Monday, 2 July 2012

July 1st - A very English Garden Party

Dear Nigel,

There can be few items of food that we are all individually so fussy about as the condition of a banana we are about to eat. This fairly inoquous fruit makes each one of us become a fussy eater. Do you like your banana green and hard to peel, freckled with sunshine, or brown and limp and fragrantly sweet? From your diary i note you prefer yours 'long, thick...(and) without blemish, fruit that banana aficionados would no doubt consider unripe.'

I like them this way as well. Too many freckles and that almost appley taste becomes bland . Bananas reaching the freckled state in our house remain unloved and uneaten in their bowl. Fed up with recycling perfectly good fruit i have taken to chopping them into chunks and freezing them in order to make fabulously thick smoothies at a later date. Frozen banana gives a wonderful texture when blended and can be used as a base to most fruit smoothies or simple vanilla with milk and yoghurt.

I have been gardening between the showers this week. I made what, for me, seems to have become my signature - a simple long bed of rhubarb. I position the old rhubarb forcer beside the frondy crowns and stand back. This simple scene says 'Home' to me.

The old game keeper nextdoor is keeping me in lettuces faster than we can eat them. I thank him kindly and stash the latest offering left on the wing of my landrover alongside the other two in bags in the fridge. He also gave me some small seedlings and these are holding their own in the zinc tub against the clement weather. I haven't even needed to water them as yet.

Today we brave the uncertain weather and head off to that other most English of English summer events (next to Wimbledon and strawberries and cream), the Garden Party. This one is held at Thornbridge Hall at Great Longstone. We arrive in tea dresses and carrying wellies but the weather holds and these are soon disbanded.

There is something very special about being invited into someone's private garden that a day out at a National Trust property just can't seem to match. I'm a great fan of the little yellow book of national garden scheme open days (in aid of charity), that give you that certain glimpse of the personal - the well-worn, the simply knocked together or the piece of fireplace given a new lease of life as a bench.

This garden party thrived with a seemingly endless flow of beer glasses from the on-site award-winning Thornbridge brewery. There was music on the lawn and a children's entertainer beyond the kitchen garden. Everywhere people were welcomed, to browse, to nose around, to make themselves at home for one day only. The sun came out and, this year especially it seems, a party spirit broke out. People kicked off their shoes, danced with their children and tucked into food from the Wild Boar man. My children are entranced by the scent of a chocolate cosmos and run round smelling everything in sight.

Small local food producers abound. We buy chocolate from Cocodance (which rent a barn from the National Trust somewhere up Mam Tor i believe) and ice creams from Bradwells. Bradwells ice cream is probably the best known of the five main ice cream producers in this area. Their ice creams are old fashioned and rich, based on a simple butter-rich recipe less well used these days.

The best part of the day is spent sprawled on a lawn, glass in hand, watching the kids strut their stuff to the sound of the band. Children mingle and chase around the maze and the evening sun turns everything a pale gold.


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