or not.

By the time we came back he had finished and was loading his booty, rubbish or treasure onto his bike rack, and was about to set off… I wonder if we went again if we would see him as well?

Fisherman’s friend

Today is St Andrew’s day, St Andrew the patron saint of Scotland and Barbados, Greece, Romania and Russia; his cross which was X-shaped appears on many flags, and is known as a saltire. Here  in the British isles, the white saltire on a blue background,  is chiefly associated with Scotland, however it can be seen other flags too.

St Andrew was one of Jesus’s disciples and was crucified on saltire shaped cross by the Romans in Greece and apparently his remains were kept, and after being taken to Constantinople they ended up in Amalfi where they still are. However, some of his relics were taken to other places including Scotland and it was believed that Andrew himself appeared to the Picts before a battle in 832AD and a saltire was seen in the sky over the battlefield on which the Picts were victorious… and was then adopted as the symbol for Scotland. Andrew himself became patron saint of the country in the 1300’s and some of his bones are now in Edinburgh cathedral. As well as being the patron saint of Scotland he is also takes care of  fishmongers,  singers and unmarried women, and is a specialist in helping with gout and sore throats and women who want to have children.

Some of the finest food comes from Scotland, and there are wonderful recipes using its produce, from home-cooking and everyday fare to the finest of fine dining. here’s a little selection of delicious things you might find on a Scottish menu:

Soup:

  • barefit broth (barley and vegetables)
  • cock-a-leekie
  • powsowdie (sheep’s head… not an everyday item in a butcher’s shop these days I wouldn’t have thought!)
  • tattie soup

bannocks, biscuits and cakes:

  • Ardentinny drop bannocks
  • perkins (spiced biscuits)
  • tantallon (vanilla biscuits)
  • black bun
  • the famous Dundee cake, and my favourite, seed cake

puddings:

  • clootie dumpling (steamed pudding with fruit and sometimes spice)
  • currant duff (steamed suet pudding with apple, fruit, spice… I guess everyone has their own recipe inherited from their mothers and grandmothers!)
  • grosset fool (grossets are gooseberries – I guess another Scottish word from French, groseilliers)

…and other nice things, such as

  • minced collops (minced meat with onions and oatmeal)
  • boiled gigot (another french word, meaning leg in this case of lamb or mutton)
  • girdle scones (griddle scones)
  • tablet (a type of toffee)

I love gingerbread, so here is a recipe for Hamilton gingerbread:

  • 6 oz butter
  • 6 oz brown sugar
  • 6 oz treacle
  • 1 lb self-raising flour
  • 2+ tsp ground ginger (or more if you like it hot!)
  • 1 tsp baking soda dissolved in a little cold water)
  • milk
  1. cream together butter, sugar and treacle
  2. stir in sieved flour, ginger, 1 tsp baking soda and enough milk to make a soft dropping consistency
  3. pour into a 10″ well-greased, lined, shallow baking tin and bake for 350ºF, 180ºC, gas mark 4, for about 1½ hours (check it isn’t getting to brown and maybe turn the oven down a smidge… cooking times might vary so keep an eye on it as it gets near the 90 minutes!)
  4. cut into squares or slices when cold

I may make some of this and take it to my English conversation class tomorrow – we always try and include things about our country, as well as just the language!

Extreme silentness

It has just coming up to midnight, and blustery and wild outside, but I don’t think we will be troubled by frost… however, here is the first part of Coleridge’s famous poem, Frost at Midnight:

The Frost performs its secret ministry,
Unhelped by any wind. The owlet’s cry
Came loud–and hark, again ! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings : save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
‘Tis calm indeed ! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness. Sea, hill, and wood,
This populous village ! Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings-on of life,
Inaudible as dreams ! the thin blue flame
Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not ;
Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,
Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, every where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
And makes a toy of Thought.

Most housewives possess a spice-box…

The little booklet issued by the National Mark in the early 1930’s follows the year with seasonal recipes, comments on the fruit and vegetables available in which month, and has handy little hints and notes. Some of them are as relevant today as they were when they were written by Ambrose Heath and Mrs D.D. Cottington Taylor nearly ninety years ago. here is what they have to say about spices:

SPICES. Most housewives possess a spice-box, but how many make proper use of it? Here again, discretion is the better part of cooking, and spices should be employed only according to directions. Don’t have a fine fling at them, and then find that your dish tastes of nothing else! But if you use them properly and fairly sparsely, you will be well rewarded.
The French use spices more freely than we do, especially in the preparation of meat dishes; and they have rather cunningly invented what they call sel épicé, or as we should say “spiced salt,” which they mix in quantity and keep ready at hand. (In the same way they very often keep a vanilla pod in one jar of sugar, so that the sugar eventually becomes flavoured with vanilla.) This salt is always made in the same proportions, which are:- ten parts of salt, two parts of pepper and one part of mixed spice.
For general use spices are usually sold mixed; but the following separate spices ought to find a place in the National Mark Housewife’s spice-box: nutmeg, mace, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, carraway, saffron, allspice. Of the various peppers that she will find useful, Paprika has recently achieved popularity in our kitchens. This is a red pepper – a very great deal less pungent than cayenne, and most attractive for flavouring. Hungarian Paprika is the best, the Spanish sort lacking flavour: it can be bought from most grocers. Cayenne pepper is of course too well-known to need description; but Nepaul Pepper is not so well-known; it has the pungency of cayenne but is yellowish in colour and more delicate in flavour. It need not perhaps be added that every kitchen should possess a wooden pepper-mill; for freshly-ground pepper (more particularly when it is black) is vastly better than the kinds that are bought already ground. Unless you wish to use white pepper for the appearance of the dish, black pepper is always the finer-flavoured.
Most spices can be bought whole or ground. Cloves,mace, cinnamon, pepper,allspice should be kept whole; but the ground sort may be kept as well. Peppers like Paprika and Cayenne are always sold ground. And of course, if you grind your own salt, so much the better.

I have to confess I often have a ‘fine fling’ of spices, but I think these days we do have our food more seasoned than maybe most people did in the past. I had to have a little smile at the rather snooty dismissal of Spanish paprika, and at the cunning French invention of sel épicé! Nepaul Pepper, by the way, is what we call Szechuan pepper.  The idea that using spices is modern is not true,  my favourite Victorian cook, Eliza Acton, from whom Mrs Beeton ‘borrowed’ many of her recipes, uses coriander, turmeric, cassia, cumin, fenugreek, ground ginger, different peppers as well as both proprietory brand and home-made ‘currie’ powder.

Moreton, Clicket and Stoke Bottom

As part of the story I’m writing I was doing some research on vanished villages in Somerset and came across a very interesting article about three of these, Moreton, Clicket and Stoke Bottom. Sometimes small villages just fade away as people move out, going to bigger less remote places, sometimes an event occurs which ends village life forever. Such an event was the making of the Chew Valley Lake, which ‘drowned’ the old village of Moreton in the 1950’s to make a reservoir to serve Bristol. Sometimes the growth of a nearby town or village doomed a smaller place; this was the case with Stoke Bottom which had a paper mill as the main industry of the little village. As the paper mills in nearby Wookey Hole became larger and more successful, so other mills in the area began to fail and eventually, Stoke Bottom’s mill and the village itself was abandoned, and is now a ghost village.

However, the story of Clicket seems the saddest; it was a small village in a valley on Exmoor (shades of Lorna Doone?) and in the 1850’s  its mill was one of the main buildings. However, to bring the grain in, and take the flour out from the village back to the farmers or to bakers or to market was extremely difficult because of the poor trails… in fact only pack animals could be used, no carts or wains. The village itself had no facilities, not even a church or a school, let alone a shop. On Sunday the villagers walked two miles to church, whatever the weather, summer and winter, and every day the children walked the two miles to school, whatever the weather…

By the turn of the century the mill had closed and families moved away from the village. The last people to leave were an elderly couple, and this is the saddest part of the story; they were evicted from their little cottage and moved into the old mill which was now derelict. They only survived there for a year… the old man died, and his poor widow was taken to the poorhouse, a humiliation she and her husband had hoped to avoid by squatting in the mill… tough times…

My featured picture is of Oare church where J.D. Blackmore set scenes from his novel ‘Lorna Doone’.

Here is an interesting article about the three villages:

http://www.somerset-life.co.uk/out-about/events/what_lies_beneath_1_3478835

Fifty thousand words later…

I’m amazed that I’ve actually managed to complete this years National Novel Writing Month, amazed because I struggled so much to begin with and got off to such a slow start. I dithered between three different premises but in the end one idea began to resolve itself into a writeable story and over the last few days I have been virtually glued to my keyboard. Even when I went to Birmingham yesterday I took my tablet and continued to write in the car – although I had to give up as we struggled with mega-traffic trying to find somewhere to park.

So, I have written my 50,000 words, and my prize is the satisfaction in knowing I’ve achieved it. I’ve taken up the challenge twice before and every time I’ve done it I have tried to write properly, not just sticking in extra words to make up the number, not writing ‘is not/ did not/ have not’ instead of isn’t/didn’t/hasn’t’; although I haven’t spent as much time reviewing, rewriting, checking, etc. as I would with my normal writing, I have written with thought, and done necessary research, as I’ve mentioned,, when I was finding about earthquake activity in the 1930’s!

What has come out of it is a new novel which I shall work on and hope to finish next year, and probably publish next Easter. As well as continuing my story of the Radwinter family, unpicking their past as well as having new things happen to them, the main character has new challenges; he is commissioned to find out the truth behind the deaths of several school girls in the 1930’s, as well as tracing his wife’s Huguenot ancestors. there are various other little puzzles too to keep and the reader occupied – as well as some surprise developments in his own little family!

So back to work…