Please be careful if you’re wanting to cut down a patch of nettles at this time of year as you never know what is hiding in there. Having come across a disturbed nest of pheasant chicks the day before, I brought home the 10 eggs to see if anything could be done. 24 hours later, and a bit of careful ‘peeling’ to the ones already damaged and a hot water bottle for the ones still intact, 6 little souls survived. Delighted to say they are now being looked after by the youngsters at a local Care Farm
After having watched closed doors for over 40 minutes last night I must admit to feeling a little disappointed when I went to put the hens away that there wasn’t a crowd waiting for me and a huge cheer when I opened ours! What a gorgeous little chap the new Prince is, and I sounded just like my Mum when I said out loud ‘long fingers, he’ll play the piano!’
Come November there’ll be similar scenes, well maybe a little quieter, as one of my pals is due to have her daughter. Have to say we’re all excited and I keep finding myself looking at all things baby, as long as I don’t get asked if I’m the Grandparent I’ll be happy – memories of Tenbury Applefest last year still run deep!
Also happening in our world is that’s we’re full on with Food & Drink Festivals with our Cookery Theatres which is wonderful and it’s great to have livestock back on the bank again. I hadn’t realised just how much I have missed having something furry or hairy to play with.
I’m working at the first ever Cosford Food Festival this weekend whilst Glyn is over in Lampeter for theirs so a busy one ahead, good job those doors opened when they did then.
When Herefordshire, Shropshire, Warwickshire & Worcestershire Life Magazines ceased printing at the end of June it meant that my July column was never printed, so here it is (with slight change to the County extras) and it’s all about fish!
I feel very proud at the moment and it’s all because something has been named after me. At this point you may be thinking animal, perhaps a friend’s baby, if not then a sweet pea or rose? Well, none of the above, my name has been linked to cheese – a fermenting Cheddar to be precise called Katie 3 & 4, carefully crafted by Head Cheese maker Dudley Martin at Ludlow Food Centre when he used the milk from the weekends I relief milked for the Earl of Plymouth Estates – how lovely is that.
Summer is well and truly with us then, although I’ve only just removed the electric blanket from our bed and must admit to keeping a Kagool within easy reach. I reckon it stems from being brought up on the east coast in Grimsby, once the busiest fishing port in the UK.
I do wonder if I overdosed on fish as a child as I have to admit it doesn’t regularly feature in my diet. Apparently we should aim to eat two portions a week yet, four out of five households are more likely to eat fish only once a month with Salmon, Cod, Haddock, Tuna and Prawns being our favourites but we need to be looking at other species such as Saithe, Hake, Ling and Gurnard which sound more like members of the Swedish version of ‘Take That’ to me.
When fish is the topic of a cookery demonstration at festivals, you can always guarantee a large audience and alongside learning tips and hints on preparation and eating, you also hear about fishing practices. You’d think the same standards of care and attention is taken with fish as we do our farm animals, but sadly that’s not always the case. Some fish are being taken out of the sea faster than they can replenish themselves, and it isn’t just how many fish are being caught, it’s how we catch them. Something I can’t believe is legal is the use of dredgers on the seabed, dragging everything in their path destroying the habitat as it goes – horrific. There have been EU talks discussing the disgraceful dumping of unwanted fish so that’s a start, but a lot more needs to be done.
There are ways we can help and it’s down to the fish we buy although labelling is under scrutiny too. The only official requirement is for species name, approximate catch area and whether it was caught or farmed in fresh or seawater. Use your local Fishmonger if you’re lucky enough to have one and if you want to know which fish to eat and which to avoid, there’s the website of Marine Conservation Society based in Ross on Wye.
When you think Shropshire is the largest landlocked county in England it is blessed with experts when it comes to fish. For instance Fish House in Ludlow owned by Andy and third generation Fishmonger Louise Hackney and Fiona Asson who founded Fish in a Box and now runs Fiona on Fish with cookery courses and underground supper clubs. Fiona will be demonstrating as part of the very first RAF Cosford Food Festival this month and all being well with the weather, it will also feature the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Flypast.
One chap who knows his stuff is Tom Court from The Granary Restaurant at Shenstone near Kidderminster in Worcestershire. He’ll be taking part in the Five Chefs event celebrating the best of the county at the end of the month and we’ve just booked him to do a demo for Tenbury Countryside Show 3 August. Then there’s Martyn Emson who brought fish to the attention whilst chef patron at The Jolly Frog at Leintwardine and now runs Ludlow Traditional Smoke House from his home at Wigmore in Herefordshire and when he’s not doing that, he and Fishmonger Tony Wilkes from The Fish House in Ludlow run courses at the local college.
Things I have also learnt about fish whilst writing this column – most of them have taste buds all over their body which means they can taste without opening their mouths, and flat fish aren’t born flat, they begin life shaped round whereas I seem to have gone in the opposite direction – maybe it’s too much cheese!
I hadn’t planned on getting up so early, but I guess with it being the last day of the year might as well make the most of it! 3.45am it was, due to a wet nose from an elderly Border Collie who doesn’t always go through the night and too many years of milking cows followed by early breakfast radio means once I’m awake, I’m awake.
Not sure where the year has gone, but it has and it certainly will leave its mark especially with losing Glyn’s Mum in November.
Early on we had to say goodbye to our woolly and furry friends as we lost our patch of rented ground. We still have regular updates and all are doing brilliantly I’m pleased to report. Blossom and Ruby both in calf, Lily, Lottie and Shirl in lamb and dear Gracie still growing and best friends with fellow Highlander Button. Never a day goes by without me thinking about them but with all the rain we’ve had I know it would have been tough going here as I’m not the best on a slippery bank and where they’ve gone they stil are on grass and not on hay where as here, we’d have started feeding them end of October so they’re much better where they are. I’ll probably look at having something on our own 3 acre patch next year, but I won’t keep cattle again, not until the lottery of TB is addressed.
Then there were the highs, what a summer for the Country as a whole with The Olympics, Paralympics and Jubilee Celebrations and proud to say we were part of both the Herefordshire and Shropshire events that took place marking Her Majesty’s visit.
This was the year that saw our new business ‘Wots Cooking’ come to light. For years we’ve both worked for Food, Drink and Gardening Festivals either chatting or supplying sound and visuals for other peoples cookery demonstration kitchens, but now we have our own and we’re loving it. Huge thank you to all those who have supported us and if you’ve not seen it, there’s a video thank you on the front page of our website!
I’ve not worn a pair of radio headphones this year due to working most weekends, although have made the occasional appearance usually involving calories and that’s where I seem to be heading now. My existing column for Worcestershire, Herefordshire & Wye Valley Life Magazines is now a foodie one, and the last month has seen it included in Warwickshire Life and Shropshire Life too which I’m thrilled about, especially Shropshire having written for them 3 years ago.
Farming side too I didn’t think I’d ever have to buy a new boiler suit, but I’ve met and helped out a local estate (think Downtown Abbey) with relief milking duties early on in the year and more recently looking after the youngstock and even though my body is way too old for all things physical now, I loved every minute of it.
Friendship is something I care hugely about and I’m lucky to have some wonderful pals so it was lovely in the summer to catch up again with an old school friend who I hadn’t seen or heard from in 30 years (I’d like to say since primary school but sadly not)!
So, wonder what 2013 has in mind for us all, here’s hoping for a drier one, a kind one and maybe if we’re lucky, a warm one. Whatever it throws at us, let’s hope we catch the good stuff.
Happy New Year x
Well, if you’re anything like me then we’re not ready for Christmas and what happened to people not sending cards this year?! I love receiving them, especially because our postie Dave is still in shorts – long story but involves him, a colleague and a yearly bet!
Been a bit of tough one this last month as sadly we lost Glyn’s Mum, Brenda. She went into hospital with a broken arm and never came home. His Dad has been amazing, especially when you think they’d only just celebrated 70 years together, we’ll all miss her but will raise a glass or two in memory this Christmas.
So our last working weekend for the year has come and gone with the last few days spent at Plassey Leisure Park near Wrexham for their Festive Food & Gift Fair, always nice to be asked back as we supplied our cookery demonstration kitchen for their summer event too. Was lovely to catch up with Chef Brian Mellor who’s doing great things with his Harthill Cookery School in Cheshire, he’s been a good pal to us with regard to our business which started at a similar time to ours and thank goodness we’re all still standing, although maybe with a slight lean as we’re a bit bushed!
Delighted to say my food and drink column is now in Shropshire and Warwickshire Life Magazines from this month which is all very exciting, and if you are a food or drink producer in one of those counties or Herefordshire or Worcestershire, please feel free to let me know what you’re up to, you can always contact me via my website or on Twitter @katiejjohnson
So our special family recipe Christmas pudding is ready, as is the mincemeat so all we need to do now is get the tree, presents, food, oh yes and decorate the house! I do have the cards though and it’s thanks to St Richards Hospice in Worcester for those, fell in love with them when I was kindly given a tour of what is truly an amazing place with some incredible people inside. Here’s hoping we can help with a spot of fundraising next year.
If they ever need a man in shorts in December, at least I know where to look!
That’s the affect that Alan Titchmarsh has on me, having posted a picture in June that was taken at Chelsea Flower Show this year I’ve not been heard from since!
It’s been a busy time for our new business www.wotscooking.co.uk which is wonderful, although have to admit to slight disappointment that will all this physical activity I’m still not a size 12 and in all honesty, never will be now as I’ve been asked to write my monthly food and drink column for Shropshire and Warwickshire Life Magazines as well as Herefordshire and Worcestershire. All very exciting and delighted to do so, first one will be out for December.
It does appear that calories have become my life and let’s be honest, there’s not many I’ve met and didn’t like. Speaking of tasty! was lovely to catch up again with the gorgeous Jean-Christophe Novelli at Malvern Autumn Show, he really is one of the nicest people and a great Chef too, I always seem to learn something from him each time and that doesn’t often happen. I’m looking forward to working with Mary Berry for the first time at the end of the month at this years ‘Allpay Flavours of Herefordshire Food Festival’, we’ve chatted on the radio a few times but never met.
At home we still need a new kitchen door and with all this wet stuff we’ve discovered it can rain indoors – well we always wanted a home with character! Poor old hens had a visit from the fox the other day which has put pay to all egg production now. He didn’t get them thankfully, infact I was there at the time thank goodness, I was sorting the water out in their pen so they’d headed away from me towards our fence line and I heard one of the girls making the most unusual noise, looked up and there he was standing 5 feet away from her. Needless to say a few choice words said loudly accompanied by a lot of arm waving moved him on, but it’s been enough to do them a mischief.
We were working at Tenbury Applefest last weekend which was good fun, except when two teenage girls thought I’d like to buy toffee apples for my, and I quote, grandchildren! Now I appreciate that if I’d started young I would possibly have maybe one, but they referred to a few and if they’re eating toffee apples they’re probably 6 years old! I know it was cold, and I was edging towards tired, but I’m changing my face cream, it’s a load of ‘Boswollox’
It’s a writing day today then later in the week I’m off to Herefordshire to watch the apple pressing for cider making, followed by a very posh doo where we’ll see who has won various food and drink awards in Worcestershire and Warwickshire. It has a dress code of black tie, which just about sums up the contents in my wardrobe.
Lots going on at the moment which tends to keep me out of mischief and also from thinking too much!
Had a fantastic day off at Chelsea Flower Show on Press Day which once again saw me playing my own version of ‘celebrity bingo!’ I found myself standing quite close to Joan Collins and Sir Cliff Richard and yes I have huge admiration for both of them, but I wish they’d let go and give in to nature! The highlight for me was meeting the boys in red, the Chelsea Pensioners and we had pictures taken with Norman, Stan & David who I have to say, all still had a certain twinkle in their eye.
Royal Welsh Spring Festival saw our cookery demonstration kitchen up and running featuring bread making, butchery, chocolate & chef master class demos. It’s the Smallholding and Gardening Event so I headed to the Highland cattle lines to catch up with some pals but realised it was a little too soon as it did me a mischief, especially chatting with the couple who bought our 3, so won’t do that again for a bit!
A sad occasion was saying goodbye to a real gentleman this week, Tim Elliott. The church in Ombersley was full to bursting with over 500 people paying their respects which is a true testament to the man he was. Our thoughts and prayers are with ‘T’ his other half who he adored. They came to our wedding and I was looking at a picture of them both and their bond was so strong for everyone to see that I’m sure T will feel his presence every day.
We’re now getting ready for the Jubilee Weekend, with 2 events, Malvern Food Festival on Sat with our kitchen on our trailer and then Monday sees Glyn with his speakers and me ‘gob on a stick’ at Broadfield Court in Bodenham, Herefordshire with acting and directing royalty Sir Derek Jacobi and Richard Clifford. What a thrill to be able to not only meet the fellas but chat with them too, and the day before they will have been part of the River Thames Pageant so lots to talk about.
Something else that’s happened is we’ve got ourselves a bigger vehicle – I know it’s the Olympics and all that, but I didn’t think I’d have to join in with my Fosbury Flop just to get in the drivers seat.
Not sure where to start other than to tell you the last few weeks haven’t been easy.
At home we have 3 acres (on a hill so not the best) and for the past 4 years have rented another 3 from a neighbour which is on the flat. Since Gracie our Highland calf came along I’ve been on the look out for extra land so we could keep her, but it’s the same story where we are, crazy prices mostly due to people with horses willing to pay them, so with no extra grassland I made the decision to sell our beautiful sheep so Gracie could stay.
Found a super home, and I managed not to cry until they were out of sight. They’ve stayed together which is wonderful and have since gone on to have their lambs, Lily a single Ewe, Shirl twin rams and Lottie twins one of each – so far so good. Then came the bomb shell!
Having just let the sheep go we then moved the cows to their ‘summer quarters,’ just as we were closing the gate, the owner of the land told us he wanted horses on it so the cows needed to be off come September!
Talk about a bolt from the blue, never saw that coming and needless to say I knew there and then what would be the outcome. Yes I could have kept them there for another few months and then brought them back home but to what? our land is tired, the girls are on it usually from November to April with their hay rack, to then keep them on it all year round wouldn’t be right, and to be honest I can’t afford to feed hay throughout the year at £35 per large bale.
Other than winning the lottery within the next couple of weeks the only other option we did talk about was moving home, heading to somewhere with more land but would we really be able to sell up and find somewhere else within a few months?
After a lot of soul-searching I knew I had to let them go, and sooner rather than later so Blossom and Ruby could then go straight to the bull. I wanted them to stay together which I knew was asking a lot, but I managed it, and so one week ago today I said goodbye to my 3 hairy Highlands which I admit, broke my heart and still does me a mischief when I think about it.
What is next then for Hedgebottom Home? well, we still have our hens and the land can now have a well deserved rest. I don’t want to make another big decision for a while yet and we don’t have to. My compere work begins this weekend and goes through until the end of November so that will keep me busy.
I do miss having the animals around but I wouldn’t have swapped our time together for anything, it’s just that everything happened so fast, so much so I have warned Glyn he might be next!!
The March editions of Worcestershire, Herefordshire & Wye Valley Life Magazines are out now and my column mentions the current situation with TB and cattle. It’s very difficult to put down in words your emotions and thoughts, especially because of the way others may interpret it, especially with the recent announcement of 2 pilot badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire, with the latter including parts of Malvern Hills, Wychavon and Forest of Dean. All I know is if my ‘girls’ reacted to the test and I had to lose them: a) It would break my heart b) just by taking them off the land doesn’t address the problem and c) there’s no way I’d have cattle again. TB has been allowed to spiral out of control and to not do anything about this disease which reared its ugly head in the mid 90’s is beyond me. I love my wildlife, and I love to see badgers and if you have them and you don’t have TB on the farm, then you leave well alone but something is dreadfully wrong in the countryside and we have to look at all causes. It’s no good just declaring that cattle spread it to each other, especially when many ‘closed’ herds have been lost so where has it come from when they rear their own breeding stock, have no close neighbours with cattle and don’t buy anything in? TB is already spilling out into other species including wild deer, goats, alpacas and yes cats and dogs. I like many would vaccinate tomorrow, but sadly we’re several years away from that. Until then, we will see many more Dairy and Beef Farms forced to give up, not just because of saying goodbye to animals which can be traced back to the family farm from a 100 years or more but because of the stress and heartache it causes and then there’s the cost – once a farm has TB they are in effect, unable to trade. On a personal front, I no longer want to feel physically sick each March when the Vet feels the necks of Blossom, Ruby and now Gracie to see if they have reacted to the test. It’s more like a lottery and believe me when I say that if you hear the words ‘clear’ you feel as if you’ve won a million pounds.