Monday, 17 June 2013

June 15th - Not just roses, and Sweet sensations

Dear Nigel,

Sometimes, when the countryside looks so idyllic, the flowers are out and the sun is shining, it feels that nothing could go wrong in the world - everything is 'perfick'. Reality soon intervenes. There is a downside to living in fresh air, well away from roads and towns, in a mobile phone black spot, inaccessible at times in the winter. That downside is time- the time it takes for an ambulance on blue light to get here. Almost ten minutes. Too long. An unconscious person would be beyond resuscitation. That's why we have a voluntary system of first responders - with collecting boxes in most pubs and post offices in the area - and unpicturesque custard yellow boxes going up on quaint cottages with defibrillators inside. This week I joined a sizeable proportion of people in my village on a course to know how to access and use the defibrillator, should the need ever arise. The box is fixed to the wall of Bagshaws the Butchers (- unfortunate symbolism). There is another at nearby Alstonefield.

If you ever find yourself out in the countryside and a situation occurs, the system is designed so that any member of the public ringing 999 will be given the location and code to the nearest box. Inside the box is another carry-out box. When opened, it automatically talks you through the procedure in such a way that anyone could administer  the electric shock needed to save a life. CPR (manual chest compression) helps, but time is of the essence - and ten minutes is too long. It is a sobering thought as you take a gentle stroll up that hill, place a picnic by that stream, enjoy a moment of peace and tranquillity.

Talking of Bagshaws the Butcher's; I was up there earlier picking up the most succulent lamb chops to marinade for the barbecue. I'm quite getting the hang of my new toy and find the best part of the procedure is just standing out there on your own with a pair of tongues, sipping a half of cider and listening to the evening chorus - if there is such a thing. The sun sliding down the hillside, insects beginning to stir and sharpen their biting parts; and the stillness of a moment that is purely your own before the masses descend with the carnivorous instinct of an impending famine-alert, and the outdoor air making everyone eat super-size portions of food

You are busy in your vegetable patch tying in sweet peas and purple climbing beans. I was also tying in sweet peas yesterday. For a change I bought a perennial one in pink and white (not the 'original', best-scented of all, but I thought I'd give it a try anyway.) Along with the new garden is an ugly shed which I would like to disguise. It has its uses for storing bikes and the lawnmower so it will have to stay.
You say,'No job in the vegetable patch feels quite so nurturing as tying the delicate stem of a plant to a stick.'

There has been rain these last few days, and in your garden too, though you appear to be enjoying it just a little bit too much, if I might say:
After 'the second driest spring since 1910...the last few days' steady rain...(makes me want) run naked into the garden and stand in the blissful rain, arms held up in thanks.'
So this is what is going on in some parts of London, then.

The French Tarragon seems to have survived our appalling winter when by rights it should have curled up and died at the first heavy frost ( the French being much less hardier than the Russian - but then we are both in agreement as to which has the superior flavour). It is for you 'one of the essential scents of summer'. And me. The necessary trim to your Tarragon allows you to make 'Chicken tarragon mayonnaise' (page 246) This is essentially grilled chicken rolled in cucumber and tarragon mayonnaise and eaten with a handful of pea shoots as a side salad. Being the thoughtful sort of cook you are - and appreciating that not everyone has the time or the inclination to spend too long in the kitchen - you suggest that 'If you don't fancy making your mayonnaise, use a mild proprietary brand.' And why not. Too many chefs in fancy trousers trying to make a good thing hard, I think.

I was chopping up summer rhubarb today trying to decide what to do with it. My thoughts on crumble were 'better in the chilly Autumn days', so I decided to freeze it as there is so much summer fruit in the house at present. Fruits like nectarines have a habit of ripening, over-ripening, and going mouldy all in the same afternoon, it seems.

 By the way I found some of your truly fragrant apricots the other day. These ones were black and like nothing I'd ever tried before. Apparently they are some kind of cross between an apricot and a plum... but they never made it to the chicken with apricots and coconut milk recipe, I have to say.

You, however, have been making a crumble. It is a 'Cherry almond crumble' ( page 249) and I think I am going to try making it before the cherry season ends. Partly because you are adding ground and flaked almonds to the crumble topping and I want to see how this tastes, and partly because you are cooking cherries and, like you, 'it is not often I cook a cherry.' Having sampled a few great french cakes and puddings of late with both ground almonds and cooked cherries, I am intrigued to see how well this combination will adapt to our English crumble. And crumbles are a cinch to make and a joy to eat.

I took the girls to the little estate village of Tissington, just a few miles away, at the weekend to visit the plant nursery. I was very impressed by the diligent workers there picking off slugs from the surrounding gravel and then waddling off back to their duckpond just beyond the car park. These are the sort of places where 'old treasures' can be found and varieties that you only see in old cottage gardens that have been there decades.

Past the imposing Hall and the church and the farm cottages; round the corner, down a tiny lane, is a tiny, immaculate and beautiful vintage sweetshop selling jars of fizzy sours and strawberry laces on high shelves and mingled with push-along toys and '50's kitsch. It's a perfect place to take the kids - big ones or small ones - though heaven knows how they manage to make a go of it. Perhaps it's the online business. Either way 'Homes and Antiques' magazine just gave it one of their top three of vintage shops 2013. It's called 'Edward and Vintage' and you can tuck in online.

Mr. Edward, I presume, with his floppy old-fashioned haircut, was a dab-hand at dealing with indecisive children, making up a pound's worth with a couple of this, a handful of that, until clammy little hands could grab the candystripe paper bags and run laughing out of the shop to sit on the drystone wall and suck.I think we all have a favourite sweetshop from our childhood where memories are stronger than any lesson we ever learnt at school - the spangles that cut your tongue in two, the apple bombs that smelt of compost, the butter cushions that had a sheen like spun silk. We all remember those times.


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