Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Darkling Thrush

The Darkling Thrush

by Thomas Hardy

I leant upon a coppice gate 
    When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
    The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
    Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
    Had sought their household fires. 

The land's sharp features seemed to be
    The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
    The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
    Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
    Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
    The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
    Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
    In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
    Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
    Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
    Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
    His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
    And I was unaware.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Cheese making at Martinmas

As part of my interest in all things home made I had another first this weekend, and made my own mozzarella cheese.  Cheesemaking is one of those things I had long assumed was beyond my talents as an enthusiastic amateur cook.  However soft cheese appears to be one of those things that is relatively simple to do and just takes practice and experience to turn an okay cheese into something rather lovely.  All I needed was unhomogenised full cream milk, rennet, lemon juice and salt.  I'm pretty sure that with practice my mozzarella will be a far better texture - it was an odd sensation kneeding cheese I must say, and I'm not sure I kneeded it enough.
Milk - the first stage is just heating to 32 degrees.

The curds are cut and the whey is released and drains away

Mozzarella cheese just going into the fridge
Having said that, I managed to make something that had the texture of mozzarella cheese, so I was rather chuffed.  I hope to work my way through my little cheese book and see how I get on.  If I manage anything special I will post on the blog.

Sunday was not only Remembrance Day, it was also St Martin's Day.  St Martin of Tours was a 4th century Bishop who was hugely venerated in medieval Europe.  His day was celebrated with the eating of goose and the slaughtering of the pigs.  It was seen as the last day of celebration before winter, the last chance to eat unsalted or preserved meat, and the penitential season of Advent.   An old English saying is "His Martinmas will come as it does to every hog," meaning "he will get his comeuppance" or "everyone must die".

We celebrated by cooking a large piece of pork - part of half a pig we bought down in Devon earlier in the year.  Then we went into the garden whilst we still had some daylight and began the winter tidy up.  In my head as we were cutting back and digging over, I couldn't help but think of those Medieval books of hours, showing the months and seasons.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Remember, remember, remember, remember...

November is the season for remembering.  In the church year, 1st November is All Saints, a day to celebrate and remember all christian saints over the ages.  Then 2nd November is All Souls, the day to remember loved ones who have died.  On the 11th November, it is Remembrance Day, when those who lost their lives in the two World Wars and subsequent wars are commemorated.

Then of course yesterday the 5th of November we were told to

Remember, remember!
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

For those who aren't aware, Bonfire Night commemorates the events of 5th of November 1605 when Guy Fawkes' plot to blow up the King and Houses of Parliament was discovered, Londoners were encouraged to celebrate the King's escape from assassination each year afterwards by lighting bonfires in the city.  Each year on 5th November, bonfires are lit and fireworks are set off across England.  Until relatively recently, children used to make a 'Guy' out of old clothes and newspaper and ask for 'penny for the Guy' before the Guy was taken to the nearest bonfire and burned. 

Its one of those rather strange English customs where the original meaning was somewhat dark and grisly and it has now become a celebration with sparklers.  Very few people now will think about a dark time in English history where the burning of catholics was seen as acceptable.

A bonfire is far more our kind of thing than fireworks.  Fireworks are brash, showy and expensive and possibly more use at a celebration such as new year.  You can stare into a bonfire and think and muse and remember....