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

Sunday December 14th 2008, 9:40 pm

Old fashioned Victory V throat sweets

I’ve recently had a yearning for Victory Vs, which is quite handy as my cold has now morphed into a throaty, coughy thing. My Grandmother used to eat Victory Vs and would, when I visited her as a young child, break them in half in the palm of her hand and give me a half. She’d send me out to the Co-op to get them for her, where they were weighed out loose and I’d run back to her house with them in a little paper bag. They weren’t exactly childrens sweets, but things were grim up north.
Apparently these lozenges, which still have a very charming look about them, were originally made in Nelson in Lancashire (but no longer are) since the mid 1800’s and as well as liquorice, included ether and chloroform in the ingredients (but no longer do).
When searching out Victory Vs I also came across Grays Herbal Tablets – ‘For Cold Nights and Mornings’ and was drawn to the quaint design of the packaging.

Grays Herbal Tablets

Tuesday September 30th 2008, 9:10 am

I’ve been busy finishing off my jam making book, so my blog posting has gone amiss somewhat. Last week I went up north to celebrate my Mum’s 85th birthday and we also managed a quick visit to Blackpool to see the Illuminations.
I remembered this picture of my Dad taken sometime in the 50’s. He had just started to take photographs and was very into shooting transparencies. We have boxes full of his pictures (slides) and there are lots recording firework displays and of course The Illuminations. I suppose these long exposure images were very challenging for any amateur photographer and I can see him now, setting the timer and running into the picture just in time for the camera shutter to capture the image.
Blackpool illuminations have been lit up every year since 1879 and they are still very magical. Designers such as Laurence Llewelyn Bowen design tasteful displays now but the older-fashioned lights with multi-coloured flashing bulbs are always a winner for me. The Blackpool Illuminations are lit up every night until November 4th.


Wednesday July 30th 2008, 4:31 pm

Vintage Household Encyclopaedia

We’ve had a few days of really hot weather and I never think to change the temperature of the fridge to compensate for the extra heat. Subsequently some milk started to go off. It was only a bit off, off enough so it tasted strange in tea. In an attempt to be resourceful and thrifty (not a quality that comes naturally to me) I set about turning it into something else. However I didn’t really think it through. I could have made some scones or added the milk to the mixture when making a chocolate cake but I messed up big time and ended up with a house that smelt disgusting and a dish of tasteless rubbery cheese that would have needed other things added to it to make it even vaguely palatable. I had wasted a good hour of my time and the ‘cheese’ went in the bin.
Perhaps it is just me, but the whole idea of making use of leftovers makes life feel grim and miserable. Just the word ‘leftovers’ is depressing. As the need to be more mindful of waste becomes increasingly necessary, someone needs to rework the subject to make it appealing. We need a new vocabulary that makes food scraps and stale stuff exciting.
While I was scrabbling around trying to find a use for my sour milk I found an old household encyclopaedia that I had collected primarily for its colourful dust jacket. Set out in an A to Z format, for sour milk it says:
SOUR MILK This is very good for polishing linoleum. It will remove iron rust from white fabrics.
So next time perhaps I’ll give that a go, not that I have any linoleum in the house. I spent quite some time reading through the book though, which is filled with useful nuggets of information as well as much that is quaint and outdated.

BED to ascertain if damp. Put a mirror for a few moments between the sheets. If it is misty when removed, then the bed is damp.

CHIMNEYS These can be kept reasonably clear of soot if potato peelings mixed with a little salt are burnt in the grate at least once a week. It will form a glaze inside the chimney and thus prevent its becoming clogged.

COFFEE GROUNDS Dry coffee grounds filled into a suitable covering make excellent pin-cushions; the pins and needles struck therein will never rust.

FLY-PAPERS to make. Take pieces of strong, thick paper, smear with treacle, and place in prominent positions. Always burn fly-papers after use.
(You just know your hair will become tangled up in one of these!)

HEDGEHOGS Keep in a cage during the day and release at night if it is desired to use them as beetle-catchers. Feed on bread and milk and an occasional earth-worm.

LAVENDER SACHET Mix together 75 parts powdered lavender, 20 parts powdered benzoin and 1 part oil of lavender.
(This actually sounds lovely and I think is worth trying out. Benzoin has a scent similar to vanilla so I imagine this combination would work beautifully.)

Using leftovers 1934 style

Friday March 14th 2008, 6:30 pm

Edward Bawden illustration for Good Food 1932

I went up north for a few days last week and made sure to visit the car boot sale in Preston whilst I was there. It is the best sort of car boot, in so far as there is always so much total rubbish on sale that it fills you with optimism that a bargain is just waiting to be found in one of the grubby house clearance boxes.
I only bought 3 old cookery books but felt that my rummaging time was time well spent. One of the books, Good Food by Ambrose Heath, is an absolute corker. Unfortunately, it long ago lost its dust jacket (which I would love to see) and from the outside it seems quite uninspiring, battered linen, aged and discoloured beige, but inside is such a treat. It is often said that nothing is new and this book clearly proves the point. It is set out month by month with recipes using seasonal produce and rather than the recipes being laid out in the usual manner it has running text with the recipe headings written in the margins. A bit like Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat. I bet you anything that in the editorial meeting when they came up with the format for Nigella’s book they thought they were being groundbreaking. In fact they were pipped to the post by 70 years, Good Food was published in 1932.

Good Food by Ambrose Heath 1932

To make the book even more fabulous it is illustrated by Edward Bawden, with an image to represent each month as well as some smaller incidental images of cooking implements and produce. If only it still had its dust jacket, I imagine that would be really special. Of course now I am on Ambrose Heath alert and am looking out for more of his books. Apparently he was a very prolific cookery writer (1891-1969) and wrote around 100 books on just about every food subject and ingredient under the sun. I would particularly like to see ‘Open Sesame – The Way of a Cook With a Can’ published in 1939 (sorry Delia, he beat you too it).
Anyway, keen to try out some of his recipes I spotted one for Orange Jumbles, which are a flat sprawling biscuit made with flaked almonds and orange rind and juice. I am getting ahead of myself here as they are in the April chapter but as we can usually find oranges of some kind all-year-round and recipes with funny names are always a good thing then why not?. I decided to experiment and have had to make them a few times to get the recipe right – hard work but somebody had to do it. I have substituted some of my Seville marmalade as an ingredient, missed out cochineal, who on earth uses that these days, and they seem to have worked out pretty well. Ambrose didn’t seem to believe in molly-coddling his readers and the recipes are suitably vague on technique.
Of the Orange Jumbles he writes, ‘To say that they are indescribably charming really describes them’. If I wasn’t so busy eating my way through a plate of jumbles I’d say ‘I couldn’t agree more’.
Here’s my recipe for Marmalade Jumbles.

Edward Bawden illustration for Good Food 1932


Saturday March 01st 2008, 4:30 pm

kitchen tools

This week I bought a couple of 50’s kitchen units and found these tools in the drawer. I can now do crinkle-cut chips and butter curls. I particularly like the tomato knife but don’t know quite how the design is so suited for cutting tomatoes. It is a great shape all the same.

Sunday February 03rd 2008, 3:44 pm

Vintage Gardening Book

We are experiencing a bit of a cold snap this weekend, so I’ve got the Rayburn all warm and glowing and batches of damp, freshly-washed laundry are draped over it to dry. I call that a win, win situation.
Last weekend we had a surprisingly spring-like day on the Sunday. It could have been April. It was so warm and sunny that I sat outside, overlooking the vegetable garden and ate spicy squash soup (made using the only 2 squashes I managed to grow last year) and cheese scones (thanks Dan, fab Guardian recipe for scones here) in the sunshine.
It gave me time to peruse the veg plot and start to get my head in gear to begin planning what needs to be done, what I am going to grow and where I am going to grow it in the year ahead. One thing that is definitely my number one resolution is to try and plant the seeds on time. I am always full of ambitious plans, do a ton of research so I know all the varieties of lettuce and the seed merchants who sell them, then I buy them, then I miss my planting ‘window’ and it is all for nothing.
Best to try and not be quite so ambitious I suppose. Lets face it, gardening is a battle. You have to face all sorts of unexpected obstacles, freak weather conditions, disease and pestilence, and hope that at the end of it you end up with some salad on your plate. I’ve got a few evenings of planning ahead to decide what to grow where and I want to add a few more beds to what is there already. The great thing about a sunny day in January is that you suddenly feel raring to go and ready to begin all over again. Let the battle commence.

A weather-beaten lady

Monday December 17th 2007, 5:27 pm

a la carte magazine cover circa 1985

Rummaging around in my shed I came across a copy of ‘A La Carte’ magazine from Christmas 1985. In the 80s this title and ‘Taste’ magazine were the big foodie mags and I used to buy them in London to send to my Dad in Lancashire. My Dad loved cooking and had discovered this hobby relatively late in life. He was a cookery book cook and if what he made didn’t look exactly like the picture in the book he considered his efforts a failure. Thankfully food has become a bit more relaxed since then both in preparation and presentation.
Travelling back up north for the festivities, by the time I reached home he would often have saved a job for me to do that for some miguided reason he thought I would relish, usually on the display front. I remember one year he had made a salmon mouse in the shape of a leaping fish which he asked me to complete by surrounding it with dyed aspic. Unfortunately he had been a bit too heavy handed with the blue dye so it looked to be leaping in a municipal swimming pool. Another time he had saved me the job of tying smoked salmon and cream cheese parcels using chives as if they were ribbons – what I learnt from the experience; chives don’t behave like ribbon and do not like to be tied into bows.
Christmas cooking was always accompanied by much huffing, puffing and sighing, swearing under your breath and saying ‘never again’ (until the next time). How ever stressful and seemingly unpleasant those occasions were at the time they are the things I now remember most fondly especially as he’s not here any more to plan these mad meals.
This copy of ‘A La Carte’ was particularly special to us. A feature called ‘Surprise Christmas, it’s all wrapped up!’ was at the time inspired. I now see that Nigel Slater produced the feature (yes I know, that’s what I was thinking, I didn’t know he’d been around that long either!).

Nigel we love you

All the recipes made food that was gift wrapped. The filo pastry crackers, fabulously innovative at the time, were then copied by other magazines for the next 15 years at least. Me and Dad made them and found a box lined with tissue paper to serve them in.
But my absolute favourite recipe was for chocolate and praline boxes. The chocolate squares you needed to make the boxes weren’t easy to find even then. We had some old family friends over from Australia dining with us and when these little chocolate boxes were served they insisted on being photographed with them.

exquisite chocolate boxes you’ll remember always

Here is the recipe. I hope nobody complains about the copyright – it’s Christmas after all and this is in the form of a homage.
Oh and by the way, I managed to buy the chocolate squares last week from an online sweet shop here. I’m going to make the chocolate and praline boxes again as a tribute to my Dad.

Monday December 10th 2007, 1:03 pm

Vintage Kenwood Christmas

When it comes to food mixers there seem to be two main camps; do you choose Kenwood or Kitchenaid? The other day I realised that I was longing for a new Kitchenaid Artisan mixer (perhaps in tangerine) but my reasons were based on having seen them used on TV food programmes (always in red). As I consider myself intelligent enough to see through this blatant product placement I decided to question my desires. Both makes have been around for a very long time, Kenwood since the 50’s and Kitchenaid since before that and it seems that both have built up strong brand loyalty. I haven’t inherited a preference myself, growing up it was only the ‘Blackpool landlady’ faction of my family who aspired to the Kenwood Chef with all the attachments.
After some research I am drawn more towards Kenwood, originally and for most of its existence a British company. The design of the Chef stayed relatively unchanged from the early 60’s and has a great retro look, a bit more edgey than the US 50’s-diner style Kitchenaid. The fact that the Chef was considered to be ‘over engineered’ contributed to its robust and reliable reputation. So instead of rushing off to John Lewis to buy new I have saved a deserving vintage Chef from landfill. Christmas has come early at The Laundry and my life has just taken a turn for the better.
And not only that ….. it is TANGERINE.

Vintage Kenwood in tangerine

Thursday November 22nd 2007, 10:05 am

A very cool iron

A while back I found a rare 50’s vintage chocolate mould in the shape of an iron. It has been on my mantelpiece ever since but with Christmas coming and this being the season of chocolate-shaped novelties I decided to give the mould a dusting down and make some ‘cool irons’. The drawback is that with only one mould I can only make one iron at a time which then has to be left till completely set before being released.
As luck will have it, I contacted Julia Morgan from the British Iron Collectors Club who by some miracle also has one of these moulds in her extensive iron and laundry related collection which she has been prepared to lend me. OK, still not exactly a production line but output has now been increased by 100 percent!
I have got a few other really lovely vintage chocolate moulds for sale which will soon be added to The Laundry’s vintage pages. Will keep you posted.

Wrapped for Christmas