It is a relaxing Monday evening in Hesketh House and hubby and I are chatting over a lovely cup of tea after work.  As with so many of our chats they start with anything interesting we may have heard or seen recently and like a greyhound out of the starters gate, take off at high-speed all over the place….you never know where these conversations will find you and what they will pick up along the way.

Today we started out with the simple topic of the Persimmon, or Kaki, an apple size fruit with a lovely shiny yellow skin – we bought one at the store to give it a try.  Not simply being happy that we now knew its other names and varieties found all over the world e.g. Sharon fruit is a variety from Israel, we also learned of its many health benefits, drinks uses, timber used etc, etc.  However, like most things, the over consumption can have some negative effects as well.  In the case of the humble Persimmon, you can apparently, if rarely, get a Bezoar (sounds like bee-zore); a build up of various indigestible substances that create an almost stone-like ball in the stomach – yuck!

For anyone with long hair a few years ago, you may have been told by someone older and apparently wiser than you, that if you chew your hair it would create a hard ball in your stomach which could kill you.  Well my 10-year-old self may have occasionally played with my hair in such a manner (again – yuck), but thought ‘oh, how ridiculous, an adult trying to scare me – again’.  WELL, who knew that this supposed old wives tale has an edge of truth to it because Bezoars can be formed from hair too.


Since medieval times, it was believed that Bezoars could cure you of almost any deadly poisons as it was meant to absorb the poison from your body and therefore cure you.  This was disproved by  a ‘scientist’ who fed one to a chef that was given poison as his sentence for theft.  Sadly he died a very long and painful death – I am sure that his original sentence of death by strangulation would have been preferable.

Bezoars are sometimes carved and buffed to a high shine for jewellery – yuck, yuck, yuck! Go online if you don’t believe me and see some images for yourself.

Naturally leading on from stones in the stomach hubby wondered if the nice smelly stuff in a whales stomach was also a form of Bezoar.  Alas no, this is ambergris or grey amber, a substance produced to protect the whales stomach from the hard and sharp beaks of squid.  Ambigris can be burned or used in perfume.  It is almost as valuable as gold.  Occasionally someone makes their fortune finding it in a whale carcass, but I presume much is found as part of the madness that is whale hunting.

If you’re expecting to find a dead whale on the beach with a few kilograms of ambergris, you may want to consider another pension option, as this happens very rarely and fights have broken out amongst Ambigris hunters for less.

By now, the time has been steadily ticking by and from starting our tea at 5.30pm, we realise that it is 7.30pm and the dinner is waiting downstairs.

I could tell you that chasing stories and information down a rabbit hole is a rare thing for our family, but that would be a vast exaggeration because we all spend many happy hours hunting, investigating and churning up weird and wonderful facts and information of no particular use other than to broaden our general knowledge.

Therefore, the question that I always posed to our children as they were growing up was “Do you want the long or the short answer?”  If they wanted a quick succinct answer they came to me; if they wanted the thesis and the rabbit hole, then they went to Daddy.

Nothing has changed to this day – and that is how you get from Persimmons to Ambergris.

Happy trails everyone!



The Lake District in Cumbria is a special place, much of it a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and home of the remarkable herdwick sheep, Wordsworth, Fletcher Christian and many other famous and infamous characters. There are countless breathtaking drives, walking routes and properties, one of which is Hardknott Roman fort on the perilously steep and sinuous Roman road that traversed, more or less, what is now the Hardknott and Wrynose passes. My late friend and spiritual mentor, Dave, loved the Lake District and on one of our first trips to the area together in circa 2007, I recall traipsing up the hill to the fort trying unsuccessfully to shield myself from the driving, horizontal rain,our wives having decided that we were on our own, Dave looked as unfazed as if it were a a summers day (in Northern England it probably was): what wonderful memories.

Today the wife and I returned to Wrynose Pass and the Roman fort. Who would have guessed, it was raining, but with infinitely less ferocity though. The fort is still there, and will be in another two millennia but sadly my best friend is not; here’s to you Dave, I know you are at peace with our creator in a place so amazing, it eclipses even the staggeringly beautiful Lake District you loved so much. 

A bountiful weekend….

This weekend, with the help of the family, I managed to get quite a bit of preserving done. 

Here are some of the results as well as an apple cider vinegar I made a couple of months ago….

Mixed berry and apple jam made from freeze dried raspberry, strawberry and blackcurrants. 

What is going to prove extremely popular, and as a German winemaker told us last year “the only way to get your wine fix at breakfast” – an apple and Pinot Grigio wine jam – or jelly because it is clear and smooth. 

A glorious jam made from freshly steamed apple juice and a hint of fresh pineapple juice. 

A pear shrub waiting for apple cider vinegar to be added before leaving for a week to ferment and strain, then enjoy as a cordial or mixer. This one is going to Cardiff with our son today. 

An apple shrub fermenting for another few day before we can enjoy. 

And last but by no means least, my homemade apple cider vinegar made from freeze dried apples. This took around 4 months to brew and ferment and now lives in the cellar where we tap off what we need from the 20 litre keg I made. 

Next years apples will be turned into another batch of apple cider vinegar to ensure a constant supply. 

A bountiful couple of days which I will finish off today with a 2016 batch of pumpkin chutney – because in our house pumpkins are not just for Halloween! 

A small windfall….

My lovely friend Christine has a much larger and older apple tree in her garden than ours and each year she passes me a big bag of apples.

Last year we made wine and a lot of apple sauce…..this year I have gone for smooth jam – or jelly if you’re American.

I start off by getting one of the grandchildren to help chop the apples – core and all, although I really should have, and would have used the apple corer if it could have been found at the time.  The only bit I don’t like to add to the pot are the pips, but the rest, skin and all are chopped up and added to the top of my steamer……

After a couple of hours we have a nice steady stream of lovely clear apple juice to turn into jam.

Basically I weigh the juice and place it into a heavy bottom pan together with 70% sugar and the juice of 1 or 2 lemons depending on the quantity.  In this case I had 1700g of apple juice and topped it up to 2000kg with the juice from defrosted pineapple chunks which I happened to have on hand after defrosting our chest freezer.  In this case it was 2000kg juice and 1400g white sugar and 2 tablespoons lemon juice.

Allow the sugar to dissolve in the juice over a very gently heat and once absolutely clear and sugar crystal free I turn up the heat and allow it to bubble at a nice rolling boil until it reaches 102 degrees celsius.  Pour the hot jam into hot sterilised glass jars, add lids and submerge into boiling water to cover all the jars and boil gently for 10 minutes.  Remove to a trivet or baking tray and wait for them to ‘pop’ as a vacuum sucks in the disk on the lid.

Label….and enjoy!

Delicious – and an hour well spent last night for a yield of 9 jars of jam….one of course goes to the donor as a thank you.


Today we have something a little different to show you….

How to rack wine from one carboy to another using a vacuum pump.  Racking wine basically means moving wine from one vessel to another leaving behind any sediment…repeating this process leaves your wine clearer each time.

Our vacuum pump setup was created using a lot of bits and pieces of various pipes we found in our wine kit and in the old cellar – one of these days we may set it up semi-permanently by attaching the pipes to the wall and leaving them in place rather than packing it all up each time.

What you need is…..

A racking cane in the sending carboy (the carboy with the wine in),

Tubing from the racking cane to the filter inlet,

Tubing from the filter outlet to the receiving carboy inlet,

Tubing from the receiving carboy outlet to the overflow bottles inlet,

Tubing from the overflow outlet to the vacuum pump.

In between you can also have cut-off valves, but you can also use the on/off of the vacuum pump to control the flow, but bear in mind that once the vacuum has formed even if you switch off the pump it will still continue to syphon because it is a sealed vacuum system by this point.

Points to note:

The sending carboy does not get sealed, you simply place the racking cane in the open carboy or bucket (that’s how I clean my system – we place the racking cane into a bucket of cleaning solution).

The receiving carboy must create a good seal or you won’t create a vacuum environment and it will not suck up the wine.  The tubing we use fits really well over the inlet and outlet 0n the orange carboy bungs and create a good seal.

Please don’t try and do this without an overflow bottle because this vacuum racking system also degasses your wine at the same time and some wines create tons of foam which can easily be sucked up into the outlet tube and into your pump!

You can rack using this system with your carboys at the same height (unlike using a syphon where the sending carboy must be higher than the receiving carboy).  Less moving large, heavy and slippery glass jars around!

Here is a little video I posted showing it in action….

In the future we plan to attach all the piping and the filter to the wall and leave them in place semi-permanently.  We will run cleaning solution through the system after use and then seal the ends to ensure no dirt gets into the system in between uses.  Regardless of whether we do this or not, we always run cleaning solution through it before each use.  The reason I am trying the sealed method is because we live in a 400 year old house and we have on a few occasions found little critters have taken up residence in the tubing!

Here is another great video that Sicilian Prince, another home winemaker, has posted which very clearly explains his process…..

So, that’s another 90 bottles of wine racked, degassed, filtered and topped up ready for bulk ageing in the cellar; a job well done with a minimum of lifting and carrying.


We had a dilemma – how to fix or disguise a number of unsightly problems in the corner of the Assembly rooms….  1. A missing piece of wooden panelling.  2.  An electrical socket in the lower wall.  3. Heating and water pipes coming from upstairs to the downstairs bathroom. 4. Another electrical socket near the ceiling (once used in the pub for a television mounted in the corner) and 5. The network cable box that had been dangling from the wall since it was installed a few years ago.

All of the above made for a bit of an eye-sore in an otherwise nearly fully refurbished room.  If we had addressed each of the problems individually, it would have taken a lot of time and expense, and rather than doing that I had an idea to cover all of them up in once fell swoop using a corner unit.  I would have loved a nice big, old oak corner unit, but that wasn’t happening on our non existent budget; instead we ‘bought’ this ugly 1980s horror….


Apparently these are as common as muck – as I found on my trawl through an online auction site – people can’t ‘give’ them away because the last time I was in the charity furniture store there were at least 6 of these looking for a new home – unsuccessfully!

I landed up with this one for the princely sum of  £3.75 – the seller declined the 99 pence I had won it for!  I didn’t want them to go totally unrewarded so the £3.75 was the cost of 1 easter egg and a small bunch of flowers for them instead.

Getting it home, it seemed even uglier than I remembered and in a house full of lovely oak antiques it stood out like a boil in the middle of your forehead!  I did wonder at this point whether the finished repurpose/upclycle would in any way match the ideal in my head.

Armed with the plans (I.e. My imagination), a sheet of MDF and a couple of strips of recycled moulding, we set to work cutting, screwing and generally changing the corner unit to fit its new location.  Most of the mouldings on the unit were removed and replaced to wrap around the extended side sections; these ensured the unit was big enough to cover all of the problems we were trying to hide – like these pipes and sockets near the ceiling…..


After day one we had the shell completed and all the screw holes and corners were filled and caulked to give nice clean lines when it was painted.


Day two started off with sanding all the filler and getting the inside of the cupboard painted.  I chose to use because it can be painted directly onto most furniture and surfaces without needing any sanding or stripping.

The inside was painted the very bold Emperor’s Red…..

I didn’t waste time masking off the windows because it is so much easier just scraping off the paint on the glass once it is dry.  Here I used a utility knife blade…it would have been quicker and easier with my glass scraper, but as usual when you need a tool you hardly every use, it was missing!

Before scraping…..


and after…..IMG_5869IMG_5868

Next we tackled the exterior in Old White; a good match to the rest of the whites in the room and gives the appearance of a little age…..


It did take a few coats to cover up that horrid mahogany veneer on the front of the original unit, but once that was done all the hardware was reinstalled and we were done…..


In the top (this was extended from the top of the original cabinet to the ceiling) is a little hatch which is clipped into place.  Inside is a set of speakers linked to the hifi unit in the base.  The holes allow enough sound through and is nicely hidden away so no technology is visible in the room.  I am now on the hunt for a matching colour fabric to cover the hatch and also create a frame on the lower door in the same moulding and fabric – for continuity.

It is a hot topic of debate about whether the natural wood moulding at the ceiling should be left as it is, or painted white like the rest.  I felt it tied the unit into the beams rather nicely, but so far I am in the minority so who knows if it will stay or go.

I think this was a rather successful project and definitely fulfilled its brief of disguising or hiding all the horrid problems in the corner of the room.

You’d never know that it had started out as such an ugly unit.  A great upcyle and repurpose of a piece of furniture that would definitely have found its way to the rubbish dump if we hadn’t rescued it.


Water Painting Fun….

Today we are stuck at home without a car,  so no regular Friday swimming for Ouma and Granddaughter. Instead we have to think of other ways to occupy a very active little lady!  She helped with this when she found a paintbrush in the sewing room. I added a cup with water and pointed her to a wall in the passage…..she needed no encouragement and happily painted the white wall. 

I realised that her art showed up much better on a piece of backing paper on a torn section of wallpaper (we are in the middle of a restoration so there’s plenty of torn wallpaper in the house). This gave me the idea of using brown paper; I stuck a sheet of brown paper to the wall and I can tell you it was a roaring success because an hour later she is still busy painting and as it dries she can repaint over the previous drawings.   

Another way to keep the kids occupied without having mess in the house – and anyway who cares if she spills a bit of water on that really old pub carpet! Win-win 😄

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