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Essentially England News - A King's Escape
September 03, 2016

A King's Escape

I can't believe that it's September already - especially since we've had such a wonderful August. The weather was great, we had some lovely days out and we spent a decent bit of time adding reports of our Shropshire explorations to the website. If Shropshire is on your list of places to visit, why not go check it out? You can read about Shrewsbury and Shrewsbury Abbey, Much Wenlock and the Olympian Games, the Broseley Jitties, Snailbeach Mine, Cantlop Bridge and various castles, priories and abbeys. We also share our favourite holiday cottages and hotels… and we're not done yet!

And now it is September and that reminds me of a king's rather marvellous escape. When King Charles II lost the Battle of Worcester on September 3rd, 1651 against Cromwell's forces, he'd not just been unable to reclaim the crown that had been taken from his father. Now, without an army, his very life was in danger and even though it may have irked him, his only sensible course of action was to flee from Worcester and try to find shelter along the road to France.

Boscobel and White Ladies Priory | ©

Charles and his companion, Colonel Carlos, reached White Ladies Priory on the Boscobel Estate in the early hours of the morning of September 4th. I imagine they were hungry, exhausted and worried. And Cromwell's soldiers were already combing the countryside for them. The search parties reached Boscobel on September 6th and Colonel Carlos thought it too dangerous for the king to hide in the house or the nearby woods. Instead, he suggested they climb one of the great oak trees on the estate and hide in the dense canopy.

It can't have been comfortable, even though they took bread, cheese and beer with them into their lofty hideout, and the danger of being discovered and apprehended was very real the whole time the Roundheads searched the woods. Colonel Carlos, though, had been quite right about his choice of hideout, because when you're looking for somone… how likely are you to look up?

We all know how this story ends. Charles escapes the soldiers and makes his way back to France. It will be another ten years until he is restored to the throne. And if you're in England and come across a pub called the Royal Oak… remember a young king - Charles II was only 21 at the time - who hid amongst the branches and leaves and looked down on the men who tried to capture him.

950 Years Ago...

September 1066 was a bloody month for England, only eclipsed by the month, and the great battle, that followed.

In late August, Norwegian King Harald Hardrada had landed in Yorkshire with 300 longships. He joined forces with King Harold's half-brother Tostig and together they decimated the English forces in the north… all while Harold and his household troops were guarding the south coast of England against William, Duke of Normandy.

The lost battle of Gate Fulford on September 20th meant that Harold had to leave his post in the south. He raced his army north… and I do mean raced, since he was in York four days later, after a forced march of 185 miles!

He caught the Vikings at Stamford Bridge on September 25th and defeated them in a vicious battle. It is said that Harald Hardrada's son Olaf - Hardrada himself was killed - needed only 24 of his 300 ships to return the survivors to Norway.

The English had beaten the Vikings, but the victory had been dearly bought. Harold's army was exhausted and they'd suffered great loss of life themselves. And William of Normandy landed in Sussex on September 28th, unopposed.

Stewed Cucumbers

Cucumbers for stewing © krzys16 | pixabay.comStewed cucumbers is a dish that reminds me of my grandma, who loved to make this.

Now, before you make a face and run in the other direction, I'm not talking pointy-ended salad cucumbers here.

The cucumbers my grandma used to stew were short, stub-nosed cucumbers that grew in a field, not a greenhouse. Their shape was similar to our courgettes / zucchini and they had quite a tough skin and rather large seeds.

And this was definitely a summer dish. We used to have them as a gentle vegetable dish, alongside a pork chop or some chicken or, alternatively, braised with minced pork (ground pork) and served with new potatoes or mash for a quick and simple summer dinner.

If you can get your hands on cucumbers like this, then I urge you to give this a try - whichever version you choose. Peel the cucumbers to get rid of the tough skins, then cut them in half and use a spoon to scrape out the seeds before slicing each half. You're left with cm-thick, half-moon shapes that will disintegrate a little while they cook.

For a side dish, you'll need 2 large cucumbers, 1 tablespoon of butter, pepper, salt, a pinch of paprika, and 1 cup of chicken or vegetable stock. Melt the butter in a heavy pan until it bubbles. Slide in the cucumbers and cook for a few minutes until they soften, but still have a little bite. How long that takes depends on the size of the pieces you've cut and on how watery your cucumbers are. I'd say five minutes at a max, since you don't want to end up with cucumber slush.

Remove the cucumbers from the pan with a slotted spoon, then pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and thicken the stock with 1 teaspoon each of butter and flour - my gran used to mash the two together and then stir pieces into the stock until you end up with a glossy sauce. Add the cucumbers back in, season to taste and serve. You could also thicken the sauce with a couple of tablespoons of soured cream and serve the cucumbers with a sprinkling of parsley. That was the "special occasions" version!

For a quick dinner dish that feeds two to four, fry 250-300g minced pork until well browned. Depending on your mince, it might release quite a bit of fat while it cooks. You'll only want 2 tablespoons or so in the pan when you add the cucumbers. You can drain the rest. When the mince is mostly cooked add the cucumber pieces and seasoning. I like a little more than a pinch of paprika here, and a touch of cayenne pepper or chili goes nice, too. As before, the cucumbers don't need long, so make sure you have potatoes or mash on standby and are ready to eat when you add the cucumbers to the mince. Just turn the cucumbers until they're soft and check the seasoning. For an extra special treat, you can sprinkle grated cheese over the top and set the pan under the grill for a couple of minutes until the cheese bubbles.

And Next Month …

Next month… well, we'll see. We're off to Cornwall for a week of mines and gardens and marvellous beer. And I do want to talk about a triangular house that's a rather clever act of defiance.. Sooo much to do! Meanwhile, please keep well, and I'll be back next month!

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