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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 peppermint (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.  Peppermint 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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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 in screw top bottles.

It should be ready to drink once it has cooled.  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:

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.

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Arthur and Martha and The Duck Song by Whalebone

We called our ducks Arthur and Martha after the Duck Song by Whalebone

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We went to see Whalebone during their Mirabillia Tour at a Shropshire Wildlife Trust evening and were enchanted by the musicians and their special brand of folk music.  They also play a spellbinding rendition of Stairway to Heaven.  Our Martha has just decided to go broody so we might have some baby Arthurs and Marthas by the end of the month.

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Martha nestled on her eggs, closely watched by Arthur, standing guard

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Today’s Treasures – Stokesay Castle

Stokesay Castle: “One of the best-preserved medieval fortified manor houses in England” (according to historian Henry Summerson).

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It was built in the late 13th century by Laurence of Ludlow, a prosperous English wool merchant.  Designed as a prestigious, comfortable, but secure, home, English Heritage has preserved these medieval buildings – virtually unchanged since they were built – and kept them mainly untouched by modern furnishings.

Stokesay is mentioned in the Doomsday book and takes its name from the Old English “’stoc’ meaning a place or enclosure, or stoches, meaning cattle farm, and the Norman family name ‘Say’, the surname of the de Says family who had held the land from the beginning of the 12th century.

The castle consists of a stone hall and solar block protected by two stone towers and is surrounded by a moat, now colonised with wild flowers.  Entrance to the courtyard is via a stunning 17th century timber and plaster gatehouse next to where the café is situated.

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Standing on the staircase in this spacious hall, sheltered beneath the magnificent 13th century timbered roof, you can imagine Laurence and his family sitting at the high table at one end of the room with the rest of the household placed at tables running along the length of the hall.

Go back in time and you can envisage the fire burning in the hearth in the middle of the floor and hear the echoes of voices deep in conversation, feel the hall alive with music and busy with the comings and goings of servants fetching wine and beer from the buttery on the lower floor.

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Now the hall is cold and silent, lit by sunlight filtering through the tall Gothic windows, no fire burns in the bricked up hearth and the voices of past Sheriffs of Shropshire drinking from pewter tankards, toasting ladies in long-sleeved silk gowns are long-ago echoes of ages past.  But: “Even in its emptiness, the hall at Stokesay is one of the most evocative rooms in Englandhttp://englishbuildings.blogspot.co.uk

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published in the June edition of The Gossip magazine

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Elderflower Champagne

Midsummer – time to make Elderflower Champagne – which is not champagne – or alcoholic – at all – but, according to my family, is every bit as good as champagne:

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Elderflower Champagne

4 large elderflower heads
2 lemons – rind and juice
2 tblsp white wine vinegar
1 lb 8 oz of granulated sugar
7 pints cold water

You will need 2 large clean buckets – one to make the champagne in and another to strain the champagne 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.
Add water and vinegar and stir well.
Leave for 2 days, stirring night and morning.
Strain through a stocking held over a sieve or colander into the second bucket.

Add sugar and stir well.
Leave 24 hours then bottle in screw top bottles.  (Plastic pop bottles will do fine.)

It should be ready to drink after about a week.

If not drinking straight away you will need to release the tops of the bottles regularly so they don’t explode – or you can use old port bottles with corks.

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Mitchell’s Fold Stone Circle

Mitchell’s Fold Stone Circle

Mitchell’s Fold in South Shropshire is a Bronze Age stone circle dating back to 2000 BC (making it older than Stonehenge) and it lies on one of the mystical ley lines.

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We still do not fully understand why stone circles were built, but it is clear that they were ritually important for prehistoric people. Most of them have precisely aligned stones marking important lunar and solar events which became festival days like Beltane and Midsummer.

Neither do we understand ley lines – they are thought to be invisible alignments of mystical or magnetic energy areas in the Bronze and Iron Ages connecting sites like stone circles, standing stones, holy wells, hill tops and cairns.  They were forgotten in modern times but the networks of leys were accidentally preserved because many medieval churches were built on top of pagan sites.

There is also a suggestion that there is a connection between ancient sites on ley lines and extra-terrestrial craft which use them as a point of navigation – or to refuel by tapping into the energy.  Mitchell’s Fold is a location of high UFO activity with several sightings of discs and triangles over the years.

Whatever you believe, I have always had a strange feeling that ancient stones hold supernatural powers and I have to touch them to reach out to this energy.  When we visited Avebury I touched each of the stones – after all – they must have been touched by generations of people over the last two thousand years and those people must have left something of themselves in these special places all those years ago.

It was a beautiful Spring day and a lovely walk along the lane and across the heath to the stone circle; we counted the stones (we could only find 14) and then stood in the centre of the circle and admired the views east across Shropshire and west over Powys into Wales.

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As with many of these prehistoric sites, local folklore has a story to tell:  Once upon a time there was a great famine and a fairy gave the people of Mitchell’s Fold a magic cow – that would fill any container with milk.  One night an evil witch milked the cow into a sieve.  Once the cow realised the trick she disappeared, the witch was turned to stone and a circle of stones set around her so that she could not escape.

Mitchell’s Fold Stone Circle is now an English Heritage site.  There is also a Bronze Age axe factory nearby at Cwm Mawr, where distinctive axe-hammers were made from a rock type known as picrite which is found on a small hill just to the north-west of Hyssington.