Last week I took a group of school children around the village church in nearby Warslow where their school is as part of a town and country project they were doing. (They were all very excited as they get to visit a 'real city' soon.) The children were encouraged to be nosey and to see what they could find inside. Of course they soon discovered where the vicar makes a cup of coffee and where the steps to the disused belfry were to be found.
But somewhere, amongst the jumbled list of things they found interesting, two things juxtaposed and stuck in my mind. The first was a beautiful William Morris stained glass window (him being a local lad) tucked away in this tiny church in the Peak District; and over in the vicar's private little ante-room (well she did encourage them to be nosey!) the second: a record of the collection taken at each service, lying open on the side.
Looking down I noticed one service recently - presumably an early 8 o'clock one - where the collection taken was only £8. Now, if vicars are being paid the national minimum wage (which currently stands at £6.31, since Tuesday), that leaves approximately £1.69 by my reckoning to cover the cost of maintaining the church, heating, light....and the buying(?) and preservation of fine art. Perhaps it is time to change the idea of the collection plate to a new kind of state-funded church lottery, and the coffers might start rolling in. A series of little coloured balls running from the pulpit across the altar rail and down the pipes of the organ to the cries of 'two fat ladies 88; the Lord is my shepherd 23' might do the trick.
There is something very comforting about baked fruit or vegetables that seems to work so well at this time of year; whether it's a baked apple stuffed with sultanas or a rhubarb and ginger crumble, or a humble tomato. You are making 'Baked tomatoes' (page 390) stuffed with a creamed coconut mixture and chilli, ginger and garlic. It is an unusual way to use creamed coconut, and, as you say, 'shouldn't work but it does.'
You are also poaching pears 'with cream cheese and ginger sundae' (page 389). Having just thrown away one lot of pears that went from bullet hard to pocked with brown overnight, I am a little reluctant, though the sundae part of the recipe more than makes up for the replacements. This is a truly wicked mix of cream cheese (full-fat if you please), icing sugar and double cream, to which crushed ginger nut biscuits and grated chocolate are added. Recipe for a coronary, I think, or a well-deserved treat after a week of trying too hard to be good. Never underestimate the power of food (and not just chocolate) to lift your mood.
Lately, I have poached or baked plums and peaches and fresh figs and apples. Somehow they are far more satisfying that their raw counterparts (worth remembering if you ever get to that stage of having indulged in too much cream cheese sundae and needing to drop a few pounds....although somehow I can't see that happening.)
Having spent the last few days hammering into my children that money doesn't grow on trees, today I took them to a place where money does in fact grow on trees. Over in the valley of Dovedale there are fallen trees and stumps all along the riverside walk where people have hammered coins into the bark for luck. Some logs appear like spiny creatures with hundreds and hundreds of silver scales, many bent over, cascading over them and glistening in the sun. The children love to try and dig them out, failing miserably. I don't know how unique this custom is but I haven't seen it to this extent anywhere else in the Peak District. There is a strange beauty to this odd custom. The autumn sun is wonderfully warm today and Poppy is happy swimming in the river while we look for the last of the blackberries. It is getting to the end of their season and all the best ones have gone. I notice the sloes are starting to get that wonderful bloom, though they are best left till after the first frost if you don't want to spend all day with a pin stabbing them to release their juices.