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Today’s Treasures – A Day at the Beach

Today’s Treasures

A DAY AT THE BEACH

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Sometimes, our very British weather can be very surprising.  We had planned a day at the beach for ages but for one reason or another it kept being delayed until finally, it was on Halowe’en that we set off for the coast.

It was a beautiful drive through Llangollen – the sun reflecting all the autumn colours, russet reds, green, gold and amber; we stopped for a cup of coffee at Lake Bala and went a walk along the edge of the lake enjoying all the colours reflected in the water.  The sun was shining and there was hardly a breath of wind to ripple the surface of the lake.  Then we drove on through the rolling hills and watery dales of Snowdonia to Barmouth – and found the toilets!  Barmouth was unreal, the sun was so warm it felt like a hot summer’s day but, as it was nearly winter, Barmouth was pretty deserted.  The few people that were about were sitting outside café’s sipping tea and basking in the warm sunshine.

After lunch, we meandered along the beach, picking up pebbles and paddling at the edge of the waves.  Two cups of tea later, we were on our way again heading for Shell Island.  We found the car park and wandered over the sand dunes to the beach.

Last time we came here the wind was howling a gale and we had our coats zipped up to our noses.  Today, there wasn’t a breath of wind and we stripped down to T-shirts, bare arms soaking up the sun.  It was almost warm enough to sunbathe.  The waves lapped onto the beach, seagulls soared lazily above us, and the sand glistened in the sunshine.

Shoes off, we paddled through the waves, a restful, tranquil way to unwind, feeling the sand between our toes and the waves lapping around our feet.

By this time, the sun was going down and we could feel the Autumn chill creep into the air, so donning jumpers and coats again, we set off back down the beach and across the sand dunes to the welcoming warmth of the car and tea and biscuits.

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Today’s Treasure – Boscobel House

Boscobel House, Shropshire

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For my birthday this year we purchased joint (senior!) membership of English Heritage.  One of the first places we chose to visit was Boscobel House in Shropshire – where Charles II famously hid in an oak tree after his defeat at the battle of Worcester in 1651.

You can visit an oak tree that grew from an acorn from that very famous Royal Oak tree.  You can also see the priest’s hole in Boscobel House where Charles II subsequently hid.

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It was a beautiful sunny autumn day.  We declined the guided tour and meandered through the house and gardens on our own, through hazel avenues and around lavender and box formal flowerbeds.  The house has some wonderful old beams and floorboards and there are magnificent views over the surrounding countryside.  The dairy is very well equipped with ancient equipment, milk pails, enamel jugs, wooden butter churns, memories of a by-gone age when everything was painstakingly done by hand.

By this time, we had worked up quite an appetite so, before embarking on the 20 minute walk to White Ladies Priory (which actually took our ambling gait well over half an hour!), we decided to treat ourselves to a late breakfast.  The café is installed in the old stable block and we enjoyed delicious real bacon sandwiches and a proper cup of tea in china cups, poured from a china teapot.

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Thus fortified, we set off the find the priory.  The path goes along the edge of the fields alongside the road so we made a mental note to walk back on the easier terrain of the tarmac.  The priory must have been magnificent in its time (built in the 12th century).  As you can see from the pictures some impressive archways of the church remain – after the suppression of the monasteries most of the convent buildings were taken down.  We imaged the nuns (Augustinian canonesses who wore habits of undyed cloth) at morning prayers, growing herbs, peacefully tending the gardens and watching the sun set on the Shropshire/Staffordshire border.

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Special Sausage Rolls

Special Sausage Rolls and Sausage Plait

These sausage rolls are really tasty and not peppery. You can make this recipe as traditional sausage rolls or as a sausage plait – ideal for parties.

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Ingredients:
1lb (500g) pork sausagemeat
1 medium size onion, finely chopped
4 mushrooms, finely chopped

2 tsp of dried mixed herbs or, ideally, chopped fresh herbs as follows:
1 tsp basil
1 tsp parsley
½ tsp thyme
½ tsp oregano
½ tsp marjoram

1lb rough puff pastry (frozen or you can make your own)
Flour for rolling out pastry
1 egg, beaten
Poppy or sesame seeds

Thoroughly mix the sausagemeat, onions, mushrooms and herbs.

Sausage Rolls
Roll out the pastry to an oblong about 5 mm thick.  Spread the sausagemeat in a long roll down the centre of the pastry.  Brush one edge of the pastry with beaten egg, fold over the pastry to form a long roll.

Cut the roll into 35mm lengths and place on a baking sheet lined with baking paper.  Brush the rolls with beaten egg.

Cut small slits in the pastry with scissors and sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds.

 

Sausage Plait
Roll out the pastry to a rectangle.  Mark into thirds lengthways.  Spread sausagemeat evenly over middle third.

Cut pastry either side into strips (see photo) and fold strips alternately over sausagemeat to form a plait. Seal ends with left over strips, brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with seeds.

Bake in oven 230C (220C fan oven) for 10-15 minutes until the sausagemeat is cooked (maybe a little longer for sausage plait).

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Pastry:
8 oz (250g) flour
6 oz butter or butter/lard
Water for mixing

Rub 4 oz of the butter into the flour until it looks like breadcrumbs.
Add water and mix to rolling out consistency.
Roll out pastry to a strip, mark into 3 and spread rest of fat on one third in small pats.  Fold into 3, roll out gently to a strip again and fold into 3, then roll out to the shape required.

 

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Rose Hip Syrup

 

Rose Hip Syrup

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The recipes I have found for rose hip syrup suggest 2 lb (1 kg) of rose hips but they are really hard to pick so I decided to try with 1 lb and found this provides 4 small (275g) bottles which is probably more than enough.

Any sort of rose hips will do but I used all wild rose hips.  Cultivated roses have bigger rose hips.

1 lb (500g) rose hips, minced (I chopped them in batches using the chopper/grinder device with my mixer).
3 pints (1.8 litres)  boiling water
300g granulated sugar

Mince rose hips then put immediately into boiling water.  Bring to the boil again then remove from the pan and leave for at least  15 minutes.  Strain through a jelly bag/muslin/linen  (I used an old cotton pillow slip placed in a sieve over a bowl).  Leave to allow most of the juice to drip through.  (I left overnight ‘cos I was too tired to finish it off after dinner.)

Because rose hips have fine hairs that are a serious irritant, you need to strain again to make absolutely sure you have removed them all.  So strain again through a double piece of muslin or pillow slip folded over in a sieve.

Measure the rose hip juice into a large saucepan and for every 500 ml add approx. 300g of sugar.

Heat slowly, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, then bring to the boil and boil for 3 minutes.  Pour into warm sterilised bottles* and seal and label.

Use within 4 months and refrigerate once opened.

*To sterilise bottles and tops, wash in warm soapy water and rinse well, then put on a tray in a low oven (120°C Gas ½) to dry out and heat up.

Rose Hip Syrup has a unique taste – described as ‘warm, floral and fruity’ on the River Cottage website.  I quite liked it poured neat onto ice cubes – like a liqueur.  It’s also good with lemonade and it’s very high in vitamin C – ideal for keeping winter coughs and colds away – and as a hot toddy diluted with hot water.  During the war – when there were no oranges – children were given rose hip syrup from the Ministry of Health and even after the war, as a child, my mother gave me a teaspoonful of neat rosehip syrup every day.

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Betsy saved me from a Rat!

Betsy Saved Me from a Rat!

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Well it wasn’t exactly life-threatening – but she saved me being really scared by a rat.  As usual she came with me to let the ducks out and she followed me into the rabbit shed – where she pounced on a rat and quickly killed it.  It was probably half dead from poison or she would never have caught it – she is getting on a bit!  But it was dead very quickly and I didn’t have to kill it.  Horrible things.  Always makes me think of the poem:

Rats, they fought the dogs and killed the cats and bit the babies in the cradles, and ate the cheeses out of the vats and licked the soup from the cooks’ own ladles…

Shropshire might not be as bad as Hamelin, but we don’t have a Pied Piper to lure the rats away and, in the past, I have had problems with rats eating tiny baby rabbits.  Finding half eaten babies in the morning is not one of my fonder memories!   After persevering with rat traps for ages, we finally had to resort to rat poison – you can buy packets of liquorice smelling poison that you don’t have to open but just place in the boxes.  The council used to come out but they don’t any more – although you can still get advice from your local council.  They provided us with safe rat poison boxes which are placed along the rat runs.  I keep an eye open for any rat droppings which act as a reminder to put poison down again.  It doesn’t matter how careful you are with never leaving food lying around, rats always find a way – and they cause so much damage eating holes in everything too.

Looking up the spelling of Hamelin, I found the poem – I didn’t know that Robert Browning wrote it and it has a different ending to the fairy tale I knew.  It’s one of the poems on this website if you want to read it for yourself.

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“Calling at: Machynlleth, Caersws, Aberystwyth, Borth, Dovey Junction, Harlech.”

“Calling at: Machynlleth, Caersws, Aberystwyth, Borth, Dovey Junction, Harlech.”  Shrewsbury station – travelling on the train to Birmingham I have often wished to be going the other way to these strange-sounding names by the sea.  Today my wish has come true and we are getting the train to Harlech and travelling through the Welsh hillsides, along the coast to visit Harlech Castle.

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The train pulls out of Shrewsbury station and soon we are passing cornfields, golden in the early morning sunshine, some of the wheat has been cut leaving bales, straw blocks, dotted around the fields like faceless dominoes.  Other fields have plastic wrapped silage bales, scattered like alien larvae; gone are the days of haystacks that we used climb up and slide down, landing in a giggling heap, then scrambling up for another ride.

It’s not long before we arrive at Welshpool, the trees and bushes grow so close to the train tracks that they sometimes brush the windows, then the rails rise above the surrounding countryside and reveal magnificent views stretching to distant hills, the foothills of misty mountains beyond.  The tracks are patterned in pink and yellow with willowherb and ragwort – and Himalayan Balsam, an alien invader from another part of the world that smothers everything in its path but still our native bees love it and it makes beautiful honey.  We pass Welshpool Cattle market, the empty car park waiting for market day – sheep, cattle and pigs all arriving to be sold on – for breeding – or butchers.  Then on to Caersws, past the coal merchants, cars waiting at the level crossing for the train to pass.

Grassy churchyards, isolated standing stones, relics of an ancient past, of others that have lived and died without seemingly leaving a mark.  The landscape becomes wilder, fields criss-crossed with hedges, tiny foals stretched out lazily in the sun, sustained by mother’s milk, they have no need to constantly chew the grass.  Scalped, a hill devoid of trees, ferns shrinking from the sunlight, with no respite until the saplings grow again, shading, cooling the earth beneath.  Bracken, meadowsweet, willowherb, lining the tracks, viaducts crossing deep valleys, rocky streams tumbling down hillsides to valleys below, bounding towards the sea.  Anticipation mounting as the children become aware that the train is nearing its destination and the seaside is imminent.

The river meanders through the fields leaving shingly beaches and deep pools on the bends, under the willows where pike and perch are lurking, stalking unsuspecting minnows darting from the shallows.

Then the train travels right along the edge of the sea, the waves breaking along the shore, to the Barmouth estuary, the railway bridge crossing the river – with magnificent views out to sea and inland to Snowdonia.

Until we finally reach our destination – Harlech castle towering above us, guarding the coast and watching over Snowdonia, history unfolds within its towers and castellated walkways.

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Trains travel this route regularly from Shrewsbury to Pwllheli and you can alight, wander around one of the places en route and hop back on the next train home.  A great day out!

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Pumpkin Pie?

Pumpkin Pie?

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I didn’t intend to grow enormous pumpkins because they are totally unmanageable – I just wanted some large enough to make Jack’o’Lanterns for Halowe’en and some to store for the winter to make spicy pumpkin soup (see recipes) to warm us up on Bonfire Night and to cheer us up for December lunchtimes.

Pumpkins must love rabbit manure because this is the result!  I do admit that I did dig quite a bit of manure into the pumpkin patch.  Fortunately, not all of the pumpkins are this big but it’s going to take all the boys to lift this, a saw to cut it in two – and probably all day hollowing it out, taking out the seeds and cutting the flesh into manageable chunks for soup!

Last year I dried pumpkin seeds on baking paper in a slow oven and they were really tasty – they made a great substitute for peanuts and I served them in bowls with olives.

 

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Glorious Autumn

Glorious Autumn

What a surprise!  One damp and dreary early Autumn morning I stumbled out to feed the chickens and was suddenly stunned wide awake by this beautiful bright blue flower positively glowing – Morning Glory!  It’s supposed to be really easy to grow but I nurtured tiny seedlings that struggled to survive and, when I finally planted them out they just sat there and refused to climb up the bamboo wigwam – until I got bored waiting and forgot all about them – until this morning!  Every morning since there have been new flowers – they love the early mornings and close up later in the day – hence the name.  It’s a type of convolvulus – our native white version can be a troublesome weed as it chokes other plants – hence its common name – bindweed.  All of the plant is poisonous as it contains tropane alkaloids – especially the seeds – but this flower certainly brightened up my morning.

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Squash, Apple and Sage Soup

Squash, Apple and Sage Soup

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Ingredients:
50 g (2 oz) butter
1 kg (2 lb) squash (or pumpkin) peeled and diced
2 medium onions, chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes or 4 large tomatoes, skinned* and chopped
2 large cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped
2 level teaspoons of sage (fresh sage** is best)
1 level teaspoon of thyme
2 pints stock (vegetable or beef – stock cubes are fine)
Black pepper

*to skin tomatoes easily simply put in a bowl, pour over boiling water, leave to stand for about a minute and the skin just rubs off.

**Sage is a perennial so it grows all year but is better picked during the summer. For ease of use I pick lots in the summer and freeze in small quanities in plastic bags, or chop it and freeze in ice cube trays. Then it’s all ready to use for sage and onion stuffing in the middle of winter.

Method:
Fry the onion in the butter gently until soft,
Add the pumpkin and stir for a few minutes,
Add the apples,
Add the tomatoes
Add the stock
Stir in the sage and thyme
Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes until the pumpkin is tender.
Cool slightly, puree in a liquidiser or food processor.
Add a sprinkling of black pepper and serve.

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Pumpkin Soup for Bonfire Night

Pumpkin Soup for Bonfire Night

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Snap up the pumpkins left over from Halloween and make some spicy soup for bonfire night.  There’s nothing quite like sipping hot spicy pumpkin soup gathered around the bonfire and watching the flames and sparks drift into the night sky.

Pumpkin freezes quite well so when you’ve scraped out all the pumpkin flesh to make Halloween Jack-O-Lanterns, cut it into cubes and put into a polythene bag.  It will store in the fridge for up to 3 days or will freeze for over a month.

The seeds can be dried to use in bread and muesli – or to feed to the birds during the cold winter months.

Visit the recipe page for a not too spicy pumpkin soup recipe.

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