Tuesday, 8 April 2014

J is for Jammy

Dear Nigel,

I am making a chicken pie. It is an exceedingly good chicken pie; and as I stir the chopped tarragon leaves into the rich gravy made with organic pale ale and fresh chicken stock, Molly comes up to me and informs me that she had one the other night and nearly ate half the pie. I inform her tartly that this one is homemade and she is therefore a very lucky girl, and not out of a packet from some budget supermarket. The recipe is 'Quick Chicken Pot Pie' (page329). Good for a damp, dismal day when 'sometimes, you just want pie.'

The recipe calls for White beer, and here you have me floored. Enlisting the help of half the available shop assistants this morning, we decide that white beer is most likely to be pale ale but no one had heard it called as such. That so many young men should be happy to be called over to discuss the subject of beer at nine o'clock on a Friday morning shows a certain dedication to their calling.

Mothers Day on Sunday saw five out of seven of my little chicklings back home for the day. An earlier email from my daughter when I'm trying to firm up arrangements happily says, 'we'll do whatever you want - it is your day'. However, as we sit eating lunch and I drop into the conversation that I'd like to go to Biddulph Grange, an almighty groan goes up from my older ones. 'Not another National Trust Garden'. David finds this highly amusing. I'm thinking - what did that nice little email from Hannah say? Shouldn't we be doing something that I want to do on MY Day? Of course we go. Of course they moan. The little ones enjoy the Dinosaur bones garden (the Stumpery), the Chinese pagoda and  the Tea house, feeding the Carp and finding the imaginary monsters that lurk in all the caves and tunnels. They, at least, are easily amused.

I hear from my two older sons, James and Christopher, and I ring my Mum. I think about you, and your Mum, and I feel grateful for what I have. Trying to write the most difficult of letters ever recently, to someone, I come up with only one thought that seems to resonate in me: The people that I have loved best and who are no longer with me live on most in the values that they imparted. I look at my children and see not just a look or mannerism or colour of eye, but the values and principles that have passed on and assimilated effortlessly in them. Not things that I have taught them, cajoled or badgered them into doing, but a way of living that has come through the years through the people who have taught me how to live well. And which now lives on in them.

The fields are full of twin lambs everywhere at present, and notes on farm gates advertising cade lambs for sale (ie orphan lambs raised on a bottle). The children would like to take one home as a pet but I think the paperwork would be a little excessive these days, even for just one lamb. They are, however, the best indication that Spring is here and Summer, hopefully, not too far behind. Tractors are wearing over-large tyres this season, as the ground is so wet, and young lads are out courting in Green Massey Fergusons driving erratically with their girlfriends in tandem. At least I was only following one lad and his girlfriend this morning as he wove across the road; I wouldn't have liked to have been the car coming the other way who was eyeing his shiny new paintwork with horror.

Last weekend I was hedge trimming at a friend's farm, taking out thick stems with a pair of loppers (a  necessary procedure just before the surge of Spring makes it an impossible job). There in the heart of the hedge I uncovered the most perfectly formed little nest with three bluish-green eggs cossetted inside; looking for all the world like the most twee and artificial chocolate confection. Carefully, I moved it and hid it deeper in the hedge and moved off to allow the flustering mother blackbird to re-establish herself. It is one of the hazards of gardening at this time of year, unfortunately.

The children play a treasure hunt game by my friend's lake and it is a bit like running in a playground full of toddlers as they try and avoid the mass piggyback races of all the nearby toad population. Lawns have been wrecked by an unchecked assault by the local mole SAS team, but the soil makes great covering for the herbs and salad beds. Gardening, which has been left for so long to manage itself over the winter months has suddenly become an imperative as the days get longer and the temperature starts to rise a little.

The Rhubarb is the first crop to be ready for harvesting. It is a beautiful and vibrant pink with long-enough stems to warrant picking. I am also testing some later-cropping variety this year, but this more established mound will soon be pulled and made into crumble. My family like it with Raspberries or alternatively a little stem ginger and brown sugar. It is heartening to make something good that grows so effortlessly under its blanket of well-rotted manure.


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