Wednesday 27 May 2009

Cherries, dandelions and blue eggs

I love going away in the caravan. It is probably the only time I can relax and forget most of my responsibilities. I can go to bed when I’m tired and enjoy lazily getting up – no alarm clocks, no train to catch and no 9-5 working day.

It was actually work which took us away. Providing a training session in Chesterfield so close to the Bank Holiday seemed a perfect excuse to spend time in the Peak District doing very little in beautiful surroundings. Even the weather co-operated, allowing us to spend a gentle day ambling around the Crich tramway museum followed by a day of knitting in the open air before we braved the hordes of Bakewell to pick up a tart and a pudding to take home with us.

The first place we stayed was a small site attached to a converted farmhouse with a couple of acres in Old Brampton, just outside Chesterfield. It only took fifteen minutes to drive across to the hospital where I was teaching on an NVQ course at midday, but nearly forty minutes when Chris tried to collect me at 4pm after I’d finished. Luckily I had Angela Paine’s “The Healing Power of Celtic Plants” and a banana with me so I was able to sit on a bench outside the education centre and read until he finally arrived.

We parked the caravan next to a small orchard leading onto a grass field which housed two grey ponies, one of which was supposed to be foaling in the near future. Opening the curtains each morning allowed me to contemplate the glories of cherry trees, wishing I could beg some bark to try to make some of Ananda’s cherry elixir.
We have a cherry tree overhanging our garden, so when it flowers next spring, I shall be experimenting with a bough which reaches over our side of the fence.

Derbyshire’s peak district was three to four weeks behind us in flowering terms. Although the cherries were well formed, the apple trees were just blooming and I got to see my first lime flowers. The trees were very mature and way too high for me to even think about harvesting. My tiny short-leaf lime trees in the Sanctuary are about four year old now and I’m wondering how soon it will be before I will have my own lime flowers to savour.

I use lime sparingly as I have to buy it. I love the flowers in a soothing tea with lemon balm and I add the tincture to my daily medicine.

This small holding was notable for the wide variety of hens and cockerels which roamed around the farmyard. I recognised Welsummers and Marans as my mother loves these breeds which lay brown eggs with deep orange yolks. Chris had forgotten to pack our farm eggs in the rush to get away, so he asked the owner if we could have some from his flock. Imagine our surprise when the requested dozen arrived complete with two large blue eggs accompanying the white and brown. We learned later the blue eggs came from Anaconas, but I still am no wiser which hens were which! If anyone can identify the different breeds, I’d be very grateful!

I have posted many times about dandelions and did not intend to mention them again so soon. The syrup I made this year has been disappointing as Chris said it tasted too much like grass. Seeing dandelion flowers still blooming on the second certified location we stayed at Moor Edge Farm on the outskirts of Tansley near Matlock was too good an opportunity to waste.

While our friends went off to Nottingham to retrieve some of their son’s belongings from his university cupboard/hall of residence, I decided to forage. Dandelion flowers were first, but then I thought I’d combine them with something else and walked along the road for a short way to see what I could find.

There was a mature rowan tree in full bloom, but I’ve never seen a recipe for using the flowers, only the berries to make jelly or calm very sore throats with nodules from too much talking/singing.

On the grass verge I found some red clover blossoms and nearby was a hawthorn tree just coming out in blossom, so I added some handfuls to go with the dandelion flowers. It was truly blissful sitting outside in the sunshine removing dandelion petals from the green stems and creating a new flower syrup.

Normally I wouldn’t have a glass, screwtop bottle in the caravan, but I’d recycled one from a pear and elderflower drink bought at the Tramway museum the day before. If you’ve never visited, I can thoroughly recommend this open air reconstruction of a small high street with trams running up and down a mile long track showing spectacular views over the Derwent valley.

There is a newly opened woodland walk which was carpeted with flowering wild garlic. I have never seen such a beautiful sight! The local chain saw sculptor has made some stunning carvings from local felled wood. His green man had all of us spellbound.

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and Monday evening saw us back at home. Luckily, with a couple of hours to spare, I was able to plant out my runner beans and some sweet corn seedlings I bought several weeks ago. The runner beans were far too large to leave in their pots another week as we’ll be down south at the Exmouth kite festival in two days time. The forecast is good, so maybe I’ll be able to finish my small contribution to the Milkweed project. I’m looking forward to sitting near to the coast while kites weave their magic in the sky.


Rowan said...

It sounds like a lovely few days and you were lucky with the weather. You weren't very far from me when you were at Brampton and Bakewell. I must look for the book you mention, I haven't come across that one.

Sarah Head said...

Hi Rowan
I found Angela Paine's book easily on Amazon. I really like her style because she writes from experience and not from theory. Although I don't do things exactly the way she does, I know she understands what she does as she teaches as well.

Marqueta (Mar-kee-ta) G. said...

What a lovely post! How wonderful to be able to gather blossoms in season. I hope your new syrup turns out well.

As for the chickens, I think they're mostly brown with a little black, and have a sleeker look to them.



Anonymous said...

Hi there, just found your blog and popping in to say hi before off for for a nosey round, looks full of amazing info!
Janie x

Claire said...

Hi Sarah,

Lovely blog, I am really looking forward to learning lots here. I'm just South of Birmingham, so not far from you at all!

Sarah Head said...

Hi Marqueta, Janie and Claire - it's great when new people find my blog and make a comment! Hope you enjoy reading. Claire, I left a message on your blog about the Mercian Herb Group. My workshops aren't too far from you either. Hope to meet you one day!