A new Hnef

No, didn’t sneeze…my main Christmas present this year was a set of BEAUTIFUL handmade glass gaming pieces from Tillerman Beads. These are based on finds from grave 750 at the Viking-age town of Birka in Sweden and are about the fanciest gaming set you can have unless you’re going for carved ivory or gold (as in some sagas). I’ve long had a glass Hnef (the name given in Icelandic sagas to the centre piece) but it is machine-made and very regular. The pieces that accompany it are simple glass “pebbles” sold as pot toppers, which closely resemble some Roman pieces. This set is a much better match for the original finds.

Replica glass gaming pieces

The grave at Birka contained 8 dark pieces, 17 light ones. Al gave me 9 dark pieces and 17 light ones, which provides a spare of each colour if you are playing tablut, and also allows you to play merels or nine men’s morris. Tablut is the version of the game that Carl Linneus recorded and is played on a 9×9 board with 8 defenders, 16 attackers.

Ready for a game of “tablut”
Ready for a game of merels

If you’d like to know more about the game of “hnefatafl” (it has several names and variants) you can read my article about the possible origin of the name “Hnefatafl” and see the other replica glass “Hnef” on my website. And of course there are lots of web pages out there with information about the game

Wintery bits and bobs

Here are a few photos from the last month of things in and around Rumwoldstow. It’s the off season but it’s still always interesting to take a wander down and see what’s occurring!

A pony in the neighbours’ meadow, which is called Barton
(the meadow, not the pony)
Bird’s nest, recovered from the top of the pivot stone in the gatehouse
Pivot stone in the gatehouse!
Frost and flood in late November
Wild geese on the meadow to the north
Rainbow moon
It rained last night…the River Cherwell is about as high as I’ve seen it…all the lower part of the orchard is flooded and it’s raining again now!

Medlar jelly

Despite the general distractions of life, I managed to gather a fair proportion of the medlars, which by November were falling from the tree. The medlar is the only new tree so far to give a good crop of fruit. Most of the fruit trees were planted in 2018, so they’re five years old, and generally look healthy, and flower well, but are giving between “some” and “no” fruit (YES “Fairleigh” damson tree I AM looking at you).

I put the medlars in the utility room and within a couple of weeks they had “bletted” and were ready to eat / use. Raw medlars are good with cheese, but I don’t regularly eat a cheese course after dinner, so wanted to find some other way to use them.

The medlars are strangely attractive to ladybirds
The freshly gathered fruit – still firm and green in the middle, no good to eat yet

Medlars are tasty, but even once you’ve bletted them, they are not easy to eat; the pulp inside the “hip” is good, but there are plenty of seeds and fibrous bits. So this year, I tried boiling them medlars for syrup.

The medlars rise to the top as they cook, and can be squished with a spoon
Post squishing, the fruit sink down again…

I strained the juice overnight through muslin. It’s a shame to waste so much of the fruit pulp, but I just did not have the time or energy to separate pulp from skin, seeds and fibre this year. The juice didn’t look particularly promising, but I froze a box of it to use later for a flavoured mead, and made the rest into jelly.

8 lbs medlars and 11 pints water yielded about 6 pints of juice.

Medlar Jelly
  • 3 pints strained medlar juice
  • 3 lbs granulated sugar
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 bottle (125 ml) “Certo” apple pectin.

I boiled the jelly for a good hour and a half before it finally reached a setting point. This was much longer than I expected, as the Certo is meant to reduce cooking time and improve set. On initial tasting, I thought there was too much lemon juice, but actually it’s fine. The jelly gradually turned a very pleasing clear orangy colour, and has a delicate flavour. It’s a bit stickier than would be ideal because of the long boiling – it’s on the verge of turning into caramel – another time, maybe more Certo? For traditional jellies like blackberry, I use unripe apples in August / September, which are chock full of pectin. As the medlars aren’t ready to use until December, the apples are far too ripe to provide pectin.

The finished jelly, with two medlars that I left uncooked for their story value (and indeed gave to a friend a few weeks later)

The rest of the juice is in the freezer and I plan to try making a mead with honey, medlar juice and apples. This will be a longer term project!

Booth me up, baby

A monastery can never have too many outbuildings. Obviously! Al’s latest construction is something that was originally conceived as a log store with a working area in the middle, but it’s coming out as more of a generally useful covered space with good light.

Great use of an old pergola for the main frame
Pallet wood cladding
Al at work on the roof battens
Well placed to catch the afternoon sun
Too good for a wood store!

The Great Booth is not quite finished – Al is still collecting the last few extra-long pallets to break down for roof timbers – but doesn’t it look great?