Monthly Archives: September 2009

Pontack Sauce or what to do with elderberries

This year I have tried a new brew called Pontack Sauce, somewhere between witchcraft and magic; this a glorious concoction made primarily from elderberries, vinegar and spices. I read several recipes and having not managed to pick many berries this was my final version.

Strip elderberries from their stems and put into a pyrex casserole dish with a good depth of vinegar. Place in a 50oC oven overnight. The next day some magic will have happened, the house will be cloaked in a vinegary smell and the mix will have changed into a deep port colour. Then fry off some red onion and strain the mix into the pan squishing well to make sure all the goodness but not the skins has passed through. Add mace blades, whole cloves and juniper berries. Bubble in a pan until satisfyingly brewed. Strain and bottle.

Wait seven years.

Seriously – this is what the recipes seem consistent about; it improves with age and is at its best in seven years time. I doubt I’ll wait that long so will take small samples periodically to test.

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Illustration Friday – on not drawing

I really wish I could draw.  I admire the work of so many artists and now I am working in a school I love the idea of learning techniques as they are taught in schools these days; fantastic.  One of the nicest things about twitter and the web is that people who create work can quickly send links to all sorts of art.  I appreciate this is not the same as seeing things in the flesh. Looking closely at art from different perspectives and handling pieces can make such a difference; as can talking to the artists, so Open Studios can be greatly illuminating.  The web though offers one little gem – Illustration Friday, a theme is posted each week and artists submit their work. This week’s theme is ‘Pattern’, so I thought I would add this petite creation, generated using brushes on the i-phone.

She’s got the drupes – or what to do with a glut of plums, damsons, sloes et al

It’s OK, I haven’t got “flop bot” like Tricki Woo.* What we have had is a fantastic season for the fleshy stone fruit, known as drupes; including the whole of the plum collection. The first to really cause me fun and games were the green plums which I wrote about previously. Next have been the damsons from Saxtead Mill House pub. When Ruth first showed me the tree I promised to come back; but I don’t think she believed me. The next thing I knew was a bucket full of plums arrived. These I felt would be too small and fiddly to stone so I just rinsed them and brought them up to the boil to make jelly. I had hoped the stones would separate from the pulp enough so that I could remove the stones and call it jam, but this was not the case.  Jelly it was. Having strung my jelly bag up from the cup hooks overnight I could not stand to leave so much pulp going to waste. Having made the jelly I decided to spend the evening forcing the pulp through a sieve to make damson cheese.

If you have not made a fruit cheese before here is a quick how to:

Use the pulp from making a fruit jelly, transfer the pulp to a sieve and force through using the back of a spoon to create a fine, smooth paste. Weigh the pulp and add an equal weight of sugar. Cook in a heavy bottomed pan, stirring frequently until you get the “Red Sea” effect, ie when you drag a wooden spoon through it there is a distinct parting which takes a second or two to fill. Put the mix into sterile warmed pots or moulds, I use little ramekins. Ideally store for a couple of months and then turn out and slice. This is great with dairy cheese or on its own with Suffolk rusks or scones.

* Foot note: so much nicer than hyperlinks don’t you think….

Do you remember the James Herriot vet books? Mrs Pumphrey had a spoilt little dog called Tricki Woo; it, James and Tristan suffered from Tricki’s flop bot

Onion Cats – the final instalment of the Puglia Holiday

Our holiday in Puglia was long and relaxing. The villa is home to many cats and watching their escapades I started to think of their stories and how they perceived us humans.  As we played and chatted; just what did they make of us?  So brewing at the moment is a bunch of stories and ideas about the Onion Cats, hand scribbled on every scrap of paper I could find; I am transferring them on to the PC and cogitating as to their merit. Am I brave enough to put them forward for publishing? Only time will tell, watch this space.

The value of the EHIC card and relationship to Shakespeare

Or what I did on holiday in Puglia, Part 3


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Is any holiday ever completely glitch free? I’ve previously commented on the UK trains but we did manage one other problem. ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen lend me your ears,’ we should have read the small print; one of our party ended up with an exquisite ear infection. After 2-3 days of saying, it’ll get better, take pain killers, we eventually had a tearful night and bloody pus.

It was a Saturday morning when we realised that we would need help. The fantastic Debbie agreed to come too, and we started our tour. First trip the Pharmacia in Torchiarolo, there they said we should go to the Pronto Socorro and the centre. We pitched up at about 10.00 and found a sign saying that this was the time the staff would be in attendance. Five minutes later a rounded chap on a bicycle turned up; after a bit of chat about the symptoms he took a deep breath and in rich Puglian, Italian suggested that we should go to the Pronto Socorro in San Pietro Vernotico some 4 kilometres away.

When we arrived there we were told that with blood from the ear we would have to go to the Hospidale in Brindisi. So a quick hop back in the car and a drive up to Brindisi to the A&E. They requested the EHIC European Health Insurance Card and checked the passport. Thank goodness we had checked the dates and had new EHICs issued before we left. We were then sent to the ear, nose and throat specialists’ clinic.

A very lovely Italian doctor with enough English to converse and reassure asked the necessary questions and then with great care explained his diagnosis and prescriptions of antibiotics, anti-inflammatory and drops. It is interesting to ponder what would have happened in the UK, but we are not lending any ears to test the system.

Puglia by train, on knitting and how it went with the NEXA strike

Trains not planes to Brindisi – This is part two of “what

I did in the holidays”

The original plan had been to do the whole journey i.e. Wickham Market to Brindisi; by train as we did last year. However, NEXA staff and management were having a bust up and a series of strikes had been declared. The strike was finally called off the evening before we were due to travel; this left it too late to order a taxi to take us to Wickham Market and we didn’t want to risk the branch line train not running. So we went from (and by default would have to return for the car to) Ipswich. I guess I should be able to claim something back from NEXA for the wasted ticket portion. The overall journey was:

Ipswich to Liverpool Street – underground to St Pancras – Euro Tunnel to Paris – Metro to Bercy – Bercy (train over an hour late arriving) to Bologna in an overnight couchette – Bologna to Brindisi (in first class) and the reverse by return. The single most useful website in all of this is The Man in Seat 61, this amazing site tells you everything you need to know and is our bible for planning the journey, all tickets have to be booked separately and at different times. The travel for four of us cost about the same as the accommodation, so this is in no way the cheap option. The big difference is that you know you are travelling, if it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive then this is why. You can talk to people, experience coffee and citron presse in Paris, eat in on the sleeper train (although frankly the meal is bellow par these days) and watch the mile after mile of beaches from Rimini down to Brindisi. We then taxi up to the airport and collect a car for use during our two weeks at Casa Mare

During the journey I was knitting a square for a project called “Knit a poem”, my responsibility one 12″ by 12″ blank square. Having declared myself a non expert I was not to be trusted with a letter, just as well, I created a flaw by knitting plain when it should have been purl. The lovely wool was supplied by Sarah, an ex workmate and Facebook friend who responded to my plea when I discovered you could not get wool, wool in Framlingham. Thank-you Sarah.

The journey back as far as London was trouble free. True we were slightly late arriving at Bologna but there was plenty of slippage in the timetable. I ended up in a different couchette than the rest of the family so plenty of opportunity to practice my Italian and French with my cohabitees. The problems only emerged when coming overground at Liverpool Street, we discovered we would have to go back underground to Shenfield. There depending on if you spoke to platform staff or listened to announcements we should go to Gidea Park or Newbury Park.

Having doubled back on ourselves twice hauling luggage from one platform to another we had to go back where we started, catch the train to Newbury Park and then the bus to Ipswich. What a pity that in all these hundreds of miles the bits that let us down were the local ones. In our own country and our own language we did not know which platform we should be on, when we would leave and when we would arrive.

Will we do it all by train again? Having changed jobs this year the income may not be there and sadly the cheaper option of the plane may be the only answer but give me a book, knitting and the train any day for preference.

I blame Shakespeare – or what I did on holiday in Puglia

Several people have asked how the holiday went; I am sorry for not sending more postcards, but I’ll come to why later. I think four short blogs should cover it :

  • Why Puglia?
  • Why train and how did it go with the NEXEA strike?
  • The value of an EHIC card and its relationship to Shakespeare
  • Why did you come back with a case full of paper covered in scribbles and a bunch of photographs of cats?

Why Puglia?

The predominant sound in any paved area is the scraping of shoes along the ground. My mother would have said ‘Pick your feet up when you walk’ but that takes effort, here you never flip your flop. Slow walking is a Puglian art, never hurry, especially during the passeggiata, the stroll in the early evening. Here, older people take their chairs into the road outside the house, or into the square and sit to chat. Young couples walk or sit hand in hand; groups meet where they have met for years. Some cycle, grandparents with toddlers on handlebar seats; the grownups slowly peddle, knees akimbo. All to work up an appetite for a meal that if you are eating out, will not happen before 9.00pm.

Food is important; markets are burgeoning with truck loads of melons, peppers, tomatoes and lumache snails. We mostly cooked for ourselves; breakfast on the terrace of strong coffee, sharp pecorino cheese, bread, prosciutto crudo, boiled egg and fresh peaches; lunch of focaccia, tomatoes and melon and evening meals mostly of pasta and salads. The care taken by suppliers such as the local butcher, who asks how you are going to cook your sausages and when he learns you will barbecue them, carefully slices each one lengthways part through and spreads them so they will cook evenly, means eating-in is effortless.

The siesta, when everyone scurries home or to the beach for a few hours rest. A road packed at 11.30am will be empty at 1.00pm with shutters firmly down and no sign of life returning until 4.30 or 5.00 or 5.30, well whenever seems right for the temperature, time of year and the mood. You just have to adjust to a different timescale when you migrate from the UK.

On the beach, any shape, age, colour is acceptable but preferably really brown, the kind of brown you only acquire through 7 months sunshine a year. So if you are 78, overweight and grey haired; don’t let that stop you wearing a paisley bikini and standing at the water’s edge, up to your knees, chatting. If standing is too strenuous you may prefer a short legged deckchair to sit on, at the water’s edge, chatting. Perhaps a swim; well stand-in-the water, chatting. The particular area we have become attached to is the coastal strand between Bindisi and Lecce, here there is beach after beach, with shallow waters and yellow sand. Typically there is a Torre, a ruined tower and a simple beach bar; which may also sell nets of mussels. Some beaches are even more basic or rocky and others may be packed with pay as you go deckchairs and umbrellas. The beach will fill with families and groups, or people attached to mobile phones, who will stand and talk. Out in the water you may also see the fluorescent green of snorkel tops like fireflies against the darker blue sea indicating rocks beneath, where shoals of fish swim, ready to nip bits of dead skin off your legs as you swim past. On windy days you may see wind and kite surfers, generally though you don’t find many people playing in the waves, so on windy days the beaches can be deserted.

This is mostly an area for Italians on holiday. They pack up their houses and move to the coast for the summer, many of the areas reduce to about 10% of the summer population during the winter months, even though the move may only be a few kilometres. English is not spoken much, so it is worth grappling with Italian and being brave, you will be rewarded. As I was leaving the market one day, an old boy stopped me and asked me if I would like some figs. His ancient Ape truck appeared empty but he proudly swung back a cloth revealing one last tray of succulent figs, which he wanted to sell me for five euro. I did my best to explain that as I was on holiday I couldn’t use them all but would take one euro’s worth, which I did. Then ensued a conversation about where I was from, was I married etc…. What more could I want, a man with his own business, transport and teeth; I resisted the temptation but the figs were grand!

Eating Out

We ate out at Bahia Negra in Casalabate, good for pizzas and selection of antipasti and pasta main courses. Also Gio Stefs, in Corso Umberto, Torchiarolo for home cooking, a massive array of antipasti and great main course pasta dishes. In Otranto we ate at a restaurant on the old city wall – the picture above is from the inside of the menu. Here you can be introduced to your lobster before you eat it. You are paying extra for the view of the clear aquamarine sea of the stunning harbours, and you may have a roving musician play to you but it is very atmospheric. Otranto is one of the main tourist areas, my personal tradition there is to find a spot where you can climb over the city walls, near the harbour and walk around to an old fig tree growing out from the side of the city, the figs are ripe, luscious and slightly salty, worth the trip.

Where we stayed

Casa Mare, Contrada Cipolla, a lovely villa with three large bedrooms that can be arranged with large doubles or single beds, terrace, large kitchen and living rooms. This was our first stay at Casa Mare but our third with Debbie and Bob. We arrived with high expectations for the welcome basket and facilities and we knew that the descriptions would be accurate or if anything slightly understated; all of which was true. Casa Mare is a fantastic location, 24 seconds walk from the sea, great for sea swimmers and a huge pool and hot tub for those that like their water tamed. The kitchen is well equipped and with a seemingly endless supply of tomatoes and peppers from the garden we ate out much less this year than in previous years. This is a quiet area, during the day you only hear the gentle clunk of the wind chime or the pulsating sound of sprinklers, plus voices from the beach or the couple walking their dog down the lane. In the evening there can be a bit more noise from the nightclub on the main road, but it is far enough away not to disturb you.

The reading list this holiday:

  • The Olive Harvest – Carol Drinkwater.
  • The Villa in Italy – Elizabeth Edmunson.
  • Come Thou Tortoise – Jessica Grant
  • None of this ever really happened – Peter Ferry : In my view the best read of the lot
  • The Bad Tuesdays Strange Energy – Benjamin J Meyers

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