Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Sloe gin, sloe gin...

It's that time of year when I feel I should be out in the hedgerows, gathering all the free food Mother Nature has to offer.

Not this year.  But, we did crack open a bottle of 4 year old sloe gin the other day and it was rather potent and very warming!

So I thought I would share my recipe with you, no point in buying that expensive shop bought stuff, when you can make great sloe gin at home for a fraction of the price. 

You will need some cheap gin, I use Aldi gin, tastes great anyway but is cheap, bottles or glass jars to brew your gin in, and sugar, lots.

Collect your sloes, they are the fruit of the blackthorn, a plum related bushy tree which grows to a height of around 25 feet. Beware, blackthorns have huge thorns and can grow suckers, which means they can be thick and bushy around the base, you will invariably get caught up in the thorns as you scramble for the fruit!

 Sloes are about the size of your thumbnail, they are bitter to the taste and have a large stone in the centre, they also have a white bloom.

Don't bother picking wrinkled ones, and watch out for infested ones too, some insects like to burrow into ripe sloes. Most old recipes state that you wait until first frost before picking your sloes, no, just pick your sloes and put them on the freezer overnight after washing. This also makes the next stage, pricking them, easier. 

I use a long needle to prick sloes, a bodkin. I hold each one up between finger and thumb and skewer straight through twice, then pop into the chosen container. Mine are these old Tip tree bottles.


Fill your chosen container two thirds full with sloes. Pour over lots of granulated white sugar and tap gently so the sugar gets into all the crevices. Pour enough sugar in to just cover the sloes. Then fill your bottles with cheap gin! 

Now comes the hard bit, put those containers in a dark place and shake occasionally for a couple of months, decant the liquid off into another container, preferably a bottle this time, and enjoy!

Some folk use the gin soaked sloes and cover them in chocolate, I'm afraid I just squeeze them and throw them out.

As an aside, here's Joe Bonamassa singing about the very stuff!


Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Day trippers

One day a week OH and I pack a picnic and go off somewhere, if you've been with me a while and have a long memory, you may remember my weekly posts about our little trips out. 

As the OH is a big lover of all things Cotswolds, he persuaded me that we needed to visit again. I was after a particular treat from one of the little shops there, so it seemed a good idea.

First stop was Hanbury in Worcestershire, for a cup of tea and a breath of fresh air accompanied by a stunning, albeit misty, view.

 Thankfully, as we headed south the weather brightened and soon the sun was shining gloriously in a deep blue sky.

We ended up in Chipping Campden, a small market town in Gloucestershire, noted for its 14th to 17th century high street. Tip: during school holidays you can park on the school car park for free.

The walk round to the high street from the school is interesting, past St James church and the cart wash, a small museum dedicated to Arts and Crafts, and some rather gorgeous private houses.

I love these gatehouses, or pepperpot lodges as I believe they are called, originally the  entrance to Campden House, a grand country home built by Sir Baptist Hicks in 1613. Unfortunately, it was burnt to the ground thirty years later, and only parts remain, as well as a trace of the gardens under local fields.

The local almshouses

Not seven, but eight!


Random village house with fab stone mullion windows and hay feeders by the front door

The market hall

It's difficult to tell from the photos, but the floor of the market hall is incredibly uneven, but it is still used for stalls occasionally 


Top of St James' church

We found the little food shop we came to visit and bought ourselves a Christmas treat, proper marrons glace, expensive but proper!

It was like stepping back in time as the shop only takes real money, not cards. 

Back to reality and I've been looking for a pair of ankle boots for a while, scouring eBay with no luck. Popped into my local chazza the other day and...voila!



Faux leather Chelsea boots, brand new!  They are only supermarket ones, Aldi I think, but were mine for £3.95 and brand new. I've worn them three times now and they are waterproof and warm.

Another Aldi purchase now, but not second hand.

Both the OH and I love Jelly Belly beans, but they are expensive. I happened to buy some of Aldi's own brand a while back an they are mouthwateringly good!

They were on offer the other day, down to just 89p a bag, oh go on then!



As I'm the not-so-proud owner of a new smart phone (not a ridiculously expensive one!) I'm tending to take all my photos on it at the moment, I think they all look OK, and I'm even able to crop them and everything, ohh get me!.

 hope everyone had a safe Hallowe'en and bonfire night. 

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Flour, trains, beaches and samphire

Our last day in Norfolk and it was time to explore the local area. The village of Weybourne has a windmill, which is nicely visible on the horizon as you approach. unfortunately it no longer produces flour or turns.  It looks pretty though.




So we headed off in search of a working mill. and soon found one.

Just past the nearby town of Holt on the A148 we discovered signposts to Letheringsett mill, a fully operational watermill dating back to 1802.



It cost just £3 each to go in and look around and the miller himself was on hand to answer any questions. There was a vast array of flour in the little shop, flour for every occasion it seemed, and a fellow visitor sought advice from the miller regarding her baking needs.  We took the tour and wandered the floors of the mill unattended. 


I do love a good mill, such a powerful beast of a building to supply our daily bread, our food staple. I find the ingenuity of the buildings awe inspiring.

The above drawing shows the layout of the workings


Orders ready for shipping or collection

 The millstones


 Source of all the power


The business end!

After a pleasant couple of hours we headed back to the chalet for lunch, on the way we stopped at the local steam railway station, Weybourne, conveniently next to train buff and former Prime Minister John Major's house. 


 The station has starred in many a TV programme due to it's proximity to London and period restored buildings



Him indoors was delighted to find it was the local railway station in the sitcom Dad's Army where it doubled as Walmington on Sea station

After lunch we drove down the coast again, in search of fresh samphire to try for tea.  We retraced our steps along the coast but before we got to Cley, where I had seen the colourful samphire displays, we came across Salthouse, a small seaside village between Cley and Weybourne. We stopped by a duckpond and I bought some beautifully succulent looking samphire from this little house for £2.50.


Photo courtesy of Google street view.

The samphire looked delicious, and I couldn't wait to get home and try it.



Onwards, we drove around, recounting some of our steps and taking in all the views of Norfolk that we could, trying to remember every detail.

Back at the chalet, I found out how to cook samphire ( blanched in boiling water for a few minutes then tossed in butter) and we had it with pizza. I loved it, it was tender and succulent, OH hated it, as he does all greens!  There was so much in the bag we bought that we were able to bring it home in the cool bag, and as several of the pieces had roots attached, I have some now growing in a pot.

After tea we once again spent a couple of hours on the beach, albeit with heavy heart. Norfolk had been a pleasant surprise and we were blessed with great weather.



   Goodbye Norfolk, you have been relaxing, surprising and enjoyable!

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Castle Acre Priory day 6 part 2

After we left Oxburgh and began the journey back to the chalet, we popped in to a little village called Castle Acre for a cup of tea and a leg stretch. We had spotted a sign for an English Heritage property, a priory, on the way there and thought it would make an ideal stopping off place on the way back.


We didn't realise as we rolled up, how huge the place was, it is one of the largest and best preserved monastic sites in England, and we just popped in on a whim.

So with no prior knowledge (no pun intended!) and a couple of hours to spare before it closed we had a wander round.








  Dating back to 1090, the priory was home to a Cluniac order of monks, who lived there until 1537 when, under the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, it was disbanded and afterwards fell into ruin.


As you can see, the site is huge, this was a thriving monastery for over 450 years and parts are still almost intact. The huge west front, as seen in my first photo, and the attached prior's lodging are stunning. By climbing some pretty uneven stone steps you can go upstairs into the prior's house, where parts of the painted ceiling remain.


  
Just look at that amazing woodwork and art!

The main room was also very cosy, with a large bay stone mullion window and huge fireplace, we posed for a selfie.


The view through the window of the west front was amazing, all that stonework.



Downstairs and beneath the main living quarters we found an entrance hall, leading straight through to the cloister



This fabulous brick ceiling is medieval and was constructed between the 12th and 14th centuries. 


Looking back at the part intact tower and prior's house.

As with most of the very early properties we've seen in this area, the main priory walls are constructed mainly of flint.

More information on Castle Acre priory here

We finally made it back to the chalet, and after tea took our now habitual evening stroll on the pebble beach


    Finishing off the day with another relaxing wander to the sound of waves crashing up the shoreline. 

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Off to Oxburgh day 6 part one

Back to our Norfolk holiday.

Day 6 and with the weather still good we set off on our longest trip of the holiday, the hour long drive south west through Swaffham (always makes me laugh, think it's thanks to Harry Hill) to Oxburgh Hall, a rather romantic looking medieval moated property originally built in the 15th century, and now managed by the National Trust.


 As we arrived around 10.30, we cracked open the flask and had tea and cake in the rather pleasant car park before going in

 I have to say that for WOW factor, this is the most gorgeous property I have seen. I love a moat and this one was teeming with fish, and you could see the bottom, which is good as I have a thing about deep water. Rather disconcerting though was the half a pike resting in some pond weed at the bottom of the moat, I was wondering what bit it in half!

 We spent a good hour just walking around the outside, the weather was gorgeous and the property was just breathtaking. Also, a junior school were visiting and they were inside, so we let them out before attempting to go in!



You can see some scaffolding in the above photo, the roof on the courtyard part of the property is being repaired


 The property looks like an architect's advert in places, there does appear to be every style of window as you go round the outside



Fishies!  The moat is huge, around 250 feet long on each side




Love the name on their moat boat

After wandering aimlessly around the outside, we ventured in. I suppose I was expecting great things, but as you enter it is explained that family had to club together to buy the property back from an insurance company in the 50's and so several descendant families now live in private apartments there.

I took a few snaps inside, but they were dark and uninteresting. Better photos exist on the National Trust site here

The property was first built in 1482 by Sir Edmund Bedingfeld, after he obtained a licence to crenellate.  The same family still live there, apart from a short period earlier in the 20th century when the land and property was split up and came under the ownership of an insurance company. To save it from being pulled down by a local builder the family clubbed together, selling whatever they had to save the building.



Bad photo of leather wallpaper, yes, seriously, leather!

The property is known for a few things, one of which is stunning needlework by Bess of Hardwick and her charge, Mary Queens of Scots, whom she had under house arrest for Elizabeth I.

As we've been to Fotheringhay, where Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded, it was interesting to see the huge panels of stunning needlework she and her captor had worked on together.



Mary wasn't held here, but I believe the works arrived at Oxburgh as part of a dowry a few centuries back


They are huge, around six feet high


The room they are kept in is dark and only lights up when you enter, to keep them from deteriorating, hard to believe they are over 400 years old 


My only photo of the King's room, there is a famous priest hole off this bedroom, and the more adventurous visitor is allowed to slip through a hole in the floor into the secret chamber. We both decided we were not going in!


I made my way up several flights of stairs to the Queen's room above, via this very narrow staircase, with the rather cleverly built in handrail, only to find it shut! 

Back outside, and we wandered around the walled garden, a later addition to the property, and mostly allowed to grow to meadow proportions to support wildlife, this outside area was kept much smarter



A few last glimpses of the impressive brickwork and all those beautiful windows


The stunning entrance over the bridge, with the window for the King's room immediately over the archway


Not sure if these gorgeous little lamps are original or repro, so much of the original property was sold to save it


A decidedly glum looking blogger! Not sure why I don't look too happy here, possibly because OH has already taken one photo. Anyway, 50p top and Laura Ashley linen skirt which was £1.

As we left for our holiday chalet, we decided to pop in to an abbey we had seen signposted along the way.  It turned out to be a lot bigger than we thought so part two of our day 6 is to follow!