Thursday, 31 October 2013

Bonfire Party

With Halloween behind us, the next event in the social diary is, of course, Bonfire Night.

As a celebration it is, unfortunately, quickly becoming overshadowed by the lure of Halloween, but with the right planning, a Bonfire party can be a great night, guaranteed to draw in friends and neighbours looking to avoid the overpriced and crowded organised events.

The tradition of lighting bonfires in November precedes the Gunpowder plot. In Ireland and Scotland fires were lit on the hilltops on the 1st of November to mark the first day of winter. In North Wales the autumnal fire was called coel coeth and was accompanied by rituals such as leaping through the fire, throwing nuts into the fire and biting at apples suspended from a string.

This history of bonfire night should be taken as encouragement to celebrate the start of winter with the community and share some warming, wholesome food. No Bonfire party would be complete without good, hearty food, to give your guests something to stay for and chat over after the excitement of the fireworks. Why not try spicy sausages in french baguettes with mustard and caramelised onions, or homemade beef burgers in seeded baps. Cups of pumpkin soup are a great way to use up the halloween pumpkin and baked camembert with rustic garlic bread is a great sharing dish to bring everyone together.

Toffee Apples are a favourite with both children and adults and BBC Good Food gives us a simple recipe or these festive treats:

  • 8 Granny Smith apples
  • 400g golden caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • 4 tbsp golden syrup
  1. Place the apples in a large bowl, then cover with boiling water (you may have to do this in 2 batches). This will remove the waxy coating and help the caramel to stick. Dry thoroughly and twist off any stalks. Push a wooden skewer or lolly stick into the stalk end of each apple.
  2. Lay out a sheet of baking parchment and place the apples on this, close to your stovetop. Tip the sugar into a pan along with 100ml water and set over a medium heat. Cook for 5 mins until the sugar dissolves, then stir in the vinegar and syrup. Set a sugar thermometer in the pan and boil to 140C or 'hard crack' stage. If you don’t have a thermometer you can test the toffee by pouring a little into a bowl of cold water. It should harden instantly and, when removed, be brittle and easy to break. If you can still squish the toffee, continue to boil it.
  3. Working quickly and carefully, dip and twist each apple in the hot toffee until covered, let any excess drip away, then place on the baking parchment to harden. You may have to heat the toffee a little if the temperature drops and it starts to feel thick and viscous. Leave the toffee to cool before eating. Can be made up to 2 days in advance, stored in a dry place.

Another Bonfire favourite is the hog roast. A simple recipe to prepare in advance is pulled pork. Cooked slowly, pulled pork is tender and delicious and will leave your house smelling wonderful! Try BBC Good Food's recipe for Maple Mustard Pulled Pork, served with soft baps at your party .

  • 200g sea salt
  • 300g light muscovado sugar
  • 2kg/4lb 8oz piece pork shoulder
  • 100ml maple syrup
  • 100g wholegrain mustard
  • 2 tbsp English mustard powder
  1. Mix the sea salt and 200g of the sugar in a large food bag, add the pork and coat it well. (If you don’t have a bag, rub over the pork in a dish and cover with cling film.) Leave in the fridge overnight.
  2. The next day, remove the pork and wipe down the meat with kitchen paper. Heat oven to 140C/120C fan/gas 1. Mix the remaining sugar, the maple syrup, mustards and some ground pepper. Rub half the mixture over the pork and sit it on a rack in a roasting tin. Roast for 6 hrs.
  3. Spoon the remaining maple mixture over the pork and roast for 1 hr more.
  4. Rest the meat for 30 mins on a plate loosely covered with foil. To serve, tear the pork into big fat chunks and, after skimming the surface, spoon over any juices from the tin.

Monday, 21 October 2013

A Traditional Halloween

With Halloween approaching, this weekend will likely see children across the country dressing up and going out trick or treating. Whilst many bemoan this 'Americanisation' of a traditional celebration, the current trends for celebrating Halloween are not far removed from centuries old British (Celtic and Gaelic) tradition.

The original Hallows Eve festivities marked the end of the harvest season and the start of the 'darker half' of the year. It was seen as a time when spirits and fairies could more easily move into our world and were especially active.

In the English Hallowmas celebrations, households often put candles burning in the windows of every room to guide the souls back to visit their earthly homes. Spirits were welcomed back into their former houses, feasts were had to which the souls of departed kin were beckoned and places were set for them at the table. However, some spirits and fairies could cause harm and needed to be warded off. Bonfires were considered to be protective and cleansing, and this may be an additional origin of our modern day bonfire festivals.


By the end of the 12th century is was customary for criers to parade the streets dressed in black, ringing a bell and calling for good Christians to remember the souls of the dead.

In Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Mann 'mumming and guising' was a Halloween celebration, the latter of which goes back at least to the 18th century. In this celebration people went from house to house in costume or disguise, reciting songs in exchange for food. Souling was the tradition of baking and sharing 'soul cakes' for all christened souls and this has been suggested as the origin of trick or treating. Possibly originating in Celtic tradition, costumes were a means of imitating or disguising oneself from spirits and fairies. The traditional belief was that the dead wandered the earth until All Saints Day, and All Hallows Eve provided their last chance to gain vengeance on their living enemies, before moving on to the next life. Donning masks and costumes was a way for people to disguise their identities from any souls seeking them out.

During these celebrations people would also carry lamps, or Jack 'o' lanterns, often carved from turnips or potatoes. Grotesque faces would be carved into them to represent or repel evil spirits and goblins. In later centuries immigrants to America found that the native pumpkin made a far better lantern, and the current tradition began.

Halloween recipes often focus on pumpkins, but, as we have mentioned traditional Halloween cakes in this blog, we should look at these. In England 'soul cakes' were small, round cakes, filled with allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger with raisins and currents. Very much like present day hot cross buns they were marked on the top with a cross.

Barmbrack loaf and English Soul Cakes. 

In Ireland the traditional Halloween cake is Barmbrack, again a fruit loaf with sweet spices. The Halloween brack traditionally contained various items such as, a ring, a coin, a piece of cloth, a stick and a pea. When the cake was divided up each recipient would have an item in their slice. Each item represented meaning to the person receiving them, usually concerning their marriage prospects or fortune.   


Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Half Term Activities

Half term is looming over us again and for many families the important question is, how to entertain the family in this last break before Christmas?
With Halloween also coming up, why not combine the two and treat the kids to a day out to a spooky castle, take a spine chilling ghost walk, or, for the not-so-brave, a trip to a working farm or Victorian estate where children can learn about traditional preparations for 'All Hallows Eve' and the festive season.

Warwick Castle is a great destination for the whole family, with jousting, falconry displays, a working trebuchet, dungeons to explore and a Royal Weekend Party theme. From 24th October to 2nd November the Castle is hosting Halloween at the Haunted Castle. There will be a range of spooky events from 10am – 9pm giving children the chance to interact with the history of the castle.

Set in 500 acres of parkland. Leeds Castle, near Maidstone, Kent has being described as 'the loveliest castle in the world'. From 26th October to 3rd November it is hosting 'Halloween at Half Term'. Childrens activities include creepy crafts, face painting and a pumpkin trail through the grounds. For adults and older children the castle hosts Blood, Boils and Black Death Evening Halloween Tour, on October 31st. A guided walk through the castles gruesome history, not for the faint hearted!

For fans of the Harry Potter films (who isn't), Alnwick Castle would make a perfect day out. Alnwick Castle featured in the first two films as a stand in for exterior and interior shots of Hogwarts. This Halloween the theme is continued, with Harry Potter inspired activities and spooky tours!

Venture back to bygone days with a trip to Blists Hill Victorian Museum, in the World Heritage Site of Ironbridge in Shropshire. A working, Victorian town it will tempt you with delicious, traditionally made fish and chips, a bakery and old fashioned sweet shop. On October 26 the town will hold its annual Ghostly Gaslight, from 6pm to 9pm.

Staffordshire's Shugborough Hall, in 900 acres of parkland and riverside gardens, features a working Victorian servants quarters, Georgian farm, dairy and mill and a walled garden. From 26th October to 1st November it is holding an Autumn Activity Week for children, with crafts, pumpkin carving, trails, baking and cheese-making.  


Great UK (Dog Friendly!) Autumn Getaways

Autumn is a beautiful, tranquil season across the UK. The crowds of summer are long gone and crisp, bright days are ideal for taking in the beautiful colours across the landscape. If a UK autumn getaway sounds appealing, why not bring the dog along too! There are many dog friendly retreats up and down the country, and not just self catering. Here we have compiled a range of options from far and wide across the land, in hotels, castles, lodges and farmstays for you and your four-legged friend!

Scotland: If a trip to the Scottish Highlands sounds like a perfect getaway this autumn, take a look at Tomich Holidays. These self catering cottages and woodland lodges overlook Glenn Affric, close to Loch Ness. Spectacular views and scenic walks are guaranteed, with woodland walks, hidden waterfalls and ancient Caledonian pine woods all on the doorstep.

Push the boat out for a special occassional or treat, at the stunning and much sought after Ackergill Tower. Located on the coastline of northern Scotland, in Sinclairs Bay, Wick, it is the perfect retreat from which to explore the beautiful, rural wilderness and the range of outdoor activities on offer in Caithness.

Bedroom at Ackergill Tower. 

Lake District: Close to Windermere, 22 Thirlmere is a cosy, detached lodge, sleeping up to six people. Featuring a decked terrace with private hot tub, furniture and fire pit barbeque, it is an ideal place to relax with friends or family.

Deep in Cumbria's National Park, overlooking the famous Langdale Valley, Blelham Tarn sits in tranquil, secluded woodland. Step right out onto the fells and enjoy the natural scenery.


                              22 Thirlmere (left) and Blelham Tarn (right) in the Lake District                                                                                               
Yorkshire: Treat yourself and your dog to a break in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales.
Family owned since 1739, The Talbot Hotel at Malton is perfectly placed for exploring the wild North Yorkshire Moors, the dramatic coastline of Robin Hood's Bay and the stately home and gardens of Castle Howard. Malton is a growing tourist town with a thriving market and emerging reputation as a food lovers paradise. The Talbot Hotel is a good choice for food lovers, with chef James Martin now in charge of the kitchen.

The Stone House in Hawes, Wensleydale is a scenic rural retreat, ideal for a relaxing short break in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

The Peak District is a mix of stunning scenery with many charming villages to explore and to unwind in a country pub at the end of a long day. Situated near the town of Bakewell, Burton Manor Farm boasts six self catering holiday cottages, created out of converted former farm buildings, on a working family farm near Over Haddon, right in the heart of the National Park.

Nestled on the edge of the National Forest and the Peak District, Oaklands Country Lodges comprises three, luxury, four star timber cabins. Within easy reach of attractions like Chatsworth House, Alton Towers, Uttoxeter Racecourse and Tutbury Castle. The area has many walking paths, cycle routes and outdoor pursuits opportunities.  

In the heart of Devon's Dartmoor National Park is Burnville Farm, near the village of Tavistock. This Georgian house, with 250 acre livestock farm, offers B+B or self catering options, and dogs are welcomed.

With easy access to Exmoor and the North Devon coast, Country Ways Farm Cottages are an idyllic retreat, hidden away on a small Devon farm.

In the Cotswolds, spoil your dog with a short break to The Pear Tree at Purton. Set in the Wiltshire countryside, this Cotswold Stone former Vicarage offers free stays for dogs (with their fee paying humans of course!), treats in the room on arrival, bowl, a large bottle of mineral water, and a bath towel – incase they discover the lily pond!


In Witney, Oxfordshire, the Old Swan and Minster Mill offer luxury accommodation, with over 600 years of history. On the banks of the River Windrush, it is an ideal location for a fishing break or relax in the hotel's spa.

Snowdonia: For a short break with a difference look at Hywell Sele Lodge. This Tudor gothic style lodge stands guard over the deer park on the Nannau estate in southern Snowdonia.

If you prefer a log cabin resort, Trawsfynydd Holiday Village, near the Rhinog Mountains, is nestled on a hillside in the Snowdonia National Park.   


Friday, 4 October 2013

AW13 Style

Flicking through the pages of October's Vogue Magazine, you are dazzled by a myriad of autumn fashions. But nestled somewhere in the middle, a page of chic autumn threads in the classic English country style; tartan and knitwear being the predominant designs. Ralph Lauren's display in Harrods is reminiscent of a vintage weekend in the country; an array of chunky knits, tweed, tartan and houndstooth designs affirm our belief that, this autumn and winter, British heritage is king. This week we've put together a selection of seasonal favourites to help you stay stylish this winter.

Midlayers,  embrace chunky knitwear and bold checks....

        Barbour Ladies Cindall Shirt, Classic             Joules Avelyn Cable Knit Jumper in Red or Cream                                     

               Viyella Ladies Tartan Shirt                                 
                                                                                                          Musto Winchfield Zip Neck

Barbour Weymouth Half Zip Sweater                                                                                                                                                      Barbour Rannoch Men's Shirt                              

                                                                                                 Musto Windjammer Men's Zip Neck

Stay cosy with stylish Jackets...

       Brook Taverner Bradley Jacket     
                                                                                                      Musto Winchester Ladies Jacket

      Brook Taverner Munich Blazer   
                                                                                                              Joules Parade Tweed Jacket

Accessorise with a smart Holdall...