shoemaking

There still exists, in a little street near Paddington station, a shoemaker. He is a charming fellow, Patrick Tuohy, in that old fashioned way you’d be lucky to encounter now. He owned the shop for half a century, and still works there now and then. Handmade shoes are rare things, and as much as I’d have liked to try my hand at making them, it was an unforgettable pleasure to listen to Patrick tell me a little bit about how they were made.

handmade shoe © elisa rathje 2011

He’d made the shoes he was wearing a dozen years ago. I’m not sure I still own anything I wore a dozen years ago! Perhaps I will, a dozen years from now.

handmade shoe © elisa rathje 2011

In his own words, then.

Thank you ever so much, Patrick, you are a gem. If ever I have a worthy pair of shoes, I’ll bring them to you.

handmade shoe © elisa rathje 2011

elderberrying

Whenever I become familiar with a plant I begin to see it everywhere, ubiquitous, like the name of a star who appears everywhere you look. Each year the elderberry eluded me. I never knew it like I know the wild blackberry, sure of its stages, and though we knew where to find elders from gathering elderflower in the spring, we’d return each summer to England long past berry season. This summer we were resolute. On a sunny afternoon the children and I called on the first plants we’d collected flowers from, along an old greenway near our old flat in London, where nettles grow tall and rich and blackberries line the path.

 elderberries © elisa rathje 2011

Abundance.

 elderberries © elisa rathje 2011

I was warned that elderberries are a bit poisonous raw, and so we still only imagine their flavour, though we’ve since heard that’s only the unripe ones. The bucketful we’ve picked are bound for a medicinal cordial, but may not make it past us to flu season. While the berries on the sunny side of the path were glorious black, in the shade there are green ones, there’s time yet to return for more elderberrying.

 elderberries © elisa rathje 2011

The elders grow tormentingly tall along our path, but we made a couple of friends, building at the end of a garden, who emerged with the perfect berry snips, and helped us forage a few extra umbels. Ever so kind! I spotted what I thought were plums high up, out of reach, and I’m delighted to hear they are likely damsons. My first glimpse of them. This is wild fruit I’ve only dreamt of in deep winter whilst poring over my copy of Hedgerow.

mirabelles © elisa rathje 2011

Our friends confirmed that we’d found a wild plum. Probably mirabelles, if Mark, the head gardener at River Cottage, can be trusted. He did just write their latest handbook, Fruit, which I must wrestle away from my tall girl so I can read it myself.

hawthorn berries © elisa rathje 2011

Our small girl was enchanted with the hawthorn berries and wanted to collect them. I’m hoping they will keep on the trees until we’re back in the countryside with our trugs and our preserving jars. I’ll be back soon to show you what I’m doing with all the wild food!

Before you go, subscribe to the appleturnover postcards, which will commence with this autumn’s equinox, in celebration of a year of homemade stories. I’ll be marking the anniversary with a gloriously delicious project that tells the story of how appleturnover came to be. Get the postcards to your inbox for a peek at what I’m plotting to learn to make in the coming months and to catch singular homemade projects appearing in the impending appleturnovershop.

vegetable patch

Last minute, as usual, I’ve put together my best attempt at plant care to sustain the kitchen garden for a summer away. (It’s been madness, putting all of our belongings into storage. A trial.) The major threat to our vegetable patch is deer, though I’ve no doubt that rabbits, slugs and snails will have their share.

vegpatch © elisa rathje 2011

After long deliberation with a kind and knowledgeable gardener at the little local shop, I brought home a pair of rose arches and assembled them like poles for my netting tent. This stuff is distinctly not handmade. That would be the trouble with last minute gardening!

veg patch © elisa rathje 2011

I fear it will be merely a deterrent rather than prevention, even if the wind doesn’t put it sideways, but I’ve chanced it and planted out all of the brussels sprouts, purple sprouting broccoli, artichokes, kale, cavolo nero, and dill. The earth is in excellent shape, having rested a few seasons, and very few weeds survived my partial no-dig preparations. The squash are out to fend for themselves, as are the raspberries. The garlic is entirely self sufficient, and I will plant more of it next year as protection. A few strawberries made it under the arch; I am pinning my hopes on them to send out runners under cover, so that next year we’ll have a little patch of strawberries that might escape browsing by deer with delicate tastes. If anything survives our long absence I will be so very pleased. All of this could make a gorgeous crop at the end of summer, and much of it right could be harvested through til next spring, if we are so lucky. The greenhouse holds tomatoes and a lone pepper. My self-watering plans in there have been thwarted; perhaps if I convince myself to rise at dawn I will come up with a solution.(Friends may water – best to put one or another in place. Our London garden faired beautifully with both!)

We’re off in the morning to Canada, and I will write from there about new projects, tea parties, and adventures, just as soon as I can.

silver thimbles

My dear friend Sarah brought me a pair of silver thimbles from her collection when she came for tea the other day. I’m thrilled. I like that thimbles are such an ancient tool.

thimbles.jpg

They are just in time to help me to darn beloved sweaters after the moths feasted on them all summer. They ate a sweet little doll’s sweater, and we shall have to make another. Despite all the lavender and moth boxes, our London flat is thoroughly moth-ridden and there were a few fallen ones. I don’t know how to darn, but I love these sweaters and must learn! I’ve also got high hopes of piecing my first quilts and if I finish soon, I might try my hand at free motion quilting one and hand-quilting the other, with the help of a trusty thimble. We are in the midst of a visit to family in the old silvery capital, Birmingham, where thimbles were once made.

hedgerow

I grew up foraging in the rainforests north of Vancouver. We would pick salmonberries, huckleberries, blackberries, and some kind of stem that the kids called sassafras. I’ve no idea about that last one but I can just taste it now! In England I’m not as familiar with the wild edible plants, so I was thrilled when my copy of Hedgerow arrived.

hedgerow.jpg

This is River Cottage Handbook No.7, and now I will have to go and get the whole set. Those of you who watch River Cottage will know the author, John Wright, from his frequent foraging adventures with Hugh. It’s delightful to read his words, he is entirely amusing and gives a clear account of what to look for, when, and whether there is a similar plant that may poison you. The photography is beautiful and makes me a bit desperate to get out in the bushes before winter. I do know of a couple of good spots in London for elder and nettles and I’m heartily anticipating our new home in the countryside for its access to gorgeous wild food. Quince! Sloes! Wild strawberry, plum, cherry! Wood sorrel, fat hen, gooseberries, chestnuts. All very exciting and delicious.