Putting on a bit of a show…

July and August are busy times down here in Devon. Of course, the tourism industry is huge in this area – we are blessed with beautiful countryside and a dramatic coastline – but it’s the strong sense of community and tradition in the countryside that also come to the fore at this time of year.

The rural community is still closely aligned with the farming world and country shows, town carnivals and village fetes are all still important (and popular) events on the social calendar.

Growing giant vegetables, showing your best breeding ram or entering your dog in the agility class are all part of the fun,­ although some people take it very seriously indeed! People go to enormous lengths to build carnival floats, groom and polish their ponies and traps and produce flower arrangements of great ingenuity. It is heartening to see such ‘traditional’ ways of life still carrying on so strongly in this technological age.

My partner in crime writing, Julia Wherrell, took the afternoon off to wander around a show local to her up on Dartmoor, the Chagford Show, and took some fun photos to give you a real feel for what goes on. She spent quite a lot of her afternoon in the produce and craft tents and when not in there, she was admiring the prize sheep and cattle, oh, and chickens of course. She says she most definitely did not go near the beer tent(!), but might have swung by the cream teas!

They always say ‘write about what you know’, so if you happen to be a fan of our Swaddlecome Mysteries series, this sort of rural entertainment will be well known to you! 

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Tea for two – just for you!

 

I simply love blue and white china and have it in many places around the house apart from everyday use. I think the willow pattern is a very attractive and traditional design for a teapot and has lovely childhood memories for me too.

This image from the Anna Browne cardmaking pad makes a lovely birthday or everyday card.

the card measures 7 inches square and has layers of cream, light blue and darker blue and interspersed between the layers are some teatime doilies. You can easily buy these ready made or you may have a cutting die that makes doilies – either is fine!

The pearl heart is actually a little buckle and the ribbon has been threaded through – if you don’t have that then just four little self adhesive pearls stuck to the ribbon would be an easy and attractive alternative.

 

 

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Local producer feature: Tarquin’s Gin

Tarquin with bottles of his gin and his Cornish pastis (rather like Pernod).I’ve always enjoyed a long refreshing gin and tonic but, in these days of trendy drinks, gin has taken a bit of a back seat and become rather ‘old hat’. But now, it seems, gin is in! Boutique gins are all the rage and small artisan gin producers are springing up all over the place – we have several in the Westcountry. My partner in writing crime, Julia Wherrell, recently interviewed a new young Cornish gin maker for an article she was writing and, as soon as we discovered he used Devon violets in his gin, we thought you’d like to hear more about it…

At just 26, Tarquin Leadbetter seems rather young to have set up his own distillery – but that’s just what he’s done, making him the first person to craft gin in Cornwall for more than a century.

Tarquin is from Devon and, after living and working in London for a few years was very keen to get back to the Westcountry and start up his own business ‘doing something’ in the food and drink industry. Settling in Cornwall, he identified gin as a market with potential and spent the next 18 months distilling the spirit in a traditional copper still on his kitchen cooker.

”After a lot of work and research, I finally perfected my own recipe,” he says. “I use 11 botanicals in addition to the traditional juniper in my gin, resulting in a contemporary take on a classic London Dry.

“One unusual ingredient is the Devon violet. From these I take the delicate leaves, which add a vibrant green freshness to the gin and create something deliciously unique. At the heart of our process is a special flame-fired, copper pot still called Tamara, goddess of the Tamar. The copper gives the gin a very smooth finish – there’s no stainless steel and industrial quantities here! We make small batches of gin, fewer than 300 bottles at a time, and I check every one personally.”

The essential oils present in gin have also been used in herbal medicine for centuries. By looking at each botanical he uses – and its known effect – Tarquin has had fun drawing up a complete character profile of his gin.

“This might provide insight into the effects of drinking Tarquin’s Gin!” he jokes. Here’s the result of his research:

  • Juniper – a natural stimulant, great for versatility and effectiveness
  • Coriander – soothing and calming
  • Lemon – a mood enhancer
  • Orange – creates a feeling of happiness and warmth
  • Grapefruit – increases ones sense of humour and well-being
  • Cardamom – soothes the mind
  • Cinnamon – reduces drowsiness and irritability
  • Orris – therapeutic
  • Angelica – has a protective quality, but also helps to release negative energy
  • Bitter almond – wonderful scent and flavour
  • Liquorice – soothing
  • Violets – relaxing, soothing and inspiring

His gin is delicious. It is a little dearer than standard gin, but as a treat it is well worth trying. It comes in lovely wax sealed bottles and you should be able to find it in independent wine merchants across the country. If you come on holiday to Devon or Cornwall, you’ll have no trouble finding it as it is becoming immensely popular in this area. We reckon Tarquin is onto a winner!

You can follow him on Facebook or look for stockists on his website.

 

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Elderflower Cordial

One of the (many) joys of living in the countryside is the amount of ‘free food’ we can find in the hedgerows. Obviously one must take care that plants are not destroyed or removed but picking something plentiful, such as elderflower, is fine. I am doubly lucky in that I have elderflowers just inside my gate and although it’s a bit dull most of the year – this time of year it’s a marvel!

There are lots of things you can do with elderflowers, my favourites are elderflower champagne and elderflower cordial. I am also going to try making an elderflower salad dressing this year – but no experimenting done yet! This recipe is from River Cottage who produce some of my favourite cookery books.

This cordial will keep for at least six weeks – we have never managed to keep it any longer as we’re always to keen to sample it and check it’s still fine. This recipe makes about two litres so make sure you have suitable bottles ready, I prefer to make small bottles in order to open just a little at a time to keep it fresher. To sterilise the bottles, I use a hot cycle on the dishwasher – quick and easy.

Ingredients

  • 25 elderflower heads (check carefully for insects)
  • 3 unwaxed lemons
  • 1 unwaxed orange
  • 1 kg sugar
  • 1 heaped tsp citric acid (you can get this from chemists or shops that sell wine making equipment) but this is optional
  • You need a jelly bag or a piece of muslin

How to make the cordial

Use a large bowl and put the elderflower heads in there and zest the orange and lemons. Boil 1.5 litres of water and pour over the flowers/citrus mix and leave to infuse overnight.

Strain the liquid through a clean jelly bag or piece of muslin and pour into a saucepan. Add the sugar, juice from the orange and lemons and citric acid.

Heat gently to dissolve the sugar and then bring to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes.

Use a funnel to pour the hot syrup into sterilised bottles and seal them with either swing-top lids, sterilised screw tops or corks.

 

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The amazing avocado!

Well, where do you start with something as amazing as the avocado? They look exotic, have a totally unique taste and texture and are incredibly good for you too! Yes, I know they are high in calories but, if you are sensible and don’t gorge on them, they are packed full of good things that far outweigh their ‘bad’ reputation.

Glance at the fruit bowl on my kitchen table any day of the year and you’ll see avocados in among the apples and bananas as I absolutely adore them. I use them in vegetable smoothies, slice them in a salad and, if you follow some of my beauty blogs, will know I sometimes even slap them on my face as they make a terrific moisturising mask!

It’s one of those foodstuffs – rather like the butternut squash – that I can’t imagine how we ever managed without it. Avocados first arrived in the UK in the 1960s and I can well remember them being regarded as highly exotic, rather decadent and ever so slightly odd! How could it be a pear and yet not be sweet?

Avocados have a much higher fat content than most other fruit, and it’s mostly monounsaturated fat… which means it’s fatty but in a really good way! This makes them  really popular with vegetarians who can sometimes struggle to get enough good fats in their diet.

Generally, avocado is served raw but you can cook with it. I used to serve a dinner party dish where the flesh had been scooped out and mixed with prawns and cheese and then put back in the avocado shell and grilled but, to be quite honest, it’s a rather rich dish and, as avocado so lovely on its own, why bother?

And, of course, they are terribly good for you too. Not wishing to bore you with too many statistics, but here are a few of the more impressive ones:

  • About 75% of an avocado’s energy comes from fat, most of which is monounsaturated fat
  • On a weight basis, avocados have 35% more potassium than bananas.
  • They are rich in folic acid and vitamin K, and are good dietary sources of vitamin B6, vitamin C and vitamin E
  • Avocados have a high fibre content of 75% insoluble and 25% soluble fibre.
  • High avocado intake has been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels.
  • Extracts of avocado have been studied to assess potential for lowering risk of diabetes
  • The avocado is also being researched for potential anti-cancer activity
  • The ability of avocado to help prevent unwanted inflammation is widely accepted and many arthritis sufferers swear by it.

And if that weren’t enough… it’s also great fun to grown an avocado plant from the stone, or pit. It won’t fruit but it does grow into an attractive houseplant!

What more could you possibly want from one fruit? If you want to find out more, there’s lots of information online… but do be wary of crank sites!

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