Easier, better or both?


Springtime in the Costwolds – A Feast for the Senses

We have been enjoying a springtime sensory extravaganza.

Sounds

Each morning we are woken early by the incredibly beautiful the dawn chorus. The birdsong gets more complex over the first few weeks of the spring as a mixture of migrant birds arrive for their summer holidays.

Soon the air is filled with the sound of cheeping chicks, when food is delivered to nests by hard-working parents.

Spring days are punctuated by high-pitched bleats from little lambs, answered by deeper baas from watchful mothers.

Smells

The air smells fresh and is filled with wonderful fragrances.

We pop into Broadway to check on the gnarled old wisterias in the high street every few days, so that we don’t miss the wonderful smell of their divine pastel flowers when they emerge.

Hubby’s favourite is the aroma that wafts over the fence from the buds on the neighbour’s poplar trees.

I love to sink my nose into the blossoms on lilac trees dotted around the village.

Woodland walks are rewarded with the sweet smell of violets – best appreciated by getting a nose close to the ground – well worth the muddy knees.

Sights

It’s wonderful when colour returns to the village after the drab, grey winter.

Snowdrops appear first, followed by bright yellow daffodils.

Then the world erupts into colour as blossoms appear on cherry, plum, apple and pear trees.

Clematis flowers cascade over walls and fences. Wildflowers pop up on verges and across the meadows. Bluebells form a brilliant carpet in the woods.

Birds fly sorties collecting moss and twigs for their nests.

Male birds  flirt with females by puffing up to make themselves look more eligible.

Touch

A mild, warm breeze replaces the winter’s icy blasts.

Nettles along paths need to be given a wide berth, otherwise they sting like crazy leaving an area of skin that buzzes for 24 hours afterwards.

The ground is soft and warm and yields gently when turned to plant soft, new seedlings.

Tastes

In April we start to prowl the farm shops in the area looking for the divine local asparagus – so wonderful that an Asparafest is held in its honour. It’s absolutely delicious and for the next few months is a reliable and consistent fixture on menus at home and in local eateries.

Wild garlic pops up on woodland floors. The leaves add a subtle, interesting flavour to frittatas, omelettes, salads and a host of other dishes.

Fresh chives, mint, nasturtium flowers and the first crop of lettuces form a base for spring salads, accompanied by garlic mustard (Jack by the Hedge), which is foraged by hubby.

We love springtime in the Costwolds – it makes us feel alive again.

Advertisements


Baby Birds and Burnt Jam

StrawberriesI went a little crazy & bought too many punnets of juicy strawberries last week, so they started growing beards faster than we could consume them. Inspired by Alys Fowler’s recipe for Strawberry Conserve (June issue of The Simple Things Magazine), I decided to make some jam.

My initial jam-making attempts in 2011 and 2012 using plums from our tree were quite successful. The most delicious batch was the first. It caramelised slightly because I left it a little too long, while trying to work out what the setting point looked like. (Yes I know the theory about the jam developing a skin when placed on a cooled plate, but it didn’t seem that simple in our murky old kitchen.) Subsequent batches were more “textbook”, but never tasted quite as good as that first one.

This is my first attempt at strawberry jam. After two 24 hour “set aside” steps, I was into the last leg; “Boil rapidly until set, about 20 minutes.” I armed the timer, and made a cup of tea.

Then ……. I the noticed a robin feeding it’s chick on our fence. So exciting, as it is the first time we’ve seen baby robins in our garden. Their perch on the fence was soon taken over by a sparrow family – two chicks vying for mom’s attention, one nearly unseating the mother in an attempt to get to the grub. Then the blackbirds started – chick behind mom, bobbing along to lure worms out of the grass.

Spoon welded to plateWhile engrossed in the antics of the baby birds, the smell of caramel started to waft in from the kitchen. The timer alarm hadn’t gone off yet, but the jam had clearly progressed a little beyond the desired setting point. It was a light shade of brown. “No problem”, I thought, this might be like that first batch of plum jam that was so divine.

I continued to follow the recipe; “To stop the strawberries floating to the top, allow the jam to cool slightly…. before bottling.”

Given the advancedSolid jam & a sticky mess state of caramelisation, this was a big mistake. When I tried to pick up my mixing spoon to pop the jam into the jars, the spoon had become so securely welded to the plate where it had been resting, that the plate came along for the ride. After wrestling the spoon from the plate, bottling commenced. Based on what happened later, I am not sure that I’ll ever extricate the “jam” from that bottle.

As the jam cooled it became stickier, it morphed into caramel and then started to solidify into what looked suspiciously like toffee. I decided to abandon further bottling attempts, go with the flow and make toffee sweets instead.

I started popping spoonfuls of the brown gum onto a sheet of grease-proof paper. But soon golden strands of caramel started to proliferate all along the path of the spoon. As the mixture cooled, the stickiness increased, to a point where it was no longer possible to get the goo off the spoon. By this stage I was giggling uncontrollably and hubby came downstairs to investigate. He tried one of my partly-set “toffees”, which proceeded to stick his teeth together. Not sure that the toffee idea is going to work either. Oh well – I’m off to clean the pan now.

Apologies to Alys for turning her lovely recipe into such a shambles, but I just couldn’t resist those baby birds!