Story: Gutmansdottir and The Wild Wood

image Gutmansdottir was her family name and the only name she went by. She said she was a botanist and was interested in studying our Wild Wood, the area of the Estate that’s apparently virtually unchanged for over a thousand-years, if not a lot longer. I was intrigued enough by the idea that I asked our Stewart, Jean-Pierre, if she could use one of the staff yurts and get her meals gratis for as long as she was here.

That was seven years ago. I don’t think either party realised how bloody big her endeavour was going to be. It’s gotten so long-term that she works for me part-time for what she needs for cash and spends much of the better weather when she wasn’t working for me out there, usually several days at a time. She said that it indeed looked like nothing had been touched there except for a few standing stones, possibly what could be barrow-mounds and one bloody big stone dragon which she’d like to know the story about.

She spent the first summer just cataloguing fungi and lichen, dozens that were thought gone in Scotland. That was followed by a winter of collecting scat as that she said told her a lot about the botany of an area as reflected in the diet of hares, owls and so forth. I assisted her in setting up precipitation meters which sent their data back to a central computer by radio. The Several Annies, Iain’s Library Apprentices, spent a winter skiing out there to map the terrain and look for any signs of habitation no matter how long ago. They didn’t find any.

So her work continues. We built a new, much bigger yurt with enough shelving and storage for her notes, books, tools and of course botanical samples. Not to mention her scat collection.

Will she ever be done? I doubt it. She’s having an intellectual orgasm all the time, I’ve got a great worker and the Estate has a superb community member.

Story: Gingerbread

imageI hope you’re enjoying the still hot from the oven gingerbread with a scoop of Madagascar vanilla ice cream on it. Bet you another piece that you don’t know the history of this culinary treat, do you? Thought so. So do take another piece and I’ll tell you all about it.

Our gingerbread is the Swedish version, which is actually Germanic in origin, as it came to that nation with German immigrants in the same way Christmas traditions such as greeting cards, Christmas trees, even wreaths came to Great Britain from German royalty that married into the English royal family. And it was thus that gingerbread as we bake it came to be a Swedish delicacy that we bake here. During the thirteenth century, gingerbread was brought to Sweden by German immigrants. By the fifteenth century in Germany, a gingerbread guild controlled who could bake it.

Gingerbread in German is Lebkuchen or Pfefferkuchen (pepper cake). Properly spiced gingerbread has a slightly peppery taste, not strong but definitely there.

Several sources note that, to quote one unknown writer, ‘In Germany gingerbread is made in two forms: a soft form called Lebkuchen and a harder form, particularly associated with carnivals and street markets such as the Christmas markets that occur in many German towns. The hard gingerbread is made in decorative shapes, which are then further decorated with sweets and icing. The tradition of cutting gingerbread into shapes takes many other forms, and exists in many countries, a well-known example being the gingerbread man.’

Swedes don’t bake the ginger bread as a cake all that often but do make hard gingerbread cookies for the Christmas season in great quantities. They are thin, very brittle biscuits or cookies as the Yanks called them.

Though our gingerbread is spiced like the Swedish version, ours is moist cake that tastes delicious warm with, as I noted above, vanilla ice cream. Oh, and we don’t put raisins, candied orange peel or other such things in our gingerbread.

So would you like yet a third piece?

Music Matters: Some Sunday Morning Music for You

biggreenieI’m out in the Courtyard on this warm Scottish morning watching a pick-up football match on the Greensward between Iain’s all female Library apprentices and an all male group from the staff that works for Gus, the Estate Head Gardener. (Gus has a number of female staff but they declined to play as they had something else planned.) The first team is up four-nought after two periods, a true ass kicking I’d say.

So let’s put together some music for you on this morning.

Let’s start off with a set by Danu, one the great Irish trad bands, doing ‘Morrison’s Jig’ and ‘The Rambler’, followed by them giving us ‘The Garden Soldier’.

Now let’s move over to De Dannan, another great Irish group doing ‘Jenny Rocking The Cradle’, a favourite of mine.

Hmmm… What next? How about ‘Reynardine’ as offered up by Fairport Convention? They also give us for this morning ‘Reynard The Fox’.

Let’s finished off with ‘Red Barn Stomp’, which has always been one of my favourite Oysterband concert tunes.

Ahh — the score’s six nought. The lads are definitely buying several rounds in the Pub tonight for the winners!

Story: May Day

greenmanIt’s a holiday, or about to be. More precisely, May Day at the Estate, which is tomorrow of course. So what’s planned for this very special day?

We lead off the day with music and a May Pole just after dawn in the courtyard. Roots and Branches, which consists of a violinist (Catherine, Iain’s wife), a smallpiper (Finch, the associate Pub manager) and a hardanger fiddler (Anna, who’s a visiting muso who plays in some Swedish trad band) will provide the music.

Iain will give a (hopefully) brief speech on the importance of May Day, both spiritually and politically. We’ll then have a dance around the May Pole, with both lads and the lasses, human and elvin alike, dressed in their best finery. Well their finest Red Faire style finery. It’s quite a sight (and sound as well) though between you and me I think that it does get just a bit silly.

We’ll all head into the Estate Building for a breakfast. Mrs. Ware and her staff prepare blueberry waffles, smoked bacon and Jamaican Blue Mountain (don’t ask how much that costs). Oh, and real maple syrup, of course, for the waffles.

After breakfast, I lead all interested in the Annual Blessing of the Gardens, which is held in the high meadow that overlooks much of our gardening area. It calls for enough rain, but not too much, warm days but no killing heat (even we can get that) and protection from all the things that can go wrong. It’s actually a very moving experience.

That’s pretty much it ’til I do the calling for a contradance that starts well after the Eventide meal with Random Acts of Dancing, which is violinist Bela, concertina player Reynard and crwth player Blodwyn rounding out the group. If it’s warm enough, and it usually is, it takes place in the stone tiled paved courtyard.

All in all a most excellent way to celebrate May Day!

Story: Beef Pot Pie

imageWe don’t eat a lot of beef here, as we don’t raise any beef, which means we either purchase or trade for it with other farms in our area. So what beef we do consume is combined with other ingredients so as to stretch it out. And an excellent way to do this is in the ever so tasty form of beef pot pie.

An advantage of this meal is that it doesn’t require the better cuts of beef, as making the beef taste good is in the preparation. We slow cook it basting it with its juices. Garlic is inserted into the meat and onion slices cover it, giving the beef some needed additional flavour.

While the beef is cooking, the vegetables get slow roasted with fresh ground black pepper, cumin, and just a bit of salt. Since we consume beef pot pies only in colder weather (which we’re still having with this wayward Spring), the veggies are all root crops from last year’s harvest, which is to say we use potatoes, carrots, onions, and beets. We also use mushrooms gathered in our woods and dried for later use. This is very slowly cooked on the wood stove with scraps of bacon added in for extra fat.

Mrs. Ware uses a whole wheat flour for the crust, as she rightfully thinks it’s better for us than the standard white flour most cooks are addicted to. She uses butter and a bit of salt, nothing else in it.

The beef is chopped into small pieces, the veggies the same. A lattice crust is put over the contents, the pies are put in an oven at a slow heat and cooked until a hour before the Eventide meal when they’re set out ’til being served along with whole wheat rolls served with warm butter. That’s a very fine meal in my opinion!

Music Matters: Steeleye Span

Steeleye Span 2014

So let’s have some music from what I consider the best electrified folk band that Great Britain ever produced, Steeleye Span. Over forty years of live performances have produced a treasure trove of excellent soundboard recordings.

Let’s start off with a perennial favourite of fans:‘One Misty Moisty Morning’M as performed at Fairport Convention’s Cropredy Festival, August of 2006.

Next is ‘Long Lankin’ from the same festival. Lovely, isn’t it?

From a 1973 concert comes a tune, ‘Robbery With Violins’, which was composed by violinist Peter Knight who left the band (again) this past year.

If you’re one of those neo-pagan witches, you won’t like the next cut, ‘Alison Gross’ which is a Child Ballad that tells the tale of ‘the ugliest witch in the north country’. I however think it’s a splendid song.

Let’s finish off with another Child Ballad, ‘Tam Lin’.

The photo is of the current lineup of Maddy Prior, Rick Kemp, Liam Genockey, Pete Zorn, Julian Littman and Jessie May Smart.

Music Matters: Loened Fall: The Complete Recordings

It won’t surprise any of you that I love hearing Breton music. Playing the fiddle myself, fiddle music of any sort draws my ear to pay attention. Add in an accordion, and you’ll see me tapping me toes in time to the music. If there happens to be a newly tapped cask of Old Boar Hard Cider, so much the better, as Breton music is the best party music that I’ve ever been privileged to hear.

And the band I’m reviewing is Loened Fall which put out three stunning live recordings some twenty years ago and apparently haven’t been active in a while. Go read my review to see why I think it’s worth your time to track down these recordings.

Story: The Storyteller

She said, “A great storyteller has a talent for compelling narrative and an eidetic memory. And a good feel of the listeners.” So said Megan ap Owen, our Storyteller in residence for this Winter. It’s a tradition that we’ve been doing for centuries now — a storyteller that we knew is worth hearing and learning new stories from is invited to stay here for a Winter. They get room and board, plus a healthy compensation as well.

Each Storyteller is asked to do a project, something that will live on long after they leave the Estate. Some created stories based on the history of the Estates, others taught folks how to treat the life of the Estate as an ongoing story.

So ap Owen settled into room, came to the eventide meal, and spent a few weeks just getting used to the social patterns of our community. She also spent quite sometime talking to as many individuals as she could do. It was fascinating to watch her working her way softly from me to Finch, the small piper that works for Gus, to Svetlana, Ingrid’s sister who’s a refugee from war torn Ukraine. She seemed to be composing a map of the social life of the Estate.

Her project would be to create an oral history of the Estate as there hadn’t been one to date. Oh the Journals kept by, well, lots of folks documented the Estate well, but they didn’t get to the soul of this place, call it the cultural terroir.

She enlisted the Several Annie’s, the Library apprentices, to gather as many interviews as possible. There’s roughly forty people on the Estate in Spring through Fall seasons when Gus, the Estate Head Gardener, beefs up his staff. She and they created a complete history of the Estate as perceived by the inhabitants here. It was indeed a story that was amazing as the oral histories found details that being here we just overlooked because it was just part of the background here. She credited The Several Annies for their brillance in interviewing.

It was every bit as fascinating as Ursula Le Guin’s Always Coming Hone as a oral history of an entire community. Kudos to everyone involved!

Literary Matters: Viola Carr: The Diabolical Ms. Hyde

Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was first published in 1886, and has since been the basis for any number of stage productions, over 120 film adapations, radio plays, television movies and series, and of course, spoofs and parodies. And then there are the spin-offs by other novelists, which leads us to Viola Carr’s The Diabolical Ms. Hyde. Cat Eldridge gives us a look at that one:

My favorite usage is the one by Simon R. Green that shows up in both his Nightside and Secret History series, in which Jacqueline Hyde is two beings consisting of Jacqueline (the woman) who is in love with Hyde (the man) who only meet for brief seconds when one becomes the other.

The relationship in Viola Carr’s The Diabolical Ms. Hyde is similar, but Eliza Hyde is the one in control, a lady forensic scientist and alienist in an England where the Royal Society are witch-hunters that seek out any who don’t follow the accepted orthodoxy that science is everything and that any thoughts of alchemy and the like are grounds for burning. Literally.

And it goes on from there. Read Cat’s review to find out which is the good guy.

Literary Matters: Genevieve Cogman: The Invisible Library

What kind of person is equipped to writ a novel including alternate universes, steampunk, magic — and librarians? Well, let Cat Eldridge give you a clue:

[Genevieve Cogman’s] bio from the back of this novel is illuminating: ‘Genevieve Cogman started on Tolkien and Sherlock Holmes at an early age, and has never looked back. But on a perhaps more prosaic note, she has an M.Sc. in Statistics with Medical Applications and has wielded this in an assortment of jobs: clinical coder, data analyst and classifications specialist. Although The Invisible Library is her debut novel, she has also previously worked as a freelance roleplaying game writer. Genevieve Cogman’s hobbies include patchwork, beading, knitting and gaming, and she lives in the north of England.’

Well, with those qualifications, it only stands to reason that The Invisible Library is, as Cat puts it, “a romp.” And if you don’t believe me, just read his review.