As I approach my 100th post on Cherry’s Cache, I’m taking a spring break. So I’m now posting one of my occasional ‘interludes’ which I hope will provide some gentle interest and amusement for a while. And meanwhile, behind the scenes, there are new posts in preparation. I never know exactly which ones will succeed and make the light of day, so I shan’t give away anything just yet! But I’m hopeful to have a few more to share with you through the changing seasons. To give a clue or two: a feisty lady whose invention was sought by royalty – an ancestral hero who was hanged for treason – and the story of a bridge which housed an illegal match factory. Let’s see how it goes!
The Magic of Common Names
For now, it’s the spring itself which prompts this post, about the names that we give to flowers. Those names which I learned in my childhood still cluster brightly in my mind. Meadowsweet, foxglove, deadly nightshade, celandine. Bluebell, speedwell, old man’s beard, and ragged robin. Scarlet pimpernel, Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon, and marsh marigold. All these are old familiar friends to me, and I have no trouble identifying them in fields, woods and hedgerows, in the way that my parents taught me on our country walks when I was a little girl. I imagine that in my mother’s case, they were handed down to her by her parents too –my grandfather, taught me that hawthorn leaf buds were called ‘bread and cheese’, and that they were tasty to eat. (They are, too!) He also said: ‘When the gorse is out of bloom, then kissing’s out of season’. Something I’ve trotted out regularly, to the boredom of my own family. A botanist later explained to me that they have identified two different species of gorse, which bloom at different times of year, hence the impression that they’re perennially in flower.
I loved leaning these names, and must admit that I haven’t progressed hugely beyond my childhood lists. (I have added though, for instance, Bog Asphodel, Yellow Rattle, and Star of Bethlehem. Plus Lousewort and Feverfew, Angelica and Yellow Archangel)
Left: Bog Asphodel, photographed on Woodbury Common, East Devon.
Right: Yellow Rattle and Star of Bethlehem, photographed on Minchinhampton Common, Gloucestershire
I will never be a proper wildflower specialist, because above all else, I love the ‘common’ names and resist learning the Latin ones. They may be far more accurate in differentiating species, but they lack the character of our common ones, which are often steeped in folklore, healing lore and bawdy jests. (see below, for Cuckoo Pint). Last summer, in 2022, writer Michael Rosen broadcast a radio programme about these names, in his BBC series ‘Word of Mouth’. If you can access iPlayer, it’s available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0019m7c
The programme description reads:
‘Snotty Gogs and Moggie Nightgown may not immediately mean a lot to you but as common or folk names for the Yew berry and Wood anemone they reveal a fascinating social and cultural history of the countryside. Michael Rosen talks to the natural history broadcaster Brett Westwood about the informative, often funny sometimes bawdy names given to British plants and flowers.’
Some are a kaleidoscope of interchangeable names: Eggs And Bacon may also be called Birdsfoot Trefoil, Cuckoo Flower can be Lady’s Smock, that sticky grass which you threw at when you were little) can be referred to Cleavers, Goosegrass or Sticky Willie. And in my mind, Eyebright, Speedwell and Traveller’s Joy are all the same thing – small, bright blue flowers. Though either I telescoped them or was taught erroneously, as on further checking it seems that Traveller’s Joy should really be identified with Old Man’s Beard, growing in the hedgerows and seen most clearly in winter. Listening to Michael Rosen’s broadcast I was taken aback to hear that Cuckoo Pint, which is what we used interchangeably with Cuckoo Flower, actually relates to Lords and Ladies, ie Arum Lilies. However my shock is not at the casual transference of names, but the fact that apparently Cuckoo means Cuckold, and Pint is an old word for penis – you can work out the implications I am sure.
The same radio programme also mentions flower games, such as making daisy chains, which reminded me how my Auntie Maisie taught me to make Poppy Dolls. You carefully fold the scarlet petals back, exposing the black frilled seedhead at the centre, then tie the doll’s waist with a soft piece of grass, and poke a stiff piece of grass through the upper area of the petals to look like arms. Could I find an image of these on the internet? (It not being the poppy season to give me a chance to revive my skills.) Hooray, I could! These ones have two legs rather than our single stem ‘leg’. I wonder how they did that?
Old Man’s Beard or Traveller’s Joy, Marsh Woundwort, and Forget-me-not
The pandemic project: listing names
So to conclude, here’s a list of ‘common’ names which I copied out of a book of flowers. It was an afternoon-idling kind of activity that I turned to in lockdown, and now it can find a place here. I wrote out all that appealed to me for the ring of their names, the humour and the stories that must go with them. The book was ‘Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain’, published by the Reader’s Digest in 1981, and as well as an identifier, it’s a treasure trove of information on plant names, uses and folklore. Some are well-known, some unusual or regional. And rather than call them common, I’d use the word ‘magical’. See what you think.
I began this blog nearly three years ago, in April 2020. And before I go any further, I’d like to thank all of you who’ve been reading these blogs, whether regularly or occasionally. It’s a real privilege to know that they’re of interest. Whether Dartmoor or alchemy, Welsh fruit loaf or Huguenot refugees, there is, I hope, something for everyone. When I set up this website with the help of a professional web designer, we talked about drawing in an audience for this. However, when he heard the range of topics I’d be writing about, he was somewhat baffled. ‘If this blog appeals to one kind of reader, then the next might be for a different kind…’ And he didn’t quite know where to go from there. But as it reflects my own genuine range of interests, then we would just have to go with that, we agreed. I could hear the doubt in his voice!
A note about the images: Most of these are fromthe blog posts mentioned here – and it shouldn’t be too hard to work out which is which, if you’re so inclined!
Thank you, readers! I hope you’ll stay with the blog and I’ll just be running it month to month, seeing what comes up and what I might post. It may not be a ‘forever’ blog, as keeping up the quality is really important to me. But I hope that the posts will still have a presence on the net so that those interested in, say, embroidered samplers or Silk Road travellers or the goddess Kuan Yin or a recipe for a Twelfth Night cake, can still find my posts for these. And by the way, please do make use of the ‘Search Bar’ on the home page. You can enter any relevant keyword for the blog and it should show you the one(s) available.
A little later, I’ll be coming onto What the Stats Reveal – which posts are popular, and where do you all come from. In fact, if you’re going to be bored by the next section about my own writing history, skip on past….
The writing compulsion
I started writing books in my twenties (quite a long time ago!), and in the fifteen years prior to 2020, I was producing a book about every two years. I was caught up in a rhythm, of researching ideas followed by canvassing publishers and then writing the book itself. I was proud to have had a steady sequence of books published, but it was becoming exhausting. Starting Cherry’s Cache was a way of breaking the addiction. Yes, really –a blog, I thought, would be a harmless and rewarding way to channel the urge. No dependency on the whims of editors or the business (mis)fortunes of editors – and a chance to use pictures. Lots of lovely pictures! I’ve always relished matching images to words, which I could do in my talks and lectures, but rarely in books.
You may be sceptical as to a) the demanding nature of writing and b) its addictive qualities, so let me fill in the background.
The cycle of madness
Writing a book involves a cycle of madness. I say this a little tongue in cheek, but it’s not far from the truth. My book ‘Russian Magic’) includes this dedication to Robert: I would like to thank my partner Robert [now my husband] for putting up with a writer who had her head buried deep in books while researching this project, and who went round muttering about Russian wizards and wolves, and frogs that were really princesses, whenever she came up for air. His loving support and kindness was a life-line to me!
The first phase of writing a book is not quite so extreme, since I relish the quest and seeing the identity of a book emerging from this. The research stage is exciting. Heady, full of promise and possibilities. I have a wide field of interests, and in the 2000s, the books I produced thus included family history, writing life stories, Russian folklore, feminine archetypes and traditional Tarot symbols. I was also tasked with updating my now classic history of alchemy.
But then reality bites, writing up of an outline, often chapter by chapter, and producing all the back up info without which the publisher won’t offer a contract. (Who are the potential readers? What other competing books are out there in the marketplace? Do I know, and do I care?) It can be a grind, but it’s also reassuring afterwards to know that there’s a solid framework for the book.
I usually write to a publisher’s contract. And I don’t mind deadlines – indeed, I love them. In my opinion they are a writer’s best friend, a great incentive to keep going, providing you’ve agreed a realistic delivery date, and you’ve a contracted commitment from a publisher. Nevertheless, the outcome isn’t always rosy. Several times during my career I’ve been badly let down when publishers go bust, leaving work unpaid, and a contract is suddenly no more than a useful fire lighter. Projects can also be cancelled after the months of preparation but before the signed deal. And once I had a script rejected, which is definitely a blow to an author’s pride. (It rankles, even now!) It happens, even with the best agents, which I’ve been fortunate enough to have. ‘You cannot force a publisher to publish,’ is the sum of it. I therefore advise all prospective writers to be philosophical, because there will be stones on your path as well as pretty flowers.
The writing phase itself can both inspire and drain you. It’s like a slow wave building up that you must sustain, carrying its momentum forward. The book is always there in your mind, even on days off. And when the text is finally drafted, it’s time to turn to the editing stage. I try to have a short break between the two phases if I can, because it does help, to come back fresh to your deathless prose and see that it’s not quite so perfect as you thought. By the time my final draft has landed in the editor’s in-box (thank goodness for electronic submissions these days!) I often feel exhausted and empty, rather than exultant. It takes time for the well to fill up again, for energy to be restored.
But my final draft isn’t theirs, of course. Then follows what may be a long stage of working with a desk editor (the ‘ideas’ department) and a copy editor (the style and clarity monitor). Finally, with everything ready there’s usually a further waiting stage to get the book printed, unless you’re a celebrity author being fast-tracked for the Christmas list.
And now it’s out! But you’re still on the case, even if you’re longing to start on that next book or (probably better) lie down in a sunny place for several months. There’s promotion, social media posts (groan), and possibly talks and articles and book signings. The author is expected to be very actively involved now in marketing, and often the onus is on us to fix up events and create a social media whirl.
A new venture
This is not really an author’s moan, as I’ve loved the process overall, and the delivery of my book children into the world. Editors and agents have become close friends, and I’ve also been part of a couple of wonderful writers groups, in Stroud and in Exeter (link). But in the last few years, obviously older than I once was, I feel that I won’t embark lightly on that process again, of conceiving, preparing, writing and promoting a book. (Unless you want to make me a good offer, of course?)
The occasion remains eerily clear in my mind because it was the last weekend we were all allowed out before the lockdown. Our course was a kind of safe space, whereas outside drinkers spilled onto the pavements in unusually warm weather, shoppers crowded the markets, with an eerie semblance of normality. In Cheshire Street market I picked up a Folio Edition of Daniel Defoe’s ‘Journal of the Plague Year’. It seemed fitting.
Back at home, totally at home for the duration, I was able to make contact with the Gentle Author’s recommended web designer. With his expert skills, we played with names and themes, and the blog itself was launched remarkably fast in April 2020. I put up three opening posts, so that readers would have something to delve into. And it became a constant delight for me to work on it during those long months of successive lockdowns, without the pressure of a given brief or the extended effort needed for a whole book.
Cherry’s Cache has thus been my main writing focus for a while, but instead of the once-a-week post of the pandemic, which I maintained for about two years, I’m now posting once every two or three weeks. It melds well with some of my other activities, such as volunteering as an Exeter city guide, working on esoteric subjects (see our Soho Tree blog), and rounding up memoirs and musings. In the last year, I’ve also returned to teaching creative writing online for Oxford University.
Below: so who am I really?
L-R: as painted by Robert Lee-Wade, in a floppy hat reading a book, ‘Grandma’ by Martha, or donning a gown for teaching at Oxford Summer School of Creative Writing?
All and none, perhaps.
Loving the Stats
One of the great things about running a WordPress blog is the ease of checking out your stats. I can prove that as of today, I’ve published 93 blogs – yes, really! I’m surprised too – and this is no. 94. And my word counts show that I’ve just hit the 200,000 word output for all of these. That could have made two whole novels. (But not quite ‘War and Peace’.) It seems that I haven’t switched from books to blogs to reduce my output.
I can also peer behind the scenes and find out who has read what blog and when. Well, not who exactly, but how many readers. And roughly where they came from. On the day my last blog went out (December 18th) I had over 100 from the UK and the USA, but also from Canada, Nicaragua, Ireland, Spain, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Kenya and Australia. Previous visitors were also from Bhutan, Japan, and Finland. Today is still young – but hello there, Sweden and Vietnam! (I hope that most of you do actually look at the blog, rather than harvest my info for future selling or scamming.) In June 2022, there were just under 2,000 visitors from the United States and 75 from Spain.
I can even see some of the search terms used, which luckily are mostly harmless, if often misspelt. One or two are incomprehensible: ‘south african jazz artist wearing zobra colours suit’ for instance. What did they find – and did they enjoy it? I can also work out which the winning themes are. As compiled recently, the all-time favourites have been ‘Pangur Ban and the Old Irish Cats’, (which seems to find favour especially over the Christmas period) followed by Enoch and Eli – Black Country Wit, and Mick Jagger and the Cigarette Butt. Other animals do well, since Dartmoor Ponies is in 8th place out of 90 posts, and I’m happy to see that my various blogs on our home town of Topsham are in the top twelve.
Sometimes, a tidal wave of views sweeps in, perhaps triggered by a referral from elsewhere. My account of the artist Anna Zinkeisen and her connection with the Whitbread Zodiac Calendar, something I researched at length and was proud to present, was little studied until suddenly, between March and May this year, she had nearly 1000 views. I’d love to know why. Perhaps it was a link on a study course? (Below: Anna Zinkeisen’s self-portratit and a page from her Zodiac Calendar)
And some posts – like Enoch and Eli, for instance, take a while to find their audience and then they seem to roll on merrily ever after.
Aynuk and Ayli were fishing in the canal: ‘Me mate’s fell in the canal !’ ‘Owd it appen?’ ‘I just took a bite ov me sanwich an me mate fell out.’
However, some of my very early posts, while building a readership at first, have ebbed away out of sight.What indeed is wrong with ‘Seduction, Sin and Sidmouth – an Ancestor’s Scandal’? Nothing, in my view! I may bring wicked Gt Uncle Edwin back to feature again on a future date.
Until then, here’s thanking you all once again, and wishing you a very Happy New Year!
Hello – this is a pop-up post, rather than my regular blog post which appears every two weeks. If you’d like to find some Christmas and New Year reading, can I suggest browsing three of my earlier posts? They are all in the festive spirit!
Pangur Ban and the Old Irish Cats
How about renewing acquaintance with my most popular post ever? Some 2,500 readers have enjoyed this over the last twelve months or so. It’s Pangur Ban and the Old Irish Cats, perfect for a sense of mystery on these dark nights.
‘As those of us in the Northern Hemisphere progress through the darkest days of the year, we may perhaps find ourselves more affected by the power of poetry. Words resonate when we’re not so distracted by bright light and busy lives outside… An ancient Irish poem is set in just this context, that of a monk writing and studying in the depths of night…This monk’s notebook shows that he was working on a variety of classical and theological texts, but the poem itself is about his relationship with his cat, Pangur Ban.’
I and Pangur Ban my cat, ‘Tis a like task we are at: Hunting mice is his delight, Hunting words I sit all night….
When a mouse darts from its den, O how glad is Pangur then! O what gladness do I prove When I solve the doubts I love!
So in peace our task we ply, Pangur Ban, my cat, and I; In our arts we find our bliss, I have mine and he has his.
You can also read about the role of cats in Old Ireland, and how they were protected and prized in law.
The Twelve Days of Christmas
Or you could revel in the story of the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas. Discover its old customs, and learn how to make Twelfth Night Cake! (I made it last year, and it was very popular with my neighbours.) There’s also a guide to confusing calendars and why the mornings go on getting darker after the winter solstice.
The Fool and his Feast
Allied to the Twelve Days, the Fool makes his rumbustious appearance at Christmas and New Year. Have we lost this tradition of folly? I don’t think so! As well as discovering its history, you might get ideas for modern mischief-making, for turning the world topsy turvy with innocent mirth. I also make an excursion into the world of the Fool in the Tarot. Take a cartwheel into ‘The Fool and his Feast‘!
And in the meantime, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! With some festive music to play us out…
Following on from the post about alchemy, and the role of Hermes as a guide and trickster spirit, I’m going to recount a story about meeting someone who fits that role rather well. This person was indeed a sharp-witted trickster, a glamorous chameleon, and a talented performer. The only thing was that at the time, I didn’t know it, and, probably, nor did he.
It was 1965, and my schoolfriend Helen and I, aged 16, were spending a weekend in London. This was something we’d had to beg and plan for, getting our parents on side and making all sorts of promises as to what we wouldn’t do in regard to men, drink, and sleazy music clubs. Our mothers only consented to this dangerous undertaking provided we stayed at the respectable YWCA girls’ hostel in Marylebone. Little did they know that even here we would have to fend off the amorous advances of African students who were keen to get to know English girls – they were staying the equivalent men’s hostel down the road. We made sure we kept our interaction to playing table tennis with them and talking urgently about the Queen when things threatened to get out of hand. Actually, we had our sights set on visiting Carnaby Street and Soho anyway, and weren’t keen to get entangled on the wrong side of Oxford Street.
Helen and I today still compare notes on our shared adventures during teenage years. And not long ago, we revived our memories of that lively weekend. What did we actually get up to in Soho? Well, I thought my diaries might help here. I still have all the schoolgirl diaries that I wrote, which cover nearly every year from 11 to 18. I keep planning to destroy them, because they are so cringe-making, but somehow it doesn’t happen. I read out less-embarrassing-but-still-amusing parts if we have a schoolfriends reunion. And they are invaluable for reconstructing I did when. Sometimes, even now they provide me with insights which change my perspective on past events. So I now thumbed through 1965, looking for the right entry. And there it was – what two schoolgirls from Birmingham got up to in the heady streets of Soho, in Swinging London.
‘Went to Carnaby Street but didn’t see anyone interesting. All the boys walking up and down were trying to look famous. The shops were displaying horrible floral ties and swimming trunks. ugh ugh. Walked to Denmark St (known as ‘Tin Pan Alley’ and the heart of the record industry at the time) …where we met two boys from a supposedly up and coming group called Davey Jones and the Lower Third. One was called Teacup…Bought them cups of tea as they were impoverished. Went back to Carnaby St after lunch and looked in disgust at more floral ties.’
The next day we returned to central London and Soho. It wasn’t that we didn’t have anything else to do; in fact, we’d had a rather too exciting night. We’d neglected to tell our mothers that the YWCA couldn’t have us for the middle night of our visit, and that we’d fixed to stay in a flat near Dulwich normally occupied by Diz Disley, a well-known folk/jazz musician. (If you’ve followed my Cherry’s Cache blogs before, you may recall that I was deeply and genuinely into folk music at the time.) He’d invited us to crash there, while he was away, but it was a large house with many comings and goings. More specifically, there were some unexpected arrivals into our bedroom during the night, which meant fending off more unwelcome advances. But these particular adventures take up two A4 pages of my diary, and I’ll save them for another time.
We wandered into Trafalgar Square where: ‘We asked two American beats (why do beats always congregate round fountains?) if they would like to climb up the lions to have their photo taken but they said they didn’t do that any more. One of them took the camera, pointed it at our stomachs, and took a photograph. Then we went to Denmark Street. No sign of the elusive Davey Jones or any of the Lower Third. Had lunch in at the café there – two boys called ‘The Ants’ sat at our table. They were quite sweet. One was good-looking and they were chuffed cos they’d made a demo disc.’
Hmm, so we’d met a few young hopefuls, a couple of would-be pop groups. I typed out the account and emailed it off to Helen, who then vaguely remembered one of the boys. But, as she remarked, they were just one of so many groups now lost without trace. I agreed – it was doubtful that they’d even made a passing wave in the recorded history of the planet. Nevertheless, I thought I would just check…Well, of the Ants there was certainly no obvious trace. I hardly think Adam Ant could be one of the guys in question, since according to Wikipedia, he was only 10 at the time. But what about the ‘elusive’ Davy Jones?
I decided to look a little further. And then, to my astonishment, I found that Davy Jones and the Lower Third had actually released a record shortly afterwards. So they really had begun to climb the ladder!
But the real surprise was when I read that a few months later, Davy changed his name – to David Bowie.
Oh yes, and as a side note, Teacup really did exist, as lead guitarist ‘Teacup’ Taylor.
David Bowie-to-be was just 18, and he himself could have no way foreseen the meteoric rise to stardom which awaited him. But was he already stepping into the role of the trickster figure? It’s interesting that I was already referring to him as ‘elusive’.
Perhaps I could apply to go on the ‘true or false?’panel game of ‘Would I Lie to You’ using the line, ‘I once bought David Bowie a cup of tea in Soho, because he couldn’t afford to pay for his own.’
From Davey Jones and the Lower Third to world legend David Bowie…
Who doesn’t love to see a pony in the wild? Each time I visit Dartmoor I keep an eye out for these ponies which roam the moorland freely, often in small herds. All the photos here are ones that I’ve taken over the years, as opportunities arise. The ponies are very hardy, and like all British native ponies, know how to seek shelter and where to find a windbreak by an old wall or line of trees. Although they appear completely wild, all of them do in fact have owners. Each year, ‘drifts’ take place, a gathering process involving horse riders, vehicles and helpers on foot, who round up the ponies from the moor and drive them into holding pens. Here they are checked over to make sure they are in good health, and some are selected to be sold off. They are sure-footed, make reliable riding ponies, and have been used by farmers, children, shepherds and even postmen for generations.
Ponies have in fact roamed on Dartmoor since prehistoric times, and probably the breed standard as laid down today is akin to the type which was originally found on the moor, as is the case with Exmoor ponies. The main difference between Exmoor and Dartmoor ponies is that the Exmoor breed is sturdier, and has a characteristic ‘mealy’, ie pale or white, muzzle. Dartmoor ponies are commonly thought of as brown or bay, but other colours are ‘permitted’ – black, grey, chestnut or roan.
I started riding when I was eight years old, and became very keen very quickly! My parents were able to let me have a riding lesson once a week, but couldn’t afford to keep a pony, so for years I helped out at riding stables to earn myself ‘free rides’. I’ve always had a great affection for British native ponies, which are full of character, clever, and sturdy, but I quickly grew too tall to ride them any more. When I lived on Exmoor I was able to fulfil my dream of owning a horse, and we took on a half-Exmoor pony too, an old, lovable rogue called Eccles. His method of escaping from the field was simply to lean his considerable weight on the fence until it gave way. On the whole, native ponies are more wily than their elegant Thoroughbred relatives.
Although the Dartmoor breed is limited to ponies of around 12.2hh (each ‘hand’ measures four inches, in old money), another, larger type is recognised as the ‘Dartmoor Hill Pony‘. ‘A Dartmoor Hill Pony is one bred on the commons of Dartmoor by a registered commoner, whose sire and dam run on the said commons. This ensures that the sire has been inspected and approved by the Dartmoor commoners council as a suitable stallion to run on the commons.’ They have their own special class at the annual Widecombe Fair.
Strictly speaking, no ‘coloured’ ponies – ie mixed colours, such as black and white (piebald), or brown and white (skewbald) – are recognised as true Dartmoor ponies. (Coloured ponies in general are especially favoured and considered lucky by Romanies and travellers.) However, quite a number can be seen on the moor.
And these tiny ponies below may be the kind which were originally bred from a Shetland pony-Dartmoor cross, as working pit ponies for the mines (tin, copper and iron). As for the Shetland pony as a breed, it may look very cuddly, but is known for its stubborn and often snappy nature. It doesn’t make an ideal child’s pony, despite its appealing appearance.
It’s always a delight to come across ponies on the moor or even ambling through a village. But it’s worth noting that although they are are not completely wild, they are not tame either, and shouldn’t be encouraged to hang around car parks and picnic spots for titbits. It’s a danger to the ponies themselves to wander on the roads, and they can become greedy and bad-tempered if given so-called ‘treats’, which may in any case do their digestions harm. Dartmoor ponies get all they need from the moorland grazing.
Some final photos follow, from the different hills and commons of Dartmoor.
Although I’ve officially given up riding now, I was delighted to take the opportunity to ride out on Dartmoor – though not on a Dartmoor pony! Thanks to Helen Newton for the chance to ride Kavi on several occasions, ambling through the village of Lustleigh, and fording the river at the ancient Hisley Bridge .
You may also be interested in:
Dartmoor 365 –a Facebook group based on the book by John Hayward which explores every square mile of the Dartmoor National Park. This is where people share their experiences and photos of visiting the individual squares. In ‘normal’ times, we have an annual cream tea meet-up as well! Pictured here is Rob Hayward, son of the Dartmoor 365 author, who along with the Facebook group’s founder Anthony Francis-Jones, keeps the book updated.
Chris Chapman, photographer has been living and filming on Dartmoor for about forty years, and his film ‘Wild River, Cold Stone’ pays homage to this unique landscape and way of life. You can watch the trailer in the clip below. He is also co-author of The Three Hares: A Curiosity worth Regarding, the only comprehensive study of the Three Hares motif which turns up along the way from the Silk Road to Dartmoor churches. (A topic which I hope to tackle in a future post!)
I became intoxicated by poetry in my teenage years. At school, we plunged deep into the Metaphysical Poets, were thrilled by D.H. Lawrence, and learnt to love Wordsworth. I also craved more recent poets untouched by the exam syllabus. I managed to put together enough money to buy paperbacks of poetry with titles such as Beat Poets and Jazz Poems, and by authors such as e.e.cummings and Laurie Lee, and Liverpool Poets like Roger McGough. Diving into these chimed in with our growing sense of the new freedom of the 1960s.
This is, I admit, a prelude to talking about my own poetry. Of course, writing heartfelt poems is what teenagers do, and of course I was influenced by all the above poets, leading to some cringe-making lines. But nevertheless, some of those poems did come good, and two have stories attached to them, which I am about to tell. I still have my ‘Poems’ notebook with its marbled hardback cover and I find I can bear to read most of those written down there. And the earliest poem I have on record is far distant enough to be entertaining – we were instructed at school to write something epic about the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur. Here’s my effort, aged about twelve – the only thing I’ve ever preserved from my school exercise books.
Those of you who’ve read my blog before may remember how I began writing for Jackie magazine while I was still in the Sixth Form at school. That was in October 1966, and emboldened by this moderate success, I decided to try my luck with poems. Not to Jackie, of course, but to the prestigious ‘Poetry Review’. I’m afraid I don’t remember how or why I came to choose that august publication, but it was certainly a daring move. I had the naivety to give anything a shot, and – I suppose – thought I might as well aim high. My diary of Jan 7th, 1967, records: ‘The other day I sent off some poetry to Poetry Review for criticism (took great courage!!)’.
To my astonishment, I had an encouraging letter back from the editor – which, sadly, I haven’t kept – saying he’d like to publish the one called French Boy, for a fee. I think it was around two guineas. And so it was duly included, in Autumn 1967 issue. He also asked if I could send him further poems in future. But, with the carelessness of youth, I didn’t get round to doing that. Life was opening up at a rapid pace – I was at Cambridge university by the time it was published that autumn, and was distracted by a myriad of other exciting possibilities. I even lost or threw out the edition of Poetry Review containing the poem. (Here are a couple of others from around the same era, which I discovered on the internet.)
Fast forward to 2005, when I visited my daughter in Australia, while she and her boyfriend were living in Sydney for a few years. I’d rented a studio flat nearby, but as it wasn’t available for the first few days, I had to look elsewhere for a bed. Two old friends of mine from astrology circles, Derek and Julia Parker, had emigrated to Sydney not long beforehand, and when I contacted them, they said they’d be delighted to put me up for the interim. Julia is an astrologer of repute, and Derek a man of broad literary accomplishments; together they’d written the best-selling ‘The Compleat Astrologer’.
Below: Derek and Julia Parker during my visit to Australia, and their best-selling treatise on astrology
Somehow, during one of our delightful catch-up conversations, I mentioned the Poetry Review and how I’d had a poem published there as a teenager.
‘But I was the editor at the time!’ said Derek.
I had completely forgotten the name of the kind editor but, yes of course – it came back to me now! ‘I don’t suppose you have a copy of that issue, do you? I no longer have mine.’
‘Of course,’ he said, and pulled it down from the shelf.
I took the photocopy he made me, and vowed never to lose sight of it again. Yes, I can criticise it – but it did make the pages of a worthy poetry journal. And how foolish I was not to take that further. I still occasionally write poetry, but the chance to really build it as a craft has passed now.
The poem is one of a group I wrote about a rather miserable French exchange with an uptight family whose holiday home was in an uninteresting area of sand dunes and summer villas, full of moderately wealthy bourgeoisie and their offspring. Appearances and conformity were the rule of the day. The visit inspired a number of complaining poems on my part – which I won’t bore anyone with – and this one was about a lad who was a little too good to be true in appearance, and a little too vain to be likeable.
Zut he said neatly
And opened two rows of white teeth
to grin charmingly.
His slim brown fingers
plucked the strings precisely
and his blond hair
was oh so shiny,
with an enchanting touch,
a casual touch.
The golden Apollo muscles
beneath his blue shirt.
The careful notes
flickered and broke.
because this, too,
was part of the flawless
Poetry Review – Edited by Derek Parker
Vol LVIII, no. 3, Autumn 1967.
The Albert Hall At the same time that I submitted the poem for Derek’s attention, I also sent one off elsewhere. The diary tells the tale – here’s the full entry:
Diary entry forJan 7th 1967 Most extraordinary thing happened today. Yes actually HAPPENED!!! Well the other day I sent off some poetry to Poetry Review for criticism (took great courage!!) I was typing some poems out and came across the ‘Folk Club’ one which is rather frivolous to put it mildly. Typed it out then thought I’d better not send it with the rest cos it wasn’t really the same kind of thing. So I sent it off to ‘Sing’, one of the folk song magazines – didn’t even know if it was still in print. Expected it back with a note saying ‘What the hell did you send us this for?’ Well today the phone went for me, and a voice said, ‘This is Eric Winter, Editor of ‘Sing’’. He said how much he liked my poem and said they would print it next issue, and also he showed it to Pete Seeger last night who also liked it, and gave a recital of it at his concert in the Royal Albert Hall! Complete with actions – and apparently the audience loved it! Then E. Winter wanted to know if I’d written any more poems, prose, songs etc and if I’d send him some, and come and see him if I was in London at all. V. Flattering! Great – it’s a big laff, but that’s made my day.
Eh? What? Pete Seeger read out my poem? I had almost forgotten about it, or assumed it was a distorted memory – but the diary doesn’t lie. (Truly, it doesn’t!) Again, I can only blame the casualness of youth. And perhaps an element of not enough self-belief. As I’ve said since to other budding writers, you have to take your achievements seriously. Surprisingly, it is too easy to assume that a success – maybe in a competition, or in getting a story published – was a fluke. That anyone could have done it, and that it doesn’t indicate any real value. But this shrugging off of success is as much of a trap for a writer as is being too conceited about one’s chances. So, please take a lesson from me in this respect. Cherish what you achieve, and build on little successes.
Folk Club (March 1966)
Fred plays the guitar
brrm brrm brrm brrm
and we all say
well done Fred
what was that you played?
and drink our beer.
And Fred says
this song is called and it comes from well
actually I learnt it off a fellah named
sorry if I forget the words I only
worked it out last well here goes –
brrm brrm brrm brrm
clap clap clap
well done Fred
because everyone likes Fred
and we drink more beer
and say o look here comes Clive,
but which Clive is it?
well tonight it is big Clive
and he has had all his long black curls
Well they were an institution
you could laugh or rave or scream
or maybe even tell the time by them
if you tried hard enough.
you please yourself.
but now he looks like a new shorn sheep
well I suppose he is in a way.
brrm brrm brrm brrm
sssh - tell me later.
he’s out of tune and i don’t like his voice and
brrm brrm brrm brrm brrm
ALL JOIN IN THE CHORUS
tOOralay tOOralay tOOralay o!
and haul away Joe
cos we’ll all kill Paddy Doyle for his boots
would you all take your glasses downstairs please.
singing whackfoldedaddyo and we’ll all go together
Brrm brrm brrm.
And no, I didn’t keep a copy of ‘Sing’ magazine where it was published. And no, I didn’t follow up by sending Eric Winter other contributions. Sigh. As I said, please don’t take a lesson from me.
But if you’d like to read one of my more recent offerings, here’s a selection:
This is the 42nd post I’ve written for Cherry’s Cache. The site was launched in April with three posts already in place, and new posts have gone up at weekly intervals since. So, I’ve been kept busy through lockdown and through a very mixed year – a year of challenges for all of us.
The idea had been brewing for a while; my author’s website had an intermittent blog, but I felt it was time to strike out again in a more purposeful way. I also needed to get my teeth into a project which wasn’t writing a book every two years, which I’ve been doing for a long time now. It wasn’t the right moment either in terms of my own ideas or the publishing market for that. But I needed to write, all the same!
And then an email popped up in my inbox, a notification from The Gentle Author, of Spitalfields Life blog, that he was preparing to give his last ever courses on blog writing. I’ve long been a subscriber to the G.A.’s blog, which is an incredible compendium of articles about London life, so I decided that this was my one and only chance. I signed up for the advanced course in early March, for those who already had experience of blogging and writing. I felt it would hone my skills and perhaps help me to discover a format for the new blog.
It was a magical weekend, staying in an old weaver’s house in Spitalfields, right opposite the Hawksmoor church. A small but committed group of us gathered to talk about our aspirations, and to check out ways of presenting material, designing a website and keeping ourselves on track with the writing. I’m bound by group confidentiality not to discuss exactly what we did, or said, but I’m proud to include give links below to some of the blogs that others are writing, with their kind permission.
The weekend was intensified for me because of the sense of a looming crisis, as the Covid virus epidemic gathered pace. There were no actual restrictions in place then; the general advice was to be cautious, but the crowds I saw gathering in and around Spitalfields pubs in the evenings made a mockery of that. I made a few careful expeditions. A friend and I visited the Dennis Severs house by candlelight on the Friday evening before the course – magical! And I spent a blissful early Sunday morning rediscovering my (very) old haunts of Sclater and Cheshire Street, at the end of Brick Lane, where I had once ‘fossicked’ for vintage clothes for my shop Tigerlily. (We’re talking Cambridge, 1970s, here.) I plan to write something more about Tigerlily later on.
Below: Signs of the old rag markets in the Cheshire St area. I spent some time reminiscing with the stall holder on the left, who remembers coming down to his Dad’s stall there when he was a boy. From the bookstall I bought a copy of Daniel Defoe’s ‘Journal of the Plague Year’ – an ironic touch in the situation.
But I decided to cut short my visit after the course, as it was plain matters were getting worse, and I had to get back to Devon by train. I cancelled a follow-on stay with my son in Stockwell, and a planned visit to the Tate, and left the course a couple of hours early. As I jumped on the train at Paddington, I felt as though I was fleeing before a tidal wave.
However, I had reaped huge benefits from the course. I pounced on a suggestion from The Gentle Author, that I should celebrate the diversity of my writing – I’ve never fitted easily into one category – and tend to write about a variety of subjects that fascinate me, and which I research enthusiastically. On the journey home, the name ‘Cherry’s Cache’ came to me, and I also jotted down a wealth of topics that I might cover. In the weeks that followed, with the friendly but ‘remote’ help of designer Jason, who handles the Spitalfields Life website, I became the possessor of a smart new website. The G. A. had advised me not to try and do it myself – time wasted, for a writer, he said! And although I had already learnt how to construct a basic site through one of the blogging platforms, Jason’s work gave me something far more sophisticated and user-friendly than I would have been able to create.
So here I am. I decided to put up one post a week, and I aim to hold to that until the 12 month year is up, in April. Then I may slow it down a little, perhapsposting once every two weeks. Although it’s exciting and stimulating, getting a weekly blog into place, it’s also a great deal of work! I enjoy research enormously, and probably for that very reason, it always takes me further than I expect into new areas. Some blogs, like those on Anna Zinkeisen and the Zodiac Calendar and cinematographer Walter Lassally require a considerable amount of background preparation, and I try and ensure that the facts are as solid as I can make them. Others I revisit from existing material, but I nearly always want to re-craft blogs or articles which I’ve written before. So my aim is that everything on this site, whether written from scratch or discovered in my ‘trove’, has a freshness to it, and a guarantee that I’ve put my spirit and energy into it.
With that aim of refreshing the spirit, for any and all of us, I made a decision at the start that I wouldn’t usually reflect current events in my posts. I’d like some of the stories to be relevant in the future, not tied to the circumstances in which I wrote them. Also, I reckoned that readers were getting enough of the news and the prevailing pandemic anxieties, and that it would be better to tackle topics which could interest and cheer people. My Gentle Author coach was kind enough to say: ‘I am so pleased that you are writing your blog, these things take on a greater meaning when people are searching hungrily for stories beyond the news.’ Indeed. And it’s not my task to write as an activist, or agitate for particular kinds of change – others do that better. Once, I was asked in a visualisation exercise what my job was, I spontaneously replied, ‘I bring the fire from the mountain.’ Make of that what you will.
For these 42 posts, I’ve written a staggering 90,835 words, give or take a thousand or two. I am staggered because this is actually longer than any book I’ve ever written. Perhaps I shall be able to turn these posts into a book one day?
Some of the many images which I compiled for the last nine months of posts. I find that creating and choosing pictures is incredibly rewarding; I’ve always been fascinated by the juxtaposition of images and text, as in slide lectures, which I gave for many years as a NADFAS (Arts Society) speaker.
The game’s not over yet. I hope I can continue at least for another year, even if with fewer posts. And here’s a big THANK YOU for reading my posts, and for subscribing to the email list, if that’s how you get the alerts. There have been some lovely comments. I quote a few here as they help motivate me to keep going!
Hi Cherry – It wouldn’t be Sunday with your blog. Many thanks! (KC) Love your cache writings. (JP) I really enjoyed this. What a fascinating and profound experience. (MC responding to On ‘Meeting the Shaman’)) Absolutely fascinating Cherry! I love your researched and interesting blogs.(JW) I just loved all your Russian content – especially the red corner etc. Thank you! (BM) Hope you can keep up your Cache which I have been enjoying very much. Laughed out loud at the masterly Sign collection, and enjoyed another journey to Topsham. You write so entertainingly! (LO)
The adventure continues! Happy New Year again – please keep reading, and do share the link with anyone who might enjoy Cherry’s Cache.
Cosmo, a cat of Hidden Topsham Do you remember Cosmo, the ‘six dinner Sid’ cat of Topsham? He’s still around, as you can see from a more recent photograph. One morning, I found him lurking on the corner of Monmouth Street, standing guard over something. As I got closer, I could see that it was a dead fish. And moreover, it wasn’t something washed up on the riverbank, but a splendid fancy koi-carp type of fish, with elegant wavy fins. Or it had been. Oh, Cosmo! Did you go fishing in someone’s pond? Or should we give you the benefit of the doubt, and suppose that a passing heron dropped its catch right in your path? It’s possible, after all. Just.
Golden Quinces– I used the last of this year’s crop of quinces to make Quince Chutney. Chutney needs to be left for 4-6 weeks before it’s ready to eat, to reduce the vinegariness and meld the flavours. We’ve now just tried the first pot, and it’s pretty good! It has quite a tart flavour, but rounded out in a lovely Christmassy spice way. The Quince jelly, which was ready to eat straight away is superb. Last year, I don’t think I boiled it long enough and the resulting jelly was light both in colour and texture. This year’s is much stronger in both senses, and especially delicious eaten with soft cheese on an oatcake!
Venetia, the Woman who named Pluto – The Stats which I can look up for this website are a fascinating collection of information as to whereabouts in the world readers come from, what links they’ve clicked, and what pages they’ve looked at. My post on Venetia Phair was published back in October, describing how I met Venetia, and the story of how she named a newly-discovered planet back in 1930. This week, the post suddenly had 24 hits from China. Was it a class of Chinese students learning about space exploration? I will probably never know.
And the final update – the Twelfth Night cake!
In my post about The Twelve Days of Christmas I gave a Spanish recipe for a Twelfth Night cake/loaf celebrating the arrival of the Three Kings at the Christian festival of Epiphany and what used to be ‘party night’ in the last of the Twelve Days. It’s in a circular shape, rather like the crown of one of the kings. I felt that I was duty bound to have a go at making it, so this morning, shortly after 6am I got cracking, like a good baker. It is a kind of enriched dough, rather like a brioche, and needs up to 3 hours proving in two stages. I nearly gave up at the first hurdle, when I realised that the 25gm of yeast must refer to fresh yeast, which I didn’t have, and the method described might not suit the small packets of instant yeast which most of us use these days. However, I did have a tin of granular yeast (bought during the lockdown when nothing else was available) and I decided to try that. And I’m happy to say that it worked! I’d already stocked up with some candied fruit, the best I could find locally. But because it’s baked on the outside of the loaf rather than in the dough, it gets very hard, and in future I’d only use the softest types, like glace cherries.
At 10am I wondered if I could finish it in time before a Zoom call with friends at 11. But I wasn’t going to stint on the decorating – I placed 12 cherries for the 12 months of the year, and added various artistic touches with glace citron peel. (Yes I know, I’m not a potential Bake-Off winner.) It was out of the over before 11, and when it had cooled a little, I brought it upstairs to show my friends triumphantly. Robert and I tried it at lunch – it’s quite like brioche as I mentioned, or an old-fashioned sweet bun, with a delicate flavour of orange and lemon rind (grated into the dough) and a touch of brandy. I ate my slice with a little quince jelly. Then a couple of hours later, I wrapped several chunks in silver foil and took them to friends in the town, so that they could share in what I hope is Twelfth Night good luck for the year ahead. Here’s the cake, from its dough ring stage to the finished ‘crown’. By the time you read this, I will have also added a few notes to the recipe that I posted earlier.
My Fellow Bloggers
Last, but most definitely not least, I’d like to point you to some of the fascinating blogs by other members of our Spitalfields Life blogging course. Please take a look! The diversity of what we write is fascinating.
From left to right: Carolyn Skelton, Jo Rogers (in earlier years!), Bertie the Bear, and Shula Rich
Carolyn Skelton: ‘A London Family is the story of my quest to find out more about the elusive paternal side of my family. It starts with my job as an ‘heir hunter’ in London in the 1980s and describes how an old photograph found in a wallet years later sent me on a search which encompasses two hundred years of social history…’ https://alondonfamily.com
Bob Ball: Mindfully Bertie – These are tales told from the viewpoint of a bear – well, not just any bear, but Bertie! ‘My blog Mindfully Bertie has, over four years, carried me through bereavement to being told in Spitalfields that I am “ a proper writer”.’ www.mindfullybertie.org.uk
Amanda Root: The Coastal Pilgrim – ‘This is a blog about one woman, surrounded by an interested and helpful community, starting a seaweed farm, which may or may not morph into a social enterprise and which is hopefully going to get us all eating more seaweed!’ https://thecoastalpilgrim.com/
Jo Rogers: – ‘Huguenot Jo is a blog exploring the effect of Huguenot ancestry on Jo’s family, with a lineage going back to the 1680s. It looks at the historical context of Huguenot persecution, and the contribution of these French refugees to the societies which took them in. ‘www.huguenotjo.co.uk
Shula Rich:Natural Beauty Brains – ‘I wanted my blog to reflect that I’m many things and egged on by the tuts of ‘you can’t do that’ put everything I do together. Lease advice – natural beauty brains – waking beauty.’ https://www.naturalbeautybrains.org/
Linda :Letters from Linda – Letters of life, snippets and snapshots, a history. Linda says: ‘So far I’ve started to write about my family and some of the mementos I’ve collected in my flat that give me happy memories.’ http://lettersfromlinda.com/
Images from ‘The Coastal Pilgrim’ (left) and ‘Letters from Linda’ (right)
If you’d like to get in touch, on the ‘About’ page you will find a ‘Contact’ link which you can click on to bring up a Contact Form. A message from there will reach me by email. Or else visit http://www.cherrygilchrist.co.uk and select the Contact tab there.
As those of us in the Northern Hemisphere progress through the darkest days of the year, we may perhaps find ourselves more affected by the power of poetry. Words resonate when we’re not so distracted by bright light and busy lives outside. And there’s long been a tradition for writers, scholars and mystics to seek inspiration in the middle of the night. The medieval mystical Kabbalistic texts compiled in the book known as the Zohar emphasise that at midnight, God enters the Garden of Eden, and at this point the trees sing, and the angels can be heard. Those seeking ‘a whisper from the school of knowledge’ should arise from their beds at midnight, to pray and study. (We have to assume that they went to bed a lot earlier than we tend to do nowadays!)
An ancient Irish poem is set in just this context, that of a monk writing and studying in the depths of night. It comes from the 9th century, and although the monk was Irish, he was at that time located in a monastery named Reichnau, in what is present-day Austria. At this period, the Irish, especially the monks and scholars, were great travellers, and also often had to move abroad to escape Viking raids in theire homeland.
As the fame of Irish scholarship grew, Irish teachers and thinkers were also invited to join centres of learning at schools established in royal and aristocratic courts and large monasteries, so that by the ninth century, the German monk and scholar, Walafrid Strabo remarked: ‘The Irish nation, with whom the custom of travelling into foreign parts has now become almost second nature’ Book of Kells ‘Future Learn’ course, Trinity College, Dublin
This monk’s notebook shows that he was working on a variety of classical and theological texts, but the poem itself is about his relationship with his cat, Pangur Ban. Both have particular tasks to perform at night; both find their ‘bliss’ in these, whether writing or catching mice. ‘Ban’ means ‘white, and ‘Pangur’ means ‘fuller’, in the sense of part of the process of making and cleaning cloth. So the best guess is that he had a cat with soft white fur. And indeed, a good number of the medieval illustrations of cats show ones which are white in colour.
There were also ginger cats, preferred by the Vikings, often taken on board ship; their descendants are still found around the Mediterranean, and DNA proves their Scandinavian origin. Spotted cats, tabbies, grey and black ones were also prevalent.
Pangur Ban is a touching, intimate poem that astonished me when I came across it a few years ago, and this small miracle still tugs at my heart strings. I’m guessing the anonymous monk would be astonished too, to see how much his verses are valued over a thousand years later. W. H. Auden and Seamus Heaney have both produced striking translations from the Irish, and Samuel Barber has set it to music (see link below). But I prefer this simple, poignant version by Robin Flower.
The scholar and his cat, Pangur Bán
I and Pangur Ban my cat,
'Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.
Better far than praise of men
'Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill-will,
He too plies his simple skill.
'Tis a merry task to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.
Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur's way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.
'Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
'Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.
When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!
So in peace our task we ply,
Pangur Ban, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.
Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.
You can hear the first verse spoken in the ancient Irish in this recording.
And the Samuel Barber song, titled ‘The Monk and his Cat’, is performed beautifully here by Barbara Bonney.
Cats in ancient Ireland I first met Pangur Ban and became hooked on Old Irish Cats in a ‘Future Learn’ course on the Book of Kells, which is kept at Trinity College, Dublin. (You can read the relevant section and it’s free to join the rolling course.) . Here I learned that cats were valued in early medieval Ireland, not just as treasured companions, but as useful members of the household. They were accorded legal status: ‘Domestic cats were a high-status possession, owned principally by the elite. Such was their value, that there was an entire set of laws, the Catslechtae (‘cat-sections’) outlining the fines attached to the stealing, injuring or killing a person’s cat. Penalties differed according to the talents of the cat in question. For example, a cat was worth three cows if able to purr and keep its owner’s house, grain store and kiln free of mice, but only half that if was just good at purring.’
This is a description of some of the categories of cat enshrined in old Irish law: Ameone is ‘a mighty cat that mews’. Aicrúipnei is also a ‘mighty cat’. but ‘by virtue of its paw’. Ie, a good swiper of rodents. It is ‘a cat of barn and mill and drying-kiln, which is guarding all three’. Breonei is a female cat who purrs and protects – or may utter ‘an inarticulate cry’, and her value is greater if her purring is loud. Meone is ‘a pantry cat’, catching mice and rats which might steal the food. Her value seems high at two cows, if she’s good at her job. Otherwise, one cow. Abaircne is said to be ‘a cat for women’, ‘a strong one brought from the ship of Bresal Brecc in which are white-breasted black cats.’ Folum ‘is a cat who herds, who is kept with the cows in the enclosure.’ Last but not least, we have Rincne, ‘a children’s cat’, thus described because ‘it torments the small children, or the children torment it.’
Medieval Cats Cats were also appreciated in mainland Britain, and it’s known that a number of monks and ‘anchoresses’ (a type of female hermit) were sometimes permitted to have a cat as a companion. There were also stern warnings that they should not get too attached to the animal! (I am sure that this was ignored, even if an appearance of indifference was kept up.) Although there were some very cruel customs in earlier society involving cats, which I won’t go into here, it’s clear that in general, cats were not only useful members of the household in catching rats and mice, but provided companionship and solace to their human keepers.
Just occasionally, cats were paid a salary! In Exeter Cathedral today, one of the most popular features for visitors to spy is the medieval cat hole, as you can see below. This is in the door leading to the works of the famous astronomical clock; its ropes would have been greased, and the grease would have attracted vermin. Hence it was important that the Cathedral Cat should be able to hunt them down inside the clock chamber. Cathedral records show that from 1305 – 1467 the cat and its keeper received payment of around a penny a week, chiefly to provide good food for the cat.
Returning to the poem, and my theme of darkness in current posts, it’s definitely one for our midwinter nights. And it reveals that the writer and the hunter are not so far apart: In our arts we find our bliss, I have mine and he has his. So, Pangur Ban – and in my case Zaq and Cassie – we each have our tasks to perform, and I will try to accept the next live mouse that you deposit at my feet. As you can see, my cats take a lively interest in my work.
December 28th – A note to everyone:There’s been a marvellous response to this post – thank you all so much for reading this! Comments have been coming in, and are welcome, but please bear in mind that I have to read and ‘approve’ these first, if you are new to this site, so it can take a few hours.
Now winter nights enlarge
The number of their hours;
And clouds their storms discharge
Upon the airy towers.
Let now the chimneys blaze
And cups o’erflow with wine,
Let well-turned words amaze
With harmony divine.
Now yellow waxen lights
Shall wait on honey love
While youthful revels, masques, and courtly sights
Sleep’s leaden spells remove.
This time doth well dispense
With lovers’ long discourse;
Much speech hath some defense,
Though beauty no remorse.
All do not all things well;
Some measures comely tread,
Some knotted riddles tell,
Some poems smoothly read.
The summer hath his joys,
And winter his delights;
Though love and all his pleasures are but toys,
They shorten tedious nights.
This lovely poem by Thomas Campion, which I’ve frequently sung to the lute with my friend Steve Graham, paints a richly-coloured picture of how people, perhaps in a large household or stately home in the early seventeenth century, would occupy themselves during the dark hours at the turn of the year. And although the celebrations indicated here might be a little more elaborate than in the average household, merry-making, playing games, acting and drinking wine were an honoured part of the general Twelve Days tradition. We’re about to enter these days, which are generally said to start on Christmas Day itself, and perhaps we might extend our own revels right the way through to Twelfth Night itself. More of that later!
One key element of these Twelve Days, is that even though they start after the Winter Solstice, which is the shortest day of the year, the mornings will continue to get darker until about January 6th. So the finish of the Twelve Days heralds a general return of the light at both ends of the day, rather than just in the evenings which follow the Solstice. This seems to be a little-known fact in today’s society, when our habits are governed by artificial lighting. You can find a readable astronomical explanation of this here.
In many traditional cultures, these twelve days have been considered as time set apart, because of this phenomenon. The ancient gods of the Indian Rigveda were said to rest for twelve days, and the Romans placed the days outside the calendar itself. In Germany, all spinning was prohibited at that time, so as not to offend Frau Perchta, the winter goddess. And in England, as in various other European countries, social order was overturned with the reign of the Lord of Misrule, and games where finding a bean or a silver sixpence in your slice of pudding could elevate you to being King or Queen for a day. It was a time of mystery too; the Irish said that ‘on the twelve days of Christmas the gates of heaven are open.’ But they also added an ominous twist: On Twelfth Night, ‘the souls of the dead are thicker than the sand on the sea shore.’
Fortune-telling during the Twelve Days – Indeed, the Twelve Days are a magical time, when the veil between our world and the invisible realm of spirits is said to be very thin. The season has many associated traditions of fortune-telling, mostly to do with predicting events or even the weather for the year ahead. Farming communities were, not unnaturally, obsessed with trying to forecast weather in the days before modern meteorology. Weather lore and keen observation obviously counted for much, but by magical means, they hoped to glimpse further ahead. One divination practice assigns the weather on each of the Twelve Days of Christmas to a corresponding month of the year, so rain on Day One stands for a wet January, frost on Day Two for an icy February, and so on. I dare say you would have to make some adjustments though: if it snowed on Day Seven (July), for instance …
For personal fortune-telling, divination rituals could be performed using whatever you had to hand in the home and for the celebrations: candles, nuts and even the family Bible, could help to determine what will happen in the year ahead. If the flame guttered, or the nut cracked on the fire, for instance, this might have a particular meaning and could be interpreted as signs of things to come. One popular custom was to open the family Bible, blindfold, then place your finger seemingly at random on a verse; this is said to give you relevant guidance for the next twelve months More macabre practices involved predicting who would die in the year to come, perhaps by sitting in the churchyard at midnight to see the spirits of the not-yet-dead appear there. Even if we have forgotten most of these Christmas rituals today, trysts with fortune such as pulling crackers and playing board games are still echoes of these customs.
If you are eager to get into the mood of the Twelve Days early, then you can join in with a pre-emptive Russian custom. That’s if you are still an unmarried girl: Dec 13th – The Day of St Andrew the First-Called. Although it was still a long way till Christmas, girls were already trying to read their fortunes. Some knew how to foretell it from tracks in the snow. To do this, they had to get up early in the morning and look for the tracks leading from their porch. Who was it that left them, a man or a bird?…They should not be in any hurry, otherwise they might remove the tracks of someone they were eagerly waiting for.A Russian Folk Calendar– Polina Rozhnova
The Calendar Change
I’ve mentioned that the commonest way to count the Twelve Days of Christmas is to start on Christmas Day itself as number one. But other variations are possible. We have a complex history when it comes to counting dates. In 1752, British folk calendar customs were thrown into disarray for years to come, when the calendar was changed. Those who went to sleep on Wed 2nd September 1752 were forced to accept the next morning that they had progressed overnight to Thurs 14th September. There was an uproar – and it’s said that mobs stormed the streets, shouting, ‘Give us back our eleven days!’ No one is quite sure if this is true, but the general public did not take the loss quietly.
The calendar had finally been changed because it had become significantly out of alignment with the astronomical calendar. Christmas had drifted from its original position, closely following the winter solstice, to a date which is now the equivalent of January 6th. The reason for this is that a year, (a complete orbit of the earth around the sun) is not exactly 365 days long. It is in fact 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 45 seconds. So the calendar needed re-setting, and a new method had to be implemented for interspersing extra days, which we now know as the leap year system.
However, even after the calendar was changed, some people clung on to their habit of celebrating Christmas on what is now January 6th. In fact, those especially keen on merry-making could celebrate right through from new-style Christmas Eve on December 25th, to Old Twelfth Night on January 17th – 18th. This is not unknown in Russia today, where the Orthodox Church uses the old calendar, and secular society the modern one. There are reputed to be some seriously partying Russians who begin merry-making on December 24th and only let up around Jan 18th.
And which date is which?
There is still scope for confusion, though. A calendar sounds a nice simple affair, designed to make life easier for all of us. But scrape the surface, and you will find a chasm of uncertainty beneath. Is today’s Twelfth Night the evening before January 6th, i.e. the night of Jan 5th, or is it on Jan 6th itself? A calendar expert speaks: ‘In earlier times, ‘Twelfth Night’ meant 5 January, i.e. the Eve of the Twelfth Day, in the same way as Christmas Eve precedes Christmas Day. But nowadays most people regard ‘Twelfth Night’ as meaning the evening of Twelfth Day (6 January).’ (The English Year – Steve Roud).
Then you seemingly have the complication of New Year, interrupting the Twelve Days, and declaring a new beginning before we’ve even finished celebrating these twelve. In previous centuries, New Year’s Eve and Jan 1st weren’t given such prominence, but included in the general range of customs and festivities celebrated over the Twelve Days. New Year on January 1st was a bureaucratic Roman invention, and wasn’t considered very important until Queen Victoria’s reign. In my view, that’s where things have gone wrong! I prefer the natural progression of the twelve days and the return of the light to mark out the time, rather than an artificially chosen date for a forced celebration. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I don’t like staying up late? Perhaps, too, in an industrial world more pressure is now applied to get back to work after January 1st; in rural societies, this was a rare opportunity for people to celebrate and rest for twelve days because they couldn’t usefully work on the land at that time.
The Marshfield Mummers, aka ‘The Old Time Paper Boys’ usually perform every Boxing Day in the village of Marshfield just north of Bath. Sadly, it’s cancelled for 2021 because of the coronavirus – ‘for the first time since 1944’. I enjoyed this performance some years back, and these are some of the photos I took at the time.
‘A partridge in a pear tree’ A post about the Twelve Days wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the famous song, with unusual gifts given on each successive day. Just as a reminder, the standard version (there are indeed variants) goes: A partridge in a pear tree – Two turtle doves – Three French hens – Four calling birds – Five gold rings – Six geese a-laying – Seven swans a-swimming – Eight ladies milking – Nine ladies dancing – Ten lords a-leaping – Eleven pipers piping – Twelve drummers drumming.
Much effort has been made to delve into the symbolic meanings of these gifts. There are pagan versions, Christian versions, conspiracy theory versions, folkloric versions – you may take your pick. I have my own take on the ‘nine ladies dancing’, as I’ve written a whole book about the significance of ‘nine ladies’, as emblems and archetypes of women’s lives. And the concept of ‘the company of nine women’ goes back to prehistoric times. (The Circle of Nine). Take a look at this blog on January 17th, when I’m devoting a whole post to this theme!
Others have turned the words of the song into comedy, as did John Julius Norwich. The correspondence between a young lady and her over-zealous lover, who delivers these gifts, may not be so amusing once you’ve heard it performed at several Christmas concerts in a row! However, I’ve warmed to this unusual version from Ireland, although is there an element of cross-dressing here too?
If it’s novelty you’re after with the Twelve Days song, you can also find Covid versions, a Boris Johnson version and other subversive attempts to spice up an old favourite. (I’ll let you discover those yourselves on YouTube).
Twelfth Night, marking the final day, used to be a major celebration in the British Isles with parties and games. The Twelfth Night cake was the centrepiece of the occasion. This was baked with little charms or tokens in it, such as a bean, a clove or a coin, for guests to discover in their slices. As mentioned earlier, sometimes they were required to act out the role their charm signified for the rest of the evening, according to a pre-determined list ranked from Knave to King and Queen. It was finale to Christmas of merry-making, which included pageants and plays for those in the higher ranks of society. Shakespeare’s play ‘Twelfth Night’ is thought to have been written for that purpose, and it contains the kind of uproarious comedy, topsy-turvy accidents of chance, and switches of identity which were in keeping with Twelfth Night games. There’s an excellent account of the Tudor Christmas, which put all the emphasis on those twelve days, and their associated customs, saints’ days, and food offerings, recorded by Lucy Worsley for the BBC. In the UK, you can catch it on iplayer for a couple of weeks longer, or find it on You Tube. (NB The link I put up when this post was launched has now been removed from You Tube, but perhaps it will be posted again.)
I’d like to spread the net wider than just the UK, so let’s have a look at a Spanish custom of making a special Twelfth Night ‘King’ bread. Within the complexities of the Twelve Days is, of course, the Christian Epiphany on Jan 6th, celebrating the arrival of the Three Kings bearing gifts at the stable where Jesus was born.
This description comes from The Spruce Eats . I discovered that the recipe given on this website is almost identical to the one in my book Bread: A complete guide by Christine Ingram and Jennie Shapter, which I’ve had as a staple cookery book for years. I’ve streamlined the two versions here, which luckily agree almost entirely on quantities and method. However – COOK’S ALERT WARNING! – I haven’t actually made this recipe yet. I hope to do so this year, but please join me in the experiment, rather than take it as Cherry’s-Cache-tested. BUT – now I have made it! Please see ‘Checking in for the New Year’, posted on Jan 10th. I’m adding a few tips below, in italics.
Twelfth Night Bread, from The Spruce Eats Roscon de Reyes is a traditional dessert, served the night before or the morning of Reyes or Epiphany on Jan. 6. Dia de Reyes or simply Reyes is the day when children in Spain receive gifts from the Reyes Magos–Wise Men or Magi—the three kings who brought baby Jesus gifts. Instead of gifts from Santa Claus, the children receive them from the Reyes Magos. It is traditional to put several surprises inside the roscon. A porcelain figure of a baby wrapped in foil and a dry bean are hidden in the dough. Whoever finds the baby will have good luck and be the king of the party, but if you find the bean, you pay for the cake. In the last half of the 20th century, filling the roscon with whipped cream or a thick custard became popular. Today about a third of the roscones sold in Spain are filled. If you want to fill yours, use a bread knife to slice the bread in half horizontally and carefully remove the top. Next, squeeze in the whipped cream or filling you’ve chosen and carefully replace the top. Keep refrigerated until serving if filled with cream or custard.
Ingredients 450gm/1lb/4 cups unbleached flour ½ teaspoon salt 25gm/ 1 oz active dry yeast I don’t think this is correct – 25gm would be for fresh yeast. The proportion of fresh to dried is 3:1, so I used 8 gm granular yeast, which rose perfectly well, but probably a 7gm packet of instant yeast would be fine 140 ml/ scant 2/3 cup mixed lukewarm milk & water 75gm/3oz/ 6 tbsp butter 75gm/3oz/ 6 tbsp caster sugar Finely grated rind of 1 lemon (alternative quantity 2tsp) Finely grated rind of 1 orange (alternative quantity 2tsp) 2 large eggs 1 tbsp brandy 1 tbsp water (orange water also recommended – or I used 1tbsp fresh orange juice) 1 egg white (lightly beaten) for glazing 2 cups candied and glace fruit (eg assorted figs, oranges, lemons, mangos or cherries, chopped or left in large pieces. You’ll need the soft sugared kind as in glace cherries or mixed candied peel) As it bakes on the outside of the loaf, choose the softest kind. It might also be possible to mix in some chopped candied peel into the dough, the kind sold for cake-making. Flaked almonds for sprinkling on top
How to Make It
Sift flour and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Make a hole in the centre of the flour.
In a small mixing bowl, stir and dissolve the dry yeast in the lukewarm milk mixed with the lukewarm water. NB if using instant packet yeast, you won’t need to do this
Once dissolved, pour the dissolved yeast into the centre of the flour. Stir in just enough flour from around the sides of the bowl to make a thick batter.
With your hand, grab about a teaspoon of the flour from the side of the bowl and sprinkle it over the top of the batter.
Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and leave in a warm place, away from any draft. Allow batter to turn spongy, about 15 minutes.
In a medium-size mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugar. The mixture should be smooth and creamy. Set aside.
Add grated orange and lemon rinds, eggs, brandy and water to the flour mixture. Mix well with a wooden spoon to make a sticky dough.
Beat or hand mix the flour mixture until it is elastic and smooth. Gradually beat in the reserved butter-sugar mixture and mix until the dough is smooth. Form the dough into a ball, then cover the bowl oiled cling-film or damp tea towel.
Leave in a warm place and allow to rise until doubled in size. This will take approximately 1 1/2 hours.
While you are waiting for the dough to rise, grease a large baking sheet and set aside.
Once the dough has doubled, remove the plastic wrap and knock down the dough. Lightly flour a clean counter or cutting board and place dough on it.
Knead for 2 to 3 minutes. You can incorporate any Twelfth Night charms, figures, beans etc at this point. (Consider the impact on people’s teeth, though!)
Using a rolling pin, roll dough into a long rectangle, about 66cm/ 26” long and 26 cm/5”wide.
Roll up the dough from the long side, as if making a Swiss roll, into a long sausage shape.
Carefully place the dough seam down onto the prepared baking sheet and connect the ends together, forming a ring. (You can also hide a bean or a small foil-wrapped, ceramic figurine at this stage, too). Cover again. Leave in a warm place until doublde in size. This will take about 1 to 1 ½ hours
Meanwhile, heat oven to 350 F/ 180 C. Brush the top of the dough ring with lightly beaten egg white, and Decorate the ring with the candied fruit pieces. Push them into the dough slightly so that they do not fall off. Sprinkle with almond flakes.
Place in oven and bake for about 30 -35 minutes or until golden. Allow to cool on a rack before serving.
Midwinter Darkness And so to close this account, I’ll just slip in a reminder that my current series of posts are about different forms of celebrating the time of year, not just with dazzling lights and feasts, but also about relishing the darkness of the days and the long nights. These allow us to rest, to ponder, to warm ourselves with memories. Put another log on the fire, dim the lights, and sink into the dark womb of the year!
Our quinces are now picked, and the quince cooking season begins!You’ll find a recipe section at the end of this blog, and just to keep things current, I’m adding in an extra recipe which I tried for the first time yesterday – a beef and quince tagine.
I’ve had a love affair with the quince for the last fifteen years, ever since I began to pick the fruit from a neglected tree as I’ll describe shortly. I couldn’t let them go to waste! I knew nothing about quinces – where they came from, and what you could do with them – so I decided to find out.
Although it’s not common to see this golden fruit on sale very often, it was once highly prized. In the Middle Ages, quince trees were only planted by wealthy folk, and the dishes cooked with their fruit ranged from preserves and sweetmeats to savoury stews, where the quince provides a delicious sweet/sour background for the meat. Sometimes bowls of quinces were left out simply so that their delicate perfume could fragrance the air. We usually keep them in an old cherry-picker’s basket until I’m ready to cook them, and they do indeed have a lovely scent. Not many people in the UK cook quinces today, but there has been something of a revival in recent years, and I’ve collected various ‘quince supplements’ from magazines and newspapers.
Quinces originated in Mesopotamia, and it was the ancient Greeks who began to cultivate them, calling them ‘kydonia malon’, meaning ‘apple of Kydonia’. This corresponds to modern day Khania in Crete. Who knew that Quince means Khania? Historians also think that many early references to ‘apples’, such as Aphrodite’s ‘apple of love’, and the golden apples of the Hesperides, may in fact mean quinces. They were also used in the Middle East, then migrated to Europe, perhaps during the time of the Crusades.
You can’t eat a quince raw, but you can turn it into wonderful dishes – quince ‘cheese’, often known as membrillo, jelly, cakes and stews. I first started to experiment with quince recipes when I had an allotment in Bath; further down the plot was a neglected quince tree, on a strip of land which no one laid claim to. I watched these knobbly, pear-shaped fruit through the summer, and waited patiently until they’d started to ripen in mid-autumn. You need to hold back until they turn a deep yellow, but then pounce before they start to discolour. Friends visiting our garden as the quinces begin to ripen ask what those ‘furry pears’ are! Quinces have a thick down on them as the fruit grows, which is eventually shed when they reach picking stage.
When we moved to Gloucestershire, and I missed this quince bounty, we planted a dwarf Serbian quince tree in our rather exposed, terraced garden. It did well. Later still, when we moved to Exeter, I gained permission to go quince scrumping in an old medieval courtyard right in the city centre, by St Nicholas Mint. Here, in a walled garden, a beautiful quince has been planted, and every year those on the ‘quince interested list’ would be summoned to share the harvest. One year I only just managed to climb back on the bus home, laden with several carrier bags which weighed at least as much as a full suitcase.
And now, in Topsham, we have our second Serbian dwarf quince tree, the only variety of dwarf quince tree I’ve come across – essential if you haven’t the space for a big tree, as they can grow to the size of a tall pear tree. It’s four years since we planted it, and is doing very well. It gave about 25 quinces last year, which is enough to make all my favourite recipes, and over 40 this year.
If you can grow, beg or buy quinces – and some greengrocers and farm shops do stock them now – here follow some of my favourite recipes. Notes in brackets are usually my comments on the original instructions.
Membrillo is the best known quince recipe, and the resulting firm paste is sold in delicatessens at a very expensive price, and sometimes served with cheese plates at gourmet restaurants. The term ‘cheese’ means a fruit paste, and isn’t related to milk cheese. This recipe has been known in various forms since the medieval period.
Quince Cheese (also known as Membrillo or Quince Paste) 1 ¾ kg quinces – (you can make this with any weight, provided matched with the same weight for sugar) 300 ml water granulated sugar caster sugar.
Wash the quinces, but don’t peel or core them. Cut them into quarters and put them into a saucepan with water. Simmer until soft, then put them through a sieve. (Warning! This is hard work but needs to be done, to get the hard pieces out. A food processor won’t do the job.)
Weigh the pulp and put into a large pan with an equal weight of granulated sugar. Stir over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Continue cooking, stirring continuously, until the mixture becomes so thick it is leaving the sides of the pan. (You may need to add more water – take care that it doesn’t burn.)
Turn into shallow tins lined with greaseproof paper. Leave to dry in a warm place, e.g. in airing cupboard, for 3 -4 days, or in an oven on its lowest setting for 12 hrs. (I found 3 hrs worked perfectly well.) This will make the paste easier to handle and also improve the texture, giving it a slight chewiness.
Cut into pieces, the size of a square of chocolate, and roll in caster sugar. (It’s not strictly necessary to add more sugar at this point.) Pack in airtight box with greaseproof paper between each layer. (from It’s Raining Plums, Xanthe Clay). You can freeze this successfully – I’m currently finishing off last year’s just before making a new batch. And it also makes a very good Christmas present!
Sticky quince and ginger cake Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall This makes a pretty, moist cake studded with poached quince and stem ginger. Save any leftover poaching syrup – it will solidify into a jelly and is delicious spread on toast, (slightly hot in flavour because of the ginger). Makes one 23cm cake.
150g butter, softened, plus a little more for greasing 2 large-ish quinces (about 600g) 160g caster or vanilla sugar 160g runny honey 1 small thumb fresh ginger, peeled and finely diced Juice of ½ lemon 250g plain flour 2 tsp ground ginger 1 tsp baking powder Good pinch of salt 180g caster or vanilla sugar 3 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk 100g creme fraiche 1 tsp vanilla extract 3 balls stem ginger in syrup, drained and chopped For the topping 3 tbsp syrup from the ginger jar 3 tbsp quince poaching liquid 2 tbsp granulated sugar Heat the oven to 170C/325F/gas mark 3. Grease a 23cm x 5cm round, spring-form cake tin, line the base and sides with baking parchment, and butter the parchment.
Peel, quarter and core the quinces. Cut each quarter into 1cm slices. Put the quince into a large saucepan with 600ml water, the sugar, honey, ginger and lemon juice. Bring to a boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the quince is very tender and has turned a deep, rosy amber colour – about an hour and a half. (NB – in my experience, it’s often much quicker – even as little as 10 mns! I recommend not cutting the quince too small or you may end up with mush – usable, but not quite as nice as chunks. The quince may not always turn red either but that’s nothing to worry about.) Drain, reserving the liquor. Leave the quince to cool, and in a small pan reduce the liquor until thick and syrupy.
Sift the flour, ground ginger, baking powder and salt into a bowl. In a separate bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs and yolk one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in a few tablespoons of the flour, the creme fraiche and vanilla, fold in the rest of the flour, then the poached quince and chopped ginger. Spoon into the prepared tin and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake for about an hour and a quarter (check after an hour – if the cake is browning too quickly, cover with foil), until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.
While the cake is cooking, whisk together the ginger syrup and poaching syrup to make a glaze. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, pierce the top a few times with a skewer and brush on the glaze, letting it trickle into the holes. Sprinkle over the sugar and leave to cool in the tin for 20 minutes. Remove from the tin and leave on a wire rack to cool completely. Notes: Freezes very well. And you get half a small jar of jelly out of it – just save the left over liquid and let it set. It has an intense and sweet flavour.
Lamb Shanks and Quince Tagine ½ tsp cumin seeds ½ tsp coriander seeds 100gm unsalted butter 4 Lamb shanks 1 tsp ground ginger ½ tsp cayenne pepper 3 garlic cloves, crushed 2 large onions, roughly chopped 400ml lamb stock ½ cinnamon stick 4 tbsp clear honey 20g fresh coriander leaves, coarsely chopped 1 quince, peeled, quartered and cored 1 lemon, juice & 2 strips of rind ½ tsp saffron, dissolved in 2 tbsp boiling water
Grind the cumin and coriander together. Heat 75gm butter in a large casserole and brown the lamb on all sides. Remove the meat and set aside. Add all the spices (except the saffron), and the garlic and onions; cook for 2 minutes. Season and add the stock. Add 2tbsp honey and about a third of the coriander. Bring to the boil, return the lamb to the casserole, then turn down to a simmer. Cover and cook over a low heat for 1 ½ hrs until meltingly tender.
Meanwhile, put the quince in a small saucepan and cover with water. Add the lemon rind, juice and the remaining honey. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 15-20 mns until tender.
When the lamb is cooked, remove the shanks and cinnamon stick and keep warm. Add about 4tbsp of the quince poaching liquid, the saffron and its water. Bring to the boil and reduce to a thickish sauce. Taste and season.
Slice the quince and heat the remaining butter in a frying pan. Sauté the quince slices until golden. Return the lamb to the casserole and heat everything through. Gently stir in the remaining coriander and add the quince. Serve immediately with couscous or bread.
Quince Stew Fry 2 large oinions.
Add 2lb shoulder of lamb, beef or veal, cut into 1 inch cubes, brown the meat. Add 1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon, ¼ tsp grated nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Cover with water and simmer for 1 hr. Then add 2 ripe quinces, peeled, cored & cut into similar chunks, plus 4 oz soaked yellow split peas. Simmer for 15 mns, then add 4 tbsp lemon juice and 1 – 2 tbsp of sugar. Simer a further 15 mns or until ready.
(Found on a forum, said to be from Claudia Roden’s Book of Jewish Food. I’ve used lamb shoulder, and I soaked the split peas for 2hrs, and parboiled them too to be on the safe side.)
Quince, prunes or dried apricots were commonly used in lamb and beef stews. Quince is an ancient fruit that grows across Turkey. It’s not an easy fruit to eat when raw. It also has an extremely tough flesh, which is difficult to cut up and swallow. But If you leave a quince on a sunny windowsill it will slowly release its delicate fragrances of vanilla, citrus, and apple all over your house. And if you cook it, those scents blossom into a magnificent perfume in your dishes whether its a stew or a dessert. The fruit turns its colour from yellow white to a light rose when its cooked. Such a magical fruit. (I agree!)
Ingredients 2kg Quality beef chuck or rump, cut into 6cm pieces 3 quinces 4 medium onions 4 cloves garlic 1/2 cup sultanas 2 tbs tomato puree 3-4 green peppers (a mix of red, yellow, green and orange is fine) 1-2 red peppers 3 tbs olive oil 1.5 glass red wine 1 cinnamon stick 1 teaspoon allspice 1 teaspoon turmeric 2 bay leaf Salt&pepper Water
Directions: Peel and chop the onions, then peel and slice the garlic. Peel, core and slice the quinces in cubes. Put them in a bowl of cold water with lemon juice.
Heat 3 tablespoons of oil over a medium heat in a large saucepan and sauté the onion and garlic until soft. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside, then add the beef and sauté for 5 minutes until all sides are seared add sultanas and the quince & stir for 5 minutes. Return the onions and garlic .Deglaze with red wine.
Add the tomato purée, peppers (cut into chunks or broad strips), cinnamon, bay leaf, allspice, turmeric and enough water to cover (+1 cm)
Season and stir well, bring to the boil then simmer for at least 45 min -1 hour.
Serve with Pilav or mashed potatoes.
Cherry’s notes: Delicious! I made about a third of this quantity, and scaled down the ingredients proportionately, although I still kept to three quinces. Two would have been better, as they need to balance out the meat. I also added 2 or 3 tbsps of runny honey to counteract the tartness – this gave a good sweet-sour flavour. I didn’t have allspice so I used 2 star anise instead, which worked very well. Judging by other similar recipes, the spices can easily be adjusted according to taste or availability.