A Posset of Roses

A Posset of Roses

Generous Gardener Rose

There’s a wonderful feeling of abundance in gardens in early June as the plants burst into flower and everywhere looks green and verdant. Unfortunately, our current garden has no flowers as it’s no more than a rough bit of grass littered with old farm machinery and an expanse of sterile gravel.

We have vague plans for the garden but decided that rather than rush into it, we’re spending a few months taking stock of the space, moving chairs around to find the best places to sit and working out path routes and sight lines. While it’s been rather enjoyable not to spend time weeding, cutting back and dealing with the latest outbreak of disease or insect infestation, it’s made me realise how much I enjoy pretty, sweet smelling flowers and a productive vegetable garden.

Generous Gardener Rose in front of herbaceous border in English country garden

Most of all, I enjoy roses at this time of year, especially my favourite The Generous Gardener that, despite being planted in little more than hoggin (gravel, sand and clay) in my previous garden, climbed vigorously over a rose arch and continues to flower profusely.

I enjoy this rose not just for the look of the pale pink and blowsy flowers but for their delicious fragrance whether smelt as you pass by outside or filling a room inside. Perhaps best of all, I love using rose petals for food and drinks. I can’t stand lavender in food as it reminds me too much of soap, but roses are another matter. Hand me a box of Rose and Violet Cream chocolates and I’m happy. Slamseys Rose Gin? One of my favourite of Beth’s flavours. A jar of rose petal jam? The perfect topping to a fresh scone.

Rose Possett creamy dessert flavoured with fresh rose petals

This weekend, I nipped next door to snip off a rose from the arch, along with some petals from a rugosa rose to make this subtly flavoured Rose Petal Posset. The lemon juice gives a little sharpness to the dessert and brings out the pinkness and flavour of the rose petals. If you’re worried about this tasting too floral (though it doesn’t) add the zest of the lemon to make a Rose & Lemon Posset.

Use any unsprayed scented rose petals and shake the insects from the blooms before you start.

Try it. How can you go wrong with sugar, cream and rose petals?

ROSE PETAL POSSET

 

 

Creamy rose desserts made with cream and rose petals

2 rose heads
300ml double cream
50g caster sugar
Juice of 1 lemon

Snip the petals from the rose heads into a saucepan. Add the cream and sugar and heat gently to boiling point.

Simmer fairly robustly (more than for stock but less than the rolling boil for jam) for 3 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the lemon juice.

Leave to stand for ten minutes, which will help the flavour of the rose petals infuse the cream. Letting the cream cool a little should also lessen the chance of cracking your glass.

Strain the cream into four small glasses (you can stretch this to five) and chill for at least four hours.

Hawthorn | Death, Sex and Food

Hawthorn | Death, Sex and Food

hawthorn hedge with May blossom

May is undoubtedly the best month to enjoy the Essex countryside when the green fields are fringed with verges of swaying cow parsley and hedgerows seemingly beribboned with hawthorn blossom. Perhaps not so idyllic if you suffer from hay fever, but still a glorious sight and probably the one that I’d miss most of all if I lived somewhere else.

Every hedge on the farm at Slamseys has a little (or a great deal) of hawthorn, which is not surprising as it’s been grown as an impenetrable field boundary marker for centuries. In early May, the tiny buds start to open into delicate white or pink flowers, which are also known as May blossom, developing into deep red, round berries or haws in the autumn.

 

Pink Hawthorn flowers on gnarled tree

 

An old, gnarled hawthorn tree grows in front of the farmhouse on what used to be the boundary between the garden and meadow. Ponies in the field used to shelter under the dense canopy and reach up to nibble the leaves, so that the field side was neatly trimmed six feet above the ground. The branches are encrusted with lichen, it’s terribly lopsided and dominated by an enormous Wellingtonia tree but every year this beautiful deep pink blossom appears.

Ne’er cast a clout ‘til May is out

There seems to be disagreement as to whether this saying advises you to keep on your clothing until the month of May is out or until the May blossom is out, though perhaps the speculation only highlights the fact that the weather in May can be fickle and that old sayings and proverbs can be deliberately ambiguous. The temperature here on Monday was 26C, so this year it was prudent to shed a few layers when the May blossom is out.

 

Pink hawthorn flowers and lichen on branches

SUPERSTITIONS

There are all sorts of superstitions attached to hawthorn. In ancient times it was a symbol of fertility and marriage; it was linked to unregulated frolicking in fields rather than conjugal love in the home and according to old country superstition, illness or death would soon follow if hawthorn blossom was taken into the house.

Presumably these beliefs were due to the scent, which is heavy and not overly attractive once the flowers start to age and discolour. According to QI, the distinctive element of hawthorn scent is triethylamine, which is one of the first chemicals produced when a human body starts to decay and is also found in human semen and vaginal secretions. Given that, perhaps it’s not surprising that it wasn’t welcome indoors and was linked to death and sex. I think ageing hawthorn blossom smells like the Copydex glue that we used at primary school (which also started as white and yellowed with age).

 

White May blossom in hawthorn hedge

EATING HAWTHORN

Having read about the scent of hawthorn blossom, you may be dubious about using it any recipes. You may truly believe that you’ll be bringing death into the house with your bunch of hawthorn flowers. But …

You can eat the leaves and flowers in spring and the berries in the autumn.

Hawthorn leaves, flowers and berries are reputed to improve heart function.

Add young hawthorn leaves to a bowl of salad leaves.

Make a hedgerow (sort of) pesto with the leaves of hawthorn, stinging nettles, wild garlic and jack-by-the-hedge leaves whizzed together in the food processor with walnuts, rapeseed oil and cheddar cheese.

Make Hawthorn Blossom Wine or Hawthorn Blossom Liqueur using these recipes from Dalbeattie Community Initiative

Make Hawthorn cordial by steeping the flowers in a sugar syrup solution using this Hawthorn Cordial recipe at Life in Mud Spattered Boots.

Dilute Hawthorn Cordial for a long, refreshing drink or use it neat to flavour ice cream or drizzle over a fruit salad.

Drop hawthorn flowers into the water when making ice cubes.

 

If you’re going to use flowers for any of these recipes, just remember to use the young, fresh flowers that haven’t started to yellow or brown with age.

Use hawthorn flowers if they smell interesting,  but if they pong, just pass them by.

 

Why it’s the best time of year to make Stinging Nettle Scones

Why it’s the best time of year to make Stinging Nettle Scones

Primroses, daisies, violets and leaves in spring flower arrangement

It has been wet here and there’s water in ditches that have been dry for years. Bill and Jack are desperate to get the tractor work done, but alas every sunny and windy spell that dries the fields has been followed by a soaking. On the bright side, there’s plenty growing; primroses smother some of the ditch banks and the violets are flowering profusely.

Stinging Nettles growing wild in England

There are also stinging nettles springing into life. Stinging nettles are unpopular a lot of the time. Unexpectedly encountering a clump of high growing and vicious nettles in the summer when walking with bare legs is a painful experience, as is not noticing small nettles when pulling weeds in the garden. But, it’s always good to have a patch of nettles somewhere out of the way as they’re a good food source for butterflies and insects and their high nitrogen content make them useful on the compost heap or soaked in water to make a liquid feed.

Even better, you can eat nettles and spring is the best time of all to pick them.

If you’ve thought about foraging for wild food but aren’t sure where to start, then try stinging nettles.

Stinging nettles are easy to identify, grow abundantly and they’re nutritious. Be warned though; nettles taste very green. If you look for stinging nettle recipes, Nettle Soup always pops up. I’ve made several batches of nettle soup and sometimes it was OK, sometimes it didn’t taste too good and it was never fantastically delicious. Mostly, it tasted as though it should be good for you. Which indeed it is.

Cooking with Stinging Nettles

We enjoy stinging nettles stirred into risotto, in a hedgerow pesto or as an addition to soda bread and over the years, we’ve decided that we prefer them as a supporting ingredient rather than the star. Perhaps that’s the reason that the recipe I return to every spring and continue to make through to early summer is the one for Stinging Nettle Scones. The nettles don’t dominate but they add interest and if nothing else, provoke a little discussion around the table.

The Best Time of Year to Make Stinging Nettle Scones

Spring is the best time to make Stinging Nettle Scones because you need to use young, tender leaves and not the tough stringy plants of late summer. Did you know that nettles are so fibrous that they can be used to make fabric? That’s why you need young plants for these scones. Although spring is the best time, you can cut down older plants later in the year and wait for the new growth.

Gathering stinging nettles in colander with violets growing beside

Picking Stinging Nettles

Pick the top six or seven leaves from young nettle plants, cutting them straight into a colander so that you don’t have to handle them. Alternatively, wear gardening gloves to avoid stinging your hands. Rinse the leaves, picking out any stray blades of grass, and tip the stinging nettle leaves into a bowl. Pour enough boiling water into the bowl to cover the nettles and leave them to wilt for a couple of minutes. Hey presto, the leaves don’t sting any more. Honestly. Fish them out, squeeze out the excess water and make a batch of scones using the recipe below.

 

Stinging Nettle Scones

Needless to say, these scones are best eaten warm, spread generously with butter.

Go on, be brave and give them a go.

 

How to make Stinging Nettle Scones

Nettle Scones

 

Recipe for Stinging Nettle Scones

 

To make Stinging Nettle Scones:

225g plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

Pinch of salt

60g butter, cubed

Tops of 7 or 8 nettles wilted, drained and squeezed dry (see above)

1 tablespoon of chopped chives

40g strong cheddar cheese cubed

2 dessertspoons plain yoghurt

Milk

 

Put the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and rub in the butter.

Chop the nettles and add to the bowl with the chives and cheese.

Stir in the yoghurt and enough milk to bring the mixture together in a soft but not sticky dough. Tip out the dough onto a floured surface and quickly pat into a round about 4 cms thick. Cut into 4 (or 6) wedges and put them close together on a lightly greased baking sheet.

Brush the tops with milk and bake 220C for about 15 minutes when they should be risen and golden. Wrap in a tea towel and transfer to a wire tray.

Best eaten warm. Liberally spread with butter.

Why didn’t I know that?

Why didn't I know that?

How many times do you read something and wonder why you didn’t know that before? It happens to me all the time. Sadly, when I share these revelations with my family, they all too often shrug their shoulders and tell me that it’s old news or ask why anyone would want to know or care.

Just in case you’re interested, here are six of my recent discoveries.

 

REPLACING SINGLE USE PLASTIC

Along with almost everyone else, we’re trying to reduce our dependence on single use plastic. Some steps are easy; using fabric shopping bags has become second nature and it was simple to ditch cling film by covering food with a plate, foil (though that’s not perfect in ecological terms) or beeswax wraps. But buying fruit and vegetables is another matter.

bag of onions plastic not currently recycled

At the market, they’ll happily tip everything into your shopping bag but the supermarkets are dire. Nearly all their pre-packed produce is bagged in non-recyclable plastic and if you buy loose, they only provide plastic bags to keep everything together. I don’t put bananas or the like into a bag, but forcing the cashier to round up half a kilo of loose Brussels sprouts from the conveyor belt is a step too far.

Now I’ve discovered that some people put loose produce into mesh bags and, while I’m not sure if I’m dedicated enough to make my own or prepared to go through an explanation at the till each time, it’s worth consideration. If you’d like to make your own, read Celia’s instructions for sewing mesh bags.

DID YOU KNOW?

Did you know that you can make macaroni cheese without all the palaver of making the cheese sauce and boiling the macaroni first? It turns out you can just throw uncooked macaroni into a buttered baking dish, stir in some cheese, pour over the milk and bake.

ORGANISATION

Organisation is a good thing. Alright, I’ve known that for a long time, but sometimes it takes time to do it. Originally, we planned to hire out The Barley Barn most of the time, so all our things were kept stored away to keep the barn clutter free and ready for hirers.

Over time, as Ruth’s printmaking classes became more popular, we seemed to be forever moving printing paraphernalia back and forth, so we’ve organised the barn to suit the current conditions.

making space for printmaking

A printmaking studio space has been set up at one end of the barn with areas for storage, preparation, printing and drying. There are with dedicated printing tables so that nobody has to faff around with clamps anymore and the moveable walls can be wheeled into place to hide all the printmaking equipment when the barn’s used for something else. We were so pleased with our new space that we wrote a guide to setting up a home printmaking studio space .

We’re hoping that our more organised space will make life a lot easier.

DID YOU KNOW?

Did you know that pressing hard on your upper lip, just under the nose, can stifle a sneeze? Me neither but apparently, it’s true.

WHAT3WORDS

I’ve discovered What3Words, which is an amazing concept. They’ve divided the world into grids 3 metres x 3 metres and given each grid a combination of three words that uniquely identifies it.

Postcodes are generally alright, but they aren’t always accurate enough to pinpoint a location and open fields don’t have a postcode so it’s difficult to direct anyone to them, as we had to do with an ambulance when a rider fell from their horse. With What3Words, we can direct people accurately.

seaweed.splashes.term field gateway

The place in the photo above is known in the family as “The Double Gates”, “The place that Bill calls The Double Gates” or “Where the track crosses from Great Forest to Grove Field” and goodness knows what all the walkers and riders who use the bridleway would call it. But now, we can officially say that it’s the point known as “seaweed.splashes.term”.

I just need to remember not to call it seaweed.splashed.term because that’s in Canada.

SOURDOUGH BREAD

I’ve discovered that sourdough rolls are much easier to make than loaves. I’d almost given up with baking sourdough bread because my loaves were either dense and heavy or so full of holes that it was impossible to spread butter onto a slice. Just before Christmas, I tried the sourdough cinnamon rolls recipe from The Clever Carrot and it worked! Following that triumph, I’ve made a few batches of Soft Share and Tear Rolls from her book Artisan Sourdough Made Simple with equal success and I’ve decided that for the time being, I’ll stick to making rolls rather than loaves.

Have you had a recent “Why didn’t I know that?” moment? Do share.

Continue reading “Why didn’t I know that?”