29 October 2013


A little while back artist Kate Murdoch suggested that I might be interested in the Guardian's 'This is Your Photo' project in collaboration with the Photographer's Gallery which was at the time collecting pictures of mantlepieces. The idea was to "to capture and encourage us to talk about the photographic moments that distinguish everyday life in contemporary Britain and beyond." As usual everyday life took over and I failed to get my arse in gear for the deadline. But it's a lovely idea and over the years the mantlepieces in my house have featured here often, their contents marking time and the changing seasons. The background has been fairly constant though, in various shades of off white. Now we have reached the point, particularly after the dust this summer, when we need to refresh the paintwork: upheaval all round. Who knew that there was a stash of sticky energy-saving lightbulb packs on top of the dresser, and a red and buff tin marked CAKE stashed away behind the tea pots, jugs and rolls of paper on the cupboard? 

The picture of the mantlepiece today totally belies the chaos at the margins: kitchen floor covered in cardboard - surprisingly cosy as it happens; a basket full of freshly washed glass fisherman's floats next to the ladder with the now-broken step; the table stacked with jars of various sugars, pepper, salt; the hall full of sacks of potatoes and picture frames. Above all of this, the mantlepiece is positively zen with only a paintbrush, a door handle and some finger-plates, in the background all those different shades of one off-white wall.

No wonder it's such a pain deciding exactly what colour paints to choose.

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Thank you so much for your apple recipe suggestions. As soon as the kitchen is back to working order I will definitely be trying some of them out. I'll be picking out the giveaway winner on Friday, so if you're interested in winning a copy of the Modern Peasant don't forget to leave a comment on the last post by close tomorrow. All comers welcome.

21 October 2013

on a great place and apples

"Rafe says 'This house always smells of apples'.

It is true; Great Place is set among orchards, and the summer seems to linger in the garrets, where the fruit is stored. At Austin Friars the gardens are raw, saplings bound to stakes. But this is an old house; it was a cottage once, but it was built up for his own use by Sir Henry Colet, father of the learned Dean of St Paul's. When Sir Henry died Lady Christian lived out her days here, and then by Sir Henry's will the house devolved to the Mercer's Guild. He holds it on a 50-year-sub-lease, which should see him out, and Gregory in. Gregory's children can grow up in the aroma of baking, of honey and sliced apples, raisins and cloves. He says 'Rafe, I must get Gregory married' 'I'll make a memorandum' Rafe says, and laughs."

Bring up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel, 2012, p 137

I loved this book, and imagining Thomas Cromwell in a house in Stepney scented with apples gave me great pleasure.  All that remains of those orchards are maps and place names, so we went to Kentish orchards instead and tasted all sorts. My friend was very impressed at how many apples I could fit into the two-bags-for-a-fiver on offer. The trick was to choose the smaller ones, and then eat them down to the stalk and the pips. It rained most of the day, so we were too damp and lazy to make a note of what we stuffed into our bags, but a vague memory and a quick squint at the national collection website confirmed that my favourite was the Zabergau Renette, the russety apple speckled with red at the centre top of the basket. 

It's not all good news for apples however. I was utterly dismayed to hear on the news that 40% of the apples sold by our largest supermarket chain are wasted. Joanna's thoughtful post on "the power of free" suggests how we might avoid waste and make good.  Clearly more places need to be filled with the aroma of baking, of honey and sliced apples, raisins and cloves. Or parsnip and apple soup, celery and apple salad, apple sauce, chutney. I'm thinking apple crumble tonight to go with supper, just for a start, or maybe an apple cake or two. I need a few more ideas though so...

I'm also thinking maybe it's time to spread a little urban making and baking love. A little while back food writer and allotment holder Jojo Tulloh came to our WI and I bought a copy of her book The Modern Peasant with the specific idea of sharing it.  It's not a glossy modern baking book, but a more reflective exploration of how city dwellers can make the best of what's available locally, including growing our own, preserving and fermenting. You don't have to live in a city to enjoy the book. Some of the text might make you wince a little (did we need to know, Jojo, that you parked your bike in a mews etc?). But its heart is in the right place and the recipes are for everyone who might want a little food adventure.

Here's the deal. If you'd like your name to go into the basket to win a copy of the book, leave me a comment with your favourite apple recipe suggestions, with links if you can because we might want to make it. I'll leave the comments open until 30th October and publish the winner on Halloween.

18 October 2013


I don't know what I was thinking of, using a huge piece of heavy wood as a yardstick. It caught the corner of one of a pair of ginger jars that have been sitting one or other of our mantelpieces for about thirty years. It tumbled down, caught the edge of the table and shattered into pieces. Ironically, some of the shards ended up in a dish of pottery pieces I had collected from the Thames shoreline.  It is probably beyond repair but somehow I can't bring myself to throw the pieces away. Coincidentally, I had heard Grayson Perry speaking earlier that day about a jar that he had smashed deliberately with the intention of having craftsmen restoring it with gold. I wish I could do the same, if only to say sorry, for this was his jar, not mine.

Accidents often happen when you are tired, and I think that one of the reasons for my clumsiness was being a little bit shattered myself. Autumn has brought more commitments than might be sensible - some volunteering activity demanding a couple of days a week just now, organising the local WI, a sewing class where I've taken on rather an ambitious  and no doubt lengthy project, more yoga. Oh, yeah,  I have a family and home too which need some attention - Mrs Jellaby and the child with its head stuck in the railings often comes to mind. Not that there are small children around any more, but an aging parent has to be watched carefully too.

I started to write this earlier today and since then have managed to fit in some soothing activities: a cafe, the market, some baking, some fairy tales and forests, and a bit of a snooze. The world is looking a little less jagged. And it's Apple Day tomorrow at Brogdale. Hope you manage to celebrate too.