This is where I note my efforts as I try to recreate some old recipes. Most are taken from my small collection of handwritten recipe books which date from the late 1700's to around 1922. I also have a collection of old tatty old recipe books, well thumbed and heavily splashed from years of use. I love them all!

The old-fashioned very stylised handwriting writing is sometimes difficult to decipher, measurements and cooking instructions are minimal, no tin sizes given. Luckily I enjoy a challenge. Just to complicate things I cook and bake on my wood-fired Rayburn, which can be... unpredictable.

I suspect this blog is less about the food and more about my passion for these lovely old books and the wonderful women who wrote them.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Violets in the Stillroom

It has been ten years since we took over Owl Wood.   I walk around it many times a day and know it almost as well as our six lovely hens, who free-range in there.

We had to spend many weeks clearing the debris and mess left behind by the previous people, but gradually the woodland began to look a lot better as light, life and energy returned to the place.

Spring flowers seem to come through in increasing numbers - snowdrops, primroses, bluebells, daffodils, winter aconites, wild garlic and more.     Last year I was thrilled when I spied a small clump of sweet-scented violets for the first time.     This year they are springing up in lots of places, which is so exciting.

Funnily enough, they are also springing up in the side garden of Parsonage Cottage, which is about as far away from Owl Wood as it is possible to get...if you click on the map I drew for my grandchildren you will see what I mean.

Interestingly, the violets in the garden are not sweet-scented, they are still really pretty but they lack that extra element.

I picked this small jug-full from the ones in the garden, there is no way I would sacrifice those sweet-smelling ones from the woodland.

In bygone days violets grew in profusion and were much used for culinary and medicinal purposes such as to alleviate headaches, to cure insomnia and even as a remedy for bronchitis or rheumatism.

Violets were sometimes used to flavour puddings, to make wine and syrups, as well as being crystallised to be used decoration, they were eaten in salads and were also used to flavour sugar. They are versatile, useful, smell wonderful and are useful, not bad for such a tiny flower.

According to Charles Estienne 'The flowers of March Violets applied unto the browes, doe asuage the headache which cometh of too much drinking, and procureth sleep'.

It seems that almond butter served with candied violets was a delightful dish which rejoiced the heart, relieved tension and cured hangovers.

I have a copy of Elinor Fettiplace's wonderful Receipt Book, she gave a recipe for violet syrup in which one pint of stripped violet petals should be replaced four to six times during the process - so you would need access to a large bed of violets.

The resulting syrup would have been a refreshing drink or a base for sherberts and sorbets.

Owl Wood and the garden are doing well, but I don't think there will be enough spare violets in my life time!

I satisfied my need to do something, with a few violet flowers from the garden side, by making some very simple candied violets.    Beat one egg white then paint it onto a clean and dust-free violet, dip or sprinkle with castor sugar, then set them out to dry.   Perfect for decorating a sponge cake, trifle, etc.  x

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