Posts Tagged ‘fruit’

Erdigg House (Part 2)

It’s time for my regular guest blogger, Rambler5319, to take over so sit back and enjoy.

 

This is the second part of our visit to Erdigg House which I began last week (23.10.13).

The original owner Joshua Edisbury had the place built in the 1680s. However it seems, even in his rather exalted position of High Sherriff of the county of Denbighshire, that he overreached himself eventually going bankrupt. Interesting connection here is that Elihu Yale (founder of Yale University) was a neighbour of Edisbury; and it was Yale who called in the mortgages that caused Edisbury to go bankrupt. Nice neighbour? In 1718 the house was bought by John Mellor (Master of the Chancery) who extended it and after he died his nephew Simon Yorke inherited it (1733) after which it remained in the Yorke family until 1973 when the NT took it over.

We finished off with stuff about the lengths these big houses had to go to in filtering their water to make it safe to drink. Also how we take it for granted that if we turn our taps on we can immediately fill a glass and just drink it.

We pick things up this week with a couple of notices which remind us that though this house was very grand, situated in its massive 2,000-acre estate and far from any neighbours, danger still lurked.

Look at this & the crime outlined:

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Yes that’s right, at the end of Aug 1824 someone broke into the garden on a Saturday night or early on a Sunday morning at Erdigg House: (old spelling Erthig). The thief (or thieves) stole some fruit. Now remember this was food for the house; gardeners were employed to tend, cultivate & harvest the fruit often grown in glasshouses. One in particular, for grapevines, was off limits for all but a special few in case the grapes were taken. The notice is dated 31 Aug 1824 which was a Tuesday so he’d had the printing done pretty quick and got them put up around the area. The reward is Ten Guineas. (A guinea is £1.05p so total value then £10.50p: just over £750 in today’s money.) He was definitely keen to catch the robbers.

Next up is this one:

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It says that: “Persons have of late made a practice of passing and re-passing before the front of Erthig House after dark and at all hours of the night without having any business at the house etc…..”

The servants have been ordered to detain whoever they find trespassing on the property so that they can be prosecuted. It is dated 1826 just a few years after the previous notice. Clearly the house seems to have been a target. However you would have thought that whoever was doing the “passing & repassing” might have just had a recce then left and not keep coming back; and especially not get seen. Perhaps they were just trying to intimidate the owner.

Can you guess what this is?

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No? How about if I tell you it’s called a Witch Dust Extractor are you any the wiser?

We came into one of the rooms and there it was just on the floor. Basically you attach the flexible tube to the machine, add a suitable nozzle for whatever you are cleaning and then you stand on the pedals pushing down alternately with your left foot & right foot. Simple eh? Well except it means you need at least two people to do the work. The instruction sheet tells you how to hook it up, get the right nozzle, suck up the dust and when full empty it. Underneath is a section called “NOTE”. I think it’s worth checking this out so have a read of how the manufacturers tried to allay Edwardians’ fears concerning this new technology:

“Do not be dismayed if after a little pedalling you feel tired – everyone experiences that at first. The fact is you are employing a new set of muscles but after a little perseverance they get so accustomed to it that lengthy spells will cause no inconvenient fatigue. In the meantime it affords ease if two persons engage in the work and change places as often as tired.

The moment the machine becomes less easy to operate it is a sign the bag material is clogged. The spare bag should then be used and the other one washed and kept ready.

Neither should you be dismayed if at FIRST you find it takes a considerable time to get a room cleaned but remember that when accumulated dust is once removed a speedy application of the Dust Extractor is sufficient to keep it clean.

It is not suggested that this machine be used DAILY – probably WEEKLY is sufficient……”

It cost 6 guineas (£6.30p) – £564 in today’s money.

So there you have it – not only can you hoover your carpets, curtains or whatever but your partner/colleague can also keep fit! We’ve got wind up radios, wind up torches, so why not a sort of wind up vacuum? Why ever did these things go out of business?? (I must get hold of James Dyson – I’m sure he’ll be able to invent a modern version.) What a great machine. And don’t forget once you’ve persevered there is “no inconvenient fatigue”. Yeah, right!

Now I wonder if you’ve ever thought about all those step/running machines you use in the gym. I’ll bet they’re connected to something – maybe not a vacuum but what if they’re connected to a generator so as you exercise you’re generating electricity for the gym. Now there’s a thought!

Fire was an ever-present hazard in days gone by because of the amount of wood in the buildings and the number of open fires. I was intrigued to see coloured glass bottles hanging up around the house and in the kitchen area in particular. These dark blue glass containers were called Harden Star Grenades.

Here are some in the hall area

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Here’s the notice & instructions on how to use them:

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The idea was that where a fire had started you threw the bottle (container) at the base of the fire and the contents vapourised starving the fire of the oxygen it needed to burn. Many were filled with carbon tetrachloride as it vapourises straight away. However we now know even just inhaling it can have seriously damaging effects on the liver, kidneys & brain. And wait for this – some folks today actually collect these things! Note at the bottom the address, in italics, of the manufacturers – they’re in Peckham. Those of you in the UK will know Del Boy & Rodney lived in Peckham. The whole “Grenade” idea has a feel that a Victorian version of them must have been behind something like this.

If you have just 1 minute watch this vid which shows you what they look like close up:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwPsHq1SSA0

We went into the servants’ hall; there was a long 4-plank refectory table with swords mounted up on the ceiling. Apparently the Yorke family raised a troop of Denbighshire Militia and the swords are from them. If you imagine them as a clock face, look at the 5 o’clock position just up and slightly left from the axe on the right hand side underneath. Can you see there is an empty space – no sword?

Here’s a clearer pic on Flickr

http://www.flickr.com/photos/spectrefloat/6305628345/

Here’s one of those boards with loads of bells on for the servants to know which room they required to go to.

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And a dining table set a meal. Note the two high columns at the far end.

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This metal bowl is dated – you should be able to see 1663. Wow, 350 years old!

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This next item is a kind of early record player.

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The discs have a series of raised dots and little troughs spaced out so that when the arm travels over them it produces notes that will make a tune. You can probably see the one on the machine is something by Mozart; the one on the table is The Fairy Wedding Waltz by J.W. Turner (not the painter – he was J.M.W. Turner).

If, like me, you don’t know that one have a listen/watch here. Maybe open a new window and let it play while you read.

http://gaslanternrecords.com/our-music

and then click on no.6 for a brief sample of the music. The last few bars of the clip remind me slightly of part of Strauss’s Blue Danube Waltz (famously used in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey). Both were creations of the 1860s but Fairy Wedding came first in 1863 followed by Blue Danube in 1867.

There was some sheet music rolled up and put in the trumpet’s horn in this carrying case.

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Can you see the title of the music composed by Fred W. Leigh. No comment! I wonder if you knew that Fred Leigh also wrote that famous cockney tune: Don’t Dilly Dally (My Old Man Said Follow The Van…).

Have a watch of this one and tell me you’re not singing along by the end of it. Go on I dare you.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfW3TxQhy20

I’ll have to finish there otherwise it’ll just go on for too long. Maybe there’ll be a part three if you’re not fed up with Erdigg House. It’s a great place – there was just so much to see and we didn’t get to explore everywhere as there just wasn’t time.  

What I did yesterday

Yesterday, at Ham House, all the cool kids gathered for fun and drink and food so that we could show off the garden produce. The chef for the evening, Susie, basically did everything but I’m going to ride on her coattails and claim some of the amazingness that comes from being associated with it.

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Unfortunately, I was busy faffing around with vegetables and presenting the dishes so I didn’t get photos of everything. I can talk you through it though.

It started with bubbly and the canapes – mini bruschetta topped with onion marmalade and goat’s cheese and also spinach blinis topped with beetroot chutney and sour cream.

Then the guests were taken on a garden tour in the beautiful fading light.

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When they came back and were seated, we started with the kale and spinach soup.

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The bits and peices on the top were fried onions, roast root veg and pitta bread croutons. It was accompanied by homemade rosemary foccaccia bread.

Next up was the gnocchi…

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(I don’t have a photo of it before it went to the table, sorry!)

…accompanied by pretty garden leaf salad.

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The gnocchi was a big hit with the guests.

Next up, the mains were a venison stew with redcurrants and red wine and some garden veg. I don’t have a photo but you must trust me that it was so so tasty! The gravy was amazing. I tried to stop dipping the foccaccia bread into it and eating it but I couldn’t!

Also up were green beans in tarragon butter, roasted root vegetables and apples, a pumpkin and marrow gratin, a beetroot, courgette and mozzarella salad and – the only one I photographed – a caramelized elephant garlic, pumpkin and goat’s cheese tart.

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Loads of people raved about this and wanted some to take home with them.

Next, we gave them a few minutes to rest their stomachs before starting on dessert which was apple dumplings (these took me hours and hours to make!) baked in a caramel sauce. We served it with a fig and cinnamon swirl semifreddo, which was very well received.

After the overwhelming food onslaught, we were all made to come out of the kitchen and be applauded (like on Masterchef), the cafe manager did a little thank you, then a guest also said thank you from the guests and I stood patiently, wondering which of them was going to make the announcement that I was finally going to get my Michelin star….

I can only conclude that they didn’t want to do it in front of everyone else. Maybe it’s a more private affair, getting given your Michelin star. I’m sure they’ll be in touch.

Anyway, we retired back into the kitchen and sent out the little after-dinner nibbles, fresh raspberries and quince jellies.

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Everything that was made yesterday (apart from the obvious stuff like the meat and cheese), came from the kitchen garden and had been picked that day. There really is nothing like working with garden fresh produce.

I think it’s safe to say that a good evening was had by all and it was a lovely thing to be part of. Keep your eyes peeled for the next Supper Club. And if you’re in/near London, totally come to the next one.

Things I have recently made at Ham House

The other day I was talking about the lovely fresh fruit and vegetables that the gardeners bring us at the Ham House cafe. Today, I’m going to show you that food in action. This is just a few of the things we have done with the garden produce.

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A fig and greengage tart

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An almond cake with blackcurrants and raspberries

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A gooseberry and apricot tart

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Mixture of dried herbs to flavour soups and risottos and stews

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Edible flowers decorating the cake section. The tart on the bottom left is with blackcurrants from the garden

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One of the table displays that a gardener made for the cafe

The Apple Challenge

One of my neighbours has fruit trees in his garden. A little while ago, he gave me some cherries, which I put into a cake. Since then, he has given me bits of fruit and I have caked them.

About ten days ago, he knocked on the door in the morning and delivered a plastic bag full of apples for me to cake. And so, the Apple Challenge began.

Day one was an apple bread, a kind of cidery, honey-sweetened brown bread with grated apples that was crying out for some cheese. Day two was an apple crumble cake, which consisted of a sponge cake with apple chunks and slivers of apricot, with a light buttery crumble mixture on the top. Day three was apple scones, which let me down the first day but I attempted them again on day four and hit the nail on the head. Day five was an apple tray bake which had jostaberries and a mashed banana in it. Day six was a nutty appley raisiny loaf, spiced with cinnamon, which filled the whole house with lovely rich aromas. Day seven was an almond tart with apples and gooseberries.

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And so it goes on, the apple cakes. Every morning. I get up, bake a cake, leave some on my neighbour’s doorstep then head for Ham House, where I leave the cakes in the mess room for the volunteers to eat.

I have enough apples left for about four more days and I’m running low on ideas. Does anybody have any apple cake ideas? Apple pie and apple crumble are out as they are hard to portion out without getting runny. Tomorrow is an almond cake with apples and blueberries.

But what next, people? What next?! Help me in my Apple Challenge or I shall be ideas-less and I refuse, refuse, to repeat a recipe.

Memories of a smoothie maker

Smoothies make me think of two things. I first discovered them, while travelling round Asia with two friends. I had known of smoothies before then, probably drunk quite a few. But these were different. They were fresh and lovely and cold and perfect for a hot humid day in Thailand. I went crazy for these smoothies. We had at least one every day, sometimes two or three. It was a real treat.

Enter the second memory. I got home from Asia and the taste of the smoothies lingered so I went out and bought a smoothie machine and got smoothie-ing. Bananas were a staple. They went into every smoothie because their texture was so fantastic and smoothie-able. The rest was anyone’s game. Strawberries one day, blueberries the next. Kiwis in the morning, raspberries in the evening. I loved it. Couldn’t get enough of it.

One morning, after a bit of a crazy night dancing on chairs in the flat I shared with friends and, inexplicably, waving towels in the air, I woke up parched. I needed a smoothie. Needed one. So I shuffled to the kitchen, bleary-eyed, threw two bananas, some yoghurt and a blueberry or two into the smoothie machine and whizzed.

It was the loudest bloody sound in the world! And it was 7am. Everyone was asleep. But it was important for me to have the smoothie. I needed it. I poured it into a mug, shuffled back to bed and lay, cradling the mug and trying to keep my eyes awake. On finishing the smoothie, I promptly fell asleep again.

Then one day, I felt ill. Quite seriously ill. I kept vomiting. I was weak and exhausted. I got in a taxi and headed for A&E and they ummed and ahhed and stuck needles in my bum and asked what I’d been eating.

“Smoothies!” I panted, exhausted. “It can’t be that. They’re really good for you.”

“Yeh, you’ve probably gone a bit too crazy with them, I think,” was the doctor’s scientific diagnoses.

Something to do with acid…? Too much citric acid…? 500 bananas a day isn’t good for you apparently…?

My day at Ham House in numbers

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Number of gooseberries destalked and bagged up for freezing – 200
Number of redcurrants washed and bagged for freezing – approx. 5 billion
Amount of time I spent washing redcurrants – 2.5 hours
Number of raspberries washed and put in a pot to make ice tea with – 100
Number of roast peppers successfully peeled – 4
Numbers of peppers ravaged in a mad rage as I failed to get the skins off – 8
Number of prawn and marie rose sandwiches made – 16
Number of glasses of water I drank – 6
Numbers of eggs shelled and mashed for making egg mayo – 31
Number of cuts on thumb from sharp bits of egg shell – 14
Number of croutons made from the ends of the loaves – 80
Number of rocket leaves from the kitchen garden washed and dried – 50
Number of times I sat down – 0
Number of times I was asked if I wanted a break but I refused because I wanted to finish the redcurrants – 500
Amount of time it took me to scoff a leftover slice of coffee and walnut cake in my face at the end of the day – 4 seconds
Temperature of body after the walk home – 100million degrees
Temperature of shower I had when I got in – below freezing
Amount of time it took me to fall asleep on the sofa while watching TV – 10 seconds

Operation Strawberry

For those of you who were over here on Monday, you may remember I had suffered a great injustice. The strawberry plant I bought on returning from Italy in April had started to bear fruit, which was then stolen from me in a most brutal manner. I feel I have been wronged in the most extreme way and have decided to set up Operation Strawberry to find justice for myself and my garden.

The aim of the inquiry:
To find the thief who thought it was ok to enter a garden not their own and help themself to the fruit they found there.

Statement from the injured party:
At 5.10pm on Sunday 7th July 2013, I arrived home from work. I went straight into the garden as it was hot and I wanted to sit down and read for a bit. Near the table is a strawberry plant. The day before, there was one strawberry which was almost at the point of being ready to eat. I had decided to give it one more day to go a bit redder. On the day in question, I sat down to read and looked at the strawberry plant and saw that the strawberry was no longer there.

Victim presents Exhibit A (photograph of crime scene):

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Victim impact evidence:
The loss of the strawberry has caused me great distress. I worry about leaving the other blossoming strawberries to go to work. I feel unsafe in my own garden and have thought about getting rid of the strawberry plants altogether, to avoid the possibility of further heartache, should the thief return. I worry for my cherry tree, plum tree and tomato plants and have taken to counting the budding fruit five times a day. This has been a difficult time for me.

The suspects:

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Suspect A – the fattest pigeon the world has ever seen
Suspect B – a human
Suspect C – a bat
Suspect D – the wind
Suspect E – the feisty squirrel

The evidence against Suspect A:
Suspect A, the fat pigeon, has been a regular in the garden for over 18 months. The victim claims to have seen him strutting around eating the bread that she puts out. She has rarely seen him fly and thinks he would find it a great strain to do so, given his body weight. She has seen him fly from the garden to the fence to perch but very little other movement. Given the height of the strawberry at the time of its disappearance, the pigeon would have had to be hovering in mid air to have got a good peck and dislodged it. This seems unlikely, given its dislike of flying in general. An authority on the matter (Google) tells me that wild birds do like to eat berries but there appears to be little solid evidence to bring into this courtroom about the specific situation of pigeons and strawberries.

You may leave the stand now, Fat Pigeon, unless you would like to offer any closing statements.

Fat Pigeon: “Has anyone got any bread I can eat, please?”

The evidence against Suspect B:
Suspect B, a human, is dealing with a lot of hurdles to get to the garden and the strawberry. Firstly, all the gardens on the road are joined together and are attached to the all the gardens behind the houses on a parallel road. There are no alleyways in between the gardens and no access to the general public. A human would have had to contend with a lot of gardens and fences before reaching the garden in question and in so doing, would have passed many other opportunities for fruit pilfering. There were no footprints or signs of forced entry in or around the garden. As such, it seems unlikely that a human is responsible for the crime.

You may now leave the stand, humans. Would you like to offer any closing statements?

Humans: “We could never steal from such a fantastic blogger. We definitely didn’t do it.”

The evidence against Suspect C:
Suspect C, a bat, is known to have a taste for sweet fruits but generally sticks to things growing higher up in trees. The strawberry plant would be far too low for a bat to consider it a snack worth going for. While the victim recalls seeing bats fly low over the garden during summer evenings, the time of the day that the crime was committed is at odds with the known waking hours of bats. The theft must have happened before 5.10pm, the time when bats are generally not known to be active. It seems unlikely that the bat was involved in the strawberry theft.

You may now leave the stand, bat. Do you wish to give any closing statements?

Bat: “Zzzzzzzzzz…..”

The evidence against Suspect D:
Suspect D, the wind, has been responsible for other fruit destruction in the garden, the victim says. The plums and cherries have all had to contend with unusual summer weather consisting of lower temperatures and higher winds than usual. It seems the wind could have played a part. The forensic evidence team returned to the scene of the crime the following day and shook the branches of the strawberry plant but no strawberries were seen to fall from the plant. Whilst leaving the property, one member of the team accidentally brushed lightly against the plum tree and a small green unripe plum fell to the ground, thus demonstrating the different effects the wind has on the different plants. It seems that, while plums dislodged and fell quite easily, the strawberries were more solidly affixed to their branches. The team also scoured the area at the time the crime was first reported and found no evidence of a fallen strawberry. It is unlikely, therefore, that the wind played a part in this crime.

You may leave the stand, wind. Do you have any closing statements?

Wind: “Sorry about the plums and the cherries. It was an accident.”

The evidence against Suspect E:
Suspect E, the feisty squirrel, is seen in the above photograph braving even the Fat Pigeon to get near the bread. We have evidence, therefore, that this Feisty Squirrel will face intimidating situations if the reward is a tasty snack. The squirrel has a taller body and stands on his back legs, bringing him to the correct height to be able to reach the strawberry plant where it sits on a slightly raised platform. The recognised authority on squirrels (Mumsnet.com) has a forum on which many fruit-growing members of the public have battled with the loss of strawberries via squirrel theft. Given the previous convictions in this area, it seems likely that the squirrel is the culprit. The victim recalls seeing this Feisty Squirrel in the garden often and has previously thought affectionately about him, as he was doing no harm. It now appears that there has been some premeditation to this crime, as the many visits by the squirrel were likely used to keep an eye on the growing fruit and know when it was ready for picking. It had obviously overheard the plan to eat it the following day and knew it was his chance to strike. It also seems, given the timing, that the squirrel had been building up a picture of when the house (and garden) were empty, the inhabitants being out at work, and chose precisely his moment to strike, using the information he had gathered over the months.

In light of the evidence, Feisty Squirrel, I hearby convict you of the crime of strawberry theft from Miss LL Maisey and order you to pay a fine of fifty nuts. You are also under a restraining order which prevents you from being within 100 metres of the garden boundary. Should you attempt to enter the garden illegally, you will be shouted at and the victim shall run at you with raised arms and yell obscenities.

This court is adjourned.