Saturday 22 January 2022

Unusal Fruit & Christmas Orchid

Artocarpus heterophyllus - Jack fruit

Jack fruit has become very popular during recent years, especially with vegetarians, vegans or those who simply wish to eat less meat - why? It is because the texture of Jack fruit closely resembles that of meat, especially pork. Jack fruit spoils very quickly so it tends to be sold either freshly prepared ready for use, canned or frozen.  However, my question is "do you know what a Jack fruit looks like when it is growing?"

Jack fruit trees are indigenous to Kerala on the Malabar Coast of southern India., Sri Lanka, and the rainforests of Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. I first saw Jack fruit trees growing whilst travelling around Sri Lanka where it is their national fruit. The trees I saw were giants - extremely tall and very large.

The Jack fruit tends to hang in large clusters high up along the branches, but also, rather curiously, they even sprout out of the trees trunk lower down at eye level. The Jack fruit that I saw were huge, roughly the size of a rugby ball or even larger.

Paphiopedilum insigne - Ladys Slipper Orchid 

My Lady's Slipper orchid only graces us with her presence every three years, but when she does, I enjoy watching her journey from tiny green bud within the base of the leaves to full flower, which takes exactly three months.

She was bought in full bloom at a December flower market in Madeira many years ago, and carried back home on the plane. Her home is the Himalayas, and on high cliffs in Mayanmar, where she grows at altitudes of between 1000 to 2000 meters. It is surprising that she flourishes and thrives so well in the comparatively alien conditions in our home. Although Madeirans grow a wide variety of different orchids, they call Paphiopedilum insigne their Christmas orchid as she never fails to be in full bloom for the Christmas season.

Saturday 15 January 2022

Inuit Carving

Recently, David, who lives in Canada, featured an Inuit carving on his blog. In his comments, I mentioned that we had one, and he asked me if I would take a photograph and show it here.

The Inuit carving we have was purchased years ago in Toronto with helpful advice from my Canadian SiL. Carved out of Steatite (soapstone) it is heavy, sculptural, tactile, and smooth to the touch - a piece of work that we have always admired. 

According to David, Inuit artists have gained international recognition in recent years, and their work is in high demand. 

The base of our carving shows an authentication igloo label certified by the Canadian Government along with signed symbolic characters called syllabics, which represent the Inuit people's traditional written language, Inuktitut "ᓯᐃᓇᔨ". I am not sure what the numbers 0383 indicate. I used a Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics transliteration system which came up with Siinaji in Latin!

I particularly like the way that the striations and inclusions within the soapstone offers up a different appearance to each side. 

"Carving has always been an essential part of the hunting culture of Canadian Inuits. With only natural resources such as stone, occasional pieces of driftwood, ivory and bone with which to make efficient hunting tools, Inuits, of necessity, became very accomplished carvers."     Roger Duhamel

Wednesday 12 January 2022


 For thousands of years, the pomegranate, a juicy red fruit with many seeds, has been both a source of food and herbal medicine. Its many seeds made it a symbol of fertility, for out of one fruit could come many more. To the Romans, the pomegranate signified marriage, and brides decked themselves in pomegranate-twig wreaths.

Pomegranate seeds appear in the Greek myth of the goddess Demeter, protector of grain, crops, and the earth's bounty, and her daughter Persephone. 

One day Persephone was picking flowers when Hades, the king of the underworld, seized her and carried her to his dark realm to be his bride. Grief-stricken, Demeter refused to let crops grow.  All of humankind would have starved had not Zeus ordered Hades to release Persephone. Hades let her go, but first he convinced her to eat some pomegranate seeds. Having once eaten the food of the underworld, Persephone could never be free of the place. Henceforth she was fated to spend part of each year with Hades. 

Dante Gabriel Rossetti's painting of Persephone - model Jane Morris       

When Persephone goes back to Hades, the world turns barren, but when she returns to her mother, the earth produces flowers, fruit, and grain. Thus this ancient Greek myth gave rise to an explanation for the seasons.

I love the sculptural shape and form of a pomegranite, and the way that it's protective crimson leathery shell safely carries its cargo of shiny red seeds, resembling a jeweller's pouch filled with rubies.

We were both thrilled and delighted when we opened one of our presents on Christmas morning which contained a painting of a pomegranite. A gift that had been especially painted for us by one of our greatly loved granddaughters. 

Wednesday 5 January 2022

Sweet chestnut

 Castania sativa - Sweet chestnut

Fortune favoured us when we found some fresh Sweet chestnuts in a shop that were left over from the Christmas period. They make a tasty stuffing for the turkey, but we also enjoy them made into a nourishing, wholesome soup. The generic name Castania was derived from an ancient town called Castanis in Asia Minor, now Turkey, where Sweet Chestnut trees grew in abundance. The ancient Greeks called it "the acorn of Zeus". The nuts are such a good source of food that in many Mediterranean countries they were a staple food, often dried and ground into flour. Poorer people used to subsist largely on a diet of chestnuts.

The armies of Alexander the Great and then the Romans planted sweet chestnut trees across much of Europe, so that they could enjoy this treat of nature wherever they were.

Chestnut Soup - serves 4

450g chestnuts

500 mls milk

freshly ground black pepper & nutmeg

pinch of sea salt

one large onion finely chopped with a clove of garlic cooked in olive or rapseed oil

250 mls vegetable stock

toasted pine nuts & parsley to serve 


slit a cross through the chestnuts shells with a sharp knife before roasting in the oven for 30mins at 180℃. It is important to do this, if you don't you will have a miniature war taking place inside your oven as the chestnuts explod !!!

Whilst they are roasting,  cook the onion and garlic in oil until soft, add the milk, vegetable stock and spices, then gently heat them all up. Before it reaches boiling point turn the heat right down and let them infuse. When the chestnuts are ready, wrap them up in a teatowel and allow them to cool before getting the nut out of the shell. Add the chestnuts to the liquid, and cook them all gently together but don't boil, and then purée with a stick blender. This is a rich and elegant soup with a velvety texture. A small portion makes a lovely starter, whilst a larger serving with some lovely bread is a very satisfying lunch or supper.

P.S if you can't stand the thought of preparing and roasting the chestnuts, I know that they are a fiddle. You can buy very good whole roasted chestnuts already prepared in specially sealed vacuum packs. They work very well too.

Next post will be about a fruit that has strong links to the ancient Greeks.

Saturday 1 January 2022

Christmas 2021.........

has flown by really quickly and New Year 2022 has almost arrived. We enjoyed a very memorable family time together which included all of our five grandchildren. Before any of us met we all took a Lateral Flow test - who would have imagined that this would be the case two years after the virus first raised its ugly head in Wuhan. I noticed that the testing kit had come from Hangzhou in China. Not only did they send us all the virus but they are now making money from it. Seeing the name Hangzhou brought back lots of memories for me having visited there in the early 1980s. My husband was sent to several different areas all across China by the UN to advise their government on matters concerning maritime oil pollution. In those days there was very little tourism and all their citizens wore Chairman Mao suits which came in various shades of blue, grey or green. There was no private car ownership, the only vehicles on the roads were those owned by the government, everyone else had to ride a bike. It was still a peasant economy and I recall seeing farmers spreading their cereal harvest across the roads with hopes that the grains would be separated by the wheels of vehicles passing over it.

A snapshot from our visit in the early 1980s

A group of toddlers all strung up together with their minder. There were about 20 of them but only one appeared to be a girl. Chinese citizens were only allowed one child per couple, and "little emperors" were their preferred choice. Sadly a huge number of females were aborted.

Rows of bikes in Beijing

Hangzhou is the very definition of classical beauty in China, and sadly my little snapshot does not do it justice. Pagodas top the hills that rise high above the lakes which are in turn filled with hundreds of water lilies and lotus flowers.
I wonder of any of you in the UK saw the BBC 4 documentary on The Last Igloo. It was a wonderful film that can still be found on iplayer. I dont know whether or not it is available to those overseas. 

It is a very simple story about one man - an indigenous hunter called Julius - as he sets out from an Inuit settlement into the wilderness of Greenland to fish, hunt, and eventually build an igloo where he spends the night in safety in an otherwise hostile environment. It is not only a testament to Julius and the native people of Greenland, but importantly Julius’ generation of hunters may possibly the last. The great poignancy of the film is that it captures a world that is, due to climate change, literally melting away, and may soon be gone forever. Catch it if you can.

Big Ben has just welcomed us here into 2022. My hopes are that it will be a better and much brighter year for everyone of us.