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 →
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 →
The romantically named Atlantic Highway which runs along the length of Cornwall’s north coast is, I believe, one of the best drives in the county. The road, otherwise known as the A39, links Falmouth in Cornwall to Bath in Somerset. The route takes in some stunning scenery as it hugs the coast and heads for the heights of Exmoor. It is a little ambition of mine to drive the entire length in one long hot summer’s day (perhaps spotting frequently for ice cream and photographs.
But today is not that day and I turn off the Atlantic Highway on to quieter roads soon after the little harbour of Boscastle. Continue reading →
Lets face it most of the decisions you make in the pub are at best misguided and at worst dangerous. We have all read or heard about some crazy misadventure and thought to ourselves that decision was definately made after several pints of Spingo!? I have to admit that was my first thought when I read about the voyage of Captain Richard Nicholls and his six crew.
One day in the middle of the winter of 1854 they set sail in their 37ft fishing boat called Mystery. As they left the safety of the small harbour of Newlyn their next stop was to be the coast of Australia. A treacherous journey of roughly 11,000 miles. . . Through some of the world’s roughest seas. . . In a small fishing boat. . . Somebody pass the rum! Continue reading →
On the last day of 2016 I thought I would Reblog my first ever post on here. One of the highlights of my year has been creating and writing this blog, so to all those who read, comment and follow I truly appreciate it! Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2017!
My mother is always reminding me that lichen is a sign of clean air. So now every time I see a tree or boulder which is green with the bushy little parasite her words come back to me. I stick out my chin and take in a deep lung full of the good stuff.
Towards the further most tip of Butney Bank, where on a cold winter’s day the thick fonds of the ferns are the colour of orchre, there is an ancient oak tree. It’s isolation, out on the strip of land in the middle of a tidal creek, means that it has grown into a perfect and rather splendid dome. The whole of this tree, from the tips of it’s bare canopy to the thick roots pushing into the muddy ground, is bright green.
The matty coating of the lichen is soft and fuzzy, negating its barks true purpose…
Men Gurta or the St Breock Longstone stands high on the St Breock Downs within sight of a modern windfarm. Although the view from the hill is as good reason as any to visit this particular stone well worth looking for, it is a giant. In fact it is the largest and heaviest in Cornwall- which, you might well think, should make it easy to find. Which it is, once you know where to look but more if that later!
Men Gurta is huge, it is 4.9m tall (3m of that above ground) and weighs a whooping 16.5 tons but there is also something very striking about this stone, it’s beautiful zebra strips! Continue reading →
Despite it’s size, Truro is actually a city and the capital of Cornwall. But you would hardly call it a pulsating metropolis especially on one particular day every December. on that day the city’s main square is filled with all the sights, sounds and smells of your average farmyard. When I arrived at the annual Cornwall’s Primestock show on Lemon Quay preparations for judging were in full swing.
You would, I expect, be a little surprised how much effort is taken by the farmers to make their cattle look beautiful. Continue reading →