April Letter from ‘The Ferns’ chatting about trying to cut plastic waste, the garden pond and rhubarb.

packagingCutting plastic waste

It is interesting how many different ways you can find to NOT to buy supermarket plastic and cellophane.  The tomatoes on the right of the picture I bought at Waitrose and put them in a  paper mushroom bag. Today I bought  very large Portobello mushroom, but there was no mushroom bag, so I simply stuck the sticky label on the mushroom and put it in my basket.

I now buy all my bread  – not from a supermarket- but from our local bakers, Jaspers. I know we are very lucky to have one in Newport.

jaspers1If I buy bread sliced, it will always be in a plastic bag- obviously to keep it all together. If, however, I buy it unsliced, it comes in the traditional  tissue paper ( see below). Result!

paper packaging

I have decided that I shall not use the little cartons of milk and soya milk again, and will rely on an old fashioned milk jug for my B & Brs bedroom! Also the same with plastic coffee sachets. I shall rely on a jar of coffee. I just need to use up stocks first. Tea is no problem, these can always go in a small tea caddy on the tray.

The garden pond

has taken a hit. All of the frog spawn has not resulted in a single tadpole.  There are lots of frogs in there, but no tadpoles.

pondCan you see them – eyes just popping out of the weed, and marsh marigold to the left?

Well they laid lots of frog spawn, but I haven’t seen a single tadpole. I think my sister may have some.  So will go to her pond, which is in a nice protected valley, and get some.

Our garden faces the east  and  the area to the east is all very flat. This is the reason for the fact that Harper Adams Agricultural College nearby recorded the lowest ever temperature recorded in England in 1982. I remember it well. Our eldest, Douglas,  was just a baby, and we would think that he would imagine that he had been born in a world of white, since the frost and snow went on pretty much from December ’81 to February ’82

Here is Bill Burrell who recorded that temperature in Jam 1982 of -26.1° centigrade at Harper Adams College, Edgmond.

Another plant that has died is my large pale pink fuchsia. I never particularly liked it. The people from whom we bought the house planted it. It was always a bit insipid. About 10 years ago I took a spade and wood saw and tried to it to  get rid of it, however, a tiny shoot came back. So I decided to give it a second chance, and it developed into a really nice shrub. However it is really dead now – or is it?  Mike is dying  to be given the chance to chop it down.



At this time of the year my visitors  can have rhubarb from the garden. There is nothing better than some  slightly tart stewed rhubarb with dairy or soya milk yoghurt. Yummy!


Well  lots going on in the garden but have B & B visitors expected so busy, busy, busy.

Enjoy the lovely weather!

Linda xx


March Letter from ‘The Ferns’ veggie B & B chatting about Newport Show, snow & babies and St George’s Day

Newport Show

Well after my much vaunted  talk of #GBBO star Liam coming to the show, he has had to cry off. So we now have Steven Carter- Bailey one of finalists of the  2017 Bake Off instead.  He was a very good contender and had some amazingly complicated cakes. He will be giving two x 45 minute presentations in the food theatre.  This will be on July 14th.

steve c b

#GBBO’s Steven Carter-Bailey

He was taught to bake by him mother ( hurray). He tweets @SpongeCakeSqTin.

I have been watching the Great Stand Up to Cancer Bake Off which had been   Nick Hewer from Countdown was truly abysmal – but terribly sad too.


Snow and babies

I don’t know what it is about Fletcher babies. Our eldest was born at the end of 1981 and for the first six weeks of his life, the world was white. This was the time when Newport’s Harper Adams College recorded the lowest event temperature in England. Now our grandchild has come into the world with the mini ‘ Beast from the East’  winter storm. Abraham arrived on a stormy night of 17th March.  It will be a bit of a rude awakening going out in these very cold winds. This is what it looks like in Newport.

black birds nesting

Blackbirds are nesting in the top left hand corner of an ivy. Oh dear!


snow garden

The back garden on Sunday

gritting 2

Here’s me doing my bit for  Newport’s pavements. Clearing the snow is  pretty much a waste of time, but the grit is excellent for clearing the pavements and  keeping them clear. I feel a bit conspicuous doing this, but I think to myself, that I am doing this, not just for pedestrians in general, but for me as well. I have to be very careful about not breaking any more bones.

Here’s our new grandson Abraham



abraham 2

with accessories knitted by  Great Auntie Pam!


St George’s Day 

We are looking forward to Newport’s St Georges Day again. The re-enactment will take place on 21st April, which is the nearest Saturday to St George’s Day on 23rd. Newport has its own Victorian St George & the Dragon mummers play, which doesn’t get a run out as much as it should.

The  play that will be happening this year is  a version really for the children.


but good fun for all!

A local  historian and folklorist wrote down the mummers play in the 1880s ( Charlotte Burne) and also the costumes were recorded by her friend for a Folk Lore CongressN004433

A bit different to todays offering!

Today in the first day of spring hurrah!! Linda







February Letter from The Ferns chatting about #GBBO Liam, Weetabix and My Food Hygiene certificate

Great British Bake Off 

Cheek chappie Liam who made it almost to the final, will be heading to Newport in his first appearance in the country this year. Liam Charles who has been dubbed ‘Cake Boy’ will headline the Festival of Food at Newport Show at Chetwynd Deer Park on Saturday July 14th.


The 20 year old drama student, the youngest competitor last year – won legions of followers with his charm and sense of humour. He won star baker on the Pastry Week and was also on the receiving end of a handshake by Paul Hollywood for his salted peanut butter millionaire shortbread. I know from watching Paul Hollywood’s life history on TV, that one of his favourites from when he was very small, is Millionaire Shortbread which his mother made for him.


Liam will be giving two 45 minute presentations in the food theatre as well as meeting fans. All prices are at 2017 prices and the family ticket has been expanded to include three children. Newport Show web site  is https://www.newportshow.co.uk/

The deer park is about 2 miles from ‘The Ferns’. You can walk or drive and park there. It is a lovely venue.


I am still trying to get my plastic intake down, and am much relieved to find that Weetabix have put their biscuits back into paper. I found the plastic very difficult to open. I should have noticed this before. Apparently they did this a while ago!


I have also noticed that the Quorn sausage just have the cardboard box and not a plastic  tray or sellophane inside . Well done Quorn!

My Food Hygiene certificate

My 5 star rating with Telford & Wrekin’s Food Hygiene / Environmental Health Department has been renewed.

Here I am unpeeling my new 5 Star window sticker at the front door

5 star

Have just started my tomato seeds, so I think winter is behind us. There are frogs in the pond , and the sparrows are trying to invade my very expensive Swift nesting box. Another dilemma to deal with!

Let hope that’s all the year has in store. Looking forward to being a grandparent soon and a Grand Victorian Garden Party here in June. Queen Victoria will be putting in an appearance, but  she is not amused!


January Letter from ‘The Ferns’ veggie B & B chatting about potatoes, glitter on cards and Valentines Day


It’s the New Year, so let’s talk potatoes! Well, why not.  When I went to the Christmas Food market nearby at  Donnington, I bought some unusual potatoes. In fact they were to cook for Christmas, but I bought them as seed potatoes. Although I generally have rosti on the menu for my B & B’rs, sometimes I will cook sautéed potatoes and this is where our home-grown potatoes come in. We have a decent sized garden and  we get  several rows of potatoes in every year; usually from our own seed. For example Pink Fir Apples- we have saved a few from last years crop. These are a firm, knobbly spud- OK as long as you don’t want to peel them.



Pink Fir Apples

The potatoes I bought before Christmas for seed potatoes are below. The ones to the left will be blue when they are cooked!

special spuds

From ‘Special Spuds’ company


I took this photo today and you can see that these are chitting! Why are they sprouting in the garage in the cold and dark? Don’t know.

The company I got them from is called  Special Spuds . They are from a local farm near Newport . They help organise the  Shropshire Potato Day on 4th February (10am-3pm) at Harper Adams University at Edgmond, a couple of miles away. Well worth a visit if you want something a bit unusual. There will be potato sellers there with between 130-150 varieties!

Christmas Cards

I always re cycle my Christmas cards, but I noticed this year that Telford and Wrekin – our local council  – are being quite strict with what we can and can’t recycle. Firstly, cards with glitter on, can’t be recycled- I suppose the glitter gets everywhere.

glitter cards

and secondly metallic paper. I have a roll of metallic paper left over unfortunately, but will try to go back to ‘paper’ paper next Christmas!

With all the worry about everything ending up in the sea, I shall try to be more eco-friendly when I buy cards and paper in the future. My  mission – to try and buy food without plastic wrapping continues –  I buy my peppers loose- one at a time -,  mushrooms in  paper bags, loose fruit at Market Drayton  open air market on a Wednesday etc.

I need to think about shampoos and shower gels next. Any ideas for how to not buy in plastic bottles? Please let me know.  My mum used to buy shampoos in individual paper sachets in the 50s- 60s. They were sort of flakes of soap. I know that Lush have shampoo bars. I shall investigate and tell you about it in my next newsletter.

Valentines Day in Shropshire


For Valentines Day and the week  of Sat 10th to Sat 17th, I will be offering a free bottle of wine  for visitors on their first night: red or white.

Here are some ideas for visitors to Newport in that week:

11th-12th Attingham Park Deer Feeding


10th – 11th February Blists Hill Ironbridge card making at  Victorian Valentine Weekend


Card making

14th February Valentines by Candlelight


14th February Kizomba Wednesdays   

Kizomba Wednesdays | All Saints Parish Hall Telford  | Wed 14th February 2018 Lineup


It’s still very cold, but spring is in the air and I saw a bumble bee the other day!

First sight of the forced rhubarb

Looking forward to my forced rhubarb in March

Looking forward to February & Spring in my garden, Liam  from Great British bake Off will be at the Newport Show in July and there will be  the return of the Nocturne Cycle Race ( and evening/night time cycle race round the streets of Newport).      Linda x





Letter from ‘The Ferns’ veggie B & B chatting about Lidl nut roasts, Plastic and Snow

Lidl nut roasts

I was reading  the Good Housekeeping web site and their review of 23 vegetarian options for Christmas For some years I have been buying our locally produced ‘Thank Goodness’ range of nut roasts, but I thought it would be interesting to try something new. Meat free Mondays  is starting to affect how we eat and 40% of us are chosing to eat less meat The Good Housekeeping Institute has , therefore, sampled some of the supermarkets offerings. They say that grocers are embracing the rise in veggie trends, with a better selection of great-tasting, meat-free dishes.

The GHI have sampled some of the supermarkets’ new offerings,  The top rated was Aldi’s ‘Specially Selected Vegetable Parcels Spinach, Leek & West Country Cheddar’

aldi-specially-selected-vegetable-parcels-spinach-leek-west-country-cheddar-0-.jpgRated 81/100

The Good Housekeeping verdict was: “Our testers devoured the golden, flaky pastry parcel seasoned with fine herbs. It’s comforting with creamy mature cheesy spinach and potato beautifully offset by crisp, buttery pastry. A great choice for all the family!”  Rated 81/100

I tried the product that they rated 4th out of 23. This was in fact was the top rated  nut roast, which was

Lidl Deluxe Hazelnut, Cashew & Cranberry Nut Roast


The Good Housekeeping verdict was: “This delicious nut roast had a strong savoury aroma of mature cheddar and peanuts. Praised for tasting much better than it looks, the roast is densely filled with carrots, beans, nuts and cheese. Our testers kept coming back for more of this caramelised cheese feast”.

I do think that the image on the package does not look like the product  when in comes out of the oven or when it is served. This is disappointing.

As you can see below on the left  the  nut roasts looked fairly flat (see left image). What I did was to  run a fork across the tops to rough them up a bit (see right image),which made them look more home made



In respect of the Hazelnut, cashew and cranberry roast, . I feel that the really beauty of it is the cranberries dotted in the chunky nut mix, as you can see from the image below.

nr3 cranberry

Rated 78/100

The other nut roast was

Lidl Cashew, quinoa and carrot nut roast 


This is described by the Good Housekeeping testers as:  “We adored this bright orange nut roast with its sweet aromas of carrot and onion, followed by an inviting scent of caramelised cheese. Bursting with flavour, this dish is well-seasoned with black pepper, rosemary, thyme and chunks of nut. However, some testers were disappointed by the mushy texture and felt it needed more bite”Rated 71/100


nr 4 quinoa

I wouldn’t  have said it was mushy. It did, however, have a totally different flavour to the  first. Mike  and my sister preferred this one, as it had a more sophisticated taste – not so sweet – despite having cashew nuts and carrots in.

The lowest rated on ‘Good Housekeeping’ website was Ocado Dee’s Christmas Vegetarian Stuffed Butternut Squash at 39/100. Oh dear. Won’t be trying that one!

Another good tip is to use any remaining nut roast as a  filler for  a ‘sausage’ roll. Thanks Bernie!

saus roll

Simple –  puff pastry with the nut roast fashioned into a sausage shape with some salad



I have been worried  about the world getting swamped with plastic. I have done a beach clean several time when visiting Wales, but I have just read an article in The Times on which was titled: ‘Cleaning beaches cannot turn back tide of plastic’, which told of a study  of Cornwall beaches which showed that  90% of litter was made of plastic. The chief culprits were: drink caps, bottles, crisp and sweet packets and cotton bud sticks  Interestingly, only a fifth of the litter came from visitors to the beaches, most was washed in from the sea and so indicates that Beach CleanUp can not solve the problem because they do not tackle the source.

David Attenborough has urged people to stop using plastic unnecessarily.

The journalist, Ben Webster, recorded Prince Charles comments that there is so much plastic in the ocean that it will soon be consumed by anyone dining on seafood



Releasing a  turtle that  had plastic wrapped round its leg


Here she is before the rescue

He condemned the “throwaway, convenience lifestyles of many around the world” and called for the rapid introduction of a deposit scheme on plastic bottles. He also urged industry to make all plastic easier to reuse or recycle.

So what am I trying to do? In the old days when I went to Wolverhampton market with my mum and dad, you would either take your own heavy-duty bag for  potatoes, onions carrots etc, and for everything else there were paper bags. I have now taken to doing market shopping again in the hope that I shall try to stop myself for buying vast quantities of plastic and sellophane wrapped fruit and vegetable. We have a small market in Newport and also one in Market Drayton.

market drayton market1

Market Drayton market, Cheshire St. Every Wednesday

The Market Drayton stalls have much more choice and one of the stalls is  happy to use our bags.

We have done our market shopping there for 3 weeks. You can see they are using our Waitrose bags. The only plastic I came away with was the three pack  peppers and cucumber.  If I buy my peppers at Waitrose or Aldi I know that I can buy the peppers individually, so I shall do this. I have my own cucumbers in the summer time, so maybe I shall stop buying cucumbers in the winter.

I think we all need to be aware of where our plastic is going ( landfill, China, the oceans) and how to cut down. See what you can do.


Well I have finally started doing my Snow warden work.

snow warden1It was quite interesting because I found that somethings worked and some didn’t. The heavy-duty gloves were  too difficult to use effectively.  The shovel was Ok for soft snow,  but not for clearing snow that had been flattened by  lots of pedestrians.

I also felt a bit conspicuous clearing just a patch of say 100 yards, when there was obviously no one else doing it  locally!  I wondered whether it was worth it to just have a small section of pavement cleared? I did think it was worth while  clearing  the corner of our road where the footpath  was sloping and went round a corner to a crossing, which  certainly needed  clearing  and gritting.

I also enjoyed going in to the town this morning. Saw some neighbours with their snow man

snow man 10.12.2017 Adam and Eleanor Hicklin


and the church and Puleston Cross looked lovely

town centre

Well we are nice and snug in our house today, and it is so nice to be able to walk into town to get any groceries that we need.

Have a happy and  meat free (or  less meat) Christmas!

Best Wishes, Linda




November Letter from ‘The Ferns’ veggie B & B chatting about herbs, crab apple jelly and local Christmas events



herb garden

Image courtesy of Newport Town Council web-site

Although it is not often that I use herbs in my breakfast offering, I have plenty of herbs in my garden. In addition we are very fortunate in Newport to be able to use a free community herb garden. I have been making dried mixed herbs recently but my rosemary died last year and my new one is too small to cut. So I went to the community herb garden to pick some sprigs. It’s a lovely quiet spot; well worth taking a seat and having a bit of quiet contemplation; especially in the summer.


herb garden

Taken at the back of our 15th century Guildhall

Crab Apple Jelly

I have been trying another type of jam for my B & B ‘rs. This is free – all from the hedgerow. Doesn’t look very interesting at the start but ends with a beautiful delicately coloured jelly; a lovely jelly set and unusual flavour. I never  made crab apple jelly before, but it was really quite easy.

canal apple tree

Mike looking for crab apples on the ground by our canal. The crab apple tree is on the left.

Firstly, you need to find the crab apples. I did two or three walks before I found a tree.


The recipe is very easy:

For 3 lbs fruit, chop into quarters – no peeling or taking cores out. Put everything in. For 3 lbs fruit, add 1 pint water. Cook them till the fruit is totally mushy. This may take about 45 minutes.


Strain through a jelly cloth – I used a piece of net curtain and suspended it using a good piece if heavy-duty string and suspended the bag on kitchen steps.


I then left it overnight. I put a piece of cling film lightly between the bowl and the bag, just so that no flies or any other debris could get in. The next day I squeezed the bag a little to get some more liquid out. ( Cookery books say not to do this because  you may end up with a hazy jelly, but I don’t think the jelly became hazy).

Similar to all jellies,  you have to measure the liquid and add 1 pound sugar to 1 pint of liquid (Not sure how this works out in metric – but imperial is easy to remember.) Boil briskly and not for very long – about 10 – 15 minutes.


Test for jelling after about 10 minutes ( To do this; put a little liquid on a saucer, put in the fridge and after a couple of minutes, test by running your finger tip along the surface and see if is wrinkles. When it does, switch off heat and pot immediately). You can see my jelly is beautifully clear, and such a delicate apple flavour! Lovely!

I have  made jam this summer from Black Lammas plums, damson, pear & ginger and now crab apple jelly. So plenty of choice for my guests!

Local Christmas markets

We have an abundance of markets. You don’t need to go as far as Birmingham. Here are a few to visit…

23rd November – 23rd December Telford European Christmas Market

2nd December Much Wenlock ChritmasMarket


This stall has two Italian veggie pies

25th – 26th November Ludlow Medieval Christmas market A very British Christmas fair!


Looking forward to December and more unusual foodstuffs to tell you about.

Best wishes,  Linda









October Letter from The Ferns chatting about Orzo barley ‘coffee’, butter v margarine and the sun

Orzo Coffee


I was given some samples of Orzo ‘coffee’ to try  in nice one cup size sachets.

orzo sachets

Really it’s a barley cup, and if I said that it tasted more like decaffeinated coffee than anything else, well I think that’s about it.

orzo sachet2

Barley has been known for centuries for its health-enhancing properties, and hulless barley has a high content of beta-glucans, which have been recognised for lowering cholesterol and glucose levels. It is like our English barley cup products, naturally caffeine-free.

Apparently,  the company was awarded a gold star in the Great Taste Awards in 2013.
This is what the judges said:
Very pleasant robust and dark, coffee-like appearance. Very well rounded barley flavour, not too bitter with a nice finish – good with milk. Great for people who like a coffee-style drink with no caffeine.

I always have decaf coffee for my B & B visitors and usually drink it myself; saving proper coffee for weekends or treats. Because it is so similar to decaf, if I now see Orzo on the shelves, I shall buy that instead. A very nice drink!

From their website http://www.orzocoffee.co.uk you can find out more and get details of suppliers

Butter v Margerine

I always have a mixture of spreads in our fridge and also for all my B & B visitors. I like to have a selection. For years I have mainly used ‘Pure’butters

This is a dairy free margarine and I also use it for cakes and pastries. I cant  understand why people would still use lard in their pastry. Just now I am thinking and wondering what lard is?

Huffington Post says:


Lard — rendered pig fat — was what people used when they needed to make pastry; when dinner needed frying; and even as a quick breakfast, eaten smeared on a piece of bread. So much has changed in our recent history. Lard is not only out of favor, it’s even considered a derogatory word.

As I have grown older, and looking to keep my bad cholestrol down,  I tend to use Pro Active on sandwiches. It doesn’t work well on toast as it has a lot of water content in fact about half. The plant sterols are sourced from pine-tree oil, and these apparently block the body’s cholesterol-absorbing sites.  It does have milk products in it.

And chiefly for my B & B visitors, I use a butter type of spread. I used to use Lurpak Spreadable but I read that on ‘taste tests’, Aldi’s Norpak  tasted exactly the same, and  was  cheaper. So I am buying Norpak now. Personally I don’t like buying animal products, but I have to say that  Norpak does taste very nice.


Finally what do we reckon to the sun yesterday?


I t was all a bit spooky. I took this from the garden, but there were much better images on the TV.  I think I prefer my sun  yellow! Here is a shot of the garden in summer time. Very nice. Best wishes Linda

from kitchen window

From the kitchen window in July