Friday 16 May 2014

The Countess of Westmorland returns to Osterley Park ...

Isn't she a beauty? A perfect Georgian Rose. Sarah Anne Child was one of the wealthiest heiresses of her day, an eighteenth century Christina Onassis, and she used to live just down the road from me in Osterley Park.

She had it all. She was beautiful, an accomplished musician and the only child of an adoring father, who also happened to be the country's leading banker: Robert Child, principal shareholder of Child & Co. 

Sarah Anne Child, later Countess of Westmorland

This is Osterley Park, her home in West London, just 8 miles from Piccadilly Circus.

Osterley Park

Back then the grand types liked to build their country pads to the west of London as the prevailing winds tended to blow the smog and pollution from the city in the other direction. But of course little Sarah Anne only lived here during the summer months. The rest of the time she divided between the family's town house in fashionable Berkeley Square and Upton, their hunting estate in Northamptonshire.

And she must have had a pretty dreamy time of it out here, wafting around the magnificent house and gardens. Maybe she chipped in with ideas from time to time as her Papa and Mama were busy rebuilding Osterley with the masterful assistance of Robert Adam, whose involvement extended to just about every element of the building, its decor and its furnishings.

We see her image as a pretty little girl of three or four encased in the gilded overmantel in her mother's boudoir. And, yes, that is the original colour of Mrs Child's boudoir. It's not exactly cosy or feminine, but apparently it was all the rage back in the Georgian era ... .

Mrs Child's boudoir, Osterley Park, West London

Here she is, little Sarah Anne, in close up:

Sarah Anne Child, later the Countess of Westmorland

You can just imagine her strolling with her chaperone in the lovely formal gardens that were the great pride of her mother, or perhaps taking a carriage ride around the parkland.
Osterley Park, West London
Whatever the way of it she lived a pretty charmed life. Here she is again with both of her parents. It's such an intimate painting, don't you think? Just look how her father is tenderly taking her hand. Perhaps they're saying good-bye, and he is sad to leave her. It was painted in 1781, and within a few short months their happy family life was to be shattered forever.

Robert Child, Sarah Anne Child and Sarah Child

It all kicked off when an impoverished young aristocrat approached the great banker for a loan. John Fane, 10th Earl of Westmorland, who was a dashing young officer in the Guards, came to Robert Child when he found himself in some pecuniary difficulties that were not entirely unconnected with his passion for gambling. Perhaps the banker, a man of more humble background, felt a flush of pride at having the young aristocrat as his client, or maybe he rolled his eyes having heard a tale that he'd heard a hundred times before from other applicants and thought dark thoughts about the wanton profligacy of the Upper Class.

In any event a loan was extended, which got young Westmorland out of the hole, but also, critically, established a relationship between him and Robert Child that would involve the two men meeting from time to time to review the younger man's finances.

Fate intervened and the Earl chanced upon the banker's very beautiful daughter as he was attending to business with her father. He fell hopelessly in love, and was delighted to learn that his affection was reciprocated. Quietly, gently, behind the scenes when no one was watching, a relationship, blossomed between them. 

Then, finally, the young fellow decided to grasp the nettle and ask the great man for his daughter's hand. Perhaps he even flattered himself to think that his impeccable breeding would pave his way to an advantageous match.

Your blood, my lord, is good, but money is better, came the blunt reply.

Robert Child was far from enthralled by the prospect of his daughter wearing a coronet. He had his sights set on a future son-in-law of more humble background, who would be willing to adopt the Child name, and might prove himself a useful addition to the banking house. 

The young man was no doubt disappointed by this reply, but he wasn't about to throw in the towel. He let the matter drop, and gave every appearance of having taken the rejection with good grace. Then, on another occasion, when he'd returned to see the father in his role as banker their mood turned chatty and the younger man posed a hypothetical question for the older one: what would he do if he fell in love with a beautiful girl whose father was opposed to the match and refused his consent? I don't know what kind of neurological malfunction was going on in Robert Child's brain, but he replied jovially that he'd whisk her off to Gretna Green and marry her anyway. 

And that is exactly what the Earl of Westmorland did with the active connivance of Sarah Anne. Her part in the grand plan involved mixing a sleeping draught into her chaperone's hot chocolate, and then sneaking out to rendezvous with her sweetheart whilst the other woman slumbered upstairs. 

Westmorland had arranged the journey north to the border with military precision. Fresh teams of horses had been booked for each stage of the way. At a place called Shap, where the going got tough, he'd taken the precaution of booking every available horse to be had for miles around so that his pursuers wouldn't be able to change their mounts for the challenging terrain that followed.

Meanwhile, back home in Berkeley Square, a footman had put two and two together and raised the alarm. Robert Child summoned his coach and horses and was quickly off in hot pursuit. No doubt throwing large amounts of money at the logistical challenges of his journey, he managed to overtake the young lovers in High Hesket, where he leapt from his chaise, drew his pistol and shot dead the lead horse drawing their carriage. Westmorland unharnessed the animal and made off with only three horses, but not before one of his servants had cut a leather strap that held the body of Robert Child's coach to its axels. With his vehicle disabled, the father was unable to give further pursuit, and the young couple escaped across the border to be married by an anvil priest in Gretna Green on 20th May, 1782.

It would be fair to say that Robert Child never got over the disappointment of his daughter's disobedience, and he died a few months later. Before his death he changed his will disinheriting Sarah Anne and leaving his estate in trust for her second-born son, or eldest daughter on condition that they assume his surname. He was determined that the Westmorland heir, and hence their prestige as a family should not benefit from the Child estate. 

Here's another portrait from about 1791 of Sarah Anne and her mother. Her father was now dead, and she was the Countess of Westmorland. 

Formerly Sarah Anne Child and her mother Mrs Robert Child

Sarah Anne didn't have a second son so her eldest daughter, Sarah Sophia, born in 1785, inherited the Child fortune and, upon her majority in 1806, became the senior partner of the bank where she exercised her rights personally right through until her death in 1867. Sarah Sophia married George Child Villiers, the 5th Earl of Jersey, who adopted the Child name and passed it on to their children.

Well after that bodice ripper and the passage of a couple of centuries you might be wondering how  the long-dead Sarah Anne has managed to make it back to her childhood home. The answer is easy: her portraits and the portraits of other members of her family have come back to Osterley on a ten year loan from the family trust of the 10th Earl of Jersey.

And I must say they're looking very much at home here in their old ancestral pile. There are a few non-ancestors included in the cache. The oval portrait being given pride of place in the drawing room is a self-portrait by the seventeenth century English painter, William Dobson, court painter to Charles I, and best known for his portraits of Cavaliers from the English Civil War. Sir Francis Child bought it back in 1712 for £20 along with another self-portrait by Anthony Van Dyke for which he paid £60. The two self-portraits were then proudly displayed in matching baroque frames. The Van Dyke has been sold at auction for £8.3 million and the good folk down at the National Portrait Gallery are now trying to raise funds to acquire it for the nation.

Also in the drawing room, enjoying pride of place above the fireplace, is the portrait of Francis Child III painted in 1758 by Allan Ramsey.

The drawing room, Osterley Park

If you'd like to take a trip over to Osterley you can see the paintings dotted around and looking as though they've never been away. It is a fabulous place with a real country house feel, even though it's been surrounded up by the urban sprawl of West London. It stands in an island of some 140 acres of formal gardens, parkland and a home farm, where they have a beautiful herd of Charolais cattle.  

Osterley Park, West London

Does this look like it's 8 miles from hustle and bustle of Piccadilly Circus?

Osterley Park, West London

Maybe the low-flying aircraft landing at Heathrow is a bit of a give-away ... .

Osterley Park, West London

You can find all the details about the house and the park here: Osterley Park


Bonny x

As shared on Friday Finds

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Homage to a rose ...

Wordless Wednesday blog hop ... but it's so hard not to say anything ... playing with my new macro lens ... not totally sure what it can do yet ... and on the way to school just couldn't resist this glorious rose growing outside my front door ...

Have a great Wednesday!

Bonny x

Monday 12 May 2014

Egg-free brownies ... and ancestor-envy ...

We've had a miserable weekend, weather-wise, here in London. We'd planned to go on a wonderful long walk on Sunday followed by a lazy pub-terrace lunch down by the river with some of our very best friends, but everything got rained-off thanks to our doolalley British weather. Memo to the British climate: it's SPRINGTIME, can you please take note and behave accordingly?

So, instead we stayed at home and made a batch of yummy, egg-free Brownies. I should explain: Emi has an egg allergy. Eggs in cakes annoy him, but eggs in pancakes are just fine. Not sure exactly why that should be the case, but it's something I've got to work around in the sweet-things department.

And sweet-things, as we all know, are very important. After school, for instance, a cup of hot chocolate with some little nibble or other is an important part of our daily routine. Life's always better with chocolate in my view, and it certainly helps loosen young Emi's tongue as he enjoys his snack and gives me a blow-by-blow account of his day.

And right now he's in the grip of some serious ancestor-envy. It's like this: one of his friend's fathers thinks that he may be descended from Admiral Lord Nelson. And as a result F, the little chum, has had great fun telling the boys at school, that it's an absolute biological certainty that they share the great seaman's DNA.

They found some of his blood on a rusty sword and it was the exact same as mine, he explained to Emi and their other friend, G when they (enviously) voiced their doubts on the matter.

G, who's a very shrewd little operator, didn't miss a beat and replied that he was, of course, related to the late, great Nelson Mandela, which I strongly suspect is a total porkie pie, but full marks to him for quick thinking.

Emi, on the other hand, had not come prepared to claim an illustrious ancestor and he returned home that afternoon feeling very lacklustre in the DNA department.

Over our customary hot chocolate we had a think about his ancestry.

On my side they were a bunch of Border Reavers from the lowlands of Scotland, who played an exceptionally good hand at cattle rustling across the frontier with England. They enjoyed a certain notoriety for their professional talents, and boasted a flying stirrup as their clan emblem. All of it was very colourful, but not really up there with Admiral Lord Nelson.

On  my husband's side we could do little better. He looks like a man of exotic provenance, and we feel confident that there's a Barbary Pirate or two lurking in the upper branches of his family tree. His mother's family have an appellido JudeoespaƱole, a surname that was often used by Jewish people to hide their semitic origins when they were forced to convert to Catholicism back in the fifteenth century, so we may even have a learned Rabbi or two sitting on a hidden branch safely out of sight of the Spanish Inquisition. But again, there was nothing to compare with Admiral Lord Nelson's star ancestral cachet.

So, having exhausted the supply of actual ancestors, Emi turned his mind to think of whom he might like to have been related to. For reasons which elude adult logic, he decided that it would have been very cool to have owned Harry Houdini as an ancestor. I think he may just have liked the word escapologist: I've noticed that he's been collecting big words recently - possibly to hold in reserve and use defensively when he's feeling the want of an illustrious ancestor or two.

I can just tell everyone that I'm related to Harry Houdini, he mused, slurping the last dregs of his hot coffee through a straw. Using a straw to drink hot chocolate is, I should add, another of his current peccadilloes.

Normally I would not encourage my child to tell fibs, but on the basis that we are all descended from Adam - and, hence, by extension distant cousins - and given that he was by now quite bent out of shape about the Admiral Lord Nelson business I let the matter pass.

The following day he returned triumphant.

Mum, I told them all about my famous ancestor, Harry Hooligan, who discovered the dinosaurs, he announced proudly, having apparently forgotten Houdini's proper name and occupation and, perhaps more importantly, that the whole thing had been a fiction of his own making. 

They were dead impressed even though they didn't know who he was, and then F and I went off to play World War Two.

That's nice, dear. Which parts did you play in World War Two? I asked, happy to see him back on form.

I was Churchill and F was Admiral Lord Nelson, he replied, dabbing the last of the brownie crumbs on his plate with a chocolatey index finger, and popping them in his mouth.

Anyway, if you'd like to make these tongue-loosening brownies to winkle secrets out of your own little people this is how I make them. The trick is to substitute mashed potato in place of eggs as the binding agent. I find that this works well in most other cake recipes when I want to adapt them for Emi.


85g (3 oz) plain flour
40 g ( 1 1/2 oz) instant mashed potato powder
Sufficient hot water to turn the mashed potato powder into normal eating consistency mashed potato
1 tablespoon good quality cocoa powder
a pinch of salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
170 g (6 oz) caster sugar
55 g (2 oz) butter
2 tablespoonfuls water
100g (3 1/2 oz) plain chocolate
1 teaspoonful of vanilla essence


1. Preheat the oven to 180 C (Gas mark 4 or 350 F) and line a 7" x 11" baking tin with baking paper.

2. Sift flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking powder into a bowl.

3. Boil a kettle and mix the mashed potato powder with sufficient hot water to give it a normal eating consistency.

4. Over a Bain Marie, melt the chocolate with the butter and sugar until they are a smooth, even consistency. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla essence and the 2 tablespoonfuls of water and mix so that these last ingredients are evenly incorporated.

5. Pour the chocolate mixture and the mashed potato into the flour mixture, and beat until the combined mixture is smooth. Then pour it into the baking tray, and place in the preheated oven.

6. Cook for about 25 minutes, until the mixture forms a slight crust on top and becomes firm to the touch.

7. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for half an hour before cutting into brownies. Store in an air-tight container.

And enjoy with hot chocolate and tall tales of amazing ancestors, real or imagined,

Bonny x
As shared on The Alphabet Project

Friday 9 May 2014

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Last Sunday we took a trip down to Cornwall to visit the Lost Gardens of Heligan. They were exquisite, both in their prettiness and in their symbolism.  In 2013 the Imperial War Museum registered the gardens as a Living Memorial to the fallen from the First World War. I can think of no better memorial to the soldiers who never returned to work the land, and to a way of life that was changed forever by the war.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

One of the things that I am coming to realise is that the First World War was a terrible, brutal catalyst for social change. You see in those days the junior officers, the first and second lieutenants and the young captains, who were in the trenches with their men, took special pride in leading from the front. They were the first over the top and the last to retreat. As a result the rate of attrition amongst these men was higher than for any other rank. For the most part they were drawn from the upper classes. In 1914 Lord Kitchener called upon the public school boys of Britain to officer his army, and, almost to a boy, they stepped forward and did so. The enemy snipers made it their priority to kill the officers first, and scoured the ranks to find them. Apart from their uniforms they were easy to spot: in 1914 the average public schoolboy, with his better diet and lifestyle, was on average 5 inches taller than his working class contemporary. On the Western Front these young subalterns had an average life expectancy of 6 weeks. During the blackest days of the Somme that fell to just 14 days.  So, in effect, the aristocracy lost a generation of young men who would otherwise have inherited estates like Heligan, and all the other privileges that came with their rank. That inevitably created a sort of opportunity vacuum at the top end of society, making it easier for people of more humble origins to rise.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Most of the Tommies came home from the war in better shape than when they'd left. They'd been fed army rations which, whilst being far removed from haute cuisine, were much more nutritious than what they'd have got back in Blighty. They'd been well clothed and strictly disciplined. They'd journeyed beyond our shores and were fitter and more confident as a result of the experience. Seeing what had happened in the war, lions led by donkeys and all that, they were more inclined to question the established order and all of this made them more aspirational than would have been the case if the war had never happened. In a very real sense the war empowered them to better their lot back in civilian life after they were demobbed.

The anguish of the earth absolves our eyes 
Till beauty shines in all that we can see. 

War is our scourge; yet war has made us wise, 

And, fighting for our freedom, we are free. 

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Horror of wounds and anger at the foe,
And loss of things desired; all these must pass. 

We are the happy legion, for we know 
Time’s but a golden wind that shakes the grass. 

Siegfried Sassoon

And then there were the women, who'd been agitating for the vote and for full political rights for years before the war broke out. After their contribution to the war effort, there really was no saying "no" to their demands for political rights. The genie was well and truly out of the bottle.  I wonder how much longer it would have taken for women to get the vote if the First World War had never happened.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Now, please, I'm not for one moment suggesting that the First World War was a good thing. It was a huge tragedy that the political classes on all sides were unable to sort out their differences and prevent it from happening. It was, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the darkest chapters in our history, and I am profoundly grateful that I did not live through it, and that the men in my life were not exposed to the unparalleled horror that was life in the trenches.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

All I'm saying is that the war changed much more than the political map of Europe. It fundamentally changed the fabric of our society. Here at Heligan, they recognise the outbreak of the First World War as the day our world changed forever. Why was that? What great change did the distant war make to the gardens of Heligan? Well in the first instance the able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 38 slowly drifted off to fight. The wages records show fewer and fewer people being employed to look after the gardens as the war progressed. The squire, John Tremayne, fought with distinction as a member of the Royal Naval Air Service. The house was turned over to the Military who used it as a convalescent hospital for wounded officers. Squire John survived the war, but found it impossible to live with the ghosts at Heligan after his home was restored to him. By 1923 he had taken himself off to live abroad, and the house and grounds were in the hands of tenants, and slowly, slowly the gardens began their sad decline. They became more and more forgotten, overlooked and uncared for. This carried on until the 1970's when the house was redeveloped as flats. By that time they had slipped into total neglect and obscurity. Nature took over, and they disappeared into the undergrowth.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Then one day in 1990 Tim Smit and John Nelson, the two men who were to pioneer their restoration, discovered the old Thunderbox Room, the gardeners' outdoor toilet. On the wall they noticed some graffiti. Someone had written Don't come here to sleep or slumber and below the others had signed their names and added the date August 1914. The two men were electrified by this direct contact with the folk who had worked there all those years ago and then gone off to fight. They vowed, there and then, that they would restore the gardens to their former splendour as a living tribute to those who had once made them great: the ordinary people who had worked the land, rather than the grand types up in the big house.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

And great is exactly what they've made them. I liked that there isn't a big house visit as part of the ticket. My whole inspiration in coming here had been to find out about the workers who had made the gardens, and their successors, the people who had been inspired to re-make them. There's something inherently magical about the mystery of a lost, forgotten garden, and a big house tour would only have been a distraction from the real business of the day.

The kitchen garden and the walled flower garden are a triumph of functionality and design: all perfectly ordered with a Victorian sense of place and purpose.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

They've been growing melons, bananas, citrus, grapes, peaches, figs and pineapples in glass houses here since the early days of the nineteenth century. Those hothouses are now restored and back in production. The pineapple pit was a thing of wonder. They use fermenting horse manure in subterranean trenches to generate the heat needed for the pineapples to grow.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

I especially liked the early Victorian Bee Boles, built into the wall of the vegetable garden. They hold two rows of barley straw keps, in which the bees live. They help to pollinate the crops in the gardens as well as providing wax for candle-making and honey.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

The gardens are home to the National Collection of Camellias and Rhododendrons introduced to Heligan pre 1920. On Sunday the rhododendrons were in full bloom.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

They were glorious: great, large trees covered in flowers, with carpets of fallen petals in the cavernous spaces beneath their sprawling limbs.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

I have fond memories from childhood of hiding beneath the arms of a huge rhododendron tree that grew on my grandparents' lawn. The leaf canopy stretched all the way down to the grass, and it was possible for a little girl and her dog to disappear without trace, which must have exercised my poor grandma's patience from time to time.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

It's a strange space beneath a rhododendron tree; foreign and quite different from any other part of the garden.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

These trees are so huge, you get a sense of them having been here forever. Indeed some of the earliest rhododendrons to reach our shores (from Joseph Hookers' Himalayan trip to Sikkim in 1851) are still growing happily here at Heligan.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

This exoticism continues in the Jungle, an eight acre garden in a steep-sided, south-facing valley with a micro-climate all its own. When you descend into the jungle you're conscious of things heating up. It's normally several degrees warmer down there than in the surrounding gardens. It was laid out one hundred and thirty years ago with plants collected from around the world back in the days when botany and collecting plant specimens were just kicking-off as fashionable pursuits.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

It really doesn't look much like England. I was greatly tickled by the idea of Victorian guests trooping around in their top hats and tails, crinolines and parasols admiring the lush vegetation. I wonder what they made of it.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan
Maybe the old hands who'd been out in India or who'd fought in the Boer Wars regaled the others with anecdotes about the last time I saw a plant like this ... . I'd love to be able to listen back through time to the stories they told and the reminiscences they shared whilst they wandered around.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan

We carried on from the jungle to the Woodland Walk, where I was especially delighted to see lots of bluebells as I've been suffering from a bit of a bluebell fixation recently.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Emi, my son, was very taken with the Insect Hotel - or Bug Hotel as he preferred to call it - which is a really groovy place for all the creepy-crawlies to hang out.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

We were all impressed with the wonderfully contemporary woodland sculptures. For me they reinforced the point that time has marched on, and we are no longer living in 1914. The gardens have survived to be enjoyed by another generation, who are, quite rightly, leaving their own marks and embellishments on the landscape.

Below is the giant's head. He's a very benign, cheerful-looking sort of a giant.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

And this is the mud maid, who looked very peaceful as she lay asleep in her woodland glade.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

This is the charcoal sculpture, down in the Lost Valley, which was designed to symbolise growth and decay. For myself I'd have made that growth, decay and regeneration, which is really what these gardens are all about.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

If you'd like to find out more about the Lost Gardens you can find the website here: Lost Gardens of Heligan Website


Bonny x

As shared on Friday Finds

Wednesday 7 May 2014

Nettle champ from Ulster ...

I should begin by praising the humble stinging nettle. It's a plant that most of us uproot from our gardens and take detours around when we find it in our path, but it's really rather amazing.

I mean just think about the mechanics of what it does: its hollow stinging hairs act like tiny hypodermic needles injecting a venom, made up of histamine and other chemicals, into the skin of passing animals. It does this to deter them from touching it or interfering with its growth cycle. It's a clever, defensive, "keep off my patch" mechanism that works brilliantly well.

In Ireland we've eaten fresh spring nettles since forever. Cooking destroys their sting, and - hey presto - you're left with is a delicious green vegetable, that contains more iron that spinach, is high in protein and loaded with vitamin C. It really is a bit of a superfood, but it's best eaten early in the season as they develop gritty particles called cystoliths later on as the leaves age. These cystoliths can cause urinary tract infections so, please, don't eat them after the end of June

Right now, though, I'd say the fresh green leaves are just about perfect for harvesting.

When I was a little girl my mum used to make nettle infusions as a hair tonic in the spring time. We'd pour it over our hair as a final rinse. The nettles made the hair shine, and they are also supposed to help control dandruff and scalp disorders. If you'd like to make some all you have to do is gather an armful of nettles and wash them in the sink. Chop them into manageable sized pieces with your kitchen scissors and place them in a saucepan with a couple of pints/ a litre of water. Bring the mixture to the boil, then turn down the heat and allow them to simmer for a few minutes. When they're done drain off the liquid and leave to cool. Once it's cooled down, add a drop of lavender oil to make it smell better, and then simply use it as a final rinse when you wash your hair. 

People have been making clothes out of nettles for the better part of two millennia. Do you remember in Hans Christian Andersen's Wild Swans how Eliza had to weave eleven shirts from the churchyard nettles to free her wild swan brothers from their stepmother's wicked spell? 

In cloth-making the nettles are processed in a manner very similar to the way in which flax is treated to produce a tough, hard-wearing material, not dissimilar to linen. Sadly it went out of fashion as a fabric way back in the sixteenth century with the arrival of cotton. During the First World War, however, some of the German soldiers' uniforms were made from nettle fabric as there was a shortage of cotton. There's been a bit of a resurgence of interest in it in more recent times. There's a lot of chat about it being an environmentally friendly material as they don't need to use agrochemicals given how robust our lovely native nettles are. 

But my own personal favourite thing to do with nettles is to make Nettle Champ. Champ is a big thing back home in Ulster. It's the Ulster version of Colcannon. You can find my recipe for Colcannon here: Recipe for Colcannon

If you'd like to turn your hand to making some nettle champ here's what you'll need:

Ingredients for Nettle Champ for four people:

Several handfuls of nettle tops
6 medium to large potatoes
200 ml of milk
150 g of butter 
1 large spring onion
Salt and pepper to taste 

Now, just a word or two about cutting nettles. You need to wear a pair of thick rubber gloves to cut them, and you need to wash them carefully. It's best to gather them from somewhere wild where they won't have been doused with any toxic pesticides. I'd also steer clear of the grass verges along the roadsides as they're going to be contaminated with all the nasties from passing vehicle emissions. I take the first four or five inches of the plant, using my kitchen scissors to cut them, and then lift them into a basket using the scissors like tongs to grip the stems. Avoid any unhealthy-looking brown leaves.

When you get them home wash them carefully. Cut off the green leaves and discard the stems. 

Peel the potatoes, chop the spring onion and boil them together until the potatoes are cooked.

Whilst the potatoes are cooking put the nettle leaves and the milk in a saucepan and bring to the boil, turn the heat down and let them simmer gently for seven or eight minutes. Then leave to one side.

When the potatoes have cooked, drain them and leave them to steam off any remaining moisture. Mash them with the spring onions, and season to taste. Add all of the nettles and then the milk, a little at a time, mashing as you go to achieve a light fluffy puree. Depending on which potatoes you use you may not need all the milk. Stop when you've achieved the desired, lightly-whipped consistency, and before you end up with something soupy. 

Your champ should be served with a well in the middle into which you place a dollop of butter, which melts to create a wonderful, salty, yellow reservoir. It makes a great accompaniment to a Sunday roast.


When I was a child, this was a restorative dish that my grandmothers or my mum would make when I was off-colour. And to this day it is my ultimate comfort food.

If you have any left over (which is highly unlikely, but just saying that you had ...) you could save it in the fridge. Next morning shape the champ into little balls, and flatten them to make pancake shapes. Dust these with flour and fry them gently in the frying pan as part of a fried breakfast.

Delicious again! 

Clearly none of this is good for your cholesterol levels, but the odd little treat every now and then is good for morale. I mean what's the point in living to be a hundred and five if you're going to be as miserable as sin? 


 Bonny x