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I was staying with a former colleague for a couple of weeks this summer. The hostess and I go back a long way, over 20 glorious years. In all that time we used to discuss cooking and household management on an almost daily basis. This colleague was definitely the mistress of her kitchen. She and her husband only ever bought the best makes for every household item, from kitchenware to coffee sets and dinner services. The casseroles were bought in complete sets from tiny to gargantuan. This amused me greatly as they had no children and I assumed absolutely no need for the largest of any set of dishes, pans etc. Wrong. She used to batch bakes and cook every Saturday whilst her husband did overtime shifts. This habit she retains to make the most of seasonal food where she now resides in spendid luxury of her hidey hole in the Med!
I have been meeting up with a very international crowd lately and I don’t really know any of them personally. That’s one of the joys of helping out at social functions for a local heritage property. They have huge landscaped grounds and beyond that is farming land. To supplement the income from the tickets sales and normal farming activities, they hold motoring rallies, clay pigeon shooting and normal game shooting in season. The crowds come now for the very Englishness – bridal and baby showers too share the beautifully decorated rooms and revel in the atmosphere. Today we have many americans keen to follow in the footstps of their pedecessors, and in fact, a totally international set of visitor come to enjoy light refreshments in our ballroom. All the prettiest bone china tea sets and matching cake stands are put out along with the fanciest of custom bedding. Lots of oooh and aahhs – it’s so very rewarding!
Golly gosh there has been some exciting things happening at a historic house that I help at now and again. They have a big fund raising arm of the trust that runs it all. This part of of the enterprise operates the cafe, all the weddings and corporate events and is charge with making as much profit hroughout a trading year as possible. These are then drawn over to support the house. One of the eents recently was car rally – much further along in the vast grounds. We could see all the activity from the ballroom windows and there were literally thousands of folk there. We enjoyed ourselves immensely as the catering side had set up a big afternoon tea in the ball room and saloon – many delicious scones and cups of tea were taken by the international visitors. Chintzy tea services and cake stands are such a must on these occasions!
My word have I had some busy weeks visiting various heritage properties. In my voluntary post as an inspector for a particular charity, I do have some perks and one in particular is to have to visit tea rooms and check the quality of the fayre on offer . . . . . it’s a hard life but someone has to do it! However, it does have the odd draw back in that after two or three substantial slices of Mrs. Bridge’s favourite victoria sponge cake, or a slab of millionnaires shortbread, followed by the very best of the scones with cream and jam, the waistline does tend to take a battering and I have a smaller battle somewhere else. On the whole the baking take centre stage but the service is important too. Decent tea sets, matching plates and all the corresponding bakeware are critical to bring home the message that home baked is best.
The womens’ group I have connections with celebrates 100 years in existence shortly. They are having a party, the of course is the minimum requirement. The cake has been ordered, the bunting sorted. All that remains is finding that essential Edwardian blouse to suit the long skirts and button boots. They were trying to describe what they thought they wanted, pin tucked or frilly front, high neck, or peter pan collar, leg of mutton sleees with long button down cuffs with lace. With several colleagues joining in the list, it became quite a huge undertaking, worthy of the Victoria and Albert museum! They haven’t sourced the idea article – the criteria being a bit over the top I suspect. But online sites are fantastic as finding just the right thing – eventually. Like this wonderful one dealing with shabby chic, retro and vintage. Almost anything can be found, with systematic patient browsing!
I have recently been very active in the care of three rather senior ladies in my life. Two of these old dears are safely housed in care homes, some mile apart. I chat to each about things from their past. Two of the ladies were at school together and were in fact evacuated before WW2 started. They were sent to the countryside – separate billets but near enough to be able to spend much time together. They were lucky and lived with families who were happy to share the bounty of farm life with frightened youngsters who’d never seen a cow, or an aga kitchen range! They shared lessons at the nearest grammer school but more importantly their adoptive mums and grandmothers took time to show them the basics of looking after themselves and their siblings. Both came home fully skilled in basic home making, small holding husbandry and how to cook basic meals. Absolute perfection!
I have belionged to a particularly strong womens’ organisation for some time now – in fact I was the youngest member of the group when I joined the first time, some years ago. They do have a rather drab reputation for making jam and singing jerusalem these days, but they most certainly do a very much wider range of activities and are very helpful in the community, when given a chance. Our group entertains other groups throughout the year and the annual general meetings are legendary – cake, scones and afternoon tea flows with gay abandon. The cakes are lovingly hand made by proud members. It becomes a rather amazing, unspoken competition over who can devise the most exsquisitely iced displays and only the best china cups are allowed. There is something very special about the habit of taking afternoon tea with chums, in a village hall. May it live forever!
I have taken to reading a magazine geared towards the somewhat more refined and well heeled end of my social circle. It’s been in publication for a couple of hundred years and I have discovered that it can knock every other womens’ magaine into a cocked hat! I got the hint that we were not talking cheap and cheerful when reading an article from their archives for various baking tinwares and in fact, how to equip the perfect 1920s kitchen. I was agog with their ideas on budget control, not long after the cessation of the first world war. These days when we want to recreate that splendour and optimism, nothing quite beats doing an infantry of the bakeware cupboard, or that spare larder with the chipped blue rimmed tins and basins! If you want to cheer yourself up in winter gloom, buy and use more bakeware – especially the pretty feminite styles available out there today.
I membershiop of the three major heritage organisations for some years – but I don’t really make the most of them in that I don’t tend to travel on holiday or jaunts on my own. There is no reason why either, I visit members of my family dotted all over England, so a stopover in a highly heritage populated area would be fun. That is on this year’s ‘must do’ list. What I really enjoy when I do take in a property, with or without a fantastic garden, are the wonderful tea rooms. Some are much posher than others, that is true. But on the whole, the welcome is second to none and the cakes / scones / tea & coffee services etc are absolutely gorgeous. This always inspires me to get baking when I get home. I have decided to reacquanit myself with the joys of kitchenalia too this year and will be browsing anytime soon!
I had occasion to do baking in someone else’s kitchen the other week. It came as a bit of a surprise, as baking is not always in my day plan. However we were over with friends and all happily breakfasted and ready to walk down through the village and back up via the pub. Then the dear wife of our host managed to slip over, falling rather awkwardly. Panic and chaos loomed – the thought of not being able to indulge in the home cooked lunch followed by delicious choice of desserts was frightening stuff!
Well as Mrs Host was unable to continue, and her husband took her to A&E, we others took to the kitchen to cook the ready prepared ingredients – and with help from cook books and some wonderful chintzy crockery and bakeware goods. the kitchen was a treat in itself and gave our endeavours a whole new feeling of accomplishment!