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Essentially England News, March 2011 - Thankful Villages and Pink Rhubarb
March 30, 2011

Thankful Villages and Pink Rhubarb

A cheerful welcome to everyone who subscribed to Essentially England News during the last month! Here you'll find England news, site news, travel tips, reviews and our Recipe of the Month, all in one easy-to-digest email.

Northamptonshire is much more idyllic than I believed it would be when we moved here two months ago. That’s especially true for my much shortened drive to work, which avoids all and any major road and just meanders through a couple of small villages and alongside a few fields. The daffodils are out along with the lambs, but what really makes my morning is the way the mist clings to the rolling hills and nestles in dips and hollows while the sun turns the landscape into molten gold. As mornings go… these ones are glorious!

A Little History: Thankful Villages

Modern history is not my favourite period, but the books of Jacqueline Winspear have really gripped me. Her heroine, Maisie Dobbs, makes a life as a psychologist investigator in the late 1920s and early 1930s, when England was reeling from the terrible losses suffered in the trenches of the First World War.

I have always been drawn to the war memorial when exploring any English village. Seeing the rows of names – often several from the same family - really brings it home how devastating the bloody battles of the First World War were for English communities.

But what really made the carnage real was something I read the other day: out of all the towns and villages in England, there are only about 30 where a visitor will not find a war memorial, since all villagers who went away to war returned home safely. Thirty villages out of thousands. No wonder these are called Thankful Villages.

Places to See and Things to Do

I cannot imagine any parents willingly sending their children overseas, especially when there’s a war on. But during WWII, many British parents were encouraged to do just that. As many as 15,000 children were sent to Canada, Australia and South Africa to escape the bombing raids in Britain’s towns and cities. And now there’s Oceans Apart, a new exhibition at the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester, that tells the story of the evacuee children and their experiences abroad. The exhibition is firmly aimed at families, with pictures and letters from the children who had to settle into life abroad, and interviews with the parents who had to see them leave. You can find out more about this fascinating exhibition at the Imperial War Museum website.

April is always a month when things begin to happen around England. This year, there’s Mothering Sunday (or Mothers Day) on April 3rd. Easter break starts on April 8th, with Easter proper on April 22nd, with the event of the year, the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, on April 29th.

And right at the end of the Easter break falls one of my favourite “holidays” of the year: St Georges Day. Yes, I do have a soft spot for the dragon-slaying knight, who’s England’s patron saint. If you keep your eyes open, you can catch one of the many parades and fun events that are hosted around the country.

But make your way to the Vale of Evesham, and another reason for why I love April 23rd will immediately become clear. April 23rd marks the start of the short but delicious asparagus season and the start of the Asparagus Festival. Don’t say you haven’t been warned!

Recipe of the Month - Rhubarb Bread and Butter Pudding

The first rhubarb, all pink and tart and soooo refreshing, is a sign that spring is definitely on the way and winter on the way out. And yet, there’s still a chill in the air in the evening, and that damp, cold feel that makes me crave a luscious warm pudding. So I think that this play on an old nursery favourite really is the best of both worlds. Use as much rhubarb as you can get hold of – at least 500g / 1lb for four people – and if you’re watching the calories, replace half the cream with milk.

To feed four:

  • 500g / 1lb rhubarb
  • 200g / 8oz caster sugar
  • 40g / 2oz butter
  • 300g / 12oz white bread, sliced, buttered and cut into triangles
  • 300ml / 10fl oz milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 300ml / 10oz double (heavy) cream
  • 100g / 4oz rhubarb
  • icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F / Gas 4 and lightly grease an oven-proof dish.

Place most of the rhubarb into a pan with a splash of water and half the caster sugar. Bring to a simmer and cook gently until the rhubarb is just tender – about 5 mins should do it. Line a buttered oven-proof dish with half the bread slices. Spoon over half the cooked rhubarb. Follow with the remaining bread, then the remaining rhubarb.

Whisk the eggs with the remaining sugar, then beat in the cream and milk.

Strain the milk and egg mix over the bread and rhubarb. Push the bread into the milk mix if it floats too much and leave for a few minutes to soak. Top the dish with the remaining (uncooked) rhubarb, then bake in the oven until just set – 45 mins to one hour. Dust with icing sugar before serving.

And Next Month …

Towcester cheesecake is still proving elusive, but I've found a rather inviting deli - on which more in a later newsletter. If there's one thing I like about Towcester, it has to be the little alleyways and the unexpected treasures one can find there...

So until next month, keep well and think of England…

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