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My Dearest has recently become a wine maker, needs must when the money runs out. I thought I’d join him, so we have set up a micro brewery in the kitchen. My first effort was to use a kit for Elderflower Wine, but I could not help feeling I was cheating; a can of Sancerre grape concentrate and a packet of dried Elder flowers doesn’t really leave me feeling the joy of the hunter gatherer filling her store cupboards with God’s Bounty plucked from the hedgerow.
I dug out an old book I had on country wine making, and found a recipe for elderflower wine that called for the gathering of real Elderflowers in the byways and field margins. We walked along a local cycle path well away from any road, and cut only two heads from each Elder tree (Sambucus Nigra) leaving plenty of flowers to produce berries for the birds (or maybe elderberry wine). There were so many Elder trees we only had to walk a few hundred yards to collect enough.
Back at the ranch, a pint of fresh Elderflowers, sugar, water, vinegar, lemons and yeast were put in a bucket to macerate for a few days before I strained the flowers off and putting the liquid in a demijohn.
Normally wine will take 10-14 days to brew depending on the ambient temperature and then stop. My wine has been has been bubbling away for more than 4 weeks and still going. I suspect it will be rocket fuel and will need to be served in thimbles.
I’ve been offered the flowers from an ornamental Elder, but I’m not sure it’s a good idea, flavour wise, we’ll see how this batch turns out. I’ve dried the excess flowers, in case I want to make some more before next summer.
In the meantime we have a very satisfactory “cellar” developing which hopefully will be ready to drink by Christmas, Happy Days!
Who’d a thought it, a hot summer in England? After 6 disappointing summers in a row we are all raiding the forgotten depths of our wardrobes for summer clothes and throwing the windows open to let in whatever breeze we can catch, at last. No matter how hot it gets I will not complain, this has been a long time coming, and very welcome. Even my Dad, who has become a bit of a hot house flower, has been seen sitting outside in the sun, well OK in the shade, but nevertheless outside.
Last Father’s Day my sister and I had the perennial problem…. what do you buy a Dad who wants for nothing and says not to get him anything at all? Fortuitously I noticed the week before that his garden bench had seen better days, and was rotten at one end, threatening to pitch him onto the floor should he sit on it. THINKS… new bench required.
After a quick consultation, I agreed to go halves with my sister, picked one out and on Father’s day my Dearest and I went round to Mum and Dad’s armed with a flat packed bench and the requisite tools to put it together just in time for the sunny weather.
PROBLEM…. The bench cushion they had was bought to fit a larger bench.
Dad’s 82nd birthday was last Sunday, a month after Father’s Day. In this month’s Country Living Magazine to which I subscribe there was a craft article which included a padded bench cushion which set me thinking….
I made a trip to Lancaster on Saturday, on the street market I managed to buy some upholstery foam and this jolly striped fabric, £12 the lot and there’s enough to make something else from the remnants. I folded the fabric over the foam and cut the fabric to fit the seat pad with a good inch and a half excess on three sides to allow for hems. I stitched the short sides first, and then stitched again 1 quarter inch in to make it fit better. You want it fairly close fitting to prevent creasing but not so tight it bursts the stitching when you sit on it.
I hand stitched the long side closed, so that if it needs to be washed at any time it can be removed washed and put back on, it wasn’t as difficult or fiddly as it might seem; I just folded one raw edge in and pinned it down by sticking pins into the foam the whole length of the pin, then folded in the other raw edge, tacked it into place to stop it rolling out as I pinned it again; and then slip stitched it into place. I even made a carrying handle.
My only regret is that I left it to the last minute and so I had to spend my Saturday Evening finishing it off, and missed out on an invitation to join friends for a drink to celebrate their wedding that day. Friend’s Weddings don’t happen very often, particularly at my age, but then neither do 82nd birthdays; or sultry summer evenings for that matter.
It’s no surprise to me that the heat wave broke this week, we’ve had thunder storms and rain, but only in blessedly short bursts, interspersed with more sunshine. Last night it rained after I got home, I stood at the open back door and watched all the foliage in my garden dance and tremble as the great raindrops hit them, the smell of flowers , wet earth and salty sea was wonderful.
It’s Challenge Month again and this year’s challenge was to take a greetings card, and create something using the card as inspiration. We had to bring the card and finished item to the quilt group meeting tonight.
For months I have searched high and low for a greetings card which sparked my imagination, I even found an interesting sympathy card which might have worked but the card was bought for the purpose for which it was made, and went to a bereft friend, I could not find it again.
So last week I set myself a harder challenge, I would use a card I had, whether a card I had in my stash of “just in case” cards or one which had been received and kept for sentimental reasons, it was crunch time, I did not have time to look any further and would have to make do with what I had.
I found a rather tatty card I’d bought in a sale, (pictured) a hand finished decoupage card with wrapped presents and bunting. It was the bunting which caught my eye. Last year I made red, white and blue bunting to decorate the garden to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee year and the London Olympics, I made it from off cuts of furnishing fabric, cut with pinking shears and due to the wet and windy weather it didn’t survive too well, this year I had planned to make some more, in prettier colours. This card with its Sweet Pea colours chimed with what I had wanted to make, so that was decision made.
I have a triangular cutting ruler which is pennant shaped and ideal for the job of cutting all the pieces….could I find it…… not! It took me a week to search the house, The thing is, when I have lost something I know my subconscious knows where it is so I often go and stand where I think it might be and wait for my subconscious to direct me, in this case it kept directing me to where a chair stood but I kept moving the chair to search beyond it. Doh! I found it at last, on the desk chair under a pile of other things which I had shoved out of the way several times to search the area in which it was sitting. I must have moved it 5 or 6 times in the week I was searching. Note to self, tidy up for goodness sake!
Next step, what fabric? I didn’t really want to use my precious quilt fabric stash, at £12 a metre it’s way too expensive for bunting just to decorate the garden this summer, so back to the charity shops I went, this time as well as looking for checked shirts to cut up I looked for cotton or poly /cotton sheeting or duvet cover sets in the right colours and patterns, I found a lovely pair of fine cotton curtains in blue and yellow, I think they may be home made as the cotton is dress weight not furnishing, they are now in my stash;I think they will make good quilt backs for lap quilts, not bunting. High and low have I searched but no suitable fabric did I find. Desperation set in on Sunday night, bearing in mind the bunting had to be ready to hang by Tuesday night.
Sometime after midnight I went into my studio (the spare bedroom) and opened the drawers, I had decided to pull out any fabric I knew I would never use for quilting, so what did I find? A flowery pink, poly cotton I’d had for more than 20 years, it was too thin and poly for quilting and would never have graced a quilt of mine, a pale blue bought at Abakhan which was coarser in weave than I was used to and not quite what I had in mind when I bought it, and another green fabric which is at least 30 years old, looks as if it may be a Laura Ashley but I suspect is a fake, printed by another company to take advantage of the popularity of the ditsy prints Laura Ashley made so fashionable on the 70’s. There should have been a fourth colour; a lavender shade, but I had none I was prepared to part with,three colours would have to do.
On Monday evening, after work and shopping, I cut out the pennants and stitched them on the two long sides, turned them out and put a row of tacking along the edge to hold the seams in place till I could topstitch them. I really did burn the midnight oil for this one.
On Tuesday evening after work and a walk to pick the last of the Elder flowers for drying (of which more another time), and a long chat with my neighbour in the front garden, I top stitched the pennants and stitched them to a 5m length of cotton tape, eh Voila, my Sweet Pea bunting was ready to go by midnight.
Tonight I came home hot and bothered from work, and was just about to jump in the shower when Mum called, she wasn’t feeling well, and would not be going to the quilting group tonight. I took a shower anyway and while I stood in the shower pondered, should I still go, should I not? I decided not, much as I wanted to take my bunting and have it displayed as Cecily would have enjoyed a good display of work, did I really want to drive in this heat and sit indoors on such a lovely evening? No, I decided not, instead I hung the bunting in my garden, and sat on the front step in the late afternoon sunshine, chatting to my neighbour and enjoying a glass of Pimms with ice and cucumber. Sometimes the simple pleasures in life are what counts.
Last week the 13 year old went off to France on a school trip, whilst his father fretted and worried about him I was happy that he was off on a Big Adventure, and saw it as a great opportunity for a few day’s leave, so that we could go out early and stay out late because we had no-one to come home to feed or make sure homework was being done or bed time adhered to. If only the weather had been kind! It rained and rained… and rained. I found myself humming the Travis tune “why does it always rain on me, was it because I lied when I was 17?”
By the third day I was determined to enjoy my day whatever the weather. We had planned to visit a National Trust property near Manchester but couldn’t face a wet, grey journey down the M6, so we headed east towards promised drier weather. We drove to Skipton for lunch then on to Bolton Abbey and Wharfedale in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, to visit a famous garden attached to Parcevall Hall; which comprise 24 acres of formal and woodland gardens which rise up the hillside for 200 feet giving wonderful views in every direction.
The house itself is not open to garden visitors, sadly; it must be fascinating, dating back to 1584 at least and extended in the 1920’s. It belongs to the College of Guardians of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham and is used by the Bradford Diocese as a retreat house and conference centre. Hardly surprising then, that as we arrived in the neighbourhood of Parcevall Hall, the sun was shining in a clear blue sky, my spirits lifted, the gardens were a little piece of Paradise, so it’s true what they say the sun really does shine on the righteous.
The last three miles as we drove towards the Hall were nerve racking, the roads narrow and winding, we both held our breath in fear of meeting another vehicle coming the other way; mostly we only passed walkers and cyclists.
We had tea before exploring the gardens; a little sparrow came and begged for food, even standing on our table inches from my hand. On the garden wall I spotted a baby sparrow just fledged and not quite in control of itself. There were beautifully planted terraces nearer to the house, an orchard of rare old apples trees, a lake and a babbling brook, woodland walks and a walled garden. Against a wall in a sheltered spot there was a crinodendron I’ve only seen it once before.
Later I spotted a wren, I stood for many minutes camera to face so as not to frighten it, hoping to get a picture but sadly she was too fast for me, I only got one blurry shot, I used to have a little wren in my garden, they are so tiny, so pretty, I love wrens.
As we left it seemed that the roads had become even narrower, so much so that if we met a vehicle coming in the other direction both drivers and passengers needed to breathe in, in order to pass safely. It’s strange what you see in the hedgerows, once when we pulled over to allow another driver to pass I spotted both currants and gooseberries growing wild, I didn’t look too closely under the gooseberry bush, never know what you might find!