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A Journey around the Kitchen Stove – Margaret Walker
“Secret Cook’s Business”
Anyone fortunate enough to have a mental pantry full of happy memories from a grandmother’s kitchen has a rich inheritance indeed.  My Grandmother Agnes Amelia’s kitchen wafted smells of freshly baked foods through her back wire door and her pantry shelves (located in the laundry) emanated enticing aromas of pickled onions and preserves through brown-papered tops. 
As a child  in the 1940’s, I was intrigued by the jewel colours of carrot jam, tomato jam and preserved peaches in tall clear glass jars, together with the spicy smell of pickling onions in their earthenware jars and the sharp smell of cauliflower mustard pickles.
Grandma must have adored perfume.  Not that for a minute, she was ever fortunate enough to have owned a bottle; scent, yes, perfume, no. She surrounded herself with naturally occurring sweet aromas.  A lemony perfume rose off the lemon verbena shrub at the side of the house each time one brushed against its foliage, she had sweet daphne growing at the front verandah, aromatic honeysuckle at the back and purple Lantana climbing over a fence by the outdoor toilet.  Then there is my memory of the smoky incense-like perfume of rosemary and lavender when placed on hot coals in a metal dustpan used to deodorise the bedrooms each day.  The homes of today with modern plumbing are a far cry from having a ‘Melbourne Cup’ sitting coyly underneath each frilled floral bedspread and in place of an ensuite the main bedroom of those days enjoyed the luxury of a commode chair. 
Grandma’s home on Adelaide Road at Murray Bridge was always full of good smells, good honest smells; pasties cooking in the wood oven, freshly made tea, the spiced smell of ginger-nuts just released from the metal biscuit tin, freshly made lemon tart or Sunday roast spitting away in the wood oven, circled by crisp roasting potatoes.
There is an inbuilt desire in most of us to recreate some of the better aspects of our past, which is why I have had Lemon Verbena, Rosemary and Lavender in a number of my gardens, though I’ve never managed to keep a Daphne alive.
Grandma’s shining wood-stove burned constantly except in the extremes of summer.  There was a shiny copper water fountain on one side of the stove, with its own little tap, a forerunner to a hot water service, and a kettle singing at the side, always ready for a cup of tea. Her tea leaves, stored in a square metal tea caddy, in a colourful Chinese design, sat on top of the kitchen dresser. 
I can still hear Grandma singing or humming to herself as she worked, and could always tell if she was at home when I knocked at the back door.  She could be heard singing softly or whistling somewhere in the house or out in the garden.  Grandma and her sister Aunty Myrt were like two peas in a pod.  They looked like twins and their homes were alike, spotless, not a thing out of place and both possessed that homely kitchen smell.  Myrtle lived on McHenry Street, on my way home from school.  I was in trouble more than once for being late; but you see Aunty Myrt kept ginger-nut biscuits in a barrel on top of her kitchen dresser and I just loved those biscuits.  Not that my parents didn’t have ginger-nut biscuits.  They had tins full of them at the shop, but Aunty Myrt was welcoming, loving and ready for a little chat with a lonely school child.
In her tiny kitchen on Adelaide Road at Murray Bridge, Grandma managed a staggering repertoire of foods such as preserves for the pantry, sour lemon tart, dumplings in stew and roast lamb and melt-in-the-mouth pasties, jam tarts and fruit pies.  Her hand-written recipe book attests to the collection of recipes that she tried and tested.  My memory of her pantry is coloured red, orange and scented with spicy pickles.  Sunday tea usually consisted of cold roast lamb accompanied by an egg and lettuce salad dressed with her special home-made boiled mayonnaise, tomatoes and beetroot and served with brown bread and butter and cups of freshly brewed tea, followed by a multi-coloured and layered Trifle for dessert.
In the summer time if soft drinks were had at all, and then, only on special occasions, the bath became her cooler, filled with ice and tall brown bottles.   On important family occasions such as weddings the bath was called into service, as were Grandma’s cooking abilities.  I still remember her anger and frustration when she accidentally burned the sponges for Auntie Bet’s wedding.  Although Aunty Bet tried to console her, by saying it was not the end of the world, Grandma would not be pacified.  Uncle John and his friend Reg Nitschke, on leave from the Air Force for the occasion, thought they were wonderful. They simply cut off the burnt pieces and, sitting on a couple of upturned boxes outside the back door, cleaned up the lot.  Of course it was the loss of the ingredients which upset Grandma, especially things such as sugar which was rationed at that time, and eggs which were always precious. 
When we arrived at Grandma’s back door we could tell that it was pasty day.  Aromas of chopped onion, grated carrot and diced potato wafted through the wire door of the kitchen.  Sometimes however, I was invited to help.
So this is how it usually went………………………..
“Do you know what we’re going to do today?”
“Are we going to bake?”
“That’s right, and if you are a good girl you can have your own piece of pastry for a jam tart.”
“Can I rub the dripping into the flour Grandma?”
“No, you just wait a little while.  Your hands are too warm and you’ll make the dripping melt; that’s not good for the pastry.”
“Just wait a minute, there’s the girl, until I’ve got everything ready.  Can you pass me a knife from the drawer in the dresser, please?”
“Can I get the vegetables from the pantry then?”
“Yes, go and fetch me four really big potatoes, and I’ll have the enamel bowl from the top of the copper too.  Now let me put some water into the bowl and you can wash the potatoes really well.”
“They have to be really clean, and then you can peel them for me as long as you don’t peel your fingers too.”
“Because; come on now – this is a really good job for a little girl – while you do that I’ll weigh out the flour.  You’ve done a really good job.  How much skin did you peel off your fingers?  Show me.  None! Good, now you can peel me two carrots.  You’ll find them in the vegie rack behind the door.”
“Grandma, can I put the vegetables through the mincer?”
“First you can help me mince some meat.  Pass me that large basin will you, the big china basin.  Now when I tell you, push a chunk of meat into the top of the mincer and I’ll turn the handle.  Now push one piece in and don’t push down too far; we don’t want any fingers coming out the other end do we?”
“Because your Mum and Dad wouldn’t want their little girl back minus a finger or two would they?”
“What does minus mean?”
“It means without.  That’s what it means.  Come on now; put a piece of onion in and push down hard, then another piece of meat and then pumpkin and a couple of pieces of potato too.  That’s really good it’s all mincing up nicely.  See how fine it is; it will be really easy to mix.  What are you crying for?  Did you hurt yourself?  Haven’t lost a finger have we?” 
“Grandma, it’s the onions; they make me cry.  Can I turn the handle now and you can push the onions into the mincer?”
“Come along and blow your nose, then you call Grandpa.  It’s cup-of-tea time; and after that we’ll put the pasties together.  Ask him to bring a couple of pieces of wood for the stove when he comes in please.”
…….“Grandma, can I have a ginger-nut with my cup of tea, please?”
“Alright then, sit up close now; we don’t want you spilling tea all down your dress.”
“Ah, here’s Grandpa with the wood.  Thanks Grandpa.  Just put it in the box please.”
 “Clear Grandpa’s cup away now dear?  Just put it onto the bench, and hurry up and drink your tea.”
“I’ll mix all of the meat and vegetables together and you can pass me a teaspoon of salt from the salt box and one teaspoon of pepper as well.” 
“Now for the pastry; let me show you how I mix the dripping and the flour together.  See how I am just using the tips of my fingers to do it.  Now you have a little try.  Gently mind, don’t pick up too much at once or it gets too warm, just like I told you.  Good girl, that’s enough now, it’s time for me to add the water.  Wait just a while and you can help me to roll up the pasty tops.”
  “Now, can you see how thin Grandma rolls out the pastry?  You can’t have it too thick or you end up with nothing inside each one and if you roll it out too thin the filling pops through while it’s cooking.  Pass me that soup bowl will you please dear, and the knife, so that I can cut out the rounds of pastry.  There we are, if I hold the bowl you can carefully run the knife around the edge.  Good.  Well done.  Now we’ll put some filling into the pasties.  Take a good tablespoon of filling and place it in the middle of the pastry.  Do that with each one and then we’ll brush the edges with milk.  You can get me a little bit of milk in a jug and the pastry brush from the drawer.  Can you see it?   Yes that’s the one. Good girl, bring it over here.”
“Grandma, can I brush the milk onto the edges of the pasties?”
“Alright then, if you are very careful, and don’t brush on too much.”
“Why not?”
“It makes the pastry too sloppy and you can’t do the twist on the top.”
“Can I have a piece to make a tart, please?”
“Wait until we get to the end.  You can help me twist the pasties closed.  See how I pinch the pastry together carefully.  I don’t squeeze it too tight.  Now I take hold of the end and twist it over, then move my fingers along the pastry and fold over the next little piece.  See the nice neat twist right across the top.  Can you do that?”
“Grandma, mine doesn’t look the same as yours.”
“Let me have a look.  There; I think that this will be alright.  This can be your special pasty and you can have it with tomato sauce for lunch.”
“Don’t you want pasty then?”
“Yes; but why that one?”
“Well it’s your special one isn’t it.  Here you are now, I’ve rolled up all the pastry again and these are the left-over’s so you can have a little ball to make a jam tart with.  Can you roll it out quite thin?  Then you can lay it onto this saucer.  I’ll just get some apricot jam from the pantry and you can make a rose for the middle and a couple of leaves.”
“Well, it makes it pretty, and you like to eat the pastry rose don’t you?”
“Would Grandpa like to eat my jam tart?”
“I’m sure he would love to eat some of the jam tart.  He’ll probably pour some milk over it and eat it while it’s still hot.”
“Because he likes it that way; come on now, help me to clean up.  I’ll just scrape down the table top and then we can do the washing up.  Would you get the wash-up bowl from under the bench please and also the tray?  Here’s the tea towel.  You can dry the cutlery and the enamel bowl then you can leave the china one to me.”
Making pastry had an element of magic to it.  The combining of flour, fat and water had the potential for wondrous creations – pasties, jam tarts both large and small and pie tops.  I revelled in being able to have the scraps of pastry to make a small jam tart all my own.  When I grew older she taught me to fold over the pasty tops with her famous twist, and I had to remember which pasty was mine; so that when they were cooked I could eat my own.  Not that it took much remembering, as my pasty had that well-handled, streaky kind of appearance.   Grandma had a special, light handed knack of putting a twist over the top of each pasty.  Her pastry smelt good even before it was cooked, which was nothing to the blessed aroma as they came fresh from the oven.  We children were sometimes allowed to eat the scraps of pastry, although she always said it would give us a stomach ache.  Where have I heard that one before I wonder? 
Agnes passed her cooking skills on to her daughters for Aunty Clytie, Auntie Bet and my Mum – Coral were all very good cooks. 
My favourite memory of being at the home of Aunty Clytie and Uncle Dave Watts at Native Valley was when she made raisin bran muffins.  The children, (my cousins Beverley, Valerie, Stephahie, together with my brother Robert and I) would be sent to the chook-shed for couple of cups of bran from the “Bran & Pollard” bins.  The smell of the bran as the lid lifted was really deliciously nutty.  Aunty Clytie’s pantry also contained wonderful smells; pickled onions, pickled figs and pickled eggs stored in huge stone jars, survival skills she had obviously inherited from Grandma. 
My other Aunt Betty Pym was a very proficient cook, and could whip up a lighter-than-air sponge, classic cream puffs and my favourite: a pudding that was made by mixing all ingredients together in one dish.  This recipe created a fruity pudding with caramel sauce underneath, the recipe being from a ‘CWA Year of Puddings Calendar’.  My bookshelf boasts a kitchen-stained 1959 edition, purchased from a second-hand bookshop years ago.  Aunty Bet also gave me the recipe for a fish pie, which my family have enjoyed for years in one version or another.  It is made with tuna, a can of peas, a can of corn and a packet of chicken noodle soup, together with some milk, egg and breadcrumbs, and is so simple to make, but delicious and economical.  It makes a meal for quite a number of people if served with a salad and a good scoop of mashed potato. 
My mother Coral, although she possessed some good recipe books such as “The Barossa Cookery Book”, “The Green & Gold Cookery Book” among others, didn’t make many cakes except fairy cakes and a delicious sultana cake, that came from the oven golden brown and smelling absolutely delicious in its large slab tin.  Mum worked long hours in our shop on Mannum Road, Murray Bridge, from the time that I was about seven years of age and as a result most of her cooking, in readiness for our evening meals, was done on the little primus stove, on the cupboard in the back of the shop.  She had an interesting repertoire of curried sausages, lamb stew, steak and kidney, large pots of soup that lasted for more than one meal and many others.  When I was about eleven years of age I began experimenting with those recipe books, and using the skills that I had adopted from Grandma, began creating desserts and cakes in our old Metters wood stove.  I became quite practised, even at that age, at making bread and butter pudding, roly-poly pudding and jam tarts.  One of the latter was to be my downfall and call a temporary halt to my creative cookery skills.  I had at least four things baking in the oven of the woodstove and when checking their readiness, the oven tray slipped allowing a fig jam tart to land upside down on my foot.  I can vouch for the fact that boiling jam and the tender skin of twelve year old feet are not a good mixture.  As well as being rather shocked at the mess that I had accidentally created, along with the loss of the food, I was in intense pain as the resulting blister became larger and larger.  The old remedy was to rub burns with butter.  You can imagine that this only kept the heat in instead of reducing the swelling and for some days I was forced to wear, on my bandaged foot, one of my father’s checked felt slippers.  Not a good fashion statement at all!

I thought I had it all tied up in a pretty red ribbon at one time; all ready to go off to the printer, but lo and behold, I went to a Life Writing workshop and pretty soon found out that much of what I had written demanded further attention.  Now I’m faced with the challenge of reviewing, re-writing, scrapping and sweating.  I guess that’s what it’s all about.  I tend to view this task as one would view a marathon run, the last half of the race is much harder than the first half and the last two hundred metres is hardest of all.  Well, that’s where I am at and boy would I love to be able to see that tape across the finish line ahead of me.  Even if it was a thin blue tape only just visible through the swirling mists of many pages of text it wouldn’t seem so bad, but when I look ahead there is nothing as comforting as that blue tape ahead of me.

Oh well, another day of sweating over the manuscript with a red pen I guess and straining to get the old grey cells to be more imaginative, more expansive.  Please God, could I have just a little speck of genius to add some spice, a glimmer of brilliance, a scent of humanity or should that be humility to the printed page.

Camping in outback Australia

You can find my story about the camping trip to Innamincka on the Cooper Creek in South Australia that my children still talk about, by looking in the family history category. Click on Family History in the category list and go to “Food and family fun in the outback”.

Prune and Marsala preserve

Most gardeners will know what I mean when I say that fruit trees crop in cycles. Some seasons there will be an over-abundance of fruit and other seasons very little. The unpredictable nature of fruit crops causes even more difficulties for the commercial fruit grower.

A neighbour at McLaren Flat grows magnificent purple prune plums for the export market, but a few years ago in a year of abundance he had more fruit than the market could absorb and asked me whether I could make some jam. He had in mind the type of plum jam which is tradionally made in Poland and other Eastern European countries.

However, the plums were on the point of deterioration when he brought them to me, and I either had to consider discarding them or risking the other ingredients and attempting to make a saleable product.

I thought long and hard about how I could salvage the large number of trays of these beautiful purple prunes and then I remembered that I had previously been successful in soaking dried prunes in Marsala, and how delicious they had tasted.

Prune and Marsala was born as a flavour. It was a rich, dark jam but required some citric acid to balance out the sugars. For those who like prunes, here is another rich flavoured preserve.

See the recipe in the Recipe category.


She occupied a room out the back; in Australian parlance called a sleep-out. Most homes had a sleep out, whether at the front or the back. It was often the spare room, sometimes used for a guest, frequently for the overflow of children from the main rooms. Most homes had either back or front verandah, and it was reasonably easy to partition off a section to create a useful room, either by the use of canvas blinds, or in Nanna’s case her wall was a wooden lattice screen, lined with canvas to keep out the cold. Poor Nanna! At least our sleep out had solid walls between the tall stone pillars of the verandah and a proper door.
The whole family, her daughter, son-in-law and two granddaughters all called her Nanna. She was a typical elderly woman of the mid 1900’s, always dressed in drab black or navy, with a knitted cardigan to keep the cold from chilling her old bones, and a floral pinny to protect her clothing from splashes and spills. Her black velvet embroidered, slippered feet hurt badly whilst she carried out a few household tasks. I often saw Nanna sitting at the kitchen table peeling the potatoes, or washing a few dishes; never the focus of family activity, but always in the background.
A few of Nanna’s remaining treasures made her sparse accommodation a little less foreign. The cement floor by the bed was brightened by her old hooked blue rag rug, whilst on the black iron bedstead her patchwork quilt lay in mauve and forget-me-not blue splendour; an alien beauty in a foreign landscape. It was hard to imagine those watery blue eyes had ever able to see sufficiently to make all of the minute stitches it took to create that quilt, or her twisted fingers being nimble enough to ply a needle and thread.
Beside the narrow bed was a small oak cupboard that hid the pink china receptacle of her nighttime toilet needs. On top lay a cream lace doiley, her black glasses case, a cut glass vase holding just one pink rose and a large blue comb for her long gray hair, and one or two hairpins for holding up her neat bun. Nanna’s freshly washed hair fell down to her waist in a silver shower, and on a sunny day she could be seen drying it whilst sitting outside under the big old almond tree.
At the foot of her bed rested an old worn wicker chair, softened by a well-stuffed blue embroidered cushion. The chair could be dragged out onto the verandah so that Nanna could sit in the sun and watch the world go by. She would sit; face raised to the warmth of the morning sun, watching the honeyeaters darting in and out of the Morning Glory trumpets that hung over the door. Sometimes we heard the baker’s boy call to her as he bounded through the squeaky gate; delivering the warm yeasty high-top loaf. His horse, out on the street, snorting and stamping his foot to be on the move. On a good day Nanna would enjoy reading the daily paper until shee nodded off, or perhaps her arthritic fingers could be persuaded to work a crochet hook and some cotton. The postman’s whistle would bring her to the front gate to collect the letters from the post-box. She once showed me how to make daisies using a daisy wheel, patiently urging me to tension the wool in the right way and to stitch the centre firmly. She said this would prevent the whole thing flying apart when the daisy wheel was removed. She was right.
However, most of time she sat in the sun on her creaking wicker chair, beyond seeing well enough sew, too tired to read, her fine fingers clasped in her floral-apronned lap, waiting, just waiting.

  • Ingredients 3 zucchinis Washed and grated 2 Rashers bacon Finely chopped 1cup Sweet potato grated 1 onion Peeled and chopped finely 2 Spring onions Sliced thinly 1cup Shredded cheese Low fat 5 eggs Lightly beaten 1/2cup Olive oil 1 cup Self Raising flour seasoning Method In a large bowl, mix together the chopped and grated vegetable, flour, cheese, bacon and seasoning. Lightly beat the eggs with the olive oil, and add to the vegetable mixture. Spread the mixture into a shallow pan and sprinkle a small amount of grated cheese on the top. Bake in preheated oven for about 40-45 minutes, or until set and golden brown. Serve hot or cold with a crisp salad.
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An ancient city

The beautiful and ancient Moorish city of Barcelona one of my favourite places in Europe. Its gothic quarter or Barri Gotic is simply stunning, with the medieval Gothic cathedral and town hall, displaying the ornate architecture of the period; gargoyles peeping from every crevice and hanging from every crenellation. Little surprises are everywhere; such as the tiny courtyard at the rear of the cathedral containing a little fountain and garden growing pure white lilies and water plants, guarded by a gaggle of majestic white geese, which were kept in medieval times because they announced unwanted visitors to the precinct.

The modern city

Dim, narrow streets providing shelter from the hot Mediterranean sun, open out to stone spacious stone-paved plazas cooled by huge central fountains, surrounded by tall palm trees among which flocks of pigeons constantly flutter, wheeling and landing, cooing and clucking.
This is a city that does not sleep until the early hours of the morning, but is up and bustling at sunrise, then shuts down during siesta ending late afternoon when life begins again. Tapas bars open after siesta, displaying their wares in brightly coloured bowls on the tops of bars. Bowls of fresh oysters, boiled eggs, local ham rolls, and pickled anchovies are displayed, with local cheeses in colourful array to be enjoyed with a beer or glass of rich Spanish Red wine. Shops re-open their doors and very healthy commerce proceeds apace until after midnight every day of the week except on Sundays. Barcelona is its country’s most happening town, and seems set to stay that way. The 1992 Olympics allowed Barcelona to once again strut its stuff on the world stage, projecting an image of cultural prosperity. It hasn’t looked back since. In part, Barcelona?s topography was its destiny. The city is cradled in a great half bowl, open to the Mediterranean on one side, but contained by a brooding hill called Montjuic on which sits the Estadi Olympic and the city?s park and fair ground. The city rises gently from the sea and climbs its slopes and elevations with admirable respect for the land.

Around any corner in Barcelona there is a fresh surprise for the eyes. The architectural exploits of Gaudi are simply mind-blowing, and there are a number of them to be seen, from simple apartment buildings to the yet unfinished master work, The Sagrada Familia. One could be forgiven for thinking that The Sagrada Familia church is simply a folly. Further examination reveals a biblical story told with steel, concrete and plaster as its voice. It is unique and unforgettable, with eight towers, each shaped like a decorated Christmas tree, and topped with a different piece of fruit reaching towards the blue Catalan skies, sculptured figures of the Holy Family hovering over the main door.

Everyone who is anyone is on the Ramblas

The Ramblas, wide and beautiful and paved with patterned tiling, leads down from the Plaza Catalunya, to the magnificent memorial to Christopher Columbus dominates the huge roundabout at its end, and appropriately overlooks the port area of Barcelona. It is a place of celebration. People come to simply celebrate being alive, by taking a prada in the cool air of the evening or to enjoy a meal at any of the open air restaurants situated along its length. Couples young and old walk arm in arm among the bustling tourist throng, as they hasten to dine, or simply to stand and watch a gold or silver painted living sculpture in slow motion. Families stroll together, adults and children with dogs on leads, enjoying the atmosphere and the company of locals and back-packers alike. All make up the tapestry of life on this busy median strip, whilst on either side traffic roars up and down, tooting taxis competing for space with buzzing mopeds and small delivery trucks. Tall Plane trees line the roadside, and potted palms stand guard over the tables and chairs of each little restaurant, whose white apronned waiters carrying trays, dash between rushes of traffic to bring food and drink to their customers seated under sheltering awnings. Tourists haunt the many souvenir shops, seeking bargains in Lladro porcelain ornaments, Spanish gold jewellery, soccer uniforms, postcards and Catalan pottery. Back-packer hostels rest cheek by jowl with up-market residential buildings and smart hotels, busy internet cafes, tempting little patisseries and ice cream shops.

The Moors

The Moorish influence is everywhere. France pushed back the Muslims in AD 801. At the time, the plains and mountains to the north of Barcelona were populated by the people who by then could be identified as ‘Catalans’. Catalan’s closest linguistic relative today is the langue d’oc, the old language of southern France. Franco, when he came to power, wasted no time in banning Catalan and flooding the region with impoverished immigrants from Andaluc���in the vain hope that the pesky Catalans, with their continual movements for independence, would be swamped. But the plan soured somewhat when the migrants’ children and grandchildren turned out to be more Catalan than the Catalans. Franco even banned one of the Catalans’ joyful expressions of national unity, the sardana, a public circle dance. But they’d barely turned the last sods on El Supremo’s grave when Catalunya burst out again in an effort to recreate itself as a nation. The Sardana is celebrated somewhere at least once every day in Barcelona.

Catalunya – a treasure trove of talent

The Catalans are a proud and happy people. Their philosophy is evident in their surroundings, and in every citizen one meets in Barcelona. They have a zest for life, not seen in colder European cities. Music is everywhere. Bands play providing entertainment for the strolling citizens and visitors. A man sits alone beside the fountain in the plaza, and plays his clarinet in the cool afternoon, around the corner modern rhythm and blues bangs out from a cafe attracting a very young audience, whilst at the Grand Theatre further along the Ramblas such famous artists as Jose Carreras or Kathleen Battle star in grand opera. Nearby is the Central Produce Market where the most amazing array of spices, colourful fruits, vegetables, and flowers, fresh and smoked meats, glistening fish, honey and cheeses of every kind compete for space. Noises, smells and colours simply assault the senses when one steps in through the stone doorway of the main produce market. The colour and variety of the produce of the region, is in some way representative of its people, for they are a colourful, supremely talented, warm, freedom loving, proud and passionate people, who have built a city of infinite fascination and beauty that I have grown to love.

  • fresh prune plums 6 kilo marsala 500 ml sugar 4.5 kg citric acid 1 dstspn pectin 1 dstspn Wash and halve the fresh prune plums. Place the fruit and acid into a shallow Jam Pan over a very low heat, and stir frequently until the juice of the fruit starts to run. Continue cooking until the fruit begins to break up. Raise the heat and cook for a further 30 mins. Bring to a boil and add the sugar, into which the pectin has been mixed. Continue to boil until the setting point has been reached. Setting Point – This is the point at which the jam gels when placed on a cold saucer. Place a saucer into the refrigerator. When you are ready to test the gel point, place a small amount of jam onto the cold saucer. In approx. four minutes gently tip to one side. If a skin has formed on the top of the jam and it pours in a clumped fashion rather than runs then the setting point has been reached. Bottle into sterilized jars, and lid up immediately. Invert the jars for two minutes to allow the lids to be sterilized. Turn back the jars, using a tea towel to protect your hands and allow to cool. Label and store in a cool, dark place.
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Red Poppies for remberance

The bus chugged up the dusty mountain road, loaded with local passengers, one or two tourists and a few back-packers. Our destination was a little village in the Tuscan hills, a sought-after tourist spot recognized for its spectacular scenery that had featured in many tourism magazines and scenic calendars. On either side of the road were fields of grapevines in their autumn foliage, dusty olive groves heavy with green and purple fruit and wheat fields sprinkled with red poppies. I mentally pictured the illustrations that I could include in my next book; wonderful scenes of the olive groves, wheat fields and road-side splashes of red poppies. Wonderful! I thought. Should make for great reading, and my agent would be simply thrilled with the tourism angle.
The bus made the final ascent to the gates of the village and passengers alighted. I picked up my baggage and walked in the direction of the main gate to find the bed and breakfast accommodation that had been booked by my travel agent. The view of the village from the gate was a step back in time, with cobbled roadways, narrow lanes and charming little shop-fronts displaying local wares. Following her directions I soon found the big wooden door at Via Romano No. 36 and pressed the bell. The door was flung wide by a small lady dressed in a floral wrap-around apron and black dress, black stockings and with a head-scarf over her hair.
?Buon giorno Signorita,? she said, reaching to take my biggest bag, and bustled before me, leading the way into a cool hallway, and then on to a large tiled room with dark wooden furniture; the establishment?s dining-room. She put my bag down and pointed to chair at the nearest table, then shuffled off to call the owner. Having checked in with my hostess, Signora Pucci, who was very pleasant and helpful with information about the village, I was taken to my room, a very plain but comfortable little one with its own tiny bathroom facilities attached. A warm shower in the ceramic tiled bathroom was the most relaxing thing, and when I was dry the bed welcomed my tired body. I woke at dusk and looked out of my window to see the rooves of the village turned to gold in the early evening light as the sunset poured over the hills in the distance.
Dinner was eaten by candlelight, a fine meal of braised rabbit and spinach with pine-nuts, accompanied by a glass of good red wine. My fellow guests, two couples, one of whom were obviously honeymooners and the other middle-aged, as well as a lone male seemed to be pleasant companions. At breakfast, Signor Trevigno told me that he was familiar with the village and offered his services as my guide. His enthusiasm for the task wouldn?t allow me to refuse.
Armed with a village map, my camera, water and fruit we strode out onto the cobbled street after breakfast. Strolling through the narrow, shaded streets I was struck by the thought that these buildings were medieval, and had seen more history than I could even begin to absorb. High windows overlooked the narrow twisting lanes and stone steps, sometimes three and four stories above our laboured footsteps. Along the way Signor Trevigno told me about the first time he had come here, as a foot soldier in Mussolini?s army, and how he had fallen in love with a local girl, the daughter of the town?s butcher.
?She was beautiful,? he said wistfully, ?I can still remember how she looked when we said goodbye on the steps of the church, as we were loaded onto open trucks and driven off to fight. I had picked her a bunch of the red poppies from the roadside, and she was holding them close to her heart as we drove away.?
?Did you ever see her again,? I asked, hoping that he would give me some material that I could use in my book.
?Yes,? of course, he said, ?I married her. My Maria was the loveliest girl in the village. She said she would wait for me until the war was over, and she did. We married in 1946, and had two children, a boy and a girl; we were so happy.?
I began to get a sense that perhaps Maria was no longer alive, but didn?t like to ask.
?Come,? he said, ?I will show you the Collegiata, which once was a cathedral, where we were married.?
We stood at the bottom of two huge flights of stone steps leading from the large open piazza to the heavy studded doors of the church, and I could visualise that the young couple, even dressed in post-war outfits, would have looked as they stood triumphant at the door, looking happily down over their family and friends whilst rose petals were thrown onto the flag-stones beneath their feet. Inside, the church was simple and yet magnificent. Our footsteps echoed as we made our way across the flagged floor to the front with its glorious marble altar, gold candlesticks and hosts of angels flying from the ceiling frescoes.
?What a beautiful place for a marriage,? I whispered, ?I think that it would have been quite extraordinary.?
?Si,? he replied. ?It was magnifico.?
?Now we go to the Piazza of the punishment.?
?I don?t see that on my map,? I said curiously.
?You won?t see it, because the village would rather forget that it happened,? he replied and led me onward.
The narrow lanes opened out on a large cobble-stoned square with wide streets leading from it, and unlike many of the other streets in this village, wide enough to take a vehicle. Then he pointed to the twelve heavy wooden posts, set into the cobble stones and the wall behind them, chipped and pock-marked by what could only have been bullets. At the base of each post sat a small red flower.
?You see this,? he said sadly, ?this is where the Nazis executed many of my country-men who did not wish to fight for them. The villagers secretly tried to undermine the German war effort, helped by us where we could, and when the tide of the war turned against them they took twelve of our men at a time, lashed them to these wooden blocks and shot them.?
?I am sorry,? I said, ?It must have been a dreadful experience.?
?It was truly awful,? he said. ?I come back every year to place a bunch of poppies here in memory of my friends who did not live to see the end of the war. They were young men, with their lives to be lived, but they did not get the chance. I am one of the few lucky ones.?
Sitting in the shaded Collegiata square that afternoon, and enjoying a truly delicious Italian coffee, Martino Trevigno was able to paint a picture for me of the village as it had been in war-time; the roar of the machines, terrified villagers, frightened Italian farm boys from poor towns and cities, who in most cases, were forced join the army and fight a war that was not of their making, one they didn?t even believe in.
Then he told me about Maria, their happy life with their children and grandchildren, and finally of her death five years ago. He painted a tragic picture of a village, destroyed by war and poverty, but I could hear the pride in his voice when he spoke about the re-building of the village, how tourism had helped with the rebuilding of the regional economy including the success of its olive industry and the superb world class wine made in the surrounding hills.
?Martino, I cannot thank you enough for sharing your experiences and your village with me. I feel that hearing your stories has made me a part of it too. I shall go home with some wonderful memories from my stay here.?
?It was my pleasure,? he replied in his gentle manner.
Several days later I made my way to the village gate to catch the bus for Pisa and the International Airport, my note-books full of wonderful stories, my camera having worked overtime on terrific photographs, some beautiful, some very sad. My short visit had been life-changing, and although I had come with the intention of writing a tourist guide, I now had material for a wonderful love story as well.
As I left, I saw Martino, a bunch of red poppies in his hand, walking up the steep little path to the back wall of the village. I knew where he was going, because poppies are for remembrance.

When a cup is a mug

For goodness sake! She?s picked the black mug again.
I wish she wouldn?t do that.
You?d think that I wasn?t to her liking, the way she does that.
I can assure you that I am a very elegant looking cup,
tall and slim in pristine white china,
with a pretty English garden scene on the side
and tiny blue flowers on my neat little handle with its gold trim.
Anyone can see that I?m a cup with class.
If I just wiggle, sorry, I mean slide over a little bit on the shelf,
then perhaps she?ll choose me for her morning coffee.
There are quite a few cups around me on the shelf.
There?s the white one with the chip,
she uses it to measure the flour whilst cooking,
and the pink one with the spout the baby has for her milk.
Then there?s the fine china one with the gold band around the top,
roses on the side and pink inside,
and the two blue ones with cornflowers.
Last Christmas, someone gave her two ugly purple mugs
with gold hearts on them.
They are so vulgar, if you ask me.
I am sure that if I move just a little bit she will see me here waiting.
I?ll just nudge over into the space left by the black mug and
? Oops!

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