Wok about this, then?

20p cabbage, free wok...

For some time I have been stashing oddments of kitchenware in my porch; I knew that as the Offspring started to wander off, they’d need bits n’bobs and it seems daft to buy new, cheap stuff that will fall apart & need replacing in no length of time, when they could have decent cookware to experiment with that’s actually cost even less, it’s just not brand new. Two of them have flown the nest lately and both have taken some of the stash off to their student kitchens. In fact, they’re not the first to do so; a couple of friends have raided the stash in times of dire need in the past, too, so I’m glad I’ve had the space free to store it.

Needless to say, virtually all of the items in it have been unwanted & unloved by their previous owners. It includes Le Creuset & Cousances cast-iron casseroles, frying pans and saucepans, stainless steel saucepans, a stainless steel pressure cooker, Pyrex bowls & dishes, Sabatier knives, a Spong mincer and goodness knows how many other things that originally cost a fortune, as well as things that haven’t cost so much but are still very usable, useful and hard to track down like glass lemonsqueezers. Today, the stash currently being devoid of woks, I rescued a virtually brand-new Ken Hom carbon-steel wok from the arms of its previous owner. “I’m afraid it’s no use now, ” she said sadly. “My daughter’s burnt the non-stick coating and it started to come off when we tried to clean it…”

Hmmm – a good soak in bicarb soon loosened the rest of the burnt food, then I’m afraid I set about it with wire wool! I don’t like Teflon-coated cookware & it doesn’t like me, either; the non-stick coating has been known to peel off on the way home from the shop. I think it knows what I have in store for it… Anyway, I scrubbed away as much as I could, washed it all off thoroughly and wiped the wok with clean cooking oil, which I carefully & gently burnt on over half an hour or so, then cooled it and repeated the process a couple more times. This produces a natural non-stick coating which will develop as the wok is used, provided you don’t wash it with detergent; a scrub with a dishcloth in steaming hot water is all that’s required.

I also rescued from the same lady an armful of biscuit tins. Every time we visit one or other of our students, they politely ask whether we might happen to be able to supply some of their sister’s famed Chocolate Fudge Brownies. So we do, gladly – but we never seem to get the tins back! I think we’ll have to institute a tin-return scheme. But at least we’ve got some in reserve now.

Then on a quick trip up to town today, we happened to hit the moment when one of the supermarkets had just massively reduced all of its on-the-sell-by produce. So into the new wok went a 20p cabbage & 10p worth of spring onions, along with a little fresh kale left over from the weekend. 40p worth of new potatos in herb butter and a pack of very-tasty giant sausages that cost just £1.25 completed a satisfyingly inexpensive meal.

My older daughter has just challenged me to feed the family (currently numbering 5, all of adult size, give or take a couple on any given night) for a week on £50. I might just take her up on that…

Fibrefest report…

All fibrefested out...
All fibrefested out...

Right – so many impressions, it’s hard to know where to start. It was an overwhelming feast of colours and textures, the sound of happy voices and the beam of excited & contented smiles. The weather was a bit grey and a bit drizzly, and a cool wind blew up at the car park (quite a hike from the Mill, for anyone who’s not overly mobile) but I’m glad it wasn’t sunnier as it could have become very stuffy inside the marquees.

When we arrived, at about 12.30 on the Saturday, the marquees were heaving and it was a bit of a mad crush. Next time (do we really have to wait two years?!) we’ll come down on Friday night so that we can be earlybirds and wander freely amongst the glorious colours & textures & intriguing devices, deciding at our leisure who’s got what we really, really want. Then when the stampede arrives, we’ll trot off to the workshops, which I didn’t get around to booking this year. I loved it all, especially meeting the animals & farmers, & I got everything I’d gone for, and more. I picked up a fabulous Gotland lambs fleece by arrangement, and couldn’t resist a small bag of white Wensleydale locks for dyeing, felting & spinning experiments. A big thank-you the lovely ladies of the Crochet Design & Threads of Life stall, who were so encouraging to me with my whacky double-ended ideas and my two friends, who are new to crochet. From them I got two double-ended Tunisian hooks, one rigid, the other with a cable, to add to my collection. From The Mulberry Dyer, an honest-it’s-not-Kumihimo wooden disk, with stand and bobbins. From the Threshing Barn, a new modern bobbin for my elderly Louet (so I can ply at the same ratio I’m spinning at – I already had two) and a circular weaving kit. I didn’t mean to buy that, it just refused to leave my hand. I enjoyed the swapshop, picked up lots of inexpensive yarns from a variety of inspiring stalls and the Mill’s own bargain bin, some rather more expensive (but scrumptious!) ones too, and a little gold Angelina, learnt to knit without needles at the WoolFish, bought some chicken buttons from Injabulo & a packet of Madder from Jane Deane. Best of all, a little upright rigid-heddle LeClerc loom from the Swapshop… happy bunny here! But we had a go with the sock-knitter and oh dear, I think I need one of those too…

Over it all, the mill is an insistent presence; a tall & slender but sturdy redbrick chimney soars into the sky like a fairytale tower, roofs jumble at odd angles and little pathways beg to be followed under mismatched windows and zigzagged cast-iron stairways. The river murmurs along the back of the mill, with abundantly productive kitchen gardens running from the mill buildings down to the water’s edge; the millstream is channelled to the front and streams down into the massive waterwheel. Inside, mellow light filters through dusty windows, racks and shelving down into serried ranks of wooden bobbins and iron spikes. Machines whirr into life, seemingly randomly, as you walk through. The repetitive clatter & thump of the working loom sounded oddly like some mad rock drummer working out a new rhythm and the operator, young, bearded and earphoned, could have been the recording engineer. In the boiler house, two great iron faces peered reflectively out of the walls; next door a massive drive wheel was looped around with gigantic cotton ropes which vanished upwards into the light through a long slit in the wall. Odd-looking valves and coils stand on metal spires like surreal samovars and there are dial faces whichever way you turn. If Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria had designed a mill, this would be it. My camera was working overtime…

Can’t wait for the next one…

DSCF1503

Ohmigosh, ohmigosh, ohmigosh…

Slipped down to the Tip yesterday in a spare 10 minutes, Monday often being a good day after people have decluttered their attics at the weekend. Nothing obvious, so I climbed up to look in the Metals, and there, not 12″ from my hand, lay a very tatty industrial Singer… naturally it leapt straight into my arms. I could see a gigantic cracked motor and a rusty old footplate, which would be no use to me even if I could have taken them; was there anything else? A few moments anxious scanning revealed a bag of bits including the (broken) bobbin winder, and a thread stand out of reach, which Lee kindly hooked out for me. I grabbed anything else loose that might be vaguely sewing-related, and ran off, a mere 10 minutes late for my next appointment, hyperventilating gently…

It’s a Singer 96KSV7 from 1940. 96s were generally fast tailoring machines, but this one looks as if it’s been adapted (SV meaning Special Variant) to use heavy threads & thick fabrics, as it has a tension knee-lift and a higher shank than the only other 96 that has passed through my hands. There was a bit of very thick strong thread trapped in the shuttle race, and it has a massive needle fitted. Upholstery, maybe? I seem to have picked up most of the correct bits, and a few totally random ones too, but now I will have to find a treadle table to fit her, as I think this might well be the all-round heavy-duty machine I’ve been hunting for for my planned workshop. She stitches beautifully, from fairly-small to a gigantic 4 stitches per inch, and has reverse. I wonder how she’ll like quilting? There’s plenty of room under that massive arm.

When something like this falls into your hands, you know it’s just meant to be. I knew I needed to part with my 1895 Singer 15 Light Industrial (probable) sailmaker, as I know someone who needs it more than I do and will use it regularly to do something well worth doing. I’d been wondering how I was going to replace it for the little heavy-duty stuff I need to do, but someone up there was ahead of me, as usual. Now, what colour do you think she’d like to be next?

A real find...
A real find...

Going public…

This Saturday (30th August) I’m taking part in a public event under the Morsbags aegis. I will be taking my rescued Singer 201K treadle to the Priest’s House Museum and making Morsbags in situ. I’m also taking along a couple of handcranks, probably Singer 99s, & pre-cut & ironed bags so that people can have a go at making one themselves. So eldest daughter and I are crouched over my latest carbon-burning extravagance – a powered cutting knife – and churning out Morsbags for dear life this week. The lads at the Tip have been magnificently helpful, hauling out vast acreages of “blokey” curtains from the fabric skip so that not all the bags are flowery!

But that’s not all they’ve found for me. My sister-in-law will be gobsmacked to be told that she is now the proud owner of two large blue cast-iron casseroles, which will go nicely with her set of rescued saucepans. Different make, Nomar rather than Le Creuset, but it works… I’m keeping the other two, as they fit nicely side by side in my oven, whilst being bigger than my two orange ones! I can’t help wondering about the story behind them; who buys four big, matching cast-iron casserole dishes, which aren’t cheap, even if you bring them back from France, then chucks them out whilst there’s still plenty of useful life left in them? Possibly someone who’s raised a big family but is downsizing now… but I do wish they’d heard of Freecycle or Waste Not Want Not, our local recycle/loan group. There were good sharp cooking knives and other stainless steel utensils down in the skip beyond my reach, too; I could run an entire shop on what people throw out, if retail premises weren’t so expensive here. Although I have heard that our Chamber of Commerce aren’t very encouraging to that kind of enterprise; they feel it’s the wrong kind of “image” for our town… so somehow they have to be brought from seeing reclaimed stuff as “secondhand & seedy” to “cutting edge/environmentally responsible/high moral ground!” Or is that, and price, the basic difference between a junk shop & an Antique Emporium? Anyway, I could, and did, rescue a very nice butcher’s block, and a big Pyrex mixing bowl, which have both gone straight back into service in my nicely old-fashioned, workable kitchen. There were proper weighing scales, too, but only a few weights. I have two sets, so let them go to an older gentleman who, like me, was fed up with buying electronic plastic scales which become useless after a year if you’re weighing anything more weighty than slimmer’s portions. 

I also splashed out 99p on a rather nice little Singer 128K on Ebay locally. On going to pick it up, and mentioning that it would probably be going off to Uganda with Tools With A Mission, the vendor happily presented me with a free 99K too! What a lovely lass… Not to mention the two that I’ve “won” on Freecycle this week, too… But I can’t quite bring myself to hand over the 320K, complete with all its attachments, that turned up a couple of weeks ago. Now it’s dried out, I’m having quite a lot of fun with that and all the pockets of my children’s worn-out jeans… I’ll post a pic when it’s finished!

Worth its weight in gold!

Come to think of it, though, I don’t think gold would cook quite as well. So maybe something gold should be worth its weight in cast iron! The bread was fantastic and has been made every other day since then. The clafouti came out well too, but I think the recipe is not quite as good as the last one I tried, so I shall try that one in the Dutch Oven and see if it turns out as light & fluffy as when I cooked it in a quiche dish. If it does, I’ll post it for you.

Since last week, I’ve clocked up two more tales of ironic triumph; my sister-in-law was admiring my somewhat eclectic collection of cast-iron cookware and said sadly that she would love to have some, but couldn’t justify the massive cost. So I told her where most of mine has come from, and that at least two of my friends have been supplied by the same source. Whereupon she asked whether I could keep an eye out for some for her too. A couple of days later, I went down to the Recycling Centre to ask the boys for their assistance. As I went up the steps to the Metals skip, I saw a pile of blue Le Creuset saucepans, four of them, but with five lids…? I peered into the skip, and there was a little milk pan, not too far down, and a metal coathanger on the top to unwind and hook the handle with… They were virtually pristine; just a few light scorch marks on the beechwood handles, so Lisa has a matching set of 5 beautiful blue & white pans awaiting her down here for very little expense! Now to find her some casserole dishes…

Then there’s the garden stove… not content with the firepit, lovely though it is, I couldn’t resist the rusty little potbelly barbecue when I saw it. Rust is a familiar adversary now, and provided the metal underneath is sound, I’ll have a go at restoring almost anything. My pretty little Willcox & Gibbs chainstitcher looked like it was standing on two lumps of solid rust when it first arrived; now it’s working for it’s living space as if the 50-odd years stuck at the back of someone’s damp garage had never happened. So the familiar potbelly shape beckoned to me and whispered, “Rescue me!” Into the back of my car it went, for £1, and there it stayed for a couple of days whist I tried to think of ways to introduce it gently to DH, who gets a bit frustrated with the constant trickle of “other people’s rubbish” meandering through our home & garage. I gave up in the end and just took it out without saying anything. (To his credit, nor has he – yet!) Needless to say, most of the rust just brushed off it, and a quick coat of “Kurust” has sorted out the rest, and now the little stove looks smart and ready for action once again. Sadly the British weather has meant I haven’t had a chance to put it through it’s paces yet, but I am looking forward to a chance to try out some more recipes, and in fact to see whether the Dutch Oven might fit neatly on the top without making it unstable. So wish me some good weather, please!

Potbelly barbecue

Dutch oven delight…

Last Thursday the manager of the Recycling centre presented me proudly with a huge and very gunky cast iron pot. (A few weeks ago, I’d been hunting for Le Creusets or similar for a friend with a woodburner.) It was an unusual shape, with a flattened lid with a heavy rim, three little legs and a sturdy wire handle, but I thought I recognised it as a genuine Dutch Oven from my trip to Oklahoma a couple of years ago. It was pretty rusty and there was some kind of horrible, smelly, black oily deposit inside at the bottom. Yet that smell, too was familiar, from my sewing machine adventures – burnt shellac?
So I Googled dutch ovens, and realised that some poor soul had proudly imported this one, and tried to season it without washing the shellac coating off first… it came off quite quickly, using washing soda, and it has scrubbed up & seasoned nicely. I have been hunting up dutch oven recipes, too, both for the campfire and for the main oven, and I can see that it will be in use at least weekly. So I’m off to inspect the dough for my “Easy-No-Knead-Dutch-Oven-Crusty-Bread right now! It’s been rising overnight on my boiler. Hope the dutch oven cools in time to bake a cherry clafouti tonight, maybe even over the campfire if the weather holds…