The height of cosiness

By / 14th June, 2014 / Ponden life / Off

Pondenhall_blog_woodpileJune 12, 2014

When we moved into the house 16 years ago it’s fair to say it was very, very cold… That winter we had a tarpaulin instead of a roof, since the building work on the new roof had gone on and on, through autumn, and well into the windy, wuthering weather of a Pennine winter. One night we got back late from a very posh do to find the tarpaulin had blown off in a high wind and was heading at some speed towards Lancashire… Rain was pouring through the naked rafters and filling up the house fast, so, at 2am, in ballgown and black tie, we set to with mops and buckets to sop up the worst of it. That was the beginning of our coldest ever winter.

Nights were perishing, even cocooned in bed in woolly hats and fingerless gloves, wound into a selection of duvets. We warmed 2p pieces – like Kay and Gerda in The Snow Queen – to make peepholes in the ice on the inside of the windows. We were using Calor gas stoves in a couple of rooms, but the warmth never reached further than a couple of feet from the stove, and you can’t spend your day anchored to a Calor-gas cylinder. Though we did try, to be fair…

Pondenhall_logburner

Over the years to come we installed underfloor heating beneath the ground floor-flags, which hadn’t been moved since being laid in 1634. Underfloor heating revolutionised our lives, and downstairs was suddenly warm and cosy – you could use all the rooms! Upstairs, though, remained unheated until very recently, when, mindful of our poor guests visiting through the winter, we installed some extremely beautiful and powerful Swedish wood-burning stoves that kick out 7KW of heat.

Now we have our logs delivered by Tommy from Bingley Logs – two tonnes at a time – and this morning spent a very satisfying couple of hours wheeling and stacking this lot, ready to carry up to the bedrooms.

And when those logs are in the stove, and it’s burning away merrily on the hearth, it looks like this – the height of cosiness. Ponden Hall is finally warm, and it feels wonderful.
……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Seed potatoes are the first veg in at Ponden

By / 6th June, 2014 / Homegrown / Off

Pondenhall_planting_potatoes2
When I was about 38 I read a magazine article that claimed everyone past the age of 40 got interested in gardening. Everyone. Not me, mate, I thought. I will never be interested in gardening, and that is a fact.

I still can’t claim to be interested in herbaceous borders or hardy perennials, but I must admit I have been doing a bit of daydreaming recently about growing vegetables. To the point where I’m actually doing something about it. Mainly because they are free food. It just makes good economic sense that if you have a spare patch of soil, you could be raising things in it to feed your family at next to no cost. Plus I remember the glorious smell of my grandfather’s homegrown tomatoes and runner beans. And maybe old age is catching up with me after all…

Pondenhall_planting_potatoesSo now the thinking has finally converted into some real action. I bought two packets of seed potatoes yesterday, and today I actually found a spade, got myself out to the garden, dug up a long patch of flowerbed, and planted them, 20cm apart, as the instructions told said I should. According to the packet I’m right at the end of the time for planting, but fingers crossed they’ll still take.

I’ve chosen potatoes for my first foray into vegetable gardening purely because so many people have told me they are idiotproof – anyone can grow them. And planting them certainly seemed straightforward. I’ll let you know how they go on.

As an added bonus, while I was out there I discovered a lavish crop of wild garlic, which is definitely something I’m interested in using in the kitchen. My 14-year-old daughter recently ate at the luxurious Cliffemount Hotel, in Runswick Bay, North Yorkshire, while she was out for the day with her friend Tilly – and ordered a soup she raved about for days afterwards – spinach and wild garlic.

I have spinach. Now I have wild garlic. Watch this space…

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

The greenest soup I’ve ever made

By / 5th June, 2014 / Homegrown / Off

I’m on a roll with the foraging for wild food thing – even if that foraging extends no further than our back field at the moment…

So I promised you wild garlic and spinach soup – and I’ve half-delivered. I went out this afternoon and picked a lot of wild garlic leaves (after checking carefully first that they were in fact wild garlic, and not something poisonous and similar-looking, like lily of the valley…), then I started worrying the flavour wouldn’t be robust enough to stand out against the spinach. So I just went for it, and made straight wild garlic soup. I made up the recipe, and it seemed to work fine.

Wild Garlic Soup

    Wild garlic soup

    300g wild garlic leaves
    1 litre boiling water
    2 tbsp sunflower oil
    2 vegetable stock cubes
    One onion
    Four medium sized potatoes
    ½ tsp mustard powder

I sautéed the onion in a little sunflower oil, threw in the water, in which two stock cubes had been dissolved, then the four potatoes, diced. When the potato was soft – after about 15 minutes – I threw after it the spinach, stirred until it was wilted (about 5 mins), added the mustard powder, then blended with a hand blender. Finally, I strained it – although I’m not sure about that. I might go back and put back the bits I’ve strained out when it’s time to eat it. I have a feeling I’ve strained out a lot of the goodness.

Ponden Hall wild garlic soup
It’s a beautiful colour, as you can see, and, being mainly foraged food, was extremely good value for money! I’m not sure how long wild garlic lasts – but I’m hoping it might still be around when my potatoes are ready for harvest?

I know next to nothing about plants and gardening, as will quickly become evident reading this blog. But I’ve got to start somewhere, haven’t I?

PS: While I was taking pictures in the garden I realised our laburnum, and the rhododendrons next to it, were alive with bees – like a monster machine. It made me so happy, because the decline of the honeybee has obviously been really worrying (see www.ibra.co.uk for more information on this). It’s lovely to see them around and active…

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Dandelion syrup

By / 21st May, 2014 / Homegrown / Off

dandelion syrup use2Put away a taste of summer now, and enjoy it through the year

I realised yesterday that the dandelions in our back field were beginning to go to seed. It was time to spring into action if I wanted to get any dandelion syrup made this year.

My 10-year-old son was sent off with a carrier bag to collect flower heads – for syrup – and leaves – for salad. It made sense to do both at the same time. I’d asked for 100 flowers, but though he was out for an hour, and came back very hot and sweaty, he’d only managed to find 81. No problem – still enough for a bottle or so of syrup. At least we’d get a taste of it, and maybe it would last us beyond this gorgeous sunny weather, so that in the first cold snap we’d still be able to sip a bit of that golden liquid and remember the days when it used to be sunny!

So this is the recipe, if you’d like to make it yourself. Get picking quickly, though. Those flowers aren’t going to last long this year!

Ingredients

Dandelions – as many as you can find, but around 100 should make about a litre and a half of syrup.
Sugar

That’s it!

Wash your dandelions.
Cut the green base of the plant away from the flower, and carefully pick off the green casing, pulling out all the petals and placing them in a saucepan.
Cover the petals with a couple of litres of cold water, and make sure they’re all pushed beneath the surface.
Bring to the boil, and boil for 20 minutes, then remove from the heat, cool, and refrigerate in the pan overnight.
Strain the liquid, removing the petals (you can now throw them away), then weigh it. For every 100g of liquid, measure out 95g of sugar.
Add the sugar to the dandelion/water mixture, and stir until it’s completely dissolved.
Cool and bottle.

To drink it, add cold water, as you would with squash – fizzy water is particularly nice – and enjoy a little taste of that summer field from now until you’ve finished the bottle!

It goes without saying that you should be very sure the flowers you pick are dandelions! If in doubt, refer to reference books or online wildflower sites. And do make sure you wash them thoroughly.

The leaves make a lovely, bitter salad as well – they’re really high in vitamin A, vitamin K, carotein and potassium. I dress it with a little olive oil, a tiny bit of wine vinegar and black pepper. Or you can wilt them in a pan with a little olive oil and butter – just as you would spinach. Either way, they’re as good for you as green stuff gets – and they’re free at a hedgerow near you!
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Welcome to Ponden Hall

By / 5th March, 2014 / Welcome / No Comments

Copy of Ponden spring 005 Copy of Ponden spring 002

You couldn’t have picked a better time to get here. Snowdrops are just giving way to crocuses, and it’s absolutely beautiful spring weather outside – the kind that makes it look as though the world has been washed clean.

Very soon we will be opening our doors for the first time to visitors who’d like to share our Ponden experience, high up here on the Pennine Way overlooking Ponden Reservoir, in a 400-year-old hall the Brontes knew well and immortalised in fiction.

Whether you’re planning a blow-away-the-cobwebs trip to Yorkshire, you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Bronte fan, or looking for a unique place to celebrate a special occasion, we now have three wonderful en-suite rooms for you to stay the night, the weekend – or maybe all week.
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………