National Cream Tea Day 2017

Today is Friday and, more importantly, it is National Cream Tea Day here in Britain. Though it is only a minor holiday, I feel that failing to celebrate it would be rude.

The precise origin of the cream tea is unknown and disputed, especially between the two most south-westerly counties in England, Devon and Cornwall. Historians in Devon claim to have found proof of monks serving bread with clotted cream and strawberry jam amongst the eleventh century manuscripts of Tavistock’s Benedictine Abbey. Definitive proof?  I think not.

I’m of the mind that, in a land blessed with good dairy cream and glistening berries, the combination of baked goods with cream and preserved fruit was eaten long before someone thought to write down the fact.

Besides, look at the variations between cream teas: Whipped double cream or clotted cream? Fruited or plain scone? Jam first (Cornwall) or cream first (Devon)? What type of jam? Tea in cups or tea in mugs?

Oh my…  There isn’t even agreement on how to pronounce the word ‘scone’. Should it rhyme with ‘gone’ or with ‘throne’?  A study by Cambridge University tells us that if you’re from The North (orange) it’s the former, which is the pronunciation I notice used by most Cumbrians.

Map showing that British pronunciation of scone is probably related purely to geographical location, as released by Cambridge University.
Image: Cambridge University

Some folk in Cornwall would say a cream tea should only be enjoyed with a traditional sweet bun called a Cornish Split, not a scone at all.   (See! It’s almost as contentious as barbecue!)

At least aficionados can all agree on one thing – Cream Teas are delicious. Make that two things – it has to be served with tea. (This is where Tavistock’s 11th century claim really fails. No tea. Sorry, Devon.)

In honour of this most delicious day, Best Beloved and I are heading to one of our favourite local spots, Syke Farm Tea Room, also home to the delectable handmade Buttermere Ayrshires Ice Creams.  (Post code CA13 9XA.)

Syke Farm, in scenic Buttermere.

Syke Farm is a working farm in Buttermere, and is owned and run by a local family.  At milking time you can watch the red-brown and white Ayrshire cows (of ice cream fame) going to the barn to be milked. And there are sure to be farm dogs around and about. Or sheep. Or chickens.

A convenient stop for walkers and day-trippers.

They offer seating inside and out. Today was a bit cloudy, so we chose inside and upstairs.

It has been a long week, and we’re ready for a relaxed bit of caloric intake!

Our view before the room filled.

Syke Farm Tearoom is dog friendly, has a wood-burning stove downstairs, and serves a good selection for breakfast, lunch and in-between times.  And the ice cream selection is ever-changing and really good.

They’re often busy, but always friendly.

They even let me take a fresh-from-the-oven photo!

Ahhh, the cream tea.  Not afternoon tea.  That is an altogether different affair requiring dainty sandwiches and pastries.  No, not today.

Today, this:

Today’s cream tea is a lightly fruited scone, clotted cream, raspberry jam, and a bright cup of loose-leaf tea.

Clotted Cream is made by heating whole milk, then letting it rest until cooled clots of cream collect on the surface and the liquid drains away. It’s considered clotted cream once there is a golden crust above and thick, silky cream below. You’ll find it rich and almost-buttery.

Testing Devon vs Cornwall styled scones.

I do have a personal preference for my cream teas. Plain scone. Cream on bottom, if clotted, or on top, if whipped.  As for jam I like something with a sweet-tartness, say damson or a sharp raspberry.

Personal partialities aside, both BB and I really enjoy the cream teas at Sykes Farm Tearoom. Especially when there is a sofa free to lounge upon, as we swirl the cares of the world away with tea and scones.  Happy days.

My half of the scone. Nearly finished off!

Right.  Cream tea enjoyed, now we’ve got to do a bit of moving about.

Happy Cream Tea Day!

Peace,

Herdy Girl

 

Grasmere Gingerbread – Delicious history

If you’re in the Lake District, take the A-591 toward Grasmere, a picturesque village situated by the lake of the same name.

The A-591 runs almost-but-not-quite up the middle of the Lake District. Those fortunate enough to be spending time in the northern lakes may turn off of the A-66 and head south.  If this is you, please turn on some stirring classical music or something from the Lord of the Rings movie soundtrack.  The landscape from that point on is dramatic and memorable.

Once you’re in Grasmere, your first place of pilgrimage should be the Grasmere Gingerbread shop in Church Cottage. (Their post code is LA22 9SW, if you’re navigating electronically.)

A sign on the building notes that Church Cottage was the village school for two-hundred and twenty years  – 1630 to 1850ish. It also says that famed romantic poet William Wordsworth taught there.

By 1854, Sarah Nelson lived in the cottage. She perfected a mighty recipe and set up shop to sell her unique version of gingerbread to Victorian travellers. The new railways brought a lot of people to the Lake District, many of whom would visit the graves of Wordsworth and company in the adjoining churchyard.  Thus, word of Mrs Nelson’s Grasmere Gingerbread spread throughout the land.

The shop next to the churchyard gate.

Warning!  You may have to queue (that means get in a line, for folks on the other side of the Atlantic) to get inside.  There is fair compensation for your wait – the powerful smell of ginger, butter and sugar fairly wafts out the door.

If they bottled that stuff…

Inside the teeny, tiny shop, you’ll be surrounded by many delicious things, including the gingerbread that is sold no where else but from this bijou shop.

Did I mention the amazing smell?

Hard at work, cap and pinny.

Surrounded by the wonderful aromas, sidle up to the counter and buy a piece to eat immediately and a package or two for the journey.

Perhaps buy a jar of their award-winning rum butter as a gift – for that person whose gingerbread gift you will eat because you cannot help yourself.

Packages of six and twelve pieces are wrapped in crisp paper with their trademark blue label.  Tins are also available, and I understand that you can set yourself up with monthly deliveries. I’m tempted to purchase a bag of the ginger crumbs to sprinkle on my porridge…

Pleasantly old-fashioned packaging.

Make yourself a memory: walk around this pleasant village, eating your delicious gingerbread and not minding the inevitable gingery crumbs. Let it be a full-sensory experience.

This stack of six won’t last long!

Sarah Nelson lived until she was 88 years old, a much-loved member of her community and an early example of a successful business woman.  She is buried in the adjoining churchyard of St. Oswald’s.

Her handwritten recipe is a tightly held secret, and the method for making them is passed from baker to baker.  According to their website, only one living person knows the full recipe!  (This makes me strangely proud of them, in this current age of mass marketing.)

Grasmere Gingerbread is not like any other gingerbread, ginger cake, biscuit or parkin that I’ve eaten.

Sublimely gingery throughout, Mrs Nelson’s gingerbread flaunts a firm, yet chewy, base topped by spicy sweet crumble. There are visible pieces of preserved ginger under the addictive crumbly topping.

Deliciously moreish…

Did I consider attempting to make my own homemade version of this tempting treat? I did.  Then I decided that some things are better enjoyed within their own time and place, and that I’d take any excuse I could to visit Grasmere and The Grasmere Gingerbread Shop.

More on Grasmere Village later. For now, I’m going to polish off my last piece of Grasmere Gingerbread with a cup of tea!

Peace,

Herdy Girl

Iconic Toast?

One thing that kept popping up when I first did an internet search on AGA cooking was toast.  (Pun unintended, but I like it.)

We own a two-slice electric toaster, which lays claim to a coveted spot on our countertop. I do not love it. It is thoroughly unreliable: one cycle and the toast is barely warm, run a second cycle and it inevitably burns.

I like toast, especially crisp Italian sourdough toast coated in salted British butter.  Or wheaty wholegrain toast, buttered and covered in homemade rhubarb and ginger jam.  But really… I kept hearing about ‘Iconic Aga Toast’ like it was an amazing thing.  It’s toast! I may have rolled my eyes.

Sarcasm aside, after a couple of weeks with our inherited AGA, I was intrigued enough to splash out on an AGA Toaster.  It’s a wire contraption designed to secure your bread and suspend it just above the surface of the ever-hot Boiling Plate (BP).

Here it is, in it’s glory. The AGA Toaster.

Lest you think this is frivolous – as a blog post and as a method of cooking – please note that the aim is a fully-rounded working knowledge of how to work with an AGA.

For today’s purposes, one slice of store-bought bread goes between the hinged grids. The whole lot is placed directly on the surface of the BP.

First one side…

A couple of notes: I find that putting the cover down over the toaster presses the toast too close to the surface and burns average breads very quickly. Also, don’t step away from the toast because the line between perfectly golden and incinerated could be a stroll to the sink and back. (Mind you, this is also true of other methods.)

I’ve not timed the process, which will vary with type of bread. Just tip the grid and check your toast – when it has achieved the colour you’re looking for, flip the entire lot over to do the other side.

Then the other.

The handle of the toaster can get quite hot, depending on where you put it. For me, the coolest position is to have it over the left front corner of the range, the handle pointing to an analogue clock’s seven.

When the second side matches the perfection of the first, you’ve finished toasting.  Set it aside on your toast rack for attention in good time, or butter and consume immediately.

(Placing a toast rack on the back of the AGA keeps toast perfectly warm.)

Pretty darn good toast!

There it is: Iconic AGA Toast, complete with tidy pattern of toasty squares.

Cons? Well, you have to have an AGA or similar range, and the wire contraption may or may not have further uses.  You cannot use this method if you’re already cooking something else on the BP.

Pros? Very evenly toasted, every time. Every single time.

Am I glad that I bought the toaster, even though we own a separate electric toaster? Yes, actually, I am. Do I use it regularly? Yes, I do.

The AGA toaster will toast two large slices or four smaller slices of toast, simultaneously. It does a spectacular job toasting bagels on one side, and ditto for getting crumpets perfectly done.

Can you tell I’ve enjoyed testing it?

Lots of things to do with toast, eh?

Peace,

Herdy Girl

Walking up Robinson

What do you do when you live in the Lake District and you dog-sit a 15 month old Border Collie?

You take her up the hills and mountains, known locally as the fells. Especially when the weather is not too hot and not too cold.  (Not too wet makes it even better.)

Above Buttermere

While enjoyable, walking around our local loop is insufficient exercise for a young Border Collie. These dogs were bred to work sheep all day, and this particular collie comes from a local farm whose sheep range far across the surrounding fells.

She is athletic with a huge amount of energy.  Smart, too.

I (Herdy Girl) am not fit enough (yet!) to walk up a big fell, and I’m a big scared baby when it comes to heights. So, Best Beloved took to the hills and reported back:

I parked along the road just above Buttermere, near St. James church.  The walk up High Snockrigg (not Snotrigg!) is quite steep. It will test your cardiovascular fitness. The next bit is boggy, Buttermere Moss. The weather is pretty dry at the moment, but I was up to almost the top of my boots in sogginess a couple of times.

Persevere, though. The views ahead are worth it!

From High Snockrigg: across Rannerdale Knotts, toward Crummock Water and Melbreak. Buttermere Village in the bottom left corner.

Looking down from High Snockrigg and Robinson, you really understand why this is called the Lake District.  Buttermere to the left, Crummock Water to the right with Loweswater in the distance beyond. And, in the other direction, you can see  distant Derwent Water.

Overlooking Newlands Valley toward Keswick.  Newlands is one of three local mountain passes.

The weather started to turn, so we retraced our steps down Robinson, across Buttermere Moss, and then down steep High Snockrigg.

Altogether it was about a seven mile journey with roughly 2700 feet of climb. An all round good walk.

I’m exhausted, but the collie is just about warmed up!

Where to next? View from the top of Robinson toward Honister Pass.

My enduring thanks to BB for taking our canine guest out for a good, tiring run.  She’s currently snuggled up behind his chair, napping.

I suspect BB will be nodding off any minute now!

Peace,

Herdy Girl

An Afternoon Stroll

Sun-heightened Midsummer views tempt me from my work all day.

Hard to resist, so I promised myself a leisurely loop through Rannerdale when Best Beloved arrived home.

This Herdy lamb wasn’t letting us out of his sight.

There’s been plenty of sunshine, perfect for getting out and enjoying both wide vistas and beguiling details.

Bracken fern continues it’s summer growth.  It’s tall enough that the sheep can hide in it.

Can you spot her? Someone’s having a cooling dip.

Rannerdale Beck provides the background music for this walk, splashing and gurgling along much of the way.

I could gladly sit down and watch the water tumble by for an hour or so…

Must catch up!

Others aren’t so distracted, fitness requires movement and getting the old heart rate up.  Drat!

BB waiting patiently.

Not giving in to my clumsy tendency, I watch my step through the slightly rocky bit.  (I’ve a No Injury policy for the remainder of 2017.)

My companions are waiting at our walk’s midpoint, the footbridge over Rannerdale Beck. BB on the bridge, and t’other one is splashing about in the water flowing under it.

Further up into the dale. Not to be explored today.

Rannerdale Beck is on the left as we start the gentle descent back toward Crummock Water.

I prefer to walk the loop in a counter-clockwise manner. That way you can enjoy facing the tumbling beck on the way up, and then be thrilled by the expanding view of the lake on the way back around and down.

Glorious, especially if you can catch the sunset over Melbreak.

We’ve been spotted by a Herdy sentry!

No matter the weather or time of day, I’ve yet to be disappointed by the view. And it’s an easy walk for those of us who lack Fell Fitness or worry about falling over an edge.

The entire loop is under two miles – just enough for a quick injection of Lakeland Beauty.

Glowering and shimmering; Melbreak looms over Crummock Water.

Though the path up from Hause Point at Rannerdale Knotts can be a little narrow and rocky in spots, the walk along the southern foot of Grasmoor is along a wider track.

If you’re leery of fell walking, you could come up and return that way for the views. (The National Trust car park at Cinderdale is convenient for doing so.)

Other Herdy Girls enjoying the warm afternoon.

Full loop or hairpin walk, either way, you’ll want waterproof shoes.

To add to the enjoyment of this walk, you get to splash through a couple of small streams that come off of Grasmoor.  They’re clear and cold, unless it’s a rainy winter when they are turbulent and turbid.

Why is falling water so enticing? Surely, I’m not alone in this.

Since this June weather has been warm and sunny, the watercourses are quieter, but still lovely.

Playing fetch in the shadowy light – it’s about 8:45 PM.

The long summer days of northern latitudes are a real joy.  Plenty of time to enjoy the day once work is finished. It puts us in mind of the long, languid days of childhood summers.

Top of the hedgerow against the darkening sky.

The hedgerows are sprouting growth up and out, and narrowing the country lanes.

A little Red-tailed bumblebee. Bombus lapidaries, my chart tells me.

They are also filled with the buzzing of insects. I’m glad to see the bees pollinating the blackberries. I look forward to picking them, and making an apple and brambleberry crumble.

What silent communication is going on between these two?

And so we return home. Glad to have looped the loop.

There’s just time for a drink and a nibble before bed.

Peace,

Herdy Girl

What the heck is an AGA?

When we moved into our feels-like-a-holiday cottage, we inherited a red two-oven AGA.

Apparently, dogs like to stay warm by an AGA. Even in June…

I’d only read about AGAs and Rayburns and similar ranges in novels set in English country cottages and manor houses, where they seem to be written in as minor kitchen characters.  I’d seen some in magazines or on pinterest, but had never even seen one in real life.  And I’d certainly never used one.

They are very different from any other stove/oven combo that I’d worked with; very different. So, I knew there’d be a learning curve.

It is some seriously heavy kit. And I literally mean heavy – solid piece of cast iron heavy.

Two hot plates, two ovens, one Border Collie.

An AGA’s cast iron core absorbs heat from a continuously burning source, that chunk of metal then releases radiant heat to cook/bake.  Our AGA burns oil, though there are solid fuel, gas and (more recently) electric versions.

I can only speak to the Red AGA above and to our experience with it.

All my initial information came from the internet, starting with the manufacturer’s own website (www.agaliving.com), where I read the following:

Image www.agaliving.com
Boiling Plate
Big enough to hold three average sized saucepans at once, the high heat of this boiling plate can boil water faster than most electric kettles.
Simmering Plate
The simmering plate has a far gentler heat than the boiling plate, making it work wonders with sauces or when frying an egg. It holds three average sized saucepans and can also be used as a griddle.
Heat Source
Once an AGA is up to operating temperature just a trickle of energy is all that’s needed to keep it there. You can choose from natural gas, propane gas, electricity or oil.
Roasting Oven
This oven alone is big enough to cook for the whole household, with a space to accommodate a 13kg (28lb) bird. As versatile as it is spacious, it can also be used for grilling and baking.
Baking Oven
Featured in every 3 or 4-oven AGA. Like all AGA ovens the cast iron interior holds in its heat tenaciously, so don’t be afraid to open the door and take a peek at progress. Its moderate baking temperature is perfect for bread, cakes and biscuits.
Simmering Oven
You’ll never taste meat that’s as tender or flavoursome as meat that has been slow cooked in this oven. Simply slide in your dish first thing in the morning, pull it out at teatime and enjoy the incredible results.

 

Boilerplate advertising, right?   Hmm, that’s what I thought too.   That said, a person has to start somewhere.  So, I did my homework online and asked for an AGA cookbook for Christmas.

Guess I’ll work my way through the recipes.  I’m particularly intrigued by the option to cook Pizza on the bottom of the Roasting Oven, and by the Roasted Pork Belly with crisp crackling.  And Chocolate Brownies are a must.

And I’ll have to experiment a bit – I guarantee an English cookbook will not deal with some of the foods I grew to love in the southern United States.  Shrimp and grits, Fried Chicken, Cornbread…

We’ve got an AGA adventure on our hands!

 

Saturday Scene for 17 June 2017

Capturing snippets of Saturdays… going to call it Saturday Scenes. Could be all sorts.  This is a good start.

Midmorning Walk with this girl. Beautiful weather. Hardly a soul about.

Mind you, she’s looking at me as if to say, ‘Good grief woman, can we get this photo stuff over with and get back to the serious business of fetching the stick?’

Onward and upward!

Foxgloves, wild and tame

Foxgloves are among my favourite plants.  I love them in gardens and in the wild.  This seems to be a good year for them.

Along the road toward Buttermere. That’s Crummock Water through the bars of the gate.

The towering spikes of pink, with their drooping speckled trumpets, are standing tall in hedgerows, along waterways, and dotted amongst the bracken on the fells.  I’m particularly fond of finding patches with a good dark backdrop – leaves or a wall – it shows their elegant shape so well.

Sheltering along a stacked stone wall

Foxgloves are biennials (or short-lived perennials) and they don’t bloom until their second season.  I guess this is why there are swathes of them blooming along where the flood of December 2015 deposited silt and gravel.  The seeds must have been stirred up and deposited by the waters.  Beauty from destruction.

Bank of foxgloves blooming on a bank of stones gouged out by the floodwaters of Rannerdale Beck.

Please be aware that all digitalis (Latin name of the foxgloves) contain the chemical digitalin and all parts of the plant are toxic if eaten.  Contact with the coarse foliage may irritate the skin and eyes, so do be careful and wear gloves if handling foxgloves.

The common foxglove in Britain is digitalis purpurea, though there are around 20 other species around the globe.  Through the science/art of hybridization, there are many choices for our gardens.  This year, in our cottage garden, we are growing a variety called ‘Dalmation Mixed’ and we hope they self seed!

Hybridized and in my garden, the statuesque digitalis purpurea ‘Dalmation Mixed’

Bees love foxgloves.  I love to watch the bees bumble up into the blossoms.

Which do you prefer, wild or tame?  Or are you like me, equally fond of both?

Peace,

Herdy Girl

 

Keswick Mountain Festival

If you are able to travel to the Keswick Mountain Festival next year – Do it!

The Keswick Mountain Festival (KMF) is the UK’s largest Mountain Festival – a heady mix of sport, music, food and fun held on the shore of Derwent Water, in what must be one of the most beautiful festival spots in all of England.

Note the setting – doesn’t get much better that this!

Sporty and On-the-way-to-sporty types will have lots to enjoy – taster events and challenging races on foot, bike and water are available to adults and young ‘uns.  There are also exhibitors, food stalls, a roster of impressive speakers, a mix of live music, and the chance to enjoy the surrounding countryside.

This was my first KMT, my Best Beloved’s second. (He’s Sporty; I’m just beginning the journey to rediscover my sportiness.)  We went as a sort-of-a date. So it was primarily dinner and a concert for us – we’ve a fondness for fiddle, whistle and pipes, and the setting is perfect for such.

Among the offerings, we chose to share a pizza from Woody’s Rustic Pizza. What a fun lot of people, and they make delicious flame-kissed, thin crusted pizza pies!

And they kindly let me get a close up of their mobile wood-fired oven in action.

One apology, though.  We practically inhaled our Marguerita pizza – so no photos of it.

Our second share was a Chakalaka Chicken Wrap from Safari, specializing in South African fare. Why?  Equal parts food description and how much fun we had saying ‘Chakalaka Chicken’.

And then we needed a drink. BB went the Taylor’s tent for a beer, I opted for a Yorkshire Tea from the fun folks at Oatopia.

We just had enough time for dessert before the Peatbog Faeries arrived onstage. With the sent of deep-fried dough in the air, it was inevitable…

Churromania!!!!

These convivial folk were entertaining and served up some seriously tasty churros.

From the happy FryMaster…
To she who applied sweetness in the form of cinnamon sugar and melted Belgian chocolate. 🙂

Oh. My. Word.  These were so good.

I wish this photo was scratch-n-sniff. Delicioso!

At that point, we two stuffed people were joined by three lovely family/friends and a jolly lab named Poppy.

Poppy tugged her person up the top of the hill when the band came on, but the remaining four of us joined the jolly crowd to soak in some celtic-infused music and maybe dance a wee jig or two.

Headed toward the stage. That setting!
Quick close-up of the Peatbog Faeries starting off…

Our quick dip into the KMF was much enjoyed by both of us, and we hope to enjoy a bit more of what’s on offer next year.  They’ve not announced the dates for 2018, but I’ll give a shout out when they do.

Peace,

Herdy Girl

What the heck’s a Herdy?

Hello! Glad you asked!

Two Herdwick hoggs or hoggets, at least a year old and before their first shearing.

Herdies, better known as Herdwick Sheep are the native breed of the Lake District and West Cumbria.  Their name is said to derive from the ancient Norse word herdvyck, meaning sheep pasture, and it is speculated that the ancestors of today’s Herdwick flocks were brought over during 10th and 11th century Viking invaders.

What historians do know is that 12th century documents highlight the importance of the breed to the area and its people.

Purebred Herdies are born black and are just as bouncy and cute as any lambs can be.
Like many of us, Herdies go through an awkward stage, during which their heads and legs turn white and their fleece a warm dark brown.

At a year old they are called hoggs or hoggets, and their distinctive ‘friendly’ face really glows against their dark wool.  They are the unofficial mascots of the beautiful Lake District.

Somehow they know we love them; they’ll even pose for the camera.

After their first shearing, their fleece is slatey-grey and it lightens as they age.  (Kind of like – ahem – my hair… )

Windswept ewe by Crummock Water

I think they are lovely at all stages of Herdiness.  They make me smile with their docile faces and stubborn, tough natures. I love that they wear their age and experience for all to see.

This mature ewe in Wasdale was quiet friendly.

Herdwick wool is coarse and tough, and was once much valued for the making of carpets.  Modern fibres put paid to that, and in recent times the wool has been so low in value that farmers sometimes were forced to burn countless unsold fleeces.  Times are again changing.  New uses for strong Herdwick wool are being thought up by creative people who love the breed and value their fleece. (More on this in future posts!)

Lovely Herdwick Tup (breeding male) catching 40 winks at Woolfest 2016 in Cockermouth.

Why did I choose Herdy Girl as my moniker?

Herdies are one of the few breeds that heft or heaf.  Becoming hefted means that each generation is taught a sense of belonging to a particular home in the fells.  Herdies are able to return to their hefted home even after being moved about during lambing, shearing or flood.

As a military brat who never truly felt a sense of home in any one place, I greatly admire this ability.  As a person of faith, I’ve felt a yearning toward something better, somewhere more. So, I’m working at becoming hefted to good things – beauty (so easy to find in the Lake District), gratitude, kindness, pure unadulterated laughter, attaining wisdom and knowledge, nurturing true relationships… You know, the good stuff.

Good Stuff. Like sitting in a field of wildflowers and soaking up birdsong.

Also, my hair is curly and has grey speed-stripes, and my Taller Half says I’m cute.  Charming Herdwick sheep are cute.  Herdy Girl.  I’ll go with that!

Peace,

Herdy Girl