After another productive year in the garden and at Beckside, it's very satisfying to see the dresser shelves filling up again with tasty produce! We've managed to stay fairly well on top of processing the fruits and vegetables we've grown, gathered from the wild, or been given by customers and friends; as well as a freezer stocked with soft fruits, various green beans and home-squeezed apple juice, we have a gallon of cider brewing (with plenty more to come when the later apples are ready to harvest), and the preserves you can see here. On the top shelf we have grape cheese from our own vine, and several different jams: plum, raspberry/redcurrant, and cucumber. Yes, cucumber - we had such a glut from the greenhouse that I pickled some with garlic and chilli (very powerful, very yummy, and long since eaten!), and tried this jam as an experiment; I was pleasantly surprised to find that it has a lovely, delicate flavour, and will definitely make more next year. And underneath, in the Kilner jars, we're brewing liqueurs for Christmas presents: Hubcap's ever-popular beech-leaf noyau, mixed fruit gin, plum and cherry brandies, and sloe gin. This is a wonderful, quick and easy way of dealing with surplus fruit: just stick it in a jar of your favourite spirit for a few months, then sweeten to taste. As well as the liqueur, it gives you delicious boozy fruits to eat as they come or use in a range of desserts; I particularly like them in jelly, or added to a baked fruit crumble. You can also see, on the left, three jars of green stuff - another experiment I adapted from a recipe for green tomato chutney
which worked so well I thought I'd share it with you! So here's my recipe for Green Pepper Chutney, a tasty relish to serve with cheese or cold meat:
Ingredients: 2 onions, 2 cloves garlic, 1 large green chilli (or more if you like it hot!), 2 large cooking apples, 2 lb green peppers (all peeled, cored and finely chopped); half-pint white vinegar; teaspoon each of salt and black pepper; tablespoon each of mustard seeds and black onion seeds; 8 ounces sugar.
Method: simmer the onions, chilli and garlic with a little of the vinegar until starting to soften, then add the apples, peppers, seasoning, spices, and enough vinegar to stop it all burning. Cook gently until everything's soft, stirring occasionally. Add the sugar and rest of vinegar, stir until sugar dissolved, then bring to the boil and cook until it's thick/the liquid has evaporated. Pour into clean heated jars. Allow to cool - then put some in a cheese buttie and enjoy!
21st October HELMICK ANNIVERSARY ADVENTURE, PART 1
How time flies… I can hardly believe that Hubcap and I have been married for so long, but it was our twelfth anniversary (and Richard III’s 567th birthday!) on 2nd October. It’s become something of a tradition to celebrate with a trip away, and this year we marked the occasion with a night at the Monsal Head Hotel in Derbyshire - a place neither of us had ever stayed before, although Mick had seen it from afar numerous times when he’d been fishing in the River Wye.
Part of the fun was getting into the Peak District National Park via Denby Dale, Penistone and Stocksbridge, enjoying the autumnal countryside and picturesque stone villages en route – including stopping for drinks at Hathersage, and making a detour to Eyam, which was so interesting that we decided to go back the next day to see it properly (forthcoming in Part 2 of this adventure!). From Eyam it was only a few miles further to our hotel; not the cheapest overnight deal we’ve had, at £90 each for dinner, bed and breakfast, nor the flashiest of hotels... but the Monsal Head is set to become a firm favourite.
It’s certainly one of the best suited to our purposes, with a wonderfully friendly, obliging staff – nothing was too much trouble for them, and they made us feel extremely welcome. Our ‘Tissington Trail’ room, albeit slightly worn, was clean, comfortable and well-equipped, with spectacular views over Monsal Dale. By chance, the hotel dining room was closed for re-decoration, so we had to eat in the adjoining Stables Bar, (so-called because that’s what it used to be, and still retains its original flagged floor and wooden horse-stall partitions) - a stroke of luck which meant we could dine at our usual early hour. I tucked into a starter of wild mushroom fricassee followed by sausage, mash, seasonal vegetables and onion gravy, while Hubcap opted for black pudding and bacon stack with cheese sauce, followed by a lamb chop and veg – good solid pub grub, and plenty of it.
Being in a pub rather than a fancy restaurant also meant we could take a break to work up an appetite for dessert. So we went for a stroll on the famous Monsal Trail, a section of the former Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midlands Junction Railway, built in 1863 to link Manchester with London. The full trail is 8.5 miles long, running from Blackwell Mill in Chee Dale to Coombs Road in Bakewell, but we only had enough daylight left to walk from Headstone Tunnel, directly below the hotel, a mile to the Cressbrook Tunnel and back again. We could only marvel at the work involved in this stunning feat of civil engineering, driven through miles of solid rock with its tunnels and famous Headstone Viaduct, and feel sad that it closed in 1968. On the other hand, the railway’s demise allowed the creation of this fantastic scenic trail, well-used by hikers, joggers, cyclists and horse-riders, and we were pleased that the thinning leaf canopy afforded us views of Little Longbrook village and Cressbrook Mill (pictured), down in the valley bottom, which we wouldn’t have seen in summer with the trees in full leaf.
After a stiff climb back up the valley, we returned to the Stables, where we felt slightly embarrassed to learn that staff had kept the kitchen open especially for us; but that’s an example of the kind of service offered by this lovely hotel, and we took full advantage of it with delicious gooey puds - Chocolate Nemesis for me and Eton Mess for Hubcap. Then came the rare luxury of a restful night, thanks to a good bed (not too hard or soft), and a cool, dark, quiet room – which, for our very particular tastes, constitutes the perfect hotel! Next morning, we stuffed down a massive ‘Full Monsal’ cooked breakfast with actual hot toast - home-baked bread for me, and a very acceptable gluten-free brand for Hubcap - which kept us going all day; and checked out feeling highly satisfied with our experience and determined to go back and enjoy more of the Monsal Head Hotel’s hospitality whenever we can. Highly recommended!