Posts

The all-conquering conker!

Conkers mean the arrival of Autumn.

I spotted a request for conkers from a friend’s mother on Facebook this morning. Was she about to stage a local conker championship or challenge her grandchildren to a match, I wondered? No… she was one of the many people who believe conkers can keep spiders out of their house! Hmmm, I thought, is there any truth in that, and are conkers good for anything else, other than looking lovely, confirming Autumn has arrived and entertaining kids in the playground.

Are conkers spider killers?

I hate to disappoint you, but there’s no proof this is true. The story goes that conkers contain a noxious chemical that repels spiders but no-one’s ever been able to scientifically prove it. Legend has it that if a spider gets close to a conker it will curl its legs up and die. Others say spiders will happily crawl over conkers with no ill effects at all. What do you think? Are you one of those people who have conkers strategically positioned around your house?

Bake a cake with conker flour?

Chestnuts, the edible ones!

Do not confuse horse chestnuts (conkers) with chestnuts, the latter is a pleasant and popular nut, the former is actually mildly poisonous! Despite this, I have read that those old stalwarts, the Victorians, wrote recipes for making conker flour. The seeds were shelled, ground and then leached to remove bitter flavours.

Conkers can cure sprains and bruises?

It is said that the horse chestnut is so named because its seeds were once used to treat ailments in horses. It has since been discovered that aescin, which can be extracted from conkers, has anti-inflammatory effects and is an effective remedy for sprains and bruises in humans.

Leave conkers in your wardrobe to deter moths

Horse chestnuts… the much less edible ones!

Is this another spider scam? It seems not. If moths are munching their way through your winter wardrobe then conkers could help stop the little critters. Conkers give off an aroma called triterpenoid that wards off pests. Place fresh conkers in among your clothes and as they dry out they emit the moth-repelling chemical. I shall be investigating this!

You can get clean with conker soap

Conkers contain saponins, which are soap-like chemicals that are sometimes added to shampoos and shower gels. It is believed that the Vikings (who were apparently surprisingly clean!) made their soap out of soaked, crushed up conkers. I’m not sure I shall be relaxing in a conker bath any time soon, but fascinating nonetheless!

 

 

0 Comments

Heather and gorse – moorland beauties

From a distance, Dartmoor can seem rather gloomy and forbidding as Autumn draws in, but pause to look closer, and you’ll see that it is carpeted in the most lovely shades of purple, pink and yellow as heather and gorse combine to create a stunning patchwork.

Heather is also known as ‘Ling’ and you’ll find it on heathland, moorland, bogs and even woodland with acidic or peat soils. Its delicate pink flowers appear from August to October with the plants growing tightly packed together. Surprisingly, given the tough areas they seem to thrive in, heathers can live for up to 40 years or more!

Historically, heather has been used for many purposes, such as fuel, fodder, building materials, thatch, packing and ropes. It was also used to make brooms, which is how it got its Latin name – Callunais derived from the Greek word meaning ‘to brush’.

People have lived and worked on Dartmoor for thousands of years and managed the vegetation to produce what they need. Swaling (or burning) has been carried out by farmers from earliest times, as a way to clear scrub and improve grazing for sheep, cattle and ponies. Today, laws and regulations stipulate the time of year and even the time of day that swaling can take place – so very different from times gone by. An old farmer friend of mine recalls being sent out with a box of matches to swale nearby moorland with three friends, the oldest being 12 and the farmer himself 5! He said they did it every year without mishap and their parents trusted them to get on with the job, it wasn’t a game, and they all knew how to manage the burn – quite extraordinary!

The other star of the moorland landscape is gorse. Its vivid yellow flowers create a real splash of colour and, although I wouldn’t normally think to put pink and yellow together, in nature they look stunning against the dark green foliage. Gorse is a prickly character and can leave you with scratched legs should you walk through it, even in thick walking trousers!

Common Gorse can be seen in all kinds of habitats, from heaths and coastal grasslands to towns and gardens. Western Gorse, which is abundant on Dartmoor, flowers from July to November. Gorse provides shelter and food for many insects and birds, it’s spiky leaves creating an effective deterrent for even the nosiest dogs!

Traditionally, gorse was regularly collected from common land and, like heather, had all sorts of uses – including fuel for firing bread ovens, fodder for livestock and was used as a dye for painting Easter Eggs.

Common Gorse flowers a little in late autumn and through the winter, coming into flower most strongly in spring, while Western Gorse and Dwarf Gorse flower in Autumn. Between the different species, some gorse is almost always in flower, hence the old country phrase: “When gorse is out of blossom, kissing’s out of fashion”!

4 Comments

Goodbye summer – hello gloom?

The end of summer, when the children go back to school and the days start to shorten, can seem a rather depressing time. You’ve had a lovely summer, you possibly enjoyed a holiday and felt relaxed… so how do you try and hang on to some of those positive feelings rather than slumping into an Autumnal gloom?

Holidays are good for us. Research has shown that taking time off, be it a holiday away, or just relaxing at home, reduce your stress levels and increases your life expectancy. Now is the time to think about how you can make the most of your post-holiday feel-good factor as immediately after a holiday is the perfect time to make changes to your routine. After your holiday, your brain will be freshly stimulated by a combination of novel experience and physical activity (well, for some of us!) and ready for the idea of positive change. So, with that in mind, here are 5 ways to keep the holiday spirit alive.

Beautiful Dartmoor – I’m lucky enough to have this on my doorstep!

1 Be a home tourist

When did you last appreciate the place where you live? Look at it afresh, as if you were a visitor researching a trip… Put your postcode into TripAdvisor or any other travel site and see what comes up –you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised!

2 Savour the small things

I think this is so important and yet we so rarely do it – and I am as guilty as the next person! When we’re on holiday, we slow down and we use all our senses. We may sit and people watch, or be fascinated by the local bird life or just take time to smell the flowers. Perhaps you could find ways to savour your routine in a way that makes it feel less routine? You could savour your shower – treat yourself to

Get to know your garden bird life… Robins are incredibly bold and friendly characters!

a new shower gel, or you could notice the changing seasons on your way to work, or when you walk the dog or collect the grandkids from school. It doesn’t really matter what you savour, just hang onto your holiday habit of savouring a little bit more.

3 Re-evaluate your routine

On holiday, in a different environment, we behave differently. When you come back from holiday, think about the things you didn’t do when you were away. Obviously, these will include doing the washing, cooking and possibly dropping off and collecting children from various places. But what else freed up your time? Be honest… did you watch less TV? Use your phone less? Have a good think and you’ll probably find ways to free up some time to do other things that you

Try putting it down more!

usually say you haven’t got time for!

4 Plan day trips

This isn’t as daft as it sounds. Years ago, I booked a lovely sounding holiday cottage that turned out to be a dive – pokey cottage in horrible setting – ugh! We left early and came home and, so as not to waste our previous week off, we thought about all the things we wanted to visit locally but had never got around to, and went off every day to attractions, or to nearby towns we’d never seen. It was lovely and still felt like a holiday!

Perhaps try more of a Mediterranean diet?

5 Cook with a new ingredient

Bringing home exotic foods or ingredients from holidays abroad (in the days when you were still allowed to!) was nearly always disappointing in the cold light of your own kitchen. But think laterally… if you can’t find a particular spice of pickle in this country to replicate your delicious Greek feast, why not tone it down a bit and simply try to pick one new ingredient to use each week? If you’re stuck for ideas, supermarkets own magazines are always full of new seasonal ideas you can try.

 

2 Comments

The weather is looking a bit blenky out there…

I suspect we’ve all been a little obsessed with the weather over the past couple of weeks as we have swung from a mild February into a ferocious and freezing March… and then back to balmy spring days again – I know I have! I’ve been glued to the Met Office App and avidly following weather stories on the BBC website.

After witnessing a stunning weather phenomenon – a sort of universal ‘glazing’ – down here on Dartmoor last week, a post on Facebook drew my attention to ‘Ammill’, the official term for this rare event. As ever, this set me thinking and I started looking for other unusual or forgotten weather terms – and was delighted with what I discovered! I suspect that, years ago, the weather had so much more direct impact on our lives that we had many more terms to describe it. I am going to start a crusade to reintroduce some of these gems into regular use. So, the next time we are stuck with drizzle and strong wind, be sure to tell everyone it is hunch-weather!! Enjoy…

BLENKY

To blenky means ‘to snow very lightly.’ It’s probably derived from blenks, an earlier 18th-century word for ashes or cinders.

A perfect Drouth day.

DROUTH

This is an old Irish-English word for the perfect weather conditions in which to dry clothes.

FLENCHES

If the weather flenches, then it looks like it might improve later on, but never actually does… we have a lot of that in Devon!

FOXY

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, if the weather is foxy then it is misleadingly bright’ — or, in other words, sunny, but freezing cold.

Hunch weather.

HUNCH WEATHER

An old 18th-century name for weather — like drizzle or strong wind —that’s bad enough to make people hunch over when they walk.

HENTING

A Cornish word for raining hard, as in “ee’s henting out there!”

BENGY

Pronounced ‘Benji,’ this is an old southeast English dialect word meaning ‘overcast’ or ‘threatening rain.’

MESSENGER

A messenger?

A single sunbeam that breaks through a thick cloud can also be called a messenger, rather lovely, I thought.

SWULLOCKING

An old southeast English word meaning ‘sultry’ or ‘humid.’ If the sky looks swullocking, then it looks like there’s a thunderstorm on the way.

HEN-SCARTINS

This is an old English word for long, thin streaks of cloud traditionally supposed to forecast a rain. It literally means

Now that’s what I call a Twirlblast!

‘chicken scratches.’

TWIRLBLAST AND TWIRLWIND

Two lovely old 18th-century names for tornados – much more fun!

8 Comments

A ‘Quick’ drink inspiration!

There is such an amazing renaissance going on in the gin world, it is quite extraordinary. When I was young, it was a Gordon’s and tonic, and that was it! Over time, the spirit seemed to dwindle in the face of more trendy offerings… now it is the ‘in’ thing and go into most pubs and there’s a selection of 10 and sometimes 20 gins to choose from. There are gin producers popping up all over the place, and while I am not suggesting we all need to start guzzling G&Ts, I think it’s a very positive development and is creating local jobs and generally promoting a ‘local’ product which has to be a good thing.

Copyright: Quick Gin

I featured Tarquin’s Cornish gin a while ago and have recently spotted a new gin on the block that is made in Exeter – given its bright orange bottle, it’s hard not to spot! Called Quick Gin, the producers use a wide range of botanicals (the herbs and spices used to give each gin its distinct flavour) – juniper berries, coriander seeds, orange peel, angelica root, cassia bark, orris root powder, lemon peel, liquorice root powder, nutmeg and cinnamon. They then infuse orange and a hint of almond to round off the gin. Hence the orange bottle!

Looking at Quick’s website, I see that they have all sorts of fun cocktail suggestions including one for Autumn, designed to enliven these long Autumn nights… well, it’s a good excuse, anyway!

Quick Gin’s Autumn Cocktail:

  • 25ml Quick Gin
  • 25ml Pimms
  • 25ml rhubarb syrup
  • 50ml apple juice
  • 25ml sugar syrup
  • 12.5ml lemon juice
  • Pinch of cinnamon

Add all of the ingredients to a shaker, add ice and shake. Strain over ice and garnish with an apple and orange twist.

Copyright: Seedlip.

For those of you that don’t drink alcohol or, like me, often look for non-alcoholic options, I also spotted this on a recent trip to Jersey to visit my sister Kate. Called Seedlip Spice 94, it is a non-alcoholic spirit, it’s made like a gin with botanicals, but is definitely not a gin. The predominant flavour is clove rather than juniper, and, most importantly, it has no alcohol! Perfect if you’re a designated driver or you’re just not drinking at the moment. Seedlip contains allspice, grapefruit, lemon peel, cardamom, American oak and cascarilla bark. Together, they make a fresh, warming drink that is full of flavour but is alcohol free.

3 Comments