Watching as the sun rises and its rays creep across the meadow, bathing the old oak in golden light is magical. Knock Eyon comes into view, appearing out of the mist which settles over the lake like a blanket of cotton wool.   Bats, late to bed, are still flying around; whilst the blackbirds, thrushes and other birds  announce their presence with a tuneful dawn chorus . Meanwhile guests  sleep,  unaware of the world awakening outside their window.

Herbaceous bed with hay meadow in the background

Herbaceous bed with hay meadow in the background

“A parcel has just arrived in the post and it’s for you.” To my delight it was the ‘sea kale” plants I had ordered from Sutton’s Seeds a few months ago. Ordering plants when the weather is cold and frosty is the sign that spring and summer are just round the corner.

Eating a plateful of freshly cooked sea kale, drizzled with butter and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice has to be one of  life’s guilty pleasures.  This year, we were only able to serve it once as the bed had been ravaged by the freezing temperatures of the winter of 2010-2011. When I saw plants advertised by Sutton’s seeds, I jumped at the chance to purchase some new plants. I had planned to work in the garden again today. However, the ‘light’ showers turned into ‘heavy’ ones so there has been a slight change in plans.
Gardeners must be optimists by nature. We plan, purchase and plant seeds and plants. On the way through the garden, up to the hens, we peep under the fleece to see if the peas have germinated. This year we have found germination rates have been low and growth has been a little slow. However, the lawns and weeds are still growing fast!

A kitchen garden staple
The rhubarb has  grown  in the garden for many years. We rely on it to emerge, without fail, each spring. This year, growth came early. It appeared to have ‘died back’ and we thought growth was finished. However, surprise surprise! The rhubarb has had a ‘second growth spurt’  in recent weeks as we have received more rain. Rhubarb can be oven poached for pie fillings or for breakfast. served with home-made granola, and plain yoghurt, it is delicious.

When cutting it is important to cut off the leaves, however, they cannot go on the compost heap as they contain a chemical which inhibits growth. we put it out for the halloween bonfire.

Rhubarb stalks washed and trimmed ready for use.

Rhubarb stalks washed and trimmed ready for use.

Cut rhubarb into bite-sized pieces

Cut rhubarb into bite-sized pieces

Adding sugar to rhubarb prior to cooking.

Adding sugar to rhubarb prior to cooking

  1.  Add sugar to cut rhubarb and toss to coat fruit, add 1/2cup water. cover with lid and put in oven for 30-45min. or until rhubarb is barely cooked. Check texture with point of sharp knife. Allow rhubarb to cool before use.
  2. Bake pie shell blind for approx 20-30 mins. at 160°C
  3. Coat base of pie with 1-2 Tbsp. softened apricot jam.
  4. Fill pie shell with partially cooked rhubarb.
  5. Thicken resulting liquid with a little arrowroot.
  6. Pour over rhubarb in partially baked pie shell.
  7. The topping is a crumble topping pre-toasted on a baking sheet in the oven for 20-30 mins.                                                                                            Putting topping onto pie
An Apology
I was planning to put up a photo of the finished lusciously juicy pie, however, with guests waiting in the dining room and the butler becoming edgy it was cut and served. I served it with small hazelnut meringues, a mixed fruit sauce and home-made strawberry ice-cream. Clean plates came back!

Learning To Cook
Last weekend, a guest asked me where and when I had learned to cook. In hindsight I was fortunate that both my mother and my grandmother’s were great cooks. My father was a natural forager. Bilberries and blackberries were picked on the hill behind our home, then ‘bottled’ for use in pies in the winter. Rabbits or hares snared, pheasants, partridges or pigeons shot, all were used to feed the family, supplementing such meat as was available from our local butcher, as rationing was still in place  during much of my childhood. There were always vegetables and fruits from the garden. My grandfather would travel up to Yorkshire from his home in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire and double dig our garden for my mother; plant the potatoes and sow the parsley.

Here at Mornington, two gardeners worked full-time in the garden. The house was fully staffed with cook, scullery maid, parlour maids and chauffeur. The cook prepared the meals for the family and staff.

As a child, there was always room at the kitchen table for me. Space cleared, presented with the scraps of pastry I was told to get on with making my pie! The results were probably inedible, but were always presented with pride, to parents, grand-parents or indeed anyone who was visiting. They always went along with the game, pretending to eat the offerings. In truth, the scraps of grey pastry ended up feeding the birds or hens!

I have since learned to make pastry!

Sweet Pastry
12 oz. Plain flour
6 oz. Butter-cold
1-2 level tablespoonfuls castor sugar
1 Egg yolk
Cold water. I usually allow 1 level teaspoonful per oz. flour

Method

  1. Cut fat into flour and sugar, using two dinner knives or rub in with fingers*
  2. Add egg yolk and cut in water, using table knife. Or use a food processor.
  3. Avoid over handling pastry. Pull pastry together and shape into circle.
  4. Wrap dough on cling film. chill in refrigerator. This allows pastry to ‘relax’ prior to rolling.
Sweet pastry shaped and ready for rolling

Sweet pastry shaped and ready for rolling

Our donkeys rolling in the dust

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