May 2013


8th May


At last, Spring has well and truly sprung - and in Helmickton, we're out hunting and gathering again. It's always very satisfying (in more ways than one) to eat forage, and now is a great time for nettles. Abundant, nutritious and FREE, the common stinging nettle can be used in any recipe where you'd normally use spinach (apart from raw in salads of course, unless you're a real masochist) - it looks and tastes remarkably similar when cooked (and yes, it does lose the sting). So while Hubcap's latest batch of nettle ale bloops and froths in its fermenting bucket, I thought I'd share the recipe for the yummy Cream of Nettle Soup I made for our dinner last night (left):


Ingredients: 1lb (0.5 kg) young tender nettles; 2 large onions; 2 cloves of garlic; 1 vegetable stock cube; 1 small tub of soured cream or natural yoghurt; olive oil for frying; 1 pair of rubber gloves.


Method: Put on the gloves, discard any thick coarse stems, wash the nettles and drain in a colander. Peel and finely chop the onions and garlic (you can take the gloves off now!) and saute in the oil. Tip in the nettles and stir till they wilt down. Add the stock cube and a little water. Cook till soft (c. 5 minutes) then whizz through a blender till smooth. Return goop to pan, dilute with more water to desired thickness, add a big splodge of sour cream or yoghurt and re-heat, stirring well.

(Don't over-boil it, or the cream/yoghurt may curdle). Season with salt and fresh black pepper to taste, pour into bowls, garnish with another swirl of cream/yoghurt and serve with crusty bread. The quantities given make 2 big bowlfuls or 3 - 4 polite starter servings for about a quid's-worth of ingredients... can't be beat in this economic climate! (Handy hint: if you're cooking it for others, some may baulk at the idea of eating nettles - so lie. Pretend it's spinach. Then once they've necked it and said, 'Mmm, that was nice', you can enjoy watching their expressions when you reveal the truth). Happy Spring Nettling!

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16th May


Queen Elizabeth Woodville has been hitting headlines recently, thanks to Philippa Gregory's new novel about her, The White Queen, and its planned TV adaptation. (That's Queen Elizabeth on the right, attended by her mother-in-law Cecily, Duchess of York, and other court ladies). But her real life was far more amazing than any fictionalised account ever could be: the widow of a relatively lowly Lancastrian killed at the 2nd Battle of St Albans, she enraptured King Edward IV and secretly married him after a whirlwind romance in the summer of 1464 - thereby causing a scandal which outraged and alienated the King's family, shocked the courts of Europe and ultimately led to fresh outbreaks of the Wars of the Roses. Like Margaret of Anjou, she's a figure many people love to hate; a proud, ambitious woman who refused to be 'loved and left' by Edward, and used her considerable beauty and personal charm to snag him as a husband... resulting in the aggrandisement of her large clan of comparatively humble relatives to the great chagrin of the more established high nobility like Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. Nonetheless, she and Edward seem to have enjoyed a strong and happy marriage by the standards of the time; she bore him 10 children including  the surviving 'heir and spare', Edward and Richard; and must have felt that her family's future was assured until Edward IV's untimely death in 1482 and the cataclysmic events which followed.


I thoroughly enjoyed speaking about Elizabeth at Wakefield One Library & Museum on World Book Night in April, and was delighted to be given a copy of The White Queen to mark the occasion.

World Book Night and World Book Day are wonderfully generous initiatives, supported by thousands of authors who donate copies of their books to be given out free to stimulate the love of reading. So I applaud Philippa Gregory for taking part in the scheme - although sadly, I can't applaud the book itself! If you'd like to know why, you can read my review in the Literature Matters section on my blog. And if you'd like to know more about the astonishing real life of Elizabeth Woodville, I can recommend Elizabeth Woodville, Mother of the Princes in the Tower, published by David Baldwin (Sutton Publishing) in 2004... truth really is stranger than fiction!

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28th May


We rounded off another beautiful sunny Bank Holiday weekend in fine style last night, meeting Frei Compagnie chums Alex and Tony for dinner in one of our favourite haunts, The Crooked Billet. New landladies Laura and Rachel have extended the opening hours with coffee and cake now served from 10 am, and launched a cracking new menu including special deals for pensioners and, of course, the famous giant Yorkshire puds with a range of fillings. Hubcap and Alex chose chicken lasagne with chips and salad for their main course, while Tony and I opted for the salmon fillet with boiled potatoes and vegetable medley - all delicious, and portions just the right size to leave room for dessert! On the left, my

fellow diners are just about to tuck into treacle sponge and custard, Eton Mess and Bakewell tart; and on the right is my pud, a lovely light, fluffy raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake with vanilla ice-cream - mmm. Our bill, for two courses plus drinks, came to just over £30; great food and great value - and you'll get an even better deal if you go for my 'Storytelling Supper' on Thursday 20th June! From 7 - 8 pm you can get a special meal-deal of a main course and a pud for a tenner... then sit back and let me entertain you with selected readings from The Lay of Angor. Book your place now!


After coffee (or in my case, brandy) we went off to Saxton Village Hall for another treat: in a surprise addition to the Towton Battlefield Society lecture programme, MP Chris Skidmore gave a lecture entitled, 'Fortune's Ascent', to tie in with his recently-released book, Bosworth: The Birth of the Tudors. (There he is on the left, signing a copy for TBS stalwart Graham Darbyshire). I was delighted and flattered to find that Chris had asked to be introduced to me, thanks to Peter Hammond's recommendation of my Battle of Wakefield Revisited (which gets a mention in Chris's Bosworth bibliography!) - made me feel quite pink and important. I thoroughly enjoyed his lecture, too: the tale of the unlikely rise of Henry Tudor, from a dispossessed teenage Earl of Richmond exiled in Brittany and France to his becoming the first successful invader of England since the Normans, and ultimately the victor at Bosworth in 1485 and founder of the Tudor dynasty. Being a great fan of Richard III, I find it a painful story... but like that of Elizabeth Woodville (below), it's nonetheless amazing, and I'm looking forward to getting stuck in to my new copy of Bosworth to find out more. I'll be reviewing the book in due course, but at first glance it looks like a good buy for £20: an attractive hardback published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson (who made such a good job of George Goodwin's Fatal Colours), illustrated with two sets of colour plates, several maps and two black & white reproductions of pages from Polydore Vergil's original Latin account of the battle, held in the Vatican Library. So don't be put off by the cover (strangely, showing a chain-mail-clad warrior against a background of battling Crusaders) - the content is set firmly and authoritatively in the 15th century!