Monday, 24 November 2014


For the past few months all my creativity has been going into job applications.
Several options - all involving a change of direction.
So the good news is…… I got the job.
(the Plan A job)


Still at the museum, but working for the Events and Marketing department.
I'll be going through our events programme and looking at developing the informal education side of things. That means I get to look at all the fun stuff like farming, food, green woodworking, textiles etc. It's a big new challenge and a chance to get away from the grind of manual labour.

It will be my third career…
Does that make me a flake?
Or a polymath?
Or a flaky polymath….

It means I'll be hanging up my secateurs.
The end of the garden path is in sight…
I feel a blogging break is in order while I re-invent myself.
There's no road map, but that's exciting right?
….and scary,
(good scary rather than bad scary).

Thank you for all your support and companionship,
in the real world and the blogosphere.

Much love and happy holidays
Bernice  xxx

The Grayson Perry scarf was a birthday present from Mr Asparagus Pea. It's designed as a road map for aspiring artists, based on the silk maps that were given to WWII pilots in case they were shot down behind enemy lines. The 'W Anchor' is his potter's mark, it always makes me giggle. Mr AP was so delighted because he bought it for me after we saw it at Tate Britain, which was long before I publicly announced that I was turning into Mr Perry!

Monday, 3 November 2014

counting beans

So what do you do on a rainy Sunday at work after your second drenching of the day? Put all your wet gear in the drying room and head for the shed to do a bit of tidying up and sorting out. I started off by checking through the all the trays of stored potatoes, shallots and garlic that we have put away to replant next spring – my nose was telling me there were a few mouldy specimens lurking within. In the middle of all the spuds I came across a couple of trays of Martock beans, still in their pods and waiting to be processed. It’s the medieval broad bean that we grow in the garden of our Tudor longhouse – smaller and more modest than its modern descendants, more like a black-eyed pea or a small borlotto.

As I sat for a peaceful hour shucking them from their pods I was reminded of the book I am currently reading Down to Earth – a guide to simple living’, by Rhonda Hetzel. She writes an inspirational blog of the same name, detailing her life with her husband and family in Queensland, Australia. She talks about mindfulness and finding pleasure in self-reliance and simple tasks – relearning the skills that our ancestors took for granted and practising them as a subversive act. Now I don’t know who my medieval ancestors were, but from my height and colouring I’d say they were Northern European (we grow our bones long in my family). At this time every year they would have been sitting around shucking beans, ready to store them safe and dry, away from mice and mould. With every satisfying rattly plunk of bean into bucket, there is a feeling of another morsel saved, another mouth fed.

My two little trays of beans yielded about 1.5 kilos of dry beans - that's 20 portions of food. I haven't tried cooking Martock beans before, so I decided it was time for a taste test. After a long soak - me, half an hour in a hot bath and the beans overnight in a bowl of cold water, I set about cooking them…

A little research* revealed that not only were these humble beans a staple in Tudor times, they were feeding Iron Age Brits, and are still highly prized in Middle Eastern cuisine. This what the Pharaohs were eating for breakfast. Field beans are still grown in Britain as part of an organic crop rotation - but the beans are mostly exported to Arab countries to be made into the Egyptian classic Ful Mesdames (the 'ful' is pronounced 'fool'). The recipe has many variations - but the essential ingredients seem to be cooked beans mashed with a little garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and cumin. Somewhere between hummus and refried beans it has a delicious earthy comfort that can be dressed up with any number of garnishes like harissa, crumbled feta or parsley. Here it is in its naked state - tonight it will be served with the traditional accompaniments of hard boiled eggs and flatbreads.

*In the course of my research I came across the fantastic Hodmedods which has everything you could wish to know about British grown pulses. There are also loads of recipes and an online shop that sells all kinds of exciting products like roasted peas with horseradish (wasabi peas), and salted roasted fava beans (habas fritas). You've got to love an iron age bar snack right?!?!

Monday, 27 October 2014

october on instagram

So I finally joined facebook and instagram.
I know - late to the party huh?!?!
But as Mrs Madrigal would say*
'You don't have to keep up dear,
you just have to keep open…' 

Here's what's been going on instagram this month...

October is the time for our rams to join their ladies at the museum.
Are they not the most beautiful furry ears you've ever seen?

Autumn sunshine on pine bark.

2 kinds of kale ready to go to the restaurant kitchens.

My lovely friends bought me a kindle for my birthday
- so I knitted up a cosy cover for it.

The birthday was a big one, so Mr AP and I headed off to Barcelona to celebrate.
A lady needs a fan in southern europe - this little wooden beauty cost one euro.

I whipped up a few prototype spelt corn dollies for Siân
- she was having a craft emergency!

…and finally, my favourite autumn poem by the fabulous John Hegley.

The winds of change are blowing as we head into November.
Snuggle up!   xxxxx

*from The Days of Anna Madrigal  by Armistead Maupin (latest in the Tales of the City series)

Monday, 6 October 2014

what's a girl to do?

I was, for various professional reasons,
trying to have a hiatus from putting daft pictures of myself on here.
But then one day you wake up and realise….

Oh shit - I'm turning into Grayson Perry!!!

Do you have a 'bad hair day alter ego'?
(mine used to be Ken Dodd, so Grayson is an improvement)

image of grayson by tim walker from here

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

there's change in the air

We're having a little late summer glory here, but autumn is in the air. The porch is full of leaves, and the spiders make a new lace veil for me to walk through every day as I head out the door for work. This weekend was our food festival so we decorated the chapel for the harvest thanksgiving service.

Obviously if I had seen these before yesterday then the whole thing may have looked a little different!


images from here




and here.

Guiseppe Arcimboldo was an Italian Mannerist painter - these are his four seasons.
He was working in the C16th so they're great for those doing 'history gardening' like myself. 
I particularly like the snozzcumber nose in the image of Summer. 
Note to Siân - vegetable portrait sculptures next year?

At home I'm changing the bed and putting the winter duvet on.
Putting away t-shirts and digging out woollies.
Trying to find some socks.
Thinking about autumn trips and plans.
Exciting - I'll keep you posted...

Monday, 1 September 2014

throwing the baby out with the bathwater

It's the 1st of September and this is my 100th post.
Is this significant?
(If you're me - not particularly).
Or does the theory of coincidence rely on selectively noticing stuff, 
because you happened to notice something else the other day?
(If you're me - probably).
But sometimes the cosmic latticework does start to twitch,
and things that seem unrelated start to come together.

Okay - so I know you're thinking 
'Enough already with the pickling!!!'
I promise this is it for a while….
(fridge now groaning with fermented delights)*

I genuinely started all this pickling malarkey from the basis of:

  • grow cucumbers in hotbed at work every year
  • end up with so many that you can't even give them away
  • love brine pickled cukes
  • am expected to research/experiment with traditional food growing/storage techniques
  • pickle some - it's a no-brainer, right?
But as soon as I started reading up on what to do, I stumbled into the world of the new 'hottest thing in nutrition' - lacto-fermentation. This has nothing to do with dairy by the way, the 'lacto' bit refers to the lactobacillus which proliferate during the fermentation of the veggies. The finished products are alive, unlike the store bought ones, which have been pasteurised for shelf life at room temperature. This is pro-biotics but without the expensive branded yoghurt drinky things.

So far, so what?

I know - the last hottest thing was cupcakes and minted pea puree!

But there is a whole pile of research being done into links between gut health and immune responses - including out of control immune responses like allergies. Better brains than mine are applying themselves to this and I'm not saying that it's a retro fix if you've already got severe allergies. But it does seem to make sense that biodiversity is a good thing when it comes to your guts as well as your garden. Inclusion of bacteria rather than exclusion, especially in early life, is being preached

Now, I've always been in favour of what I would regard as a normal amount of sluttishness in the housekeeping department, and am a long time believer in 'Eat dirt, it's good for you!' (Having said that, I've just been scrubbing the crap off from round the back of the kitchen taps - but that's mostly displacement activity because I'm supposed to be filling in my tax return). Nobody wants to live in squalor, but maybe in our quest for a hyper-clean, pasteurised life we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater… of bathwater anyone?

* lacto-fermented radishes might just be my new favourite thing in the world ever. All the deep savouriness of a good runny cheese combined with a delicate vegetable pickle. Umami, huh? Who knew?

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

the end of summer at the end of the world

We are having a couple of weeks off to catch up with family and do some house stuff.  My mother in law came down on the train for a visit, then we drove her home to N Wales and headed across to Aberdaron for a couple of nights by the sea. It's where Mr Asparagus Pea proposed to me 3 years ago and this washing line featured in the image we used as a wedding invite.

The area is a Welsh speaking stronghold and the signposts drip with the extra vowels that give the language its distinctive look. W gives an 'oo' sound and Y gives an 'uh' - put them together and you get the English W sound. (I guess this sign had English on the other side?!?)

We walked the cliff paths and poked around in rockpools.

The summer seems to be coming to an early end with berries ripening and fungi sprouting.

 We're back home now and there is more pickling underway….

I have discovered two things:
  1. Life is too short to cut carrots into flower shapes (unless that's your job),
  2. I knew I needed one of those special food cover umbrella thingies, I just didn't know why…

Saturday, 16 August 2014


update on batch 2 of my lacto-fermented brine pickles….


4% brine
7 day ferment

zingy, tangy and suitably sour

They're in the fridge now
(making friends with Iestyn, the sourdough starter).

I'll spare you from updates on improvements in our gut health,
but I'm excited about their pro-biotic aliveness.
They'll be going in some salsa verde tonight;
we're having roast lamb.

Now then - what can i ferment next?
I'm thinking carrots and cauliflower...

Saturday, 9 August 2014

pickle update

Update on the first batch of pickles:
Bleeeuurgh - wahaaay too salty!!!!
(But with good flavours developing underneath).
They had to go in the bin…
life's too short to de-salinate a pickle.

Undeterred, I had a quick trawl through the internet for advice about brine strength. 
The first batch was 40g salt to 500ml water - that's 8% brine. 
Batch two is about half that strength.
Watch this space….

Monday, 4 August 2014

pickled snozzcumbers

Last year I was going to pickle cucumbers…
and not just any old pickle,
proper old fashioned brine pickles.
Lacto-fermentation, hell yeah!

Last year I bought Alys Fowler's lovely book,
and read all about how to do it.

Last year the builders arrived at the end of July,
and ripped the kitchen off the back of the house.

But this year…
I'm doing it - look!!!

Cucumbers from the hotbed.
(Siân said they look like the BFG's snozzcumbers).
I love that half the aromatics are from the garden,
including tannin rich vine leaves for pickly crispness.
The previous owners of the house were Italian 
- Grazie Sr Sanna!

We get through loads of brine pickles in this house,
but the store bought ones are pasteurised,
which knocks out all their pro-biotic goodness.

It's Day 3 and there's definitely something happening…
Some bubble-age, a pickly tang in the air,
and a colour change from summer green to gentle olive.

There will be updates 
(for all you pickle fans out there).

Tuesday, 15 July 2014


It's the time of year for peas and broad beans.  Alys Fowler tweeted the other day that she likes fava beans best out of all the broads - they are smaller than a modern bean, closer to their 'field bean' ancestors. They're what half the world grows and dries - knowing that our western obsession with eating everything green means there is nothing in the larder for winter.  But of course you can eat them green - the ensuing twitterings made claims for their superior flavour and creaminess…

..and who am I to argue with the lovely Alys?
So Fowler may favour a fava,
but maybe I can out-nerd her on the history beans front?

would like to say that I individually taste tested them 
- but I didn't, just mixed them up and ate them,
and they were good.

Monday, 7 July 2014

how long is a piece of string?

I finally got the chance to have a nettle string making class with our resident Celtic wildman last week. We have a new experimental archaeology project underway at work - Bryn Eryr, a reconstruction of an iron age roundhouse farmstead from Anglesey in North Wales. As well as the main building operation, there is a lot of peripheral activity going on across other departments. The farmers are growing a field of spelt with the intention that the straw will be used to thatch the roof. The blacksmith has been making replica tools to create the wooden objects that will populate the buildings. The Celtic guy is charged with producing 4km of nettle string to make rope for lashing the roof structure - so he is busily teaching the technique to everyone who is willing (and a few who said yes without listening to the question properly).

The operation falls into two stages - harvesting and preparing the fibres, then allowing them to dry and shrink overnight before twisting them up to make string. I have pictures of the first stage - but not enough hands to take process pics of the making phase. Gloves are advised for cutting the nettles and stripping the leaves off, but a good rub with a gloved hand is enough to remove the stings and make them friendly to handle. The stems are then lightly crushed and peeled to get the outer fibres. It reminded me of peeling the stringy bits off celery.

Twisting the fibres together to make string requires a little technique and creative skill. But not in a 'go away I'm writing War and Peace' kind of way - more the 'sitting round the fire having a gossip while creating with your hands' thing. A bit of patience and some acquired muscle memory will have you doing it while hardly even looking, just like your Nana knitting and watching the wrestling at the same time.

There's an excellent tutorial here from the lovely Ray Mears*

With my little pile of nettles I made about 10 metres of 2 ply string, which I then twisted up on itself twice more to make about a metre of 8 ply cord. (That's it in the picture at the top of this post). It's incredibly strong - I was going to try and take a picture to demonstrate its weight bearing capacity but couldn't think how. Suffice to say I could easily restrain someone against their will with it should I decide to kidnap them - don't have nightmares folks!

Not sure I'll be going into the string making business any time soon, (or the kidnapping business for the record). But it's a fantastically satisfying feeling to have the skill to whip up something so useful with your bare (okay gloved) hands.

* (who could canoe me up the fjords any day - Grylls might have the poster boy looks, but Ray would always cook you a much nicer tea).

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

fish and flowers

Last week we headed off to Cornwall for a four night break in St Mawes, at the tip of the Roseland peninsula. Unlike the dramatic surfy coast of North Cornwall, the south is a land of gentle creeks and estuaries.  The easiest way to get around is to dump the car and hop on the little ferries that putter backwards and forwards across the rivers. At this time of year the footpaths and lanes are bursting with flowers and heady with scent. Pockets of sub-tropical microclimate have drawn gardeners to create their fantasy landscapes. The area is studded with historic big hitters like Trebah, Glendurgan and Trelissick. These succulent beauties were local to us at Lamorran...

..and we travelled up the road to St Austell to visit the modern vision at the Eden Project.

But I am drawn to the the wild volunteers that spring from every hedgebank and crack in the wall.

Babingtons Leek - a garlicky native of the area

Mexican Fleabane - Erigeron karvinskianus

Couldn't resist collecting some seed to soften up the new hard landscaping back at the ranch.

Resisted these - a seaside themed bathroom was rejected by Mr AP

We dressed up for smart cocktails at Hotel Tresanton,

and ate fish and chips by Falmouth Harbour.

Home now and back to work tomorrow.
The forecast says it's going to be hot - and that means horseflies!
I must go dig out the insect repellent...