Saturday, April 12, 2008

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 England’s great aristocratic families, the Fitzwilliams of Yorkshire and their grand country mansion Wentworth; how they rose to prominence and how they declined; it is also a history of the coal mining which enriched them, the growth of the miners’ unions, and the changes in society which saw their fame and fortune fade.

Calling Wentworth House a grand country mansion doesn’t really do it justice. Wentworth was - and is - the largest privately owned house in Britain; it is absolutely enormous, an estate agent would probably have an orgasm trying to describe its 400 rooms and its five miles of corridor. Guests who stayed there were given little silver caskets of different coloured confetti so they could lay a trail in order to find their way back to their bedrooms after dinner.

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 Britain.

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 Yorkshire and see it.

Rated 5*


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, India, Australia….everywhere that there are sheep to be shorn.

For many years, Kent County Show here in England, has had a demonstration of sheep shearing, and it has always been a popular event at the Show. This year however it has been banned – animal rights activists have demanded the ban. One of them is quoted as saying Sheep have rights too. I thought it was cruel, so complained.”

What a completely loony attitude.
The thing that makes me really annoyed however, is that Kent County Show has knuckled under to their demands and scrapped the demonstration.

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.


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.

350ml water
150g butter

200g flour
4 large eggs

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.


Anonymous said...

I have sent a letter of protest to the Kent Show re the sheep shearing and asking that they re-instate it! What foolish notions from the 'cruelty to animals' folks re this. Am enjoying your website immensely--made the garlic tart--it was delicious! Thanks for posting the recipe (though it takes some doing to convert to ounces! :)) Judy

Charlotte said...

A smorgasbord of interesting topics as always, thank you! Black Diamonds sounds like the kind of book I'd enjoy reading right now. I'm having a non-fiction phase.

I've always wondered how hard profiteroles are to make - can I really believe you that they are easy?

Teuchter said...

Thanks for another enjoyable post, H.

Sixty years of marriage certainly does merit celebration.

Re the rant - I understood that it was the competitive element of sheep shearing that was being protested; they were worried about the sheep getting nicked or cut in the shearers' haste to win.

Perhaps such protestors should be sent to spend a couple of weeks on a sheep farm to understand the economics of why speedy and competent shearing is important?

Most farmers do care about their livestock but even the most uncaring don't want their animals damaged since that impacts financially, if nothing else.

Shearing competitions at local and county shows are a recognition and celebration of a skill which cannot be replicated by mechanisation.

Sometimes I really do wonder what this country is coming to!

Ooops - I appear to have been ranting. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

As a follow up, I have received this email:
Dear Judy,
Thank you for your email dated 13th April with regards to the Sheep Shearing competitions not being held at the Kent County Show this year. Below is our statement to the Kent Messenger, the newspaper that broke the story in their publication on Friday 11th April.

Press Release 09.04.08

For Immediate Release

Response by Kent County Agricultural Society to Kent Messenger email received.

The Romney Shears has been held at the Kent County Show for the past 5 years. In recent months the Kent County Agricultural Society’s Show Committee has undertaken an overall appraisal of the many elements that makes up the Kent County Show. This has been done to gain the best value for money with all of its attractions and some difficult decisions have had to be made.

The Romney Shears uses a large area within the Agricultural area of the Show, however, the competition is only for 11/2 days, and this year it would have been for 1 day only. This means that this area is not fully utilised for all three days of the Show, and as the Show is constantly increasing in size year on year, space is at a premium. This year the Kent County Show will include a more interactive agricultural area which will feature many aspects of farming and will be hosted by many of the agricultural organisations. By reducing the shearing area it will enable the Society to include more agricultural trade stands and farm machinery. It also costs the Show in the region of £15,000 to host the Romney Shears.

Sheep shearing will still feature prominently within the Show and the Society is proud to announce that the farm staff and young shearers from Hadlow College will be demonstrating throughout the 3 days, giving running commentaries and educational explanations into the whole shearing process.

The welfare of all animals at the Kent County Show is always a major concern for the Society and although there have been some concerns raised by the general public, this was not the primary reason for the Romney Shears competition not appearing at this year’s Kent County Show.


As you will see from the above statement it does not mention anything about animal activists stopping shearing when in fact we still intend to have shearing. I hope this maybe goes someway to explaining our stance, if you would like any further information please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Kind regards,

Peter Hunt
Marketing Communications Manager
Kent Showground
Maidstone, Kent
ME14 3JF
T: 01622 630975 (switchboard)
T: 01622 633054 (direct dial)
F: 01622 630978

Company Registration Details: Company Limited by Guarantee, Registered in England No.2556508 & 2569094. Registered Charity No.1001191. Registered office Kent Showground, Detling, Maidstone, Kent, ME14 3JF

Anonymous said...

That's interesting and reassuring, Judy - and completely at odds with what's been printed in the press and aired on BBC radio.
Here's what the Torygraph had to say ...

As usual, it seems to be a case of editors putting their own slant on things.


herschelian said...

Thanks for that Judy - just shows how I should be wary of what I read/hear in the news media!

Charlotte - profiteroles really are not difficult - give them a go.

teuchter - so good to hear from you, despite what the Kent County Spokesperson said in their reply to Judy, the animal rights folk were claiming it as a victory for themselves...can't see it happening in a country show in Banchory though, can you?!

nola said...

So glad to find and read your blog. The Diamond celebration was wonderful and the photo a good and tasty memory!

Jeanne said...

60 years!! And here I am thinking our 8 years without a family murder is an achievement...! Well done to your parents. Black DIamonds sounds fascinating. How sad that the house is all shuttered up and not accessible these days.

Re. the sheep shearing, I believe in animal rights but REALLY, some of these people get my goat. It seems we are now suffering not only from an epidemic of political correctess re. people but also animals. Sigh - where will it end?!

And as for croquembouche, it's one of those classic desserts that as a child I thought were the height of sophistication (like baked Alaska!). I've subsequently learned that I don't like profiteroles unless they are VERY fresh and VERY good, so enthusiasm has waned... but maybe it's time to try your recipe. I share your views on the spun sugar though!!