In a pumpkin pickle

The whole world is carving pumpkins – or so it seems. Nothing wrong with that , except the staggering amount of pumpkin pulp that ends up in landfill every year. That makes me sad when there is absolutely NO NEED for it. So how do we deal with this little pickle?

Teach your children to be responsible. At the very least pop your pulp on the compost heap. If you don’t have one, start one. You’ll find plenty if advice here.

Just one postscript to the ideas above – if you’re leaving it as a snack for squirrels or birds, pop it off the ground. Hedgehogs will suffer if they munch on it. And if you’re lucky enough to have a hedgehog visit your garden, you’ll want to look after him or her.

We usually make pumpkin soup with plenty of ginger and chilli to cut through the gloopiness of the pumpkin. A warming treat on a dreary day and uber-freezable too. Recipe below.

You’ll need
1 tablespoon olive oil, 50g butter a small pumpkin, peeled, de-seeded and diced, 2 onions, diced, 3 cloves garlic, crushed, 1 red chilli, finely chopped, a thumb-sized piece root ginger, grated, 900ml vegetable stock, 50g coconut cream, pinch coriander leaves to garnish.

  1. Heat the oil and butter in a pan, then over a medium heat sweat the pumpkin, onion and garlic for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the chilli and ginger, then cook for a further 5 minutes.
  3. Add the hot stock, bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the butternut squash is soft.
  4. Blend in batches until smooth.
  5. Reheat gently before adding the coconut cream. Season to taste and serve garnished with a few coriander leaves.

Delicious.

Time for reflection

winter mooring from Ben Ranyard

The clocks have gone back, the sun sets earlier, as we head towards Samhain it’s time for reflection. Here at Country Gate we’ve lit the first log fires of the season, candles accompany our supper time chats and soups and stews have already begun to replace the salads of the summer.

Every season has its pleasures. Winter is a time for looking back and planning forward, for hunkering down with those you love – if you can this year, for going on nature rambles, clearing the clutter from your life and hitting pause.

Samhain itself is a time for all of the above and for thinking fondly of those who have died, whose presence has gone from our lives even though I’m sure our lives are still touched by them.

I was interested to read a little about how Samhain is celebrated traditionally. Here are the seven ideas that were mentioned a lot.

  1. Go on a nature walk. We’ve booked Stourhead on Saturday.
  2. Build an altar using seasonal fruits. Our kitchen windowsill is home to an impromptu collection of windfall quince, squash, conkers and hazelnuts. That will do.
  3. Light candles. An everyday occurrence
  4. Hold a ceremony. Build a goddess figure from garden prunings. Bring it inside and lay a place at the table. That’s a bit too wicker man for me but I will do some garden pruning.
  5. Have a bonfire. Walk around it and make plans for the coming season. The bonfire at least will happen.
  6. Hit pause – meditate, keep a reflective diary. Yes. Yes. Yes. Such a good thing to do.
  7. Connect with your community. Spent a lovely hour with some old friends last night talking about the support the village has mobilised for individuals over the last few months, what more can be done, drinking wine, and tasting quince ice cream made from some of our tree’s bounty this year. Highly recommended.

Lammas Eve

Pic from Lammas Sabbat Index

Teachers do their spring cleaning in the summer hols – especially when the Easter hols disappeared in a haze of preparing to switch to online teaching. I’ve given myself a deadline of the end of the month – Lammas Eve (or Juliet’s birthday, if you are an English teacher, who can shoe-horn a Shakespeare reference into most sentences). There are kitchen cupboards to clear out, clutter to clear and windows to wash. A neighbour has started up a Saturday Share-it Day where anyone in the town can put out unwanted goods to be re-homed. It’s helped us enormously whilst the charity shops have been closed. This week there will be another box of goodies available in our front garden..

I’ve written about celebrating Lammas before. The beginning of August feels like more of ending than high-Summer to me. Some of our garden crops are over, I’ve already started thinking about the Autumn bulb planting and placed an order to be delivered in September and – dare I say it – the nights are drawing in. I’m not sad. I love the Autumn. It appeals to my agricultural and teaching heritage. I can harvest crops and start making chutney for the store cupboard and give full vent to my passion for stationery. (Surely every teacher has one?)

This Lammas I will bake bread and prune some of the herbs which are going over. The mint needs a severe pruning and parts of a lavender hedge which has fed the bees for weeks are looking grey and droopy. I read somewhere that one of the traditions of Lammas is to fashion a besom from twigs, decorate it with green and gold ribbons and a few sprigs of mint. I like to find time to create something every day and this will allow me to use up some old pea sticks and the mint prunings to make something which will be useful for  sweeping up the remaining lavender petals from the terrace.

Happy Lammaside. May your harvests be bountiful, your store cupboard full and everything in your house spick and span.

May Day

I can hardly believe it’s the beginning of May but the winter squash on the kitchen windowsill and the lush growth in the garden is proof that it is. For the first time in years my seed sowing is more organised than sporadic. I have peas, beans of various varieties, beetroot, rocket, chard, carrots, lettuce and spinach growing in amongst the flowers and shrubs.

I’ve written about May Day before but this one is different. No trips out to National Trust properties, no May Fairs, no picnics, except in our own garden and no fire – although when I get that fire basket for the terrace we will be able to sit outside and chat in the chill of the evening.

I love a bit of tradition, as you know. Staying out all night, watching the sunrise and bathing your face in morning dew appealed to my younger self; dressing a tree and making a floral crowns and baskets was the stuff of parenting toddlers.

Now I’m drawn to making Hawthorn Brandy, much more sedate for a woman of mature years. You will need a bottle of brandy and at least one cup of hawthorn flowers, plus a little sugar to taste. Mix the ingredients together and leave away from direct light, for at least two weeks. Shake occasionally. Strain, bottle and enjoy. Hawthorn is renowned as a tonic for the heart.

May is a good time to start a new project. It will be good to fuel my energies into a new enterprise after weeks of lockdown but I have welcomed the time to reflect and plan rather than rushing into anything whilst continuing the business of teaching my students remotely and spending time with my family. I’ll share progress soon.

 

.

Easter highlights

20200412_230633

No trip to Stourhead followed by a coffee and cake, no egg hunts, no sunrise walk around the village fields, no church service.

It’s been a different kind of Easter this year but there was some chocolate eating, home-baked cake, a family roast dinner and gardening.

It’s been great to catch up virtually with what friends have been doing. These beautiful photographs tell me what is important about this time of year – new life and renewal.

Wolf Moon

Helen Thompson is my ‘go to’ woman for enchanting pics of the moon

Tonight is the Wolf Moon – January’s full moon named because of the lupine howling which traditionally haunted the midwinter. If we’re lucky, it will look like this.

When my children were younger and bedtime stories were stiil popular, I remember reading them ‘The Wolves of Willoughby Chase’ whilst gazing up at the moon. For parents of primary school aged children it comes highly recommended from Country Gate HQ.  It was my favourite time of day. I miss it more than anything else about daily parenting tasks that are now a memory.

A wolf moon is said to symbolize a time to look to your community for creative solutions and to communicate with inspiring individuals to overcome challenges.

We need that right now, don’t we? There is a great comfort and power in getting to know your community well and working together to make it an inspiring and vibrant place for everyone.

What better way to start off the new decade than by immersing yourself in your local community?

All the teens are stiil at home after the Christmas break. Maybe we’ll share some family time tonight while gazing up at the moon.

 

 

Christmas kitchen – red onion marmalade

 

There’s a timely article in the paper today about foods to eat to help keep the winter blues at bay once the clocks go back. Oily fish, green vegetables and onions feature highly.

I’ve blogged about making red onion marmalade before and on a chilly Autumn day in October I like to have something to show for my time when I can’t make much headway in the garden. There are bulbs to plant, weeds to hoe and pruning to be done but the soil is so cold and wet that I’m loathe to trample piles of soil all over the lawn and the terrace ( I use the terms ‘lawn’ and ‘terrace’ in their loosest sense!).

This October’s red onion marmalade is 2 kilos of red onions sweated down for 45 minutes over a low heat with 140g butter , a good slug of olive oil (about 4 tbsp), a generous tbsp of fresh thyme leaves, a small handful of dried chilli flakes, salt, black pepper, 140 g muscovado sugar and a spoonful of ground gloves. Once the onions are soft to the touch (they should break easily if you press them with a spoon) add a 75cl bottle of cheap red wine, 350ml of red wine vinegar and 200ml port. Simmer over the heat until 2/3rds of the liquid has evaporated. Cool slightly and then pot into sterilised jars.

They should  be stored in the larder or a cool, dark cupboard where they will keep well for three to six months, by which time they will be long gone and you’ll need to make another batch. By Christmas it will be yumsome. I’m going to add some to a food parcel for my eldest who is away at Uni and mentioned ‘home cooking’ at least four times in his weekly phone call home yesterday.

The Importance of Rituals

 

Ritual plays a big part in our home. October Half Term is THE time for making the Christmas cake. Recipes come and go but the ritual of buying ingredients, soaking the fruit and mixing the cake two months before Christmas remains the same. Mary Berry’s version (above) with the odd twist from me is this year’s cake of choice. (I used homemade cherry brandy and a slightly different combination of dried fruit.)

There was a time when I had three little helpers in the kitchen. This year I have one away preparing for a university cycling competition, one upstairs doing his A Level coursework and one relaxing with friends before the next spurt of GCSE mock revision. They’ve all ‘checked in’ that the Christmas cake is in hand.

Being a Celt and a mother it’s not surprising that food plays a big part in our family life and that I share kitchen rituals from my own mother and grandmother with my own children and, one day perhaps, they’ll share the same ones with their own children. Of course they’ll change some; they’ll adapt some; they may even abandon some but that connection and routine is important to our well-being and sense of identity. If you want to read more about the importance of ritual and routine try this as a starting point.

 

Heralding the start of Celtic Spring

Waking up to a snow day to herald in Imbolc, the start of Celtic spring has reminded me that I’ve been keeping this blog for ten years exactly. At that time my youngest child was in Reception class; now my eldest is in his final year at school. Seminal years filled with happiness, tears, beginnings and endings, adventures, familiar places, old friends, new friends, and embracing life.  Much of this is documented in this blog.

Imbolc is one of the fire festivals and so it’s right that we will be huddling around the fire this evening to keep warm and spend time together.  There may be rugby six nations action too.  Imbolc and the feast of St Brigid isalso traditionally a time of visiting wells, spring cleaning the house and preparing to sow the seeds of the next harvest. That will have to wait until Half Term, although I may order a load of mulch to spread over the garden plot when the ground thaws.

Imbolc Blessings.

 

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑