Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Rural jaunt

The house from the lake path.
Yesterday had a glimpse of rural Alabama, courtesy of my hereto virtual friend Walter. (I don't think a 10 minute meeting several years ago counts against that description) I also had my first ride in a Cadillac, in which we swept through small communities with names like Leeds. Few fences, the odd dog driven to frenzies of excitement by our passing, tall forests of wonderfully mixed trees - dogwood, Scots pine, oak trees - and tiny stores and gas stations in what felt like the middle of nowhere.

The house, when we crunched up the winding gravel drive (winding to spare the dogwood trees, apparently), turned out to be a wonderful chateau in miniature, with tall shuttered windows, balconies of wrought iron, and a terrace with chairs which didn't invite in the chilly light of yesterday. The entrance hall just begged for a string quartet to play in its domed acoustics, and there was a lemon tree in a pot with the largest lemon I've ever seen ripe in the middle of it.

And then there was "the pond". If someone says "pond" to me I think of something circular, maybe 12 feet across, maybe a fountain. I do not think of a sizeable loch surrounded by forest with a boathouse just visible at the far end. This was the pond overlooked by almost every window in the house. As Walter fixed lunch (notice the creeping Arericanisms) I saw a heron - a blue heron - flap the length of the far shore, a wonderful red-headed woodpecker scuttling up a tree just outside, and the flash of the bluest blue imaginable as a bluebird swooped over the water and made me think of sopranoes singing "blue". (That's an esoteric reference for anyone who's sung with us!)

We had a wonderful day. We walked round the loch - Walter having left clues of tape to guide us among the trees - and negotiated the stepping stones over the burn. We enjoyed the best barbecued pork of my life - recipe for the crab-apple sauce, please, Walter!) and the warmest hospitality imaginable. At the end of the afternoon we were deposited back in Brimingham, a good 45 minutes' drive away. If you read this, Walter: thank you. We won't forget.

No photos, I'm afraid - I uploaded a few yesterday morning, but don't know when I'll have another chance.
Update: Photo now added to show Walter's "pond" , as well as the house.


  1. Anonymous3:47 PM

    Good hospitality is as much a function of the guests as of the hosts (ancient Chinese or Arabic or Scriptural quote, maybe–or I just made it up). Thanks, Chris and John, for being such delightful visitors. Jane and I feel as if we have always known and loved you two. I hope when you get home you will introduce Dunoon to the use of “ya’ll,” a very helpful addition to the language.

    Sauce for pork
    (All measurements are approximate and are translated from “handfuls,” “pinches,” and “that tastes about right.”)
    1. Two quarts cored and sliced crabapples
    -I leave peelings on. Any tart apple would do, but use less sweetener
    2. One or two large yellow onions, sliced
    3. A quart or two of cranberries
    -Can substitute dried cranberries. I have also used raisons and seeded prunes.
    4. A half teaspoon of cinnamon
    5. A dash or two of ground cloves
    6. Sugar/sweetener to taste
    -I use about a cup of sugar for caramelization and eke it out with large quantities of Sweeta, a sweetener not degraded by heat. Could just as well use all white or brown sugar
    7. 1/2 to one cup water or white wine or vinegar
    8. Options: Almond extract, sliced lemon, dash of red pepper, salt
    9. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cook slow and long until only a little liquid is left.
    -The trick is cook it down without sticking and burning. I pour the mix into a ages-old well-seasoned cast iron pot, cover, put in the oven at 450 F (about 230 C), and turn the oven off after about 15 minutes. Leave everything alone for several hours, after which it should be cooked down and still hot if the oven is well-insulated.

    Again, thanks to you both for a wonderful day and for your very kind comments.

  2. What a wonderful visit that sounds. The recipe sounds great too-I might wait to have it made for me by my sister!

  3. It seems that the old adage of everything being so much bigger in the States might just be true. Sounds like a great time.

  4. Thanks, Walter - I look forward to recreating that lunch back at The Blethers!