Category Archives: Odds and sods

Queen Cotton – and a question about armpits


Seeing as how we Brits are poised to celebrate the fact that Betty Windsor has now served 60 years in the same job, I tried ever so hard to come up with an appropriate topic for today’s epistle so I could bill it as a Jubilee Special.  But alas, the only connection I could make between “Jubilee” and “vintage Singers” was Singer’s own Jubilee in 1951, and a post about that would still have been deadly boring however much I funked it up.  So we’ll just have to make do with this, which, if nothing else, does at least have the word “Queen” in common with this weekend’s festivities.  It’s the best I could do.

OK, it might be a bit late now to be making yourself a retro frock to wear to Sunday’s street party, but if you fancy knocking one up later, there’s plenty of inspiration to be had in the fashion show with which this fascinating film finishes.  Somewhat surprisingly for 1941, the whole thing’s in Glorious Technicolor, so not only do we see proof that people in wartime Britain didn’t really live in a black and white world, but also for once we get to see what colour those fabrics were.  Well, more or less.

There’s so much to love about this film right from the very start, with the band apparently playing bits of two or three different tunes in no particular order during the credits.  Check out the bloke with the fag cigarrette at 2.07, and consider how bizarre that must now seem to those too young to have grown up when smoking in the office was practically compulsory.  Warm to the sweetie with the wonderful smile at 3.02, and ask yourself what that’s about.  Note the high-fashion clogs at 5.20, and just imagine the amount of teasing that poor girl would have got from her workmates for wearing stockings in t’mill.  Unless of course it was a very posh mill.

Talking of posh, for once the narrator of this film is not the ubiquitous Alvar Lidell, but whoever he is, isn’t it marvellous how he pronounces necessary “nyecessary” and chemist “chyemist”?  I bet he lived in a nice hice.  And isn’t the woman to whom he hands over at 10.10 well spoken too?  She sounds like just the kind of girl every middle-class mother must have been hoping her son would one day bring home for a nice pot of Earl Grey and a slice of Battenberg with herself and Father.

Come to think of it, that’s a Jubilee connection of a kind – Battenberg cake!  I never did understand why, when Prince Louis (Phil the Greek’s grandaddy) changed the family name from Battenberg to Mountbatten during World War One so as not to upset the locals, the cake didn’t change to Mountbatten cake.  But I digress.  (I do wish he wouldn’t call Her Majesty’s dear husband Phil the Greek, but he always has – E)

When we get to the fashion show there’s many a treat in store, but the lilac creation at 11.57’s a show-stopper for sure.  Can anybody lip-read at 12.07 and tell us what her on the left’s saying to her mate about it?

Finally, when we get to 12.57 and the floor show finishes, note how no sooner has her with the green basket swanned off the floor than the punters are all on their feet and heading for the exit, no doubt keen to get to the pub and start the bitching.

Elsie and I thoroughly enjoyed it – and we enjoyed a lot of the others on that British Council Film site too.  Well worth watching if you ask me, just for the social history – even if the background music to many of them does set your teeth on edge.

Finally, a question about period frocks.  When I grew up in the 1950’s, my grandmother was still wearing many of her 1940’s clothes.  Many of her ideas were still unchanged from when she was a young woman in Edwardian times, so to this day I don’t know if one thing about her summer frocks was Edwardian 0r 1940’s or somewhen in between.  In fact, for all I know it might just have been one of grandmother’s peculiarities.  She had a lot of those.

The mystery concerns the very soft D-shaped cotton pads measuring 3″ or so along the straight edge, which where filled with some sort of soft wadding such that they were perhaps 3/8″ thick.  These were attached by means of two press studs to each underarm of the dress, so that when it was worn, the pads hung down against grandmother’s sides, close up under her armpits.

They were of course worn to absorb perspiration, and they were simply washed after each wearing and dried for re-use.   So, if that rings any bells … what were they called, were they manufactured or home-made, and was anybody else still wearing them in the 1950’s apart from my grandmother?

A hot, sunny Sunday morning in the bottom right-hand bit of England …


We’d both had our breakfast by 7.30 this morning.  Muesli with organic milk followed by a huge glass of orange juice for Elsie; muesli with apple juice followed by two cups of coffee for me.  We’d also collected today’s eggs.

By 8.45 we were back home after having watered the big allotment, which is only half a mile away, and picked just over 10kg of rhubarb.  (We watered the little allotment yesterday)

By 9.15 we’d also watered the garden by means of watering cans, there being a hosepipe ban in force, and picked another 3kg of rhubarb while we were at it.

At 9.45, I got on my bike to nip to Waitrose to get a few bits and bobs and some cash out of the machine, having by then made a start on chopping the rhubarb which Elsie was still washing.  Before I left, I took a quick snap for those of you who have might have difficulty envisaging what 13kg of rhubarb looks like …

Actually, that’s probably just under 10kg of it on account of how the first five jars were already in the water bath by then and there was a fair amount of it in the big bowl out of frame to the right.  Note in the background a large and very scrummy organic orange from the farm shop just outside town, which Elsie had been grating the rind off prior to us sharing it later.  The orange, that is.  Not the rind.

And now you want to know what that’s about.  Well, it’s just one of the many things that we do which we can’t understand why normal people don’t do.   We freeze the grated rind of organic oranges to use in our Awesome Carrot Cake, the secret recipe for which I might one day be persuaded to reveal.

Right, where was I?  Yes, Waitrose.  That’s it.  So I get the items on my little list, and then wander round the fruit and veg section before heading to the checkout.  It’s just one of those things I do by way of quiet amusement.  For example, only a couple of days ago I was intrigued to spot bags of fresh basil each labelled in large print “MAJESTIC BASIL”, so I asked a nearby Waitrose person what the difference was between MAJESTIC BASIL and adjective-less basil in lower case.  She didn’t know for sure, but suggested that it was “just marketing really”.  I guess she was right, because their fresh rosemary is ROMANTIC ROSEMARY, their fresh tarragon is TANTALIZING TARRAGON, and so on.

What a great deal of nonsense.

This morning I spotted the “fresh” rhubarb.  Only it was anything but.  It was half-dead rhubarb, fit only for the compost heap.  According to the shelf-edge ticket, though, it was “essential Waitrose rhubarb”.

And it was £5.99 a kilo.  Yes, £2.72 a pound.  For rhubarb.  Which grows itself.  In practically any soil, anywhere.  Anybody who can lay claim to a square meter of soil can grow rhubarb until it comes out their ears.  But if they can’t, they can pay £5.99 a kilo for it from Waitrose.  And if that’s not expensive enough for them, they can pay £7.98 a kilo for the same thing properly trimmed and packed in a plastic bag.  To save you doing the arithmetic, you’re looking at over £50-worth of rhubarb there, and that’s at the lowest Waitrose price.

Some trips to our local Waitrose are obviously more entertaining than others, but I was in luck this morning, for I was first through a checkout manned by a very earnest-looking young man called James.  James had what I assume to be a trendy haircut, and was also wearing glasses of the “designer” type.  He was very neat and tidy, and he smelled pretty.  (I was going to say “smelled like a tart’s handbag” but thought the better of it.)

James had obviously been instructed to engage the customers in conversation, so after asking me if I needed any bags today rather than if I needed any bags, he enquired how I was today.  I had a feeling I knew what I was in for, so in an effort to head it off I just said “I am very well, today, thank you”.  But that, and avoiding eye contact, didn’t work.

“Looks like another hot one today.” says he.

“Yes”, says I.  I forget what the next cliché was, but I just kept on packing my groceries and I didn’t respond to it.  However, with but a couple of items left to scan, he hit me with “Are you doing anything interesting today“?

Now … if this had been a Walmart checkout in Asscrack, Arkansas or wherever, I’d have had no problem whatsoever with that.  But this is England, and I for one am not a fan of this sudden craze for supermarket staff “engaging the customer” whilst going through a checkout.  However, I was in a good mood this morning so just I looked at him, smiled and said “Would you do me a favour please?  Back off with the cheery chat and just tell me what the total is?”.

Alas, the poor lad was offended.  “It’s not cheery chat!” says he, petulantly.  “I’m just talking”.

It’s probably just as well that by now, two more customers had moved into line behind me, so I no longer had the opportunity to explain to young James that the art of “engaging” with customers involves noting the way in which they react to what you say and tailoring your spiel accordingly.   And if the customer is obviously not a keen conversationalist, the best thing to do is just think “grumpy bugger” and zip it.

Whatever, I was back home to Elsie and the rhubarb-bottling before 10.30, with the remainder of the chopping-up to do while she did the processing.  That and general faffing took us to 11.30 and thoughts of getting our lunch together which, being but common people, we call dinner.  That involves picking and washing the lettuce, carrots and the assorted greens which only Elsie eats, cutting up hard-boiled eggs and wondering why whichever ones you buy, shop tomatoes never have as much taste as the home-grown ones which won’t be ready for ages yet.

In case you’re wondering, Elsie had some mysterious frozen left-over stuff with pasta in it which looked horrible but apparently tasted OK when reheated thoroughly, and I had my usual organic cheddar sandwich followed by one with homemade jam in it.  Organic wholemeal bread, of course.

So why am I telling you good people all this stuff?  Frankly, it’s because the sun is blazing down outside as it has been since it got up this morning, there’s not a breath of air, and it’s far too hot to do anything much more energetic than sit here in front of the computer with the blind down while Elsie reclines on the sofa in the kitchen reading her book about who’s really running the country.

Come this evening though, we’ll be running round like mad things …

Christiania for sale – and what is somebody who sews?


Yes, I do realise that it’s hard to see what exactly the connection might be between the funky tricycle in the picture and vintage Singer sewing machines, but bear with me, dear reader, if you will …

For reasons that are far too boring to go into here, Elsie and I need to find a new home for our beloved Christiania cargo trike, and I’m rather hoping that having the phrase “Christiania for sale” in the title of this blog post may help us to do just that.

Lest your curiosity be aroused, let me tell you that this fine machine is a one-size fits all Christiania Classic with a galvanised steel frame, disc brakes on the front and roller brake on the rear, and it has 8-speed hub gears so it’s very low-maintenance.  You can, as many Danes do, get a couple of kids in the box (both seating and canopy for them are available) and keep fit while you make it one less car on the school run, or you can get three Singer portables or one Singer treadle in it, which is the best I can do by way of a connection.  You can also get a hundredweight of mangels or mangolds or mangelwurzels in it, but that’s another story.  (and one best forgotten if you ask me – Elsie)

We bought it new in June 2010, it’s in jolly good condition, and the current list price including the extras ours has is something over £1800.   We therefore start talking at £1100, and an email to sidandelsie (at) will start the process whereby you can become the new owner of this versatile and very environmentally-friendly vehicle.

OK, advert over, so lets move on to sewers.

What is the word for somebody who sews?  If you’re British, and the somebody who sews is employed in a factory to sew on a machine, you call her a machinist, which is fine, even though a machinist is also a bloke who works machinery such as lathes, milling machines and so on.

But what is the Brit word for somebody who sits at home and sews, if she uses a machine but isn’t a dressmaker?

I keep seeing people on the interweb use the word “sewist”, which is an abomination guaranteed to offend the sensibility of any right-thinking person.  Using “sewist” is even worse than using the word “harp” to describe the throat space of a sewing machine irather than the irritating musical instrument often played at downmarket English wedding receptions in an attempt to lend an air of class to the proceedings .

But what about “sewer”?  If you’re in the US of A, the word rhymes with “mower” and it means somebody who sews.  But if you’re a Brit, it rhymes with “brewer” and it means a pipe which conveys sewage.

So I have two questions.  Is “sewer” actually in real-world use in the US to mean somebody who sews?  And is there such a thing as a British term for somebody who uses a sewing machine at home but who isn’t a dressmaker?

Come to think of it, make that three questions.  If it’s not a sewer, what is the American name for the big pipe under the road which takes away your sewage?

Rewiring a 185K – and the Bottling of the Rhubarb


Yes indeed, the rhubarb season is upon us once again, but before we get to that, I’ve been asked to do a thing on rewiring a 185K which has the permanently-connected mains leads, as opposed to the plug-in ones used on pretty much every other vintage Singer domestic.  So here we go …

Now, you’ll have to pretend a bit here, because that’s the only 185 motor I can find right now and when it came to us it had already been rewired.  Badly.  If it was still original, those two cut-off black cables on the left wouldn’t be cut off, and they’d be brown, and they’d have a brown plastic thingy round them where they come out of the terminal box under the motor, like the cable on the right does.  I cut off those replacement leads to the mains plug and the foot controller when we bought this one in, but you can still see what a lash-up it was.

(In case you’re wondering, yes, that is a bunch of threads wrapped round the motor pulley, and no, I’ve never worked out how that happens either.)

That single cable going off to the right goes to the Singerlight, and it has its brown bush/sleeve thingy present and correct.  The reason why the corresponding one’s missing from the left hand side is doubtless because whoever did the wiring found that it was, to use a technical term, stuffed.  Those brown bushes harden with age, the lugs on them which keep them secure in the hole tend to come off, and when that happens, they are as much use as a chocolate teapot.

So he put it back together without one on that side, as we see more clearly below …

There’s your plastic bush on the right with the Singerlight lead going through it, and you can see what I mean about those lugs.  It won’t matter greatly if those particular ones come off because the lead to the Singerlight doesn’t generally get waggled about a lot, but the ones to the foot pedal and mains plug certainly do.  That’s why they need one of those bushes round them, and also some proper strain relief.

That light-coloured thing round the Singerlight lead just inside the bush is the original strain relief – a cunning little two-part affair made of fibreboard and a spring clip, which works well on the original flat twin cable but doesn’t work at all on anything else.  It’s also a pig to remove and replace, unless you’re privy to a secret technique handed down across the generations by horny-handed sewing machine repair men.

But what, you ask, are those off-white queerthings?  They, dear reader, are Scruits, unless you’re in the States, in which case I think they’re wirenuts.  But I’m not really sure.  Whatever, they used to be a very common way of joining two or three stranded conductors together, and they work a lot better than you’d think.  Basically all you do is strip half an inch or so of insulation off each conductor that you wish to join, align them alongside each other, and twist the ends together clockwise.  You then screw the Scruit on, remembering to twist it clockwise, and bingo – the metal inner of the Scruit tightens itself onto your wire ends and you have a secure connection.

The Scruits in the picture are the later nylon-bodied type, and these particular ones have been crimped after they were screwed them on, presumably because whoever fitted them had no faith in the Scruit doing its job and no intention of ever undoing the connection.  Earlier Scruits came in a truncated conical form made of hard black plastic, and earlier still they were porcelain.  I like Scruits, I do, but then I was brought up when they were still widely used.

And that picture illustrates why re-wiring a 185K is seldom a straightforward business.  It’s not the Scruits that’s the problem, but the lack of strain relief and of a suitable bush when you can’t re-use the original  one.  Frankly I have no suggestions as to how you might go about making a proper job of it in the absence of a re-usable bush.  All I know for sure is that if we couldn’t rustle up a bush in good condition and also come up with an effective way of providing suitable strain relief for the new cables, we wouldn’t offer the machine for sale.

So there you go.

Moving on now to rhubarb, ours is at least a fortnight late this year because of the horrible cold weather.  We picked a bit last week because we really fancied stewed rhubarb and icecream for pud and while we were at it we made half a dozen jars of jam, but today was the start of the season proper with 21lb picked this morning.  That’s filled thirteen Kilner jars with enough left over to make a gallon of rhubarb wine …

This year we’re trying out the water-bath method of bottling because Elsie’s sure it uses less energy than doing them in the oven, and rhubarb’s a good subject to test the method with because we’ll have an abundance of it for the next few weeks.  If we get any jars which don’t seal properly, we can always put them in the fridge for eating soon then just pick more rhubarb and try again.

Readers who are into this sort of thing may care to note that our rhubarb is a mix of Hammonds Early and Brandy Carr Scarlet, the lifter-outer in the foreground is from Lakeland Plastics and is essential for this method of preserving, those Kilner jars are the 1978-1990’s type which are known as Red Tops irrespective of whether the rings are red, orange or white, and if you’re after spares for your Kilner jars, it’s worth checking out this site

We’ll probably do another dozen or so jars of bottled rhubarb this coming week (each jar makes 2 crumbles), but we’ll also be making a lot of scrummy rhubarb and elderflower jam because judging by the look of the blossom, we’re not going to be making much damson this year.

Finally though, a question for our American and Canadian readers about home preserving terminology.  Where you are, do you guys call this procedure bottling, or is it canning ?

The Jetson case … and Elsie’s nettle beer


Somebody asked me the other day what a “Jetson buttonholer” is or was, and I said I’d do a post about it.  So here we go.

That green thing is what is commonly referred to as the Jetson case – so called after the green spaceship in “The Jetsons”,  an early 1960’s American television cartoon.  In it is contained the Singer Buttonholer489510, its four alternative templates, the fixing screw and the feed dog cover plate (hiding under the buttonholer itself) …

There’s also a sort of muddy dark pink version of that case, in which should be found the Buttonholer489500, which is identical except it’s for slant-shank machines.  And the answer to the question “if the buttonholers are identical, how do you tell them apart?” is that in the absence of a part number on it, the straight-shank one says “STRAIGHT” on top of the metal near where it fits onto your presser bar, and the slanty one says “SLANT”.

Note that those templates are metal, and that they’re exactly the same as those for the Buttonholer 160506 (the nice black one in the dark green textured plastic case).  However, you only got your Buttonholer 489510 in that Space Age case if you bought it in the States!  Here in the UK, we got the cheapo packaging …

We also got plastic templates instead of the metal ones …

So.  Which would you have preferred?

Thought so.

Anyhow, that’s the Jetson thing done, and it’s reminded me to point out that I put some more goodies on the Bits ‘n’ Bobs page yesterday.  They’re mixed in with some of the stuff that’s been there a while (including a Buttonholer 489510), so do scroll down and have a nosey.

On the home front, things are hotting up now even if the weather isn’t.  The rhubarb’s all coming along nicely, the greenhouse is crammed full of green things all a-growing, Elsie hoed the spuds up in the garden for the first time yesterday, and she picked the first radishes of the year.  We seem to be about a week away from the start of the home-grown lettuce, although everything’s a few weeks behind last year.  We bottled our first rhubarb on April 15th last year, but it’s going to be a good fortnight or so before that happens this year.

One thing that has already happened though is The Brewing Of The Nettle Beer …

Doesn’t that look scrummy?  Actually I don’t think so either, but Elsie does.  That’s the first gallon (less half a pint taken for quality control purposes), sitting quietly in a bucket in the bathroom yesterday, and seeing as how you’re now bound to be seized with a sudden urge to make some yourself, here’s the secret recipe …

Fill a supermarket carrier bag with young nettle tops, take them home and wash them.  Chuck them in your preserving pan or similar and add enough water to cover, taken from one gallon.  If you fancy spicing it up a little, add a tablespoon or so of chopped root ginger.  Maybe even a pinch of Cayenne pepper too, although Elsie makes it without either.

Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes.  It will smell foul (no it doesn’t, it smells like spinach -E) and it will look disgusting.

Remove from heat, fish out nettles, add juice of 2 lemons, a tablespoon or so of cream of tartar and 1lb brown sugar and stir well until dissolved.

Add the remainder of your gallon of water.

When cooled to body temperature, add about half a teaspoon of beer yeast and stir.  If you don’t have beer yeast, use wine yeast instead.  If all you have is ordinary baker’s yeast, try that and let us know how it works.

Now, if you’re into home brewing, pour into a fermenting bin and carry on like you do for proper beer.  If you’re not, pour into clean PET bottles and leave for 5 days before sampling.

The pressure will build up sooner than you might think, so be sure to keep an eye on the bottles.  If they start bulging, let a bit of the pressure off 2-3 times a day if needed, but don’t overdo it or you’ll lose the fizz.

We’ve never yet had a bottle burst or blow the cap off, but we always let it do its thing in a bucket in the bathroom and throw an old towel over just in case …

Les’s Longpods, the awful 285K – and our 100th post!


That’s Broad Bean “Les’s Longpod” on Monday of this week, that is – and those plants will grow up to produce loads of seriously scrummy broad beans, or if you’re in the US, fava or field beans.  They freeze well too.  It’s a variety we grow each year from saved seed, and it’s named after an old boy called Les, who gave us the seed when he gave up his allotment, on which he’d been growing it year in year out since the Siege of Kut.  (Since 1969, actually – Elsie)

Talking of times past, and seeing as how not many folks seem to use such things nowadays, I’d better explain that those beans are growing under some of our prized barn cloches.  We’ve got 49 of them, which means we’re the proud owners of 196 2ft x 1ft sheets of glass.  I know we bought 100 sheets from a glass merchant years ago, but I hadn’t realised until now that Elsie must have cut more than 96 of them since then from glass we’ve scrounged.

Barn cloches are a PITA to assemble every March and dismantle later in the summer, but we only reckon to break one sheet of glass a year in the process.  It’s worth the faffing about though, because they’re ever so much better than those plastic contraptions you see in garden centres.  They last for ages too – we bought some new wires a year or two back, but most of ours were well rusted when we acquired them 20-odd years ago.  We like barn cloches, we do.

It’s all happening in the greenhouse too.  That stuff in the pot is American Cress, which is one of those peculiar salad crops like Green In Snow and Mizuna which Elsie eats.  I of course play safe with the three different types of lettuce which are coming along nicely too. (More than three actually but he hasn’t realised that – Elsie)  In fact, we’ve stuff sprouting and coming up all over the place now.  We really ought to get our act together and get the spuds planted before much longer, but we’re still waiting for a delivery of spent mushroom compost for the top allotment, and that needs to go on before the spuds go in.  Still, Elsie’s got it all under control.  Apparently.

But hey, the veg is not the only thing that’s growing. Would you believe this is blog post number 100?  No, neither would I, but it is.  Even more surprising, I happened to look at the site stats the other evening and … 611 page views in the previous 24 hours!!??

What’s that about?

I don’t get it, but then I guess I don’t have to.

Anyhows … to celebrate our modest success in topping 600 page views in a day, here’s another of those wonderful old Singer commercials.  This one features, of all things, the truly dreadful 285K.  “Independent sewing experts” may well have given it “top value rating” at the time, but the truth is it’s a horrible machine which has since gone down in history as possibly the worst one Singer ever made …

Have a good weekend, folks.

There’s a lovely smell


coming up the stairs this morning …

Picture of spelt buns cooking on top of woodstove

Neither of us can actually remember when we started making our own bread.  But we got our cast-iron mill so we could grind our own flour at least 20 years ago, and we got that because we were fed up with the half-stale bread flour we used to buy from the shops, so it’s true to say that we’ve been baking since the mid-1980’s.  Or thereabouts.

By “we”, I mean of course Elsie most of the time, but I also make breadbuns, as well as a very nice spelt scone (pronounced the proper way).  According to Elsie I’m far too particular in the making and I never let anything bake long enough.  According to me, Elsie is a bung it baker and always tends to over-bake so her bread has a rock-hard crust.  Fortunately the same doesn’t apply to her pastry, which is usually baked to perfection or thereabouts.

Whether making a loaf in the oven or bread buns on top of the woodstove, the recipe stays the same, and just in case anybody out there’s interested, here it is …

Grind 800gm of organic spelt grain.  Tip it into a large bowl and add 10ml of salt.

In a measuring jug, add 400ml of boiling water to 200ml of cold water, stir it and chuck out all but 200ml.  Dissolve 5ml of sugar in that, then with a fork whisk in 15ml of dried yeast powder (slowly!).  Put a tea-cosy over it and leave to fester for 15 minutes or so.

Chuck yeast liquid/sludge into the flour and knead for at least 5 minutes, adding warm water as required to get the right consistency – very pliable, but not sticky (YouTube might be handy if you’re completely in the dark about that).

Cover the bowl with a plate or whatever and leave overnight.  In the morning, knead again for a few minutes then either bung it in a bread tin and bake in a hot oven until done, or divide into 6-8 portions and bake on top of your woodstove.  For that we use a wossname which Elsie got online from some place in Welsh Wales, and it needs greasing (it also needs careful preparation when you first get it but that’s another story).  You need to remember to rotate it from time to time to even-out the temperature, as well as to turn the buns over as they bake.

The temperature of your woodstove matters greatly when baking on the top thereof, and it’s very much a case of trial and error.  If it helps to know, if you put a standard cheapo Stovax stove thermometer on the top of your stove, the ideal temperature for baking is towards the top of the central silver band, which is reckoned to be 230-250 Centigrade, though how accurate that might be is anybody’s guess.  If in doubt, go under rather than over temperature.

And here endeth the lesson for today, except to point out that apart from having a scrummy taste, one other advantage of using spelt flour is that it’s fine for people who can’t tolerate wheat.

On the sewing machine front we’ll continue with more of the same once all this festivity has settled down, but in the meantime, if you’re wondering what else I’ve been up to (apart from The Finishing Of The Bathroom Cupboard), check out Elnablog

The wossname is actually a Welsh Bakestone which I got from and it is awesomeIf you have a woodstove, you should get one!   E.

The bakestone is in fact made not of stone but of very thick and very heavy mild steel plate, but it is indeed a fine thing to have.  S.

Trust you to have the last word.  E

Pumpkin seeds


Elsie has a thing about pumpkins.  She used to grow all kinds of strange ones, but nowadays it’s just Crown Prince for roasting and Lady Godiva for the seeds.  And I’ve been meaning to do this post for a fortnight now …

That’s a few Lady Godivas which have been opened in the traditional way i.e. by the application of a clean spade, and from which Elsie has extracted most of the seeds.  They’re all slimy and horrible when you pull them out of the flesh, so the next step is to wash them and get all the gloop off, after which they look like the ones in that colander to the right of the picture above.

And that’s what they look like after a few days spread out in the sun, still with their very delicate outer skin which tends to fall off.

Now, just in case there’s somebody out there who’s not familiar with them, I should perhaps explain why we go to all this trouble to end up with a couple of storage jars full of dried home-grown organic pumpkin seeds.  It is because they are scrummy.  Very scrummy, in fact.  And no doubt very good for you too, at least until somebody somewhere sooner or later announces that eating them increases the incidence of St Vitus Dance in vegans with ginger hair and a lisp, so we should all avoid wacky stuff like this and just eat crap from supermarkets like normal people do.

Meanwhile, we chuck a small handful in a small frying pan, put a lid on it to stop them jumping out, turn the gas up full under it, and keep shaking the pan until the seeds have just about stopped popping (as in popcorn, more or less).  We then take the lid off, tip the toasted seeds out, let them cool just a bit until they no longer burn the mouth, then scoff the lot between us.

There – a post about pumpkins, and not a word about Linus van Pelt, The Great Pumpkin and sincerity.

OK, that’s pumpkins done.  Next up is probably going to be Oiling Your Vintage Singer Part 2, with particular reference to the Singer 99K, but it might be something about the strange aluminium feet.

Who knows?

Vintage Singer accessories … and oca


Picture of oca tubers

No, these are not witchetty grubs as eaten by the people who used to be Aboriginies but are now Indiginous Australians, they’re oca tubers as eaten by Elsie.  But before we get to them I have other stuff to tell you.

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve put a few more bits and bobs on the Accessories for sale page recently including a Ruby Buttonholer Type RB and a Vanguard Buttonholer.  There’s a Singer Hemstitcher and Picot Edging Attachment 120687 (a.k.a the imitation hemstitcher) listed now, and another lovely Singer Automatic Zigzagger 160985 (the black one).

I’ve also listed a Singer Buttonhole Attachment 86662 with a scruffy box at a good price, and we’ve realised that in fact we have available a choice of these, all of which have been sorted by me and tested by Elsie so there’s nothing between them in terms of how well they work.  This, by the way, is the black version of the cream buttonholer with the red knobs that I’m on about, and the price is entirely dependent on cosmetic condition and how good the box is.

There’s more interesting things heading for that page in the next few weeks including a very nice green-box buttonholer 160506 and a Singer Zigzag Attachment 160620.  That’s the small one you don’t see all that often, which from a distance in bad light looks a bit like the Singer Blind Stitch Attachment.  And we’ve got a couple of those coming too!

I’m a bit busy making a built-in cupboard in the batchroom this week, but I’ve started work on blog posts about tension and about oiling your vintage Singer ‘cos we’ve had requests to do something about those two subjects, as well as more on maintenance of vintage Singers generally.  I was actually trying to finish one about oiling so it could come next, but that’s got put back by what we came home with on Sunday.

Would you believe that on the very day I posted part two of the thing on electrical safety, we bought a 201 with what turned out to be the most dangerous DIY rewire I’ve ever seen?  It’s an absolute classic this one is, so it gets a post all to itself and that’s what I’ve got to finish off tomorrow, so I’d better get the oca done and dusted now …

OK, those things are oca tubers, they’re related to the sunflower, they were one of the staples of the Incas, and they’re about the size of your thumb, give or take a bit.  They’re grown and eaten like new potatoes, except after you’ve dug them up you need to let the sun get at them for a few days to improve the taste, which is reckoned to be like new potatoes with a hint of lemon sauce.

Elsie likes them, but I can’t see the point of them (stuck in his ways is my Sid. E).  Mind you, that’s pretty much in line with the usual household division here where vegetables are concerned.  We’re both huge on beans, brassicas and so on, but when it comes to roots, Elsie gets really enthusiastic about things like turnips and parsnips whereas my own feeling about them is that times are not yet hard enough for me to start eating prison camp food.

Actually, yesterday we dug up the last of Elsie’s Jerusalem artichokes – or to be more precise, we dug up maybe 30% of them and left the rest wherever they’d wandered off to so they spring up next spring and I can kill the confounded things off with my hoe.

The very wonderful William Cobbett at one time famously described the Jerusalem artichoke as “a mischievous weed that Frenchmen and pigs eat when they can get nothing else”, but in Cottage Economy (1829) he offered this priceless advice on the cultivation of it – “It is a very poor, insipid vegetable, but if you have a relish for it, pray keep it out of the garden, and dig up the corner of some field or of some worthless meadow, and throw some roots into it”.

Top man, was Mr Cobbett.  He’d probably have thought much the same about oca.