Wednesday, 28 August 2013

August 28th - Butterton Wakes and Playing 'chicken'

Dear Nigel,

Many of the little villages round here have been celebrating a Wakes week lately. This is an old, originally religious, celebration (which in our village has been going on for over a hundred years), when the workers were given a holiday. It would have started with a church service late on Saturday evening - a vigil - known as a Wake (from the Old English word 'wacan'....although no policemen were burnt here...). It was followed by sports, games, dancing and drinking the next day.

True to tradition there was plenty of all four going on this year, too. Lead by Warslow Silver Band, the couple of floats drawn by tractors and the Princesses' entourage - with a beaming red-haired Ruby waving vigorously at us, circled the lanes round the pub and ended up at the village hall where the cake stall was under wraps and there was already a queue for the bar. I must have moved away from the cake stall - which was heaving with thirty or more large cakes - for no more than ten minutes, but when I returned there was barely a couple left. A lesson for next year.

A little funding had been found for a magician/clown who kept the children occupied for nearly an hour with only three tricks that I could see - but they were entranced - including at least two stuffed toy rabbits and the eventual appearance of a real one. The first ten minutes consisted solely of him putting on his clown' s outfit and make-up, but he had them in the palm of his hand. He could have included dismantling his stage set and stowing it in his car, I think, and they would have watched agog (-sheltered children, mine, they have not yet got to the stage of 'professional party-goers' and the subsequent disillusionment.) The evening was rounded off by a barbecue and a Barn Dance but my two were fading fast and I took them off to bed.

Round at Yuri and Johnathan's things are happening. Or rather, things should be happening. Big event in the village - they are moving from a cottage in the middle of the village near the pub (which they are renting) to a farmhouse on the outskirts (which they are buying). They are moving in a week's time. I go over to help Yuri pack to find that there are two, maybe three boxes, ready to go. We sit there eating tasteless beef cooked on a George Foreman grill - which has the appearance and taste of shoe leather - and both Yuri and Johnathan are looking non-plussed. I point out that when I moved myself here a year and a half ago I must have had about ninety boxes packed by this stage? Nothing. Not a flicker of panic. I am amused by their stance. Johnathan says 'Yuri is at home all day, she can do it'. Yuri is ironing a stack of thirty pillow cases. I think each is playing 'Chicken'. The days are ticking past. Yuri makes a dipping sauce with Japanese citrus, which has something of the taste of old fashioned boiled sweets to it. We dip the shoe leather in it and it improves a bit. Johnathan is supposed to be on a diet - a tasteless, fat-free one - it won't last.

 The old farming family are having a 'cooling' party - they have been in the farmhouse over fifty years. Yuri and Johnathan are planning a 'Housewarming' party -half the village will be there. I have seen it before, recently, with another old farming family: a farm without an heir that is sold and split many ways between siblings and other relatives who may have a claim. This farm will be split six ways - none of the 'children' ever produced any offspring. Yuri says the inside is barely untouched. There is happiness and sadness at the passing of the reins.

You are making 'Grilled aubergine, roast garlic cream' (page 333). The roasted garlic cloves are crushed in a pestle and mortar. The 'smell is sweet, a blend of garlic and caramel. Soft too, with a honeyed warmth.' They have been roasted in the oven in foil with a trickle of olive oil and a couple of thyme sprigs. There is something rather satisfying about squeezing 'the garlic out of its skin, breaking off single cloves and pressing each one between thumb and finger till the soft, ivory-coloured paste comes out.' It is stirred into mayonnaise and a little milk. The aubergines are grilled and the garlic mayonnaise, capers and basil leaves added.

It is August 23rd and you 'wake at 5.30 to the sound of rain on the bedroom window ledge. Warm and steady, this is the sort of rain farmers and gardeners have been praying for...As the rain slows to a proper drizzle, the air is left warm and humid and anything remotely ripe will need to be picked urgently to stop it rotting.' So out you go into the rain after the elderberries that overhang the garden and are almost touching the ground, picking 'as many of the purple-black berries as I can reach, getting soaked to the skin as I go.' It is 5.30am Nigel! - '...and I haven't even had breakfast yet.' The elderberries are tossed into some stewed apple and eaten with goat or sheep's yoghurt (page 326). Apples are considered good for the Arthritis, Nigel, - if you insist on such mad stunts.

An end-of-Summer dish: You are using up the last of the tomatoes, both the ripe and the green ones, in a ratio of 2:1. 'The green ones do need quite a bit of cooking if they are to be worth eating. Slowly baked with the juices from the chicken, they take on the sweetness of their riper cousins.' ('Baked chicken with tomatoes and olives' - page 322.) The chicken thighs are covered in a mixture of lemon juice, olives, tomatoes, garlic and thyme and baked in the oven. Great for the thrifty cook - after all there is only so much green tomato chutney you can get through in a year!


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