Thursday, 9 May 2013


I'm writing this today watching the wind blowing blossom past the window at 70mph.  Last week we had a glorious few days of late Spring weather - warm sun, gentle breezes, the occasional light shower of rain overnight - and it was like travelling to a different country.  A kinder, warmer country, where oranges grow freely in peoples gardens, and colourful birds sing in flowering trees all day long.  Narnia, possibly.

All that is over today though.  Ho yus.  Today it's all about high winds, rain and grey, leaden skies full of more rain.  Unfortunately, the fruit trees in my garden are currently heavily laden with their flowers, and I have a nasty feeling that a few days of this weather will shred them bare, leaving us with no crab apples, plums or cherries later in the year.

I make it sound like we have an orchard.  We don't.

We have a small but prolific crab apple in the front garden, and two teeny tiny plum and cherry trees in the middle of the front lawn.  Oh, and a gnarly old apple tree in the back garden which has good years and bad years.

The apples are perfect looking - red and green and big and round, like something out of a children's book - and smell delicious.  They taste delicious too, but unfortunately they rot with terrifying rapidity. They rot on the tree, and if you are lucky enough to find and pick one that is unblemished, eat it there and then, because by the next morning it will have festered into a half-liquid goo.

I think they're called Charles Ross, according to a nice man we asked at an Apple Day event once, an old Victorian breed developed from Cox's. They are lovely, but you have to be quick.

 I need to have lots of apples this year because I have discovered a fantastic recipe for marmalade jelly - I know that sounds like an oxymoron - which uses either the skins and cores of apples, or "windfall apples" along with citrus peel and various other goodies.  I used the recipe the other day to make Dandelion Marmalade Jelly, and the result, dear reader, was a soaraway success.

While I was walking the dog in one of the many gorgeous meadows nearby, I thought "there are an awful lot of dandelions here.  I bet they're useful for something."  Inspired by that thought, I took a poo bag (unused*) and wandered around the meadow picking dandelions.  A few here, a few there, always moving around to ensure a good mix of flowers.  The dog helped** by sticking her nose into the bag every time I bent down to pick a flower, or by racing around me in a circle, then trying to send me crashing to the ground by running into the backs of my knees at 40mph.

When I got home I Googled "Dandelion Recipes," and found several which looked promising.  I adapted the one that I liked the sound of the most, and hey presto, delicious golden dandelion marmalade jelly, which tastes of honey.  It's great on toast.

I've been busy with work, both my "day" job and the catering business, one way and another.  We've picked up a few more jobs, and whilst things are growing slowly, I am delighted that they are actually growing.  I'm also trying to get my preserves into a couple more retail outlets, and have been handing out freebies to people to try and lure them into buying more.  Fingers crossed.

Mr WithaY has spent most of the last 9 weeks busily building Neolithic houses at Old Sarum, as part of an English Heritage project.  They asked for volunteers to go and do "experimental archaeology" based on the remaining evidence found at Stonehenge and Durrington Walls.  This means they've been building houses based on the extant post-holes in the ground, a bit like designing a horse based on the hoofprints.

The result has been a small collection of wooden-built thatched huts, all different and all rather charming.  Mr WithaY has also been asked to carve some wooden items to dress the houses - bowls and such - which he has done, and English Heritage are using them as part of their display.

We went and looked at them last weekend, while it was still sunny, and I was very impressed.

In other news:  The hedge in the back garden has been removed, giving us about 6 extra feet of space.  There will be a funky new chestnut hurdle fence put in to replace it, which I am looking forward to very much.  At present, though, the dog has taken to standing and staring mournfully through the meagre chicken-wire fence which is all that remains, looking out into the meadow behind the house.  She probably wishes she was frolicking among the dandelions.

She frolicked in the garden all of last week, yeah, back when it was sunny, remember that? It was great, wasn't it?  She developed a habit of digging up a stick from the remains of the hedge roots, then collapsing theatrically on the lawn to gnaw at it.  This was fine, right up until she ate too many twig-gnawings, and sicked them all up onto her bed in the middle of the night.

So.  A new bed, and a closer watch on the dog to ensure she doesn't eat twigs any more.

*Hygiene is important in cooking.
**No, she really didn't.