Remember, remember the 5th November…

… gunpowder, treason and plot! Ah, the smell of bonfires, gunpowder – we had many wonderful family parties on Guy Fawkes night when I was a child.

My parents always had their respective jobs – Father would disappear purposefully down to the bottom of the garden wearing his gardening jacket, “Come along John dear, the nights are drawing in, don’t forget your scarf”. Meanwhile, my Mother would have spent hours in the kitchen cooking up a ‘feast’ that invariably consisted of jacket potatoes, sausages, occasionally baked beans with apple pie and cream for pudding.

We children would all be trying hard not to get over excited (not sure one can ever be over excited – just more excited than usual maybe!) and would restlessly tackle puzzles, or try and read books and keep busy – anything to make the time go faster until it was dark enough for the fun to begin.

I must have been about 12, the year of the disaster. As was tradition, we had all moved to the end of the garden where a small bonfire glowed and the Black & Decker workmate had been turned into a table, where the box of fireworks was laid out in readiness for the ‘grand display’.

We could never afford many fireworks, I think I remember about £2-£3 being the family budget. This would have been spent on carefully chosen favourites – sparklers, Catherine wheels, Roman candles… one called a chrysanthemum I remember and, inevitably, in that selection were the dire and dreaded jumping jacks… how I hated them!

This particular year we were huddled round the small bonfire, eagerly anticipating the first Roman candle… my father struck a match with a flourish – and a spark leapt into the box of waiting fireworks sitting on the trusty workmate. We were treated to an amazing, if somewhat scary display of jumping, shooting, whizzing fiery noisiness for about one minute … and that was that! The whole box was gone in a single flash.

Ah sad memories, the over 40s were inconsolable, the children thought it was hilarious if a bit short lived and we have teased my father with the story ever since. But they were happy and simple times, when a sparkler and a jacket potato were really all you needed – my precious memories of 5th November.

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Hedgehogs, frogs and (non) barking dogs!

I think we’d all agree that, in weather terms, it’s been a bit of an odd year. This in turn has made a big impact on the flora and fauna in our gardens.

I’d just been listening to a friend bemoaning her lack of peas and broad beans this year – almost all eaten by Jays, something she had never witnessed before – and I suddenly thought (as you do!) – hedgehogs!

Hedgehogs have always been regular visitors in our garden – I’d spot them toddling across the lawn just at it turned dimpsy, as we say in Devon – or dusk to the rest of you.  But this year I haven’t seen any.

Predictably, Wellington, our slightly mad cocker spaniel, would always enjoy a good bark at any passing hedgehog, but not this year. And that seems very strange as we’ve had so many slugs and snails which hedgehogs adore.

And so, I started thinking about all the other things that have been strange in 2012…

I haven’t noticed many frogs or toads. These usually make their way into the garden via the stream. Despite the months of rain from April onwards, and the generous supply of slugs to feed on I haven’t seen a single one. Perhaps the hedgehogs and frogs have more food than they know what to do with closer to home, so haven’t needed to look further afield. Have others gardeners among you noticed this, or is it just me?

On the other hand, we seem to be inundated with woodpigeons, squirrels and magpies all of which are hugely destructive in different ways. Jays being members of the crow family, as are magpies, have been much more prevalent probably accounting for my friend’s vegetable losses.

If you feel like helping out some of our smaller garden inhabitants, you could try building piles of sticks and leaves at the back of borders for them to use for winter shelter. Nothing complex, just welcoming homes made from natural materials, something a hedgehog would find very cosy.

And, finally, as Halloween and Guy Fawkes’ Night loom, if you are having a bonfire do please restack the heap on the day of the bonfire on a fresh site to ensure no wildlife has crawled in and taken up residence.

 

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Mushroom and Madeira bake

This is a delicious vegetarian dish that seems to be as popular with meat eaters as it is with veggies! An excellent warming supper dish for this gloomy time of year…

You will need:

  • 100g 4oz cashew nuts
  • 100g 4oz walnuts
  • 100g 4oz unsalted butter
  • 30ml (2 tbsp) sunflower oil
  • 2 large onions
  • 450g (1lb) mushrooms
  • 450g (1lb) granary breadcrumbs
  • 450g (1lb) fresh tomatoes
  • 60ml (4 tbsp) Madeira
  • Salt and black pepper

Serves 8

Chop or process the nuts and mix them with the breadcrumbs. Melt the butter in the frying pan and gently fry the breadcrumb and nut mixture until it is pale gold in colour. Remove from the pan and set aside. Chop the onions, mushrooms and tomatoes coarsely and fry in the pan with the oil. Once they have softened a little, stir in the Madeira and continue to cook gently. Add plenty of freshly ground black pepper and a little salt to taste.

Lightly grease an ovenproof dish and put a thin layer of breadcrumb mix on the bottom. Carefully pile the vegetable mixture over the top and level it out. Then put the remaining breadcrumb mix on top. Sprinkle the top of the mix with a little extra Madeira and bake in a pre-heated oven at 200ºC (400ºF), Gas Mark 6 for about 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

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