Tuesday, 28 July 2009


O flower of Scotland, when will we bee, your like again

They say, if you don’t like the weather in Scotland you should wait a minute… It’s very true that you can have all four seasons thrown at you in one day here. So, this month, when the sun was shining we went outside to enjoy the countryside – and when it wasn’t we stayed inside – with the Aga turned back on and the fire lit!

Polly and Ruby enjoy the July sunshine

At the start of the month, my dear mum came to stay for a couple of days with her little dog Bracken. Polly and Ruby were delighted to have the company of their boyfriend while mum and I went to explore nearby Drumlanrig Castle. As the castle is built entirely of pink sandstone, it is known locally as the Pink Palace. Nationally, the castle is known for its history, its antiques, and especially for its fabulous art collection. Drumlanrig was in the news a few years ago when one of its paintings, a priceless Da Vinci known as 'Madonna with the Yarnwinder', was stolen. Happily, the masterpiece has since been recovered and by the end of this year, it may be on display again. The formal gardens are also a great attraction and provide a lovely walk in the sunshine, so before mum and I went inside to enjoy our afternoon tea, I took a few photographs.

The formal gardens at Drumlanrig

Back home, the garden is blooming with annuals. My particular cottage garden favourites are the Antirrhinum or Snapdragon. I have memories of them from my childhood, when we used to pick them and use the flower heads as finger-puppets!

Another flower in the garden at this time of year is the one pictured below. It is a delicate tall, orchid-like plant, that enjoys having its roots in wet conditions. It self-seeds prolifically and, consequentially, the hedges and ditches are filled with them. It’s a breathtaking display to behold on a July day and I’ve seen motorists stop and get out of their cars just to admire them. But what are they? It’s not a trick question - we really do have no idea. So, if you can help us identify the mystery plant - please do!

A mystery plant in the garden...?

The hens have continued to enjoy roaming on the thistle festooned hills around the cottage. Sheep and their fully grown lambs, rabbits and their bright eyed kits, and a full compliment of pheasant and partridge, keep them company. In the July skies above the cottage, it is fun to see the swallows teaching their young ones how to master aerial acrobatics and, in the garden, it is fascinating to see the pied-wagtails demonstrating the best way to catch small flies and bugs from the clover heads and buttercups that cover our lawn.

Kylie, Britney, & Beyonce happily roam on the field and hill

In the vegetable garden, the runner beans are climbing up their bean poles and the little gem lettuce are all looking good. The tomatoes in the greenhouse are doing amazingly, displaying lots of lovely green tomatoes of differing sizes, which with care should start reddening up next month. The pumpkin is growing like a proverbial beanstalk and keeps flowering prolifically. I have to continually ‘nip them in the bud’ to make sure the plant's energy is directed towards the three biggest pumpkin buds to maximise potential for giant pumpkins come Autumn time!

Green tomatoes on the vine

Mid month, I attended a writer’s conference in Penrith, Cumbria. It was the Annual Romantic Novelist’s Association Conference and a wonderful opportunity for me to spend a whole weekend with fellow members and writer buddies. By day, I attended workshops and listened to talks from the industry professionals, top writers of women’s fiction, editors, agents, and publishers. In the evenings, I chatted to friends in the bar over a glass of wine and attended the late night kitchen parties afterwards. On the Saturday evening, I enjoyed the Annual Gala Dinner and on Sunday evening, I returned home to the cottage and to my family, having had an awful lot of fun, while learning much more about the craft of fiction writing. Hurray for the RNA!

While I was away in Penrith, Mr Country-Cottage was kept equally busy. As part of a champion Scottish axe-throwing team, he was booked to put on a demonstration of axe-throwing skills at the Village Gala, an important annual local event. I thought you might like to see a photo of the team, dressed in their tartan finery, and ready for action.

Ready for the Royal Highland Show, Edinburgh

The recipe for July is in celebration of my blackcurrant bushes, which are ‘currently’ weighed down with fruity produce - please do pardon the punnet! I will of course be making lots of jam and freezing as much of the surplus as I can manage to harvest. It’s handy having the boys home for the holidays in times like these. Blackcurrants freeze very well, and I think there is always something very special about defrosting them in the middle of winter, for a cheesecake topping or sorbet, and experiencing all the scents and flavours of a July day that has long gone.

So, here is the recipe for this month. It’s the one I use to make my own blackcurrant ice-cream. It’s a real taste of summer – whatever the weather.

Blackcurrant Ice-Cream
1lb (450g) fresh blackcurrants
6 oz (175g) sugar
5 fl oz (150 ml) water
10 fl oz (175ml) double cream
You will also need a freezer proof plastic box with a lid and a nylon sieve.

Pile the blackcurrants, about one third at a time, into the sieve set over a mixing bowl, and mash with a wooden spoon until you have extracted all the pulp and only the stalks, pips and skins are left in the sieve.
Now place the sugar and the water in a saucepan over a medium heat, stir until all the sugar has dissolved, then let it come to the boil, and boil for 3 minutes exactly.
Remove from the heat and stir into the blackcurrant pulp.
Whip the cream until it just begins to thicken.
Fold the cream into the fruit mixture until thoroughly blended.
Pour it into the plastic box, and freeze in a freezer or in the ice-making compartment of a fridge turned to its coldest setting. As soon as the mixture begins to set (after about 3 hours) turn it out into a bowl and beat thoroughly. Then, return it to the freezer (in the box) until set, which will take about another 3 hours. Remove to the main part of the fridge about an hour before serving. Serves approx 6.

Next month, I’m sowing salad leaves and spicy rocket, to enjoy with our late summer salads. I’m hoping to harvest ripe tomatoes from the greenhouse and use up all the basil I’ve grown to go with them. Socially, we have a wedding to attend in early August and a dinner engagement mid-month, with some good friends. So, until the month end, do let me know what you enjoy about the country cottage blog. As you can see, I’ve gone all high-tech by adding the visitor map, a followers listing, and opinion poll that I hope you will all consider voting on.

Love, Janice


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