Late November in Barbara’s Back Yard

Late November in Barbara’s Back Yard

This year I made a Samhain Wreath for Hallowe’en – there were so many scarlet berries and amber leaves – and rosy crab apples that I wanted to make something with them

So this is the wreath I made – it’s faded a bit now but it’s almost time to make a new one for Yule – 1st December.

The beech tree has lost all its leaves – it never ceases to amaze me how much the landscape changes with the seasons.

November in Barbara’s Back Yard

November in Barbara’s Back Yard

 

We have a sort of combination of Samhain, Hallowe’en and Guy Fawkes with a bonfire and Jack’O’Lanterns – pumpkin soup, hot dogs and flapjacks.

Timothy the Scarecrow, who has now completed his task keeping the pigeons away from the peas, becomes Guy Fawkes and we make a mask for his face.  Logan was particularly creative (and scary!) this year with his handprint skull.

Just have two pumpkins left to carve for our bonfire night – the rest have been made into pumplin soup or given away to good causes.  The biggest pumpkin this year went to a children’s nursery – wish I had a video of the excitement in the children’s faces when they saw how big it was!  One year there was a really massive pumpkin and it went to a local garden nursery to promote their pumpkin picking patch – they did a ‘guess the weight of the pumpkin’ competition.

When all the fun of Hallowe’en is over, it’s time to put grease bands on the fruit trees – especially the greengage – if you don’t then the plums all get grubs in them, they rot on the branches and the wasps love them which makes picking them quite precarious!

It’s also a good idea to pick holly whilst there are still lots of berries – before the birds pinch them all.  I was horrified one year to go out to collect holly to make wreaths to find that the beautifully adorned holly trees were practically bare of berries.  Need to store them where the birds can’t get to them as well – as last year I put them in the open barn – only to find that many of the berries had disappeared!

Hallowe’en in Barbara’s Back Yard

Hallowe’en in Barbara’s Back Yard

Hallowe’en – the night when the divide between the worlds of the living and the dead is especially thin – my Grandmother used to have a teapot stand that said:  “From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties, and things that go bump in the night, may the good Lord deliver us.”  I’ve no idea why it was on a teapot stand but I always think of it at Hallowe’en.  (Looking it up I find out that it’s a Scottish prayer.)

Time to pick pumpkins and carve Jack O’lanterns (tip – use an ice cream scoop to scrape out the seeds).  Reserve the flesh for pumpkin soup.

The idea of a hollowed-out vegetable with a candle in the middle originated with the Celts – but they didn’t have pumpkins (they came later – from America).  They used beets, and turnips, and carved grotesque faces on them – and put them outside their doors to ward off evil spirits.

According to Irish folklore, Jack O’lantern comes from the story of Stingy Jack who tried to outsmart the Devil: Jack invites the Devil for a drink and convinces him to transform into a coin to pay with – as soon as the coin appeared, Jack changed his mind and kept the coin in his pocket with a silver cross – so preventing it turning back into the Devil.  Eventually Jack freed the devil, on condition that he would leave Jack alone for a year – and – that he wouldn’t claim Jack’s soul when he died.  At the end of the year Jack tricked the devil again by persuading him to climb up a tree to pick some fruit.  Whilst the Devil was in the tree, Jack carved a cross into the tree trunk so the Devil couldn’t get down.  The Devil had to swear that he would leave Jack alone for another ten years before he was allowed to come down.

Then Jack died – but he had led such a sinful life that God wouldn’t let him into Heaven and, because of his bargain with the Devil, he couldn’t get into hell either, so Jack was sent instead into the eternal night. Jack complained about how dark it was, wandering around earth with no place to go, so someone tossed him a hot coal, which he placed in a hollowed-out turnip – and he has been roaming the earth ever since – with his turnip-lantern to guide him.

The Irish began to refer to this spooky figure as “Jack of the Lantern”, which has since become Jack O’Lantern – and some folks say that Jack comes out on Hallowe’en night looking for someone to take his place… so watch out, if you see him wandering your way!

The Samhain festival marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, the “darker half” of the year.  Time to pick and store the apples for winter puddings – and to add to soups (Squash Apple and Sage Soup) – and to feed to the rabbits and hens when winter sets in.  Time to make Wittenham Cider with the windfalls.  The recipe says to leave it for a week after its bottled – but it’s usually quite fizzy – and very drinkable – the day after it’s bottled!

At Christmas, we always have a real Christmas tree – and we save it to help get the bonfire going at Samhain.   I’m not too keen on fireworks – but we do love sparklers – and no-one is ever too old to draw sparkling shapes in the air on Bonfire night.

We have spicy pumpkin soup, hot dogs – and Wittenham Cider (which is much better before it becomes alcoholic as its much sweeter).  And we combine Guy Fawkes with All Hallows Eve and have our own Samhain on the nearest weekend – I always light candles on 31st October – and tealights in our Jack O’Lanterns to keep away Stingy Jack!

Happy, smiley, pumpkin Jack’o’Lantern

Country Wisdom and Folklore Diary

Country widsom and folklore diary

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From the Country Wisdom and Folklore Diary www.talkingtreesbooks.co.uk

I found inspiration for this website from a diary I was given at a social enterprise networking meeting held in Atcham village hall.  When visiting Avebury earlier this year, I was delighted to find a 2017 version in the Avebury village shop and was very pleased to be able to buy it – and give something back – for the motivation to start my own website – and for help with ideas for the content.

I have always been interested in our Pagan beginnings, ancient traditions and folklore,  the Druids, ancient stone circles and ley lines connecting earth energies.  In these times of fast paced living and the stresses and strains of modern day life, these diaries are full of calming ideas connecting us back to nature, recognising the beauty of trees and plants and the rituals our ancestors shared celebrating country traditions and the phases of the sun and moon.

There are some wonderful illustrations in the diaries – like the one above.

If you would like your own Country Wisdom and Folklore Diary visit www.talkingtreesbooks.co.uk

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.

 

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.

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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Spicy Pumpkin Soup

Spicy Pumpkin Soup

Happy, smiley, pumpkin Jack'o'Lantern

Ingredients:
50 g (2 oz) butter
1 kg (2 lb) pumpkin peeled and diced
2 medium onions, chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes or 4 large tomatoes, skinned* and chopped
2 pints stock (vegetable or beef – stock cubes are fine)
Seasoning:
½ tsp chilli pepper
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp allspice
1 level tsp cumin
1 level tsp cloves
1 level tsp thyme
If you like a spicy soup you can add more chilli, cayenne and allspice but I find this is tasty but mild enough so even little children enjoy it.

*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.

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

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Samhain – All Hallows Eve – Carve pumpkins into Jack’o’Lanterns

Samhain – All Hallows Eve – Carve pumpkins into Jack’o’Lanterns

31st October was once New Year’s Eve in Celtic Ireland. The Druids believed that the mystic veil separating the dead from the living opened and spirits roamed the earth.  We celebrate with a bonfire and Wittenham Cider and pumpkins carved into Jack-o’Lanterns – so called because they are named after the phenomenon of strange light flickering over the Irish peat bogs creating Will’o’the’Wisps

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