Saturday, October 26, 2013

A very special birthday

I was invited to a birthday party for John Maher, a first cousin of my late mother. John turned 88 last week, and his family threw him a party at the Railway House B&B in Daylesford. I drove over from
Castlemaine, through lovely green countryside, and was warmly welcomed by the large family gathering. Seven of John's children were there, plus several grandchildren, a couple of cute grandbabies, and a rather fetching Collie dog.

Sadly, John's lovely wife Theresa died last year, but I know she would have been pleased to see the love and respect so evident for John today.
There were photos, cakes with candles, speeches, and lots of stories to share.

And confirmation of a story I related here a while back about my grandfather, Pat Maher, and his final journey. You may want to refresh your memory here.

My cousin Barry had related how Pat Maher died in Sydney, and his son and two nephews drove up there from their home in Minyip to bring his body home. Barry was only a small boy at the time, and I wasn't entirely sure if it happened as he remembered.

Today John Maher told me it was indeed true, and in fact he owned the car in question, a Ford V8. John didn't want to go into the details of how exactly it was done, and no-one was too sure that it was quite legal to carry a deceased person in a private car. But it definitely happened. So glad we've cleared that up.
Barry died earlier this year, and I'm sorry for doubting him, he had it right all along.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Leafy - but wet

During the week I went to Eltham and visited Susie and her family.

the old Midland Hotel, oposite the railway station
  I left Castlemaine in brilliant sunshine,

Castlemaine Railway station

but on Wednesday it rained,

 and rained,

 and rained some more.
Susie is heaps better, but still not allowed to drive, so we stayed inside, and talked, swapped recipes, and played Scrabble. She beat me, too!

 I took the opportunity to take a photo of this quilt, a bit blurry, but you get the idea...

 and couldn't resist this. Susie is well known for her love of purple, and people give her stuff...

One of the recipes we talked about was Savoury Chops, a Good Thing to make when nights are cold...

Savoury chops
brown 6-8 barbecue lamb chops in a little oil, add a finely sliced onion, then pour over the following mixture, mixed in this order -
1tsp salt, 1 tsp dry mustard, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1 tablespoon vinegar, 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 cup tomato sauce, 1/2 cup water.
Simmer until chops are tender, and serve with mashed potato and a green vegetable.

You'll find Worcestershire sauce in the supermarket near the tomato and barbecue sauces. It keeps for years.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Gypsy in the family?

Van Gogh

A query from a grand-daughter prompted me to revisit a family legend - that one of our ancestors was a gypsy.
I've always been a bit sceptical about this, but maybe, just maybe, it's true.

When I was in Germany some years ago, I visited the village of Bad Grund, because I knew the Niewand family had lived there at some stage. At the Lutheran church of St. Antonius, I was allowed to look through the church registers, with the help of the Social Worker. We found a record in 1719 of the birth of a daughter, Dorothea, to Hennig Heinrich Niewandt and his wife, Gesa Maria. Unusually, no surname was shown for Gesa. The name is unique in the parish records, suggesting that she was in some way foreign..

Later entries record the baptism of three more children (one of them my ancestor). BUT after the first entry, Gesa's name does not appear, a blank space was deliberately left where the mother's name should have been entered. Gesa Maria had somehow offended the pastor, and the deliberate omission of her name suggests some kind of excommunication. There is no record of a marriage between Hennig and Gesa, either, which suggests they may have married elsewhere.

I looked up "Gesa" and it appears to be a Romani word meaning day or days. It's also a female name still in use today, probably of German origin, possibly a variant of Gertrude. 
So it's  possible that Gesa Maria was a Romani, but I really have no proof. How she fell from favour with the Lutheran Church is a mystery, perhaps she did a little fortune-telling among the villagers?

For centuries Romanies were universally disliked, feared, and even persecuted - you can read more about them here.

 They've also been romanticized, as in this photo of a Russian gypsy girl, and their music continues to influence popular music to this day. Django Reinhardt is perhaps the best known Romani musician, but flamenco music also owes much to the Spanish Romani.

Gesa Maria was probably born around 1700 (Which would make her 19 when Dorothea was born in 1719). She was my great-great-great-great-great grandmother. Given that I now have great-grandchildren, she has ten generations of descendants, numbering in the hundreds. Not bad for a lady who was persona non grata with the Lutheran pastor back in the 1720s !

Breaking news
My new textile blog is ready! There's a link over in the sidebar (under my picture) It's taken ages to set up- creating a satisfactory header was a headache, cos I'm hopeless with Photoshop, but I've finally got something I like.

My other idea, for a textile gallery, didn't work out, so I'm in the process of creating photo albums on Flickr.
To see what I've done so far, click the Flickr on the sidebar.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

One thing leads to another

I've been thinking that this blog is probably not the most appropriate place to show off my textile creations. It's supposed to be about family history. Ideally, I'd love to have a personal website, and put all my "stuff" on it, but that's way beyond my capabilities.
I decided to start a new blog, just for textile creations.
I made a start on this, but then I thought "what about all those pictures I have of previous projects?" I'd really like to show those to an admiring world...

 So another blog was born (guess that makes me a Serial Blogger)

Setting up a new blog takes time - finding the right template, tweaking it to fit my vision, creating a header... which means I haven't made any tangible work in the past week. But I'm learning new stuff, like how to create a photo mosaic -

isn't that cool?

The new blogs aren't quite ready for viewing yet. I'll let you know when they are.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble

I've been making jam - the fig tree has been loaded (the birds have been having a fine  time) and the quinces are ripening too.
 I often find that people are nervous about jam-making, maybe it's the mental image of a bubbling cauldron, or the idea that it's a mysterious process, akin to following a witches' spell. So I thought I'd put together a Jam-making 101 post for those of you who are a bit nervous.

It's pretty simple actually. You cook the fruit with a little water until it's soft, add sugar, and cook again to reduce the water content, until it reaches 'setting point',  then pour it into jars and seal them. That's it, really.
The equipment is simple too.

A pot - I use a heavy-based medium sized stockpot. The thick base helps to prevent the mixture from burning. (don't be tempted to buy a cheap stockpot - they are useless). You could use any large saucepan, really, as long as it has a heavy base. I also use a heat-diffusing pad under the pot. You can get them at the hardware store. I don't think they are made with asbestos these days :-)
A long-handled wooden spoon for stirring the jam.
Scales to weigh the fruit and sugar are nice, but not essential, you can just measure cup-for-cup.
Clean, dry jars, recycled are good. I don't sterilise them exactly, just wash them well, then scald them with boiling water and allow to air-dry - the lids too. When you're sure they are bone dry, store with the lids on. Not a good idea to use lids from spicy stuff (pickles, curry sauce) for jam, it's hard to get the smell off them.
Apart from tasting yummy, you want your jam to keep, and you want it to set (not be too runny).
My mother used to cover her jam with a layer of wax to seal it and prevent mould, but that's not necessary with modern jars, which have a rubber seal built into the lid. Screwing the lid on immediately will create a vacuum seal as the jam cools. But the jars must be dry! The sugar in jam is a natural preservative, too.
Setting depends on pectin, a natural fibre found in plant cell walls and most concentrated in the skin of fruits. It is water-soluble and binds with sugar and fruit acid to form a gel
I usually make small batches - no more than  a kilo or so at a time (a kilo is 2.205 pounds or about 35 oz)
This amount cooks faster and, I think, tastes better.

Most jam recipes require that you cook the fruit first in a little water, then add the sugar and boil rapidly until setting point is reached. The reason for this is that adding sugar toughens the fruit skins, so they should be softened first. There a few exceptions to this method - fig jam for instance.
My recipe recommends soaking the figs and half the sugar overnight, and adding liquid and the rest of the sugar next day, then cooking all together.
Here's the exact recipe -
2 lb figs (32 oz), 1 lemon, 28 oz sugar, 11 fluid oz water, including 1/2 cup of lemon juice.
PM - Mince figs, or chop finely, add finely sliced whole lemon (seeds removed) and half the sugar.
Stir well, and leave overnight.
AM - Add liquid and remainder of sugar, cook about one hour, until setting point is reached.
I've modified this a bit, because my variety of figs are large and very juicy, so I don't see the need for extra liquid. And I like my fig jam lemony, so I use 2 lemons.

Here's what I did the other day -
PM - chopped the figs and weighed them = 1 Kilo. Put the deseeded and chopped lemons in the blender,
then added them to the figs with 500g sugar (half the weight of the figs). Stirred well to mix, and left to stand overnight.
AM - A very liquid mixture resulted, so I didn't add any water at all, just another 500g of sugar. If your figs are a bit dryer, you could add a bit of water, maybe up to a cupful.
Cooked just below a rolling boil until setting point was reached. Yummy!

NB these are different from my figs (picture from the internet) and you might need to add water with them.

How to tell if your jam is ready. When I start to cook the jam, I put a couple of saucers in the freezer.
When I think the jam is nearly done (you can see on the side of the pot how much the mixture has reduced, plus the texture changes) I put a teaspoon of jam on a saucer, and put it in the fridge - not the freezer - for at least 5 minutes. If the surface of your jam sample wrinkles when you push it with your finger, it's ready.
No wrinkles? Try again in 10 minutes or so.

A few other things about figs - don't use them for jam if they've been rained on recently - it won't keep;
and did you know, figs are flowers, not fruit?

Next time - quince jelly.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Pretty little things

I promised to show you what I've been making lately, so here goes...

I've been making brooches, quite a lot of brooches actually, it's a bit addictive.
These are all 2 1/2" x 2", hand embroidered  to my own designs. I think this little tree is my favourite so far.

 This one's pink lace over taffeta, with a sprinkle of beads, so pretty.

Another little tree, worked on tan linen.

Puffy little roses, on green linen

back view

not so sure about this one...

OK, this is brooch number 6. I'm having lots of fun, and plenty of ideas for more brooches. But clearly I'm going to have to stop, or start selling them...
Most people who sell brooches mount them on a piece of card, like this. But maybe I can do a little better than that, hmm?

 So I spent an entire whole day  designing a small origami box. A square box is easy, an oblong one is more of a challenge! But I finally got it right -

Now we just need a label on the back.

 Compared to making a quilt or a crochet rug, which takes weeks, these little brooches are almost instant gratification. I can embroider and assemble one in a day (the assembly and making the box takes nearly as long as the embroidery).

These have gone to the gift shop at Buda Historic Home and Garden.

I've made several more since these pictures were taken, though I guess I'll run out of steam eventually - I usually do with these things...
I'm learning as I go - how to make the backs neater, and what fabrics work best. I like to use recycled fabrics if I can, and I'm having fun doodling new designs.

Now I'm thinking of opening an Etsy shop.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

Keats wrote a lovely "Ode to Autumn" celebrating this most glorious of seasons, when the mornings are crisp, and the leaves glow like wine.
We are having a run of beautiful, balmy days, and the garden is a joy - there are figs, and quinces, and a riot of late roses, and the ornamental grape vine looks like stained glass in the afternoon sun.

I took photos this afternoon, and thought I'd share them with you.

The ornamental grape, mingled with the lovely apricot Rosa 'Crepuscule'

I've been spending a lot of time on the back veranda, enjoying the autumn leaves

A lucky shot of R. 'Golden Wings'

and my favourite - R. 'Mutabilis'

 and this strange flower, promising some more old-fashioned fruit... anyone recognise it?