Friday, 24 August 2018

The best fruitcake

"my policy on cake is pro having it and pro eating it."
(Boris Johnson)


It really needs no introduction...Its spicy and moist and everything a good fruit cake should be. Serve with a cup of tea, to achieve perfection!


4 medium eggs
1 tsp mixed spice
1 pinch dried ginger
1 tbsp black treacle
1 tsp golden syrup
120 ml strong Earl Grey tea (made with approximately 4 tea bags)
8 oz butter
8 oz dark brown sugar
10 oz self raising flour
8 oz dried mixed fruit (eg 2 oz sultanas, 2 oz raisins, 2 oz dried apricots, 2 oz dried currents)
3 oz glace cherries
Caster sugar (for sprinkling on top)


1.   Make up a strong mixture of Earl Grey tea. Soak the fruit and the cherries overnight in the tea.

2.   Pre-heat the oven to 150 degrees centigrade. Cream the butter and sugar together.

3.   Add the black treacle and golden syrup and mix well.

4.   Sieve the flour. Add the eggs one at a time with a small amount of flour and mix well. Add the rest of the flour, the mixed spice and ginger and mix until everything is combined.

5.   Fold in the fruit.

6.   Transfer the mixture into a prepared cake tin. Bake for 1 hour and then reduce temperature to 140 degrees centigrade and bake for another 25 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

7.   Allow to cool a little, remove from tin and transfer to cooling rack. When cool, sprinkle with caster sugar and serve.


Sunday, 12 August 2018


25 July 2018

"a day away from Chartwell is a day wasted"
(Winston Churchill)
Having seen a letter from Winston Churchill on display at Hever Castle just the day before, we decided to call in at his family home, Chartwell, when we found out just how close it was to Hever. It is a National Trust property and, as members, it doubly appealed as a 'free' day out!

You can spot the house from the road, just by its distinctive brick wall. Despite its countryside aspect, Chartwell has a functional and slightly utilitarian look to the exterior. Rather than a traditional wall-flowered country cottage, you can imagine it standing up to a it probably suited Churchill to a tee! You can in fact admire some of Churchill's own brickwork in the garden.
Again, it was a fantastically hot day, which did not make overly comfortable garden exploring weather. There is plenty of parking, a shop and a café. The location of Chartwell is stunning. Churchill was involved in the design of the gardens, pools and water garden as well as the re-modelling of the house (with the help of an architect).

The house has been set out as it would have been in the 1930's. It is comfortable without being showy, with many personal items on display and you feel as though you truly get an air of how he may have lived.

The photo below shows Lady Chartwell's desk with his last framed photo and a picture of one of their daughters, who sadly died as a young child.
Churchill has been voted the greatest Briton and, indeed there does not seem to be very much he was not very good at...You can see his paintings on display, and the letters and the exhibitions about his life are fascinating. I saw my first Monet at close quarters in his sitting room and found out that he was fond of bezique - which is a card game we play a lot on holiday. There is a display of all of his clothing in some of the rooms upstairs (including his famous velvet boiler suit) and various items and awards which had been given to him and Lady Churchill.


As you leave the house, there's a video running of his state funeral, which strikes a really poignant note in his much more humble home. You really get a sense that he was a very intelligent, down to earth man, who achieved amazing things (and was probably quite difficult to live with!).

The only disappointment was that the house does not include visiting Churchill's own bedroom (for which the National Trust organise private tours at a cost - which I think was around £45 when I visited). If I had known this beforehand, I might have booked one of these before visiting. The house does include the downstairs rooms, the dining room, Lady Chartwell's bedroom and the study and sitting rooms.

My favourite spot at Chartwell actually turned out to be one of Churchill's own favourites, which is next to a small pool near the house. His chair is set by the pool, which you reach with stepping stones (the stone are now unfortunately closed off to visitors) where he used to sit to think and feed the fish. It is a really lovely quiet spot, the pool is teeming with small fish and you can easily imagine losing a few hours sitting there. Unfortunately, this was the one place I forgot to take a photo.

After looking around the house, we went to the café and sampled a fruit cake made by a recipe from his own cook, Georgina Landemere. I have to say that this cemented my impression that Churchill knew what a good cake would taste like. I have now ordered her book and got the recipe and am hoping to re-create this at home. It was easily the best fruit cake I have ever eaten.



Saturday, 4 August 2018

Hever Castle

24 July 2018
"Le Temps Viendra"
(Anne Boleyn)

Having a lifelong interest in Anne Boleyn meant that I have always wanted to visit Hever Castle, which was her childhood home. I went with high hopes of a fascinating day of history and, boy, it did not disappoint!

I picked a day to go during the recent heatwave, and the temperature was approaching 35 degrees! Although it was lovely seeing the Castle in the sunshine, this did mean that outside you were rather moving from one patch of shade to hunt immediately for another. One (of several things I didn't realise before visiting) was exactly quite how magnificent the surrounding grounds and gardens were... I am reliably informed in the guidebook that the Castle and land were bought by William Waldorf Astor in 1903. He had moved from America in 1890 with his wealth of what would have been about a billion dollars today, so he was able to afford quite an acreage, which included the Castle. He set about a grand re-design of the landscape - installing a lake (which, incidentally, took 800 men, two years to dig out!), an Italian garden and grotto and a rose garden. The gardens are easily the most stunning I have ever seen and well worth a visit just for these alone.

In the Castle, I was amazed at how close you are allowed to the treasures that are on display, many of which are not behind cabinets. Every room had fascinating pieces from the James III (1745) rhyming sword:

(inscribed  "with this sword thy cause I will maintain; And for they sake (sake) O James breath (break) each vein"), the (1540) oak bed, huge tapestries, paintings, instruments of torture - who would have thought that you would have needed a separate blade to remove hands as well as heads!

The highlight upstairs was Anne Boleyn's prayer book which she took to her execution and was annotated by her "Remember me when you do pray that hope doth lead from day to day."

I did not expect to find the family history of the Astor family particularly interesting, but it was...I found out that Churchill was a regular visitor to Hever from his letter, spotted upstairs.

The only downside of the day was that it did get rather crowded in some of the rooms, as there was no timed entry to the Castle. You need to be able to get down a small spiral staircase to leave, which would not be possible for the less mobile. Sadly, the heat did not allow us to explore all of the grounds...We managed to squeeze in the small military museum, but after that collapsed in the cafe! 

We had already booked a room in the Hever Hotel and had decided to eat at the Henry VIII pub at Edenbridge. Both of these choices could not have been better, as they were literally a two minute drive from the Castle. We had not pre-booked a table at the pub, but if you plan on eating there I would certainly recommend ringing ahead as it was fully booked by the time we got there at 6pm.

I am so glad I went to fulfilled a lifelong dream. It is a wonderful day out and, given the opportunity, I would jump at the chance to go again. I could not rate the day highly enough!

Blogger Template Created by pipdig