Jam.  Otherwise known as fruit preserve.  I have vivid memories of my childhood, with my Dad growing fruit and vegetables all year round, and my Mum bottling fruit for use in pies at a later date (there were no freezers in those days).  She also used to make jam.  I think black currant was my favourite, maybe strawberry (who doesn’t like a strawberry?) but she also made raspberry sometimes too.  Blackberries, apple and rhubarb were saved for the pies.

Courtesy of Photobucket

It’s pretty simple to make jam, you chop up the fruit (well, maybe not with blackcurrants and raspberries), pop it into a large pan, add water and sugar and heat it.  After what used to seem like an interminably long time, the jam is ready to go in jars.  Cover with grease proof paper secured by a rubber band, put a label with the type of jam and the date and off you go. Fruit like raspberries and strawberries don’t contain much of the secret ingredient that makes the jam set – pectin – so you have to add that.  The jam doesn’t thicken otherwise.  The science behind fruit preserves is that all that sugar changes the osmotic potential of the substance (ie jam) making it harder for bacteria to grow on it, thus preserving the fruit for longer.

I seem to remember Mum also making marmalade (Mary’s malady, as we were taught in school.  As I recall, we were taught that it was made for Mary, Queen of Scots, when she had a cold).   Maybe someone gave us a load of oranges for her to make it?  Seville oranges, the traditional fruit for marmalade, wouldn’t have been common when we were kids.  Of course, Mum normally bought the marmalade, probably Robinsons, they seemed to make most of the jam etc in those days.  Thin or thick cut; I always liked thick cut myself.  And then they started making it with lemons too.

Courtesy of Photobucket
Courtesy of Photobucket

Then there was lemon curd, which contains beaten eggs, the juice and the zest of the fruit, without the actual fruit.  That was always used for lemon meringue pie.  Usually served with cream or evaporated milk in our house.  There was no interest in the calorific value of the food in those days.  Quite rightly too, for people who had grown up doing physical work and walking miles to and from school every day, which my Mum had to do as a child.  It’s only now that we are more sedentary and have cars and other vehicles in which to transport ourselves that we really need to worry about what we eat.

Courtesy of Photobucket
Courtesy of Photobucket

Mum occasionally used to make chutney too, tomato chutney, I think, although it certainly wasn’t as common as the jam making.  Chutney originated in India, and wasn’t originally intended for storage, so didn’t contain as much sugar as the modern day products.  In fact, if you go to a decent India restaurant, they make the chutneys fresh on a daily basis.

So here are five interesting facts about jam:

  1. The EU has strict rules about the amount of fruit that has to be present in any preserve calling itself jam.
  2. Spanish artist Joan Miro used blackberry jam as an art medium.
  3. Jam probably originated in the Middle East centuries ago.
  4. Jam has about half the calories of butter or margarine.
  5. Pepper jelly is becoming popular in the US.



© Susan Shirley 2016



Snape Maltings

I stayed with Kate and Geoff for a few days after my birthday. Kate and I had plans for a few days, and had hoped to go to the coast for one of our days, but the weather was wet and windy, and we thought we’d stay in land. We trotted off to Snape Maltings instead.

At its height, Snape Maltings was one of the largest flat floor malting in the country.  Basically, when the barley was wet, and being allowed to sprout prior to drying, it was spread over the floor of the building, to give it a larger surface area. After 120 years, the maltings closed in 1965. Apparently, it was a very inefficient plant. Well, I suppose if they were still using the same method, it probably would be.


Soon after closure, a chap called George Gooderham bought the buildings and so began a conversion from an industrial area to shops, concert hall and art galleries.

The river Alde at Snape
The river Alde at Snape

The first thing to be built was the concert hall, then came the craft shop. There were some beautiful pieces in there, many of which were made locally. There are also some lovely clothes shops selling off high street pieces. Yes, I cannot lie, I did buy a hat.

The village of Snape itself has been there in some form or other for about 2000 years, although the original settlement was on higher ground, and moved closer to the river at a later stage. For a little village, it has a lot of history.

The wherry at Snape
The wherry at Snape

The Romans also settled here, whilst on their quest to subdue all the tribes in Britain. There was a priory just outside of the village too, founded by a local landowner named William Martell, before he set off for the Third Crusade. Like other priories, it met its demise in the reign of Henry VIII, however, one of the barns remains.

The Romans used the area for salt production; in the 19th century the area was used for producing fertiliser, which led to the formation of the company Fisons. Sugar Beet was – and still is – produced in the area, and, of course, malting barley happened in the area.

Snape became a tourist area as far back as the 18th century, as a result of the race course, which led to what is now the A1094 being built to make it easier to get to. By the end of the 19th century, Snape was a busy inland port.

The remains of an old rudder at Snape
The remains of an old rudder at Snape

When I visited the Maltings, I wondered why anyone would put a concert hall in this area – a village that is a bit out of the way. Until I learned about the connection with the composer Benjamin Britten.

Britten was born in Lowestoft in Suffolk and went to school in Holt, in Norfolk, before winning a scholarship to the Royal College of Music. Despite travelling to America, Britten didn’t forget his Suffolk roots, and in June 1948, along with singer Peter Pears and producer Eric Crozier, founded the Aldeburgh Festival of Music and Arts. In its early days, there was no venue in the area that was really big enough to do it justice, but, when the concert hall at Snape Maltings was built, voila! The concert hall was burnt down on the first night of the 1969 concert, moving the festival to other areas. It was rebuilt by the following year, and the festival has gone from strength to strength.

There are a couple of little restaurants at Snape Maltings, as well as the other attractions, and various events take place throughout the year, including a farmers’ market on 5 November this year. See the link for further information:


© Susan Shirley 2016

Earl’s Court – The Changing Face of London

I went to meet a friend for lunch the other day, near to the old Earls Court Exhibition Centre.  Oh, my, how it has changed since I used to got to meetings over there, which was only a year ago.  In knew that there was re-development work on the horizon, I didn’t realise that the work had already started.  Walking past a couple of rows of boarded up buildings was quite a shock.

There is a little side road, I’m not sure whether this is Empress Place,  with some charming little cottages, I’m not sure whether this is Empress Place.    At least, they look charming from the outside – I wonder how it must feel to have all that building work going on around you.  Particularly as those premises have been selling to for a shed load of money before all the redevelopment.  Maybe they still do.

The original Earls Court was opened in 1887 and rebuilt in 1937, in the art moderne style.  (A bit more modern than art deco, I think, but I am not an expert in these things.)dscf9754

Earls Court was London’s main exhibition centre for many years.  It hosted the Ideal Home Exhibition (if you didn’t have sore feet and a sore back after that, you’d done something wrong), the Royal Tournament, the Motor Show, Crufts, and, up until 2010, The Brit Awards, to name just a few.  I remember going to many an exhibition or show there in its heyday.

So popular was it that Earls Court Two was built and opened 1991.  However, over the intervening years, other venues were built, and in some cases closed: Docklands Arena, the O2.  The Olympia Exhibition Centre was opened the year before Earls Court, and although not quite such a convenient location, it’s still going strong.  The whole area around the Earls Court Exhibition Centres was scheduled for demolition in 2013 to make room for more – and presumably more lucrative – residential properties.  Which brings us to where we are now.


Unsurprisingly, the whole area was once a green field area, part of the manor of Kensington, and for years owned by the Earls of Oxford (hence the name Earls Court).  When the railways came to the area, in the 1860s, development started.

At the end of the Second World War, many Polish immigrants settled in the Earls Court area.  In the 1960s, Australians and New Zealander’s who came to the UK on their travels tended to settle in this area – it was one of the cheapest areas in Central London.  That’s changed too.


North End Road is still a bit more “local” looking, with the pound shops, and local pubs, although for how long is anybody’s guess; a number of council tenants are being rehoused as a result of the redevelopment.

I suppose it’s all inevitable.  Nothing and nowhere stays the same.  I wonder what I’ll be writing about this area in ten years from now?



© Susan Shirley 2016