I spent a wonderful afternoon this weekend at the Abingdon Horticultural Society Spring Show. The Abingdon Horticultural Society is a friendly club for gardeners, cooking enthusiasts and handicraft lovers. It holds two shows a year where flowers, fruit and vegetables, preserves, baking and handicrafts are all exhibited and judged. It brought back so many memories. In the 1980’s Mum and I used to enter the Harnham Flower Show in Wiltshire. I even won the Children’s Cup twice! I didn’t know these kind of clubs still existed and am so excited to have become a new member. I was too late to enter today, however I will try to plan ahead for the next big show in September. It sounds just my cup of tea – baking, jam making and growing flowers, fruit and vegetables! I’m quite confident in my cookery skills and will happily enter the art and photography classes. I am very excited about the flowers I could show. I am hoping there will be classes for dahlias as I have now planted 12 different varieties and I have even more roses. I will definately want to enter the floral arrangement class as I was a proven winner even in the 1980s!
However vegetables still fill me with a slight apprehension. My aim this year was to get to grips with veg. Well I have made a start. Manure was dug into the raised vegetable beds. I have broad beans and peas in flower and the rhubarb is doing magnificently. The swiss chard and spinach are doing well. I particularly like the Bright Lights chard with their colourful stems. Main Crop potatoes are chitting and the 1st and 2nd Earlies have been planted. I also have garlic with green leaves.
However my green savoy cabbages have been nibbled by pigeons and the red cabbages are going to seed before they have reached eating proportions. I really am unsure whether just to eat the tiny leaves like purple sprouting broccoli or to let the cabbages set seed so I can collect the seed and try again next year. The cauliflower just went mouldy when we had all the floods.
I do have squash seedlings growing from a squash I bought in the supermarket. I have also sown tomato, aubergine and cucumber seed in the greenhouse. However how on earth do you make sure you have something decent to exhibit at exactly the right time? I am presuming as I have grown 12 dahlia tubers a few will be in bloom in September. I really am not sure about veg though. It always seems a bit pot luck to me depending on the weather. I often find my vegetables go to seed, are eaten by caterpillars or pigeons or fail to germinate. So watch this space….!
I’ve also discovered I’m scared of slugs! It’s ok if I encounter them in the garden as I’m well protected with gardening gloves. However I’ve just harvested purple sprouting broccoli and chard for dinner and the two slugs I found made me squeal as I prepared them. Oh well next time Mr Smiles can be my Knight in Shining Armour and prepare the veg or I resort to wearing gardening gloves in the kitchen!
Abingdon Horticultural Society Spring Show 2014
The Spring Show celebrates the arrival of Spring with flowers and Easter Cakes in abundance. In Section A – Flowers and Plants there are 25 classes to enter and 10 of them are Narcissus including trumpet daffodils, miniature narcissi and double narcissi. You might like to check out my previous Blog Post `Heralding Spring!‘ where I talked about varieties of narcissi. There is a strict clause that for the trumpet daffodils the trumpet must be longer than the outer petals. I haven’t got a clue as to whether my daffs have big trumpets I just think they look pretty! I can see that this is serious stuff. How do you get your trumpet to grow bigger I ask myself?! I’m sure Monty Don from Gardeners World would say mulch and manure, but that might just give me big leaves!
There were only 2 classes for tulips. One being a single tulip and the other being a vase of 3 tulips of one or more varieties. This surprised me at first. However thinking about it my tulips are only just starting to bloom this week.
My favourite was the deep pinky purple tulip in a matching stone grey pink vase. However the judges favoured the yellow and red tulips giving the first prize to them. I guess it all comes down to personal taste if the blooms are perfect. The striking yellow and red tulips are very reminiscent of a Dutch Masterpiece. You may like to check out my Tulip Mania Blog Post which includes the History of the Tulip Flower.
Other exhibits were wallflowers, auriculas and primulas. I was rather fond of this chartreuse coloured auricula which was very striking in colour.
There were also categories for various pottted flowering plants and vases of Spring flowers not included elsewhere in the Schedule.
The bowl of planted flowers with primula vulgaris, violets and cowslips looked very Spring like. I think I could give this Category a good go next year with my primroses and violets in the garden.
Section B was the Cooking Section with a wonderful display of preserves, decorated Easter Cakes, Hot Cross Buns and Marmalade Cakes made to a given recipe.
I was interested in this lovely Easter Cake decorated with sugar frosted primroses. I’ve discovered that both primrose flowers and leaves are edible, the flavour ranging between mild lettuce and more bitter salad greens. The leaves can also be used for tea, and the young flowers can be made into primrose wine. I’m not sure I fancy primrose wine if it tastes like bitter salad greens! However I have very fond memories of being read the story by Alison Uttley where Little Grey Rabbit makes primrose wine to cure Hare’s cold.
The Easter Cakes were judged purely for creative decoration and not on the taste of the cake. The Marmalade Cake was made to a specific given recipe. I don’t have photographs to show you as the cakes were covered in cling-film and the photos don’t do them justice. I had a lovely conversation with a lady who had won 2nd prize for her cake. She was absolutely chuffed to bits. We had quite a chat about cake baking and our chat really did bring back fond memories of baking cakes with my mum and entering competitions like this as a child.
There was a fine display of marmalades, lemon curd and chutney.
In the schedule there was a useful instruction for exhibiting preserves. `Use either wax disks and cellophane tops, or new screw lids without wax disks. Labels on preservatives must include the day, month and year they were made.’ I entered The World’s Original Marmalade Awards this year and was marked down for using wax discs with a screw top lid. Now I know the official rules! Also I have re-used jam jar lids, but have sterilised them. I must remember to buy new lids for competitions in future!
The World’s Original Marmalade Festival 2014
In the true spirit of aspiring to be a Domestic Goddess I entered my home-made marmalade in `The World’s Original Marmalade Competition’ this year.
The Amateur Category for home-made marmalades has grown from 50 jars to over 2,000 jars posted from all over the World. There are 13 categories to choose from. I entered the `Merry Marmalade Class’ and the `Citrus Marmalade, with interesting ingredients.’ Each jar is tasted and marked by the Cumbrian W.I. together with a team of Artisan judges and where it attains sufficient marks is then awarded a Dalemain Gold, Silver or Bronze. Each entrant receives a mark card with the judges feedback, a certificate designed by the artist Mungo McCosh and a thank you letter.
If you need a Marmalade Recipe do check out my previous Blog Post. This year I tried two different methods. For my Merry Marmalade I softened the whole fruit in a lidded pan of simmering water first, before cutting up the peel. For the other variety I cut the peel up first and then softened the peel in water. My conclusion was softening the fruit first made much more of a sticky mess, but enabled the pith to come away much more easily.
It was so exciting when I received my certificates in the post. I won Bronze for my Merry Marmalade made with Drambuie. So chuffed! My Seville Orange Ginger Marmalade received a Certificate of Merit. I think I played a bit too safe with my interesting ingredient of Ginger. Beer, honey, chocolate, yellow mustard seed and even seaweed all featured in the jars of marmalade entered from across the globe. The Top Award for best homemade marmalade was awarded to Sarah Byrne from Chiddingstone, Kent who used beer from her small family brewery in her ‘Seville Orange Marmalade with Beer’ concoction. Sarah added two pints of Larkins Half & Half (half porter, half traditional ale) to her grandmother’s traditional marmalade recipe. Her marmalade will now be stocked on the shelves of Fortnum & Mason in Piccadilly.
Harnham Flower Show 1980
I regularly exhibited at the Harnham Flower Show Spring and Summer Shows during the 1980s, together with my mum. The Summer Show was a grand affair held on the fields near The Old Mill with big marquees to show the exhibits. The event was officially opened by the Mayor and the Wilton British Legion Band was there to entertain everyone. I remember these Shows as real community events with tombolas and games in addition to the actual judged exhibits. Home-Made Teas were organised by the Women’s Institute.
1980 was a good year for me as I won the Children’s Silver Cup and even got my picture in the paper! I won 1st Prize for my `Animal Made out of Vegetables’ which was the Loch Ness Monster with a cucumber body and a jaunty tartan hat.
I chose to use a crab shell for the Flower Arrangement in a Shell. Some of the flowers I had grown myself in my little patch in the garden.
We always had a photo of our Prize Winning Entries when we got home.
Harnham Flower Show 1981
I failed to keep the Children’s Cup in 1981, hence the frown on my face! However it looks like a good effort was made. Mum made a quiche, red wine, biscuits, cakes and marmalade. I remember cycling off to Britford Lock for the afternoon and her painting the picture of the Lock in watercolour.
I got 3rd Prize for my rock cakes, 2nd Prize for my Minature Garden, a 1st for 6 Fancy Cakes and a 1st for Mr Rubbish which I am holding up for the camera.
Harnham Summer Fete and Flower Show 1982
Ah back on form and won the Children’s Cup again! I got my picture in the paper with my Flower Arrangement in a Basket. The judge commented that I should have made the handle visible so the basket could be picked up. I remembered this when I constructed my Posy of the Month recently!
The judge noted that my four Rock Cakes were just the right size and shape and awarded me a 1st Prize. An improvement on the year before when I only got a 3rd Prize! Mum had a very good year winning 1st Prize for both her sweet white wine and her dry red wine. She also won 1st for a Machine-Made garment, which was a pair of green knickerbockers made for me. I HATED them! I really had my eye on a new pair of pedal pushers in Dorothy Perkins and these were not the same. I had to wear them to a birthday party and felt very self-conscious. In the picture I am modelling a new Rah-rah skirt which I loved!
The Dorset County Show
The Dorset County Show is run on similar lines to the Harnham and Abingdon Shows, but on a much grander scale with animals. I regularly enjoy a day out at the Dorset Show with my Uncle as a birthday treat. As this is a large County Show farmers also exhibit their Prize animals and there are sheep shearing competitions and rural crafts.
As usual I enjoy looking at the wonderful flower blooms, particularly the big, blowsy dahlias.
What wonderful vegetables. Hope mine grow like that!
I love Flower Shows and Village Fetes. They have been going on for generations and connect us to our heritage. I found some interesting articles showing my ancestors competed in very similar events. William Jackson, my 3rd Great Grandfather, farmed 31 acres in Throrpe Salvin, Yorkshire. Farming was a way of life for him as he came from a long line of farmers. In 1881 William entered the Kiveton Park Flower Show Agricultural Produce Section. He won 1st prize for his potatoes, red wheat and barley. I’ve got a lot to live up to with my potatoes then!I also found another interesting article. My 5th Great Grandfather Robert Hills was awarded a prize at the Northallerton Cattle Show in 1844 for `the Labourer in Husbandry who brought up the greatest number of children without seeking parochial relief.’ Well done Robert!
I hope you have enjoyed my jottings about Flower Shows and Village Fetes. I loved the moment in Downton Abbey where Mr Molesley’s roses finally were awarded Best in Show on merit rather than the Dowager Countess’s blooms.
`The Village Flower Show’ and `A Country Fete’ make fabulous wedding themes, especially if you are getting married in the country or using a Village Hall for a Reception. If you want some more inspiration do check out my Village Show Board on Pinterest. There is also a fantastic Blog Post by the talented Squib Photography entitled `A Vintage Wedding in Bampton’ which is set in the fictitious village near Downton Abbey. What a great theme for a wedding with bunting, informal flower arrangements and afternoon tea with vintage china Lovely!