Cornish Recipes

Holidays often feature food in a way that everyday life doesn’t quite manage.

We spend so much of our time running from one thing to another, juggling work, with friends, travel, children.

Even when we do eat well it’s often snatched meals, trusted favourites, rather than experimenting with new things, taking time to relax and enjoy the pleasures of a great meal.

That’s why holiday food is so good.

If you’re self catering and you have a good kitchen (for me so long as there are sharp knives, or good knives and a handy sharpener, and a pan then I’m away), then take your time and create. It can be a joy for you and the family.

In the far west we are lucky to have access to great produce. In St Just we have two superb butchers, McFaddens and Vivian Olds, and Stones the greengrocers, while in Penzance there’s another great butcher at Lenterns and all the great fish and shellfish in Newlyn.

Most of the cottages have a good range of cookbooks, and we’re about to add a little gem, a gift from a lovely friend Elaine Jones.

Favourite Cornish Recipes by June Kittow was published back in 1993, although it looks like it could be 30 years older than that, and contains simple recipes for some classics that I grew up with, yet didn’t particularly think of as Cornish.

Pasties lead. Obviously.

Next recipe is for Cornish splits. What a beauty. Bread gets called all sorts depending on where you live – in the north west I was pretty shocked to hear people ordering dinners in a barm, but eventually I got used to the huge flying saucer like rolls. Well, growing up down west we used to eat splits, or sometimes bread buns, but generally splits.

Part of the fun of the book is its straightforward honesty. No talking up the dish in question, what you might serve it with, or certainly not what you might want to drink – just a straight description of how to make it, and none of your fancy decimal measures or temperatures, despite being written 20 years after Britain supposedly went metric.

Some recipes are particular to a town – luncheon cake from Truro, and occasional variations are offered – saffron cake, or rich Cornish saffron cake, the latter seems just to have more of everything, in particular more sugar. ‘Ansom!

Sweet follows savoury follows sweet, no seeming order – why bother with categories when there’s an alphabet to help us?

Hevva Cake? (spell check didn’t like that, and not will your indigestion!). Star Gazey Pie?

They’re all in there. I think the book will have to start in Myn Tea and then take a sabbatical in New Forge – let me know what recipes you try!

Thanks Elaine. It’s a beauty.

Favourite Cornish Recipes

Favourite Cornish Recipes

 

For the love of guests

We were away at Christmas, staying in a self catering cottage on the west coast of Scotland.

Four of us in the wilds, fulfilling a promise to each other to take a Christmas escape.

I was hoovering the bedroom one morning when one of our friends said, “I bet not many of your guests do that”.

And that set me thinking about our guests and what a wonderful bunch of people the vast majority turn out to be.

It’s a difficult and personal thing letting your house to someone. Even if it’s a holiday home it still has a deep emotional attachment, perhaps even more than that of your everyday home. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that…

I care as much about those lovely houses we look after for other people as I do for our own, because I know the pain and concern that engulfs you when something goes wrong, particularly when you’re hundreds of miles away.

Thankfully our guests generally look after the houses well. Some even leave gifts, such as a hamper from some Germans back in the summer, this lovely piece of beach art (he even has his own story),

Star Gazer

Star Gazer

and the water colours of a particular Louise who has made many visits. I have two of them in front of my desk now. At Christmas a certain Dr Bernd sent a wonderful selection of Lebkuchen not only to us, but also to the owners of Westmoor Farm where he stayed. These are soft ginger biscuits, chocolate covered – and my favourites have bitter cherries in them.

Lebkuchen from Germany, gorgeous!

Lebkuchen from Germany, gorgeous!

The joy of offering great accommodation isn’t in what we might receive in return though, it’s the lovely words from guests when they return home, or when their friends ring to make a booking on their recommendation. When people come back year after year you know you are getting it right.

And I know they often do hoover – I have to change the bag most times I go home.

Thank you all for looking after our lovely cottages so well. We appreciate it and in return do all we can to make your experience a great one.

Cold Water. The Sennen Beach Christmas Swim.

Cold water hurts.

It kills.

If you fall into icy water you’re likely to suffer cold shock response.

Vasoconstriction causes a heart attack.

You’re then likely to breathe with your head under water, so if the cold didn’t get you the drowning will.

Yet swimming in cold water is so stimulating to those who engage in the practice by choice that they find it addictive.

I rarely feel so alive as when I’ve just survived another cold swim. OK, my feet hurt and I might not feel my hands for a few hours, but hey! A cocktail of endorphins kicks in that makes you feel invincible, and shocks the libido into life (apparently).

What more reason do you need?

Breathe. That’s the secret. Keep good regular deep breaths going and you’ll avoid the shock, from a medical perspective if not a physical one.

I worked for a while with The Cornish Pirates and there were a few old boys there who swam every day off the Battery Rocks behind The Jubilee Pool. That’s every day, like right through winter, and one of them was in his 70’s.

Brilliant!

Cold water swimming isn’t for everyone.

In fact many would say swimming in this country isn’t for them. Full stop. Ever.

My mum is one of them.

But if you want to get a sense of the excitement without even taking your clothes off, then the Sennen Beach Christmas Swim is the place to be.

At 10.30 if you wander onto Sennen Beach on Christmas Day you might wonder if you have got it all wrong, “Are you sure it isn’t on New Year’s Day dear?”

At 10.45 people start arriving from every direction. Well, every land direction.

By 10.50 there are throngs of people on the beach. Dogs are going wild picking up on the adrenalin of the crazy ones, and their friends.

Approaching 11.00 there’s a count down, and then a mad dash.

No wet suits please. Trunks, or even fancy dress, is optional. In 2012 a bunch of lads took skinny dipping to heart – brave in front of such a crowd.

Oh yes, the crowd. Over a 1,000 spectators showed up this year.

And a record 400+ swimmers too.

I missed it this year, we were in the Highlands for Christmas, but The Cornish Way was well represented with New Forge guests Chris, Ness and the boys taking the plunge.

I’m pretty sure Tammo and family who were staying in The Old Dairy made it too.

Well done you all!

The oldest swimmer this year was regular Alan Griffiths making his 31st swim at an impressive 92 years old! That makes him old enough to know better even before he started.

The youngest were apparently two six year old girls.

You now know when and where it is.

You have no excuse.

Don’t start training now. Start when the sea is at its warmest, late August probably. And then just keep going through the winter.

Whatever you do just keep breathing.

 

Our intrepid guests, Chris, Ness and the boys.

Our intrepid guests, Chris, Ness and the boys.

 

The Sennen Beach Swim 2014.

The Sennen Beach Swim 2014.

 

I can see myself in this one, Polly standing guard. 2011 I guess by her size.

I can see myself in this one, Polly standing guard. 2011 I guess by her size.

Into The Wild?

There is no British wilderness. Having sixty or so million people on a small island has meant that everywhere has been populated at some stage.  Nonetheless the Highlands are pretty empty. The area offers a taste of a very different life for all us townies and city dwellers, largely as a result of brutal clearances in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Living up on Zennor Moor would feel metropolitan compared to Scotland’s extremities.

You can be more remote on the mainland than on the Western Isles here. A drive of fifteen miles might be necessary to get somewhere just a mile over the hill.

Even so, nowhere I have found yet is more than twenty miles from some sort of shop. Jolly places they tend to be with a crazy selection of goods from wellington boots, through cook-in sauces to fertiliser, and ten year old videos. Occasionally great sea food. And chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate.

We couldn’t get much further from West Cornwall this Christmas. I suspect there’ll be no organized Christmas Day swim anywhere near here tomorrow, despite the sea loch being just below the garden.

When it’s clear we can see Eigg across the water, but that’s not often. Rain and stinging hail lash us frequently. There’s so much wind coming in through the windows that candles won’t stay lit in places. Yet this is as close to paradise as I can imagine.

There’s internet, but no phone signal. There’s a decent cooker, a big woodburner, and stacks of logs. The next car to pass the house might be tomorrow, but then again it might not be that busy!

This British hint of wilderness is changing though, and it’s changing fast. Like the other outstandingly beautiful wild oases of this island, tourism is too important to dissuade, yet more people coming can only serve to spoil its joy.

Last year’s de-crofting law has meant that land tied to a property as a croft no longer has to be preserved for solely agricultural use. The result is that plots are appearing for sale in some of the most stunning places Britain has to offer. The buildings that have gone up tend to be simple, beautiful structures that do well in reflecting the vernacular. Squat, tough, often timber clad, yet with big windows to take in those views.

The saving grace, for now at least, is that it takes so long to get here. Three and a half hours from Glasgow, and roads that will leave every passenger nauseous despite the beauty they cut through.

The other detracting factor is the midges. The most evil beasts to plague this island make a misery of the outdoor life in summer. Oh, and the rain. The rain has moved between light, heavy and torrential for most of our stay – but at least that means that it’s wonderfully green.

Amanda, Kelvin, Emma and Daz Man Rockstar stayed at Scarduish, nearest shop – Acharacle. Nearest (open) pub – yet to be discovered!

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The Ribbons Are For Fearlessness. Catrina Davies.

Love. Adventure. Surf. Travel. Music. But above all self discovery.

This is a great read, an easy read, and one you won’t want to put down. If you’re lucky it’ll even get you thinking and maybe breaking from the humdrum.

A few weeks ago Rachel, the owner of the lovely Trevena Cross Barn at Breage, recommended a local girl’s first publication – The Ribbons Are For Fearlessness.

The book arrived on the morning of a train trip to London, followed by a whole load of meetings around town that would mean lots of tube journeys too.

Perfect.

I was gripped from the off, and in my mind I had pictured Ben’s Rosie as the author. Rosie’s knackered van sat up at Tregiffian for a summer and seemed to fit the bill. If only I knew her surname I would have realised that I was close, very close. Cat’s Rosie’s sister.

The Ribbons doesn’t pull punches.

If you have ever convinced yourself that you can perform to a crowd you’ll probably remember the dread before you launched yourself into your show, be that a presentation, song, comedy.

If you have ever slept in a van with ice on the inside you’ll know it’s no dream journey. If you’ve done it with a broken heart then you’ll be closer to the story than most.

This rollercoaster tale is about facing your demons.

Truly having nothing to lose, and going for it, coming out, stronger, wiser. Better.

Read it when you’re happy.

Read it when you’re sad.

Read it when you’re feeling weak.

Read it when your get up and go has got up and gone.

That train journey got me through most of the book. Reading through the night finished it.

As soon as I got up next day I bought eight copies for friends. Each of those friends has bought it as presents for friends of their own.

I loved The Ribbons and I hope you will too.

Follow Cat on social media stuff and once you’ve read The Ribbons you’ll want to buy her EP too. Here’s her site: Catrina Davies.

I ordered eight copies as soon as I'd finished.

I ordered eight copies as soon as I’d finished.

What is value?

What is value?

Why have we come to think that value means cheap?

And why is expensive seen to mean that something costs a lot?

To me expensive means merely that the item costs more than it is worth. And here’s the important part… more than it’s worth to you.

And value? Well surely it’s no coincidence that monetary value and personal values stem from the same noun.

All these thoughts were flooding through my mind as we sat in The Old Dairy last night.

We were toasty warm in front of its huge roaring fire, as Mark cooked our meal on top of the wood burning stove.

The cottage was filled with the smell of the gorgeous dinner to come.

But it wasn’t the smell, the anticipation, or the warmth that had me considering value.

It was the solidity of the place.

This house was built to last.

To last for centuries.

It has already. And it will again.

It’s the mantel stone that most impresses.

It is massive. Utterly massive. Today that single stone would cost as much as the house did when it was built.

I guess that originally there would have been a cast iron Cornish range in the space beneath it. While having one there now would add romance to the place, the wood burner is a whole lot easier to live with.

The proportions of the house make you feel safe.

It was built with true values.

And provided the right people continue to own it, then it’ll stand far longer than any of us lucky people who get to stay there.

Long after we have discarded all of our flat packed furniture, The Old Dairy will be standing.

Long after our unfeasibly cheap linens have shredded and been replaced, its patina will only have improved.

At Tregiffian we’re gradually moving from the mass produced, to favour craft. Quality items, built to last by skilled manufacturers.

I hope many of our guests will appreciate the difference.

The beauty of handling an aged piece, be that a chair, a cooking implement, even a cast iron cooking pot that has fed many guests before.

It may be a cast iron bath that is perhaps a bit scratchy, but that is responsible for the cleanliness of generations.

Tregiffian, and the wonderful properties of The Cornish Way, is a truly special place. Rugged, yet calming. Remote, yet connected.

And it continues to get better as years slip by.

Its value far surpasses any figure denoted by currency.

Come enjoy. Come relax. Come and fall in love.

Take in that mantle - it's huge!

Take in that mantle – it’s huge!

 

The Old Dairy. New Year. 2014.

The Old Dairy. New Year. 2014.

 

Few shots of a fire do justice to the joy that it brings.

Few shots of a fire do justice to the joy that it brings.

 

The Old Dairy - likely to outlive us all.

The Old Dairy – likely to outlive us all.

On Winter, Cycling and Cornwall.

For fifteen months I have cycled to work most days.

No great distance.

10 miles each way, sometimes longer when a fine evening has tempted me to stretch the trip home.

Despite working mostly from an office, for fifteen months I have been wonderfully aware of the weather.

And so this morning, for the first time since January, I was aware of winter.

Bitterly cold. Beautiful.

I felt so alive.

In a car, bus, train, or even walking, you can avoid the cold.

Not on a bike.

With a constant 15 – 20 mph wind all weather is exaggerated, none more so than the cold.

Good gloves, hilarious overshoes, and merino base layers all do their bit to keep your core warm. Your face though takes it all in.

And it’s an amazing feeling I wouldn’t ever want to avoid.

Lying in my super comfortable Travelodge bed I can tell if a morning is frosty, or even snowy, by the amount of light creeping around the curtains when it should be dark.

This morning it was so bright I expected snow, but it was just a heavy frost.

The roads were slick, slippery in places, and on the lanes I was treated to any number of tiny birds frantically flying from cover in search of breakfast.

A stoat crossed my path, undulating as if he were a rollercoaster. But then again he could have been a weasel.

And all the way into work I dreamt of Cornwall.

Sennen. Jan 2014.

Sennen. Jan 2014.

Of the beautiful and dramatic changes that winter brings.

It’s an exciting time of such extremes.

Rarely does it freeze, but we do have wild storms.

The beaches are empty, and only the hardy venture into the waters.

Polly on Gwenver. December.

Polly on Gwenver. December.

The Christmas Day Swim at Sennen is a must, even if you only watch. The excitement is palpable, the anticipation of the cold water on naked skin, the screams of shock, and for the mad ones, joy.

Then, after that bracing walk, or even swim, heading back inside is all the more rewarding.

The log burners roaring and pumping glorious dry heat into our well insulated rooms.

The Old Dairy. New Year. 2014.

The Old Dairy. New Year. 2014.

Ideally some slow cooked stew, chilli or curry has scented the house and will soon fill our bellies.

Dawn. New Forge. December.

Dawn. New Forge. December.

Heavy red wines.

Whiskey.

Steaming cups of tea.

The sofa is more comfortable, the blankets more inviting, and bed, oh let me lie in bed the whole night through – if only there were a fire place in the bedroom!

Polly. Dressed for winter.

Polly. Dressed for winter.

Even friends and family seem closer, more lovely. Precious.

Bring me winter, let it fill me with joy.

At least until the excitement of the first buds of spring.

Leaves. Hanging in there.

Leaves. Hanging in there.

Major Garden Works at Myn Tea

It was way back in 2006 that we stripped Myn Tea back to the stone and converted the two flat back into the house that it is now.

We didn’t do much other than plant the shelter belt of bushes, meaning to come back to finish the gardens, but until now that hasn’t happened.

Each year we have re-invested what the houses have brought in to gradually improved and update them. Last year Myn Tea’s investment was the gorgeous little fire that is a joy as soon as the temperatures start dropping.

You'll want to come in winter and snuggle up.

This year we have finally attacked the gardens – and attack is the appropriate term.

We wanted to create seating options that would offer guests somewhere to catch the sun at different times of the day, as well as an area to gather around a fire in the evenings.

The fire circle - in progress

The fire circle – in progress

 

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The soil at Tregiffian has tons of rab (ground up mine waste that’s mainly a granite gravel). This gives us good drainage, but it’s blinking hard to dig. John Murray and his team weren’t messing and got some heavy kit in to tackle the job, but even the mini diggers weren’t enough to shift one hearing great granite rock.

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While the big rocks are a challenge to get out, they’re things of beauty once on the surface, this fellow will just get better when there’s some planting around him.

The rock, as yet unnamed

It’s work in progress still, but we’re hugely excited about the potential. Look out for another post soon.

A perfect (early) morning. Gwenver.

I’m sitting at the table in Myn Tea.

It’s midnight and then some.

We’re just in from the garden where a few friends have been sitting out, watching the waxing moon, listening to the sea, and discussing the madness of the Lafrowda Oscars which took place at Cape School in St Just tonight.

It could only happen here.

And I talked about last night.

Waking at 4.00am, and knowing that there would be no more sleep for a long time, and so I’d best make the most of my time.

I got up and gently raised Polly, the dog.

We walked off to the beach in the silvery moonlight.

Sitting on Gwenver at 04.30 in the morning, catching glimpses of the moon off the water, the air still warm, mid-October. No one to be seen.

And feeling that I was the luckiest man in the world.

The air is rarely still here, but it was this morning. Making it all the greater as a gift.

A moment in time.

And only Polly to share it with.

Polly who bravely chased away the foes who existed in her imagination.

Such a shame her chase was sometimes so vocal.

Now I’d best seek that sleep that eluded me last night.

Good night.

Weddings at Tregiffian

It’s always encouraging when guests book to come back to one of the cottages again. It’s the best recommendation we could hope for.

But then when people get as emotionally connected to the cottages as we are then it’s better still.

Back at the end of the summer we were delighted when a lovely couple, Dave and Louise, chose Myn Tea for their wedding party, a lovely gathering of friends and family, pulled from around the country, to a beautiful day at Tregiffian.

Dave and Louise - party at Myn Tea

Dave and Louise – party at Myn Tea

Another lovely couple who stay in New Forge in deepest darkest winter chose to get engaged there in January this year – hurrah, and congratulations Bill and Louise (is there a Louise theme starting here?). The romance of the far west is even stronger in winter, and I’m looking forward to our stays in the dark months this year.

Thank you all our lovely friends.

Thank you all our lovely friends.

Coming up in March another treasured guest is having her wedding party at Myn Tea too.

Perfect end to Dave and Louise's perfect day.

Perfect end to Dave and Louise’s perfect day.

If I were to list all of the honeymoons we’ve hosted this post would get long indeed.

So just to close this off on the wedding theme, Amanda and I aways get to Tregiffian to celebrate our own wedding, which we held on the cliffs at Bosigran, Portheras Beach, and Penzance Arts Club.

Who’s next? I imagine the gardens at Trevena Barn would be completely ideal for a wedding.