Apple, Apple, Double Bubble.

It is fast approaching THAT time of year. The time when you open the front door to find one of your neighbours standing there festooned with bulging carrier bags and a hopeful expression on their face.

“Would you like a few apples?” they ask, a slight note of desperation in their voice.

What they mean, of course is “Please, please take some. The freezer is full, the kids are refusing to come home if I serve one more apple dessert and even the dog has started hiding them under the sofa.”

If you weaken, despite the fact that the end of your own garden looks like an exploded cider press, and agree to take “a few”, they will dropped a couple of bags and run before you can change your mind.

You are now faced with dozens and dozens of apples of an unknown variety in a multitude of conditions, from nice to oozy and every stage between the two.

What to do, especially as your own freezer is already full and you are beginning to hear the sounds of rebellion from your own rank and file.

The answer is chutney and jelly, double bubble from the same set of apples.

First peel your apples, discarding black bits, unidentifiable bits and anything which might be protein.. SAVE THE PEEL. Chuck it in a zip bag or a covered box, you will need it for the jelly.

Core the apples, see previous about protein bits, and save the cores with the peel.

Chop up the fruit and some onions, I can’t say how much because it depends on the number of  apples you were fooled into taking, but about 8 oz of onion to 2lbs of apples is about right.

Put them in a preserving pan with a bag of dark brown sugar and enough cider vinegar to cover. Add some sultanas or some raisin or even some finely chopped prunes. Bring to the boil and simmer for a couple of hours until all is thick and a spoon dragged across the bottom of the pan leaves a clean line. You will need to check and stirred regularly to stop it burning. Put into hot sterilised jars and cover in the usual way. Leave for a month or so before eating. Don’t be tempted to try it earlier, it won’t be nice.

You can spice up the mix anyway you like. My son-in-law would probably add a fistful of chillies, maybe two fists full, but those of us who like our mouths unblistered might add paprika or coriander or cloves. I like to put mustard seeds in, they add crunch and spice without getting over excited.

This chutney is perfect with cheese, delicious with ham and a must for a pork pie.

Now for the jelly.

Take all the peel and the cores and put them in a big pan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer until everything has fallen apart and the whole thing looks disgusting.

Trust me.

Take off the heat and put the whole lot into a jelly bag to drip over night. Please put a bowl under the jelly bag to catch the result, I refuse to accept any responsibility for the omission of this.

No jelly bag? A one leg of a pair of tights does an excellent job.

The next day, discard the remaining contents of the jelly bag (tights leg) in the compost heap and tip all the collected juice into a jug and measure it, it may take a couple of goes to measure it all. Once you know how much liquid you have, pour it into a saucepan and add sugar at the ratio of 1lb of sugar to 1 pint of juice. You may have to do some maths, but it isn’t an absolute, so don’t worry too much, just try and be somewhere near.

Heat the mix slowly until the sugar is dissolved and then bring to a rolling boil and boil until you reach jam setting point. To skim off any scum, because underneath there will be a beautiful clear, amber coloured syrup which will set to a glorious soft jelly.

You can just put it in jars as you would any jam or jelly, it is delicious with ham or on crumpets or pancakes, but you can also flavour it by adding things to the jars as you pouring in the hot syrup. Herbs like mint, sage or thyme work well, as does strips of lemon peel or a couple of chillies you have slit open to let the fire out.

Two treats for the dark cold days to come from the same unpromising bags.


No Beer August

On Monday the military historian was feeling a trifle jaded. He did a lot of sighing and moping around, which I naturally ignored. After a whole morning of angst I was forced to ask what was wrong. Apparently he’d had to let out a notch on his belt and his tummy was uttering mild protests.

“I have decided,” he says like a noble Roman soldier about to defend a bridge. “To give up beer for August. August will be a No Beer Month.”

“What a good idea,” says I. “And if you gave up biscuits as well, think how much extra weight you would lose and how well you would feel.”

He just looked at me and went in search of a restorative custard cream.

Fast forward, mes enfants too today.

Where has the military historian spent lunch time? Could it possibly have been in that fine establishment, The Cow and Calf?

And what beverage has been passing his lips? Was it perhaps Butcombe Beer and Barbury Castle Beer?

So much for No Beer August.

He made it all the way to the 4th.

I will probably stop mocking by September.

Can’t Spell.

Who can’t spell?


Call yourself a writer and you can’t spell?

Yes, I do, despite a very nasty comment by some troll who picked up one of my blunders on a forum with no spell checker. God, how I love a spell checker function.

Why can’t I spell? Because, like so many others I am dyslexic, what was once called “word blind”. It’s been the bane of my life, it stopped me from writing many, many years because I couldn’t get down on paper what was rampaging through my head. When technology and I finally got it together and I was let loose on my first word processor, all the stories and people inside my head could come flooding out.

And, oh my, did they flood.

I wrote three full length novels (very, very full length) in the space of a year. Will they ever see the light of day ?…not without a hell of a lot of editing and revising and deleting the bits which make even me wince they won’t. Although “Jabin” is a distillation from that pot. I’ll tell you more about him another time.

What is it like being dyslexic?

It’s a pain in the backside and it makes you a very easy target for all the bullies out there, one more thing for them to point their destructive finger at and mock. For me hell on earth used to be reading out loud, because there was sure to be a word I would struggle with, one where the context wasn’t giving me a clue and where my carefully learnt phonetic tools didn’t play the game…the English language is peppered with these little “got ya” gems. It was even worse in a foreign language. One particular teacher of French got her kicks from picking on me when it was a difficult passage. I can see her smug self satisficed smile even now and the gloating smirk she had when ridiculing my struggle. Not all school bullies are kids.

Words like “were”, “where”, “was”, “what” etc. all had a tendency to look the same and out of context, especially on a flash card (possibly the worse way to tell a kid to read ever), I was stumped and, because I could recognise words like “church”…its got steeples…and “aeroplane”…cos its got two wings up and down…accused of not trying with all those so called “easy” words. “Through”, “though,” “tough”,”thought”, “there”, “their”, “then” and “them” were a bloody mine field.

When it came to essay writing and every bit of homework I ever produced, they were decorated with red ink and a curt “use of dictionary if you do not know how to spell a word”.

Great advice…if you know you’ve spelled it wrong! And no matter how often you read through something, if you are dyslexic, you are unlikely to see you’ve gone wrong. I once used the same word in an essay five times, I spelled it wrong each time and each time it was different!

Today I am much better than I was, you learn loads of little tricks as life progresses and the spell checker helps, but only up to a certain point. I often know the word I want to use, but I have NO idea how it is spelled, so little idea in fact that the spell checker does its equivalent of throwing in the towel; then it is off to Roget and The Concise Oxford to see if I offer them enough clues to find it. These days I quite enjoy the search.

How does this all work with the books I write? As an Indie and now a self publishing author, I have never had the luxury of a content author, but I have a small number of wonderful beta readers who do not hesitate to tell me if I have let standards slip or have made a complete hash of the plot line…thank you, people, I love you and couldn’t manage without you.

And I have my two line editors. One is the military historian of course, whose complete inability to understand subtly or poetry in words keeps me from almost all moments of self indulgence (not all of then, I manage to slip the odd bit of romanticism by him every now and then) and the other is Dave, who finds all the nits. I feel bad asking him to do this, but he recently said it was not too bad, because he now knows all my dyslexic stumbling blocks and spot them coming. Thanks, hon. I am so grateful to you and for all you do for me.

If you want to check out Dave’s brilliant work, go and have a look my book page.

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Today is my beloved J’s birthday. I won’t embarrass him (or me) by telling you how old he is. We are cousins, I can never remember if it is second cousins or first cousins once removed, but it doesn’t matter, he is so close to me in age and we lived so close too each other when we were children, he is more like a brother than anything else.

And I love him as if he were my brother.

He was always different from the other boys I grew up around. At the time I thought nothing of this, or if I did it was with relief, because he didn’t want to bully me into being the baddie in all games of imagination or doing the job no-one else wanted in all sport…I played street cricket and street football as a child, but never got out of goal or was allowed to be anything but wicket keeper, the two positions none of the boys wanted because it meant being a target or having to do all the running around collecting the ball.

He and I did lovely things together, we read books, did jigsaw puzzles and talked about history. We raised a family of guinea pigs,went fossil hunting at the family sand extraction pit and hid from our mutual great-grandmother who smelt terrible and had an evil Pekinese addicted to ankle biting. We had numerous collections of numerous things, each one a passing fancy which didn’t last, but which were deeply satisfying at the time.

When I was about nine and he was not much older, we were allowed to go roaming, it was a safer more innocent time. We had what were called “Red Rover” tickets which allowed you to ride on any red London bus anywhere you wanted to go for a whole day. Over the course of many school holidays we went up to London, two children wandering though a great city together. We went to Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, The Monument and Trafalgar Square. We looked at the Houses of Parliament and went around The National Gallery and every museum we could find. We went to The Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels and down Whitehall to see 10, Downing Street. I remember going to see Cleopatra’s Needle because it sounded so exciting and being very disappointed, because it wasn’t.

These are such happy memories, shining moments which have stayed with me through the years, lighting up the dark times.

But, things happen, families drift apart and when I was in my early teens and beginning to feel more and more vulnerable and in need of a friend, J’s family moved away and he was gone from my everyday life and I missed him so much and I was for a long time, very lonely.

I saw him occasionally after I left school and went out to work, but it was just fleeting lunch dates. He had become what I probably always knew he would become – clever, so much cleverer than me, intellectually brilliant and a complete and unashamed snob…in other words a totally adorable, impossible delight, although that might just be my opinion.

I got married and so did he. I had some of kids and so did he. We exchanged Christmas cards and the odd phone call, but he seemed distant, not my J, not quite the boy I loved so much. Every now and then I’d get a glimpse, but something had changed.

I hadn’t heard from him in ages, maybe a few years and I suddenly had a feeling all was not right, so I rang. I got his wife who told me she and J had split up and he had left. It took me a while to track him down, but my detective skills are pretty neat and I have no problems about lying to unsuspecting persons in offices etc.

When we finally spoke he told me he had left because he was gay, had always been gay and had always known he was gay and spent half a lifetime trying to conceal it. I’m not sure what reaction he thought he would get, knowing him I suspect he didn’t give a damn, but for me it was a wonderful moment, because everything I knew and loved about him now made sense. In that moment, J was again the “brother” I adored, he was back and one of the brightest stars in my memories was once again burning bright in my life.

And then a truly wonderful thing happened, J met D and married him. D was pure undiluted joy, a small round teddy bear of a man with eyes that twinkled and the warmest and happiest smile it is possible for a human being to have, to know him was to love him.

I think, in fact I know, many cruel and unkind things have happened to J over the years, but D’s early death was probably the cruellest and the hardest, but so much of that earlier unhappiness could have been avoided if he had been born at a time when being gay was accepted as being just as normal as being born straight.

Its fifty years since it stopped being a crime in England and Wales for men to be gay, a mere fifty years since one chunk of injustice and cruelty was stamped into the mud of history where it belonged. Think how much joy and happiness and loving relationships there might have been if it had never seen the light of day in the first place.

Happy Birthday J. XXXXXXXXX

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Ashkenazi or Sephardi?

I’ve had an interesting week and as you have probably guessed from above, it has involved Jewish people. And, if your mind works a bit like mine, your first thought was FOOD! And how very right you would be.

This week I had my very first visit to a synagogue. The military historian to whom I am wed was giving one of his talks to a Jewish retired group and I went with him to do the navigating. Neither of us realised it would be in a hall at the side of the synagogue, don’t ask me why it never crossed our minds, we were having a dumb moment.

Anyway, when we arrive, himself is required to wear a skull cap, which fortunately didn’t fall off during the time we were there and I got a conducted tour of the synagogue itself. It was beautiful and fascinating and I found everything really, really interesting. The stained glass was lovely, very modern, but very well done and richly coloured. The lower set represented each of the Jewish festivals, Passover, Rosh Hannah etc and the upper set were The Twelve Tribes of Israel.

The lovely man who was my guide showed me were The Torah is kept and told me very proudly that theirs is over 300 years old and was written by a scribes of exceptional skill. he also took me through a part of a service, showing me the Hebrew side of the prayer book and the English side. I thought it was a very good job I hadn’t been born Jewish, I could barely mange an F- in French, I would have been a total disaster with not only a different tongue, but a different alphabet would have been something which made my 11% in the French mock “O” level look like a triumph.

As you may have guessed, my ability to learn, speak or understand a foreign language is pitiable, except for culinary French…where do you think I managed to pick up the marks to achieve my 11%.

Back to food.

After Himself had given his talk ( “Women in the Army in World War One”), there were question and tea and cake. And what cake, my dear ones, absolutely delicious homemade, kosher ones. There was a chocolate sponge which looked very boring, just brown sponge, but which was in fact a diet busting, several slices, fabulous chocolatey delight. And the biscuits ( cookies, my American buddies), were yummy.

I got talking to the ladies who had conjured up these goodies, none of which were under 75 and several of whom were over 90, and they told me they all got their recipes from Florence Greenburg’s Jewish Cooking. One of them said her copy was so old and so well used it was only held together by sellotape and chicken fat. Well  of course I wanted a copy of this book, but a quick trawl through various book sellers showed it was out of print and what second hand ones I could find where either affordable, but in vile condition or in excellent condition, but so expensive it made my eyes water.

Then the military historian reminded me I do have a copy of “The Book of Jewish Food” by Claudia Roden. In fact, he said, you have a hard back first edition in a dust wrapper. And, he said, you have never opened it despite the fact I bought it for you in 1997.

I obviously treated all this with the contempt it deserved and went on a book hunt the second we got home. This might sound a bit exaggerated, but you haven’t seen the inside of Allen Towers and the way the walls are held up by over stuffed bookcases. Remarkably, I found the book almost immediately and what treasures I have found inside.

The book is divided into the two culinary traditions, The Ashkenazi World and The Sephardi World, the first is the food of the cold north, heavy on potatoes, cream and eggs, while the second is the food of the warm south, fragrant with citrus, rose water and pistachios. Both a totally delicious and I can’t hardly decide what to cook first.

Hardly, but not impossible. I am going to start with an apple cake and some savoury pancakes stuffed with minced beef. Then I am going to try Pipiruchkas Reyenadas de Keso (Peppers stuffed with cheese), Kubba Halab (Meat-Filled Rice Croquettes) and a Chocolate and Almond cake which has a method I have never seen before.

Later I want to try making some of the bread recipes, I make all my own bread using the lovely lazy no-knead method, so how well I will do with going back to the old manual method I amd my arthritic wrists I do not know, but I do love a bagel, especially with London cure smoked salmon and cream cheese.

So thank you to the ladies and gentleman of the synagogue, thank you for showing me your beautiful temple and thank you for sending me off on a new culinary adventure.