Tag Archives: summer

Thyme for action

Every since we moved in, Jerry and I have been chomping at the bit to get started in the garden. Unable to really tackle much inside the house by ourselves until the bigger works have been done, the jungle surrounding our flint and brick beauty seemed a good place to start, especially as we were beginning to lose the children amongst the foliage.  The first job – tackling knee high grass.  Typically, as soon as we started using the sit on mower we inherited, it proved to be beyond repair and so with 3.5 acres of grass to mow, it was time to bite a rather expensive bullet.  Jerry fell in love with a green and yellow number in two seconds flat when he heard the word ‘mulch’, having only just finished professing undying love for an old Massey Ferguson which belongs to a neighbour.  Honestly, he’ll be coveting their combine next, dear Reader!

First step, turning the paddocks back into….well….paddocks.  Our lovely farming neighbours helped out with that one since we didn’t have any clue as to how and when to bale.  It was a race against time to get it all topped, dried and then baled before the rains came and we were hugely grateful for all their help.  “Bale in June…silver spoon”.  With a rather long list of repair jobs to be done inside and out, we could do with it raining a bit of silver.  Answers on a postcard as to how long you’re supposed to wait until that happens, dear Reader…..

We bid a sad farewell to the giant 100 year old willow tree that was growing into the water course, burrowing under the house and blocking out all the light.  Never easy to make the decision to fell a beautiful tree but the damage it would continue to do if allowed would mean that our poor little house might not stay upright for very long.

Fret not dear Reader, we will be planting more trees elsewhere to honour its passing and the hundreds of logs we now have as a result will keep us warm and cosy for years to come, once seasoned.  All part of the countryside cycle.

Raspberries were found in the undergrowth and quickly gobbled up by Poppy and Primrose, alongside literally baskets full of gooseberries – traces of a long lost fruit cage.

Squirrels moved in shortly after this discovery and stripped all the apples, plums and one lonely pear from the elderly fruit trees.  I asked neighbours what to do about them, thinking they’d have some ancient country wisdom to impart such as burying hair at the base of each trunk which features in a battered countryside almanac I found in an old bookshop.  The resounding answer to dealing the squirrel issue?  An air rifle.  It seems that that may well be next on the list, dear Reader.

Then there was the small matter of a whole field of lavender just outside the back door.  At first glance, the mounds buried under large patches of grass looked altogether done in.  Cue, Margot’s new toy.  A shiny strimmer.  Well Jerry can’t have all the fun, dear Reader!  Two weeks of daily strimming later and the lavender finally started to look more like a lavender field again. I can’t tell you the joy of seeing it all turn varying hues of purple and blue.  I’d better not mention the fact that not a lot else got done in those two weeks….including all the work I was supposed to be doing.  Let’s not dwell on that too much, dear Reader, or the fact that I very nearly strimmed my legs off at several points as the soporific heady scent in the midday sun reduced me to what I am now calling ‘strimmer’s coma’.  I did however perfect a new summer look…..farmer’s arms.  It’s all about the swings and roundabouts, isn’t it, dear Reader?

So with the lavender now well on its way to becoming a slice of Provence in Hampshire, we’ve taken to picnicking in the rows at tea time.  Heavenly hours spent in the sunshine with bees buzzing and butterflies wafting around us.  I am trying not to think about the harvest, dear Reader.  It would be fair to say that so far lavender bags will be featuring heavily under the Christmas tree this year.

A timely day out from the slog of the garden work at the launch of the Hampshire Food Festival with Hampshire Fare saw Jerry and I green with envy at the marvellous kitchen garden at Chewton Glen.

With a month of events to enjoy, producers and suppliers to go and visit and tours of vineyards, breweries orchards and farms on the menu, make sure if you’re in Hampshire that you get out and about to enjoy our county’s fabulous bounty.  With canapés with Masterchef’s Jane Devonshire and Juanita Hennessey on offer as well as Gin masterclasses at Berry Bros & Rudd or four courses in a Riverside Yurt, there’s something for everyone.  Still to come and top of my list?

Vineyards of Hampshire 5th Annual Wine Festival

Pop up Picture House with Rick Stein

Cherry Orchard Tours and Cherry Market at Blackmoor Estate

‘Sausage and Mash’ at  Parsonage Farm Charcuterie  and  

Hampshire Summer Fizz at Gilbert White

With the last two weeks of the Festival left, get your diary out and book away, dear Reader!

Inspired by Chewton Glen’s marvellous veg patch, I now have even grander plans for our own.  I seem to have spent half my life recently trawling through Pinterest thinking of ways to create a pretty allotment patch for our new smallholding life!  You can imagine Jerry rolling his eyes already, can’t you dear Reader? Grand schemes afoot, the hens are doing a sterling job of preparing the land for us already.   Scratching up moss and laying the foundations of good soil with their manure.  I would like to say that we’ll be digging the soil pretty soon, ready for planting up with some autumn and winter vegetable seedlings but Jerry tells me that this is wishful thinking.  To be honest, getting the earth moving will be a much needed distraction in the next month as the scaffolding goes up and roof repair work begins.  Jerry and I won’t have any hair or nails left at this rate.  The last few days of monsoon weather have had us reaching for the buckets and umbrellas inside again.

To keep up with our five-a-day habit in the meantime, a lovely local supplier Brimfields have been impressing us with stunning veg boxes full to bursting with deliciously fresh fruit and vegetables. Such a plentiful box for £12 had me whooping with delight when Ross from Brimfields delivered it to our front door for the first time – seasonal, fresh, local and the perfect amount for the week without the need to top up as I’ve often found with veg box schemes in the past.  I’m not sure Ross was quite as delighted to encounter a Margot with no makeup and a towel on my head having just stepped out of the shower though!

Brimfields deliver in and around Winchester but if you’re not on their delivery route, then pop down to their Veg Shed in Kings Worthy, at the King Charles pub just off Lovedon Lane, to stock up.

They are open two days a week – Wednesdays from 08:30 until 12:30pm and Fridays from the same times.  There you’ll find fresh local free-range eggs, fresh bread as well as lots of lovely local produce like Hill Farm Apple Juice and The Tomato Company passata, ketchup, chutney, relish and juice, alongside local jam, honey and cakes.  Well worth a visit.

Summer holidays in full swing, I shall have Poppy and Primrose joining the ground force team at HQ – that’s if I can tear them away from their latest den building expedition.  It looks like I shall have to bribe them with a few more of these if I’m ever going to get them to help me pick the lavender, dear Reader.

As for my motivation?  I’m already plotting something altogether more Margot, dear Reader….. Anyone for lavender gin?

Au revoir Summer

A long summer break has passed between us, dear Reader.  My first summer off in 3 years and I returned completely and utterly refreshed.  So much so that it has taken me a little while to settle back at the writing desk!  I hope you can forgive me for being distracted – France in mid 30 degree heat was just too lovely not to enjoy to the full.  Well, that and Jerry and I had to live without WIFI for a few weeks…we’re lucky we are still married!

First there were the views…

IMG_1168Then there was the house that Primrose wanted to buy and was rather miffed when Jerry told her that unless she asked the owners if they needed to hire her as a housekeeper, there was zero chance of her moving in and calling it home.


Followed by a great deal of cheese, several hundred trips to the market for ‘ooohing’ and ‘aaaahing’ and much buying of French comestibles.



Oh and of course, dinner in an altogether pre-sous chef form should one feel brave enough….


…all washed down with industrial quantities of  a little bit of wine.


Jerry and I even managed to glean some local wisdom.  Apparently, the best way to learn French proficiently is to take up a lover.  An interesting notion……but not sure we’d find two souls brave enough to take us on to test it out.  Especially after mutual meltdowns over the NO WIFI zone, rows over a hideously expensive phone bill for going over the data allowance AND the fact that I had yet again packed an entire suitcase full of books and nothing else.  In my defence dear Reader, I read them ALL.

Still the sun set on our blissful holiday (apologies for the smugness) and we all agreed that there is nothing better than French food, French wine and spending time just the four of us.


That was before I returned to name tapes with a few helpings of two small beings bashing each other over the head with Lego, a cottage which had suddenly morphed into a hobbit’s home and to crown the chaos, a broken boiler and no hot water.  Bonjour September……  Maybe I might just pop back to France and find myself a French lover after all, dear Reader?!


Summer of countryside love

MudefordProfuse apologies, my dear Reader, for my epic summer silence.  It seems an age since I was last tip tapping away a little note to you and I can only blame it on lots of work and plenty of lovely things happening at Margot and Jerry HQ, giving me not time at all to resume my position at the writing desk.  With Primrose and Poppy at home creating mayhem for almost 8 WEEKS of summer horror, I mean holiday, I haven’t had a moment to even hear myself think either!

Days have been filled with exploring our patch of Hampshire, trips to secluded sandy spots, sampling a lot of local goodies (wine, beer, gin…..) so when we finally headed off for our staycation and annual trip to Tom and Barbara’s shire farmstead, we couldn’t be too downhearted when it weed it down with rain.  Lots of time at home too – the spare room has had its bedding stripped more times than a boutique B&B of late!  As anyone who knows us well knows, we’re always more than happy to have friends to stay – any excuse for a good gossip over a large glass of something! Continue reading

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……?!