From Side-stoking in Stoke to Wwoof-ing in Wales

Before we leave Stoke-on-Trent, we have to go to a local English restaurant and try the local fare. I have been told – and I don’t know if this is an urban myth or not – but the most popular dish in Britain is Chicken Tikka Marsala with mushy peas!

I haven’t even seen it on any menu, but I live in hope. We do try the local Indian and have a very nice meal. Shame about the mushy peas though!

IMG_1575

From Stoke we make the drive across country to Wales, which isn’t very far, half an hour and we are over the border. I read somewhere that there is no place in the UK that is more than 75 miles from the sea. That doesn’t seem very far, about 120 km. That is about as far as we live inland from the south coast beaches. We’ve been known to go to the beach for the day with Geordie when he was young. The difference is that we don’t have British traffic and narrow lanes.

The drive is uneventful and we are soon with our friends Annie and David. Annie is the daughter of Sally and John Seymour. The seymours were at the forefront of the post war self sufficiency movement in Britain. We met Sally Seymour when she called in to see us at our home here in the late seventies. She had our names from a common friend who she had known in the UK.

We didn’t know who she was, but welcomed her into our house as a guest. Only in conversation over the next day or so did it become apparent to us who she was and that we already owned a couple of her books, as we have always had an interest in Self-reliance. That is why we moved here, way out in the sticks, where we could afford a derelict ruin with acres to make our projected lifes ideals come to fruition.

Sally came and visited us a few times over the next decade and even stayed and worked in the pottery with Janine for a few months while I was away studying in Japan in the 80’s. Apart from all the hard physical work of pioneering self-sufficiency in Britain with her husband John Seymour, she also raised 4 children. Their life is a very inspiring story and can be read in a series of books, 3 of which we own.

IMG_2349 IMG_2350

Sally is also an accomplished potter. She learnt from her mother who was largely self-taught, as I understand it. Sally did al the illustrations for their books.

There is a new edition of ‘Fat of the Land’

IMG_1782 (1) IMG_1783 (1)

These books are available from Carningli Press; <http://carninglipress.co.uk/index.php&gt;

Sally had a stroke a few years ago and now lives with her Daughter Annie and Annie’s her husband David on part of the original farm that Sally and John bought back in the 60’s.

Annie and David are continuing on with the family tradition of self-sufficiency. Annie makes pots and David makes furniture. Together they work a few acres with extensive vegetable gardens and fruit trees.

IMG_1775 IMG_1834

We help Annie pick black currents. A very labour intensive job, as they are very tiny and are suck to the bush very tight. Each tiny little individual berry has to be individually pinched and picked off the cane. after picking, the currents are spread out in trays on the kitchen table and carefully sorted to remove any extraneous material that might have found its way into the bowls. Some of the currents are washed and frozen, others boiled for deserts and puddings and some are dried for storage.

We work in the sunshine in the garden while David goes about making the days batch of  a dozen sourdough loaves. The drought is all mixed by hand in small batches. The drought is left to ‘prove’ and rise in plastic bags to keep it humid and draught free, and from developing a hard, dry top which will prevent it from rising well.

David’s small organic bread-making business is just one of many small income streams that they survive on. All the bread is sold locally to people within just a few miles of their home. Mostly people come and collect directly, but David does make a few deliveries to a some customers a bit farther away, when he goes out to do other jobs.

IMG_1824 IMG_1770

IMG_1773 IMG_1776

It’s a pleasure and an honour to be able to take part – in just a very brief way – in this wholesome and creative life experiment. it’s also great to be able to catch up with old friends like this, spending time doing the most menial of jobs while catching up on news and gossip.

We  have a day ‘out’ to visit a local archaeological site. An archaeologist has been working around here for the past 30 years, every summer, he brings his students from the University to do a dig locally. He has been looking for the site(s) where the Stone Henge capping stones came from 5,000 years ago. It is well-known that the capping lintels came from Wales and more specifically from the Preseli mountains around here near the Carningli peak.

This year he has finally found the exact site. They have unearthed a finished lintel stone ready for transport. It is all set up on wedges ready to have the wooden rollers inserted underneath. It is sitting on a flat stone-flagged path which leads directly down to the river at the bottom of the slope. Apparently, mineral analysis has proven that this is the exact same stone as is found on-site at Stone Henge. The rest of the excavation on site has been re-filled, but they left the stone uncovered.

To my mind, this answers two questions, where they came from and how they were moved. It’s pretty obvious to me that if they built a flat, paved, stone path down to the river, then they were floated away on a raft from here. Presumably to be shifted to a larger boat down near the coast and then sailed around to Wiltshire.

IMG_1841

IMG_1843 IMG_1845

Later we visit the standing stone ‘Dolman’ burial chamber. This grade stone triptych and capping stone would have originally been buried under a hill of soil.

IMG_1854

IMG_1852

On the way home we call in to visit the local Community Hall, where archaeologists have excavated one of the oldest and best preserved roman era pottery kilns in Wales. it was covered by the stage in the hall for many years, now it’s all cleaned up and preserved behind glass. Back in the day, it seems that it was just too much work to pull it down, so they built the stage over it.

IMG_1789

Fond regards from Old South Wales.

Red Risotto

We decide to make a vegetable risotto for dinner. There’s plenty in the garden to choose from, but i decide to go with a mostly red theme tonight.

DSC03141

We have beetroots a plenty, as well as red rice, red capsicum, red chillis, red cabbage as well as red tomatoes, both dried and fresh.

DSC03142 DSC03144

DSC03146 DSC03145

I de-glaze with red wine. We have some fish stock from the night before so it’s all go.

DSC03148 DSC03149

To deepen the flavour profile, I add a slice of frozen marrow bone stock and a slice of frozen basil in olive oil.

DSC03150

The dish is finished with the addition of fresh herbs and fresh picked broccoli from the garden.

DSC03151

It’s a quick and easy meal on a cold night and very warming. We are forecast to get our first frost tonight.

Another One Smites the Dust

If we are going to be saddled with extended drought into the future, we are ethically bound to respond in a creative and positive way. We try to avoid being a drain on anybody, any thing or any institution, including government. This is all part of our commitment to a philosophy of living an independent life. Possibly something akin to true philosophical anarchism. It’s not a matter of bringing down any government, but rather a case of being so independent that government atrophying due to lack of need.

So the drought continues and we have ordered 2 new water tanks. The first has already arrived and been installed on the smaller front section of the Old Railway Station roof a few weeks ago. The new, and slightly larger tank arrived today and we installed it on the back and slightly larger section of roof. With 4,500 and now 7,500 litres of added storage, the Old Railway Station building is now adding to our overall commitment to self-reliance in drinking water. Another one smites the dust.

The Old Station is not a very big building. In fact its tiny, but every bit of roof space is now important in the endeavour to catch drinking water when it rains, which isn’t very often these days. Funnily, it starts to shower as the delivery truck arrives, so Janine and I install in the rain. Tragically, it clears up just as we finish, but we are ever hopeful that it will continue over night and for the next few days.

The previous new tank is now half full from the occasional showers that we have managed to now capture. Every bit counts if we are to continue watering our garden plants with drinking water, while we wait for that big storm that must come someday and fill the dams again.

 IMG_1138

The new, larger grey tank is down the back on the right, under the bottle brush tree.

IMG_1135

IMG_1136

IMG_1139

We bake vegetables fresh from the garden for dinner, finished with a bechamel sauce. It’s delicious and uses so little water to prepare.

Chillies

Even though we are just two weeks away from winter, we are still managing to harvest a small bowl of little ripe tomatoes every few days. There are loads of chillies too. The chickens are still laying an egg each, almost every day, so we decide to have tomatoes and eggs on toast – with some chilli.

IMG_0878

IMG_0822 IMG_0831

Tomatoes with chilli simmered in a little olive oil has to be the best accompaniment for fried eggs. It’s so aromatic and tangy. It has to be one of my favourite winter breakfasts, and the pan juices are just crying out to be mopped up with some nice bread.

IMG_0833

Chilli seems to make so many dishes sing. We grow a range of chillies and capsicums each spring, but they are quite slow to grow for us and don’t decide to fully ripen the whole crop until autumn. I decide to look them up in my favourite plant book, “The Oxford Book Of Food Plants”. We were given our copy as a gift from the late John Meredith in The seventies and it has been an invaluable guide to information on the origins of food plants. I google this book and find that it is still available 2nd hand;

Oxford Book of Food Plants by S. G. Harrison (1970, Hardcover)

Pre-owned: lowest price

 $5.04
+ $2.99 Shipping
  • Get it by Tue, May 22 – Wed, May 30 from South East, United Kingdom
  • Good condition

With an authoritative name like S. Harrison, it would have to be a good read!

Pages 128/129 are all about peppers and chillies, including black pepper.

IMG_0921

Capsicums or sweet peppers (Capsicum Annum) are described as an annual plant grown from seed and originated in tropical America. This spices includes all the larger fruited kinds and are often picked while still green. These ‘peppers’ vary greatly in their pungency. In General, the larger the variety, the milder the flavour. In some parts of Europe, these fruits are called ‘Paprika’, while in Spain they are called ‘pimento’. The fruits  can be very high in vitamin ‘C’. Although often quite round in shape like the ‘bell’ pepper, they can be long and pointed. I don’t know what they are called in Korea, but there were huge quantities in the street markets, sold by the sack full. I believe that they were the hot variety of the annum family. They were quite large, long, tapered and pointed, and ripened to a very dark mahogany red colour.

IMG_0890 IMG_0882 IMG_0883

On the other hand, ‘Red pepper’ or ‘Chilli’ (Capsicum Frutescens) is a perennial plant or can be in the tropics, but the frost kills it here. It has less vitamin ‘C’ than capsicums. Pungency is described as being variable, but in general, it is much greater than in the capsicums. There are two main forms. The short spiky variety where the fruit often stick upwards. Sometimes called ‘birds eye’. These a smaller and smooth skinned.

The other main variety is longer and narrow with undulating skin and the fruit hang down. S Harrison in The Oxford Book Of Food Plants describes the longer gravitationally influenced variety as ‘red peppers’ while the short spiky gravitationally resistant variety he calls ‘chillies’. We grow them both and call them both chillies – long or short.

IMG_0722 IMG_0885

I like the flavour of chillies , but I’m not any kind of masochist, just hot is hot enough. once I break out in a sweat, that’s hot enough. Two of our small hot chillies is about my comfort level in a meal.

Last night we had steamed capsicums stuffed with both red and green chillies, along with brown rice and some other condiments! Keeping it all the family!

IMG_0863 IMG_0867

IMG_0868

 

Another Little Portable Wood Fired Kiln Leaves the Workshop

We have been keeping busy rolling out the latest batch of little portable wood fired kilns. Another little wood fire Gem leaves for a new life of fun and fulfilment for another potter. All the remaining kilns are set up with gas burners for dual fuel firing.

IMG_0876 IMG_0843

I spent most of last week making the burners and fitting them to the kiln on removable mountings that slide into place when needed.

These are the last of the first batch and while I wait for collection of these first orders, I start on the 2nd batch. There isn’t enough room in my small kiln building workshop for more than seven kilns at a time and still be able to move around safely and engage in productive work.

IMG_0875 IMG_0877 IMG_0861

I go to the garden after work and pick a load of vegetables for dinner, do a quick bit of weeding and do a little watering, as it is still incredibly dry with no rain storms to speak of for 14 months. The dams remain dry.

I cook a fresh snapper for dinner, steamed on the stove top in a big frypan with a little garlic, lemon juice and white wine.

IMG_0848 (1).jpg

 

One Minute in My Life

At breakfast I finish my coffee and see the shadow of my fingers through the porcelain bowl that I’m drinking from.

I’m moved to capture the fleeting moment on my phone.

IMG_0823

IMG_0827

I realise that it is a bit of a multicultural moment. I’m drinking Italian style coffee grown in New Guinea in the French style with milk at breakfast from a bowl made by and Englishman living in Australia, thrown and fired while in China. The table is made from Japanese cedar, grown in Australia.

At least the organic full cream milk was produced locally in Picton from our local dairy, but the cows are Friesian and Jersey.

 

Autumn has finally arrived

The weather is finally taking the calendar seriously. We have had our first seriously cold evening of the year. We even lit the fire, and although it was nice, it wasn’t really necessary and we hardly stoked it as we weren’t that cold, but it was a nice thing to do, quite comforting. It seems that summer has lasted 7 months now. I’m sort of pleased that we can now have some cooler weather.

I have been finishing off half a dozen little wood fired kilns, but have been held up waiting for some parts. So in the mean time, we have continued our wood cutting epic effort. We have almost finished cutting up, removing and stacking all the timber from the dead trees that we had taken down by the arborist. It’s been a mammoth job and will provide us with wood fuel for some years to come.

Having burnt off so much energy during the day, we feel that we can afford the calories and have pizza for dinner. I make up some rye flour dough during the afternoon and it is risen and proved by evening. I roll you a couple of thin bases and we use what we have in the fridge as toppings.

   

I start with a very basic wash of tomato passata sauce and then a sprinkling of finely chopped garlic. We build up the pizza with a few olives, capers and sliced artichoke hearts, topped with some cheese.

10 mins in a very hot oven does the trick.

IMG_0781

We make another one with sour cream, smoked salmon and red onion.

IMG_0783

We have a couple of slices from each one and put the rest in the fridge for lunch tomorrow. Home-made comfort junk-food is very nice once in a while.