60 YEARS OF MARRIAGE DESERVES CELEBRATING - I've been doing just that with family and friends who came from all over the UK, and from Canada, New Orleans, Milan and France, to join my parents for a three day extravaganza celebrating their anniversary.
The Queen even sent them a congratulatory card!
It was exhausting but wonderful.
As you may have noticed, most of the books I read are fiction – but every so often I read other things; Black Diamonds by Catherine Bailey is non-fiction, and is sub-titled ‘The Rise and Fall of an English Dynasty’. The story it tells is so engrossing, contains so many fascinating characters and is written in such a compelling way that I could not put it down. I had to keep reminding myself that it was not fiction; it was history that I was reading.
This is the story of one of
Calling Wentworth House a grand country mansion doesn’t really do it justice. Wentworth was - and is - the largest privately owned house in
Opening with the funeral of the 6th Earl Fitzwilliam in 1902, and the succession of his grandson ‘Billy Fitzbilly’ the reader is immediately plunged into a bitter family row over the inheritance, mental illness, and the rumours that the new 7th Earl was a ‘spurious child’, a changeling.
No novel is more extraordinary than this, for the next 70 years the family packs in illicit love affairs, chorus girls on the make, forbidden love, war heroes and violent death – including the tragic relationship they had with the Kennedy family.
Entwined with all this, is the story of the miners and their families who worked the Fitzwilliam mines for centuries, the dangers, squalor and poverty that was their lot. Finally it is the story of class war and a way of life gone for ever.
Catherine Bailey has done an impressive job in researching and writing Black Diamonds; I learned a great deal of early 20th century political history from the book, and have gained real understanding of the growth of the union movement in
Wentworth House still stands, no longer owned by the Fitzwilliam family it is shuttered up and closed to the public, but there is a public footpath which passes close to the magnificent main façade – I am determined, one day, to go to
I’ll bet that you have at least one garment made from wool, most people do. Where did the wool come from? Why, from sheep of course. A sheep shearer removed the fleece from the sheep so that it could be processed into wool, the sheep was not harmed, and grew a new fleecy coat which could be sheared off a year later.
Mankind has been shearing sheep for thousands of years, in Europe, north and south America, Asia,
For many years, Kent County Show here in
Millions of us now live in big cities with very limited knowledge of farming or country life – we’ve all heard the jokes about kids who thought spaghetti grew on trees, or that peas were manufactured and came in plastic bags automatically. Jamie Oliver – all power to his elbow – has tried to teach school children about where food comes from, what different vegetables are and how chickens should be farmed. People ought to know where the wool they wear comes from too, and how it is obtained. A demonstration of sheep shearing at a county agricultural show seems a small but appropriate way of doing just that.
Perhaps if some of these animal rights activists had actually lived on a farm, or had seen sheep being sheared when they were children they wouldn’t adopt such stupid and extreme views and then try to force them on the rest of us.
Last weekend there was a big lunch party to celebrate my Aged Parents' Diamond Wedding Anniversary and the chef made Croquembouche as the dessert. Croquembouche means 'crunch in the mouth', and is a big cone of choux pastry profiteroles, filled with cream or creme patisserie, which have been dipped in caramelised sugar and then piled up into a big cone studded with fresh fruit or flowers and with a topping of spun sugar . This dessert is often served at French weddings, christenings and other family celebrations.
Assembling a Croquembouche is quite a palaver, and making spun sugar is definitely not part of my culinary repertoire, but the profiteroles are a doddle to make. Although they have become a bit of a food cliche, they are always popular, particularly with men and children - so here is my recipe for them.
CHOUX PASTRY ~~~ PROFITEROLES
Pre-heat oven to 200°C – it is really essential you do this as the oven must be up to temperature before you put the pastries in to bake or they will just go soggy.
Line two baking sheets with non-stick paper.
Beat the eggs together in a jug and set aside.
Sieve the flour into a bowl and set aside.
Put the water and butter into a sauce pan and heat gently until the butter has dissolved, then bring to the boil.
Tip all the flour into the boiling butter/water whilst still on the heat and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until everything is well combined and forms a ball coming away from the sides of the pan.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool for five minutes.
Then beat the egg mixture into the dough bit by bit, using an electric hand mixer. Make sure each addition of egg is well incorporated before adding more. The pastry should be able to hold its shape, but not too runny.
Using two spoons which have been dipped in water, spoon balls of the pastry on to the prepared baking trays, they should be 5 cms apart to allow for expansion in the oven. Any pointy bits of dough can be pressed down with a dampened finger.
Bake in the centre of the pre-heated oven for 20 minutes. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR DURING THIS TIME. Then switch the oven off but leave the profiteroles in the oven for a further 10 minutes until golden brown and crisp.
Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.
They can be filled with Crème Patisserie or whipped cream, and served with chocolate sauce; or they can be filled with a savoury mixture of seafood in a white sauce, or cream cheese and herbs.
They freeze well unfilled.