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Remembering Mum

This winter (2017/18), Christmas and the following couple of weeks, have been particularly difficult for me because they have been filled with memories of my mother. January 2018 marks the 25th anniversary of her death, and I can’t help thinking back to that last Christmas, when she was so ill but so determined to have one last celebration.

Mum always loved Christmas. She loved having a big tree, as big as would fit in the living room, and every treasured bauble and length of tinsel was brought down from the loft and lavished over the tree. Next came the planning, cooking and freezing of countless treats, sweet and savoury. She was a great cake baker and pastry cook, and would make vast quantities of mince pies, sausage rolls, little vol-au-vent cases, a huge fruity cake, and anything else that took her fancy. She and Dad didn’t drink a lot, but probably spent 90% of their annual alcohol expenditure just on Christmas drinks. When I was a child I remember our treat of a bottle of wine for Christmas dinner was always Mateus Rose, the only wine, I think, that they had ever heard of! Then there was whiskey, rum, gin, sherry, port, and all the mixers necessary.


A Christmas montage; Mum and I in the 1970s, Mum and Eva fooling around, and a corner of a Christmas photo from the 1960s

About two weeks before Christmas, the round of visiting friends and family started, and we tried to see everyone in the run up to Christmas, sometimes several times, as we went to their house for drinks, then they came to ours. Small spontaneous parties broke out here and there, as the numbers of visitors waxed and then waned again. It sounds like a very boozy time, and I suppose it was. The whole process culminated in Christmas Day, when we took presents to Nan & Grandad and popped in to see Auntie Lucy and Uncle Bob, ending up at our friends Dick & Eva – all within walking distance in the village, which was just as well as none of the friends or relatives were stingy with the bottle! I remember one Christmas Day, Dad drank so much of Dick & Eva’s rum that he disgraced himself on the walk home and as a result didn’t much fancy the huge meal Mum had so carefully prepared. He was not allowed to live that memory down!


Mum and Nana Foster in the 1960s; Mum with Rocky the rescue dog and Chicko the rescued Silkie cockerel

When she was diagnosed as terminally ill, it was October 1992, the leaves were turning gold on the trees on the drive back from the hospital, and the sun was shining; it always seems wrong that the sun was shining. Sadness descended on the house, but Mum didn’t let the doctor’s diagnosis that she had only a couple of weeks to live deter her. She was certain she would live to enjoy another Christmas, and she did, although the memory of that time is painful to those of us she left behind. The meal was huge, as always, although I think I cooked most of it that year, but she no longer had much appetite and it tasted pretty dust-like to me. And she had not been able to go out to visit friends (many had by this time already left the village and moved far away), and she was estranged from a couple of her sisters so no visits there. In fact, she did not really want people to know how sick she was, and I think the only people who visited were Janet and David, friends for many years. So it wasn’t really like the Christmases she had used to plan and cook and decorate for. I hope she enjoyed it, I think she did, but it took a lot of her dwindling resources of energy. She saw in the New Year, and phoned me up to wish me a happy 1993. She had done what she had set out to do, see another Christmas, and she was satisfied. A week or so later, she went back into the hospice, and on 19th January she slipped into a coma and died.

Although I cherish all the memories of Christmas from my childhood, the memory of that last Christmas will always haunt me and colours my attitude to Christmas as a whole to this day, twenty-five years later.

Mum 1980s

See Mother’s Day and An Ordinary Woman for more memories of my Mum.


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Lemon Marmalade and Green Tomato and Chilli Chutney

Today I made lemon marmalade. I had acquired a couple of kilos of lemons from a large retail outlet, at a bargain price, and I had to use them up before they went off. I adapted the recipe for lemon and ginger marmalade I had made last autumn – very warming and spicy and nearly all gone by now. As usual I took my eye off the pot whilst I had lunch and it boiled over! But never mind, I am sure the results are worth it.lemon marmalade

It has been a productive year on the preserving front – I pickled some onions, made Onion Marmalade, green tomato and chilli chutney from the produce in the greenhouse, raspberry jam from our first crop of raspberries, and concocted various batches of herb oils and vinegars. I also froze several batches of runner and broad beans. I need to get a large earthenware crock so that next year I can preserve the runner beans in salt as my grandma taught me.

onion marmaladegreen tomato and chilli chutneyraspberry jam

Lemon marmalade recipe:

1.2 kg lemons

1.2 litres water

900g granulated sugar

Quarter the lemons and slice as thinly as possible across the quarters, putting any pips you encounter into a muslin bag. Tie the muslin bag up and put in the preserving pan with the lemon slices and the water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 2 hours, or until the fruit is soft. Allow to cool slightly and remove the bag of pips, squeezing to extract as much of the pectin as possible. Add the sugar to the pan and boil until setting point is reached (5-10 minutes or 105 degrees Celsius); remove from the heat and pour into warmed jars; put lids on the jars whilst they are hot. Tangy!

Green Tomato and Chilli Chutney Recipe

1 kg of green tomatoes (or however many you have rescued from the plants; I always have loads left because our summers are never long or sunny enough to ripen all of the fruits)

2 medium-sized apples

500g soft brown sugar

500 ml malt vinegar

125 g raisins or sultanas

300 g shallots

small piece of fresh root ginger

As many chillies as you like (minimum 3; chillies do very well for me in the greenhouse, and this year I grew three different varieties: JalapeƱo, Iranian Round, and Wenk’s Yellow Hot, all of which were prolific)

Wash the tomatoes, slice the chillies (and deseed if you are not feeling quite that brave!), finely grate the ginger, core the apples, peel the shallots. Chop the tomatoes, apples and shallots so that they are reasonably chunky but not mushy – I use one of those manual chopping machines, but you could use a food processor or just do it by hand. Put all of the ingredients into the preserving pan and stir well whilst the mixture heats up to boiling point, making sure that the sugar has all dissolved, then turn down the heat to a simmer and just leave it, stirring occasionally to make sure it does not stick. This could take at least an hour; it is ready when it looks like jam! Spoon into warmed jars and tighten the lids. Once cooled the jars can be stored in a cupboard, but once opened they should be kept in a fridge. Absolutely delicious with cheese!




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Hello world!

This blog is going to be a bit of a jumble sale. My other half says I have too many hobbies, they are taking over the house, and I no sooner get to be good at something than I am looking for the next new interest – and he is right! But some interests do stand the test of time, and these I find are the ones I learnt early on in life.

Cooking; my grandma was a cook at one of the big houses in the next village, long before I was born. I remember the summer holidays from school, helping grandad in the vegetable garden harvesting beans and then helping grandma to preserve them in a vast earthenware crock layered with salt; or picking plums from the Victoria tree and helping her bottle them in Kilner jars.

Knitting; both of my grandmas and my mum were knitters and it was a skill I learned at an early age. I do not remember wearing a shop-bought jumper until I was in my twenties. I subsequently went on to learn crochet, clothes-making (even tailoring suits and shirts), embroidery and needlepoint, blackwork, fabric dying, patchwork, quilting – indeed anything to do with fabric and the decoration of home and person.

Chickens; the chickens my grandparents kept during and after the war were long gone by the time I arrived on the scene, but I remember tales of the fantastic eggs they gave. When I got a little patch of land I wanted some hens too.





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