April 2013 – rhubarb, rhubarb, rhublog……

Rhubarb harvested in forcing sheds

“The best of all merchandise coming to Samarkand was from China: especially silks, satins, musk, rubies, diamonds, pearls, and rhubarb…”  reported  the embassy official Ruy Gonzáles de Clavijo, 1403-05 from his post in Timur. Rhubarb progressed steadily from the East to the banks of the Volga (where is got its name) and across Europe.

In 2010 the UK growers of the rhubarb triangle (now bounded by Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell, Yorks) claimed a victory in their application to have forced rhubarb included on the list of European Commission’s Protected Food Names along with Champagne and Parma Ham.

Forced rhubarb spends two years growing, without being harvested, in an open field to build up strength and reserves in the crowns which are transferred to grow their third year (or few months, in reality) in sheds and are harvested between from Christmas until February. The stems are totally pink, very tender, long and etiolated. Their strength spent, the crowns are consigned to the compost heap.

Full of promise, my rhubarb crowns have been slowly unfurling throughout February –  they have survived March’s snow-covering and yesterday were ready for the first “pull”.  I have never ventured into forcing my barb, but really make the most of the main crop – which seems to last from April through to July or early August. I’m not much of a gardener but so long as I give these crowns a good dose of fresh compost each autumn they seem to thrive;  this year I think it will be time to split the crowns which have quadrupled in three years.

Rhubarb Crowns

Rhubarb Timperley Early with large chains to prevent hens scratching at the crowns as they emerge.

Here is a recipe for Rhubarb Custard Cake, courtesy of Helen Creese from Salvation Cafe, originally from an “Australian Womans Weekly Baking Book” which I have tried out on my family over Easter, thanks, Helen – they loved it.

Rhubarb Custard Cake

Rhubarb Custard Cake – first pickings got at by family before lens cap could be removed

Our Calendar Blogs

This year our Letterpress Calendar is interactive. Each month has a subject related to produce from Herefordshire. Each monthly post develops this subject with an activity, visit, walk, recipe to do with the subject.

Calendar Blogs

Beer – March 2013, Calendar Blog

Once a national centre for hop growing, Ledbury is now encircled by some very fine small breweries producing a great selection of bottled and cask conditioned beers. One such is Wye Valley Brewery at Stoke Lacy, celebrating its 28th year, this year. This family-run brewery has garnered several prestigious awards including Best Drinks Producer for the BBC Food and Farming Awards. Apart from its impressive range of beers, the owners, the Amor family, take a long term view of their business which includes investing in public houses. The brewery boasts five Wye Valley pubs within striking distance of the brewery.

hops and barley for Butty Bach

Without being too partial, I would say that until I tasted Wye Valley’s Butty Bach I was not a beer drinker – so the brewery can claim this convert. It seems that I am not alone – orders from Russia have recently seen Dorothy Goodbody set off on travels East – so a local beer with international appeal.

Dorothy GoodbodyDorothy Goodbody - a hit in Russia

A good place to try lots of Herefordshire’s ales is our local, “The Prince” just around the corner from Tinsmiths. They always have a good selection of regular and visiting ales.

Prince of Wales Ledbury

With Wye Valley and other small producers going from strength to strength, can it be long before we see the rise of hop-growing in East Herefordshire?

Other breweries near Ledbury to look out for are:

Teme Valley Brewery


Ledbury Real Ales Brewery

Bread – February 2013

This won’t be the first time you have heard that the “Teme Valley Farmer’s Market” is a favorite. Let me reveal, however one reason for the passion. THE BREAD…..and most especially the CHELSEA BUNS. The second Sunday of the month (this month is 10th February, one after is 10th March; market runs 10.30-1pm) is sacred – a trip to the Market at the Talbot, Knightwick, Worcestershire involves a smacking of the lips in anticipation as I wait (and sometimes queue) for bread and buns to emerge from the ovens of Lorentzen Bakery which is tucked away behind the old coaching inn. Lorentzen make the most satisfyingly sour of sour dough loaves – so holey, like an extreme gruyere. The loaves are laid down for later in the day but the buns (hot, sweet and cinammony) barely survive the first few stiles on our walk in the Valley and here is one route we sometimes take, if you fancy trying out my idea of a perfect Sunday morning. If you feel like a day long ramble the produce stalls supply a very superior and local picnic.

sour dough from Lorentzen bakery at Teme Valley Farmers Market

Teme Valley Walk

1 1/2 hour walk – moderate terrain – a lovely walk, with just one part that is a little wet, so good boots are necessary. Click here for directions. If you would like to print the directions, save it to your desktop and open in Adobe Reader, from here you can make a print-out.

Water – January 2013

Welcome to our first post linked to Tinsmiths 2013 Letterpress Calendar. This month’s subject is Water. Being close to the Malvern Hills on the border of Herefordshire and Worcestershire, with its numerous springs and wells, we have mapped out a short New Year Walk close to one of the purest sources of Malvern Water with suggestions of many other and longer expeditions to be found on the Malvern Hills AONB website.

Taking the Waters at Malvern

The Hills rise dramatically from the Severn Valley and divide the rolling hills of Herefordshire from Worcestershire’s Vale of Evesham. The first record of spring water being bottled in the UK is from 1622, at Holy Well. The well was later used by the Schweppes Company as the source for bottled Malvern Water sold at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Malvern developed markedly from the middle of the nineteenth century when visitors such as Darwin, Tennyson and Florence Nightingale took to the waters. The hills themselves bear obvious signs of human habitation from the earliest times and our walk includes a visit to British Camp on of the most dramatic ironage hill forts in the country. The Malvern Spa Association website is a great source of information, they co-ordinate an annual “Well Dressing” – an event historically held to thank St.Oswald for the efficacy of the water.

Collecting your adam’s ale from “the wild” needs a little thought and the Malvern Spa Association offer advice and reviews of the wells and the water emerging from them. Taking their recommendation of the “connoisseurs” well at Evendine, just off Jubilee Drive, not far from British Camp we suggest a short walk close to Evendine Spring. See map below.

British Camp - Iron Age Hill Fort

British Camp - Iron Age Hill Fort

Tinsmiths’ Gasper – a short puff to get heart and lungs going (30-40 mins)

Running along the Ramparts at British Camp

The Hills offer a great variety of walks from a gentle stroll to reasonably challenging treks, some walks are possible with a buggy and children love the freedom of the wide open spaces. The Malvern Hills Conservators website has details of the many car parks around the Hills, together with details of the ‘Access for All’ trails and much other useful information for getting the most out of any visit to the Malvern Hills. ‘Malvern Hills area of outstanding natural beauty’ website also offers useful information of the area together with some good ‘Discovery Walks’.Our walk is a quick walk around ‘British Camp’ (‘Herefordshire Beacon’), easily achievable in an hour it provides a steep climb to the summit and gentle walk along the ridge and back along the east side of the hill to the car park – enough to take the edge of the under 10s energy levels or make you feel justified in second helpings but not strenuous enough to cause blisters, family rows or aching limbs. This walk can get pretty busy at weekends but once out of the carpark there seems to be plenty of wide open spaces and the monumental beautyof the Iron Age hill fort and the stunning views over the Severn valley to the east and to the west across all of Herefordshire to the Black Mountains in Wales take your breath away.

Take the path from the car park on to the hill (there are three, this is closest to the main road) and take the right fork (marked to British Camp) at the top of the steps/tarmac slope. Follow the path to the top of the camp (the gasping bit) – you’ll see the Severn Valley on your left as you proceed and from the top you can see most of Herefordshire. Look out for Eastnor Castle in the near distance. When you have had your fill carry on in the same direction over Millennium Hill and down steps to a saddle in the hills where several paths cross – there is a small stone circle marking the place. From here turn left and return to the car park via this lower and gently sloping path which follows the contours of the hill. Look out for tower of  Little Malvern Court (14th century prior’s hall) ahead and below – the garden and house are open Wed. & Thurs afternoons in the spring and all day on 17.3.13 and 6.5.13 for fundraising events.

Map showing paths to British Camp

If you would like to finish the expedition by drawing some Malvern Water, head a few yards along Jubilee Drive (B4232) which is just opposite the car park heading along the hills. Evendine Spring is at the “V” of the first lane on your left – Evendine Lane. Happy New Year from all of us at Tinsmiths and look out for our next Calendar post – February’s topic is BREAD.