Friday, 4 January 2013

Look into the Pewter Pot

"Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."
-Benjamin Franklin

Just when the rest of the world is pondering knocking off the beer for a whole month, I'm pondering dipping my toe into the world of home brewing. I'm quite keen on making sloe gin and cherry brandy but I'm well aware that these tipples, delicious as they are, are just infusions. I have the urge to make like Tom and Barbara and get cracking with the peapod Burgundy. I actually bought wine making equipment a few years ago but chickened out of making wine because my family of naysayers thought the enterprise to be extremely dumb assed.

Of course, back when a weak an feeble woman could fight off the Spanish Armada whilst looking like a sexy, windswept Cate Blanchett all women brewed - from the lowest peasant to the high born lady in her still room, in fact I read that many working class women built up very profitable brewing businesses during the sixteenth century. Anyway, I digress. I want to brew and I have historical precedent, therefore I must brew. 

Before I yadda yadda ad infinitum, here's a lovely poem by Yeats which I could put on the labels of wine my bottles...

A Drinking Song
Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.
And for the beer bottles, well Houseman of course.
Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
Or why was Burton built on Trent?
Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God’s ways to man.
Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot
To see the world as the world’s not.

And here are a few good recipes from vintage cookbooks for the kind of home brew a lady could make  between finishing her plain sewing and doing the flowers at church. First, a seasonal receipt from the wonderful Gleanings from Gloucestershire Housewives.
The second is from The Country Housewife's Book, which you can find re-issued through Persephone Books.

For the time being I'm using my plethora of pewter pots (a by product of the antiques business seems to a be having a small collection of weird and wonderful odds and sods) as impromptu vases, but it won't be long before I shall be looking into the "pewter pot to see the world as the world's not."

Thursday, 6 September 2012

The Patron Saint of Shopkeepers & Dealers

With grateful thanks to St Expedite who looks after those with virtual shops.

I come before you St Expedite,
To remedy economic problems in my work and my home.
And to ask for your powerful support.
Saint Expedite, protect my income,
That I may obtain sufficient money for necessities,
And tranquillity and joy will reign in my house.
By your grace, Blessed Saint, 
I request and pray that I will achieve my desire. 

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Two Cooks and a Cabbage (1941)

Nearly every woman in England is competent to write an authoritative article on how not to cook cabbage.
Vyvyan Holland

Bubble & Squeak (1953)
A wash day (Monday) recipe for many working class households.
Mix together equal quantities of cold, cooked mashed potatoes and cold, cooked, chopped cabbage. Add salt and pepper. Heat bacon fat, put the mixture into it, smooth down and cook gently. When the underneath is brown, turn carefully and brown the other side. Be sure it's heated right through.

Treats from an Edwardian Country House

Last night I dreamt of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. In my dream he came to my home and taught me to crochet a granny square. The resulting throw was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen, with tasteful vegetable died yarn, soft and sumptuous, all homely luxury. When I finally put down the crochet hook, Hugh laid the throw on my bed and I shouted "in your face, Jane Brocket" and Hugh gave me a high five. Then I woke up. What a great dream that was!

I'll leave you to do the Prof. Freud bit, but I shall tell you that the blessed Hugh is once again in my thoughts because Treats from an Edwardian Country House is being repeated on one of those numerous Discovery channels. The eldest girl and I have been loving it. We're going to make Turkish Delight this mid-term break, just like Hugh did. Anyway, what I liked about the series is that the charming Mr Whittingstall has such fun making and doing and eating all in the interest of historical verity. Here's the link to the web-page: great recipes; great household tips; and fun things to do, including a quiz on where you're likely to be on the Edwardian social strata.

So, I thought I'd take a tip from Hugh and trawl through my ancient and venerable cookbooks in search of little luxury. The aim is, to find various recipes for lovely, sumptuous treats, in the style of Fortnum and Masons, but at the fraction of the cost, because being good, prudent huswives, we know that homemade is best for the purse and best for the health.

First up is recipe taken from Mrs Dering's Cookery Book. Mrs Dering was the cook and housekeeper at Baddesley Clinton, during the Georgian period and her personal notebook full of old receipts was found by the National Trust, when they took over the running of the house, and transcribed into a little booklet you can buy for just a few pounds. Why not try some Georgian Raspberry Vinegar, to refresh you during those long, hot summer afternoons?

Fill a jar with ripe raspberries. Then pour on them as much vinegar as the jar will hold. Let it stand ten days. Strain it off and to every pint of juice add 12 oz. of loaf sugar. Boil it as other syrup. One third or fourth part mixed with spring water is a very pleasant cooling cordial.

We move swiftly onto the Victorian period, and who is the epitome of good, Victorian housekeeping? Why, my old favourite Mrs Beeton, of course. Now, although I am well aware that the Victorian era was not renowned for its love of luxury (more it's love of corporal punishment and boiled mutton) I have found a treat which those of us who find ourselves on our feet for most of the day would appreciate.
Feet, Tired,- Dissolve a handful of salt in water as hot as can possibly be endured. Soak the feet for ten minutes, then thoroughly dry. Dust the feet and also inside the stockings with boracic powder 1 part, powdered starch 2 parts, powdered French chalk 1 part, to which is added a few drops of eucalyptus oil.
Hmm, note the use of the words "endured" and "thoroughly." Yes, a very Victorian luxury! But, I do think soaking one's feet after a hard day in the garden, is one of life's greatest a novel and sip raspberry vinegar as well and go the whole shebang!
Now, for the roaring twenties and those new Georgians, in the form of Lady Jekyll's Kitchen Essays, a book which really is all frivolous luxury. Dig this!
Chesnuts Mont Blanc - Italians are fond of sweets, but are unimaginative in their preparation. Here is a delicious one, for which the chestnuts of Vallombrossa yearly patter to the ground in their thousands.
Take of them roasted and peeled, 1 pound and put in a stewpan with vanilla pod, 1/4 pound sugar, a little milk and 1/4 pound best chocolate. Cook slowly until soft. Rub through coarse sieve into a basin-shaped mould and well sprinkled with chocolate. Turn out, and mask to whiteness with thinly whipped sweetened cream. Serve on a silver dish.
And finally, something of a sensible luxury. Why not make some Home-Made Citrus Peel whilst the Spanish oranges and lemons are still cheap and in season? A delicious treat, but a lovely addition to home-made Christmas cake and pudding, as amidst all this indulgence there is always duty, alas.
Home-Made Citrus Peel - Collect 2 or 3 dozen halves of citrus fruits: oranges lemons or fresh grapefruits. 2 good tablespoons of common (not iodized) salt to 1 quart cold water. 4 cups of sugar to 2 cups of water. Sugar for sprinkling.
Strip out sectional pith and put peels into salt solution. Leave for 10 days to 2 weeks. Turn peels every day. Finally, strain and rinse thoroughly. Boil very gently until just soft enough to pierce with a skewer, but don't overcook else peel will fall to piece before finished. Put into a syrup made a s follows. Boil the sugar and water until syrup spins a thread when dropped from tip of a spoon. Syrup must thread. Put peels into syrup and boil for five minutes. Leave in pan until next day. Lift peels out on to plate, boil up syrup, replace peels and boil for three minutes. Do this again next day (three times in all). Then lift peels out while still hot on to a large flat china dish, standing them up to retain a little syrup in each. Syrup can be re-used for another batch. The drying in sometimes slow, but dish should be placed in sunny window when possible, or in a barely warm oven. Drying takes about one week at least and peels should then be sprinkled with sugar and packed in wax paper.
Yes, I know, this is why we buy candied peel! However, as much as a faff as the above looks, what a sense of achievement you'd feel after achieving such a marathon of boiling and sugaring and brining! What a delicious frugal treat to chew on! What sunshiny glories shall be uncovered on Stir-up Sunday when you make that Christmas pud! What luxury!
I leave you to indulge yourselves, fellow huswives. Anon!

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Let There Be Lighting

It is often posited by TV style pundits that the key to creating ambience in a room is the correct use of lighting. To my mind the most stylish way to achieve this effect is by use of vintage lamps. Vintage lighting, adds a unique and stylish touch to any room, and vintage lamps tend to be heavier and of better quality than modern ones. 

I had always been a little unsure of refurbishing electrical items myself, and had generally left this to the professionals. However, a friendly electrician gave me a few tips, and assured me it was perfectly OK for an amateur to replace the flex and light socket - and was in fact as easy as changing a plug!

Armed with this new knowledge and confidence, I set about fixing up a glorious old standard lamp. What’s more, I set out with the intention of doing this using vintage style parts in order to enhance the period charm of the piece. Although being a little daunted at first, this turned out to be simplicity itself. A visit to the Period House shop in Warwick, supplied me with the beautiful vintage style twisted, cloth covered, flex and a perfectly period brass light socket.

The “electrical” work was also very straight forward. The flex, though looking very period, was modern with the standard colour coding. This fitted easily and quickly to the socket at one end and the plug at the other.

What took a little longer was cleaning the lamp itself. The original chinoiserie finish had become encrusted with grime, and needed to be very carefully cleaned with a little warm water and a soft cloth. After this a few light coats of clear wax were applied. The results were stunning. I was left with a shining clean ebonised chinoiserie standard lamp resplendent with its period style flex and fittings.

I fully intend to put my new found skills to good use, and already have my eye on  a few pieces which need a little attention. So Watch this space for more talse of my adventures in vintage lighting!

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

In a Bath Teashop - John Betjeman

"Let us not speak, for the love we bear one another—
Let us hold hands and look."
She such a very ordinary little woman;
He such a thumping crook;
But both, for a moment, little lower than the angels
In the teashop's ingle-nook.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011


I think many people, and I'm definitely one of them, enjoy the world of antiques and vintage because the items we buy and sell have so many possibilities: are so stylish and so very well made. However, I must admit for me, the chief joy of being and antiques dealer is handling, using and appreciating objects which were in everyday use generations ago. I wonder about the stories they could tell, the everyday domestic tales of our private lives - humdrum or perhaps not so humdrum. It is the nosey parker in me, I suppose - or if you want to be grandiose, the social historian in me. This why I'm such a huge fan of Persephone Books. They tend to specialise in the kind "middle brow" women's fiction that gives real insight into how people lived their lives before Starbucks and Twitter sped up and homogenised our existence. The books are beautifully written, stylishly produced and a treat all round. If you don't know them, then I'm doing you a public service in bringing them to your attention. Go to their shop, browse, buy, hunker down in your own domestic refuge and enjoy, preferably with a good cup of tea!