Egg Nog is not only for Christmas, and T learns about gas – for mw&g

When we were kids and living in that big beach house, there was a period when my mother became unwell.  For quite some time actually. And during the times when she was in bed  I would take over the kitchen and the littlies and my sister A would take over the laundry and the floors. My youngest sister G did the animals and chooks.

Dad would rise very early in the morning  and make a big pot of porridge.  Then he would walk up and down the halls calling us all to wakefulness before he went to work at 6.30.

Our milk was delivered early in the morning in pint bottles with little silver tin foil lids. These were dropped one by one into a little wire basket. To tell the milk boy how many bottles you wanted you put that many empty bottles out on the fence the night before, with the corresponding number of plastic tokens that we bought at the dairy (little grocery store)up the road, inside the bottles.  The milk boy had a trolley with crates loaded with bottles of milk and he ran clanking down the road, going to each house, pulling out empties and loading the baskets with full white fresh creamy milk and popping the baskets in a special shaded area below the letterbox with a tinkle of glass on glass. Our first morning sound. The milk was always whole, or full cream and so there was a little layer of cream on top of the milk. We were always careful of this layer as it was the best of the milk, kids would get up early in the morning to try and get this cream for their hot porridge, which was then piled high with  brown sugar and eaten from the outside in. One of my sisters did not care about the cream because she would pour the milk very carefully in a moat around her porridge then lift the island of porridge away from the sides and then stir the island around and around until the milk flew across the kitchen.

After I had poured the cream off  I would make egg nogs for everyone with our own eggs (Dad had chooks down the back)  and this beautiful fresh milk.  Everyone had a cup of egg nog every morning. This was not American Christmas eggnog which I knew nothing about until I came to America.  This was special celi eggnog that we had for breakfast every morning for years. Mum was adamant that we all drink it.  I think that even though my mother struggled for years with her health or maybe because if it she was probably a pioneer in health food. I will tell you about her muesli, and mama munch one day too.

So we were all upstairs in the new kitchen.   I had separated 6 eggs into two separate bowls and was whisking the whites. Dad had gone to work. Mum was in bed. All the kids were milling about stuffing lunches (sandwiches that I had made the night before  and wrapped in grease proof paper) into their bags, doing last minute homework and preparing their own versions of breakfast.

T was in charge of making the toast.  He had been doing this for ages. Everyone worked together, had their own job and cleaned their own dishes in the mornings. We had a system, the kitchen was packed with movement but it worked. We did not have a toaster, we had a gas grill that was mounted on the wall. The grill could take 6 pieces of bread at a time, and T would sit up there munching and toasting until the orders stopped coming in.  He was a bit short though being so young so to reach the grill he pulled out a drawer, stood on it then heaved his little self up onto the bench. He would squat like a  grasshopper at the grill. Saying very little because he was a quiet fella.

This morning as I was making the egg nog I was  listening to an even younger brother read his homework book, my sisters were eating at the breakfast bar, and my older brother was carefully sprinkling about 2 inches of brown sugar onto his porridge.  I was in charge of the littlies and I took this responsibility seriously but I was right there at the bench with T, so it wasn’t like he was alone or anything. 

So, I had separated the 6 eggs, the yolks were mixed with three cups of milk and a teaspoon of vanilla in one bowl. I was beating the egg whites in another bowl into peaks slowly adding three spoons of sugar.

T had that thing that you strike and it makes a spark, my sisters were shouting to each other and Mum was beeping on her intercom hoping for a cup of tea and we had not noticed that T had turned on the gas and  was taking a bit longer than usual to light it. He had been doing this job for months without misshap. The repeated rasp of the lighter went unheard. The gas silently surrounded him. He was leaning right into the grill peering – all eyebrows and freckles.  I turned off the beater reaching for the spatula to fold everything together when we heard  the woosh as the gas lit. An instant blue flame ignited the air around his head. T was  absolutely silent and motionless  within it  for just a moment. As we all turned to him he turned to us and he had a shocking grin on his face. Like WOW.  We all just froze. The toast began to cook.  I looked at him saying what just happened. His big eyes seemed bigger. He just looked back at me. Then I realised that he had no eyelashes at all and his eyebrows were singed to stubs and the front of his hair was frizzled to orange. His skin was completely untouched, he was absolutely ok,  the flame had just wooshed around him burning all the hair. I reached over and swung him down off the bench and lugged him over to the mirror to look at himself. He was laughing, this little kid was laughing his head off.  My sisters laughed as well and my big brother turned over the toast. My other little brother sat silently on his stool in the middle of the floor, holding his book and just watched.

I went back to the egg nog with T kneeling on  another stool next to me and let him fold everything together. The other little brother resumed his reading.  Everyone else started the clean-up. I did not share this job as a rule. The drink had to be light and airy or no-one would drink it. My egg nog had to be just right. He carefully poured the mix into each persons glass. It was important to get the portions exactly the same in the glasses as the pourer could not choose his glass until everyone else had.  I made Mum her cup of hot weak black tea as T called the others to  their drinks, he  handed me mine, littler brother his, then gulped his own egg nog down (it must be drunk immediately while still fluffy and straight down the hatch), we dropped the glasses and bowls upside down in the big top-loading  dishwasher as our sisters wiped benches and grabbed bags and then we went downstairs to tell Mum what had happened, but we have to run because we are late and say goodbye as we all left for school. 

c

Feeding sugar water to Bees

At this time of year the flowers have begun to fade. There is not as much food around for my friends the bees. NOT because winter is coming yet you understand!  Even flowers need a break sometimes too you know. 

So I set up feeders for the bees.  I make a drink for them of one part water and one part sugar.  They have a feed and then store this in their hives topping up their winter honey. But I have to be careful that they do not drown. So all the trays of sugar water have interesting things in them for the bees to hold onto whilst they drink. 

There are special feeders that you can fit into your hive for when it is really cold but  it is NOT COLD just a wee bit chilly. Time for a cardi for me and some extra special drinkies for the bees.

The  Gypsy summer or the last of the summer wine or something like that is yet to come. In fact the grapes are getting very close to harvest.  It is so lovely outside today, and I shall be spending the whole day outside  in the garden too.  Perfect garden weather. 

So, sshh.

We are having a very quiet feeding frenzy. There is a wee buzz. 

Have a lovely colourful weekend.

c

Pumpkin Soup for Lunch

It was so cold yesterday morning. I have to admit that I went into shock which quickly flared into full blown denial. I refuse to light a fire, even though we have begun to stack the firewood in the Wendy house. It is not really cold because summer is NOT OVER!It is only SEPTEMBER! I am not going to bow to the forces of nature quite yet. So it looks like I will have to sit in my summer study (designed for coolness) and just shiver. Quietly.

Then I thought, why not go out into the wilderness garden and see if there is a pumpkin ready and make pumpkin soup for lunch. Pumpkin soup is not TOO wintry though it is warming to the insides. So that is what I did. There was only a butternut ripe, the pumpkins still have solid green stems (no sign of drying in the stem).  But a butternut will do nicely.

Pumpkin soup is quite divine.

Into a saucepan

  • 1 washed, unpeeled and roughly cut butternut, or squash, or pumpkin. My own  preference is actually buttercup.
  • 1 big chopped onion
  • 1 small chilli (do not cut up we are going to take it out again later as we only want a hint of hotness)
  • 1 small,  peeled and chopped tart apple
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 pint or more of chicken stock or vegetable stock

Season with Peppercorns or fresh ground pepper and a little sea salt.

Boil in a good organic stock until all vegetables are soft.

Drain. Retain all the stock. When the pumpkin is a little cooler, pick out the chilli  and discard.  Scoop the flesh out of the butternut chunks with a spoon into a blender, discarding the peppercorns as you go.

Blend pumpkin flesh and apple and onions and chicken stock in batches.  Return to saucepan for reheating.

Adjust seasoning. This soup is very thick and often a gorgeous delicious bright orange.  Add up to a half cup of full cream as you reheat to achieve the consistency you want.   Do not allow to boil after adding the cream. 

Serve with creme freche or sour cream and chopped chives or green onions or whatever takes your fancy. And  a warm crusty bread.

c

In my Kitchen, a tiny glimpse

For the first time I thought I would take a few pictures of things in my kitchen and join the fun over at celia’s. Just a few shots today because as usual there are a number of culinary projects hanging about cluttering up the place.

This is Johns great-grandmothers coffee grinder. We use it every morning to grind our coffee. It works like a charm. Wish it could talk.  It looks like it could talk though if we animated it!

I have limited pantry space so here is how I store my cans and yes I do use them. There is a knack to getting one out and popping another back into the gap before the whole thing falls over.  

I have a deep mistrust of drawers and doors. I like to keep everything I use on shelves where I can see what they are up to.   Plus I am the most absent minded person I know so if I cannot see what I have I forget that I have it.  Everything has a spot where it lives. I probably should have tidied and polished but that kind of felt against the rules. Anyway I am butterfly housekeeping today and everything inside is half done!

In the previous picture you will have glimpsed my pantry, I use jars to store everything. I have a long standing love affair with old  glass. It bewitches me.  My own grandfather (Pa)  used to collect old bottles.  Apparently Johns grandfather had a similiar idea with jars. There are boxes of these Blue Ball jars in The Matriarchs barn.  See that Swayzee one?  Ball bought out a lot of their competition.   Swayzee Glass,  Indiana, started up in 1894 and were bought out by Ball in 1904. The sand hill Ball used to make the blue glass  (Hoosier Slide Sand) was completely mined out by 1937. This particular sand on the shores of Lake Michigan was lower in iron than other sand, resulting in this intense blue cast. No-one seems to know why this happened right there and it  has not been found again anywhere else in the States, as far as I can work out. This is why these particular Ball  jars were only made for a limited time. So it is safe to assume that these jars in their dusty old cardboard boxes, put into the barn by Johns grandfather are at least 80 – 100 years old. Some are even older as I can see the marks of being hand blown.

The kitchen has tall french doors that are always open onto the big covered verandah where we eat every meal until winter around a big long harvest table I made from an old barn door.  This is where we work, gather and talk. We wash vegetables  and sort the produce from the gardens.  This is where the animals join us for a beer in the late afternoon.  It is a disaster area today though, so I will show you another time. Apparently a sleepy couple are lying right outside the screen doors, just waiting.

c

mama’s easy meatloaf

As you know I run a small sustainably managed old fashioned farm.  We like to grow the food we eat. But so that I can have this ‘on the farm’ life to which I would like to become accustomed, Our John has to go to work each day at a real job. Poor darling.  And as I won’t let anyone eat processed or store bought food I cook dinner with his lunch for the next day in mind. Lunches for him to take to work. Meatloaf fits the bill nicely.  As kids we ate meatloaf sandwiches and my children did too when they were at school. My mother used to make her meatloaf in two large loaf tins. I prefer to make it in the little tins.  They cook faster and then the loaves are less likely to dry out.

Mama’s Meat Loaf

  • 1 pound of ground (minced) beef
  • 1 pound of ground(minced) pork
  • 1 onion
  • 1 loose cup of grated butternut and the same of grated egg plant ( or carrot and sweet potato), or whatever is in your garden. Just make sure a third of your loaf is vegetables.
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1/2 finely chopped de seeded chilli. This little hit of chilli complements the honey  so be very light handed. You want to taste each flavour.
  •  fresh herbs – thyme, celeriac (just a little of the leaf so it supports the tastes not overpowers them), generous pick of rosemary tips.
  • 2 eggs.
  • a tiny drizzle of honey.
  • salt and pepper to taste.

The best way to combine this is to use your hands. Fingers were made before forks! And if you have time, it is even better if you can combine everything except the eggs and let it sit for a couple of hours in the fridge to exchange flavours.

Pat firmly into your loaf tins. This will make four small loaves.

Pour a rich sweet Thai chilli sauce on top and then top that with grated or sliced cheese.  When my children were young I topped it with tomato paste and swirls of mustard on top of that.

Cook in moderate oven for about 40 minutes to an hour.  Careful not to overcook as a dry meatloaf is so dissappointing. Now, it will get juicy as it cooks. So half way through the cooking time I VERY CAREFULLY drain some of the juices out of the tin then pop it back into the oven.  Oy.. someone get that bad cat off the table! ..  bad cat! 

We ate this with butter roasted new potatoes and fresh beans from the garden. We have been eating outside on my barn door table, every evening since spring.

THE NEXT DAY

Make a lunch box door-stop sandwich with your home made flax seed bread and a slice of cold meatloaf. If you have baked your bread and meatloaf  in the same size tins then they will fit together perfectly.  Add a slice of cheese, a smear of your tomato chutney,  and a few leaves of fresh fall lettuce.

Maybe send him to work with  a bottle of ginger beer like the old time Welsh miners. No shaking. 

c

PS Ginger beer  and that Bad Cat

 

 

 

the day i set my little brothers hair on fire for mw&g

In New Zealand we light fireworks on Guy Fawkes’ night. It is similiar to 4th of July except that 4th of July makes sense. Guy Fawkes was an unfortunate fellow with rather an elaborate moustache who tried to blow up the House Of Lords on November 6,  1605.  He was not even the ringleader. He got caught literally guarding the explosives, sitting on a keg of gunpowder playing with matches no doubt, as it  appears he was not a very  bright fellow. He was Catholic the guys in power at the time were Protestants. The Protestants confiscated all the gunpowder and poor old Guy  came to a rather sticky end.  And for some obscure reason this date has been celebrated with bonfires, fireworks and the burning of straw guys on Guy Fawkes night all over Britain and then around the commonwealth ever since. In fact in one way or another people have lit bonfires or fireworks on this night for over 400 years.

Except for us. Because our mother did not approve of  Guy Fawkes Night.  Aside from the obvious safety factor, and the barbaric nature of the celebration, evidently we may as well set fire to a ten dollar note.  Though I have to say that we saw no logic at all in her argument. How could setting fire to a 10 bob note be in any way entertaining.  However one year we outsmarted our mother  (or she allowed herself to be outsmarted more like)  and we were allowed to have a fireworks night of our own the night AFTER Guy Fawkes night.

I will explain to you how this worked. As you know we lived on a beach. On The Night, the beach was crammed with people cooking out, bringing their picnics, family and friends, their terrified dogs and when it was dark, lighting their bonfires and their  fireworks and having a grand old time.  You will know that you cannot let off fireworks until it is dark and in the dark they LOST plenty of fireworks. So my older brother hit on the idea of getting up really really early (before the other beach kids), the next morning,  going down to the beach and searching for the fireworks these careless people had lost.  Then when it was  dark that night,  we would have our own fireworks displays. It was a fine plan. There were six of us so we were able to cover a fair amount of terrain before Mum got up.  We filled bags with unlit fireworks, all kinds , rockets, tom thumbs, spinning wheels,  and this year I struck gold, I found a big unopened box of  sparklers.  I loved sparklers.

The night came and after pleading with mum for roughly 6 hours we were allowed to go to the beach and carefully light our fireworks as long as we did not shoot rockets at each other, did not approach the fizzers and carried buckets of seawater about with us,  just in case. We were  to stay within sight of the house and  look after the Littlies. The Littlies were the three youngest. That was fine, we all took one each. I got T.

T was a lovely little boy, he had piles of hair and the sweetest freckles and navy blue eyes as big as an animated cats. His eyelashes were so long that my sisters and I wondered how he was able to keep his eyes open they looked so heavy. He did not walk until he was almost 18 months old because I carried him everywhere and did not talk until he was three and his first words were ‘go away and leave me alone!’ Which we all found hilarious.

So I always had T, he was my little boy. He would have been about four years old this day,  I think.

So my sisters and I we are larking down in the shallows. I had given T a sparkler all of his own and lit four for myself, and with two in each hand I was writing my name in the dark.  Heaving my arms round and round writing for all I was worth before they went out. Then I saw a funny little fire in my peripheral vision. One of my sparklers had sparked into  T’s hair  and it had started a wee  fire. Oops.  I had set my brother on fire!

I dropped my sparklers hissing into the sea, rushed at him, caught him up and dumped him head first into the oncoming waves.  It was a warm early summer night. OK.  

He floundered about for a bit while I peered into the dark, checking that he had gone out.  And just as importantly I looked about to see that no-one had noticed me setting his hair on fire. Well, it was an accident! Then he stood up, dripping, this skinny little wet cat of a kid.  We puddled back to the shore and he looked at me with this really quizzical look. Why did you do that, he said quietly.   I paused, then sighed  and decided to tell the truth.  You were on fire, I said. Oh, he said as though this was a perfectly reasonable thing to hear. As though being set on fire by your big sister and then thrown into the sea by the same sister was a perfectly ordinary occurrence.

Can I have an other sparkler, he said and held up his dead dripping little fire stick .  Mine has gone out.

c

lemon verbena honey with mama’s pikelets

Yesterday, much to the bemusement of the bees,  I swapped their last little honey super (box) for a bigger brood super to expand into for the winter. The theory is that if they come out of winter into spring with a bigger house they will not swarm.  Then I scarpered back to the kitchen with the last frames of honey for ME!

It is a very sticky business.

Last night I  discovered a fantastic use for honey. I opened a new bottle of pinot grigio, from a vineyard I had not sampled before. And it was quite dreadful. (Katherine I almost spat!) I KNEW I should not have broken my rule about never buying wine with an animal on the label. So as I was decanting honey at the time, I simply poured a gooey drop of fresh honey straight from the jug into my glass, stirred and VOILA, it was drinkable. And healthy!  A fantastic discovery! Naturally the honey bottling went much better after that.

Another fantastic recipe for honey – Lemon Verbena Honey.  From the wonderful Food In Jars.  This will be lovely to have with our sourdough pikelets.  I do not have any lemon verbena so I have substituted lemon balm and we will see what happens. Lemon balm makes a great tea and grows like a weed out here. 

Sourdough Pikelets

  • Beat 1 egg and 3/4 cup of sugar until  smooth
  • Add 2 cups warm activated starter (Proof your starter, then feed again and sit for at least an  hour so you get maximum volume in your pikelets).
  • As you stir keep adding sifted flour (about 3/4 cup) until you reach a  thick  mixture.

Cook biscuit sized dollops in a very lightly greased pan on low heat. Flip when the bubbles begin to pop.  Now, here is a tip, if these come out rubbery and chewy, this is because your starter was not active enough. So call them prospectors pancakes.  Next time you can stir in a teaspoon baking soda to the mixture just before you cook.

For those of you who do not have a sourdough starter here is the regular pikelet recipe.

Mama’s Pikelets

  • 1 egg and 3/4 cup sugar BEAT together, add 3/4 cup milk and beat again.
  • In another bowl add 1 cup flour, pinch of salt and 1 teaspoon of baking powder.

Make a well in the flour and pour in most of the milky mix, stir the well until the flour is incorporated, add the last of the milk if you need to.  You do not want these to spread like flapjacks,  so err on the side of thick. If that makes any sense. (If you do want flapjacks, add a little more milk. )

Pour or spoon mixture onto a hot lightly greased griddle turned low.  When bubbles appear flip over.  Pile inside a folded tea towel as you finish and serve warm with butter and jam or whipped cream and jam or HONEY!

Many people have been asking where I bought my starter from. Here is the site.

Have fun

c

in a frogs eye

The Frog Garden.

This spring John built a new garden. He had an interesting concept. He found this in a magazine but we lost the magazine so if someone reading was the writer of this please get in touch and I will give credit where credit is due as this is a great little garden.

In a nutshell. He dug a shallow wide hole close to the woodshed (the Woodshed is  called the Wendy House). He lined this depression with heavy plastic. He layered broken bricks, gravel and broken concrete (just rubbish that will drain) onto the plastic. He divided the hole into three -lengthways, and created a channel through the middle part with concrete blocks. The outside two parts he filled with  the excavated good soil and compost, etc.  So the raised beds are in a U around the channel of water. With a boardwalk running above the channel.  He weeds and works from this little bridge.  He ran a pipe from the guttering on the Wendy house to the channel. This filled the channel with water when it rained. This water filters outwards and waters the plants. It is so simple. And it would be perfect in a small backyard garden. 

It grows fantastic peppers and eggplants. I worried about mosquitoes but this little garden  is noisy with these guys.  This is why it is called the Frog Garden.

Boo

c

simple sourdough for pioneer girls

Esme stood alone but for her dog, watching the mountains. She and her new husband  had travelled for months in their covered wagon, across vast endless plains of shoulder high grass, fording rivers, their horses heaved them across dusty deserts, through forests. They had been passed by speeding pony express riders. She had talked too long to gold prospectors, thin and crazed in towns that smelt of new wood, gold and hope. They saw towns that had already been abandoned, their silver mines collapsed. It was 1860. They had left St Louis with the last of the snow and now the summer was dying.  They were trying to reach Sacramento before the winter. Buzzards as big as dogs rode the drafts above her, watching her.   She was tired, tired to her bones. Her clothes were worn and dirty, her eyes were red,  her face rough and itchy.  Of late they had ridden in the wagon for weeks without seeing a soul. Although Otis would not admit it, Esme thought they were lost. They had traded their belongings clear across the country for food. But she still had her silver forks and her few pieces of good dinnerware, two beautiful oak chairs and chests with the quilts and linen to start a home somewhere. Her peonie tubers for Aunt Celia and her bread starter from her sister Jo.  Every night she poured off a little of her mother dough from the small crock, added a little flour and a little water and tucked the starter  back away in her rosewood box. Then made the pancakes on her griddle.

Otis  came running back down from the ridge. There is a house up farther!  He called above the wind. Running toward her grinning. The smoke is from a stack, a chimney! Make a lot of noise as we approach they shoot strangers out here.  So they rode on arriving at a little shack as dusk was falling.

Esme spoke quietly to the woman of the house, a big strong good woman. She had chickens and a cow and  she had an oven for cooking in her cabin.  Esme wanted to bake bread.

Their camp site was  under trees by a stream, a hundred miles of darkening sky above them, the stars  bright as rain in the sun. Esme, sitting on the buckboard that Otis had detached and set by the fire,  carefully poured half of her starter into a small bowl.  She squinted as she thought of Jo’s hands doing the same. Her hand rested on her  stomach. Her clothes were beginning to feel tighter, she hoped they would reach Sacramento soon. She slowly added a cup of precious flour into the bowl and another into the jar. She had warmed the water from the stream slighty and added that after the flour. She stirred with the wooden spoon Otis had whittled for her as a gift on her twentieth birthday, last month. She  stirred thinking how long this bread starter had been in her family.  They said that  it came from an Italian baker her grandfather had known. She wrapped a muslin across the top of the bowl and left both on a flat rock close enough to the fire to stay warm for the night. She set a pot of red beans to soak, then crawled into the wagon to sleep.

The morning was dark and gentle when they woke, a slither of light under the door of the dawn, reached from the horizon. Otis was stirring up the fire, she ground a little coffee and placed the coffee pot on the trivet. Put the pot of beans on to cook. Then she sat down to pick the biggest weevils out of a bowl of flour. How could she wake from her sleep and still feel tired.  She threw weevils into the fire. They hissed as they hit the flames, Dog raised his head and sighed. The sour dough starter in the bowl had stirred in the warm night, there were bubbles and it was filling the little  porcelain  bowl.  It’s smell had changed, it smelt richer.

She took the bowl of  Starter and poured a cup full into the big old mixing bowl with the cracked glaze,  then added a  tin cup of warm water. Stirring she gradually added two and a half cups of flour,  gently folding it in.  She left the dough to sit, to moisten the flour thoroughly, while she tidied things around the campfire. The dough had started to spread and gather. She sprinkled on the salt and lightly kneaded it in.  She left it again, so that the salt could absorb its own moisture from the dough.  As the sun rose she began to knead. Adding another cup of flour slowly as she kneaded.  She took her time. The day slowly brightened around her.  She kneaded as the sun rose, lifting, pressing, lifting, pressing, the bowl on her knee, her knees warm from the fire. The dough began to push back and it became smoother and livelier.  The rhythm soothed her heart, her breathing slowed and the heart beneath her heart began to silently dance. Otis quietly stoked the fire, moving to and fro, and soon walked off with the horses to water them at the stream and then stake them out for a days grazing.  The mule waited fussily.  The dog lay panting at her feet.

She settled the dough into the bowl, covered it with a cloth and set it in a warm spot by the wagon to rise.

She worked. The sun moved across the open sky. Impeded by nothing. Otis heated a vast vat of water and she took down her hair and kneeling on the ground he poured jug after jug of warm water over her hair, she shampooed with precious soap. Then went to rinse it all off  and wash in the creek. She washed her underclothing and bashed them on a rock then hung them on bushes to dry, out of sight. Dressed in her other slightly better dress she shook and smacked her long black everyday skirt, picking the mud off the hem  and hung it over another bush to air.

Late in the afternoon, she retrieved the risen dough and slid it out onto a tin board, it rested there for a bit, then she began to pull the sides up and across, the dough lost its corners as her fingers moved around the dough fashioning it into a round loaf, pulling up the edges and folding them across the loaf, pulling and  folding until she was satisfied. The day was at its warmest, fall was coming though, she could smell it.  She rolled the loaf over and then left it to sit like a cat in a new warm spot until the sun was an hour away from dropping.

Her hair dried and braided, her face shining and wearing her cleanest clothes she carefully  carried her covered loaf across the open land to the house, where the good woman was waiting for her. She carved two E’s into the top of the loaf and they slid the loaf into the oven of the wood fired range. Esme wondered how they had transported such a monstrous piece of iron out here into the wilderness and was grateful that they had. They sat outside the cottage, surrounded in the scent of cooking bread as though it were a colour. They talked as women do. Esme carefully wrote her sister Jo’s instructions for caring for and baking sourdough bread. She wrote on a linen napkin because she could not bear to use any more paper,with the nib and ink from her chest and gave these to the Good Woman with a portion of the Starter. The Good Woman drew a map on another napkin showing Esme how she could find the wagon trails to Sacramento.

That night she shared the bread with Otis and the Good Woman around their fire, with butter and slices of roasted chicken, sweet potatoes and pumpkin from the garden. It was a feast. They  told the Good Woman that they were going to live with Aunt Celia out in Sacramento. How Jo had taught Esme how to bake bread and how Celia’s loaves were a legend in the family. The Good Woman spoke of how her husband had left with their only horse to try his luck at panning for gold, he had not come back. Otis eyed his mule thoughtfully.

In the morning there was a light frost on the ground. It crunched under Esme’s thin boots. They remade the wagon and loaded each piece into its proper place moving in a silent rhythm.  While Otis sneaked the gift of a mule into the Good Woman’s corral with the cow,  Esme gave the woman a peonie tuber as a thank you. The good woman insisted that they have her little crib with its unused little quilt and unworn baby clothes. Her sorrow mixed with Esme’s happiness and was eased.  And so they rode away.

The good woman could see them for miles as they made their way west. She silently wished them god speed and went across to milk the cow.

c

Mama’s Shepherds Pie and Mushy Peas

My mother made shepherds pie often, huge roasting dishes of it. It is still my most favourite comfort food.  My Mother NEVER made mushy peas though. Mushy peas are an English side dish and are traditionally served with a steak pie in a pub.  Mum never went to pubs poor girl. I love mushy peas. Anyway half way through making my steak pie  I lost the will to make pastry.  Then I discovered that Miss T was putting some thought into cooking for her British husband. So I thought who better to help her with a Shepherds Pie than a New Zealander living in the United States of America who once lived in London. So I took a left and now I am making you a Sheep Herders Pie aka Cottage Pie. And you do not need pastry.

But first we need to relook at the Mushy Peas. Even the name is cute.  I know that sometimes it is hard to like mushy peas especially if they are too watery and too mushy. These are better. Cook them as a treat for someone. They are a gorgeous colour on your plate.  And then (just when you thought it was safe) try mushy pea sandwiches!.

By the time  I served dinner (someone was very late getting home last night) the mushy peas were quite cold and are even tastier when chilled.  Interesting. 

MINTY! MUSHY PEAS

  • bunch of green spring onions finely chopped
  • small handful of finely chopped mint
  • bag of frozen peas

In pan, slurp in a little olive oil, add onions and mint and cook for  a few minutes, add frozen peas and cook, stir every now and then. When the peas are hot and soft, drop in a couple of dollops of butter, pepper and salt  and either mash them or pulse them in the food processer until not too mushy.  Serve hot or apparently – cold.   Try them.

Shepherds Pie

  • Diced Steak or minced steak (ground beef) 
  • Onions
  • Beef Stock
  • Vegetables
  • Potatoes
  • Cheese

Brown your meat in hot  butter in small batches.  Retire to a bowl to rest for a minute.  In the same pan saute onions slowly until transparent. Return beef to onions. Toss about. Add beef broth, a slug of worcestershire, and soy sauce and a little balsamic.  Cook slowly until the meat is tender. Taste. Adjust. Always taste with a clean metal spoon.

Thicken.  Mum used (cornflour) cornstarch. Make a nice medium thick gravy.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Turn heat off. Now add your vegetables. Whatever you have. Usually I add frozen peas but not  today as we are having mushy peas as a side.  Today I have put in egg plant, beans and capsicum and the shaving of a hot pepper and a few leaves and stems of  red silverbeet (swiss chard) .. whatever I found in the garden.  My mother  put in carrots, frozen peas and frozen beans. These will cook in the oven so just gently mix into the hot meat.  Add them raw or frozen -it is fine.  Be generous with the vegetables.

Ladle into your deep dish, top with tons of roughly mashed spud (potatoes)  and then pile a really sharp tasty tasty grated cheese on top of that. Sometimes I add a finely chopped onion to the mashed potatoes.

Into a moderate  oven and cook for an hour or so. Now, if you do not know what time you will be serving this dish it will wait in a low oven for ages. As long as it is well covered with potatoes.

This may overflow so take the appropriate precautions.

Have fun.

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