Neville & The National Trust

We’ve been National Trust members for a few years now. I’ve always been a history geek, but if you’d asked me a decade ago if I thought I’d ever join the NT, be an avid jam-maker and currently be planning my winter sewing projects, I’d have laughed at you (whilst buckling up my stilettos and ordering another cocktail). How times change!

We’re massive fans, and try and make the most of our subscription by visiting as often as possible. My favourite by a mile is St Michael’s Mount; it really is magical to see the castle rising from the sea as you round the bend into Marazion, and whether we walk across the causeway or get a boat across to the tiny island, I don’t think I’ll ever lose the excitement I felt the first time we saw it.

Yesterday, we decided it was time that Neville became a fully-fledged National Truster and duly popped him in the boot to drive to The Devil’s Punchbowl. He’s really quiet in the car now, and I had to stop when we’d driven about a mile as I wondered if he’d managed to escape while I was shutting the boot!

The weather was perfect; dry and windy, and it seemed that half of the county had decided a pre-lunch outing was the thing. No problems for our confident little puppy, he just sees loads of dogs who will definitely want to be his new best friends, and hoards of people who will think he’s the cutest thing on the planet (he is).

You can come here hundreds of times and take a different route, and we always see new things. If you are feeling energetic, the walk down into the bottom of the bowl and the steep climb out is great, but in Autumn my joints start their annual seizing, so a gentle amble around the top was in order yesterday. My excuse was that I wanted to be able to appreciate the turning of the leaves from above….

Our attention was somewhat distracted by the small chocolate beast, so we didn’t catch as much wildlife as usual, but we did find a few interesting things we hadn’t seen on previous visits. This is an original milestone from the old Portsmouth to London road, which has been re-routed through the Hindhead Tunnel, allowing this amazing place to return to nature.

And this is ‘The Sailor’s Stone’, erected in the memory of an unknown sailor who was murdered on the spot after being robbed by some locals he’d befriended in a local inn. No good deed goes unpunished! If you wander uphill from here, you can see where the guilty parties were hanged, and their bodies left dangling for three years. Nice.

Neville is fast becoming a country boy! When we brought him home from Outer London, we told him that he was going to love living in the countryside, and we were right. So many things to sniff, lots of other dogs to meet, and the freedom to roam. Phelim, one of the (always) lovely volunteers at the cafe, was ready with a special biscuit for him. Nev was disappointed in the ‘one per dog’ policy though!

One tired little pup and two grown-ups returned to the cottage, made lunch from local food (I’ll be writing about eating local soon), and settled down in front of the fire for a perfectly lazy Sunday afternoon. This is what weekends are all about. Hope yours was as wonderful as mine.

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Make Do & Mend – Star Elbow Patches

We’ve had a really productive weekend, hurrah! Appointments attended, girls met friends, pumpkin soup was made (Chris whipped it up before I could take photos, but it was delicious), horses were ridden, dog was walked, and I have finally started to address the mending pile which has been on a summer hiatus! I’ve also had to provide sympathy and chauffeur support to Chris after a minor nail-bending injury rendered him unable to do two-thumb activities. God only knows how he’s going to get to London tomorrow unaided…..

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So the eldest kid has the loveliest cashmere sweater, but much elbow-leaning has taken it’s toll, and you could probably fit a small toddler through the resulting hole.

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Time for patches – here’s what I did.

I didn’t want to do a bog-standard old-man patch, and had seen a lady a few years ago with heart-shaped patches, so decided that stars were the way forward. First I cut out a template.

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Then drew around the template onto the fabric I was making the patches from using an air-erasable pen. I chose a patterned needlecord because it’s fairly hard-wearing and pretty funky. 

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So that I didn’t sew through to the other side of the sleeve (I am constantly sewing things to myself), I slid the sleeve over a wine bottle. This also means there’ll be a little bit of give in the finished sleeve.

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Next, I postioned the star where I wanted it to sit (cue much fannying), pinned it in place and then basted it in with long stitches.

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Using a blanket stitch, I secured the patch to the sweater. I’m relatively new to hand-applique so this was a bit of a slog, but I did gradually speed up!

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Pulled out the basting stitches, and ta-dah, one sweater, good for a few more years and one more kid!

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Easy Jam Recipe

When we moved to our country home, the first thing we did after unpacking was to shake the ripe fruit from our “new” damson tree. Our new neighbours probably thought we were mad; Chris stood on a ladder with an extending lopper to shake the branches, and the girls and I stood underneath making a hammock with an old curtain! Damsons aren’t very nice to eat raw as they make your suck your cheeks right in, but they’re perfect for making the loveliest jam! I thought I’d share our very easy recipe which you can adapt to take advantage of whatever seasonal fruit you get your mitts on!

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Firstly, check your fruit over for little maggoty friends! I like to give it a good rinse in a colander too, before weighing it and adding to the biggest saucepan you own.

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Now, weigh out the same amount of sugar and add to the saucepan. You don’t need any fancy sugar – I’m convinced it’s just a ploy to get you to spend more! If you’re using a fruit which is low in pectin, you can always add that later on. Pop a saucer in the fridge, you’ll need it later.

Turn your hob onto a medium-high heat and stir regularly until the sugar has dissolved. This is where I share my secret tip! Damsons are loath to give up their stones. The first time we made jam we sifted the jam spoon by spoon, removing the stones. It took forever! Now I use a potato masher once the fruit is nice and soft, which releases the stones to float to the surface where you can rescue them with a slotted spoon. Much easier 🙂

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Once you’ve got your jam to a rolling boil, reduce the heat for a bit and let it bubble. Scrape off any froth with a spoon. I use a sugar thermometer which tells me when it’s at jam temperature (105c). When it hits this point, fetch your saucer from the fridge and put a little dollop of jam on it. Pop it back in the fridge for 5 minutes, then push the jam with your finger. If it wrinkles, you’re done! If you have done this a few times and your jam still isn’t wrinkling, you’ll need to add a bit of pectin. You can either add some pureed apple, or use bottled pectin.

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Take some sterilised jars (wash them thoroughly in hot soapy water, and leave in a hot oven to dry), and pour in your jam. Quickly screw on your lid (using a clean towel, or your fingers will melt) and ta-dah, you’ve made jam! I love our damson jam on croissants, and to change up a Vicky sponge; it keeps a little of it’s tartness which means it’s great paired with sweet things. It also makes a nice hostess gift if you’ve been invited somewhere lovely!

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Harvest

 

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”

Autumn is my favourite season. The shortening days, warm clothes, open fires, hearty dinners and general slowing-down are all things I look forward to every year. Chris and I did the Keats Walk on our first date, so I love this poem, written as he walked around the Hampshire countryside. From our little corner of the world, we have a window on the countryside, and I love watching the farmers gather in their harvests of hay, potatoes and wheat which they’ve worked so hard for all year. I worked from home this week, and was treated to the distant sounds of the primary school having their Harvest Festival in the church. I don’t like change, so the thought that in an age of technology and speed, people still take a moment to celebrate nature’s gifts makes me really happy!

This week we heard that a local estate was holding it’s annual apple tasting. Innocently, we assumed this would be a fairly small affair, with perhaps a few different stalls selling fruit or cake. Instead, we pulled up to see fields full of cars and had one of the loveliest mornings for a long time! There were dozens of apple and pear varieties to taste, local crafts, and a real celebration of rural life.

The latest addition to the family, Neville, is now out and about, so this was a fantastic opportunity for him to socialise with other dogs and people. He isn’t up to much walking as he’s still very little, so Daddy carried him a lot! Neville is a Chocolate Labrador Retriever, and is 13 weeks old today. I’ve been without a canine companion since my beloved Mastiff, Chance, passed away almost 10 years ago, so bringing another dog into my life was well overdue. Despite the accidents and sleepless nights, he is an absolute delight, and I can’t get enough of his cuddles.

We bought some Egremont Russet apples. They are quite ugly, being a weird brown colour, but the taste is like cake! There was also a fantastic selection of gourds, so we’ve got some Red Kuri pumpkins to try out – if it’s not a massive disaster I’ll share the results of our soup experiment!

The church, St Matthews, was offering tours of it’s tower; I really wanted to join the people sitting around the top, but I think poor little Neville had had enough excitement for one morning, so we’ll definitely have to go back again next year.

Happy Harvest!

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