Het, http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, silliness, Thomazine. Christmas

November at White Notley – Christmas starts early, in 1646

Not the cheeriest of months, even with that engine of domestic devastation and her boys absent about their military duty.

Het Babbitt is somewhat at a loss.
(Remember, this is 1646, so Christmas still exists, and the Parliament is not yet so strict as to ban the celebrations altogether, although Het and her family celebrate it peacefully. Fair enough, as peacefully as anything involving her husband is likely to be.)

It is a dark time, and a lean one, and she worries about them, a little. That Hollie might not have a sufficiency of handkerchieves, because he always gets miserable colds at this time. She makes a note to find a pot of sage oil to send back with him, when he must go back to the Army. If he were here, which he is not, and is not like to be for another month – for he will be here for Longest Night, though fire and flood and all the King’s men stand between them; it is a thing of pride that he will be here for the anniversary of the night they first met – she could see to it that he was rubbed with it, and had a plaster on his chest, and a dry bed to sleep in –
Well, he is not, and so she reminds herself to hem more handkerchieves. Even in 1646 people exchange gifts – or at least they do when he remembers – and not on Christmas Day, as we do, but on New Year’s Day, instead.
Hollie’s Puritan absentmindedness notwithstanding, Het sees Christmas as a serious business of loving, and so it is her joy and consolation in his absence, in these dark November days, to prepare.

So. Handkerchieves for Hollie, and medicaments, but – well, she will think of something less practical, nearer the time. Something edible, most likely. It’s not a thing she needs to prepare. She may embroider the handkerchieves, under the pretence of a laundry mark.
Thankful, of course, being a better Puritan boy than Hollie, will neither expect nor receive gifts. This is a difficult concept to explain to a bright and loving little girl, and so no matter how much he neither wants nor expects gifts Thomazine will demand that he has them. She is not yet old enough to embroider neatly, and her hems are wobbly and uneven, and so instead she has very carefully tied bundles of lavender and rosemary and costmary with thread, to put amongst his linen. It is only the fact of his physical absence that has prevented the child from giving her friend his gifts already, and no doubt Thankful will receive his Christmas present within moments of his arrival, for if Thomazine must wait longer she may burst.

And Luce? She finds him hardest of all to think of gifts for, because he is much-beloved, and yet she is aware that he is between being a little boy to delight in nuts and sweets and little books, as Thomazine and Joyeux do, and being a grown man to receive sensible, useful things, like handkerchieves.
(If she  perhaps could make him some stockings, then, in a bright, frivolous colour, as a compromise.)

So, then. It wants just over a month to Christmas. The pig’s cheek is sousing in pickle for the collar of brawn for the Christmas table. There are nuts, and apples, and pears aplenty stored in the attics, and a few raisins – not many, for they are expensive, though still obtainable even in the wars. Those she has are somewhat dry and dusty with keeping, but he has promised to bring more when he comes home, and so she is happy to plan to use the last of her store for the festivities.
There is cider, and it will be good by Christmas, being last autumn’s brewing.
It crosses her mind that she needs to go up into the attics and check her apples and pears, and that perhaps Thomazine may be the ideal partner for this cheerful, if chilly, occupation. Thomazine’s quick little fingers are deft at finding soft places in the fruit, and she can promise that any damaged pears might be baked sweet, later.
Het wishes there would be new cheese, but there will not. New cheese is a spring treat, and Hollie must make do with its ripe, buttery counterpart, in these dark, wet days. (She hopes so. She would lay out the riches of her store, for her boys, and send them back to their duty sleek and cared-for.)

Well, then. The preparations begin here, for the brawn must souse for a week or two. And should you choose to try Het’s pickled cold meat –

To Collar Brawn
Take a quarter of brawn, lay it in salt three days. Then take some all spice, cloves & mace & season it. Boyle it in a cloath very soft with some vinegar, salt & water till it be tender. Then rowl it over new with another cloath & fresh tape as hard as possible. Then let it be cold. Then boyle yr pickle with some brawn with a little fresh water. Let it be cold & keep ye brawn constantly in it tyed up. Make fresh liquor once a fortnight.
Babbitt, Lucey, silliness, Yorkshire

About Time We Heard From Luce… an interview with young Pettitt

Babbitt, food, Het, http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, Lucey, new books, silliness

Het Babbitt’s Good Frumenty – Her Receipt Shar’d




She’d see to it there was frumenty for breakfast tomorrow – a good creamy one, stiff with plums and flecked with spices – just as if both Thankful and Lucifer had been her own boys, in need of good feeding. There was always enough that she could set another place at table for her own baby nephew.” – A Wilderness of Sin

 Het is not entirely comfortable with this. She sees to the meals, and her dear Hollie eats what’s set in front of him, being an obliging sort of husband. (And one who knows what’s good for him – HB) To go around setting out her recipe for frumenty, which is a thing that everyone knows how to cook, surely – well, it’s like setting out a recipe for water, dear. No one will be interested in my frumenty. Don’t be silly.

It’s all about the wheat, you see. If you don’t soak it properly and cook it long and slow you could stand for days and it would be none the tenderer. What you must do, is get the proper, husked wheat. Pearled wheat, they call it, in some places. (Sorry, dear? Yes, barley will do as well, if you must, and if there really is no good wheat to be had.)

What you must do is wash it well in fair water, to clean all the dust and husks, and then set it to boil for five minutes of the clock, and then – and only then – can you take the pot down and stand it in a bake-oven or in the hearth overnight. At Fox Barton we cree the wheat on baking-day, and set it to stand in the oven while it cools for a full day. (Failing that, boil the hell out of it for ten minutes or so, clap a lid on the pot, leave it overnight. That’s the rough way. – HB)

Now, my dear Hollie would eat it exactly as it comes, with all the wheat grains burst and soft, though he does like it with milk and honey, the dear man. It sets like a jelly, and Lucifer says it does look most like frog’s spawn, to which I did say, well, dear, I did not see you refuse your third helping of frog’s spawn.

If you would have it the festive way – and I am told they have served it in Yorkshire this way since the Flood, with cheese and gingerbread, on Christmas Eve – then you must add a good measure of cream, and not milk. If I have all the boys to home I will put a quart of cream to the pot and stir it in well, with a good amount of honey, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and one or two eggs. Some wealthy folk with nothing better to spend their money on will add raisins of Corinth, too, though they are too, too dear in this part of Essex, and dearer yet since Master Cromwell stopped their trade. 

It is a wonderfully nourishing breakfast, you know, served plain, and the girls love it. And so good for the sick, being easy to digest and to prepare, and very tempting to the tender stomach. In parts of Suffolk, not to say tthe parts of Yorkshire where my dear husband saw service in the late wars, they say it has been prepared and eaten so since the days of old. 

Why don’t you give it a try?

Meet Het Babbitt (and Hollie, and the girls, and Luce, and all the assorted household impedimenta of a 17th century Essex household) in the Uncivil Wars books, and, most recently, in the anthology “Steel and Lace”
All profits from the book go to Great Ormond Street Hospital!

Babbitt, Gray, Het, Lucey, poetry, ponderations, Russell, silliness

A Writer’s Lot Is Not A Happy One

Today, I cannot settle to writing.

There are too many little sub-plots going on in my head. I want to write the Putney Debates, where I know Hollie is going to lose his temper with the prosing and I know Russell will be hurt and humiliated. (I want to know where that one is headed, because I think there may be friendships broken at Putney, and they are characters I like.)

I want to write Ireton’s wedding, which may be done as a standalone just for fun, because Het will attend that (well, dear, you couldn’t expect poor little Bridget to stand up on her own in front of a room full of soldiers, could you?) Where Het goes the girls will go, and where the girls go there is often trouble, of the sort customarily engendered by toddlers.

I want to carry on with the start of the as-yet untitled Marston Moor book, which starts so horribly, and is likely to continue for a good three hundred-ish pages with brawl after brawl until the Gray/Russell dynamic sorts itself out to everyone’s satisfaction. Russell is taller than Gray and considerably madder. Gray is rougher than Russell. Neither of them will back down, and both of them have their little sore points on which they cannot bear to be baited, and both of them will continue to bait each other until they’ve worked out who’s top dog. Russell’s a half-mad Puritan with a drink problem. (He drinks because it hurts, and it doesn’t stop hurting, so he doesn’t stop drinking. All too logical. She says ruefully.) Gray is an enigmatic little bugger with a chip on his shoulder who can’t stand authority and doesn’t take orders. You might wonder at this point how come Gray hasn’t yet been shot or disciplined for his rebellion and there is an answer to that…

And of course it’s such a lovely sunny day that I find myself sitting in the garden with a sprig of rosemary in my fingers, snuffing at the scent of clean linen and rosemary and fresh air. Thinking that even in the mini Ice Age of the 17th century, even in the middle of a civil war, surely Hollie must have got a bit of time off for good behaviour. Time to skulk off somewhere by himself for an hour with a pen and a bit of paper, and find himself a nice tree to lean up against and write letters home to his wife. (He has a habit of gnawing the end of his pen when he’s thinking, and as Luce has pointed out, if it causes him that much internal anguish to set pen to paper, it can’t be good for him and he ought to stop doing it.)
It won’t be the good-humoured Blossom that’s snuffing the back of his neck at this point, the velvety muzzle exploring Hollie’s collar will still be Tyburn’s. But I think for the morning, we can leave Captain Babbitt sprawling in the grass trying to edit his recent exploits so as not to scare his good lady, and sending his best love to his daughters. Luce is reading the poetry of Catullus, to the amusement of the rest of the troop.
(This one shuts ’em up somewhat. Um. Girly? Sorry, Luce, no offence, mate…)

And Russell? He’s doing – absolutely – nothing. And he’s enjoying it.

Babbitt, Het, Levellers, Lucey, ponderations, present, Russell, silliness


…. I was challenged to seven, but I already admitted to one!
1) I don’t write sequentially. I have a habit of writing a vignette in my head, and then another, and then another, and then putting them together like a rather badly-strung length of pearls.
This does rather mean that I have to keep rewriting the end of my novels but calling the Uncivil Wars books character-led is a bit like saying that water can be a little bit wet at times.
2) I have no idea what Hollie Babbitt looks like. Actually that’s not true, I know what he looks like, I just don’t know who he looks like, other than himself. I have read a number of books where characters are evidently based on actors. Mine are not amongst them. In an ideal world, I would cast Christopher Eccleston c. “Jude” as Babbitt, and it’d be close, but it wouldn’t be quite right. Orlando Bloom in his Legolas moments for Luce, again not absolutely right, but as near as I can get it, and Julian Sands (when he was young and pretty) as Russell. It’s not spot-on, but it’s close.
Stephen Fry has been suggested for Drew Venning…. Right accent, wrong colouring.
On the other hand, I have no problem at all casting Tyburn!
3) I know what happens at the end of the series and I’m not telling. The actual ending has never changed. It’s already been written, and everything else is just working up to that point. Which is not to say that Hapless Russell will not get his own series, and that there isn’t a Thirty Years’ War series on the blocks. (Is that a spoiler? Only if your chronology is off-cock. Our Hollie is thirty-four at the beginning of the English Civil War and went out to the Low Countries as a big fifteen year-old with an attitude problem. That’s twenty years of learning his business, by my reckoning.)
I didn’t start the Uncivil Wars books with the intention of involving Hollie in Leveller politics. It just sort of happened that way. He started off being absolutely partisan and then it just got personal, the more he put down roots in England again. He is not, absolutely not, any kind of political statement. Someone did suggest that he was and I would like to set it down – really, absolutely, categorically – that Hollie Babbitt is not any kind of political metaphor. He is his own dear bad-tempered self and his involvement in the Leveller movement is purely an emotional response to the treatment of his own soldiers by Parliament.
4) I don’t think I write like anyone else. Possibly Simon Scarrow, whom I quite like. The thought of Rosie and Luce as the Civil War Maco and Cato – hmmm. Certainly sufficiently sweary. Possibly slightly more political, especially as the series progresses. With more poetry. I have to admit to a near-heretical loathing of “Three Musketeers” soundalikes. I struggle horribly with Alatriste, although cannot guarantee that someone very like him does not stray across the radar of a young Hollie Babbitt. Hollie (drunk on his sixteenth birthday at Breda, natch) offered to punch him repeatedly in the head. I believe he took exception to the Spanish gentleman’s facial hair. Being a redhead, he never has succeeded with the fashionable moustache thing. Rather a tragedy for him, in the elegantly goatee’d part of the seventeenth century…
Anyway. I hate all that mannered thee’s and thou’s and have at thee, varlet, stuff. The seventeenth century was the golden age of the English language, undoubtedly. Let’s not forget it was also funny, filthy, and accessible. People spoke in it. To each other. They didn’t order their ale in rhyming quatrains. (Apart from Lucey Pettitt, probably, and I imagine even he only does it when egged on by his mates, or drunk.)
5) I have always written. The first thing I ever wrote was a Sherlock Holmes story, aged about four, and all I can remember about it was that it involved a graveyard at the full moon. Unfortunately it was written in the back of the car on my way to a family holiday and I get car sick. I don’t remember the end…
Hollie and Luce, on the other hand, first appeared in a time-travel comedy romance co-written with a friend of mine, sadly lost to posterity, in which the gallant Captain Babbitt began as a stern and easily-shocked Puritan officer in the Army of Parliament who was repeatedly seduced in some very unlikely environments by a most unwomanly miss.
Luce was a very camp transvestite who desperately wanted to get into the twenty-first century because he could wear make-up to work and no one would pass remarks.
There was a full-length novel written about this foolery (and a horse called Bastard who had a habit of widdling contemptuously on people he didn’t like) but it sadly did not survive a computer crash. It was hellish funny, though.
6) I have a habit of writing longhand on public transport, which is where I do most of my background thinking. There is a pink notebook which contains some very, very intimate information on the matter of the private lives of my lads.

Not all of it will ever make it into the books…

food, Het, http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, ponderations, present, silliness, women

Mistress Het’s Physick Garden Created – #1

I’ve always wanted a 17th century garden.

We live in an old granite cottage, in a sheltered dip where the Cornish gales blow overhead. We have a long front garden, and a small enclosed back yard.
There are certain things in our current garden which are givens –
– an apple tree, coming now to the end of its useful fruiting life, but rather lovely.
– two Williams pear trees, planted to mark William’s birth five years ago.
– an olive bush
– two sheds, somewhat non-negotiable, full of Living History kit
– a small and somewhat barren vegetable patch; the space can be re-used, but the raised bed itself is a fixture
– a very elderly rosemary bush
– three old-fashioned scented roses
– a flourishing bay tree
– naturalised wallflowers and primroses

The gardens of period town houses were generally modest and of a functional nature, based on medieval patterns, to provide plants of medicinal, culinary and household uses. Illustrations of town gardens from this period frequently show the garden adjacent to the house and enclosed by walls, hedging, fencing and/or painted rails. A wide variety of herbs, vegetables (known as pot herbs) and flowers were grown, probably in geometrical, raised beds surrounded by gravel. Small fruit trees, sometimes trained as espaliers on the sunny walls, and arbours covered with vines were common features.

I have prostrate rosemary and boxes of herbs at my front gate (in need of some overhaul) as well as a large rosemary bush at the front door to keep the witches away. I have bronze (Florentine) fennel, feverfew, lovage, savory, lemon thyme, sops-in-wine, houseleek….I also have three cats and a small boy who likes to dig holes.

So, then, the first challenge is to populate my shady corner by the shed, currently inhabited by some straggly “architectural” plants and a patch of wet and well-trodden soil. The idea is to build a raised bed by the shed and then put a narrow gravel path in front of it and behind the shed.

Suitable period plants for shade – their properties are taken from Culpeper (I do like his habit of calling cultvated plants “tame”…):

Sweet Woodruff

Virtues. The Woodruffe is accounted nourishing and restorative, and good for weakly consumptive people; it opens obstructions of the liver and spleen, and is said to be a provocative to venery.

Angelica –

Government and virtues. It is an herb of the Sun in Leo; let it be gathered when he is there, the Moon applying to his good aspect; let it be gathered either in his hour, or in the hour of Jupiter; let Sol be angular: observe the like in gathering the herbs of other planets, and you may happen to do wonders. In all epidemical diseases caused by Saturn, that is as good a preservative as grows; it resists poison, by defending and comforting the heart, blood, and spirits; it doth the like against the plague and all epidemical diseases, if the root be taken in powder to the weight of half a drachm at a time, with some good treacle in carduus water, and the party thereupon laid to sweat in his bed; if treacle be not to be had, take it alone in carduus or angelica-water. The stalks or roots candied and eaten fasting, are good preservatives in time of infection: and at other times to warm and comfort a cold stomach. The root also steeped in vinegar, and a little of that vinegar taken sometimes fasting, and the root smelled unto, is good for the same purpose. A water distilled from the root simply, as steeped in wine, and distilled in a glass, is much more effectual than the water of the leaves; and this water, drank two or three spoonfuls at a time, eases all pains and torments coming of cold and wind, so that the body be not bound; and taken with some of the root in powder, at the beginning, helps the pleurisy, as also all other diseases of the lungs and breast, as coughs, phthisic, and shortness of breath; and a syrup of the stalks do the like. It helps pains of the cholic, the stranguary and stoppage of the urine, procures womens’ courses, and expels the afterbirth: opens the stoppings of the liver and spleen, and briefly eases and discusses all windiness and inward swellings. The decoction drank before the fit of an ague, that the patient may sweat before the fit comes, will, in two or three times taking, rid it quite away: it helps digestion, and is a remedy for a surfeit. The juice, or the water, being dropped into the eyes or ears, helps dimness of sight and deafness; the juice put into the hollow teeth, eases their pains. The root in powder, made up into a plaister with a little pitch, and laid on the biting of mad dogs, or any other venomous creature, does wonderfully help. The juice or the water dropped, or tents wet therein, and put into filthy dead ulcers, or the powder of the root (in want of either) does cleanse and cause them to heal quickly, by covering the naked bones with flesh; the distilled water applied to places pained with the gout, or sciatica, gives a great deal of ease.
The root is used in many of our shop compositions as in the plague water, &c. and the dried leaves are a principal ingredient in the ladies red powder, famous for the cure of fevers.

Lemon Balm

Government and virtues. It is an herb of Jupiter, and under Cancer, and strengthens nature much in all its actions. Let a syrup made of the juice of it and sugar (as you shall be taught at the latter end of this book) be kept in every gentlewoman’s house, to relieve the weak stomachs and sick bodies of their poor sickly neighbours: as also the herb kept dry in the house, that so with other convenient simples, you may make it into an electuary with honey, according as the disease is, as you shall be taught at the latter end of my book. – The Arabian physicians have extolled the virtues thereof to the skies; although the Greeks thought it not worth mentioning. Seraphio saith, it causes the mind and heart to become merry, and reviveth the heart, faintings and swoonings, especially of such who are overtaken in sleep, and driveth away all troublesome cares and thoughts out of the mind, arising from melancholy or black choler: which Avichen also confirmeth. It is very good to help digestion, and open obstructions of the brain, and hath so much purging quality in it (saith Avichen) as to expel those melancholy vapours from the spirits and blood which are in the heart and arteries, although it cannot do so in other parts of the body. – Dioscorides saith, That the leaves steeped in wine, and the wine drank, and the leaves externally applied, is a remedy against the stings of a scorpion, and the bitings of mad dogs; and commendeth the decoction thereof for women to bathe or sit in to procure their courses; it is good to wash aching teeth therewith, and profitable for those that have the bloody flux. The leaves also, with a little nitre taken in drink, are good against the surfeit of mushrooms, helps the griping pains of the belly; and being made into an electuary, it is good for them that cannot fetch their breath: Used with salt, it takes away wens, kernels, or hard swelling in the flesh or throat: it cleanseth foul sores, and eases pains of the gout. It is good for the liver and spleen. A tansy, or caudle made with eggs, and juice thereof while it is young, putting to it some sugar and rosewater, is good for a woman in child-bed, when the after-birth is not properly voided; and for their faintings upon or in their sore travail. The herb bruised and boiled in a little wine and oil, and laid warm on a boil, will ripen it, and break it.  

Sweet Cecily
Government and virtues. The garden chervil being eaten, doth moderately warm the stomach, and is a certain remedy (saith Tragus) to dissolve congealed or clotted blood in the body, or that which is clotted by bruises, falls, &c. The juice or distilled water thereof being drank, and the bruised leaves laid to the place, being taken either in meat or drink, it is good to help to provoke urine, or expel the stone in the kidneys, to send down women’s courses, and to help the pleurisy and pricking of the sides.
The wild chervil bruised and applied, dissolveth swellings in any part, or the marks of congealed blood by bruises or blows in a little space. 

Fennel –  
Government and virtues. One good old fashion is not yet left off, viz . to boil fennel with fish; for it consumes that phlegmatic humour which fish most plentifully afford and annoy the body with, though few that use it know wherefore they do it; I suppose the reason of its benefit this way is, because it is an herb of Mercury, and under Virgo, and therefore bears antipathy to Pisces. Fennel is good to break wind, to provoke urine, and ease the pains of the stone, and helps to break it. The leaves or seed, boiled in barley-water and drank, are good for nurses, to increase their milk, and make it more wholesome for the child. The leaves, or rather the seeds, boiled in water, stays the hiccough, and takes away the loathings which oftentimes happen to the stomachs of sick and feverish persons, and allays the heat thereof. The seed boiled in wine and drank, is good for those that are bit with serpents, or have eat poisonous herbs, or mushrooms. The seed, and the roots much more, help to open obstructions of the liver, spleen, and gall, and thereby help the painful and windy swellings of the spleen, and the yellow jaundice; as also the gout and cramps. The seed is of good use in medicines, to help shortness of breath and wheezing, by stopping of the lungs. It assists also to bring down the courses, and to cleanse the parts after delivery. The roots are of most use in physic drinks and broths, that are taken to cleanse the blood, to open obstructions of the liver, to provoke urine, and amend the ill colour in the face after sickness, and to cause a good habit through the body. Both leaves, seeds, and roots thereof, are much used in drink or broth, to make people lean that are too fat. The distilled water of the whole herb, or the condensate juice dissolved, but especially the natural juice, that in some counties issues out of its own accord, dropped into the eyes cleans them from mists and films that hinder the sight. The sweet fennel is much weaker in physical uses than the common fennel. The wild fennel is stronger and hotter than the tame, and therefore most powerful against the stone, but not so effectual to encrease milk, because of its dryness.

The left side of the bed gets full sun almost all day, but it’s still quite damp down there. My fennel is presently in a small trough and is feeling a bit sorry for itself, so the opportunity to get out and stretch its roots somewhat will be welcome! But if I put the tall, feathery plants to the back of the bed – fennel and angelica and cecily – that’s a fairly architectural display in its own right. And for a truly seventeenth-century look, it’s important that the plants are as elegantly arranged as possible in order of height, unlike our modern fashion for a brave disorder.

So…. the planning begins, and I will keep posting updates.

Lucey, poetry, present, Rupert, silliness

WORLD POETRY DAY – the posh poet goes for it….


O shagg’d cavalier! No more to begg,
To fetch, or steal a bone –
The noblest of Prince Rupert’s trayne
Doth lie here overthrown.

For all thy pride and high degree
Brave Cur, now thou hast had it
Cut down in thy prime of life
By, likely, Hollie Babbitt.

Yet, Boye, mind well, thou proudest Dogg
That ever tupped a bitch
The paths of glory do but lead
Into a Yorkshire ditch.