Tag Archives: lavender

Preserving in jim jams


We’re jammin’….

Well, dear Reader, it would seem that I have been burning the candle at both ends somewhat of late and I have been riddled with summer flu.  Ridiculous!  How can one possibly catch flu in the summer?  Feeling utterly useless and wishing I could pull the duvet over my head, I coordinated last minute moving jobs from the sofa and put myself to bed with a whisky (purely medicinal of course).  That was until the cavalry arrived (in the form of my dear Mamma) or so I thought…..  On second glance, I realised that instead of chicken soup and chocolate, she was armed with a jam pan and a copy of one of my childhood culinary favourites, The Good Housekeeping Step by Step Cook book.  Even now, I am still strangely fascinated by this glossy tome which

What more could any dinner party ask for than duck in aspic and steak bites?!

What more could any dinner party ask for than duck in aspic and steak bites?!

features none other than a recipe for ghoulish sounding Duck in Aspic amongst all kinds of 1970s dinner party disaster menus.  The purpose of the cook book’s outing: to make a jam maker of me.  My mother is known for her pots of jam littering the larder and her staunch belief that jam can last years and years!  Many a breakfast has been spent opening jars to reveal green and blue hues of mould and dear Papa is always threatening to throw out the ‘collection’.  I seriously think that there could even be a jar in the pantry from my teenage days……definitely not as palatable as a vintage Margaux!

So, dear Reader, I found myself standing in my kitchen in my jim jams with Poppy in hers too, thinking about how I was going to deal with 3lbs of strawberries and my Mamma’s overexcited enthusiasm for turning me into a preserving queen.

jamHere’s our version of Margot’s Strawberry and Lavender jam

1kg strawberries (leave them whole – freshly picked fruit is better for this, if you can get it or grow it)

600g preserving sugar

350g caster sugar

jam3juice of a lemon

2 lavender flower heads

Heat the jam pan and add all the strawberries and sugar and stir together.  Leaving the strawberries whole gives a more ‘conserve’ style of jam which can be used for cakes, scones and of course, hot buttered toast.  The strawberries being a soft fruit will break up a bit anyway as you stir them.  Wait until all the sugar has dissolved until you add the lemon juice (lemon juice gives a helping hand as strawberries are notoriously low in pectin so I am told). Stir frequently to stop anything catching on the bottom and simmer gently for approximately 7 minutes.  Then allow mixture to come to the boil.  Boil rapidly for 10 minutes. Test for setting point by dropping some jam onto a cold spoon.  Wait for it to cool and then push the jam with your finger – if it crinkles, it has reached setting point.  Wash jars and then place them in a hot oven to sterilise before pouring in the jam (stirring through any scum that may have formed on the top).  Add the lavender flowers at the very end, stirring through the pot to make sure they are evenly spread.  The lavender is there for fragrance and delicate flavour – try not to be too heavy handed with it though as otherwise you will end up with jammy pot pourri!  Seal the jars – jar can be kept for up to 12 months.  Refrigerate once opened.

The perfect summery jam for a Wimbledon tea!

The perfect summery jam for a Wimbledon tea!

What could be more summery than luscious rosy ripe strawberry jam slathered on a buttery scones piled high with cream and extra strawberries?!!  Certainly a diet fail but the perfect accompaniment to watching Wimbledon and the best antidote to a spot of summer flu I can assure you.

With some leftover rhubarb,  we even had a go at some experimental ‘Jarmalade’ – yes, you guessed it, a jam/marmalade hybrid with rhubarb and orange.  Dear Reader, to be honest I think that Mamma and I got a bit carried away with the preserving at this point as we were thinking up all sorts of combinations.  Thank goodness Jerry arrived home just in time before I managed to populate the whole kitchen with pots of jam.  His first thought was that the removal men would be boxing up at least one whole box of jam…….oh my, dear Reader, it would appear that I may have inherited that jam hoarding gene after all!  Perhaps I could endear myself to neighbours in our new village with gifts of jam……?!

A little ‘Tea’LC

Tea anyone?

Winter blues? Margot puts the kettle on!

With ‘Blue Monday’ on 21st January fast approaching (allegedly the most depressing day in the calendar), I felt the need to gee myself up.  ‘Blue Monday’, dreamed up by inventive holiday company marketers, is ‘thought’ to be the day that we all mourn the end of Christmas and New Year, realise that summer is oh so far away and start dreaming about booking a holiday!  No such dreams in the cottage this week.  Instead, a severe lack of sleep has plagued us.  Poppy has been ill with tonsilitis and up most nights and to add to that, I have been overcome with anxiety over the enormity of organising our move to the countryside.  Thoughts of finding a new job, selling the cottage and securing a new rural home have now become a priority and brought with them oppressive insomnia and bouts of furious midnight list scribbling!  Worried that if I wasn’t careful with my evening nightcaps, I might have to change my name to ‘Ginny’, I sought solace in some old-fashioned herbal remedies.

Herbal remedies?  I hear you ask.  Really, Margot?  I know dear Reader, sounds a little wacky.  However, in my youth, I dabbled in all sorts including a range of unusual interests.  I can only put this down to a furtive imagination and a tendency to become carried away with things.  It is a well kept secret, dear Reader, that in my younger days, I was a little on the hippy side.  I once encouraged Jerry to join me on a ‘pilgrimage’ to Tintagel Castle, a ruin on a craggy cliffside reported to be the legendary birthplace of King Arthur.  Our ‘tour’ in a clapped out B reg VWPolo (Jemima, may she rest in car scrap peace) also took in the the tor and sights of Glastonbury on the way back.  The idea was to explore the various mythical places linked to King Arthur and the isle of Avalon en route and immerse ourselves (just Margot on this one) in the mysticism of druidery.  It didn’t sound quite as ‘mad as a bag of frogs’ at the time but it certainly does now, writing it.  Tasselled flowery skirts and sheepskin jackets also featured heavily, with Tori Amos (the artist of choice for teenage girls), blasting from my ‘boom’box as I smoked cherry tobacco ‘rollies’.  I seem to remember that around the same time I genuinely believed that I had a gift for reading tarot cards!  It is at this point that I feel I should hang my grown up head in shame but I have to add that I wasn’t the only one to indulge in some retro hippy chic.  Jerry did too!  He had long hair, wore flares, played in a band (they were actually rather good) and read the bizarre poetry of The Doors’ rock god, Jim Morrison.  Sporting a ‘City’ haircut and in his Savile Row suit, no one would EVER believe of it Jerry now!  Photographic evidence of Jerry’s misspent youth remains hidden until such a time when it may be required for ransom or blackmail!  Well, alongside wishing I was the reincarnation of a priestess of Avalon, all these efforts to be a teenage misfit happened to coincide with a curiosity in herbal remedies, which leads us back to the present day…..

Culpeper's beautiful illustrations are such a treat.

Culpeper’s beautiful illustrations are such a treat.

Decluttering the cottage in preparation for estate agents, I uncovered a copy of the ancient herbal bible, Culpeper’s Complete Herbal written by the seventeeth century apothecary and physician, Thomas Culpeper, languishing half-forgotten on a bookshelf.  Aside from cures for dropsy (hideous) and torments of the bowels (equally vile sounding), it does serve as a reminder of just how many modern remedies and medicines are based on old countryside knowledge of plants, herbs and hedgerows.  The book houses the most wonderful illustrations of plants too.  Funny how it has almost been forgotten that herbal remedies were once staple countryside medicines.  How many times has one heard of using dock leaves to relieve nettle stings?  The more I read old Culpeper though, the more I was completely sure that I should not put him to the test as concocting one of his tinctures with talk of ‘balancing humours’, felt a bit like dabbling in the black arts and a cauldron most certainly would be required for authenticity.  Jerry would definitely not sanction the purchasing of a cauldron.  Rather than reaching for a bottle of Nytol, I persevered with the herbal burble….where better to start than tea I thought?  I adore the amber liquid and am a strictly black tea drinker.  (Why would anyone want to add essence of cow to such a delightfully delicate tipple?) Surely, there must be a ‘tea’ out there that would serve as a ‘nerve tonic’?  The benefits of some common garden herbs are already widely known: camomile (soothing, sleep inducing), lavender (antibacterial, relaxing, good for burns) and mint (eases stomach pain, good for digestion and can be used to perk up the senses).  Teas or ’tisanes’ have been made to combat all manner of ailments for centuries so there must be some remedy out there to soothe my nerves and help me sleep!

So after some painstaking research and procurement of ingredients….here you are, dear Reader: Margot’s top 3 herbal tips for banishing those wintry blues!

Deliciously lemony and soothing

Deliciously lemony and soothing

Lemon verbena tea

Lemon verbena has long been known for its soporific properties and thus aids a good night’s sleep.  Good for indigestion and bloatedness too.  To make a decent brew, use three to four leaves in a cup.  Bruise the leaves with your fingers a little before pouring hot water over them.  Leave to steep for a few minutes.  The smell is deliciously heady with lemon and it tastes green and sharp.  It is also the perfect cuppa for banishing winter blues as it is reported to be a natural antidepressant.

(I do have lemon verbena in the garden but sadly the plant was looking a little sorrowful under the recent blanket of white stuff – I turned to some dried leaves from Neal’s Yard Remedies for my evening cup instead.  I am reliably informed that any reputable purveyor of teas will sell the leaves or indeed filled tea bags).

Warming and fragrant

Warming and fragrant

Ginger tea

Not strictly a herb but definitely worth adding as its warming properties can heal a multitude of ailments from travel sickness to lifting one’s mood and banishing negative feelings.  Packed with antioxidants, it makes the ideal thing for fighting winter bugs and boosting one’s immune system.  To make ginger tea, cut a piece of ginger roughly the size of a couple of centimentres.  Chop the ginger into fine slices or give it a bit of a bash with a pestle and mortar before adding to your pot or cup.  Then boil over boiled water and allow to steep.  Honey can be added to sweeten and a pinch of cinnamon can really make this tea zing with extra spice too.

Bath ‘tea’ bag

A good old-fashioned bath.  Truly, this is cheating on the ‘tea’ front but it really works if one is feeling a little frazzled.  The latest Country Life, steaming hot water and a bath ‘tea’ bag can have you feeling ready for Bedfordshire in no time.  To make your bath tea bag, take a piece of muslin cloth and cut into a smallish square.  Fill the square with some oats (porridge oats are fine for this), add a teaspoon of lavender flowers to this (a couple of drops of lavender essential oil onto the oats will do the job just as well) and tie up the bag with a little string.  Hang over the tap so that the hot water passes through the bag as the bath is drawn.  The oats are moisturising and will soothe dry, irritated skin whilst the lavender relaxes and calms the nerves.

earl grey

All this talk of tea prompted me to pop the kettle on and pour myself a restorative cup.  Whilst I was at it, I thought of another old countryside pastime I could take up: reading tea leaves.  Now where did I put that sheepskin jacket….?

I wonder what the future holds.......

I wonder what the future holds…….