The Unilever chemist (or was it a bio-chemist) who devised Golden Vegetable Cup a Soup must be a genius. He has managed to reduce the food content of this “soup” to only 8%. The remaining 92% (apart from “water” which mysteriously appears in a list of dry ingredients) consists of chemicals. The list includes disodium 5′ ribonucleotides, potassium chloride, tricalcium phosphate, dipotassium phosphate and mono and diglycerides of fatty acids. The 8%, which is vegetables, consists of dried swede, onion, carrot, leeks and peas.
In the real world it isn’t difficult or complex to make a vegetable soup. In this household we make a simple stock using a chicken carcase and add diced vegetables.
In TV-speak we have the TX date (transmission date to you and me)-of The Hotel Sunday April 17th at 8pm. Previously we had been told that the first episode would go out on Tuesday April 26th, and I expect that the date has been brought forward to get in ahead of the mighty brouhaha of the Royal Wedding. Wayne, the General Manager at the Damson Dene, and Paul and Lavinia, who are now his assisstant managers, joined executives from Channel 4 and the staff of Dragonfly, the production company and several dozen representatives of the press (“hacks” in TV-speak) for a preview of the first episode.
The passing spring, Birds mourn, Fishes weep With tearful eyes - Matsuo Basho: The Narrow Road to the Deep North A fortnight ago Sendai, Fukushima and Matsushima meant nothing to us. Now, they are all too familiar as places hit by the Japanese tsunami. We’ve seen the images of the wreckage but the pictures on TV give us no idea of the beauty of the landscape which was destroyed. It was a beauty as renowned in Japan as the Lake District is here.
It was five years ago, following a research programme which took me to Kobe in Japan, that I started on the road to producing England’s first herd of Wagyu cattle. The Japanese government won’t allow the export of their native cattle, but it’s possible to get frozen embryos of pedigree Wagyus via Holland, and I arranged for some to be inserted into my own pedigree Belted Galloways at my farm on the Duddon Estuary.
Of all the terrible stories to come out of Japan there is one which I can’t get out of my mind. On the day of the earthquake a woman from Miyagi prefecture went to work. While she was at work the tsunami swept away her house, killing her husband and her three children. Her parents were also killed. Everything she woke up with that morning had gone- not simply her family and her home, but every last possession- her photos, her letters and her mementos. Although she has survived, the tsunami has washed away her life.
Today is a red letter day, or rather a red rhubarb day- the day we get to eat the first fruit (or rather, vegetable) of the year. From today until the end of October I can be pretty confident that when I’m at home I’ll be able to eat something from the vegetable garden every day. Last year I moaned that the rhubarb was a fortnight late and I blamed the lateness on the exceptionally hard winter.
The Crown Imperial (Fritillaria Imperialis) begins to emerge from the ground in late February, at the same time as the early tulips, but comes into flower much earlier. The one pictured here flowered on the 18th March, but none of my tulips has the hint of a flower as yet. They are planted deep down and our free draining soil seems to suit them. They may be lovely to look at but boy do they stink!. It’s the foliage, not the flowers. Their malodorous scent seems to have two advantages. First, the deer don’t touch them; secondly, there is not temptation to pick them and put them in vases, so that they will look pretty in the garden until the tulips have taken over.
This year we numbered 100 at the Cumbria National Garden’s Scheme lunch, representing 75 gardens- more than ever before. So many in fact that we needed a new venue, which was provided by the barn at Rydal Hall. We also have a new County organiser, Dianne Hewitt. Diane and her husband David have a woodland garden in Windermere, Windy Hall, which is one of my favourites. At the back of their garden is a field in which they keep a flock of rare breed sheep.
Diane was allowed a budget of a mere £4 a head for today’s lunch for which she provided her own lamb and damson sausages, salads, some scrumptious desserts and cheese. I couldn’t help comparing this honest, authentic Cumbrian meal, with our dinner at L’Enclume last Thursday and wondered whether a meal costing many times more had in fact produced similar levels of customer satisfaction.
The other morning I took a video of 5 deer walking nonchalantly across our lawn. I’ve also taken photos of badgers, squirrels and rats in the garden. They are all a menace. The deer, because they eat the plants; the badgers because they dig up the lawns looking for worms; the squirrels because they dig up bulbs and replant them in inappropriate places; and the rats because they eat the bird food and attract the cats, which in turn kill the birds.
The headline in the Telegraph asked “Is this the best restaurant in the world?” That question, asked by Jasper Conran, has been bugging me and tonight I had the chance to find out for myself. The restaurant is L’Enclume in Cartmel, the chef, Simon Rogan, the occasion a charity event hosted by Lakes Alive (http://www.lakesalive.org/). Simon Rogan introduced the meal himself, so we had no doubt that he was at the stove.
I was rather taken aback when walking into the courtyard at the Royal Academy to be confronted by a slate building. The structure looked every bit like one of those business units which is put up by Cumbrian farmers when they get a grant for “farm diversification”. What on earth was it doing in the centre of London? It turns out it was the RA’s attempt at the reconstruction of what is known as the Merz Barn, which had been used as a studio by the German artist Kurt Schwitters in Elterwater. It is known as a barn, but was in fact a hut or lean-to and has achieved iconic status as a work of art in its own right. One wall of the original has been removed to Newcastle University, where it has been valued at £14 million, a sum of which Cumbrian farmers can only dream, grant or no grant. The below picture shows the original, the picture above, the reproduction. They are not even close approximations.
“Are we in the middle of a civil war?” asked the guest at the Damson Dene, “Driving along here this morning I could have sworn I was in Kosovo. Have you seen the state of these roads?” Suitably stung into action by these barbed comments I set off with my Flip video camera to see for myself.
If you are in Grange-over-Sands in March and you breathe in deeply you are bound to smell garlic. This often puzzles visitors. Are they in an outpost of France? Not quite- they are breathing in the aroma of wild garlic, which is everywhere in Grange at this time of year. The photo shows the wood just behind Main St.; every inch of ground in the wood is covered in the young shoots of wild garlic.
Because my daughter is in Japan I’ve been inundated with enquiries today about her safety and found myself giving interviews for our local ITV news and our local papers. Jo, fortunately, is hundreds of miles from the earthquake and only got to hear about it when she started getting texts asking if she was all right.
I’ve no more idea than the next person what the Big Society is but there may be a hint of it in this Big Tent. The tent has been the home for the last few days of the Best of Lakeland Show, put on by the Lakes Hospitality Association.
In a few weeks the Damson Dene Hotel will, if Channel 4 has its way, be famous. This cartoon, which appeared on the front page of the Westmorland Gazette has been drawn in response to a preliminary flurry of publicity in the local papers about a TV series, based at the Damson Dene, which has the preliminary title of “The Hotel”. It will be shown in 8 one hour episodes on Channel 4, after the watershed.
The filming of the programme, which took up a great chunk of our lives last summer, was made by an independent company called Dragonfly who made the well known ‘fly on the wall’ series, The Family and One Born Every Minute. The latter won a Bafta last year.
Carla Rotolo bitterly regretted introducing her 18 year old sister Suze to the young folk singer. Suze fell madly in love and soon left home to move in with him. Carla and her mother Mary contemptuously referred to him as “The Twerp” and cast aspersions on his personal hygiene. Suze didn’t mind- she called him “Pig”. After the affair ended and Suze moved back home “The Twerp” turned up to see Suze and an almighty row broke out which ended with The Twerp and Carla brawling on the floor and Suze screaming in hysterics.
I’ve come across a story which is so strange that I can hardly believe it’s true. It concerns Elizabeth Cotten, an American folk singer. I wouldn’t know anything about her if I hadn’t been so captivated by a song I heard on the radio that I went onto the internet to find out what it was. The song, Shake Sugaree, is practically unknown but it turned out that its author had written several well known songs including the classic Freight Train.
“Pollock for puss Coley for the cat” Back to my tour of Booth’s flagship store in Garstang (see yesterday’s posting). We were shown the fresh meat, the fresh fish and the vegetable sections. For some reason our host skipped over the processed and frozen food aisles, which is a pity because this is where they make most of their money.
I don’t patronise any supermarket for the very simple reason that if they get my custom the small independent shopkeeper doesn’t. But I’m very interested in what the supermarkets get up to which is why I accepted an invitation for a behind the scenes look at a new Booths store in Garstang at the invitation of Slow Food, Lancashire.
The idea of Slow Life is to take the principles of Slow Food, which are “good, clean and fair”, and extend them to life in general.
Here in the Lake District, the air is clean, the pace is slow and the atmosphere is calm. If we don’t grow food ourselves, we can buy it in friendly small shops, where you know the quality is going to be the best.
This blog is a celebration of the Slow Life, with forays into the world of design, music, the arts, gardens, and my particular weakness, Japan.