Winter Newsletter 2014
At the last meeting Geoff suggested that some more contributions to the Newsletter might be welcome, both to add variety and to ease the pressure on his own busy schedule. Wherefore now......armed with only a keyboard, a modicum of one fingered typing ability, and a large mug of tea, I humbly offer one man's view of the recent Basket Weaving Day, held at the King Edward Community Centre in Chatteris. Fiona and I arrived early, under grey skies and in falling rain, suddenly glad that we had chosen an indoor event for our first participation. Eventually about eighteen of us had gathered in the hall, approx three to a table, and Eleanor Clapp, our Teacher for the day, had laid out various bundles of assorted Willow stems from which we were to choose our materials. We had all been advised of the need to bring certain tools with us, so my own workplace was dutifully laden with Tape measure, Stanley knife, Water Spraying device (to help to keep the willow supple) and Counterweight as suggested,... plus Pliers, Hacksaw, 4 Lt. Chainsaw, First Aid Kit, Blood Transfusion Packs, Hot Towels... and Forceps. (I like to prepare for all eventualities.) We then collected our various chosen stems, (and a pre-made base for our baskets, supplied courtesy of Eleanor, who clearly had some notion of our limitations!) and commenced the initial construction of the first layers. I will mention now that the base is rimmed with 17 upright stems around which the basket is woven, the odd number automatically leading to a pleasing pattern as the levels are constructed. Fiona and I were lucky enough to meet and share a table with Kirsty, who was also making her first attempt, so we all felt less intimidated by one another. A surreptitious glance at other tables made it clear that some people had previous experience, as was evident in the way they managed to hold a conversation as they were weaving, simultaneously making cakes with the other hand, and quaffing Chilean Merlot artistically whilst casting pitiful yet superior sneers in our direction. (I am too much of a gentleman to mention any names Angela) Eleanor went from table to table rescuing people in need (I chained her to my table leg at one point) and explaining the terminology of Willow work. Some of the women were told they had “Big Butts”, which didn't go down too well, and I was told on one occasion that I was “Buff Upright”, which I took to be a compliment. I mentioned earlier that there were 17 uprights involved in the basic structure. After about 45 minutes I noticed that my own work was growing upwards rather boringly one stem/layer at a time, as opposed to everybody else's pleasingly alternating layers. After 5 minutes of Eleanor and everybody else's head scratching, I glanced under the table to see that one of my uprights had made a bid for freedom at some earlier stage, and I had for some time been weaving around only 16! Curses! At this point a peel of hysterical broke out on the “expert's” table (I mention no names Angela). However this turned out not to be at my expense, but because somebody's (I mention no names Angela) high pressure sophisticated Water Sprayer had turned itself on, and had promptly power hosed the table, floor, and anybody within 12 feet. For a fleeting moment I was glad that my basket was looking more and more like a Coracle....... Rather than scrap the Coracle, Eleanor suggested rescuing the situation by changing to a more Medieval/Anglo Saxon basket pattern, (my plan all along) and I have to say that it was a fortunate accident, as I rather like the finished design. The fact that is was also easier to make has nothing to do with it. Apart from the odd eye being ripped out by the whipping of 5ft long fronds as people rotated their works, and the slashing of a path with a Machete to get from one end of the hall to another, we reached the lunch break without too many other disasters. Our half finished (or quarter in my case) works were placed out in the falling rain in the car park, to aid their suppleness, …..whilst we applied quite the opposite effect to our own suppleness by scoffing the various offerings that graced the buffet table. Cakes, Cheeses, Chicken, Cous-Cous, Coffee, Chocolates, Chipolatas.......crikey....one can only assume that the C.S.S.G. jointly own just the one book from the 26 book “Alphabet of Recipes” series! Then again, maybe somebody will bring along some decent CIDER next time.... Ah well. I suppose I should bring this submission to an end soon, so suffice to say that, after lunch, we all carried on with our masterpieces, and by close of play everybody had achieved something that either was, or closely resembled,..... a Basket! I did say to Mike “what a shame that somebody sat on yours after you had finished it”, and he replied “What do you mean, …..nobody sat on it!” (I was expelled from the Prince Philip School of Tact for being too tactless) In conclusion, I must say that we thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and it was a fine example of what we have found so good and enjoyable about being part of the C.S.S.G., learning, sharing, and interacting with like minded people, in real ways, away from the T.V. and the Computer. Fiona and I are aware that, as newcomers to the area, and the self-sufficiency ethos, we don't have much to offer but ourselves really, so I would like to take this opportunity of talking to you all to say how grateful we are that you have been so kind as to extend your hospitality to us. And here are the masterpieces!
Not bad for a first attempt..........though had it not been for some timely intervention by Eleanor I may well have ended up with a woven DOORMAT! If you have enjoyed reading this half as much as I have writing it.....then I have enjoyed it twice as much as you. And oh bugger......my tea has gone cold.
Putting together a newsletter for self sufficiency can be challenging but rewarding, especially when I get some positive feedback from members and readers. However, it's the winter edition I often find more tricky, probably it's because it's a time when there is not so much action on the land and it's more a time for planning and clearing up. (Although our members keeping and selling poultry will be busy at the moment for obvious reasons!). So inevitably, I do tend to get a bit of writers block in winter hence the slightly reduced quantity of features in this edition, but hopefully readable all the same.
I do find this time of year rather frustrating but beautiful at the same time. Frustrating because I see so much that needs to be done in the vegetable patch (I was so involved in our house renovation that the garden suffered terrible neglect), but beautiful in that winter is a time that, despite the hardships of temperature and weather, I enjoy the bleakness and chill which gives such contrast to our seasons. As an example I remember clearly a day in December about five years ago, and it was for me, one of the most awesome and breath taking experiences of my life and it took place in Welney. Now I have travelled the globe quite a bit and visited many places so if someone had suggested Welney as such a place of wintry beauty I would have scoffed however, that’s what happened. I can’t remember the exact date but the country had been enduring a prolonged period of sub-zero temperatures. I arrived at dusk to get some photos (I was on an assignment to capture photos of winter in Cambridgeshire) and I wanted to capture the geese and swans coming in to the nearby wildfowl reserve, a regular dusk-time daily occurrence at that time of year. I arrived on the outskirts of Welney at around 4pm and parked the car. As soon as I got out an overwhelming sense of peace and tranquillity hit me. It was about -10 degrees that afternoon and as soon as I got out the frost bit at my lips and I could feel it nipping at my legs even though I have thick jeans on. Then I found myself just standing still and listening…..at nothing. Pure silence. In addition, looking around, the sky was a mixture of purple and pink as the sun was setting, and all around, a completely frozen landscape of pure white. As the light faded the scene became ever more beautiful, and to add to the occasion, on one of the fields, I noticed a lone skater on one of the fields which had become a makeshift ice rink. Then came the icing on the cake and my real reason for being there. From the south came a familiar noise. Very quietly at first, then getting louder and louder the unmistakable honking of geese and swans flying in to their winter evening roosting place at Welney reserve. After about five minutes the whole sky was almost darkened by the thousands of birds filling the sky, the noise deafening and a scene which can only be described, as I said before, breathtaking. So there it is. Having travelled the world over and seen some truly incredible places, the one which stands out in my most is a winter’s afternoon in Welney. If you get the chance this winter then go to see the birds coming in to roost. If it's a cold and frosty scene too, then that will be a bonus.
Hopefully this edition will reach you before Christmas, and if it does then I would like to take this opportunity of wishing all our members a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous new year and may your crops and animals grow well in 2015. Also, special thanks to all who have contributed to the newsletters.
Mick’s Bread Sauce
This is a recipe that was handed down to me by my father who was with the catering corp. in India from 1945 -1948. It is great with turkey, chicken and all game birds.
1 onion ½ pint of milk 1/3 large bloomer loaf (crust removed and cut in to small cubes) A large knob of butter 5 whole cloves Pinch of salt
Cut the onion in to large dice. Crush the cloves with a pestle and mortar.
Place the onions, cloves and milk into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Allow to infuse then add the bread cubes. Mash down with a knob of butter then blitz in a food processor or mash to a smooth consistency. Taste and season with salt and pepper if desired. If it’s a bit thick add more milk, or better still some cream.
Potato Day Is Coming.....................
Your group needs you. Potato day is approaching it is on the 17TH JANUARY 2015 (where does the time go) and we need volunteers to help on the day selling potatoes talking about the group, manning the refreshments. We hope to have a group craft stall to show off members’ skills etc. This event is a good opportunity for the group to market itself and recruit new members so all help is gratefully received. Contact Mick or Angela if you are able to assist in any way
Thanks – Mick Matthews
Anne Smiths Amazing Christmas Cake
450g mixed dried fruit (either a packet or make up your own mix – I used dried cranberries, mixed peel, apricots, pineapple, sultanas, raisins and currants in no particular quantities)
200g naturally coloured glacé cherries (halved)
200g glacé ginger (chopped)
Juice of 1 orange
225g dark molasses sugar
4 large eggs, beaten
225g self-raising flour
2tsp mixed spice
1 tsp cinnamon
50g chopped hazelnuts (optional)
You will need a 20.5cm x 8cm (8in x 3in) cake tin, greased and lined
Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 2 / 150⁰C (140⁰C in a fan oven)
Place all the dried fruit, cherries, ginger and raisins in a large bowl. (to). Pour over the brandy, port and orange juice, cover and leave to soak for at least two hours, or preferably overnight.
In a large bowl add butter and sugar and beat with an electric mixer until light and airy. Gradually add eggs, beating all the time. Add a spoonful of flour if the mixture looks like it’s beginning to curdle.
Sieve flour, spices and a pinch of salt into the mix, and fold in gently with a large metal spoon. Tip in the soaked fruit and hazelnuts (if using) and continue to mix gently until all incorporated.
Gently tip mixture into the prepared cake tin. Level surface of cake with the back of a spoon, making a small hollow in the centre. This will stop the cake from rising in a dome and make a flatter surface for icing.
Place in centre of oven and cook for three hours. If it looks like it’s cooking too quickly, cover with a layer of greaseproof paper. To test if the cake is cooked, insert a skewer into the centre of the cake and if it comes out clean, then it is cooked.
Let the cake cool completely in the tin, then remove it and peel away all the lining paper. Cake can be eaten straight away or stored, well wrapped in greaseproof paper and, preferably, fed at regular intervals with more brandy!
To decorate the cake arrange a selection of different coloured cherries, angelica, almonds, pecans, walnuts etc. to taste and then glaze with warmed apricot jam
The Christmas Tree – How did it all start?
Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort, is usually credited with having introduced the Christmas tree into England in 1840. However, the honour of establishing this tradition in the United Kingdom rightfully belongs to ‘good Queen Charlotte’, the German wife of George III, who set up the first known English tree at Queen’s Lodge, Windsor, in December, 1800.
Legend has it that Queen Charlotte’s compatriot, Martin Luther, the religious reformer, invented the Christmas tree. One winter’s night in 1536, so the story goes, Luther was walking through a pine forest near his home in Wittenberg when he suddenly looked up and saw thousands of stars glinting jewel-like among the branches of the trees. This wondrous sight inspired him to set up a candle-lit fir tree in his house that Christmas to remind his children of the starry heavens from whence their Saviour came.
Certainly by 1605 decorated Christmas trees had made their appearance in Southern Germany. For in that year an anonymous writer recorded how at Yuletide the inhabitants of Strasburg ‘set up fir trees in the parlours ... and hang thereon roses cut out of many-coloured paper, apples, wafers, gold-foil, sweets, etc.’
A Christmas tree in a German temporary hospital in 1871
In other parts of Germany box trees or yews were brought indoors at Christmas instead of firs. And in the duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, where Queen Charlotte grew up, it was the custom to deck out a single yew branch.
The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) visited Mecklenburg-Strelitz in December, 1798, and was much struck by the yew-branch ceremony that he witnessed there, the following account of which he wrote in a letter to his wife dated April 23rd, 1799: ‘On the evening before Christmas Day, one of the parlours is lighted up by the children, into which the parents must not go; a great yew bough is fastened on the table at a little distance from the wall, a multitude of little tapers are fixed in the bough ... and coloured paper etc. hangs and flutters from the twigs. Under this bough the children lay out the presents they mean for their parents, still concealing in their pockets what they intend for each other. Then the parents are introduced, and each presents his little gift; they then bring out the remainder one by one from their pockets, and present them with kisses and embraces’.
When young Charlotte left Mecklenburg-Strelitz in 1761, and came over to England to marry King George, she brought with her many of the customs that she had practised as a child, including the setting up of a yew branch in the house at Christmas. But at the English Court the Queen transformed the essentially private yew-branch ritual of her homeland into a more public celebration that could be enjoyed by her family, their friends and all the members of the Royal Household.
Queen Charlotte placed her yew bough not in some poky little parlour, but in one of the largest rooms at Kew Palace or Windsor Castle. Assisted by her ladies-in-waiting, she herself dressed the bough. And when all the wax tapers had been lit, the whole Court gathered round and sang carols. The festivity ended with a distribution of gifts from the branch, which included such items as clothes, jewels, plate, toys and sweets.
These royal yew boughs caused quite a stir among the nobility, who had never seen anything like them before. But it was nothing to the sensation created in 1800, when the first real English Christmas tree appeared at court.
That year Queen Charlotte planned to hold a large Christmas party for the children of all the principal families in Windsor. And casting about in her mind for a special treat to give the youngsters, she suddenly decided that instead of the customary yew bough, she would pot up an entire yew tree, cover it with baubles and fruit, load it with presents and stand it in the middle of the drawing-room floor at Queen’s Lodge. Such a tree, she considered, would make an enchanting spectacle for the little ones to gaze upon. It certainly did. When the children arrived at the house on the evening of Christmas Day and beheld that magical tree, all aglitter with tinsel and glass, they believed themselves transported straight to fairyland and their happiness knew no bounds.
Dr John Watkins, one of Queen Charlotte’s biographers, who attended the party, provides us with a vivid description of this captivating tree ‘from the branches of which hung bunches of sweetmeats, almonds and raisins in papers, fruits and toys, most tastefully arranged; the whole illuminated by small wax candles’. He adds that ‘after the company had walked round and admired the tree, each child obtained a portion of the sweets it bore, together with a toy, and then all returned home quite delighted’.
Christmas trees now became all the rage in English upper-class circles, where they formed the focal point at countless children’s gatherings. As in Germany, any handy evergreen tree might be uprooted for the purpose; yews, box trees, pines or firs. But they were invariably candle-lit, adorned with trinkets and surrounded by piles of presents. Trees placed on table tops usually also had either a Noah’s Ark or a model farm and numerous gaily-painted wooden animals set out among the presents beneath the branches to add extra allurement to the scene. From family archives we learn, for example, that in December 1802, George, 2nd Lord Kenyon, was buying ‘candles for the tree’ that he placed in his drawing room at No. 35 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London. That in 1804 Frederick, fifth Earl of Bristol, had ‘a Christmas tree’ for his children at Ickworth Lodge, Suffolk. And that in 1807 William Cavendish-Bentinck, Duke of Portland, the then prime minister, set up a Christmas tree at Welbeck Abbey, Nottinghamshire, ‘for a juvenile party’.
By the time Queen Charlotte died in 1818, the Christmas-tree tradition was firmly established in society, and it continued to flourish throughout the 1820s and 30s. The fullest description of these early English Yuletide trees is to be found in the diary of Charles Greville, the witty, cultured Clerk of the Privy Council, who in 1829 spent his Christmas holidays at Panshanger, Hertfordshire, home to Peter, 5th Earl Cowper, and his wife Lady Emily.
Greville’s fellow house guests were Princess Dorothea von Lieven, wife of the German Ambassador, Lord John Russell, Frederick Lamb, M. de la Rochefoucauld and M. de Montrond, all of whom were brilliant conversationalists. Greville makes no mention of any of the bons mots that he must have heard at every meal, however, or of the indoor games and the riding, skating and shooting that always took place at Panshanger at Christmas. No. The only things that really seem to have impressed him were the exquisite little spruce firs that Princess Lieven set up on Christmas Day to amuse the Cowpers’ youngest children William, Charles and Frances. ‘Three trees in great pots’, he tells us, ‘were put upon a long table covered with pink linen; each tree was illuminated with three circular tiers of coloured wax candles – blue, green, red and white. Before each tree was displayed a quantity of toys, gloves, pocket handkerchiefs, workboxes, books and various other articles – presents made to the owner of the tree. It was very pretty’.
When in December, 1840, Prince Albert imported several spruce firs from his native Coburg, they were no novelty to the aristocracy, therefore. But it was not until periodicals such as the Illustrated London News, Cassell’s Magazine and The Graphic began to depict and minutely to describe the royal Christmas trees every year from 1845 until the late 1850s, that the custom of setting up such trees in their own homes caught on with the masses in England.
By 1860, however, there was scarcely a well-off family in the land that did not sport a Christmas tree in parlour or hall. And all the December parties held for pauper children at this date featured gift-laden Christmas trees as their main attraction. The spruce fir was now generally accepted as the festive tree par excellence, but the branches of these firs were no longer cut into artificial tiers or layers as in Germany, but were allowed to remain intact, with candles and ornaments arranged randomly over them, as at the present day.
Whatever their type or mode of decoration, Christmas trees have always delighted both children and adults alike. But perhaps no tree ever gave greater pleasure than that first magnificent Yuletide tree set up so thoughtfully by Queen Charlotte for the enjoyment of the infants of Windsor.
A – Z of Veg - P is for Pepper
Peppers or (capsicum) are grown in similar ways to tomatoes and best results are from crops grown under cover. They do well in pots or grow bags but seem to thrive in greenhouse or poly tunnel borders. The peppers we grow come in two types, sweet or chilli. Both types nowadays come in various shapes. One thing to remember, they will cross pollinate so try and grow well apart. Biting into a Beauty Bell and finding it is almost as hot as a Demon Red is not desired if the in-laws are round for a salad.
In this country we treat all pepper plants as half hardy annuals but most can be treated as delicate short lived perennials but I’m not sure the effort involved is worth it as the hot ones dry and freeze well and the sweet types can be blanched and frozen for inclusion in stews etc.
How to grow? Well early sowing in seed compost in small pots or modules at 17 to 21 degrees centigrade. Bring the plants down to 15 to 16 degrees when germination is complete and transplant module sown seeds to 3½ inch pots when three true leaves are showing, then onto a 4 ½ - 5 inch pot of potting compost. Once a good rootball has formed keep plants watered so as to prevent any check to growth. Now you have a choice. You can if you wish pinch out the growing tip to form a bushy plant or leave to grow as a standard one. The bushy ones will be about a month behind in fruiting but produce more fruits which may be slightly larger as well. You can of course use both methods if you have the space to get early ones and the impressive large bell peppers for stuffing.
The chilli varieties tend to bush more naturally so I ‘d just let them do their own thing. It might be worthwhile growing these in large pots which can be placed as far from the sweet ones as possible.
Growing on peppers need moderately rich soil so add compost or well rotted manure to the beds and fish blood and bone at 4oz to the square yard raked into the surface. If planting in pots you will want at least 10inch ones. Space plants 18inchs apart in beds. Give a cane as support and put a cut down bottle next to the plant to carry the water and feed down to the roots (take a plastic drinks bottle carefully cut off the bottom remove the lid and bury the bottle top down next to plants) remember to put an empty plastic drinks bottle on the top of the cane to protect your eyes. Once the plants are in position water the beds / pots well and mulch. Wilted comfrey leaves are an excellent choice. With the sweet peppers it is desirable to remove the first fruits before they have set to encourage strong plants which in turn will support larger peppers with thicker skinned walls. Most peppers start life green and ripen to yellow, red , orange or many other different colours to almost black. The chilli types are normally green to red, sometimes yellow and orange.
Pest and diseases that affect peppers include red spider mite which can be a nuisance in crops grown under cover but if you have planted strong healthy plants they should survive but spray with insecticidal soaps or use sticky yellow traps. Slugs will damage stems flowers and developing fruits so be sure to remove any dead flowers leaves before they start decaying. Tomatoes can be grown alongside your peppers and as with the tomatoes, basil is a good companion. Try one of the Thai strains also Okra grows well with your peppers (so a gumbo is not far off ).
All that is left is feeding which is the same as tomatoes either a commercial feed at half strength or your own comfrey liquid which is best. Feed direct to the plant’s roots keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. In hot weather dampen the borders and paths to keep a humid atmosphere and so aid fruit set. Harvest bell peppers when large enough or leave to turn red or whichever colour you want them. This will take about three weeks but will reduce the overall number of fruits. Use secateurs to cut your peppers. This avoids damage to the plants.
The Great Food Waste Scandal
Last week I found something interesting lurking at the back of my fridge! Quite frankly, I’d forgotten it was there and it was one of my favourite flavour yoghurts – Blueberry. It was one a certain supermarkets so-called “finest” range and not cheap, but my heart sank when I saw the best-before date which was eight days before the date of this amazing discovery. So what should be done? Well, I did what I always do in this situation, I took the top off and stage one is a visual inspection. No mould or anything moving or wriggling on it so that means move to stage two, a trial test. So it's a one-spoonful taster, the result, still delicious. Stage three, scoff the lot! Quite honestly, this happens rather too regularly in our house and quite often food is eaten after its best-before date, and so far, to no ill effects whatsoever and usually, as delicious as the day it was bought.
I think my reticence to pay too much attention to sell-by dates is down to my upbringing. My parents, having been brought up in times of food shortages and hardship grew up in a different world, one where a large percentage of the UK population was permanently hungry and mal-nutrition was rife. Any food available to most families would be quickly devoured and waste was virtually unknown, especially during the war when shortages became so acute it was even a criminal offence to give any food that was fit for human consumption to an animal. Also, a Frenchman I befriended some time ago on a visit across the channel revealed himself as one of a brave band of allies who formed the French Resistance and some of the stories he told were unbelievable. One which he said stood out more in his memory is that at one time, for about a week, he and his comrades had absolutely no food, and were so hungry they were forced to eat grass. So throughout my upbringing, I was taught that wasting food was “wicked” (my mother’s description which still rings in my memory) and to this day, our household has continued the tradition of a virtually no-waste policy and if on the rare occasion it does get discarded, it's usually compostable so in a way, still serving a useful purpose in its final stage.
Sadly, so many people take rigid notice of best before dates. They have no compost bin or animals to feed so it ends up in landfill. Believe it or not, it is estimated in the UK 6.7 million tonnes per year of food is wasted (purchased and edible food which is discarded) which amounts to a cost of £10.2 billion each year. This represents