Deborah’s Allotment
Tuesday April 28th 2009, 12:42 am

Deborah\'s allotment

Tending an allotment is seriously fashionable these days but setting your heart on obtaining one wont necessarily mean you instantly get what you wish for. It all depends where you live and how many allotments there are in your area. The Forest of Dean, where I am, doesn’t have any council owned plots at all, as they were all dispensed with after the second world war and what allotments now exist come under the jurisdiction of various local parish councils.
My friend Deborah, who lives in London, was on the waiting list for an allotment for 18 years. After coming across the original letter from the council confirming her application she decided to chase things up and eighteen months ago was at last offered a plot on a site that runs along the edge of Hampstead Heath. Deborah isn’t a person satisfied to simply dig over the earth and plant a few seeds. In the short time since taking the allotment on, a rough unkempt plot has been transformed and landscaped with raised beds, paths and arches using reclaimed and recycled materials. Whatever she does is art.

Removing the forcing cover from the rhubarb

In London for a couple of days, I had Sunday morning free to pop down to the allotment to see how things were progressing whilst Deborah gathered homegrown ingredients for lunch. During the previous week, an impressive new cold frame has been built, seeds have been sown and vegetable seedlings started off in pots have been planted out.

Forced rhubarb

Last year Mick, from the plot next door, gave Deborah a rhubarb crown, substantial enough that it is already producing some stems that can be harvested. You should normally allow a few years for newly planted rhubarb to become established before picking. An upturned dustbin placed over part of it to starve the stems of light, revealed an armful of lovely sweet stems, beautifully pink with lime green leaves, when lifted away. Just enough to feed everyone for lunch. That was pudding sorted.

Rhubarb stems

Friday April 10th 2009, 6:56 pm

Fabrice\'s Fabulous Pastries.

This Easter weekend heralds a change in mood and a real feeling of optimism after several months of the winter doldrums. Not that I’ve been in the doldrums – I’ve been far too busy. Since opening the shop I have realised some of the advantages of going out to work. I am now able to tap into the creative energy generated by others, instead of feeling responsibility rests solely on my own head.

Tables laid for the opening day of The Garden Cafe

Today, Good Friday, saw the opening of the new Garden Cafe at Taurus, just a short hop from The Laundry’s front door. The quality of the food the Garden Cafe will be serving makes this event very exciting indeed, with food and ingredients sourced from local producers and specialists, cheesemakers and artisan bakers. The cafe will be open weekends and ‘holidays’ throughout the summer (call Taurus Crafts for opening times and directions: 01594 844841) and for a first day, things look very promising.

The new Garden Cafe at Taurus

Attention to detail is key, with fabulous rectangular stoneware platters, dishes and generous bucket-shaped coffee cups, all made especially for the cafe by the pottery, again here on site at Taurus. The clay oven built last September (see my post about our oven building weekend here ) will be fired up to supply freshly baked flat breads which come with various fillings and accompaniments.

The Garden Cafe platter

All we need now is some decent weather to make the cafe the ‘MUST visit’ place in the area. See the menu here. As these are early days, expect the menu to be tweaked as things progress.

Baking flatbreads in the woodfired clay oven

Handmade chocolate at the Garden Cafe

Tuesday April 07th 2009, 3:55 pm

bantam eggs

When I arrived home yesterday I found a bag containing five bantam eggs on the kitchen table. My next door neighbour, Veronica, had left them there for me, as her brother’s bantams are producing more eggs than they can cope with, so there are more than enough to go around. My picture wont give you any idea of scale but for those who don’t know a bantam’s egg from a regular hens egg, these eggs are about a half to two thirds the size of an ordinary egg, thus having a rather refined and petit appearance. They can be used in much the same way as normal but using 2 for 1, and apparently they have less white and more yolk per egg. Veronica says the shells are harder to crack. I am looking forward to trying them.

Saturday April 04th 2009, 12:58 pm

Woven willow fencing

Just because a house is located in the country doesn’t mean its style will follow the country vernacular. Many country houses could be transplanted to a city suburb or town centre without looking at all out of place. Close to where I live there is a row of modest Edwardian semi-detached homes that could easily be found almost anywhere, typically pebble dashed and with a postage stamp garden in front edged with privet hedging. These houses do however have fields surrounding them and a view to a valley beyond.
I was interested this week to see that one of the occupants of the row had hired an artisan person to weave a willow fence around the front garden which each day as I’ve passed by has been taking shape. I have no recollection what this hurdle fence is replacing, whatever it was merged invisibly and matched the others on each side. Now, this boundary fence stands out and looks rather distinguished. I couldn’t help wondering whether this traditional rustic touch could herald a general mood, a burgeoning trend brought about by the influence of television – The Lark Rise Effect perhaps. I hope so.

woven willow fencing

Friday April 03rd 2009, 4:51 pm

The Laundry April 2009

Apologies for being away for so long, but I’ve been really very busy and once out of the blogging routine it becomes harder and harder to begin again. For the last 3 months I have not been idle however, and now have so many stories to report it is hard to know where to start.
Firstly, in these strange and difficult times when shops and businesses are closing down left, right and centre, I have opened a shop. I’ve come close to it before but it hasn’t quite happened, so it has been very exciting to gather everything together, paint the walls, think about shelving and display, and eventually open the door for business.
The Laundry’s shop sign states ‘homewares, jam & pyjamas’ and I sometimes hear puzzled people outside saying to their companions, ‘jam and pyjamas, that’s a strange combination!’ Yes indeed it is and, as a person possessed with a mischievous streak, I am relishing giving people something new to be puzzled by, to talk about and hopefully to enjoy. The shop is close to my home and after a few weeks of getting to grips with dressing before noon, I am now enjoying ‘going out to work’ and being able to show the established strands of The Laundry plus many more new ones, all together in one place. Colourful Mexican washing baskets sit alongside bannetons, for artisan bakers, dried lavender sold by the cup-full and butter muslin measured out by the metre (I insisted on a drapers measure fixed in place along the edge of the counter for a traditional touch). When the weather is fine The Laundry’s wares can be displayed outside as well.
A few weeks ago my preserving book, Fruits of The Earth was published, so bringing another element to The Laundry which is set to develop into a ‘Glut Kitchen’ brand. Anyhow there will be plenty of time to tell you more of that in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, I’ve got things to write about.

The Laundry at Taurus

The Laundry at Taurus, Taurus Crafts, The Old Park, Lydney, GL15 6BU Tel: 01594 840563