For most people Saffron is a captivating and expensive spice which conjures up images of mysterious distant lands but for hundreds of years to the Cornish it has been a more homely than exotic ingredient.
It is a story of much conjecture and hot debate as to when saffron first arrived in Cornwall. There are stories of Phoenician and Roman traders from more than 2000 years ago but the more likely answer is a little later than that. In the 14th century Cornwall had a healthy trade in tin with its Spanish neighbours, who in turn had trade routes across the globe, one theory is that saffron first arrived through them.
And this fantastic aromatic spice made its way into our Cornish cooking. Saffron buns and saffron cake are an integral part of any cakey tea (well they always have been in my house anyway!) just as much as clotted cream. And there is even evidence that saffron was cultivated in a few select places in Cornwall for a while – there are records of saffron fields in Launcells near Bude, Fowey, Penryn, Feock and Gerrans. Eat your heart our Saffron Walden!
Growing and harvesting saffron is what makes it the most expensive spice in the world, it is very labour intensive. Saffron is in fact the dried red stigma of the autumn flowering purple Crocus Sativus. Each flower has to be hand picked and the three delicate stigma removed. It takes roughly 200 flowers to produce just 1 gram of saffron. But the result is a versatile spice with a unique flavour.
The name saffron comes from the Arabic word za’faran meaning yellow which gives a clue to its other use as a dye. Saffron also has medicinal properties and known to have a similar narcotic effect to opium. During the 18th and 19th centuries it was used in various opioid preparations, such a laudanum, for pain relief.
Saffron went out of fashion in cooking in England but it continued to remain a firm favourite here in Cornwall. As a child I remember posting saffron cakes to various Cornish relations across the country because here was the only place you could find it.
Recently however it has seen a bit of a revival with chefs both down here and in other parts of the country increasingly putting it on their menus and a small holding in Norfolk has even begun growing the precious crop. So maybe one day saffron will grow again in the county that has taken this delicious spice from ancient Persia into its culture and its heart.
The connections between ancient man, the stones structures they built and the natural rulers of the skies – the sun and the moon – are overwhelming. It seems to me impossible to understand what mattered to our ancestors without taking into account the struggle they faced with the elements and their battle to understand their often hostile world.
On the top of Leskernick hill hidden in a little visited part of Bodmin Moor lies a simple yet wonderfully intriguing pile of stones. This stone construction pre-dates all the others that surrounded it and there are many! Close by you can find the remains of numerous hut circles, a stone row and 2 stone circles. Continue reading →
There are literally hundreds of Holy Wells in Cornwall, each associated with a saint and usually famous for providing some kind of miraculous cure for some ailment – from rickets to infertility to lameness and eye complaints, there’s a well out there that will help you.
We forget of course that the vast majority of wells and springs were precious for a far more mundane but vitally important reason – they provided the local population with clean drinking water. So important were these supplies of water that there are still numerous laws protecting springs and wells from interference or pollution.
You might be surprised to know that mains drinking water didn’t arrive to some of Cornwall’s smaller villages and isolated hamlets until the 1950s, some as late as 1970.
The spring at Quenchwell in Feock really doesn’t seem anything special. It can be found just beside a public footpath near Carnon Downs but this little well still actually supplies a number of properties with water to this day. Continue reading →
Today is the 5th March, Saint Piran’s Day, a festival celebrated across Cornwall with marches, parades, music and some delightfully over-enthusiastic nationalism.
I went to my first St Piran’s Day pilgrimage to the cross and chapel in the dunes near Perranporth today below are some of my pictures. I was freezing cold and the wind did it’s best to blow me over but I thoroughly enjoyed myself as did the couple of hundred other people there. But really what’s it all about? Continue reading →
It’s been a little while since I posted anything about my rather lovely Kodak Box Brownie camera, if the truth be told I have been using my digital a lot more over this autumn and winter and part of the reason for that is the light, or lack of it!
I posted a little guide to the brownie’s features a while back and in that I spoke about how you to control the aperture on this camera (the amount of light you allow to enter the lens and hit the film).
My Brownie only has 3 basic settings. The lever which has 3 different sized holes in it simply pulls up out of the body of the camera. When it is in a closed position, pushed right in, it is at it’s widest aperture (for use on cloudy days/winter). One click out, the middle position, is for bright evening/morning light. The third position, with the lever pulled right out, is for very bright sunshine/summertime . Continue reading →
Living beside the sea means you have a long-term relationship with a wild, wonderful and mysterious entity.
You can never be sure what she will do next. As the recent Storm Imogen has proved you can never trust her and you must expect surprises, the occasional wet foot and salt-misted glasses.
I grew up fearing the open water more than loving it. Despite the obvious stereotype being Cornish doesn’t mean that you are born with gills and a surfboard under your arm.
I do love her though and I treat her with a respect I feel she deserves.
There is something restorative about being near the water. The Victorians agreed, they thought that the sea air and salt water was the cure for just about every ill and in the 19th century Penzance became the destination of choice of the discerning invalid. Consequently the town has a very large graveyard.
I am not a huge fan of that old habit of just sailing up to a place, sticking a flag in it and calling it whatever you liked – I mean lets face it Aotearoa is a far better name for New Zealand! But when I read that there was an island and a language named after a Cornishman, well, of course I had to find out more!
Our world no longer seems full of intrepid explorers but back in the 18th century they were all the rage. Samuel Wallis, born in Lanteglos by Camelford in 1728, was to become one.
His parents John Wallis and Sarah Barrett had married in the quiet moorland town of St Tudy not far from Bodmin in 1720. The couple had 3 sons and all were born at the family home of Fentonwoon (which means the spring on the downs in Cornish). A small estate, Fentonwoon had been owned by the family since the time of Elizabeth I.
As a minor landowner and therefore a gentleman John Wallis was able to provide the boys with a good education. Samuel like many young men of the era joined the Navy in 1744, no doubt looking for adventure. He fought in the wars Continue reading →
For a long time I have had a strange fascination with Argal reservoir. I know that with so much natural beauty so near by this might seem a strange choice as one of my favourite places for a walk. But I go there often and for a number of reasons.
As I live within 10 minutes drive of this artificial lake it makes an ideal place for me to grab some fresh air and take a quick stroll. A perambulation of the water’s edge takes me roughly 40 mins and that’s with my camera!
Although it is very well used by dog-walkers, fishermen and runners I always find it a Continue reading →
Strangles is a pretty ominous name for anything. And it appears that this darkly beautiful beach, on arguably the most dramatic part of Cornwall’s northern coast, gets it’s name for equally ominous reasons. The dangerous currents and jagged rocks that surround Strangles make this a particularly treacherous part of our coastline.
There is a much repeated local adage about the ruthless nature of this stretch of water:
“From Pentire Point to Hartland Light,
A watery grave by day or by night”
and Strangles beach lies right inside this danger zone, not far from the more picturesquely named Crackington Haven. Continue reading →
A gull’s wing tip topped the wave and just for a moment the air currents caught hold of its white feathers and the bird swung in the air, weightless as thistle-down. The sea twisted, turned and undulated but the stark unmoving line of the horizon didn’t alter. It was empty, a deep blue ribbon floating between an ocean of silver and a grey sky. There was not a shadow to be seen beneath the surface of the lulling waves and other than the gull not a single living thing above. The clouds stretched out over the water, still, in the last of the fading winter light.
Closer to the shore she watched, the sea spray was dancing up like a haze on the breeze. Moisture thrown up by the insistent waves butting time after time against the rocks below the cliff. The wet settled like a shining dust on her lashes and hair. The red woollen shawl she clawed around her with rough tired hands had a feather-like dusting of salty droplets on it and a wintery chill was setting in her bones. Time to leave. Continue reading →