Monthly Archives: August 2014

idiosyncrasies of a sat nav…

Once in a while I ponder on how sat navs devise routes; this pondering invariably coincides with my driving down single tracks.

Today I set off in search of a bookshop.  A spur of the moment decision.  30 minutes into a 60 minute journey and I was trundling down a road entitled, (on the sat nav), ‘Unmarked’.  Given that I live in a part of England where a B road constitutes a major highway, unmarked is truly a journey into the unknown.

Guess what?  It was delightful.  Gorgeous scenery, fantastic rural architecture, mixing it up with the cyclists and hackers.   I sailed past little nuggets – stalls of farm gate sales, enticing inns, faded nurseries, quirky rural businesses.   My route twisted and turned through unfamiliar villages, railway crossings and tight bridges.

Apparently sat nav route calculation involves a ‘heuristic approach’.

I did look it up and it seemed to involve fiddling about with vectors, a branch of mathematics I was never fond of, alongside algorithms some of which have lots of consonants in their name (e.g. Dijkstra), see if you have trouble sleeping at night.

I arrived at my destination and time sped away. Thank you Aardvark Books. Oh, did I buy any books?


Yes I did.

Reading this week: Vita Sackville-West’s Sissinghurst: The Creation of a Garden by Vita Sackville-West & Sarah Raven



the kindness of strangers….

Back, back in the very chilly months we were driving down to have a rare day out.  We saw a sign:  FREE GINGER PLANTS … it said.  We passed by.

The OH must have noticed me twitching.  ‘Would you like me to go back?’  he said, as he swiftly executed a 3 point turn.

Of course I thought the free plant in the bags was Zingiber officinale, root ginger, the oriental spice obtained from the rhizome – hence my avid interest.  Well of course I did.

As it turned out it wasn’t.  It was Hedychium gardnerianum, the Ginger Lily.  A complete menace if let loose in your borders.  It has been labelled as one of  “The World’s 100 Worst Invasive Alien Species”.  A bit like putting out a bag of knotweed  (okay – not that bad really, unless you live in Hawaii or New Zealand …).  Funnily enough I’ve kept the plant contained in a pot in the piggery.


But I have to say …. when in flower, it smells utterly delicious.



Feeble forager

I went off on a forage yesterday evening.  Now I have to confess I’m a bit ambivalent about foraging.  As I spend a lot of time growing cultivated varieties I can’t see a lot of point in scrabbling around in hedgerows and forests for food.   I’m too wussy to eat fungi that I, (or anyone else for that matter), has picked.  Fishing/harvesting seafood – absolutely in to that, but foraging for fruit and veg – hmmmm.DSC_0546

We found some interesting plants; among them Angelica sylvestris, wild angelica.  A beautiful plant; the leaves can be used in salads and the seeds in pastry and it is a key flavouring ingredient in Benedictine.  The plant has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties and the young leaves can be made into a tea.  On the other hand wild angelica looks a bit like wild hemlock, Conium maculatum, which is very, very poisonous as Socrates would attest.

DSC_0528Another plant we found in flower was St John’s Wort, the Hypericum.  I’m not sure which species this was, possibly perforatum.  Not really a culinary herb but it is still used as a dyeing herb, giving a yellow colour with alum as the mordant, red with alcohol.  A rub made from steeping the flowers in oil can be applied externally to ease neuralgia and the pain of sciatica.

At the top of the hill we came across a small patch of whimberry DSC_0553Vaccinium myrtillus, otherwise known as the blaeberry, myrtle blueberry, wortleberry, wimberry etc.  The name is derived from an Anglo-Saxon word for heather berry though the plant was probably an important food source for much, much longer.  The berries were used to produce a dye colour for RAF uniforms and jam made from the berries is meant to be delicious.  Sadly our little patch showed no sign of fruit.

blackberryBack on the food track we did come across the usual range, rowan, elderberry, hazel, rose hips, lime (for the flowers earlier in the season). Salad herbs in the form of chickweed, bittercress, ale hop, wood sage and cleavers amongst others.  But the king is of course the blackberry.  Not quite there yet.

I can take or leave the rest.  But I’m absolutely sure the OH and I will be out with a basket to gather blackberries in the coming weeks.


Damson, bullace, or cherry plum?

DSC_0495The wild cherry plums sprinkle the floor of the old orchard.  I feel a momentary pang that I shouldn’t waste them but there are so many, and we have other cultivated varieties that, quite frankly, taste sweeter.  These cherry plums can be left for the wildlife to enjoy.  The wild prunus forms are a forager’s dream.  I am particularly fond of the damson but our old trees get stripped by the birds so quickly.  At least I think it is the birds – badgers have been known to scale trees to net a snack and in the past we have found their neat latrines at the edge of the orchard.

The cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera), isn’t a native tree but is naturalised in the UK and is now commonplace in our hedgerow.  Easily spotted in spring because it is one of the first of the Prunus to come into flower.  I’ve always assumed the small purple fruited trees in the old orchard are damsons rather than bullace.  Both are strains of P. domestica subsp. insititia; possibly the diference comes down to shape; the bullace spherical, the damson, oval.  Perhaps the bullace is native, perhaps not. Perhaps the damson is a cultivated form of bullace. Maybe the damson was introduced by the Romans or maybe not. 

What I love about these hedgerow fruit is the hundreds of years of socio-cultural history associated with them.

One of my favourite recipes for plums is a crumble – with custard.   Here DSC_0493is one from Nigel Slater:

For 4

900g plums or damsons, 50g-75g sugar, 150g plain flour, 100g butter, 75g light brown sugar

Cut the plums in half and remove the stones; with damsons it may be easier to leave the stones in and spit them out afterwards. Put the fruit in a large shallow baking dish.  Sprinkle over as much sugar as you like (50-75g should be enough).  Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs then stir in the light brown sugar.  Sprinkle the crumbs with a tablespoon of water and stir through lightly with a fork.  Scatter the crumbs loosely over the fruit.  Bake in a pre-hated oven at 200C/400F/Gas 6 for about 35 minutes until the top is crisp and golden.

DSC_0490Heavy rain fell this morning.  The rain lifted and now the mists drift down from the hills.


Old links, new ties…..

DSC_0476The OH has been hard at work finishing the porch.  The wooden elements had rotted, so were replaced by our local chippy Alan, but everything else has been renovated by the OH, (very handy at doing this sort of stuff is the OH).  The leaded glass has been reset and the roof patched with slates from a local reclamation yard and finally finished off in one of those paints that hark back centuries and make the middle classes feel comfy – this one, apparently, was much in use in wallpapers during the DSC_047319th century.  However, the fin de siecle, in so many ways,  was the setting of the ‘Green Man’ at the apex of the architrave. This little casting has been carried around by the OH and I from house to house for eons.  We acquired it, many years ago, from Woodchester Park Mansion (   The OH wanted to show me this abandoned 19th century gothic mansion he first visited on a field trip as a student.  I remember the smell of wild garlic as we walked down.   The little casting is a replica of  the Green Man roof boss in the chapel and is made from ground stone from the mansion, (remnants from the ongoing maintenance of the building), set in resin.   The ‘Green Man’ has a long, long history and it’s meaning and origin smudged over time.

We’re pleased it has now found a home.