Author: The Levels

The Ultimate Raspberry Jam

In our house there aren’t many arguments, some might say that’s because the Blonde knows better than to disagree with “practically perfect” me, but there are a couple of topics that will send us both into mild strops and sulky faces across the kitchen table.  The first is the perennial tea versus milk debate (obviously tea first then the milk) and the second and by far more controversial is the order in which you load the cream and jam onto your scones. 3 Day Raspberry Jam from Castle Farm

Although I adore Cornish and would give my eye-teeth for a just-baked pasty at most times of the day I can’t agree with them when it comes to a cream tea.  On this thorny topic I have my feet firmly in the Devonshire camp with big dollops of clotted cream going on first topped with a  teaspoon full (or two) of jam. The Blonde maintains that the jam provides a grip for the cream but he’s just plain wrong. You’d never put jam on a piece of bread and then put the butter on the top – think about it.

The one thing we don’t disagree on though is the jam.  Forget strawberry, you need to get with the raspberry.  The punchy hit of a good raspberry jam makes strawberry look like it’s poor relation both in terms of taste and looks.

With a garden full of raspberries this year I just had to turn my hand to making our very own Castle Farm variety, something that’s sure to delight the Blonde on his early morning toast (butter on second of course).  In amongst my old recipe books I stumbled upon a version called Three Day Raspberry Jam.   The results were amazing; an incredibly intense flavour and a deep ruby red colour. This recipe comes from Thane Prince.

  • 1.5kg raspberries
  • 1.5kg white granulated sugar
  • Freshly squeezed juice of 4 lemons

(i) In a large non metallic bowl, layer the raspberries with sugar, then sprinkle with the juice. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge for 24 hours.

(ii) Scrape the contents of the bowl into a preserving pan and bring slowly to the boil – without stirring. Allow the mixture to bubble over a low heat for five minutes.

(iii) Remove from the heat, cover and allow to stand for another 48 hours in the fridge.

(iv) Return the pan to the heat and bring the mixture back to the boil. Skim thoroughly, then boil until a setting point is reached. The jam will always be quite soft, so boil it gently until it seems to have the right consistency.

Now, off you go and enjoy this with your cream tea and remember to always specify a china tea with the milk poured second!

An Ode to Tunnock’s Mutton Pies

A little off topic I know but I couldn’t resist this wonderful poem that manages to combine my love of food and flowers.  Tunnock’s are a legend in Scotland for their Caramel Slices and Teacakes but when they first started back in 1890 they were all round bakers of good and yummy things.  I found this advertising gem printed on the back of an old paper-bag from the factory.

“Fair are the flowers of summer, and fair are the sapphire skies.  But dearer to the Epicure are Tunnock’s Mutton Pies.

Sweet is the moon at evening calm, when soft the zephyr sighs, but sweeter to the travellers lone are Tunnock’s Mutton Pies”

If ye would be like Greeks of old in philosophic quest, get Tunnock’s Mutton PIes each day, for they are still the best”

Mmmmmmmm….teacakes!

Dahlias – the supermodels of the plant kingdom

115016.Black-Burgundy-Dahlia-Flower-250Back in the day when I worked at Vogue.com London Fashion Week meant partying all night and then struggling to get through the next day on a combination of Marlboro Lights, Haribo and kick arse Codeine tablets.

Now, I have the pleasure of watching most of the collections as they happen via the wonderful internet and my hangovers are epically reduced. I still miss the buzz of watching front row politics unfold and obviously the parties where my chubby thighs would occasionally brush against the hot-dog legs of the models-du-jour, but life is good down here in Somerset.

I will NEVER miss the terror of “what to wear today!” which made mufti days at school look like a walk in the park, these days my leather builder boots are my best friends. While I do occasionally find myself pulling up weeds in Vivienne Westwood I’m generally sensibly attired and “garden ready” much to the horror of the fashionista who still lurks within.

While wandering in the garden yesterday and picking a bunch of Dahlias for my father it suddenly occurred to me that these tall, showy, scentless plants have a certain affinity with the models who stomp the runways at shows across the globe. Long, skinny, glossy limbs topped with arresting and sometimes breathtaking heads, these are the essence of the English show garden. As a model can reinvent her looks at the whim of a designer so have these stunners been reinvented over the years by obsessive enthusiasts. There are now over 57,000 cultivated forms of Dahlia and this number grows every year.
Despite not having a scent the visual impact of this plant has inspired designers and fragrance houses alike with luminaries such Givenchy naming their perfumes after the Dahlia and Tom Ford designing the oversized Dahlia Sunglasses. Lest we forget there’s always the gruesome tale of Elizabeth Short nicknamed “The Black Dahlia”.

The Dahlia is a perennial tuberous plant that you’ll need to dig and store in the winter months. We’ve not been at the house long enough for this task to have come around on the calendar so I’ve had to rely on the advice of others for this post. The ever wonderful Sarah Raven offers her advice here including how to deter the dreaded earwig!

While arranging a tall and flashy display of these blooms for the house, I smiled at the thought that I was bringing a little of the glamour of London Fashion Week to Castle Farm. Now all I need is a direct line to Vivienne so I can plead with her to craft me some gardening gloves!

Marvellous Myrtle

As the days of our first summer here at Castle Farm are coming to an end, I was feeling more than a little sad at the demise of the sweetpeas and the other glories that have filled my garden.  That was until the marvellous myrtles that ring the house started to come into bloom and what a show they’re putting on. Delicate, white, fluffy flowers have emerged like pom-poms lending their delicate scent to the first days of autumn.  Myrtle tree

The myrtles here have been trained to trees and we have lines marking the edge of the main boarders in the cottage garden as well as a couple of stunners either side of the main entrance to the house.    I’m utterly converted to this bushy evergreen and hardy shrub.  Their glossy pointed leaves give off the most amazing rosemary like fragrance when you brush against them and they are just so damn pretty!

They first arrived in Britain from Spain in 1585, imported by Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Carew and the across the years the leaves have most commonly been dried and used for potpourris.  I’ve also read that you can use them to flavour pork and game dishes, as you would bay.

These shrubs need to be protected from very cold weather but other than that are pretty hardy little things.

If you’d like a little more information on how to grow and care for this shrub then please click here.

If you fancy a few of these stunners for yourself you can hop on over to Crocus.

The formal garden gets a step closer to being formal and I attack the roses

This summer we’ve been blessed with the most beautiful weather in Enmore – when it’s been hot elsewhere its been tropical here and when it rains just down the road we seem to have a pocket of blue sky that hovers above our idyllic little heaven.  I’m sure my friends who know more about this than me could explain how the Quantock Hills disrupt weather patterns resulting in a window of clear skies above us – but what ever the cause I look like I’ve spent a month in Spain and shiver when it dips below 25 degrees.

As a result we’ve spent most days with the french windows around the terrace wide open and the boys running between different parts of the house via the garden. For the first few weeks this was lovely until I noticed that the edge of flower boarders had disappeared behind a hedge of self seeded & romping  plantlife . Being slightly of the OCD variety myself this had to be remedied.  This week I’ve ripped out more weeds, mint, mallow and other unwanted  horrors than I care to count.  Wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow was consigned to the compost heap until finally we’d reclaimed about 5ft of terrace and found the edge of the stone boarder.  The rosemary tree also took a hefty clout of my punishment but seems to be bouncing back already; mores the pity.

My satisfaction knows no end at the moment and I keep returning to survey my triumph. Where there were once weeds there are now formal urns with trailing fuchsia and a couple of miniature cheery trees  as well as my favourite hydrangea and lavenders. We’ve also discovered a couple of beautiful roses and a clematis that were hidden behind the plant detritus in the boarders.  The terrace and formal garden as a result look a thousand times smarter and most importantly I can finally get to my washing line!

This was also the week for deadheading the roses – my homework from Andrew my gardener.  This may have seemed like a small job when I was given it but three  evenings had passed  and I was only halfway through my task.  The many climbers and ramblers that we have in the garden all needed attention and I’m pleased to say that as Andrew pulled onto the drive this morning at 8am I was cutting the very last flower stems.  After inspecting the rose cull and the terrace clear, Andrew said in his wonderful lilting voice -“Yes Lucy, well done and haven’t you worked hard”.  From such a famed rose man this meant more to me that decades of praise from managers at work and made me so very happy to be working in my garden #lucysgarden.

You can have too many Pimms…

At the back of the house we have a terrace onto which all of the downstairs rooms open.  This is utterly divine when the weather is fine as I feel like I’m living some in Tuscan-come-Somerset dream sequence.

There are borders surrounding the house which need some attention if not only for the Brazilian Firecracker which is taking over – and not in a good way. I can’t understand this plant; aggressive and fast growing with the tiniest red tubular flower. It’s strangling the roses and killing off the other clematis. Apparently it’s a great plant to attract Hummingbirds – naturally we have hundreds of those in the Quantock Hills! To my mind there’s no merit here and we’ve been happily ripping it out.

The other dominant plant in the borders is mint – spearmint, lemon mint, cat mint – you name it we’ve got it.  In the last few weeks since moving  here I’ve loved the immense amount we’ve harvested for our Pimms but today was met with Mint Armageddon as I simply couldn’t face yet another fruity concoction. All I wanted was a beer and I was not the one to feel guilty. So, I dug it all out – an entire bed of mint approximately 10ft in length, roots and all and down to the depths of the milky white tubers, we had it all.

With Pimms, you simply must follow the Jackson method and make it with tonic water rather then lemonade and add some borage as well as the  mint.  The most important thing with Pimms is to enjoy it in the moment.  My moment today was casting aside the mint.

The Brazilian Firecracker (Manettia luteorubra)

 

Kate the Colour Guru

We had a wonderful visit today from my lovely friend Kate who is a quite an amazing artist with the most exquisitely decorated house I’ve ever had to pleasure to visit. Her Bath town house is an eclectic mix of regency and modern but what really makes it special is the colour.  It’s painted through out in jewel like colours and slinky greys that work together to create a living space full of character and light.  With 2 little & robust people under 10 to contend with she also knows a thing or two about making a home beautiful and easy to live in as a family.

Having plyed her with chicken and chorizo flan served with the first of our green house tomatoes she gave me her thoughts on colours for the downstairs rooms. For the kitchen she shuddered at my suggestion of pink (I think the phrase Spanish bodega may have been used) and instead recommended a warm grey to compliment the terracotta tiles that while not to necessarily to my taste are the most lovely quality and therefore won’t be going any time soon.

In the T-Room  she agreed with me that we should go for a washed out blue.  Her suggestion for the dining room was a sage green and in the drawing room she thought we should just lighten the colour already in situ.

The next couple of days will see me hunting around for paints to match the Pantone colours we pulled out and then the fun will really start!

Having given me all that great advice she also gave me a gift of a True Grace Candle in Secret Garden that positively zings with the scent of mint and geranium. Handmade in Wiltshire they knock the socks off  Diptyque in my opinion. If you live in Bath they can be found in Milsom Place otherwise you can find them at http://www.trucegrace.com.  I can heartily recommend them for a birthday treat or indeed a house warming present!

A Sweet Pea Odyssey – My first buying expedition

This weekend saw Taunton hold it’s annual Flower Show.  Remarkably this is the oldest flower show in the country and as such is a must (I’m led to believe!) on the competition trail.   So, the boys and I braved the thunderous showers this Saturday in search of inspiration and advice.

kerton sweet peasWe were all horribly distracted by a stunt motorcycle team who were entertaining the crowds in the main arena but when we’d had our fill of petrol fumes and terrifying acrobatics we hit the tents.  The boys, as to be expected, weren’t as awe inspired as me and to the ringing tones of Mummy-can-we-leave-yet I made a mad dash around.

For some reason I’d limited myself to seed buying only on this trip and having rejected some quite stunning lavenders I ended up at Kerton’s Sweet Peas.  The smell was breathtaking.

Kerton Sweet Peas was established over 20 years ago by Phil and Joyce Kerton when they were asked to grow a heady, fragrant, lavender-coloured sweet pea called Marion.  A Gold Medal at this year’s Bath and West Show and a Large Gold at the Royal Cornwall are testament to their skills and I was immediately hooked.  I managed to get my mucky paws on a mixture of seeds from their listed varieties but also Ripple and Fancy – the most beautiful striped and marbled flowers with a deep fragrance.

Having taken a great deal of advice from the lovely Phil about bringing on the seedlings I came home with my precious parcels amazed that so much beauty could be contained within a couple of manilla envelopes.   Not known for my patience the waiting until next summer will be pure torture  – I guess I should have taken the lavenders too!  The boys having been pacified with ice-cream also declared the afternoon a great success, the power of sugar is never to be under estimated.

To buy from Kerton Sweet Peas you can visit them at http://www.kertonsweetpeas.co.uk/

To find out more about Taunton’s Flower Show click here

 

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Up and running with Lucy’s Garden

Hello World!

Having moved into the wonderful Castle Farm in Enmore built in 1649 by Dutch settlers I’ve also taken responsibility for the beautiful garden created by the Patons.  Over the weeks and months ahead I’m going to use this blog to record the happenings in the garden and share my successes and inevitable failures.