Sunday, 18 August 2013

Ticknall: Tunnels and more

Those first few years of your child's life, you take a pushchair everywhere, and it starts to seem impossible that they'll ever walk more than six steps, at any pace faster than a snail's crawl, in any direction resembling the one you wish to go in.  You look longingly at little paths snaking through woodland or striking up through grassy fields, and stick solidly to flat tarmac surfaces instead.  And then, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, they become mobile!  You throw caution to the wind and venture out without a pushchair, and you don't end up carrying toddler and all his stuff for three-quarters of the journey.  Life has new and exciting horizons!

Of course it helps if you still don't expect to get too far, and you have somewhere interesting to go.  A recent walk near the local village of Ticknall had pretty much everything a kid could want - and adults too!  We parked in the village car park, set off and promptly bumped into an old tramway, complete with dark and spooky tunnel.  Who can resist walking through a tunnel?





A little further on, we arrived at the tramway's original starting point: lime kilns used for baking the limestone quarried here, which was then carried down to the canal at Ashby.  They were beautifully overgrown with bright waving grass, spikes of colourful flowers, and - excitingly - a tangle of wild raspberries.  Who can resist free fruit on a walk?






We ducked inside one of the cave-like kilns, where Toby threw pebbles into the water to hear the hollow splash.  We spotted bees and butterflies and even a teeny tiny frog.





After years in Texas, summer in England feels like living in a rainforest.  I'd forgotten just how much vegetation springs up and grows and shoots and tangles and reaches and opens out and creates a whole profusion of green and gold and grey.  I'd forgotten how long wet grass soaks you up to your knees, and how you need a stick sometimes to fight your way between waving walls of brambles and nettles.  I'd forgotten how the sunlight sifts through leaves and settles in patches on the forest floor, and the glorious smell you get when it's just rained and everything is warm and damp.




And I'm just about making myself homesick even though I'm here, which is quite an achievement, so I shall stop waxing poetic and finish off the walk.  Oh yes, the curious cows.  They followed us all the way across the field and then gathered around the gate.  I don't think anyone had read them the sign.




And we finished up at the village shop for a well-deserved ice lolly.  Who can resist ice cream at the end of a walk?

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Cherry Mania

OK, I don't know if the East Midlands is secretly the cherry-growing capital of the UK, or if it's just been a good year for them, or what, but there have been a lot of cherries around.  I only ever remembering seeing the little ornamental ones before, more stone than fruit, but these are the real deal.


It started when we went to the little playground down the road, and I noticed this tree with big black juicy cherries, right by the swings.  So next time we went, I lugged a ladder along and picked a boxful.  Wouldn't you know it, that was the one day that a guy from the council came along to pick up the litter and empty bins.  I wasn't actually on the ladder at that point, so he looked at the ladder a couple times, and he looked at me, and I'm thinking, "Hey, if you don't say anything, I'm not saying anything."  He didn't say anything.  I made those cherries into cherry sauce and we ate it with ice cream.  Yum.



Then we happened to be somewhere else (which shall remain nameless because I'm not entirely sure those trees were public property, although it was certainly public access and no one seemed to be using the fruit) and spotted some more cherry trees absolutely loaded with pretty, yellowy-red fruit.  Literally, you could pull it off by the handful, and some of it was low enough that even Toby could help.  We got about 5 boxes from one tree, and still barely made a dent in its harvest.



This is edible?
I scrounged some empty jam jars from a friend and had my first shot at making cherry jam.  That initial ad hoc attempt involved not pitting the cherries or simmering them before adding the sugar, both of which probably would have improved the final product.  I managed to skim a lot of stones off, but a lot stayed stuck in the fruit, so a bit of dissection is involved when you come to spread the stuff on your toast.

Four jars of cherry jam (with stones) and one of black cherry sauce
For my second try I found an actual recipe for Cherry and Cinnamon Conserve and spent some time perfecting my cherry-stoning technique.  The extra effort paid off and the cinnamon spiciness gives it a lovely flavour.  Also, unlike almost every batch of jam I've ever made, this one actually set within the stated 5 minutes of boiling time.  To be honest, using sugar with pectin and two lemons would probably set clear water quite happily, but since I'm usually testing for a set up to the 15 minute mark, I wasn't complaining!

Got three jars of this plus a little bowlful because I ran out of jars.

A few bags of cherries have gone into the freezer, ready for pie, muffins or this rather scrummy sounding cake.  And finally, we had cherry cobbler for dessert last night.  I halved the recipe, since it claimed to serve 8 (but we polished off the smaller amount between two and a half of us no problem!).  It tasted good but the texture and appearance wasn't quite what I was expecting.  The finished product kind of looked like lunar craters that had been used for paintball practice - not the type of dessert that makes everyone go "oooh!" when you bring it out at a dinner party - and it was quite sticky round the edges and chewy in the middle.  I understand that you can also put the fruit on the bottom rather than on top, so I'll try that next time; if that fails I shall resort to good old British crumble.

Before baking.

After baking
These purple cherries, by the way, were from another tree in the park that I noticed just as I thought we were done with cherries.  Ohhhh no.  Another two boxes made their way into our fridge.


Cherry-pickin' hand

Cherry lipstick!

And now, if the amount of green fruit on the bushes is anything to go by, I think we will have a bumper blackberry harvest by the end of August.  Any offers of empty jam jars much appreciated!