Barm brack at Dunham Massey

I went to a National Trust property, Dunham Massey on Sunday and with a cup of tea I had some barm brack; I realised how much I liked it and what a long time since I ate any, let alone made any! Maybe I will make some tomorrow… here is a yeasted recipe:

Barm Brack

  • ¼pt  tepid milk
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp  yeast
  • 8 oz plain flour
  • 1 very generous or 2 tsp mixed spice
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 2 oz butter
  • 6 oz  mixed dried fruit
  • 2 oz  tbsp caster sugar
  1. add the yeast and teaspoonful of sugar to the milk and leave to froth
  2. sieve the dry ingredients together (but not the fruit)
  3. rub in the butter
  4. make a well in the centre of the mixture and add the yeast mixture
  5. add the egg
  6. beat for about 10 minutes until you have a really nice dough forms
  7.  add the fruit and work in by hand so the dough is well  kneaded
  8. leave in a  covered bowl and let  it rise in a warm place for about an hour until it has doubled in size
  9. knock back and knead  lightly and put in a greased 7 inch cake tin
  10.  leave it to rise for half an hour
  11. . put into the oven at gas mark 6, 400°F, 200°C for 45 minutes
  12. once it is baked you can be glazed the top 2 tsp sugar dissolved in 3 tsp boiling water to make a syrup

I wonder if I have any yeast …

The featured image is of a mill at Dunham Massey, it’s four hundred years old and was used to saw wood… not grind flour!

Visiting a stately home…

We visited Tyntsfield today, a National Trust property near Bristol. There is a wonderful house to visit, and if the weather had been a little less windy and chilly, we might have wandered round the beautiful gardens too!

This is what the Trust say about it:

Tyntesfield, just a stone’s throw away from Bristol, was not built as a bold and extravagant statement of wealth, power or politics. Its purpose was simple; to serve as a family home. Once hidden and inaccessible, the ordinary and extraordinary lives and possessions of four generations of the Gibbs family are ready for discovery. The garden and estate balance faded beauty and function with an abundance of nature; celebrated in ornate Gothic carvings that decorate the house. Flower filled terraces, an empty lake, woodland, champion trees and productive kitchen garden give further opportunities for exploration.

… and this is what Wikipedia says about William Gibbs who bought it in 1843:

In 1843, the property was bought by businessman William Gibbs, who made his fortune in the family business, Antony Gibbs & Sons. From 1847 the firm had an effective monopoly in the import and marketing to Europe and North America of guano from Peru as a fertiliser…  The firm’s profits from this trade were such that William Gibbs became the richest non-noble man in England.

In my latest e-book, Earthquake, there is an old ruined house – not a bit like Tyntesfield I have to say, except for the fact that my fictional owner of the house had also made his fortune from guano. In my story, the old house became a school, until it closed in 1932 and fell into disrepair:

The actual school building in the grounds of a large estate, had been the home of a branch of the family who’d owned the big mansion in rather lovely parklands – well, they looked lovely from the old photographs I found. The mansion, with two wings and no doubt dozens and dozens of rooms, had been the residence of a man who’d made his money out of bird poo… Yes, it’s true! There were other such entrepreneurs apparently, who made millions shipping bird poo from distant rocky places back to England to be used as fertiliser… I mean honestly, who would have thought it? Whoever first thought oh I know I’ll put all this bird shit on the garden and see what happens… oh my goodness what lovely roses I have and how fine my carrots are
It was in 1841 apparently that the first Peruvian guano, about 2,000 tons of the smelly stuff, left on a ship destined for Liverpool, and it was in the 1860’s just as Samuel Oxfleet was starting his school in Strand, that Mr. Bird-Poo built his mansion.
The smaller house which became the school was built for the second son who was not going to inherit the bird poo empire. As happens with such large places, it fell on hard times as the family did, and for a short while, between the 1890’s and 1900’s the mansion was what was then called a lunatic asylum, before it became used as a convalescent home.
The smaller building became a hospital for wounded soldiers in the First World War, for those with ‘shell shock’ as they called it or ‘battle fatigue’ as it was also known.

If you want to fins out more about the old school, as it became, and more about the earthquake in Earthquake, here is a link:

Off to Knightshayes

The weather isn’t splendid but that doesn’t deter us, we are off to the National Trust property, Knightshayes. This magnificent building, and all its lovely grounds was originally owned by the Heathcoat-Amery family.

John Heathcoat was born in Derbyshire  in 1783, and his family were farmers; however, he was one of the many scientists and inventors of the time he changed the world through an industrial not social revolution; he designed and patented a machine to produce lace, which had previously been made by individuals on pillows and cushions with pins and patterns, slow intricate work, often done as piece work in the lacemakers’ own homes. His ‘manufactury’ – or factory which was near Loughborough became a victim of a different revolution, the Luddite revolts and was burned down  in 1816. Undeterred, he  moved his basis and many of his of his workers, to Tiverton in Devon, and that is where we are going today. He established a new lace-works which brought employment to many of the local people too; by the last decades of the nineteenth century, his was the largest lace-producer in the world.

Being by now a very wealthy family, owning not only the factories, but also much of the land in the area, a descendent of the original John Amory, now Sir John Heathcoat-Amory, had built a beautiful and fabulous home overlooking his factory in the distance, and nestled in the Exe valley.

We have been many times before, but are looking forward to revisiting, meeting friends, and wandering round the house, and the gardens too if the weather cheers up!

The sun shone on Lytes Carey

We visited a National Trust property we hadn’t been to before, the delightfully named Lytes Cary; the Lyte family lived in this area from the 1200’s for more than four centuries, and the River Cary which flows nearby. it isn’t only the name that is delightful, the property is too – we completely fell in love with it. It’s quite small, compared to some stately homes, but very interesting; the house and buildings are charming, and the gardens are lovely. Although you would have to be rich to live in and maintain a property like this, it has quite a homely feel and I could imagine living here, even though it would be very grand and i would need a team of gardeners and housekeepers to keep it neat and tidy!

The chapel is the oldest part of Lytes Cary, built in the 1340’s it is just big enough for the  family and thoughtfully provides a little window, or squint, for the servants to watch the proceedings through. However, it was originally used as a chantry chapel, where masses and prayers could be said for the souls of the family. The main part of the house, the great hall was built by Thomas Lyte in the 1460s,  and the great and little parlour and the great and little chamber  were completed in the 1530’s. The Lytes reluctantly sold the house in 1755 because of debts, and it was leased to tenants until it was bought by Sir Walter Jenner in 1907. It is thanks to him that the house and grounds are in the state they are in today; he left it to the National Trust who have looked after it ever since.

SEPTEMBER 18 2015 (56)

By the pricking of my thumbs

We visited a lovely old fourteenth century manor house in south Somerset, Lytes Carey; the Lyte family lost possession of it centuries ago and after various periods of virtual abandonment and different owners, the Jenners bought the property, restored and renovated it and then gave it into the care of the National Trust.

It is a lovely and elegant old property, sitting comfortably in the rolling countryside and surrounded by lovely and beautifully cared-for  grounds and gardens. Inside the old house there are various items of interest ranging from pictures, to ceramics, to wall hangings, four-poster beds, campaign beds, art and unusual artefacts. In the main sitting room, either side of a large open fireplace were two figures… the most sinister looking creatures you could imagine.

They were the figures of two women, in Elizabethan dress, made from leather and standing about three to four-foot tall; the guide told us they were used when there were thirteen people seated at table, to add a fourteenth to prevent bad luck… they had such a sinister appearance though i thought it would be better to send a guest home, or let a pet dog sit at table. I have also read that another idea was that they were to make a room look occupied… but occupied by what?! Apparently they are Spanish, and they are wearing farthingales, stomacher-dress and head-dresses made from stamped, coloured leather.

I am sure in their day they were not seen as sinister, but the lines from Macbeth ran through my mind:

By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
Open locks, Whoever knocks!

SEPTEMBER 18 2015 (15)

Hamlyn All-Colour Cook Book


Having spent a lovely day with our friends Janet and Ron in Devon, where the boys played golf and Janet and I went to Bickleigh Mill and Killerton, we repaired to their lovely home and had dinner together. Bickleigh Mill is an old water-mill which now houses a shopping area welling the most beautiful things, jewelry, glass, scarves, knick-knacks… lovely, lovely things and an equally lovely restaurant and tea-room. Killerton is an eighteenth-century house owned by the National Trust near Exeter in Devon.

For dinner we were joined by Janet’s sister and other half, and as we sat enjoying the delicious dinner Janet had cooked us, we began to talk about wonderful meals we had eaten… The Beaujolais in Manchester which served a whole Stilton with a spoon to help yourself, the restaurant in La Rochelle where someone accident ordered a whole lobster… and all the lovely meals we had shared over the years, many of which came from the Hamlyn All-Colour Cook Book.

ham 1

Janet, her sister Anto  and I each had one and we reminisced about the recipes we had cooked over the years. Each of the three hundred and thirty-six recipes had a picture, the recipe itself was clearly written in easily followed stages and at the bottom there was usually a handy tip. it was divided into sections such as ‘main meals to cook ahead’, ‘favourite family cakes’, ‘continental favourites’, and ‘cooking with cream’. Some of the recipes may seem a little dated, asparagus wheel flan for example or plaice rolls, but I am sure all of them would still be enjoyed today… in fact for Janet, Anto and I, many are! Janet delighted us with a lime version of the chilled lemon flan this evening!

ham 11

The recipes were by three cooks, Mary Berry, Ann Body and Audrey Ellis. Mary Berry is one of the two starring presenters of the very popular ‘Great British Bake-Off’ – forty years after the Hamlyn book was first publishedham 3.

Many of the recipes reappear with the same pictures in new Hamlyn cookery books, but the actual All Collour Cook Book is no longer available  I know because I tried to buy one for my daughter when she went to Uni.

I was reminded of Benvarden Garden

Benvarden Garden in County Antrim is heaven on earth… there is nowhere quite like it… however, recently I was reminded of that lovely and peaceful place on a visit to Barrington Court in Somerset.

Benvarden garden is owned by the Montgomery family and I was honoured to meet the owners a couple of years ago. We stood and chatted on the beautiful bridge 130 year old, ninety foot bridge across the River Bush. It was erected by a Montgomery ancestor and I didn’t like to tell the present owners that my daughter got her head stuck between the wrought iron tracery when she was little .. we were on the verge of ringing the fire brigade and imagining them arriving with bolt cutters and wrecking the bridge… oh the bill! Fortunately, this catastrophe didn’t come to pass because we managed to extract child’s head from ornate ironwork without injury to either!

Benvarden estate was built in the 1630’s and the Montgomery family have lived there since 1798… what a wonderful heritage!

Barrington Court is older, it was built in the 1500’s but it has a more chequered history of ownership until the National Trust acquired it in 1907. The lily garden and other garden areas  were designed by the famous Gertrude Jekyll and they are truly stunning.  Barrington Court is a much busier place with far more visitors, and I did like it very much and look forward to going again… but my heart will always be in Benvarden!

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