"Pure style is my way of life... a blueprint for living in the 21st Century"
02 December 2013
Leaves are strewn like golden paper plates over the garden. Summer`s die back is a challenge and I need to chop, weed and clear to make space for bulb planting. Past four pm and the day is closed and so it is easy to ignore the untidy goings on in the garden.
I have a gardener friend, Simon ,who says Jane your task is to get all those beds weeded, and then the job`s done. So I take his advice and do it . He does the heavy stuff and is ace at pruning and keeping many other local flowering spots neat and under control.
You know my Label hate, but I need a new pair of wellies and the pigeon grey Hunters at TKMaxx are cheapish at £40.00 (they`re seconds ) compared to £79 up the road at Morleys. I don`t even feel comfortable at spending this on a boring pair of rubber boots, but I have to say they fit like a glove and as with my favourite rake and spade, it`s good to have practical functional items with which to garden. I suppose I`ll be hiding them from the festival goer next summer.
Away from the screen, solicitor`s letters , leaking sink pipe, and the general impermanence of things, I feel contentment digging snug earth beds for the alliums, and tulips. The afternoon is quiet , blue wash sky going into pink and a blackbird on the fence.
Cradling each bulb ,laying it down in its nest bed I think optimistic pleasing thoughts. I think about the garden in spring decorated with fluffy allium balls, a sea of purple and pink.. I think of the summer grass warm and herby and the sun setting behind the apple tree
The whole thing of putting Christmas together is great, I love to do it for my family but what I do rage over is the commercial relentlessness which began somewhere back in September with cut price chocolate snowmen on sale at the Co-op. Out in the garden there`s none of that and I am grateful to all the growing things for that
Good things are also cooking in the kitchen to keep the household stoked up because I`m being frugal with heating. My daughter and I went went on a morning`s quest for pigs trotters, ingredients for pork pies. Herne Hill market saved the day when there wasn`t a pigs trotter to be had between Pecham and Streatham. She worked from the recipe in Pie a brilliant book, and no doubt why said pies won lst prize at the classroom staff bake off. I`ve been having fun with mackerel fillets coated in oats and fried in a little olive oil great brain food tasty and economical . I also bought silvery and fresh wild sea bass to be baked with herbs`s from wonderful fishmonger,Pauline . Sadly she is moving on because greedy greedy shortsighted landlord wants to get fatter and fatter and lease to another betting shop or pawnbroker.
One red onion is beauty in itself don`t you think? It should should be called purple , deep mauve , fuschia even, anything but red. I bring a paper bagful home from the market to make an edible autumn display on the table. This depletes over the week with glossy fried onions for gravy with sausage and mash, stirfry with crunchy sticks of carrot and white cabbage and Sunday`s last beef slivers. I`m addicted to Sharpham Park pearled spelt, and it is just the thing for making a risotto with chopped red onion, beetroot and goats cheese.
Lido blue sky, Jerk chicken on the breeze and a fluttering gold
horizon on the hill through the park gates: Sunday in Brixton is just
as freeing and refreshing as a walk in country woods. I am a country
girl in my heart but for all the delights of rural beauty and peace my head
soon tires of petrol hikes to the shops and sinister ice on winter
lanes. Give me the people life of urban encounters: a late night war
story from an Eritrean minicab driver, fellow dog walkers
smiling in four legged connection; a close friend and glass of fizz
one road crossing away; or Antonia and Casey at Beamish and Mcglue
who dispense good coffee and local chat, from the spreading rash of
betting shops in the high street to a potential feast of films in a
new Picture House cinema. Aah... village life in the city.
It`s been a good week for exhibitions: : Whistler`s fog scenes on the river at Battersea; more colour at Tate Modern with Paul Klee and then to Albermarle Street and Tim Wright`s powerful painted figures .
GARDEN NOTE : Apart from a few floppy pink rose heads. colour is leaching from the
garden beds. But the sycamore is flaming and the grass thick and rich
green, a last growth spurt before winter draws it back into the earth
to wait for Spring. Boxes of tulip and allium bulbs are packed in the cool of the larder.I have a weekend earmarked for planting them and putting the garden to bed. NB see great pictures by Caroline Arbour`s in a new book on Virginia Wolf`s garden .
Inspirational autumn colours in the park above, and pink Cosmos, below, growing in the Community greenhouses, below.
QUINCE JELLY: I simmer the dentist`s quinces in water for a couple of hours and let the cooked fruit drip pink juice through muslin into the pan. I add 500ml juice to 600ml of sugar and stir the mixture over the heat until setting point .The hot jelly cools and sets in jars by the fridge. The dog sniffs but doesn`t touch, too hot. I plan to share the jelly out to foodies at Christmas. It`s so good to eat with roast meat or to stir into gravies.
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More local finds at Herne Hill market on Sunday: hand dyed green vintage Witney blanket from a stall laden with blankets and throws (every other week )in great colours; a flagon of cider delicious. aromatic and alcoholic from Core Fruits 01227 730589 to go with a brace of pheasants I roasted from the next door but one stall; just round the corner is Lowie, with great handknits and vintage rails amused to see Lady Di -style frilled high - neck Laura Ashley frocks
Cheered by vibrant pink, whether its lipstick or roses (see the last of the John Clares in the garden ) I like the idea that warm coats in pink sorbet colours are fashion themes this winter. Which reminds me, you should go to Vanessa de Lisle`s blog for some of the best fashion wisdom in the business.
It`s good to see the Pure Style borders featured in this month`s copy of the World of Interiors
Simple idea: nature lamps from Dan, who`s looking for stockists. Contact Danartland@yahoo.co.uk.
Simple pleasures: the dentist`s quinces look so beautiful I don`t want to cook them. And I`m reading Rakesh Sarin and Manel Baucells where the `fundamental question ` of wellbeing is happiness equals reality minus expectations. Cool!
The person with a pair of steps, green bag and dog on lead is me going on a crab apple forage. We`re based under a laden tree which spills over the front garden round the corner at Macolm`s house, who`s also a fellow location owner. "Help your self` he generously replies to my text. So I am. Gratefully. The tree is dropping its fruit fast and dozens of decaying pink and yellow crabs decorate the pavement .
I perch on the steps under the fullest and most accessible branches and shake the fruit into the mesh bag. A man approaches and tells me that he knows where wild horseradish root is growing on a patch near a certain local bus top. Would he like me to get some? How`s that for a chat up line? But isn`t it great to know that we have our very urban harvest literally on the doorstep? It seems a waste when you see so many streets round here with damsons, pears and apples , blackberries that go unpicked. Have a look at this website which has been organising urban fruit forays in the US for some time
Soon the fruit is bubbling away merrily in the big metal pan on top of the stove. I am deep in screen hopping when I smell toffee apple. I race downstairs to find the fruit has burnt and stuck to the bottom . Bang goes any chance of the jelly looking pink and translucent . I think of the effort harvesting my crop and decide it`s not worth throwing it away. It will be a darker more mature kind of crab apple jelly I reason.
I make a jelly bag from a piece of muslin , pile in the cooked fruit and hang in the cellar to drip over a basin for a couple of days This is longer than necessary but when there is a lorry load of furniture and pots of paint for spring 2014 in your kitchen it would be unwise to add to the chaos.
After the shoot departs I boil up the juice with sugar, and wait for the magical moment when it sets all wrinkly on the ice cold saucer I`ve prepared in the freeze box. Whether this fruit was lower than usual in pectin, the setting agent, it takes the length of the Archers` Omnibus before it`s set. Jelly that flows rather than plops on to the plate is not an ideal option.
All done, all boiling hot and poured into jars. The taste is not as floral and crab appley it should be, but rather more rich and apple puddingy. No matter, it is delicious, and I have a second jelly chance, with the dentist`s quinces. (Yes, a little quince forage in between gum cleaning) Just heard Diana Henry making quince jelly with star anise on Woman`s hour anise which sounds good. Might try that, or I was thinking of experimenting with quince and mint. Will see when I get there as I have mint in the garden, just, and there`s a bag of star anise in the larder.
Dew grass in the morning and fallen green apple orbs. Got to get there quick before the slug army advances. The tree is pensionable yet manages to bear me a hefty crop this year. No menopause for trees. I lay the fruit out in the cellar - and hope it will keep crisp for a few weeks. The other thing like my mum used to do is wrap them in newspaper, and store throughout the winter.
Worried I`m selling out with the new white retro Smeg (Smug?) fridge replacing the leaky larder one I`ve had for 10 years. Thinking strategically though, because it fits with the location kitchen look, and what with all the baking shoots we need more space for chilling dough.
Balanced out the big spend with a sixities Jaeger tweed skirt £13.,50 from the secondhand shop Triad in Brixton. Can`t quite believe how achingly trendy Brixton has become. Five years ago my girls were wary of the dope dealers on the corner by KFC , now they`re dodging the foodie tours , snaking up the high street to Brixton village.
Back to the apples which I peel and chop at speed to make apple and ginger pudding. Think I`ve given you the recipe from my cook book before but here it is:
For the syrup
4 cooking or large eating apples
juice of l lemon
90g caster sugar
4tbsp syrup from a jar of preserved ginger
for the cake
125 butter softened
124g caster sugar
2 large eggs beaten
125g self raising flour
4 knobs preserved ginger chopped
Peel, core and slice the apples and turn them in lemon juice to stop them going brown. Melt the butter i saucepan.Add the sugar and syrup and stir until creamy and a pale toffee colour. Arrange the apple slices neatly in a greased 1kg bread tin or 23cm cake tin. Pour in the syrup mixture.
For the cake: Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy, beat in the eggs and fold in the flour with a metal spoon. Stir in the chopped ginger and spread the cake mixture evenly over the apples.
Place in a preheated overn, 190C for about 45 minutes. If the top browns overly reduce the heat.
Test for easiness with a skewer in the middle of the cake. If it comes out clean, with sticky cake mixture on it , it`s gone.
Cool the cake on a wire rack before turning out. Eat with ice cream or creme fraiche.
It`s the time of year for London`s crop of interior design shows. Last week, much excitement! our Toast wallpaper border, see above and below decorated the World of Interiors stand at Decorex.
I manned the House & Garden stand at the same show, during the eighties` when chintz prints, swags and bows and frilly Austrian blinds were the life blood of interior decoration. The aesthetic today is so much more eclectic, everything from modern textures to retro Cabbages and Roses chic.
My Pure Style eye is caught by tiles in jewel colours from Habibi and Bert&May. Hibou wallpapers and fabrics for children have a Cath Kidston flavour, but in a less sugary palette. David Seyfried supplies among the best small classic sofas that I have seen since I purchased two from him over twenty years ago. And there are beautiful one-offs from Fine Cell Work Fine Cell Work a social enterprise that trains prisoners in paid, skilled, creative needlework.
Back to blogging post the M4 migration and university delivery of youngest. And the back to the everythings of September that I would rather not have to deal with, such as the garden which is looking, let`s say, autumnal. But the apples shimmer on laden branches and next post I`ll show you the first of my apple puddings. It`s no chore, too, to revisit the delicious things I came across this summer.
Puglia ,via Ryanair to Brindisi (some say it`s the new Tuscany- hmmm it would be a great loss) was all gnarled olive trees in baked earth fields like rows of ancient chieftains. And all the chalk white hill towns , strawberry
gelato and beehive
Trullis that you could wish for.
Markets like the one at Cisternino were piled with enough
arugala, pommodori, mozzarella and good bread for a century of al fresco picnics.
We made fava ( broad bean ) humus with dried beans bought in plastic bags from the petrol station , and crunched small round dried bread snacks, (the Portugueuse and Spansih do similar) see below which encourage to you to sip more and more from your wine glass. .
One day we took the coast road swimming off rocks and then to the Taverna da Santos where we sprawled on fold up blue canvas deck chairs by limpid blue sea like extras from
la dolce vita
We are in summer, real summer (last one was 2006) with the almost forgotten sensations of
sticky heat on skin, cooling swims at the Lido and the garden smelling
more sweet and meadow-like as the mercury rises. The heat seals the season`s scents: ziplocked sweat ,rose petals ,hot pavements, bbq sausages and factor 30. I keep cool and fragrant with a squirt of cologne and and eat ice cream. My sister piles a carton high with blackcurrants from her garden which I simmer in sugar and water, cool whisk into whipped double cream and freeze.
A friend emailed: "George and I made your lemon ice cream a few days ago -which was simply sublime especially eaten before it had set` See said ice cream from the summer section of my book Pure Style Recipes for Everyday
What a treat to duck under the shade of the apple tree and read the 2nd issue of The Foodie Bugle mag. It is like a well stocked larder of delicious information and visual inspiration. Immediately drawn of course to the piece entitled `The Taste of Portugal`"
The house is a busy shoot destination this summer, and props and crew can spill over into the garden without the threat of a drop of rain.
Just as well, when Coca Cola turn up with
plus 30 individuals, fridges , ovens, turkeys and enough Coke to keep the area`s dentists in work for years. The theme is Coke and food, and involves a Coca cola `family` most of whom look like you and me, except for a brooding model hunk who spreads across the doorstep in between takes like a shaggy dog .
Just as it`s so good to waft about in summer frocks and bare legs, the
hot weather gives me so much pleasure on the housewifely front. When
the washing dries warm and toasty in the space of an hour I feel a
flush of domestic euphoria. Similarly I`ve been itching to give the rush mats a good scrub and here I am, hosing them down with gusto.
Pink poppies are welcome garden invaders maybe encouraged by the sun because they didn`t appear last year.
The sprinkler and he hissing of summer lawns couldn`t be more suburban and cool.
Want to feel cool and floaty? invest in a hippy cotton nightie from Denny Andrews
Cool sea blue ceramics by Sue Binns are summer essentials. (Green string, an Olaho hardware shop stalple)
Pink white, purple and green , the cool colours of summer in a jug of flowers on my table.
In between summer showers I take a comfortable seating option with arms into the garden to read a book in. It sounds middle aged but deckchairs annoy the backs of my legs, and lying flat on the grass invites the dog to drop a constant supply of stones by my face thus getting no further than one or two paragraphs.
The chair here is an Ikea upholstered model that I bought a couple of years ago with the intention of making a simple loose cover to jolly it up. And so, as with many of my bright ideas , it sat in my office unadorned for month upon month.
What I needed was an incentive, which came my way in the autumn with sewing classes run by Tessa Brown. There`s something about working in a group of people that is more fun and less intense than when it is just you and a pair of scissors. The biscuits were delicious, the chat good, and Tessa showed me how to make my very own couture chair cover from scratch.
The fabric is Ian Mankin cotton ticking which I pre washed and pre shrunk. Very useful for dealing with mud paw prints now that the dog and cat are making moves to hijack my comfortable chair.
I`m as besotted with my garden as the bees are sated on sweet nectar from the starry alliums. It feels almost electric with activity: bursting glossy pink roses, voluptuous peonies shedding brilliant carpets of petals and crowds of bees, enough, if there were such a thing for a bee club night. I get up close, eye to bee pollen sack with black and white striped ones, fat yellow ones, small bobbly hairy ones, brown fluffy types as if they`d had a cut and blow dry.
Growing, budding, flowering, seeding on a still warm June afternoon the garden seems more dynamic than the brains in any government think tank. Only joking, but as George Eliot suggested "If we could hear the squirrel`s heartbeat, the sound of the grass growing, we should die of that roar" .
The garden soothes, me with its it`s distractions and needs. What better way than to work off writers block or parking ticket annoyance with the physicality and sense of purpose that an hour`s weeding gives. The fact that nature is ambiguous, that she is neither all good nor all bad, that she gives as well as takes away, also puts life outside the garden into perspective. Contentment with green fly free roses, fury at the bullet headed snails who strafe the rocket, it`s all about the ups and downs and the getting on with what is thrown at you. A dancing in the rain approach., rather than waiting for the storm to pass I suppose.
Pink rose love: gorgeous Constance Spry with a scent that almost knocks you out in a perfumed stupor. I cut them for a jug on the table and take bundles tied with string to friends` as a summer offering.
I`m glad I ditched climbing beans having lost them to slugs over the last two summers, and went for the sweet pea option to pole dance around the wigwams of willow sticks. Snug in their flowerpots in the shed at the bottom of the garden they began to sprout towards the light way back in the winter. In early may I prepared their summer beds with shovels of home produced compost and set about planting. For the first week so it was touch and go as to whether they would survive - the leaves went pale and flabby as if they were homesick . I think that the energy was going into putting down strong roots and sure enough, they`re leaping skywards now and putting out brilliant bursts of scented colour.
Each summer, my mum`s peonies, lifted from her garden after she died, produce more and more pink memories of her and my
On the subject of the colour purple, it`s the most wonderful colour to go with the greens of the garden. Purple alliums, as you might have noticed are my latest crush. I could never have predicted this after been subjected to years of school uniform in a particularly brash shade of the colour , which topped with a hideous purple berets marked us out as targets for ridicule at the wild and untamed bus stops of South London.
There`s so little show of summer, I`m feeding you some visual energy with these garden-in-the-early-morning -sunshine snaps.
7am , camera in hand: My feet bare on cool brick and the sweet grass smell give me that country in the city feeling. I am accompanied by the cat, who pads the frothy chive edged paths swishing her tail contentedly, caught in the shafts of light it looks like liquid chocolate flecked with gold.
Heavenly allium "Gladiator` , a heavenly pit stop for bees.
I like to think about morning tulip petals and shimmering green lavender rather than breakfast radio gripes and bumper to queues on the South Circular. See below:
My garden has moods and textures that change with the time of day, the quality of light, and whatever the elements are supplying.
On a late afternoon in May the garden is a visual intoxication of light and
shade: low long beams track the brilliance of the tulips, the green
gloss finish of the grass, and the bees that dangle and dodge on the highways of rays.
Like a sleek well fed cat sprawling in the sun, the garden seems to exude a kind of contentment which washes over me as I weed, plant or sit by the shed thinking about nothing in particular.
Late afternoon tulips in the sunshine curl and unfurl in a siesta of translucent languorous petals.
The alliums shimmer and fizz in purple brilliance, edible pompoms for feasting bees
I want to eat it up, the deliciousness of the garden; it primes the appetite for taste and smell for the visual and the sensual. This is the time of day to sit under the blossom of the apple tree in the dappled shade and eat meringues, cream and raspberries.
NB the wallflowers - especially the lipstick pink ones, see below - are spectacular this spring!
Garden Mood 11
On the other hand, or perhaps I should say something
more garden-like like spade, or trowel, the dullest no-show-of -sun-day,
gives the garden a rather wonderful saturated matt quality, like a
fabric or a Hockney landscape. And all the colours and textures of leaves
and petals seem to advance and intensify against the grey canvas of
sky, see pictures below
Beetroot ripples and stripes of a `Triumph` tulip, below
Silvery green grey Globe artichoke foliage is on my list to become a Pure Style paint colour
Over the last day or so my moveable feast of a garden is more a green and purple scene of alliums, nodding and swaying in the
breeze as the remaining tulips wither and shrivel .
A grey day, but the rich colour of Mr Campbell`s bluebells almost sings in contrast.
NB Mr Cambell`s bluebells are the descendants of those that were
flowering here in the garden when the previous owners Bernard, and his
parents did all the things that people did before technology, like taking afternoon tea in the shed, or sitting in deckchairs in Flannels waiting for Cook to ring the bell for luncheon.
Sunday morning market in Estoi a few miles inland from Olhao. It`s hot by 11, I need my hat (a pleasant need it is too) and the breeze carries a richly textured smell of churros frying, horse dung and spring flowers, from the sprawling market site on the edge of the village. Everyone is here: gypsies in black waistcoats with black flat caps and thick beards; farmers from little fincas dotted about the countryside; children; dogs; lovers; groups of men in hunt of jamon and beer from one of the many food stands.
In contrast to the piles of bright kitchen plastics , ribbons and trimmings, and rails of trashy print dresses, the salt cod
bachlau and garlic stall is a sea of cool whites and is the one I head for first of all. Slabs of creamy fish and bundles of papery white garlic bulbs streaked with purple, are assessed by customers who will later cook up a rich fish stew with these staples of the Portuguese kitchen. I like to slice raw salt cod very thinly (after rigorous soaking to get rid of the salt) and serve with thin slices of orange for a simple tapa.
I also gravitate to a van wreathed in baskets. The stall holder employs her mother and others who still know how to weave in the traditional way .I imagine quiet industry with bundles of dried grass on tiled floors in village houses where orange blossom scents float over whitewashed walls. Baskets like these feature heavily in my house- for storing vegetables in the kitchen , winter bedding on top of the wardrobe in my bedroom, and for accessories stowed away under the bed. I shall be looking out for the baskets and the van at one of the other local periodic markets - any excuse to top up my basket supply.
And there`s more: trays of vegetable seedlings, fruit trees, caged chicks, hens, even a sorry looking pair of swans. The highlight for many- including me are beakers of red wine , grilled chicken, jamon, or cheese at makeshift restaurants with dark awnings that give the scene the look of one vast outdoor Arabic souk.
Took these pictures a week ago, and didn`t want to leave it too long before I uploaded to show you all how exuberant the tulip show has been this year. The combination of cold and rain this winter seems to have encouraged particularly lush grown in all areas of the spring garden: the bluebells are bluer and the forget -me- nots more luminous and pale blue porcelain-like than ever.
I had moments of heart in mouth when a shoot came and the child models used the tulip patch as a football pitch. Only lost three specimens (see salvaged Match Point tulip example above) but it`s an aspects of house hiring that brings out the rant in me.
There`s the excitement of the apple tree coming into blossom at least a month late, but oh so worth it for the froth of white and pink petals which may be a harbinger of plump golden apples if frost stays away.
Writing now from Olhao where the final whitewashing, brushing up and dusting down of the house is in progress. Really pleased with a junk bench stained in glum brown varnish that after sanding and painting white reveals its good looks. That`s the fun of tracking down old junk of trying to visualise its potential. Heading home tomorrow and hoping that weeds and snails have not taken over.