Notes from a Crowded Kitchen

A word in your ear: try not to be Spectrummy over Preserves. You know, if you possibly can. By Wednesday morning, with a busy day of baking ahead, I had gone through six batches of fruit-simmering-and-straining-and-boiling, and still had nothing I didn’t think would embarrass me. So, having stripped the hedgerows within 100 yards of my house, I was forced to walk – uphill! – an entire 5 minutes to Blackberry Eldorado. When I got there, given that the weather was perfect, the view was magnificent, and I was clearly going to be spending the remainder of the day like a demented Bumblebee with too many flowers to visit, I decided it was worth the time. And worth the walk. The uphill walk. (Note to self: go to the bloody gym.)


The inevitable thorn-woundings to my hands made the prospect of the lemon-squeezings scheduled later in the day more exciting (but I got off with less skin marmalisation than during batch 6, when I was collecting a pitiful few blackberries from my garden hedge at 10pm, clutching a million-watt torch and an earwig-collecting tub under one arm and ineffectually fending off menacing snaggle-toothed tentacle-fronds with the other). I collected half a kilo of blackberries, and returned to the house, with a To-Do list in the 20-somethings.

By 11am I had lemon drizzle cake, pate sucree for treacle tart, and chocolate brownies on the go. Simultaneously. Which went as well as spreading your attention load too thinly usually does.

The pate sucree was terribly overdone, and I put entirely too much lemon in the treacle, with the natural end result of Brown Lemony Stodge, of a solidity to fell armies at the knee, wielded correctly. Quelle horreur, etc.


The Chocolate Brownies tasted fab, (I used Betty’s suggested recipe, thank you!) but I overdid them very slightly – and had lined the correct-flat-dimensions-but-far-too-deep cake tin thoughtlessly, so I half-destroyed them lifting them out. The Lemon drizzle went well to begin with; I took it out of the oven at exactly the right moment, and crowed gleefully that This One Looked A Winner. I turned my attention to other things for 30 minutes – at which point I remembered I had completely forgotten to actually drizzle the bloody thing with lemon juice. Gah! I attempted to belatedly drown the thing, but it was stubborn, and having none of it.

Home-made Christmas decorations: I had bought some small glass bottles, and tinkered about with A) glass paint, B) printing little Bethlehem maps & camels for a sand-with-stuff-in bottle, and C) shoving sugar crystals around a fir tree sprig. I sieved some of the cleaner-looking sand from Harry’s playpit, both for the map bottle, and to weight the tin down. Ivy branches – which I successfully used as an entire Christmas Tree substitute at home last year


– provided Green Stuff.


I lectured myself firmly, around about teatime, to be relaxed, non-finickety and, above all, rapid constructing the Pew End. Harry and I spent several tense minutes measuring it: I had a dark suspicion that, when they stated 18 inches, they MEANT 18 inches; not 19, which mine seemed to want to end up at. I was reasonably pleased with it in the end, although the only close-up I have is before I’d finished being finickety and shifting it all about, which was… well, it was dark by then.


Darkness is evidently when my Inner Preserve Monster comes out to play. I boiled up the mighty 500ml of liquid that had emerged, sulkily, over the course of the day from an entire kilo of berries (500g of blackberries and 500g of assorted strawberries, raspberries and blueberries) with some jam sugar and stood over it like a neurotic hawk. Tutored somewhat by the many, many things that had gone wrong previously (7th batch, remember), I managed to withdraw it from the heat and insert it into a jar – a bloody small jar, with not much left over – around 11pm.


I had drawn a cow the previous evening. I should say, in truth, copied a cow. I simply trawled the net until I found a painting I liked the look of:

Hereford 12x12 811

and then tried to reproduce it in pencil.


You will be happy to hear that this attempt at abject cheating was doomed to failure, as it turned out I had read the schedule a little too literally, and had not understood that this was a children’s class. This saved me from mild embarrassment, as the other entries were all from budding Michaelangelos.

I interpreted ‘animal’ photograph loosely.


Harry had, unenthusiastically to begin with, then with increased gusto, set about decorating a cupcake after tea. I over-ruled all the skittery ideas he had (I am THAT type of parent. You may judge me) and instructed him exactly what to make, and how to go about it. I then pretty much stood back while he got on with it. Nothing caught on fire during this activity, which was reassuring, despite him wielding the garlic press with wild abandon.


So! By midnight, I had assembled:

  • 1 overdone, stodgy treacle tart
  • 5 delicious but cosmetically impaired chocolate brownies
  • 1 lemon drizzle, effectively, sans the drizzle.
  • 1 sock puppet giraffe
  • 1 hedgehog cupcake: fragile, and a bugger to transport
  • 1 bottle bag, ditto
  • 1 Christmas Decoration, ditto
  • 1 pew end flower arrangement, ditto
  • 1 13 inch runner bean
  • 1 jar of egg plum jam
  • 1 jar of chutney
  • 1 jar of lemon & lime marmalade
  • 1 jar – small – of berry jelly
  • 1 bottle (small) of raspberry and vanilla vodka
  • 1 drawing, cribbed, of a cow
  • 1 photograph of a monkey

In addition to this, I collected 5 white dahlias, a rose, and a pot plant from my parents at sparrowfart the following morning, before returning home, loading up the car, and driving – carefully – down the road, and – worriedly – across a field. Staging this bloody lot took some time, which was mildly stressful, as I had a major SEN meeting at school scheduled for 11.15.

And… the standard. Has improved. It appears this is the show to enter, these days, if you want the prestige. I was a little taken aback at the sheer size of some of the classes, blithely assuming it would be me, three of my friends, and a handful of the local WI, contributing entries.

My preserves were lost in what seemed like a monstrous assembly of jars.


I shuffled my tart surreptitiously into the midst of lovely-looking pastries, safe in the knowledge that only the names of the winners are revealed, and that my contributing link to the item in question was thus altogether undiscoverable if only I could bribe John to stay schtum.


I was expecting my interpretation of ‘decorated bottle bag’ to be a little out of left field, and so it proved.


Ditto the Christmas Decoration.

IMG_2187 IMG_2186

Monkey was clearly outclassed by many, although I felt he was an improvement on some.


My runner bean – far left – had immediate, and expected, inferiority issues.


My sole ambition with the pew end had been to appear broadly within my depth alongside the competition. Mine is far left, at the top. I was aching to whip a tape measure out on a couple of ’em, as mine was 17.5 inches precisely, but… no, Ann. No.


The children’s entries were fabulous, although I thought his giraffe stood a fairish chance



And… I am fed up with uploading photos.

I will leave you, pro tem, to wonder how we got on.

Try not to let the edge of your chair dig in too much.

7 Responses

  1. Glad teh brownies tasted good. I’m impressed. Surely there must be a prize for sheer quantity of entries? There you can’t possibly have any competition.

  2. Please tell me/us the judges came up with some uplifting remarks on some of your entries. I hope judges are selected for their sense of humor too? (Otherwise, what fun is there in a runner bean competition?!)
    City girl here very impressed
    hugs from Amsterdam!

  3. The picture of the beans about did me in. Hope you had a good nap when it was all said and done.

  4. Feel free to teach me how to use my kitchen any day!

  5. I will be checking to see how it all finished, and I wish I had been there to sample the “failures” as they were undoubtedly excellent themselves. I do understand that you need to respect the privacy of husband and growing child, but I am so happy to see you in print again. More, more. Also, I have never seen a pew end category in a fair here, although I have seen entries that made me say “pew.”

  6. I haven’t seen pew end either, although I’m surprised you don’t have our favourite – the Vegetable sculpture.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: