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It has been so long since I posted here, over a month in fact.  It’s not because I haven’t wanted to, I am just so exhausted with all the house renovation work we are doing, it is utter chaos in our house and I haven’t had the energy to write here as well as everything else.  Since this post on our demolition so much has changed with the back of our little house, so I really want to show you where we’ve got up to soon.

Early evening today I went for a lovely, frosty walk at my favourite place – Dunham Massey.  Not around the National Trust park this time, but just around the fields and lanes of this pretty little village (I like to pretend I don’t have to get in the car and drive home and in fact live in some cute and cosy cottage here).

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Seedheads and blue skies

I am ever-so thankful for the beautiful sunny (if rather chilly!) autumn days we’ve had over the weekend and at the start of the week here in Cheshire – particularly so, because less than a week ago I was still soaking up the heat and basking under spotless blue skies in Greece.  I’ve got so many lovely things to share from our holiday but before that I wanted to just enjoy a few snaps of all that I love about an English autumn.

There are pumpkins at the farm shop, I can’t help but fall in love with all those shades of orange – I just wish the little punks in our neighbourhood wouldn’t see a pile of them by my front door as a good excuse for some street football. B*%!@^#s.

Pumpkins

This morning I made some chicken stock with a leftover roast chicken carcass, I am trying harder to find time to do this and it is so satisfying to have your own homemade stock.  The best I’ve made so far went solid like jelly, which is a sure sign of its tastiness.

Homemade chicken stock

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This time last week I was enjoying a morning of venison cookery in the stunning old kitchen at Dunham Massey National Trust.  As a volunteer and editor of an internal National Trust newsletter on food I went along to find out what it was all about.

What a wonderful morning.  In my opinion there were several things that set this cookery demonstration apart from others:

Firstly, the setting.  The event was held in the original old kitchen at Dunham Massey, a room that you would normally wander through on your tour of the house.  It is an impressive room, bright with high ceilings, a massive Aga, a beautiful collection of copper pans, and a hefty big wooden workbench.

Secondly, the venison.  The meat used in the cookery demonstration came from the deer park – perhaps if you a regular walker at Dunham Massey you might have even passed that same deer that we got to sample.

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Perhaps an unconventional Christmas meal, but with only two of us to feed a turkey or goose would be too much, and with some exquisite stewing venison in the freezer from Dunham Massey it seemed only natural to have venison stew.

We bought our venison from Little Heath Farm a few weeks ago when they received a delivery from the National Trust property just down the road.  It is nice to know that the main ingredient in our Christmas meal came from within 5 miles and most likely had a lovely life roaming the parkland at Dunham Massey.

With a large part of my University days spent studying Native Americans both in the UK and Canada, it seemed only apt to follow the recipe for venison stew from Jamie’s America book.  Based on a Navajo stew, this recipe is incredibly delicious and is the second time we’ve made it.

My only addition was to make some parsley and suet dumpling, which I popped into the stew towards the end of cooking.  There is something very moreish about dumplings – I think I could eat a plateful drenched in a couple of spoonfuls of stew liqueur.

Mash potato was made with our allotment grown potatoes, which must be said have been a bit disastrous.  Whether it’s the variety, how we’ve grown them, or how we cook them, but the potatoes just disintegrate into soupy glue if not watched carefully. 

I have learnt that the trick with them is to watch them carefully in the water, looking for the moment when the outside starts to break down, but leaving them long enough to make sure they are almost cooked through. 

This time I put it through my wonderful French mouli that I picked up at the carboot – it was fantastic!  With the help of a little cream (maybe a lot…) and butter, and some seasoning, the mash turned out all right.

What did you eat for Christmas dinner?

Mr Rigg is home from work, we’ve got the Christmas carol’s on, the Camembert is out of the fridge ready for tonight’s baked Camembert cheese fondue, and I am feeling tremendously Christmassy.

Our night before Christmas involves eating a lot of gooey cheese with chunks of sourdough bread and going to midnight mass at our favourite little village church in Dunham Massey.  And we have snow.

Wishing everyone a very happy night before Christmas!

Image: Pretty Little Green Things

Today I drove the many miles southward to Hanbury Hall – a National Trust property near Droitwich, just south of Birmingham.  I went to interview the Head Gardener for the sustainable food bulletin I edit as part of my volunteer role for the National Trust.

Hanbury Hall is possibly one of the prettiest Trust properties I’ve ever visited.  The formal gardens are immaculate and full of colour – lots of orange and purple. 

The house is very similar to my local Dunham Massey, but a little bit fancier and with more detail. 

They have an Orangery and a Mushroom House (where mushrooms were grown for the Vernon family back in the 1860’s), and a large orchard full of ancient apple varieties. 

But I was there to see the Walled Vegetable Garden.  Down the end of long walkway, surrounded by high Yew hedges (very Alice in Wonderland!) are two old wooden gates set into a high red-bricked wall.

Inside was an idyllic scene of a beautiful working kitchen garden.  There were chickens picking happily at the grass, neat row of vegetables – cabbages, Rainbow chard and lettuces to name but a few, bee hives and polytunnels (one bursting with a stunning display of colourful pumpkins and squashes).  Sorry – I didn’t take any pictures inside the garden!

Hanbury Hall’s vegetable garden not only supplies the tea rooms with a bounty of fresh produce, eggs and honey throughout the year, but visitors can buy vegetables direct from the garden – simply ask a gardener for a celeriac, and they will go and pull one up for you right before your eyes, or maybe you’re after ruby red forced rhubarb – they can pick that for you while you watch.

How cool is that?! 

After having a tour of the kitchen garden and doing my interview, I said goodbye to Neil, the Head Gardener and went for lunch in the tearoom. 

In the tearoom you are greeted by a counter full of cakes (like most National Trust tearooms), but here at Hanbury they are quite different – perhaps you are tempted by a slice of their rich and moist Chocolate Beetroot Cake (I certainly was!), or their Parsnip and Caraway Seed Cake, maybe it’s their Honey Cake or my favourite a Victoria Sponge?

What’s special about these cakes is they feature vegetables and ingredients from the Walled Garden – beetroot, parsnip, caraway seeds, honey, eggs, and homemade jam (made with their own fruits, of course).  I was also told their made courgette cake and even potato cake!  All sweet.

In addition to my slice of Chocolate Beetroot Cake (which I didn’t eat first, I promise!), I had a bowl of vegetable soup with vegetables from the kitchen garden, and an apple and blackcurrant juice from a local producer in Worcestershire.  The cake defeated me – I couldn’t manage the last mouthful – shameful, I know!

What a lovely visit and a delicious lunch, and a big thanks to the friendly staff at Hanbury Hall. 

If you’d like to visit Hanbury Hall you can find more details here: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-hanburyhall.

*Photos taken with camera phone – not looking too bad!

Where the past eight days have gone and what I’ve been doing that has prevented me from blogging…well…I can’t quite recall.

Mr Rigg and I took last week off from work and had a ‘stay-cation’ as my colleague put it.  We did home and garden improvements all week and it was exhausting! 

Buddy and I spent one afternoon guarding the front door as it dried after a new coat of paint.  But it looks lovely – I hope you’ll agree from the picture above.

This front door has been a true labour of love.  Back in October I briefly mentioned about the front door here.  If you’re interested in the restoration of our front door, read on…if not, I’ll be back with food related goodness shortly!

Finding the door
We set out to find the perfect front door to replace the ugly thing that came with the house.  We wanted to buy an old door, rather than a new one.  After much searching I came across Period Pine Doors on ebay and discovered that they are based near to Mr Rigg’s family.  We visited, fell in love with a beautiful old door that has different designs on each side.  A smarter side with the beading (this is what we’ve used for the front and can be seen in the picture) and a more rustic side that we’ve used inside.  We handed over our money and waited for it to be delivered.

Preparing the door
We spent hours painstakingly sanding, filling holes, then painting the door with a white undercoat.  We used car body filler to fill any unwanted cracks, as recommended by a friend – it’s solid stuff once it’s set.

Fitting the door
We hired a joiner to come and fit the door.  He cut a letter box into the door and hung the door.  We were so delighted and excited – finally here was our gorgeous new front door.

The problem(s) with the door…
Then the problems started.  The door moved/expanded and we came home from a weekend away and couldn’t open the front door!  Mr Rigg managed to get in (phew), but then the door wouldn’t shut!  And this was at about 11 o’clock at night… We managed to get the door shut that night, but then spent a couple of weeks having to use our back door.

It turns out that when old doors are striped off their old paint they are dipped into something (chemicals I guess).  It does a great job of removing the old paint, but it can also erode away of the original glue that was used to help hold the door together.  This is what had happened with our door, and as a result it had started to come apart!

Fixing the door
So we remove the lovely new front door, replaced the manky old one (thank goodness we hadn’t got rid of it).  Mr Rigg and I squeezed the door into our car and headed to my parents for the weekend.  My dad and Mr Rigg spent a day taking the door to pieces – yes, quite literally!  It was heartbreaking.  I couldn’t quite imagine that you could just take it to pieces and put it back together.  But it turns out you can, and you can do-it-yourself if your dad and husband-to-be are handy.  So they glued it all back together.


The old door

The door comes home
Because we’d used the super duper car body filler quite a bit of the beading had been snapped when the door had been taken apart.  So we had to re-fill it, re-sand it, re-paint it all over again.  Mr Rigg fitted the door this time, and we just prayed and waited.

Thankfully the door hasn’t moved since – yey!

Finishing touches
I spent ages trying to get just the right shade of paint for our front door.  I wanted to match it to the bluey-grey of our local National Trust property Dunham Massey.  In the end I settled for Farrow & Ball’s ‘Hague Blue’.  It’s not really very similar to the colour at Dunham Massey, but it’s perfect and just what we wanted. 

The door is finished off with black door furniture that bought online from a period ironmongery shop – there is a knocker, letterbox and handle.  Last week Mr Rigg gave it another lick of paint and replaced all the door seals. 

I have also planted a pretty pink rose that it growing up beside the front door.  When we bought the house it came with some of the original deeds and documents which I’ve enjoyed pouring over.  Our cottage and the one next door were originally called ‘Rose Cottages’ – hence I have planted the rose.  This is the first year that it has had lots of blooms.

It has been a real labour of love, we’ve put in a lot of time (and money) but it is so worth it.  Everytime we come home it is there to welcome us back and into our home.

I completely forgot to tell you that our lovely Little Heath Farm were featured as one of the producers on last week’s Great British Menu. 

Their pork was used in Aiden Byrne’s main course of oak-roasted middle white pork with broad beans and wild mushrooms. 

Sadly Aiden didn’t make it through to the final – it would have been great to see one of our local producers have their produce cooked for the Prince of Wales.

Tonight we enjoyed a picnic dinner at our allotment after an hour or two of raised bed construction.  This is what we managed to achieve – one half of my new herb bed:

We ate Majorcan new potatoes boiled then smothered hot in goat’s butter and lots of salt and pepper … grilled blackened sausages from Little Heath Farm in Dunham Massey dunked in Wilkin & Son’s tomato ketchup …

sliced tomatoes sprinkled liberally with salt and garnished with torn basil leaves (totally unseasonal but irresistable as the weather starts to warm) …

and slices of coffee coloured seeded bread from Red House Farm smeared with Oxford Blue cheese …

Sitting on an old rug looking out over our allotment eating good grub – what a blissful way to spend a weekday evening.  Buddy peered down at us from the boot of the car, his nose twitching as the smell of sausages wafted up his nostrils.

Two little robins hopped around the allotments, perched on the spade…

then a tub of chicken manure pellets…

and finally an orange plastic bottle balanced atop a bamboo cane…

Heavenly.

Winter veg coleslaw

Winter veg coleslaw

For lunch today, I finally made the coleslaw I’ve been wanting to make for the last two weeks.  The two cabbage that I bought, were however bought two weeks ago when I first decided I wanted to try making coleslaw.  I’d stored them in our back porch – which is somewhere between a shabby conservatory, a lean-to, and a boot room – as it’s freezing in there and great when I run out of fridge space.  They probably weren’t as crisp and crunchy as they would have been two weeks ago, but notheless still good.

I finely shredded a small white cabbage and a small red cabbage.  Finely sliced a small red onion, and grated half a giant carrot – probably the size of one normal carrot.  In a bowl I combined a couple of tablespoons of organic mayonnaise, about two teaspoons of whole grain mustard, a little under one teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a glug of extra virgin olive oil, a splash of white wine vinegar, salt, pepper and a little warm water.  I mixed this all together and added my shredded, sliced and grated veg.  Stir it altogether and you have my version of coleslaw. 

a hearty meal

a hearty meal

What I’ve realised is that you don’t need to think that you need to ‘attempt’ to make coleslaw.  It is in fact, quite simple.  I’m sure you could try lots of different combinations, and with a little bit of tweaking to create the flavours you’re after it would still taste great.  So have a go, it’s the perfect way to eat raw vegetables at this cold and inhospitable time of year.

We ate ours two ways: N served his coleslaw with a minute steak (from Little Heath Farm) and a hunk of Cheese and Sundried Tomato bread (from Barkbakan – this bread is delicious, it is topped with mixture of seeds, one of which is caraway which seems to have the effect of hightening the cheese and tomato flavours); I ate mine with a potato, cheese and leek pastry.

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Eat the Earth

I love food, especially locally grown and seasonal food. This is my place to share my food finds and the food I like to eat.

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All pictures are my own unless stated. I would kindly ask that you don't use them elsewhere unless you ask permission first. Many thanks x

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