Tags: canal boat, Emma Smith, ice cream, Maiden's Trip.
Since our canal holiday earlier this year, I’ve been a lot more aware of the canal boats I see everyday. I often cycle along the Regent’s Canal towpath on my way to work, and can also see a little bit of it from my flat (a view that’s slowly being eroded by new buildings). There are a real mix of boats, from floating wrecks to beautifully cared for boats with painted names and extensive miniature-gardens of flowers, vegetables and herbs. You get to know some of them for short (or longer) periods of time, depending on the mooring regulations upon particular stretches of the canal (some moorings are long term; some are for a fortnight only).
After getting back from our Kennet & Avon jaunt, I read Emma Smith’s Maiden’s Trip, a fictionalised version of the writer’s experiences working on a barge during the war, when women were called in to help with the vital work of moving cargoes around the country via its waterways. She vividly describes the hardships – and pleasures – of life on the boats, from bad weather and bed bugs to tinned milk cocoa and kedgeree for tea. The maiden’s trip takes them from Limehouse Basin (15 minutes cycle ride from my flat), where they load up, to Birmingham and Coventry and back. The views from the canal encompass desolate and dirty urban wastelands as well unspoiled glorious countryside. They meet a range of people along the way and find friends and rivals among the barge folk, from those for who it’s just a day job to those whose whole lives are lived on the water.
If anyone has any other recommendations for stories set aboard barges, I’d love to hear them please. I keep thinking that Five Go off on a Canal Boat is a great, unwritten story, which I can vividly imagine elements of, in part drawn from my own trip in April: accidentally hitting another boat (perhaps this is Dick, getting distracted by lunch being prepared below deck), having a nasty encounter with some rude and angry men, suspicions being aroused as lights shine out from the boats at night – perhaps a midnight trip up and down the canal, picking up or dropping off some mysterious cargo… And of course this would all be fueled by plenty of ices and lemonade, boiled eggs for breakfast and burnt sausages for tea. This ice cream barge, currently moored near Victoria Park, would provide the perfect stopping off point for refreshments.
Tags: Almond Kitchen, Botany, Botany Shop, Chatsworth Road, doughnnuts, Firefly Books, From Field and Flower, honey, jam, London Borough of Jam, marshmallow
I’ve just returned from a Sunday morning jaunt to Chatsworth Road, E5. I’ve not been down there for a couple of years and there are now so many lovely places to shop, eat and drink. Sunday (11-5) is market day. Here are a few my highlights from today’s visit:
This lovely gentleman at the ‘From Field and Flower‘ stall very easily talked me into buying a stawberry honey creme and some pollen (it’s full of vitamins and good for the joints). My friend and I were encourage to try lots of delicious Italian (and one English) raw honeys. I’ll definitely be going back once I’ve worked my way through the stock of Welsh honey I picked up on my recent-ish trip to Hay-on-Wye.
Some delicious home-made confectionery courtesy of The Almond Kitchen. The vanilla marshmallows were yummy and would be perfect for taking on a Famous Five expedition.
Ditto these doughnuts from London Borough of Jam. ‘Timmy’s just silly over those doughnuts’, we find out in Five Have a Wonderful for Time. Sadly, the lady in the LBJ shop informed us that the bakery who makes them forgot to put the jam in! So only custard available today.
But lots of jam in the shop itself. Amalfi lemon and vanilla, strawberry and rose, apricot and camomile and much more. Mmmmm. I can imagine Aunt Fanny or Joan the Cook making some delicious jams like these, using herbs and flowers from the Kirrin Cottage garden.
And another one for Aunt Fanny, the beautiful and serene Botany, which sells plants (lots of succulents in little pots and jars), local flowers, gifts for home and garden, and a wonderful curated selection of flora and fauna-themed books including novels, histories, pattern sourcebooks, growing guides and cookbooks.
Chatsworth Road also has lots of great charity and antique shops, fruit and veg shops and stalls, plus the excellent Firefly Books, where I picked up a copy of 1000 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up (still a little time for me, then) for a mere £2. Bargain.
Tags: Growing Communities, harvest festival, Haystack, High Tea, Lammas Day, scything, Walthamstow Marshes
Have you ever wanted to learn how to scythe and how to make a haystack? It’s just the sort of thing you can imagine the Five helping out with on the farm, before going into the farmhouse for a grand High Tea of ham and lettuce sandwiches, scones and cherry cake, all washed down with homemade lemonade.
If you fancy it, and you’re anywhere near east London next weekend, here’s your chance. From 1-3 August you can take part in a Community Haystacks event on Walthamstow Marshes. The Marshes were traditionally considered common land and are now managed by Lea Valley Regional Park. Hay used to be cut on Lammas Day (1 August), which is the festival of the wheat harvest and the first harvest festival of the year. For the second year in a row the traditional is being reinstated on Walthamstow Marshes by the Lee Valley Park Rangers and artists Kathrin Bohm and Louis Buckley.
On 1 and 2 August you can learn how to scythe with expert Colin Leeke. A two hour workshop costs £5 and includes tools and (much needed) refreshments. There will also be free talks on the Marshes from speakers including artist and architect Céline Condorelli, food grower and conservationist Fiona McAllister from Growing Communities, and artist Alana Jelinek. Sunday 3 August is haystack-making day! Bring a picnic and join in to help make the largest haystack the Marshes have seen for many a year. Apparently this will be Essex-style – I don’t know what this means but will look forward to finding out.
More information and details of booking for workshops can be found here.
Tags: Book Hive, Dormouse Books, Fabulous Frames, Norwich, Norwich Castle, Ronaldo's Ice Cream, Verandah, Wonder of Birds
Just back from a lovely weekend in my home town of Norwich. I love that place. Here’s my pick of things to do from this visit.
Eat local. Loads of delicious produce from Norfolk is available on the market and from other delis and stores. Here’s some tasty looking asparagus from Louis’ on Upper St Giles, and some gooseberries and strawberries from the market. Mmmm!
Buy some books. The Dormous bookshop on Elm Hill has good secondhand books including Blytons and Penguins. The Book Hive is a new-ish but now much beloved institution. This picture is of their window display promoting their ‘Book Hive Year’ whereby you can sign up to receive one hand-picked book a month for a year.
Send a postcard home. The Famous Five always send their parents a card or two while they are away. I love this letterbox which is embedded in the window of stylish art/craft/gift shop, Verandah on Upper St Giles (the shop was formerly a Post Office). You can buy some gorgeous cards just up the road at Fabulous Frames (separate post on these to follow).
Learn stuff. Norwich Castle Museum is one good place to do this. It’s a museum in a castle! What could be better than that? They currently have an exhibition on called The Wonder of Birds: Nature: Art: Culture. It’s good. So good I bought a catalogue. No photos allowed inside the exhibition but there were stuffed birds aplenty, drawings, paintings, textiles, fashion, eggs and fossils. Extinct birds were represented too, including the Great Auk, whose replica egg would have delighted Jack of the Adventure series (keen ornithologist Jack dreams of one day spotting a Great Auk).
Eat local, part 2. Ronaldo’s ice cream stall, located on London St, does the best ices. They use local milk and cream, fruits, nuts and liquers. I had liquorice which I wasn’t sure I’d like. It was, needless to say, utterly delicious. If you can’t decide though, I’d make like the Famous Five and have at least three ice creams each:
“I advise you to start off with vanilla, go on to strawberry and finish up with chocolate.” – Julian, Five Have a Wonderful Time.
Tags: bagels, banneton, ciabatta, E5 Bakehouse, Hackney Wild, Rye, sourdough
For last year’s Christmas gift countdown challenge, I suggested the gift of a Bertinent bread-making class for Aunt Fanny. Well, I should have actually recommended the classes run by my local bakery, the E5 Bakehouse. After some (I thought quite subtle, but apparently not, hints), my very own Quentin got me a day of learning the secrets of sourdough for my Christmas present. I booked some time ago but due to the popularity of the classes only embarked upon this initiation on Thursday. Anyway, it was brilliant.
We had a very good teacher called Pete. Pete is is a baker at the Bakehouse. Over the course of the day he taught us how to make 4 different breads, all with a sourdough starter. The breads were a 66% rye, ciabatta, bagels, and the Bakehouse’s signature loaf, the Hackney Wild. The bagels and ciabatta use the same white starter, but the rye and Hackney Wild have their own made with different proportions of rye, wholemeal and white flour.
The class assembled at 11am for coffee, bread and marmalade. A couple of us were locals, but many people had travelled from afar, including one gentleman who had left Darlington at 5am to make it to London in time. We spent the morning getting our different doughs going, giving them the occasional fold, and learning more about the history of sourdough, bread in general, and the heritage wheats that the Bakehouse likes to use (since the 50s, a hybrid, bred, type of wheat is generally used for bread-making, but many smaller growers are trying to revive older grains). One thing I didn’t know was that the name ‘ciabatta’ (meaning ‘old man’s slipper’) was only coined fairly recently, as an Italian reaction to the invasion of other foreign breads (baguettes and the like) into Italy.
After a bread for lunch (locally foraged and grown salad, including delicate and delicious wild garlic, and sandwiches made with Bakehouse bread, of course) we began shaping our loaves. We learnt how to be gentle with the bread, shaping round loaves with a little gentle lift and squeeze (oh yes) before popping them in a banneton (a cane basket that helps the bread develop and keep its shape during the time it takes to prove).
Bagel were interesting to make. Pete, our teacher, showed us two techniques for this. One involved rolling a sausage of dough and then squeezing this firmly together and giving the dough a roll with the palm of your hand until the join is sealed. The second was fun too. This consisted of poking a hole into a round piece of dough and then using your index fingers to roll and stretch the hole out from the inside. After the bagels sat and proved for a bit we poached them in boiling water and bicarbonate of soda before dressing them with salt, sesame or poppy seeds and popping them into the bread oven to bake.
The ciabatta, rich with olive oil, was silky and slippery to roll and stretch out, while the Hackney Wild and the 66% rye were nice and firm and satisfying to shape. One valuable lesson we learnt was about to how to recreate some of the qualities of the bread oven at home. Key to this is introducing some element of steam. This prevents a crust forming too quickly which restricts the development of your loaf. Some ways to do this are by putting a tray of water, or some ice cubes, into the bottom of your oven while the bread bakes. Another interesting method that Pete demonstrated to us is to bake the bread inside a cast iron cooking pot. The bread produced its own steam and is able to swell and rise evenly before you take the lid off for the final 10 minutes of cooking time. Pete made two loaves – one in the pot, one just on a tray – and the difference was remarkable.
I came home laden with lots of bread and three pots of starters (plus a snazzy E5 scraper/cutter). As I write, there is still one ciabatta, a quarter of rye and two bagels left, plus a frozen Hackney Wild dough in the freezer. Whew! But to keep in practice, I’m currently creating a new rye leaven from my starter (you add a bunch more flour and water and leave it out of the fridge to spring to life) so I can bake some more tomorrow.
Tags: Bathampton, Caen Hill Locks, canal boat, Canal Museum, Canals and Rivers Trust, Chester Canal Trust, cygnets, Devizes, Kennet & Avon canal, Maiden's Trip., tinned milk
Hello there, and I hope you’re all enjoying the lovely May bank holiday weather. It was a little bit wetter last week when I and four chums (yes, there really were Five of us!) went on a canal boat holiday along the Kennet & Avon canal. Although the Famous Five never went on a boating holiday (they do use boats as frequent means of transport though, especially to get to Kirrin Island) it was a very FFS holiday. I suppose the closest point of comparison would be Five Go Off in a Caravan – living in a small and compact space and enjoying a VERY slow pace of travel.
We had three nights and four days on the boat, and I felt very much like Anne when we arrived at Bathampton (just outside of Bath) and were shown over the boat, the ‘Dorothy Beryl’, by Richard, her owner. In Five Go Off in Caravan, the Five are inspired by a passing traveling circus to hire two caravans to take them away for the summer holidays. When the little caravans arrive, one red, one green, Anne and the rest of the Kirrins sequel in delight as they explore their temporary homes:
‘”Bunks along one side – is that where we sleep? How gorgeous!”
“Look at this little sink – we can really wash up! And golly, water comes out of these taps!”
[…] “It’s like a proper house inside.Doesn’t it seem nice and big? […]
The children spent hours examining their caravans and finding out all the secrets. They certainly well-fitted, spotlessly clean, and very roomy.’
Our boat was full of secrets and extremely well equipped. The dining table and seats turned into a double bed, the sitting room area revealed another bed (all bedding stowed underneath) and there were all sorts of cupboards hidden everywhere containing everything we needed. There was even a shower, toilet and little fridge – and a wood burning stove which came in very handy for us to warm up and dry our wet clothes (there was plenty of rain).
Like the Five’s caravans, out boat was fairly modern rather than old-fashioned and traditional. Before the caravans arrive, Anne asks if they will be gypsy caravans, on high wheels, but Julian shakes his head “No, they’re modern, Mother says, streamlined and all that.” I’d been secretly hoping our boat would be old and traditionally painted in classic canal boat style, but she was instead a neat blue with her name painted in bright yellow on her side. We did have a small stool by the stove that was traditionally decorated though. Canal boat art is beautiful, with roses and castles the traditional means of decoration. This example is from the Chester Canal Boat Trust.
If you live in London (as I do), you can also visit the Canal Museum by King’s Cross to see examples of canal art, find out more about the history of London’s canals and even step on board a real boat (and also play inside a recreation of one). Excitingly, the Canal Museum also doubles up as a museum for the history of ice cream (I have previously blogged on this, I think).
When my boss found out I was going on a boating holiday, he recommended a book called Maiden’s Trip, by Emma Smith. It’s about women taking on boatmen’s work during the war and hauling cargoes along the Grand Union Canal. Unfortunately I couldn’t get hold of it before I went, but I was inspired by the blurb on the Bloomsbury website to cook kedgeree for dinner on the first night. We actually ate very well on board. Richard provided delicious breakfast food for us, all sourced locally – creamy milk (with actual lumps of cream floating in it), local bread, eggs, bacon and a pot of homemade marmalade. I brought some tinned evaporated milk for my breakfast coffee (Louis brought an aeropress – I don’t think the Five had one of those). This is our lunch on the first day – cheese and cucumber sandwiches. We were delayed in eating these due to an unfortunate bump we accidentally gave some resident boaters – slightly scary men with large dogs who were not best pleased and actually boarded our boat to give us a piece of their mind. Oops.
This incident did get me imagining a Famous Five-type adventure on a canal boat, with the mystery kickstarted by a similar sort of incident (the Five think the men nasty sorts, moor just around the corner for the night and then witness strange goings on, which could be smuggling by boat, or perhaps a kidnap victim being stashed on board). However, in actuality, the only other eventful thing that happened that day was getting grounded on an aquaduct with an extreme right angle and nearly leaving Louis behind on the bank.
We also had the pleasure of working locks and swing bridges. Because the pace of travel on a canal boat is very slow (you have to go slowly for various reasons, not least because you don’t want to violently disturb all of the moored boats), having locks and bridges adds a LOT of excitement to the journey. The captain/skipper has to steer the boat close enough to the bank for you to hop off and run ahead to open the bridge, or get the lock working (two people are best for the latter). As the boat barely travels at walking pace, if there are a couple of bridges or locks coming up it’s not worthwhile getting back on board so you get a good walk as well as a work out using the windlass (lock key) to work the winding mechanism that lets water in and out. This can actually be quite physically taxing.
We worked about 7 locks on the second day which took us almost up to the bottom of Caen (pronounced ‘Cane’) Hill lock flight. This is a group of 29 locks, with 16 of them being placed in very close succession to take your boat up, or down, Caen Hill near Devizes. The guides say to allow around 4 hours to work the flight, but as as we only had 4 days, we didn’t have the time or inclination to do this (we would have just had to come back down again right away, and it would have taken a whole day). Richard told us about a time he was travelling with a relative who was a marine – he got some of his colleagues to help and they managed the locks in a record time of 1 and a half hours.
We contented ourselves with taking a nice walk up the flight, watching people working its gates and wondering if any of them would get attacked by the nesting swans. You can see films of last year’s swans and cygnets here, on the Canal and Rivers Trust website (I think this year’s must be there too, but can’t find on the website). There were also plenty of ducks and ducklings on the canals at this time of year, and we saw a number of herons plus the usual coots and moorhens.
By the time we returned to Bathampton on Tuesday evening, we all felt like experienced boaters. I’m dying to go again. Because the boats travel slowly, it’s a great way to see the countryside and also relax (if there are a few of you, there’s plenty of opportunity to work (steer, handle ropes, do the locks etc) but you rarely need 5 people so lots of time to read, write, sleep on the roof of the boat and so on. As I live by the Regent’s Canal in London, and cycle the towpath every morning, it’s given me a different perspective of the boats I pass every day. I’m actually quite jealous. There’s something very satisfying about the rhythms of life on the water. And one other curious thing – it took me a day or two to stop having a sensation of gently rocking when I got back on land.
Tags: Little Book of lunch, sandwiches
My friend and work colleague Wendy pointed out this enjoyable feature on lunchbox sandwiches in the Guardian yesterday with the instruction “scroll down”.
Ha ha! I was very pleased to see ‘The Enid Blyton’ given its full due as a valid lunch option. Sandwiches with sides of radishes and hard boiled eggs are excellent lunchtime fare, my only quibble would be to suggest that for a more aesthetically pleasing, and authentically Blytonian, experience you should wrap your dipping salt up in a little screw of paper rather than use tupperware. The sandwiches that the authors of this article and The Little Book of Lunch suggest are watercress – very tasty and classy – but Enid has a wonderful knack for making the humble sandwich sound like the most appetising thing ever, even when it includes such retro delights as Spam. So here are a few more canonical suggestions:
‘”Cucumber dipped in vinegar! Spam and lettuce! Egg! Sardine! Oooh, Mr Luffy, your sandwiches are much nicer than ours,” said Anne, beginning on two together, one cucumber and the other Spam and lettuce” (Five Go Off to Camp, sandwich-maker: Mrs Luffy).
‘”Aunt Fanny cut dozens and dozens of sandwiches,” said Anne. “She said if we kept them in this tin they wouldn’t go stale, and would last a day or two till we went back. I’m hungry. Shall we have some now?”
They sat out in the sun, munching the ham sandwiches. Anne had brought tomatoes too, and they took a bite at a sandwich and then a bite at a tomato.’ (Five on a Secret Trail, sandwich-maker: Aunt Fanny, with improvisation by Anne).
Potted meat (devoured ravenously and even two at a time by a malnourished Uncle Quentin) (Five on Kirrin Island Again, sandwich-maker: Aunt Fanny).
‘They had a magnificent lunch about half-past twelve. Really, Mrs Johnson had surpassed herself! Egg and sardine sandwiches, tomato and lettuce, ham – there seemed no end to them!’ (Five Go to Mystery Moor, sandwich-maker: Mrs Johnson, of Johnson’s Riding School).
‘”I made [Timmy’s] sandwiches myself.” [said George]. And so she had! She had bought sausagemeat at the butchers and had actually made Timmy twelve sandwiches with it, all neatly cut and packed. (Five Get Into Trouble, sandwich-maker: George).
Perhaps the best sandwich-making and eating in the Famous Five books comes in Five on a Hike Together. The process of making the cheese, pork, ham and egg sandwiches (4 different types – not all together!) is stretched across no less than five pages (the children do ask for eight sandwiches each so it takes a while) and then there are seven pages of expectation and build up before the children finally sit down in the heather on Fallaway Hill in the late autumn sun to munch their sandwiches while gazing across the lonely moor.
‘At last the sandwiches were finished and the old woman appeared again. She had packed them up neatly in four parcels of grease-proof paper, and had pencilled on each what they were. Julian read what she had written and winked at the others.
“My word – we’re in for a grand time!” he said.’
(Five on a Hike Together, sandwich-maker: un-named ‘shop woman’ aka ‘old woman’ aka ‘Ma’)
Tags: Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer, ginger biscuits, Jane Brocket
Yesterday’s reference to Five on Kirrin Island Again gave me the urge to bake a version of Joanna the Cook’s famous ginger biscuits. Joanna knows how to use food to make people happy and cheer them up when they’re sad. When poor George is forced to let her beloved dog Timmy stay on Kirrin Island with Uncle Quentin (he needs a bodyguard to protect him while he conducts top secret scientific experiments), Joanna directs the children towards the biscuit tin. “I made you some of your favourite ginger biscuits this morning”, she tells them, much to Dick’s delight:
‘”I do think good cooks deserve some kind of decoration, just as much as good soldiers, or scientists, or writers. I should give Joanna the O.B.C.B.E”.
“Whatever’s that?” said Julian.
“Order of the Best Cooks of the British Empire,” said Dick, grinning.’
As I’m off to visit Anne later (companion on such infamous adventures as Peter’s Tower in 2010 and last summer’s wet and rainy trip to the Blytonian equivalent of Mecca, Corfe Castle) I thought I would make her a batch of ginger biscuits [Anne – if you’re reading this, surprise! And I hope you like ginger…].
I won’t post the recipe for these up here as it comes courtesy of Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer, Jane Brocket‘s excellent compendium of recipes based on food in children’s books. I’ve made several of JB’s recipes (Battenberg cake, saffron cake, pineapple upside down cake) and I have to say that they are a) delicious and b) have worked every time. Although having said that, mine look a bit pale, cracked and ugly. And they did take a little longer in the oven than JB recommends. But they taste good and that’s the most important thing, right?!
Tags: Audley End, cricket, Cycling, Essex, Fry Art Gallery, pargetting, Saffron Walden, Thaxted
Essex is a great county to cycle round. Last Saturday Mr C [still waiting for the right Famous Five pseudonym to present itself] and I did a circular route from Audley End to well, obviously, Audley End. The towns, villages and countryside along the route are beautiful, with just the right amount of hills (I never felt like I was constantly peddling up hill but there were enough inclines to keep things interesting).
The first stop was Saffron Walden, home of the glorious Fry Art Galley which has an extensive and wonderful collection of works by Edward Bawden, Eric Ravillious, Kenneth Rowntree and many more. You can get fine cakes, quiches and scones from Cafe Cou Cou but it is extremely hard to find anywhere to leave your bikes. We ended having to ask the vicar if it was ok to lock our bikes up to the church railings.
From Saffron Walden we set off in the direction of Thaxted, a sweet village with a windmill and plenty of impressive examples of pargetting, a traditional style of decorating the exterior plasterwork of buildings with patterns. Pargetting is big in this part of Essex and nearby Cambridgeshire.
We kept looking for a river or pool in which we could take a dip (temperatures exceeded 30 degrees on Saturday) but sadly this was not to be. But we did come across some very cute hens, and Mr C bought some freshly laid eggs which we had for breakfast with Brick Lane bagels the following day. This is my egg cup, Mr C is far too manly for such a thing.
Given our various stop offs, and the high temperatures, we took our time getting round the 34 mile route. By early evening we were more than ready for a drink and pub meal. We stopped off at The Cricketers Arms by Rickling Green and had a quintessentially English experience of drinking Pimms (me)/ale (Mr C) while sitting on the grass watching a game of cricket.
I’d highly recommend this ride although doing it in one day means you won’t have time to visit all of the various attractions en route (the house at Audley End, Bridge End Garden and turf maze, Saffron Walden Museum, and various churches). The route can be found here.
And here is some recommended viewing; 4 films from the East Anglian Film Archive:
The House that Essex Built (1958)
Britain’s Historic Counties: Essex (c.1955)
Ripe Earth (1938) Boulting Brothers documentary about harvest time in Essex.