Monday 27 July 2015

Procrastination and Hedgerow Jelly by Janie Hampton

While thinking about my blog for History Girls, my mind wandered and I looked out of the window.
What did I see?
The view from my study
A reason to leave my desk - my vegetable bed was calling out to be hoed. This was an ideal opportunity for procrastination. Without my immediate intervention the as-yet-inedible beetroot had only hours to live.  The tiny seedlings would soon get smothered in giant horrible weeds. So out into the garden I went, picked up the hoe, and noticed it needed sharpening. Looked for the sharpening stone, I wondered what the proper name for a sharpening stone is. 
As I spotted it on the shed shelf, I remembered it is a whetstone, spelled with an ‘h’. Is that to do with water or something quite different? Made mental note to look it up.  Sharpened hoe. On the way down the garden path I noticed the courgettes needed watering.  So the hose had to be untangled. And on it went- one procrastination opportunity surpassing the last. By lunchtime I had found the whetstone, sharpened the hoe, sliced through several rows of weeds, watered the courgettes, and the beans for good measure, put the garden tools in a neat row, and even swept the ground beneath them. I’d also learned that whet is from the Anglo-Saxon whaet, meaning keen or bold which led to sharpen or stimulate (as in ‘appetite’.) But I was still no further on with my blog.

I am skilled in the art of procrastination, defined as  'putting off,  delaying,  deferring,  postponing, especially something that requires immediate attention.’ Crastimus is the Latin for ‘pertaining to tomorrow’ – and we all know that tomorrow never comes. It’s the Roman equivalent of ‘manana’. Synonyms include ‘dithering, stalling, delaying tactics and vacillations’, to which I would add ’seeking out distractions, around any corner.’ 

I suspect that most History Girls and our readers indulge in various levels of procrastination, and can spot a handy distraction a mile off.  The most rewarding kinds of procrastination for writers are those that somehow connect to the writing one is supposed to be doing.  While researching my book ‘How the Girl Guides Won the War’, I found a Second World War recipe that took procrastination to new levels. In one fell swoop, I could procrastinate and be ‘researching’ my book at the same time: the recipe demonstrated the historical economics of food rationing, the philosophy of Make Do and Mend and offered an opportunity to practice Real History. And unlike most procrastinations and distractions, there is something delicious to eat at the end.

Hedgerow Jelly - free from a hedge near you
Find some hedges in late August or September, preferably containing many varieties of fruit-bearing bush.
Blackberries in July, waiting for you.
Harvest the fruit on your own and the time spent is both ‘exercise’ (walking along a hedgerow) and ‘work’ (you are silent, so obviously thinking important thoughts). If this stretches your conscience too far, then go with some friends as ‘recreation’ - an essential time of ‘re-making your creativity’. Wander  down lanes in the countryside, or  seek out rogue wild bushes in parks and along footpaths in cities. Carry a woven basket for authenticity, or a cotton bag for Green credentials, or a plastic supermarket bag for practicality.

Pick as many berries as you can find, or can be bothered to pick, or can carry. Mix together hawthorn, rose hips, elderberries, both black and red blackberries (red contain more pectin which helps jelly to set), crab apples, wild gooseberries and raspberries. Do not include holly, ivy, privet, yew nor deadly nightshade – they are all poisonous.
The Army & Navy Stores Catalogue of 1940 had all the equipment needed for jam-making
After washing them in a colander, boil up the berries together in a little water until soft, and then mash them up a bit.  Then put into some clean, old tights, and hang from the back of a chair over a large bowl to drip overnight. If you wish to remain historically accurate, use cotton muslin or an old, clean tea towel. In the morning, or after a few hours, squeeze the tights (or muslin) to get out all the juice.  Put the seedy pulp into the compost, or feed to wild birds or your chickens.
For every pint of thick red juice, add one pound of sugar. In a big jam-pan, boil up until the jelly reaches a lovely rolling setting point - drop a blob on a bottle from the fridge. If it sets like jelly, stop cooking. Don’t let it burn. With practice, you can tell when it’s ready: the boiling jelly rolls at a certain speed and plays a certain note.

Delicious and healthy jelly to be proud of
Pour into very clean glass jars, or tea cups if you don’t have enough jars. Put circles of greaseproof paper on the surface of the jelly, and screw on a metal lid while still hot. For presents, add circles of dress fabric or old shirts, tied with brown string. You can use ribbon, but it is a bit twee.
Make labels that say ‘Best War-time Hedgerow Jelly, 2015’. Then get back to work.

During breaks, eat this delicious, clear, red jelly with bread, or meat, or cheese. Or put some in hot water on cold winter days to remind you of sunnier times.
         After your berry-picking walk, sit down with a friend and chat to a squirrel.
If you don’t manage to make this jam this year, then don’t worry, next year will do instead. It’s a deadline that you are allowed to miss.  Photos copyright Janie Hampton 


Sue Purkiss said...

Lovely! What useful advice. Must certainly follow it...

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

My garden borders a field with a narrow soil path 'back alley' between our garden hedgerow one side and the farmer's bank of wild hedgerow the other- so a perfect picking ground! I shall certainly try out your recipe while my thoughts meander!

Clare Mulley said...

You have whet my appetite...

Ms. said...

DE-LISCIOUS in every way, from procrastination through the tasks of gardening in a wondrous plot (not literary) to the extremely wonderful Jelly!!! Bless your heart.

Sue Bursztynski said...

I'm afraid my garden consists of a few pots of jade plants on the balcony, though once in a while I manage to get a few - a VERY few - daffodils to grow in the window box. But procrastination that helps with the writing, why not?

By the way, if you'd like to see how people made do and handled rationing during the war years in Australia, the National Library of Australia website has a collection of Australian Women's Weeklies from 1933 to 1980. You can download them in PDF format - I have some on my cyber bookshelves and they're amazing, whether it's the ads for all sorts of products long gone, articles about housework, pictures of glamorous movie stars, fiction or recipes for vegetarian meals which make the most of what you can buy with your ration book.

And one post-War cover has Stalin on it! Very intriguing! i wonder how many housewives' hearts fluttered looking at the handsome Soviet leader...

Joan Lennon said...

Those rich colours with the sun shining through the jellies - gorgeous!