Mid February and it has finally stopped raining for a few days and the ground is beginning to dry out just a little, making the daily walk round the orchard with the dog less of a slippery slog through the mud. We did have some snow in January, by way of a change from rain, which gave the opportunity for a few seasonal photos, a bit of sledging and snowman construction. Ed Elliott of Trumpet Corner created an extraordinary Snow Angel. The melting snow just added to the general wetness. However it is now a good bit colder and drier. The cold is welcome as it keeps the trees dormant; the wet is not as it keeps their roots sodden. It is now time to get around the orchard for a bit of pruning which we put off while it has been so wet underfoot.
If the purpose of wassailing is to ensure a good crop for the following harvest, it is devoutly to be wished that the ceremony held this year at Court Farm, Aylton, will produce a better result than the 2012 event held at Hellens House, Much Marcle. Last year was by just about every measure the worst harvest in living memory and the rainfall the heaviest since records began. The 2013 wassail was among the most memorable held as it was in the magnificent Manorial Barn next to the Church, where my father sang loudly and played the harmonium scratchily for over fifty years. The barn provided a magical setting for the Mummers play and wonderful shelter from the January chill, which was kept further at bay with mulled cider and Noggin Farm pork rolls. Surely a good year must follow!
Wassail photos courtesy of Richard Crompton
The Scudamores of Holme Lacy House
When one looks at the history of cider in general and of its role in Herefordshire in particular, a name that keeps leaping off the page is that of Lord Scudamore. His family seat at Holme Lacy House - largely regarded as the finest house in the county - is only just over the ridge from our orchard, so we decided it was time to pay a visit during our Cropsharers’ Winter weekend.
Lord Scudamore was Ambassador to France for Charles 1 and so a trusted member of the Royal Household. He entertained royalty and royally and was the patron of a Fownhope man, Tom Spring who became the bare-knuckle fighting champion of All England. Scudamore became convinced that the orchards of his home county could make drink to rival that of the vineyards of France and he eventually grew the famed Herefordshire Redstreak cider apple, which produced a drink of the highest quality. He wanted his cider to impress on the table so designed delicate fluted glasses engraved with the Royal Coat of Arms and his own insignia. His other and probably most important contribution to the industry was to put his cider into glass bottles. Local glass makers had been able to manufacture stronger bottles since wood powered furnaces had been banned to conserve this vital raw material and coal used instead, which burnt hotter and so produced thicker and stronger glass. So next time you pour a glass of sparkling cider make sure you raise a toast to Lord Scudamore of Holme Lacy.
All in a Day's Walk is the title of a PhD performance and research project carried out by Jess Allen, who lives in a yurt at Caplor Farm near Fownhope. She has coined a new word ‘Tracktivism’ - ‘a field of activist performance that utilises walking and moving and talking in rural landscapes to address issues of environmental, social or political concern’ to describe her work. Jess, a dairy intolerant vegetarian, decided that in the long dark wet and increasingly muddy days of December, she would eat only what she could source within walking distance of her home. She told her story in our warm comfy house in January to an enthralled audience as she talked about different levels of activism and engagement. A fascinating project which you can read about online at http://allinadayswalk.co.uk/
Rayessa's Indian Kitchen
Dragon House produces the most fantastic range of seasonal smells as Annie makes various preserves throughout the year. We are presently enjoying apple jelly with rosemary and apple chutney making has also been underway. However, recently the kitchen has had a visit from Rayeesa of Rayeesa's Indian Kitchen when we had a fascinating cooking demonstration from one immersed in the food of her culture. Rayeesa was born in the UK but spent her early years in India. She also learnt a huge amount about Indian food whilst a police officer in Southall, which re-engaged her passion for cooking from her childhood. She and her family moved to Herefordshire and we have met her at several food festivals. She cooked vegetable curry and dhal with the help of an enthusiastic audience and also made chapattis from scratch, finishing them off with aplomb on a naked gas flame. The simplicity of her ingredients, demonstration of her technique and love of her craft gave a great demonstration and wonderful tasty lunch. For further information about her products and workshops, see http://rayeesasindiankitchen.com/
The Flavours of Hereford Award ceremony has just taken place with a different format from previous years. The event has usually been held on the Friday evening before the Hereford Food Festival and this year's prizes were given for individual products rather than a single award for Drinks Producer. The actual awards were beautifully engraved oak boards, using wood left over from the construction of the Wye Trow, a replica of the 36' long flat-bottomed boats that used to ply their trade on the river. The Wye Trow, aptly named the Hereford Bull, was part of the flotilla on the Thames for the Jubilee celebration and is now a training vessel. Once Upon a Tree collected four golds and one silver so Simon ended up on his dinner table with a pile of wooden tablets, which Matt from The Crown at Woolhope immediately dubbed Giant Jenga.
Ledbury Ox Roast Weekend
June 1st and 2nd 2013
An ox was roasted in Ledbury to celebrate the Queen’s coronation sixty years ago in June 1953. One of my earliest memories being the white clad butchers basting the beast with bass brooms, as wonderful a sight as it is alliteration. It felt as though a Jubilee celebration and re-enactment of the event could be a great way to put Ledbury on the map and provide a community event for the town.
So there will be another Ledbury Ox Roast over the weekend June 1st & 2nd. A date for the diary and details will be posted on the new website as plans develop www.ledburyoxroast.org.uk. I am off to view the selected animal next week to check its credentials. It will come from Awnells Farm at Much Marcle, bred by David Powell, who has a Hereford herd of the longest and purest lineage, 100% beef ...