On Weeding & Writing - an occasional eclectic blog by author C.F. Dunn

Cooking Up A Storm: Spicing It Up

Have you ever tried home-made crabapple jelly? Best eaten with lamb, chicken and turkey, I grew up on this late-summer staple.  My father took me scrumping the old crabapple (or crab apple – Malus) trees on the RAF base where we lived and, years later, we planted our own and nurtured them to fruition.

 

Between research, writing and renovating the house, I’m getting in a bit of jelly making – kindly assisted by Thegn’s quality control. One of the good things about moving home is discovering what’s been planted over the years. This crabapple is the deepest burgundy and is streaked with ruby inside. The apples are HUGE compared with most crabapple varieties – size of an average lime – and cook to a glorious raspberry pink. The resulting jelly retains a dry, almost astringent flavour and is not as fragrant as, say, John Downie or Dartmouth. I’ll be experimenting by adding spices and port for a wintery slant, and flakes of chilli pepper to liven things up bit. I expect generations have savoured those same scents of stewing apples and spices, redolent of late summer sun. Timeless.

 

From C15th Gode Cookery

To make Char de Crabb. Recipe crabbs & seth þam in watur tyll þai be softe, & take hony & strene þe crabbs þerwith throgh a cloth. Put to a iijd part of claryfyed hony & a quantyte of sawndyrs, & colour it with saforun; þen put þerto a quantyte of powdyr of peper & ij d worth of þe flour of anneys & a quantyte of powdyre of licorys. Þen take grated brede & mold it vp þerwith, & put it in cophyns & serof it forth, & bene facis. Quod Don Thomas Awkbarow. 

From: C. B. Hieatt “The Middle English Culinary Recipes in MS Harley 5401: An Edition and Commentary.” 

 

 

 

P.S. If anyone has any idea what variety of crabapple these are, please drop me a line and let me know.

Stripping the Past: Restoration Games

Since my last post on restoring our Arts and Crafts house, things have moved on apace. I finished removing all the modern polyurethane from the wide window seat in my study and then started eyeing up the rest of the room. There’s an inglenook fireplace from the original 1630’s house in my study. Edward Sturdy surrounded it in an oak mantle and this, too, had been given ‘the treatment’ sometime in the 1990’s. Now a dark, icky mahogany brown, the beautiful grain of the wood was lost and the surface dull. As you know, I am wary of removing any finish that might be original but, spurred on by the stripping of the window seat, I set out to do a similar job on the mantle.

 

The copper bell push had to be removed for cleaning. A lovely thing, it had been lacquered sometime in the last twenty years and needed the old coating removed before polishing,, finding a replacement button, and being put back. Behind the bell the original surface glowed a medium oak, a perfect witness to our hunch that almost the entire house had been subject to a mahogany stain on the extensive areas of woodwork.

 

Anyway, as before I used a chemical paint stripper (Paint Panther) that softened the varnish enough to be removed without damaging the wood. It took a few coats, scraping (carefully), wire wool, and wire brushes to take off a lot of mucky gunge. I then rubbed the exposed wood with white spirit, used a fine tool to clean the really-hard-to-get niggly bits, and brushed on liquid beeswax and natural turpentine (Liberon) to nourish the surface. Left to dry for upwards of twenty-four hours, this was then buffed to a subtle sheen.

 

Removing the inappropriate wood stain revealed the probable reason for it: surfaces chewed by time and woodworm. I can understand people wanting to unify the look of the wood; some would say that the use of Douglas fir and oak (and walnut, in some places) was a bit eccentric of Edward Toronto Sturdy, but then that is part of the charm of his house – it’s quirky.

 

The next project to tackle will be the tiled fireplace. At some point, the 9×9 inch red quarry tiles were painted a heavy, pillar box red. I have no idea whether I can rid them of the noxious coating, but I’m willing to give it a go.

 

 

While it is so hot we keep Thegn inside most of the day. He has his early morning walk at about 7am, and at about 7pm he has his second walk, and possibly a third at about 11pm. Yesterday evening, Child Two and I took him to the beach only to find the entire strandline littered with dead and dying whitebait. Mackerel risked all to snap at them on the incoming tide, getting within feet of the shore and flashing in the last light of day. Thegn took full advantage and scoffed three or four of the little fish before we could stop him; he was most grumpy about that. #WeAreThegn #LoveDorset

Restoration Game: Joys & Tribulations of Renovating

I’ve been taking time out from writing my latest historical mystery suspense to engage in a little house restoration. One of the joys and tribulations of living in an old house is what might turn up expectedly during renovation.

For the last week I’ve been engrossed in getting some work done in my study – not writing this time, but stripping (although the new book is coming on apace, I’m delighted to say).  I’ve been working on the Arts and Crafts window seat which crosses the entire width of the windows and was stained such a dark colour that it sucked all the light out of the room. 

It wasn’t an easy decision. I’ve seen too many over-restored houses to let that happen to this one. Too often woodwork that was supposed to have been painted from the start is stripped back to a naked surface and limed or left parched and bare. I agonised over what to do for the best and the question I asked myself was: is this an original finish to the Douglas fir and oak bench, or a later addition? A test strip painted a pale, neutral colour looked terrible, leaving me no other option than to take the plunge and remove layers of sludgy ‘mahogany’ varnish. 

The varnish turned out to be a modern polyurethane finish. Removing the varnish allowed not only the warmth of the wood to glow through, but also the strong grain – giving texture and depth. It also revealed that two oak panels had been replaced with…vinyl laminate flooring. Delightful. It worked, I suppose, when covered with gooy varnish, but stripped back looked exactly as it was – plastic. Carefully removing the laminate revealed the badly wormed oak panels. My helpful decorator supplied some oak sheet he had tucked away in his garage and that will be my next task – to cut two panels from it to replace the placky stuff. Then I’ll stain the fresh oak to match the 1900 wood, and use a beeswax and turpentine mix to unify the colours, feed the wood and give it some protection.

Even with this much done, the room feels lighter and more inviting and closer to the original finish desired by Edward Toronto Sturdy when he first commissioned the building. I’ll post some more photos when the job’s completed.

 

Latest 5* Book Review!

Look at this! Blogger Tamara Tilley has produced a wonderful series and book review of The Secret of the Journal series and Fearful Symmetry. If you’re looking for an immersive holiday read where past and present collide and nothing is what it seems, why not start with Book 1: Mortal Fire and start the journey today?

https://tamara-tilley.blogspot.com/2018/06/my-review-fearful-symmetry-by-cf-dunn.html

 

 

Breaking Ground

I’ve long dreamed of being almost self-sufficient in vegetables and fruit, and the clay ‘soil’ is the main reason why we are going to the expense and bother of building raised beds for the kitchen garden. The site is chock full of rubble bound together in a lumpy mass of rock hard clay. To get the fence posts in, the builders have had to use mechanical augers, and even those have struggled to make any impression. If digging the ground is unrealistic, these ‘sleepers’ should do the trick of creating workable areas of soil in which the plants can bury their roots and feed my family.