The Hambledon Deux-ans

Last year for the first time we got a couple of apples from the young Hambledon Deux-ans apple tree, planted nearly five years ago now. It was the tree that was most munched by enthusiastic young cows in its first year and I’m honestly chuffed that it’s alive at all. I put the apples in the dining room and kept meaning to move them somewhere cooler but never got round to it, and finally decided to just eat them!

All things considered, I think the apple didn’t do too badly; more than half of it was eatable, though very tart. I can see why it’s described as a cooker. Fingers crossed the tree will do better this year, though with the hazards of drought and late frost, it’s an absolute unknown quantity.

Yew tree and moonlight

Our good friend the Bogwitch made a reappearance over the midwinter festival and despite her incomprehensible ramblings in some strange language, she bore a gift! A yew tree, without which indeed no chapel or church is complete, and it has absolutely no pagan significance whatsoever. It’s on the small side and it’ll probably continue to live in a pot, as we don’t want it to be out in the orchard where livestock might nibble it. Yew is toxic, leaf berry and wood, so don’t mess with it.

Ah, I haven’t introduced you to the Bogwitch. Well, that’s something to look forward to! She’s….a bit of a character.

Anyway, yes, here’s a lovely tree. It needs a bit more soil in the pot, if it only stops raining for long enough I’ll get out there and fix it up.

I awoke before dawn (not so hard in early January) and was lured outside by the shimmer of moonlight on water…Lake Meadow is flooded good and proper, and looked very pretty.

As it was about 6am the moon, though full, wasn’t very high in the sky. But still, you get the idea, and it was well worth getting out of bed for. And I’m impressed that the camera on my phone managed to make any sense of the scene!

The second pippin

A few months ago, Brother Alf scavenged a few apples for me from a tree growing wild nearby. It is on the edge of a small thicket of unmanaged woodland and An Expert has said it looks like a pippin – that is, a tree that grew from seed, probably from a commercial apple which somebody cast aside (well, the core thereof). I ate one of the apples immediately, sent the second to The Expert, and kept the third one until yesterday. It shrivelled up but proved sound and still very tasty.

So the apples are at least moderately good keepers – still good in late December – and in the spring I will try to get The Expert to graft some cuttings so we can have a legit instance of the tree in our orchard.

Sadly, the local rats have discovered the apple store, which we really shouldn’t have left in a doorless gatehouse but there was literally nowhere better to put it, and they have carefully eaten all the sweet eating apples. Last time I looked there were only the Bramleys left which are better than nothing but not as good when eaten raw, and some of them are going brown inside. For next year we will need to ratproof the store somehow. The traditional method for a granary is to raise it on “mushrooms”, shaped blocks that the rats can’t climb up. But a modern person would perhaps use wire mesh. The loss sucks, but definitely gives one an idea of life in an agrarian society where loss of stored food is a disaster. And where you have to be a bit more on the case 🙁

Introducing “ginger nun”

We are still rich in apples, they are literally falling off the tree now…we picked all the good apples from the “eater” in the Rumwoldstow orchard, but the Bramley in the garden continues to provide windfalls from above even after we picked the low-hanging fruit. To this end I am road-testing what I call “ginger nun”, a variant on “peasant girl with veil” (a traditional Danish recipe of stewed apple topped with fried, sweetened breadcrumbs, cream and grated chocolate).

I’ve left out the chocolate, and instead of sugar, I’ve mixed honey and ginger with the butter in which the breadcrumbs were fried.

Will “ginger nun” prove a winner or a sinner?

This made use of a good-sized colander full of the better windfalls, which had a good amount of usable fruit on each. We then picked up and sorted today’s windfalls – three buckets full! – and took them to the cows on Lake Meadow.

I was lazy and didn’t break all the apples up. Cows find whole apples hard to bite into…
And easy to drop!
Brother Alf took pity and stomped the apples into submission

Quince, apples and cows

The apple harvest continues with Al bravely venturing up a ladder to pick the best of the Bramleys which we sorted and laid carefully in the apple store, on most inauthentic sheets of newspaper. We also picked the best eaters from the old tree in the orchard, which we have gradually restored to “tree shaped” after years of it being driven northwards in a quest for light which was occluded by a dark wall of leilandii.

I also picked the three “Hambledon Deux Ans” apples, the first fruit we’ve seen on the tree, which was planted in 2018. Creating an orchard is a slow game. I have not yet eaten any of them; they are supposed to be a very good keeper, so I should eat one now and then leave the others for some months at least.

Three apples from the Hambledon Deux Ans, one of the trees we planted in May 2018, and a pear from the Louise Bonne of Jersey tree planted at the same time.

The Louise Bonne of Jersey gave us half a dozen or so good pears this year; it seems to be quite biennial already so I’m glad to have put in a couple more pear trees this year.

Another first for the year is that our “Portugal” quince, planted May 2018, produced five quinces! Last year there was one very shrivelled and unappealing fruit, so this is a great step forward. I harvested them, peeled and poached them in a light syrup. They have a surprising orange fragrance.

“Portugal” quinces on the tree
Five quinces! What a bounty!
Poached quince

The flavour of quince is…interesting. It’s not unpleasant, but a bit like mango I am unused to it and it’s strange to me. This variety was quick to cook and I found some interesting information about the quince in wikipedia.

The quince is another fruit, like the medlar, which may be rendered edible by “bletting” – softening by frost and subsequent decay. They are commonly cooked, being hard and astringent when raw, and the term “marmalade” originally meant a quince jam, being derived from the Portugese word for the fruit, marmelo.

The quince is traditionally used to treat digestive disorders and may reduce symptoms of early pregnancy such as vomiting and nausea; a 2016 article outlines a wealth of possible pharmaceutical uses of the fruit and seeds.

I leave you with a photo of the cattle on Lake Meadow, who kindly agreed to dispose of the windfalls that I can’t be bothered to process.

Scrumping a pippin?

Despite Rumwoldstow having been in existence for some years now, and the Quest of the Pippin of St Rumwold being in its third active year, it was only this month that I consciously recognised an apple tree on a nearby inaccessible bit of land as being of potential interest, in that we have no record of that land having ever been cultivated so it might be a pippin, that is a unique variety grown from seed, perhaps because of a carelessly discarded fruit.

Brother Alf kindly hitched up his robes and acquired me a couple of fruits to try. Our local heritage tree expert took a look at the photos and said they might be similar to an Ellisons Orange, an early (c1905) cross of Cox’s Orange Pippin, and that he’s previously noticed the tree and thinks it looks like a pippin.

Wild? They were livid
The mystery apples

On the Apple Tree Man’s advice, I ate one immediately, and will see how well the other keeps. It had indeed a faint perfume and flavour of aniseed, consistent Ellison’s, and was a fresh, tasty apple of good size.

Ancient and modern…

We are at present wealthy with apples! We picked as many as we could reach from the two mature trees in the garden – one Bramley, and one eater of unknown provenance, and layered the best of them in an apple store in the west gatehouse, on newspaper and separated from each other to prevent rot from spreading between fruits. I don’t know how well any of them will keep, but at least we’re giving it our best shot. And we have at present a supply of windfalls and imperfect fruits which need to be either processed to turn anything usable into stewed apple or crumble, or piled into buckets and given to the cows on Lake Meadow.

Bramley apples going into store. Of course the variety should be named the Brailsford after Mary Ann Brailsford who actually grew the original tree in 1809.

Bishop Godfrid

The humble monastery of Rumwoldstow was honoured to be visited by the esteemed bishop, Godfrid, and his utterly splendid cat Isidore. As Rumwoldstow exists before the Benedictine reforms of the mid-tenth century, the monastery and the behaviour of the nuns would not have been subject to very strict inspection.

Bishop Godfrid and Isidore

However, Godfrid’s visit caused much consternation, as is told in a linked set of short videos made in association with the Dark Ages Society:
Bishop Godfrid visits Rumwoldstow, a tale in video

Not interested in videos? Well, the only other news is that the wild strawberries which have taken over part of the garden are ripe. And while the nuns live on a simple diet, it would be sinful to waste the lord’s bounty!

Local rafters

Some six years ago now, we moved to the house adjoining what is now Rumwoldstow. At that time, there were two self-seeded sycamore trees which overshadowed the walled garden almost entirely, being to the south. We somewhat sadly had them felled (we’ve planted other trees in more suitable locations) and one of them had a fine section of trunk that I couldn’t bear to waste, so we had some guys with a mobile sawmill cut it into beams. At the time, Rumwoldstow was a very faint beginnings of an idea and we had little in the way of plan for using the beams. However, thanks to Al’s hard work, they have now come into their own! He has used them to build the rafters for the central gatehouse tunnel; they are perfect, and were just sufficient for the job!

It’s great to make a showpiece of timber that has travelled no more than 50m from where it grew.

Pallets, a most versatile resource
Looking westwards from the working platform

The rafters over the guardrooms to the sides of the gatehouse tunnel are ordinary timber bought from a builders’ merchant. But it won’t be as visible.

Looking down into the west guardroom which now has a floor!
And the view to the south
I’m still hoping we will get one or two pears from the Uvedale St Germain, now in its fourth year
And at last, the Hambledon Deux Ans has recovered enough from the Great Cow Incursion of 2018 to flower and set a few fruits!
Bullocks and heifers on Lake Meadow. These are not the same beasts as 2018 but you still can’t trust them…

One final shot of the garden, which has been strimmed so you can actually walk around it. Slightly inauthentic borage – the Romans had it, and the later mediaevals, but I don’t know of evidence of it in the tenth century. But it’s covered in bees. The Iris Germanica didn’t flower last year, apart from one randomly white blossom, but the plants have filled out excellently and we have some nice purple flowers.

A metaphorical milestone

I think we’ve been working on the Roman gatehouse for 2 years now? Yes I could check, that’s why I have a blog, but I can’t be bothered just now. A point of some anxiety has been how to construct the blocks to hold the top of the gate pivot posts. Just as the arches had to be right, the gates also need to look right and move in the right way. Al finally worked out a plan, possibly prompted by the near arrival of Chris the stonemason, and cast the first of the two incredibly important blocks! I keep wanting to call them corbels, but corbels are meant to hold things up, whereas these blocks are for holding something in place below them. Anybody know what they are called? There must be a technical name for them apart from “big stone with a hole in to hold the gate pivot in place”.

The first metaphorical milestone, fresh out of its mould

Al made a rectangular mould with think plywood scavenged from a pallet to form the curve, and a bit of plastic drain pipe to leave the hole for the pivot post. This will remain in place and will be undetectable unless some irritating person goes up there on a ladder with a torch determined to find fault. And none of you would do that would you?

The hole needs to be vertical
Really, absolutely vertical!
And there it is!
Obviously I had to climb up Pallet Mountain for a closer look
The block from above
and Al from above
View from the battlements, to the south…
The north…
and the south-east
The back of the not-corbel, from inside a guard room
Proud builders, Al and Chris
Later in the day, with a course of blocks over it
The second block, just cast!
Honestly, I’d just done a load of pruning and tidying up. It was much worse before.

I took advantage of the spring sunshine to cut back the wormwood, southernwood, costmary and some other plants. And to observe how well traditional plants self-seed where you don’t want them…

Of course I now feel that we ought to have a real milestone. Out along Green Street perhaps?

The three trees of February

The tree specialist in the next village sold me three new fruit trees for the orchard. They had to sit in the shed with their lower appendages swathed in bubble wrap for two days until we had time to get out and plant them. What have we got?

Pear: Winter Nelis. This is a heritage variety known from the early 19th century and its pears are apparently not a super pretty fruit, but sweet with a good flavour. And they’re said to keep into January. On the down side the tree prefers a sheltered spot and our orchard is quite exposed with the chilly meadow to the west.

Pear: Jargonelle. First recorded in 1629 but thought to be older, so a great pear for our early mediaeval orchard. It’s an early pear but to my surprise, our existing Louise Bonne and the new Winter Nelis are apparently all suitable pollination partners. The tree man knows his stuff!

Plum: St Julien. I found very little on t’internet about the St Julien as a tree in its own right, as it is so widely used as a rootstock. But the tree man said it produces a tasty green plum, and is actually one of the earliest cultivars around, so a great fit for us – and unusual, which is part of our thing. One forum post suggested the fruit is best dried, but another described the fruit as complex, sweet when perfectly ripe but potentially acidic. I am excited to let this little tree develop naturally and do its thing, whatever it turns out to be!

The trees as they were delivered!
Al digging a hole for the Winter Nelis
The neighbours’ pony taking an interest
Is that a very small grave? No, it’s a hole ready for my tree!
And here is my Winter Nelis all planted!
The Jargonelle in place
Both new trees!

The Jargonelle and Winter Nelis are quite close together, and to the quince and the Hambledon Deux Ans apple, but the I couldn’t choose between these two and had to have them both, and they needed to be planted further from the place where they diseased Victoria plum was removed last year, which restricted my options somewhat. I will need to keep them relatively small but that will make it easier to pick the fruit. Anyway, more trees for the win!

The St Julian, free to grow its own canopy

Finally, the St Julien plum is so small that I decided to stick it in a pot for a year or two to gain some height, otherwise we’ll lose the poor thing in the undergrowth. This pot had dwarf beans last year which didn’t do well and anyway are an annual, so there was a handy pot with soil and no plants. I might try beans around the side this year and hope for a better harvest. They actually did better in 2019 even though the sheep got out and had a munch at them before exploring the road (and then retreating swiftly when they saw the cars).