Spring Rituals

Spring has arrived. If you need dates to fix the seasons, then spring either started on Wednesday (the spring equinox) or on 1st March if you use the meteorological definition. Looking around here, it feels as though spring is slowly rolling in. It’s been slightly warmer and a lot less windy than earlier in the month. The days are getting longer and brighter and the birds sing and chatter loudly. The blackthorn hedges are veiled in white blossom that blows in the wind and falls to the ground like confetti amongst the new, bright green new growth of cow parsley, grass and cleavers.


Hidden in amongst the greenery, violets of every hue from white to deep violet (surprise, surprise) flower in shady places. To me, the appearance  of primroses and violets marks the true start of spring. One of the best places to find violets on the farm is just on the edge of the yard, in the shade of the tree where the dog cocks his leg every day as we set off on our walk. Hmm. Maybe those ones are just best left untouched for everyone to admire.

As ever, there are certain spring rituals that I’m drawn to each year.


A posy of violets picked for the bedside table. Every now and then, I catch their scent as it drifts across the room. My favourite flower fragrance: fleeting, floral and nostalgic. My perfume of choice.

 

 

Some years I make Violet Syrup or Violet Jam but this year my fad is for Violet Tisane (well, this week at least). A couple of tablespoons of violet flower heads steeped in near boiling water for a few minutes produce a vibrant deep turquoise drink. It’s worth drinking for the colour alone, but it also tastes deliciously of violets, without the normal  sweetness of jams and syrup.

 


I take no interest in the garden during the winter but in spring I have a sudden burst of enthusiasm. A few seed packets have been gathered ready for spring sowing, but first there’s the small matter of constructing the raised beds. We moved house last spring and have had no vegetable garden of our own since then but very slowly, the garden is beginning to take shape and the first of the beds are almost ready for sowing with carrots and beetroot.

 


The banks of the ditches that form the field boundaries are slowly filling with pale yellow primroses, which has me reaching for the Jelly Plate. The jelly plates have been badly treated, stacked away under printing stuff since the autumn, but have emerged relatively unscathed. It’s good to print with small spring leaves and flowers on a small jelly plate and get back into the swing. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you might want to read this beginner’s guide to jelly printing.


The tracks around the fields have been a bit wet and claggy after the glorious walking further afield in Tasmania and it’s been a bit gloomy tramping around in the mud. With luck, now spring is here, the sun will shine and there’ll be plenty of walking.

 

Do you have spring rituals? Or maybe you’re slipping into autumn. Do tell.


When’s the best time to visit Essex?

If anyone were to ask me “when’s the best time to visit Essex?” I would unhesitatingly urge them to jump on a plane today and come straight over without delay because May is definitely the best time to visit Essex.

the farm from across the fields

In May, the wheat fields look green and lush, though don’t walk around them with a farmer because he’ll point out every patch of blackgrass that’s about to break above the wheat crop.

pink hawthorn flowers

Around the fields, the hedgerows are in full leaf with elderflowers and wild roses just opening as the hawthorn blossom starts to fade a little. Most of the hawthorn blossom around here is white but we have patches of gorgeous pink flowers that look like a confection of raspberries crushed into cream. Sadly, their scent doesn’t match their prettiness, being rather sickly and clinging. According to Culpeper “the distilled water of the flowers stays the lax” and if “applied to any place pierced with thorns or splinters, it will draw them out.” Failing that, you could make a cordial with hawthorn flowers, though it’s too late round here to do that  and it would be better to wait a week or two for the elderflowers.

towards blackley lane

Everywhere you go, you can be sure to find cow parsley. Roadside verges, field edges, churchyards and woodland edges are filled with the froth of the white umbrella like clusters of flowers. Cow parsley is one of my favourite plants to use for jelly printing.

bridleway sign against tree

May is the perfect time to take a walk through Essex, when it’s sunny but not too hot and should be firm underfoot. Coloured discs mark the public rights of way – blue for bridleways and yellow for footpaths – that criss-cross the county, along the coast and through the countryside, linking villages and towns.

dovecote

 

Or maybe you could find somewhere quiet and secluded to pass a little time. To relax and listen to the birds sing. Perhaps to sip a small fruit gin flavoured with flowers or berries from the surrounding countryside …

Quick! Book your ticket now!

You might also be interested in:

Slamseys Fruit Gin

Hiking the Essex Way for Essex Girls

How to make Jelly Prints

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gulls following cultivator

Summer Alert!

The sun is shining, the thermometer is hovering in the high 20s and Met Office has declared a level three heatwave alert *. While MPs debate whether employers should be legally forced to provide air conditioning to combat high temperatures and commuters face delays as rail companies reduce train speeds for fear of hot rails buckling, we just get on with life.

In the fields …

 

 

cultivating with Discordon

The oilseed rape crop has been harvested and today the field has been cultivated, drawing in hundreds of gulls that follow the tractor and cultivator down the field. They swoop down behind the cultivator forming a long white row and then, when the tractor turns at the end of the field and comes back towards them, they lift into the air in a white mass and repeat the whole procedure.

eating …

blackcurrants

We’re eating so many blackcurrants that our vitamin C levels must be at maximum. In an effort to prove to my sons that making meals is simple, I forced encouraged one of them to make ice cream. Not complicated egg custard ice cream, but the ‘whip up a pint of cream and add a tin of condensed milk’ variety. We swirled in a few tablespoons of blackcurrant compote and hey presto, Blackcurrant Ripple Ice Cream that has been very welcome this week.

baking …

Adelaide cakes

I baked Adelaide Cakes for a visiting Wheaton relative from Kangaroo Island, which seemed appropriate.  I also discovered that replacing the raspberries in this easy loaf cake with blackcurrants makes a deliciously sharp and fruit cake, which is perfect with a cup of tea.

Printing …

jelly printing on fabric

Ruth runs Print Club sessions in the Barley Barn and while others crank delicate drypoint prints through the press or make detailed screen prints, I ink up a slab of jelly and randomly throw bits of foliage on top. I enjoy the simplicity of this sort of printing and the way it reflects the seasons.

In early spring I print with primrose flowers and leaves in spring colours of pale yellow and zingy greens and later, the lacy umbrella shaped flowers and fern-like leaves of cow parsley make delicate prints alongside young dead nettle leaves. At this time of year,  I use leaves from the herb garden (marjoram is particularly good) and from the ash tree and hornbeam hedge for their different shapes.

After much experimentation, I’ve finally worked out a technique for jelly printing on fabric and now just need to find some sewing projects to use it all.

Playing …

jelly print repeat

I’ve been jelly printing onto fabric strips about 22 centimetres wide, which is fine for the children’s sunhats that I’ve been making, but not so good for larger projects. With the vague thought that I might want a long length of fairly uniform fabric, which will be a bit tricky with this slightly unpredictable printing method, I’ve been playing around with some digital manipulation.

I think this could become a little addictive.

 

 

*Please don’t mock if you come from a hot climate! It’s hot for us, even if our Australian visitor described our heat as like a warm spring day.


my week in photos

valentine biscuits

Biscuits for Valentines day

 

I’ve tried so hard to love Instagram. It’s fun to see what my nieces and nephews are up to even if I don’t understand the terminology sometimes; Nancy’s photos of street scenes from Shanghai amaze me;  the work of Elle as she photographs the process of taxidermy enthralls me. I like impromptu photos. Just a brief glimpse of someone’s life. No need for a long narrative. A picture of a slice of cake doesn’t need a recipe. No need to give detailed pattern instructions for a piece of knitting.

And yet … I’m sorry but I just don’t love you Instagram. Maybe it’s because I have such a lousy camera on my phone that it’s not worth using. Maybe it’s because I don’t commute on the train or bus every day or sit in the car waiting for school pick-up so I don’t have snatches of time that would be perfect to whip out my phone and flick through. Maybe I just don’t want to make the time because of course I could check my phone at meal times, when I’m out with friends or during the interval at the theatre – but hey, that’s a topic to rant about on its own.

It seems the attraction of Instagram will remain lukewarm for the time being. Something to dip into every now and then rather than a “must check” every day. Meanwhile, this week my photos are here and not on Instagram. This may or may not become an irregular feature *.

 

 

stable block slamseys farm

The new stable block at Slamseys Farm

hand knitted cardigan for baby

Knitting a cardigan for a baby. I’d forgotten how quick it is.

pheasant feathers

One of the wonderful things about living in the country is the unexpected visitor bearing gifts like these pheasants.

jelly printing doodle books

What to do with all the practice jelly prints. Make little books to doodle in or write lists in.

What about you? Are you an enthusisastic Instagram participant? Go on then, persuade me why I should love it.

 

 * I am rather prone to starting things with gusto on the blog, which peter out a few months later.

jelly printing envelopes

jelly printing with a gelatine plate

jelly printing for beginners

Even though it was purely the name that drew me in  (because I love jelly)  jelly printing has proved to be tremendous fun. Jelly Printing is a bit random; there’s no guarantee that when you lift the paper you’ll get exactly the print you were expecting. Over time the Gelatine Printing Plate changes too, which means that even if you did exactly the same for every single print, you’d still get variety. I get pretty easily bored by repetition, so it suits me fine. In The Barley Barn, Ruth and I have been teaching people how to make simple Jelly Prints like the one above, though Ruth has renamed it “Printing without a Press” to make it sound a little more adult like and serious. The truth is that Jelly Printing is a wonderfully easy printing method for any age.

If, in the spirit of home-spun creativeness or half-term entertainment, you fancy having a go at making some simple jelly prints using plants or feathers, then read on.

Firstly, you need to make your Gelatine Printing Plate. I suggest you start off with A5 size as it doesn’t take too much gelatine and it’s an easy size to work with. There are recipes all over the internet for making your own plate; some are made simply with gelatine and water, others include sugar, alcohol, glycerine or vinegar. I make my plates with powdered gelatine, water and glycerine using this recipe, which simply involves a bit of stirring and then pouring into a mould.

Once you’ve made your Gelatine Plate, you’re ready to print.

You will need:

  • A gelatine plate
  • A flat surface for your Gelatine Plate – a chopping mat, Perspex sheet, plastic tray, smooth glass shelf from a defunct fridge or Formica type worktop work well
  • A palette for your inks – again a chopping mat etc will do the job
  • A brayer (roller) – the sort used for lino printing
  • Water based printing Ink or Acrylic Paint
  • Flowers, leaves, grasses, feathers … avoid thick woody plants or anything with sharp thorns that will make holes in your Gelatine Plate
  • Paper, card or sticky labels

Get ready:

Gently ease your Gelatine Plate out of its mould and carefully plop it onto the board.

Squeeze a little ink (about a teaspoonful) or paint onto your palette and roll your brayer back and forth to coat the roller. If your ink seems very sticky, spritz over a little water to thin it.

Roll a thin layer of ink onto your gelatine plate. Don’t worry too much about getting a completely even coating as a little unevenness and texture can add interest to the finished print (I’m no perfectionist and can always find a creative excuse for being slapdash).

Lay down your plants on the gelatine plate, with the most textured side face down in the ink. Cover with a piece of paper and firmly smooth over with your hand, making sure you follow the contours of the plant and reach right into the corners of the paper. Remember that if the paper doesn’t come in contact with the gelatine plate then it won’t get any ink on it.

Pull your print:

Now, carefully peel back the paper and you have a silhouette print of your plant.

If you’ve laid down too thick a layer of ink you might want to take another silhouette print; it won’t be as dark as the first, but it will lift off any residual ink.

Lift the plants and feathers from the Gelatine Plate using your fingers or tweezers, which will leave a clear inked image on the gelatine plate. Take a clean sheet of paper and lay onto the Gelatine Plate, smooth it down with your hands and then peel it off. You should now have a wonderfully detailed print of your plant.

jelly printing labels - detailed prints

Try printing with different colours, layering one print on top of another. Print onto cheap newsprint, expensive art paper, pages torn from books, sticky labels, card or copier paper and make envelopes, gift tags and bookmarks. Tear up prints and make collages, use the prints for scrapbooking or art journals. Or just frame your amazing prints and admire them. The labels above are detailed prints and the envelope below is made from a silhouette print with blue ink overlaid with a silhouette print with yellow ink on photocopier paper.

jelly printing envelopes

Believe me, this is just the beginning. Have fun.

There’s a few ideas for Jelly Prints here on the Slamseys Art Pinterest board.

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