Today’s Treasures – There is Great Beauty in Old Trees …

Today’s Treasures

Alongside the path at St. Just in Roseland Church in Cornwall there is a tablet of stone with the words:  “There is great beauty in old trees, old streets and ruins old. Why should not I as well as these, grow lovely growing old?”

Fagus – the Beech Queen

 

 

 

 

 

 

And I often think of this verse when I look at this beautiful beech tree.  It also makes me think of The Animals of Farthing Wood – who lost their homes when their tree was blown down – I can imagine birds and squirrels nesting in the branches and rabbits and mice living in the roots.  And, in the breeze, the leaves make the wisha wisha sound of the Faraway Tree in Enid Blyton’s Enchanted Wood.

Beech trees were not as important to the Druids as oak trees but beech groves have been found in and near significant places of power – like the Cerne Abbas chalk giant – and at Avebury – where Tennyson’s description of the ‘serpent-rooted beech tree’ is particularly apt.

In Celtic mythology, Fagus was the god of beech trees. Beech is associated with femininity and thought of as the queen of British trees – whereas oak – Quercus – is the king.

The Druids frequently worshipped and practised their rites in oak groves and tree worship has always played a large role in Midsummer festivities with trees near wells and fountains traditionally decorated with coloured ribbons.

Quercus – the Oak King

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Oak King rules during the waxing of the year and represents strength, courage and endurance and the oak has always been particularly significant at Litha (the summer solstice).  The Celtic name for oak is ‘Duir’ which means doorway – at midsummer we cross the threshold and enter into the waning part of the year – ruled by the Holly King – until the winter solstice at Yule.

You might think it’s a silly thing to do – but tree hugging really does make you feel better – even if it only makes you laugh because you feel silly hugging a tree!  The larger the tree the better – because you need at least two people for a group hug!

Published in the June edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Courgettes – recipe ideas to make the best use of courgettes

COURGETTES

Every year I end up with too many courgettes and don’t know what to do with them – so this year I have tried out a few innovative recipes:

Nearly marrow sized courgettes can be cut into one inch thick slices and baked in a little oil for around half an hour at 180°, turning occasionally, until soft. (I use a mixture of sunflower, olive, groundnut and sesame oils but any mixture is good.)  Liquidise and use in curries instead of tinned tomatoes.  You might need to add a little more spice than usual to give more flavour – but my family never noticed the difference.

Grate courgettes and add to salads (don’t overdo it else they do get noticed!)

I have also added grated courgettes to spaghetti Bolognese, stir fries and pasta dishes.

Brush whole baby courgettes with oil and barbecue alongside sausages.

Today’s Treasures – The Herb Garden

Today’s Treasures

The Herb Garden is my favourite place to sit and dream.  As you can see, it’s not just herbs – there are a few wild flowers as well – the foxgloves just come and go as they please, setting seed in the most unlikely places – and there are poppies in every corner of my garden.

Herbs are so versatile – some have pretty flowers like thyme, borage and hyssop – all of course have definitive scents – lavender and lemon balm, sage and tarragon, fennel, basil and coriander.

They make delicious flavours for the simplest meals – tarragon chicken, rosemary lamb, garlic and parsley bread, chopped chives with potato salad, mint sauce, sage and onion stuffing.

I love experimenting with herbs – my latest success was potato wedges roasted in olive, sunflower and groundnut oil sprinkled with a mixture of herbs freshly picked and chopped.  Traditional horseradish sauce made with freshly chopped horseradish root, salad cream, fresh cream, mustard powder and a hint of cayenne pepper is divine.

Mint sauce made with apple mint, vinegar, cabbage water and a spoonful of sugar makes even the blandest cabbage delicious.  Cooked carrots fried in a little butter with chopped lovage leaves give a continental twist to any meal.  Fresh basil livens up any pasta sauce – sprinkle curry with coriander leaves just before serving for a more authentic taste.

Lovage

Herbs also have healing properties – you don’t need to buy expensive packets of herbal tea – you can make your own by simply pouring boiling water over leaves of your choice.

Hyssop tea is good for maintaining healthy blood pressure – whether it’s high or low it helps stabilise it.  Peppermint tea helps digestion and soothes an upset tummy.  Chamomile is calming, sage is stimulating, fennel is relaxing.

Peppermint

You can add the flowers and leaves of calendula, nasturtium and borage to salads to add colour as well as flavour.  Borage flowers frozen into ice cubes made an attractive addition to summer drinks. Mint is an essential ingredient of any Pimm’s cocktail.  Poppy seeds can be added to cakes and cookies – and sprinkled onto bread rolls.

Wherever I am, I will always have a few pots of soothing, fragrant, healing herbs on my windowsill.

Published in the July edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

The Ducklings are growing fast

The ducklings are growing fast

They have most of their feathers now.  Indian Runners are so funny, the way they stretch their necks up and look around.

Doris, the resident brown hen, doesn’t think much of them and pecks at them if they come too close.  Grace (other hen) is quite indifferent to anything going on around her and wanders around in a dream most of the time.  I don’t think she’s really noticed they have arrived.  The other day she pecked at something really close to the Dorking chicks – and one of them pecked back – and made Grace jump – she looked so surprised it made me laugh.

I am hoping I have a drake and a duck – I think I shall call them Oliver and Isobel – I never name anything until they have settled in – then, when I’m out with them, the names will just come to me. I always make a bit of time each day to sit and watch – the poem (by W H Davies) “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare,” often comes to mind.  No point having animals and birds if you don’t get time to enjoy them.

Freeze mint ready for mint sauce

Freezing mint ready to make mint sauce later in the year.

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There’s nothing like fresh mint sauce, made with freshly chopped mint – and freshly frozen mint is almost as good.  If your mint bed is is thriving, now is a good time to pick some and freeze it.  Just chop it and seal it in plastic bags.  You can do the same with parsley ready for parsley sauce.  I also freeze small quantities of basil, oregano, marjoram, coriander and tarragon for adding to meals like spaghetti bolognese and curries.

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I have two varieties of mint in my garden, apple mint (on the left) and spearmint (on the right).

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I find apple mint is the best variety to add to early potatoes to get that ‘new potato taste’ and to make mint sauce.  Spearmint leaves are delicious with Pimms, mixed with lemonade, lemon slices, cucumber slices, strawberries and ice.

To make mint sauce:

Mix together in a jug:
1 tblsp chopped mint leaves (fresh or frozen)
1 tblsp malt vinegar
hot water (ideally cabbage water)
1 tsp sugar

Often you don’t have to go very far to find Today’s treasures

Often you don’t have to go very far to find Today’s treasures

June is a delicious month, a time of strawberries, new potatoes flavoured with apple mint, and the first broad beans melting with butter.  And the gardens are alive with colours – yellow flag irises decorate ponds, azaleas brighten up patios, rhododendrons mist the hillsides with a purple haze and poppies startle you with their brilliant red blooms.

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Butterflies and damselflies flex their wings and the heady scents of honeysuckle and wild roses fill the hedgerows.  Bees are busy investigating every single foxglove flower and the buttercups dance their golden heads in the summer breeze.

The bird table is alive with hatchlings, families of blue tits and great tits vie for space on the feeders – and the swallows return from far off places, wheeling and diving across our skies.  Alas, gone are the times when the cuckoo called across our fields and the skylarks sang high above our heads – we need to go further into the wilds of Wales to hear these birds now, but we get more visitors to our bird table – goldfinches, nuthatches and great spotted woodpeckers love peanuts and sunflower seeds.

June is also the time to make elderflower champagne (not really champagne – and in fact not alcoholic at all if you drink it soon enough – but it tastes delicious).  Iced elderflower cordial is the perfect complement for summer lunches – these traditional recipes were handed down to me by two elderly aunts – handwritten on yellowing paper, now immortalised on my website:  visit www.barbararainford.co.uk/recipes

So quite often, you don’t have to go very far for Today’s Treasures, you can always find something new in your own back yard – a blackbird’s liquid notes heralding the dawn, daisies opening up their petals to the sun’s rays, a glimpse of the first wild rose, the sweetness of strawberries, or honeysuckle’s saturating scent – stimulating all our senses.  As our very own Shropshire A.E. Housman said:  “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?”  Take a moment to enjoy Today’s Treasures.

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Published in the June edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

New Zealand White Rabbits – all Eny and Holly’s babies have new homes

New Zealand White Rabbits – all Eny and Holly’s babies have new homes

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I had the most wonderful day on Sunday. All 12 baby rabbits went to new homes and will become breeding rabbits.  One breeding trio (one buck and two does) will be going to Portugal with their new owner in September.  Brendon was telling me about his smallholding and how much he is looking forward to retiring there – and he will be taking Eny and Holly’s babies with him.  He said he has had to build a really strong fence to protect his livestock – the foxes are bigger there – and there are golden eagles and otters that eat rabbits and poultry.

This is the first time I have had two litters from different parents so they can be sold as breeding pairs – but I discovered it’s quite complicated working out the best way to pair them off.  It sounds simple but one breeder wanted one buck and one doe and Malcolm wanted two bucks and two does (from different litters) to increase the number of wild white rabbits that visit his Manor House garden.  He realised that my rabbits would not be used to being outside so he has built a pen for them as an interim stage to ‘going wild’.  It was so lovely to see them hopping about on the grass.  My breeding bucks and does live in pens outside most of the time but it’s too dangerous for the babies.  All sorts of things eat them – not least our cats – Lunar and Sooty – who are the same size as my bucks and eat wild rabbits for fun!

Eny and Holly are both due to have new litters next weekend.  If everything goes as well as last time, I shall be delighted.

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Eny’s babies 10 weeks old

 

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Eny

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

Humphrey the Scarecrow

Humphrey The Scarecrow

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This year I decided to make a scarecrow.  We lost our little Betsy dog last year – she was always with me when I was in the garden and I was feeling a bit lonely.   I thought a scarecrow might offer some company – at least I wouldn’t be talking to myself!  I was quite pleased with the result – an old mop was perfect to start with and, at first, he looked so real that he kept making me jump.

I’ve called him Humphrey – and, amazingly, he works!  I usually have to cover my baby peas with fleece to stop the pigeons eating them but Humphrey has proved to be an excellent deterrent.  The peas are bigger now and protected by privet twigs so I have moved Humphrey to the strawberry bed to stop the blackbirds pinching my strawberries. So far it seems to be working.  But, strictly speaking, Humphrey is a scare-pigeon or a scare-blackblackbird!

Elderflower Cordial

Elderflower Cordial

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20 large elderflower heads
2 lemons- rind and juice
2 pints boiling water

2 oz citric acid  (available from Healing Thyme, Whitchurch High Street, SY13 1AZ www.healing-thyme.co.uk)
2 lb granulated sugar

1/2 Camden tablet*

Sterilised bottles (stand in oven for 10 minutes at a temperature of 140°C and use whilst warm.)

You will need 2 large clean 5 pint containers – one to make the cordial in and another to strain the cordial into.
Remove flower petals from elderflower heads (just rub the flowers off the stalks – it’s not critical if some stalks get in as well) and put in a bucket with rind and juice of 2 lemons.

Pour over boiling water and stir well.

Leave overnight to infuse.

Strain through a stocking held over a sieve or colander into the second bucket.

Add sugar and stir well.

Add citric acid, stir.
Leave 24 hours.

Bottle in screw top bottles.

And it’s ready to drink.  To serve, dilute to taste.

Elderflower cordial tinkling with ice is the best summer drink ever – on rainy days you can close your eyes and imagine the sun shining on the elderflower petals, blackbirds serenading from the topmost branches, sunshine, rainbows and summer strawberries – the magical taste of summertime.

*For years I made Elderflower Cordial with this recipe with no problems, then, this year, it went fizzy.  The solution is to add one Camden tablet per gallon which kills any wild yeast – thank you to www.ashridgetrees.co.uk for this solution.

For this recipe, add 1/2 crushed Camden tablet (dissolved in a small amount of hot water) per half gallon, stir, leave for an hour then stir again to make sure Camden tablet has dissolved properly, then bottle.

Storage:
With no acids or tablets – 3-4 weeks in the fridge. Freeze in plastic bottles for longer storage.
With the citric or tartaric acid it will keep for 3-4 months in the fridge.
With the Camden tablets, elderflower cordial keeps almost indefinitely in a cool, dark place.