We’ve been in a period of what the forecasters call unsettled weather lately. I don’t know why they call it that – several days of rain seems pretty settled to me. It’s a bit of a pest because no matter how much I agree with Billy Connolly’s quip “Get a life – get a raincoat“, tramping soggy hills with rainwater dripping off my nose isn’t one of my favourite occupations.
Fortunately there are plenty of interesting entertainments to be had indoors, most of them involving food. The year we moved here, Michael bought and erected a greenhouse and then filled it with delightful (that means edible) plants. Mostly cucumbers and tomatoes, but he proved he had some affection for me when he grew the devil’s vegetable (that’s an aubergine to you and me). We also managed to harvest some peppers, but the thing that excited us most were the grapes. White grapes of course, I’m not sure if we’d have any success with red or black; and even these white fruits are small.
Strangely they manage to taste both sharp and sweet at the same time and are not really something you’d want to munch away at. However my sister gave me a recipe that worked well and we’ve just used it again this year. So if you’d like to try it here it is:
Apple and grape jelly
4lbs white grapes
4 tasty eating apples, peeled, cored and sliced (we used Pink Lady)
1/2 pint water
Put everything except the sugar into a pan
Bring it to the boil and then simmer for an hour
Strain the mixture through a piece of muslin (we tied ours to the handle of one of the wall units and left it suspended above a bowl for several hours.
Once cool and looking as though the drip rate had slowed to a virtual stop, we squeezed the remaining mush gently, even though our recipe said not to do this (we got a surprising amount of liquid this way)
Measure the liquid and add 1lb of sugar for each pint
Boil until setting point is reached
Pour into warm, cleaned jars (5 minutes in the oven should do it) then seal
The result isn’t set like the American jelly but is more the consistency of honey. Absolutely delicious and keeps for months in the fridge.
A big treat at this time of year is, of course, the humble blackberry. Yes, I know you can buy them all year round but that’s not what life is about. If you can get anything at any time of the day or night by entering into an evil pact with the great god Amazon, or any out of season foodstuff by selling your soul to one of the major supermarkets, then you lose the meaning of the word treat. An occasional goodie.
And goodies abound, believe me. Last week we strolled about two hundred yards from the garden gate and within 20 minutes we’d collected almost four pounds of late summer lusciousness
which meant we got to eat thiswith custard, of course…
Katie came home for a short visit, tagging it on to a trip to Cardiff for a friend’s wedding. As usual when one or more of the girls turn up, I decided we should have something special for dinner. Katie seems to order fish every time we eat out together so I used some local contacts and got hold of these beauties, caught in the Usk – legally!They were huge! Michael filleted one (which easily fed all three of us) and we put the other two in the freezer – yes, I know it’s a shame to do that with freshly caught trout but it would have been an even bigger shame to throw them away! We ate enough as it was, particularly as Katie decided to cook a chocolate bread and butter pudding for dessert.
Happily the weather cleared up a little during the week and we were able to go for a bracing walk, this time in the hills north of Crickhowell and Abergavenny. We drove part of the way, not fancying a twenty mile hike, and left the car at a spot in the Grwyne Fawr valley. From there we walked alongside the river towards the reservoir, constructed between 1912 and 1928.
Built to provide clean water for the growing industrial towns and villages of Monmouthshire, parliamentary permission was granted in 1910 but it was two years before any preparatory work started, which involved the laying down of a railway to the site. By 1915 the track hadn’t been connected to a main line and the quarter of a million pound contract to build the dam with the original firm had run out. A village of fifteen huts had been built at Blaen-y-cwm, close to where we left the car, along with a lodgings house, canteen, small hospital/surgery, schoolroom and a police station, and by the time work eventually began on the dam itself in 1919, this village could accommodate 300 people.
There’s very little evidence of any of this left – certainly none that we could see, apart from the wide trackway that led up to the dam itself. And it’s a shame but I always feel there’s something a little bleak and uninteresting about reservoirs, unlike natural lakes. As well as that there aren’t too many trees growing up here (mostly rowan and hawthorn), but at 1725ft above sea level I suppose that’s to be expected. For what it’s worth, here it is.
Instead of walking to the end of the reservoir and on to the escarpment which allegedly gives wonderful views of the upper Wye valley (maybe next time?) we sat down and enjoyed a small lunch of pain-au-chocolat and oranges – one making up for the other there. The trouble with doing this is that we’re reluctant to get back up again, but we forced ourselves.Our view of the Grwyne Fawr valley as we started the return route. Our walk measured 4.8 miles, so not too bad
The rain returned the very next day, sadly for all those folk who were hoping to enjoy the area for the bank holiday weekend. There’ve been an unusually high number of mountain rescue callouts all over Britain this summer and I can’t help thinking that at least some of these could be avoided. As someone remarked on Twitter the other day “If you’re standing on Corn Du dressed for the beach, asking the way to Pen y Fan, then you’re unprepared for the mountains…”