Baking, 1950s-style…

In amongst the acres of vintage knitting patterns in the last job lot, I found these:


At first glance I thought they were from the 1970s, but no…


1949 & 1950. Older than me! I can’t resist a vintage recipe, and when I came across this page, being a good West Country girl, I had to try the brownies…


I have to admit to a little bit of doctoring; I don’t have any margarine, so I used butter, which of course would still have been on “ration” in 1950. I doubled up the quantities, realising that the amounts given weren’t likely to feed seven, and I used 4 eggs, as they were bantam eggs. Both sets of my grandparents kept poultry right through WWII and the 50s, as did many, if not most, rural – and some urban – households, so egg-rationing never applied to them. They received poultry feed, which was bulked out with vegetable waste & peelings, instead of shop-bought eggs, and by the end of the War, a quarter of the country’s supply of eggs were home-produced.

And energy use was an issue for our forebears too; I’m afraid I cheated & made the brownies the American way, by melting the butter & sugar together, beating in the chocolate & eggs, then mixing in the other ingredients at the last minute. Much easier on the arms than creaming the butter & sugar, but a few pence more spent on fuel…

But I’m delighted to report that they tasted exactly as I remember brownies at our parish teas, back in the early 60s; much less sugary & gooey than modern ones, but very pleasant in their own distinctively chocolatey, nutty way. I rather think they’d be wonderful warm, with rich West Country cream…


West Country Chocolate Brownies, from Good Housekeeping’s More Cake Recipes, 1950  – with my own updates/adjustments!

3oz (85g) walnuts

2oz (60g) chocolate

3oz (85g) margarine or lard (I used butter)

2oz (60g) sugar

1 egg (or 2 bantam eggs!)

4oz (115g) flour (I used spelt, which I think is closer to the flour available in the early 1950s)

¼ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

A little milk

Chop the walnuts and melt the chocolate in a basin over a pan of hot water. Cream together the fat and sugar until soft and white, then beat in the egg. Sieve in flour, baking powder and salt and mix well together. Add the nuts and the melted chocolate, and a very little milk to give a soft consistency, Spread into a greased tin and dredge the top with a little sugar. (I forgot this last step, but vouch for it being there in the 60s!) Bake in a moderate oven (350℉/180℃/Gas Mark 5) for ½ hour, or until cooked. Cut into squares while still warm, using a sharp knife, and allow to cool in the pan.

And eat with rich West Country cream…

Next one up will be the dough cake, which looks suspiciously like Lardy Cake, without lard!


Freeee foooood!

Pumpkin, green pepper & spring onion soup

Once again it’s that time of year, when people leave perfectly good food lying around on their doorsteps for days, until it goes mouldy, then throw it away. We are a very strange race…

So here’s a link to a rather nice local story. It just so happens that Venus is a friend of mine, and we have been lucky enough to be given a portion of one of the heroic pumpkins in question. There’s a lot of good eating in a decent pumpkin & they’re “a good source of Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Pantothenic Acid, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium and Copper, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Iron and Manganese.” (Quoting from Most people I know have at least one good pumpkin recipe, usually Pumpkin Pie or soup, but there are plenty of others out there. Here’s one of my favourites, which makes 3 delicious loaves; one to eat, one to freeze, and one to share.

Spicy Pumpkin Bread:

Dry Ingredients:

4 cups of grain flour – I used 2 of spelt flour, 1 of fine oatmeal and 1 of cornmeal
2 cups sugar – my original recipe, an amalgam of 3 old ones, called for 3, but 2 works just as well if you ramp up the spice a little
1 tsp salt. Yes, it does make a difference.
2 tsps bicarb of soda
1 tsp each of nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice & ginger – you can play around with these quantities.
1 cup dried fruit – raisins, sultanas, cranberries, currants, cake fruits – whatever you’ve got.
1 cup nuts & seeds – pumpkin & sunflower seeds, flaked almonds, walnuts, pecans – any or all!
A sprinkle of demerara sugar.

Wet Ingredients:

2 cups cooked pumpkin – pressure-cooked or roasted, scraped clear of skin
1 cup oil
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla


Set your oven to heat up to Medium/Gas Mark 4/160℃. Combine & mix the dry ingredients until lumps & clumps have gone. Mix the wet ingredients; a hand-whisk is fine. Combine wet & dry ingredients & stir well, then pour into 3 x 2lb loaf tins. Sprinkle with demerara sugar & cook for an hour, or until a wooden skewer comes out clean.

Freezes very well, makes a good on-the-hoof breakfast, and makes a great pudding served with cream or custard, as well as being very satisfying just served warm with a cup of tea.


And here’s a very off-the-cuff idea; when you’ve just nipped up to the shops for a tub of bicarb, and the heavens suddenly turn black & disgorge the opening volley of our annual monsoon, and you’ve left your hat on the kitchen table & your brolly in the umbrella stand, what do you do? You take the standard supermarket carrier bag you’d stuffed into your pocket, rip it open down one side, tie the two bottom corners together, pop it over your head with the knot at the top, and tie it by the handles at the back. Voilà! A have-a-go rainproof turban!

Luckily none of the Offspring caught sight of me…

Wayyyyy cool!

You may have guessed that I’ve been a bit busy lately, firstly preparing for, then at the Larmer Tree Festival as part of Boscombe Vintage Market. It was the first time we’ve done anything like this & I don’t think any of us knew what to expect, and by all reports most of us were pretty anxious as well as busy leading up towards it. But it was great, really good fun and well worthwhile. There were some magical moments which I can’t resist sharing with you all, and the whole thing sparked some interesting trains of thought & ideas for next year.

We were in a marquee opposite one of the big “venues” and got to hear some great music. I joined in with a couple of workshops over there, which were huge fun, but spent most of my time on my stall. And so I was there when a couple of early-teenage boys ran into the marquee, probably by accident. They skidded to a halt and looked round in utter amazement, and I mentally braced for trouble. But one gasped, “This place is waayyyyy coooool! Look! Harry Potter Luggage!” at the cabin trunk beside my stall. And off they trotted, admiring our ramshackle treasures quite happily. Then there were the group of bronzed late teenage boys who wandered past, looking somewhat supercilious & uninterested. Until they spotted the bookcase… “Ooooh, books!” And the next ten minutes resembled nothing quite so much as a meeting of the Literary Society as they leafed through the various vintage volumes, made their choices and queued up patiently with their pound coins. The bored husbands-being-towed-behind who suddenly spotted the vinyl records, the young lady who needed a slip to wear beneath her diaphanous Indian draperies, the people doing up vintage caravans who found just the right fabric or trim for their curtains or cushions – I do love making people happy!

Needless to say, there were people – a small minority, luckily – who just came in to sneer. But they weren’t just sneering at us & our vintage bargains, but also at the acts, the beautiful gardens, the peacocks and the other festivalgoers, especially those who were joining in with things. But to my mind, joining in is what it’s all about; festivals are as old as mankind, and aren’t something that can just be consumed, like a film or TV programme, they’re something you have to participate in to get the most out of. There’s always something new to see, a new skill to try, something different to taste, and if you’re too busy looking superior to join in, you’re missing out. It’s not all about buying stuff, although it’s nice when when people do; it’s about celebrating life in all its infinite & glorious variety, and adhering strictly to a narrow view of how people should look & behave doesn’t half get in the way of that!

I loved seeing people express their individuality, both in their clothes (I may have to become a steampunk, if I’m not too old & round) and by spontaneously breaking into dance with total strangers. There’s somehow both something very real & fundamental about festivals, and also something deeply unreal; those of us who went home every night (we didn’t, we camped) spoke of it as going back into the “real” world and there’s undeniably something fantastical, in the truest sense, about the whole festival thing. Life isn’t &  never can be all bubbles & flags, lace, glitter, music & dance, but are shopping malls, traffic jams, utility bills and the 9-5 any more “real” actually? The paradox is that I suspect people can somehow be more their real selves when they are dressing up, and that our brick & mortar habitats, our mobile metal shells & our serious workaday personas are no more real than our festive selves. And I know which I prefer…

One customer told me about her daughter, who was awarded a first-class degree in psychology several years ago. But after two years in a well-paid recruitment job, she retrained as a henna tattooist & nail artist and “works” the summer at festivals, living in a well-insulated van, and picks up whatever work she can in winter; far from worrying about her, her mother was proud of her independence and free spirit & I can understand that.

Anyway, now I have a much better idea of what kind of stock to take along next year, and how much; approximately half of what I took this year! But none of us were to know what would work, and it’s probably different for each one of us, and each year will be different too; the weather was glorious this year, but might not be so good another time. And more ideas on how to lay it out, and how to create & maintain an attractive display. All I need now is a sensible way of keeping track of all these ideas – I may have to sit down & make a book or folder of some kind, after I’ve updated my paperwork… now, that’s a good idea!


Quince marmelade…

…why didn’t anyone tell me….? *** Wow…! ***

My 2 young Cydonia quince trees are giving a bigger crop each year, and I was given 2lb of Japonica (Chaenomeles) quinces too. I kind of knew that the original marmelade was made with quinces, so I consulted some of my venerable rescued recipe books, had a go, and now I’m wondering why on Earth I spend so much on Seville oranges every year! I mixed recipes a bit, but have ended up with something I want to repeat, which is just as well, because I knocked on a neighbour’s door this afternoon & came away with another 4lb of Japonicas…

Basically I cut the 2lb of Japonicas in half & stewed them gently in 3 pints of water until they were very soft, then mashed them a bit. I poured the resulting brew into a muslin cloth over a sieve on a saucepan and waited until the dripping had subsided. As I wasn’t going for a clear jelly, I also gave it a gentle squeeze.  Then I added a shake of cinnamon, the juice & zest of 2 lemons and 3 lbs of sugar, heated gently & stirred occasionally whilst the sugar dissolved. In the meantime I grated 1lb of the Cydonia quinces, co-incidentally using up all the slightly-damaged ones that wouldn’t keep. (If you’re after jelly, or just don’t have any tree quinces, you can skip this step and just use the same weight of sugar that you have of quinces.) I added the gratings to the syrup and let it simmer gently until the grated quinces became translucent. Then up went the heat until it reached a rolling boil, into the oven went the clean wet recycled  jars & lids to scald, and about 20 minutes later it reached setting point. I waited a bit until it had started to congeal, then stirred well to redistribute the quince shreds, then into the hot jars it went.

When I poured it into the jars I couldn’t believe what a beautiful red-gold colour it had gone; both kinds of quince have yellow skin, with flesh best described as dark cream. There was only a tiny shake of cinnamon, and I used plain ordinary cheap white sugar; where did that glorious colour come from? It’s clear  like marmelade, and tastes even better; tangy, clear, sharp & sweet at the same time, a real wake-me-up taste. Can’t wait for breakfast time tomorrow!

How can I reconcile myself…

… to having become bionic? There’s nothing recycled about my new hip; it’s all-new titanium, ceramic & plastic grafted onto my somewhat-protesting femur & pevis. I think basically I am going to have to think of it that by replacing a worn-out part with something new to keep me on the road, I myself have become recycled.

So my opportunities for recycling-in-action have been somewhat limited for the last 7 weeks, though I’ve spent a lot of time sitting in my very-comfortable leather-effect ergonomic chair with matching footstool, gleaned from the Tip for a fiver when I realised we had nothing the right height for me to sit on after the op. So I’ve spent the time learning new skills & practising old ones, unashamedly using new materials – some bought-in pre-prepared handpainted wool tops, for example, to take part in the first round of the Ravelry UK Spinners Scraps Swap. But I did dye my own for Round 3… I also invested in some garden twine; I bought a book called “Quick Crochet, Huge Hooks” secondhand from a fellow-Raveller, and it sparked a little bit of inventiveness on my part. I looked at one project & thought, “That’d be even quicker & easier in double-ended Tunisian…”   Three hours later I had this:

String bag made from garden twine

But I forgot how they stretch, and made both the bag & the handle a bit too long (doesn’t matter, I can always wear it cross-ways anyway, better for my back) so I sat down for a further 2 hours & 10 minutes & refined the idea a bit further to to this:

A smaller, more manageable version of same...

 …which is a little more manageable. I’ll get round to posting the pattern shortly, whilst you go & research “double-ended Tunisian crochet” on YouTube & work out how you’re going to make or get hold of a 15 x 50 cm hook…! I bought mine from Mike Williams realising that it was going to be a worthwhile investment, but now I think I might have a go at “bodging” one up for rough projects like this. I’ve picked up a windfallen good straight cherry-plum stick to try with , so watch this space!

And here’s a genuine recycled trophy!

Proudly clutching the Balqama Trophy...
Proudly clutching the Balqama Trophy...
Happy bunny here, in front of the bag that won it for me…
But I’ve let the trophy go home with my co-winner (or at least, with her husband; she’s at a Guild summer school) because it will be safer there; I’d hate to wake up from one of my creative dazes and discover that half of it was now part of one of my home-made gadgets…

Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear….

Spin your scrap yarn into something beautiful & useful!
Spin your scrap yarn into something beautiful & useful!

Well, what a totally irresistible idea. I’ve never been that interested in producing “Art Yarns” but when I saw what Grace’s husband had spun up out of scrap roving, I couldn’t help admiring it and thinking, well maybe

I had a bag of fabric scraps to take down to the Tip yesterday; more than I could store or handle within the foreseeable future. And I’d poked some scraps of commercial yarn in there too, two colours of Zanzibar and some tangled pink & black eyelash from the gothic sweater that never was; yarn too saggy for pattern. Perhaps I could do something with those and the very lumpy batt of mixed pink sparkly mohair and Dorset Down? Not to mention some tiny scraps of lace and ribbon…

So off to my trusty computer, via several blogs, Ravelry & YouTube, I sat down at my wheel and span up my scraps! Then wrapped/plied them with some leftover cotton perlé from the knitting machine; this was a step too far in some ways as there wasn’t quite enough twist where I’d used the lace and ribbon. So I needed to wrap & tie it by hand in a couple of places, but it’s not bad for a first effort.

I can see I’ll have to set myself some rules, if I do this again – and it’s a lot of fun, so I probably will – like only using genuine scraps that would otherwise be of no practical use. Or it’ll get very expensive & I’ll end up creating scraps instead of using them up, which would defeat the object rather.

Now, what to do with 42 yards of “Art” Yarn? A finger-crochet hat, maybe?

Ideas, please! What will I do with this?
Ideas, please! What will I do with this?

In praise of the amateur…

How often does perfectionism stop us from achieving worthwhile things? Or even trying to do them?

I’m thinking of one lady who earnestly said to me, “Oooh, you are brave! I’d never have dreamt of spinning in public for at least the first seven years,” when I volunteered to help out with something. Now, I could interpret that as a warning that I’m only going to make a fool of myself if I try to run before I can walk, though I really don’t think she meant it that way. But I don’t actually mind making a fool of myself, anyway; I’ve had a lot of laughs and met some lovely people that way. And whilst I admire hugely the consummate craftsmanship of those who spin the finest laceweight yarns to knit stunning, gossamer-thin ring shawls, I’m not sure that that tempts many people to try their hand at something new; I know that I was terrified I’d spoil what they were doing, the first few times I tried. Of course, I duly did. But then a kind lady spinning rough & ready rug yarn let me have a go, and it didn’t matter that I overtwisted, then undertwisted, then got my jumper tangled up in it, because we were both laughing so hard. I then went home, sat down with my own wheel and made mistakes perfectly happily until I’d got into the swing of it.

As far as I remember, there’s some research out there somewhere that shows that people learn skills best when they’re taught by someone who isn’t (or doesn’t seem to be) too far ahead of them. So I’m a bit disturbed by the drive to professionalise everyone everywhere who might be in any danger of passing their skills on; I already know several people who have “crashed” out of courses designed to turn them into “teachers/lecturers” when all they wanted to do was help other people start up in a rewarding hobby. Not to mention some of the outrageous demands of excessive legislation; one friend, who could (and indeed should) be teaching patterncutting, isn’t, because she can’t provide disabled access. In her own home. How many people with the kind of disability that would make access a problem would want to learn patterncutting in someone’s home? So the rest of us are denied access to her skills too, and she’s denied a source of much-needed income… I wouldn’t wish for one moment to cause any offence or distress to anyone, especially not a disabled would-be pattern-cutter. But political correctness and “professionalism” run riot are having exactly the opposite effect to enhancing diversity and opportunity, both here and in other ways I can think of.  

However, mostly it’s our own innate shyness and anxiety about getting things wrong that stops us from “having a go” and that’s something that we can, and indeed must, get over. If we’re going to learn how to make the best of a warmer, more unpredictable world, with less conventional energy available, we have to turn up our sleeves and get stuck in, without fretting that no-one else is doing it, or that we might get it wrong somehow. So next time you see a lady of a certain age making a fool of herself with a bit of craft equipment and a big grin on her face, please come on over & join me! 

PS – please would whoever searched for “passap machine knitting course dorset” in the last couple of days get in touch? There are several of us out here hunting for one; I have a lead to follow up & together we either have bargaining power or the possibility of working it all out between us!