Friday, 19 September 2014

THE GRAPES OF FROTH



Despite a fairly unpromising spring and early summer, our vines still managed to produce a pretty impressive crop of grapes this autumn.  This may not seem such a big deal for those of you living in warmer climes, but in view of the fact that we live on the northern tip of Cheshire, to be able to harvest any sort of exotic fruit at all is quite an achievement.

For the past few years we've kept a few of the choicest bunches to enjoy as table grapes, and have then turned the rest into grape jelly which livens up our breakfast table throughout the depths of the English winter.  

As with my marmalade recipe, I make the jelly in the microwave.  For anyone who wants to have a go at making your own, this is what I do.  I'm using grapes here, but the process is the same for any sort of soft fruit.  The timings are based on a 700W microwave oven, and all settings are HIGH throughout.  As a rough guide, each kilo of fruit produces four jars of jelly.

First of all, rinse the fruit and get rid of any thick stalks, but without being too fussy about it. Weigh the fruit and put it into a preserving pan or large saucepan.  




To each kilo of fruit add half a litre of water.  Bring the mixture to the boil, stirring and crushing the fruit with a wooden spoon.  Reduce the heat and simmer the mixture for 10-15 minutes until it reduces to a pulp.  





Put the pulp into a jelly bag and leave it suspended over a bowl to allow the juice to filter through.  This normally takes 1-2 hours (or you can leave it overnight if you prefer).  



Please resist the temptation to squeeze the bag to speed up the process - this will result in your jelly being cloudy.  Instead, take advantage of the break to do something different. Such as read one of my novels.  Or the other one.

When the bag has stopped dripping, discard the pulp and measure the quantity of the juice which has collected in the bowl.  For each half-litre of liquid allow one kilo of jam sugar. Please note: ORDINARY SUGAR WON'T DO.  Jam sugar contains extra pectin, which means that your jelly will set with much less boiling and much less effort.


(Other brands of jam sugar are available)

Put the juice into a LARGE microwave-safe bowl.  The bowl needs to be no more than one-third full when cold, because the jelly will expand quite furiously as it boils.  If you have ended up with a lot of juice, you may find that you'll need to make the jelly in more than one batch.



Add the sugar, stir well, then microwave for ten minutes.  Stir well, then microwave for another ten minutes.  Stir again, then microwave for five minutes.  Stir again, then test the jelly by dipping a fork into it.  



If the jelly clings to the space between the prongs, it is ready.  If not, microwave again for another two minutes then test again.  Rinse and repeat as necessary.  Don't be deceived by the fact that at this stage the stuff will still look very runny - trust me, it will set as it cools. Do not overboil the jelly or it will set like concrete!

Put the jelly into clean jars, throw the bowl and all the other odds and ends into the dishwasher, put your feet up, and finish reading my novel.



Oh - and don't forget to spread the stuff on your toast in the morning.





Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Turning Histories into Histoires

Today I'm the guest of fellow Crooked Cat author Jane Bwye, talking about using family history as a basis for writing fiction.

Click here to see what I have to say.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Lifting the lid on the editing process

Today I'm the guest of fellow Crooked Cat author Carol Hedges, talking about the role of the editor.  

If you want to find out more, click here.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Guest of the RNA

Today I have the honour of being the guest of the prestigious Romantic Novelists' Association.  I'm over on their blog, talking about how I came to write The Ghostly Father.

Click here to hop over there and see what I have to say.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

STRANGER THAN FICTION

Ten years ago this week, I received, out of the blue, a letter which went on to change my life.  It was to spark off a chain of events which led, a few months later, to my meeting up with the family that I never, in my wildest dreams, imagined that I would ever know.  

It is a long and complicated story and would probably fill an entire book, but the piece that follows is just one small part of it.  During the past ten years I have shared it with family and a few close friends, but now perhaps the time is right for it to have a wider audience.

Tissues at the ready?


THE PHOTOGRAPH

I’ve always been bizarrely fascinated by the kind of stories in which long-lost relatives are finally reunited, and their relationship is ultimately proved, by means of a pair of long-separated objects.  But these stories belong in the realm of fairy tales with unexpected happy endings, not in the real world.  Or so I’d always thought…

As a product of the post-war baby-boom, I was born at a time when money was scarce and luxuries were even scarcer.  For much of my childhood the family didn’t even own a camera, so photographs of my early years are very few and far between.  Hence, the ones which do exist (mostly taken on borrowed Box Brownies) have become all the more valuable.  Which might explain why I’ve kept them all – including one particular picture which, for my whole life, I’ve never really liked.

The photograph is a grainy black-and-white 3” x 2” enprint.  It was taken at my first Christmas, when I was four months old, and shows me (dressed in my best but still baby-bald) sitting propped up on cushions on a dark velvet-upholstered sofa.  I appear to be waving at the camera and half-smiling.  The photo could have been quite pleasing, if it had been a simple above-the-waist shot:





But it isn’t.  It’s a full-frontal.  And thanks to the low angle of the camera and a very unfortunate pose, the picture is dominated by a most unflattering expanse of terry-towelling nappy.


Many a time, when I’ve come across my baby photos during a periodic clear-out, I’ve glared at this pre-pubescent knicker-flasher and reached for the waste paper basket.  But somehow (by divine intervention?) she has always found her way back into the photo box…


*

For as long as I could remember, one of my favourite childhood bedtime stories was the one about how "we chose you to be our very special little girl."  Brought up as an only child, and with little or no knowledge of the facts of life (That Sort Of Thing was just not talked about), I accepted this at face value and had no idea that it was in any way out of the ordinary.  It was only during my first year at secondary school, when adoption was being discussed in a biology lesson, that I finally twigged what that bedtime story actually meant.

The rest of that school day passed in a blur, then back at home I plucked up the courage to ask.  In a way, I suppose I had always known (my adoptive parents were wonderfully frank; they had never attempted, or intended, to conceal it from me), but the inescapable truth still came as a shock.  I was shown the birth and adoption certificates which were issued when my adoption was finalised.  They showed the date of my birth (which I already knew), and that I had been born in Wales (which I didn't know), but contained no other information to suggest that I had ever been called by any name other than the one I had always known.  And for many years after that, it never crossed my mind that I might have had a different name at birth.  Nor did I imagine, at that stage, that being an adoptee might make any significant difference to my life.  I was, and had always been, part of the only family I had known – and in any case, adoption was a one-way ticket.

Or at least, it was – until a change in the law in 1975 made it possible to open doors which had previously remained firmly closed.

And so it was that some time after my adoptive parents died, I made a few tentative enquiries – and eventually obtained a copy of my original birth certificate.  This was when I discovered, for the first time, that my name had not always been Susan.  I had begun life, and had spent the six months before my adoption was legalised, as Edwina.

Further enquiries revealed that my birth parents had subsequently married – and I later discovered that they had even tried, at that point, to get me back.  They went on to have two more children, both boys, and had emigrated to Australia in the 1960s, where my father had died in 1982 and where my brothers (both married and with families of their own) and my mother (who has since remarried) are still living. 

How we finally made contact – and why my parents had not been able to keep me – is another story entirely.  But during the early email exchanges which frequently flew between Manchester and Melbourne, one of my brothers told me that when our mother learned that I had been found, she had shown him a photograph of me as a baby.  I was very moved to learn that she had wanted to keep some small memento of the daughter she had been forced to give away – and even more moved to think that she should still have it, almost half a century later.  He borrowed it from her, scanned it and emailed it to me.  The attachment was labelled “edwina_baby.jpeg”:



Any doubts which I might have had about having finally found my birth family vanished the moment I opened the attachment.  The very photograph which I had always hated had been the very one that my mother had always loved…                                    


Thursday, 31 July 2014

Challenging Traditional Views

Today I have the honour to be the blog guest of my dear friend Ailsa Abraham.  I'm talking about how my two novels both throw down the gauntlet to traditional (and sometimes inappropriate) attitudes.  

Click here to hop over and take a look!

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Home Conflicts - the background to Nice Girls Don't

Today I'm over on the Brook Cottage Books blog, talking about Nice Girls Don't.  There's a giveaway too!  Hop over there and have a look!