Poetry in Motion

 

Last night we attended the magnificent untraditional Burns Supper at Giffordtown Village Hall. It was every bit as good as anticipated. For readers from afar I should point out that the point of a Burns Supper isn’t really the supper itself, but the celebration of the bard’s contribution. As I have said before (see my last post), I think the celebration tips over all too often into adulation, and the formula can become tired and boring.

Doug and Jan Wightman and the Giffordtown Village Hall committee put a marvellous event together. What I’m going to do in this post is perhaps a little cheaty; but it was so good I want to share the joy! This is a selection of the inspired ‘slides’ that went into their shadow puppet rendition of Burns’ epic poem, Tam O’Shanter. Doug read the poem, Jan made the puppets, unseen helpers backstage manipulated the puppets and Steve Gellatly (silent movie pianist) did a dashing accompaniment on the keyboard. The poem title link takes you to Brian Cox reading the whole poem. This will have to do you until Doug gets a recording contract!

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When chapman billies leave the street,
And drouthy neibors, neibors, meet;
As market days are wearing late,
And folk begin to tak the gate ….

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While we sit bousing at the nappy,
An’ getting fou and unco happy …

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O Tam! had’st thou but been sae wise,
As taen thy ain wife Kate’s advice!
She tauld thee weel thou was a skellum,
A blethering, blustering, drunken blellum;
That frae November till October,
Ae market-day thou was na sober;
That ilka melder wi’ the Miller,
Thou sat as lang as thou had siller;
That ev’ry naig was ca’d a shoe on
The Smith and thee gat roarin’ fou on;
That at the Lord’s house, ev’n on Sunday,
Thou drank wi’ Kirkton Jean till Monday,
She prophesied that late or soon,
Thou wad be found, deep drown’d in Doon,
Or catch’d wi’ warlocks in the mirk,
By Alloway’s auld, haunted kirk.

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… And at his elbow, Souter Johnnie,
His ancient, trusty, drouthy crony:
Tam lo’ed him like a very brither;
They had been fou for weeks thegither.
The night drave on wi’ sangs an’ clatter;
And aye the ale was growing better …

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… Weel-mounted on his grey mare, Meg,
A better never lifted leg,
Tam skelpit on thro’ dub and mire,
Despising wind, and rain, and fire;
Whiles holding fast his gude blue bonnet,
Whiles crooning o’er some auld Scots sonnet,
Whiles glow’rin round wi’ prudent cares,
Lest bogles catch him unawares;
Kirk-Alloway was drawing nigh,
Where ghaists and houlets nightly cry …

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… The lightnings flash from pole to pole,
Near and more near the thunders roll,
When, glimmering thro’ the groaning trees,
Kirk-Alloway seem’d in a bleeze,
Thro’ ilka bore the beams were glancing,
And loud resounded mirth and dancing …

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… As Tammie glowr’d, amaz’d, and curious,
The mirth and fun grew fast and furious;
The Piper loud and louder blew,
The dancers quick and quicker flew,
They reel’d, they set, they cross’d, they cleekit,
Till ilka carlin swat and reekit …

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… To sing how Nannie lap and flang,
(A souple jade she was and strang),
And how Tam stood, like ane bewitch’d,
And thought his very een enrich’d …

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Now, do thy speedy-utmost, Meg,
And win the key-stone o’ the brig;
There, at them thou thy tail may toss,
A running stream they dare na cross…

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For Nannie, far before the rest,
Hard upon noble Maggie prest,
And flew at Tam wi’ furious ettle;
But little wist she Maggie’s mettle!
Ae spring brought off her master hale,
But left behind her ain grey tail:
The carlin claught her by the rump,
And left poor Maggie scarce a stump…

 

The performance was ace. So were the haggis and neeps and the Tunnocks Teacakes and the alternative address to the haggis; and all the music; and finally, as if we hadn’t had enough pleasure to last a fortnight, a wee dram gifted by an absent friend. Matured in sherry casks so less peaty than you’d expect of a fine Islay. Bliss. Happy Bardic Celebrations, everybody. Keep it fresh.

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Jean Armour Supper

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This is the time of year when everyone in Scotland starts honing their recitations of Tam O’Shanter and the Address to a Haggis, Holy Willie’s Prayer and the like. It hardly seems a year since we last celebrated Robert Burns’ birth. And if I’m honest, I’d say a year is perhaps not quite long enough. Don’t get me wrong, I do like Burns’ work (most of it anyway) and a good plate of haggis and neeps is a fine thing on a winter’s night. But in my humble opinion, we should all be showing a bit more creativity in setting out our Burns night parties.

The standard programme (Selkirk Grace, Toast to the Haggis, Immortal Memory, Toast to the Lasses and Reply etc.) certainly offers a good dose of the Bard’s best work. But it’s a hard thing to keep fresh year after year. So for Burns Night 2019, I’m delighted to say I’ll be at Giffordtown Village Hall watching a shadow puppet rendition of Tam O’Shanter and raising a glass as various musicians and poets give us their best. By order of the organiser, there are to be No Speeches. Sounds good to me.Image result for burns poems

A good number of years ago, I helped devise a Jean Armour Supper. Jean Armour was Burns’ long-suffering wife and it seemed like a good idea to give her centre stage for a change. Sadly I haven’t kept any record of those proceedings but I do remember it was a great event, in the best Harpie tradition.

This year I’m thinking cocktails, having read an inspiring book recently entitled ‘Free the Tipple: Kickass Cocktails Inspired by Iconic Women’. What would JA like to drink to enhance her enjoyment of her supper? Well I have a few suggestions and will be glad to hear yours too. How about:

tomato breakfastBLOODY MARY: Basically vodka and tomato juice with a bit of spice, and maybe a dash of dry sherry. It’s one of my favourites as it feels so healthy! Especially with a nice long stick of celery to stir it with. It feels like at least two of your five a day, with a good alcoholic undertow to brace you for whatever life has in store. Obviously Jean Armour had a lot to contend with, and I reckon a good Bloody Mary or two would help her put her philandering husband in his place. All those vitamins!


ESPRESSO MARTINI: Coffee was well known in Scotland by the late 18th ceImage result for espresso martini images�ntury. Many coffee houses had a No Women rule, but our Jean I’m sure would have challenged this absurdity. Or she might have taken the opposite tack, as a 1674 ‘Women’s Petition Against Coffee’ complained that

… the Excessive Use of that Newfangled, Abominable, Heathenish Liquor called COFFEE …has…Eunucht our Husbands…

In Jean Armour’s shoes, a eunuched husband would probably have been a better behaved husband. A difficult call to make? Sex or loyalty? Nowadays of course we know she shouldn’t have to choose. In any case, a smoothly bittersweet blend of Aqua Vitae, Kahlua, cold espresso and sugar syrup would lend a sophisticated edge to Jean’s revenge.

SILVER BULLET: the only kind of bullet effective against a werewolf. Or any other howling macho  charmer. The sort of thing that might prove useful in your handbag when you read in the paper that your husband has written a prizewinning love poem for some other floozie. Or meet the mother of his other brace of children down at the school gates. The Silver Bullet cocktail takes no prisoners – a bracing mix of gin and whisky with a wedge of lemon, shaken with ice – and that’s it. No mixers. No messing.

 

Some new, some old

And that’s just the resolutions! Happy new year everybody, I hope you had a good Hogmanay and are poised for a bright new year. Here’s a cheery grin from a couple of ne’er-do-wells I encountered on a Victorian time travel night just before Christmas:

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My favourite thing about this time of year is looking backwards and forwards at the same time. As if with a double-ended telescope and rear-view mirrors – it’s probably already been invented, like most of my good ideas. Anyway what I’m saying is, I don’t like to lose the best of last year before hurtling into the next. So I’m going to bore you with my Christmas dinner stories. Just the menu – the rest of the shenanigans are for private viewing only!

IMG_0454.JPGSo here’s my turkey. I have fulminated at length in the past about never in my life intending to cook another f***ing turkey. But as you will recall from my last post, I came over all funny in mid-December when I went into Cheyne’s the Butchers to order a ham. And for the first time in my life, I can say completely unabashed that my turkey was a triumph. I brined it a la Nigella – in a massive pot with water/salt/sugar, squeezed IMG_0457.JPGoranges with their husks, and a range of whole spices including cinnamon sticks. star anise, cloves, bay leaves, parsley stems and slices of fresh ginger root. After two days (ie on Christmas Eve) I took it out and roasted it for two and a half hours (12lb turkey), painting it all over first with honey and maple syrup, then latticing with streaky bacon. It bronzed up beautifully and I covered it with tinfoil halfway through. Sadly I forgot to take a photo of it as it emerged Adonis-like from the oven. Bronzed and muscled, you get the picture.

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Now I’m sorry I can’t find the words to say this without Nigella’s pout: darlings, it was succulent! Enough said? I eased the stress by buying (instead of making from scratch, another first) butcher’s stuffing and bacon-wrapped chipolatas; cranberry sauce; and even gravy. And by doing it a day ahead, I had it carved ready to heat and serve. Not as spectacular as bearing in the burnished beast on a platter and carving it at the table, but I have learned my limitations through the years. Anthony Bourdain, sadly gone from us during 2018, recommends having two turkeys cooked – so you get someone to take one whole cooked bird to the table and flourish it around a bit while, like a whirling dervish, you are standing in the kitchen reducing the other one to perfect portions. Then you wait five minutes and produce beautifully arranged dishes, and everyone thinks you are Wonder Woman. Of course he’s talking about restaurant cooking. I was more than happy that the Wunderkind and his lovely fiancé were flurrying around helping get it all out on the table, hot and fresh and tasty, but without the drama. Rest in Peace, Anthony, your stories are wicked and wonderful. And Nigella – I apologise for all the times I have mocked your pout. Your recipes are brilliant.

We started the meal with a little cup of chilled pea and parsley soup (Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Veg Every Day); then Scottish smoked salmon with oatcakes or, for the Troubadour, my quince cheese, made with Newburgh-grown quinces; then the turkey or for the vegetarians, an almond and cashew nut roast stuffed with prunes and chestnuts (thank you Shirley Spears). The usual veggies and condiments. Then Olivia’s Magnificent Limoncello Trifle, second year running so it’s now a tradition. And we finished with an Aqua Vitae espresso cocktail, made up in a big coffee jug by the Troubadour.

The things I would repeat neIMG_0451.JPGxt year are the brining and the buying-in of the extras; getting Olivia to do the trifle; the chilled soup which makes a light and fresh savoury start to a heavy meal; and Valerie’s smoked salmon, superb as always. The nut roast? Not sure. I liked it but the Troubadour thought it was a bit dry so I haven’t quite cracked the veggie option yet. On the left is a nice reminder of a pie-making session with Stella for the Victorian event. Not vegetarian, and nothing to do with Christmas dinner as such but hey, we were heroes! Forty wee hand-raised pies to Stella’s lovely mutton/ham/caper recipe.

There you are, that was it, please tell me your own Christmas dinner stories. It may only be lunch; but it’s such a delight for anyone who loves cooking to have a special project and with lots of friends around the table to share it with. Looking forward to poached egg on toast tonight!

Wishing you all good food and good friends throughout 2018, and lots of ways to share them with those for whom these fundamental requirements are in short supply.

 

 

Grace and the Gobbler

Photo alert: these are randomly picked from the past as I can’t find a single photo of a turkey in my vast food-photo collection. Funny, that. So instead I’m just posting some seasonal favourites.

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As in every other year at this time, I have spent the last month dreaming up my Christmas dinner. Consulting cookery books for the perfect balance of gourmet delight and ease of delivery. Writing lists, sharing ideas with the Troubadour, crossing out and starting all over again. And now of course the shopping has begun, and the prep is under way – the practice runs and the experiments. I love it. It’s what Christmas really means to me – getting the people I love around the table and sharing nice food and drink and lots of laughs. It’s the stuff of life.

DSCN0184As I may have shared before, however, I have a bit of an antipathy to the turkey. This is despite the fact that it’s a nice low-fat meat, and my own mother used to pluck turkeys at a local farm every December, to bring in a bit of extra cash. I have fond memories of me aged 10 playing around the farmyard while a team of three strong women grabbed, drew necks, hung up the squalling gobblers, and pulled feathers like fury. You’d think I’d embrace the family tradition every year – not necessarily in killing and plucking, but in giving a turkey the loving touch for the festive table.

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Here’s the truth. I got so obsessed over the years with doing the whole turkey dinner absolutely from scratch that I sickened myself, and couldn’t face actually eating the damn thing with its two kinds of home-made stuffing, bread sauce, cranberry and orange compote etc etc. And that made me crabbit. Which is not a good way to come to the table. So I’ve been doing alternatives for many years now, and most of those have worked out really well. Including improved mood on my part.

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This year I will be cooking for eight meat-eaters and four vegetarians. My plan for the meat-eaters was ham. But something happened to me yesterday, as I walked through the door of our delightful local butchers, Cheyne’s; and I found myself interrogating them about the provenance of their turkeys. Yes, turkeys. Since free-range is the only option when I buy a hen, I asked first of all about their Kelly Bronzes. And obviously I’m a bit out of touch with meat prices since I don’t cook a lot of meat at home (again, the Troubadour’s influence). However I was shocked and horrified at the price and after a lot of humming and hawing I compromised all my principles and have ordered a normal, not free-range, fresh turkey (also pretty costly, but half the price of the Kelly Bronze). Eeeek, ouch, crivvens, help ma boab. Guilt re the welfare of the birds, fighting with my inbuilt thrift or maybe you could call it parsimony. I couldn’t in all conscience spend £70 on a turkey. My mother would turn in her grave.

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Today however my equilibrium has been restored because by timely coincidence I opened an email from FareShare asking for donations for people whose Christmas menus might otherwise be constrained to beans on toast. So I’ve given them a wee chunk of my Christmas budget and suddenly it makes perfect sense to scrimp on the free-range credentials. It’s a tough old world out there, and if yesterday, I thought I had a moral dilemma, I’ve suddenly had it put into perspective.FSCN0162

So I’m trusting that all my dear friends coming to me on Christmas day will help peel the sprouts, stir the gravy, ply me with gin, and generally prevent me from going into OCD orbit; and that comfort and joy and good cheer accompany all the little donations that help to spread the gladness. Here’s FareShare’s details if you’re looking for your own little Yuletide Balancer: FareShare Donate

Waxing lyrical

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Recently I mentioned that I wanted to cut down on my use of plastic, especially clingfilm, in the kitchen. I was nervous that it would be impossible because the alternatives might not be great. Well as is often the case, as soon as you dig around a bit you discover a well-trodden path which somehow has eluded you up till now.

It turned out that all I had to do was turn right from my own close and walk a hundred yards down the street – Minerva Blue Crafts was in the middle of setting up workshops to show people how to make beeswax wraps. So I signed up, paying the princely sum of £15. While waiting for the event I had a look around and found beeswax wraps for sale in Lakeland – at a staggering £19.99 for three! I love Lakeland, and if I’m looking to treat myself, that’s often where I go. But it has to be said, sometimes their goods are on the pricey side.

So, come the day of the workshop and I discovered I’d got the date wrong and was working – driving a minibus to Hawick (the new Borders Distillery) and back no less, more of that in my next post – and the next date (yesterday) was already fully booked, so popular are these workshops proving to be. So I’ve booked again, but meantime, to satisfy my curiosity, I dropped in with my camera; here are some shots of Newburgh Women Saving the Planet!

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I haven’t got the proper knowledge yet of how it’s done, but will report back in a future post on exactly how you create these handy wee cloots. They can be used to cover a bowl of leftovers in the fridge, or to wrap up a sandwich to take to work – or, no doubt, lots of other things. I overheard a conversation about wrapping one’s husband up in one; the main attraction being that it takes warm hands to make it fit properly … but maybe that’s an advanced class!

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More detail on all of this at a future date. Meantime, for those of you who follow my blog, let me just announce that I finished my 50,000 word NaNoWriMo challenge on Friday night and posted it in at 5 to midnight! So that’s me with the first draft of a novella in my eager little clutches, and after I’ve recovered from November’s bad posture cramps, eye strain and weight gain, will be trying to figure out what to do with it. Hurrah!

 

 

Birnam Book Festival

Today the Troubadour and I had a brilliant visit to Birnam and then Dunkeld (joined on, as you cross the Telford bridge) – a cold walk in the town, a bit of culture, a heart-warming book-signing, a very typically Scottish lunch, and a bit of retail therapy. This photo may not be the cheeriest view of the town, but I wanted to capture the way the cloud lay across the valley like a cat with no intention to budge.

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Briefly let me explain my absence from the blogwaves for the last month – I’ve been writing a novel! I signed up to NaNoWriMo, an online challenge which involves writing 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. So I have become a bit of a hermit. However this morning I reached 43,800 words and am well on course for finishing on time, fingers crossed ; hence taking a day off for a fIMG_0363.JPGun outing.

Birnam, for those of you not local, is well known for its mention in Macbeth – one of the witches assures him of his brilliant future: “Be lion-mettled, proud, and take no care/Who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are./Macbeth shall never vanquished be until/Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill/Shall come against him.”

In other words, never. But alas, Macbeth fell for a dastardly witches’ trick as we find out later in the play. Nowadays, Birnam is a small southern Highland town with lots of pleasant amenities, only about 20 minutes’ drive north of Perth. This weekend they are hosting their first ever book festival, and we managed to get tickets to see Peggy Seeger being interviewed about her book by Fiona Ritchie (Wayfaring Strangers).

IMG_0356.JPGThe title of Seeger’s memoir ‘First Time Ever‘ comes from the song written for her by her long-time life partner Ewan McColl, and made famous by Roberta Flack and a host of others who have covered it over the years. In interview she was open, charming, honest, witty and downright entertaining. Now in her eighties, she informed us that back home in London, she wears a community alarm pendant in case she falls; and yet she clearly had the courage and drive to travel north to a (today at any rate) freezing foggy Highland town, and talk for over an hour then sign books – and tonight she’s on stage, singing. This is a woman with absolutely no claptrap in her veins. She has a strong record as a feminist and environmental campaigner as well as being a key figure in British and Scottish folk song revival. Folk isn’t my first choice of music, but I’d heard her recently on Radio 4 singing her great song about not being allowed to be an engineer, and I was hooked. Even better, she told us all that she had read Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing’ to prepare herself for writing her memoir – exactly what I did a couple of months ago – so now I feel I am standing on the shoulders of giants.

Fiona Ritchie was an excellent interviewer, and the dialogue flowed like a spirited conversation, with nothing forced and nothing held back. There was time for just two questions from the audience at the end – both of which were inspired, and generously responded to. I’m including them here because they really added to the experience: Q1 was asking her to relate her experience as a child when she met Elizabeth Cotten, the black singer (‘Freight Train’), in a department store; and Q2 was about the place of folk and traditional song in politics. I won’t rehearse her answers here; buy the book!

IMG_0361.JPGI mentioned lunch and retail therapy. Oh dear. I have at last succumbed to the lure of the (I blush to admit it) deep-fried Mars Bar. It was that cheery, scrubbed-face, clever waitress at the Dunkeld Fish Bar who enticed me. And the Troubadour who made me. Well maybe not exactly. We shared it (his half was bigger than my half, honest!) What really worried me was that I’d enjoy it so much that I’d want another one. Well, it was gooey and sweet and I couldn’t honestly say I didn’t enjoy it. But its similarity to a deep-fried sausage in batter was less than prepossessing so I think I have now laid this ghost and it’ll never happen again. Unless we have any more cold Scottish November days, and how likely is that?IMG_0366

Retail therapy involved a browse round a great second-hand book shop where I purchased ‘From Petticoat Tails to Arbroath Smokies: Traditional Foods of Scotland’ by Laura Mason and Catherine Brown. I will review this book further in due course; it fits very well with another historical tome I’ve been working my way through. Further shopping entailed a new wok from Kettles of Dunkeld, a great ironmongery emporium. Also a potato-shaped potato-scrubber (clever), a vinegar bottle, Christmas napkins and one or two other wee delights. The wok needs seasoning so I’m away downstairs now to get on with that. Stir-fried veggies coming up. And wish me well for my final 6,200 words!

 

 

 

Beekeeping for Beginners

So there we were, last Friday afternoon, the Troubadour and I, out for a wee walk with Sammy, our friend Maggie’s ancient-but-sparky fox-dog. Bright sunshine, trees just beginning to turn yellow and red. On our way back, passing the distillery, we met my colleagues Dougie and Charley. Dougie seemed unusually delighted to see me. ‘Helen!’ he greeted me, ‘want to come and see the bees?’ Of course I’d been pestering him for months to get to see the bees, since they were installed. And on this occasion, Dougie (whom of course I admire and respect unreservedly!) was looking for a chance to nip home early to see to his dogs and ease himself into the weekend. Always glad to oblige, I followed them into the field and the story unfolded thus:IMAG0297

Now I realise I don’t know as much about bees as I thought. In fact, my knowledge is next to nil. But I am aware that if we don’t take action to save the bees, they are in danger of dying out; and that if the bees go, so does all their pollination, hence all of plant life is similarly afflicted.

The sceptical (and, presumably, ignorant) part of me wonders why we don’t have an artificial substitute for bee pollination by now. Is all this fuss just hippy nonsense, or is it true? I choose to believe the latter.

So I was delighted when the distillery decided to bring in the hives. Beekeeping is part of the Abbey’s history after all; and you can still see the beehive corner in the Abbey ruins. Our new hives are sheltered right in their lee.

IMAG0298The Troubadour was, incidentally, fascinated by the shed where the bee-suits are kept. Apparently he used to play his guitar at parties there long ago, when it was just a farm amid the Abbey ruins. If you listened carefully you could hear a ghostly twanging in the eaves. So he and Sammy reminisced while I struggled into the suit.

A beekeeping suit is just a boiler suit, I suppose, but with an emphasis on keeping the outside world at bay. Once you’re all zipped in, the helmet flips over from the back and then zips up from back to front of neck on either side, and there’s a tab to go over the place where the zips meet so that the bees can’t get through to your throat. Then there are gauntlets which come right up your arms so it would be difficult for a bee to crawl right down and sting your hands. I was already wearing thick socks over my leggings, and stout trainers, so my legs were safe. I include all this sartorial information because I am not by nature a poster girl! and wouldn’t be seen dead climbing into an outfit online if it weren’t for the pursuit of enlightenment (yours)!IMAG0299

Charley is a student colleague who is undertaking a Science Baccalaureat at school, and using the introduction of bees at the distillery as her research project. The Baccalaureat provides students with an opportunity to integrate knowledge and skills from across the traditional school science curriculum. Beekeeping incorporates zoology, botany and chemistry; not so much physics but Charley is bringing that into another part of her research so that’s okay. This is surely a great way to approach learning and teaching in schools – doing a project like this will probably last in her memory for life, and provide a good foundation for wherever her brilliant career takes her next. Anyway she also has the opportunity to show the ropes to old fogeys like me, and that’s not something you learn every day!

We headed down the field with a bucket. The plan was to take off some honey, and I’d have been even more excited if I’d realised that this was the first ever honey they’d taken off. As it was, I was entranced by the whole experience.

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Between them, Dougie and Charley talked me through what I had to do. Actually my contribution was miniscule but very exciting. I don’t have the correct vocabulary for all of this, so apologies to all you experts out there; but what we wIMAG0322ere doing was taking screens out of sections of one of the hives – to inspect them, I think – and replacing them in a spare bit of hive which then went back on top. We kept one screen back, from the middle of the set, as it seemed to have the most honey in it. I had to give it a good ‘aerial dump’ – as if I was hitting it down on something but not actually making contact – to try and dislodge the bees. Once most of them were off, we put the screen in the bucket and lidded it; put the hive back together and strapped it up against foxes, mice, or other marauders, and laid a stone slab on top against the wind.

When I say ‘screen’, I’m referring to a section about 14 x 10 inches with a hexagonal honeycomb framework inside. I think, but I’m not sure, that these are provided for the bees to get started – rather than them having to build it all from scratch. Like everything else in life, the more I learn, the more I realise how ignorant I am. What we lifted out had most of the middle cells bulging and dripping with clear, light golden honey. We stuck our fingers in foIMAG0325r a taste and it was absolutely fabulous. Above is the Scientist and the Clumsy Assistant heading back to the kitchen to examine our wares. You can see the big smile on my face through the helmet.

Et voila! The first ever Lindores Abbey Distillery honey; and probably the first honey on this site since the Abbey was sacked about 460 years ago, at the Reformation. Charley was deservedly delighted by the fruits of her labours; Dougie had left the building; and we proudly took a bowl of our amber nectar around for everyone to have a taste.  Afternoon Tea guests may have found it a bit strange to have this little pot of gorgeous golden goo dumped down alongside their dainty teatime treats but hey – how unique could it be?

I have to confess that I buy cheap honey from Lidl – Highgate Fayre, £1.15 (and I like it well enough). Good honey is so expensive, and I’ve never known enough about honey to be convinced that £7.99 (Lidl’s Manuka Honey, much cheaper than elsewhere) is a reasonable price for an artisan product. Again, my inner sceptic comes to the fore and I will organise a blind tasting, comparing the beautiful product of our hives with Lidl’s two offers. Surely, surely, the difference will be obvious. The labour alone makes our own worth the premium. But this is the real world and I want to know for sure. Meantime, the experience was absolutely priceless and I am indebted to Dougie and Charlie for a fabulous afternoon. And to the Troubadour for great photos!

 

 

 

Waste not Want

Yesterday the government pledged £15m to support the redistribution of waste food – mainly fresh food which is most vulnerable to spoilage. The Grocer reported fully on this and on their successful campaign to bring it about. I’m delighted to hear it – although where, I wonder, are the headlines in  the mainline press? It seems that this essential development isn’t newsworthy.

DSCN0052 (1)Up to a third of food is wasted in the UK each year; food prices are still rising; many people are still going hungry. If there were easy solutions, no doubt we’d have cracked it: so I don’t mean to be glib. The national charity Fareshare does a great job in redistributing supermarket surplus; but they do it on a shoestring, working with volunteers to carry out the laborious processes of sorting and delivery. This extra government funding might, I hope, mean some proper paid jobs to underpin the ongoing work and to ensure volunteers are well trained and supported.

On the domestic front there is a wealth of online information to help us all be more efficient. I must say I find it a bit of a challenge to avoid another hazard, i.e. excess use of plastic, in using up leftovers. What would I do without clingfilm? Well, actually, quite a lot if I just make the effort. Will report back further on this – meantime there are lots of suggestionHow To Roast Tomatoes or Oven Roasted Tomatoes by @SpicieFoodie | #tomato #roasted #tomatoes #howtoroasttomatoes #summer #fruit #tomatorecipess here and here and here. Many suggestions are just what our mothers used to do – e.g. put a plate or a tea towel over a bowl. But there’s also some info about beeswax wraps which bear a bit of investigation.

Leaving you on a cheerier note, I have just found an amazing use for another autumn glut  – Bloody Mary Slow Roasted Tomatoes. This is on the Love Food Hate Waste website, a regular source of thrifty gourmet inspiration. Definitely on my to-do list.

 

A lot to be thankful for

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Our corner of Fife, bordering onto the Tay, is very fruitful and there’s been a lot of pickling and potting going on. Above is a bowl of windfall pears I was gifted, and made into chutney. More on that later. Meantime, over the weekend, I’ve enjoyed a bunch of events which were set up as fundraisers so here, for the record, are some details:

At work (Lindores Abbey Distillery) we joined in ‘the world’s biggest coffee morning‘ and raised £250 for Macmillan Cancer Support. Lots of people brought in some home baking and our visitors put a wee donation in the box.

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In the TICC (Tayside Institute and Community Centre) there was the usual Saturday coffee morning which on this occasion was to raise funds to fight our cause to have our railway station reopened: and we raised £600. A couple of weekends ago a small group of us also put on a wee music-and-words event, with the support of the artist in residence, and raised £150 for the same cause. It would be brilliant to have the line open again. The picture below is of a hamper put together by small individual donations – just normal day-to-day stuff that makes all the difference.

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And last night the Troubadour and I attended a concert in Dysart, near Kirkcaldy, to support our singing friend Alan.  We were entertained by two great community choirs – Healthy Harmonies, an NHS staff choir; and Capital Voices, from Edinburgh. The minister made a few introductory comments about having attended ‘Food Crisis Summits’ over the last 20 years – her first was in Botswana in 1998; the most recent in Kirkcaldy. I honestly don’t know what to say about people going hungry in this day and age, either in Africa or in Scotland – or anywhere else for that matter. It’s not just about poverty, it’s about politics. We could all be doing far better in sharing out the bounty. Anyway for the record, those two choirs last night raised £1,200 for the Kirkcaldy Food Bank, and that was a brilliant result.

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Finally – here is a beautiful loaf, handformed and baked like a sheaf of wheat – complete with wee mousie having a nibble. It was made by Barry and his staff, of the Wee Bakery, and gifted to the church for Thanksgiving. I’ll use the words of Robert Burns to sign off and wish you always enough food to enjoy and share:

May the moose ne’er leave your girnal wi’ a tear-drap in its e’e’

Juicing for Beginners

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Perfect autumn weather this weekend; so we went down to the community orchard yesterday morning, and gathered in a big pile of apples – lots of varieties, and we didn’t even have to pick them off the trees as last week’s winds had shaken them right down onDSCN3374 (2)to our path. They were just lying there waiting to be chosen. I’d helped friends recently and they’d shown me how to work the scratter and press, so this was my second juicing session this year – which is to say, my second juicing session in 62 years.

There’s a certain amount of prep you have to do if you’re planning to juice, so let me just tell you something which should be obvious but wasn’t to me: start collecting your empty wine bottles, with screwtop lids, now (or preferably six months ago). Scrub the labels off them (I’ve just been told off for not taking a Brillo pad to the leftover label glue so, depending on how much your juicing partner nags you, you might wish to be more thorough than I was). Then sterilise them. I used Milton fluid which is usually used for babies’ milk bottles – I wouldn’t know as the Wunderkind was fed on draught, and one’s boobs don’t need sterilising. You just put a capful of Milton in a sinkful of water, and soak your bottles and lids for 15 minutes.

IMG_0135Because I live in an orchard town, we have a community-use scratter and press. A scratter is basically a big chopper – you feed the apples in the top and they go through a couple of blades, reappearing in a bin below as not-quite-mush. You empty the NQ Mush into the press, which is round and wooden with slatted sides, lower the bar and turn the handle, and beautiful amber juice flows out into your bucket, over which you have placed an old net curtain to catch any bits of escaping flesh. You have also added a teaspoonful of citric acid, or vitamin C, to the bucket, to preserve the juice and prevent it browning. Today we juiced three boxes of apples and got about 24 bottles of juice – so that one teaspoonful of citric acid is the only thing in the entire batch that isn’t apple. It’s an incredibly pure product, and tastes wonderful. So sweet and fresh!

Finally, assuming you aren’t going to drink all that juice in the next 72 hours or so, you can pasteurise the bottles – either in a custom-build pasteuriser which is just like a big boiler with a thermostat, or just in your biggest pot on top of the stove. Our pasteuriser fused today, so I brought mine home and went stove-top. It only took an hour, and I believe the juice will now last up to a year.

I had been thinking I might try making cider but I found this really informative article by George Monbiot in the Guardian which gives further detail on how to juice your own apples – and was very entertained by the cautionary tale about the risk of turning your gorgeous juice into Toilet Duck. It seems that cider making is a special skill all of its own. So I’ll just stick with gorgeous juice, and buy my cider (and Toilet Duck) from the Co-Op as usual.