Thursday 23 September 2010

Autumn memories . . .

The Seed-Shop

Here in a quiet dusty room they lie,
Faded as crumbled stone or shifting sand,
Forlorn as ashes, shrivelled, scentless, dry . . .
Meadows and gardens running through my hand.
In this brown husk a dale of hawthorn dreams;
A cedar in this narrow cell is thrust
That will drink deeply of a century’s streams;
These lilies shall make summer on my dust.
Here in their safe and simple house of death,
Sealed in their shells, a million roses leap;
Here I can blow a garden with my breath,
And in my hand a forest lies asleep.
~Muriel Stuart

When I was a child at school, long about this time of year . . . we would be given an autumn project by our teachers. It would be the same project every year, it seemed . . . To gather as many different leaves and seeds from the plants and trees around us that we could find, and put them in an album along with all the facts we could find out about the various plants and trees as well.

After school we’d take to the woods around our small town in a flurry of activity, each of us armed with plastic bags to collect all our findings in . . . scarlet maple leaves, golden oak leaves and a multitude of other leaves cloaked in the gold and amber colours of autumn . . . the seeds being slightly harder to come by. There were acorns of course . . . the seeds of grand oaks, treasured by squirrels and humans alike, and so too, I had heard the fairies loved them as well. I loved the little propeller like seeds of the maple. They were fun to play with . . . twirling about in a ballerina like dance as you threw them up into the air and watched them flutter and twist about as they fell back down to the ground. Then, of course . . . there are the huge seed pods of the horse chestnut trees, or conkers as they are called over here. I had never heard of playing conkers as a child, but children over here in England have been playing this game for years.

"On finding your first conker of the season, you should say:" Oddly oddly onker my first conker"." This ensures good fortune and few tangles throughout the coming season.

The best conkers to play with are un-cracked, firm and symmetrical. Make a hole through the middle of your chosen conker. Thread a strong piece of string about 25cm long, through the hole and tie a knot at one end, so that it doesn't pull through. Each player has a conker hanging on its string. Players take turns at hitting their opponent's conker. If you are the one whose conker is to be hit first, let it hang down from the string which is wrapped round your hand. The conker is held at the height your opponent chooses and is held perfectly still. Your opponent, the striker, wraps his conker string round his hand just like yours. He then takes his conker in the other hand and draws it back for the strike. Releasing the conker he swings it down by the string held in the other hand and tries to hit his opponents conker with it. The game goes on in turns, until one or other of the two conkers is completely destroyed!

It sounds like great fun! It’s been banned in most schoolyards now though, because of health and safety issues, sadly. (you might poke your eye out or the eye of your partner!) The little fella next door to us down in our cottage in Kent was out with his little tractor and wagon on the lane outside our two houses for hours each day this time of year gathering conkers to play with his older brother. He always reckoned he had some winners there! He's getting older now . . . I wonder if he still does this . . .

Anyways, I digress . . . now back to the topic at hand! We’d gather all our leaves and seeds and take them home, and then would begin the long process of readying them to put into our scrapbooks, which our mother’s would dutifully have purchased at the local five and dime for us. All the leaves would be carefully ironed between pages of wax paper for preservation (again by our mother’s of course, for fear of us burning our fingers). The seeds would be put into small envelopes we would fashion out of the same wax paper and each item would be carefully pasted and taped onto the pages of the album, leaving space underneath for our written observations and facts about each one. All the facts would be painstakingly and neatly printed out, with no mistakes please and then once finished the whole project would be handed in to our teacher for marking. We would have learned so much and it didn’t seem to matter that we would repeat this same project year after year. It was always fun and interesting, at least to me anyways, this annual schoolroom rite of autum.

I’ve always found seeds fascinating. It seems a miracle to me that something as beautiful as a tree or flower should . . . with a little care, sunshine and water . . . come out of something so simple, dry and plain looking . . . Such is the beauty of nature. The single head of a dandelion gone to seed can, with a single breath blown, fill a whole garden with dancing golden dandelion heads. How wonderful is that and how magical!!!

Nature is so perfect in it’s yearly dance and planning . . . each event happening with regular clockwork to ensure that we are blessed in the following year with more of it’s fruits and beauties to behold. How ever can anyone ever think it all happens by accident . . . The mind boggles!!!

A picnic can be just as fun on a warm and sunny autumn day as it can be on any day in the summer. I love to capture as much of the wonder of autumn as I can before the cold blast of winter sets in. This is a lovely and quick salad to make up and tote along with you on your autumn walks and jaunts.

*Mediterranean Couscous Salad*
Serves 2
Printable Recipe

This goes together really quickly and uses ingredients I most often have at hand. A container of this and a few bread sticks or a crusty roll, and you have a lovely picnic to take with you as you wander about the fells. Easily multiplied to feed more.

4 ounces couscous
7 fl ounces of hot vegetable stock
5 sun dried tomatoes, quartered
1 medium avocado, peeled, stoned and cut into chunks
2 ounces stoned black olives
A handful of roasted nuts (such as pine nuts, cashews, or almonds)
4 ounces of feta cheese, roughly crumbled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 ½ TBS of good olive oil
1 TBS lemon juice
¼ cup roughly chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

Put the couscous into a large bowl and stir in the hot stock. Cover with cling film and let sit for about five minutes or so to soften.

Whisk together the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and then stir it into the couscous. Add the tomatoes, avocado, olives, nuts and cheese and stir gently to combine. Taste for seasoning and add some salt and freshly ground black pepper if needed. Divide into two portions and serve.

And in The English Kitchen today, Macaroni Shepherd's Pie!

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  1. Here at my little place in the woods we are surrounded by oak and beech trees. Those conkers are falling continuously. I'm glad I have an awning on my deck to sit under or else I'd be getting conked often. It's funny to sit inside at night and hear them falling on the roof..I am going to enjoy the sun today. I need to soak up all the warmth I can while we still have it. I hope your Thursday is a wonderful one

  2. Such a LOVELY post, Marie! Not many conkers here... but they are amazing little things. The trees are just starting to turn golden and rust here. It will happen fast! Wishing you a very beautiful autumn, my friend. We're heading to London tomorrow. I wrote to you, but maybe you didn't get my note. We have just a couple days in the city--weekend trip really just of a bit of fun and break, so I am heartily sorry we'll miss getting to meet up this time. I hope so much that we can take a long trip and see you next summer--I like to dream! :o) Look forward to catching up with you & chatting when we get back. Hope you all have a wonderful weekend ahead. LOVE YOU LOTS!! ((BIG HUGS))

  3. OK Yum. and Yum. I wish could get Scottie to eat couscous...that looks scrumptious!


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