Autumn leaves…

The drop in temperature this week confirms that Autumn has definitely arrived. Crisp Autumn days can be absolutely gorgeous and the beauty of Autumn leaves always makes me feel… well, what? Nostalgic? Romantic? Sad? All of those things I suppose, but there’s also a peaceful, ‘snuggly’ feel and the promise of wood smoke and conkers and fireworks… and then Christmas – one of my favourite times of year!! And then the cycle starts all over again…

But why do leaves change colour so dramatically before they fall? Leaves contain chemical pigments, like chlorophyll, that makes leaves green and help in the process of photosynthesis. The leaves also contain the chemical carotene which has a yellow colouring.

Carotene is in the leaves all year, but is hidden by the green of the chlorophyll. As autumn approaches and temperatures, especially those at night, begin to drop sharply, the chlorophyll breaks down and reveals the other pigments within the leaf (such as the carotene) that aren’t affected by the cooler temperatures… and hey presto, the beautiful reds and golds we love start to appear.

Autumn leaves are very beautiful and a joy to press. If you don’t have the time or patience to press them conventionally, you can always try ironing them between sheets of blotting paper. Iron them on a low to medium setting and then get creative!

A friend of mine wanted to replace the glass panel in her Victorian-era front door. She couldn’t find any etched glass to her taste, so she pressed some leaves, bought two panels of glass to the correct size and ‘sandwiched’ the leaves in between sealing the sandwich with some clear silicon sealant, the sort you can buy in any hardware store.

Once dry, she put her ‘double glazed’ panel in place and careful tacked the beading back. The leaves have been replaced once over the years, I believe, as they do fade in the sunlight, but it’s an unusual idea and one that has earned a lot of compliments!

I’d love to hear your ideas for Autumn leaves. Do you press them or simply mulch them to put back into your garden? Quite often, I’ll collect the brightest, plus a few conkers and cob nuts and put them in a bowl on the table just to admire such lovely natural beauty…

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Pear and bramble pie

Now is the time of mist and mellow fruitfulness… We have a pear and an apple tree in our garden, plus blackberries that ramble over the back fence. We therefore try all possible combinations in pies, and I actually prefer pear and blackberry to the more usual apple and blackberry mixture.

You will need:

 

  • 675g (11/2lb) self raising flour
  • 450g (1lb) white vegetable fat
  • 6-8 Conference pears
  • 450g (1lb) blackberries
  • 45g (3 tbsp) Demerara sugar
  • Water

 

Serves 8-10 people

Peel, core and slice the pears. Cook them gently in enough water to cover, with 30g of the (2 tbsp) of the sugar – it is important to cook them gently to keep their shape. Leave them to cool. Cook the blackberries with a little water and the remaining 15g (1 tbsp) of sugar and leave to cool. It is better to keep the pears and blackberries separate – it makes no difference to the taste but does improve the finished look of the filling.

Make the pastry by rubbing the fat into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs, then add about a cupful of water to form a soft dough. Divide the dough in half and gently roll out the first half on a very well floured board. Lift the pastry by folding it over the rolling pin and line a greased 30cm (12 inch) dish with it. The pie is easiest served if the dish has straight sides. Mould the pastry round the edges of the dish and trim off any excess.

Drain the pears and blackberries (save some of the juice), still keeping them separate. Cover the base of the pie with the pear slices and then cover them with the blackberries. Spoon a little of the juice over the fruit and discard the rest. Roll out the other half of the pastry and, having moistened the edges of the bottom layer of pastry with water, place the pastry over the pie to make a lid. Press gently around the edges and trim off any excess. Brush the top of the pie with milk, or a mixture of milk and egg yolk, the use any scraps of pastry to decorate the top of the pie with leaves, apples or any other design you like. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 200ºC (400ºF), gas Mark 6 for 25-30 minutes or until the pastry is cooked and golden brown

 

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‘Fedge’ your bets!!

When I went visiting my hen-pal Julia Wherrell the other day (see pics of me bravely holding a chicken!) I noticed her ‘fedge’ (cross between a fence and a hedge – cute name eh!) and remembered she had not long been on a willow course. I thought you might like to hear more about her fedge so I aasked her to write a bit for us this week …. over to you Julia!

“Predictably, after I came home all enthusiastic from my willow course in early May, it’s done nothing but rain! It took a few weeks for me to get into the garden on a dry-ish day and plan and plant my ‘fedge’ – I’d kept the living willow sticks (about 12ft long) in a large tub of water and the roots were looking impressive… leaves were already starting to sprout!

“I wanted a ‘division’ between two areas of garden to replace some old trellis that had rotted away. I didn’t want anything too structured or intrusive, so thought a willow fedge might work well. Normally, they are quite formally constructed, planted straight into the ground and then crossed over near the top and secured forming almost ‘gothic arch’ shapes.

“However, I’d decided I wanted to go all arty-farty and have a ‘flowing’ design that swooped down and then up again over an archway. Oh dear!

“After a few false starts, I armed myself with a large hammer and a crowbar – yes, really. I found if I whacked a hole about 8” deep in the ground, I could slot the willow in without harming the rootsIt’s surprisingly hard to photograph to show any detail! too much. I could then carefully bend and weave the sticks to my heart’s desire. They are amazingly flexible and I created roughly what I’d envisaged. I used the soft rubber covered wire garden tie stuff to hold everything in place.

“It’s now about six weeks since I planted the fedge, and it is growing really well. The huge amounts of rain have been a great help in making it take root. I have several established clematis (formerly on the trellis) growing over it and I’m pretty pleased with the result!

“I really would recommend a living structure, provided you have the room and the roots wouldn’t be too close to your house and/or a watercourse as willow is very invasive. It’s great fun to play around with and very cost effective. It doesn’t have to be willow either, I am told hazel is good too. As the fedge grows, I will need to clip it back and tie in shoots and my ‘artistic’ design might prove tricky, but I’m optimistic!

“Of course, you could just make a conventional shaped fedge, they are lovely too. I’d recommend going on a willow course – there are lots around the country (have a look on Google), to feel more confident in what you are doing, and there’s lots of information on line too about how to plant and care for willow.

“With some spare bits of willow, I made my spoiled chickens a ‘living igloo’ for their run. They have, of course, done their best to peck it to bits, but it seems to be surviving. Resilient stuff is willow!”

 

 

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The wonders of willow!

This week, I’ve asked my ‘hen pal’, Julia Wherrell, to produce a guest blog. As well as keeping hens Julia also grows lots of veg and enjoys doing battle with a steep garden up on Dartmoor.

“I’ve been wondering about working with willow for some time now. I often buy little decorative willow items such as hearts, or wreaths and really fancy some willow sculptures for the garden. As these can be quite expensive I thought – why not have a go myself?

So, I booked myself on a day’s course at Musgrove Willows up in Somerset entitled ‘Birds and beasties’. Our tutor Sarah Webb, a very experienced basket maker and willow sculptor, was very laid back and let us create whatever we liked. Predictably, I opted for a chicken!

I was amazed at how flexible the willow was. We were working with 3ft lengths that had been soaked before hand. Initially, I found working in 3D a little strange (I usually only draw or paint) but once we all got the hang of thinking about how to create the structure – a series of hoops linked together and then built up into a flowing shape – it wasn’t too difficult.

Working with willow was good fun, and I found it very therapeutic, I concentrated so hard on what I was doing that I lost all track of time! It’s very easy to get started and you don’t need any previous experience.

Willow is amazing stuff! It grows incredibly quickly, depending on the type – anything for 5ft to 13ft a year! It can be worked wet, as we were, or dry and you can plant ‘living’ willow and create amazing garden structures that you prune back in autumn, and watch burst into life in spring.

I came home armed with my wicker hen (proudly displayed here, next to some of my ‘real’ hens!) and a bundle of willow to make some more. I intend to build a living willow hedge in my garden and make some other willow items so, if Jo will let me, I’ll update you in another blog later in the year!

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Happy Easter!

Happy Easter! As I am sure you are all dutifully saving your Easter eggs for Easter Sunday (!) Good Friday is the day for tucking into hot cross buns!

They are delicious toasted and served warm with lashings of butter ­– I love the cinnamon spiciness and the fruity currants!

There are lots of superstitions surrounding hot cross buns. One is that buns baked and served on Good Friday will not spoil or become mouldy during the subsequent year –don’t think I’ll be trying that somehow! They are also supposed to have medicinal properties and if you give a piece of a hot cross bun to someone who is ill it is said to help them recover.

Sharing a hot cross bun with another is supposed to ensure friendship throughout the coming year, particularly if “Half for you and half for me, Between us two shall goodwill be” is said at the time. Because of the cross on the buns, some say they should be kissed before being eaten. Not sure about that either…

Even more strangely, it’s said that if taken on a sea voyage, hot cross buns will protect against shipwreck. If hung in the kitchen, they are said to protect against fires and ensure that all breads turn out perfectly. The hanging bun is replaced each year… which is a relief I suppose!

Do you remember the childhood rhyme? It goes:

“Hot cross buns! Hot cross buns!
One a penny two a penny – Hot cross buns
If you have no daughters, give them to your sons
One a penny two a penny – Hot cross buns”

Considering it’s an ancient rhyme it’s unusual to show a preference for the female of the family! So let’s embrace the Hot Cross Bun as an early example of feminism… Or better still, let’s just toast them and enjoy! Smiles, Joanna.

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