Archive for September, 2008
With capitalism crashing about our ears I have been busy in the kitchen. Making marmalade might not save the household from financial disaster but there is something comforting about tucking into home-made breakfast while the credit crunch devours another victim on the morning radio. So the consumer boom is over. That doesn’t mean we have to stop eating good food.
Ever since I made my first really successful batch of marmalade earlier this year I have become very pernickety about what I spread on my toast. When we ran out of seville marmalade I began to experiment with the three fruit recipe in my Paupers Cookbook (there’s a topical title, reprinted from the 1970s edition when we really did have inflation and interest rates in two figures). Orange, grapefruit and lemon worked well but last weekend there wasn’t an orange in the house so I made do with grapefruit and lemon and that tastes pretty good too.
It’s hardly survival food but making things is very satisfying, especially when you can eat the results. Until recently, making anything at all had become a pretty old fashioned idea. Why get your hands dirty when you can go shopping? But home cooking could make a come back. I’ve been meaning to start a blog about eating better for less money: how to feed four for a fiver, or something along those lines. But I haven’t got round to it and of course its probably already too late. After all even Waitrose is promoting cheaper cuts of meat for healthy family meals.
“Don’t buy ready-made meals: you’re paying for someone else’s labour.” Credit Action
All of which might sound glib when the charity Credit Action reports that UK personal debt is currently at £1,449bn. The average household debt in the UK is £9,475 (excluding mortgages), on average each UK adult owes £30,270 (including mortgages). And 104 houses are repossessed every day.
So how to cut costs? Credit Action offers some practical advice including energy saving tips, buying clothes from charity shops and trying good old fashioned home cooking.
If I ever get round to that ‘feed four for a fiver’ blog I will have to spend a lot of time checking and comparing the prices of raw ingredients. But the marmalade does give some idea. I estimate that it cost £4. 97p to produce 12 jars of marmalade from 2 grapefruit, 4 lemons and 2.5 kilos of sugar. Admittedly I haven’t allowed for energy costs and two hours of gas (an hour and a half simmering to soften the fruit, a quick boil to reach setting point) is likely to add a hefty price. But Tesco’s finest marmalade is £1.05 per jar. And it doesn’t taste as good.
There’s another twist to the sorry tale of consumer debt. Rising food prices have not yet stopped our wasteful habits. According to Credit Action a third of today’s domestic shopping will end up in the bin. According to WRAP, the government recycling agency, we chuck away £10 billion worth of food every year. Not my marmalade, we don’t.
No prize for spotting there are only 10 jars in the picture, the others wouldn’t fit in the tray…
September 30th, 2008
I have been wanting to see what is on the other side of this gate for almost 20 years. It seems almost magical to find a walled garden here on the island of Canna, a long and often bumpy boat journey from mainland sources of vegetable seeds and flowering plants. For two weeks one summer, we passed the gate every day walking from the holiday house high on the hillside down to the shore and every day I tried to peek through the gaps but it wasn’t until this year that I finally got into the secret garden.
On the other side
Well, that’s not strictly true. In the 1980s on our way down the woodland path we caught glimpses of old fruit trees and chickens scratching in the vegetable patch on the other side of the wall. In those days the Campbells still lived in the house though they had already bequeathed the island to the National Trust for Scotland.
By last year, on our first visit for many years, they had both died and the garden was so overgrown that a party of NTS volunteers was hacking through brambles and raspberry canes, uncovering the ghost of a pebble path while bonfires burned on the lawn in front of Canna House.
But last week, Ray and I saw the garden returning to life. Neil Baker is on a two year contract to restore the garden and his plan is to grow fruit and vegetables for islanders and visitors as Margaret Fay Shaw used to do – and flowers and berries for birds, bees and butterflies just like John Lorne Campbell.
You can tell a lot about people from the plants they grow. The garden was already here when Margaret and John bought Canna in 1938. Margaret’s first order, sent in February 1939, was for a fairly modest batch of alyssum and lobelia bedding plants, but very soon there were more ambitious orders for vegetables (artichokes and squashes as well as peas and beans), espalier fruit trees, all kinds of herbs (including basil for goodness sake), shrubs, herbaceous plants and many roses. “I have just found Canna on the map,” one supplier scrawled on the invoice, “I am afraid the roses are unlikely to thrive.”
That was a long time ago. Last week, Neil took a break from cutting grass in the shelter belt to walk us round the garden that he is reviving with great care and sensitivity. In just six months he has reclaimed lawns, uncovered the drying green, cleared paths, coaxed an impressive harvest of veg from the newly weeded kitchen garden (unlike the rest of Scotland Canna has had a summer!) and unearthed a hoard of old ceramic rope tiles which he has been told would fetch a fortune on eBay.
Next year he will tackle the old trees in the orchard and bring back colour to herbaceous borders on either side of the drive from the front gate. He also has an eye on reviving the rose bed stocked by Margaret over the course of more than 40 years. I expect Margaret (she died in 2004) got a lot of satisfaction out of proving that first nursery wrong.
It’s a fantastic project and I hope we get the chance to go back again next year to see how Neil is getting on. I like the feeling that in his care the garden gate still promises something magical on the other side.
There’s a glimpse of Margaret’s rose bed to the right of the path.
September 23rd, 2008
I don’t need Google to remind me. Summer’s over before it began. Our virginia creeper has had so much rain this year it is smothering the garden and beginning to cover the next door neighbour’s house. But it’s going out with a blaze. Happy autumn equinox!
September 22nd, 2008
I’m off and away for a week to the island of Canna where the summer has been hot and dry, so dry they had to cancel some holiday bookings because there wasn’t enough water to cope with extra visitors. I have a horrible feeling that lack of water won’t be the problem by the time we get there. Still, we’ve got books and booze and good company and a roof over our heads. What more could we possibly want? Well, ok, some sun would be very nice.
September 12th, 2008
And so, let’s pause a moment here, draw strength – and reclaim what is ours. Ron Butlin
It was a fine affair: a red carpet, a string quartet, speeches from private and public bodies, a poem composed for the occasion, and fizzy wine to wash it all down. But, rather oddly, the official opening of St Andrew Square was closed to the public. I was in a hurry or I would have stopped to take a photograph of the sign on the locked gates. It didn’t seem quite the right spirit to celebrate an otherwise generous and welcoming space. Ron Butlin’s poem, on the other hand, was perfect.
Perhaps it is churlish of me to mention the locked gates, I was among the privileged company ushered into the marquee specially erected for the occasion. But it seemed a strange contradiction to close the gates while inside the big tent speakers and guests proudly celebrated the opening of a new public space. Since Alex Salmond proudly announced that he walks up the Royal Mile from parliament to city centre (was that why he was 30 minutes late?), he was unlikely to be phased by meeting a few folk on the way to the red carpet.
Even so, it was good to hear so much enthusiasm for the garden and due credit given to the old Edinburgh City Centre Management Company who made it happen. They had to work hard to negotiate ‘the possibilities and prohibitions’ of the capital city as the Makar, Ron Butlin, so succintly puts it.
And credit is certainly due to Essential Edinburgh and their event organisers for including the Makar in this official opening ceremony, for giving the poet a place on the platform, and for publicly celebrating the fact that St Andrew Square is now Edinburgh’s poetry garden.
Here’s the last verse of Poetry in St Andrew Square which Ron first performed in draft form at the completely public opening of the poetry garden two weeks ago.
Ours is a city of possibilities and projibitions where we do our best to find the best way forward, and to seek out kindness where we can but only in these very public gardens, only in the green spaces of these very public gardens, can we feel the reassurance of the Earth beneath us.
And so, let’s pause a moment here, draw strength – and reclaim what is ours.
Let’s do just that: the gardens are open every day from 8 am till 6am.
September 10th, 2008
I’m off to the official opening of St Andrew Square this morning. In some way it feels like the end of a journey that started for me when I joined the board of Edinburgh City Centre Management almost exactly five years ago. The big item on the agenda at my first meeting was a plan to turn the shabby old private garden (littered with needles and empty cans) into a sparkling public space. There was a lot of hard work behind the scenes but here it is, a fantastic success, and I am more than a little curious to see how the capital’s great and good will mark the opening of the garden that has been so thrivingly open since April…
September 10th, 2008