Sunday, 3 June 2012

Picnic blankets & throws

Hand knitted Zig-Zag throw
BUY AT OUR ONLINE SHOP darty and pike

Summertime is here and whatever the weather, you will want to spend some time outside. Let's face it in the UK the temperature is likely to be a bit brisk at times. Unless, you are going to haul deckchairs to the park, a blanket on the ground as Dolly Parton (I think) suggested is much easier. This one is a wool mix and easily washed at 40 degrees in a washing machine.

Here is a selection of what we still have available.

Welsh Vintage All Wool Blanket
Almost too good to sit on and now something of a collector's item, this genuine Welsh blanket from the Drew mill, is 100% wool in a lovely plaid design of light green and pink. Perhaps this one is meant for cuddling up to on the sofa. I'd suggest careful dry cleaning only for this blanket.

Hand-crocheted Throw
BUY AT OUR ONLINE SHOP darty and pike
Hours of work has gone into crocheting this blanket. I love the light blue colour making this much more cheerful than the usual dark colours often used in crocheted blankets. It's a wool mix so can be washed in the washing machine at low temperatures.

Hand Crocheted Bedspread/Throw
This is more of a bedspread than something you would take on a picnic, unless it's a posh one. The work that has gone into making this is breathtaking. It's rare to find a hand crocheted item in such stylish colours since these things traditionally use up left over balls of wool. This is a heavy item but very warm and, of course, a unique item.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Kettles for your Woodburning Stove 'new lamps for old'?

The Alice in Wonderland 1920's Stove Kettle

As in the case of Aladdin's wife, in the famous story from The Thousand and One Nights, if a man is outside offering "new lamps for old" you should think twice with your kettle and your lamps. An old lamp, and an old kettle are worth more than you know and certainly have character in abundance.

Yes, you can buy a new stove kettle these days but would you want to? You can't beat a vintage stove kettle for your woodburner, my particular favourite, pictured above, dates from the 1920's and is huge. It holds about 4 litres of water and is my 'Alice in Wonderland' kettle. It would have looked perfect at the Mad Hatter's tea party. I think the sleepy Dormouse was in the tea-pot but if he chose to get into this kettle, there'd be plenty of room. 

1940s Stove Kettle
This 1940's kettle pictured above, made a brief appearance in Roman Polanski's The Pianist, in battle-torn Warsaw, our hero is secreted in a safe haven flat and makes himself a pot of coffee using this stove kettle.

Most of the stove kettles we have available are chrome with a bakelite handle and lid grip. Some have the added attraction of being copper bottomed. There's a huge advantage to owning a stove kettle that sits on your wood-burner all day long. Keep it filled up with water and it will gently heat up, providing you with warm water, or hot if you've got your burner going full bore, and will definitely save you a few pennies in electrically boiled kettles. A stove kettle with a copper bottom is going to give you faster transference of heat from the top of your wood-burning stove to the bottom of your kettle. Copper is a fast conductor of heat and not every kettle we've come across has this advantageous metal. 

1960's Original Chrome Stove Kettle

Stove Kettles throughout the 50's and 60's continued to be manufactured both in the UK but most prolifically in France, which is where all these kettles are from. The distinctive sixties style is evident in their shape, particularly the one below, whose handle reminds me of a Teddy boy's quiff. 

1960's Original Chrome Stove Kettle with copper bottom

1950's Chrome Stove Kettle

At darty and pike, we generally have a wide selection of original stove kettles but they sell fast so if you don't see anything on the site then drop us an email to see what we might have waiting in the wings. 

1940's Chrome Stove Kettle

If you've got a wood-burner with a nice flat top it will be perfect for a stove kettle. So rather than buy a contemporary kettle, that may not match the style of your stove, consider a fabulous vintage one from France, where a wood-burner is de rigeur in every country property. 

Check out what we have in stock: 

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

La Maison de Noyer our Bed and Breakfast near Le Mans

Our gloriously beautiful Bed and Breakfast near Le Mans, Alencon and Mayenne. 
Quirky, arty and tres rustique. We are a laid-back bed and breakfast with a warm atmosphere. We aim to give our guests the old fashioned bed and breakfast experience because you will be staying in our much loved home, not a B & B pretending to be a hotel. 
We've changed the decor in our rooms again, this is an on-going activity, and we've given our house a name: La Maison de Noyer, hopefully this will help guests find us more easily since La Cesnerie is the name of the hamlet we live in. 

We've also created a new website which can be found here: 

And we have a French landline at last +33 (0)2 43 11 33 65

Which means folks! we have internet access and can offer guests Free Wi-Fi access. 

Thursday, 20 October 2011


I’m lucky enough to have my own, very prolific, Medlar tree which must be well over 100 years old. The original trunk is still there, though the tree has rejuvenated itself sending up new stems from the base. The branches are long, and as the fruit grows heavy, they bend to the ground making the tree even more romantic. My hens love to dust bath and generally lurk between it’s weeping branches. Little Pip particularly, can often be seen peeping out between the leaves and ripening fruit. She feels safe under there and no one who visits here ever notices her carefully watching.


Medlar fruit don’t generally ripen until well into late Autumn, but the hot temperatures in September this year are encouraging my medlars to race ahead. August was wet, and in actual fact great for the medlar tree, and all my apple and pear trees. The medlars, like the apples, are large and abundant this year

The medlar tree is originally from the Middle East, where temperatures are much higher enabling the fruit to ripen on the tree. In the UK, the tree is regarded as a curiosity from Medieval and Tudor times when it was in its heyday. It’s not a delicate tree, mine goes through roasting hot summers in France and freezing cold winters that are far more extreme than the UK.

The blossom in spring is very pretty. Although similar in shape to apple or pear blossom, the flowers are much bigger. The petals are serated around the edges and white with a creamy centre. Each flower sits framed by a simple arrangement of long dark, lime green leaves. Eventually, the tree is covered head to toe, with these bold, cheerful flowers, a joy to see after a dull, dreary winter.

My tree is just inside the entrance to our house and is growing over the water course that feeds the well. This could be the reason the tree has endured so long and so healthily, with a ready supply of water below.

I leave the fruit on my tree there for as long as possible, allowing the starches in the medlar to turn to sugars. When it’s ripe and soft, it drops to the ground where I have old bed sheets and tarpaulin spread out to catch them.

You don’t have to do it this way. It is possible to pick the fruit and leave it to blet (or rot), a brown paper lined cardboard box works best. But in my opinion, the longer the fruit stays on the tree the better the flavour.

It seems to be the bletting part of the Medlar jelly process that people find tedious, I have a few tips that help make it simpler but... medlar jelly, like most preserves, requires a bit of effort.

Yes, it does sort of look like one. This is the scatalogical joke that has been attached to the medlar for centuries. French school children and country peasants have been cracking this joke for a long time and it does indeed look very much like a dog’s bottom, or even a cat’s arse, but the similarity is visual only and goes no further than that.

Jane Grigson in “Fruit Book”, describes eating medlars bought from the fruit department of Fauchon in Paris. She says they are “exactly right, not too soft, though perhaps the taste lacked the pleasant sharpness of ours in Wiltshire”. It sounds as though the medlars she tried in Paris had a similar taste to mine here in the Pays de la Loire. Tartness and sharpness are not at all how I would describe my medlars, or the jelly I make, and perhaps the further south you go the medlar taste softens and loses it’s tart quality.

Tastes are impossible to describe without using other familiar tastes to guide you, and taste is very personal, but I shall try. I would describe my medlar jelly as tasting like caramelised apples, like the apples in Tarte Tatin, with a rich flavour, not unlike dates, thrown in and then an aromatic, almost rose-water after taste, that is very subtle. It’s a beautiful taste which I love on it’s own though it goes really well with cheese, lamb, venison, pheasant, and of course, porridge.

I have to reference the wonderful Jane Grigson again for this, and she is quoting a French author, Dr. Henri Leclerc when she explains that the medlar was thought to help keep you regular and prevent diarrhoea. A chemical analysis carried out in 1939 shows medlars to be high in fibre, pectins, tannins and having a binding effect on your stomach. Bet it’s got loads of bio-flavanoids. Very useful! It could be the next superfood!

Weird isn’t it, that you have to wait until the fruit has effectively become completely spoiled before you can eat it. Basically, the longer you wait, more of the starch turns to sugar. The taste of your medlar jelly will deepen into the rich smooth taste it ought to be. I have made medlar jelly from large lumps of almost fermented fruit and wondered at the start of the process if I had waited too long, that perhaps the fruit had finally rotted beyond it’s useful life. So far, no medlar in my experience can be too rotted! The only thing that will never work is trying to use medlars that have shrivelled up and dried out.

1 and a half kilos of medlars (bletted or well rotted)
2 lemons
1 litre of water (about enough to cover the fruit)
650g approx Sugar with Pectin added (but this will depend on final quantity of juice you get).

Cut the medlars in half, this should be fairly easy to do as they will be very soft and squash apart as you cut them.
Put them in a large, deep pot with a nice thick, heat-conducting base. Pour about a litre of water into the pot with the medlars, you might need more, as the water should cover the medlars.

When in France, I use local source mineral water from St. Leonard des Bois, it’s free and it has a fabuous pure, clean taste. If you’re feeling extravagant you could buy a good French mineral water like Evian or Volvic and use that but when in London I use good old London water and the taste is fine.

Cut two lemons in half, extract the juice, put that, and the remainders of the lemon into the pot with the medlars. Give it a quick stir to mix everything together. Bring to the boil, and then turn the heat down and cover with a lid and simmer for about 40 to 60 minutes. I then turn the whole thing off and let it sit for about 30 minutes to slightly cool, this just makes the juice less dangerous to handle and allows the juice to rest and meld, but if you are stuck for time you could strain right away.

The best way to strain the juice out of the pulp is through a jelly bag, or muslin, that has been scalded with boiling water to sterlise it. However, in extremis, I have used all sorts of other things, a sieve or collander lined with a thin cotton tea towel or cut up old sheet etc. The material just needs to be thin enough and scalded to make it sterile.

You will need to leave the juice to drip through overnight. Sorry, no way round that really, and yes, if you poke and prod the pulp, to quicken the process, it will make your juice cloudy; having said that, a bit of careful pushing and prodding doesn’t harm the juice that much if you are prepared to strain the juice again. One advantage of the cotton tea towel/sheet equipment is that the denser weave of the material strains the juice more thoroughly, though it might take longer to seep through.

Now often, the next day, I don’t have time to actually make the jelly with the resulting juice. What I do is store the juice in the fridge in a clip-top bottle (easily bought in most garden centres and supermarkets in France, but harder to come by in the UK). You need to sterlise the bottle and clip stopper before putting the juice in. I find boiling a kettle and then pouring the water into the bottle and over the stopper, works fine. Seal the bottle and store in the fridge until you are ready to create medlar jelly. It should keep ok, if unopened, for about two weeks.

Medlars are low in pectin and low in acid. You will have cooked up the fruit with lemons so that will add enough acid to the process. Pectin is a bigger problem, as this is essentially what will make the liquid turn to jelly. I use sugar with pectin added, no apology for that I’m afraid, it works. One of the things about other recipes is they often suggest you add apples or pears, presumably to boost up the pectin content, but I think this changes the taste. Some will argue that using commercially produced pectin will do that too but I would say that the very full and rich taste of my medlars punches through. If you are using medlars that are not fully ripe, the taste of the pectin (which is really slight) will not be masked, you’ll probably get a taste that is more tart too.

Take the juice, either from the bottles or the pan, and strain again through another sieve lined with a tea towel or use a jelly bag. It should take a lot less time to drain through, in fact it strains through instantly. This is a good way of making sure that any bits are kept out of the resulting liquid. I find that if I’ve stored the juice in bottles in the fridge that the bits have sunk to the bottom of the bottle anyway.

Measure the quantity of juice that you have made and add 650g of preserving sugar to every litre of juice.

Heat the juice until you start to get swirls of steam and then add the sugar. Stir the sugar in carefully on a simmering heat until it dissolves. Once it has dissolved fully, turn up the heat and boil. You will need to achieve a continuous, rolling boil with plenty of steam rising. This is one of my favourite moments because once you add the sugar to the liquid, and as it heats up, the juice will turn into it’s characteristically autumnal colour of amber. To put a poetic spin on it, the liquid is like the quintessence of evening autumn sunshine. I spend quite a bit of time at this stage peering at the magical change of colour.

But really, you are embarking here on the tricky bit that terrifies most people. You are attempting to achieve the setting point.  Again, you need to be patient. While you wait for the juice to boil away, you can get busy sterlising the jars and lids you will need to store your jelly. If you get about a litre of juice you should need about 4 x 350ml jam jars. I always sterlise more jars than I need, in case I end up with more juice. So, sterlise 5 jars and you’ll be safe. I boil my jars and lids in another larger pot. You can also sterlise them in the oven by heating them up, though watch they don’t shatter.

How long will the medlar juice need to boil? Not sure really, about 30 minutes, maybe 40. You want to see a drop in level of the liquid in the pot before you start testing to see if it’s forming into jelly. I use the saucer method, which is a saucer taken out of the freezer, so it’s very cold, drop some liquid onto it and see if you get any wrinkles on the drop after about 30 seconds. If not continue to boil. You need to be right there checking regularly, don’t wander off and do something else.

I find that as you go through this process of testing for the setting point you will begin to notice that the juice on the spoon is solidifying more and more. If you get a stiffness and wrinkles, in your drop in the saucer, it’s ready.

The jars should be hot as you pour the liquid jelly into them. As you fill each jar, fix the lid on straight away. The jelly will still look a bit too liquid even after you have sealed the jar, but as it, and the jar, cools it should begin to solidify.

IF YOU HAVE STOPPED BOILING TOO SOON. Don’t panic, it is not a disaster. I’ve done this several times. I’ve added my jelly to hot jars, sealed with lids, waited and found that the jelly when cooled, has not solidified but remained liquid. Just open up all the jars, empty the contents into the pot again, boil and search once more for the setting point. You will need to clean and sterlise your jars a second time. Usually, this decanting and re-boiling process results in jelly at last. Un-jellied jelly, simply means that you haven’t boiled off enough of the water for the setting point to be achieved.

Yes, this is a lengthy process but it’s alchemy you can eat. It’s an activity full of moments of almost Zen-like experiences and it creates something very special and unique.

Our medlars will be ready to use in perhaps another week or two. This year should be a bumper crop of very large medlars all currently being kissed by the late summer sun.

If you are interested in buying fresh medlars for cooking, we are able to sell a limited amount at £5 a kilo + postage. Get in touch if you are interested:

Friday, 20 May 2011

Actually, I really like Chintz

In the eighties, chintz was really in, then with the arrival of wonderful Ikea they demanded that we chuck out our chintz in favour of sleek, clean Swedish decor. Were they right? They actually sell their own versions of chintz at Ikea so they didn't altogether believe their own hype. 
Chintz is a gorgeous fabric design. There's nothing wrong with it, just don't smother your home with chintzy this that and the other. Keep your walls plain and you can get away with some spectacular Chintz curtains and maybe if you're clever some more contemporary accessories that pick out the main accent colours of your chintz. 

This is a chintz that we still have available and hails from the heyday of the chintz revival in the 1980's. It's been given a busy design to make it feel more contemporary for then but again with careful use this fabric can create an impact.

This is another 1980's chintz from Jane Churchill but very understated in style though the blooms are still large. The feel is much more impressionistic, more of a water colour feel and the white background is allowed to balance the impact of the flowers. The colour palette is kept simple.

And here another 1980's Chintz this time with a heavy Chinese influence. Chintz is said to have originated from India but over time many countries have left their mark on the fabric design. To any lover of the natural world, flora and fauna, chintz brings a little bit of the outside into your living room.

Chuck your chintz back in and learn to blend it with a minimalist, contemporary interior for a dash of excitement that suddenly becomes a more pure statement when it's the only statement in the room.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Vintage French White Linen

Linen is an obsession with many and a mystery to the rest. Nothing reminds me more of a hot night in a mediterranean country than the soft, cool feel of linen and white linen is extra special. Linen improves with age. The more you use it, the softer it becomes, the more it displays it's elegant character.

The way linen draps itself in folds, wrinkled, creased yet somehow more fascinating than ever. It creates itself anew as it re-texturises into an extension of itself. Once experienced, you find you can't live without it.

The great joy of linen is it's flexibility and compatibility with other fabrics. Your summer sofa or garden seat is incomplete without the fresh, cool yet supple texture of vintage white linen. 

Choose from a unique selection of gorgeous cushion covers from plain white linen to designer and vintage fabrics combined with white line. 
We make everything to order in a selection of sizes and designs. Take a look at our made to measure section in cushion time at our website. 

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Refresh your Sofa, cushion covers for spring

Daffodils, primroses, Spring Chickens and life returning to the natural world. Bring it inside with some gorgeous  cushion covers to refresh your interior without spending a fortune.

Handmade with mother of pearl buttons and envelope enclosures, much easier and simpler than the cheap zipper cushions that look tired and samey in no time.

The 100% linen cushion cover above HENS ILLUSTRATED is also available at £25.00 but Little Pip the amazing Bantam cross hen is not for sale.

PRIMROSE COMPANION 17"sq £25.00 each 

GRAPHIC LEAVES 17"sq, mother of pearl buttons, £25.00

LIGHT TREE PEONIES, 17"sq, £15.00 each 


WHITE LINEN & EARLY TULIPS, 17"sq, £25.00 - only 1 available.

PARIS BEBE, 17"sq, £25.00 each