Gillian Monks

'Making Fairytales Come True'

Category: Musings of the Hearth

Add A Little Sweetness…

Luscious golden globes of infinite tangy sweetness!

Ah… back to more normal reality! Seeing both my books published and republished and celebrating that fact has been immensely exciting, but now it is time to turn my attention back to the more usual seasonal tasks for this time in October – and also some domestic activities which should have been seen to much earlier in the year!

For instance, the candying of peel. I usually complete this in the summer when we are enjoying lots of relaxed breakfasts with the doors and windows all thrown wide to the soft mountain breezes or sat in the sunshine in the garden. Then there are copious quantities of grapefruit  and orange peels left over. Rather than simply consigning them to the compost bin, it is far better to preserve them for use later in the autumn and winter.

This is really simple – even though it takes several days to complete. It is a process of boiling the peels in an increasingly sweetened sugar syrup and leaving them to marinade in it for days in between. (For anyone wishing to try this for themselves the recipe is included in ‘Merry Midwinter’.) I can really recommend it!

The crucial point comes at the end of the procedure when the peels are lifted out of their syrupy bath and left to drain on a wire cooling rack and then placed in the bottom oven of the Aga for several hours. The trick is to allow them to dry and set in a gentle heat for just the right amount of time so that they are dry and handleable but still soft and moist. The length of time to achieve this varies from batch to batch, depending on the size of fruit and exactly how hot my ‘cool oven’ is at the time, and no two batches of peel are ever the same.

I did actually candy a batch of grapefruit several weeks ago, but it was right in the middle of the time we were getting ‘The Alternative Advent Calendar’ ready to go to print… and I forget them. Rather than the two or three hours in the coolest part of the oven, I only remembered them twenty-fours after first placing them there to dry out. When I ran to retrieve them, they were a deep brown in colour – otherwise known as burnt – and so rock hard they could have shod a horse! Sadly not one of my finest moments!!! But sometimes these things happen. You either laugh or cry and it is by far better to laugh about it.

I prefer to candy grapefruit peel – which produces lusciously thick sticky slices of decadence – and which adds real luxury and fresh, fruity zest to home made Christmas cakes and puddings. This year I have also candied orange peels too. they give very distinct flavours and both can be sliced and dipped in melted dark chocolate for the ultimate experience with freshly brewed coffee at the end of your Christmas dinner.

Why not try it for yourself? It is really easy to do. One of these days I might even try candying whole small fruits, like clementines, which were my mother’s favourite and which always used to arrive packed in wooden boxes from Fortnum and Mason. I can strongly recommend it. You end up with a far superior product full of gorgeous sweet tangyness rather than the drier, more tasteless bought version.

Oh, and if you have any left over, it is absolutely delicious baked into Hot Cross Buns for Easter. Candied peel made this way will easily keep in an airtight container for at least twelve months.

Be adventurous! Have a go – and make something which will really set your Christmas baking apart this year.

Lammas Greetings!

My Lammas Loaf, specially baked in the shape of a sheaf of wheat

Dusk came early to our valley this evening. Throughout the day there has been thick cloud obscuring the mountains after all the rain, but now the rumbling, flashes and downpours have ceased. All is calm, still and quiet. As the light dimmed I went to our front door and rang my tinkling little bell and called to the  fair  folk, the Tylwyth Teg, to come and bless my home. I left offerings of crusty home-baked bread spread with sweet thick honey, a bowl of milk and a glass of home made oak leaf wine for them to feast upon in the dark hours when prying human eyes are tightly shut in slumber.

For I am writing this on Lammas eve. By old beliefs and the natural calendar of the land this is the time when true summer begins to draw to an end and we enter early autumn. Be mindful that this is the beginning of the main harvest season – the grain harvest – although we have already had the hay cut and been gathering fruit, herbs and vegetables from the land for several months!

This is a good time to ponder on what we have gained and what we have sacrificed of ourselves over the light, bright season. Our own actions mirror the bounty and sacrifice which the Earth constantly enacts to sustain all the life on this planet.

This is also traditionally a good time to reassess or appraise relationships, contracts and agreements, and to enter into new ones too. Historically this was one of those times of year when people came together… a brief respite in the gruelling farming calendar between one lot of harvesting and the next… but still a time of light evenings and good weather when picnicking in the fields and boisterous games allowed the young to safely let off steam and the more sedentary to gossip and catch up on news… to discuss business and strike new deals… to come to fresh understanding with one’s neighbour.

There is something here for all of us to take away and think about… and to also put into practical action! It matters little where you live and what your daily occupation and employment is. Perhaps you might like to follow in the footsteps of your ancestors and become more aware of who and what is around you… of what you have to be thankful for… of what you need to improve or make new arrangements for… to decide what you have so far achieved and what you are willing to do or give of yourself in the coming months. And to reach out to your friends, family and neighbours in friendship and understanding.

A very merry,  prosperous and joyful Lammas celebration to you all!

 

Gwyl Ffraid Hapus!

Gwyl ffraid 2019

A crisp day of earliest spring!

A very happy Gwyl Ffraid/Imbolc to you all! After a wonderful walk along the river with the family this afternoon, we are toasting in front of a roaring blaze… only white candles lit for light… peace and stillness at this pivotal time between the end of winter and the earliest stirrings of spring. Enjoy!

A Woman For All Seasons

It seems as if we have had all four seasons in one week!

Gillian at Dorothea

Observing the autumn in the quarry

First came ‘spring’ last weekend with all manner of spring and early summer flowers having a second go at blooming – the rhododendron outside my dining room window is fairly well covered in delicate blooms – smaller than their early summer counterparts, but flowers nonetheless.

On Monday, autumn had descended. The valley was filled with lowering grey skies weeping mizzely rain and softly drifting leaves of gold and brown. My son and I decided to take a walk down our local disused quarry. Muffled in waterproofs and armed with foraging baskets we strode into the silent woods with our two golden Labrador dogs happily snuffling through the rank undergrowth. The woods were immensely welcoming and the various lakes (formed where once-cavernous quarry holes have now filled wit water) lay serenely still without a ruffle of a breeze across their bright surface.

Autumn in the quarry

Dusk approaching on a damp and very still autumnal afternoon

This felt more authentically appropriate. After all, it is October now. Time to bid farewell to light warm summer days, the fruitfulness of harvest fields and rich wild abundance of woodland and hedgerow. The only things left here to gather are mushrooms of many kinds – some destined for the dispensary and medicinal purposes and others for the kitchen. We gratefully filled our baskets. Then stood to witness the Earth sighing and stretching as she settles for her Winter sleep.

But what is this? By Wednesday we were plunged back into ‘summer’! Blue skies and golden sunshine; the temperature a very balmy 21 degrees and suddenly everything I was wearing was too thick and far too hot. Out came the strappy sandals and tissue-thin dresses again…

Now it is Friday and what do we have? Winter gales buffeting the house, some trees suddenly stripped prematurely bare, rain rattling against the window panes in squally torrents and the daylight almost gone, even though it is only 5.40.pm..

What, I wonder, might the next couple of days bring? Which season might we be inhabiting come the beginning of the new week?

Merry Michaelmas!

A very happy Michaelmas to you! What am I talking about? Already people are

Autumnal Wreath Front Door

Autumnal wreath for the front door

beginning to focus on the ‘countdown to the BIG DAY’ on the 25th December and are forgetting other more ancient agrarian festivals!

Michaelmas is one of the Christian quarter days – the others being March 25th, June 24th and December 25th – which closely shadow the equinoxes and solstices celebrated by older and other religions. This time of year is seen as the end of the time of harvest and is still marked by harvest thanksgiving services as we rapidly slide into deep autumn and towards the fallow months of Winter.

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