Pumpkins and Squash in the AGA

There are a variety of harvest festivals the length and breadth of Britain, but no Thanksgiving Day.

Never mind, this family will follow traditional Thanksgiving protocol – gratefully serving turkey, stuffing/dressing, gravy, at least one starch, vegetables galore.  And dessert – in particular, pumpkin pie.

In preparation, welcome to Herdy Girl’s Pumpkin-Puree-Fest.  Meet the guests of honour…

This is Blue Hokkaido. Her dusky blue skin hides dense bright flesh, and massive seeds.  After roasting, Blue Hokkaido was the driest, sweetest, and nuttiest of all five varieties.  Surprisingly complex.

Acorn’s dark green coat was a beautiful contrast to his medium flesh, which reminded me of the texture of a not-quite-ripe cantaloupe melon. Once roasted, his flesh was moist, coarse and blandly sweet.

Butternut, hard to cut into, but always consistent. Her flesh was smooth and moderately sweet with excellent flavour.

This fella was an unnamed small pumpkin. We’ll call him Wilbur.

Wilbur was a little soft because he’d sat prettily near the nice warm Aga for a week. He didn’t have a lot of flesh, mostly pith. Once cooked, he didn’t improve. Poor Wilbur.

Lastly, Musque de Provence. The belle of the ball. A good size, not too difficult to cut, dewy fleshed.

Ms M de Provence took an extra ten minutes longer to finish roasting.  Despite her lovely appearance, the result was okay.  Just okay. Sigh.

Onward. Lots to do. Holiday impending.

For roasting, I placed two racks in the Roasting Oven of the Aga – one on the third set of runners and one on the bottom.  I baked the unseasoned fruit for an hour and twenty minutes, turning the trays after 20 min, swapping shelves at 40 min, and turning the trays again at 60 min.  (Ms M de Provence’s tray required an extra 10 minutes roasting, as above.)

Two trays full of fork-tender pumpkin/squash to puree together, after they cool for ten minutes.

I mixed a bit of each type in every whizz-batch.  Five batches smoothly pureed.

Lots and lots of puree.  Lots.

The flavours balanced into a really, truly, completely delicious whole.

I’m freezing most of the puree, so I weighed it into the two most commonly used portions for the recipes I use:

2/3 cup, 150g in metric;

1 & 3/4 cup, 425g in metric, which is the same amount contained in a can/tin of purchased puree.

Any extra was consumed by myself and two happy dogs.

Roll on pumpkin pie, I am ready!


Herdy Girl

Isel on a Sunday Afternoon

One of the benefits of looking for a property to buy is that we visit places we’ve never had cause to visit before.

One Sunday afternoon, Best Beloved and I tootled along the western edge of the Lake District National Park, seeing what we could see.

There were lovely views across West Cumbria toward the Irish Sea, the Solway Firth and Scotland.  Along the feet of the fells were hidden hamlets, quiet rural views, and winding waterways.

Our northernmost stop for the day was the Church of St. Michael and All Angels in Isel. The sign states that the present church dates from c1130, and is built on a Pre-Norman site.

It isn’t a grand building, but it is a welcoming one.

Settled into the curving bank of the River Derwent, the church is surrounded by impressive sandstone monuments and gravestones.

A beautiful resting place for generations of local families.

Swallows nest in the porch and swoop about catching insects.  The body of believers at St. Michael & All Angels have kindly provided benches for resting and reflecting, and watching the swallows.

Just to the north and a little further downriver, Isel Hall dominates the ridge above.

Known for its c1400 Pele Tower and sunken gardens, the hall is a private home and has very limited opening times.

Victorian renovations didn’t destroy the clean Norman simplicity of Isel’s church.  Nor have recent floods caused irreparable damage.

We’ll have to plan a second visit to Isel, in the spring.

Rumour is that the graveyard will be covered in bright, twirling daffodils. A sight to see.


Herdy Girl



Table for one, Madam?

I looked up from my work yesterday and saw something unexpected in the back garden.

A herdwick sheep, munching at the lawn. Enjoying a garden buffet for one.

She was as surprised as I was, to see someone watching her through the window.

So, I put on suitable clothes and headed outside.  My plan was to open the three gates and shoo her back into the wide open park. It’s worked before!

Forty minutes later, I returned indoors.

She’s still here this morning.

Sheep 1, Human 0.

Off to put on my wellies. If at first you don’t succeed…


Herdy Girl

Bumblebee Rescue

Best Beloved and I often find struggling bumblebees on garden pathways and the lawn. They may be exhausted by flying in the wind, have worked too hard without rest or refreshment, they may be sick, or even too cold. (If their wings are ragged, they may simply be very old.)

The quickest way to revive a struggling bumblebee is with a sugary solution. (Never a honey solution, though. Bees can catch viruses if they eat honey from other hives.)

While enjoying a lovely spot of tea outside at Syke Farm Tearoom, BB and I took note of a large bumblebee’s drunken descent to our table. When it landed, it remained immobile.

Emergency rations were called for. A handy sugar cube with a couple of drops of water was quickly administered.

Ms. Bumble liked it.

She liked it very much!

Why do we think she’s a female? Well, she’s a White-tailed Bumblebee. White-tailed queens and workers have a pure white tail and two lemon-yellow bands. The males have more yellow hair on the abdomen, and yellow tufts on the head and face. Males have longer antennae, too.

When she’d lapped up her fill, Ms. Bumble took it upon herself to make friends with BB.

She climbed up and had a bit of a walkabout on his hand.

So comfortable and full was she, that a nap was in order. She found a warm spot, folded down her antennae and nodded off.

Absolutely adorable.

Luckily, we had plenty of time to sit in the sun and relax with Ms. Bumble before she buzzed off to the autumnal blooms of Syke Farm.

BB, the Bumblebee Whisperer.  He has me charmed, too.


Herdy Girl

P.S. We cleaned up the sugary puddle before leaving.

We Capture the Castle

Whenever possible, Best Beloved and I wander down unknown lanes and chase whatever has caught our fancy. It’s our version of a gallivant.

So, when the outline of a castle beckons along a much travelled route…

Close to the intersection of the A66 and the A685, is the village of Church Brough.

And on the edge of the village is a picturesque ruin.

When the Normans conquered the non-mountainous bits of Cumbria around 1092, they built a defensive tower at Brough.

They chose a high spot,  one already bearing the earthworks and remains of a far older Roman fortification, Verteris. (One of a series along the main Roman road from York to Carlisle.)

A few generations later, thick curtain walls and a strong stone keep were added.

Later still, luxurious residential digs were built, altered, and rebuilt.

The site commands a far-reaching view.

Brough Castle is now managed by English Heritage. They don’t charge an entry fee, which is a pleasant surprise.

Entry is via a path crossing a field dotted with sheep, and then through a simple turnstile.

When you look back through the gatehouse, all is peace and rural beauty. It certainly hasn’t always been this way.

The current stone keep was built more than 800 years ago, replacing another that was destroyed in a siege – courtesy of some fiery Scots.

Even in ruins, it is imposing.

Fire, violence, and time have done much damage.

That it can stand so tall whilst bearing massive wounds is a testament to those who built the tower’s walls.

From our cosseted modern life, it is difficult to image the strife that would have caused such a building to be built.

And not just the one building – successive fortresses.

From the inside looking out, toward the west.

It’s a good place for a quick visit.

No day out is complete without a bite to eat.  Again, this place delivers.

Independently owned, Brough Castle Farm (Ice Cream Parlour and Tearoom), has all the savouries or sweets you might need to sustain your exploration. And it is accessible directly from the castle.

BB and I ate sandwiches and then partook of some delicious Butter Pecan Ice Cream. (A flavour that reminds me of my Pa. One of his favourites.)

Altogether, an atmospheric and inexpensive place to enjoy a bit of a wander.


Herdy Girl


Focusing on…


Beautiful, exhausting, endearing, numbing, wonderous, uncertain, inspiring, ugly, finite.

And so much more.

We can walk in the midst of loveliness, and forget to enjoy it. Not see it. Or not even bother to walk.

How foolish. Wasteful even.

One Herdy Girl, and a faithful, happy dog – just taking a brisk morning walk.

Refocusing, recalculating, recalibrating.

I remember my dad teaching me that when riding a bicycle, we tend to drive toward where we’re focusing.  Same with a life.

This Herdy Girl needed nudging, needed to stop navel-gazing, needed to mind where she was steering.

As paraphrased by E. Peterson, “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.”

My focus today? Gratefulness, companionship, faith, health.

What have you been focusing on?


Herdy Girl